Valentine’s Night

February 14, 2009 § Leave a comment

It’s Valentine’s night and Philip is with Christine. I’m alone in his apartment. I was lazy all day, reading a mystery novel and eating chocolate except for the couple of hours I spent cleaning his kitchen floor and tub and under the bed, where the dust lay in greasy tangles like clumps of human hair. Of course I thought how strange this would seem to others—cleaning while he dines the wife—and will seem to him when he gets home, but it felt fine to me.

I like being alone here. I like being alone, knowing he will come back. I like cleaning the apartment. Is this my way of claiming wife status while he’s with his real wife? That’s obvious and probably true, but it’s true in a way that’s not really or not only delusion or denial. I must be turning Mormon.

Next week I’ll go visit Charles, my husband, who lives in Florida, and I’ll cook and clean for him—lots of baking and waffles—and we’ll take a road trip, see more of that peculiar state. I’ll sink into our deep marriage groove, the comfort of repetition and time. All the things we remember that nobody else knows. I wish I remembered more.

They feel almost perfectly balanced now, Philip and Charles. I’m at peace for the moment. Tomorrow will change that. The Sunday shows that Philip must watch—what’s going on now? Oh, right, world panic. That. I’m part of it: my few hundred grand went up in smoke and now I have close to nothing and no job. No buyers for the novel I spent years writing because my agent won’t even send it out in this climate.

I have a lot to do fixing my life. It was strangely comforting for awhile that so many were in the same boat and I can’t say I’d be happy if everyone was still out spending like bunnies (you know what I mean), but the world panic stuff, governments toppling, planes crashing into houses—.

I don’t think I’m experiencing 9/11 flashbacks. This is different, but I do keep thinking of fire. “We have a hole in our economy” the President says, and I see a map a cigarette chewed through: the map is the familiar USA, but the Midwest is missing; and the paper is soft, thin, flaking around the burnt edges.

And now I’m thinking of the dead: Ann Beckerman, JJ, my father, my grandmother. My grandmother wore gold and pearls, face powder and perfume; she loved parties and men. She wouldn’t understand a black president, but she’d understand me, at least a little. She died when I was 13. Too soon.

I should have called my mother today. I was afraid of her loneliness. I have to get over that. It’s just there, like the panic. You can’t hide from it.


February 10, 2009 § Leave a comment


Childhood dream: a basket of kittens every few months. My two cats (Fitzroy and Mouchette) are fixed—I received them that way—and this makes sense, since I live in two rooms and have no friends asking for kittens, but I would love seeing them as parents. They’d have perfect Halloween kitten: black-orange-white. When I was a child, we got our kitten from neighbors and they were never fixed. My parents got around to it eventually, but luckily they had other things on their minds. We had several litters of kittens over the years: one born in my father’s sock drawer, one at the bottom of my bed. I woke to something moving down by my feet. When I realized what it was I lay there in 8 year old bliss: I was the one chosen to host the newborns! I was sure the mother cat had carefully considered all four children and our parents and decided that only I could be trusted to treat her babies with the care and reverence they deserved. I was caught between wanting to lie there forever, not disturbing them, and wanting to run to my mother and brag.

I had to get up eventually.

Mouchette would make a good mother. Fitzroy, I’m afraid, would see the newborns as large mice.

Fitzroy as monster

Apocalypse Not

February 7, 2009 § 3 Comments

After a morning discussion with Philip about his fears for our future—I’m running of money and the publishers aren’t publishing; everyone in his company is getting a pay cut, plus no bonuses—he left to spend the day with Christine. I told him to have a good time and he muttered because he thought I didn’t mean it. But I did. After 8 ½ years my jealousy is like an old dog that sleeps all the time unless you kick it. It got kicked a few weeks ago and it’s keeping out of the way.

I worked on my novel for a couple of hours (7 pages!) and then went online. I decided to survey the fears of others, and sampled a dozen catastrophe blogs, the ones that insist we’re facing something far worse than the Great Depression: a meltdown of the whole system, capitalism kaput, riots, starvation—everything but a devolution into tree-living apes, though I’m sure there’s somebody talking about that.

Should I be more afraid? Should I make jokes? Would my building allow me to raise chickens in my bathtub? Will they allow it in six months?

I can’t sort through the welter of information to have any idea what’s coming. I don’t have the experience or education, not to mention that the future is notoriously surprising. I’m also better off than Philip, even though he has a job, because this great loss and uncertainty has unlocked my creativity in a way nothing has since I was a child and my brother and father died. But this time I know where grief leads and I’m not following. I can write from the bright side of change.

Of course it helps that I’ve lost money, not beloved people.

Philip was disparaging Facebook last night and I said that all this networking, connecting to friends and relatives who’d otherwise be far off the map, might be a great boon if we have a real Depression. More solidarity, more links to obtain help, barter, trade information and cheer. “It brings people together,” I said.

“So does war and plague.”

“I’m putting that in the blog.”

“It’s a good line, isn’t it?”

“Actually plague doesn’t bring people together. More the opposite.”

“It joins everyone in death.” He was scrolling through his blackberry to see if there were any responses to the memo he had to write at the last minute.

We were waiting for our chocolate soufflé in a French restaurant: his idea, his credit card. I had called him earlier to say—maybe we shouldn’t go out to eat, honey, I can cook—but couldn’t reach him because he was working so hard, now that his assistant has been laid off.

For the most part, it was a lovely evening. We talked politics and I reveled in his smarts—he has a kind of real-world intelligence I don’t, and most of my friends don’t. And when he jokes about death, it’s so unexpected (death’s my province, he loathes the place) that it lifts my spirits.

“What a pair we make,” he didn’t say, but he’s said it often before.

About the apocalypse blogs: this country suffers from a surfeit of imagination. Too many movies about a future dystopian America (road rage with zombies) too much excitement in the media about all things violent and strange. Too many guns and people who want to use them. Granted, we also have the experience of Katrina, and the stories of other countries’ collapses. Argentina on the one hand; Rwanda on the other.

In the current New Yorker, John Updike is quoted talking about the Great Depression. Where he grew up, in a small town in Pennsylvania, when hoboes came to the back door the custom was to give them a dollar. A dollar was a lot of money in the 1930’s. Are we so much worse now?

She Wolf

February 6, 2009 § 1 Comment

While following the stimulus-plan drama on TV, I’ve been making Valentine’s Day jewelry—not specifically for V day, just necklaces featuring that bright pink we all associate with heart-shaped chocolate boxes, roses, and female baboons in heat.

Many men, for reasons I fail to understand, have an aversion to Valentine’s Day. Flowers, chocolates, sex—what’s so difficult? No guesswork is involved.  My husband kept forgetting that I really liked expensive chocolate. For 25 years. But he made me some spectacular cards.

That was Charles, forgetful and poor. Philip actually hates the day itself, even though he listens to Sinatra on Jonathan Schwartz every weekend, and often cries. He’s as soft inside as a Hershey bar left on the dashboard in high summer. But maybe that’s the trouble. Why have a day for romance when all of life is supposed to be romantic, from boyish heroics to glamorous women, ‘50’s jazz bars, torch songs, idealistic Presidents…oh, wait, we have that last one. Maybe he’ll feel better this year.

I’m thinking we should skip the 14th and move right on to February 15th—the Roman festival of Lupercalia. On that date, in Classical times, Roman priests would go to the cave where the mythic she-wolf once suckled the twins Romulus and Remus, sacrifice a goat and a dog, smear the foreheads of two highborn young men with blood and wipe it off with wool soaked in milk, at which point the men were required to laugh—are you with me so far, guys? Then the hide of the goat was cut into strips and soaked in blood. The young men ran naked through the streets—except for a bit of goat hide fastened around their waists (I don’t know what happened to the dog, possibly eaten by the priests)—brandishing their bloody whips and lashing everyone in sight, but especially women who would line up for the favor, as this ritual was thought to bring fertility and ease in childbirth.

Now that Robert Bly’s Iron John has been unhip long enough to be hip again, maybe we should encourage our partners to strip down and flail about with animal hide, while we wait “like children at school present[ing] their hands to be struck”* and keep our mouths shut about how often we’ve entertained the fantasy of pulling out a bloody tampon and smacking them in the face with it.

Ok, maybe that’s just me.

Yes, I have my period today, for the 475th time. Imagine if I’d made embryos out of all those eggs, rounded up a herd of wolves to bear and suckle them…I could replace the entire House of Representatives and all Republican senators with my offspring.

* Plutarch, The Life of Caesar

Shovel Ready

February 4, 2009 § 1 Comment

goldenshovel1I’m getting seriously tired of these Republicans. From that wimp Gingrey who apologized on the air to Rush Limbaugh because, for one moment, he acted like he was actually in Washington to do his job, to McCain thinking he didn’t lose yet—I want to say one thing: America, love it or leave it! You can be in Iceland in six hours!

What does Obama have up his sleeve?  Is he letting the Repubs dig their own grave? (Now there’s a shovel-ready project if there ever was one.) By being so nice…a little stern with the Wall street guys but giving the Senators cookies…letting them think they can work him over, let them bring on their bully boys, their would-be Cheneys…then watch as the I’m-mad-as-hell-and-I-just-can’t-take-it-anymore citizens run amok and dispatch the lot of them with everything we’ve learned from watching MSNBC’s Lockdown?
Actually, I don’t watch Lockdown, but I have caught a glimpse or two.

Not much happening here. Lovely lunch with my friend Maddy, and before that a brisk walk in the pretty cold sparkly winter day, a stop at the French bakery (where I bought cake because it was Maddy’s birthday) and the conversation went like this:

Me –I don’t know what I want yet.

Baker  –That’s okay, it’s good to just get out of the cold.

Me    –It’s not that bad out now. It’s sunny.

Baker  –It’s dark when I get to work; it’s dark when I go home.

Me    –Well, at least it smells good in here.

Baker –I can’t smell anything anymore unless it’s nasty or it’s women’s perfume.

Me –Um, which of these two [cakes] is better?

Baker – I don’t know; I don’t like chocolate…

For those of you who get hot thinking of resurrecting extinct animals, here’s one for you. George Mitchell could take it with him as a negotiating aid.

Warm Mushrooms

February 3, 2009 § 2 Comments


Charles and me, wedding day

I went to to read about the banking rescue/ /givaway/gamble, got distracted by a poem by Tomaz Salamun, and wanted to paste it here but it’s subscription only so I don’t think I should. But here’s a little—

women want to be more than metaphor.
With their moist, round, soft skin, with their
drunken scent of warm mushrooms they drive me insane.

I love that last line, especially considering it’s a translation from Slovenian. It makes me remember evenings of drink, food, sex, the country, trees and night: youth, being driven insane. There was a time when the US was in financial crisis, the late 70’s, and I noticed and was affected, but not terribly; it was never as important as the night, wine and poetry (poetry was the closest thing to God I knew). Not as important as mushrooms wiped with a damp cloth and cooked fast in hot butter until almost black, then heaped in a bowl with a little salt and lemon, and eaten in bed after sex. Cooked after sex, I mean, naked in the kitchen together—what did we talk about, how did we touch? I don’t remember.

How much does  Charles, my dear, distant husband, remember? He’s flying this weekend to that same town in Virginia where neither of us has lived in 30 years. He’s visiting his girlfriend with whom he has wild, passionate sex. He doesn’t tell me details, but he says that much. I think I should be jealous but only feel blank. He deserves this. I’ve had my share of adulterous romance in the last several years. What we had that was precious, in bed, was so long ago; nostalgia touches it with wonder; it has nothing to do with today. At the same time, nothing can surpass those Charlottesville nights—when, mind you, I was unhappy because youth drove me insane—happiness and unhappiness threaded together so close, so glittering, sharp, blurred, gray and immense. Our rented house was in the middle of a 1,000 acre cattle farm, black angus; when we walked at night, we’d be among cows we could barely see, the dark shapes moving to let us pass, that strange almost-fear of their size jolting me now and then, as well as wonder at how docile they were, these large beasts waiting for slaughter.

Now I wait for slaughter (okay, not really. Big change.) I find poetry on the Web and it startles me. I have a few hundred books of the stuff and hardly ever open one. Youth is wise in what it refuses to know. I see my nieces holding up their shields—don’t interrupt me, I’m being young!—and applaud them. They’re hurting through this crisis, but not ready to sell a body part yet. I hope.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…



January 31, 2009 § Leave a comment

After a long walk in the cold and a bad movie, Medicine for Melancholy, that might have worked if the lovers—the only two characters—had spoken more than a line or two every fifteen minutes, I’m sitting in bed having a cup of tea with milk and honey, remembering that classic bit from British novels where the old lady says, “Now, dearie, have a nice cup of tea and you’ll feel as right as rain in no time,” and the young heroine, suffering from a love affair or murder attempt, always does. (Question for another day: why is rain right? Because the gladiolas need it? Or the Brits don’t feel the world’s in order unless there a muzzy bit of drizzle somewhere near? Or is just the alliteration?)

Speaking of love and murder, when I was packing to come uptown, I went to put an unopened chocolate bar in my bag, and found a mouse had nibbled a tiny portion from three of the corners. I’d told Philip the mice hadn’t been around lately so I didn’t mention it but I wanted to; the nibbles looked so tidy and considerate. I was reminded of Charlie in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory making a chocolate bar last for months by keeping it under his mattress (or was it a hole in the wall?) and eating it one crumb at a time, each time unwrapping the silver paper with reverent anticipation. That’s what I want the mice to feel when they scent the chocolate chips at the end of the tunnel-shaped electric mousetrap.

See if you can spot the mouse nibbles

See if you can spot the mouse nibbles

Some people (but no rodents) can feel that anticipation even knowing that death is at hand. My aunt Vera was one of them. She was quite happy in her hospital bed at the end, having no doubt that she’d be in Heaven soon, conversing with Jesus, probably over tea or a dry martini. She was a very strict Catholic, always warning others about hell, but not the type to worry that her own soul might come up short.

Samuel Johnson famously said, “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” Many of us have had this experience as a result of the economy’s death spiral, but not, apparently, House Republicans. Nor Mayor Bloomberg, who wants to tax movie tickets, haircuts, and cable TV.  How about a stupidity tax? Progressive, so if you’re both rich and stupid you pay more.

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