Friday, November 30, 2007

Close To Twilight

Last night one of my dear friends started a story about the night before Thanksgiving with "After the tequila debacle, . . . " and I realized all over again why I love my friends. My worst drinking debacle involved a vodka martini served in something that resembled a large soup-bowl like vat, and I had ordered a sandwich named after Patti Smith and before I could take one bite of my Patti which was basically a ham and cheese and had nothing to do with Jesus saving or not saving me for my sins, I was talking about the crucifixion which is not a good sign given that it was early, not even close to twilight, and there would soon be vomit in my hair, the hallmark of a real sex goddess, one of those ancient beauty secrets nobody mentions. I had all the appeal of one of those body suits from the late eighties/early nineties that were intended to make you look like your shirt was ever-so tight and tucked in, but in fact gave you horrible wedgies and the crotch snaps undid with a fair amount of regularity which left you looking like a fool until you made it to the bathroom to readjust. Until it happened again.

As for fashion in those long ago jumpsuit days, I once wore a belt as a shirt -- when you are as flat-chested as I am, this is not the difficulty it might seem, teamed it with a black blazer and combat boots. Those were the days of Thunderbird and Mad Dog and trying to be a militant feminist in a world of Reagan and Texas and the beginnings of Snapple and life as we know it was beginning to unravel. Love was around, but there was already a scarcity economy -- nothing would be enough. But I had my friends, those complicated souls so full of history already. And their stories which sometimes began, After the tequila debacle . . . We were nowhere near Barstow, but there's always a desert, and we all spend time there in various altered states of love, drugs, money, hope, and sometimes we are amazed at how alive it is because nothing prepares us for what we will find. We know of the desolation, but few tell of anything else.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I wouldn't recommend sex, drugs or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me." Hunter S. Thompson

Cocktail Hour
Drinking tequila suggestion: Herrudura Silver

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What Everyone Calls The Real World

The other day a student dozed in my class as if he were on an airplane, head back, eyes closed, drool slipping out of the side of his mouth. Back in my younger days, I would have kicked him or hit his desk or said wake up and get out, but now I don't care at all and let him sleep until he woke himself up by slipping out of his desk and falling on his pile of books much to the laughter of his fellow classmates. Punished by the sin instead of for, just as God intends, and he asked a few questions, all of which had just been answered while he dreamt of God knows what. I said, Skippy (not his real name), You were in sleepytime when I addressed that which is why everyone is laughing. But I don't blame you -- I'm bored by myself too. I'd sleep through me as well. He got visibly angry, a strange reaction since I thought my response was fairly self-deprecating and true. I've been teaching long enough to know that I'm not God's gift. At best I'm a white elephant present that's been passed around the party a few beats too long.

Sometimes I'd like to divorce myself or at least get a temporary restraining order. I've been doing the same thing long enough to feel like a stripper on her last shift at the Bada Bing, twirling around the same pole, asking the same questions to the same audience. Did I miss anything? No, we sat around and braided each other's hair. Etc. There's only so much you can say. But lest you think I don't love my students, that's not the case. I adore them. What I hate is myself, playing in a role less engaging and longer running than Cats. Someone, not a teacher, told me the other day that I should love my job, that I was shaping the future. This self-righteous asshole got my death stare. I used to use it in class when I wanted to bring in order, but now I find it's better suited for my own purposes in what everyone calls the real world. But when you find yourself in a classroom with all the pain and sadness teaching writing brings in both you and your students, it doesn't get much realer than that.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"When I'm in Europe, I'd rather be in New York and when I'm in New York, I'd rather be in Europe. I'm never happy where I am." Woody Allen

Cocktail Hour
Drinking scotch suggestion: Oban

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday! Congratulations to my Pistons for trouncing Cleveland last night at the Palace! And a special hello to my lovely friend Nina!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Call And Response

As I was sitting here thinking about what the hell to write today, it was suggested to me by Cardinal Spellman, a semi-regular commenter, that I should steal the questionnaire from The Walking Man's blog and answer the questions. Thanks Mark for saving me again. So God does answer prayers about what to write! Here goes -- I'll be back at you tomorrow with a regular post about the past, misery, funny times, and blood.

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
nothing to do, nowhere to be, a book I really want to read

2. What is your greatest fear?
losing my sense of humor because of some awful trauma

3. Which living person do you most admire?
I admire many people, but if you know someone long enough, you get out of that stage and that turns into love which isn't really admiration.

4. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

5. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
being judgmental -- bullshit holier than thou attitude, that sort of thing

6. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
being right and political correctness ranks up there

7. On what occasion do you lie?
Why would I be truthful about that one?

8. What do you dislike most about your appearance?
Where to begin?

9. What is your greatest regret?
not one, but several, built up over time, waste, lack of planning

10. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
I will never ever tell!

11. Which talent would you most like to have?

12. What is your current state of mind?

13. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I'd tone down the anxiety and relax.

14. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

15. If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
a book

16. What is your most treasured possession?
first edition of Franny and Zooey

17. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
doing something stupid to screw up my friendships

18. Where would you like to live?
despite all the negative publicity, the D is just fine

19. What is your most marked characteristic?
I'm pretty relentless, stubborn, have a photographic memory for useless information, terrible one for things that count.

20. Who are your favorite writers?
Raymond Carver, Amy Hempel, Larry McMurtry, John Updike, Augusten Burroughs, Caroline Knapp, Dorothy Allison, too many to count

21. Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Isadora Wing

22. Who are your heroes in real life?
writers and artists

23. What is it that you most dislike?
lack of generosity in people

24. What is your motto?
"Drinking and poetry -- what else is there that counts?" Richard Burton

25. Favorite journey?
all of them are interesting in their own ways

26. What do you value most in your friends?
compassion and forgiveness, sense of humor

27. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
usually bad ones, like "Fuck that shit."

28. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Marvin Gaye except without his enormous talent

29. What is your greatest extravagance?
clothes and champagne

30. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
I'd make them live again, sort of a Reanimator fantasy.

31. What is your favorite occupation?

32. What is the quality you most like in a woman?

33. What is the quality you most like in a man?
guarded optimism

34. How would you like to die?
painlessly and laughing

35. If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
I'd try to come back as myself and do it better.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I've always taken 'The Wizard of Oz' very seriously, you know. I believe in the idea of the rainbow. And I've spent my entire life trying to get over it.” Judy Garland

Cocktail Hour
Drinking documentary suggestion: Deliver Us From Evil

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday! Thanks so much for all the suggestions on the story!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It's A Horrible Story

Dear readers, Here's the last installment of "This Takes Me Back." Thanks for reading!

After a few drinks, Anderson finds the bathroom and splashes water on his face, trying to wake up. He feels tired all of a sudden. He shouldn't have tried everything Phil handed him. Maybe he should start taking vitamins, working out, drinking less, caring more about his diet. Exhausting, this business of maintaining a body, the hours of his day already so full that he sometimes can't even bring himself to get up and fix a snack at night, opting to go to bed hungry. One time he fell asleep in the bathtub, up to his chin in hot water, and Michelle walked in and woke him up, saying, "Daddy, are you okay? What's wrong?" her usually calm demeanor giving way to panic. At that moment, he felt a deep pity for her, realizing he was all she had left.

As he walks down the hall, he can hear Coley talking to one of the new lawyers, Drake, Drake of the indeterminable ethnicity, almost too good-looking, and the talk of the female office staff. They're sitting on the couch, Drake leaning close although Coley is as loud as a gunshot.

"So I'm in the emergency room, right? And the doctor gets me to take off all my clothes, and I'm so miserable I don't care if they're filming the scene and sending it on cable to horny men in South America, I just want something to kill the pain. Then I get wheeled into another room and the nurses bust up from the fact that the doctor got me to strip down for a knee x-ray." She raises her eyebrows, and takes a long sip of her screwdriver.

Before Anderson reaches Coley, the hostess Susan stops him.

"I've never seen you at one of these things," she says in that mock seductive way some married women adopt with single men they know are safe. She's dressed as Cat Woman, but her figure is all wrong, not toned enough by half.

He smiles half-heartedly, not in the mood for Susan or anybody else.

"Are you having a good time?" she asks.

"Actually, I've about had it for the night."

Her breasts look mashed into her black suit. "She must be a handful," she says. She motions to Coley.

"Will you excuse me for a moment," Anderson says, putting his hand on her shoulder and moving around her. He makes his way to the corner where Coley sits with Drake, her hand rubbing the once-injured knee.

"Ready to go?" he says, sounding like a father and hating himself for it.

"No. I'm getting to know Drake. Isn't his name great? It's like we're on a soap opera. 'Drake, darling, when are Brooke and Forest going to be here?'"

Drake laughs. "Why don't you have a seat, buddy?"

"Really, I'm ready to go."

"All right," Coley says. She downs the rest of her drink and stands up, brushing the wrinkles out of her skirt.

"It was great meeting you, Drake," she calls out and blows him a kiss.

"You take care of yourself, honey," Drake says, as though they are television lovers, forced to part by circumstance.

Anderson steadies Coley and grabs both their jackets off the bed in the guest room. He puts her jacket on her, pulls her hair out of the collar, saying good night to the hostess as he rushes out the door. The mild Houston night has turned cold during the short time they've been inside, stormy like some story-book Halloween.

"I don't know why we had to leave so early." Coley fiddles with the knob on the glove compartment, accidentally opening it and spilling maps and pens into the footwell. She picks up most of the stuff and tries to jam it back in, but the glove compartment won't shut, despite her repeated, violent attempts to slam it closed.

"I'll take care of that," he says, trying to sound comforting.

"If you say so." Coley pulls her hands to her lap.

He glances over at her, averting his eyes from the mess of traffic ahead of them. She seems so small, a little girl dressed in her mother's clothes. She's almost as thin as Donna was when she got sick. Anderson remembers seeing Donna's heart beating through her thin t-shirt as she slept, beating as fast as it would have if she'd been running. It wasn't the cancer that killed her, but the fact that her heart had worn out. Some damage, her doctor had said, was irreversible.

"So do you want to stay over?" she asks, her finger tracing shapes on the window.

"Do you want me to?" he asks, used to the constant weekend negotiations over sleeping arrangements.

"Don't men just do what they want?" Coley asks.

"Where did you get that idea?"

"Where should I begin?" she says, pausing. "That rape I told you about wasn't my only bad experience, just the first. My first experience with an older man." Coley stares at her hands.

"It's a horrible story," he says. He keeps his eyes on the road.

"Is that all you're going to say?" Coley asks, picking at a raggedy fingernail.

"I don't know what you want," he says. It always comes to this point with women, the place where he has nothing left to offer, or even to say.

Coley makes no noise when she starts to cry. Anderson parks in the only open space in her apartment complex parking lot as a tube of lipstick drops out of Coley's purse. She doesn't pick it up. It rolls around on the floor, the only sound in the car. He tries to touch her shoulder, but she shrugs him off, moving closer to the door.

After she gets out, Anderson sits, his car idling in the parking lot for a long time. Through the blinds he watches Coley move around, taking off the fake brain, the hat, clicking on the television. The wind picks up, and he unrolls his window a little to let in some fresh air. A lonely horn sounds in the distance, and big raindrops start to splatter on his windshield. He thinks again of that woman circling the I-Hop at Christmas, probably desperate to give her lover a present, just say hi and Merry Christmas and I miss you and don't go just yet. He imagined that she didn't think they would have much time before she had to get back to her real life. Coley must have felt the same way, the need for attention, for someone to make her important and valuable. Like with Donna's cancer, he realizes what's happening all too late.

He watches Coley until someone comes up behind him and yells, "Hey, asshole. Are you coming or going? I want that spot before I get old."

When he returns to his house, Michelle and Roger are watching a slasher movie with the sound muted while Roger makes up dialogue. Anderson listens from the door. The first time he heard Roger, Anderson marvelled at his sophisticated use of language, his comic timing.

Tonight he can't hear anything but snippets. When he walks into the room, he sees that Michelle and Roger have changed, and they look like any other teenage couple except that there is zero sexual tension in the room, no straightening of clothes when they hear the door, no rushing to sit apart.

"Hey, Daddy," Michelle yells. "Where's Coley?"

"Home." He takes off his jacket and lays it over the couch, sitting down.

"Coley could stay over here sometimes. I know you're not just friends," Michelle says, laughing.

"Is that so, little missy?" Anderson is trying to joke back, but he thinks maybe Michelle is right, maybe he should have made more of an effort to integrate Coley into his life.

"What happened with her costume? Did people freak or what?"

"There were worse ones. Nicole Simpson," Anderson says, putting his feet on the coffee table. He wonders if Phil made any progress with her.

"You need anything? We're about to head out for ice cream," Roger says.

"Who's open at this hour?" Anderson asks. He looks at Roger who still has a touch of glitter on his left eye.

"Kroger?" Roger asks.

"I'm not positive, but I think," Michelle says, stifling a yawn.

"If you leave now, you're going to miss everything," Anderson says. He points at the television. "It's just getting good."

"What else can happen that we haven't already seen?" Michelle asks, kissing Anderson on the forehead. "Nobody ever learns anything in these stupid movies."
Anderson hears the garage door go up and down. Walking to the phone, he kicks off his shoes, and picks up the receiver until it starts beeping. He wants to call Coley, but doesn't have anything new to tell her, nothing that will make her feel better. He puts the receiver down.

The bag of baby Snicker bars Michelle bought for trick-or-treaters sits on the table, and he tears into it, wanting something to tide him over until morning. Outside the storm has started in earnest. Tree limbs scrape against the window, the only noise in the room. When Donna was alive, he wished that they would never fall out of love, that their relationship would remain young and happy. He got his wish.

Anderson lies on the couch. On the silent TV, a girl keeps crying, a man comforting her. He's seen this movie before and knows the man is telling the girl that what she's seen isn't real, that nothing out there is going to hurt her. She'll be just fine, no need to worry, though Anderson can't think of a single reason she would have to believe him.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Cease your folly and give up for lost what you see is lost.” Catullus

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Three Dog Life Abigail Thomas

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, November 26, 2007

These Things Will Kill You

Dear readers,
Here's the second installment of "This Takes Me Back." A special thanks to all my readers, especially Scott, for the kind words!

"What are you guys planning for the rest of the night?" Anderson asks.

"I'm going to practice saving Roger," Michelle says, hugging Roger around the shoulders, getting glitter on her leotard.

"Can we skip the party and stay home with them?" Anderson asks.

Coley shoots him a look and says, "If you don't want to go, I can find something else to do."

After a few quiet seconds, Michelle says, "Roger, let me show you that new dress I was telling you about," leading him down the hall into her bedroom.

"I can't talk you out of this, huh?" Anderson asks.

Coley gives him a smile that doesn’t include her eyes and heads for the door.

"What do you think about Michelle and Roger?" Anderson asks, trying to start conversation as he drives through residential streets on the way to one of the senior partner's houses.

"He's a fag, Anderson. That's pretty obvious to everyone but him."

"That's what Michelle said. Actually, I believe she said he was gay. I thought your generation had embraced difference," he says.

"You don't know anybody gay, queer, or otherwise, so don't give me any of that p.c. shit. I know lots of them. They're my friends. I haven't even met any of your friends."

"That's not true. You know Phil." Phil, Anderson's oldest friend from law school, met Coley about a year ago when the relationship was still relatively new. After Coley went home, Phil said, "I know you're probably lonely, but Jesus H. Christ. The girl is morbid."

"Phil bores me, " Coley says. "He's just another fat middle-aged guy who thinks he's endlessly amusing." She plays with the automatic window switch.

"So I guess I fall into that category as well," Anderson says, trying for a light tone and not quite making it.

"I didn't say anything about you."

"Are we having a fight?"

She shrugs her bony shoulders, looks out the window into a sky that might storm. On the radio, St. Joseph's Hospital offers to x-ray Halloween candy for free, checking for razor blades. The last hospital he spent any time in was MD Anderson, one of the best cancer centers in the world. You're lucky, everyone said, the hospital you need is right here. Some comfort to know that the best in the world would not be enough to save the person you loved.

He remembers Christmas day, five long years ago, sitting in an I-Hop with Michelle, the hospital cafeteria closed for the holiday and nothing else open. While they picked at their food, a woman in a truck kept circling the I-Hop. She scared him at the time, her desperation palpable as she slowed down and looked through the windows. Anderson sighs, wondering about all the dangers you can't see no matter how advanced the technology. He knows it's those things that get you in the end.

Anderson and Coley walk into the house, music blaring into the foyer, and the mood is one of people who rarely get to have fun and so are trying desperately to enjoy themselves, the way Anderson felt in high school when he drank beer to get drunk, downing bottle after bottle just for the effect, ignoring the taste. The music on the cd player sounds like a record permanently on skip, though Coley hums along on the chorus, singing I feel for you, I think I love you.

"Do you know who this is?"

"Chaka Khan," she says. And then she asks, "So tonight are we one of those 'split up and work the crowd' couples, or one of those 'stay together and ignore everybody else' couples?"

Anderson shrugs and looks around the room. Despite the fact that everyone at work claimed they would come, the room seems empty. The party is a grown-up version of Ricky's party, sans fog machine. Being with Coley in this setting makes him feel lonelier than if he'd been alone. He likes Coley best when he is with her in bed. She's easily the most beautiful and sexually uninhibited woman he's ever slept with, and even though that's not supposed to be enough, for Anderson, it is.

"There's Deborah," Coley says, pointing to Anderson's last girlfriend on the other side of the room, a twice-divorced blonde corporate lawyer his own age, forty-nine, who made him feel completely inadequate with her own efficiency. Deborah had a surly teenage son who constantly reeked of Polo cologne, a black lab that bit Anderson twice, and a pressing desire to get married. He was not entirely unhappy to see her go. Coley seemed edgy and sexy by comparison, a graduate student in anthropology who appeared to be utterly unconcerned with domestic life.

"So are we going to stick together, or can I do what I want?" Coley asks.

"I hadn't really thought about it." He smiles at people he knows. Nobody looks surprised to see Coley, but her costume draws a few stares. He starts to tell Coley about the time he attended one of these parties many years ago with Donna, how one of the partners had come dressed as Jesus Christ, cross and all, with his wife as Mary and his mistress as Mary Magdelene.

"Well, you'd better think about it," Coley says, and walks off toward the food, leaving Anderson in her wake, watching her go.

Anderson spots Phil standing by the bar and walks over. Phil's not in costume either, instead he wears jeans and a green Izod shirt. Within minutes, Anderson and Phil are pouring serious drinks, one after another, trying to come up with combinations more and more bizarre. They try them all, finishing none.

"Everything a guy could want," Anderson says, motioning to the large display of bottles lining the wall.

"Remember that night we made Chicago Boxcars?" Phil asks, alluding to a night they got a copy of Trader Vic's Bartender's Guide and experimented with any number of drinks, much to the horror Phil's date, a woman whose name Anderson can't remember, and Donna.

"Who knew that milk and rum wouldn't go great together?" Anderson asks.
Anderson takes a large glass and pours in two different types of rum, a little grenadine, some orange juice. "These things will kill you."

"But you don't feel anything while it's happening," Phil says, looking at a woman dressed like Nicole Simpson, an eerily realistic knife mark painted against her throat.

"That's the plan," Anderson says. He surveys the room and thinks about how these parties never improve, how they've always been an excuse to drink too much and get out of the house, neither of which he needs to do.

"Trouble with little Wednesday Addams over there?" Phil points to Coley who's standing in a group of people by a punch bowl filled with green liquid, gummy worms crawling up the sides.

Anderson taps his glass and takes a long sip of the Zombie.

"How much longer do you think you guys can last?" Phil asks.

Anderson shrugs. "I don't even know what's wrong."

Somebody takes control of the stereo, and Chaka Khan is replaced with K.C. and the Sunshine Band. Instantly, Anderson's back in his law school days, studying for Torts. He can see the room he lived in with a clarity that seems astonishing: the way the sun looked coming through the windows, his old plaid couch, the hook Donna hung her nightgown on when she stayed with him.

"Man, this takes me back," Phil says, pouring another drink. He hasn't finished his first one yet.

"Everything does," Anderson tells him.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"On the whole, I preferred cats to women because cats seldom if ever used the word "relationship"." Kinky Friedman

Cocktail Hour
Drinking cookbook suggestion: Dr. Pepper Cookbook

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday

Sunday, November 25, 2007

This Takes Me Back

Dear readers: Today I'm posting the first part of "This Takes Me Back." The story has Coley in it from Something To Do In Bed as a main character-- a prequel of sorts to the novella. Thanks so much for reading!

This Takes Me Back

Anderson searches for his wallet while Coley stands in the doorway with a fake plastic brain attached to a piece of string tied around her neck. She taps her foot like a wife, although she is only his much younger girlfriend dressed up like Jackie Kennedy for Halloween: pink suit, pillbox hat, fake blood all down her front; and Anderson thinks how like her generation to cling to the excess and waste of the past, unable or unwilling to emulate any of the elegance without some theatrical sarcastic comment.

"Who are you supposed to be?" Coley asks, giving him the once-over. He picked her up on his way home from work and has been sorry ever since. They had planned to go to his law firm's annual Halloween party, a plan that Anderson has felt less and less certain of as the day approached.

She starts to pace around his den, a cavernous room with cathedral ceilings and big windows. Outside, Rice University stands in the muggy air, the place where Coley spends much of her time as a graduate student in anthropology and where Anderson used to teach a class in business law.

"Race Horse Haynes. That's who I am tonight." He is still wearing his suit and tie, not wanting to change after a long day at work.

Coley stops pacing and gives him a blank stare.

"The lawyer who defended Cullen Davis in that murder trial in Fort Worth. Millionaire. Murdered his wife and her lover."

"A lawyer going as a lawyer. How postmodern." Coley sits down in a big high-backed chair, crossing her legs, one swinging over the other, the chair's size making her look like a bloody little doll. "You're going to spend all night explaining," she says. On her little finger, she's twisting an amethyst ring, a small stone that matches the one in her nose.

"Well, your costume is obvious enough for both of us. I'll just smile and wave and somebody can shoot me in the head."

Coley holds up her index finger and thumb and mouths bang, bang.

Anderson tries to pinpoint when it seemed like things stopped being easy between him and Coley, and the best he can do is a dinner date a few weeks ago. He'd had to cancel a couple of dates with Coley, and when they did manage to get together it was late on a Saturday night. The restaurant they'd gone to was crowded and loud, a trendy place with a Southwestern motif. Fifteen minutes passed before a waiter took their order.

"So what do you want to do for Halloween?" Coley asked, looking at the menu that was full of strange-sounding dishes that would inevitably taste like Mexican food, but with some twist that was supposed to justify the expense.

"Nothing," he said. Last year, Coley had gone out with her friends for Halloween, leaving him to sit home and greet trick-or-treaters. He hated Halloween for the simple fact that it kicked off the holiday season, a particularly busy and stressful time that reminded him of Donna, his wife, who had died shortly after Christmas five years ago of thyroid cancer. He remembers her sitting by their Christmas tree, looking at the lights every night until she fell asleep. It was at those moments he felt he'd been as sad as he could ever be and for the first time in his life, he understood what it was to be depressed, not the way most people use the word, but the real meaning, to be pressed down without hope.

"Where are you?" Coley said, then sunk back into her seat, taking a blue chip from the bowl on the table.

"Sorry, I'm just so . . . "

"Tired. I know," she finished for him with a sad, resigned smile.

He tried to get back into the present. "Michelle wants to take this self-defense class. She's such the athlete, and she didn't get it from me. Maybe she inherited her mother's abilities." Donna had been a yoga instructor, perpetually young-looking and flexible. People had often mistaken her for Anderson's daughter even though they had only a few years of age difference between them.

"Self-defense is a good idea," Coley said. She was going about the business of systematically shredding her napkin, leaving her glass to make a ring on the table. "I was raped, you know. It was at this dinner party my parents were throwing. This one guy, I don't know where he came from, was there and watched me most of the night. Late in the evening I went into the guest bedroom with all the coats stacked on the bed to get away from the noise. The guy followed me, and when I turned to flip on the light, he put his hand over my mouth. Before I even knew what was happening, he was trying to put it inside me and I kept jerking around so he couldn't and he came all over my leg," Coley said, the story having a sort of flat hurried quality of a prayer repeated over and over.

"Some people say that counts as a rape, and some people say it doesn't. I guess it's the issue of whether or not it's enough to be touched or do you have to be penetrated? You're a lawyer. What do you say?"

Anderson felt a headache coming on, an intense shooting pain behind his right eye, but he knew he could not not respond to the comment, he'd have to do his best to rise to the occasion. At the next table, a couple were joking around, like some kind of horrible laugh track that didn't match the situation.

"Are you talking in the legal sense? It's considered sexual assault now, not rape. God, what a horrible story. When did this happen?"

"Way past any statute of limitations, I assure you. But I don't care about the legality. I'm talking on some other level."

"What level would that be?"

"Forget it," she said, and dropped the subject, the way a teacher might, frustrated by students that were trying, but missing the point. He looked across the table at her, noticing how tired she looked, the circles under her eyes deeper than usual, her short-sleeved black dress baggy in places. Anderson took her hand and asked her to go with him to the Halloween party, something he knew she wanted.

Now he has to actually take her to the party. As for his wallet, Anderson gives up on the den and heads for the bedroom, hoping he left it in one of his coat pockets. He hears his daughter Michelle and her friend Roger walk into the house.

"Why are y'all still hanging around here?" Michelle asks, a disembodied voice in the distance.

Anderson spots the wallet under a jacket on his bed. When he walks out, he's surprised to see Roger dressed in a silver suit, his face coated with glittery eye-shadow. Michelle looks plain in comparison, still wearing her clothes from dance class: the standard black leotard and pale pink tights, a black skirt tied around her waist, black jazz shoes on her feet.

"Who are you tonight?" Anderson asks Roger.

"Ziggy Stardust, but nobody could figure it out. People kept saying 'Are you an alien or something?'" Roger rubs his eye, smearing the glitter around.

"What happened to your party?" Anderson asks next, looking at his watch.

"That Ricky is a first-class harelip," Michelle says. "There were about five of us there, and he was trying to act like it was Studio 54 with his stupid fog machine, and I'm choking in the fog, going "Roger, where are you?" Then somebody brought out a bunch of beer and stuff and said, 'Let's get this party started,' and we were like whatever."

"I hope you weren't doing any of that." Anderson imagines Michelle with a bottle of Southern Comfort pressed to her lips, some horrible alcohol-induced coma sure to follow. He's never even seen her drunk, but it doesn't matter. He worries.

"Please. I have my lifeguarding test tomorrow."

"You ready for it?" He punches her softly in the arm, feeling like a parody of a good-natured dad, awkward around Coley and Michelle in a way that he's not when he's alone with either of them.

"I have everything down except the one save where you have to bring two people in at the same time."

"What's so hard about that?" Coley asks, even though she can't swim at all. Besides an ancient Jane Fonda toning tape, Anderson's never known her to do any sort of exercise.

"In theory they're clutching at each other." Michelle grabs Roger's head, demonstrating. "You have to separate them, get one to safety, then go back for the other."

"Let's say they were really far out. Isn't there any way you could carry both of them at once?" Anderson asks.

"I guess, but you'd have to be a lot bigger than me." Anderson thinks about how Michelle is already six inches taller than Donna ever was. She looks like Anderson, dark hair and eyes, but she inherited her mother's ability to accept harsh realities without bitterness.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day." Vincent Van Gogh

Cocktail Hour
Drinking shopping suggestion: Pewabic Pottery

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Girl's Night Out

Hi dear readers! Coming at you from the most dangerous city in America and the as of today, the fifth on the obesity list. Damn all those ham-oriented restaurants! Happy Saturday from Detroit!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Jaws Of Life

Woke up this morning to the jaws of life pulling someone out of his car right in front of my house. The car turned over, totalled, and the person maybe dead, Christmas presents all over the place spilled out the back end through the shattered window. My sister and I watched from a short distance while my heart broke. Twenty minutes later, the man emerged from the wreckage on a stretcher-- I could see his soft white sneakers stained with blood from my porch. There was a thin patina of snow on the grass, the sun shone like it almost never does in Detroit.

I walked back inside and closed my door. Had slept in late, late, late, because this year has been a doozy. Had dreams of swimming with everyone I ever knew. Didn't know what to make of it so I kept on swimming. When I woke up, I remembered all the people were shopping and going, catching the sales. Thought about the gifts I needed to buy. And then saw those gifts on the street and about who they might be intended for. The cops started to pick them up after everyone was gone, the bows gleaming in the light, carrying them gently, without any speed now that the man was gone, as if they could protect something precious, hoping against hope that it might make a difference, like we all do when there's nothing else left.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"God forgives those who invent what they need." Lillian Hellman

Cocktail Hour
Drinking store suggestion: Dragonfly in Ferndale -- great clothes for women!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Black Friday!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Days Full Of Love And Harm

Started this morning watching the brilliant, underrated Bad Santa, a surefire way to prepare for the holiday season, something I find myself dreading more and more each passing year. Wish I could change myself and fall in love with the season, remember loving Jesus and forgetting myself, remember forgiveness and practice gratitude, all the while keeping a sense of humor about everything. And the truth is I do love it or did and like so many things we lose, we seek to recreate it or get bitter about not being able to and that got me thinking about how I used to get five dollars from my parents for gifts for my friends and how thrilled I was, how I budgeted that five dollars to the penny and how expensive and exotic everything looked at the mall and how my friends usually got erasers in the shapes of fruits that smelled like grapes. And how thankful I was for all of it. And how I wish I could have that back.

But I'm going to rally like the great Billy Bob Thornton in his worn Santa suit and stop the pity party any day now, going to count my blessings of which there are many, so many that I'd be hard pressed to know where to start. People who have given me things I didn't know I needed or wanted, the friends that make me laugh and remind me of the past, the people I know who have survived beyond all the odds. The ease in my own life! The days which are full of love and harm and Al Green songs. Living in the most dangerous city in America -- yeah buddy, Detroit beat St. Louis this year. I knew we could do it if we set our mind to it! The cares of yesterday that have been lifted off my back, the promises I have made to God to never forget those answered prayers. Of course, we always do. It's our nature to forget pain, to pretend it doesn't exist, to let our attentions be consumed by other pains, to forget the really awful. But here's the start of the revolution -- to not forget what we have and what burdens have been lifted from our hearts. And if someone offers you a small eraser shaped like a clump of grapes, to accept it like it was the best thing in the whole world and maybe it is.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
“If you can't be content with what you have received, be thankful for what you have escaped.” Author unknown

Cocktail Hour
Southern Recovery Spell (for those who went to the bar last night and are feeling a little worse for the wear)
one package of BC powders
one Dr. Pepper

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thanksgiving to all! Dear readers, I appreciate your faithfulness this reading year and am sending much love your way. Also, I'm hoping that the Detroit Lions beat the Green Bay Packers into the ground!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Path To Salvation

I read an article today about a preacher accused of fathering a child with his brother's wife -- the paternity test proved this claim true, the story as old as the Bible itself. What interested me was that the preacher had told her that having an affair with him (one that lasted many years) was the only way to salvation. Man, I thought I had heard some lines! According to the article, the church had grown diseased and ill since its heyday in the sixties and many believed it to be a cult, a word I dislike in the same way I dislike the word addiction to describe any excess -- there are shopping addicts, sex addicts, love addicts, and so on. So boring. To label something is not to see it and seeing is the one thing a writer cannot afford to lose.

There's an African proverb about one who has been bit by a snake afterward being fearful of a piece of old rope. Having lived this truth for many years, I can say that I still startle easily, still have nightmares. Psychology dubs this post-traumatic stress disorder, another term I can't abide. I'm so stressed, people will say, which means absolutely nothing in a society where stress is like air and where we are inundated with enough assaultive cell phone rings, sirens, and buzzers to keep us at perpetual high alert. To look closely without the scrim of bullshit terms, to see the hurt and loneliness of our times, whether it be a snake or a rope, will be our salvation. Otherwise we risk hanging ourselves with whatever is handy, and somebody will do a post-mortem and tell us what we suffered from, as if to contain its harm from spreading.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"This is hell. I made it myself and I will live it in myself." Allen Dugan

Cocktail Hour
Drinking children's show suggestion: Good people, the day has arrived! The first season of Sesame Street is out on dvd.

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Shake It Off

I hated being a gymnast in almost every single way -- the constant dieting, the demanding practices, my wicked coach who hated her husband and took it out on us, rips on my hands, bleeding all the time. I wasn't very good at it -- everything was effort, no natural talent. The gym, hotter than five billy hells in the summer, cold in the winter, shitty equipment, tedious practices. The water in the fountain that tasted like copper. Nothing if not a masochist, I stuck with it a long time, not because my parents wanted me to (they couldn't really afford it and didn't see the point of it), not because my friends were in it (all of them were way too smart to spend their time in such agonies), and not because I thought I would win anything. My biggest victory was a second place ribbon at the state meet -- hardly a victory given that I had done the mandatory exercise about a thousand times and would have had to have been damn near crippled not to win something eventually given all the effort I exerted.

Suck it up and shake it off were my coaches favorite sayings. Don't be a fucking crybaby also figured a lot in her speech. It was old school -- not the pansy sports training I see now, telling kids how great they are every single time they manage not to fall on their asses. My old coach is a relic now of bygone days when nobody was afraid of getting sued for telling the truth. By the time I stopped competing, I had internalized a lot of what she had said. You take a fall; you shake it off. If the rips in your hands open up, they'll heal. The skin will be tougher than before, so much so that you won't feel anything eventually.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Sometimes people call me a success for all the reasons that make me think I'm a failure." William Hurt

Cocktail Hour
Drinking short story collection suggestion: Faithless Joyce Carol Oates

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Shock Of The New

One of the most disturbing gifts I have ever received was a piece of art made as part of a mental patient's therapy and sold at an art fair to support the hospital. The picture was framed with a rusted out license plate holder and bordered by the heads of decapitated babies connected with pipe cleaners. The woman featured in the middle of this nightmare had a turquoise-colored jewel eye and a face made of paper mached newspapers. I'm a fan of outsider art, but this was beyond the pale. My relationship with the gift-giver was already fraught -- I had to laugh upon opening it. I'd gotten her the safe gifts for Christmas -- the fancy soaps and Christmas body lotions that you give to everyone you fear offending. Given what I had received, I wished I'd opted for Freud's finger puppet theater -- complete with a stage, a couch, Sigmund, Anna, and Jung. The French have a term for this -- the poison gift, the thing that says evil things you wish you could.

I had a dream the other night that I was lying in a coffin, snow falling all around. Part of a piece of performance art, I wondered when it would end which is how I feel about most performance art pieces in real time. As much as I love art, I don't love it enough to endure the beginning stages. In the best pieces, you're suffering through someone else's bad dreams. I have enough of those myself that I only want to see the really exquisite ones, the ones that will haunt forever and ever. I have no talent with the visual myself and don't expect to develop it any time soon. So I'm left with my dreams, death-haunted gifts that deliver their poison so slowly I don't even see them as the gifts they are.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door." Harvey Milk

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Diamond Dogs David Bowie

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Same Siren Song

My friend Hank called himself a cynic, which means he was really a romantic. For proof, I offer the following -- the man's favorite poet was Catullus and he stayed in love with the same people for much longer than any logic could warrant. He was also a notorious gossip, shit talker, advice giver, and storyteller extraordinaire. I could count on him to spill any secrets, prefacing his talk with Nobody is supposed to know, but . . . And to quote old Ben Franklin, Two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead. Our world was a veritable Peyton Place of interesting lives, strange Gothic secrets, and tales about everyone from the most important people we knew and who they were seeing on the side to the town retard Jay Lonnie who worked at the Stop and Go and got fired for stealing Mars bars, bulking up his already considerable heft.

I love the Joan Didion essay about convincing a bored friend of hers to attend a party in Manhattan, telling him there would be all new people there and he'd have a great time. At the end of the night, he told her that he'd slept with five of the woman at the party and owed three of the men money. That's sort of the nature of my world -- incredibly small and incestuous, running into the same people over and over in the most unlikely of spots. Unlike Hank, I define myself as a pragmatist, meaning that I'm probably a cynic. My horoscope today told me that I'm exceptionally good with difficult people. And I do love the difficult because they have the best secrets. And much like people, I keep running into the same secrets over and over again prefaced with the same siren song -- Nothing can save me except love! Like Catullus was fond of writing about his unobtainable love, Lesbia, a thousand kisses would not be enough so give me a thousand more and then a thousand after that. Even if it doesn't have a happy ending, like telling stories, it's fun while you're in the midst of it.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment." Dorothy Parker

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: No Country For Old Men

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Detroit By Night

Hi readers! Here're the Saturday pictures. And a special birthday shout-out to my dear friend Marty!

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Handwriting On The Wall

Here's the last installment!

I never did call Christopher back. It was enough to have the message. Before Josh returned from the hospital, I used Christopher’s voice mail as leverage with Kevin. One final meeting and it’s all over. He tells me fine, that’s fine, where the fuck do you want to meet? After a little deliberation, we decide that we’ll go to Canada, to a French restaurant in a strip mall that we’ve been to a couple of times for various celebrations, such as those are in an adulterous relationship -- anniversaries become too depressing so it’s mostly birthdays and holidays, the ones that the spouse hasn’t commandeered.

"What do you want to eat?" Kevin asks. He’d usually order for us without asking. I thought about the steak tartare from last time, but I didn’t think I could handle a mouth full of raw meat.

"No steaks," I say. "That’s my only request."

"Somehow I doubt it," Kevin says.

For once I saw what it must have been like to be my parents, wanting something from something from someone who is determined not to give you anything more than it would require to keep the peace.

"So what will it be for you two?" the waiter asks.

Kevin orders appetizers and drinks for us like he always does, but left the choice of entrĂ©e up to me. I usually ordered something cheap because I knew we’d drive up the bill with drinks, but I don’t care. I order the steak au poivre.

"I thought you said no steaks," Kevin says as the waiter left us to bathe in the glow of the one romantic candle he’d lit.

"If it’s cooked, I don’t mind. I don’t want anything that’s going to make me sick, that’s all," I say.
"Doing a good enough job of that yourself," Kevin says.

I took a sip of water. Never to early to hydrate for the next morning’s misery. "I thought that’s what you liked about me."

"Correct use of the past tense."

Our waiter set two huge vodka martinis in front of us, oceans of comfort and grief. You could get this kind of drink anywhere, a bar that plays the Allman Brother’s "Whipping Post" with a floating neon sign to a place like this, all Debussy and candles. Kevin and I were always at the extremes, skirting the edges of his known world.

I pick the olive out of my drink and eat it, then take a big bracing sip, the gag of vodka that would be the only hurdle to getting the rest of it down. When will I tell him that I’d slept with his son?

"Do you want money? Because if it will get rid of you, I’ll pay." Kevin says.

"I’m sure you’ll pay, but why would I want money?" I can hear the other people around us, the hushed muted tones and wished I was having a different conversation, any conversation but this one.

He looks at me, and I look at him and I think about how what starts in such joy can catapult to abject misery so fast. "I want one more night with you like it used to be."

I have a fleeting sensation that what I am doing is wrong, but I swallow it with more vodka. Part of me longed to be at work where I could listen to other people’s pain.

"I guess I shouldn’t ask what happened with Chris," Kevin says.

"At least I got to sleep with someone in your bed."

"You’re as sick as your fucked up brother."

I down as much of my drink as I could. "We should order some champagne. Being a celebration and all."

"You do it. I’m going to the bathroom," Kevin says.

I couldn’t believe how much of the martini was gone. Switching to champagne seems sensible. I once drank too many martinis here and vomited all over the floor of the bathroom. I even fell asleep on that floor for a second, as cool and inviting as a blanket. That would not do for tonight.
By the time Kevin returns, the waiter has the champagne in his hand. He cuts himself on the wire hood that covers the cork and starts to bleed on the table.

"Sorry for the mess," he says, as he eases the cork out. "I keep cutting myself lately."

"I know how that is," I say, thinking of Josh and giving him a wan smile.

"I hope they bring out the food altogether," he says. "I’m starving."

"Me too," I say. "Me too."

"Here’s to the last supper," I say, lifting my glass. "I’d offer you my body and blood, but I believe I’ve done enough."

"I’ll say you have," Kevin says. I was beginning to see that things were not going to start being fun anytime soon.

After a drunk ride home, I lead him into Josh’s room. It looks a little homier since Coley took up partial residence for a brief time, a few more things put away, but it’s nothing like my old apartment where Kevin and I would spend those afternoon hours, pieces of time shaved off his real life so thinly that nobody would notice. The nights during those days were hard to fill, dying light by four in the afternoon, longing. I’d look out my window and try to imagine other lives. I could see Marvin Gaye’s face from outside my apartment, his luminous sad eyes the same regardless of the weather, Hennessey’s ad imploring us to Never Blend In. I could see the blue from my neighbor’s television screen, tried to see what had so captivated them.

Sometimes Kevin would spring for a hotel when his paranoia got the best of him, covering his tracks in some strange version of a preemptive strike. I almost always got to the room before he did, given that our dates were the main events in my nights back then and they were something he slipped into an otherwise full day and had to account for -- Did you already spend all of your money? I never watched television while I was waiting, a point of honor, a show of restraint played to an empty house and I would sit and listen as the ice melted around the champagne I’d brought, making the bottle shift positions. My fantasies of running away had ceased. Part of me thought this was a good sign, of maturity if nothing else. But another part of me knew this was just another version of me and Josh’s childhood games -- all of them different, all of them the same, one of us telling the other what was wrong with them and the other one acting sick or paralyzed or amputated. It never occurred to us that there were other games.

"So what do you think?" I ask. "Do you want me to turn on the light?" He hesitates because while he understands that I was asking something important, he isn’t sure he understands. And how could he?

"Whatever you want."
This infuriates me and I flip on the light and take off my dress.

"What’s all over the walls?"

"Handwriting," I say. "That’s the handwriting on the wall."

Kevin and I did not make love in Josh’s room on that night or any other. When Kevin left, I locked the door behind him and turned on the television. It was a habit from the days of my affair. I never turned the sound off completely, but I kept it on low. I thought about how Josh always watched the television on mute because what people said annoyed him. I thought about all the rooms I had been in with Kevin and how we could be anyone there and that always meant we were nothing anywhere else. What had he said or done that could have been such a comfort to me?

I put on Nick at Nite and find an episode of the Twilight Zone, one that I’ve seen before. It’s the scary one with a ventriloquist dummy that hates his master. At night, the man would ease his friend, because of course, he considered the dummy to be a benevolent force, into his box to sleep. But the friend never slept. Night was his only chance not to say the words of others, but his own, to live like everybody else did. He’d open his eyes as soon as the box was closed and start plotting his escape.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"How well I have learned that there is no fence to sit on between heaven and hell. There is a deep, wide gulf, a chasm, and in that chasm is no place for any man." Johnny Cash

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Girlbomb Janice Earlbaum

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hesitation Cuts

Here's the second part of "Never Blend In." Thanks for reading!

I survive the meeting with the therapist and it isn’t awful a the time, but her questions seem to linger and I take a Vicodan as soon as I get home to clear my mind, put on Lou Reed’s Berlin -- Caroline says, as she gets up off the floor, you can hit me as much as you want to, but I don’t love you anymore. I know it’s my last night alone, and I feel how I imagine wives feel after their husband’s return from a long business trip -- sad to have their alone time cut, happy for things to return to normal, although I’d hesitate to use that word for our situation.

"Did you get my dry-cleaning?" Josh asks. "If you didn’t, I don’t have a shirt for tomorrow?"

"So why did you do it?"

"Do what?" Josh asks. He’s staring out the window at the late January scenery. The streets are littered with crap people toss out their windows, not caring how it will look embedded in the side of the road.

I try not to raise my voice. "Slash yourself to ribbons," I say. "I thought we were through with that. Isn’t your face enough?"

"I don’t want to talk about it."

"Shock, surprise," I say, a little shocked and surprised at how bitter I sound.

"Don’t be a bitch, Josette," Josh says. "I’ve had it with the psychobabble for the week. And I’m dreading school tomorrow. Does anyone know why I was out?"

"I said you were sick."

"Good. Nobody needs to know anything else about me."

"So I guess it’s long sleeve shirts forever then," I say, thinking of all the cuts, hesitation cuts if you fail to kill yourself. I don’t know if there’s a name for what they are if what you’re trying to do actually work.

"It’s Detroit. When the hell is it ever warm enough to wear anything else?"

We rent a movie on our way home, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, because Josh wants to see it even though he thinks it’s going to be stupid.

"It might be watchably bad," he says. I’d rather not take the risk, but I defer to him. He looks frail, as if the week in the loony ward took something from him.

"You have a late charge," the woman at the counter says. Scarface. God, I could not make this shit up. I forgot that I rented it during the blizzard and kept it for two weeks. I dropped it off and didn’t pay the fine, assuming I wouldn’t be here again for a long time.

"It’s mine. I’ll pay," I say, whipping out my debit card, a place where much gets taken and little added and somehow it’s all supposed to even out.

In the middle of the movie, Josh starts to cry. It’s such a strange unexpected sound that I don’t understand what’s happening at first. It’s not like I don’t ever see people cry -- almost every day I work, someone cries at the news of an unwanted pregnancy or news of an STD. Josh doesn’t shed a few tears -- he sobs. I pat him as if he’s an elderly aunt I haven’t seen in years. I rush up for Kleenex and find there isn’t any so I return with a wad of toilet paper. The movie continues and the wedding is predictably wacky and wonderful and I think, how did this piece of shit story draw anyone to the watch it?

Josh accepts my offer of a Xanax. I hate to part with one of my friends, but it’s an emergency. Since Josh never takes any pills except anti-depressants, he’s asleep in no time, and I set his alarm. Despite everything, I want to make sure he wakes up.

With Josh back home, things feel almost normal, but not quite, as if we’d broken up. After Josh’s crying jag, everything feels tentative. Josh did not comment on Coley’s clearing out, and I know he hasn’t heard from her. I wonder if she had an abortion, decided that she could get away from Josh, no strings attached, unlike me. She was still in the first trimester when things are pretty uncomplicated. I suspect Josh and I might never know the answer to that question. Are you sure you want to delete? Maybe Coley doesn’t know and maybe she does and yells at the phone, Yes, why are you still asking me that question?

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Everything will change. The only question is growing up or decaying." Nikki Giovanni

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: America V: A Hundred Highways Johnny Cash

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Never Blend In

Here's the penultimate chapter of my novella! Thanks for reading!

Never Blend In

I didn’t want to help myself, but no one appeared to be around so I took some cookies off the tray that rested underneath an announcement for the open house for the new geriatric psychiatry clinic in the hospital, a need that has arisen from people living longer and going crazier. As I munched on an iced sugar cookie in an attempt to keep from heaving, (I’d taken a Vicodan and a half before coming to get Josh for his return home) I check my newly purchased cell phone for messages, and replay the one from Christopher. He was surprised to hear from me, as if he’d written me off to the land of lost mirages. His father used to pull this same disappearing act as if I were a substance he was trying to wean himself from. I wished I had insisted on being treated better, but fear informed my every move, mostly fear of being dismissed. Christopher says he will see me anywhere, anytime or so he says on my machine. What a difference one generation makes!

Josh packs up his stuff, and I fill out the endless array of forms to allow him to go home. Tedious as it is, I have to admit the work suits me, the same way it does at the office. I am good at solving problems and able to work around systems in ways that befuddle the other counselors. I credit my desk, compartmentalized like a cafeteria lunch tray. The same cannot be said for my new car, Snowflake, a repository for all trash, home of things I am too lazy to drag inside. I bought Snowflake on a Friday afternoon and went alone despite my mother’s warning -- if the salespeople see a woman alone, they take advantage! This sage advice falls under the heading too little, too late. I sat in the office while the snow fell and a disgruntled salesman bitched about how his asshole boss was coming back in half an hour.

I was content to read the book I had bought specifically for this wait, but the salesman felt like talking, revealing the thrilling inner workings of his job. The ones that are just fucking around, wasting our time -- we call those brooms because we sweep them away. There’s always a fucking broom near closing time and Asshole Boss insists we try and sell. I wondered how such an astute young man could tell the difference between a buyer and say, a potted plant, but I said nothing. He told me he was taking classes at Macomb, the nearby community college, so he could leave this living hell. I’d been to Macomb for a couple double credit classes while in high school and used to write papers for money. The papers came easy to me and liked doing work that I would be judged for anonymously. Right out the window, my pristine Snowflake sat, a perfectly white dodge neon with a Polynesian metallic green pinstripe and a spoiler on the back. Now he is dirty from slush and ice and his interior is littered with debris, but I still remember that first day, knowing he would be mine, the certainty of it, trading the car my husband picked out, a machine that had fallen on its oars, something that I admired for lasting as long as it did.

Josh came home, of course, just when I had grown accustomed to being alone. He had to return to his job, his life, and the insurance only covered a certain number of days. The day before he came home, I took a bottle of Windex and cleaned Josh’s walls, those bloody lines that seemed like hieroglyphics already, messages from the past that had no discernible meaning. Was it an SOS, a code for me to interpret? Or was it something he did without thinking? I’d already been in touch with his therapist and after I cleaned, I had an appointment, seven o’clock. When I told her that I couldn’t get out of work for a day appointment, she told me that she could see me late. I drove the chewed up streets with their grey snow, passed the places that were closing down for the night, the ones that were never closed. I wanted to tell the therapist I was too sick and tired to come in, but I suppose that is exactly the point.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"To name something is to wait for it in the place you think it will pass." Amiri Baraka

Cocktail Hour
Drinking literary journal suggestion: Eclipse

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday! Rest in peace, Ira Levin!

Husbands And Wives

Mickey Rooney used to say that if you get married, do it in the morning so that if doesn't work out, you haven't wasted your whole day. Despite being a teeny-tiny, he married eight times, once to Ava Gardner who told him, I'm sick of being married to a midget and left. From my point of view, being married to Ava for any length of time was probably worth it - - she had several marriages and stayed good friends with her exes. Once after their divorce, she and Artie Shaw (the jazz musician) were out on the town and fighting. She told him to stop it lest people think they were still married. Zsa Zsa Gabor claimed she never hated an ex-husband enough to give him back his diamonds. I suppose it's good to keep a sense of humor about the enterprise.

Discussing wedded bliss with a friend the other day, we kept circling back to how much grief do you put up with and how do you know if it's going to work. If I had the answer to this question, I'd live in a bigger house and have a better job and so forth. And of course, there's that old sport's curse -- paralysis by analysis, where you do nothing in order to avoid error. When it comes down to it, you have to make a leap of faith, the kind you do when you're writing a story, that you can stick to it and that it will become something wonderful, even in the hard times. I'm no marriage counsellor but I do have one piece of advice for anyone contemplating making the jump -- don't see any Woody Allen films from the later Mia Farrow years. It will give you considerable pause. I still have my VCR copy of Husbands and Wives recorded by, you guessed it, my ex-husband. Even though I don't have a VCR anymore, I can't quite throw it out so it sits with the rest of the dvds, waiting to be played again when the time is right.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Be bold. If you're going to make an error, make it a doozy." Billie Jean King

Cocktail Hour
Drinking vodka suggestion: Titos -- a great Texas vodka made in Austin!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Wait For A Samaritan

Whenever a movie is described as a southern gothic, I've learned to expect that it will be very close to what passes for my normal life. Such was the case with Chrystal, a dark, lonely look into a world that I know all too well: desolation, maiming, lost love, and gallows humor. Billy Bob Thornton stars as a man who has killed his child and crippled his wife in a drunk driving accident. The plot is graceful, the characters deeply compelling. Much of the movie centers around Chrystal's (Billy Bob's wife) broken neck. While she can still walk, she has tremendous pain from her fused spine. This is where she believes that she carries her lost child. And while there is a lot of wicked behavior in the movie, there's an undercurrent of kindness and faith that flows beneath everything. At one point, two men from the University of Chicago come to the small southern town to research a book of folk music and get their car stuck in the mood. When the driver asks his blind companion what they need to do, he says, "Wait for a Samaritan."

Which I suppose we're all doing much of the time. Stuck in the ruts of our own suffering, digging ourselves deeper with each effort to get out, we often have to wait for help. I think about my old hometown, a place I could not wait to get away from. And how I get lonesome for it now from time to time, wishing that I could go back to my old block and see my neighbors from the past, those who have been dead for a long time. And those summer nights flickering like fireflies. Much as we try to catch them, they leave so soon. Whenever I visit now, the past enters me like a spike, forcing me to catch my breath, easing up when I see someone I recognize who knew me a long time ago and hasn't quite realized I've been gone.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I'm not trying to stump anybody. It's the beauty of the language that I'm interested in.” Buddy Holly

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Chrystal

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday! Congratulations to Mark for getting his license back -- watch out world, the walking man is back on the scene!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

In God-Haunted Utah

I read a good portion of Executioner's Song while waiting in an aiport terminal for my then-beloved to return from a job interview. These were the days you could wait at the gate, and I plopped myself down in the very wrong terminal and waited and waited, getting lost in the world of Gary Gilmore brought into being by Norman Mailer. While I always enjoyed Mailer's persona, his anger, his crazy-ass antics (stabbing his second wife at a party ranks right up there with William Burroughs infamous William Tell moment with his wife), I read his books because I felt that I needed to, not with the rabid pleasure I had with many novels. But Executioner's Song was different. Weighing in at over a thousand pages, I felt mesmerized by murder, Mormons, death-haunted families, and the Bonnie and Clyde elements of the story. I finally figured out I was at the wrong place and had to stop reading and get my bearings.

I often get lost, so much so that I build in time for it in my schedule, sometimes arriving way too early. And I get antsy while I wait for anyone and carry around books as a protection against that quiet time when you have nothing to do but think. I don't want to think! No way! I don't know what inspired Mailer to write Executioner's Song; in some ways, it's his least characteristic book. But for a long time, I was in God-haunted Utah at every stop I made, making my life so much better for a few minutes. Mailer talked a lot of shit, stirred the pot, made many appearances. But for my money, he did what every writer wants to do in that week of Executioner's Song -- he wrote something that made me trade my own despair for someone else's.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Every moment of one's existence one is growing into more or retreating into less. One is always living a little more or dying a little bit." Norman Mailer

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Year of the Dog

Benedictions and Maledictions
Rest in peace, Norman Mailer! Happy Sunday to all! Still working on catching up on e-mail.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Day Of The Dead Detroit

Hi readers! Here are some pictures from Detroit's Day of the Dead festival. Happy Saturday!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Ruin The Whole Night

Here's the second part of the story!

Elana tries to imagine a conversation with Greg, the one she'll have when he gets here, if he gets here. Elana is profoundly disappointed. Grown-ups are on time. He's been on time for all their other dates: the day trip to the Little Rock Aquarium where sharks and jellyfish swam over their heads in an arched tank shaped like a bridge under the ceiling, dinners, mostly formal, mostly exotic foods, and a particularly bizarre little movie about sex and death that Elana had a hard time following. Elana thought she knew Greg, maybe not a lot of personal stories, but that she had an understanding with him, and now he's violated it. We're still not sure if this an appropriate reaction. He could just be late. That might be okay, depending on how late he is.

The last word on Kenneth. People tell you things all the time, important things, Elana thinks, but you can't hear because there's always some asshole crooning heartbreak lyrics that leave you despondent and worried about being alone on Saturday night. You don't listen, her mother always said when Elana forgot something important, and at last she knew what her mother meant.

Let's backtrack. A very young Elana works the car lot. It's hot, so hot outside that the sky blazes a white color, painful, searing. She's hot, hotter than she ever imagined she could be and it occurs to her that she doesn't have to sell cars, that she could do anything. Her uncle offered her this job not because he thought she would be good at it, but because his sister asked him to. Elana's dad, dead for seven years at this point, didn't leave behind any money for college. Now, in her sensible low heels and the back of her good white shirt sticking to her skin, she lets her mind wander to imagine a life at college, people with beautiful clothes walking on stone, ivy and green surrounding them, shafts of light glinting through that perfect world. But even with money, we know she can't leave because of her mother. Elana thought about limits, walls, the things that she wouldn't ever be able to change, the way time stretches out and you lose yourself in it, give up and accept the endless sea of days that define and shape, just the way an aquarium holds water, keeps it contained, lets you see the edges. Then she looks at the car lot in the middle of Arkansas, the smell of paper mills, hot air. But finally she sees a couple that looks like they might buy. She asks them "What can I do to get you into a something today?" Hours later she stands looking out of the showroom, drinking out of a paper cup as they drive away in a new car; she sees her life stretch out before her. It's simply a matter of finding out what people want and how much they are willing to part with to get it.

Elana can't wait any longer and decides to do something. It's like the first time she realizes that she doesn't have to finish a bad book, she can just stop and place it back on the shelf. She puts down her magazine, gets her keys, and leaves. She drives to the water gardens in the middle of town without knowing why. Across the street from the dealership, the water gardens seems like an extension of work, something comforting. It's dark, and there are soft white lights that refract off the fountains, the water pouring over rocks. It's all open and quiet, the quiet of a baseball field in a park late at night, the lights glowing overhead and the crickets and katydids in the distance. She sits down on the steps and hugs her knees to her chest. A man approaches her, and she tenses up until she realizes it's Roger. He looks like he just got off work, tie unknotted and shirt undone a few buttons. He's carrying two bottles, one glass, one plastic.

"So what's going on?" he asks.

"Your friend Greg stood me up. What are you doing here?"

"I was drinking and Stephanie kicked me out of the car. I showed up late to some damn party." Stephanie is the third wife. Elana knows all the wives. She's not close to any of them; it doesn't pay to be. Eventually, there's another one to remember, another one making a tearful scene at work, someone who packs up and leaves Roger with his new girlfriend, the next wife.

"Want some?" he says and offers her a drink out of his bottle of Scotch.

"No, but I'll take some of the water. What exactly happened?" she says and drinks off the bottle for a long time.

"Well, I figured it would be cheaper to go to a liquor store than a bar. Stephanie took my checkbook and all my credit, so I was stuck with a twenty. Went to work to pick up a cup and decided to come over here to get some air."

Elana drinks some more water, leans back on her arms, and stretches out her legs. She doesn't see any stars, just the lights from the garden.

"Elana, why is it that we've never gotten together?" Roger asks.

Elana imagines that Roger will be really sorry tomorrow, that this drunk conversation will make things awkward, but she can't find the energy to redirect. "Could it be your perpetual married state?"

"Never to the same person for very long, though. Surely that should work in my favor."

"Not really. The wives just keep getting younger and younger, Roger. I just keep getting older.
I've never even been married." Her voice shakes when she says this and try as she might, she can't help it. She drinks more water.

"Oh come on. There was Kenneth. He adored you," Roger said. Kenneth was the only boyfriend of Elana's that Roger could name.

"He adored smothering me to death. Now I'm old and tired and can't deal with people at all," she says.

"You still look good," Roger says and she can see that he is already very sorry that he opened up this topic.

"That's why I'm hanging out at the water garden on a Friday night," she says, picking up her keys and brushing off her skirt. She puts down the bottle.

"Hey, I'm doing the same thing," he says. He leans his head onto her shoulder and looks up into her eyes. Elana feels him shake and can't believe how nervous he seems. He reaches out to wrap his arms around her, and she pulls away.

"I can't be what you want. You know I can't," she says. She starts to walk to her car, but not before she turns and sees him watching her through the haze of fountains, clutching his bottle.

When Elana pulls into the driveway, she looks through her big bay window and sees Greg sitting in the dark, drinking. He's tall and his legs stretch out underneath her coffee table. Greg has none of the dark intensity that Roger carries. He's tanned, a college athlete, someone contained, self-possessed. She walks in and turns on the light.

"Elana, finally," he says and pats the couch next to him, signalling for her to sit down.

"How the hell did you get in here?"

"With my key."

"That key was in case I locked myself out," Elana says, setting down her keys. She realizes that her hair is slightly wet from the air at the water gardens, and she pulls it back behind her.

"I thought we were supposed to have dinner."

"I waited as long as I was going to wait." She looks down at her polished nails and fights the urge to scratch off all the paint.

"Fair enough. We don't have to ruin the whole night over food, do we?"

"I guess not. I'm not hungry, anyway. What was the hold up?" She wants to throw a fit, make noise, but she can't. She's going to be calm.

"I had to fire someone. It wasn't any big deal, but it took longer than I thought it would."

Okay, Elana thinks, maybe he does have a legitimate excuse. Maybe she should say something nice, change the subject. He's had a bad day. Be pleasant. "It's a beautiful night," Elana says, pointing out the window. She sits down next to him.

"It won't last for long. Pretty soon it'll be hotter than hell and nobody will be able to stand it," Greg says.

He sets down his drink and motions for the bedroom. It's abrupt, but she follows him. She walks into the dim room and watches the shadows play on the wall from the candles she lit earlier. She doesn't look at Greg.

"Take your clothes off," he says, leaning up against a fluffy brown pillow with his arms above his head. He hasn't touched her yet.

Elana starts to unbutton her shirt, her head down and her hair falling from the sides of her face, covering any expression. She thinks that she wants to be sexy, but instead the only emotion she can convey feels like fear. She drops her shirt, sits down on the side of the bed and takes off her shoes. She inches down her hose and stops.

"Finish," he says, reminding her of friends trying to get her to clean her plate.

She takes off everything else and places it all on the floor. She lifts up the comforter to cover herself, but he reaches out and grabs her wrist. He starts to kiss her, his lips chapped and rough, like her own without gloss. He jerks her arms above her head, holds her wrist in one hand, and feels her ribs with the other. Everything feels fast and jagged, her body jerky and foreign. He takes off his shirt and pants.

"Do you have anything?" he asks.

"No. I've been tested. I haven't been with anyone in a long time," she says.

"No. Are you on anything? If not, I brought something."

"That sounds fine," Elana says. She watches him retrieve his pants, pull out his wallet. She turns away and can hear the sound of the wrapper. He pulls her to him.

"Come here you," he says and buries his face in her shoulder. He pulls away and looks at her.

"Are you scared?" he asks. She doesn't say anything. She feels like she's about to jump off a high dive. It doesn't matter that she's in her own bed. She can see the water.

He kisses her over and over. She can't relax. "Maybe you need a hug," he says and holds her close. She can smell the alcohol on his breath.

"Let me," he says and she feels his arms, concentrates on his arms.

She looks up and kisses him on the mouth. "I want you so much," she says. For a moment, she believes it. When he is inside her, she thinks of herself as someone else, someone beautiful and precious. She imagines dancers underwater, synchronized swimmers that can hold their breath forever.

After Greg finishes, Elana realizes she has bled everywhere. The blood is more unexpected than anything that has happened before it. She can't even remember her last period. She waits for Greg to say something, but he doesn't. They both look at each other for what seems like a long moment, and he gets up and leaves the room. Through the wall, she hears him turning on the faucet. Elana starts to cry, wipes the tears off her face with the back of her hand. She gets up and takes the sheets off the mattress, setting them by the bed. She walks to the closet and gets fresh sheets, focuses all her concentration on getting the corners completely tucked in. When her hair spills over her face, the dark roots are visible in the dim light.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before." Mae West

Cocktail Hour
Drinking short story suggestion: "The First Men" Stacey Richter

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!