Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sporty, Spitty, and Airy

When I was 6 years old and my sister was 8, we used to play together, and we developed our own language. We decided that people were either spitty, sporty or airy. When an uncle came to visit we'd say, did you see the spit in the corners of his mouth while he ate his eggs this morning? That was spitty. If someone's shirt was open at the top and they were breezy and too cool, that was airy. And if someone was always in a hurry, and chewing gum, licking fingers to get a grip when turning pages of a book, wearing nail polish, lipstick and jewelry, that was sporty.

We used to lip-sync to Cyril Richard's records, "you're so much a part of me, a part of me, the two of us are one." I wonder what my sister would think if she heard those songs now. Would she remember the little window of time when we shared a bedroom and actually played together for hours. All of this was before our differences became evident, and amplified by our mother, before we learned to loathe each other, and fight instead of play. We're still trying to figure it out, how to receive each other as adults, without falling back under the spell of the attitudes we learned from childhood.

Horns And Antlers

I have rarely felt pretty or sexy except when I play my horn. It's a miracle! All the things about my looks that otherwise might work against me work for me in the musical arena; my gigantic head with large features is a perfect stage face, my extra-long torso is good for holding the bari sax, and my legs, hidden all these years under baggy jeans, look great in my turquoise performance tights. Now I just want to develop my carriage muscles for holding and carrying myself better. Swimming and dancing will do this.

I have been invited to jam with two of my sax heroes at an Elks Hall in Leominster Mass. They must be thinking, who is this beached mermaid with her bari sax? But I'll be ready.

Simple Pleasures

I think there's cosmic divinity mixed in with my grandparent's love hovering over all thrift stores because I magically find everything I need at them. What eventually became my Brave Combo polka-dress was one of my first finds 26 years ago! I found my black-and-white polka-dotted cow dress the day before my big painting show, for three dollars! I have even found amazing shoes that fit, and that never happens even at a regular store.

My latest craze is finding broccoli, apples, eggplants, etc. in the inexpensive less-than-perfect section of the produce aisle. It's a great discovery because you don't need perfect-looking produce when you're making applesauce or roasting eggplants or turning things into soup.

Body Body

I had no idea that I often painted a yellow-ochre diagonal in my paintings until I saw them all hanging up in a room in my first painting show. I had never noticed this in my studio. Now that I am publishing my writing I am seeing other things about me that I have totally missed, and yet are as obvious as the nose on my face.

For instance, I had no idea that my primary perception of the world is completely physical. My husband is the opposite. His perception is intellectual. When he walks into a room everyone feels it, the helmet of will, Wilhelm. His name even means it. Smart guy! He has developed myriad other strengths as well, and I have tried to counterbalance my body/sensory dominance by developing my imagination, and by writing. We admire our differences. Alien marries alien.

Anyway, I had no idea I was body dominant. Why the heck didn't I become a Rockette! It would have been better suited to me. It's not over yet, I'll wanna be a Ziegfeld Follies woman into my 90's. I admire people who dance for a living, especially ballerinas, yet I know I am too much of a surrealist to be one. I like to dance by swimming in sound, not following steps. When I had run away from home, a stow-away in a loft in Brooklyn in 1976, I used to dance to Blonde On Blonde until I was sure Bob Dylan was me and I was him. We even looked alike! I was alone in the big loft dancing for hours in my wool sailor pants with the 13 buttons, skinny as a scarecrow. Now that I see I am body first, I am going to own up to it.

I Can't Read

When I was a child, I couldn't read, or so I was told. My mother's theory was that I had a mental block because I had received a letter from my dad telling me he had remarried. I could read, but I wouldn't read some things. When I was in the advanced reading group in school I loved reading The Secret Garden. But some books I hated. I would be taken to the shrink and would have to read one of them aloud and say why I hated it. "Because people don't talk that way, it's FAKE!"

Every week on Wednesday afternoons I was taken out of school to see the shrink. Whenever my mother pulled the car over, in pain from gall bladder attacks, I thought I was killing her. The shrink's bills were sent to my father who had nothing. The lawyers fought and sued. So when my dad came to pick me and my sister up for a drive, I was sure he and his new wife and my sister had plans to kill me, push me off a scenic overlook. I easily imagined them all in agreement with this plan.

I had no safety but my wild imagination. I just wrote down my thoughts on scraps of paper for the shrink each week. I would write about how I stole erasers from grade-school pals, and pencils from Woolworth's, and books from school. This makes me smile now, surrounded by pencils and books, my house filled with books, pencils pointing up to the sky from tomato cans on my desk, while I write down my thoughts for my blog.

I Feel The Neighborhood

I feel the neighborhood. It is cozy, even though some visitors have called it a slum and will never come back to see me in my home. Sad wet laundry falls over peeling yellow porches, pigeons poop from the clothesline towers, but I feel the neighborhood as cozy and loving when I rise early and it is still dark and I look out the window and see lights on and TV's flickering like bug-zappers. I toss the ball for my brown dog in the black night. She runs with the tennis ball in her mouth, and suddenly squats, diagonally lady-like, to pee. I come in and warm the teapot and turn on my computer. The genie box is my robot friend, I can write letters to one hundred and fifty people, some who don't know me well and might be scared of me, but who is afraid of a letter? The computer is less scary than I am, for I am a hairy big-faced loud-laughing big-headed burping fragrant ringletted refuse-to-be-indoctrinated woman.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Prednisone Side Effect Poem

Everything is love.
Days of magical thinking,
stories in my head.
I write them down.
Three hours of sleep a night
feels like an ocean.

I am Alice in Wonderland,
(the girl with kaleidoscope eyes)
Drink me! Eat me!
I am dancing and
thinking I am beautiful!
That rarely happens.

My mother told me I was thick-boned,
with big fat-man cigar-smoking grandpa nose.
I cried and cried. I was five years old
and believed it all,
that I was the ugly duckling.
Now I am the swan,
Love and illumination the side effect.

Being Five

When I was five I told my step-father that I was sure there was a girl exactly like me somewhere doing exactly what I was doing at every second. I was plagued by this notion of a twin. With the world so big it must be true. He said no, you are special.

Sensing that my mother was bored, preoccupied, and annoyed by me, I asked her, why did you have me?

I woke up one morning realizing that the Earth had moved around in a circle while I was asleep. I thought, I'm breathing Chinese air!

What is that? I asked my mother, pointing at the genitals of our gigantic Scottish Deerhound as he lay down on the big round center-hallway rug. She said those are his balls and that is his penis. I said wow, he gets to have all that!

I had stomach aches all the time. I guessed that I was being poisoned. That must be why people have children, I thought, to poison them.

I knew at age five I wanted a life like my father's, not my mother's. Men had everything better than women, and men were much kinder than women. I wanted to have fun working every day, not having kids.

Happy Adoption-Day, Honey!

One night recently, after three hours of sleep, I was wide awake in the dark. I lay there for two hours thinking about all of the wonderful people and amazing adventures and coincidences that have unfolded in my life, like I was viewing a movie. I thought about the day I went to adopt Honey, four years ago, meeting both her and the dog-catcher at the pound.

Honey had been held there for one week to give the owners a chance to claim her. I was the first person to contact the pound when she was finally available for adoption. It was a few days after Veteran's Day. I had left five frantic phone messages on the answering machine at the closed dog pound over the weekend. I was afraid the dog-catcher would give her to someone else because I was from the city, from Woonsocket. The dog-catcher said no, it doesn't work that way. She was less than five feet tall, with blonde hair down to her waist, shapely and built like a robust farm woman, with a tough-love vibe, ready to handle anything.

While I was there a young man came in to claim his dog, and the dog-catcher went in the back and reappeared with a gigantic, handsome, slightly-out-of-control, shiny black Great Dane with a spiked collar. The dog-catcher lightly scolded him for letting his dog loose, and fined him twenty bucks. She said be careful next time. As he was leaving I went outside with him and asked, what's your dog's name? Coltrane, he said, smiling. I said that's cool, and he and Coltrane hopped into his black Camaro and drove off. I went back inside and told the dog-catcher that I work at home, so Honey would always be with me. I told her that I had adopted many dogs. I was still afraid she might think I was a crazy person and an unsuitable dog parent. She was actually not auditioning me, but her authority made me feel submissive.

When I told her that I illustrated children's books, she told me that her mother lived in California and had written a children's book about two tractors who fall in love; John Deere and Allis Chalmers. I thought that was adorable. Then I told her that Dr B had been my vet for over 20 years. She said Oh, Dr B, I have had such a crush on him. I said me too. Then she said, he's too skinny, he needs to eat a steak. I agreed and laughed. When I was about to bring Honey home, the dog-catcher said, there's one thing we're concerned about. Uh-oh, I thought. We don't think her tail works, she said. I'm sure it works, I told her, it's just that she's been in a dog pound! And I'm happy to report that her tail works just fine.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Joy Voice

I wish I could go to the jam. Unfortunately I have a lung infection healing so the Urban Mermaid bari-sax player has to stay off the horn and out of the chlorinated sea for a few more days. Don't feel bad for me because the medicine the good doc gave me induced a state of ecstasy. Not a bad side effect. So I am taking notes on cosmic illumination. I am a person who doesn't desire any drugs, because my own mother-nature brain chemicals are already plenty. This is probably more than you wanted to know about the Urban Mermaid. I will rise up and flap my fins, reeds, and gills soon! And then I can swim in my Louis Armstrong fantasies.

I saw Louis Armstrong play in Hello Dolly when I was a wee little corn niblet. My head was the same size it is now, huge, which may be why my mother never loved me, nonetheless I was a budding surrealist and recognized Louis' joy. Viva la Louis Armstrong! I wanted and still want to be like him, spreading joy and love - the gurgly voice, the smile, the trumpet's red ribbons of sound. My mother had other plans, naming me after Emily Dickinson. But now, at the close of my 46th year, surrounded by love, I may have finally begun to learn to love my broken soul and be a wounded healer. Okay everybody, sing "Hello, Dolly" and listen for Louis' juicy joy voice!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Food Rant

Today I spent the day writing letters. I am not supposed to swim or play sax for a few days while my lungs heal. So I baked an apple pie with raisins in it, boy, did it smell amazing and taste so good too. They should bake home-made apple pies at prisons, psych wards, and rehab hospitals and I suspect people would be healed more rapidly. How many psych hospitals and prisons are located above bakeries or near apple orchards? I bet there would be better results if they were coupled together. If I were an elected official (and I'm not trying to be) these would be my most pressing issues besides peace, ecology, world hunger, and animal rights. I'd declare that apple pie is a healthy delicious food and everyone should have the chance to learn to bake one - perhaps free lessons at the local library. All libraries should have free teaching kitchens. Apple pie should be considered a valid nutritious meal, especially when made with a corn-oil crust. I keep the apple skins on for extra vitamins, flavor, color and texture. (I do the same when I make my olive oil mashed potatoes.)

I made a simple vegetarian mushroom pasta sauce yesterday and it was divine. Pasta is such a comfort food. World peace through linguini! I feel very sad about the plethora of prepackaged foods in America. We started with the TV dinner (an interesting story behind that invention) and then it became a way of life; convenience. What the heck is convenience? What is the virtue of being done with a meal as quickly as possible? Let's linger a little. Turn off the TV, the computer and the phone. Why do we treat our bodies like cars, pumping in fuel and then driving off? Our cities and towns are full of drive-through meals made by robots, and supermarkets are full of frozen foods made by other robots. It's expensive, soul-less and sad.

We need to learn some lessons from the third world where making a dish with black-eyed peas means spending the day taking the skins off each pea. My patient husband did this once! Lovingly prepare your food! I believe that you ingest the love like vitamins. Grandma's home-made cookies were full of grandma love. How many people grow up learning to bake and experience the aroma of an apple pie or a simmering pasta sauce? I was lucky in this way. I ignored bread as a kid but became an avid and committed bread baker when I fell in love with the smell of bread baking at the local Italian bakery. In fourth grade I said I wanted to invent a bread perfume! I was a health nut so I didn't want to make white bread. I made multi-grain bread and still do to this day. I am not a gourmet by any means, I am proud to be a frugal but creative and enthusiastic soul-food cook.

There was a great kids book in the 60's called Old MacDonald Had an Apartment House. I was so inspired by this book. In the book Old MacDonald poured dirt on the floor of his flat and grew his carrots indoors! I've decided to try to grow basil indoors because it is so amazing to have it fresh in pasta sauce. But I won't lay the dirt on the floor! I am concerned that my house will be too cold and dark for it to thrive in the winter, but I will try. It's often chilly in my house in the heart of winter but it is still a far cry from a frost! Sometimes I consider returning to vegetarianism for health reasons but first I will enjoy my favorite meats in moderation over the holidays; turkey, lamb, beef, and ham! Meat is a treat and a rare thing in my diet, like chocolate. But when I crave it I figure I must need it since it is so infrequent. I used to be anemic when I was a vegetarian. Now I am a robust lap-swimming, bari-sax-playing, taking-long-walks-with-my-dog, polka-dancing-in-the-living-room, energized person.

Even junk food can be made healthily. I would like to make my own olive-oil potato chips, they sell them at Job Lot and they are so good. Has anyone ever tried to make a cheese doodle? I tried to pop rice in my hot-air popcorn maker to make rice cakes. I guess I don't get out much! Every time I like something I want to be able to make it myself. I even tried to make my own tofu in college. I would like to try it again, perhaps this time find a wooden tofu mold somewhere. I absolutely crave and love fresh bean curd and eat it as it is fished out of the buckets of water at the Asian market. Supposedly tofu prevents the bad symptoms of menopause, too. I have made bagels and they are fun. Making homemade pasta is a fun thing to do during a blizzard, indoors of course. I bake through storms and heat waves! There is an old-fashioned grist mill in southern Rhode Island called Kenyon's. I went there in college on a school trip, and it was amazing to see the gigantic stones grinding whole corn into nutritious meal. Let's make Johnnycakes!! Why does appetite increase with age? For some of us it seems to. I lived on nothing when I was a kid and as an adult I eat every twenty minutes. It seems backwards to me! Get inspired and make something simple, nutritious, and delicious today!

Romance in Woonsocket

The other day I was walking behind the baseball field with Honey, going down what I call poop alley. It's where all the old ladies from the high-rise bring their little dogs. There's a narrow asphalt walking-path that cuts through poop alley to the high-rise. I saw a smiling elderly gentleman who I have seen before. He was wearing a red-and-black lumberjack wool shirt and pushing an empty cobalt blue plastic-dipped metal grocery cart. He smiled and said, "Romance in Woonsocket. That was the name of a movie my sister was in when she was 16, she wanted to be an actress." I examined his face as he was talking. He smiled a lot and had bumpy dry skin and gorgeous front teeth. He said, "Do you remember Gene Audrey? He was in town, too. I was born in 1923, I was 12 when the Titanic went down and that's all I heard about, I heard about it so much I felt like I had been on it! My wife died 32 years ago. People ask me will I remarry? I tell them my wife was crazy crazy crazy." I smiled and listened. "I've had enough of that. My wife accused me of fooling around but she was the one who was fooling around. She had 7 kids with every Tom Dick and Harry. I raised them all. When she was in the hospital to remove a varicose vein in her leg, her secret lover showed up. He was a big fat guy and he was kissing my wife. I went in the room. He punched me in the chest, I could have hit him but I didn't hit him back. I went and told the nurse someone is in the room kissing my wife! He was her secret lover. Well she's all gone now and I've had enough of that." He was smiling as he wheeled away his cart.

The New Man

There's a tall man who I often see walking around. He lives in the group home five houses away. We always have a little chat when I see him on my dog-walking outings. He'll say what a pretty dog and lean down and pet Honey as if he's never seen her before. This has gone on for years. Yesterday he said, "What kind of brown is she?" I said chocolate. "Chocolate, hmm." I said you mean what kind of dog is she? "No, what kind of brown is she?" I said she becomes a reddish brown in the summer sun. Her tail is a bit redder. He looked and agreed. Then I thought of ladies' hair colors. I said she's a chestnut brown. "Ahh yes!" He liked that.

I have seen this man for years, and every day is new for him. I'm not sure what is going on with him but he is always friendly and fun to talk to. "I love the color of your shirt," I said, admiring the pale pumpkin corduroy. "I don't know where it came from," he said. I wondered what he meant. "Okay," he said, "I've got to have my walk, my exercise, then I'll come back and have a good hearty breakfast of milk and cereal." I said it always tastes better after a walk doesn't it? Like a sandwich tasting better at the beach. "Yes it's true," he said. I was hoping we'd walk together a bit longer but he stopped at the light and pressed the walk button to cross in the other direction.

Scrap Metal

The other day I was on my way into the YMCA and the maintenance guy told me, "There's a guy who's a member here who is 89 and swims every day." Oh really, I said, I haven't met him yet. "He comes in the early morning at seven or eight and swims. He looks at every girl in the place." Some things don't fade with age, I replied. "He's a WWII veteran, I think he has scrap metal in his leg."

New Sole

There's a cute little building covered with asbestos shingles imitating red brick, on the Court Street Bridge in Woonsocket. I have crossed the bridge on foot, watching the smoke curl out of the thin brick chimney. When you look in the window you see gorgeous shoe-repair machines. The sign says Petronuzzi's Shoe Rebuilding. There's a little bald-haired man about 75 years old in a worn apron, hunched over the gorgeous greasy old machines. The other day I walked in with my dog. I took off my worn clog and handed it to him. I wear out my shoes, I said, because I walk everywhere. I see that, he said. I asked him if he could make me a new heel. He said yes. I said okay I have to go home and get my husband's shoes too and come back with my dancing shoes too. I returned with three pairs of shoes and he gave me a purple ticket. They'll be ready Friday morning he said. On Friday I jumped out of bed and walked Honey over to Petronuzzi's with my money. He had rebuilt three pairs of shoes for 20 dollars a pair. My polka-dancing shoes had been completely rebuilt, they were better than new, and shiny and buffed with new black polish! He gave the dancing shoes a new soul! I said thank you so much I am so happy and thank you for letting me bring in my dog. That's okay he said. I said she's the one who needs shoes. In the winter the ice gets into her furry paws. He smiled. Maybe I will design a pair of dog booties that he can make.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Many people are carrying an extraordinary amount of fear in their day-to-day lives. Countless times I have heard the elderly ladies in the locker room at the YMCA say they are afraid to be in there alone. They are afraid a predator will invade while they are getting dressed and nobody will hear them scream. My neighbor has pulled her kids out of the schools for fear of what could happen there, and has adopted a third watch dog. She now has a German Shepherd, a Pit Bull and an English Mastiff. She jumps through the roof when one of them barks, thinking it’s the predator she imagines hot on her trail. I can’t help thinking this fear comes from watching television. I call TV the fear machine. People don’t realize they are experiencing fear as entertainment. Right now our government is manipulating millions of people using fear tactics. Even the weathermen use fear as entertainment in their weather reporting. Zap zap zap we get hooked on high drama living. Back away from the fear machine and reclaim your freedom and birthright to think clearly! Read a reputable newspaper if you want to know the facts. Find out who your neighbors are so you can feel a little safer living on your street. But if you really want to have fear, have it about something worthwhile. Fear that you could die without ever having listened to your children, fear that you never followed through on your dream to write, or paint or play music, fear coming to the end of your life having postponed all of your dreams.

Sax Sonar

The other night my husband and I played a gig as a duo at the Italian Workingmen's Club. The event was a Beer-and-Dynamite fund-raiser for the YMCA. It was a gas, and two of my tenor sax playing pals showed up; Dick and Bebop. They are both elderly gentlemen. I introduced them and it turns out they know each other from thirty years ago! Horn players are like dolphins, we put out sonar and gather together. There were six horns at the Thursday jam last week!

Joy Bubbles

A few times a year I am awakened at two or four a.m. by joy energy flowing straight out from my abdomen. I call it joy bubbles, because that’s exactly how it feels. I get up and go to my desk and scribble words in my notebook, and start cooking in the kitchen. Sometimes I’ll play my sax or my accordion through dawn.

Red Onions

Red onions sliced in half remind me of the swirl symbol quack hypnotists and bogus psychiatrists use in bad movies. But I love to eat red onion sandwiches on my sourdough bread with lettuce and mayo. I eat scallions like Bugs Bunny eats carrots. Maybe there’s a reason I work alone!

Raw Shock

In second grade I was taken out of school and given a Rorschach test because I cried whenever I had to take math tests. On my first ink blot I said I saw bears hugging. A pretty blonde-haired lady with gigantic horn-rimmed glasses and a plaid skirt with grey wool tights took notes on a yellow legal pad. Then I was given a math test, and I cried. All of the adults gathered around and observed me like I was an alien specimen, and my bio dad was sent all of the bills.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Imaginative Dog

Sometimes when I am at my chair in the front room with my notebook I imagine the sound of the cars driving down my street to be the sound of ocean waves. In the summer, the city puts up a very tall net to catch the fly balls from the baseball field. Otherwise they land on the parked cars belonging to the folks in the elderly high-rise. When I look out my window I can see that the tall drooping nets make peaks, like a child's drawing of mountains. I said to my husband, look, we live in the Swiss Alps! One day last winter our dog Honey was barking wildly from our living room. We looked out the window and saw that the small tree out front was covered with six inches of snow, and swaying in the wind of the snowstorm. It looked like a lurking monster, with head and arms! My dog is as imaginative as I am!

Clear Soup

Today I made clear soup from all of my kale and broccoli stock that has accumulated this week. I added fresh vegetables - cubed potatoes (with the skin), sliced white onions, sliced mushrooms, chopped celery, chopped carrots, broccoli, dollops of extra virgin (Job Lot) olive oil and crushed red pepper flakes - and pressure-cooked it all for 13 minutes. It is yummy with soy sauce added, like wonton soup but without the wontons.

Jolly World

My lungs get sore and inflamed if I skip too many days playing my sax. My sax serves as a broncho-dilator, as effective as the expensive asthma medicines (Advair), and playing it prevents asthma symptoms. Tea and coffee and caffeine in general are also mild broncho-dilators. Imagine if all asthmatics had daily tea and coffee breaks, and during the breaks we all played our wind instruments. We'd all have happy lungs and it would be a jolly world.

Enjoy Life

Printed on the little paper bags from Larry B's music store is "Enjoy life more with music." It's so true. When I was a photography student I made a photo-documentary of my Smith Hill neighborhood. My first stop was Guy Alba's barber shop on Smith Street. Guy was in there that day cutting the hair of a big man with a gruff expression, a white cloth draped over his chest catching all the chunks of black hair. I was poking around, amazed at all the old heavy glass cupboards, and examining the yellowed photos, articles, and postcards scotch-taped to the mirrors. The place was tidy and clean but from another era - my Grandfather's era. I'll never forget what Guy said to me that day; "You notice everything. You must really enjoy life."

Let Yourself

When people say they've always wanted to paint, or play music, or photograph, I always say do it, not to become rich, popular, or famous, but because ultimately it's for YOU!

Finding yourself creatively will reap the biggest riches you'll ever know. I started writing and drawing because I was lonely, depressed, miserable, joyous, imaginative, crazy, confused, angry, impatient, curious, hungry, and hyperactive. Besides discovering that I am a horrible speller with no knowledge of grammar, I found out a lot of important things about myself, just by letting myself write. The same has been true for playing music, which has the added benefit of being really FUN! In fact I believe if we all played music together and shared food there would be no war. And let me tell you, Middle-Eastern food really rocks!


The sun was in the pool this morning at nine a.m. I love watching the air bubbles flowing off the tips of my fingers as I do the crawl. It's hypnotizing. When I am treading water with flippers, swimming vertically almost, I pretend I am a dancing ballerina suspended on my toes, making graceful arm motions. I love to look at photos of ballerinas dancing. They have the ultimate leg and arm muscles.

After swimming I stopped at Job Lot. I bought olive oil, sketch pads, graph paper, vanilla extract, Maria tea cookies, shampoo, and two Reese's peanut-butter cups. It was a good morning.

Pet a Calf

There's nothing like petting the large furry curved jawbone of a calf. I was petting the calf, scratching her jaw bone and rubbing her snout. I loved how easily her tongue slips into her nostrils. I think cows have beautiful nostril shapes. A bunch of these young Holsteins have black freckles on their pink noses. This one was lifting her head and looking at me with her gigantic eyeballs. The dairy farm is three miles from my very urban neighborhood. Sometimes I walk there. When I see the calves I try to imagine what it must be like to hobble around on what looks like furniture legs with cloven hooves. I would love to have a pet cow in my urban backyard.

On the Phone

The other day we were walking Honey and this gigantic garbage truck was backing up, with difficulty, into the street from a driveway. "What's this guy doing?" my husband said. "Don't bother him," I said sarcastically, "He's busy, can't you see he's on the phone?" "He's doing this while he's on the phone?" my husband said, exasperated. "Yeah, he's talking to his girlfriend." "No, it must be a really important phone call. Maybe he's coaching brain surgery, or writing a speech for the president of Iceland, or negotiating a peace treaty, or trading in the stock market, or dictating Chinese foreign policy. You know, something he can do part-time while driving a garbage truck."

All the Tools

It's the same ears for listening that are used to play music as to write, it's the same eyes for observing that are used to paint pictures or photograph as to write, it's the same nose for smelling and tongue for tasting that are used to cook and bake as to write. We shouldn't chop ourselves into bits, making our lives small by fencing off and defending one territory of expertise. We can corral, use, celebrate, and integrate all of our senses to work together in everything we do. We are each as unique as a fingerprint. Use and develop all the tools in your bag; use all the tools you were born with.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Dented Can

My friend Phoebe and I used to go to the flea market of banged-up and expired food, a nameless store that was in town briefly. It was a hit! This is not a high-end town, we love our bargains. It sounds creepy, but for us scavengers we couldn't resist. I ran into friends there buying bags of broken pecan cookies, because, as you know, there are no calories when they are broken! We affectionately dubbed the place "The Dented Can," and imagined an eight-foot tall dented can of peas rotating slowly out front - botulism world headquarters. That's not funny. Since the spinach E Coli crisis I keep imagining a mother screaming at her kid "Eat your spinach, it's not gonna kill you," and then the kid dies from E Coli. Maybe it's my perverse humor. I hope nobody who died from bad spinach had that said to them the night before.

I had a few too many creepy experiences buying stuff at the dented can - dead bugs in my pasta, (at least they were dead) and really stale tea. Stupidly I bought mayonnaise there once. But there were some great bargains, too, on soap, sponges, paper napkins, jars of juice and other safe-to-buy things. They even sold powdered goats milk. The store is gone now. And I hope my grandparents are not reading this from heaven, because they would worry about me.


I realized I had been in front of my computer for four days and needed to swim, especially if I'm considering myself to be an urban mermaid. So I went. The sun was in the pool and it was quiet. My pal Bebop showed up. "Hey Bebop!!" I shouted across the pool as he went over to select red and blue foam flotation noodles. Bebop is 78 and played saxophone on weekends in lots of bands for years. We always chat about the saxophone when I see him. We stood in the water for twenty minutes. He was animated, gesturing with both arms, singing tunes and pantomiming playing his tenor sax. I noticed I had darker armpit hair than him. "Try a tune as a rhumba, fox trot, Latin, same tune just different beat. You gotta have a good drummer, then you'll fly."

One time I saw Bebop in the supermarket and he gave me a saxophone lesson in the macaroni aisle! He was tapping his foot next to his metal carriage saying count out the beats and see how long you can exhale. It's a treat for both of us whenever we bump into each other around town.

After my swim I had a craving for green vegetables. I stopped at the grocery store and looked in the bargain bin. I got the slightly beat up broccoli because it wasn't that bad, three heads for a dollar, just the stems look banged up. I'll cut most of that part off. Greens, greens, greens, I feel like a queen when I can eat lots of greens. I saw my other swim buddy in the check-out line. I couldn't help myself, I glanced in his basket. He was buying green grapes, pulpy Tropicana orange juice and a ready-made roasted chicken. How cute! He's another adorable elderly gentleman in his late 70's. I see him at the pool all the time but rarely have I seen him on dry land! I asked him how he was. He said he was in shock, that a friend of his had just died. "I opened the paper and there he was. I saw him and spoke to him just last week, and asked him how he was. He said hangin' in there, but he did look frail. He was a member of the Y for over 40 years." It must be a shocker when all your pals start to die. He said I have goggles for you in my car, and we walked out together into the late afternoon orange light. He popped open the trunk of his little blue Toyota and handed me a set of brand new Speedo goggles! He got them at the outlet store in town and had donated a bunch to the YMCA. "I saved one for you." Thanks so much I said, thinking wow, I've never been so popular.

Polka Fans

Last night at the jam my elderly sax-playing pal Dick brought his mp3 player and headphones, and we squirreled away into the cute chilly kitchen of the bar to listen to his polka band's tunes from 20 years ago! I had the headphones on and was beaming as he sampled the collection for me. My face started to get sore from grinning. This is the happiest music in the world I said, probably speaking way too loud because my ears were covered. I can't listen to this music before bed or I won't sleep. I'll dance all night! He giggled. Dick is an engineer and was, among other things, responsible for engineering Mr. Potato Head. Is that cool or what? He worked for Hasbro and on weekends had a polka band called The Happy Bachelors. I think he was as surprised as I was to find a devoted polka fan at a blues jam. You just never know!

Pen and Paper

Always carry a pen and paper because you never know what will spark a train of thought for a story, and clues are all over the place. A big white garbage truck passed me while I was walking Honey today. As it drove by, I read the company's slogan. It was painted in big red letters, in quotes; "Trash, it's not just our business, it's our life." Now who are they quoting? George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Eugene O'Neill? I want this quote attributed! I wanted to ask the driver for his business card when he parked at the motorcycle shop around the corner, but I chickened out.

I do freelance work for a home-delivery company, and they are an adorable, kind, ecology-minded company with great service and great products, but one thing they do wrong is that they have a million different slogans, in quotes, and they print them on everything. It's so ridiculous that it's charming in that very Rhode Island way: "Your Grocery Store On Wheels," "Simply Fresh," "Live Longer Live Stronger," etc. etc.


My elderly pal Donut walks the city day and night. He's thin as a pencil, tall, and very funny. He lives two blocks from my house in the elderly high-rise. I love to run into him, and I do every few days, on my dog-walking treks through downtown. "I gotta walk, people are dropping like flies in there," pointing to the high-rise with his thumb. The first time I met him he asked me if Honey bites. He told me he was bit by a pit-bull once and had to get stitches. He pointed to his hip and thigh. He said the doctor told him, "Your name is Donut? If I was a dog, I'd bite you too!" His real name is Donat, but everyone pronounces it Donut. He always has one-liners for me and I always laugh. He's a French Canadian Groucho Marx, and I am his appreciative audience.

Mother-in-Law's Tongues

The RI Department of Transportation must have run out of type when they got to our town. You can tell because all the letters in the highway sign are a mix of upper and lower case and varying sizes and different typefaces. It's enough to distract and thereby endanger the life of any graphic designer driving north on highway 99. I try to warn all my graphic designer friends when they come to my house. Beware!! I guess we're too far from headquarters to get our share of funds for proper signage. My guess is the governor's highway exit sign doesn't look this bad! Or maybe graphic design should be a requirement for government officials.

Speaking of government I've had way too many political robots leaving messages on my answering machine. I know the election is Tuesday but I need peace of mind so I'm spending this moment thinking about how many pasta shapes there are on the planet. The genius of the noodle! In the NYC subway stations, the school for the deaf used to give out easy-reference wallet-sized cards of the alphabet printed in sign language. I would love to have a similar card with all of the pasta shapes and names in Italian and English, printed wallet-size for easy reference. Maybe it could be a tourist thing whenever you go to little Italy. Nonetheless I want to get to know all the shapes: radiatori, fettuccini, mostaccioli, fusilli, ziti, ditalini, rigatoni, conchiglie, cavatelli, tubettini, penne. Did you know there was a pasta called lingue di suocera, or mother-in-law's tongues? Pretty creepy. Strozzapreti means "priest strangler." It makes me think of the Jewish hamentashen - eating Hamen's hat! What really fascinates me is that eating capellini (angel hair - wouldn't that give you a fur ball?) is a whole different dining experience than eating linguini fini, or vermicelli (little worms!) You could eat pasta every night of the week and just change the diameter of your noodle! But how come rotini and farfalle (bowties) and other macaroni shapes can taste so different? The sauce falls on the shapes differently making the sauce-to-pasta ratio varied, changing the experience, like the way lighting variations change a face.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Two Brown Dogs on Halloween

Yesterday I saw a four year old boy dressed up as a brown dog. His costume was a fuzzy full-bodied brown dog body-suit equipped with floppy brown ears, just like my dog's. He was walking into a laundromat with his dad. I was walking my brown dog down the street. The two dogs looked at each other. It was hilarious.

Common Scents

I just hit the wrong button and everything I had written today vanished. My computer asked "Do you want to save the changes you made" and I must have hit the "no" button. Poof. I guess I never will say no to my computer again. My dog had been barking to go out, really annoyed that I was still sitting here after three hours. She has a small bladder and gets very vocal when I have delayed letting her out to pee and play fetch. I didn’t know what I had done until I came back from playing with Honey. I came up to write about my grandmother's compulsion to hide chocolate bars under her mattress, and to see where it would fit in with what I had already written and poof, all my morning’s blatherings were gone. Out into the ether. I immediately took a walk through downtown with Honey, consoling myself that it happens to everyone, it could’ve been worse, I could’ve lost a week of writing or a year or two year's worth of stories. I’ve done that too, when I crashed my computer a few years ago, and I’m still grieving the loss. On my walk I wanted to tell strangers on the street about my day's loss but I just kept walking, not stopping for anything except letting Honey pee. I’m surprised that I didn’t heave my computer through my window a long time ago but then again, I do love my computer. For a shy girl who never learned to speak up, enjoy parties, or type, I can push words around on this thing for hours of self-entertaining fun. Then I can send my inner ramblings out to friends to see what they think. Pretty neat.

One of the things I was writing about was pillow drool, a very important topic in my sleep life. Ever since I was a kid I sniffed my pillow. I even used to name the best scent Wilbur hoping it wouldn’t disappear. The scents come from drooling on my pillow in my sleep. I would be and still am so disappointed when washday comes and my pillow is cleaned of all its beloved aromas. Since now I am the laundress I can postpone pillowcase washing! When my sister and I were kids, we would lay down and watch TV on my parent's gigantic bed. I would uncover the white pillows from the heavy dark knit bedspread and sniff them. I noticed the scent of my mother's pillow compared to my step-father's pillow and appreciated their differences like two fine wines. As a kid I sniffed everything, and I still do; I have a dog's nose. When my step-father would come off the commuter train in winter we’d greet him, kissing his cold cheek. I inhaled his scent of city men, trains and newspapers. When my dog is eating she puts out a hormone-like scent I can detect, and when she’s sleeping there’s another distinctive aroma. My little brother’s bedroom always smelled of baby powder even though he never used it. It was his sleep scent. Puppies put out a scent that says don’t kill me, to the older dogs. Maybe this was true for my brother! Maybe this is why babies' scalps always smell like roses, so the mothers or siblings won’t kill them when they are crying all night. When my grandparents would visit, every Sunday, I’d come downstairs and follow the scent of their cologne to locate which room they were in. Many times when people walk by me I can smell what laundry soap they use. I have to laugh. When I greet someone I often want to say gee you smell fabulous but that is not a customary greeting in this culture. I doubt it would be appreciated.


This morning when I came downstairs there was a centipede in the sink on the black lid of my thermos mug. I screamed. This will encourage me to do the dishes before bed. Centipedes, I have discovered, love water as much as I do, but this is about all we have in common. If Radio City Music Hall had a centipede perform they wouldn’t have to hire the Rockettes. But they’d have to give out very powerful binoculars to the members of the audience. My grandmother took me to the Radio City Christmas show when I was five. I was fascinated by the infinity of legs. I wanted to grow up to be a Rockette! My mother had other plans for me.

Grandmother Sophie had a vanity covered completely with mirrors. The most fascinating part was the box of mirror that was located where the chair would fit into the desk. My sister and I would kneel down on the carpet and squish ourselves into the mirrored box together and play for hours, clapping and turning our heads, looking at the infinitely repeated reflections of ourselves. The vanity drawers were made of mirror too. I would open them and find combs, hair nets, pink foam curlers, hard plastic curlers, bobby pins, heavy bejeweled pinch-on earrings, screw-on earrings, a million lipsticks, nail polish of all shades, eyebrow pencils, emery boards, more lipsticks, more bobby pins. I was fascinated by the earrings. The pinch ones hurt and the screw-on ones had to be so tight to stay on my six-year-old earlobes that they hurt too. Forget that! The infinity mirror box really was the best part. We’d be in there clapping and moving, watch our synchronized reflection, just like the Rockettes.

Grandpa Nat would open the window, even in mid-January, and lay down on the floor in the three-foot-square of sun while holding a reflector under his chin. He’d wear white plastic eye cups over his eyes. He was sunbathing. He loved how his blue eyes would pop when he was suntanned. He’d always accentuate his bright-eyed look by wearing a blue dress shirt. When Grandma would take us down in the elevator and out under the boardwalk to the beach, Grandpa would either nosh or sunbathe or stay at the window with his binoculars and watch the millions of bikini-clad girls from the sixth floor.

Vacation Eyes

The importance of staring out the window is vastly underrated. As a kid, on winter days I’d sit on the radiator and daydream while watching the colorful skaters on the pond down my street. On spring days I’d come home from school and just sit on the floor of my bedroom, leaning against my bed while staring at the motion of the green leaves blowing on the trees. At night I loved to turn off all the lights and stare at my fish tank lit up in my dark bedroom.

I require lots of daydreaming. My sister and I would play tag with the neighborhood boys and after a few minutes I’d sneak off and hang out in the treehouse to daydream. They’d continue chasing each other for hours. Not much has changed. I’m still daydreaming in my treehouse and most people I know are out there chasing stuff.

I have never needed a passport. There’s cool stuff going on right in your own neighborhood that you would think is amazing if you traveled 3,000 miles on a vacation to see it. Pretend you did. Put on your new eyes, vacation eyes, and with the money and time you’ve saved on air fare and shlepping, go get a cup of tea and watch people in your neighborhood walk by for a few hours. Daydream without guilt.

When I was about seven I was already spending tons of time alone and loving it. My mother was convinced I was a mentally disturbed loner! I had a game where I would stare at an ordinary everyday household object like my morning orange juice glass and I’d stare at it until I didn’t know what it was, who I was, or where I was. It took about three minutes. It worked with the most ordinary things; a comb, a shoe, a fork, a toothbrush, a pencil, a chair. Who needs drugs? I was stoning myself. Don’t try this while driving!

Soapy Water

When I was a toddler my mother would take a big plastic bowl of warm soapy water and a sponge and set it out in the backyard for me. I’d be completely engaged and play for hours. This is how I feel now playing with oil paint.

The Horror Days

I loathe the holidays. I call them the horror-days. I try to stay out of the fray by doing my own thing and keeping TV and radio off. I even hate Mother's Day and Father's Day. I used to walk for miles every year on Christmas eve, to get through it, to tire out my sadness. I do have favorite foods and if I'm feeling inspired I'll bake them and give them away or eat them! Honking on my horn with my musical friends is the best solution I can think of for getting through my miseries and is much more fun than walking.

I prefer to let myself have impromptu holidays. Like when it finally cools off after a heat wave. Now that’s a holiday! When it snows for the first time in the winter and you have enough leftovers to stay inside and make a big soup. When a wind storm blows through and you just listen to it rattle your windows all night. When you just plain old feel content. To me those are the best kind of Holy-Days.

One of the things I did like about Christmas as a kid was when my step-father played records of Christmas music from around the world; Italy, France, Sweden, Spain, Germany, Norway, Holland. We’d have bagels and lox with my grandparents on Christmas morning.