Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Disturbing Shakespeare

I finally, at long last, stood in front of my poor neglected easel last night and worked on something.  I pulled out an old painting from the forgotten Shakespeare series, and made Lady Macbeth a good deal more disturbing. I still need to fix a few things, but I find I'm weirdly pleased with the new gory approach.
Lady Macbeth

Of course, the Ophelias that preceded her weren't exactly happy-go-lucky either:

Ophelia (No. 1)

Ophelia (No 2)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

That Day in the Yard

More old writing from grad school below... This piece came out of a prompt for class to write about "regret of a small incident" which I always thought evoked interesting elements.  As a short story, I am not sure it hangs entirely together. Someone somewhere along the line told that switching point of view in a short piece is a no-no. But I'm not much crazy about rules, and I still feel OK about the multiple voices; that is, for me, the absorbing element of the story, that different narrators tell different stories. I am likely more interested in the subjectivity of reality than most though.

That Day in the Yard
Fenced View
          Maddy’s father never hired that tree company again, although perhaps that was because there were so few trees left in the backyard by then that he could trim the remaining bedraggled twigs himself.  After the big elm came down, killed by a local resurgence of Dutch Elm disease, the backyard hosted only small squat trees, angry trolls.  Still, for months afterward, Maddy found herself looking for the Collins Brothers Tree Care's white van around the neighborhood.  Shortly after they dragged away the stump of the elm, she heard her father complaining at a barbecue, and she wondered if he’d put a word-of-mouth hex on the Collins’ business.  One rainy day ten years later, she looked for Collins Brothers in the telephone book under Gardeners, Trees, Trimming, everything she could think of, but the company was gone by then. 
            On that day in the yard, she watched the expression on Tim Collins' face as her father berated him.  From her view on the kitchen steps of the house, she couldn’t see her father’s face, only the reddish tint of a flush that had crept up the back of his neck, and his hands rising and falling as he illustrated his case.  He pointed once, and she saw Tim Collins’ eyes as they followed the path of her father’s bony hand to two broken panes on window of the garage.  As his eyes swept back from garage, they paused and stayed on Maddy standing in the shadow of the house.  He tilted his head ever so slightly to the left, and squinted his eyes. She understood then that Tim knew, and also that he wouldn’t argue with her father. 
            The only person who witnessed the breaking of the windows was Maddy, when she methodically put her fist through first the bottom right, and then bottom left pane of the window, an unsuccessful experiment in self harm.  Tim must have assumed that Maddy would lie to her father if he accused her, and her father would likely believe his daughter over a stranger.  There was nothing that directly linked her to the broken windows, although there was plenty that would have or could have or should have exonerated the Collins brothers. 
The windows had been broken for over a week by the time the Collins Brothers Tree Care first came to take down the elm tree.  After breaking the windows, she had taped cardboard over the empty spaces, and put a Band-Aid on the one small cut across the back of her right hand.  She hadn’t even known the tree trimmers were coming the following week.  She did know the breakage would be discovered eventually, but why rush it? She’d already spent the week arguing with her parents about SATs and college applications.  She decided if she were confronted, she’d say yes; by then, perhaps the dark burning feeling might have lifted.  She thought she could confess under examination, but her father never asked.  Instead, he made assumptions on the Collins brothers’ carelessness.  And she stood and watched her father yell – or not yell, as Davies only “politely discussed” – at Tim Collins.   She just stood there and did nothing. 
            Her father had theorized that the Collins brothers had backed a ladder into the window, and then covered it with cardboard and tape.  But why would the Collins brothers have gone into the garage to tape the windows? Opening the gaping carport door would have called attention to the invasion, and the side door was (however pointlessly) kept locked.  Had they broken the windows from the outside, they would have scattered glass inside the garage, where it would rain down behind the garden hoses and piles of scrap wood, not settle in the dirt outside.  Maddy had assumed her father would recognize the inconsistencies. 
            She watched as her father gesticulated at Tim Collins, who finally got a word in and they both nodded, an agreement reached.  The next day, she would see Tim out there, replacing the glass panes himself.  He worked efficiently, completing the task in an hour, but it was still time away from his business and supplies and labor she was sure her father would not be billed for.  Tim Collins paid the cost for her inability to confess. 
On that day in the yard, Tim followed Mr. Davies' hand to look at the broken windows, and as he turned his gaze back, his eyes met those of a scrawny teenage girl with messy hair hovering by the back door of the house.  When he saw her, looking so scared, he continued to half-listen to condescending tripe the father was laying on him, and he knew what had actually happened.  The panicked look on her face, the way she couldn’t quite look at him but also couldn't look away, well, he couldn’t help but feel bad for her.  He’d break some windows too if this guy were his father, the way he counted out every error and never missed an opportunity for indignation.  What a pain in the ass these suburbanites were, with that river of crap rippling under all those private school educations.  Now he’d have to spend an hour fixing the window, all because the dim old man couldn’t tell his perfect little daughter, standing there with one arm wrapped in against her chest like a rook harboring a busted wing, was so hung up or strung out or just plain clumsy that she broke windows.  Scratch clumsy, it couldn’t be that.  No one accidentally breaks two windows - unless, as Mr. Davies was taking pains to point out in detail, he were carrying a ladder to put against an elm tree. 
Tim couldn’t prove otherwise.  And even if he could, he wouldn’t, because cripes, just look at her.  Like he wanted to add to that.  He would fix the windows early tomorrow, and she would see the repair, and then maybe she would relax because clearly, this girl needed to relax.  From his peripheral vision, Tim saw Mr. Davies turning to see what Tim was staring at, and so Tim pulled his eyes away from hers and faced him.  The shift created a pause in Mr. Davies’ monologue of complaints. 
“I’ll fix the windows tomorrow,” Tim said to him.  And Mr. Davies nodded his approval, although Tim could tell, his reputation was sunk here.  Good thing most of the other elms in the area had already been pulled.  He’d had enough of this neighborhood. 
Tim did have one more job a few blocks away, just a few weeks later, and he admitted to himself, as he detoured to drive down the Davies' street, he wondered what happened to that girl.  He never even spoke to her, but every once in a while, her face would pop up, nervous and pinched, and he’d wonder if she’d made out okay.  Later on, after he got married, and his wife was pregnant, he hoped for a boy.  Fathers and daughters, it was too hard.  He remembered that from his own sister, when she’d slammed out of the house at seventeen.  Monica, his wife, had a boy, but after that, they had a girl, Abigail, and he and Mitch sold the business, moved into carpentry instead, more artistry, more reliable work, more money.  He didn’t want his girl breaking windows one day, but of course, he didn’t know how things would go.  He hoped for good days ahead. 
On that day in the yard, George Davies thought, if the kid just showed some remorse, he’d feel better about the whole thing.  Instead, what was that tree kid doing but staring toward the house, looking so intently that George felt obligated to turn and look as well, and what did he see? – his daughter.  This tree-trimming window-breaking boy was making goo-goo eyes at his daughter.  For god sakes, what kind of a fool idiot was he? And Maddy just stood there in her baggy clothes and that strange crumpled stance she’d adopted over the last few years.  What did this kid, who was much too old for her anyway, what was he thinking? George took a deep breath, and the kid must have remembered himself, and turned back to face him, and met his eyes calmly, politely.  And that shifted something for George, slowed his thinking down and he remembered.  He was like this kid once, checking out every girl, practically out of reflex.  He remembered the raging hormones.  Some days, he still felt that way about a stranger next to him in the elevator, like a chemical explosion roiling right over him.  Not that he didn’t love his wife, just that, after so many years, the terrain was so familiar.  Maybe this kid broke the windows on purpose, just to spend more time at the house.  Maybe his Maddy was a little Juliet.  Maybe this kid wasn’t careless, but smitten. 
And good luck to him.  God knows, getting Maddy out of the house was a chore.  He had had to practically set her on fire to get her to take the SATs again, and she should have known, after that last dismal performance, that she couldn’t let those scores stand.  She was smarter than that.  He didn’t know why she didn’t try harder sometimes, why she couldn’t apply her talents.  Sure, she wasn’t as smart as Cory, but she was a girl; she didn’t need to be.  What she needed was to perform to her ability, and sometimes, he wondered if she was lazy like her little brother Miles.  At least she stayed out of trouble.  But then, she’d mostly stayed away from boys too, boys like this nincompoop tree trimmer, staring at her like she was a six-layer cake and he had a big fork.  George opened his mouth to continue his speech to the lovelorn little sicko, but the boy started speaking before he could say anything. 
“I’ll fix the windows tomorrow,” the kid said.  And George nodded to himself, thinking, just the window.  Stay away from my daughter. 

Later on, he’d think of that boy, whatever his name was, Don Juan or Romeo or whoever he was.  And as the years passed, and there was Maddy, getting older and older, just making do, coasting, he wondered if maybe he’d sheltered her too much.  She never ended up accomplishing much, job, career, awards.  No marriage either, no grandkids.  He couldn’t quite figure out where things went wrong.  Of course, he was careful to say to himself that it wasn’t that he didn’t love her – his flesh, his blood, his child.  He’d cut off his right arm for her.  But sometimes, she was a mystery to him, a code he couldn’t decipher.  Sometimes, for no reason he could think of, he thought maybe he should have done something different that day out by the tree, asked Romeo in for lemonade, made something easier for her.  But then, it wouldn’t have made any difference.  It was just a day in the backyard with two broken window panes, the glass shining in the dirt near the remains of that dead tree.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

In Other Words

A conversation about languages made me think about this poem, written some time in 2004 or so, well before the deaths of my brother and mother.  I've fallen away from poetry, writing or even reading it, but it may be time to correct that.  Poetry recommendations welcome.  

In Other Words

My first word: “Dada” --
not at all referencing
Dada or Dadaism, a movement
based on deliberate irrationality, anarchy, and cynicism --
the rejection of laws of ordered beauty
the organization of social language.

Tower of Babble
My brief rule over language:
drop initial consonants
Red Pinto
becomes Ed Into
Collie Pop
Ollie Up
Irregular declensions:
My sister Susie -- Zusie and
Horses: Drop H, add W,
Worses. Tommy, noun, brother,
informally, Tom Tom
from the drum, silent except
when played, sound without words. 

Spanish Fly
In eighth grade love with Señora
Ramos, seagulls are gaviotas,
not the bloated scavengers that lumber
toward me at la playaGaviotas fly, float
weightless over water like lazy curls in
black hair, soaring fuschia lipstick.
French Kissing
Ninth grade, Johnny Bouche in Paris
Hearts penned on the bottom of my shoes
oozing scented Valentines with every step.
Love, squish, squish. 
I stole a picture of him waving
all American Knight in front of the Eiffel Tower,
pinned him inside my locker.
Dadaism: French, from dada, a child's word
for a horse.
A decade.  Johnny is at the A&P,
buying brie and wine with his lover,
I say, Bonjour and keep pushing
my cart full of ripening pomegranates. 

Back in the USSR
Mariama Akimnova taught us to
toast properly with vodka.  We
memorized a Pushkin poem, so if we
were ever arrested by Soviets
They would recognize our
Ya vas luboul
I loved you.
They would whisper along
Я вас любил.

Last Words
Michelle, standing in line for
chemotherapy, swarmed by
paper bees.
So what are you in for?
K- k –k - she said, learning
a new meaning for an old word,
stung, allergic.   

Persian Love Song
Two phrases in Farsi:
The first
man toe ra doost daram
means I like you.
The second
gaeedamet means something close to
fuck you.
I learned to write I like you

I found meaning in squiggles and dots and
read right to left. 
I used man to ra doost daram
to mean not just I like you
but I love you. I couldn’t
pronounce the word for love, couldn’t form the
’ ’click in the back of my throat.
I didn’t know how to love
in Farsi. 

First  Love
Words from my brother
picked out letter by letter
assisted by facilitated communication 
assisted by Oijii board, experts say.
We ignore them.
Words took a 30 year wait.
My brother’s finger lands on a letter. 
An arm, not his arm, pulls his hand back. 
My brother’s finger lands on a letter.  Drip drip
the faucet leaks, no torrent, but steady. 
he says. 

In yoga class, bald bandanaed Michelle
teaches me that in Sanskrit
satya means truth.  I move my body in sequence. 
I see my brother stroke his throat, using
the sign for thirst. Mariama toasts him
with vodka. Señora Ramos dances with Johnny,
flying birdlike across the floor. A drum sounds, and
my tongue flits over the roof of my mouth, mining for sounds
hidden between my teeth and caught in my hair, succulent
words singing: Dada, man toe ra doost daram

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Rainbow Springs, a Florida Natural Treasure

Canoes and kayaks waiting to be rented. Stand-up paddleboarders can also
be seen gliding over the water. 
Rainbow Springs almost disappeared into development. In 1974, despite being the 4th largest spring in Florida with 490 million gallons of water pouring out each day, the faltering attraction closed. While benefiting from being close to Route 41 when the area first opened an amusement park in the 30s, by the 70s it was located too far off the new tourist routes on Interstate 75 to stay afloat.

Not until 1990 did the state of Florida, under pressure from locals, buy the land to add to the state park system. But given budget crunches, the state couldn't afford to do more, so the park sat for a couple of more years until volunteers gathered together to form a nonprofit to help to run the park. In 1992, the park opened for weekends and by 1995, daily access, allowing the springs to be preserved and enjoyed by all again.
Hiking trail  

A few days ago, I spent the day driving up to Dunnellon to visit Rainbow Springs, dangle my feet off the dock into the cool water, and explore the hiking trails through tall trees as well as take several zillion pictures. I can't tell you how delighted I am that public access remains, that Rainbow Springs wasn't swallowed up by condos, and that the state is now committed to returning the springs to its natural state -- with a few nods to its history. The man-made waterfalls still run, but the zoo enclosures are being allowed to crumble and only a sign marks the area near the butterfly garden that used to be a rodeo ring. The monorail has since long disappeared.  The timeless and startlingly clear turquoise water continues to enchant generations of swimmers, canoers, kayakers and lovers of nature.

Support your state park system!  https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Rainbow-Springs

Clouds reflecting in the blue green waters. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Mindful Writing

Pondering life's mysteries
Keep St. Pete Lit offers free (yes, free!) writing classes (http://keepstpetelit.org/litspace/litspace-classes/), so on Saturday, I hustled down to the Morean and spent a couple of hours on the 2nd floor in the library talking about writing and doing a few exercises. Anda Peterson did a lovely job of being both encouraging and practical, and I was reminded of some good advice, from Annie Lamott's instruction from Bird by Bird to write a "shitty first draft"  to Faulkner's counsel to "kill your darlings" in writing (that is, to edit out those bits that are overly precious to you because they are, well, precious in an annoying, eye-crossing way to your readers).  Largely, however, we talked about writing as it relates to paying attention. Being mindful of the details and the senses, employing that specificity, and withholding judgment can and often does lead to richer work.  As Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones (and as read to us in class),
We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn't matter. . . Recording the details of our lives is a stance against bombs with their mass ability to kill, against too much speed and efficiency. A writer must say yes to life, to all of life: the water glasses, the Kemp's half-and-half, the ketchup on the counter. It is not a writer's task to say, "It is dumb to live in a small town or to eat in a café when you can eat macrobiotic at home." Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blond friend who has black children. We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.
It felt good to do a little writing, easy throw-away exercises simply for the fun of it.  For the prompt to describe my morning (a semi-dangerous prompt, as it can lend itself to pointless list-iness - but that can lead to good insight on editing down), I focused on the morning cat feeding ritual.  There wasn't anything earth shattering, but I ended with, "I drink my water and look at my favorite carnivores with bleary and affection-laden eyes" because you know, I'm a cat lady.  My description of the ceiling fixture while mostly dull did have, "the thin, flat metal bars covering the bulb are tooth-like, reminiscent of a small farming combine about the plow the ceiling."

Perhaps most illuminating was the exercise in writing down what, exactly, my nasty little inner critic says to me.  That crabby little voice sounds something like this: "Other people will read these things! How can you talk about these things in public? It will embarrass us. What will the neighbors say? Polite people don't talk about those things. You're wrong - that's not how it happened at all. You're too sensitive and you are the crazy one, not us. Never us. Certainly not me. We won't love you if you tell."  My inner critic is about as sophisticated as an eight year old on a playground, but is still surprisingly effective in shutting me up.  To which I say: fuck that.  That reminds me of one of my favorite Alice Walker poem that starts saying:

Because women are expected to keep silent about
their close escapes I will not keep silent
and if I am destroyed (naked tree!) someone will
mark the spot
where I fall and know I could not live
silent in my own lies
hearing their 'how nice she is!'
whose adoration of the retouched image
I so despise.

Read the rest here: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/208664-on-stripping-bark-from-myself-for-jane-who-said-trees

Write on, people.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Welcome Wonder Words: Poetry at the Dali

Peter Meinke and Denise Duhamel answering questions
after their poetry reading at the Dali Museum
Helen Pruitt Wallace (Poet Laureate of St. Petersburg) hosted a poetry reading of Denise Duhamel and Peter Meinke (Poet Laureate of Florida) at the Dali last Thursday.  I'm happy to report wonderful moments of remembering for me such as: Oh yeah! Feminism isn't dead! And poets are often really freaking funny! And words can be hysterical or heartbreaking or both.  In short, although I didn't know it, I needed a poetry infusion.

Denise Duhamel started out reading some collaborative pieces she wrote with Maureen Seaton. Since Maureen was one of my favorite professors in graduate school - not only a phenomenal poet, but also a unbelievably kind, supportive and insightful teacher - it felt like a literary reunion for a minute there.  Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton have been writing collaborative pieces for decades.  As Denise noted, they started out in a time before texting, cell phones, before email really; they would call each other and leave lines on each other's answering machines. This is what I'd loved about the poets I knew in graduate school - the playfulness, the humor, the just-messing-around that can sometimes end up being gorgeous (and sometimes not - I'm not any of our exquisite corpse poetry exercises featuring chicken testicles ever evolved into high art, although they did inspire some snorting laughter and a running joke).  One poem of Duhamel and Seaton's poems took on gender by adding it into pop culture references, e.g., "The hills are alive with the sound of gender," which ended up creating one of the funniest list poems I've heard in a while. You can find gender in the darnedest places.

Denise moved on to reading some poems from Blowout, her latest collection.  Many of them centered around life post divorce, and the awkwardness of reentering the dating world after a long absence.  As someone long single, the piece about the guy who worked on her kitchen asking her out hit some familiar mental acrobatics.  You know it's a totally bad idea - and yet, hey, he would be handy around the house, at least during those moments when he was sober.  Many of her poems had a funny-but-ill-fated theme running underneath -- for instance, the poem that featured the narrator and her (at the time) husband watching a young couple at the beach argue.  The older couple add in lines for the young couple, circling around their own marital discord, only to become disconcerted in the end as the distant young lovers reconcile, something clearly not in the cards for those who were providing them with dialogue.

The other poet of the evening, Peter Meinke, won my heart over early by starting by saying, "Well, after that, I'm sure hearing from an old white guy is just what you want." The theme of the evening was Memory & Desire, and he too wrote about yearning.  The poem of his that particularly stuck for me was about long married tennis players, and the empty space when one players is no longer there to send the ball over the net. He also read a section about children disappearing into the fog while sledding, a haunting image. His later book is a children's book, with illustrations by his wife Jeanne Clark.  Jeanne was in the audience, and when after the reading, the poets took questions, including on collaboration given Duhamel's long experience with it, Meinke noted that he did not collaborate; Jeanne piped in with "We collaborate in different rooms."  Each is in charge of their own art in their own way, which was perhaps the theme overall.  Collaborative or not, the words find voice through sharp and dedicated minds.

I left the theater with that good glow knowing that there are people out there creating, laughing, and transforming the painful into the sublime.  I love what words used well can do, the access they give to our messy little souls.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Spring Bling

Wizard at Springfest
Spring in Florida explodes less obviously than elsewhere, but we locals have noticed that at last the crepe myrtles are leafing up, and we too rejoice (although perhaps with less manic fervor than those snowed-in up north for months). Spring in St. Petersburg also means high season for festivals and events. I managed to hit two this weekend: Springfest in Gulfport, where faeries and lawn art abounded; and, Art in Bloom at my former place of employ, the Museum of Fine Arts - St. Petersburg.  

Springfest involves a lot of wings and glitter and is great for creatures large and small, particularly those that like costumes. I attended with friends, including a toddler, who was thrilled by all the shiny stuff.  Bubbles and beads and friendly dogs went over big, even if a few of the (very kind and friendly) faeries were a wee bit overwhelming for a sometimes shy small person.  As for the grownups, we enjoyed the costumed crowd, music in the bandstand, the costume contest, and variety of stalls selling everything from plants and wings to floating clothing and geranium oil. We missed the Maypole dance, alas. But there was a wizard that was, as a friend said, straight out of central casting, a Gandalf doppelganger.

Faeries chatting
On an only vaguely related note, I was happy to see sidewalk chalk available; Saturday was the anniversary of Brendan's death, and sidewalk chalk (of all things) continues to remind me of him, since the day we met, we played with chalk on the back patio of a bar. So I got to scribble out his name and a trademark sun under the sculpture by Tom Pitzen of a winged woman  named "Nec mortem effugere quisquam nec amorem potest," which, I found out when I googled the Latin back home, means "No one is able to flee from death or love." Sometimes the universe conspires with you to find perspective. On Saturday, mostly I was happy to spend a sunny day in good company watching a child explore with delight.

On Sunday, I caught one of the last days of Art in Bloom, where floral artists find inspiration from
Art in Bloom floral response to Theo Wujcik's Canto II
pieces in the MFA collection.  The yearly event is beloved by museum regulars with good reason, as the floral art alongside sturdier artworks provides a lovely intersection of types of creation, those more wilting and ephemeral and those ebbing away at a much slower rate. I'm always impressed by the vision of the floral designers and the way shape and/or color are echoed and transformed from the original painting to the floral response. Floral designers often bring in inorganic elements to go with the flowers, and I am often struck by the incorporated sculptural elements, particularly those that evolve from a 2D painting to a 3D floral arrangement.  

Shiva as Lord of the Dance and floral response
While motivated to be there for the more substantially time-limited flowers, I did also finally get around to exploring the Contemplating Character: Drawings and Oil Sketches from Jacques-Louis David to Lucian Freud exhibit. Given my particular interest in portraiture and the endless expressions of human complexity they can express, I suspected it would be an involving exhibit for me, and indeed it was.  Not every piece spoke to me, but I was delighted by the breadth of pieces, from 18th century sketches to R. Crumb's work on place mats. As usual, I gravitated more toward more modern work, but not exclusively. Portraiture, as the exhibit makes clear, is so much about the relationship between the artist and subject (even when the piece is a self-portrait), and that emotion is what brings pieces to life. Happily, I also ran into a few former coworkers, which always makes the MFA feel like my special and personal museum; I know the folks working behind the curtain that bring the magic together. I look forward to returning for future exhibits, and other adventures out in my adopted hometown.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Rock 'n Roll Can Never Die

Stage side seat behind the equipment.
The rock 'n roll lifestyle has changed here in 2016 now with my peer group in our 40s.  Far away from the beer-swilling, chain-smoking immortality of our twenties, most of the musicians I know now are more sober, clean-living family men...who yes, still wear the occasional pair of leather pants. Case in point, I got to see the first performance of JudasMaiden last night at Jannus Live downtown. They put on a fantastic show, musically tight and with with showmanship that honored well the bands' music they covered (Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, for those not up on their 80s metal bands).

Annoying security. "You there, what you
Going to a show in my 40s is not what it was in my 20s. Now, the security guys wave me through and call me ma'am rather than scrutinizing my ID for proof of legal drinking age.  I no longer care if I look "cool" and wear what's comfortable - in this case, a flappy sundress and radically ugly flip-flops with good arch support to keep plantar fasciitis at bay.  I also no longer clutch a beer in my hand, but entertain myself instead taking zillions of photographs, of the band, of the audience, of (irritated) security, of empty stairwells and overflowing ice machines - whatever catches my eye. While in Florida, you can still smoke in bars, I quit twenty years ago, so the smell of it, like most of the live music bar scene, only brings up distant memories of a time long ago when I was a different person. While I am taking guitar lessons myself now, I'm a homebody most of the time.   

Ice machine overflowing
Looking around the audience of a tribute band show, and you'll find that they are not the 20s hipsters finding new music expressing the anger, angst, hopes and dreams of their generation (as we did in our teens and 20s).  They're instead mostly like me; sporting varying degrees of middle-aged spread, we spend the evening remembering other evenings 20 years ago. Somewhere amid the urge to recapture lost youth and lost fire, I find this perfect moment where the past and the present blend together, and I can see what I've learned, what I've let go of and what I've embraced, and also feel this fondness for the youth I once was, bad choices, bad hairstyles and all.

Doors and stairs to secret lands
Plus, you can still yell real loud and hoot and holler and cheer, things polite grown-ups are seldom given opportunity in which to indulge, and - further bonus - can provide a certain mix of joy, embarrassment and humor for the kids of the band members in the audience and ironic hipsters enjoying a free show. For me, I got to marvel at some stellar guitar licks and if I'm a little more deaf today, having subjected my ears to some serious speakers that forcefully projected the bass through my chest, it was all worth it.  

In short: rock on, dudes.  Never let the music stop.  It's probably ok to trust people over 30 now though.  Maybe even 40.
Rock on!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Tourist Visits in Brief

In more exploring of my local area (part of my tourist at home plan), I revisited two local spots: The Ringling in Sarasota, and Sunken Gardens here in St. Petersburg.  Not surprisingly, Sunken Gardens remains my favorite; lush nature is hard to best.

Ca d'Zan
At the Ringling (free! with my MFA-St Pete SERM reciprocal membership), I toured the museum, wandering by the enormous gold-gilt frames in the regular collection, but that day, there was little with which I truly connected; some days, even I'm not feeling arty. Plus, given my general leanings toward more modern and abstract work, while, for example, the panting of Biblical decapitation was arresting, it wasn't for me. I was looking for the newly-built Asian wing, but must have missed it in my ambling, instead getting caught up in my fondness for the grounds - the rose garden and the enormous Banyan trees remain favorites. For the first time, I ventured into the Circus museum. I understand that they are pushing the idea of the greatest show on earth, the magical wonder of childhood and that they are obligated to present the Ringling family as snappy positive businessmen, but the truth is, I associate the circus more with caged animals and lawsuits on the the treatment of elephants. The greatest show had a viciousness underneath that, as an adult, is difficult to ignore. It did, however, certainly make the Ringlings a good deal of money, as further evidenced by Ca d'Zan, John and Mable Ringling's spectacularly ornate home overlooking the water.  Built before the crash, it's a peek into the opulence of an era.

Sunken Gardens
Sunken Gardens, meanwhile, feels to be less of a sanitized homage to vast wealth, despite its history as a privately-run Florida attraction. The 4-acre botanic garden originally started in 1903 as a private garden, which led to selling fruit from the trees, which led to nickel tours, which led to more extensive tours.  It's now owned by the City of St. Petersburg, and is one of the oldest attractions in the state.  On a breezy Florida afternoon, there are few places more lovely, with soaring palm trees, multitudes of blooming plants, and the largest wall of bougainvillea I've ever seen. Of course, Sunken Gardens too has its caged animals - a variety of birds squawk hello.  They are housed in large and spacious cages, and the birds, as well as I can tell, are happy, healthy and content. Still, some part of me wishes those birds were still soaring through some tropical jungle; to not have enough space to fly when you have wings seems a punishment no matter how much birdseed is available.  I suspect that is my thinking more than the birds though, or at least, I hope so.  We humans do so love the complex safety of our cages, be they fancy houses or metal bars.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Peter Pan: Time to Grow Up to 2016

I had the opportunity to see a friend's children on stage recently, as their school put on a production of Peter Pan, the 1954 musical version.  The children -- my friend's, and all the children participating -- put on a truly fantastic show, from the sets and costumes to Peter and the Darling children flying about the stage, singing and dancing.  They created and performed the full musical theater experience.  The senior that played Captain Hook turned in a particularly impressive performance, infusing his character with the perfect balance of venom, cowardice, and campy humor.  The singing across the cast impressed me with their range, confidence and emotion.  I loved to see the smallest cast members from the lower school earnestly playing their parts. Overall, I would not be surprised to see some of these kids go on to livelihoods in the theater. But I left the theater uncomfortable all the same. My discomfort with the show stems not from the performance of the kids in any way; they were excellent, and their hard work displayed professional results.  My unease instead comes more from the choice of Peter Pan itself, the choice to use the 1954 stage version without updating that could have made it more palatable to a more racially sensitive climate of 2016.

In the, oh, 30 or 40 years since I've seen any rendition of Peter Pan, most of its details had evaporated from my memory. There was Neverland, and Peter and the Lost Boys and never growing up, and, of course, the ticking of the crocodile, but that was about all I had retained. What I had forgotten is that when the Darling children leave London and arrive in Neverland, the Lost Boys are avoiding not just Hook's Pirates, but also Tiger Lily and her Indians. And that's where I felt pulled into the creepiness of 1954: crowds of kids, mostly white but some of color, were dressed up in faux warpaint and feathers. Tiger Lily and Peter Pan's big song, when they agree to be allies, is Ugg-A-Wugg; as you might guess, it's not exactly an homage to the complexity of any Native American language or culture. As much as I wanted to support the young thespians, the representation of Native Americans made me cringe.  

White privilege often comes with a portion of obliviousness, and here I'll guess it is that blindness at work, a failure to see, rather than a more direct hostility and dismissal of concerns. Perhaps those that decided on the choice of this musical simply didn't see the problems. Peter Pan was a raving success in 1954, a classic, so why not run with it? But it seems odd to me that they didn't research the production history at all, and see that, in fact, people had noted the racist issues interlaced in the musical, and made changes.  In 1994, a school production was canceled because of concerns (see NYTimes article here). Just recently, in the 2014 NBC production on television, they decided to re-write "Ugg-A-Wugg" and changed the title to "True Blood Brothers" (an interesting discussion with the Chickasaw composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate, the adviser on changes to "Ugg-a-Wugg," is available here). As the Smithsonian.com article "The Racist History of Peter Pan's Indian Tribe" by Sarah Laskow notes, "There's no real reason for a tribe of Native Americans....to live on Neverland, where they are impossible to excise from the story. But it's almost as impossible to depict them in a way that's not offensive."

As a former resident of Washington, DC, a town whose football team is still called the Washington Redskins, it's not as if I am not completely unaware of the casual racism applied to Native Americans, or, in some contexts, virtually any other non straight-white-male-Christian group.  Much of the time, if I say anything, I'm viewed as that humorless liberal that takes things too seriously.  We are after all in the era of Trump, where it is unpopular to be sensitive to political correctness (or indeed, apparently, basic human decency -- but I digress). Here's the thing though: if you say nothing, if you don't note the language and presentation, if you let "tradition" stand, then all the -isms keep on going unchallenged, and nothing changes. So in my quiet writerly way, I am trying to say more when I can, even when its socially awkward.

More than musical success, more than acting accolades, what I want most for the children that were on that stage -- particularly the girls and young women and people of color, or any kids with any hint of "otherness" -- I want them to feel that every voice matters. Part of their responsibility as they grow into adulthood is to acknowledge the ways in which their choices can help, and can hinder, the progress of society as a whole toward a more true equality.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Being a Tourist at Home

You know how you when you have guests in town, you get around to doing all the things that you've been meaning to do in your hometown because you want to entertain folks?  And in that process, you fall in love with your little world all over again?  My latest resolution is to become a tourist of the Tampa Bay area.

On that note, I (finally) took my borrowed bike down to Fort De Soto and inexpertly but enthusiastically pedaled my way over ten miles of bike paths.  Along the way I saw leggy birds, odd blooming cacti, palm trees galore, spectacular clouds, the ferry to Egmont key, a few other happy tourists/locals (my thanks to the people that offered help when I was fussing with my brakes), sand, shells, and the wonder of the Gulf reflecting dappled light. I breathed salt air, almost ran into a parked car when my foot slid off of a pedal creating an impressive wobble, and took a few photographs.

Where the trail ends, East Beach, Fort De Soto Park

So far, I'm loving this staycation.  More explorations to come.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Texture Experiments

At long last, I returned to my easel today.  I did not, at first, start with paint though.  I had an old painting that was a little flat and stormy green and rusty orange strange colors that I decided to renovate by adding some texture.  So I glued on some swatches of material and parts of a vinyl window shade. I then changed the color scheme to something much more upbeat, with oranges, pinks, magentas, and lilacs.  As a final addition, I added a bit of sand from the garden and let a gentle rain fall on it for a minute or so.

I'm not sure if it's all the experimenting with texture options, or simply dancing around the kitchen during a happy painting pause, but I like this version much better.

Texture Experiments
acrylic, fabric, vinyl, and sand on canvas
16" x 20"

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Kitty Character Sketches

Simon very politely arranged himself  to nap on the (not flattering) cartoon of himself. He may have a career ahead as a kitty model.

Friday, January 8, 2016

On Meditation: The View of Rage Mountain

For the last month, I've been dedicating anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes a day to meditation practice. Sometimes I follow a recorded guided meditation; sometimes I sit on my own. Sometimes I sit with my eyes open, but more often with my eyes closed. Sometimes my left foot falls asleep and sometimes I can work with that without moving and sometimes I quietly shift position and spend some time noticing the blood rushing back into that foot. Sometimes the cats rub against me or sit with me in solidarity.  Sometimes, I almost fall asleep and come back to myself as my posture is collapsing. Sometimes I can focus on my breath comfortably for long chunks of times, counting my breaths from one to five over and over. Other times I realize that my autopilot counting has misfired and I'm on six or seven; once I drifted so far off course that I didn't realize until I hit seventeen, so busy was I with the other thoughts I was simultaneously exploring, the bass line forgotten because of a temporarily more absorbing treble clef.

As a writer with interests in philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, character, art, creativity, and social, environmental and biological sciences, mediation crosses over into most of my fields of interests. You could make a fair argument that many of my hobbies over the years have elements of meditation, from obvious choices like yoga and distance running to the long open highway of road trips or a particular mind flow while painting. If, like me, you have a busy brain, finding ways to let it settle and turn down the excess noise is a welcome respite.  And yet this is the first time I've been consistent about meditating.  In our world of productivity, sitting around and doing, well, nothing, seemed like something I already did too much of.  Despite all the numerous well-publicized benefits, and my own positive experiences, on some level it felt counter-intuitive.

acrylic on canvas board
The brain is always wandering from thought to thought, reviewing the past, experiencing and sorting emotions, planning the future, wrestling with problems from the personal to the professional.
Stepping back and stopping to watch the parade of activity can be illuminating.

Recently, I had the experience of becoming overly impatient for the meditation to end.  As it turned out, there was cause for this, as I'd set my alarm incorrectly and so it hadn't gone off. It wasn't just that it felt like I was sitting for a longer time; I actually had been.  But behind my closed eyes, I didn't know that, and I just assumed it was my busy brain being uncomfortable with the extra space. I became more anxious for it to be over, to get back to my usual living. Soon enough, it became clear just why I wanted out: I could see a nasty storm of self-loathing coming down the pike to get me. The thoughts that I had an increasingly hard time of letting go of, of just letting them pass through, were mostly of myself screaming at myself on how I couldn't do anything right (starting with meditation) and I should just suck it up and learn to deal with discomfort and if I couldn't even meditate, well...it cascaded into a longer and excruciatingly detailed listing of every possible wrong move in my history and projected on into a future riddled with failure. As I described it to my sister in an email, it was Rage Mountain, with accompanying visuals not unlike the Bald Mountain scenes of Disney's Fantasia.

Rage Mountain was a view unexpected.  Knowing intellectually that you sometimes do something (awareness of my overly loud inner critic is not news) is different from sitting ringside and watching it in action with such explosive venom, of feeling both sides of the equation, the vicious anger and the crippling shame. It became easier to see them, that is, myself, with compassion, something I was not as aware that I needed more of from myself.

Starting meditation, I thought it would be a way to calm my mind and find more focus and balance. And in even such a short period of time, I am finding that the case. A center calm feels more available than it has in other times in my life, tied as it is to the consistent necessity of breathing.  I didn't anticipate the arising of harder moments of emotions -- rage, grief -- and yet, there is relief in seeing them clearly, letting them be heard and scream themselves out until the quiet metronome of the breath returns.

Free Guided Meditations (UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center)http://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=22

Monday, December 28, 2015

Cartoon Fun

Here's how I got over the hump of too long away from anything arty: a Sharpie, some good thick paper, and acrylic paint.  Voila!  Strange colorful cartoons were born.

Fancy a Bite? (with the bluebird of happiness)
Vicious Owl

Friday, September 25, 2015


You know when you're reading through FaceBook statuses and someone you only sort of a knew a long time ago has a long complicated status full of characters and overrun with amused comments and questions, including one that says -- "that sounds the the beginning of a short story!" -- and you think, huh, yeah, it does...

So that happened to me recently, and thanks to a little too much chocolate ice cream for breakfast,  I decided to go ahead and write a short story.  See "Candyland" below.  I incorporated parts of the original status and various comments from others as well.

If you need writing prompt, start scanning FaceBook.  Truth is stranger than fiction -- and can inspire fiction.



Two weeks ago, while at the liquor store a mile south of my house, I grabbed a bottle of wine and got in line to pay for it. The first things I noticed about the young woman in front of me was she was pretty, unusually animated and very chatty. As she was talking to the cashier, she kept moving her fingers in and out of the ends of her hair, twisting a curl of brunette hair around her forefinger and then letting it unspool. She quizzed the cashier about good local microbrews and volunteered how she used to live in Vegas so she didn’t understand the Minnesota liquor laws.

“Vegas was just one big cesspool of neon lights,” she said, “but I miss the sunshine. Minnesotans, maybe all the time in the snow, they are always so polite, but sometimes, it’s a little like Stepford, everyone silently nodding and smiling.”

The cashier, clearly Minnesotan, smiled, and handed her her change. But she didn’t leave, and went on talking as I stepped up and handed him my bottle of wine.

“Have you ever been to Las Vegas?” she asked. Still quiet, he nodded no. “It’s not just casinos and strippers.  I mean, those are there too, but there is something about the desert, when you get a little bit out of town.  I don’t mean the desert where the mafia buries people, but the kind of hiking desert in the spring, after one of those crazy rainstorms that come up from the south and dry up 30 seconds after the clouds pass, but that’s the day that everything blooms.  It’s amazing, when you see that, that this place that seems lifeless is really just hiding itself.”

The clerk handed me my change, and said to her, finally verbal, “Sounds nice.”

“Yeah, it is,” she said, and gave up trying to engage him then, heading for the door. 

She walked out in front of me and when we got outside, she turned to me and said without preamble, “Can you give me a ride to 65th and Humboldt?”  I noticed her eyes then, large and brown, oddly rounded like a cartoon character, but with clear whites, not bloodshot. The address was only about six blocks out of my way and totally residential, so I said, "sure."

We got in the car and she asked me, again playing with her hair, what I did for a living. I told her I worked in training for educational testing, and she launched into telling me she has experience in sales and training and asked if we're hiring.

“No, not right now,” I said, afraid she was going to ask me for a reference next.

“Look, let me give you my number, just in case something comes up. My name is Candy 
Cartwright,” she said, and listed off her number.  

By then, we were in front of her house, a small but tidy place with deep green shutters and a linden tree listing too far toward the house. I wrote her number down on the liquor store receipt, and then she added, "I'm also a massage therapist and I do massages privately so if you're looking for one, call me." She then got out of my car, waved and smiled as I drove off.

I was left with the question: Was she a) looking for a job; b) looking for a date; or, c) looking for a John? Or maybe the moral of this story was not to let strangers into my car. 

She was petite and harmless looking, with a fresh-faced no make-up look except a hint of lipstick, wearing a t-shirt and jeans that, I confess, I'd noticed she did fill out nicely. It’s not like she was 18 years old in lime-green spandex twirling a feather boa. She was probably in her early 30s, so maybe too young for my 47 year old self. Or maybe not. My sister endlessly told me I looked so young, despite the gray at my temples.  Those long Minnesota winters did keep the sun damage down. 

Honestly, something about Candy scared me a little bit, be she lonely gal, unemployed gal, friendly hooker -- whatever she was, she was so animated, so lively, direct but also confusing.   
Back in my own house, I put the white wine in the fridge to chill and pet Roscoe the dog until he ambled off again to nap by his year-round post by the fireplace. I put her phone number in the basket on the kitchen counter where I tossed the mail. 


A week later, as I finished both a glass of wine and paying the gas and electric bills (rates went up yet again), I came across the receipt with her number. I’d googled her name at work the day after our meeting, but come up with nothing on Candy Cartwright except information on a pro-wrestler with an impressive record and a devoted following. But nothing about my neighborhood Candy.

I wished she didn’t have a name that suggested either childhood board games or hospital-striped strip teasers. I mean, someone has to be named Candy, and Candace was a bit stuffy (I went by Ed, not my given of Edward) but Candy seemed to suggest the “happy ending” type of massage, rather than therapeutic.  Still.  Who plies her trade at a suburban liquor store?  Or is opportunity everything, so she just talked and played with her hair wherever she went? 

I turned the receipt over in my hands a few times, and then put it back in the bill basket. It would be silly to call.

But an hour and two more glasses of wine later, silly didn’t seem like such a bad thing. Sometimes, when one normally says "no," it's exciting to say "yes" and  see to where the door opens. 

The phone rang four times, and I was beginning to come to the unpleasant conclusion that I would either have to leave a message, or hang-up knowing that my number would be up on her caller ID, when I heard, “Hi!”  She sounded a little breathless.

“Hi, this is Ed. I gave you a ride back from the liquor store last week?”

“Ed! Hi! It’s nice to hear from you. So is DCR hiring now? I’m a sales whiz!”

“Oh, no, I was just calling to...” Crap. Why was I calling?  To find out if you’re a hooker?  If you’re single?  If I’m not quite as middle-aged looking or feeling as I thought? “That is, you mentioned that you’re a massage therapist?  Because I think I’ve done something to my,”  Hamstring?  That would make me sound like a runner -- but no, thighs were too personal. Foot?  No, that made me sound decrepit. “…my shoulder.  I was cleaning the gutters, and I think I pulled something. And I thought of you.”  Thought of you? Could I take that back? Too late.

“Great!  Well, I should tell you - I’m not exactly licensed.  But I have good hands, really.”

“Oh, umm” Holy crap, she was a hooker. “Umm.”

“I’m not licensed in Minnesota, I should say, not yet.  I was in Vegas.  If you’re not licensed in Vegas, people think you’re a call girl.  It got annoying. I mean, seriously, go find a showgirl. They’d do anybody.”

“Oh, umm.”  Thank god for telephones, I thought, because in person, she would have seen the flood 
of blood that rushed up into my face, making my ears tingle. “Umm, no, it’s just my shoulder.”

“You don’t want to see a doctor?”

“No, it’s just something that flares up from time to time…it will unknot itself again, I just get sick of it sometimes.” This was true. Too many hours hunched over the computer left my right shoulder and up into my neck tightened up so badly that I sometimes felt like Quasimoto. 

“A massage can fix that right up, and you’ll feel great! Since I’m not licensed in MN, I can give you deal.  You just, you know, can’t sue me.  Ok?”

“OK.” We agreed to a fee and set up a time two days later.  She did her informal massages out of her house, and so I would return to the same place just six blocks away.  She suddenly seemed awkwardly close. 

On the day of my appointment, my entire back had nary a knot to be found, and I felt intimately aware of my healthy shoulders, and considered canceling.  But it wasn’t a date.  I wasn’t a John. She wasn’t applying for a job.  It was a massage, and massages were supposed to be good for your health in all sorts of ways. Why not?  I hadn’t had a woman’s hands on my back in six months, not since I’d told Miriam that no, I didn’t believe in UFOs, and that I wished she’d stop talking about them, that I wished, in fact, that she would just go. It was the least smooth break-up in my illustrious and increasingly infrequent romantic life, and I later felt bad about it, but seriously, what adult woman believes in UFOs spiriting people away?  I mean, those people not on anti-psychotics? And she called me “hon” all the time.  Not honey, but “hon.” It grated on me.

Of late, I’d spent too much time thinking about Schopenhauer’s comment that “A man can be himself only so long as he is alone, and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom, for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.”

At 6:57pm, I found myself back in front of Candy’s house.  The linden tree was still listing into the gutters, probably providing a nice highway for the ants into the house. Before I was a homeowner, I never noticed these things. I hated that sometimes. 

I rang the bell, and heard her rustling behind the door with her quick step. The door swung open, and she greeting me warmly, like an old friend, with a quick hug that threw me, this expanse of heat pressed up momentarily against me, and just as fast removed. She was wearing an orange tank top and floaty gray yoga pants, and her hair pulled back in a ponytail, more evidence that this was not a date nor was she a hooker. 

She ushered me into the living room, a small space with wood floors, squishy formless sofas and an extra-large purple velour bean bag in one corner. In another corner next to the bookshelves, there was what looked a like a small altar with a photo, flower and small statue. Incense, a vaguely floral scent under some kind of sage, dry, arid, lingered in the air. 

“Great, right on time! You seem like the punctual type. So have a seat here for a minute. Do you want a glass of water?”

“No, thanks, I’m fine.” I perched on the edge of the couch, and folded my hands together in front of me. With clarity, I realized this was a terrible, terrible idea.  

She blinked at me twice, and then started to laugh. “You’re nervous! You haven’t had a massage before, have you?”

“Not a professional one, no,” I confessed. 

“Well, informal, given my licensing issues, but yeah, ok.” She reached around for her pony tail, flicking its end through her fingers once before letting if fly back again.

“So the deal is, my table is set up in the dining room.  I’ll leave the room while you undress, and then you slide under the sheet, so you have some privacy.  I mostly do Swedish massage, so pretty gentle, but I may lean into that bad shoulder a bit more.”

She continued on, quizzing me on any injuries or sensitivities, and then led me through a swinging door into the dining room.  A chandelier overhead had been chained closer to the ceiling, and was dimmed so that only a mellow glow fell over the massage table, and glinted off the glass of a china-filled breakfront in the corner. Thick blinds covered the windows.

“I figured I never used the dining room anyway, and I don’t have a table here anyway, so it became my massage room almost immediately.” 

After instructing me to position myself face down under the sheet, she left the room. 

I stood for a minute, looking at my reflection it the glass breakfront, considering the oddity of 
walking into a strange home and stripping down 5 minutes later. I shrugged, and felt, finally, my shoulder twinge, justified at last. I began to undress. Peeling off my t-shirt, I thought of the cashier at the liquor store, and wondered if he got massages here too. My sister was always telling me, live a little, leave yourself open to the world, explore new experiences, be vulnerable. I made good money at DCR, so why not blow a bit on a little weird, awkward luxury?  Might as well benefit from all that rampant capitalism.

Moments after I had settled myself into the massage table under the sheet, enjoying the mild scent of lavender in the cotton, I heard her knock on the door. “Ready?”

“Sure.” I heard the door swing open to admit her.  Looking over my shoulder, I noted she was still wearing the tank top, but now also small bike shorts of a strange murky green. She really did have a great butt.  No denying that, and not what I wanted to ponder in that particular circumstance. With the orange top and sheen of green, she seems like some kind of tropical bird, brightly colored, reflecting the little light in the dim room. 

“So your job here is to just relax, Ed.  Feel free to talk or not talk, and definitely tell me if anything hurts or is uncomfortable. I’ll ask you questions if I’m not sure on anything, but mostly, I’ll just listen to your body and let my hands do the rest.”

She lifted the sheet covering my feet, and began rubbing some kind of almond-scented oil into them.  

Her hands were remarkably strong, and all that lively energy that usually sparked out through chatter seemed to travel through her hands into my feet and ankles.  Time drifted and her hands moved.  I became aware of my breathing and how it synchronized with hers. Somewhere outside, a dog barked at car driving up the street.  A car door slammed. My feet melted away from my body.

When the front door opened with a jangle of keys, I came back to myself as Candy’s hands sprang away from my feet.

“Shit,” she said. “Sorry, Ed, it’s my roommate.  Just give me one minute.  I’ll be right back.” She pulled the sheet back over my legs. 

The person who came through the door had a heavy step, clomping into the living room.  “Candy?” he called. “Damn, I wish you’d stop burning that incense in here. It smells like a goddamn brothel.”

Candy slid through the swinging dining room door back to the living room, pausing in front of it, I realized, to make sure her form blocked any view into the room as the door swung closed again. 

And I had the revelation that I didn’t much feel like having a massage anymore.  I rolled off the table, and located my boxers and jeans, pulling them on quicker than I’d previously thought possible. Screw vulnerability. 

In the living room, I heard Candy talking. “Thor, hon, I didn’t expect you home quite so early tonight.  Slow at the bar?”

“Scheduling screw up. Larsen had already gotten there, and I figured, hell, time to go home.”

Candy dropped her voice, but since I’d now moved closer to the door as I was tucking in my shirt, could hear her say to the looming presence of Thor visible through the crack in the door, “Look, don’t be mad, Thor, but I have a client here right now.  And I sort of need to finish up. So like an hour?”

Thor said nothing for what seemed like a long moment. “You have a naked guy here in my house?”

Whispering emphatically, she said, “No, no, it’s a woman. Keep your voice down. She’s very nice. I met her through Marla. You know Marla and all her church people.”

I moved away from the door then, sat quickly in the wooden chair in the corner to lace up my shoes, trying to figure a way out of being part of what could blossom into an unpleasant domestic matter. “Look, I’m going upstairs,” Thor said. “You finish up, but, Jesus, Candy, we’ve talked about this.  I don’t like having you rub all these people running around the house. Get Marla’s friend out the door fast, and then let’s get some dinner. I wanted a night home with you.”

Candy said, “I wouldn’t have scheduled her today if I’d known, hon. Thanks.”

I heard the perfunctory smack of their lips, and then Thor’s clomping feet going upstairs. 
Candy came swinging back through the door, looked from the table to me now dressed and sitting in the corner. 

“Oh,” she said.  “You heard?”

“I heard. I think maybe I should go, Candy.”  She looked at me mournfully, the animation drained from her, and said, “Yes, I suppose so.”

By unspoken accord, she held open the door for me, and then rushed to the front door, unlocking it as quietly as possible.  I turned to look at her as I exited, her face impassive, and heard Thor from upstairs saying, “Candy?  Marla just texted saying she wants to know who you mean?” His voice started moving closer coming down the stairs, “She said she hasn’t referred anyone to you, Candy.”

I started running down the front walk then, my oily feet sliding around in my socks and the night air full of the warmth of blooming garden smells.  I fumbled with my keys getting the car door unlocked, and looked to see Thor on the front steps, filling the frame with his height and breadth. He came bolting down the walk. I opened the car door, clear then that I could peel away in time, and looked up to see Candy silhouetted in the doorway. 

And with that, I closed the door again without getting in. I watched Thor’s progress toward me and heard the high pitch of Candy’s voice as she yelled at Thor, “Hon! Hon! He’s a nice man! Get back here, you big jerk!”  But Thor wasn’t listening to Candy.  To my right, the porch lights went on at the house next door.  Candy stepped off the front stairs, following Thor’s route toward me.  Thor, young, blond, the god of thunder carried his storm toward me as I waited by my dusty Corolla. 

I had never felt more alive. 

Every good story starts with a bad decision.