Wednesday, October 31, 2012

In Disguise

A man walks past me down the alley. He is neither short nor tall and wears his winter jacket open underneath there is a sweater. It is almost ninety degrees this All Hallows Eve. He is the man whose Mercedes was returned to his garage yesterday on the flatbed of a truck. This morning, I heard him exclaim loudly, "It will be almost one thousand dollars. But this is the least of my worries," in a slight Armenian accent. The building he recently moved into is Section 8 housing.

When he passes he does not smile, but he does not frown. Later, I will hear Vivaldi waft like flower petals from his window and I will turn my own music down to listen.

Next time we meet I will put my hand on his arm and smile in understanding. We must have sweet tea. Become good friends. This is the only richness that life cannot live without.

Over tea, I will tell him a story to cheer him up. It is the story of the day I drove my old Chevy Malibu up through the hills of fancy houses, remembering my former fancy house, my shiny car, my shiny life before the illnesses and sufferings of karmic effects. A new job as an assistant to a wealthy man awaited. When I climbed from my car, a neighbor, white-haired elegant, with a poodle, approached. "I wanted to ask you how much you charge," she said to me. Her blue eyes sparkled. She was a nice person. "Charge?" I asked, petting her dog's head. "To clean houses?"she asked. I recoiled as if slapped.

When I rang the bell, a housekeeper/nanny opened the door and smiled then turned to leave. My new boss descended the spiral staircase. "Can you believe your neighbor just asked how much I charge to clean houses?" I said, enraged, on the verge of tears. "Just because I drive a dented old old car."

He laughed and replied, "You know what's even worse? You said that in front of my cleaning lady."

Clearly, I still hung on. I had been a Merry Maid, and a receptionist, a cashier, a floral stop clerk, data entry for a gas station, Catholic school teacher's assistant, hell, I'd wrapped large ladies' thighs in ace bandages filled with "mystery" cellulite removal cream. I'd even turned forty in my parents' unfinished basement. But then, I had also been on television.

When I finish telling my good new friend this little tale of losing attachments, I will say with assurance, "Please don't worry. Life offers many opportunities to overcome our sufferings. We are all just travelers here on route to and from our various missions.Our disguises matter little, the content of our hearts - all."




Wednesday, September 19, 2012

See You at The Movies

...see you in print, or on tv, or maybe even at the movies, she wrote, smiling to herself. she was so over him that the phrase "over him" felt outdated. for she had replaced "him" with happiness.

the end

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Wedding Cake


In an old book of poetry given to me by someone lost long ago...
   I find a small square faded photograph of a wedding cake.
                   
 My mother's perfect penmanship reads June 2, 1962.

The baker, my grandfather, spared no ingredients in creating an elaborate statement of eternal love for his son and soon-to-be young daughter-in-law.
   
Its plump round layers boast five thick tiers of marshmallow white fluff. 
Around the curved edges, pink blobs of perfect frosting roses cling for dear life
Standing on top the small plastic bride and groom wait, overwhelmed, inside an ornate ring of twisted silk piping and frosting bluebirds with white bells.

In the background of the photograph you can just make out the pink crepe paper and sachet' bags filled with rose petals taped to the blank walls of The Immanuel Baptist Church basement.

Some people stay mostly happily married and raise a family.

When you didn't call last night, I fell asleep thinking - I will have to find a way to summon up enough courage to stay in love for the both of us.

SG 6.16.09

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Writing Exercises

Found in an old yellowed stack of writing. When people still wrote with pens. On paper. Timed exercise. Deena Metzger's class. Topanga 1990? Who can remember anymore....


His father couldn't stop talking that day about the weather. It was windy and cold. And the Lennon Sisters who'd stolen his wife's singing career. Dean was there. Of course he was there. It was his mother dying in the bed. His brother Peter was there and his sisters, whose names I can't remember and their children. And his mother's brother, the doctor.

I went to the beach that day because I felt free and my heart was wide open, wide into the water, and when I sank my toes into the wet sand, the salt water bit at my freshly shaved legs. I was so thirsty, I drank up half the ocean. 

We sat in the courtyard and smoked, my fingers were cold, and Dean's son Adam, the dark-eyed one with the criminal record from his second non-wife, told me that he knew he could trust me more than anyone else in the world and I wondered when someone was going to come and yell at us for smoking in the courtyard of a hospice at a yellow table beside a shedding ficus.

The waves were like hands all over my body and I closed my eyes and for the first time in a really long time, maybe forever, I surrendered into everything. Wanting him to love me, needing sex inside my body, yearning, aching to be loved.

And then I tried to figure out how I was going to get home since Dean had driven and his father kept grabbing at my hand, clutching with his own cold bone fingers, a wadded wet tissue passed between us. And everyone looking at me, staring. When would I be able to break up with him now? I had waited through his best friend's car accident, the loss of his business, the near-death experience of his dog and now I sat in a cold room on the corner of San Vicente and 3rd caressing the clammy arm of his raspy hairless mother and loving her as if she were my very own.

The wind picked up and two young women with brown skin carried a small boy over the rocks. He wore red pants and a blue baseball cap and for a while I just lay there melting into the warm sand - thank you thank you thank you thank you - until the German tourists came.

And she had no teeth, someone must have put them in a glass or a case or pocket, somewhere and somebody said something about maybe Cantors for lunch but nobody moved. We were a circle around the bed, the only missing person of course was Dean, unable to take one more minute of it, smoking somewhere illegally, and so we stood, each touching a part of her body - I held the right foot - and watched her chest rise up and clatter down one beat then two then three each intake one two three moving father and father away until the German tourists sat down behind me boisterous and happy on their camera snapping vacation and I picked up my shoes and walked towards the cove to watch the handsome virile boys of Malibu get in one last wave.

Dean's uncle knew the minute her heart finally quit. He'd been a doctor his whole life. With the tube, the ventilator, without any water or food, teeth gone, hair gone and I stayed there, petting her right foot - easy there, now you go, easy does it - that's all right, this woman I had only spoken to once in my life until it was time for me to go and fetch the hospice worker. For the rest of that day Dean's father clung to my hand and complained about the Lennon Sisters and the weather, and as the sun melted into the sea I turned back for one more look at the highway to see if he might be coming for me...

Friday, March 2, 2012

Pamelot

(Here's a short piece I wrote for a gig. Didn't get the job. Got a better one! But I think the story has potential.)


Every Friday night, Chris came home at six-thirty, took a shower and ordered Chinese food. I’d find a resting point for whatever piece I was working on and join him on the sofa. We’d watch a movie, something middle-of-the-road with Harrison Ford or maybe Julia Roberts, snuggled up together until eleven when one of us would wake the other, pick up the empty wine glasses and head into the bedroom.
            Ten years is a long time for a couple in New York City to stay together and be happy in a small apartment. But it was easy.
            For one thing, I had good role models. My parents were still happily married and living in Ohio. This fact was one of the first things that had intrigued Chris when we met at Columbia in the Fine Arts Department. He was a good-looking city boy with a crooked smile from a broken family and I was a nice, mid-western fresh-faced college girl. We were opposites that rounded into a perfect whole.
            “Your parents are still together?” he’d asked with wonder on our first date over a couple of slices at a place on 32nd. “Pam, you have no great tragedies. You’re like a fair-haired princess from another time. Pamelot.”
            I blushed at his praise and the silly nickname. “My folks say the key to a long, happy marriage is to marry your best friend,” I replied, gazing into his big warm brown eyes over the rim of my glasses.
            “My best friend,” he repeated, taking my hand. “I can see a pretty artistic girl like you being my forever friend. But I don’t ever want to get married.”
            I took one long look into his handsome face and knew we were home.
            Six weeks later he moved into my studio apartment and the following year we graduated into our current tiny one-bedroom above Soong’s Chinese & Donuts. It was almost like being married. We listened to music late into the night, ate Chinese food, watched movies, took baths together, read poetry and made love like the best of friends. I knew I had found that one good true thing most girls never would. Chris showed me in lots of ways how lucky he felt to share his life with me. It was love with a capital L.
            Chris’s childhood was different than mine. His father had traveled a lot when Chris was little. When his father was at home, he drank too much and yelled at Chris and his mother. “When I was seven my mother woke me up in the middle of the night. She put me in the back seat of our Volkswagen and drove straight from Mobile, Alabama to relatives in New Jersey. It was cold. That’s pretty much all I remember. We never looked back.”
             A couple of day ago, Chris received an email message from his long-lost father. Since then he’d been distracted and cranky. When he came home earlier than usual for a Friday night and announced that we were going out for sushi instead of staying in for Chinese, I didn’t think twice.
            “Get up, get up,” he said, pulling me from my studio work. “Put down your brush. Take down your long hair. Let’s get out into the world again.”
            It was snowing and we pulled on our heavy boots and headed out into the world. He wore his big wool coat, hat and scarf. I wore my favorite jacket, a thrift store find, with gold buttons. The flakes were big and white like paper candy. He took my mittened hand in his gloved hand and we strolled under the streetlights, powder at our feet, the city quiet all the way to Matsuya restaurant.
            “Miso soup or edamame to start?” the pretty Japanese waitress asked.
            “Edamame?” Chris asked me. His voice was breathless with excitement or nervous tension. I wondered if he had finally spoken to his father. I prayed they’d had a good conversation.
            “Sure,” I replied. “And a large hot sake to share?”
            The waitress nodded and left. The room was packed with couples and friends seeking warm soup, laughter and shelter from the storm. We sat at the end of the sushi bar and watched the elderly Japanese chef slice an octopus tentacle with the expertise of a skilled surgeon.
            “I like albacore sushi more than tuna. Don’t you?”  Chris asked, keeping his eyes steady on the chef’s hands.
            “Yes. Honey, you’re acting weird. Is everything okay?”
            Chris turned to face me; his face was dark like an oncoming storm. He clenched his jaw and took a deep breath. The look in his eyes made my stomach lurch. Suddenly, it didn’t feel so good to be out in the world. I wanted to be snuggled up together, safe at home. The waitress leaned in between us, setting the sake and two small cups on the bar.
            Chris poured mine. I poured his.
            “Compai!” we said.
            He sat his cup down and refilled it with sweet wine. He swallowed it back.
            I took a deep breath. “Whatever it is, I love you,” I said. “It’s going to be okay.”
            He put a warm hand on my thigh. “Let’s eat first,” he said, giving my flesh a comforting squeeze.
            “Is it your dad? Did you talk to your dad?
            “Pam, I said let’s eat first, okay?” He pulled his hand from my leg.
            “Well, how am I supposed to enjoy it now? I don’t care about the sushi, Chris. You’re upset. Talk to me about it.”
            Resting his elbows on the bar, he dropped his head into his hands.
            “What? Did you kill somebody?” I asked, trying to lighten the moment. “I won’t tell anybody. We can enter the witness protection program.”
            He shook his head back and forth. I thought he might burst into tears.
            “You could change your name to Clyde. I’ll be Bonnie.”
            “I slept with Shelly after the reunion last week.”
            My breath caught in my chest. The room pulled away. I thought I might be sick.
            “I didn’t know if I should tell you,” he said, his words falling out in a rush. “I’ve been trying to decide ever since it happened. I’m sick about it. I don’t know what happened. But then I realized I had to tell you. I mean, of course I had to.”
            “Shelly, your girlfriend from high school?” I asked. Last week I’d had a cold and couldn’t go to his fifteen year high school reunion. This wasn’t happening to us. He’d told me it was boring. That none of his friends had shown up. It couldn’t be happening to us. “You said you spent the night at your mom’s because you were too drunk to drive back to the city.”
            He nodded.
            “But you were sleeping with your high school girlfriend?”
            His eyes filled with tears. “She just got divorced. I don’t know what happened. We were drinking and dancing and then a group of us went out to eat. She was there, too, and it was late,” he whispered. “Honey, I’m so sorry- -“
            I pushed the stool out from under me and somehow found my way through the busy restaurant and back out onto the street. The snow had stopped falling. It was cold. Cab horns blared. A bus passed, tires spinning on the ice. Couples bundled up like Eskimos crowded the newly shoveled sidewalk and I pressed through them, slipping and righting myself again. I ran until I saw the warm and inviting windows of Soong’s, put the key in the building lock and climbed the two flights of stairs to the apartment door. Inside the room was dark. I turned on a table lamp, and then opened a can of food for the cat. A few minutes later, I heard his heavy footsteps in the hall and I slid the bolt on the front door.
            He turned the knob. “Pam, please, sweetheart,” he said, with a catch in his voice. “Honey, let me in so that I can explain.”
            “Go away,” I cried, my legs shaking. “Go away.”
            He knocked. “Pam? Please.”
            I stood in the middle of our apartment and watched as the ghosts of our once-happy selves danced away. And like that, Pamelot was over.

           

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Writing


Finishing a tv pilot and writing a novel.....no blogging distractions allowed!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dear Young Writer,

(I've been meaning to write for quite some time to let you know how it's all working out so far. Sorry for the delay.)

Over twenty years ago you left a very lucrative career in daytime television to pursue your dreams of "being a writer,." without an inkling of the treacherous, angry waves your little boat would meet along the way.

(It sounds like a hilarious memoir or sitcom but real life is very different so hold on.)

The writer's life back then wasn't risky. It was a picture coupled with fun writing exercises from books. It was your friend Bill's life. He was a "real writer." He made his living (a very good one) writing screenplays. What interested you was the whole Scotch, Dunhill cigarette smoke, wool sweater, up-all-night running hands through messy hair picture of the writer's life. Alone in a room. For hours. Creating.

(You loved the twist a well-turned sentence could make from your head to your heart. Remember in 5th grade you wanted to be a librarian?)

Everyone in your life (save a few dreamers) begged you to be sensible. First, rarely did people succeed at writing and second, YOU WERE ON TELEVISION. Everybody wants to be on television. That doesn't change.  But they have no idea really how it really isn't much of anything but another job with its own set of heartache. You were about to turn twenty-nine and already getting flack from tv people about looking "older." There was no way you could grow old liking yourself if you had undergo the knife to stay "young." In this, you showed great wisdom.

So you quit. Your job, your house, your religious organization...and moved to a mountain top. Because you thought that's what writers did: lived in guest houses on ten acres alone overlooking the Santa Barbara Islands. For one year you stared at those islands writing sentences on paper that maybe weren't so great, but you believed in your ability to create your own fortune. People said you had real "courage," but that's what youth is: hope and courage.Taking risks.

(After risk, life happens: this is the part in your story where things don't work out exactly as planned. That ridiculous book you read, "Do What You Love and the  Money Will Follow"? Well, by now you realize the whole new age thing was ridiculous. Do what you love and be prepared to work really really hard for the love of it. Everything else is just gravy.)

Over the years, and seriously low-paying day jobs, the sentences you wrote on the mountain top turned into paragraphs that turned into novels near the beach. You learned to come home from work, no matter how tired or achy or sick, and get right back to the story. You spurred yourself on with a passion for characters and feelings and worlds unto themselves, meeting like-minded book lovers on the same path who encouraged you to never give up in the midst of tears.

(Oh there will be lots of tears and drama.)

There were short stories published for little or no money, tv pilots and screenplay promises that came and went, but the ones that hurt the most are the "almost-published's," and the "you are the great new voice in American fiction, but you just don't fit in," novel rejections. Brace yourself the seas get super choppy.

(You now have hundreds upon hundreds of rejection emails and lunches and phone calls made or unreturned from agents or editors or producers, followed by days/weeks/months of tears, vows to quit, applications to colleges to study medicine/psychology/sociology/anthropology/any-ology, followed by wine or chanting or....walks through the woods, only to once again in the middle of the night be awakened by a voice speaking a clear simple, beautiful sentence. And what choice will you have but to follow and record its story? Some characters are difficult; they screw with your sleep and rent. Others are easy and sweet and everyone loves them only to break their hearts and dump them later.)

So this is where you wind up twenty years later, Young Writer. Loving your stories hoping that they will find their readers. There are no Pen/Faulker Award seals on the cover of your books, no raving Publisher's Weekly reviews...not even a response back from The New Yorker, those snobs. The sign posts you believed validated you as, "a real writer":  the NY Times Bestseller list, movie options, invitations to speak at universities, yeah...they don't mean much of anything to your books. Except sales. They mean sales. Which would help.

(Today the car broke down and I just can't afford to fix her. Not with all of the mounting medical and student loan debt. So book sales or a movie option would be amazing but waiting for a Deus Ex Machina you have discovered is superstitious bullshit that only works in novels because it threatens the quality of your work, and more importantly, your real happiness. NEVER pin rent on some poor story in the works.)

In spite of all, here I sit.

Did you make the right decision twenty years ago? Cause that's what this is all about, right? Every time one of these glitches happens: a love affair ends, you wish you'd had kids, or you just can't fix the car again...you will ask yourself:  Should I have just played it safe and stayed on daytime television? (It does read like a hilarious memoir, but you will never write it because this blog is enough navel-gazing for both of us.)

That is a question best asked late at night by someone filled with regrets. Or too much wine.

This is it: the writers life. It mostly does look like Bill's life....without the house, money, Scotch, cigarettes,or film credits.

It's been a harrowing, painful sea journey filled with loneliness, tears, crappy day-jobs, quitting smoking, living in your parents' basement and still.. something seriously beautiful. The gift of encouraging your own creative life to find the shore.

I don't know yet if that's enough. So just keep writing. And take the bus.