Warn the Geckos

March 6, 2012 § Leave a comment


I keep imagining last-minute miracles, from book deals to sweepstakes grand prizes, that will enable me to stay in New York. Even a few good freelance gigs would do it. But I haven’t made that happen, being too depressed this last year on top of all my many other failings, and now I have to deal with the consequences. So I’m leaving. I’m getting rid of stuff, sorting, packing a little. What I want to do is go to plays, museums and galleries, to hear jazz, and enjoy the flowers of spring that seem determined to come early. There were daffodils in Prospect Park last week, the end of February; Janet and I were enjoying the purplish brown glory of the naked trees—that glazed brown you see so often in Rembrandt—then stopped to chide the daffodils as one does to children who go outside without their shoes.

I’m sorry it forgot to snow this year. I like my neighborhood in the snow. I love it in a major snowstorm, when traffic vanishes from 5th Avenue, and a great white feathery silence renders each building separate and beautiful, each person out walking a column of bundled, radiant energy.

I know Florida will be an adventure and I’m already writing a book set there, a book that will allow me great latitude because, I realized recently, one can say anything about Florida and people will believe it. And since my imagination is full of snakes, swamps, guns, sex, betrayal and devouring waters, Florida it shall be, my next novelistic home. I can invite meth-addict vampires with crumbling fangs and dead Presidents to join the party. I can force those I love and hate through disfiguring changes and make them entertain my audience. I can dive into words and not come out until I’m 90.

No, I can’t do that. Writing is a respite; life is still what it’s always been, a slog with its ice patches of terror and glory. Charles and I are both going through emotional difficulties, and we both take solace in providing comfort to each other. My biggest fear is that it’s easier for us to do this now, living apart. I worry that living together will bring back all the codependent stickiness. But I know that doesn’t have to happen; we’re both smarter and kinder, and I, in particular, have far more appreciation for his loyalty, his talents, his imagination, and his lack of fear of my emotions and circumstances.

The last time I was in Florida, I burst into tears thinking of letting myself love Charles deeply again, getting that close again, when I know, as I always knew, that he’ll die. I used to fear it because death had a tendency to snatch men I loved. Now I fear it because the only thing that will stop me experiencing it is to die first. I didn’t fear Philip’s death because he left me every week and came back again; we played out the death/abandonment drama in miniature, with a “happy” ending, and this allowed me to surrender fully to love, as I can speculate he is able to do now with his Beatriz for much the same reason.

But enough about trouble. I’m thinking of the pleasure the cats will have in Florida, where they can go out in the sun and chase geckos. I’m thinking of baking banana coconut bread for Charles, of reading in the bedroom while he cooks fresh fish for me, of swimming in the moonlight. There’s a jazz joint in Fort Lauderdale where the cover is only $5, and the players aren’t the old greats, but new discoveries. There’s art and theater in Miami, and cheap flights to the islands. I’m thinking of not waking up alone, not going to bed alone.

The plan, for now, is to be back in the city several times a year, still working for the Cathedral as long as it’s feasible. Any of you who live here, who go out of town occasionally and want a nice animal lover to apartment-sit and attend to your beloved creatures with great devotion, get in touch. If we don’t know each other yet, if you’re a Facebook friend or blog follower, we could meet for coffee before I leave.


Death Benefits 2: A Fictional Fraction

February 29, 2012 § 7 Comments

(For something completely different, check out my posts at wwword.com)

I was angry. He’d done it again, the fat bastard, gotten under my sensitive-girl skin. I didn’t tell anyone. I drank gin and smoked blunts, popped Christine’s cancers meds—he’d kept them after her death, tucked between the dog’s heartworm pills and the Viagra—and minced freeze-dried white mice in the Cuisinart. My cat Fitzroy had been feeling poorly since Charles’ territorial Lola had ripped off one ear and half his tail. (I have the ear. I’ve pressed it between the pages of The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath. Mouchette has the tail and she’s not giving it back.)

Then the woman next door told us about Pocahontas—everyone’s favorite neighborhood five-year-old, sent to her room for a nap and not seen again. Immediately I thought of snakes. I’d been reading about the African pythons in the Everglades, released as pets, breeding, destroying the native population of rabbits, foxes, even deer. The so-called experts said they were no threat to humans, but any fool knows that if one food source disappears, predators will seek another. Bears prowl towns in the Northwest, sometimes coming right into the kitchen, polishing off half a dozen cooling Thanksgiving pies. Why would you expect more discretion from a snake?

The police were out in force, as well as volunteer search teams made up of college-age surfer dudes and tiny Jewish widows, with the occasional adult male not yet on a sex-offender list. The cops had the whole amber alert thing going on, and salacious newscasters in the 95 IQ range gloated, tossing possibilities back and forth.  They dragged out the old stories, the Megans and Jessicas, mutilation and shallow graves, botched investigations. There was the usual speculation that the father had done it—whatever ‘it’ was—and his shamefaced alibi of being shacked up with the Norwegian nanny in a motel in Boca (the couple next door affirming that the squealing and smacking had gone on unabated for 14 hours, the man stumbling out only once to urinate, drunk, in the parking lot while mumbling incoherently on his Blackberry) only made certain elements more certain he was the culprit.

Poca was an only child, silver-blond and green-eyed, her parents recent transplants from California or New Jersey. The father bought distressed properties for an investment firm in Lithuania, rumored to be funded by the North Koreans. Poca’s mother didn’t work, at least not at anything anyone had ever heard of.

The little girl was fond of sneaking out of the house, cutting through the back yards of the rococo beachfront McMansions and playing by herself at the edge of the water. She liked the waves curling over her raspberry-painted toes and she collected shells and rocks, which her mother returned to the beach every night.  There were some who said they’d seen her mother slip out of her human skin and frolic in the waves as something else—they could never say what—but Poca’s mother had the kind of beauty that does things to the imagination. So nobody believed them but me.  I knew what she turned into, and I knew Poca hadn’t inherited the ability, although the next daughter would, the one the father kept squandering in the nanny due to his growing fear of his uncanny wife.

Even so, there was a contingent of women on the beach, deeply tanned, tough as boots, looking murderously at the ocean. They were discussing how long it would take to gather the whole wet mess and fling it back like a blanket, exposing all the crimes and bodies. I could have told them not to bother. Poca never went in the water by herself. She’d been knocked over by waves more than once. I’d seen her skirting the lacy froth, moving unerringly back and forth, letting it slither between her toes but never reach past her slim ankles. So Charles and I dug out the vintage cattle prod we’d bought at a local yard sale for $8 and went hunting African python.

First we fed the cats and warned them not to open the door, not to anyone. Lola was on the kitchen table pawing a pack of matches, Mouchette sleeping on my discarded bra, and Fitzroy in the bathroom, looking for answers.

We walked through the fragrant Florida night, all the outdoor lighting making the square lawns fluorescent green. The gay couple down the street still had Santa and his reindeer up, though it was the end of February. “My brother died on this date in 1965,” I said, and Charles squeezed my hand. “His face was gone. It was a boy named Richard Mischia who killed him.”

“Are you supposed to name names?” my husband murmured. “You promised this would be fiction.”

“I’ll do whatever I please. Everyone else does.”

We looked under bushes. We looked up the trees. I played my recording of pitiful animal noises. We looked in the parked cars.

“Let’s try the beach,” Charles said. “The ladies have gone home now.”

They were gone, but the moon was up, swaggeringly full in the Southern sky. “Fuck you, you evil bitch,” I shouted. “You never gave me anything I wanted, you promised everything and it was all lies!”

“Darling,” said Charles. “I love you in the moonlight. You look like a maidenly maenad, a sweet soul scorched to sorcery by a demon debutante’s wonky curling iron.”

“How come you never said things like that in the ‘90’s?”

“You weren’t writing my dialogue in the 90’s.”

“I did too write it. You just wouldn’t speak it.”

He sighed. “I feel sorry for a lot of things I did and didn’t do in the 90’s.”

“Well, I feel like I should have died before I was born! My insides are stuck on the outside!”

“You’re special that way. How would you write poetry otherwise?”

“I hate the whole world.”

“As you should, but we’ve got a problem here. Pocahontas…”

I knew. Pocahontas was human, but only just. Her father’s selfish genes had given her the potential for rapine and murder, the despoilment of the planet and wholesale corporate fraud. She had that as well as her mother’s connection to the Old Ones. This was serious business, and I was stupidly hung up on the last sarcastic email from a man whose pet name for me used to be Botticelli Girl, now morphed to Backstop.

It’s not difficult to find a murdering snake when you’re in touch with your own self-loathing. When you follow it faithfully—what a masochistic mutt I am, falling for the same old tricks; my gruesome empathy as Dr. Guss called it, my grubby, gimcrack, groveling heart—your inner GPS finds the hiding place of nightmare. For those whose mission it is seek out monsters, it’s considered a bankable talent.

The beach was empty but for the crabs strung out across the sand, waiting for the sea-turtle eggs to hatch. They made me so mad, but what sense did my outrage make? I’ve spent more time eating crustaceans than any of these small creatures had spent being alive. There’s a reason most beings have opted against big brains. All they do is make you want impossible things, like life without death and romance without dishonor.

The python was barely hidden in the grass at the crest of the dunes, lolling in the moonlight, body grotesquely swollen. It was patterned chocolate brown and harvest gold, two man-lengths long, plus some. Charles had the prod ready, but I stopped him.

“What if she’s still alive?”

“Inside a python?”

“Her mother is magic. She may have survived. Perhaps we should stun the snake and then slit open its belly.”

But the cattle prod was a wicked instrument, and we weren’t sure how to only stun. The man who sold it to us said he’d killed a dog with it, the neighbor’s dog that was chained up and barked all day long. “Got that little turd machine right in the balls. He rolled over and died sweet as could be. Made my whole weekend.” We stood in the grass debating. The moon poured her stolen light on the sleeping serpent whose middle part was stretched in the shape of a little girl, down to the barrette in her hair and the straps on her maryjanes. Finally we decided we couldn’t risk it, and Charles went off to get a hatchet.

I stood guard. Never had I regretted more throwing away my red gun, my haunted .22 with the whisky voice. When I’d tossed her off the bridge, she’d laughed, as only a ghost in a body of fatal metal can do. “Trying to be a good girl again?” she’d asked, refusing to sink until she’d had her say. “Caretaking, nice-making. You should have shot them and been done with it.”

But then I’d be in jail, I thought, and unable to rescue Pocahontas. That was the most important thing. The fate of Florida depended on it. So I watched and waited, and it seemed to me that the child inside the snake was shifting the way a person does as she begins to wake. “Hurry, Charles,” I whispered. “Hurry up before it’s too late.” I saw her eyes open; I saw her tears. You’ll say I couldn’t have—not under the skin of a python—but I once saw a fetus in a plastic bag inside the toe of a day trader’s python boot in the Spanish bar on 10th Street. I mean, I think I did. That was in October of ’08. The world was imploding.

I did, I did see the fetus, and I saw Poca’s tears. I saw her lips move.

Later, I found out Charles had been dragooned into a search team. Nobody had believed his story about a 13-foot snake stretched around the shape of a five-year-old girl. They’d gotten him in their SUV, then gunned it in the wrong direction, certain the child was being held captive in the low-rent part of town, if not by a black or Hispanic man, by some white-trash meth-snorting tattooed piece of puke on a stick.

I should have gone back myself for a hatchet, a knife, an ice pick. Charles had the beach key, but I could have gone through the backyards like Poca. I knew the way. Instead I sat through the interminable smug ecstasy of the moon intoning all the poetry lovesick idiots had written for her. “The moon, too, abuses her subjects / But in the daytime she is ridiculous,” I riposted.

She’s dead, said the night with a thousand sighs, and it’s true that Sylvia is dead, her voice stilled by oven gas and love gone wrong. Was Poca also dead, child named for the princess of the unspoiled wilderness, the one who was taken by the white men swarming ashore like serpents? She gave one a clutch of babies, that original Poca, each twist of her DNA an instrument of retribution.

The python had her eyes. It woke up and looked at me, and it was both snake and the woman the girl might have become, beautiful and blessed and brave, now wholly incorporated into the reptile evil. I thought about grabbing it by the tail and running into the sea. Poca’s mother’s people might have saved us then, but probably not. Even in Florida, the sea grows cold deep down.

The snake spoke to me for a long time with its yellow gaze, and when it was satisfied I understood slithered away, making show-offy  Mobius strip curves in the sand so nobody looking could say what had been there. What it told me, you won’t believe. Why is it always like this? So many will die.

Where The Wind’s like a Whetted Knife*

October 20, 2009 § Leave a comment

feodosia_aivazovsky_turkishBrig “Mercury” Attacked by Two Turkish Ships, 1882, by Ivan Aivazovsky (1817-1900)–a Crimean painter I’d never heard of until I found this painting. Go look at more of his work here.

Last day in Florida. I leave this evening. I’m not ready. It’s warm and very windy now—the swimming was glorious, waves big and raucous. Sparkling blue tumult. My bathing suit was stolen from the laundry so I wore an old one which is too small, and pulled it down in the water. Ah, freedom. Frolic and laughter. Shells in my hair.

“Is that a coconut or a drowned man?”

“Does it matter?”

“I like your breasts on the waves.”

“Thank you, my dear.”

The last few cool days have made me think living here would be quite nice, if I were able to get away a lot in the summer. But it’s not that here is difficult; it’s leaving there.  Manhattan. The West Village. The apartment I’ve lived in 25 years.

It would be easier if I would be moving into a big house on the ocean with a wraparound porch, but I bet everyone says that. And even the ocean day and night wouldn’t block out my memories of New York, but would rather remind me of the noise of traffic, and I’d wake up thinking I was home.

The first time I lived in Manhattan—when I was 11—I couldn’t sleep because of the noise of buses on Madison Avenue. It seemed violently unnatural, of a piece with my father’s suicide the year before. Like being in a rockslide and before you’ve recovered enough to move, the earth shifts again and you fall a few more feet. Or like the paranormal romances I’ve been reading lately, where the heroines end up in Hell frequently, but Hell isn’t Dante’s version; it’s a bit more manageable, like a Sahara crossing with monsters.

Yet by the time I left, at 15, New York was my spiritual home and after finishing school in N.H. and then wandering for a few years, I returned. I like to say how much the city has changed in 25 years, but from this vantage point, it doesn’t seem to have changed at all. More glitzy buildings, cleaner parks, too much Ralph Lauren et al on Bleecker Street. Still, it’s the same people forest. Flirty homeless guys in front of the church, single women trundling dogs in strollers, ambitious young men having drinks together while their poorer cohorts sell used books on  the sidewalk, beautiful girls on their phones annoying everyone, tiny old ladies making their way carefully to the supermarket.

All this because some fish got tired of the ocean and grew legs. That’s such a New York thing to do.


The state with the prettiest name,
the state that floats in brackish water,
held together by mangrave roots
that bear while living oysters in clusters,
and when dead strew white swamps with skeletons,
dotted as if bombarded, with green hummocks
like ancient cannon-balls sprouting grass.
The state full of long S-shaped birds, blue and white,
and unseen hysterical birds who rush up the scale
every time in a tantrum.
Tanagers embarrassed by their flashiness,
and pelicans whose delight it is to clown;
who coast for fun on the strong tidal currents
in and out among the mangrove islands
and stand on the sand-bars drying their damp gold wings
on sun-lit evenings.
Enormous turtles, helpless and mild,
die and leave their barnacled shells on the beaches,
and their large white skulls with round eye-sockets
twice the size of a man’s.
The palm trees clatter in the stiff breeze
like the bills of the pelicans. The tropical rain comes down
to freshen the tide-looped strings of fading shells:
Job’s Tear, the Chinese Alphabet, the scarce Junonia,
parti-colored pectins and Ladies’ Ears,
arranged as on a gray rag of rotted calico,
the buried Indian Princess’s skirt;
with these the monotonous, endless, sagging coast-line
is delicately ornamented.

Thirty or more buzzards are drifting down, down, down,
over something they have spotted in the swamp,
in circles like stirred-up flakes of sediment
sinking through water.
Smoke from woods-fires filters fine blue solvents.
On stumps and dead trees the charring is like black velvet.
The mosquitoes
go hunting to the tune of their ferocious obbligatos.
After dark, the fireflies map the heavens in the marsh
until the moon rises.
Cold white, not bright, the moonlight is coarse-meshed,
and the careless, corrupt state is all black specks
too far apart, and ugly whites; the poorest
post-card of itself.
After dark, the pools seem to have slipped away.
The alligator, who has five distinct calls:
friendliness, love, mating, war, and a warning–
whimpers and speaks in the throat
of the Indian Princess.

—Elizabeth Bishop

btw, I’m descended from the most famous Indian Princess, Pocahontas. Just so you know.

* Sea Fever, John Masefield.

Going South

March 23, 2009 § Leave a comment


On November 5, in Union Square, there were tee shirts, sweatshirts and buttons proclaiming: Change has come. Well I guess so.

I’m moving to Florida soon, unless money starts falling from the sky. It’s kind of exciting when I forget about sorting and packing and leaving New York—my city, the only city I’ll ever call home—leaving Philip and my friends. I’ve been here 25 years, but before that I moved around a lot.

The sun, the beach. The quiet. Not having to live alone anymore. These are good things. I can put my mind there, but I’m not there yet. I don’t want to sort and pack, sell and give away, go to my various doctors to get the questionable bits checked, or do my taxes. I want to lie on my bed in the spring sunlight, my laptop radiating through the pillow it rests on, write and surf. I want to enjoy what I have while it’s still here—take walks in the neighborhood, go to museums, have dinners with friends.

And though I kind of want to go, I really don’t want to leave. I’m angry at the world, which could care less. I was angry at myself, but that was unproductive. To be angry at the financiers, Wall Street and the banks, Bush and Greenspan—why bother? It’s not like I’m waiting outside a cold prison in Russia to hear any scrap of news of my beloved. I’m not in an Iraqi marketplace looking at bloody body parts flung among the vegetables. It can always be worse until you’re dead and opinions differ as to whether it can get worse then.

Personally, I’d prefer no afterlife. It’s hard enough moving to another state. Dead, I wouldn’t know anybody and the jackals would sniff me out. People like to say all your loved ones—like my departed brother—come to greet you, but how likely is that? My living brother won’t even come to New York.

I’m going to Florida as everyone else flees. Land of abandoned houses (some now home to colonies of bees), hurricanes, highways, strip malls, Republicans. At least my vote will count more.

There’s no income tax in Florida. No 20° weather, no 4 a.m. drunks fighting or singing under my window. And in June, in New York, the subway fare’s going up 50 cents, with likely worse to follow.

Worse to follow in Florida too, no doubt. But if the system collapses, as so many like to predict, and the seas rise and eat the beaches just to make sure we get the message, I’ll move inland and live in a crumbling lego house with the bees.

Or not. But no afterlife. Seriously. Give mine to somebody’s cat.


“I am going to St, Petersburg, Florida, tomorrow. Let the worthy citizens of Chicago get their liquor the best they can. I’m sick of the job–it’s a thankless one and full of grief. I’ve been spending the best years of my life as a public benefactor.” ~Al Capone

“I turned my home state of Florida into the Land of Xanth. “~Piers Anthony

“Xanth is a land of centaurs, dragons and basilisks, where every citizen has a special spell only he or she can cast.”~narrativeandontology.blogspot.com

Going Home

December 3, 2008 § Leave a comment

Today is my last day in Florida. I worked in the morning, walked on the beach and made banana coconut bread. I got the recipe from Epicurious.com, Gourmet 1990, and tweaked it a bit, replacing the vanilla and lemon zest with fresh ginger, cognac, black pepper and nutmeg, and the macadamia nuts with pecans. I already know from tasting the batter that Charles will think it too sweet but as long as it stops being goopy and becomes bread I will be happy. The area I use for cooking in NYC is not properly called a kitchen—in its previous incarnation it was one of those large closets with a sink and counter hotels had for people to mix drinks in. That was before mini bars. You brought your own bottle and mixers; the hotel provided glasses and ice. I remember watching my grandmother make drinks in such a room —so adult, so sophisticated. In the picture in my head my father is there in his Mad Men suit (it was the 60’s, he was handsome and in publishing) but I can’t figure out when I would have seen them together in a hotel so I’m probably just adding him for color. Or because I saw him make drinks so often the very idea of whisky poured in a glass filled with ice brings him up out of the grave for a Proustian get-together. In any case, compared with my kitchen, Charles’s modest space with the crooked stove shoved into one corner—only the small burners working and you have to adjust for the tilt—and fluctuating oven is a rare treat. Charles bought a table especially for me to use baking so I’ve been churning out the stuff, cookies, muffins, etc.

I’ve liked hiding out down here. I don’t look at my bank account. Now that I have to leave, the terror is coming back. I have to turn my life around 100% financially in a year or so. My 2.99% loans have suddenly morphed into 30% and not because I was late with a payment. They just changed the rules. I think too often of suicide.

Wilderness Adventure

December 1, 2008 § Leave a comment

Today we went for a walk in Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, gold medal winner for best state park, the only one to win two gold medals, the sign informed us. We were proud to be part of such success. And it was a very nice park, although I’m not sure it deserves two gold medals. Maybe it won for litter management: it was very clean. We saw mangroves and lovely man-eating trees and coconuts whirling round and round in a stream. That stopped us. We thought they must be doing a mating dance but nothing happened but more whirling, so we revised our theory and thought they were dervishes, and then we walked on and who knows what they did behind our back.

Charles made me pull my shirt up so he could photograph me au naturel, in response to my brother’s recent art shot of Laura naked in a meadow, but my brother’s photo wins the gold medal. So, yes, we still act like the same old goofy married people even though we are both amorous elsewhere, though not polyamorous, a word which reminds me too much of polyunsaturated fat to ever be used as a self-descriptively. In Central Park a few weeks ago they had a Polyamory Conflagration. Yes, I mean ‘Conference’, or some other ‘C’ word, but Conflagration hit my brain first, and it’s staying. Look at the picture adorning this post and think about it.

Anyway, I don’t want poly—two’s more than enough. One and a half would do, though which man would give up half?  If only I could photoshop them, cropping bits from Charles and bits from Philip—and not the ‘nasty bits’ as the Brits call them, but the redundant DNA, the unnecessary facial hair, those personality flaws they are not emotionally attached to. Charles could still be disorganized (a vast excuse for almost everything), just give up the memory loss regarding birthdays, plane tickets and what I asked him to do five minutes ago. Philip could keep his righteous anger, but not the excess that he slops around the room in moods of untidy despair. Why shouldn’t he learn to aim it like a smart bomb against those who understood the term ‘credit default swap’ before September (always excepting Paul Krugman)?

In regard to that, Michael Lewis has a clever piece about Wall Street in the December Portfolio.com http://www.portfolio.com/news-markets/national-news/portfolio/2008/11/11/The-End-of-Wall-Streets-Boom
It fills in some of the details I didn’t quite understand, as well as contributing a depressing but lucid history of the last 20 years. Folly on such a grand scale is most of all educative. I feel like I’m back in 5th grade, deciphering algebra. The only difference being that I liked algebra. I wonder what this would mean to me if it didn’t affect me personally, if I’d been smart with my money, or won the lottery last week. It seems like I was foolish partly by contagion and am now gloomy partly by contagion, and if I found cash breeding like mice in my bank account I’d still be feeling dark, and not only out of sympathy.*  But maybe I’m only experiencing, finally, what most people feel all their lives: a solid linkage to others. TV will do that to you.

We got back from the park, I worked on my web page, it rained and we had tea. Now it’s Sunday night. I don’t want to go home. Subways, elevators, boots, bills. I’ll remember the good parts when I get through security. (Yes, dear, I miss you. I’m not talking about that.)

* I’ve never experienced rabbits breeding uncontrollably. Mice I know about. I’ve heard the squeaks from the nest under my bookshelves and killed the babies one by one. I know ‘they have their own little mouse lives’ as my sister says, and I don’t really like it when they’re caught by a hind leg and thrashing all over the counter, dragging the trap like the National Toxic Debt behind them, but it pleases me to think of exerting dominance in the creation of order.

Hugh Taylor Birch

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