Monthly Archives: November 2013

My sister insists I should tell this story. I’m a little hesitant.

My mother has moved to Baltimore. She’s spent her entire life in New Jersey. As far as she’s concerned, Maryland may as well be a foreign country. She’s having regular panic attacks and temper tantrums about how she doesn’t like it here. She doesn’t like the culture. She doesn’t understand how things work here. Why are there so many four-way stops? Why are there so many traffic circles? Why are the bagels so bad? Where can you get a decent slice of pizza? Making matters worse, she has no sense of direction. “I feel like I’m living in a maze,” she says constantly, her little blond head barely above the steering wheel. Yes, she’s getting to the age when people start shrinking. She’s already locked herself out of her apartment once. She said, “I’m worried that I’m developing dementia.” She’s not near dementia yet. I’m not really quite sure how to explain it, but her perception is fuzzy. She’s gotten a little slow on the uptake. She was always a smart, energetic woman, and now her reaction time is not what it used to be.

So, her television was very old and barely worked. When she moved, she decided to not take it with her. Now she needed a television. She hates television. When we were kids, if we watched tv, she would come in and yell at us and tell us we were getting dumber by the second. But it’s the modern world and everyone has to have a television whether you like it or not. But… she’s not going to spend money on one. So, she calls me up. She needs a tv. A big tv, because she’s half blind. And it needs to be cheap. She wants the cheapest big tv I can find for her.

“Your brother-in-law said go to Best Buy. I don’t want to go to Best Buy.”

“Okay. Where do you want to go?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “I don’t know Baltimore. Isn’t there some sort of little appliance store some place. Sometimes places like that have good deals.”

So, I take to the internet and call her back. “Okay, I have a list of a few places we can get a t.v., but the cheapest place is Best Buy.”

“I don’t want to go to Best Buy. Aren’t there any little stores.”

“Well, I found one called Joe’s Appliances, but they don’t have prices on the internet,” I suggest. “We can go there and see.”

“They’re closed,” my mother informs me.

“How did you know that?”

“I got lost the other day. I saw a big sign, Joe’s Appliances. I thought, ‘Oh, good.’ So I pulled into the parking lot, and they’re closed.”

“Okay, then we have to go to Best Buy whether you like it or not.”

“Oh,” my mother says.

So, we get in the car and we go to the store. We find the very same t.v. I saw on the internet, we pick it up. She’s holding one end and I’m holding the other. The sales clerk asks if we need help getting it to the car. My mother replies that we have to get it from the car to her apartment, so if we can’t get it to the car without help we have a problem. She then tells the clerk her life story. “I was born a poor girl in Patterson, New Jersey.” Fortunately, the store wasn’t too busy and the sales clerk managed to smile through the whole story until she brought him up to the current day. “So, now I’m living in Baltimore.”

“Welcome to Baltimore,” the clerk says. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “Please, Ma, don’t start about the bagels.” She thinks New Jersey is the greatest place on earth, and she’s not entirely aware that the rest of the earth does not agree with her. Happily, she responds politely.

The box is bulky, but not heavy, and we waddle to the door. At the door, there’s another young man who’s about six-foot five. He says, “Ladies, why don’t the leave the television here, go get your car, bring it around to the door, and I’ll help you put it in the trunk.” My mother has decided that we have sufficiently proved our ability to carry the t.v., so now we can let this guy help us.

We bring the car around to the front door. My mother says to me, “Stay in the car.” However, I’m a little concerned about her slightly fuzzy behavior, and I insist on getting out. She’s sitting behind the steering wheel, craning her neck, looking around. “I don’t see the guy with the tv.”

“Don’t worry, ma,” I say. “He’ll be there as soon as he sees us.” With that, I get out of the car. The young man walks out of the door, easily carrying the box that my mother and I had to carry together in his big, long arms.

“Pop open the trunk,” I call to my mother from behind the car. The trunk pops open. The man with the t.v. is at my side and he begins lifting the box to place it in the trunk. At the moment, gaping maw of the trunk stars drifting forward. The car is moving. Why is the car moving?

I run to the driver’s side of the car. “Stop the car, ma,” I’m yelling. As I round the side of the car, I see that the driver’s side door is open and a little blond head is emerging. “Stop, Ma! Stop!” I see a leg emerge. “Ma! What are you doing?” The car is continuing to roll forward. “Ma! MA!” Her body is following. Her foot is touching the ground. I’m standing with my mouth agape, the guy with the t.v. is standing with his mouth agape, and a small crowd has gathered. Her other leg emerges from the car and suddenly, splat! She’s on the ground on her hands and knees. The car is still moving forward and it’s picking up momentum on the sloping parking lot. It looks like the rear wheel is going to roll over my mother’s legs. Suddenly, she seems to be aware of what’s happening and she crawls faster than I’ve ever seen anyone crawl. She’s out of immediate danger, but the car is rolling forward. I’m frozen in place.

Suddenly, someone comes from behind me and runs and jumps in the car. I turn to my mother, “Is the brake broken?”

“I don’t think so,” she says. “I think I just forgot to put it in park.”

The man who jumped into the car pulls the car around and parks it where is should have been in front of the store. He gets out and hands the keys to my mother. My mother starts telling him her life story. When we reach the present, when she has just moved to Baltimore, bought a tv and fallen out of a moving car, she concludes, “It’s a miracle that you were here.”

Those words seemed to come out of her mouth in the same slow motion that I saw her head emerge from the car. I was thinking, “No, Ma! Stop! Don’t say that!”

“Will you ladies wait here,” the man says. I have something in my car I want to give to you. With that, he runs off.

His wife, standing by our side, says, “You two can go now, if you like.”

The man comes back with a small booklet, which I immediately recognize as a religious tract.

“Are you ladies believers?” he asks.

I look over at my mother and see that she has the same frozen, half-smile that I’m pretty sure I have on my face. “Um, well, uh, I, uh.” Sounds are coming from my mother’s mouth, but they’re not making any sense.

“Look at all of this,” he says raising his arms in a broad sweep that takes in, not only the Best Buy parking lot, but the strip mall across the street. “Do you think evolution can account for all of this.” I want to say, “You mean the macadam? I think that was a Scottish fellow.” but I bite my tongue. I stand there saying nothing and, happily, my mother says nothing. Eventually, the man has nothing left to say and insists that my mother will find his booklet inspiring.

We get in the car. “I need a drink,” my mother says.

“There’s a wine bar in Hampden….”

“Let’s go.”

This morning my mother phoned. “You know, I realized. I don’t like tv.”

A few times recently I’ve read, in articles and posts on other subjects, a reference to a racist statement made by the writer’s grandparents. They have been one sentence in a longer piece and I, unfortunately, didn’t bookmark them, so I can’t provide a link for an example. However, the basic pattern is something to the effect of: My grandmother said x, which was racist, but I ignored it because, well, she’s older and her generation doesn’t understand. This could potentially bring up a wide-ranging conversation on the racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on, of times in the past and to what degree we need to ignore it or confront it, but for the moment I’m just going to limit myself to a story that I was told about my grandfather.

My grandfather had, as a young man, hitchhiked around the country. He was something of the black sheep in the family. In a family of classical violinists, he played drums with swing and jazz combos. His father was a violin maker and cabinet-maker and his older brother followed in their father’s footsteps. Meanwhile, my grandfather hung out in rough areas of New York City, joined the navy, did a little amateur boxing and never learned a trade. In the end he wound up working in a factory. In his journeys, he picked up Spanish, which he eventually learned to speak fluently, and developed a serious case of what I will call Mexophilia. He loved everything Mexican. He had paintings of Mexico on the walls and knick-knacks along the top of the bookcase.

He had traveled to Mexico a couple of times as a young man and wanted to go again with my grandmother. To get to Mexico, they had to take a bus. Between New York City and Mexico, lies the Southern states of the U.S. There, the bus stopped at a roadside restaurant. My grandfather and grandmother got up and began walking down the aisle of the bus when my grandfather noticed that everyone was not getting off the bus. He paused and asked one of their fellow passengers why he wasn’t getting up. He told them that the restaurant did not serve blacks. When my grandfather heard that, he turned to my grandmother and said, “We’re sitting back down. We’re not going to patronize a place like that. We’ll eat when we get to Mexico.”

Now that I’m back home, I’m back to pounding away on the keyboard. I’ve only had it for a little over a year now. I had piano lessons as a kid, but I stopped playing when I went to college, so I pretty much didn’t play for over twenty years. I was never very advanced in the first place and I never learned how to play rock and roll piano. It’s an entirely different beast from what I learned. I’m trying very hard to not sound like the Culps, the music teachers from Saturday Night Live, so I’ve been listening a lot. I’ve especially been listening to rock and roll from the fifties and early sixties and I came across some YouTube videos of someone I once knew.

Years ago, at one of the many lousy jobs I had after I dropped out of college, I worked with Brenda Reid of the Exciters who had a hit record back in the early sixties. I’m afraid I don’t have any interesting stories. She’s just a really sweet, nice person I once knew. So, if you don’t remember the Exciters, here a some links to a couple of songs they recorded:

Tell Him


When someone writes a first person essay in which he or she reveals a highly personal, and typically private, detail, there is an instinct to want to hold back and not launch criticism. However, the fact that the notion that there is some inherent good in avoiding sex seems to be so bizarrely common that I feel compelled to add my own weak little objection.

When I read the title of the essay by Amanda McCracken that appeared in the New York Times a week or so ago, entitled “Does My Virginity Have a Shelf Life?“, I was immediately put in mind of the first scene in “All’s Well That Ends Well”.

‘Tis a commodity will lose the gloss with
lying; the longer kept, the less worth: off with ‘t
while ’tis vendible;

“The longer kept, the less worth.” But that begs another question, was it ever worth anything in the first place?

We talk about virginity as if it were an object, as if a woman’s virginity were as concrete an item as her head or her foot. It is nothing more than the lack of experience in a certain realm of human endeavor. Why would anyone see a lack of this sort as having value?

One reason the writer, now thirty-five, appears to be waiting is because she wants to give her thing that is not a thing to a particular man. When I was young enough that men, or rather boys, who had never had sex were readily available, I used to very much enjoy having sex with them. It was a great deal of fun to share the experience of a boy having sex for the first time with him. They always seemed so happy. I didn’t feel like I “took” anything away from them or that I “received” anything. We were sharing an experience together. What a paltry thing virginity is to give a person. The first time I had sex with a man, I felt as if I was doing far more taking than giving. After I had acquired a bit of experience, I felt as if I had far more to offer boys than I did that first time.

Waiting for the right person, especially waiting so long, has always struck me as being a dangerous business. In putting much importance on one event, it seems to lower the relative importance of all other acts.

I couldn’t help thinking that I happened to have sex with two different men recently, and the first was quite lousy. Prior to actually getting in bed with him, there was no real way to know quite how bad he was going to be. If a man like that had been my first lover, it would have been unfortunate. If I had been waiting and waiting, that would have been a disaster.

When I think of all the young men I initiated when I was a teenager, I do like to think that I was very gentle with them. They sometimes seemed very nervous. I did feel a certain sense of responsibility in making sure that they had a good time. But I hope it was just the beginning of long and happy sex lives for them.

I’m not really sure why I’m posting this. I’m trying to get back into posting every day, and part of doing that is to filter less. So here is an old photograph that fell out of my box of photos a few months ago when I posted some photos of Quebec on my photo blog. Instead of putting it away, I laid it down on a table and I keep walking by it. This is an exception to my little rule that all the images on the blog were made by me. This is a photo of me taken by my ex-husband around the time we were married, which means it’s approximately twenty years old.

a blurry bad photo of me twenty years ago.

I like it for some reason I can’t quite identify. It’s a “bad” photo in almost every sense of the word. It’s out of focus. The subject is poorly framed. It has the yellowish cast from using outdoor film under incandescent lights. It’s not especially flattering. It doesn’t even really look much like me. I’m pretty sure it was from around the time we were married because my hair is long. In my mind, I’m a short-haired person. My husband, however, liked women with long hair and he asked me to grow it for him.

Anyway, I was looking at it earlier and I hadn’t done a post yet. I wish I could write something a little deeper about why I like it. Everything that’s wrong with the picture is part of the reason why I like it. I find pictures boyfriends take of me interesting because I think it reveals something about how they see me. My ex always saw me as being a little nerdy and far too shy and I think that comes across in the picture.

The stage name Picasso Kid gave himself was far better than any moniker I could bestow on him, however I’ll call him the Picasso Kid. His nose had very visibly been broken and bent to the side and one day I remarked to my boyfriend that he looked like a cubist painting. My boyfriend thought that was funny.

One of the professors at school called my boyfriend Stoneface because he was always so impassive, his face never registering any emotion. He graduated, I dropped out, and we moved to a crummy basement apartment in Brooklyn, back when Brooklyn wasn’t trendy. There wasn’t a whole lot in Brooklyn in those days, at least not for us. We lived in an ethnic neighborhood of an ethnicity to which neither of us could lay claim. Quite a feat when I think of the long, and meaningless, list I’ve got.

Stoneface and I were in Barnes and Nobles on Fifth Avenue. I was the bigger reader between the two of us, so it was probably I who had wanted to go there. The site of something on a shelf pulled him away from my side. I didn’t take note because generally, you don’t browse in a bookstore like a pair of conjoined twins. “Come over here. Look at this,” he called from another aisle. When I got to his side, he was holding open a squat, thick book. It was a history of punk music. He showed me a page where the Picasso Kid and the band he had back in the seventies were mentioned.

Most of what I know about the Picasso Kid comes second, and even third, hand. He and my boyfriend were friends and we had a few other common acquaintances, but he hated me. We’d all gone to the same college. It was a small liberal arts school and the vast majority of the people came straight out of high school.  Also, many of the students were rich. The Picasso Kid was a poor boy from the Bronx, and he was older than the rest of us. It was only by a few years, but the student body was so homogenous he stood out. One of his band mates, not the band from the seventies, but the one he was in at that time, in the early eighties, wanted to go to college and found out about a scholarship program for significantly disadvantaged New Yorkers. A semester later, the Picasso Kid followed.

He didn’t last very long, then again he didn’t exactly come for the education. A large part of his motivation was to get out of New York City, to remove himself from the environment he’d gotten used to, specifically, the Bowery. The Picasso Kid was a junkie and he was trying to quit. He had started back when he was fourteen and in a band that often played at CBGB’s way back when. After a semester, he’d fail, and return to the city. He and Stoneface would stay in touch.

Now, Stoneface and I were looking for an apartment. A few weeks earlier, on New Years Eve, we’d gone out in the East Village. The Picasso Kid passed by on the sidewalk. He came in and we had a few drinks. Strange night. It wasn’t exactly festive, but it wasn’t bad either. Later, Stoneface would tell me that he’d been talking about getting cleaned up again. Apparently, he’d hit a low point, or more like the lowest point in a series of low points. He had hocked his guitar. So, I would say to Stoneface, while we were looking, why don’t we let the Picasso Kid live with us for a time.

“You know, he hates you,” Stoneface said to me.

“He barely knows me,” I replied, although I’d gotten that feeling. “It doesn’t really matter. Ask him.”

Stoneface told me about a day a few years earlier, when we were all in school but he and I hadn’t yet met. He and the Picasso Kid were sitting in a couple of easy chairs outside the cafeteria. In fact Stoneface could often be found there, watching everybody impassively. I walked through the room. After I had passed by, the Picasso Kid turned to Stoneface and said, “That’s the kind of stuck-up girl who wouldn’t give guys like us the time of day.” Obviously, he had missed judged me since I was now dating one of them, but I was used to people misjudging me if they were judging by appearances. The Picasso Kid didn’t really hate me, he hated the person he thought I was because of the way I looked.

Stoneface grew up with his father in a housing project on the Lower East Side. For many years, his mother lived on East First. His parents met through the Catholic Worker located on the same block. Near by, at the corner of First and First, there was a bar, a low-key place where you could actually talk. We sat on one side of a table. The Picasso Kid faced us from the other. He was intently picking the label off of a beer bottle. Stoneface laid out our offer for him to live with us. He stopped picking at the label. “What does she think of it?” he asked, addressing Stoneface instead of me.

“It was her idea.”

The Picasso Kid pressed his lips together and resumed picking at the label. “I’ll think about it.”

Stoneface had insisted on one condition that I had to admit was reasonable. He told the Picasso Kid that he had to promise not to get high in the apartment. He had said, “I want to help you, but I don’t want to come home one day and find a dead guy in the apartment.” In the end, that condition would prove to be a barrier. He just couldn’t promise that. I’ve got to give him credit for honesty.

After having his glasses broken in a shelter, he took to sleeping on park benches when the weather allowed it. He seemed to be going from bad to worse and we didn’t hear from him for a time. Then, he contacted Stoneface and they met someplace in the Village. One day, when he’d been sleeping in Washington Square Park, he woke up to find a beautiful young woman gazing intently at him. She said to him, “I know inside you’re a beautiful person.” She took the Picasso Kid home and he got cleaned up. It sounds like a fairy tale. I never heard about him again, but I hope it lasted. I think the young woman was right.

My mind has been very occupied with mundane things and I’m feeling mentally depleted at the moment. Fortunately, the flight back was very pleasant. The plane was only about three-quarters full and the flight attendants were all in a good mood. I sat next to a very chatty Englishwoman with a good sense of humor and we laughed for about eight hours straight. It certainly made the flight go more quickly.

My mother has relocated to Baltimore and she tells me she’s going to put me to work sewing drapes, so this might turn into a home decorating blog for a few days.

Well, that’s about it, but I hadn’t posted in a few days, so I figured I had better put something up.