Bigsley and Bernadette: Getting Personal

"How can you live with yourself, being so satisfied with everything just the way it is? Live a little will ya?"  Bigsley was in one of his moods.  "I mean, how about a little bigger nest to begin with.  Something you can move your hoochie coochie around in."

"My what?" asked Bernadette, having never heard of such a thing before.

"You know. Your hoochie coochie."


Discovery of a Writer: I.B.S.

How do these things happen, that one summer day, we drove into Boulder Junction?  We were all irritable and so stopped at a flea market in the community center parking lot.  If I hadn't been in such a foul mood would the flea market have been any less depressing, hollow eyed people thinking someone was going to buy their useless junk?  It began to rain and some of the vendors scurried to cover their wears with moldy tarps while others, including a woman selling books and old photographs, did not.

I ditched the family and ducked into the community center where I found a library, a cheery room stuffed with books and manned by two ancient citizens who were irked that people were browsing.  In the hallway outside the restrooms was a shelf of library discards for sale, Harlequins and outdated nonfiction and children's books with disturbing illustrations.  I thought there must be something worth buying, but there wasn't.  I used the restroom, and when I came back out, I gave the shelf a second chance, and there on top was a green hardcover, "Old Love" on the spine.  I took it down and studied the back cover, a photograph of an old man wearing a suit and holding a book, a glint of humor in his light eyes.  Issac Bashevis Singer.  I bought it for fifty cents and kept it by my bedside.


E.E. Cummings Songbook: beyond the brittle town

Tad Neuhaus, bass
Joanna Dane, vocals

There he sits making his strange noise.
Just think, just think,
What will people say now?

Who does he think he is,
Some kind of a god?
Making crooked all that's duly ordered.


Each Day

Each day is more beautiful than the next, and we soon forget all those promises we made when it was too hot, when we needed rain. And we forget that not far from here, there was too much rain, towns flooded, farms destroyed. We forget that twenty people were shot, and a truck load of teenagers died when their vehicle flipped off a bridge.

I met a man, in his bookshop, who believes that people are inherently good or bad. Evidently, he draws these qualities along racial lines. Reading this, you automatically loathe him for such a barbaric opinion, because we are so sensitive to such things, until you learn that he is Native American. Then you refine your opinion, thinking he must be a wise man.

I went to a white trash party.  I wore a robe and curlers in my hair and shuffled around in slippers puffing on a Winston cigarette.  Sure we would all be tickled pink, to have an intellectual black friend. But when it comes to rednecks with fucked up teeth, well, for whatever reason, we see no need to be sensitive about that. Sure, government should help them, but damned if we want them as neighbors.  Spanking their kids while swearing at them to stop hitting their siblings.

Each day is more beautiful than the next. These are things better left unsaid. Let's just continue as we are, hoping that things never change.


Bigsley and Bernadette: More Home Improvements

"You'd be a fool to turn this place down now," called Bigsley one evening.  "I mean, you don't see many additions going up these days, do you?"

Bernadette said she had several friends who put up additions this season.

"But not like this one. State of the art, Baby! I even splurged for a jacuzzi tub. Plus, I'm the perfect neighbor.  Quiet as a mouse.  I'll respect your privacy. But I'll always be there for you.  Wake up dead one day? . . . I'll make sure you get the proper arrangements. I used to work at my uncle's taxidermy studio. I know the business inside and out. It's even better than having a psychiatrist in the family. And believe you me, that certainly has come in handy."


The Longest Day of the Year

When I told the girls they could design their own business cards,

They played it cool.

That's summer for you.

Work, work, work.

It started at summer school.

The science teacher told the kids to bring in a Barbie

For a bungee jumping experiment.

She apparently didn't know that not all girls have Barbies.

I was correct in assuming there would be a few at the thrift shop.

$3 each

For a few hours of peace.


Pastime #93

When A. and I lived in Guatemala, we used to play catch on a cow pasture in the middle of town near our house.  We could throw no more than a half a dozen passes before the field would start to fill with giggling kids.  We played keep-away, the gang chasing the frisbee from one side of the field to the other. Identical twin boys tumbled back and forth together like a couple of good natured puppies. They didn't care that they almost never got their hands on the frisbee.  But when they did, they would explode with celebration, running with the frisbee held high in the air until they they couldn't stand it another moment and would fling it towards the sky with a shout.



Bigsley and Bernadette: Home Improvements

"Check out the new sky light," Bigsley called from the roof.  "No arguing there's not enough natural light now."

Bernadette sighed.

"I angled it to frame the full moon.  How do you like that for romantic?"

Bernadette said she preferred serenading.

"Serenading?" Bigsley was dumbfounded.  "Darling, you haven't heard anything until you hear my Elvis imitation."


History Lesson

Mr. B. taught AP American History as a straight lecture format.  He was a good story teller but when I complained at the dinner table about the lack of student participation, my parents argued he was preparing us for college.  He was a lean man who wore crisp dark trousers, white oxfords, ties.  He kept the nail of one pinky finger long and well filed.  When we asked a question in class he would become agitated and slam his fist down on his desk and, like a true American, menace, "This is my story!" He scanned the class for dissidents as we held our breath, stiff in our seats, our teenage hearts punching at our ribs. Then Mr. B's head dropped as his shoulders shook.  He howled, delighted by our fear.  We laughed nervously and refrained from asking questions.


How to Not Draw a Face?

One artist draws only dots.  Another, only flowers.  I draw faces even when try not to.  I don't know why this is.  It bugs me.  I would like to draw a lamppost for a change, a pair of pants, a landscape, an onion, without a face creeping in.

Is your face like a fist or like an open hand?

At a party, I hear a man explaining to a woman, "It's simple.  I'll tell you how.  The eyes are one eye apart and one eye from the edge of the head.  The pupils sit exactly half way between the top of the head and the bottom of the chin."

Is your face full or empty?

I am a small child.  I pester my mom to teach me how to draw a profile.  She says she doesn't know how.  I show her a drawing I've found, a glamorous girl with long eye lashes.  My mom frowns and tells me she did that in high school, too long ago to remember how.  I press her until she tells me: She'd start with the nose.

Does your face portray who you are, or are you who your face portrays?


Dangers of Blogging #1

My mother-in-law is concerned that I have offended my mother.

My mother is concerned that I have offended my mother-in-law.

My other mother-in-law is offended that she is not the offended mother-in-law.

My third mother-in-law will hopefully not be offended by being referred to as
"the third mother-in-law."

A portrait of neither my mother nor any of my mothers-in-law,
but of someone else's mother or mother-in-law
who will undoubtedly be offended by such a hauntingly accurate representation
even though I drew the portrait from my imagination.


Ten Out of Ten Bubbies Agree: Their First Born Grandson is a Genius

We could tell from the first moment we saw our Arron: Top reading group! 

The very first time Elias touched a piano he played Mozart without a single mistake.

Benny knows more than his teachers.

Sylvia will tell you that her Michael is so brilliant, but it was our Michael who got a perfect score on the SAT.

Gabriel was reading at an eighth grade level when he was six.

Jacob won the spelling bee, the geography bee, the history bee, the geology bee, the biology bee.
But he doesn't let it go to his head.  He is a very nice boy.

Noah, my bubala.  Ongestupt with brains!

Seth is going to be a surgeon, but you know, he could have been a concert violinist.

I've never seen a boy count like Elijah.  They say Einstein was the same way at his age.

I know all the grandmas like to say it about their grandchild.  But in my case, it's true.
Daniel really is a genius.


Bigsley and Bernadette: First Encounter

"You know what you should do?" said Bigsley from his perch.
"You should move in upstairs!"

Bernadette informed him that she prefers nests made of natural things,
Things birds evolved to make nests of.  
Like sticks and leaves.

"And when the cat gobbles you up in the middle of the night, 
Is that natural too?" Bigsley asked.  "And let me guess.
You enjoy sleeping in the rain."

Bigsley was not deterred by the fact that Bernadette didn't answer.

He told her about his aviophobic aunties in Maine
and his favorite place to bathe
and a little known fact about felines.

And though she flew off without a word,
Bigsley was certain she would soon return.


Yiddish Lesson #2

Grandma Lil's recipe card which I recently found marking a page in a favorite book.

Grandma Lil used to send me double batches of kumisch broit in college.  She wrapped the pieces in wax paper and packaged them in shirt boxes from Brandeis.  She worried about the kumisch broit getting farschimmelt.  But my friends and I always ate it long before that could ever happen.


Dangers of Journaling #847

Recently, my mother-in-law informed me, in her tragic way, that upon re-reading a journal she wrote in her thirties, she was alarmed to realize that she had had, almost 40 years ago, the exact epiphanies she believed she was having for the very first time just last week.


Encounters with Imaginary Husbands

As a matter of fact, I've known quite a few women with imaginary husbands.  They are not so easy to detect.  By nature, they are exacting people, though occasionally a woman goes about it so sloppily that people soon suspect a delusional mental illness.  But the good and careful ones can go years without being detected by even close neighbors and colleagues.  I myself was duped by a woman I considered a good friend. Though we rarely saw each other, when we did, it was delightful.  From all she told me "Brian is a firm believer in efficiency" and "Brian is shy, but he always dances at weddings" and "Brian makes the most delicious pies," he sounded like a very good husband.  When I once joked, after months of being friends without having met Brian, that perhaps he was one of those imaginary husbands, my friend gave such a natural laugh and witty remark that I was convinced the very idea was ludicrous.

But not too long later, I became friends with a woman who reminded me of my friend, "Brian's" wife, though they didn't look a bit alike. I asked my husband if he thought they resembled each other, and he said not at all. But men don't understand these vapors that pass between women.  It was the way she explained why her husband is never home, complaining but also prideful about the fact that he is always working. One day, I noticed the smallest tick on the left side of her mouth every time she said something about her husband. And I realized that was the exact gesture of my friend who was allegedly married to a man named "Brian."

I was ten years old when I first learned of imaginary husbands, my mother reading aloud to me every article about Alicia and "Max" Hardington, a story that, at the time, was all over the papers.  My mother was particularly obsessed with the case though she never told me why.  At the end of each article, she would light a cigarette, hug her knees and stare at the sky like a dreaming child.  Not too long after that, my parents divorced.  Decades later, after my mother died, I found her diaries full of details of a life with a husband she called "Barton." I was shocked to learn of this man, having believed my mother never remarried. After months of investigation, it became clear that no one else had ever met the man either. Her case seemed unique because she, having successfully invented a complete and convincing imaginary husband, never told anyone. But who knows, maybe she isn't so unique after all.

Articles I've read led me to believe it's a phenomena isolated to my parents' generation, for a number of reasons, the war being one.  But these friends I've told you about are my age. Apparently it is easier now than ever before.  And as these things go, once one woman breaks the taboo, others naturally follow. Recently, at a cafe, I overheard a trio of women discussing a service that, for several thousand dollars, will create and maintain an imaginary husband. "Is it really as difficult as all that?" asked one. "Why would anyone do such a thing?" asked another. "Isn't it obvious?" said the third. "For the sex." The women laughed and then fell into whispers.

I brought up the subject to Mary the next time we saw each other. Mary and I first met at a book signing and have been meeting about once a month ever since, to attend a lecture or film. She has been married for five years to a man named Lewis who I have yet to meet. "Why do you think they do it?" I asked.  Mary lit her cigarette and sat staring at the sky, looking startlingly like my mother.  Finally she said, "We all do things that appear ludicrous to those who lack the compassion to understand us." And before I could even reply, Mary turned her fine eyes to me and said, "And how about you?  Is your Robert you speak of so fondly real or imaginary?  Will you tell me the truth? Or is the truth so entwined with illusion that it is impossible, even for you to know for sure?"

I heard myself laugh a bit too loudly and say something, in an attempt to be witty, that came out sounding strangely defensive, sending my heart to pounding so hard, I could hear it. 


Bigsley and Bernadette: Face to Face

In his oblique way of saying everything,
Bigsley told Bernadette,
"Your beak is so pointy."
She chose to believe he was being complimentary,
rather than ironic or derisive.  
Still, it was hard to know for sure.