Tuesday, August 12, 2008
read more digg story
Monday, August 11, 2008
The boxes sat unopened in my spare room for a few days. I shut the door so that I wouldn't have to look at them. Finally, yesterday, going through the boxes seemed like a pleasant alternative to helping my husband strip wallpaper in the kitchen. So, I opened the first box. I had already known that the journals would be a problem. For many reasons, I can't bear to read them, but throwing them away would be like reaching inside myself and ripping out a vestigial organ. Sorry, that was gross, but it's the best analogy I could make. I set the journals aside.
I had more success with the camp stuff. My sister and I wrote what seems to me an extraordinary number of letters to our parents and grandparents from camp. The letters were typical—funny and quirky, and included incessant requests for gum and stamps. But among the camp letters I found something unexpected: letters written by my great-grandfather, Isaac, to my mother and her twin sister during the 1950s. He spent his summers in Miami but kept in regular touch with his granddaughters in New York City. There's a stack of letters, all written in neat Slavic-looking English. By Slavic-looking, I mean that the lettering looks almost like it wants to be Cyrillic.
The letters are animated and playful, like this one from December 26, 1956:
Dear Elaine and Marian,
Surprise! I've come to an important decision--from now on I shall address both of you in the same letter. Reasons: (1) Economic—I save a 3 cents stamp and 0.9876 cents in stationery, ink, and general overhead. "A penny saved, a penny earned.” "Waste not, want not." I must warn you though that if you adhere too closely to those proverbs you won't have much fun in life. (2) Health—When I have to write one letter I lose sleep. If I have to write two letters I get a nervous breakdown. You don't want me to get a nervous breakdown every two-three weeks? Or, do you? Explain yourself. (3) Variety—If I write to Marian that the weather is fine, I cannot write exactly the same to Elaine. I must vary the letter. So I write to Elaine that the weather is fine but it rains cats and dogs. One of these statements is false. It's a sin to lie—unless you must, in which case it ceases to be a lie and becomes a prevarication…
Some of the later letters were in Russian with English translations. At first I assumed that he was just making sure that my mother and her sister understood the letters. But then I began noticing a trend. In a letter dated February 14, 1958, Isaac wrote to one of them (it’s addressed in Russian and I no longer recognize the symbols well enough to even sound them out), he wrote:
…You have a brain, but it won’t help you if you cannot stick to one thing and master it. I was very happy with your choice of the Russian language. I believe it will [be] more and more valuable, especially when those that master the language are native born American. You see, the government of U.S. does not trust us, Russian born. They suspect that I and your other grandfather are likely to sympathize with Russia. We [do] not, but our government is not taking any chances. And that’s where you come in. I planned, when I come home, to give you regular lessons and help you along to overcome the difficulties of the language. And that’s what I am going to do! So don’t dare stop. Go along slowly, but do not stop. Imagine what advantage you will have, knowing a valuable language! Now, once more do not stop, or I will wring your neck. Love, Grandfather.
From January 30, 1958:
Your last letter to me carried some surprising as well as painful news. It also horrified me! Your remark in that letter that you are happy to be through with science was like a knife through my patriotic heart. How could you feel that way, when, so far, we failed to send aloft even a baby Sputnik! How can we ever catch up with the Russians when you and the rest of the kids refuse to study science? Please, go on with science a little bit longer, until we put into an orbit, if not an adult Sputnik, at least a teen-ager…
There are more letters with seemingly light-hearted references to beating the Russians. The letters were written when McCarthyism was still going strong. Both Isaac and his son (my grandfather) had thriving medical practices. I wonder if he feared blacklisting, or worse. Did he suspect that his letters were being opened and read by the U.S. government? I wish that I could ask him.
Well, only three more gigantic boxes to go...then onto the monstrous filing cabinet. But I will spare you the details of that adventure into 1o-years-old vet bill receipts and statements from banks that no longer exist.
Friday, August 1, 2008
“We went out with Dave and Meher and Carlos,” I’d say.
“Where?” she’d ask.
“To that Asian fusion restaurant on West 82nd Street, Rain.”
“No,” I’d say. “The restaurant, it’s called Rain.”
“Vus? I don’t hear.”
“The restaurant is called Rain,” I’d holler into the phone.
“All right, I heard you. So, what did you eat?”
“Let’s see…spring rolls, chicken satay, cucumber salad with garlic and sweet chili dressing,” I’d recount, then throw in what the others had eaten, for good measure.
“Very nice. What time was the reservation? Late?”
“No, we had reservations for seven, but Meher was late as usual, seeing a client. We had a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc before she arrived. From New Zealand.”
“She came in from New Zealand?” English was her second language, so she liked her modifiers in place.
“No…the wine, not Meher. She was on Long Island, stuck in traffic.”
“And how did you get into the city?” She’d want to know.
“We drove to the station in Fairfield, then took the train to Grand Central. Very easy. This way Mark could drink a little.”
“Tell me, why the get-together, a special occasion?” She liked to know the reasons for things.
“No…well, Carlos’s birthday is next week and we won’t see him because he’ll be away visiting friends.”
“Does Carmo have a wife? A girlfriend?”
“Carlos. No, Carlos is gay.”
“A boyfriend, then?”
“I don’t think so,” I’d say, worn out.
She liked to “drill down,” as people often say now at the office. Drill down from the basics to the specifics. Where do Dave and Meher live? How old is Carlos? Is he good-looking? Why doesn’t he have a boyfriend?
She was exacting; she didn’t stand for equivocation. I learned that early enough: speak up, enunciate. If you don't want to tell her something, say so. Don’t evade. Don’t mumble or mince words; it will only elicit an exasperated, “What??”
I’d just say to her, “I don’t want to talk about it,” which might have resulted in an additional question, “Why not?” But asserting, “I just don’t,” would usually end that particular line of questioning. This is not to say that she wouldn’t phone my mother later to see if she knew the answer, but Grandma knew when to stop asking me. She was practical in this way: glean as much information as possible, but know when to cut your losses and move on.
Why did she do this? I didn’t question it; it was just Grandma. I suppose it used to bother me. But as I got older, I saw it differently. It was a pleasant, reassuring routine. Who else would want to know so many insignificant details about me? But maybe they weren’t insignificant. I think that in that magnificent database in her brain, she filed those tiny bits of information to maintain a composite understanding of my life. It was how she knew me. Throughout my life, she made a point of knowing me.
Sometimes I would turn the table on her, ask her questions. She was willing to talk. I wish I’d asked more.
For Ray Goodside
July 4th, 1911-August 2, 2006
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Friday, July 25, 2008
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Here's the premise: One giant superstore has taken over every aspect of life on Earth. Its products result in so much garbage that humans have to be jettisoned into space for what is supposed to be a five-year, supersized, automated luxury cruise while robots at home compress the garbage into neat cubes and stack them up into garbage towers.
It takes the robots a bit longer than expected to clear out all that garbage, though, and the space cruise is still cruising 700 years later. Aboard the ship, humans over the generations stop walking or moving or interacting directly with each other. They become almost boneless, brainless, and blob-shaped. It was starting to remind me of an especially bleak J.G. Ballard or Ray Bradbury story, but Disney-ness, thank God, kicks in eventually and saves the day. That made me feel good.
I came out of the movie theater into a vast parking lot lined with big-box stores. I looked around and noticed that nearly everyone was obese, including the children. They struggled up into their Chevy Trailblazers and Ford Expeditions, panting. Although the endless asphalt glittered with heat, I shivered.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
read more digg story
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
The woman was old, but not desiccated-old. She was tall (well, anyone over five foot one is tall to me, but she was quite tall) and well-dressed in neat cotton slacks and a summery plaid blouse. Another tutor was giving her directions, drawing a map on a yellow sticky pad. As I passed by, I heard snippets of the conversation: walked to the library...can't remember just exactly...son will kill me if he finds out...
Having recently lost my mother-in-law to dementia, my senses are now more finely tuned to signs of a deteriorating mind. I interrupted and asked the woman if she would like a ride. Oh yes, she said, with delight and relief.
As I drove her home, she told me that she lives with her son and his family. Her daughter-in-law doesn't like her to talk to the neighbors, she told me, because she doesn't know them. This is a strange way of living for her, she explained, because up until her memory started to fail, she'd been a registered nurse. She was used to...she couldn't find the words.
Dealing with the public? I offered.
Yes! Exactly! She exclaimed, pleased.
When we got closer to the street marked on the yellow sticky sitting in my lap, she asked me to drop her at the corner. It sounded more like a plea than a demand. I asked her why.
If someone is home and they find out that I've been...lost, they'll be angry, she said. They'll keep me in. I was reluctant to leave her wandering down a street, but she seemed desperate.
Can I watch you go into your house, just to make sure? I asked.
She shook her head. Please, they might see you.
I stopped the car at the corner of her street. She thanked me quickly, pushed a five dollar bill into my lap, and almost leapt out of the car. I tried to give the money back, but that woman was making tracks. I put my car into reverse and inched back behind a bush, and watched her walk purposefully down the road.
I'll just watch, I told myself. Just to be sure. But she turned around and spied me and made an urgent "go away" gesture with her hand. So I made a K-turn and headed back toward town.
If it were in me, I would pray to have her determination should I face such indignity in the future. But as it is, I can only hope.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
Carl, the craggily handsome, chain-smoking arborist, cuts down the less fit trees so that the others may thrive. (He quit smoking for a stretch last year and I discovered that his thick grey hair and mustache was actually vibrant blond. Then he picked up again, and he turned back to grey. But that's another story.)
The family on the corner lot cut down all of the trees. Every single one—30 or so, maybe more. The suddenness of the massacre got peoples' attention. Even the mailman almost ran into me as he craned his neck to stare at the lot while pulling out into the street. Next, a CAT logger appeared on the denuded grounds. The man who lives there drove the CAT around for a few evenings in a row, resulting in several neat stacks of logs piled up at the edge of the property. The logs disappeared, and an excavator replaced the logger.
We all waited and watched as the guy dug a wide, shallow pit across the lot. Oh great, my husband and I said to each other. He's going to put in a hideous 6-car garage. Or maybe they're planning an addition to their workaday cape? Perhaps a great room with cathedral ceilings and Palladian windows? A grand, Victorian-style solarium? Maybe an in-ground pool with a slate patio. Well, whatever he had in mind, it would be on display for all to see now that the trees were gone.
More waiting and watching. As I rounded the corner one day I almost drove off the road. I had to stop the car for a moment to make sure I'd seen it right. Yes, I had. The entire gouged-out spot had been seeded. With grass seed. The man had cut down his forest and built...a lawn.
A lawn? Why, why, why would he want more lawn? Lawns are the scourge of suburban life. To be a good neighbor, you're expected to water, feed, and add insecticide and herbicide to your lawn. And mow and mow and mow until you drop dead. More than half of the people here have tractor mowers. We don't. Nor do we perform most of the other lawn chores that we're supposed to do to be a good neighbor. Lawns—dare I say it out loud in this land of short green grass-worshippers—are stupid.
There, I said it. That was my one brave thing for the day.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
my car and wandered around a bit.
The place has a distinct air of disuse. Maybe it's the vegetation climbing all over the equipment, or the rust. I peered around the corner of this boxlike structure at right. What I saw next was a massive contraption that was definitely whirring and humming. So, apparently this quarry is still in operation.
What's weird is how little I could discover about this place online. I found the company website, so I know that the quarry produces "Hot Mix Asphalt." But there were no news stories about this particular plant. I thought that quarries were the object of scorn by environmental groups. Don't they dig up natural resources and leave gaping holes in the landscape when they're through? Don't workers get beheaded operating the machinery and end up as ghosts haunting the plant at night, rattling chains? This place, for all its hulking bulk, barely seems to exist.
And look at the office. Really, does anyone work here?
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
But I'm not being fair, because at least these kids (well, their parents) are taking advantage of public transportation. They don't add to the congestion everywhere within a two mile radius of the schools during drop-off and dismissal.
I won't slide into a rant about SUV Moms cutting people off to get their one and a half children into or out of the school parking lot. Or about the cops stopping traffic to let those SUVs in and out. Because that would be a cliché. Complaining about SUV Moms is so yesterday (not to be confused with regular moms, about whom, in general, I do not complain).
No. This post is about bus stops. My childhood bus stop was just a corner; not even a sign indicated that anything special might happen if you waited there. Everyone just knew where it was. My little sister Amy and I lived three blocks from it, which wasn't bad. Unfortunately, the last block was a steep hill. Amy had a strangely charming laziness about her that translated into, among many other quirks, an inability to get herself up that last hill to the bus stop. Every morning, weighed down with textbook-filled backpacks (those books are online now), we trudged up the hill. Amy would start to fall back, and I'd grab her hand and pull her. We'd see the bus rolling into the stop, which meant we had about 90 seconds, if we were lucky, to catch that bus. So I'd take Amy's backpack and swing it onto my back on top of my own, and with my right hand I would push that kid up the hill.
If we missed the bus, we walked—which stunk. But at least we could walk, and what a stinkin' luxury that was.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
The center of our town is marked by a 100-foot flagpole, erected in 1876. Sidewalks lead in four directions from the pole. The sidewalks remind me of Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends. At age six or so, I remember thinking: what a funny and absurd notion--a sidewalk, ending? Sidewalks don't end! The Earth is round!
They end in my town. They pick up again, anemically, at various points in the Commercial District. But they don't lead anywhere in particular (I don't count the banks, nail salons, or the CVS). People feel sorry for pedestrians here. Look at that guy! Why is he walking? Should we call it in? Maybe he's stranded.
Even in my car, I sometimes feel stranded. Yet, I've grown accustomed to this life. It's comfortable. The truth is that when I visit my home city, I often can't wait to get back. What does that say about the suburbs? About me? Hm.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
About eight months ago I started this blog out of desperation. I didn't really understand the blog world, with its nuances and idiosyncrasies. Or, really, why people blogged. I was in a downward spiral and needed to talk to someone. But I couldn't talk. So I started to write in this blog. At the time, I called it "My Anomie." I wrote for a short while, a week or so, about my deepening sense of isolation and lack of place in the world. Things got worse, and then everything stopped.
Zoom forward to Emily's article "Exposed," which came out in the May 25th issue of The New York Times Magazine, with the subhead, "What I gained — and lost — by writing about my intimate life online." I read it without stopping. It was so insightful, and honest, and unpretentious. Instead of a sensational self-exposé, I found in her story an explanation of Emily's specific cross-section of the internet generation. Of the personal blog that eventually led to her very public vilification, she wrote,
"I’m willing to let that blog exist now as a sort of memorial to a time in my life when I thought my discoveries about myself and what I loved were special enough to merit sharing with the world immediately.”
The blog Emily refers to, which I won't name here but is easy enough to find, still exists. However, its infamous archives are closed to the public. She learned the very hard way what not to do in the blogosphere—overshare (as she put it), and what to do—think (for at least a minute) before hitting "publish." I learned the easy way—from reading her article.
Emily is still blogging away in Emily Magazine, fiercely and humorously but not foolishly. And so, I believe, am I here in Kidless. It's fun and uniquely satisfying to share my thoughts and images with whoever might be out there. I thank Emily for explaining this new world to me.
And that's why I love her.
This is a shot of the inside of Jay Shafter's home. It's 100 square feet. My palace will be 2.5 times bigger. Imagine the possibilities...
According to Tumbleweed, the Loring actually has 400 square feet of usuable living space, once you include the loft (which isn't considered inhabitable because of the low ceiling but can certainly hold a bunch of my stuff). And the cost? Jay says that the price to build comes in between $100-200 per square foot. Let's split it and say $150, so...it'll cost approximately $37,650. Not sure if I have to count the loft footage but this is my fantasy, so I'll say no to that.
It will be like Walden, only not in the woods.
Monday, June 30, 2008
Sunday, June 29, 2008
I like this one by Tumbleweed Houses. It's 251 square feet. That's approximately 8 times the square footage of the guinea pig condo (not a cage!) that Mark built for Dom and Koko. Everything is big in suburbia.
My love of tiny houses extends beyond my physical stature. Who needs 2,500 square feet to heat, cool, and clean? But that's pretty much the minium size around here. I'd love to take a typical 1.5 acre lot and plop down a Loring. People would be baffled.
I'm waiting for Tumbleweed to post pictures of the inside. In the meantime I will decorate it in my mind.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
But earlier today we joined the ranks of the granite-counter top-kitchen homeowners. Soon we will have great expanses of natural resources in the color of Green Butterfly gracing our culinary sector. Next, the linoneluem comes up and the hard wood floors go down.
Then, for sure, I will be happy.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
I think that an 18-wheeler just drove through the upstairs bedrooms. Great beard of Zeus, it's loud here. I'd forgotten.
I hear my sister's baby, Alex, crying through the monitor that is sitting next to the computer. My sister Amy lives here now with her infant twins. I hear Amy talking softly. Now, she's making a sort of grrr-grrr noise. Alex has stopped crying. Amazing.
It's strange to be in this 200-year old house. According to local lore, this four-story brick building at various times was home to a speakeasy, a grocery, and a whorehouse. This was all before Robert Moses built the BQE, severing neighboring Red Hook from the industrialized world. Some 45 years later, Red Hook is now home to an IKEA. The Swedes even offer free ferry and bus service for car-less Manhattanites. So things I suppose are looking up in The Hook, depending on how you look at it.
This post seems to be meandering a bit more than I'd like, but it's okay because:
a) I'm writing again, finally.
b) No one is reading this.
Good night, Brooklyn.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Then I remembered something: I like to read. Books.
So I got dressed, got into my car, and drove to the library. There I picked up “The Case Files of Detective Lazlo Briscoe: True Crime in Newtown 1889-1933,” by Andrea Zimmermann. Andrea is a librarian at the C.H. Booth Library. I also took out “Civil & Strange,” by Cláir Ní Aonghusa. I chose it because I liked the cover—a row of brightly colored cottages lining a European small-town street. I also borrowed “Sabriel,” by Garth Nix, recommended by the YA librarian Margaret Brown. I’ve decided to start reading some of the books that my 14-year-old creative writing students are always talking about.
My cat keeps attacking my fingers as they hit the keyboard. I think that she’s trying to tell me something.
Time to hit the books.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Lately I find myself sitting down to write, but instead wandering off into the lives of others. Wondering if they are happier than I am, cooler, having more fun. Eventually concluding that they definitely are.
Then I go back to the draft I'm working on, and find that it has taken on a drab hue that I hadn't noticed before. I lose focus. I lose interest. I go back to Facebook, or into the kitchen for some frozen cookies, or off to play with my cat.
So maybe what I need is a No Facebook Day.
Monday, June 23, 2008
TO BE CONTINUED. I said, TO BE CONTINUED! DON’T YOU HEAR ME?? I HAVE OVER 50,00O WORDS AND YOU’RE TELLING ME THAT I HAVE 49,866? NOT GOING TO WORK. I AM GOING TO KEEP TYPING RIDICULOUS NONSENSE UNTIL THE STUPID ROBOTS RECOGNIZE MY VERBIAGE.
Hm. I don't remember having trouble uploading my word count. Must have blocked it out.