Sunday, January 27, 2013


Once I gave a taxi driver the wrong address by mistake, but I liked the unfamiliar place he took me to so I got out in search of adventure.

Once I wore a lot of clothes that had paisley designs, and so did everyone else I knew back then.

Once I didn't like what I was hearing so I stopped listening.

Once the only thing I knew how to do in the kitchen was to melt pre-sliced American cheese on an open English muffin, add a blob of Heinz Tomato Ketchup to each half, and call it pizza.

Once I walked up and down the boardwalk at Far Rockaway, screaming out words that began with the letter R, because I had a crush on a boy named Ronald Robert Rothstein, and suddenly the letter "R" was the most wonderful thing in the world.

Once I went to a fancy tea party and learned the importance of extending your pinky finger while lifting the cup to your mouth.

Once I kept a dream journal and considered it perfectly acceptable to carry it around with me and read from it, out loud, when there was a lull in the conversation. 

Once I dreamed that my grandmother offered me a gigantic piece of chocolate cake and this is still one of my favorite memories even though it only happened inside my sleeping brain.

Once I dreamed of running off to join a convent of Jewish nuns.

Once I couldn't write unless I wrote with purple ink.

Once I thought there were only three flavors of ice cream — vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry — and I never knew anyone who ate strawberry because it tasted so fake.  

Once I knew deep contentment and that "once" lasted for a long time.

Once I wore a polka dot headscarf while dancing the polka, which I considered the height of accessory coordination.

Once I had a parakeet but it died the same day I changed its name from Mr. Chips to Heidi.

Once I was fearless.

Once I spent an entire day at a Xerox Machine Repair Training course, learning how to take apart a gigantic machine, clean it thoroughly, and put it back together again.

Once I had no scruples about stealing text books from the college bookstore and I still cringe at the memory.

Once I wanted to be a professional reader but then I discovered that those kinds of jobs were hard to come by.

Once I wore a lot of red.

Once I was told I shouldn't sing in public because my voice was so abominable to listen to.

Once I woke from a dream and the voice in my head said "Don't Eat Meat," but I didn't listen to it.

Once I began a diary on January 1 and ended it on January 2.

Once I was startled by leaves falling from a tree and I cried "Oh no."

Once I spent a week's salary to get my hair washed, cut, and curled, back in the day when my week's salary wasn't very much.

Once I had an epiphany but then I realized I'd already had it — more than once — before.

Once I would feel nervous if I had an unscheduled patch of time in the day.

Once I had less confidence in myself.

Once I could walk great distances in high-heeled shoes.

Once I lost my sense of humor, and mistrusted people who still had theirs.

Once I thought I had too many friends.

Once I counted up all the pairs of Birkenstock sandals I owned and the number was shocking.

Once I considered my library card my most precious possession.

Once I was proud to be a Brownie and every time I placed that little beanie on my head it felt like a crown.

Once I was terrified by the quickly-spinning ceiling fan above my head.

Once I had an uncomfortable conversation with a repair man who insisted that my oven broke from lack of use.

Once I used to separate my "lights" and "darks" when doing laundry but now there are only darks.

Once I lost my bathing suit top somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.

Once I was talked into going someplace with someone dangerous and I immediately regretted it.

Once I spent a week on my own in Lawrence, Kansas and made friends with the people at the mystery bookstore, the shoe store, the yarn store, the public library, and the Rainbow Trout Café (which might not be the real name, but it was a great eatery).

Once I ate too many jelly beans and after that I couldn't even look at a jelly bean without feeling queasy.

Once I used to go around reciting lines from sonnets by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Once I only owned one pair of glasses but now I own five that I wear regularly and five others with outdated prescriptions that I can't seem to get rid of.

Once I thought re-cycling had something to do with bicycling.

Once I baked a batch of cookies from scratch and I never felt the need or desire to do that again.

Once I planned to read every book in the Biography section of my school library but I stopped after Clara Barton: Civil War Angel.

Once I bought a pair of second-hand men's shoes at an outdoor market in London and, in spite of the fact that they didn't fit and they were broken down and ugly, I wore them every day for months because they made me feel invincible.

Once I knew every station on the IND line ("D" train), from the Bronx to Greenwich Village, and I'd repeat the names and numbers to help me fall asleep at night.

Once I had a flirty high school English teacher who sat on top of her desk, crossing and re-crossing her legs, and each glimpse of her scallop-hemmed slip was mesmerizing to me. 

Once I came in last in a burping and farting contest with all my cousins, because I was such an uptight goody-two-shoes, even at age eight.

Once I met a woman who handed me a blue bowl filled with just-picked strawberries, but at that moment I didn't yet know she was the love of my life.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Do You Remember? a family saga in 106 parts

Do you remember the picnic where, at the very last minute, Aunt Bobo refused to come, even though she had all the food with her, and we ended up nibbling on blades of grass and sharing a single chocolate bar between ten of us?

Do you remember the day Delia stood in the middle of the garden reciting the names of all the flowers in Latin, but later we found out she was just talking gibberish?

Do you remember when Bizzie believed she was a bird and never stopped chirping from the time she woke up in the morning until she finally fell asleep?

Do you remember the summer when Reggie and Delia were absolutely consumed by ping-pong?

Do you remember when a pigeon followed us home from the park but we weren't allowed to keep it as a pet and Aunt Cosmos threatened to roast it if we didn't shut up about it?

Do you remember how much we looked forward to taking long train rides and how awful it was when Aunt Lilian came along and lectured us on Good Manners and Proper Comportment and wouldn't let us play even a single game of War?

Do you remember that man who used to live down the road, Harold Hopsworth, who dropped his H's and wished us Appy Olidays, but when we called him Arold Opsworth he was not amused?

Do you remember when Sadie said she saw someone lurking behind the fence taking photographs of us dancing in the garden, and it turned out she was right and Uncle Roland had to chase the man away with a broom?

Do you remember when Aunt Cosmos and Uncle Roland tried to teach us how to tango and how Uncle Roland kept tripping over his feet?

Do you remember when the Scottsdale cousins came to visit and Aunt Lilian insisted they were twins even though Priscilla was 11 and Bonnie-Belle was 6?

Do you remember when Fig taught herself ventriloquism and how upset she was when Uncle Roland hid her little dummy-doll and she refused to speak for days?

Do you remember when Uncle Roland bought those night vision goggles and took us out looking for owls, but Bizzie got lost and we were afraid Aunt Bobo would find out so we wandered around in the dark until we found her, and somehow Reggie got poison ivy on his behind?

Do you remember when we were all small, but not small enough to live inside the dollhouse?

Do you remember how we used to go tromping through the muddy creek bed collecting rocks and how Bizzie and Sadie tried to sell them to the neighbors for $1 each?

Do you remember when Uncle Roland was so unhappy, for so long, and you and I made a list of 111 things we thought would cheer him up and I read the list to him but he didn't laugh until I got to #63 and then he said I was a funny girl, and you asked "what about me?" and he said you weren't that funny?

Do you remember that November when Cousin Fig still wanted to wear her pirate costume and when Aunt Cosmos said Halloween was over, Fig said "pirates don't have calendars"?

Do you remember that rainy week in August when we saw mold growing on the kitchen wall and Delia said she would bake a mold pie and make us eat it and you got the hiccups from crying?

Do you remember how much Cousin Priscilla hated it when you called her Prissy Sissy Missy, but you didn't stop doing it until she threatened to smash the big ceramic horse over your head?

Do you remember how Reggie made the same exact wish every year before blowing out his birthday candles, and how we told him not to say the wish out loud or it wouldn't come true, but every year he said it out loud and that's why he never got to go up in a hot air balloon?

Do you remember Miss Felicity, the librarian, and how much she used to hate us, but when she realized we would always return our books she changed her mind and called us her little angels?

Do you remember when Delia told us Jell-O was made from horse's hooves and then Fig started the "We Hate Delia / Secret Handshake Club?"

Do you remember when Bizzie asked Aunt Bobo to teach her how to knit so she could make tiny hats for the chickens, to keep them warm in winter?

Do you remember when we all wanted bicycles and Aunt Lilian said we should ask our Uncle Richie-Rich-Rich but we didn't know she meant Uncle Roland so we didn't ask anybody?

Do you remember how Fig always wanted to trade shoes with us but we said no because she had such weird feet?

Do you remember when Aunt Lilian told Sadie she couldn't be a ballerina because she didn't have a graceful bone in her body?

Do you remember how Reggie could make something break just by standing next to it, especially electrical appliances?

Do you remember how hot it was up in the attic but we'd spend hours there anyway, looking through Uncle Roland's French magazines?

Do you remember when Delia wanted us to call her Delilah but we wouldn't do it unless she paid us a nickel every time and of course she said no.

Do you remember all the fireworks stored in the kitchen cabinets for safe keeping and how it turned out that was the least safe place for them?

Do you remember the day a woman named Mrs. Mangold came to visit Aunt Lilian and she brought us long strands of black licorice? 

Do you remember the Thanksgiving when Uncle Roland forgot to pick up the turkey and Aunt Bobo was so mad she served American cheese sandwiches with grapefruit marmalade for dinner, and later she threw a spoon out the window?

Do you remember how Bizzie insisted on naming everything —  socks, worms, loose teeth, used tissues — and how she called all these things Pete?

Do you remember when Sadie ran away but she only got as far as the corner before coming back because she said she missed us too much?

Do you remember when we were all Amazon Queens for a day, even Reggie?

Do you remember when you dreamed you made 1,000 origami birds but then they all flew away?

Do you remember how the hot chocolate always tasted like dirt when Aunt Bobo made it, but it tasted like clouds when Aunt Cosmos made it?

Do you remember how Sadie used to stay up half the night waiting to meet the Sandman?

Do you remember when Bizzie thought pennies brought her bad luck, but she didn't care if you got the bad luck so she gave you all her pennies?

Do you remember anything about Bonnie-Belle?

Do you remember when Aunt Bobo got so mad at Bizzie she called her "Elizabeth Charlotte Poppie Marie" and that was the first time any of us knew that Bizzie wasn't just Bizzie?

Do you remember when Uncle Roland broke his eyeglasses and kept bumping into doors and walls until he got a new pair?

Do you remember when Delia said she'd kill anyone who used her hairbrush and how we never told her about Sadie?

Do you remember when Cousin Germs came to stay for a whole week and Aunt Lilian was terrified he'd find the hidden fireworks and then he did?

Do you remember how Fig could never zip up a zipper?

Do you remember when Aunt Lilian thought we should all have piano lessons but Aunt Bobo said she was allergic to music and the piano was "Off Limits For the Duration"?

Do you remember when Uncle Roland said he wished he could go off and be a shepherd someplace high in the mountains and Aunt Bobo laughed but Aunt Cosmos didn't?

Do you remember how Bizzie's turtle, Pete, was dead for two weeks before anyone realized it?

Do you remember how Reggie was always saying there were too many girls?

Do you remember when Fig won the Groundhog Day Talent Show because she could wiggle her eyebrows, whistle through the gap in her teeth, snap her fingers, stomp her feet, and swirl around, all at the same time?

Do you remember how we always knew where Aunt Lilian was because her shoes squeaked when she walked? 

Do you remember how happy we were when Aunt Cosmos said we'd never have to see Cousin Germs again?

Do you remember when Fig made up that song about the tap-dancing mermaid with the chorus that went "swish swash tip-tap swash, swish swash swashily merrily away"?

Do you remember when Delia got her new library card and could go into the Adult Room but we still had to use the Children's Room which was so unfair because Delia didn't love books the way we did?

Do you remember the treehouse Uncle Roland was always promising to build? 

Do you remember when Aunt Lilian got a letter with lots of foreign stamps on it but she was so secretive and mysterious about it and never told us where it came from, or who sent it, no matter how many times we asked?

Do you remember how Bizzie was the best at hide-and-seek and how annoying it was when we couldn't find her for hours?

Do you remember when Sadie went on strike against the vowels?

Do you remember when Delia was going through her polka dot phase and Uncle Roland cut off her allowance until she promised not to buy any more of those awful nylon scarves?

Do you remember when Sadie and Bizzie poured the waffle batter into the toaster and how surprised they were when things turned out the way they did?

Do you remember how much we loved going through the aunts'  things, especially Aunt Bobo's, because she had the prettiest slips and bras and underpants?

Do you remember when Fig swallowed the goldfish by mistake and Aunt Lilian said one day we'd all be eating goldfish if things kept on the way they were going and Aunt Cosmos said "Get a grip, Lilian"?

Do you remember when Aunt Bobo threw away all the cookbooks because she was sick and tired of taking orders from people she didn't even know?

Do you remember when Sadie and Bizzie renamed the downstairs bathroom The Lavatory/Laboratory and launched their Sadizzy Lotions and Potions Empire?

Do you remember when Delia used to introduce herself to strangers as our nanny?

Do you remember when Mrs. Mangold visited the second time, with no licorice, and after she left Aunt Lilian was crying in her room and she wouldn't come down for dinner even though there was strawberry silk pie for dessert?

Do you remember when Aunt Bobo acted like she was deaf every time Bizzie asked to get her ears pierced?

Do you remember how Sadie had that way of turning up the corners of her mouth when she told a lie?

Do you remember Aunt Bobo said girls in our family should never wear blue because it made us irresistible to men and Delia went right out and bought a blue sweater and a blue blouse?

Do you remember how Fig was always snipping away at her hair so Aunt Cosmos wouldn't notice it getting shorter and eventually it got really short and Aunt Cosmos said "How in the world did that happen"?

Do you remember when Aunt Bobo's roses went missing?

Do you remember how the aunts were always saying Fig was incapable of sitting still for a minute and then she proved them wrong by sitting perfectly still, cross-legged in the living room, for two hours?

Do you remember that terrible crush Reggie had on Miss Felicity and how he wanted to spend all day at the library just looking at her and Uncle Roland was very mean about it?

Do you remember when Fig dressed the scarecrow in Reggie's clothes and Aunt Lilian asked what Reggie was doing standing out in the garden all day?

Do you remember how we were never allowed to go to the zoo, no matter how much we begged, because the aunts were deathly afraid of elephants and Uncle Roland said he couldn't handle us on his own?

Do you remember when Delia had that secret boyfriend who wasn't a secret to anybody?

Do you remember the day Bizzie discovered the 32 broken black umbrellas in the back of the hall closet and thought they were giant bats?

Do you remember when Sadie glued all her fingers together?

Do you remember when Aunt Lilian worried that we weren't getting enough culture so Aunt Cosmos offered to teach us how to fold napkins into animal shapes?

Do you remember when Fig was first learning how to juggle and she practiced with the crystal wine glasses?

Do you remember when Reggie put an advertisement in the paper that said "Boys Wanted" and the police came to our house to investigate?

Do you remember the night Delia said the dictionary was the most seditious book in the world and Uncle Roland said she wouldn't even know the word seditious if it weren't for the dictionary and Delia called him a bourgeois reprobate and Aunt Lilian said she was going to lock up the dictionary and throw away the key? 

Do you remember when Aunt Lilian went away for a few days and Aunt Cosmos said she was entitled to a lost weekend (even though it was not a weekend) and when she came home she seemed so much more cheerful?

Do you remember when Delia's not-so-secret boyfriend came for dinner and no one liked him, not even Delia?

Do you remember when Sadie and Bizzie invented a concoction in their Lavatory/Laboratory, made out of butter, bananas, dandelions, dirt and grape jelly, and claimed it cured freckles?

Do you remember when Aunt Cosmos suddenly started reciting poetry in Russian? 

Do you remember all those Sunday nights when we  gathered around the table to play Parcheesi and nine out of ten times Fig won?

Do you remember when Uncle Roland grew a moustache and waxed it and twirled it and Aunt Lilian said he treated his lip hair like a pet?

Do you remember how Aunt Bobo always cut the crusts off the tuna sandwiches, but never the egg salad sandwiches, and we never knew why?

Do you remember when Sadie got a perfumed letter from the Scottsdale cousins, inviting her to visit, and nobody else was invited so then we knew for certain that Sadie really was the nicest one of us?

Do you remember how Reggie used to go out early in the morning after a big storm and place little mounds of snow on the fence posts and call them snow boobs?

Do you remember when Aunt Lilian took us to the Botanical Gardens and Reggie said he would never live in a glass house because then people could see him on the toilet and Aunt Lilian said "Never say toilet in public" and Reggie said "You just did" and Aunt Lilian said she was never taking us anyplace again?

Do you remember the story of how Aunt Cosmos and Uncle Roland met in the map room of some famous museum and how she mistook him for a notorious map thief and was going to call the guards but then he kissed her?

Do you remember when Fig said she would hold her breath until she got a pony and we were so scared because we didn't want her to die but then she laughed and said she was only kidding, but she really really really wanted that pony anyway?

Do you remember the time Aunt Bobo said she would only cook foods that began with the letter R and that meant a lot of rhubarb, radishes, rice, raisins, and rutabaga but  eventually even she got bored, thank goodness.

Do you remember when Bizzie had dozens of pen-pals and invited each one to stop by for Kool-Aid and cookies as though they lived around the corner instead of on the other side of the world?

Do you remember when Sadie got a mosquito bite and Aunt Lilian thought it was the first sign of measles and she sent Sadie upstairs and put a "Quarantined" sign on the door?

Do you remember how Bizzie tried to catch up with her shadow so she could step on her own head?

Do you remember when Delia got her driver's license and you didn't want to get in the car with her and I said it would be safe but it turned out that you were right and I was wrong?

Do you remember when the ghost moved into the storage room and everyone could see it except Aunt Bobo?

Do you remember when Sadie said she wanted Aunt Cosmos to be her mother and Aunt Lilian said she wanted Aunt Cosmos to be her mother, too?

Do you remember the huge mirror in the front hallway and how every single time Fig saw her reflection she would say "That's not me"?

Do you remember the awful shoe store man who pinched our toes hard and said that would make our feet grow faster?

Do you remember when the aunts took us to see Peter Pan and Sadie got a crush on that flying boy but Fig said Tinker Bell gave her a toothache and she would like to wring her skinny little neck?

Do you remember when Aunt Bobo baked a cherry pie and ate the whole thing by herself and didn't even share a teeny tiny crumb with anyone else?

Do you remember the day the house plants died all at once and Reggie looked so guilty but he never admitted to anything and the terrible mystery was never solved?

Do you remember all the millions of times you and I wished Mommy and Daddy were still alive?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

12 Shorties


I sit on the front steps waiting for my ride. I have to be careful not to get into the wrong car. Strangers pull up in front of my house all the time and I jump up and greet them like long-lost friends. Sometimes this scares them and sometimes it scares me. I'm always having to explain about being nearsighted.


Once in a restaurant I waved to myself in the mirror because I looked so familiar. I was critical of my haircut but other than that I looked like someone I might like to know. I gave myself a friendly smile, along with the wave. This could have been embarrassing but luckily nobody else noticed.


In the dream my friend tells me she is studying "Berlitz" and I get all excited, thinking she said "burlesque."

Cable Guy

The cable guy came this morning to hook me up to more channels than I really want but it's a package deal and I don't get to choose. It only took a minute to get me connected. Then he showed me how to use the remote control. It's not as easy as you might think. We sat on the couch together and first he flipped channels, then I did. Eventually we found a movie we both liked so we watched it for a while. "This is why I'm always behind schedule," he said. "Shhhhhh," I whispered, "here comes the good part."

Team Psychic

The softball team thought they could benefit from the insights of a psychic. At their next practice session someone thought to bring along a telephone directory. They couldn't find a psychic listed so they ended up ordering three large pepperoni pizzas instead.

Bones in Her Backyard

The man who comes to dig the holes (to see if there's the right kind of clay so he can go ahead and dig the pond) talks a lot about dinosaurs. My friend isn't sure but she suspects some of what he says is nonsense. Philopatic Age. Typlaytosaurus Rex. She wonders if he's trying to tell her he'll lay claim to any old bones he digs up. Later, he says his son is studying dinosaurs in school. She figures he was just trying to be friendly. She feels reassured that if there are any archaeological wonders in her backyard they'll be hers to keep.


A friend of mine told me about a woman she knows who demagnetizes herself every time she passes under an electrically-charged wire. She touches her forehead, nose, right shoulder, left shoulder, right knee, left knee, and her belly button. Then she does it again, in reverse. Some roads have a lot of wires to pass under. Luckily, her husband usually does the driving.

Porch Lights

As she approached her house one summer evening my friend wondered why there were Christmas lights strung  on the porch. She never hangs Christmas lights but even if she did she would have taken them down by July. Then she realized it wasn't her porch. It wasn't even her next-door neighbor's porch. It was the porch four houses down from hers. She's lived in her house for more than thirty years, but some days everything looks new to her.

On the Road

Like me, my friend is an adult who never learned how to drive, but unlike me she is doing something about it. At her third lesson her driving instructor gave her a sucking candy to calm her nerves. It tasted like fish, but she didn't run over anything. At her next lesson there was no candy and she ran over a curb. Her instructor was  soothing and supportive. "Where did that curb come from?" he asked. "It looks to me like it came out of nowhere." She finds his attitude unsettling.

Unanswered Questions

My grandmother used to put avocado pits in old jelly jars. She stuck fancy toothpicks in their sides so they wouldn't fall into the water; then she placed the jars on her window sills. Most of the pits remained bald all their lives but a few sprouted wispy bits of greenery. None ever grew up to be an avocado tree. I never saw my grandmother eat an avocado. Not one single time. I wonder where all the pits came from. And the fancy toothpicks, where in the world did she get them?


My sweetheart gave me a polished stone. I put it on my bedside table and there it sits, black and white and striped. At night the smell of skunk drifts in through the open bedroom windows. Could there be some connection?

The Green Ring Dream

In the dream I am trying to persuade you to try on a ring with a large square green stone. I am insistent and unrelenting. I say things like: "It's perfect for you. You'll love it. This ring was made for you. This is the ring you've been looking for your whole life." You resist. You tell me you don't like the ring, you don't need the ring, you don't want the ring. And furthermore, you say, you have not been looking for a ring your whole life. I don't give up. I nag at you until you finally try it on. When you put the ring on your finger even I can see that it looks awful on you. I always want to be right, but I admit it when I'm wrong. Dreams can be so humbling.

A big THANK YOU to my friends (especially Lisa H.) who told me some of these stories  years ago. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

walking around my neighborhood: small poems

in this half-light 
the garden troll
mistaken for a Buddha statue 

counting leaves
as they fall 
the child runs out of numbers

bus stop graffiti
“Nothing Lasts Forever”
removed by work crew

ants on parade —
on closer look:
a handful of scattered raisins

young men 
yoga-bragging in the deli —
"100 downward dogs, dude!"

taking a new route home —
stone pagoda
how long have you been here?

stepping into your snow prints—
the walk home

tai chi 
beside a frozen waterfall  —
young man   /   seagull

forgive me
for not recognizing you
disguised in an old woman's body

rain puddle —
tipping over
into my own reflection

chalked on the sidewalk —
step carefully

a strong wind —
collapsible umbrella

evening breeze
the neighbor's bamboo
returns my bow

spring morning
a coven of daffodils
up to no good

on the clothesline:
a dozen blue handkerchiefs —
my neighbor's prayer flags

in her own shadow —
black cat

almost Easter —
neighbor's Halloween porch
even scarier now

with a worm in its mouth
the fat robin
sings to itself

an open basement window
raccoon accepts 
the invitation

wind chimes on your back porch
after all these years 
the same breeze

cutting through the parking lot
I never expected to see you —

outside my favorite restaurant
a gang 
of delinquent bees

worn-out sofa
on the side of the road —
we rest awhile

a moment ago
it wasn't there —
first iris

filling her wagon 
with yellow irises
the girl can't stop laughing

early morning walk
distracted by spring
bee and I collide

you're not home —
your cats greet me at the window —
they miss you too

at the open door
of the neighborhood bakery 
pausing — just to sniff

still life:
one summer squash, two green tennis balls —
my neighbor's Sunday porch

passing a stranger on the street
he smells so good
dare I tell him so?

in full winter bloom
my neighbor's garden —
plastic flowers

different smells
at my old house —
and the hollyhocks are gone

under his snowy hat
the Hare Krishna man
again and again

(the brick you placed
in the public garden) —
I'm standing on it