Monday, December 14, 2009

“A soup like this is not the work of one man. It is the result of a constantly refined tradition. There are nearly a thousand years of history in this soup.” Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop.


Climate Change haters are at this very moment cooking up bogus tales to mask their stupidity. Senators are shuffling the health care deck. The ‘some-of-my-best-friends’ racists are telling impolite jokes. Homophobes in Houston are holding their breath. The voter turnout was, after all, only 16 per cent. They may not have voted but they’ll have their say. English friends will be divided on The Royals and once again I will wait for any sign from The Mister that he will listen to the Queen’s Christmas broadcast. Soldiers in the military, misguided say I, will continue to bomb the crap out of places where humanity is seemingly not an issue. A prisoner will be put to death and still not sway the revenge seekers. Movies will be argued about and neither side convinced. The God is Great God Is Dead argument will carry on. But even the disagreeable agree on one thing: soup in winter.

“In the soup.” Generally the phrase brings to mind a difficult situation. The job is lost, the rent is late, the toilet’s backed up, or the dinner burned. But the unpleasantness in life can be turned around. “In the soup” can mean something entirely different and very beneficial.



Gallons of water, hot but comfortable to the touch

1 cup of Epsom salts per gallon of hot water used

1-2 tbs. each of essential oils, like lemon, eucalyptus, lavender, geranium, etc.

1 glass of red wine (or white if you prefer) set aside.


Clean, wash, rinse a large tub.

Fill to brim with the hot water, dissolving the salt under the running water

Add any amount and combination of essential oils

Remove clothes

Submerge to the neck

Simmer for 20 minutes or so, adding hot water as necessary.

Check fingertips for pruning.

Remove the meat (you) from the tub.

Dry off, slip into something comfortable, and raise that glass of wine.

Monday, November 23, 2009

“I place my mark and do not hide.” Isamu Noguchi


An unseasonably warm Saturday this weekend brought The Mister and me to Queens, specifically Long Island City. Young, newly married friends of ours had invited us to their apartment on Crescent Street to meet the new addition to their family. Rennie and David had rescued Buddy, a two-year-old bichon poodle mix, from a shelter. Recently they dropped by our apartment to meet the two kittens named Billie and George who captured our hearts when The Mister and I decided, after our old cat Sidney left us, that a house was not a home without cats and it was time for a visit to the ASPCA.

I grew up in Astoria and knew well the surrounding areas of Long Island City. When we exited the subway at Queensboro Plaza and crossed above the busy roadway feeding onto the 59th Street Bridge I recalled immediately the times I would accompany my Aunt Frances to the unemployment office in the building linked by the little bridge to the subway station. When the Golden Age of Vacuum Tubes faded women with small hands like my diminutive aunt were needed to assemble transistor radios. In the late 50s some new invention rendered her nimble fingers unnecessary. I was a little girl and she an out of work employee off the production line of the Fisher Radio Corporation. Now The Mister passes through this area when he rides in to work with a co-worker. What he sees are the prison busses releasing men into post dawn freedom and the women who, for a fee, will remind a lot of them what they didn’t have behind bars.

But on a sunny late Saturday morning the entrance to the station was crowded only with grumbling passengers disembarking from shuttle busses because subway service was once again disrupted in Queens. Rather than fight our way onto the waiting shuttle bus with a disgruntled mob we opted to walk the distance of the two short stops along Crescent Street to our friends’ apartment. Turning on to Crescent Street I was startled to see a Ramada Inn. On a block further down was another utilitarian looking structure with the ironic sign: Country Inn.

The blocks closest to the Great Iron Wall of the elevated subway were the lackluster streets I remembered as a child, though some evidence of the little shingled houses remain among the barbed wire and acres of rotting automobiles. Now there are satellite dishes breaking the low skyline above flat roofs. An American flag hung from an aluminum awning above a window in a shingled house as faded as the stars and stripes. In the background, a quartet of smoke stacks, looming evidence of the city’s power source. A vacant lot once held a rather down at heel flea market. Rosenwach is a grim, fenced fortress behind which are housed those ubiquitous water tanks. The neighborhood is where taxis go after their shifts are up; where the silver quilted carts of fast food vendors set out of a morning stocked with dirty water dogs, bloated tasteless pretzels and the strange gray matter called gyros. A view of the stagey Manhattan skyline in the distance is highlighted in the foreground with footlights of razor wire.

Gas stations and swathes of forbidding chain link fence soon give way to more habitable signs of life like laundromats, a storefront music studio, and a deli. Two-story brick homes that I recall growing up are still there. Not so is the jealousy I felt for school friends who lived in those homes. Coming from a housing project, I hopelessly compared their lives, which were a luxury of porches and back yards and a room of their own, to mine. These houses are probably multiple dwellings now.

Queens is a buzz of nationalities and has always been though the tides of ethnicity shift over the years as immigrants improve their lot in life and move on. A Punjab car dealership, shiny Greek diners and some of the mock-Tudor-style that reminds The Mister of England. An angry looking bald eagle painted on a shuttered storefront suggests the conservatism underneath. Relatively new are the young people who come to New York and have been priced out of their Manhattan dream. Modern apartment buildings—terraced condos—have risen and are still rising along the East River.

Our planned destination was the Noguchi Museum a couple of miles away. Good weather days demand that we walk, so after leaving a very disappointed Buddy behind, we carried on with our friends in the direction of the museum. We detoured into Socrates Sculpture Park, which I am embarrassed to admit I have not been to. Maybe because I always remembered that area as a toxic dumping ground, an abandoned landfill that street-wise girls like I was stayed far away from. But since the late 80s, the area was conceived by the sculptor Mark di Suvero and developed into an open studio and exhibition space for artists. It has also turned out to be a pretty neat park with fine views of Manhattan and the promise of river breezes in the summer. The winter lawn, uneven and patchy, seemed at the moment to be the domain of the free wheeling dogs off leash. We meandered around a rag tag collection of outdoor sculpture, some of which looked pretty weather beaten. My favorite was the giant rat atop a very tall pedestal, which was dripping with what looked like bird shit. On its back a sculpted pigeon gave credence to the title of the piece: Massive Dump. Runner up was the subway station entrance to nowhere.

When one arrives at the Noguchi Museum it seems a very uninspired place from the exterior, an unadorned brick box of a building. I have been here a few times before but not since the extensive renovations. I confess to appreciating more the rawness of a place like an artist’s studio left as is or say Ellis Island when it was almost a dangerous place to tramp around but where you were more likely to feel the ghosts of the place.

But the museum was a good place to culturally re-fuel, especially after a theatrical production of Albert Camus: The Misunderstanding, which we saw on Thursday night at The Flea Theater in Tribeca. A relentlessly grim adherence to dialog left the rather underwhelming actors with no where to go but screaming. The final onstage scream had The Mister and me racing for the exit stairs, he mumbling something about The Wooden Tops school of acting.

A place like the Noguchi Museum is a refuge. One can leave the convolutions of politics behind: a 2,000-plus page health care bill which can’t be good, the question of whether the radiation from Three Mile Island is significant or not and the specter of Sarah Palin not exactly paling these days. Her book of lies notwithstanding, it’s as one witty blogger writes: “Just like the bible thumpers; speak loudly and carry a small sack o facts.” And that too hastily restarted Big Bang machine that has scientists in a dither? It’s time for a refuge.

We wandered the nearly empty galleries and the original space that was the sculptor’s working studio pausing before whatever piece commanded our attention. The Zen-like presence of the sculptures shared their calm with us. Each piece had, I don’t know, a quality of knowing. As a viewer one could only remain outside the influence of any of the larger abstracts for so long before being brought spiritually closer to the quiet strength of those works. One can imagine the stone breathing, having a pulse and a heartbeat.

Isamu Noguchi’s long time assistant and collaborator Shoji Sadao revealed in a video that if Noguchi felt he cut too much from the stone he would leave it for a year or whatever time it took and the stone would heal like a person.

I have been writing short stories and lately returned to the journals from years ago that I used to keep religiously. It has been many, many years since I have read these pages because I did not, as a rule, reread any of the journal entries. I kept the journals on the top shelf of the bookcase, unreachable, and all those memories tightly sealed between the covers of each journal. Now I am reading my journal from the winter of 1975. It was a raw time for me. I was deeply wounded by a marriage that I never should have been part of. Pages and pages of howling at the moon fill those years. But a remarkable thing has been happening as I conjure up inspiration for my fictional short stories and excavate what I had been avoiding for so long. Wounds have healed. A sad and tortured childhood holds pockets of comic splendor and reminders of a kind of faith I had as a child that I would find my way. The deep cuts that I received (and, in all honesty, gave out) are no longer raw. The journals have taken their time but the cuts have been closed. I am left now to carve new stories from the stone.

We left the museum and enjoyed a brunch in Astoria with our young friends. I was no longer a little girl who didn’t understand why her family wasn’t like the Ozzie and Harriet bunch, nor was I that young woman married and miserable in another’s family that never made her feel welcome. I was with The Mister and a young couple whose ideals I respect and whose future will see them flourish.

I was a grown woman and I was with friends.

PHOTOGRAPH ABOVE: THE MOUNTAIN 1964 Red Persian Travertine 20 x 11 x 24 inches


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

“There is nothing you can see that is not a flower; there is nothing you can think that is not the moon.” Matsuo Basho


Last night the tide of uncertainty and the displacement that comes from the regular push and pull of life’s little dramas suddenly rose up in me in a tremulous wave. The Mister and I had just settled in the back room to work on a new song. He looked at my face and did not have to ask. He put down the guitar. We got our shoes back on. At Fifth Avenue The Mister turned as if being called. I followed his gaze to the full moon above us. We made our way to Central Park. Walking along the darkened bridle path below the reservoir the night sky was pinpointed with stars we rarely see in our electrified urban landscape. We continued below the reservoir and across to the west side through the area known as The Pinetum, breathing in the fresh scent of evergreen. The children’s swings stood empty, reminding me that so much of the drama I carry around is still about protecting the child in me, that the little dramas take over for brief periods when it is too difficult to dwell on bigger things. The moon was now in front of us. The little dramas that had been weighing on me took off like bats from a cave. I watched them until they became indistinguishable from the leaves still clinging to branches. We started back home along the reservoir, stopping for the wary raccoon, trading knowing glances when a runner in a t-shirt with the Eiffel Tower glides past us, taking in the never disappointing skyline of Manhattan to the south. A full moon stirs deeply the well of emotion and can be both upsetting and calming. The trick is to follow its lead.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.-- Walter Winchell


I don’t live here anymore

But I find my way around

My family’s moved on

Like the sun behind a cloud

Sitting here in Victoria Park

Heading back before its dark

On Greenhill Road

You will find me

Leave a troubled life

Far behind me

Up on Greenhill Road

If you hide me

For a day

For a night

For a year

For whatever feels right

I feel alright

I’m not angry anymore

But I find myself undone

They’re fading away

All the photographs are gone

Sitting here in Victoria Park

Heading back before its dark

On Greenhill Road

You will find me

Leave a troubled life

Far behind me

Up on Greenhill road

If you hide me

For a day

For a night

For a year

For whatever feels right

I feel alright

I’m not waiting anymore

Gonna find my own way home

Those shadows are long

Like the day that ends alone

Sitting here in Victoria Park

Heading back before it’s dark

The best songs come from

Familiar places, clues, and traces

Trust me darling it’s the safest

Up on Greenhill Road

You will find me

Leave a troubled life

Far behind me

Up on Greenhill road

If you hide me

For a day

For a night

For a year

For whatever feels right

I feel alright



Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Paradise Built In Hell. The extraordinary communities that arise in Disaster. By Rebecca Solnit.

From the epilogue: The doorway in the ruins.

"Who are you? Who are we? The history of disaster demonstrates that most of us are social animals, hungry for connection, as well as for purpose and meaning. It also suggest that if this is who we are, then everyday life in most places is a disaster that disruptions sometimes gives us a chance to change. They are a crack in the walls that ordinarily hem us in, and what floods in can be enormously destructive—or creative. Hierarchies and institutions are inadequate to these circumstances; they are often what fails in such crises. Civil society is what succeeds, not only in an emotional demonstration of altruism and mutual aid but also in practical mustering of creativity and resources to meet the challenges. Only this dispersed force of countless people making countless decisions is adequate to a major crisis. One reason that disasters are threatening to elites is that power devolves to the people on the ground in many ways: it is the neighbors who are the first responders and who assemble the impromptu kitchens and networks to rebuild. And it demonstrates the viability of the dispersed, decentralized system of decision making. Citizens themselves in these moments constitute the government—the acting decision-making body—as democracy has always promised and rarely delivered. Thus disasters often unfold as though a revolution has already taken place."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

When His Holiness won the Nobel Peace Prize, there was a quantum leap. He is not seen as solely a Tibetan anymore; he belongs to the world. —Richard Gere.


As John Lennon once famously sang, “Well, well well.”

Woke up on Friday morning to the news that Barack Obama had won the Nobel Prize for Peace. I won’t lie. I was gob smacked, and not in a good way. The Mister revealed the same stunned expression when I told him the news. What in the world was going on? I reasoned this was gonna be one more thing that, if I bitched about it, which would only serve to deepen the brand on me—the malcontent—among my peers. Between long standing malcontentniks, also known as friends, there would be a flurry of e-mails in a number of languages basically all saying the same thing: “WTF?”

So, blessed or cursed with (depending on how you look at it) the concept of ‘once you know you cannot un-know’, and just a tad envious of the ‘ignorance as bliss’ crowd, The Mister and I decided to see the new film, A Serious Man. Like our emotions, the sky was undecided. Drizzle gave way to fleeting blasts of sunshine and as if afraid of its own light the sky quickly retreated into dullness again. As we could not depend on the weather to lighten our spirits we embraced the gift from the Universe at the Sunshine Cinema, which was the latest from the Coen brothers whose films are always original and even when it takes a second viewing to see the genius, never fail to be much more than the latest fad or the remake of a wan contemporary screenplay that has sat on a best seller list hidden in novel form.

An afternoon show time brings back fond memories of lonely retreats into darkened movie theaters. Escaping for a few hours the failed marriage, a confusing or unhealthy friendship, ever present money worries and those doubts running a full gamut of a young woman’s fears of her relationship with her creativity, her current lover, the rest of the world, or simply to enjoy a film on her own. Only now I have rediscovered this afternoon delight with a man who shares a current list of banes and the need for creative solitude.

Much of my older adult life it seems has been lived in a state of disbelief. I can barely understand why so much of what has gone on socially and politically has not been met with loud protest. We accept, so readily, promises that are not kept by our elected leaders, or worse, have turned up in dispiritingly low numbers to protest the promises of some who did keep their destructive promises. Disbelief crosses my expression enough now to know when to mask it as such. Disbelief has transformed into action for me on occasions when disbelief isn’t enough. If, after a requisite lecture from an animal loving rescuer of the tortured and abandoned, I make the connection to the inhumanity of the death penalty in our own country and I am met with cries of “Well, some of them just deserve to be put to death,” then I struggle with the disbelief and resolve to step up the effort to end the death penalty.

Post 9/11, my disbelief was at its zenith I think. Huddled merely a month later in the pre-dawn cold on Broadway and 96th street with literally handfuls of people who were not going to be herded into a war mentality based on supremely misguided revenge and despite the personal attacks on them would get on the bus and keep getting on the bus to Washington D.C. to do what should be part of our American DNA and that is protest a murderous injustice and a lie. Eventually more citizens would be persuaded but not until the road to protest had been cleared of minefields. Not until it was peopled more by a convivial bunch thumping tambourines and hoisting giant papier maché puppets.

Disbelief rears its startled head when intelligent people I know regard our president as nothing less than a rock star. Their eyes glaze over and it’s practically a guaranteed that they have Ambien dreams about the guy as a vegan because, you know, that’s the only gripe they have with him. Suggesting that we rename the Health Care Bill the Dazed and Confused Bill to the multitudes who depend on Prozac to get through their day simply lands flat. That our economic future was handily taken from us and given to the very financial institutions that raped us in the first place isn’t cocktail party conversation where I wouldn’t fit in anyway because I don’t own a t-shirt that spells OBAMA in glittering sequins.

Where I am maddened by Obama’s response to the Nobel, that “These challenges won't all be met during my presidency, or even my lifetime,” and call it ass-covering, others will simply dismiss me as a malcontent and say he’s being pragmatic.

It is safer conversational territory if we keep to the latest sweeping documentary from Ken Burns and don’t ever stray into disbelief over the enduring hit show in town, its ads plastered across cheery red double-decker tourist busses. I’m talking about Bodies: The Exhibtion down at the South Street Seaport, which is still pulling the punters in. Never mind where those skinned, plasticized bodies came from in China—the poor, the dissident, and the criminalized—it’s educational, innit?

Recently The Mister and I traveled out to Brooklyn to hear Tom Hayden speak at the United Methodist Church in Park Slope. The pews were packed but practically every head was some shade of gray unless there was no hair at all. The very few young people at the back of the church were introduced as Hayden’s Brooklyn relatives. I’m not saying that one of the founding members of Students For a Democratic Society way back in the early 60s, the guy who rallied campuses all over the nation to actively protest the Viet Nam war, the primary author of the Port Huron statement, described by Howard Zinn as “one of those historic documents which represents an era,” who is still ‘a leading voice for ending the war in Iraq, eradicating sweatshops, saving the environment, and reforming politics through greater citizen participation’ has lost his edge. Nope, not from the looks of pleasingly plump matrons in sensible shoes who were jostling with any excuse to wrap their dimpled arms around him. He spoke with conviction, although softened somewhat in the re-telling, of importance of grass roots organizing. The lull was only broken when he admonished the audience not to abandon our president but to demand from him the promises that he made be kept. That got a few cranky oldsters stirred up all right and shouts of “He’s abandoned us!” livened things up, but only briefly.

So what’s a girl and a boy to do? Off to the movies!

A Serious Man—a wonderfully funny and moving film by the way—fully validated a suspicion that life is shit, the bad guys have won, and good deeds will most certainly be punished. Pleas for answers fall on deaf ears. Your personal gods do not have call waiting so expect a busy signal. We are in the Age of MacAspiration now, so very 21st century. A big MacAspiration will have to satisfy hunger for real progress. Promises are all we can count on. Our energies will have to be redirected to avoid the herding instinct toward mandatory vaccinations and American President Idol. We’ll have to accept, as some commentator posted, that the Nobel Committee might just be handing Obama the equivalent of a lollipop and a pat on the head, telling him to make them proud. We might have to give up the notion that this prize means anything at all and remind ourselves that Henry Kissinger can call himself a Nobel winner and Ghandi never did. It just might be that after so many destructive years of George W. Bush we are now entering an era of good intentions. That we are in dire straits in this country—have not repealed the death penalty, which is racist and proven to be an unsuccessful deterrent to crime not to mention mistakenly putting innocent people to death; that our politicians and doctors have sold themselves to corporate America and arm twist too many of us into a pharmaceutical dependence instead of focusing on prevention and a healthy drug-free lifestyle—that will all be swept under the feel good rug of good intentions. Welcome to wishful thinking folks.

The Mister and I enjoyed a delicious meal at our fave vegetarian Indian restaurant, our appetites sharpened from an impulsive round trip ride on a Staten Island ferry after we had just seen A Serious Man. I reminded him of the boy we saw in the black t-shirt that bore the message: I CARRY THE APOCALYPSE. Our level of disbelief is spread over news items like the ones in the U.K. that say citizens will be rewarded for studying one of the ubiquitous CCTV cameras for anything suspicious and turning their neighbors in. Or that libraries will, instead of being funded by the government so they can improve service, hire workers who are visible to the populace and stock the shelves with worthy reading material, will be in partnership with the faceless monolith of Amazon. Laughing disbelief is relegated to the news of a Miss Plastic competition in Hungary. Breast implants, nose jobs and facelifts and not a fiery baton twirler or a plea for world peace in the lot. Newly asymmetrical beauties, along with their plastic surgeons, share the awards. I save the best news for last: Marge Simpson is to bear all in the November issue of Playboy!

Over little spiced dishes in my choice of tiffen wallah and a fragrant Malai Kofta for The Mister we recall the many bits in A Serious Man that made us howl with laughter. We both know there is a message somewhere in the story, but are not exactly sure what it is. Perhaps it is that Nature is the great leveler. But, none of that matters anymore. We came away smiling and thinking about the film, still thinking about it at dinner and probably will still be thinking about it for some time. The songs of Jefferson Airplane looped happily in our heads among the hauntingly beautiful Yiddish songs sung by cantors featured in the film. The Mister looked up at me, and smiled. “I think we’re quite well suited.”

When the truth is found to be lies

And all the joys within you dies

Don’t you want somebody to love

Don’t you need somebody to love

Wouldn’t you love somebody to love

You better find somebody to love.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Free love? As if love is anything but free!—Emma Goldman


 “I have been ill for the past three years. But I am better today.”
Kate Howard stares at the message on her laptop. Its screen sheds the only other light in the room, besides the soft glow from a brass lamp on the marble-topped desk. The green glass shade bathes the contemplative smile of a small silver Buddha in a wash of marine light. It is midnight in Manhattan on the Upper East Side. From her 9th floor apartment Kate hears the soothing undercurrent of end-of-summer traffic on blacktop just starting to glisten. For a full minute she scrutinizes those startling sentences, sifting recent memory for a clue to Paavo’s message. Ill for three years? When had they last been in touch? It had to have been e-mail because they had not spoken in a long time. A quick perusal of her ‘sent’ mail reveals no correspondence between them for at least a year. It is late and Kate is tempted to put off answering Paavo until morning. But her husband is still working in the back room. He is very nearly finished mixing a new song. She might as well stay up because Stephen, or Stee as she calls him, will want her to hear it. And her curiosity is piqued by Paavo’s message.
Paavo Kaasik, only son of Estonian artists, was born in Paris. His father, an emotionally pale sculptor, had escaped from a Nazi slave labor camp to France where he met his bride. She was a poet, an unflappable Estonian beauty with a hardy constitution. They grew up in neighboring cities along the border of Russia. Then living as refugees in Paris, Grigory and Ruta were momentarily overjoyed at Paavo’s birth. They immigrated to America, to New York and the reassuring proximity to other refugees near Oyster Bay on Long Island. They became citizens. She changed her name to Rita. Eventually their family grew, as did the despair of Paavo’s father who grieved for his homeland. Despondency not even a son and three daughters could relieve forced his retreat from worldly concerns and he sculpted fantastical topiary from the dense shrubbery surrounding their 3-bedroom, seagull-gray clapboard colonial. Those verdant monsters fascinated the neighbor kids and embarrassed his children.
His wife was their ballast, the one to put poetry behind her and get a teaching job. This led to a principal position at the high school in Locust Valley. She earned a comfortable if not particularly privileged life for her children, hoping to increase their choices by ministering to their needs. Her husband was left to his despair and the sculpture such as it was. The girls married strapping fair-haired Americans and all produced daughters who drifted from their oddly woeful grandfather when his wife died. They grew into healthy indulged teenagers who ran track, passed out at raves, played guitar and went to college. They had cell phones and then Blackberries; they posted on myspace and then facebook. They had no curiosity about the family history, the volumes of unpublished poetry their grandmother had left behind, or for their Uncle Paavo beyond what he gifted them—expensive trinkets offered in Tiffany’s signature robin’s-egg-blue boxes and elaborately patterned squares of silk he called fichus, which were received excitedly and then cast aside, too old-fashioned for the girls’ obsession with trends. They married professional men and had babies—more daughters as it turned out. Paavo’s sisters ignored the political quagmires he created for himself. He wrote passionately and extensively about the extremist right with an often barely masked vitriol. No one had given his sonnets anything more than a cursory glance. Paavo was left to carry on the family name and he had failed miserably.
Paavo’s seduction of Kate was facilitated by her willingness, her drive, to be enthralled. She read all of his sonnets. Kate had taken many lovers after her first marriage ended in divorce. Paavo was her intellectual conquest, the others before serving merely to pave the way. That he pursued her like a rutting buck, oblivious to his vulnerability in hunting season, was irrelevant. She knew she was incapable of having children and never revealed that to Paavo. It seemed cruel, at the time, to derail his purpose.
That was over thirty-five years ago. Perhaps it wasn’t so unusual, a communication from him out of the blue. After long absences reappeared and always in a different locale invariably determined by his personal astrology readings. An eclipse—lunar or solar—usually guaranteed a message from him, warning her about a crisis occurring right smack on top of her midheaven. Her nadir often did not escape its influence either. They were always interesting to Kate, his astrological predictions, but she never felt the transformative effects he had predicted. Or at least she wasn’t aware of them. The only time he’d been absolutely correct was informing her that despite his wish for a different outcome, everything he charted for Kate and Stephen twenty years ago signaled a strong union.
Paavo had once surfaced in Northern California and he expounded on the many pleasures to be found in the wine country of Sonoma. From Saigon, which he informed her was officially Ho Chi Minh City, he’d reported that he was delighted to be an object of curiosity to so many. He was on his way to Hanoi and then the beaches where he would be revitalized, astrologically speaking of course. The last time she heard from him he was in Chile, laying low in a little town called El Molle in the Elqui Valley. From there he wrote: “Extra terrestrials make the most landings on earth here.”
Kate taps the keys. “Where are you? Why no word until now? What do you mean, ill?” Hesitating, she deletes the questions and replaces them with another. “I hope you are really okay?” Paavo’s e-mail had arrived many hours before. She had been consciously avoiding the inbox while focusing on the short story she is writing. “Where are you?” she adds. “Still in the land of E.T.?” She hits send. The beauty of e-mail is that it never wakes anyone up, never is an audible, unavoidable bellow. Before she can pick up the glass of red wine on her desk he replies.
Paavo informs her that he’s on the West Coast again, this time at the opposite end of California, in the heel of the sock-shaped state. “I’m in Redondo Beach in southern California.” She types without hesitation. “I haven’t heard from you in so long. Why now?” Kate adds the smiley face to avoid misunderstanding. Instantly he replies, “I don’t know. I was thinking of you.”
Paavo only reveals that he is into yoga seriously, Viniyoga specifically, which is a type of Hatha yoga. Concentration on the breath sharpens and focuses the mind. “This brings spiritual advancement,” he continues. “Oh, and there are many, many difficult poses. I am quite advanced.” Without Kate asking, he describes at length the light in Southern California and how earthquakes and fires frightened him but were hardly talked about as if it was just as natural as can be. The personalities he comes in contact with are a hoot, all hippy dippy la-la—organic la-la, he stresses. It is sexier in the south. He is really quite happy to be there. A young woman he is ‘educating’, beautiful, exotic, is an aspiring actress. She is absolutely smitten with him. Oh, and he is teaching himself to read and write Sanskrit.
Perhaps he is drinking. Kate sips from her glass, studies the evidence of her lips on the rim. With e-mail it is not so obvious, especially from a man who is an alchemist with words. He has not asked how she is. “Okay, tell me about being ill? What was it? Are you really better now?” As if he has read her mind he responds: “I have quit drinking. Nearly three years now.” She waits this time and hopes he will answer her question. After a few minutes, maybe more like ten, a response appears.
Kate glances over the content, looking for her answer. He writes nothing about his health. Instead he tells her that he has been spending the past few days and nights Googling everyone they had worked with in Chelsea. “Like who?” Kate types, but deletes this question and asks instead: “What made you think of the newspaper? That was ages ago.”
Again, Paavo has ignored the question and after a few moments there is another wordy response. It reads like a cast of characters in a play by Arthur Miller. Some, he wrote, had not made it to their 60s as he and Kate had.
Rusty Trenchman was the original founder and owner of the weekly community newspaper where Kate and Paavo worked. Paavo was a take-no-prisoners, muckraking journalist. Kate earned her living as a typesetter. While she contributed captions and a clever headline or two, her creative writing remained outside the drafty walls of the dank, cavernous loft on West 24th Street where they labored practically around the clock to put out a weekly edition of the Chelsea Chatter. The hard working staff was a presence in the community. After each weekly edition was put to bed, they could be found in the neighborhood Blarney Stone—a low lit, stale-smelling, blue-collar rendezvous where salt-laden piles of corned beef and cabbage sweated on a steam table at the far end of the bar. They downed numerous pitchers of cheap beer between shot glasses of whiskey, their reward for striving to right the wrongs, beat the politically unbeatable, and throw fits when Trentman rejected an exposé if the target just happened to be running a full-page ad in the paper that week.
And where was Rusty Trenchman today? The man who loudly championed the underdog and left-wing social policies that failed to impress left-wingers, who was fond of repeating to his staff and anyone who would listen that truth was more important than being liked by everyone, was a millionaire many times over having sold the scrappy rag to a major media conglomerate.
Sonny Winter’s name appears next, someone Kate had not thought of in many years. He was the ‘Boy Wonder’, a fresh-faced journalist always with a smile as wide as his innocence. People were good. Politicians could be persuaded. Wrongs could be righted. He married his sweetheart when wedding announcements in the New York Times reported the bride’s name as Miss So-and-so. He walked her down the aisle into her wealthy, politically situated family of judges and community leaders. Sonny, Paavo reported, died of cancer just after 9/11.
Kate is surprised to see another name: Blossom. She was Paavo’s first and only wife. On the rebound from Kate, he married Blossom; a pretty and vacant young woman who aspired to be a photojournalist and Paavo was just the man to help her navigate the shutter. Already twice married she readily accepted another round with Paavo. He uncovered her name in an online column of the New York Times called “Vows.” Blossom Lovett Woodward Kaasik had added yet another surname. The ceremony took place in the spacious rent-controlled apartment where she still lived; the one she’d finagled from Paavo who, at the time they were divorced, was hopelessly debilitated by alcohol and debt.
Max Schovelt is dead. The only mention Paavo found of Max was a listing in Cypress Hills. It must have happened some time ago since the cemetery has been closed for many years. Max was one of Kate’s anarchic lovers, a radical leftist Jewish photographer whose idea of a romantic date was a jarring ride on a school bus to Washington D.C. to document a protest. Targeting Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal at the Impeachment Fair on the Mall proved an aphrodisiac. Foreplay was the long, sleepy, druggy bus ride back to Manhattan to a cramped tenement walkup on Ninth Avenue where they fell up into a loft bed littered with graphically bold pamphlets proclaiming various political, social and economic injustices.
Kate reads on. She knows where Dick Hardman landed. The most feared gossip columnist in Manhattan, he was difficult to avoid. His byline appears above his column in a major tabloid, which is driven by sensationalism. She wasn’t surprised though because she’d predicted some avenue of sleaze paved with money for the young, preppy editor-in-chief of the Chelsea Chatter when she’d inadvertently overheard him deliver a sniveling apology to their boss after the Chatter staff had revolted over a completely legitimate grievance. Years later when the right-leaning owner of the tabloid sought to break the unions, especially the Newspaper Guild, Dick strode right through the picket line, and for that he was richly rewarded. Paavo’s contribution is an exclamatory footnote: “Oh my god, Kate. You’ll love this. He’s married to a fucking von Richthoften! You were absolutely right.”
The Chatter’s angry, not so lean, Lesbian theater critic, Leah Franz, was now writing lean, angry Lesbian plays. Harold Maudlin had transformed his art directorial skills into Web Design at the Daily News. Ophelia Rosamund, Princeton graduate, was an anomaly among them in her relatively low-status job as a classified sales rep at the Chatter. Nicknamed Tippy, she was waspy rich and apolitical; more interested in the powder in Aspen than the thin white lines of it hidden in Dick Hardman’s desk drawer. Paavo found her long dormant facebook page and only one other online reference to a private school in Colorado where she was teaching art and French.
Kate purses her lips, amused. Why is he bothering with all this? Who cares? And she is tempted to ask that question: “Who cares?” Instead she types: “You need a hobby. Or better yet, get a pet.” She adds the smiley face.
“Ben Klein,” Paavo writes back. “Remember him? I think you had an affair with him. Married guy. They were a couple of anarchists. Wife wrote investigative stuff for the Chatter, quite the radical. Emma something?”
Kate remembers Emma. “Emma Gustafsson. Why?”
“Well, my dear, she’s writing trifling pieces on the Internet about pot growers in California, but he’s making an absolutely obscene salary.”
She grabs the slack, gray-streaked plait of red hair that drapes her shoulder and reads on. Ben Klein earned in the high six figures. His stock portfolio made him a multi-millionaire. He was still married to Emma and they had a daughter. He’d risen in the ranks of a major finance corporation, from management positions to a leader of leveraged buyouts.
“What’s leveraging?” Kate asks. “Doesn’t it have to do with downsizing?” Paavo responds, chastising her. “Downsizing is a terrible euphemism! But, yes, it means that often they do fire people, many people. Your friend is a buy-out specialist, my dear. The employees are not usually the pieces of the whole worth they are looking to gain.”
Kate rapidly shoots him a reply, like her finger’s on the trigger. “He’s not my friend!”
• • •
It was the spring of ’84 when Kate’s once translucent skin, white as porcelain and dappled with pink across the bridge of her nose when she blushed, was framed by thick red hair. She has long since put the brakes on excesses. But attention to the requirements necessary to maintaining physical beauty has lapsed. Hairline cracks have appeared on her face. An ice pack on her aching shoulder brings sweet relief. Her hands are coarse, and her feet often give her grief. Her feet? How odd to suddenly recall Ben’s infatuation with her feet. His wife Emma, who had largely remained aloof to their affair, could get steamed about that.
Kate met Ben at a rent party in Brooklyn and they shared the back seat in Max’s car on the ride home. Emma was in the front alongside Max flirting with him, Kate recalls. Earlier, among the rabble rousing drinkers of cheap wine accompanied by Mile Davis on the record player, Kate was dimly aware of Ben following her with his eyes; heavy-lidded, dark eyes that spoke silently of a kind of eloquent sadness. He finally introduced himself to her, out of earshot of Kate’s then lover Max. Never taking his gaze from her, he told her about his work, being an outspoken advocate for Shinnecock rights. Kate knew of the Eastern Long Island tribe because she had been out to Montauk a few times. Impressed, and a little drunk, she told him she was really a writer, or trying to be one. Under darkness in the back seat of the car his hand covered hers and she did not pull away.
He telephoned the next day and many times thereafter—often three or four calls in a day—and Kate did not think to ask how he had got her number. They were an incestuous bunch at the newspaper. Their affair started one night in his apartment. Ben and Emma lived in the Ansonia. The imposing Beaux Arts-style building, turreted and laced with ornate wrought iron balconies, commanded a full block on Broadway. Its grandeur suggested the broad boulevards of Paris. Sizeable too, were the hallways—the widest Kate had ever seen. The building’s past inhabitants were no less impressive. One of Kate’s literary heroes, Theodore Dreiser, had lived there.
Kate was the only dinner guest and, later that evening, Emma casually announced that she had a meeting somewhere and would not be back until late. Very late, she added, with nearly a wink as she left them to an empty apartment. Later Kate began to piece the puzzle, but that night she was effortlessly seduced. He put her in a cab. Emma called the next morning and informed Kate that she had left her glasses behind, adding: “What were you doing with my husband last night, you naughty girl?” Kate, stymied, mumbled something about too much wine and Emma assured her it was all right. Why didn’t she come for her glasses, stay for lunch?
Emboldened by the seemingly relaxed atmosphere between Emma and Ben, Kate also began to relax. She was an adventurer so why not see where it went? Afterwards, as he hailed a cab for her, Ben blurted that he thought he was falling in love. When could he see her again? She saw he was practically begging her and agreed to another meeting. Their affair grew like wildfire, roaring through them, engulfing and destroying their ability to resist.
He couldn’t get enough of her. Besides her apartment, they made love wherever they had a chance, even sneaking kisses in anonymous doorways near the Chatter, the thrill heightened by the possibility of Emma’s appearance at any time. Escapes to Montauk were possible when he had some business with the Shinnecocks. He adored her—the perfect skin of her and her luxuriant mass of red hair. Ben called her his lioness, Kate the Red. Sexually, Kate liked to do things and she liked things done to her. Ben confessed that his wife rejected those things, claiming it demeaned a woman. His sexual appetite was voracious.
Kate did not complain. Things only started to break down in little ways. Emma was determined to be Kate’s friend, to live openly in this strange dynamic. She dragged her around to shop for a birthday present for Ben or called her to ask what she thought Ben might like for dinner. She was cutting and sarcastic about Kate’s writing when Kate acquiesced to her demands to see it. Emma also took a lover but Kate learned later that it had only served to make Emma tearful and regretful. Emma began to talk about having children.
And Kate was beginning to be bored. Ben’s hot pursuit now had a cooling effect on her. A friend invited her to holiday in Mexico with them and a fellow student of her friend’s husband. Kate accepted. Ben cried the night before she flew out to Los Angeles.
Kate returned to New York ten days later. Tanned for the first time in her life, she looked rejuvenated. Her hair, lightened by the sun, was newly cropped in a fetching boyish cut. Ben saw her and cried. When she showed him photographs from the trip, which he insisted on seeing, she did not spare him the shots of her and the young man with the broad grin who had accompanied them to Mexico, happily sharing an over-sized margarita. Ben pored over those and cried some more.
• • •
It is nearly two in the morning. The street is quiet and a crisp chill comes through. A new season is in the wings. Ben, once a champion of the disenfranchised is now a Vice President of something he and Emma had condemned. Life is strange, Kate thinks. She lives a block from Central Park. A havoc-wreaking summer storm had ripped through the nearby north end of the park, uprooting hundreds of trees as if they were spindly saplings and not old giants. The pungent scent of fermenting mulch that hung over the neighborhood for months has finally dissipated. New trees had already been planted, an encouraging sign for Kate who had been dwelling too long on aging and its logical conclusion.
Yawning, Kate is about to close down her laptop and notices there is another message from Paavo. Stephen calls from the back room, urging her to come and listen to the song. “Just a sec, Stee and I’ll be right there.” Before turning out the desk lamp she opens the e-mail. “How are you?” Paavo writes. “Well and happy I hope?” She does not hesitate and types: “I am.”
LOVE AMONG THE ANARCHISTS is an original short story by Linda Danz.
STORIES ON THE AMERICAN FRIEND Writers Guild of America, East #R28299
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business organizations, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. The use of names of actual persons, places, and events is incidental to the plot, and is not intended to change the entirely fictional character of the work. ©October 2009.