Friday, May 31, 2013

The Carousel

Even when your mother tells you No a million times you just have to shut your ears and not listen to her. She will tell you that it is dangerous to go to the carousel, that you could get hurt or killed, that bad men hang out there and if you ever see a bad man you should run away as fast as you can. She thinks you are scared of bad men. She doesn't know you are more scared of your friends thinking you are a scaredy cat.

So one day when you are at your friend Marcie's house and her cousin Antoinette from Connecticut is visiting and Antoinette says Let's go to the carousel, what are you going to do? You are going to go.

It is almost dark when you get there and no one else is around, no other children and no bad men, either. Marcie climbs up onto the brown horse and says Giddy up but of course the horse can't giddy up because there is no one there to turn the carousel on.

You climb up onto the white horse and you can see the paint is chipped around its mouth, red paint like blood. This is a very sad thing so you pat the horse on top of its head and you say Good girl.

Antoinette from Connecticut gets up on the pinto pony but she doesn't sit down, she stands on its back and Marcie says Antoinette don't be a nut and Antoinette says You're not my boss, and she starts practicing her ballet. She says first position, second position, third position, fourth position, fifth position.

This is when you remember that the last time Antoinette from Connecticut visited Marcie she was mean to you and you told yourself not to play with her if she ever came again. Now you wonder why you don't listen to yourself.

You might want to close your eyes now so you don't have to watch. She says she is going up on her tippy tippy toes. Be sure to keep your eyes shut tight so you don't see her fall off the pinto pony and break her head into a million little pieces.

She doesn't fall off. She says she's bored. So you all go back to Marcie's apartment and her mother never even knows that you were gone.

Later, when you get home, your mother will ask you if you had fun. Say that you did. Then she will ask what Antoinette from Connecticut is like. Say that she is clean and polite. Your mother will ask what you did while you were with Marcie and her cousin. Say that you played Shoots and Ladders. And if your mother asks Is that all? then you should say you also played Candy Land.

These are not the worst lies you have ever told. They're not even the next-to-worst.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cherry Coke

Walk out of the apartment building and turn left, the opposite direction from the zoo, and pretty soon you will come to a luncheonette on the corner right across the street from P. S. 6 where you are a student in the 4th grade, but not today. Today is Saturday. You are not a student on Saturday. 

Go right up to the counter and climb up on a silver metal stool, pick one where the leather seat isn't all cracked. Make the stool spin around. Don't be scared, just do it, you'll like it. You might have to give yourself a little push, not like on a swing, it's a different kind of push, you'll figure it out.

Someone might tell you to stop, they might say you are making them dizzy, but you don't have to listen to them. Not unless they tell you three times. Or if you know them, like if they live in your building and there's a chance they will tattle on you. Grown ups are the worst tattle tales and nobody ever tells them to stop it.

When you finish spinning the man who makes the sandwiches will come over and ask what you want. He won't be friendly about it. Who cares? 

Tell him you want a cherry coke with two squirts. It's a good idea to say "please."

Watch him carefully. First he'll press on a little hose and that will make the coca cola go in the glass. Then he'll squirt in the cherry stuff. If he forgot that you said "two squirts please" and he only puts in one squirt then don't be shy, speak up, use your best outdoor voice and say it again "two squirts please."

When you finish drinking your cherry coke (with a straw) don't forget to leave a quarter on the counter. If you forget the man might come running after you as if you are thief and not just a girl who sometimes forgets things.

Don't cry.

Going to the Zoo

Walk out of the apartment and down the hall and out the big double doors and down the marble steps and through the courtyard until you are on the sidewalk in front of 2004 Vyse Avenue. 

When you walk past Mr. Shamansky's apartment don't let anything bang against his door accidentally on purpose because he will hear it and he won't like it and he might even tell your mother what you did. 

When you walk through the courtyard don't sing. Singing hurts Mrs. Lefkowitz's ears. Especially your singing. So just don't do it. 

Turn to the right and walk a few blocks and you will be at the Bronx Zoo in about five minutes. 

Only you better not do that because you're not allowed to go unless some grown up person who you are related to goes along with you. 

That means Grandpa. 

Daddy won't go because he is afraid of elephants, he says he doesn't like them but that means he is afraid. And also he is afraid of grass, I think, I'm not positive but I think so. 

Mommy won't go because she doesn't have the right shoes, she only has shoes with high heels and you can't wear those to the zoo, everyone knows that. 

Grandma won't go because she's busy making a kugel and also she likes to read her library books. 

So Grandpa will take you if you ask him to but don't expect to have any fun because Grandpa doesn't believe in fun. And he doesn't like to smile. And he never laughs, not ever, not even one time. 

If you don't aggravate him he might buy you a box of Cracker Jack but I'm warning you, don't be disappointed if he says no.

Friday, May 17, 2013

May 17, 2013: a list I kept because today is the One Day In Ithaca Write-In Extravaganza

Today I took a long hot shower in an attempt to unwrinkle myself from yesterday.

Today I enjoyed, for a short while, the delicious quiet of early morning, before a siren wailed through the neighborhood.

Today I made a super special smoothie in honor of One Day In Ithaca: kale, spinach, celery, parsley, dill, strawberries, blueberries, half a banana, a splash of lemon juice, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, almond milk.

Today I stood at the corner of State and Albany Streets and inhaled  lilacs.

Today I followed a yellow butterfly down the street.

Today I intended to count tulips as I walked around the neighborhood but I ended up counting pink plastic flamingos instead.

Today I tried to keep things quiet inside my head.

Today I thought about the letter V and especially about the word Vitality.

Today I promised myself to devote one hour a day to reading novels. 

Today I came across this wonderful line in Penelope Lively's book How It All Began: "Birds have burst into song, and oh! Look at the cherry!"

Today I had fun eavesdropping on some Young Theatre People as they debated the merits of cheeseburgers vs. pancakes and tried to decide the names they should have been given, rather than the names they actually do have.

Today I changed back and forth between my distance and close-up eyeglasses at least 20 times, but I still resist getting those progressive lenses, even though I do like the word progressive.

Today I received e-mails and other kinds of messages from many different friends and I must say this: I felt loved.

Today I chanted om shanti om shanti om shanti — Peace — all day long; which is to say I chanted silently whenever I remembered to do so. 

Today I received two beautiful blank books as a gift from a young writing friend and now I can't wait to discover how I will fill them.

Today I went out for dinner with my sweetheart, nothing fancy, no place special, but it felt fancy and special, because we never stopped talking and we laughed a lot too, and the food was good and the drinks were cold and wet.

Today I was aware of what a good thing it is to be alive in Ithaca in the middle of May.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Few Old Dreams, Rediscovered

Swan Dream

It’s late afternoon. The sun already slipping into the west. And what a sun. A spring sun. There I am, soaking up the spring sun, in the late afternoon, in a chair, a lounge chair — I am lounging, languid, in my chair — my hair pinned up off my shoulders, my shoulders bare to the sun, warm in the sun. The sun is warm and I am lazy and happy; a small smile.
Also, there is water. Not an ocean, but not a puddle, either. Oh, I see, it is a pond. A pond, clean & still,  blue-green, a nice soothing color, not unlike my eyes. A pond the color of my eyes, and I am sitting, on my chair, on the lawn. Yes, there is a lawn. Neatly clipped, healthy, golden, a good lawn, a good English lawn. 
So this is England. I must be rich. To have my own pond and a lawn and all this sunny day all to myself. Perhaps there is a house behind me, somewhere over there, I can’t see it, don’t want to turn my head and look, but it must be there. Let’s say it is white. It doesn’t have to be large, I’d prefer it not to be — it’s a small white house, a cottage, and there is a garden, too, somewhere, behind me, maybe off to the left.
But here it is only me, my hair pinned up, my shoulders brown, my little smile, and the chair so comfortable, on the lawn, by the water, the still, blue-green clear-as-eyes water, and the delicious sun. And now here she comes. A swan. A perfect swan. I know she is perfect even though I’ve never seen a swan before.  I am sitting on the lawn, on my lawn, and the swan comes gliding across the water beside the golden grass, graceful, neck high, beautiful & perfect. She passes before me as I lounge, lazy, languid. She passes before me, and as she does, I know, I just know, that this is the day I will die.

Potato Dream
In the dream, I throw a potato at a man. I aim for his head and my aim is good. Thwack. Right between the eyes. His head falls off. I laugh. A cackle really. You could say there is something maniacal about it, if you want to think in those terms. Which I don’t. Why should I? I took aim, I threw, I connected. Mr. Potato Head. I laugh again. And another man is before me. I reach my hand back. Someone gives me a potato. I don’t know who. I don’t need to know. Once more my arm lifts, swings, the potato is released, a good flight, like David letting loose his rock, and this man too, this other Goliath, is hit squarely between the eyes. 

His head falls off, he’s down for the count. I’m feeling good. I could do this all day. I may have to do this all day. I don’t mind. I don’t tire. I don’t consider or re-consider. I just do what I have to do, potato after potato, head after head, like a boy let loose at the carnival, knocking down ducks, or whatever it is they knock down, I don’t know, I’m not a boy, I don’t go to carnivals. I’m in my dream. And in my dream the potatoes keep coming and my arm is steady and strong, my eye true, my aim impeccable. The heads, they keep on rolling.

Exploding Dream

In the mirror, I see my father’s face. I don’t want to see it. Believe me, it’s the last thing in the world I want to see. But it’s him, right there in my eyes — in that blue-green-grey—my father’s eyes in my head, in my mirror. It does no good to blink, blinking is no protection, so I don’t blink, I stare straight ahead into those eyes, my eyes, his eyes. I never blink.

In the dream, my father is dead. Eating is what killed him. He swelled up and up and up until he exploded. Dead. In the dream.


In reality, my father almost died. Cancer. When I speak with him on the phone, the night before his first operation, I keep my voice low, calm, soothing — the loving daughter. I speak with him about God. “I’ve been praying for you, Daddy,” I say. “Well, I haven’t had that conversation yet,” he tells me. “Which conversation is that?” “With HaShem. He and I, we haven’t talked.” “I think you should, Daddy, I think you should talk tonight.” He doesn’t answer. I say it again. “Have that conversation tonight, Daddy.” “I don’t know what to say,” he tells me. “You don’t have to say anything,” I tell him,“that’s the kind of conversation it is, the kind where you don’t have to say a thing.”


For my father God is not a beautiful white swan who appears before you in the blue-green water  beside a glistening golden English lawn, in the springtime,  before sunset, after tea, the sleepiest time of the day, eyes beginning to grow heavy, a small secret smile on your lips. 

My father doesn’t know this swan. This swan is not his God. 

His God is in the desert, where it is always high noon, with the rocks and the sand, the rocks hard like hard potatoes. The enemy always in front of you, never inside of you. The enemy looming and the rock-hard potatoes coming, and the enemy’s head in your sights — pow, bam, kaboom — the words bold, comic book yellow and red. Shazam. Take that, and that, and this, and that. Smack to the kisser — to the moon, Alice. Alakazam Katzenjammer Hossenfeffer.  

It’s hard to grow up. And some people never do. Boys at the carnival, in the shooting gallery, in the peanut gallery, slap happy, taking pot shots. Take that, and that, and this, and that. God in the desert, in the hot dry desert. God in the desert and that angry little boy is still throwing rocks.

Restaurant Dream

In the dream my father and I are in a restaurant, just the two of us. This is something we have never done in real life, we have never gone out alone to eat. Once when he was visiting me we sat on a bench and shared a foot-long hotdog, with mustard and sauerkraut. I didn’t want to do it. Oh please, isn’t it obvious, isn’t it just too obvious?  But he insisted, it seemed important to him, so I took a bite and said “You finish it, Daddy,” and he did — he loves sauerkraut. I do not. 
But in the dream, we’re in a nice restaurant and he isn’t yelling at the waiter because his fork is dirty, or because he did not ask for ice in his water did he? My father is calm, amiable, natural. And so am I. The two of us are eating salad. How healthy, I think, even in the dream. We each have a plate of greens before us, we eat slowly and we talk. 

I don’t know what we’re talking about but we’re not arguing, just talking, the way some people do with each other, the way some fathers and daughters do, friendly, natural, at ease. There’s not a ketchup bottle in sight. A ketchup bottle could set him off, but there isn’t one — my dream is cooperating. 

We’re just sitting and talking and eating and it’s very nice, maybe a little bit like heaven, if you think heaven is a fine restaurant where the silverware is always clean. Which I don’t, and this is my dream, so I’d say: not heaven. Just a bit of a rest in the middle of this all-too-real-world. Just a bit of a rest in a restaurant. A little salad, a little talking; a father and daughter. Me and my father. 

Together, in a dream. In another life.