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Archive for the category “Unpublished ’til Now”

resistance is not always futile

Although I was present, of course, I can neither confirm nor deny the details. My mother claimed that when I was born in a Catholic hospital, a nun was at her head praying, while the doctor at her other end was cursing. There I was: smack in the middle between the sacred and the profane, trying like hell to resist the inevitable. Resistance is my middle name. Well, Louise was my actual middle name, but I resisted that, too, until I finally disposed of it in the giddy cauldron of post-hippie San Francisco back in the 70s.

My infant self reportedly screamed so loudly and so often that my mother was convinced the neighbors thought she was beating me. She wasn’t, but she did have an overriding desire to make a good impression (at least on non-family members), so my caterwauling did nothing to help our relationship get off on a good footing. That and the fact I wasn’t a boy. As for me, I can only imagine I was stunned to discover my karmic misfortune and was shouting a loud “Nooooo!” of protest back to the universe.

There’s a saying in therapeutic circles that what you resist persists. But I say what you resist is often less likely to get the better of you.

My parents were adherents of the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do school of parenting. They employed an extremely colorful vocabulary during their fights over money, time, and my father’s numerous peccadilloes. The language my mother used on the three of us kids when she was angry would be considered abusive today. When she ran out of real curse words, she made up new ones, which I found hysterically funny. But I was puzzled when they blamed me for teaching my two younger brothers to curse. Where did they imagine I’d picked up those words?

As soon I was old enough to formulate complete sentences—and watch TV—I decided the only possible explanation for my situation was that I was adopted. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were my real parents. My mother and father played their roles in public well enough to pass, but they were so unqualified for the job I couldn’t take them seriously. I tried to reason with my mother and even gave her parenting tips from time to time (“You’re the mother; I’m the child,” “try not to get involved in our fights,” etc). When that failed, I told her she was immature.

My father was a traveling salesman for a hardware company and wasn’t usually home during the week. He may have been the actual subject of all those traveling salesman jokes: a good-looking smooth-talker with a million lines (i.e. lies) and a gal in every town.

My mother said he even fooled around on their honeymoon, and I don’t find that hard to believe. He had several long-term girlfriends, of which Bonnie was the most memorable, being the mother of my half-sister, Kelly, whom I’ve never met. Bonnie, who lived in Battle Creek—or Battle Crick—as my mother mockingly referred to it, habitually planted items of underwear in various motels where she stayed with my father registered as his wife. When a piece of lingerie was “found,” it was “returned” to my mother, along with a courteous note.

My mother was not amused. As I was her primary sounding board, she filled my head with sordid details I knew I shouldn’t be hearing. She also tried to get me to listen in on Dad’s telephone calls, but they were so inane I refused to waste my time. I would later find myself on the other end of Mom’s Spy vs. Spy intrigue as a result of my propensity for making “undesirable” friends—which reflected badly on her. After she forbade me to see a particular boyfriend (wrong race), she sent my youngest brother to follow me on his bicycle whenever I left the house. Of course, I never allowed her designs and devices to affect my choice of friends.

My parents often disappointed and infuriated me, but then I also find cloudy days disappointing and infuriating. Resisting my parents helped me learn how to think for myself—and to have, in spite of the odds, a pretty happy childhood—which is more success than I’ve had resisting the weather.

happy new year 1978!

Just wanted to post this short excerpt from Skin of Glass, the novel I may yet undertake to get published.

BillieThere isn’t anywhere in Chicago he can’t get to by taxi or public transportation, so David hasn’t bothered to get another car since moving here. There’s a bus stop half a block from the entrance to his office and another one directly across from his apartment building. Of course taking the bus means waiting for the bus, which is what he’s doing right now, and lately that means risking freezing to death. Once he finally boards, finds a seat, and thaws enough to stop shivering uncontrollably, the bus is nearing his stop.

He rises to join the queue in front of the exit door, steeling himself against the inevitable. The bus jerks to a halt, and the side doors screech open. A blast of frigid air reaches into the heated vehicle and sucks him into its vortex. Gloved, hatted, and wrapped tight as a mummy against the chill wind blowing off Lake Michigan, he steps down to the street. In seconds, his lips are numb.

Bent forward against the force of the wind, he strides across Grand Avenue to the entrance of his building, a seventy-story glass and steel monument to Modernism. The sun is almost gone, but it was so weak and watery it made little difference. The temperature hasn’t been above freezing for the past few days. With the wind chill factor, it’s actually below zero. At least most of the snow from the last storm has been cleared away.

The doorman is wearing earmuffs under his maroon cap and a scarf wrapped snugly around the lower half of his face. Only his eyes and red-tipped nose are visible. He shouts a muffled but cheery “Happy New Year” to David, and David nods in return. On the elevator heading up to the thirty-sixth floor, he feels the familiar tingling in his extremities that accompanies a rapid change of temperature. He unwinds the gray and black woolen scarf from around his neck and unbuttons his charcoal overcoat. Once inside his apartment, he warms some brandy and sips the soothing liquid as he turns on lights and music before taking up his post in front of the bay window overlooking the wasteland below.

The first apartment he was in had a view of Lake Michigan and the marina. What could have possessed him to take that place? Some harebrained notion he might get another boat? Not likely. As soon as he was able to arrange it with management, he moved to this side of the building, paying a hefty fee for the privilege of altering his lease. It was worth it.

He stares morosely at the desolate scene below. Here and there, between the hard-packed gray remnants of snow, are dun-colored patches of earth barren of grass. Black skeletons of trees seem to be railing against the hostile gray sky. He’d actually hoped for snow to transform Chicago into something soft and white, sparkling, totally alien to his past associations with the holidays. He’s cured of any desire for snow now.

Well, if he can’t blot out the dreary landscape outside, he can do his best to blot out his equally dreary inner landscape.

He’s been invited to several New Year’s Eve parties but hadn’t decided whether to drink alone at his club or in a crowd at one of the parties. But now that he’s home, there’s no way he’s going out again. Anywhere. Unless someone were to resurrect Coltrane. Or Miles were to come to his senses and stop playing rock and roll. And either one of them were foolish enough to put on a show tonight in this frigid, godforsaken place. He’s got plenty to drink right here. Besides, a person could freeze to death out there, and he’s not quite suicidal yet.

He hasn’t looked at his mail for a couple of weeks because he doesn’t want to see cards from California. This is the first time he’s spent the holidays alone. But it isn’t being alone he minds so much; it’s anything that reminds him of home.

Billie Holiday’s strangely lyrical seen-it-all voice is crooning Yesterdays on his stereo. It doesn’t really matter what the words are, her voice always seems to let you know she’s right there in the same miserable place you are. She sounds as if she always knew the way it would end for her. The way it’s going to end for you, too, baby. And there’s not a damned thing you can do about it so you might as well stop trying.

Not that he’s really trying.


drawn to the light
the nightlight


I am drawing light
and growing;

Drawing butterfly pictures,
spectral ink blot samples
of a state of mind,
a moment in time,
a momentary rhyme,
a sign;

Tracing the sunlight
on paper
or determining the nature
of myself
of yourself,
and the world
of light flowing,
water growing,
earth shining

On this space
between places
we have found
to live in for a while.

the key

Big old roll-top desk

 Paul Forrester’s eyes opened. With a single jolt of adrenaline, he was wide awake and breathing hard although his body still felt heavy and numb. The light was dim, but even without consulting his wristwatch, he knew the sun was up, and he didn’t have much time. He felt for the key in his right hand, running his thumb over the curved surface and then the smooth jutting foot at the end. Paul smiled, the urgency to move now tempered by anticipation. He stretched his legs and arms and wriggled his shoulders before rising to a sitting position on the lumpy, mildewed sofa in the basement of his parents’ house. Or what used to be his parents’ house. They were both dead and he doubted anyone had been inside the place for over a year—until he broke in two days ago, that is, and started searching for the key to his father’s desk.

He hadn’t really had to break in. He could have asked his brother for a key to the house. Henry Forrester knew nothing about their father’s unfinished manuscript and wouldn’t have given a rat’s ass about it if he had known. But Paul didn’t like having to explain himself to his stolid, practical, and completely unimaginative older brother. According to Henry, Paul was willfully refusing to live up to his potential just to spite the rest of the family.

He couldn’t deny the whole thing had been impulsive: taking time off from work without notice, driving across the state, and living on junk food for three days while he hunted through the detritus of his parents’ 25 years together. It was hard not to think of them lying a few feet apart in their graves in the cemetery he’d passed on his way into town.

But now he had the key. It seemed like a fluke. He’d gone through every room in the house three or four times and given the basement a couple of cursory searches, too, not really expecting to find the key down here. He had been tired, sore, frustrated, and ready to give up. Just as he was about to call his wife, Brenda, and tell her she’d been right about this being a wild goose chase, the image popped into his head, clear and bright as if it had happened last month and not over 20 years ago.

The summer when Paul was seven years old, his father was already middle-aged, his hair thinning and his waist thickening. Paul had become fascinated with the night sky and was amazed when his father came up from the basement one evening carrying a telescope. It wasn’t very powerful, but Paul didn’t realize that then. To him it was magical—almost as magical as the fact that it belonged to his father. The two of them spent many hours in the backyard that summer, identifying constellations or just admiring the moon and the bright spots of light. They shared an interest no one else in the family had. For a few months, Paul had felt close to his father, as though they had a secret bond. It hadn’t lasted, of course. With the shorter days, his father grew distant again, closing himself off in his study for weeks at a time.

So on a hunch an hour or so before dawn, Paul went into the basement one more time to try to find the battered and scratched brown leather telescope case. As soon as he saw it it, he knew that’s where the key was. And he was right. Once he found it, he only had enough energy left to stumble to the couch, clutching the thing tightly in his fist. He was out within seconds.

He stood up and headed for the stairs. Henry had sold the property and all its contents for what was to Paul an unbelievably large sum of money, considering the owner intended to raze the place and build a new house on the site. If Paul didn’t get a move on, he would get bulldozed along with the house. Sunlight flooded the first floor. He had to hurry. He went directly to the old-fashioned roll top desk, now covered in dust, in his father’s study. The day before, Paul had considered trying to have the desk removed from the house, but he had no way of hauling it back home. Besides, Brenda would have really flipped out if he brought this monstrosity back with him.

He stared at the tarnished lock, took a deep breath, inserted the key, and twisted it to the right. Then he grabbed the round knob and pulled. The drawer slid open smoothly, revealing a small leather-bound journal and a stack of typed pages that had once been held together by a rubber band that was nothing but crumbled remnants.

A note was paper clipped to the top page. “Paul,” it began. He was so startled, he nearly dropped the piece of paper. “You and I are more alike, I think, than we’ve ever acknowledged to each other. If you’re reading this, then maybe you’ve realized it, too. I hope so. I put more of myself into these pages than into anything else I’ve written. It’s more ambitious, riskier, than anything else I’ve ever done. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to complete it. But I have a feeling that if you’ve found it, you’ll know how to finish it. Write the end of the story, son. Make it yours. Love, Dad.”

Paul felt a surge of longing for the father who had been absent in spirit, if not in fact, for most of his life. At the same time, he felt more connected with him than he ever had before. But the rumble of the bulldozer making its approach up the driveway brought him back to the present. He scooped up the manuscript and journal and headed for the back door. After a few steps, he turned around—on impulse again—and went back for the key. He slipped it into the back pocket of his jeans before departing from his father’s house for the last time.

~ ~ ~

Note: This story resulted from a writing exercise. Imagine that you wake up in the morning with a key clutched in your hand. What does it unlock? 

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San Francisco poems (1974)

last days

English: Fog at Ocean Beach in San Francisco i...

Fog at Ocean Beach in San Francisco is clearing up (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Smoke dreams,
the days went in a haze
of musky air;
green and gold and lavender
love-spangled hours,
sun-dappled minutes;
fleeting glimpse
of someone
here or there.
In dreams conceived and born,
to dust return:
finely colored ash,
dissolved and lost.

ocean beach 

and a riot of foam:
the waves
roll in,
the beach meticulously,
inch by inch,
sucking in
pebbles and shells
and footsteps
of bathers—
unwrinkling the shoreline
and retreating.

A small bird
the newly varnished
of the sand.


inking a path
thru the night;
new words,
old words—
translated into safety.

with a dream
or a pen
always breaks
in the coming of the dawn,
whose grey reality will
tear the page and
rip the fabric
of the night.

the infinity of possibilities
ends here
in the clarity of morning:
I don’t touch you,
not even with my words;
and the dreams are only
on the far edge
of the lush and tender forests
we could know.


Sometimes a goldfish,
I swim thru
the city’s nightwater
lit brightly from the top.
Neon and stars
weld their light together:
a gold fishnet
of infinite capacity.

In the damp Pacific air
all the city is an ocean,
full of frogs,
and fish like me,
and seaweed
that tangles in my hair
and ties me
to the concrete ocean floor.

Chinese restaurant (novel excerpt)

This is another excerpt from my novel in progress, Skin of Glass.


Five-Happiness-Restaurant-San-Francisco (Photo credit:

November 1990. At the end of his shift at the bookstore, Ethan intends to grab a sandwich from the deli and go home to work on his paper on symbolism and surrealism in Modern Greek Literature. But once he’s behind the wheel of his car, he’s thinking not about Greek Literature but about Eve. Again. His plan falls apart at the first red light; fifteen minutes later he’s in a phone booth on Van Ness Avenue dialing her number. It’s rush hour and the blare of traffic and stink of exhaust fumes make him dizzy. His nerves are frayed and his reflexes dulled from lack of sleep. If he doesn’t finish his paper by the end of the week, he’s going to nail an incomplete. It goes without saying he isn’t getting any writing done.

When he started daydreaming about Eve, it was a harmless fantasy. Then he began seeing her face everywhere. It’s reached the point where he has to talk to her, at least hear her voice, hear her say his name, if only to tell him to go to hell. He feels as though he’s waiting for the results of some medical tests that mean everything: life or death.

She answers the phone distractedly, but after he identifies himself, she says, “Ethan!” clearly surprised to hear from him. Possibly pleased? Or is he projecting? When he says nothing else, she asks him if anything’s wrong.

“No, nothing’s wrong. I just wondered…have you eaten yet? Do you want to get something to eat?” There’s no warmth in his voice, no invitation. His hand is clamped around the receiver, and he’s staring through the grimy glass enclosure at the three lanes of cars stopped at the corner for the light.

“With you, you mean?”

The light turns green. The booming bass from a passing car vibrates along the pavement and travels up Ethan’s body, all the way to the hand holding the receiver. He says, “Yes,” amid the sudden crescendo of gunned engines. He feels his mouth form the word, but he can’t hear his own voice. When she doesn’t respond immediately, he wonders if he actually said it out loud, if she heard him. He won’t say it again.

“Sure,” she says. “But I need to change; I just got home. Can I meet you somewhere?”

He hadn’t thought that far, but the image of her sitting across from him at that Chinese restaurant pops into his head. He doesn’t remember the name, but she does, and they agree to meet there in an hour. When he hangs up, he looks through the phone book for the address, then walks swiftly toward his car, which is parked illegally across the street. The darkness seems to have deepened in the space of his telephone call, or in response to it. He could go to the library and get a little research done. At least he’d be doing something productive. But until he sees her and settles this thing somehow, it’s hopeless to try to carry on with his everyday life.

The restaurant is on Grant Avenue in Chinatown, an area he doesn’t know. He drives across town and spends twenty minutes trying to find parking. Even this time of year, the street is noisy and crowded, bustling with automobile and foot traffic. He parks on a side street a few blocks from the restaurant and tries to walk off some of his nervous energy. It’s cold and windy; he moves with his head down, his hands stuffed into the pockets of a gray down vest, not looking at anyone, and not bothering to glance into any of the lighted store windows filled with cheap souvenirs and garish clothing. What exactly is he doing? It would have been better for everyone, including him, if Eve hadn’t been home, or if she’d refused to meet him. In fact, he thinks she should have refused. He’s already mentally convicting them of betraying Jesse, although the only betrayal so far is his, and it doesn’t have to go any further.

He enters the restaurant, immediately fortified a little by the aroma of garlic and ginger. The petite smiling hostess shows him to a table for two, assuring him she’ll watch for Eve. He orders a beer, shrugs out of the down vest, and leans back in his chair. He looks around, trying to remember where they sat when they were here for the birthday party. Several tables had been placed end-to-end. But it was a long time ago, and all he can picture is Eve and the heavy red draperies and table linen.

He glimpses himself in the mirrored panel of a room divider and almost doesn’t recognize himself. He looks like a vagrant, somewhat sinister. He goes to the restroom to splash his face with water, run his fingers through his unruly mass of hair, and wash his hands. The whites of his eyes are so bloodshot they look pink; there are dark circles under them. A clear, firm voice in his head says, Leave now. Just go. But he can’t.

He’s back in his seat taking a sip of beer when the hostess leads Eve to the table, both of them smiling as though they share a happy secret. Ethan rises but doesn’t touch her, doesn’t smile, just says her name, “Eve.” Once they’re seated, a waiter places a pot of tea on the table and hands them menus. Eve slips her arms out of her camel’s hair coat and lets it fall against the back of her chair. What now?

She takes in the room. “I haven’t been here since January.” The memory seems a pleasant one. “Have you?”

“Me?” He shakes his head. “I almost never eat out. That was a special occasion.” He has one hand around the cold, wet glass of beer. He can barely look at her. All he registers is that she’s wearing a pale yellow sweater with a high neckline, and her hair is shorter than he remembers. They focus on their menus, although he isn’t really reading his. “You’re more experienced with this. Why don’t you choose?”

“But what do you like?”

“Anything. I’m not fussy.” Afraid he’s being rude, he adds, “I’m sure whatever you select will be perfect.”

Her skin is almost white. Porcelain. He feels vulgar and coarse by comparison. Classic beauty and the beast; they shouldn’t even be occupying the same table. She studies the menu pages, humming to herself so softly and unselfconsciously it melts him, the same way Molly melts him when she sits on the floor singing made-up songs to her dolls.

Eve recites her choices aloud, then repeats them to their waiter, adding, “not too hot, please.” The waiter—Chinese, with close-cropped hair and wire-rimmed glasses—bows and nods.

“Jesse always gets the Kung Pao Tofu here. This is his favorite restaurant in the City.”

Ethan sighs. Why hadn’t that occurred to him? This is such an amazingly bad idea. Jesse is going to be here at the table all evening. Well, it’s what he deserves.

“Did I say something wrong?”

He shakes his head, suddenly drained, too tired to be here, to be doing this. “No, no. This is probably a bad idea. I’m pretty tired. Not very good company. I’m sorry.”

“You just need some food.” She pours tea for both of them. “Are you taking any classes this semester?”

He laughs. “One. Modern Greek Literature. Which I’m doing my absolute best to fail.”

They pass the time talking about teachers, classes, and homework. When their food arrives, he picks up his fork, but Eve insists he learn how to use the chopsticks. It takes him a few minutes to grasp the concept, and even then he’s far from adept. They slip from his fingers, clattering against the plate, and he drops bits of food on their way to his mouth. The rice is especially tricky. They both laugh at his attempts, but she encourages him and his technique improves.

He asks her when she started doing art and learns her father’s an architect.

“I used to go to his office with him, and sometimes I’d draw these fantastic, elaborate houses while he was working. I wanted to do what he did. In fact I would have gone into architecture, but I couldn’t hack all the math. It would have been a much better career choice than fine art, that’s for sure. But I’m rethinking that.”

“Rethinking what?”

“What I want to be when I grow up. It’s one thing to make art for yourself, but I’m not sure about trying to earn a living with it. And I can’t really say I’m driven by any grande artistic vision. I was planning to be an illustrator, now that I’ve finally mastered the human form.”

“What do you mean?”

“Learning how to draw people was hard. I was always pretty good at drawing things—structures, nature. Inanimate objects, I guess you could say.”

“It’s funny how that works. I still have trouble writing descriptions. If I don’t pay attention my stories all end up taking place in fields of white space. I guess I’m not very visual. I mean I see things but—”

“The trick is learning how to feel with your eyes.”

“Feel with your eyes?”

“I read about it in a book my father gave me.”

“An art book?”

“No. A novel. My Name is Asher Lev.”

“Oh. Chaim Potok. I read that one. Long time ago. So you know how to do that? Feel things with your eyes?”

She blushes. “Sort of. When I first tried it I focused very, very intently, but the harder I tried the more frustrating it was. I couldn’t get it. In high school I discovered the secret. Pot.”

They burst into laughter.

“Is your father an artist, too?”

“Technically, no, but he could be. He used to do these exquisite architectural renderings. When you’d see one you’d just want to live in it. In that world, I mean. But he doesn’t have time for it anymore. I’m not as good as he is.” She shrugs. “But this semester I have a photography course and I love it. Maybe because it’s new. But I can imagine being a photographer a lot easier than I can imagine being an artist. And I mean to get off the dole as soon as I can.”

“The dole?”

“Being supported by my father. He does some work for free, for community groups and nonprofit organizations, and I feel like such a leech that he’s still supporting me. I’d like to be on the other end, you know? Be making some kind of a contribution the way he does. Besides, I’m sure he has better things to do with his hard-earned money.”

“Well, speaking as a Dad,” Ethan says, with mock gravity, “I can’t imagine there’s anything I’d rather do with my money than spend it on my daughter. If I had any money, that is.”

“You say that now, when Molly’s, what? Three? Wait till you’re closing in on twenty years of financial support.”

“So would you stop doing art if you became a photographer?”

“No. I like to play with colors, textures, get the feeling of something or someone down on paper, to preserve it. Everything’s so temporary. This way I can preserve the memories.”

“Hm. Like impressionist photographs.”

“Hey, I hadn’t thought of that!”

By the time they’re finishing the lukewarm tea, he feels as though he’s been on a brief vacation. “This was delicious, every bit of it—at least every bit I managed to get into my mouth.”

“All you need is practice. But you did great for the first time.”

Her lipstick is gone, her blue eyes shining; she looks happy and relaxed, hunched over her teacup tucking strands of red hair behind her left ear. He feels a wave of affection for her. Affection. Nothing more. And he won’t ask for more; he won’t betray Jesse.

The waiter brings the check on a small black plastic tray. There’s a single fortune cookie on it. Ethan barely notices the waiter slip a cookie into each of Eve’s hands, he does it so quickly and smoothly. She blushes again, very becoming, and her eyes widen. She glances at Ethan and then at the departing waiter.

Ethan grins at her embarrassment. “There must be some super special fortunes in those cookies.” He reaches for the one on the tray, opens it with a single snap, pulls out the narrow piece of paper, and reads it aloud. “The road to knowledge begins with the turn of a page.” He rolls his eyes and crunches the pieces of cookie in his mouth. “Preaching to the converted here.”

She opens first one cookie, then the other, reading her fortunes to herself. Ethan waits for her to read them aloud, but she gives him a crooked half-smile and pockets them. He teases her about it, but she won’t tell him what they say. He pulls his wallet out and lays some bills on the tray. She slips her arms into her coat and he shrugs into his vest. On the way out, they nod to the waiter, who bows again and thanks them.

“Where’s your car? I’ll walk you to it.”

“It’s only a block away,” she says. “You don’t have to do that.”

“But I want to.” He presses the palm of his hand against her back, steering her in the direction she indicated. They walk slowly, in a comfortable silence. When they get to her car, she rummages through her handbag for her keys, and a small brush falls to the pavement.

“I’ve got it.” Ethan retrieves the brush and hands it to her. She reaches for it carefully, not touching his outstretched palm.

Suddenly she looks away. “Do you ever feel like you’re living someone else’s life? Like no matter how good you are you’ll never measure up?”

There’s a lump in his throat; all he can do is nod.

“Oh, listen to me,” she says, her tone shifting. “As if I have anything to complain about.”

But of course he knows what she means. He knows exactly what she means.

“Thank you, Ethan. That was wonderful. Such a nice surprise on a cold, gloomy day.”

He wants to say something light in response, but they’re standing too close, and instead of saying anything, he grasps her shoulders, pulls her toward him, and kisses her hard on the lips—waiting for her to push him away, maybe even hit him. But she sways unsteadily toward him so he folds his arms around her and she relaxes against him. A sigh escapes from one or both of them, and they stay like that, standing on the dark street in the cold, next to her car.

hey jealousy (a short story in dialogue)

hey jealousy

Hey jealousy
She took my heart
Well there’s only one thing I couldn’t start

–Gin Blossoms

Lakeshore Records

Lakeshore Records (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Lexie? Is that you?”

“Mark? My God, I thought you were dead.”

“Oh, no. Nothing that serious. Just got a little dizzy after working out in the hotel fitness room. Guess I was dehydrated. I’ll be out in time to catch my plane. But, wow, how amazing to see you here, Lexie.”

“No. I mean I thought you’d died years ago. At the lake. When the Wheelers’ boat sank.”

“What? Well, obviously, the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”


“You look fantastic. As beautiful as the picture of you I’ve kept all this time. I’ll bet you’re an amazing nurse. Such gentle hands you had. I remember. I’ve never forgotten those weeks at the lake, the walks we took on the shore, sitting at the edge of the pier and talking so long we got sunburned. Sneaking out behind the back of the boathouse at night. That was a…special time. You were special.”

“But, Mark—”

“Sometimes I wish we could go back, don’t you? Life seemed simpler and sweeter then, without all the obligations, the fuss, the stress. You know what I mean?”


“You must have married, Lexie. I see a ring. Any children? Can you believe Veronica and I are celebrating our 30th at the end of the year? Frannie, our oldest, is married, teaching in Kentucky—Kentucky, for crying out loud. But she’s pregnant, so I doubt that will last much longer. God, I’ll be a grandfather soon. And Paul is almost through med school. ‘My son, the doctor.’ What a cliché, huh?”


“Of course you remember Veronica. You two were best friends. She’ll be so surprised when I tell her I saw you.”

“Surprised? Yes, I think she’ll be quite surprised.”

“What’s the matter, Lexie?”

“Tell me about Frannie. How old is she? What’s she like?”

“She’s twenty-nine. Pretty and smart. Hell-bent on having a career before settling down to raise kids. Didn’t want to be like her mother, getting married and having babies before she finished college.”

“And how is Veronica these days?”

“Oh, she’s fine. Stays busy with the house and the cabin. And she has her committee work with the arts guild and a couple other groups. Right now she’s in Kentucky helping Frannie get ready for the baby. We’re both excited about our first grandchild.”

“Why didn’t you ever call me, Mark? Or write?”

“I thought you didn’t want me to. You’d met someone else, hadn’t you? It was Veronica, come to think of it, who told me you’d left with him. I was in shock when she told me, Lex, to tell you the truth. I’d thought you cared about me the way I did about you.”

“I left the lake because my mother fell and broke her arm and needed my help at home. You were off hiking with some of the other guys, so I wrote a note and gave it to Veronica to give you. She came to visit me a few weeks later. I trusted her, so I confided in her. She told me about the accident with the Wheelers’ boat.”

“Yes, that was a terrible thing. Mr. Wheeler’s youngest son, Petey, drowned.”

“But you weren’t on the boat.”


“And you and Veronica?”

“Rebound kind of thing, I guess. And then she got pregnant, so we got married right away.”

“Well, I have some other patients to attend to. It was good to see you.”


“Say ‘Hi’ to Veronica for me. And just so you know, Mark, your first grandchild is four years old. His name is Kevin and he takes after his father. We’re celebrating his baby sister’s first birthday next week. Michaela looks just like her mother did at that age.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Veronica Rose. Your oldest daughter’s name is Veronica Rose, but we call her Ronnie. She has your eyes. Same bright blue; same long, dark lashes. I remember, too, Mark. I remember every day. I’ll get someone else to look in on you now.”

Lost in Space Again

October 18, 1989 (Loma Prieta Earthquake)

photograph of a collapsed facade of a building...

photograph of a collapsed facade of a building near Beach and Divisadero Streets in San Francisco (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sabina held the dress up in front of herself and looked into the full-length mirror. Then she turned to me.

“That’s nice,” I said. “It makes you look like Gena Rowlands.” Gena Rowlands?

Sabina’s hair was much longer and pulled back into a pony tail. The shop we were in consisted of three rooms, sort of large walk-in closets. There were no salespeople in sight. I don’t remember if Sabina bought the dress. She is real, but the rest was a dream.

When I told her friend Lee about it, she said Sabina was supposed to be shopping for a dress for a wedding next month. So I described the dream dress in as much detail as I could. Now Sabina’s trying to find this dress that will make her look like Gena Rowlands.

As for me, I’m trying to find the man who wandered into Sabina’s kitchen while I was sitting alone at her table after our shopping expedition. His hair was full and dark, his skin a light olive. He was wearing a white long-sleeved shirt and dark pants. He sat down across the table from me and started speaking in a low-friendly voice.

I was preoccupied and kept asking him to repeat himself. He told me his name was Roy Walli and even spelled it: W-A-L-L-I. He said he liked jazz and played the oud. When I related this scene to a musician friend, he told me the oud is a lute-shaped Arabic instrument and that playing jazz on it would be difficult but not impossible.

After a short time, Roy got up to go. He apologized, saying he hadn’t meant to bother me. Suddenly, I didn’t want him to leave and protested that he wasn’t bothering me at all. He didn’t appear to believe me. After he left, I drank some white wine through a straw from an oversized goblet. Then I tried to look him up in the phone book. It had an unusually large number of sections, but his name wasn’t in any of them. Later, looking through a second-story window, I saw his name on an old-fashioned sign—the kind an auto repair shop might have—on a red brick building. It felt like a dead end.

Should I run an ad in the Pacific Sun? “Divorced white female, age 43, seeks literal man of her dreams.”

Saturday was the night of the full moon. I didn’t sleep very well. My stomach was churning, my heart was pounding, and my head ached vaguely. I seemed to wake up every half hour. Deep in the middle of the night, I found myself in an unfamiliar large two-story wooden house. I was looking through another second-story window watching the full-moon rise. My friend was asleep, but I called him over to the window to track the huge luminous moon’s ascent behind two distant hills.

He wasn’t much interested in the moon and went back to bed. I continued to stare out the window, maybe a little hypnotized. As the moon rose, it seemed to grow larger instead of smaller, and to cast more and more light. All at once, it was huge and glowing, and I could see splotches of color and texture: mauves and blues and purples stood out against the pearly white ground. A large round white cloud served as a gauzy backdrop behind it.

The moon cast so much light that far-away planets became visible. Everything outside the window took on the surreal appearance of a charcoal sketch. Nothing was in color anymore, and none of the normal daytime landscape was visible. Jupiter, trailing some kind of vapor, and Saturn and its rings were so close I could almost stretch out my arm and touch them.

I was awestruck, but the thought I might be the only one seeing it made me feel very isolated and deeply disturbed. I had a sense of all these huge planets, including the earth, floating in space with nothing to anchor them. It was disorienting and frightening. I felt as if I really could fall off the edge of the Earth.

Gradually, the moon rose higher in the sky, finally becoming smaller, its light dimming. The planets disappeared from sight and the world outside returned to normal. I must have stayed up all night because it was morning by then.

My friend and I woke up around seven o’clock, talked a little, and made love. He got up, but I fell back asleep. When I woke up the second time, alone, I could still see the clear, grey outline of Jupiter in the sky, and that sense of floating freely in space, unanchored, wouldn’t go away.

Yesterday, at four minutes after five o’clock in the afternoon, I was in Mill Valley, working alone at the far end of Sabina’s studio when the earth shook half a dozen marble slabs off the walls and sent them crashing down onto her desk and her paints and the floor. I don’t know where she was—maybe still looking for that dress. And I don’t know where Roy Walli was, either. Who was that guy, and just what was it he was trying to tell me that I was too preoccupied to hear? All I really got for sure was his name.

soloist (a poem)


moon (Photo credit: Nick. K.)

You pass through glass
(thick, leaded, amber panes)
into moments . . . doors opening and closing,
exposing the visible threads of your soul
to the brightlight: rhythms of dreams,
fractured fantasies,
and wrung-out visions of a holy life.

You hold your breath and stare
as time explodes around you
feeding your senses such seductive visions of hell
(the sight of people coming and going);
and the world arranges and rearranges itself
into patterns of roads that you watch
like a TV show
for signs of life.

Someone (something) is always moving,
toward you or away,
while you remain unmet,
framed in the doorway, entranced
by images refracting to the surface,
playing them out on silver strings
(your silver wings);
playing only to the moon at night,
you pass through glass.

Terry, on the outside

If I’m out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.

― Saul BellowHerzog

Saul Bellow, Miami Book Fair International, 19

Saul Bellow  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1965, television carried the sights and sounds of the bloody march on Selma, Alabama into living rooms across the country. Agitation over the Vietnam War was breaking out on campuses and in city streets, in both small towns and big cities. But the Stonewall riots were a few years away, and gay liberation was not yet on our collective radar screen. So it really isn’t odd that my first gay friend never came out to me and likely never even realized I knew he was gay.

Terry was medium-tall, about 25 pounds overweight, ruddy-skinned, with close-cropped dark, curly hair. He wore black horn-rimmed glasses that gave him, alternately, the look of a scholar or of a mad scientist. He lived in a wealthy suburb with his adoptive parents. The woman who gave birth to him was a distant relative of theirs. She lived in an apartment above a downtown department store, where Terry used to visit her. He seemed ambivalent about all three of these people.

I was attending college, but Terry wasn’t a student. He was part of the local theater scene, of which I was a hanger-on by virtue of being friends with some student actors. We were a loose-knit group of about a dozen kids with mixed economic and ethnic backgrounds.

Terry was energetic, sardonic, funny, and engaging. He amused and entertained everyone, often making himself the butt of his own jokes. But he could participate with equal aplomb in the deep, philosophical inquiries of the undergrad set. I found him more comfortable and easier to be with than most people I’d known all my life. We also found each other reasonably attractive and indulged in some innocent—although not harmless—necking. (I once contracted a serious case of mono from him that that required three days of hospitalization and a month of recuperation.)

Unless you’re completely exploded, there’s always something to be grateful for.

 ― Saul Bellow, Herzog

During most of this time, I had a stuttering romance going with David, a thin, intense, brooding young actor/student who appeared to survive on caffeine, aspirin, cigarettes, vitamins, and cereal. David, Terry, and I hung out together, often occupying booths or counter space in one of the all-night restaurants that were so much more common back then. We talked constantly, logging thousands of hours of conversation in person or over the telephone. We were into the novels of John Updike and Saul Bellow, so I imagine we discussed Rabbit Angstrom, George Caldwell (The Centaur), and Moses Herzog.

Some people, if they didn’t make it hard for themselves, might fall asleep.

 ― Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March

One night in the middle of winter, Terry and I were driving around in a car I had borrowed. I forget why, but it was suddenly imperative to him to lay his hands on some money. He knew the combination to the safe in his father’s business office, so he decided to break into it. But first I had to return the car, which meant we were on foot more than 25 miles from his father’s office.

We slogged several miles across icy streets and sidewalks, growing increasingly numb from the cold, to the home of Marian-the-Librarian. Marian was the head of the Children’s Department of the public library, where I had once worked, and we were still friends. But she was in her 60s and lived alone, so I’m surprised she even opened her door. But she let us in, gave us something hot to drink, and agreed to lend us cab fare.

The cab dropped us off at a restaurant, where we ordered coffee. Terry downed his quickly and set off to try to find another car. Hours passed, though, as the waitress kept refilling my cup and giving me sympathetic looks. I realized Terry wasn’t going to return, but I didn’t have enough money to pay for the two coffees.

Eventually it got to be morning, and I called a friend to come pick me up and pay for the coffee. I never learned the outcome of that particular escapade, but it was adventures like that that often earned Terry time alone for reflection behind one set of locked doors or another.

He had several stints in the state mental hospital, from which he wrote me regularly. One weekend, David and I drove halfway across the state to see him. It was a warm, sunny, summer day, and David and I were both in a good mood. We made up names for fictional characters by combining place names from a roadmap: Crystallia Goodheart (heroine), Joppa Scott (villain), Sagola Volney (possible pen name for me). We fantasized about starting a business to provide characters (names and descriptions) to lazy novelists.

It seems, after all that there are no nonpeculiar people.

― Saul Bellow, Humboldt’s Gift

Terry was delighted to see us, garrulous and clowning around as usual: jovial tour guide of the nut house. Once he was released, the three of us picked up where we’d left off.

A few years later, he started talking about moving to Boston and making oblique references to a “marriage of convenience.” I assumed he never elaborated because he thought I didn’t know what he was talking about. It didn’t occur to me that he might have enjoyed being mysterious. In any case, he wanted me to move to Boston, too, and I considered the idea. But I ended up going to California instead, and we lost track of each other after that.

Out of the blue, during the winter of 1977, I started thinking about Terry quite a bit. I felt a strong urge to find out where he was and what he was up to, but I didn’t follow up on it for several months. His adoptive parents were no longer listed in the phone book, for one thing, and I was out of touch with everyone else who’d known him. But the urge persisted, and eventually I located the name and address of a possible relative. I wrote to him asking for Terry’s current address.

The man turned out to be Terry’s uncle. He called me as soon as he got my letter to tell me Terry had committed suicide in Boston six months earlier—right around the time I’d started thinking about him again.

I don’t delude myself that if I’d found a way to get in touch with Terry earlier he wouldn’t have killed himself. That would be presumptuous. There’s no way for me to know what was actually going on with him. But when I found out what had happened, I felt like a member of a mountain-climbing expedition who got distracted and looked away. And in that moment of looking away, I failed to see another member of the party lose his footing and fall, fatally, to earth.

We are funny creatures. We don’t see the stars as they are, so why do we love them? They are not small gold objects, but endless fire.

― Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King

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