Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A short yarn

I want to be hibernating. This is the time of year to hibernate. Yes, I live in California, but the northern bit of it. It gets dark before five p.m. That means hibernation.

But, no such luck. I must muster out of bed in the dark of the a.m. and make my way to work, then home again home again in the deep dark of a winter's eve. Normally, the bus commute is reading time. But when it's dark outside, my stomach lurches by the second block, and by the third I'm reaching for the bell, sweat pouring down my face and hands a-tremble.

So reading's out.

Somehow, though, knitting is fine. I can look up often enough to see where we're going, no sweats, no trembling, no dry heaves into the lap of my neighbor.

Tonight I pull my knitting from my bag as soon as I'm seated. I'm practiced at this by now, removing the stoppers from my needles, checking my pattern to see where I am, I settle the whole works in my lap, when I see my yarn isn't where it should be.

The red ball of yarn has escaped from my bag, and now it rolls quietly down the aisle of the bus.

The bus is in motion, my hands are full, the ball rolls, playing out the line that leads all the way back to my needles. I'm sitting near the back, and all I can do is watch its progress. It rolls neatly ahead, then dips to the side as the bus turns, then out again into the aisle, passengers one by one taking note as it passes, it's pointless to chase it down while we're moving: the yarn is nimble and light, I am an ox carrying panniers of water.

It rolls all the way to the front, at last coming to rest against a passenger's foot. It nudges at her instep like a kitten, but she doesn't see, doesn't feel its soft insistence until I rustle, lumber, clank to retrieve my prodigal yarn.

I murmur a sorry as I brush against her shoe to pick up my rebellious red ball, then scurry back to my place.

No - I correct myself: I murmur a sorry, barely holding in the guffaws that inflate my cheeks. I'm laughing, all the way, I'm delighted, and as I pass, the other passengers look up and into my eyes and share the joke.

I resume my seat, the whole bus shaking with silent laughter, those invisible walls between stranger and stranger dissolved for a moment, and I'm glad, finally, that I emerged from my cave today.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

This is my brain

According to credible reports, I am still here.

Not only that, my brain demonstrates no evidence for intraparenchymal signal abnormality.

The major intracranial signal voids are demonstrated, and the sagittal midline image demonstrates no evidence for pituitary mass or cerebellar tonsilar herniation.

To cap it all off, my ventricles and my sulci are age appropriate.

So I don't want to hear any more jokes about my immature sulci. Got it?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Do I know you

He's just across the street from me as I'm waiting for the bus. He's focused intently on something in the gutter. He reaches both hands for it, carefully, stooping down, he scoops at empty air, gently gently handling nothing, bringing nothing close to his chest, cradling nothing tenderly, he steps around in a circle, letting nothing go, he begins all over again.

I can't take my eyes off him. What does he see? What is he holding with such delicacy? His hair hangs down over his face, I can't read his expression, but he performs these actions over and over, with variations: now he is cradling with both hands, now one hand holds while the other supports - what - a baby's head? Is he rescuing babies in the street? Or kittens?

Or something else, something of inestimable value? Something I can't - with all my busy-ness - begin to imagine?

He shakes his hair back, and I see his face for a few seconds. He smiles at whatever he holds. He looks like Viggo Mortensen, dirty face, long hair, beard. But his beard is trimmed. He wears a clean corduroy jacket - if slightly worn at the elbows - clean khakis. As he steps around in his turn, I see a wallet in his back pocket.

Who was he, before his doors of perception were thrown open, when he could tell the difference between the world Out There and the world In Here?

My bus comes, and I get on. It's time for me to be back at work, but I turn in my seat and watch him as we pull away. Do I know you?, I think. Do I know you?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A health care lesson

Recently, Bones asked what makes me pig-biting mad?

I have a wonderful nurse practitioner who has been my primary care physician for a few years now.

Correction: I had a wonderful nurse practitioner. Last week, she left private practice in order to work in public health. She's thrilled to be going back to her original focus - research & education - but here's the part that surprised even me (I'd considered myself well-informed about many of the health care issues in this country): working in public health instead of private practice, she will be making more money, getting better benefits, and working better hours.

"Really?" I said, astutely.

She went on to tell me how she was lucky to get the bare-bones benefits she had at the practice she was leaving. Many private practices, she said, don't offer benefits at all.

That five- or ten-dollar co-pay you make for your office visit? The practice depends on that to make payroll.

It's our beloved insurance companies who are making the money. Not the people who make us well when we're sick.

One thing I loved about seeing her was that she always seemed to have an appointment open when I was sick, and she always spent a generous amount of time with me. She listened to me, and she took the time to communicate clearly.

Apparently, she routinely got in trouble with the insurance company for vile, subversive behavior like this. In order to keep appointments available for people who were sick, she inevitably would have time slots that weren't filled. And this was a cardinal sin. The insurance company comes down hard on any practitioner who doesn't have every single time slot filled.

Good luck, then, getting an appointment when you're sick.

My wonderful nurse practitioner isn't an exception, either. More and more, brilliant and talented practitioners are leaving private practice in order to get out from under the thumb of insurance companies. They're leaving private practice, too, according to the dictates of the "free market": because they can make more money and get better benefits in public health than they can in private practice.

Allow me to repeat this: practitioners are leaving the private sector to work for the government so that they can earn more and have less interference from above.

Pig-spitting mad? That doesn't even begin to cover it.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Time for some scratch fiction. Consider this a topic tag, too. If anyone wants to write on ESL - go! Let me know in the comments and I'll link to your story.

"Oh, my. Yes, it really looked so, um...he looked...what's the word..."

Eleanor tried to describe what she saw in her head with her hands, circling them around her head. Doug's boss nodded, smiling, a tiny clump of lipstick clinging to her front tooth. Doug's boss turned to answer somebody else's question and Doug squeezed Eleanor's knee under the table.

Eleanor was to be her best tonight. Charming. Brilliant. Dazzling. Doug's first dinner with the new company and she was on display.

But it chewed at her brain, while she sipped her wine. What was the word? She could see it, the man she was describing, backpack and coffe cup in one hand, books in another, reaching for his ringing cell phone. She saw it, but she couldn't think of the word to sum it up. Not silly. Not ridiculous. For some reason her brain threw up the plays of Samuel Becket, Ionesco. Waiting for Godot. Rhinoceros. What was it what was it?

Eleanor worked with words for a living. She didn't like to see one escape, a raw-muscled fish wriggling from her grasp.

"That's a lovely necklace," Doug's boss was talking to her again, "where did it come from?"

Eleanor touched her throat. "Thank you, it was a..." oh good lord you know this word, opening the wrapping, tied up in a ribbon..."um...from my mother." say something nice back, "your..." shit. Thing, the thing you wear to a formal dinner, Eleanor lightly touched Doug's boss' collar - was that strange? "...beautiful."

Doug's boss beamed. She touched her own collar, and started talking, and the words came from her mouth but seemed to drift somehow before they reached Eleanor's ears. What language was she speaking?

Doug spoke from Eleanor's side, the words colliding and cascading in front of Eleanor's eyes. It's like I'm forgetting my language, thought Eleanor, seeing foreign people sitting in a classroom, practicing words, what is it, what is my language called?

Eleanor smiled and nodded, watching the words pop out of Doug's boss' mouth like fat grapes, like shining ornaments, like puffs of flame, they lit up the room. Eleanor smiled at Doug, seeing images of him at his desk, Doug knocking on his boss' door, his eyes on his boss, his boss reaching across her desk to touch his arm once, twice, more, but she doesn't think "boss" "desk" "arm," she sees him, she sees her, she sees more than she's ever seen, more than she could wish.

Doug's boss turns to Eleanor and pushes out words that make a question, looking at Eleanor, but her breasts are looking at Doug and Eleanor opens her mouth, then closes it and smiles.

"Your wife is such a good listener," says Doug's boss, but Eleanor only sees the bright baubles falling from Doug's boss' mouth, her breasts looking at Doug and her thighs open and Doug and his cock nodding, nodding to his boss.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Quake that refreshes


The flat started shaking as I was sharing a pomegranate with Mr. Billy. I had time to stare at Mr. Billy, think, "earthquake," put down the pomegranate, think, "damn, it's a long one."

And then it really got going.


We're looking around the flat for anything that might come flying off a shelf or a wall. We both stand up at the same time. Our black cat scrambles for her safe place under the bed.

Something crashes in the guest room.

The striped cat holds for dear life to his platform on the cat tree.

We stand ready for...something. Um, do we need to get under a doorway maybe?

I look at the picture behind the couch, swinging on the wall.

It stops. It doesn't wind down. It just stops. Mr. Billy moves quickly to me, puts his arms around me. We hold each other tightly, for a long time. He grins at me, his eyes big.

We take a minute to look around, see what fell. Nothing seems to be broken. We coo reassuringly at the cats, but it will be awhile before they've calmed down.

I'm putting away the leftovers, and it occurs to me: I'm happy.

Moments before I was Googling symptoms (note: do not do this. I can't stop myself, but you're better than me. Hint: whatever you have is cancer), checking work email, obsessing. Now I'm humming as I find a container for the pomegranate.

The seeds blink out at me like jewels.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Burned-out husk

Post-rush-hour crowd on the bus as I ride to a doctor's appointment. An Asian man in a toupee sits across from me, Ken-doll swoop to his bangs. He holds his mouth pursed as though keeping in a mouthful of vomit. Or pearls.

I'm knitting, listening to the women behind me.

Mature Woman #1: Di-vis-a-der-o.

Mature Woman #2: That's a major street, there.

MW #1: So she asked me, are you carrying flame retardant with you when you drive? I mean, the car was just a burned-out husk, sitting in the driveway.

MW #3: Tsk.

No, it isn't quite a tsk. It's a sound I recognize, I've heard it before. Kind of a tsschp.

MW #1: Boat's completely gone. It was an old wooden boat, in the driveway. Nothing left. SUV's a burned-out husk.

MW #3: Tsschp.

Now I recognize the sound. My grandfather used to make that sound when he was sucking on his dentures, slurping the loose dentures back up against his gums.

MW #1: The firemen had to yell at Bob to stop, he was spraying down my car with the garden hose when they got there. Get away from there, they said, it could explode.

I'm eight years old again, listening to Gramps play guitar, jazzed up with a wah-wah pedal my uncle designed, and Gramps' own flourishes.

MW #1: You know, my little car didn't get any better mileage than that SUV.

MW #2: What'd it get?

MW #1: (mumbling) 16

MW #3: Tsschp.

Gramps played a fancy guitar, singing and playing and sucking up his dentures. Natty in his dark suit and string tie.

MW #2: Your car's not so little.

MW #1: It is. Not full-size.

My stop already. As I step down to the doors, I look back at the women. They each have a variation of the practical Mature Woman haircut. One gray, one blond, one brunette.

They wear matching, red-white-and-blue American flag windbreakers. The brunette shakes her map of San Francisco open for the other two to see.

Back by popular demand

(Popular demand = my sister and a friend)

Chuck has looked like a thumb for far too long. In mere moments, I hope to replace that vaguely repulsive image with a new one.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Chuck looked like a thumb today

Waaay out of practice with the scratch fiction. Topic tag courtesy of monkey 0.

"No no no, it's really easy. You get a box like this, see? And you put a light inside."

"Right, they're attracted to light."

"And some bait. That's all it takes. Once you have enough in there, you drop the gate, and..."

Chuck jumped at the sound of the security gate slamming down, high-speed. "What the fuck?"

The chick over by the Twinkies jerked her head around to look at him, ponytail swooshing over one shoulder.

"Hello?" The dude had to be around here somewhere. "Um, guy? Anybody work here?"

Steve and Fayed appeared from the back of the store, Fayed humping a case of Miller. "What's with the gate?"

"Oh, dude, Miller? We can do better than that."

Fayed shrugged. "Is there like a fire or something? Maybe someone tripped a security switch."

Chuck looked over at the girl. She rolled her eyes like why-the-fuck-should-I-know. She put the Twinkies back on the shelf and pursed her lips. "Any of you work here?"

Chuck shook his head for the three of them.

"Yeah," said the chick. She shouldered past Chuck to get behind the counter and picked up the phone.

"Line's dead."

"You're shitting me."

She held the phone out to him, an exasperated sound popping out from between her lips. Short fuse. But that wasn't exactly a minus where Chuck was concerned. Especially not looking like that, all pissed.

Damn, thought Chuck. I look like a thumb today. Flesh-colored t-shirt and freshly shaved head. She must think I'm some kind of obscene joke.

Fayed was still holding onto the beer. Dipshit. "Put the beer down, Fed. Check and see if there's anyone in the bathroom."

Chuck turned back to the girl. Be still my heart, he thought. "Anything back there look like a control for the gate?"

She was searching around behind the counter, lovely brows shoved together in concentration. Fayed was walking back from the bathrooms, hands open. Nothing.

Steve ran over to the gate and started pounding. "Hey! People in here! HEY!"

"What's that thing?"

"Slushie machine. You have one of those, some beer, Funyons, you can get ten, fifteen in an hour, easy."

It took a while to calm Steve down. The idiot left Chuck's cell phone back at the place. And the chick - her name was Brenda - hers wasn't getting any signal. Shitty provider. She sat with her back against the counter playing with the ends of her hair. Her jeans held nice and tight around her ass, smooth neck lifting out of the collar of her sweater. Chuck imagined kissing her just below her earlobe, the down on her neck soft as kitten fur on his lips.

"Hey, they got playing cards here," Fayed held up a pack. Brenda shot him a look like no way in hell, but what else did they have to do? She lifted one shoulder and looked away while he shuffled.

A little too early to suggest strip poker, thought Chuck.

"They're just sitting around. They're not doing anything."

"Shake the box around some. That usually gets them all riled. Watch."

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The blogger of the moment

Mr. Thing of the Moment was kind enough to travel far out of his way to meet me in an undisclosed location somewhere in Maine recently.

While Mr. K. is a real photographer with a fancy camera and the very expensive giant lens that captured every horrific detail of my bad hair day (whaddya want - I'd had an unexpected ride in a speedy and windy boat earlier that day), I was carrying my highly professional point-and-shoot:

But I didn't miss my chance to grab a photo of his terribly fashionable Chuck Taylor All-Stars, as well as a glimpse of his famous calves.

Monday, June 25, 2007

(Everybody's got something to hide except for)
Me and My Monkey (Part II)

Idexa readies her tools
Idexa agreed to take breaks so I could photograph our progress.

The outline is laid in
She worked for three hours.

Black is filled in
I had a strong memory of my mother while Idexa's drill burred into my skin; one I hadn't thought of in years. She used to draw elaborate pictures on my feet. My favorite was a spiderweb that covered my foot and ran up the inside of my ankle, with a spider spinning away at the top.

"Do you like spiders?" Idexa asked.

"No," I said. In fact, both my mom and I were phobic. But somehow it was comforting, Mom lazily drawing the web as I lay back on her flowered quilt. She cradled my foot and we talked about nothing. I looked at my dad's painting that hung above their bed: a wingless angel flying overhead, cupping a palmful of light. If you fuzzed your eyes just a bit, though, it looked instead like the face of an old bearded man wearing goggles.

The finished product
There it is, the finished product. You can say it - you know you're thinking it - I now have a monkey on my back.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The perfect beauty of the moist towelette

I am on a short flight from Boston to New York. We're past the solid layer of cloud over Boston, and below fluffs of white I can see green fields and black lakes. Little houses with bright blue-green swimming pools. Chlorine blue.

The stewardess who looks like Jackie Brown pours me a soft drink. She doesn't give me the whole can. She presses a white paper bag into my hand, her French manicure dragging across the paper.

I should have asked for the can.

I open the bag to the wonders inside. There are crackers shaped like butterflies. Cheese. Ranch dressing and a little baggie of tiny carrots. A fun-size Almond Joy. A white packet that tells me it contains a moist towelette. I can use this towelette, it informs me in serious black serif font, to clean and refresh my hands without soap and water.

Isn't there soap and water in the moist towelette?

I eat the cheese and crackers and drink my soft drink, wishing I had the whole can. I can't eat carrots or almonds. At first, the inside of my mouth would itch. Then my throat would swell until my breath was sealed off. I would flail for my Epipen dropping it on the floor. The plane would bank, sending my salvation rolling through the aisles as I slid off my seat and into oblivion on the industrial carpeting of a Delta shuttle.

If Mr. Billy were here, I would have offered him tiny carrots and Almond Joy. I would have watched doll fingers of orange disappear behind his white teeth. But Mr. Billy isn't here. The deadly snacks stay behind in the white paper bag.

We're out over water now.

I pull open the white packet containing the moist towelette and unfold it. It is thick and soft, not like the thin, papery towelettes I remember from Kentucky Fried Chicken in the days before it was KFC. In those days, they were wet-naps, bringing to mind visions of dirty diapers and drooly babies.

The Jackie Brown stewardess saunters lusciously down the aisle, checking that our seat backs are in the upright and locked position and our tray tables are closed. I see tall New York buildings below.

I take pleasure in the neat little rectangles created by the folds in the moist towelette. I wonder if the factory has a folding machine, or if a person folded this very towelette with her small hands.

The plane tilts at a very bad angle. Buildings that should be below are directly in front of me, above me. We are going to die in a screaming ball of fire. Me and a planeful of shining businessmen and -women in black suits.

I wrap the moist towelette gently over my hands, sliding it over my skin. I will go to my death with clean, refreshed hands.

The plane rights itself, and slides in to land, the wet-nap crumpled in the palm of my clean right hand.

No soap, no water.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

(Everybody's got something to hide except for)
Me and My Monkey

"Billy, what have you been up to?" you might well ask. And I might answer:

"Getting a monkey on my back."

Shortly after my mother died, and my uterus was ripped out, I decided to get a tattoo. I'd avoided marking myself up for years, but with a newly-scarred body I figured I had nothing to lose. And it seemed a suitably twisted way to mark a pretty major year in my life.

That was two and a half years ago. I asked my father, an artist, to design my tattoo. In typical fashion for my family, it took me about a year to figure out what I wanted the tattoo to be. It took my dad another year and a half to start the design, and then he whipped it out in about an hour. We Billys raise procratination to an art form.

So, Dad's design was beautiful. But it wasn't right for my tattoo. So I found another design online.

Then I had to find the tattoo artist. I accosted illustrated strangers on the bus, in the pub, on the street. "Where did you get your work done?"

I surfed tattoo websites. I haunted tattoo parlors.

Finally, I found Idexa at Black & Blue Tattoo.

First we made an appointment to discuss the design. I brought her the design I'd found online, my dad's design, pictures of my dad's work. We made an appointment for a couple of weeks ahead to look over her design & make any final adjustments.

Then we made an appointment for the inking.

Idexa preps her tools

To be continued...

Friday, June 08, 2007

The frenzy is catching

There is no reason this is a good idea. So what better reason to do it?

I blame monkey 0, because, why not? While I'm at it, I also blame monkey's hard-ass great-great-grandfather for not letting me make any excuses.

So. No excuses. I'm gonna try to write a script by June 30.

That is all.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"No more to build on there."

Note: Thanks, everyone for your kind words. I get to go to a memorial service for my friend this weekend, where we'll talk about her and laugh and hug.

It's time, past time, to get back to the business of living.

"...And they, since they/Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs."

Saturday, May 05, 2007


A friend died yesterday. I don't know what to do with myself. I want to talk to people, to make connections, but it's her I want to be able to talk to. I want to ask her how it was for her, what was she thinking in those last few days, hours, what did she feel?

It's not an original observation, but the world is richer because she was in it.

Monday, April 30, 2007


He swiped the towel over her mouth a little too abruptly, lines appearing briefly between her eyebrows, then gone, her eyes dull as buttons.

"Sorry, Honey," moving the towel more gently now, efficient as a nurse, as a professional caregiver. One who gives care, as opposed to one who simply cares.

She was an Amazon, once. A head taller than any other woman, and most of the men. Queen of the campus, students lining up outside her office like acolytes, her smile calming them, opening up pathways into their brains the way she'd opened him, until he felt the sun shining straight into his cerebral cortex, like a piece of skull missing, his brain vulnerable to any passing breeze.

Her hands lay empty on the bedspread, eyes closing, already sinking back into sleep.

She was rounded and full once, her hips rising under his hand, heat coming off her like a promise. The way she laughed with her whole face, those rich lips open, eyes screwed tight as flowers.

Her wrists are skinny now, light as matches. He traces her outline with two fingers, not touching, then straightens up. She needs her sleep, the laundry needs doing, the dishes washed, her next dose ready.

She said she was a real Amazon after surgery, the two of them touching the flattened space, the scar after it healed. She laughed and pushed her belly against his hand, kissing him hard and laughing.

He's almost to the door and feels a tickle at the back of his neck. He turns to see her looking at him, her mouth almost smiling. It's been days since she's spoken. He drops the laundry, and crouches down beside the bed, his head level with hers.

Her eyes seem fully conscious, looking at him. He hasn't been lover for a long time now. Not partner, either. He can stand up and walk away, play basketball, eat pizza. Make plans for the summer.

No, he's something else, something they share only with each other, more intimate than love. A connection runs between them, deep and wide as their bodies and the souls that hover near, and he wonders if he will see the moment when hers pulls loose, trailing its silver thread, its umbilical cord, pulling free of the womb of this world.

With apologies and love to John and Lynn; to Geo and her Gram.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Monkey hats

Chemical Billy in monkey hat
A dear friend knitted monkey hats for the Billy family.

Blanche in monkey hat
Blanche the cat models Mr. Billy's. Mr. Billy is camera shy, so Blanche is filling in.

What could be better than monkey hats?

Sunday, April 22, 2007


I share the bus with him most mornings. Had him pegged as a post-hippie: skinny, jeans-wearing ponytailed sort.

But on Friday, he climbed onto the bus, head ducking shyly. His hair was loose, brushed softly to his shoulders. His jeans, I noticed, were designer, fitting just so to his hips. A scarf ran through the belt loops. Hand lifting delicately to his sunglasses (glamorous Jackie O), I saw his fingernails shone, freshly manicured.

He pulled off his sunglasses, his eyes flicking from person to person around the bus. I smiled at him; he returned the smile, looking demurely down, mascaraed lashes casting shadows on his pinking cheeks.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

I love the #22

Reasonably, my colleagues view the #22 bus with suspicion. It is noisy, crowded, smelly. Its route is through some of the worst sections of town.

But I love the #22.

I've ridden it in the middle of the workday when I'm leaving the office early, sick. When the riders are the gray-faced strung out; the bemused elderly; the leftover hippies, eyes following invisible spirits, hallucinatory bubbles as they rise toward the ceiling.

Early afternoon, and I'm elbowed by school kids shouting lusty from one end to the other, teeth sparking white in their greed to bite off chunks of life whole, to show us old folks their strength, their primacy. Weary-eyed teachers quiet near the front, an authoritative look from one momentarily lulls the kids.

But in the evening, oh, what a grand parade. In just a few blocks, on just one evening, I am treated to:

One cop near the front of the bus, bald as a lightbulb, talking with an elderly woman. I think she is Eastern European, possibly Baltic.

Two emaciated women, holding each other up. One white, one black. I cannot tell how old they are. They could be in their twenties or their forties, but the years have worked on them like the jaws of an animal. The white woman wears skinny jeans that nonetheless sag, fuscia thong showing above; the black woman a red leather skirt that outlines her curveless ass. Their eyes roll vaguely; I don't think they even see the cop as they sit directly across from him.

One Asian man in glasses, tall and slender as an alien, neatly dressed in buttery tweed. Matching vest buttoned top to bottom, soft gray tie like a pigeon's breast, pearl tie pin dimpling the perfect center.

At the third stop, a giant black man, head brushing the ceiling. Barbie-doll pink silk suit. Pink wingtips. Pink fedora. Pink cane. Full-length fur coat. He smiles, boarding the bus, the bald cop watching him pass, gold teeth winking.

Two lushly built black women sit together. The larger woman's jeans are laced up the side with ribbon; flawless brown flesh shining out between the laces. Over one bubbling breast is tattooed "PRINCESS". I can't read her other tattoos. The two of them are trying to offer a seat to an elderly Filipina, who shakes her bobbed hair merrily, "No, no, I'm okay." A passenger gets off, leaving the seat beside Princess empty, and the Filipina sits at last. Her eyes widen as she takes in Princess' body art.

"Oh," she says, delicately touching one tiny finger to Princess' shoulder, "You have pictures?"


"Oooooh," says Filipina, her eyes worried as she looks up at Princess, "It not hurt?"

Princess laughs. "Yeah, it hurt - but it's okay now."

I love the #22.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Back in the saddle

So to speak. I have a loaner laptop glowing reassuringly at me now. More bloggy goodness to come.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

No words

I don't have any words today. I see lovely, glowing comments on my posts, and no words bubble up to equal those shining things.

I don't have any words this week. Strange things have been afoot around my workplace: lurching stomachs, family tragedies, a full leg cast. The sound of clashing metal brought a few of us to the windows that face the street. A semi had cut a corner too close, smashing into one parked car that shoved into another. Cars and crooked semi lounging uselessly below our office windows. With resigned looks at each other we shrug, only to be expected this week.

I don't have any words tonight. Mr. Billy gallantly giving up his chair before the computer so I could work on the book, and nothing. I look at the page and want to vomit. Not words. Dinner maybe, then lunch, then old cans and boots and dust bunnies and a disheveled cat. But no words, no words.

Friday, March 23, 2007

It could be Tom Waits

Blogger apologies: my old laptop went tits-up again, so I am far behind in my posting and in reading yours. It's not because I don't love you, whatever those other bloggers might say.

Mr. Billy and I are snug into bed; it's already well past my bedtime, and I'm reeling from a beer and two glasses of wine downed at a friend's book party at City Lights (yes, I'm a cheap date).

My head settles in to sleep, street sounds drifting in through the window. There's a party going down in the neighborhood, but I'm working it into my dreams, people laughing and talking, cars passing by, it's all good, already looping dreamishly, but then someone brings out a guitar.

I groan. "Someone out there with a guitar and a mouth," I say to Mr. Billy. He's still awake, I can tell from the quiet breaths, controlled shifting under the covers.

We turn over, in opposite directions, burrowing into the pillows. The song follows, stealing into my consciousness.

"Hey," I lift my head, "I know that song. It's the Heart of Saturday Night."

"Hunh?" Maybe Mr. Billy wasn't as wakeful as I'd thought.

"Tom Waits song." It was that Waitsian couplet that tipped me off, Tell me is the crack of the poolballs, neon buzzin?/Telephone's ringin'; it's your second cousin, I'm listening now for the next stanza.

"Maybe it is Tom Waits."

I start to laugh, but stop right away. It's plausible. Tom Waits used to live in this neighborhood. His favorite café is just down the street.

I'm sitting up in bed now, straining to hear. It doesn't really sound like him, but sound distorts traveling across a street, through window glass. It could be Tom Waits. I get up and put on my glasses, moving from window to window. The party's in the house that's obscured by a blossoming tree. I can't tell.

Mr. Billy's up now, too. He's opening the kitchen window and putting his head out. I'm out on the back lanai.

"It's a woman singing now."

We get back into bed.

"It could have been him."

We turn over, in opposite directions, punching at the pillows. We're quiet for a moment.

"What if it is him?" I say, then close my mouth. We should go to sleep.

They're singing up a storm at that party.

Mr. Billy gets up, and starts getting dressed.

"I'll call you if it's him," he says, heading out the door. I love Mr. Billy.

He's back in ten minutes.


"A bunch of hippies. And a cellist."

Maybe it's the Kronos Quartet, I think. They live in this neighborhood.

I don't say anything.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Not a fire this time

I'm sautéeing vegetables for dinner, standing in the kitchen, Mr. Billy & I talking - about what is lost now, but Mr. Billy was mid-sentence - when a heavy metal scrape and crunch break in from outside. It's just a step to the window, and I see a black SUV. The driver's standing so hard on the gas it leans forward on its shocks, the wheels' friction holding it back a fraction of a second before letting go with a long screech, and it disappears down the street.

I don't see the other vehicle at first; it's a white mini-van up on the curb, less than four feet from the corner of our building. Mr. Billy slides open the window.

"Are you okay?" he calls.

Already neighbors are gathering. I'm ready to call the cops, but I see a cell phone flip open down there on the street.

"My cousin was killed by a hit and run," I say. It's the first thing that pops into my head.

Mr. Billy's already on his way down the stairs. I stay long enough to make sure the stove is off, and follow him out into the spitting rain.

The driver of the white mini-van is hysterical, her mouth wide open, wailing behind the steering wheel. Her door is open, and she has one foot out on the runner board. She doesn't appear to be hurt.

Several people are standing around, leaning into the car to talk to her, lighting up cigarettes, talking. One of them is talking to Mr. Billy, looking familiar.

"Hey, look who lives here," says Mr. Billy.

It's N., an old acquaintance of ours; he moved into the house across the street six months ago and we didn't know until just now. He hugs me and we laugh. I look over at the hysterical woman and my laughter tails off. She isn't slowing down, waves and waves of loud sobs, mouth stretched wide like a jack o'lantern.

"You got the license?" Mr. Billy is saying, and I'm impressed, someone managed to get the plate number that fast, but that isn't it. One of the neighbors is holding something in his hand.

Not the number, the actual license plate.

"Yeah," he says, laughing, "it broke off when he hit her. I saw it land in the street."

"Fuck YEAH," says someone else.

I imagine the driver's sick feeling when he realizes his plate's gone. It feels good. I have revenge in mind right now, crowing at his stupidity, oh, he'll get his tonight.

The hysterical woman is still howling. I lean in, ask her if she wants to come inside where it's warm, but she shakes her head, still sobbing, thrashing at the tears with her fists. She doesn't seem to speak much English.

"I tried to speak Chinese with her," says N., "but I think she only speaks Cantonese."

The hysterical woman's phone starts to chime. She opens it, holds it to her head, howls into it. Finally the howls turn into words, but she hasn't calmed down. She closes the phone and settles back into her sobs, rocking slightly in her seat.

"She lives right up the street," says a woman. She and the man with her live a few blocks away; they were driving home when they saw the accident, and they tried to chase the black SUV, but it pulled away too quickly.

Everyone goes quiet, and we look at the driver of the white mini-van.

"She's hysterical."

"Maybe we should call back, get an ambulance here."

"An ambulance will come anyway, won't it?"

"No, she said she didn't want an ambulance."

"I'm calling."

I introduce myself to the couple who tried to chase the SUV. We shake hands. We look at the mini-van driver. I crouch down next to her. I'm trying to figure out how to ask her if she needs anything, a blanket, a drink of water. She shakes her head, rocking, crying.

"How long before the cops get here, do you think?"

"Man, is she okay?"

"She's, it's the shock, you know? It's a shock."

"Yeah, I guess so."

Finally, a police cruiser rolls quietly toward us.

"Police," I say to the woman, pointing.

"Thank you," she says, then opens her mouth to howl some more.

The cop speaks Cantonese. Another car pulls up. We tell what we saw, what we heard. They run the plate. None of us saw the driver of the other car, none of us can describe him. Or her. I tell one of the cops where to find us if they need anything else, and we go inside where it's warm and dry.

I'm finishing dinner, and Mr. Billy looks out the window.

"Her husband's there," he says, "they're hugging."

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Audience participation - story circle

(Updated below; updated again)

I used to play a game when I was growing up, but I never knew the name of it. The game went like this: the players sit in a circle, and one player begins a story. They can talk for as long as they like, and stop wherever they like. The person beside them in the circle then has to pick up the story where the previous player left off. Anybody can finish the story anytime they like.

Yeah, I know, not a lot of rules. But some interesting stories grew out of it. I still don't know what it's called, so I'm calling it (with my talent for the obvious) Story Circle.

Today I'm proposing a blog version of the game. I'm going to begin a story. You, my dear and kind readers, are invited to continue it on your own blogs. There are a few rules for this one:

  • Leave a comment letting me know that you have continued the story, and I'll post a link to your continuation.
  • You may either pick up where I leave off, or pick up after another blogger's continuation. This means that the story could have several branches.
  • Your piece of the story must pick up exactly where someone else's left off. Ideally, the first line of your story will repeat the last line of the previous piece.
  • You can change the style, voice, mood, whatever you like, and you can end the story if you like, or leave it hanging for the next blogger to pick up.
  • You can invite your own readers to participate. The more players, the more interesting it will be.

Am I being a shameless whore for comments and readers? Yes, yes I am. Am I being lazy because I have the beginning of a story but not an end? Guilty. But you know you want to play, so sharpen your pencils, class, and see what you can do with this:

The ballet dancer who lives in the flat above mine is home. I know he's a ballet dancer 'cause he told me so the day I moved in. He said it in an offhand kinda way, like he was just letting me know so I wouldn't wonder about his weird schedule, but I think really he was showing off, like he was still new at it and wanted the whole neighborhood to know.

I know he's home because he's the noisiest neighbor I've ever had. I don't really have any reason to doubt he's a ballet dancer - he's built like one, with all those finely developed muscles, and I guess he's gay - but I kinda thought ballet dancers were supposed to be light on their feet. This guy's not very big, but he sounds like a freakin' gorilla up there.

Usually I ignore it, but tonight I can tell I'm gonna have to do something about it. The girl sitting on my couch keeps looking up at the ceiling, all annoyed. Not like I can blame her. He's outdoing himself tonight. Like he's throwing steamer trunks full of hammers at the wall, over and over.

I'll have to go up there if I want to get anywhere with this chick. Mara. She's ready, too, if Twinkletoes up there will just take a breather. A glass of wine in her hand and that skirt inching up her thigh. I've been dreaming about Mara for weeks now. Okay, months. So I'm not gonna let the drum circle upstairs screw things up for me.

I tell her I'll be right back, and kiss her real lightly on the cheek. I take another look at her as I back out the door. I can't believe she's sitting on my couch. I head up the stairs, the rhythm party in full swing up there. On the third step, the stair creaks, and all the noise stops. Sorry to harsh your buzz, man, but I got Mara waiting for me. I get up to the door and knock.

Suzanne picks up the story: stompin' trompin' drum-circle frenzy

King Mongo circles in: the discomforting touch of nothing

LynnP goes deep: A freight-train rush of desire

A different branch, courtesy of monkey0: off the road and into the Salt Flats

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I'm not blogging today

I'm not blogging today, even though I've said I'd blog more regularly now, and I didn't blog this weekend or last night, even so. I'm not blogging today.

I'm not blogging today because last night an eighteen-year-old kid strolled through a mall I used to work in, shooting ten people who could have been people I know, but weren't. Because the news showed a picture of a woman's body on the floor, a picture that could have been shot from where I stood every day at work. Because when I tried to call my old boss, nobody answered the phone, of course nobody answered, the mall was closed today, but all day I was obsessively checking the news, ashamed at the relief breathing out of me when I read the names of the dead. They weren't anybody I knew.

I'm not blogging today because I spent too much time on the phone at work, talking to people who seemed to be talking about something happening just to one side of me, not what I was talking about at all.

I'm not blogging today because my stomach hurts, and what an incredible bore that is.

Maybe I'll blog tomorrow, but I'm sure as hell not blogging today.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


A flu took my sense of smell. Not in the usual way - my nose wasn't stuffed up, I could breathe through it just fine - I just couldn't smell. Not anything. I pushed my nose right up to the pan as I sauteéd garlic. No dice.

Of course food didn't taste right. And I couldn't tell whether the litter box needed changing, or if that shirt was good for another wearing or should go in the laundry.

But, something else changed.

On the morning bus, I see a passenger I often share the evening ride with, the man with the tribal jewelry, black ear plugs an inch wide. We are nodding acquaintances. I smile; his eyebrows raise in surprise to see me in the morning. He flashes an almost-smile, looking quickly away. But his mouth hangs wrong on his face, and I wonder, as I step into the street, if some malicious thought had slipped out.

Perfecto, the security guard with the unchained smile, waves as I pass, his grin as big as any other morning. But he's wrong, too. Like another expression moves underneath that smile.

As I walk through the day, I am suspicious of everyone. My colleagues have occult motives, communicating in code. The placement of a cup, the roll of a pen along a desk, a laugh. I believe none of it. They're playacting, every one of them. The man at the cafeteria, the pharmacist, the FedEx guy. Once I look away, they relax into their true, hideous faces. When I look again, I see the trail of effort, that last furtive movement after replacing the mask.

I am sad, numb on the bus home. The boy with his stand-up bass is at the front. He's a favorite of mine, cradling the bass' neck on his shoulder, long arms wrapped around, a book propped open on the body of the instrument. But tonight he's an impostor, not the kid I feel tender toward, wanting to smooth the cowlick at the back of his head.

The kid wrestles the bass onto the street, and a girl with red lips climbs on and sits beside me. Slowly, a scent seeps in to my consciousness. Her perfume, cheap and sharp. I open my eyes and nostrils wide and breathe in.

The girl beside me is colored in as I roll the scent around my brain. She is plump as a peach, her lips opening deliciously over a smile - a real, beautiful smile - as she talks to her boyfriend on the phone.

Was that all it was?

A tall man climbs onto the bus, face like a bad road. He's holding his coat closed, glancing around nervously. A suspicious character, but he holds my attention. He looks softly into his coat. The oversized nose of a puppy blunders out from inside, bumping up against the man's face.

I'm falling in love again. With him, with the girl beside me. With the kid in the stocking hat, a studied nonchalance on his fourteen-year-old face, feeling big and brave in the city. With the woman holding herself like deposed royalty, like Anastasia incognito on the city bus.

I can smell them all. The sweat and the puppy breath and the Altoids in the pocket, the candy wrappers rolling lazy along the aisles.

Monday, January 29, 2007


My father and his bride stopped by the Billy pad on an extended road trip. They carried with them boxes of Things. Things, like my dad's Depression-era toy collection. Like my mother's hats, shoes, purses. I was encouraged to paw through the boxes and choose what Things I want to keep.

Dad and the bride are starting a new life together, one that involves years of travel, so they are shedding excess weight. I picture them moving from offspring to offspring, sloughing off heavy layers of memory, leaving the glistening shells in our hands.

They don't need any of it anymore. Lightened, nearly naked, they will lift up and out of our world.

I dug through the box of my mother's things. I chose one hat, one evening bag. As I plunged deeper, stranger things emerged. This is what I kept:

- Her wallet, from when we lived in London. It contains her Tube pass, other ID. A tiny notebook full of her wobbly handwriting. Notes for stories or poems. Ragged narratives of her brain's increasingly convoluted journeys.
- Her eyeglass case.
- The screws from when she broke her ankle. She had them framed after they were removed. Mom had an odd sense of humor.
- A tiny pair of moccasins. When my mother was born, her feet were too small for shoes, so the neighboring tribe -- or as Dad puts it, "the Indians" -- made these for her.
- Wrapped in tissue in two boxes: Her bridal veil, the bride and groom from the wedding cake, the marzipan roses from the wedding cake. This last astonishes me. I never knew she kept any of these things, and I have no idea how, in the chaos of our house, she was able to preserve them so perfectly.

The last thing I pulled out of the depths of the box was a bundle wrapped in plastic. Inside, a hairbrush, a mouth guard, and several vials labeled with my mother's name.

I held up one of the vials. There was a substance in it. It had separated. Dark red, nearly black, at the bottom. Whitish and almost solid - like fat - in the middle. Yellowish and liquid at the top.

"Dad," I said, hesitating, not sure I wanted to know the answer, "Is this...blood?"

"Oh, yeah," said Dad, "For a DNA test. Turned out they couldn't use the blood, though. The hair from the hairbrush did the trick."

Dad is interested in genealogy, so I understood the impulse.

But I can't forget about the blood. About my Dad and his bride driving across the country with vials of my mother's blood rolling around in the car.

I wonder, if I sprinkle three drops on a handkerchief, will they protect me, like the goose girl?

Or would she haunt me, instead?

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Those few of you who still visit this cobweb-strewn corner of the Internets will not be surprised to learn I've been suffering from blog burnout.

This is my attempt at repentance. I gain a great deal from this dialogue with you, so if you will give me another chance, I will pay you back with new content.


Monday, January 01, 2007

It wasn't even New Year's Eve, and I wasn't the one smashed

There are three separate, distinct sounds. One, a sliding, like something rubbing against the wall. Two, a dull impact. Three, shattering glass. Just like that: one, two, three. Mr. Billy sits up in time to see the cat streaking out of the room at light speed. I'm still working it out, my eyes closed. Shattering glass. Shit. It was the mirror, the full-length mirror leaning against the wall. Or, not leaning anymore. In pieces on the bedroom floor. I haven't opened my eyes yet, but I can picture exactly where it landed, I could hear it spreading out across the floor.

The cat knocked over the mirror

Mr. Billy turns on the light, hops out of bed. "Don't do that," I say.

"No, no, my shoes are right here," Mr. Billy says, slipping them on. "I'll be okay."

I'm holding onto the footboard, looking down at the broken glass. I put my hands over my face. It creeps me out, a broken mirror. I know it's ridiculous, but I can't help it. Seven years' bad luck.

"What is it?" asks Mr. Billy.

I laugh through my fingers, nervously. "I'm trying not to be superstitious," I say.

The last time I broke a mirror was during a move nearly fifteen years ago. It was a big, old wooden framed thing that sat in my bedroom since I was a little girl. A curved top. It was gorgeous.

This mirror was just a cheap Ikea jobbie, nothing to get upset about.

I take my hands away from my face and look down. It's lovely, the pieces of mirror sparkling in the light, reflecting back shards of the room.

"While you're getting the broom," I say to Mr. Billy, "bring me the camera."