Tuesday, December 25, 2007
in the United States,
we take walks,
find a park
We go out to the few open businesses,
movies theater, Chinese food,
and know that most everyone we see will be Jewish,
or Atheist (though they may still follow comfortable family tradition)
or what have you, but not Christian.
Here, the temperature is in the 70’s
and we had a beautiful solstice under the stars
(we could see though the city-glow)
in our shirtsleeves
and on the 25th
we are at my sister-in-law’s
(Mother-in law, father-in-law, wife, daughter and son)
because she doesn’t want to be the only Jew at her home
as she gathers her husband’s family-
Southern Baptists all
and very concerned for the souls of the children.
We are there with my mother-in law
who was born Jewish
but who is sure America has made Christmas
a national holiday
we have to celebrate
or incur a terrible social wrath.
She wants to know if we are going to heaven.
(How the hell should I know?)
(Is it full of people just like this?)
Then the party is over,
everyone wishes each other Merry Christmas
over piles of presents given each other
in honour of the Christ child
and we gave one or two but look at all that stuff! And say goodbye.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
But I do have relatives there - relatives I see seldom, speak not much to and, most of whom, would not recognise.
People tend to believe everything they read. Oh, they say they don’t, but they do. In newspapers, in books, in pamphlets, on the Internet. Especially on the Internet where it is easy to publish anything one wishes. And if it comes by email, all the more believable.
If it comes in an email, it makes no difference what the story, it is swallowed whole. Hoax, myth, legend – all true if it is found within your electronic inbox. And each time it arrives, it is true again.
Literature is true. Ask nearly anyone who reads a poem. They’ll tell you all poetry is autobiography as though no poet ever made up a thing, created a work of fiction, embellished, took license with a core of truth to make a whole that speaks the truth but did not necessarily happen. At least not how it was written.
My daughter complained about my last book. Not enough poems about her. Only two. In truth, there is only one. In truth, there are none.
My son complained there is more about his sister than about him. I told him there were exactly the same number of poems about him as her. Not one fewer.
I wrote a poem for a coffee company once. Skookum. About a man who is thinking of higher climes and better times as his wife of leisure rambles on and on. His coffee saves him. Once published, people thought my marriage was in trouble. I rarely drink coffee.
And so, the poem below is true. True for manyand truer for some and but it isn’t real. Parts are real, parts are made up but the whole creates its own truth from the parts that are not.
So it is about me, but it isn’t.
Except for the last line. The last few line. That, you can take to the bank.
My grandmothers came from the Ukraine.
By swelling Cossack waves,
Night pogroms, burning homes and hoof-print graveyards.
One to Vienna, the other, Buenos Aires, Boston.
My grandmother in Vienna met my grandfather
And became my father’s parents,
By the waves of Hitler’s Reich
In the Holy war against the Jews, Gypsies, Whathaveyou.
Galacia, Gdansk, London, New York, Israel, Florida.
My grandfather removed himself from Lisbon
At the Catholic’s strong suggestion
And ended up in Amsterdam, London, Buenos Aires,
And I am Boston, New Jersey, South Carolina,
New Mexico, North Carolina, Minneapolis, Seattle and Canada.
Israel, England, Germany, Philadelphia, Florida.
And in no place do I belong,
Each place I needed to move from,
culture bade me leave,
Browning pastures left for green and I
Unhappy in the next as the last
Moved on again, unattached
Unrooted, uncommitted and still,
In the back of my mind I’m planning where next,
Wherever I am inferior to where I might be.
I’m sure it will be better.
Day of Remembrance.
It should be enough to remember,
But it blows through my hollow bones
Like a winter bird in flight,
I scatter like a dried dandelion.
A personal Diaspora,
I shatter like crystal, dispersing light.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
This is, on a Saturday, an amazingly vibrant small city. There is a literacy festival at the library, jammed bookstores all over, a chili festival along the waterfront, kids playing in public fountains as though they were waterparks. Families stroll slowly through the June early afternoon along the streets and riverfront. We have walked downtown, the capitol complex, seen The Mountain Stage, the Museum of Art and Folk Art. Everywhere people. From this small city I had not anticipated such a density of activity. I’d never had expected to see such life.
No more than I would have expected to see the dollies. So many people, for lack of working legs, pushing themselves along by gloved fists against the pavement. Some lack legs so fully I am reminded, uncharitably I admit, of a cartoon I had seen many years ago of a crowd of legless bayou frogs, all pushing themselves on dollies, with one asking another what he wanted for dinner. “Frog legs.”
We see so many fist-driven four-wheelers that, after the first few, we feel the need to take tally. Seventeen - after we started to count. We move twelve miles through this city in six hours, despite a lack of our dollies all our own, and have been having a wondrous day. At least I have been. My son – my son, at 14, is having his own experience.
We are ready to head out. Our target is Ohio, Gallipolis specifically, and our goal is to get there before dark with enough time, this Summer evening, to find a room and stroll the town before the sun sets. Gallipolis, for no good reason other than someone having told me it was close enough to our destination – P.S.G., Pagan Spirit Gathering - that we can stay overnight and drive an easy pace the twenty miles to the Wisteria gate by nine. Time enough to ride behind the Amish buggies and enjoy the experience and the word patience need never come to mind.
We drive west along I64, out of Charleston, crossing the river over humming tangles of black-girdered bridges looking for I35 - the closest way across the Ohio, the easiest way to Gallipolis.
My son is mapmaster. This has not worked as well as I might have liked. I had thought map reading might be genetic. The only genetic tendency expressing itself at the moment is that towards frustration.
I glance over and look quickly at the map, unfolded on my son’s lap, as I drive. Taking another quick look away from the road I see his frown, his furrowed forehead, eyes turned toward at each other. The highway numbers are upside down. So are the names of the cities. Perhaps there are one or two other genetic tendencies expressing themselves we shall have to look into upon our return home.
I have been reading maps nearly as long as I have been reading words. I am fascinated by them. Where do the roads go, where do they start? I liked my late nights to extend far into the early morning tracing routs from origin to end. When our family took trips, I was in charge of the map, navigating from the front passenger seat. Exactly where my son is now.
We have a year old Rand McNally atlas, purchased not many months ago. I prefer actual maps to printed directions. Mapquest and Google can only go so far. What if we wish to change routs, see what we can see, drive where we might? What an interesting name. Look, there is a cave just ahead. See, there is a gorge down that road. Off we go. With an atlas I can find my way back again, back to the beaten track from off, back on the path and on to our destination. No loss. All gain.
We find our way, road upon road, I-64, I-35, headed toward the Ohio River, to cross into the state of that same name. As we approach the Silver Bridge at Point Pleasant there appears to be something missing: the bridge. There is no bridge. Now, there is the pitted rampart to the river edge, battered pillars from the water surface, confused us to the end of the road. What was, is not.
We pull over, parallel to the Ohio and perpendicular to where we had every reason to expect a bridge entrance which would continued onto a bridge.
The map. It shows a bridge. The land begs to differ. The water – a clear expanse bridge-free to the Ohio bank. Do not mistake the map for the territory.
We ask. The bridge fell down. Recently? No. 1967. Have you ever heard of the Mothman? Seen the movie? No. The one time it might have done me some good to have paid attention to popular culture.
A bridge, off the Earth thirty-five years, still on the map. If you can’t trust Rand McNally, who can you trust?
We travel further south, a half hour more distant of our evening’s destination, to where another bridge is shown, fully ready for that to be gone as well but gone it was not. It exists, as the map shows, and over the Ohio we go. Once on the other side, we follow the river again and Gallipolis is near.
It is small, sparse, quiet. We drive past the fringe Wal-Marts and K-marts, pass by the motels on the outskirts and plunge into the town itself. That is our goal: to find a room where we can park the car and spend the evening walking to dinner, walking to the shops, walking, walking, walking and no driving need be done. My goal. My son’s goal fixed firmly on tomorrow morning. That the youth exist in the here and now and age dwells in the past and future is cliché, not axiom.
We find one hotel. Just one that fits our bill. Just one in town. The William Ann. We could not happier. Older, quaint, friendly and directly in the middle of the town. We put our bags and baskets in the paneled room and set out for a walk.
Dinner comes from a small local grocery store we stroll past. We are stunned by the contents. It is appointed very much as one would expect a small grocery in the inner-city: no fresh vegetables, a deli counter of prepared animal or creamed products, a surprising amount of space devoted to chips and breads, sodas and snacks. We purchase some sandwiches and two apples well past their prime and eat as we walk into the town commons.
In the middle of the commons, on the southern side, the side closest to, within a stone’s toss of, the Ohio River, is a statue that commemorates the bringing of yellow fever to the town and the fifty-seven killed when the disease made landfall in 1878, brought by the doctor who was on that south-destined barge specifically to treat the disease already being carried by those on board; people looking for a new, better life downstream. An agent of mercy, he boarded it upstream so the victims would not need to disembark for treatment or supplies and risk infecting others. Until all aboard were well, only he would have the infrequent necessary contact with the off-barge world.
The rudder arm broke and the ship drifted ashore at Gallipolis. So did the flavivirus.
A four sided post about five feet high, each side is inscribed. One side tells us it is in memory of the yellow fever victims, another has the fifty-seven names on it, yet another lists the barge crew and another side tells us who bestowed the memorial upon the town. Atop the post is the rudder arm. That I know of, this is the world’s sole memorial to viral hemorrhagic fever.
The Scioto Company ran an ad in Paris attracting middle-class French to America with cheap Ohio land. They bought the deeds, sold their goods, and made the long voyage to America and into Midwest. They found nothing. No homesteads. Worthless deeds. It was 1790 and they petitioned President Washington for land. They got it in The French Grant. On the Banks of the Ohio River. Gallipolis. City of the Gauls.
The town failed to thrive. Mining did not quite take off, agriculture was a plan that came to little in an area more swamp than soil.
In 1818, a few families from Wales set sail from Liverpool to Baltimore and traveled by horse and cart to Pittsburg. Tired of the trials of over-land travel, they opted to trust themselves to the Ohio River, counting on it to take them the rest of the way to Paddy’s Run - a frontier town near Cincinnati.
The barge would abruptly, constantly, run aground on the shifting sandbars of the river. The men would jump out onto the dissipating sand and often require rescuing.
The journey taking longer than anticipated, and needing to reprovision, the water-borne pioneers set ashore in Gallipolis, a settlement then with fewer than one thousand people and barely hanging on.
Everyone got off the barge for a night on dry land. Fresh and full, they would shove off again the next morning.
The stories run two ways. Townsfolk got the bright idea the Welsh provided an immediate increase in the population, workforce and gene pool and, like it or not, would be staying in Gallipolis.
The other story is the Welsh women, tired of the river, fatigued from life with no home, weary of seeing their husbands and sons risk their lives, conspired to make Gallipolis their final destination.
Either way, the next morning, the barge was gone. All that was left ashore was a bit of rope.
And five new families.
It is dusk and the summer light is fading. Alek is asking for food again. We walk back toward The William Ann and to the malt shop across the street. It seems everyone is here. The outside is packed and, from a distance, the crowd hides the glass walls but, as we approach, we see through the people, through the panes, the inside is packed as well. We enter and get in line.
He has a milkshake and fries. We linger and he eats. The end of his long day. We go back to the hotel but I am not done. I want to walk some more. As he watches TV, I set out again.
There is music in the dark. I walk parallel the river. There is a wedding and the music is heard blocks away as a party is held under canopies beside a church. I walk on, walk by, music fading. The street ends and I come upon the bank of the Ohio.
I had passed slips and docks but they did not draw. The bank, though: the bank, the natural boundary, does.
It is a slope. Grassy and steep in the dark, I am drawn to the bank, to the brink where land ends and water begins. Through the trees.
There, in an opening between the trees. Steps down through the thick. It opens out. I enter a field of stars before the watery black.
Grass, trees. Fireflies. More than I have seen in, perhaps, all my childhood years together. All my adult life since. Flittering light, bright movements of starlight on wing. Filling the grass, trees, bushes, hovering over the ambiguous bank.
And there is a swing. To the right, hanging from a tree, next to the river, a smooth board on two knotted ropes. I sit, rock, glide. I am a body in motion, surrounded by light.
Friday, September 21, 2007
We stand here today to remind ourselves that we are all part of this web of creation. We are all linked, so that what any of us does affects all of us, that we are all responsible for the Earth. That we are all responsible for each other. We have chosen to be here today as a symbol of our commitment, our awareness of this connection.
Even so, we forget our promises and our duties.
We gossip, we mock, we jeer.
We quarrel, we are unkind, we lie.
We neglect, we abuse, we betray.
We are cruel, we hate, we destroy.
We are careless, we are violent, we steal.
We are jealous, we oppress, we are xenophobic.
We are racist, we are sexist, we are homophobic.
We waste, we pollute, we are selfish.
We disregard the sufferings of others, we allow others to suffer for our ignorance and our pride.
We hurt each other willingly and unwillingly.
We betray each other with violence and with stealth.
And most of all, we resist the impulse to do what we know is good, and we do not resist the impulse to do what we know is bad.
All this we acknowledge to be true, and we do not blame the mirror if the reflection displeases.
Lady, help us to forgive each other for all we have done and help us to do better in the coming year. Bring us into harmony with the Earth and all Her ways. So mote it be!
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Do you live in California? In Australia? Have a streaming Internet connection?
KZSB AM 1290. The program also airs in Santa Barbara, Goleta, Carpinteria, Ventura, Thousand Oaks and Los Angeles County.
In addition, the show is rebroadcast on KNRY AM 1240 in Monterey, Salinas, Santa Cruz and Pebble Beach; KNWZ-II AM 1270 in Palm Desert, Palm Springs, Indio and Rancho Mirage.
The program is delayed broadcast in Australia on 99.7 FM in Queensland and to another 30+ radio stations via ComRadSat.
You can listen on the Web as well.
Tune in on the radio or on the web.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
They were common as mud
And joined it,
Stories raining from the sky.
Feeding the Earth
Returned to air
Souls to rise
To drift as wraiths
Through dreams and lives
Omnipresent in a way
Only the dead can sustain.
One day we did not know them.
They were not our loved ones,
They were not our friends
They are the colors of sunset,
Soot on a windowpane,
Ash mud on a lugged boot,
A cough in our lungs,
Threads of their flesh
Woven tightly into our
The myths of a young country,
Repeated, repeated, repeated.
And we mourn them,
Not despite their commonness
But because of it.
Because it was New York,
It could have been Charlotte, Chicago, Philly.
Because it was D.C.,
It could have been Boston, Miami, L.A.
Because it was Shanksville,
It could have been Durham, Melbourne, Santa Fe.
Because it was them,
It could have been us
And we are made of the common,
And not one of us
More than six away
From the dead of that day.
Monday, September 03, 2007
I had thought I had written about a singular experience. It certainly was for me.
I sent this essay to a friend, Craig Smith, to look at. A fan (I am delighted to say) and a trusted editor and critic, I wanted him to take a look. I expected advice, suggestions, some way to fix a grammatic gaff. I must have expected, or suspected, something or I would not have sent it.
It's good. I think the revelation of the progeria was a little overdramatic; so many people have seen kids with progeria on talk shows (Maury Povich had one on nearly every week, it seemed) that your shock--or your character's?--while
understandable, doesn't need quite the big build-up.
What? On TV? So popular culture and the media has desensitized America to what, in my life, was an experience that sat upon my memory in a way unlike nearly any other.
What did I reply?
Hmm… Interesting as I have never seen a child such as this since. This is the only one. So it feels real to me but will not translate into the culture because of talk shows have widened the exposure of most people to things that I have little exposure to.
In other words, what I find a novel and shocking, many people have become inured to. So what seems overdramatic, to me, is actually my process of realization. But it is not reading that way to those who have more experience than I.
What else has pop culture ruined? Now wonder we no longer shudder at gross injustices and horrific torture. No wonder we have so few heartstrings left to pull.
But, still, I felt I could pull the essay off. I’d like for you to be the judge.
Please read. There’s a quiz at the end.
I don’t remember what year it was. The mid nineties, perhaps. I was working as a skip tracer, finding people who had run out on sizable debts, dropped financial responsibilities, were hiding mobile homes, trailers, boats and whatnot-of-size from repossession. I found them, someone else hauled ‘em, arrested ‘em, collected ‘em.
It was a great job. Lots of day trips, I nearly never got a Doberman set on me or a shotgun pointed at me. Rarely was I shot at.
I was chasing a trailer. I think it was in Florahome, or nearby, where we would go to pick blueberries and scuppernogs. Where the sandpears grew. East-central north Florida. I was on the hunt. I scammed the records, recorded the address, and found the narrow washboard road in a short space between the live oaks.
It was a long slow drive. I stopped from time to time to let the newly-hatched wild turkeys follow their mothers across the road. Slowed to watch the dear in the thick. At length, in the distance, I saw the trailer. Continuing slowly, I pulled into the small space in front and checked the description. It fit. I got out, went to the door and knocked.
It was a singlewide and shorter than the norm so, after the initial knock, it took no more than a few moments for me to notice the creak of approaching footsteps. The door opened and I was greeted by the smallest old lady I had ever met, saying hello, puffing though stringy white hair and wrinkled mouth, in the voice of a young girl. Resting on the knob, an ancient hand.
I asked to whom the home belonged and she answered in words a child would use. From behind her, a young woman approached and, as she neared, spoke to the elder as though she were not aged, not senior, but barely of experience. As though she were her child.
And the old lady answered as if she were, indeed, a child. Her child. Then, I knew, this was not right. So far from what I could have possible expected, I did not grasp the facts through the seemingly paradoxic cues. Something was wrong in an order of magnitude I could not comprehend in the scant time I had. But my body reacted even as my mind slowed and halted. Perhaps I could not keep my face. I remember my stomach tightening, my diaphragm rising toward my chest. My body knew.
The taller woman was her mother. The first person to the door was her child. This was an old child. She looked ninety. She sounded ninety. Her words and behaviour were nine.
Her mother asked her to go back inside while she remained to talk with me. I could require no explanation but needed one. What I had just seen did not fit. It was something I could have thought would come from a horror movie, from a science fiction film. Here it was. I could not ask but needed to know. She could see that.
She was nine. She told me this. She started aging at two. She would die of old age by eleven. It was called progeria. They moved out of town because they could not stand the idea she would spend her short life growing old to the cruelty of children, the whispers of adults and the stares of all eyes.
And so here they were - out in the country, one fewer job, a family, a ninety year old child.
I could not say don’t worry. I could not say everything would be ok. There was little I could say but good bye.
I know she expected, in the next day or so, to lose her home in the forest and the anonymity of the woods. But, that I know of, that never happened. The records were lost. Markers disappeared. Officially, I never found the house.
I was reminded of this today. I cannot say quite what the connection was but it came to me of a rush, strong and vibrant. I, of limited visual memory, have the meeting of that child as one of the few clear visions I retain. I feel it as though it were fresh, new, shocking. It remains one of the staggering moments of my life. It was important in a way I cannot still fully appreciate. It lasts.
It came to me last week. When my mother was telling me she might have herself trepanned and electrified to fight her Parkinsons. That she might have breast cancer.
And it came to me again today. I held a rabbit in my hands. In the overbearing heat, in my yard, a rabbit, running, running, then not, small tongue, darting in and out and then still. Then stiff. In my arms, how much it seemed sleeping.
Good night little girl.
So here are the questions:
Do you think pop culture has experiential essays, such as this, less effective?
Does your knowledge of the disease lessen the impact?
What worked and what did not?
Is there anything you would change?
Friday, August 24, 2007
“I haven’t seen him in days. I just hear the dogs.”
“We need a unit on Bianca.”
“Danny, it was great.”
“It was just like the bar. Miss that place. Most of them are dead now. Nut’in but friendly faces.”
“You ain’t said you loved me. You ain’t never said you loved me.”
“A child of god. I am a man, what else am I supposed to do? We have the owner of Suntrust kneeling every Sunday in front of that altar.”
Back home again.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
As a sign of impermanence, of the temporary nature of life, few objects are better, more universally recognized, more viscerally understood than bones. As a sign we all come to an end, bones do it every time. The rich, important, beautiful. Loved and valued, we all end up bones. Bone.
Perhaps there might be some things, now that I not that I take the time to consider it, to better represent the transitory nature of life than bone, but anything else I can think of, and I have never been short on imagination, would not be quite as understated as bone. Bone drives the point but can still appear clean and acceptable. Bone is body but not blood, flesh but not fleshy. It states itself plainly and clearly without comment. Understated. A bracelet of intestines would be noticed in the company of even the most impolite. People will talk. Wear one to your local grocery store or temple and you would see my point.
Of course, there was the fellow I knew who made a necklace of his kidney stones. It seems like so much trouble to go through and the total cost rather exorbitant. It took him four bouts before he had enough material. Still, as far as custom made jewelry, how many people can claim to have created their’s from scratch? How’s that for betting material.
But beads of bone. Unobtrusive. Understated. Inoffensive. Much less expensive than lithotropy.
And so, missing my bones and not wanting to use any of my own, homegrown material, I set out to shop for malas.
I had a set I had recently given up. They were a gift to me by monks from the Drepung Loseling monastery. Deprung Loseling has been around since the 1300’s. In the 1950’s the Chinese government destroyed nearly all the monasteries in Tibet including, Deprung Loseling, and left alive only two hundred and fifty of its nearly three thousand monks. This who survived escaped, walked though the Himalayan Winter to India, were welcomed and settled in the south of that country where they rebuilt from nothing.
For several years running, while I lived in Fort Lauderdale, the monks would fly in from India to come to town to create sand mandalas. Not just Ft. Lauderdale, of course. We were but one location in a tour of several months – a welcomed stop each fall. Each November the monks came to Piper High.
I was teaching English at Piper when the email call went out. They would be there, in our auditoriuam, nine Tibetan monks, and we needed to find them places to stay. We lived, myself, my wife, Lee, my daughter of eighteen and son of thirteen in a small trailer. I asked my wife is she would mind.
Lee was in medical school then and in class or clinic each day and spent her nights in study. On the couch, sci-I on tv, she was inside an oversized text of some four inches thickness each side when splayed open on her lap. I could see her body but her mind – her mind was in the book.
“Do you mind if we have some monks stay here? They will be at Piper and we are farming them out and...”
“Do you know how some authors write like they are talking to you? How they are easily understood because they speak to you as though it were a conversation? How even the most difficult subjects, like this, for instance, the physiology of disease, can be simple when written like that?”
“Well, this isn’t one of those authors. If you need to do something for school, do it. And would you get me some apple juice please?”
I agreed to house three or four of them. In two weeks they would arrive.
The day came. This person petered out, that person became unavailable, rides dried up. I arrived home followed by a van with nine monks from Tibet and one translator of questionable ability.
This was when I discovered what I had chosen to be unaware of. My wife had not listened to word I had said. It was, obviously, the lack of apple juice.
She made that very clear. After the shock.
They would be with us five days. It was Chanukah. That came to forty-five presents.
It is dinner
and Nine Monks from Tibet
are sitting down to lentil soup, bread,
halva, fresh cranberry tarts
and a steak.
One has just tricked another guest
into eating a fire pepper,
one has told an extremely unkind joke about the Chinese
(who can blame him?),
Lopsang is playing with my Wheelo®
(manufactured in China by twelve-year-olds),
Soman is tapping his forehead with a spoon
for nearly five minutes now
and Dharma is standing silently behind my son
ready to pull his ear,
In saffron and cinnamon puddles
they pour onto the couch,
absorb into the cushions and
turn on the TV
wondering if the obvious
grand gestures and laugh track
mean the program
about two homosexual guys and a straight girl
is a comedy and
two are checking their email.
As the week ended, the last night came and the Rinpoche had learned the prayers, in Hebrew. for the lighting of the candles and would do it with us. It took ten seconds but the gesture, the effort was an honour for our household.
Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav vetzivanu l'hadlik ner (shel) hanuka.
"Blessed are You, Lord, our God, Sovereign of the universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to light the Hanukkah candle[s]."
Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, she‑asa nisim la‑avoteinu ba‑yamim ha‑heim ba‑z'man ha‑ze.
"Blessed are you, Lord, our God, Sovereign of the universe, who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time."
He then led three monks in a prayer for us. That took five minutes. And the presents. Dreidles and chocolate gelt, whistles and small toys.
My daughter was offered to come to India and paint tankas. They had been amazed at the collage tanka she created of magazines, shower curtains, old shirts and beads. They gave her an invitation and a Khata – a white silk scarf of welcoming, goodwill and compassion.
To my son they gave a khata as well. My wife, a khata and prayer flags and a picture of our monks at their monastery. OUR monks, I say, as the Rinpoche told us, from now on, they would be our monks. To me they gave a khata and wrist malas of yak bone.
Rarely did it come off. I used it to breath. To meditate. To count beads on when what I thought what I really wanted to do was throttle someone. When a student or administrator was, in the depths of my mind, being separated neck from torso, I would be smiling, in seeming equanimity, counting beads. After a few bones had slipped between my fingers I knew I really didn’t want to throttle anyone. Everyone thought I was so happy.
It would come off when I was mowing the lawn, digging the garden, washing dishes. When I felt it might get caught on something.
After a while it started to slip off on its own. But so had my watch. So had, for that matter, my pants. I had lost a good bit of weight and the malas needed to be smaller if I was going to keep them in use.
I tied a knot in the cord. It didn’t hold long. I tried to restring them but that didn’t work: the cord would not hold, the knot loosen, the malas slip off. I brought them to bead shops and they seemed not to know what to do with them either. I even showed them pictures but each shop I left, baggy bones clanking around my wrist.
Then Carol visited. She brought with her a necklace for me, beads, done beautifully. Her new hobby. I showed her my malas, let them fall over my hand and into her lap. She thought she could fix them. No problem.
Carol lives in Boynton Beach. That is in Palm Beach County, Florida. I am a little under two hours north of her. My malas went on a trip to South Florida.
I thought it fitting. They are, after all, a sign of impermanence. Nothing lasts. But Carol is my oldest friend. Nothing lasts, ‘tis true. But friendship, in the span of a lifetime, is as close to permanence as one can get. A strong, close, real friendship. The malas of impermanence fixed by one of the most permanent things of which I know. A friend. I let them go.
That was about a year ago.
I miss my bones.
Time to go shopping.
While in Asheville, I looked. While at Pagan gatherings, I looked. In Austin, I looked. At gem and mineral shows I looked. In New Age shops I looked and was frequently lambasted for wanting bone by shopkeeps playing holier-than-though with Tibetan monks. I found nothing.
On eBay I found plenty but nothing that struck me, nothing that spoke to me, called me.. It would need to be something I found in person. After all, the last set was a gift. It was the universe telling me a truth.
I was thinking to myself. Ruminating. Circular. Maybe I just need to be patient. Maybe a set will come to me. Maybe I don’t need them anymore. Maybe I am playing monkey in the middle with my mind; what is being tossed and doing the tossing the same thing. Maybe… What is that? It’s them. There they are.
I had looked up bone malas on the Internet. I am not sure why I did this after having decided to forget about them. Perhaps it was a discussion that morning with the Abbot of the local Thai Temple, Wat Punyawanaram.
I was there for the festivities commemorating the opening of the new monastery, for the blessing of he grounds by the community and the blessing of the community by the monks, for the long period when monks do not leave the temple and the laity gathers to bring them the materials they will need for the coming year.
I was there with several people from our local Unitarian Universalist Church. We had raised enough funds to supply the monks ten sets of robes and it was my honour to present several of them during the ceremony. I sat with the abbot in a large sanctuary, peopled to capacity, feeling very comfortable - uncommon for me. But I walk into a Buddhist temple and I feel immediately calm, at peace and at home. He asked how my meditation was going. I imagine that is what he said. He speaks only slightly more English than I do Thai. I speak no Thai.
He had helped me quite a bit in the last year as I worked teaching, feeling as though I was forcing students to do that which they did not wish, feeling as though I was doing harm, at odds with my vows. I understood him. Common spoken language or none, it did not matter.
And, suddenly, I missed my malas.
Open Google. Malas bone wrist. I found several pages that felt unsatisfactory. I expected nothing. Then one struck me. What I noticed first was the different materials, seeds and beads and stones and bones of which malas may be made, were explained. Here was a person who understood why I wanted what I did. Secondly, it was set up on a blog. A catablog! Ingenious. He even included a video of what malas were for and how to use them. This deserved a further look.
I found what I was looking for, almost. I found a price I could well afford and it was so terribly close to my birthday I didn’t experience my normal need to resist my own wants and trivialize my own desires. Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I did. But the perfection, price and proximity of my natal day won and nearly sealed the deal.
What did I do? I hesitated. I wrote him from a link on the catalogue. If this was anything like most email communication, and I was sure it would be, I would log yet another birthday past this present one before I seeing an answer. But here was a man making malas. Making them as they were ordered. For specific people. Not beads sitting in a case. I had to try.
It was 4:22 on a Sunday evening. Here is what I wrote:
I was looking at your page and was wondering if I had missed, or if you could make, a bone wrist mala?
I am looking for yakbone with the pulltie as opposed to elastic (which keep breaking). I guess they would be 27 or 18 beads. I'm note sure of a lotus seed or bodhi sead could be incorporated.
The answer, by email standards, was nearly immediate. It came in the early evening and included links and suggestions as well as an offer to answer any question I might have. So, at that invitation, I replied and questions I had. Can this be used, can that be used, will the bone change colour as I wear it (I hope so), can I change the string colour? I wrote, further:
I do wish there were a way to work the bodhi seeds in as well as the Lotus seeds onto the ends/tassels. Perhaps the last two beads before the slipknot bodhi seeds and the tassel-ends lotus. If not, I would prefer lotus.
I want the bone for impermanence. I want the bodhi sead to remind me to sit, to remind me there is nothing to be done about that impermenance. I want the lotus seed so I can remind myself I need not be mired in this, that beauty comes from the mud. I want. Maybe it is because I am an American., but I am suddenly presented with a choice and I choose not to choose.
Sure. That sounds like a plan. Bodhi will be the last two at the slip knot and the tassel beads will be lotus. On thick red string. Perfect! The bodhi may be of a different size but not TOO different.
The bone does not get darker as time goes on...the oils from your skin will give the bead a translucent quality to the beads over time Great. Would you like a pic of the wrist mala to be sure you are happy with the design before it gets shipped tomorrow?
A picture? A picture? Was he serious? And not ten minutes later that is what I got.
And then we were positively chatty:
The mala looks incredible. I can’t imagine not being happy with them.
I spent the day at a Thai Temple. The only game in town, as it were, and where all the Buddhists tend to go regardless of being Thai, Tibetan, Cambodian, Chinese or from wherever. In my talk with the abbot I was reminded how much I missed having my malas.
So thanks so very much.
From: Destination OM - Custom Malas [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Sunday, July 29, 2007 11:34 PM
Subject: RE: Bone Wrist Malas?
I learned my craft in Bodhgaya and make malas for many traditions. It is a blessing to serve practitioners and in turn help support friends throughout Asia. I collect supplies by traveling to Asia and hire friends to purchase supplies for me later. I make all malas here on Saltspring but will be returning to Asia for one year in November and will be making malas in Bodhgaya in April next year for six months alongside my teacher to learn more about the craft.
Actually today is the most auspicious day of the calendar year to purchase a mala as it is GURU PURNIMA (The full moon of the guru) and on this day we spend the day reflecting on the guru and connecting ourselves to the infinite wisdom. I spent the day with a Rinpoche who blessed the malas and wrist malas so you are triply blessed today :)
And it did. And it arrived today, seven days later.
Thank you for the payment. This will go out tomorrow.
It is in a yellow package. Eight by five inches. It is oriented vertically and labeled “Small Packet Petit Paquet” The entire package is labled in English and French. The return address tells me it came from Saltspring Island, BC in Canada. My address is below it, highlighted in yellow.
Immediately below my address is a space for the listing of contents. It says “Buddhist/Hindu Rosary. On the next line there is a star and the words “Made in Canada.” Below that, a star and the words “For religious purposes.” Everything is in capital letters. It arrived at about four this afternoon.
I didn’t open it. I opened the package from Bookmooch. I opened the DVD from SWIM. All this with the sealed package beside me.
I read the article in Poets and Writers titled “Will Write for Free: Why Is Asking to Get Paid So Difficult?” by Steve Almond with the still-sealed envelope inside the folded magazine.
I had tried to open it. I began, gingerly, to pull back the adhesived fold. It started to give with little pressure and I stopped. I simply could not. Not until I… Not until what? Not until I wrote about it. And now I have. Seven hours or so later, I am here, at the end of this essay. This envelope and me. And now I will open it.
I reach my hand in. They feel cool. I pull them out slowly. They are gorgeous. I can’t wait to sit, to count, to breath.
All there is to do now is to say “Thank you.”
Thursday, August 02, 2007
Each time through Asheville, we thought of moving. Every single time. Once, after a summer visit when the temperature never ventured above eighty degrees, after my wife remarked how downtown was like a small Philadelphia, I started looking for a teaching assignment there. I was told, over and over, the only way to get one was to know someone on the inside and then wait for a teacher to retire or, more likely considering how little teachers get paid in North Carolina, die. If I didn’t want to wait for a teacher to die on his own, I could actively create the vacancy. That has actually happened there. Either way, it didn’t seem a good career move.
Ashville is an oasis of liberal thought and action in a sea of social conservatism. Billy Graham was close by. Frequently one would find Falwell too. (Where he is now is a matter of debate.) One would also find the Earthhaven Ecovillage. Amid the many communes one cannot help but notice the many survivalist, neo-nationalist and right-wing religious orthodoxist groups. A friendly mix.
This time, there was something different. Coming into town from the south, about four in the afternoon, we sat on Interstate 26 nearly an hour to move fewer than ten miles. In Asheville? In Asheville.
Apparently I would have greater time to enjoy the pleasantly curving, gently sloping, tree-shaded streets as I would be spending quite a bit of time on them sitting still.
On a Friday evening, at the circular park central to downtown, across, on one side, from Malaprops, one of the most lauded independent booksellers in the US, and, on the other, a store devoted to Tibetan and Buddhist art and artifacts, I had the opportunity to attend a drum circle.
I had attended these in many towns but none were like this. At Fort Lauderdale’s South Beach one would find a dozen drummers, half a dozen belly dancers and, perhaps, nearly one hundred people. Not bad for a county population of 1.5 million. In Gainesville, Florida, college town and home to U of F, the community plaza might have two dozen drummers, a few dozen dancers and two hundred or so attendees. Not bad for a county population of 240 thousand. Of course, during the summer, you can hear a pin drop. I actually did this. Stood in the Gainesville Downtown Plaza and dropped a pin. Clank.
But Asheville is another story. The population of the county is slightly over 222 thousand. The downtown common, concave, deep, ringed by combination steps and seats, wide and inviting and green at the center, was full. Fitting another person in would have taken a pry bar or tackle and hoist.
I stopped counting the drummers at fifty. Dancers I stopped counting at one hundred. This did not begin to account for the number of people there sitting, talking, moving, swaying, singing and enjoying themselves in the summer night while, elsewhere downtown, a stage was set with constant live music while residents shopped at stalls along the plaza. People milled on the streets, at outdoor cafes, on benches. No part of downtown was not full of life.
Palm Bay, on the other hand. Palm Bay. We’ll discuss Palm Bay later.
Back to Asheville. Amid the hippies and hipsters one passes downtown, one must also deal with one of the largest per capita homeless populations in the United States. While I watched the drummers, while I walked downtown, I was accosted, and I use that word in its literal sense, multiple times by people cursing me because I did not give them money. Street musicians in New York and Philly and New Orleans play and if you toss them coins, well and good. In Asheville, if you don’t toss them a coin, expect the music to stop and the epithets to begin. That is the best you can hope for. You might find yourself with a new companion whom you have to pay to repel.
At charity events I often talk or read poetry to patrons until they pay me, pay the charity, to have me leave them alone. It works beautifully. But patrons expect to have their pockets lightened at charity events and I bath. This is very different than what I encountered in Asheville.
I asked about it. My Asheville friends told me one of the state institutions was nearby. When being mentally ill was, shall we say ‘decriminalised,’ the patrons of that state’s institutions were let out with no place to go. Asheville was where many ended up. Many. It seemed like all of them. With a mild climate and the blessing of proximity as well as tourism, Asheville seemed a natural choice even for those non compos mentis,
Perhaps this is not the cause of the relatively high crime in Asheville, but it can’t have helped. Asheville’s rate for violent and non-violent crime is quite a bit above the national average. And, still people move there in increasingly alarming numbers.
The Asheville Citizen-Times ran an editorial cartoon that depicted a company specializing in tours of Asheville dedicated to showing tourists all the places tourists ought not see if one hopes for repeat business and word-of-mouth advertising. It starts off on Merriman Street. I have walked alone in Liberty City, in worked in Overtown and lived in the inner city of Detroit but I won’t walk alone on Merriman. I’m nuts but not quite that nuts.
The message is plain: The tour is to convince us Asheville is terrible. Horrible. Contemptible at nearly every level. “You don’t want to move here. Move someplace else. Someplace nice. Really. We truly care about you and your happiness so move to Florida instead.”
So, if you were planning a move to Asheville, if you were in contemplation of a relocation, here is an idea: move to Palm Bay instead.
Don’t think South Florida. The population here is remarkably different, diverse, from all around the world, but English speaking, able and willing to work together to make new projects happen, happen now, happen smoothly and still preserve the natural glory that is the place we live. The environment for creativity is accepting and open.
The environment as a whole is much different than South Florida as well. Not like any other part of Florida, the temperature never gets too high as the ocean air travels over the Indian River and brings a constant pleasant breeze. Nearly never into the forties in the winter nights, barely out of the eighties in the height of summer days and always cooling at with the evening, you will find the desire to sit outside watching the manatees and dolphins a real distraction. But you can handle it, right?
Of course there is one other distraction that is an accepted part of life here. Once every other month or so, nearly the entire population gathers outside, sometimes during the day, sometimes at night, to watch the bright exclamation point of fire leap into the sky as NASA launches a shuttle or satellite. Everybody looks up and the whole world seems to pause for a while. Work stops and everyone understands.
What else do you get? Homes. Your pick, as a matter of fact. So many are standing empty, built just before and during the spike in purchases and high real estate prices that you can have your pick and nearly name your price. A new one? No problem. Land? Sure. Condo? You got it. By the ocean? Absolutely. On the river? Of course. Commune? We have ’em. Want to start a new one? Go for it.
Looking to start a farm? You have people ready and willing to buy the produce of your labour. Make it organic and you’ll never have to sit behind a desk again unless that’s where you are comfy counting cash.
You see, we need cool people. We have drummers, dancers, artists and writers but we need more. We need that growth in the arts and creative elements of the population that will make creativity and a colorful life not only acceptable but an expected, welcomed part of the everyday here in Brevard County. And You can help make that happen.
Sure, we have drumming. We even meet downtown to drum and dance but the park is small, semi-circular at the point of a flatiron where two streets converge to form a ‘Y’ but there is little room. The drummers and dancers spill onto the street. Of course, this is in downtown Melbourne, just on the outside fringe of Palm Bay.
With more people like you, more people who would have moved to Asheville before discovering the horrible truth of it, we could move the drumming slightly south, to Palm Bay, to the beach, to one of the many river parks, to where drumming would not mean pausing to dodge a Dodge.
We have a downtown area. Of course, it used to have more buildings in it before four hurricanes in one year took many of them to Mexico. Now, the rents are low and the city is not only asking for people to bring in creative business, it is go so far as helping foot the bill with loans, incubator projects, assistance with equipment, business plans and advertising. The City of Palm Bay wants you and is willing to lend you the cash to set up shop.
Music is everywhere here. Jazz, Bluegrass and Rock fill the parks on weekends with bands and jams hosted by clubs, colleges and the city of Palm Bay. Renaissance and medieval music ensembles, theatre guilds (even the world-renown F.I.T., an engineering school, has a theatre guild) and writers’ clubs mix and match for a vibrant community of word and sound. We might be the only people to have that. Where else can you go to a coffeehouse and find the first violinist for the local symphony and the president of the ACLU in one New-world Beat Tribal-Fusion band? World’s fastest banjoist? Yes sir. How about Punk Eco-Ska? We got that, too. Here. Palm Bay.
And as for communities of faith, those are many and varied as well. Sure, there are churches of differing types and sizes from Apostolic to Zion, but there is also Unity, United and Universal. Temples? Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, sumptuous synagogues to homey chabads. We have mosques and ashrams. UU? You bet. (And the Unitarian Universalist Minister Ann Fuller kicks ass!)
Buddhism? Looking for Zen, Shin, Forth Wave, Engaged? Sure. We have a Thai temple and monastery open full time to the community complete with classes, meditation hall and monthly festivals. Asatru and Alexandrian? It’s here. Looking for Bacchus in Brevard? He’s here too. Wicca? We got it. North European, East Asian, West African and South American. You’ll find it in Palm Bay. If it exists, it is here. If it doesn’t exist, it might be here anyway.
Recreation? If you are into Kayaking, boating, cycling or walking, you have it day or night, year in and year out. You can’t drive down any of the main streets on any morning or afternoon without seeing volleyball, soccer or kickball. Into watching but not getting your hands dirty? We have soccer and baseball teams. Spend an evening watching the roller derby as the derby girls of the Harbor City Nautigals beat the crap out of the Bellevue Betties or the Space Coast Slashers.
If you are into classes, the community centers have them in spades ranging from acrobatics to Zumba. Martial arts are all over and include tai chi, chi kung, kung fu, Japanese sword, archery and Brazilian Capoaeira. We have kick boxing and Jiu Jitsu. I have not seen Krav Maga and Hisardut, but, really, it’s only a matter of time.
If you are into skateboarding, you found a great place. With plenty of outdoor skateparks and new indoor parks as well, skating is big and, if you are into streetsurfing, you’ll find the best in equipment and shops available all around.
Into the salty sea? If you are into the ocean in any way - surfing, skimming or wakeboarding - you haven’t just found a great place, you found THE place. The area Between Cocoa Beach and Sabeastian Inlet, of which Palm Bay is smack in the center, is year-round Surf-Heaven. There is a reason Ron Jons is in Cocoa Beach, after all, and Sebastian Inlet is home to several national surfing events every year and is well known to have the best surfing on the east coast.
Walk the beach any early morning and see people surf-fishing or running. Walk it in the evening in the summer and you may spot sea turtles coming up to nest or heading back out to the sea in the predawn.
Enjoy being a political thorn in the establishment’s side? There is an active growing progressive movement all though our county. One can be a part of the Space Coast Progressive Alliance, Patriots for Peace, Vets for Peace or any of the many groups which, amazingly, actually work in concert toward well-defined goals. When is the last time you saw that?
What don’t we have? A bus tour to take you to the slums. We have a slum. It’s nicer than most of the places I have lived, but, by comparison, it is a slum. I drive through it in two minutes. I walk through it in ten.
Why no bus tour? Who needs it? Asheville does. Horrible place. Terrible. Don’t go there.
Come here. If you are a lefty, liberal, centrist and/or an eco-nut. If you are a tree-hugging dirt-worshiper. If you would rather drum than eat, garden than shop, walk than drive, dance than fight, sing than shout, we want you. If you'd rather wear tie dye than a silk tie, we want you. If you’d rather eat tabouli than a Big Mac and have acupuncture than surgery, massage than drugs, we want you. The City of Palm Bay wants you. The City of Palm Bay needs you. I know I do.
Monday, June 11, 2007
My father had attended college as well. He would tell us stories of his five-year quest for his associate degree at Sam Houston Institute of Technology, later to have changed its name to Sam Houston State Teacher’s College. We disbelieved the tales of bull riding and jerking cars into reverse at eighty miles per hour to drop the transmissions. How believable are such tales told by a man who was a teen on a farm in upstate New York who was a boy born on the streets of Brooklyn?
Some time in my late teens we traveled to Texas for an Amway convention. We stopped in Hunstville, Texas to visit the folk he lived with while in college. They lived in a small home off a main street in the small town near the prison. It was a home numbers with a half numeral, full of knick-knacks and smelling of old-stuffing in the chairs and that nothing could be moved except to be dusted and put right back again, same place, measured and maintained.
While there, I was told tales of bull riding and jerking cars into reverse at eighty miles per hour to drop the transmissions. I was told how, after four years he was told by his parents he had one year to complete his two year degree. A year later he was called to come home and back to New York he went, his back having be rodeo-broken twice, the college bank having been closed by the parents. And back up to the big old stone house he went, no degree.
Such people do not normally fill a house with books.
I had the illusion I was brought up in a house of books. It’s just most people had fewer books than we did and that was a bit of a shame because we didn’t have that many. We had a few books of poetry, rather old each. A book of children’s verse contained my favorite poem, “The Duel (The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat)” by Eugene Field. An old copy, quilt covered, of Tales of the Wayside Inn, a huge red book of games, and a few more books of varied sorts. My grandmother, living with us from my earliest memory, had some books but I was not to look at them. One was Valley of the Dolls.
I remember my father attempting to throw out the history books en masse exclaiming they were old, the information had changed and they were of no use. He failed until the year after I moved. Then, out they went.
It appears, the books in the house grew out of my desire to read, not anything genetic. I learned to read at the age of four; not exactly the age of prodigy. It hurt. My first book was Duck on Truck. I later read Curious George and various Dr. Seuss. My mother taught me to read. According to the docs I was supposed to go blind. I had just learned to walk a year earlier. Now I was reading and crying about it but, cry as I did, I read and read more. I read no matter how much it strained or how my head ached. Little has changed.
Reading seems to be the thing to do. I had little eyesight for sports and less desire for it than sight. The TV was on constantly, tuned to Hee Haw or the Dukes of Hazard or The Jeffersons. Music was on when the TV was not and we listened to 30’s and 40’s pop, big band, classical or country. I had nearly no experience with Rock and Roll until high school. “My Sharona” was hardly a song to draw me into a life of loud music and the common corporate pop-culture.
And so, against this I pushed with my books. I am a solid proponent of Drive Theory.
Later on, The Eagles and Pink Floyd would grab me, The Kinks would shake me but never hard enough to dislodge John Denver. The first 45 I bought was The Archies singing “Sugar Sugar.” The first 33 was an EP of “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” by B.J. Thomas. My first album was by Helen Ready. My second? Read on.
I collected “Big Little Books” and poetry books. Soon I had books in my room on the night table and the floor and on the dresser. This is about the age of seven, or so I am told and, thus, my recollection of living in a house of books.
It seems we sometimes had more books than food. I have verified this as a fact wanting to make sure my memory has not played tricks on me. I would ask for a book and, if it meant not having a particular food item, we ended up with the book. Why not? I still grew older and overweight. I carried this tradition on when, in my early twenties and a struggling young married fellow, I picked up a leather-bound copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when we had no money set aside for milk and bread. I discover, later, we were allergic to both milk and bread so, in the long run, we were better off. Besides, twenty years hence, still we are here, still is the book as well and where would the bread be?
Before I was ten I had a collection of folktales and myths. I had devoured all the poetry I could find and had a collection of Campbell, Jung, Erikson and, strange for my age, Richard Bach. My second album was Richard Harris reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
At some time in my late single-digits I happened into a golden-age science fiction novel. I was a goner. It was probably Asimov. It might have been Clark or an early Heinlein but, for the sake of the argument I am having with myself over this, it was Asimov. I have three shelves of Asimov, one shelf of Clark, one of Bradbury, and on it goes. As I said, I was a goner.
I remember putting in an order for a copy of Foundation’s Edge weeks before it was due to come out. I thought that would be the only way to get one. The year was 1982. I was nearly the only person in B.Dalton Booksellers in the now defunct Skylake Mall. There was no line. Just me, at seventeen, putting in my bit of cash and my mother putting in the rest. School ended the illusion other kids read. Pre-ordering Foundations Edge ended the illusion adults read.
I remember the moment I decided I was going to write. I recognize it as a single instance which, while reading, I realized I wanted nothing more than to write and, at the same time, knew I did not. I was reading “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Bradbury from The Martian Chronicles and thinking I could never, no one could ever, write better than that. I had thought so of Poe. I still know this to be true, but here was Bradbury, a live human, writing better than I could hope to, writing beautifully, in words with melody and meaning and sound and sight and I could never write as well as he. Poe was dead one hundred and forty years but Bradbury, he was a live person. Why try?
And I read Teasdale, Levertov, Benet, Snyder, Frost, why try? Cummings (I never know what to do with the initial letter in his name) stopped me cold. I could never write as well, never write as well as they. And I was correct. I knew that. I still do. I can never write like they did. But, I also realized, I didn’t like everything, each and every bit, they wrote. Some things I did like better than others. There. There was my opening. Skill or no skill, some things I liked better than others. Some poems, some stories struck, resonated, made sense to me where others fell, thudded and laid still no matter the skill employed.
I can never write like they can, but I can write like I do. And some of my work will fall, thud, lay still on the soil, decay. But some, some may resonate, strike, make sense, germinate, grow in someone’s soul. Some will live for the reader. It might not be the writing I think it should be. Who am I to judge an unfinished work since, without the reader, what work is complete? If some of my work sings with melody and meaning, sound and sight, just some, then I have done something. I have done what Bradbury did. One day someone may listen to my work and think never, never could they write that well.
Once more I had that experience. Once more I knew I could never write that well. While riding one late-past-midnight, headed home from a full-moon revelry, my wife and I down a twenty-mile road from Jonesville to Gainesville in Florida, we turned on a non-existent, according to the FCC, radio station playing from Gainesville. Music, commentary and, right now, poetry. I listened to the poem being read and found myself at full attention. The sound and the rhythm, music and meaning. I thought, what is that? Who wrote that? My wife must have seen my face. She nudged me. “Don’t you recognize that?” I didn’t.
“That’s yours. You don’t recognize your own poetry?”
And it was. It was mine and I recognized it then as my own. It was “Recognizing Kali in a Young Girl,” I was the writer and I was the reader or, in this case, the listener. I completed my own circle. Had done so unknowingly. One day someone listened to my work and thought never, never could they write that well. One day, it was me.
I can’t write as well as some but I can write as well as me. If I work hard, practice, listen, learn, read and write, some day, they will be the same.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Jesus Christ went to prison today.
He was resurrected outside Washington DC
And immediately attended an antiwar rally.
Jesus finally appeared and
When they took him away,
Fox News didn’t know what to do.
Here was Jesus, resurrected
And he turns out to be a liberal
So they pulled the story
And ran one instead
About a celebrity who forgot
To put her pants on.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Check him out at Brave New Films, the people who brought you "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price," "Outfoxed" and "Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers."
Alek is speaking about sex ed in our county, abstinance-based, not allowed to mention condoms excpt for their failure rate and the booklet used which is happily provided by a faith-based organisation that has no problem pushing a pro-church, anti-choice, homophobic agenda.
Friday, May 18, 2007
After three days or so, they are ready; crisp and lucky. These have been here since Passover. Thirteen days. A strange superstition to wait that amount of days, perhaps, but how strange, really, when applied to the act of placing a wish on a competition to see who gets the larger piece of a twisted chicken bone?
I brush them off. Small bits of meat fall as particulate into the sink. In a moment they are ready – ready to snap under shear. Ready to bring us luck, offer the fortune released from within with the snap. From within? From where? It matters not. I know it works and it is ready to grant my wish.
The wishbones on the kitchen sink are waiting
They are twice sacrificed
Brought from the holy feast
Where we were by them nourished
Now brought to the hands of my holy one
Where we will again be by them blessed.
If memory serves – and it matters not if it does; if it is fiction or fact, since, as a memory, it is as real as anything can remain – we broke a wishbone our first week together. Our first week.
For years we broke wishbones and our lives got better and better, more full, more joyous in each other’s company. With each wishbone came newness and surety our dreams would take hold, bear fruit, ripen, become sweet.
We never asked each other what our wishes were. Never. For years those wishes went silent and bright and we knew, no matter whose pull broke the bone, the wish was certain to come true.
Then one day she asked. What was my wish? How could I not say? My wish was for your wish to be granted. Whatever it was, that your wishes become real. That way, no matter who got the larger half, it was your wish that would come to be.
I saw a smile. And just slightly, I thought I saw a tear. “Please don’t do that,” she asked. I deserve dreams of my own, she told me. And, from that time on, we each made our own wishes but, in those, the other was never forgotten. We continued on as before, bone after bone. Wish after wish.
I have them in my hand, walk over to the couch where she is laying and sit at the edge near her knees, place one on the coffee table, hold up a wishbone by a single end, the thin one, hold it low.
She smiles and sits up, takes the other. A moment lapses and we pull. Pull. It snaps and for the first time I have ever seen such a thing it has broken cleanly, evenly, straight up the middle and we each are left with a full half, an equal half. We stare at them.
No wish granted? Both wishes granted? I ask her what she wished for. It must be safe; extraordinary questions are born of extraordinary events.
That your wish come true. My wish was that hers would be granted. After the many years, it seemed the night for that wish again. Equal wishes, equal halves.
No matter, I say. I have one more. There is always one more.
Monday, May 07, 2007
I try to remember my son. Again, I recall pictures but none of these exist in my head, only in albums and frames. I know how I feel, how I felt, how we were. But our time together is a recording with audio only. It is not like an audio tape though, which, as it is, stand full and complete. It is a video-tape running blank and black and I listen, wondering where the picture has gone.
Should I feel badly? I don’t know, but I do – as though I have lost something precious. I don’t want them to know I can hear them through the ages but cannot tell anyone what they looked like in middle school, playing in the band, at aikido, twirling in a swing, watching the water drop from a height. And a sadness settles in on me of a distinct kind. It is a sadness of loss continuing.
It is a sadness that all I have is now. I have read this. I know this. I know all I have is the clarity of this very moment and then it is gone. Even a memory is experienced ‘now.’ My children at ten are gone. My daughter dancing is gone. My son lying on the grass is gone. All that is continuous is my perception of myself and the sadness. And, someday, I know, the sadness will be all that is left.
It is my lunchtime. I take a walk. Out behind the school and there is no break in the chain-link for me to get to the field. There is a track and I do not enter as the area is full of students. I do not wish to walk with them. I do not wish to walk with anyone but my children at ten, at twelve. But they are sixteen and twenty-one and that cannot be.
I walk further on and find an oak. If I were more use to experiencing now in clarity, perhaps this would not bother me so. I have not meditated in weeks. Life. Life. And what has it gotten me? This sadness born of realization. It is a realization brought on by meditation and only meditation will render it clear, transparent; ok. The only way out is in. I remove some dried grass and sit.
My eyes close for a moment and I hear voices - Mr. Tritt, Mr. Tritt. What are you doing? Are you meditating? Do you like sitting under trees? - It continues without cease. There are five students. Then ten. Others arrive I do not know and tell me they are annoying and will be annoying me next year. They will not be. I will not even remember them. Only how it felt.
They talk, ask questions, play at the fence as some leave and are replaced by others as they yell, “Look it’s Mr. Tritt.” Then they are called from the fence by the coach, the bells rings and again, all is quiet. I could have left when they had first discovered me. But why hurt feelings? I have but a few moments of solitude remaining as I sit and all becomes still.
Another bell rings, I rise, knowing at this point in my life I am ruled by bells. As I walk back to my class, I think of my wife. Can I remember her? Video with the picture gone. A TV with only sound. But her, I will be seeing tonight, part of my present, my now. And I should take more care with that. It is all I have.
Friday, April 27, 2007
As a fellow in my early twenties, I would go to Publix with my bags, toss them in the cart as I entered and do my shopping. This rarely ended in simply packing my goods in the bags and leaving. No. That particular chain likes to have bagboys. A sexist term, true, but it sounds better than bagpeople, which brings up images of unshowered unfortunates with rusted carts and thinned frocks with pockets full of cats. The bagboys (and baggirls) range in age from fifteen to one hundred and sixty. They happily pack your defrosting, sweating ice cream next to the soon-to-be soggy cereal for you and don’t like at all if you should pack for yourself. Instead, they insist on having their own people put the milk carton on top of the tomatoes. It is just one of the many courtesies they offer.
Lately, Publix has taken to hiring the developmentally disabled and the packing has much improved.
Still, I prefer to bag the items myself. I can pack them in fewer bags, know what is where, be less grumbly and, as my wife tells the bagpersons, it is just generally safer for them all around.
Approaching the checkout counter with my cart, I'd toss the bags on the conveyor first so the bagperson would see them and know, obviously, where the groceries would go.
"What's this?" the cashier asks, turning one around, looking for a price on the sack old enough the words are hard to read, seams now only half-sewn.
I would, invariably, inform her it was a bag.
"How much is it?"
"It is nothing. It is old."
"How do I charge you for it?"
"You don't. It is a bag. You pack in it"
"Where in the store did you get this?"
"Nowhere in the store. I got it from my truck. I brought it with me. Does it really look new to you? I brought it to pack groceries in." And she would look at me, turning the bag over again and again as if a tag would appear and make the liar of me. Then, she would toss them to the end of the counter and begin to tally my bill.
Not just Publix, of course. Winn Dixie, Harris Teeter, one Kroger, once, Food Lion, Shopright, Super Foodtown, Kash N' Karry. South Florida, Central North Carolina, New Jersey.
The bags are in the hands of the bagboy. He also turns them over again and again, pulls them inside out, looking for goodies. He then opens a plastic bag on the frame and tosses my bags inside it, into the bottom, placing the food on top of them as the items pass the scanner. I watch.
Slowly, wide eyed, I ask, "Whachya doin?" the way one talks to a boy who has just put a bit of his anatomy in a lightsocket but you are more concerned with the socket than with him and, in the end, you might just flip the switch on just for the show.
"I can see that. Don't you think the bags inside the bag might be more effective outside the bag? Perhaps we could put groceries in them?"
"Oh, was I supposed to pack in those?"
"What on Earth did you think they were for?"
"I don't know. I just packed them."
"I know. I saw that. Not planning on medical school, are you?" I ask, with stress on each, individual word to assure understanding.
He continues packing anyway.
"Undo it. Put the food in the cloth bag please."
He scoffs, snarls, sniffs and grudges as he reverses course and out of the plastic bag comes the food and, finally, a clump of cloth.
I watch. He packs the food in the plastic bag again, my cloth ones laying beside it, empty, heaped. As he finishes the bag, he picks the top cloth one from the pile, opens it wide and puts the half-full plastic bag inside.
This is a matter of principle now. I'm not letting this go.
"Can you tell me what is the point in what you just did?"
"You said you wanted it in the cloth bag."
"Why do I need it in the plastic bag first?
In truth, sometimes I do request an item in plastic. If it looks leaky. If it is wet. I didn't want to go into that with this fellow. His water seemed muddy enough.
I ask, again, that it be undone. Packed into my re-usable bags.
He does so to a stream of barely audible mutterings. The cloth is still wrinkled and convoluted for all the extra room left by the little in it. He lifts the bag by the handle and, with great difficulty, as I watch, patiently, head cocked to the side like a confused dog, he lowers it into the plastic bag. I have three items inside a cloth sack, inside a plastic bag.
"Ok... I am confused. It must be me because I am not the bag-professional here, (I was a bagboy, truth to tell, but so what? My forte was offering carryout service to old women who had walked from no fewer than half a dozen blocks away. I would be out of the store at least two hours every day. No less. “Carryout is our policy.”) but can you tell me why I need my cloth bag inside a plastic one?"
He said not one word, lifted it out and threw the plastic bag away.
"Nope. My purpose in using cloth bags is to save the plastic and paper. How do I accomplish that if you throw it away?"
"Well, it's used."
"What? Is it dirty? It had packages in it just like the next set of packages it could have in it, to go home with the next person in line unless they have cloth bags too. Then you can torture them. At least, you could put it in the recycle bin instead of the garbage."
I took it from his hand, smoothed it out, put it back on the frame and smiled.
I wish I could say this happened only once.
Sometimes I have fewer bags than I need. Some may be in the laundry or I have purchased more than my bags can handle and I opt for a plastic bag. Often, the bagger will put in one or two items. Why? Do they fight? I'm not saying I am against the separation of hot from cold or chemicals from foods; I am talking about cereal boxes. Surely, this cannot be a weight issue that a bag can hold only a box of Cheerios and a can of tuna. Why do I need to take home scores of bags containing only two items each? And if I ask for the items condensed, again, the bagger takes them out, put them in new bags and attempts to throw the original bags away. Foiled again. Why not throw them out? They are, after all, only a non-renewable resource.
Ah, you say, but some of the bags we use now are made of corn cellulose. Still, while corn is renewable, the fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides used to grow them aren’t. They are petrochemical in origin and none too good for our environment. And even if they weren't finite, polluting and carcinogenic, why waste a perfectly good bag?
Bag in a bag? Bag my goods and put the bag in a bag? Maybe for an extra heavy item, a sharp one, but I have had a bagger do this with everything.
I once, just once, asked to speak to a store manager. I explained it might be good to tell the bagboys what to do with cloth bags. I asked for a ballpark figure on how much the store would save if bagboys stopped putting one item in a bag, throwing bags away, bagging bags in bags. He admitted it was a goodly sum and had actually looked into it. I asked, why not talk with them?
He explained he had tried once and it just doesn't work. He shook his head. Indeed, let us continue concentrating on State-wide Highstakes Testing and No Child Left Behind. That way we can have a whole generation of people who can write a mediocre essay under pressure but can't figure out how to use a cloth bag.
I wish I could say it was just the large, run-of-the-mill stores. I wish I could, but I can't. I started going to Whole Foods and such places, in part, because they knew what to do with the bags. Or so I thought. I had, not along ago, a long talk with the manager of a Whole Foods on the issue.
I had one item. It was a jug. It had a handle. The employee put it in a bag. Because it was heavy, he then put that bagged jug into another bag. I suggested his employees should know better. I shopped there, in part, because I felt they did.
He said I was wrong and, if I worked there a week, I would swear the environmental movement was doomed by stupidity.
Walgreen's. I purchase an item. A four pack of cassette tapes. Light. Easy to carry. He places them in a bag.
"I really don't need that. Thanks."
"Ok," he says, taking them out of the bag, balling it up and -
"What are you doing with the bag," I ask quickly.
He stops. "Why? Do you want it?"
"Ok," he says, shrugs and reaches under the counter to throw it away.
"Is the bag bad? Is it ruined? Is it being punished? It had cassette tapes in it. Does that mean you can't use it for the next person? Can you tell me one good reason it should go in the garbage?" Does it have something communicable?
"No." He is confused.
"Good." So was I.
I still am.
Do the Earth a favour: bring your own bags. And next time a clerk or bagboy asks you "Paper or Plastic" just point behind him and tell him his mother wants him. Then, while he goes running to find her, bag it yourself.
Happy Earth Day.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
All this voting going on as I played auctioneer, helping raise over one thousand dollars for sea turtle preservation. They were so happy with the money raised they said I could choose any two turtles I liked and they’d make soup of them for me.
So let us look at the cover, unfettered by a bold number on the upper right corner, proud and ready to adorn the shelves of America and all those smaller places on the map that are so far away.
And let’s show the big conglomo-publishers a thing or two by making it the most purchased book in America. Take your time. We have a few weeks.
(Click on the front cover to get your copy. Spread the word.)
Friday, April 20, 2007
My second book, The Phoenix and the Dragon: Poems of the Alchemical Transformation, is about to hit the shelves. It follows my first book, Tellstones, and several anthologies and is my first collection through Smithcraft Press, a localy owned publisher.
Included in this volume are pieces for which I was awarded the 2006 EPPIE Prize for poetry in an anthology.
It includes rather stunning graphics by local artist, Evanne Floyd.
There is only one problem: We don't quite have a cover yet. We have three. An embarassment of riches.
Below, you'll see the three covers. Please, please, PLEASE, look to see which one you like best. If you saw all three on a bookshelf, which one would you pick up? Then, leave a comment or send an email with your choice.
This is, I think, the FIRST time a book cover has ever been chosen by blog! Come on: be a part of history. Choose a cover!
THEN... support the arts, writing and, most importantly, ME, by looking below and ordering your advance copy.
Here is are some reviews:
Adam Byrn Tritt puts me on the horns of that dilemma between Apollo or Pan. So what makes his poetry good, then? As a poet he consulted not so much with his mortal texts, but with his heart, personal muses, and the Gods.
Raymond T. Anderson, Editor, Oestara Publishing
[Tritt is] unique, brilliant, wicked-ass funny, and a mensch....
Valerie Turner, Editor
You can reserve your advance copy at the Pre-release Price.
The easiet way to order is to simply click on the book cover on the left of the page. Or you can send me your email address.
Thank you, and PLEASE, FORWARD THIS WHERE EVER YOU CAN. Let us lift and support each other.
The Phoenix and The Dragon is about to hit the shelves!
When The Phoenix and the Dragon is released in May, it will sell for
$14.95 in bookstores. If you reserve your advance copy, we’ll knock 18% off
the list price— and we’ll even pay for the shipping and handling!
($14.95 less 18% discount = $12.26. Florida residents please add 74¢ Florida sales tax.)
Cash, check, PayPal, and credit cards accepted.
Vote. Reserve. We'll both be happier.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
True enough. That’s the fun part. I think every writer is an exhibitionist to some degree and, perhaps, a bit of a masochist. Or martyr. Or minister. The act of writing, for me, must be sacred.
It also takes bravery to be a writer. This observation comes not from me but, again, from my esteemed helpmate, my goddess incarnate, she who is the Joy of the Universe and Queen of Creation: my wife.
She states she cannot imagine the difficulty of having scraped the emotion from the soul and then putting it out in public where the people will not only read of our own exterior and interior lives but those of others as well and then judge how artfully or entertainingly we have rendered them. How do we not hurt feelings, bruise hearts, hide that cause which is private while making public the effects? How do writers not end up either ineffective, with a social network intact, or effective and read but friendless and lonely? How do we not alienate our families and friends?
Who says we don’t?
I have struggled with this. How much to say? What to leave out? How does an essayist balance narrative with personal relationships? I have no idea but know I will struggle with this again and again in essay after essay. I expose what I need but leave out what does not move the concept forward, support the idea, make more clear the conceit and reality I wish the reader to experience.
But my idea of what needs to be exposed and what does not may be fully different than that of the person suffering the exposure. As a family member or friend is feeling left naked in the wind while I am thinking I did nothing more than describe his hat.
I am going to be brave now. It’s all I know to do. I’m sorry.
* * * * * * *
When I die I want to be dropped off a cliff.
Or left in a forest. That would be fine as well. Throw a party. Say what you will. Cry, laugh. Recall anything I might have done of worth. Remember anything I might have done or said that made you smile. Please forget any act or utterance of mine which might have caused hurt or pain as you’ll know it was not done of meanness or cruelty, but of the ignorance we all share as the fallible humans we are.
Make no marker. If my deeds are of worth, people will remember them. And the hunt to find my grave or remains may prove quite a cottage industry. On the other hand, if I have left nothing of worth no one will look for me. If I am not memorable, no marker will make me so.
* * * * * * *
It is Thursday night. The phone rings twice. Lee, my wife, answers it. It is late, nearly ten-thirty at night, and seldom does the house phone ring at any time but still less at this hour. Anyone we want to talk with has our cell numbers. Those phones are off now and this call is either a wrong number or important.
“It was your father. It sounds serious. He wants you to call him.” I do.
“I wanted you to know your grandmother is in the hospital. She is catatonic and the funeral will be anywhere from two days from now to two weeks. I’d like for you to be there”
I expect to hear more of her condition but he talks only of the funeral. I will be there and tell him so. I will go for him. There is no other reason.
A day passes and I look at my calendar, mark all the days a funeral would be an inconvenience. In the next two weeks is statewide testing at out school on that Monday and Tuesday and then two days of the same the week after. A writing conference the next weekend. I will miss what I miss but would rather not. I’d rather not go at all.
Monday comes and I ask about the bereavement policy of our school board. There is none. One takes sick leave. I fill out the forms in advance and leave them with the secretary. She gives me her home number in case I find, in the night or early morning, the need to drive south to Delray instead of to work or, when away, if I need to let them know I need extra days. Candy asks if I don’t want to leave now, to be there when my grandmother dies. No. That is not necessary. I don’t explain. She is kind, soft and I would guess knew her grandmother well.
Wednesday morning. Early and I am at school, as usual, by eight-fifteen. Monday was the first day of statewide testing. All day. Tuesday was the second. The next day for testing is the Monday to follow and finally I have the chance to teach. I have planned to introduce the concepts of archetypes and archetypal themes, characters and symbols and have the students search these out in a film before delving into written literature. I am teaching the first of five classes today and have barely finished one day of a four day lesson when my phone rings.
My wife has called, the front office secretary tells me, and it is important I call her back. Lee never calls me at work. I know what this is and, excusing myself to my students, call her. My grandmother died at eight-fifteen that morning.
I pause, wait, nothing. I expected not to feel much but nothing was much less than anticipated. There just wasn’t anything there. I say thank you, tell her I’m going to go to the office and let them know I need to leave as soon as is practical. I tell her I love her and put down the phone. My students are listening. The bell for second period rings and I leave the room, as the students do, to find the assistant principal.
Arrangements are quickly made and the AP, a kind, helpful soul, follows me back to my class where students are waiting outside my door. They know something must be up. We enter, I gather my things while I hurriedly discuss with Mr. Kaminski how to explain the lesson, written on the board, to the sub. I know I will have to redo this. He tells me not to worry and I grab my things and leave.
Off to my son’s high school five minutes away. I check him out and we head home to pack. We have no funeral clothes. What we have will do. Black dungarees, a black shirt and shoes for me, the same for Alek. All into bags. Bags into the truck. Truck onto the road south. It is barely edging toward eleven in the morning.
We drive. Alek asks me for no stories of her. He knows there few to hear and he has heard them all. He has met her on a few occasions, his great-grandmother, but she knew little about him. She would talk to us continuously of her other grandchildren, the wonders they had produced and challenges over which they had prevailed. Alek would listen, politely. Always politely, quietly. She once offered him ten dollars to talk. What did he have to say? That is his memory of her. He is her second great-grandchild.
When my daughter was born, in 1985, my grandmother grilled my wife. There is no other word for it. It was the type of questioning often reserved for congressional hearings or associated with cop movies where the suspect sits, uncomfortable, in an interrogation room, under a bright bare bulb. What did she need, how much are such things? How hard was I working and why didn’t we have enough? In the end, she sent my grandfather out to the car to get the checkbook, wrote for a moment, enclosed it in a card, put it into an envelope and sealed, it handing it immediately to Lee. It was one hundred dollars. The total Sef received over time, given in one lump sum. All she’d ever give for her first great-grandchild.
My father would insist I visit, and we did. He would ask me to call and always I did, whether asked or not. The conversations were short, brusque. I would ask questions and she might answer or not. She would ask how we all were and the response to all my answers were either “That’s nice” for things that had gone well or “well, what can you expect” for anything that had not. As the years passed I learned never to mention anything that was not perfect and the conversations became deep with lies and facades.
“Call,” my father would say and then would tell me all about the land and buildings, the factory owned by my grandmother. He would explain of the inheritance and how much I could expect. That is one of my earliest memories involving her, in truth: his talk of inheritance and wills and the wrangling among him, his elder sister and younger brother.
I expected no inheritance. I never did. But I called and visited anyway because it was right to do so. I brought the children against their protests to sit in the uncomfortable, hard chairs, avoid the expensive antiques.
I do have some earlier memories of her and my grandfather. Some. I think of these as we drive to Delray on 95 and then the turnpike. The long childhood drive from New Jersey. Perth Amboy or Somerset. Interminable to a four year old, a five year old. Up to Rockland County, New York. To a large house on a hill. Steep, shallow slate steps up to a door on a wide porch. A kitchen door that swung either way. A closet with a door in the back and, behind that door, steep steps of stone through a narrow wood stairwell leading up to the attic and books. I sat up there, thinking I was in a secret place. It smelled of mold from the wooden walls, from the slate steps, the books. Moist and dank like a cave. Dark and quiet above the house feeling I was beneath it all. Today, I recognize that scent, that specific smell of mold from old books and wood. I smell it in caves. It is a comfort I cannot express and I don’t understand coming from the deepest part of the human brain, deep from the limbic system, the scent is warm and comfortable. My most fond memory of my grandmother is the smell of mold.
It was in this house, my mother told me again and again, she was offered ten thousand dollars to stop dating my father. Perhaps she should have taken it. It was in this house my aunt, my father’s older sister, accused my mother of wanting nothing from them but money. A strange accusation considering she could have taken the ten thousand and still dated my father but did not. My mother responded by slapping her.
That is all I know of that house.
My grandmother came from Austria. That is nearly all I know of my grandmother. She had money. She owned a furniture factory and she came from Austria.
At some point they moved to Israel. Then they moved to Delray, Florida, into a condo. My father would go up often on errands of a surreptitious nature. Anytime my grandfather wanted to buy something, he would have to ferret the money away and slip it to my father. Then my father would buy it and bring it over as a gift. A computer. A boombox. All were ‘gifts’ from my father.
If I were out with my father, regardless of the reason or destination, I would have to be quiet if my grandparents called on the cell phone. I do not know why this is. My father would mouth silent words. I cannot see well enough to read lips. He would not repeat what he said, ever, in any audible form so still I have no idea what he was telling me.
If we, my father and I, my parents and I, all of us and my children - regardless of the combination - if my father was there and we were going out to dinner, to a store, and his parents called, he would lie about our location or destination. He would tell me later his mother was never to know we spent money. How did she think my father’s house was furnished? Where did she think the multiple matching computers or identical matching half-dozen cell phones and the latest of whatever gadget was hot came from? She could not know money was spent and any money spent was a secret. Things purchased for my grandfather became tangible constant lies. Their condo was full of them. Nothing was his unless it was a gift.
Their relationships seemed always to contain this evasion. My father and his father. My father and grandfather and grandmother. Grandmother and grandfather. By extension, myself and my grandparents. Money was a thing to be hidden, not spoken of above a whisper. In their world, if you showed you had money, people would give you less. If you admitted to having spent any, they would withhold their gifts. From grandfather to father and I was expected to take my part.
We continue driving south passing the Palm Beach County line. West Palm Beach, Boynton Beach and it’s time to call my father and ask where to meet. Get off on Atlantic, left, Military trail, left. Look for the post office, left. Into High Point. Second stop sign, left, right. I call my daughter as she asked. She wants to go, for her grandfather. For her grandmother and for me but not for anyone else. She will not go until she knows I am there. I call her and she drives over from not far away. Boca Raton to Delray. From the mouth of the rat to the place of the kings. What does not sound better in Spanish?
I have parked but I do not know which condo it is. There are eight. Four in one section and four in another at right angles. All identical at this reasonable distance. I call my father to have him come out. I see him emerge from a corner unit and immediately begin to mouth words I cannot see.
He seems ok. I hug him and we enter the condo.
Once in I start to say hello. So does Alek. One by one. There is my uncle and his wife, Miral, a woman I have always liked. There is my aunt, Suki. There are some people I do not know. There is my mother. There is Erica, the caretaker, asking people if they want coffee, looking more after my mother than seems anyone else, Erika is the most animated person in the room and, other than my mother and myself, her French accent is the only speech that does not sound like New York.
There is my grandfather in the corner. My father is in the hallway mouthing words. I think he is telling me to say hello to everyone. Who can tell?
There is talk of the Rabbi. Talk of the Cantor. Who will do the service? My uncle is in from New Jersey. My aunt from Israel. My parents from down the road. Arrangements? No, it seems little has been done. A Cantor has been called. Or a Rabbi. I hear both terms over and over and she is due to arrive soon, was met with last night and is coming to help make arrangements.
They should be simple. A Jewish body is watched until it is in the ground. Prayers are said over it. My aunt and uncle are discussing the rules and traditions. I know as much about these as my uncle, more than my aunt who claims to know all and makes up what she does not, usually with a fanciful mixture of myth and absurdity.
Some rabbis will not do the service because the body is not being buried in a completely Jewish cemetery. Problems, problems. I hear there is no casket available. I ask about this, knowing better. No casket is needed. The body is washed and watched by the shomer. It may be watched by family as well. Within twenty-four hours it is in the ground unless that places it on the Sabbath. Then two days. A burial shroud is used or a plain box with holes in the bottom so the body can touch the Earth.
One of the people I do not know states how disgusting that is. “But worms will touch the body!” Exactly. Don’t hold on. Back to the Earth, back to dust.
My aunt talks about not holding on to the body, saying again and again, dust to dust, dust to dust.
So what is the problem with the casket? None needed. A plain one at best. We can build one from wood at a local lumber store. No nails may be used as it all has to disintegrate and decompose. Joints and glue. The casket was ordered? It is gold coloured says my grandfather. It has to have a crown.
I am confused at the mix of steadfast faux tradition and disregard of the same. The discussion continues.
It won’t touch the ground anyway, says my aunt. The casket will be in concrete, sealed. My father says it is watertight. An non-embalmed body in a fancy wooden box in a sealed, water-tight concrete underground vault.
Why underground then, I ask.
“A Jew has to be buried underground.” This I know.
My aunt continues to tell me, over and over, dust to dust, dust to dust. She’ll have trouble getting there in an underground set of Chinese boxes.
Why are they having trouble finding a rabbi?
My daughter arrives. She says her hellos. People ask me if this is my wife.
She whispers to me asking where the body is. Is it in the bedroom? No. But who is watching it? Strangers, I say. People paid to watch.
My aunt and uncle talk in Hebrew. No one understands them. The make their purpose obvious: they talk in Hebrew, these two native citizens of the United States, so no one will understand them. They talk and point.
My uncle says he needs to cover the mirrors. Shiva lasts seven days and during this time the relations closest to the deceased do not shave, shower, groom or care for themselves. Food is brought in for them, cooked for them. All their time, for seven days, is spent thinking of themselves and their relation to the deceased. This is a breather. Time off from the cares of the world for the sons and daughters, the siblings, the spouse, the parents of the deceased. They sit on stools, tell stories, sleep, think.
Mirrors are covered so they may not be vain, seeing themselves unkempt, uncombed, unshaven.
My aunt immediately looks at my daughter, thinking she knows little and tells her the mirrors must be covered because the soul will wander the house and get confused. She has melded Hebrew burial traditions with feng shui and my daughter tells her she is pretty sure it has to do with vanity and grieving.
The walls are mirrored.
We are waiting for the rabbi to arrive. Or the cantor. I hear both words mentioned again and again and do not know which to expect. It doesn’t matter as either can perform a funeral by Jewish and state laws. She arrives and is asked to take a seat.
She introduces herself and is referred to as rabbi. She is middle aged, well spoken, conservatively dressed and states she is a cantor. This is perfect, I think. The prayers will be sung instead of read, as they should be, as they were meant to be. She begins to detail plans. She is interrupted, in Hebrew.
My aunt and uncle are talking to talk to each in purposeful exclusion. My daughter, next to me, has remarked on the rudeness of this. This time it was ineffective. The cantor joined into the conversation. She is answered in English and my daughter whispers to me again noticing the proof these jaunts into Hebrew are no lapses but purposeful asides in front of their guests. My son has moved to the corner of the room, watching, quiet.
They have a problem with her - she is not a rabbi and the cantor explains she can do a service as well by tradition and law. Not in an orthodox service is the quick retort by my aunt. The cantor mentions their service is not orthodox. It is not in a Jewish cemetery, the body is in a fancy casket, it is in a vault. The conversation is fully, only, between my aunt and the cantor. Next to me, to my right, is my father. My uncle is across the small room next to my aunt. Next to my aunt, facing her, is the cantor. She is saying this:
“There are rules and then there are ways around the rules if you don’t like them. In my tradition we do not pretend to follow the rule and then find a way around it. We follow it or we don’t. This is not an Orthodox funeral. I am qualified. I have already done four this week so if you don’t want me to do this that is fine. You simply have to tell me. Now, if there is another reason you are not comfortable using me, please tell me now.”
“You are a woman.”
What does that have to do with it, is what the cantor asks. No matter. She stands and thanks them. She is upset. They knew she was a woman. They spoke with her on the phone. They knew she was a cantor or thought she was. At any point they could have called and confirmed her position in the religious community.
“I can give you the names of some other people you might be interested in asking but I would not wait.”
“Where are you going?” My aunt motions her to a seat again. “We don’t charge for seats.”
“You have made it clear you do not want me to perform this so there is no reason for me to be here.”
“Please, have a seat,” answers my aunt, slowly. “Let us figure this out.”
She sits again. They talk a while longer. It becomes clear the funeral will not be tomorrow. It will be the day after. Friday morning at eleven. I excuse myself stating I need to get something from my truck and walk out the door, into the parking lot.
Soon I am followed by my daughter. She asks me if I really needed something from my truck. She knows the answer. I walk over to my truck box, open it, pull out a box of my business cards and remove a quarter inch, ten or fifteen cards.
“See? I needed these,” I say, holding them up and smiling at her. My daughter is shrewd and there is nothing she does not see through.
My son comes walking out. He says they are nuts. He has never seen anyone treated so rudely. This is a bad example for him.
I want to apologize to her, for this treatment. I am use to it. She may not be. We wait.
Soon, we walk back to the condo and the open door.
I hear, as I approach, my aunt. “When do we need to let you know by if we decide to use you?”
“By the time I leave here. I’m not a yoyo.” The cantor gets up and walks toward the door.
“No no. Have a seat. We want to know what to expect when we find a rabbi.”
“You’ll have to ask them,“ she says and does not stop, walks by us as she exits, heads into the parking lot to find her car.
“I’m sorry,” I say to her back as she passes.
She keeps walking. “They’re nuts,” she responds, continuing on. Obviously she is not use to being treated this way and she has lost some of the composure she came in with. She slows and turns. Looks at me.
“You can see why I don’t visit often.”
She walks to her car a few feet away and gets in. “I can fully understand it” she says and shuts the door. We turn towards the condo.
Inside they are complaining she misrepresented herself as a rabbi, that a cantor would not do. I take my seat as before, so does Sef. Alek takes a seat as well. I listen.
Over to my father, to my right, I lean. I whisper no one has taken into account what my grandmother would have wanted. They argue, but not one person asks this question. He agrees this is a good point and asks me to say something. I tell him I’d rather not. I’d rather he say it. If I say it, there will be yelling.
“What?” asks my aunt. She has been prattling on in Hebrew but can’t abide being left out of a conversation. My father tells her, tells everyone I have made a good point. That we should listen. I state, aloud, I’d rather not.
“Speak,” she says. “We want to listen.” I am prodded and finally do.
“I do not hear anyone asking or talking about what grandma would have wanted. You are arguing over a rabbi while letting other traditions go. As you argue, the time to burial gets longer and longer. What did she want? What does grandpa want?
My aunt responds, loudly. She talks about how things are in Israel and still this has no bearing, seems to prove my point. No casket, she says. In 24 hours, she says. She says it is – and here she tosses in a Hebrew phrase – and then continues to talk in English but it makes no sense, disjointed as it is by a set of words I do not understand.
“Wait. I do not understand Hebrew. If you are going to talk to me it has to be in English.”
“I am speaking English. I didn’t speak in Hebrew.” She is raising her voice steadily with each sentence.
“Excuse me, but one thing I do know is English and that was not English.” Here I repeat the words in sounds as close as I can. My Uncle says she did not notice she used it, use to it as she is.
“That’s fine,” I say. “That I understand, but please don’t dismiss what I’ve said. Consider that if I said you did, I probably know English from Hebrew.”
She continues to talk, loudly, about Hebrew. Sometimes in Hebrew. No one says anything. I look at my father and say, aloud, “This is why I didn’t want to say anything.” I get up. It is about four in the afternoon. I have had enough.
Outside, myself, my children, we talk about where to go for dinner. My father follows and plans are made for dinner. All I want is quiet and a salad. Really, just the quiet would do.
Lee calls. She has arranged to be here tomorrow and should arrive by eleven. My mother will need her. I know this. Will I? Doubtful. Doubtful.
The next morning I wake early from my daughter’s couch, dress, walk. I eat breakfast, vegetable juice and herring I picked up the night before. Alek has eggs. My daughter has taken off the day. I call my father to find what time I should head up to Delray.
He’ll call me back soon. In a half hour. He is closing on a house, finalizing a contract. I’m not sure. I am supposed to wait.
We do. An hour. Two hours. It is nearing noon. We get ourselves ready to go. Repeated phonecalls are not answered and we leave.
A half hour later, nearing my grandfather’s condo, my phone rings. I am turning into the complex. You are leaving there? I’m just arriving? Why didn’t you call and tell me? No I’m not going to turn around and meet you at your house. That’s an hour the other way now. I hate driving here.
I pull in and we walk up to the condo. My father is outside. He is mouthing something. I think it has to do with going out for dinner but not telling anyone. Why? We don’t need to eat? Oh, with my brother and Amy. Why the secrecy?
Inside the house has been wrapped like a large roast from a butcher shop. It is all white paper on every mirrored surface. White butcher paper to the left and right. White butcher paper behind me. Directly in front of me, the glass cupboard reflects the entire room and I see myself, my children.
I say hello to everyone, hug my mother, my grandfather. There are people here I did not meet yesterday. People my age, younger. My cousins Duvid and Rom. Duvid comes over to say hello and introduces me to his wife, Arial, a gloriously charming and delightful woman. She is an acupuncturist in Hoboken and I know Lee will wish to meet her. Duvid is introduced to Sef and Alek. Erika asks if we want anything. Yesterday the coffee had no caffeine. Today, she whispers, she made caffeinated. Indeed, yes, please.
Sef, Alek, Duvid and I talk about music. He is a guitarist and has an artist’s soul. We discuss playing alone versus playing with and how sharing musical space is so hard for some who emphasizes personal ability over art. He and Alek discuss rock and Arial and I gab about New York, medicine, organic foods, health. She is a pleasure to talk with. They both are. I haven’t seen Duvid in nearly a decade. Before that, once. It was an afternoon when I diligently worked at convincing him he did not need his pacifier.
Duvid and Rom are not the cousins I hear of all the time. They are not the ones I was regaled about, compared to, measured against. There is no resistance here. We trade emails, phone numbers. Look at the butcher shop walls.
“It looks like we could sell add space. Or we should all autograph it.”
There is agreement. I pull out my pen write, tiny, at the very top corner in a space of less than half an inch “Adam was here.”
From a foot away, it is hard to see it as anything but a mark on the stark white. My uncle walks over, looks up and says, “Discrete.” It is. My name. Inobtrusive. Hardly there. Apparently easy to forget.
The day wears on and groups have formed. The siblings are off in corners discussing wills and arrangements. It seems continuous but more so regarding the disbursal of money, the purchase of the building than the burial of the body. Through this I hear snippets but try to not listen. Each person having received forty-two thousand, grandkids getting this or that, grandpa’s new Lexus immediately switched with one of the kids for his old one.
Through it all one person has not stayed long in any group. Everyone seems to know him but me and my kids. Irwin.
He appears to be in his seventies. Tall, broad, white-haired. He seems nice. He seems gentle. Who is he, I ask. Grandma’s brother married a girl, she died. This was their son. Soon after, he married his sister-in-law and then, sometime later, the brother died. Does that make Irwin my cousin? I think so. He talks with my parents before coming over to me. We speak. He seems oblique in his questions though fully friendly and comforting in a way no one else has been. He alone either does not know there is nothing to comfort or he alone needs comforting and has generalized that to me. To all.
The day moves on and we cousins talk more. No other cousins will be coming in. I shall not meet any of those I am held in comparison to. They will not come.
The funeral is at eleven tomorrow. We are asked to meet here at nine as that is when the limo arriving. I am not the only one asking why we’re all meeting here if the limo will only hold the siblings and husband. Most of us state we’ll be at the cemetery by eleven.
Evening is coming. It is nearly five and my daughter is hungry. My son is hungry. I probably am as well. My father mouths something and I tell him he’ll have to break tradition and at least whisper instead. He tells me they will leave first and then we can leave but don’t make it look suspicious. That we’ll have dinner with ‘your brother’ and Amy. They leave.
What is long enough to not look suspicious? What else am I supposed to do and what is wrong with going out to eat with my brother? There is no food in the house so everyone here is going out, as far as I can see. Frankly, no one seems to care.
A few minutes later my cell phone rings. It is my father giving me instructions. I ask, “Which way do I drive?” and immediately he tells me, “Don’t use the word drive.”
I have walked toward the front window. Out of earshot? Probably not.
He tells me, “If you use the word drive, they’ll know you’re going somewhere. Walk over to the window.”
“How did I get here? Of course I’m driving. Do you think someone will decipher a diabolical dinner plan from me asking what direction to drive, considering I don’t live here and drove two hours from Palm Bay?”
“I’m going to call Dana and find out where they want to go. I’ll call you back. Stay put ‘till then.”
We say our goodbyes and leave. In the car I call Dana. My father wants us to drive to his house and go from there because he wants to cruise around and look for a place we’d all like. That sounds like a warmed up version of Hell; Ft. Lauderdale traffic, back seat car-sickness and squabbling over what place is healthy and what place not. I suggest just picking a place and meeting. We agree this is a far better option and he suggests The Cheesecake factory. Just tell me where it is. Where? That far? What time?
Sawgrass Mills; third largest mall in the US. From the air it is shaped like an alligator. From the inside it is shaped like a mall. We are a bit early. We find the Cheesecake Factory and I walk inside to use the restroom leaving Alek and Sef outside in the courtyard of the Oasis section next to the Blue Dolphin entrance or the Pink Flamingo lot or something like that. When I come out everyone is there, gabbing about who was there today. I ask, “So what was up with Duvid getting married and no one getting an invitation?” Several people gasp ‘Oh Geeze” and my brother says that’s why he doesn’t give them any more than a hello and a goodbye.
“We just finished talking about that” he says.
“I’m sorry. How the hell was I supposed to know? It was an innocent question. They way people run lives in that (I am careful to say ‘that’) family I figured their wedding was the last thing under their control. I’m careful not to judge intent. I was just curious.”
“Well I don’t want to talk about it,” is his immediate reply.
Lee and I eloped. Actually, we reverse eloped. My parents said they’d throw us a wedding if her parents weren’t invited. Her parents said they’d throw a wedding if I wasn’t invited. We waited for a weekend both sets were out of town and got married.
There wasn’t even an announcement for my brothers. Not that I recall. I never thought about that. Not until now.
We hear our last name and file in.
It is eight-thirty in the morning. I am putting on the best I have and so is Alek. I had dress black pants, but Alek needed a pair for something and by the end of the evening he had ripped them beyond repair. Sef’s best is much better. South Florida has far better thrift stores.
We are into her car, feeling late at ten-o’clock. Driving up 95, we exit at Hypoluxo Road, go too far by three miles into Lantana, turn around, find the correct road and the cemetery with its length directly boarding the highway. It is ten-thirty. We have not eaten and drive a mile the opposite direction looking for something I want but should not have. A bagel.
We finally come across a Dunkin Donuts and, in a place you would think would be rife with delis, it is the best we have found. Inside. It is crowded to its seeming capacity on this Friday morning and we each get coffee. I get a bran muffin, not giving in to my wants, and each of the kids gets their bagel. Dana calls. How far away is it? What road is it on? Join us, I say. We are five minutes away but there seems to be too little time and we finish our breakfast and drive back to the cemetery.
Pulling in at ten ‘till eleven I see no cars we recognize. I park by the tent, as directed. The first tent. There are three. When my father said “We’ll be at the tent,” I knew that would be problematic. I asked which tent and he told me there would be only one. One? “Do they only burry one person a day?” I asked. This was a fair question asked in an unfair way, I grant. But this was the man who once hit me for insisting he was wrong when I asked what flavour ice cream was with no flavoring added. “Vanilla,” I was told. I said vanilla was a flavour. Wouldn’t it taste just like milk? For some reason that deserved my being slapped. I learned to ask questions in unfair ways.
We walked and found workers, asked them where Tritt was and they pointed to the large building close to the wall that divided those who had already found death from the eight lanes of those speeding toward it.
We walked. We entered. Lee called. She had called several times that morning, while we were waking, showering, dressing, to tell us she would be late, each time keeping me on the phone as I tried to rise, shower or dress, telling me in great detail why she would not be there on time. Finally, I said it was ok. She had no need to call to tell me she would be late as a device to take-up time so she would be late. It was a trip, for her, of just over one and a half hours.
So she called Sef. Sef was not as charitable and told her squarely if she got off the phone and stopped complaining about being late, she’d have been on her way. But what does she wear? It doesn’t matter. Bring clothes for later, yes.
Now we are waiting at five minutes to eleven and Lee tells me where she is, that she may be late. I let her know she is fewer than five minutes away and I will wait for her. Two men in black suits tell me the ‘family’ is in the office and will enter together. More people arrive. Lee arrives, hugs me and, walking the long hall between the twenty-foot walls of vaults, we go in.
In the front of the hall is an ornate, gold-toned casket. To the right of it, in the corner, is the lectern. There are seven rows of seats and ten seats to a row. The first row is empty, the second mostly full, the third, full from the far end halfway in. Behind, they are empty. In the last of the half-full row is my brother and we take our seats – I, next to my brother and Lee next to me. Alek and Sef sit in front of us with their second cousins.
I look for my mother and do not see her. Then, I do, at the end of the second row, thin, in a cap, small and frail, she looks to be a little boy. Next to her is Erica.
There is talking, quiet laughter, joking. Is she missed? It is hard to say. Not by her grandchildren, it would seem. At least not by all. Not by her great-grandchildren.
The two men in the black suits enter and ask all to stand for the family. We do and they enter, single file, my grandfather at the lead, on a cane, then my aunt, uncle and my father, last. They sit. We sit. The Rabbi enters.
He is dressed in black, black and black topped with a wide-brimmed black fedora. Behind the lectern he stands and starts by opening his mouth and pausing, says he did not know the deceased, pauses, looks at his notecard, and says, slowly, “Mrs. Tritts.”
There are four Mrs. Tritts in the room: three living. One Mrs. Tritt not present. One Mrs. Tritt to be and one Miss. Tritt. I look around and see I am not the only person to notice this. I look at Lee and, turning, find her eyes instantly.
He continues to call her Mrs. Tritt, eulogizing five women in one. He talks to us about her being a daughter of the Jews and his sister and, therefore, knows her just the same. His sister, Mrs. Tritt. He starts with the prayers.
He reads them in English quickly. So quickly I can barely follow. He then says them in Hebrew because, he tells us, the soul understands its native language best. He says them at a speed that is ferocious and fluid so there are no divisions between the words, no melody, no rhythm. These are prayers and he says them as though they are a pharmaceutical insert, skimming out loud in search of some hidden important information. They are songs he reads like dosage instructions. He reads from the Song of Songs even faster as though there is a schedule to keep and melody would only serve to slow things down, beauty would only get in the way.
He calls up Irwin to give a eulogy. He has cards, prepared, he says, so he would not falter. He means it. He means everything he says and it is all beautiful. He doesn’t look at the cards, cries, talks about that which is lost, how good and kind she was, his love for his aunt, the matriarch of the family, her strength, her support. He means every word and I hold tears but they are not for her. They are not for her.
I turn and Lee is looking at me. She quietly says she has no idea who he is talking about but it isn’t the woman she knew. It isn’t the woman I know either. Not at all. She holds my hand. Irwin steps from the lectern, shaking his head. “I just loved her, is all. I just loved her,” as he moves to his seat. And the service ends.
The two men in black tell us it is time. We are to move to the graveside, at the tent. The family can take the limousine. The kids and I walk with Lee and Erica pushing my mother in turns. In two minutes we are at the grass and across a short field of six by twelve inch bronze plaques laid flat upon the ground, marking the heads of graves.
In the green field is a reflection of stark gray marble slabs longer each than a body, wider than a coffin, nine widths long and two across: an interruption of cloud in the grass. All but the last one, the side close to us. It is open and concrete. Next to it, the tent. About fifty feet further to the right a dull yellow backhoe. On the grass, attached to its shovel, by four taut chains, is a concrete slab and next to it, a marble one: another cloudy hole in the green earth. And all around, six by twelve bronze place-markers of people who were.
My mother stays at the roadside with Erica. We walk to the tent. There are folding chairs beneath it, three rows of six, and they sit on several pieces of plywood. Everyone sits. In the front row, my grandfather, aunt, uncle and my father.
The casket arrives on a draped cart pushed by men in blue workshirts. The cart is positioned over the open bunker and the drapes hide the hole beneath. The rabbi starts rapidly again and a switch is moved on the cart. The coffin descends slowly to settle into the pit.
Sef has stayed with me the entire time. My son, no further than arm’s reach. Lee at my side. My brother close. They all retreat. Lee tells me she is going to go stay by my mother, that she needs her and I have no doubt she is right.
I am by the grave, by myself except for the workers. Watching.
They move mechanisms at the wheels and the cart unlocks itself from the grave, is pulled away. The rabbi continues, holds a baggy of dirt from Israel that the daughter of Zion be buried in Jewish soil, in Florida, in this bunker, covered in marble. The workers leave.
The two men in black tell me I must move. Those seated under the tent, milling, pacing, they must move. The tent must move as well. The backhoe rumbling, suddenly, and the slab is leaving the ground, swinging from the bucket by its chains.
The tent is picked up and walked by its four corners, the chairs are taken away and I help fold them. The plywood is relocated from the graveside to in front of the backhoe tracks. More plywood, uncovered as the top sheets are removed, are relocated as well, making a narrow road for the tracks from where it sits to the vault.
I look into the hole. It is not right that she is not buried, that the full measure of soil there is only a baggy of Holyland. There is no shovel. There is no pile of soil. I ask the rabbi, “Is it alright if I throw some dirt in? It doesn’t feel right if I don’t.” His answer is, “Of course. “
I crouch over the grave, look down, reach to my right and grab a handful of sandy soil, talk quietly, drop grit as I speak.
“I don’t know why you never treated us the way you treated everyone else. Apparently you were very good to many people. I don’t understand. But I thank you for what you did give me. You showed me how not to treat people. I know how to be good and kind because you showed me what it was like when someone isn’t. How much it hurts. And thank you. If not for you, I wouldn’t have Sef or Alek. Here. Here is the only dirt in you grave by a relative. Just me. Goodbye.”
And with that, my handful rains down. I stand up, stand back as the men in the black suits ask me to watch out. Here comes the slab.
As I back up, Irwin comes up to me. I think of his words. My eyes begin to tear. “Everyone will miss her,” he says, and puts his hand on my shoulder.
I am surprised to be talking to him. I am surprised to be crying.
“That’s not why I’m crying.” I say this and am shocked I have spoken but more so over what words have come out, that I am being honest. I continue as he looks at me. “I hear how good she was to everyone and how wonderful and I want to know how come I was cheated out of that. Why did she treat us so badly? Why did everyone get this loving grandmother and we got nothing. I’m crying for me. Not her.”
He apologizes to me. He means it. Not for how I feel, but for his lack of understanding, for her. He continues. “I don’t know why she treated you the way she did. She wasn’t like that with anyone else but you and your brother and your mother. Your mother is a wonderful person. I know her and Franky a long time and I never understood it.” This he says shaking his head. “It was unfair and I never understood it.”
I appreciate this and he leaves me with a hug. My tears become sparse as my brother approaches to me. Irwin spoke with him as well and the conversation, while ending the same way, started quite differently. He had no idea who we were. We were never mentioned. Not by the grandparents. Not by my parents. Not in his memory.
He was amazed to see not because he was surprised at our presence but at our existence. After stepping on that with my brother, he was kind enough not to repeat it to me. That I found out later is of no consequence to his kindness and I will always appreciate his candor and restraint in a time of such difficulty for him.
I am shocked. How does a parent not mention their children? In forty-two years? My tears dry. They are used up. I am empty and, suddenly, much more alone.
The backhoe is over the grave, the lid, swinging, guided by workers, descends and my father talks to the men in the black suits about the guarantee of water-tightness of the vault. They explain there is no such guarantee. There never was one and especially not in Florida. Gaskets? No. Seal? No. His face drops. He wants her sealed and safe. Permanent.
I think fallout shelter. I think Ziplock. Tupperware.
One blue workshirt leans over to adjust the top so it lowers just right. He jumps into the vault to undo the chains and the backhoe retreats, beeping.
As it does, the driver misses the plywood and runs over plaque after plaque, hitting the corners, pressing them into the ground as it pops cadi-corners in to the air one after another until the row becomes a line of bronze diagonals. I had been doing my best not to step on the head-plaques.
Now comes the marble cover. It too is brought over at the expense of plaques and noise and I watch it put into place, positioned perfectly before I walk away. All is done.
Erica will drive the van back. My mother will ride with Lee. I have the kids. All back to my grandfather’s house. Twelve-thirty.
Once back, Erica is busy putting the food out, all cakes and sweets. I was told I need not bring anything. Nothing was needed or wanted. Food is supposed to be supplied for the people sitting shiva. I should have brought food anyway.
Here are cakes. Cookies. Breads and crackers. No food to sustain. Here are also cardboard boxes printed to look like wooden benches for the family to sit on. Within the hour my father has crushed one under him. Cakes, cookies and breads.
My brother walks by me, asks quickly, quietly for whom the funeral we attended was for. He did not know that woman either. He walks on.
We talk. I introduce my wife to Arial and they talk shop at the table about their practices, laws, medicine and get along well. There is wine and my aunt drinks one, two three cups nearly immediately. I know this because she counted them out loud and had five within the next two hours. It showed.
Erica is busy, stays busy, out of the way. The siblings have moved to the far, deep corner of the kitchen and are discussing in hushes. We talk with the cousins. There are others.
Soon, my aunt is drunk, the conversation is loud, my wife and children are hungry. It is nearly five in the afternoon. I say my goodbyes. Hug my mother, my father. Take my cousin’s email addresses and phone numbers, thank Irwin and say goodbye to Erica. We head to Lee’s sisters where we will spend the night.
We change. Where to go for dinner? The Whale’s Rib in Lighthouse Point, but five minutes away from the house. It is crowded, inexpensive, comfortable and, I think, what we need this evening. We sit, wait for our table and talk.
I ask Lee questions. I ask how parents neglect to ever tell relatives about their children, how a grandparent treats some grandchildren well and leaves others ignored.
I tell her, today, I feel cut loose. Today, I have less of a family behind me. Today, less of a family in my past, that fewer people care. I feel I was deluded. I feel the family I have chosen, a blessing, and those I was born with... I do not finish. I do not know how I feel. Maybe I do and don’t want to say.
I know my father as weak. Did he ever talk about the lack of parity? He seemed, always, to simply accept all as it was, to question nothing his family did. Perhaps this is unfair. I don’t know. I have been undefended, unmentioned, unknown. As though I was not there.
We sit. Lee talks to me and I am glad of it. I listen closely and ask her to write down what she has told me. I want to see it, to read it, again and again. To know it was not just me. She did and I include it here. It is a bit more than I had anticipated. It is unedited.
I felt I needed to add my two cents to your essay. I was a participant also.
How sad for her. How much hate can cheat you out of life. This poor, ignorant woman who was afraid her daughter-in-law was after her money cheated herself out of life's joys and died bitter and hating. Although she lived to a very ripe old age of 94, she cheated herself from knowing and loving not only her grandchildren, but her great-grandchildren. How horribly sad for her. In her worry about being robbed, she not only cheated herself, but three generations behind her. She cheated my husband and his brother from having a grandmother who loved them. They also cheated themselves out of knowing their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. How sad is that?
My children, her great-grandchildren, who are lucky enough to know their great-grandparents, do not like them. They are duly compensated however in having the loving grandparents that my husband and his brother do not.
So who did she hurt with her hate? Let’s see.... Her son, his wife and their two sons. But the list does not end here. It also includes others in the family who are baffled by this hatred. The non understanding that was prevalent at her funeral. Questions unanswered as to why this had occurred.
Uneasiness all around by the few friends and family members who showed up.
I think there were six of them.
Erica was not in the kitchen the entire time. Part of the time she spent with Lee. Upset, she needed someone to talk with, to vent to. She knows Lee. Lee is not part of the family. Not by blood. Erica knows how she feels and Lee is safe.
Erica is angry. She ranted on and on about how the brother and sister treat my father like a dog. Dog is the word she used. Over and over. As we wait near the bar, Lee goes on, more and more. She needs this off her, out of her.
Erica was there when grandmother died. She was there for her last words.
Grandpa came near. To him she says, “I always knew you’d steal my money.”
And then, “Get away from me, you bastard.”
And she died.
There is a break at the bar. They have Guinness on tap. It is four dollars and a quarter a pint. Four and a quarter and far too many calories. I don’t actually need this. I order one.
The cliff is always closer than it appears.
Posted by Adam Byrn "Adamus" Tritt
Labels: Culture, Family, philosophy, Social
My dear, dear friend... I weep for you.
My Grandma Wills talked too much, all the time. She made jam and jelly and gave amazing cookie smelling hugs at the drop of a hat.
My Grandma Deemy was the cool travelling grandma. She was always going on trips to exotic places and bringing us back neat presents. She is the grandma who always came for Xmas until she got to old to travel. At that point I packed up my kids and travelled out to visit her every summer until she died.
My Great Grandma Davis was small and flexible. She was a bit scary because she was so old, yet she could stand on her hands at age 93 and do complete splits like a gymnast. I thought she was embarassing when I was 10 but I worshipped the ground she walked on because she was so danged interesting.
That's all the grandmom's I knew, but they were all worth having around. I am so SO sorry that you had such a sucky grandma. This is something I'm glad we didn't have in common cause mine were stellar and amazing and it still hurts every day that they're gone. Share them with me.
Love from your Twin
Carolan Ivey said...
Thank you, Adamus. What an incredible story (and so very well written). It always amazes me what people will do to other people and how terribly they will treat others. It's just inexcusable! -- Chris (MrPher)
It sucks to have such a grandmother. While mine wasn't wealthy, she was just as nasty. I was not sad when she passed, other than I did not get to leave high school to travel to CA for the week my mother was gone. How is that for a callous teen?
I have two memories of my grandmother. The first being crushed when I met her, looking for a loving grandma like my friends had, I was greated with, "Fat thing aren't you?" Always great words for a 7 year old.
The other memory was visiting my aunt when grandmother was too feable to live on her own any further. I saw her twice on that trip and she never said a word to any of my family other than my mother.
I don't know the story, and probably never will. It doesn't matter. As your wife so eloquently put it, a hate filled life hurts the hater much more than the person rejected. The rejection doesn't envelope your life, the hate does and leaves one bitter and alone.
Dan from GoaD
I keep reading this, again and again in total disbelief, and I was there!!!!! The experience was too surreal for the brain to interpret.
Hello dear friend....
I am saddened to read of your Grandmother's loss...and also saddened not that she died but that she never really lived. I hope you are well. My love to Lee and the kids.
A horrible memory, beautifully written. You have true talent. Thank you for sharing.
I weep, for the loving grandmother you never had. It is one thing to grow up not having or knowing family, but to know such bitterness from the family you do have is a hundred times worse. I am glad that you have built such a loving, caring family with your wife, and have broken the cycle your grandfather and father were in.
Indigo Bunting said...