How to be pissed off like a grownup: dos and don'ts

Do:

Speak up

Write an empowered letter or e-mail to someone in a high place

Send the letter

Don’t:

Don’t let yourself be censored or squelched

Don’t drive while pissed off

Do:

Keep your voice firm.  Don’t yell, don’t whisper, don’t swear

Be proud

If a person put you down, prove that person wrong and show him or her that you are strong.  Don’t fuel the fire by acting like a fool.

“Slow and steady wins the race” still holds true today.

Be persistent.

Don’t:

Don’t abuse substances.  Don’t act out.  Don’t be destructive.  Don’t take it out on yourself.

Suggested alternatives:

Join the Occupy movement.  Try out  a class.  Vote.  Read a book.  Sign a petition.  Travel on public transit.  Help a homeless person or someone you find at random or someone you find online.  Donate old clothing to charity.  Go through your trash and weed out what can be recycled.  Do your laundry, fold it, iron it, and spend the evening sewing on buttons.  You’re going to feel a lot, lot better very soon.

 

 

 

 

A poem I'd like to share, right before Hurricane Irene hits New England

I was going through my “important documents” which happen to be stored near a window.  Obviously, I need to move them.  These include my SS card, passport, and birth certificate.  Among them, I found this poem and one or two others, plus an essay.  I finally found the poem on my hard drive.  Here it is. (Looking at how it showed up on the blog, the stanza breaks didn’t appear, but I’m not going to fuss with it.  WordPress…grrrr…….

IN HIS MEMORY

Joseph Coleman Casey

February 26, 1958 – August 19, 2003

Slithering like a fish,

the dead man slipped into heaven

while my eyes were turned.

When I looked back

I saw the arms of evergreens

reaching out to an eclipsed star,

familiar as beachy sands

and a stone that skipped over my grief,

hissing, popping, then breaking

under waves’ surfaces–

God knows where it went–

leaving a white, smooth rigging

once touched by storm,

then whitewashed until only

a conspicuous sediment remained.

Raindrops kiss window panes,

glide like scree,

embrace earth at last

then sink deep and steamily rise again,

filling my breath and holding me

within an angerless shroud

that protects and suckles

until I can almost feed myself,

yet hunger for more.

Joey,

your spirit creeps ever forward;

I cherish fullness for a moment,

remembering the day in February

when the Artist seized his brush

and spat out blazing hues upon the world,

in praise of God.

8/2003

A bit from my journal

Here’s what I wrote in my journal tonight.  I’ve put in ellipses where I’m leaving things out, but there’s very little to leave out.

“Got vertigo after breakfast.  Apparently this is from ED.  Now, I don’t feel like eating breakfast.  Maybe just eat a little bit.

I walked Puzzle this evening w/no problems, no pain, w/the cane.  I will ditch the crutches within a week, except when I’m carrying a load on my back.  I am thrilled that this seems to be over.

did well w/”restricting” today.  I will probably lose…edema.

I attribute the improvement in my knee to WL [weight loss].

Also that I have been sensible this time + done lots of resting + caught it in time.

Edema is gone.

I am wearing shorts + a t-shirt today….I don’t care if the world knows I have anorexia.

I gained 12 pounds of edema + plan to lose it all.  Probably tomorrow morning it will be gone.

Wow…a clever T, she almost got me to fess up.  I feel horrible about lying.

I want to be very, very, very thin.”

Now that I read this, I realize that it could have been written by a young girl.  But I am 53 years old.  Where has the time gone?

Sparkly October Morning

I may or may not have shared this with you before.  I wrote this while at Emerson College, working on my BFA degree in writing.  It is a reaction to Virginia Woolf’s essay, “Street Haunting.”

JOGGING IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD ON A SPARKLY OCTOBER MORNING

 

Suppose you decide you’d like to sweat a bit, and you don’t realize — or perhaps you do — that there will be the sweat of humanity you’ll experience in the process — the agony of kitchens that have too much burnt fat in the air, how they’re sticky and dusty and beg to be cleaned, but the strung-out young mother in this two-and-a-half room apartment in the local projects doesn’t have the energy; she can’t leave the kids alone, but alone she must leave them in order to work, how at her last apartment she couldn’t afford a tank of oil until the next welfare check came — yes, you want her sweat and the stinking sweat of her six-year-old because you truly believe that all little boys smell bad, yes, his smell too, and the drunk on the bus — horrors, such awful sweat emanating from every pore of his spent body that you couldn’t bear to inhale but had to, because you had to breathe eventually, and even breathing through your mouth you could taste the booze as one would taste mouthwash, and mouthwash makes you sneeze — you don’t know why — so you want to sweat a bit, so you call the weather to find out the temperature — what will it be today? you ask yourself, and you reply no to the shorts and yes to the size small sweat pants that you couldn’t wear when you were fifty pounds heavier, but of course you don’t want to remember you ever were that size, or half that size — or do you? you ask yourself, and you realize that it is only because you know, and you know you know, the memories are true and real and you can face who you were then, that you know where you are now and where everyone else is, so you add to the sweat pants, which fit, a T-shirt and a sweat shirt covering that, strap on your Walkman, harness your 23-pound Sheltie, who you’re going to pretend is a Doberman at this ungodly hour, and ungodly it must be, because you must go out before 4:30; the magic disappears as the rest of the world wakes up and the drunks go to bed, and you put on those running shoes you bought yesterday, to replace the ones that wore out and were wrecking your feet because of it, and these shoes feel so much like mothers to your feet, although you’re worrying that they’re not broken in — will you get blisters? you wonder, but the dog is aching to get outside and you’ve got your plastic bag, which came from Stop & Shop, for her you-know-whats, and you lock the door behind you and off you go, like a bullet, down the hall not quite tiptoeing, down the stairs keeping in mind that if you take the elevator you might get stuck in there like a bug between the windows, dying to get out the way you and your dog are dying to get out, your dog even more than you are, and you turn on Steve Winwood’s “Back in the High Life” which isn’t your favorite music but it has that spell on you, the spell that is spurned by heavy drum beats, cymbals, and bass guitars, that beat that keeps you ahead, maybe one step, maybe more, always going forward, like an electrical current or a telephone signal or a desperate telegraph in 1968 pleading for her son’s body, now that it has been found in the jungle where the mine had blasted his neck away, and as you listen to this music you realize that The War meant World War II, and that “War,” just “War,” meant Vietnam, plainly that, and to the young it is just a murky idea, a poppy that dies in October and is forgotten, and you begin to run, the dog following, but soon she stops to find a potty, and you wonder what she smells; was the dog who peed there before you running loose, and did he get hit by a red Jeep Cherokee, and did his owner than stuff his dead dog’s body into the trash along with last night’s delivered steak tip dinner Styrofoam containers? or maybe it was pizza, you think to yourself; you’ve got to leave this guy some leeway, surely, as you jog past a candy-wrapper on the street, which maybe, just maybe, is some lady’s power bar who decided she needed the energy to walk from her house to her car, to go buy some Diet Coke — three cases of it — or maybe Caffeine Free Diet Coke, because she’s health conscious and just read in a magazine that one of the keys to being happy is to do in moderation, although she’s never heard the term skeptic used for its original purpose, and you remember the time this lady who smelled like smoke and had makeup smeared on her face like a warrior tell the cashier, “I only want that ‘diet’ soda; I picked up the regular Sprite by accident — I don’t want it; I’m on a diet!” and you suppressed a giggle because surely this woman, if she drinks all that soda, will burp a great deal the morning after, like a hangover — and how you rode your bike home that day laden with groceries and toilet paper and toothpaste, which you sorely needed because surely, you should be brushing your teeth more, so you won’t offend anyone on the subway or — horrors! — someone in class right after you drank that cup of coffee, or perhaps decaf if you were hyper, at 6:30am before your 8am class, your breath would smell of coffee, second-hand coffee, which is sour compared to first-hand coffee steam or the smell of a freshly opened vacuum-packed bag of Starbucks Gold Coast Blend, which you ground for yourself this morning and brewed to the consistency of maple syrup and spent 45 minutes drinking, which is why you scrub your teeth before you go out jogging, so you can breathe mint and fluoride and some other unknown chemicals only her dentist knows for sure, and as you’re jogging on the sidewalk, because this part of Warren Street has a well-paved smooth sidewalk complete with ramps going into the street, you pass the house where a real Doberman lives, where they keep the poor old boy chained to the side door on perhaps ten feet of chain, then when he barks at passersby, which, of course, anyone would do if they were tied like that, the owners yank him in and yell at him and act disgusted for something that wasn’t his fault, and you wonder if they ever walk him — surely, you’ve never seen any Doberman walking on your street, and how you’re tempted, and you’re sure others are tempted, to phone the ASPCA to rescue the poor old boy, but like everyone else you’re afraid to get involved, and the house passes by you, or perhaps you pass by this house, and you hear no barking, so you’re relieved because the Doberman has been spared another beating, and you pass by the school where young folks in cars are parked in the back tasting the sweetness of kisses and maybe more behind steamy windshields; perhaps they are too busy to see you running past with the poky little dog, then you reach the Waltham line, and in the first house, or perhaps the second, a light turns on, then turns off, and you wonder about the seventeen-year-old inside who has gotten herself laid for the first time, how the boy she hardly knew, who had that short-man complex already, who had a nervous laugh, a greasy pimply face, who was a nerd, who shifted from one side to the other as he stood, telling some bad joke that he and he only finds funny, this seventeen-year-old doesn’t find him the least bit attractive; in fact, she’s repulsed by him, and repulsed even more now that he has his thing in her and is rocking, or rather, doing blows to her, again and again, and he’s saying ooh and ahh and baby that’s right and she wonders if she should be making noises too, because her friends had told her that this was the appropriate response, but then as she lays there she leaves her body and stands in the corner of the room, watching the two of them, and he’s sweating and is gross to the touch, and the only sweat she feels is that which has dripped off of him; in fact, she’s quite bored, and he comes up with the line, “Baby, I love you,” and she doesn’t know what to say, she wishes he didn’t love her, but she’s heard what she’s supposed to say, she’s heard it in the movies, so she replies, “I love you, too,” and hates the lie and the filth, and suddenly he spasms and is spent, saying oh, oh, baby, and she wonders what it would be like to have the name, “Baby,” and she knows she will be repulsed if anyone, anytime, ever calls her that again, and he gets off of her and she turns away and gets out of bed, and looks at him all shriveled up like a newborn and waits until he sleeps, which he will do in an instant, and she takes a long, warm shower, washing off the filth of what he called love, and sleep on the couch, and you know tomorrow she’ll weep like a mother who’s lost her child, and the next week he’ll send her roses, and she’ll retch at the smell of them and wash them down the garbage disposal, but for now the lights are off in that house, and it passes by, or you pass by it, and grieve for the young girl and her dignity, and you feel the pain in your gut for any girl who’s 17, or 16, or 20, who hasn’t yet felt the knife of rape and prostitution sear through her, and a loss so great that her beauty will never be the same, and you don’t have to put her out of your mind, you know her, and embrace her, for she is in the sweat that is you, as the Walkman, which has Auto-Reverse, flips the tape and you hear the other side of dear Steve Winwood with the beat, and round the corner pretending that you’re in Copley Square and the crowds are cheering, and you feel the muscles in your legs; they are hard and taught, like the hide that’s stretched across a drum, one of many drums, as your dog stops to take a poop, which fortunately is right under a street lamp so you can see it and pick it up, and you wonder how you got to this corner so quickly — was it the new shoes? you wonder, and you are reminded of how folks always say, “That camera takes good pictures,” which is about the stupidest thing you can say; after all, it’s the person who takes the pictures who deserves the credit, but no, no, never admit that your friend is talented, lest you get jealous, and jealousy is a sin, of course, coveting thy neighbor’s wife, one might say, but really, the backbone of all this religious dogma is decency; surely we don’t need the ten commandments if we were only to make the rule, “Be polite,” because if we are grateful when one does something for us, and share our goods, and give the bad waitress a bigger tip than the regular ones get, then we are doing our job and can be right and would never consider killing another person, simply because it’s not polite to do so, and you’re thinking this as you pump one foot in front of the other and thankfully the dog isn’t lagging too much, as you round another corner at the condo complex where some emaciated 30-year-old is shooting heroin, waiting for the next welfare check, and you think about your muscles some more, and how lucky you are, as a dark-colored car whizzes by and the dog tries to chase it, and you quietly tell her to be polite, realizing she will never grow up and will never sin, and you think about growing up and remember how some of the young school kids said they grew up fast because their parents got divorced, and you want to laugh and cry with them, because they are part of you, whether you approve of their idleness or not, and you realize that if you’d been asked the same question, you’d have said you had been a late-bloomer, that you didn’t grow up until you turned 40, and even now, you’re afraid you’ll suffer through yet another lesson like a monster would move through lace curtains and feel the pain of the fragile cloth upon its skin, which is your skin, which is sweating, as you breathe evenly but not coordinated with your steps, which you’re not noticing anymore, and you start to wonder what’s best: runner’s high, writer’s high, intellectual high, or the simple joy of looking out a window at a woman jogging with her dog at 4:30am in October, and wonder: could that be you? and if it is, you know it is, but you’re watching yourself occasionally because you are that person in the window, too, and as you throw your dog’s poops into the dumpster, you hope that you don’t have to pick them up and throw them again if you miss, but you don’t, so you turn into the side door of your building, and here comes what you set out to find in the first place: a little sweat, and you know you must feel this sweat from all angles, smell and taste it as one would taste a wintergreen leaf, and capture that feeling — if you can — in words, so that it becomes more than fleeting, and can never be washed off.

 

(The above was my reaction to Virginia Woolf’s essay, October 8, 1999.)

HONESTY – a story from BLT

HONESTY
If you knew my husband, you’d think I was a criminal for snitching just one cigarette from him tonight, and smoking it. Alex is “brutally honest,” as his boss would say. That means whenever I lie to him, even if it’s just a fib, I feel horrible. I tell my friends about it, the few I have left. They laugh, saying they’ve done worse, which is a comfort to me at times. But not tonight. I sleep here alone until Alex returns, yet I feel more filthy, more contaminated, than I imagine one would feel after committing adultry for the first time.
Alex wasn’t always a gambler, and he didn’t go to casinos and racetracks like the classic gambler you hear about in country-western songs. He started playing the lottery when he was 27; he’d play Megabucks once a week when the game first started in the 1980s. We lived in Bennington, Vermont at the time, and it was a quick drive to Massachusetts to try our luck. We’d buy just one ticket and use a combination of our birthdays for the number.
By the time scratch tickets came along, we had moved to the Berkshires, but Alex still worked at the Die-Hard factory in Bennington. I had quit working for a time to take care of our son, Max. Even without my job, Alex could still afford to take his chances on scratching off the winning number.
Alex came down with Multiple Sclerosis in 1986, so he switched to a desk job at a trucking company, here in North Adams. We were spending more than he made, so I started a job working as a telephone interviewer for a marketing research company. The work was easy and the paycheck generous for what I did, so we got by, even with Max in child care. Alex was spending about ten dollars a week on the lottery then. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you add it up you’ll see where we were headed.
Alex always insisted on being the one to drive when we were together, and I always went along with this. We’d go to the drive-thru at Burger King after I got off work every night, then sit in a parking lot at North Adams State College. Even after we got hand controls for the car so he was still able to drive it, I had doubts about his ability to use the levers, but I didn’t protest.
One night we drove to what I always referred to as the duck pond, a little municipal property near the local hospital, to sit and eat our burgers and drink black coffee. It was chilly, and the moon shone through the haze like a bullet might penetrate a mattress. Fireflies blinked above the grass. I guessed there were a hundred of them circling randomly, lighting up like cigarettes. Alex looked tired. I was beginning to wonder how much longer he’d be able to work.
Alex doesn’t like to think out loud, but that night he surprised me. “Do you mind that we don’t have sex anymore, Darlene?” he asked. He was facing me, with one arm on the steering wheel. He always used the MS as an excuse for not having sex, but I knew there was more to it than that.
“It’s not your fault,” I said, leaning into his other arm.
“If I could make more money, you could stop working,” he said. “Then we’d have more time in the evening to try to work things out.”
“I suppose.”
“They laid off 46 people at the Die-Hard plant. But my luck is worse now; I’m in a dead-end situation with the desk job.” He emphasized the words “dead end” like he was talking about suicide.
I didn’t say anything. It wasn’t like I disagreed.
“It’s about time we bought a home of our own.” Alex started the engine. Little Max fussed in the back seat. I figured he didn’t understand what we were talking about; he was only a baby.
“So what’s that got to do with sex?”
“Maybe –“ Alex swore as we pulled out of the small parking lot by the pond. A truck had almost sideswiped us. “Maybe we could have sex, lots of sex, and another kid, a sister for Max. Maybe we could take the kids to Disneyland, and see the West Coast.”
Alex pulled into the parking lot of Riverside Farms convenience store. He handed me a twenty and two fives. “Get me six five-dollar tickets,” he said. I figured it was easier for me to get them, on account of his difficulties getting in and out of the car, so I complied, though I thought thirty bucks was a lot to waste.
I didn’t know it then, but this was the beginning of what has turned out to be my nightly hell. We stopped talking about sex, even after I got my hours changed around. Instead, we spent our evenings going from store to store in Alex’s frantic search for the one ticket that would give us a way out.
It wasn’t long before our stops added up to fifty or seventy-five dollars. I doubt Alex was keeping track, but from what I know of the lottery, I figure he was getting back only one-seventh of what he spent; the rest went to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Riverside knew me by then, as did owners of three other convenience stores nearby, and one over in Williamstown. Alex thought luck was something you could predict and control; he’d look at one of the numbers on the back of the ticket, and that would tell him if he was near a win or not.
You could say I was a sucker for buying the tickets for Alex, since I hated it so much. Some of the store owners would think I was the problem gambler, even though I’d tell them offhandedly that the scratch tickets were for my husband. “I don’t know what kind of ticket he wants; just any ole ticket will do,” I’d say, and present the cash. I’d deliberately wear an expression of disdain. It didn’t work. Even the shop owners who believed me thought I was some sort of subservient wife, which I never thought I was, until the heavy gambling started.
I grew to hate our old reliable Buick, even though we’d had sex in it, years ago, before our interest waned. It was in the car that Alex did his worst gambling. That was where he scratched the tickets with his “lucky” coin, made decisions about his next gambling venture, and tucked away each winner in the shelf under our broken tape deck; the losers he put in a Dunkin Donuts bag. He had the tickets classified, too, by some system he’d carefully devised.
The 7-Eleven in Adams had a handicapped parking space, so Alex started going in there on his own, late at night, when the MS let up a bit and he could walk pretty easily with a cane. The store owner’s name was Tony; he was an Italian immigrant trying to support five daughters, two studying communications at Southern Vermont College. He had hit it big in the lottery himself a couple years back, then wised up and quit playing because there were still bills to pay.
Tony knew all the tricks. He kept tabs on what numbers were coming up, and had some way of predicting the lottery, according to Alex, by calculating odds on his home computer. Tony had a regular casino going in his store. I figure Alex ran up a hefty tab there. I wasn’t supposed to know.
Every night before Alex went to Tony’s, he’d be glued to the set at 7:55, waiting for some gorgeous blonde to pick the winning numbers. Once I peeked on Alex’s bureau and discovered a list he’d written of four-digit numbers and their corresponding days: “Mon, Tues, Wen,” spelled just like that.
Alex was headed to Tony’s earlier than usual tonight when I stole the cigarette. He had gone into the bathroom to shave — something he insisted on doing before going out to that awful place. I could hear his electric razor buzzing like a sports car, so I figured it was safe to steal a smoke.
I was never much of a smoker. In high school I’d tried a few and decided that cigarettes were gross. Maybe it was out of vengeance that I desired to get that nicotine high tonight, and become a smoker just like Alex. I picked up his pack of Kools gently, as if he could actually hear me, and slipped out a butt. I put it under some paper napkins.
When he finished shaving, Alex came back into the kitchen. He didn’t look himself. His eyes were watery and his voice quavered when he spoke. I wondered if it was the MS that was getting to him.
I asked Alex what was wrong, hoping he hadn’t noticed my misdemeanor, and at the same time, hoping he had.
“It’s not you, Darlene; I’m just in a bad mood. I seem to be getting nowhere these days, and I feel tired, real tired, like I’m pushing myself in some direction I don’t want to go.”
I thought, you know what you can do to solve that! But I didn’t say anything. I put my hand on his shoulder when he sat down, and massaged it. “You sure it’s not me?” I asked. “Did I do something to bother you?”
Alex didn’t say anything. He was sweating, even though we keep the heat very low. He said in a quavering voice, “I’m just down today; it was just a bad day, I suppose.”
You could say I had a perfect opportunity to butt in and say what I really thought deep down, but for some reason I didn’t. I squeezed his shoulder and started rubbing his back. “Is there anything I can do?”
Alex shook his head.
I said, “I’ll set up the coffee maker before I go to bed, so all you have to do is flip the switch when you come home, how’s that? “
He kissed me, and left. I thought he would be gone for hours.
I searched for matches, and found an old Bic of Alex’s that still worked, even though the flame was low. I pulled the ashtray to my side of the table. It wasn’t right, my doing this. Alex would be pissed. It took three tries to get the cigarette lit because of the so-called child safety gadget over the flint.
At first I didn’t let the smoke into my lungs. On the next puff I started to get that queasy feeling I remembered so well; my body felt heavy, while my head floated with the smoke. I felt that way for a long time.
As I snuffed out the cigarette, I regretted my petty thievery. Alex and I never lie to each other, and this was a downright lie. By smoking, I was doing something he disapproved of; his ideals for me are different from the standards he sets for himself, I guess. He would be mighty disappointed in me if he found out. He’d ask himself if he really knew me, and if I’d been lying to him about other things. Maybe he’d think I’d had an affair and covered it up.
Then I realized that I’d been dishonest with Alex in other ways, that I’d hidden my true feelings about his gambling, and that I owed it to him to tell the whole truth. “It’s our time together,” I should’ve said, “not a time to do something I don’t enjoy.” I realized I should’ve told him how embarrassed I was, how angry and hurt. If he didn’t gamble, I’d have told him, think of all the bills we could pay off, how we could get back on our feet again, how he’d be able to cut his hours to stay home and rest and take care of his MS.
I got up and washed my hands thoroughly, then brushed my teeth so Alex wouldn’t smell cigarette on my breath. I took a long, hot shower and went to bed.
I wasn’t yet asleep when Alex came home, or at least I wasn’t sleeping soundly; he was making lots of noise. I wonder if he noticed the cigarette that I’d snuffed out because I hadn’t extinguished it the way he does, but I doubt it; he doesn’t notice much these days except the numbers on his tickets. I imagined him tracking mud into the apartment without noticing that, either.
He crept into the bedroom, turned on the light, then stopped by my bureau. He gazed at me, his wife, for a long time, while I pretended to be asleep, though I don’t know why.
I heard Alex grab my pocketbook and unzip it. I opened my eyes more to see what he was doing, but it wasn’t necessary to watch; I knew already. He took out my wallet, snapped it open, then dropped a coin by accident. “Shit,” he whispered. I rolled over, but not until after I’d seen him take all my cash, probably leaving a few bucks so I wouldn’t notice anything gone. He slipped out our door again, like a snake, and I heard our Buick engine grind to a start.
I thought about the cigarette, how awful I felt for stealing it. Then my mind switched topics and I realized how scared I’d been to let on that I was awake. I lay there listening for Alex, in case he came home again, but I didn’t hear anything. I got up and fixed myself a cup of tea and sat there thinking about things, trying to sort everything out.
But maybe tonight’s the night Alex will finally win big. He’ll come home and wake me up, insisting I examine the winning ticket he’ll cash in first thing tomorrow. I’ll gasp at the numbers, $10,000 printed five times with five matching symbols, then smile for a long time. He won’t be able to sleep all night. We’ll take that money and buy our own mobile home in the country, and travel to Los Angeles and maybe Tijuana, with Max, on a big jet, first class.
**************
I wrote this story in 1999.  I wrote a lot of stories in 1999.


ROAD WORK AHEAD – excerpt from Breakdown Lane, Traveled

ROAD WORK AHEAD



 “I’ll bring you with me to South Boston,” Joe said to me over the phone.  “There’s construction, but the ride will help you get your mind off your dad.”
 I had been on the phone all morning with family members, discussing funeral plans.  A trip on the Mass Pike and the Expressway would be welcome.
 Joe asked, “How’s your mom taking it?”
 “It’s weird,” I replied.  “After she found out, she stayed up all night doing her taxes.”
 My father’s death had come after a long struggle with bladder cancer.  He had fought chronic pain for years.  A few weeks before he passed away, he crossed the invisible line that meant he was dying. 
 Then one day he perked up, joked around with the grandchildren, and almost fooled one of my brothers into thinking the doctors were wrong; Dad would live.  When I heard my brother’s reaction, I was livid, for some reason.  “He’s going to die,” I replied, sounding more forceful than I had intended.
 Perhaps my viewpoint had something to do with the fact that I’d endured 18 years of devastating mental illness; I’d seen more than most.  My dad’s death came at a point during the years my illness was at its worst. A medical student, a stranger, took me aside, saying, “You have had the best teatment we could give.  You’ve had this problem most of your life —  what makes you think it will disappear?  You must accept that the illness won’t go away, not entirely, anyway.”
 I bowed my head, his words streaming in my mind like tears.
 “I know this is upsetting for you,” the student said.
 But I was relieved.  “I don’t have to fight it anymore.”
 One day, my dad had said to me, ” I know what it’s like to have something that just won’t go away.”
 I didn’t know it then, but the illness would run its course in a year, and would dissipate like a spring dew.
 But I did know, as I do now, what both were talking about.  And I was grateful for their words.
 As Joe drove around the Ted Williams Tunnel, I was amazed at the detours posted.  The gravelly road under us full of potholes that had emerged since the April thaw.  “So the funeral’s tomorrow, right?” Joe asked.
 “Get this:  My mother said she was glad Dad didn’t die last week, because the relatives wouldn’t be able to come up for the funeral on account of the snow storm.”
 The road flattened, but only momentarily.  A huge orange sign ahead of us read, ROAD WORK AHEAD, and then EXPECT DELAYS.  I thought for a long time about what this meant.
 The image would stick in my mind for a long time.
 Joe swore under his breath as a cop stopped the flow of traffic to let some trucks pass.  “See that?” he said.  “He should have let me go.”
 But I knew we had no choice but to wait.

The Grandest Sound Ever Heard

Okay, here is the essay I wrote in 2002 about the performance I was involved in while at UMass.   Have a nice evening.   I’ve been writing all night tonight, stuff for school.  I’d like to share some of it with you sometime soon.  Anyway, here’s the essay about the BERLIOZ REQUIEM!

Fall, 2002


THE GRANDEST SOUND EVER HEARD

 “You mean, I have three months to compose a Grand Mass for the Dead, have the parts copied and proofread, rehearse, and then perform this massive thing?  I hope there will be plenty of compensation, eh?”
 “Is fourteen thousand francs enough?”
 So began the composition of Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts, otherwise known as his Requiem Mass.  It was 1837.  The first performance would take place at the Chapel of Les Invalides in Paris, where Napoleon had been entombed, to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the 1830 July Revolution.  At this time, many composers were competing for commissions, so Berlioz felt honored, though pressured to pull this off.  The chapel was large, so Berlioz thought it important to consider “architectural” constructions and mass effects. 
 “Music is at once a science and a sentiment,” writes Berlioz during the construction of his Requiem.  “It must not solely satisfy the ear by correct and artistic combinations of sounds, but must also speak to the heart and the imagination.”
 Berlioz attacked the project with a fervor, sometimes writing in a self-devised music shorthand to capture all his ideas before he forgot them.  He envisioned a huge orchestra and chorus, with an extensive percussion section and four antiphonal brass choirs that would be situated in the corners of the cathedral.  The project’s scope would exceed any piece of music that had ever been written.
 In April, 1977, I was honored to perform this piece at Avery Fischer hall in New York City, along with 450 singers and 150 instruments.  I played second trumpet in “antiphonal choir number one,” off to the right of the theater as one faces the orchestra.  Efforts of five colleges were combined to produce this project, sponsored by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.  Admission tickets were fifty dollars and one hundred dollars.  It involved what Robert Sherman describes as a “mass migration” of students, mostly from the Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts, to New York for the one-time performance of the Requiem, “on the scale envisioned by the composer himself.”  Even the four performances of the Requiem in Paris during Berlioz’s lifetime were lesser by comparison; for instance, Berlioz was only able to recruit eight brass players for the antiphonal choirs, whereas we had fifteen.
 Berlioz writes, “I flung myself into its composition with a kind of fury…my head was ready to burst with the pressure of my seething thoughts.”  And so we tackled the Requiem, the excitement building with each rehearsal.  The antiphonal brass choirs were extracted from the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) brass choir led by Walter Chesnut.  You had to understand Professor Chesnut to realize just how vivacious we were about the assignment. Each of us practiced at least three hours a day, seven days a week, in addition to long hours of rehearsals, and, if we had the time, sessions of duets and other musical forms of goofing off.
 Among the brass at UMass, “chops,” or “embouchure”–lip positioning–was everything.  The majority of brass players were male, and they would joke about playing “mit kech,” or, “with balls.”  (The responses of the ladies varied.)  We encouraged each other to play as powerfully as possible without the loss of clear tone and sensibility of style.  We learned proper breathing to get the most power into our playing with the least amount of strain.
 All this led to a kind of “inbreeding,” or, perhaps better put, the formation of “cliques.”  We “class of ‘79” trumpeters were a tight group from freshman year on, with the exclusion of Jamie S., because he didn’t fit in; he studied with a different teacher and earned special privileges because of his extensive background as a conductor.  He was also fat (until he went on a massive diet one summer) and that led to much teasing behind his back.  I didn’t like it, nobody did, but it was there and no one had the power to stop it.  But for the most part, things were rather chummy between us all.
 The consequences must have been amusing to an outsider.  When Steve Salbu contracted pneumonia, we all stood outside his dorm room, and, making general fools of ourselves, serenaded him to the tune of “We wish you a merry Christmas.”  Gary R., a trumpeter a year ahead of us, dated Sanaye, a flutist.  Sanaye and David Ertel, who we called Ertle, were close friends, and they invented a cocktail popular in our circle: the “Sanertle Sling,” which created enough hangovers in its day to keep the entire department in bed with hot water bottles on their heads.  Sanaye went on to date a pianist; Ertle dated a French horn player before he got hooked up with another trumpeter, the French horn player then dated Gary, and Ann Marie dated Jim, who was–heavens!–from outside of the department. 
 One can see that it was an environment where gossip exceeded what it should have been, and when Jamie was finally fully accepted into our little clique, I was pushed out.  By the time of the Berlioz performances–one at UMass and one at Smith College before heading to New York–I knew the others were talking behind my back; I became reclusive and spent increasing amounts of time alone.
 The night before the big performance at Avery Fischer Hall, the five sophomore trumpet players, including me and a few others, barreled into our New York hotel room and blasted our trumpets indiscriminately without regard to other hotel patrons, laughing and carrying on as if we had the whole next day to sleep it off.  Curt B, the TA who played beside me in antiphonal brass number one, was busy toking reefer and would remain stoned for the rest of the year.  But the day of the performance, the rest of us were a sober bunch, nerve-wracked about the massiveness of what was about to happen.
 The hall was huge; its size exceeded the size of cathedrals in Berlioz’s day.  Berlioz writes, “The consequence of such vastness of scale is that the listener either misses the point altogether or is overwhelmed by a tremendous emotion.”  Berlioz even left sound breaks in the Requiem music for reverberations in the Chapel of Les Invalides; these spaces were certainly needed at Avery Fischer Hall.  It is easy to see how the music represents the Last Judgment.  Still, Berlioz writes, “As for the perceptions that the writer himself owed to the hearing of music, nothing can convey their exact character to one who has never experienced them.”
 When music reaches such a grand scale, subtle errors, on stage and off, can mean disaster.  For the debut performance in 1837, the singer Duprez was chosen to perform the tenor solo in the Sanctus.  Unfortunately, he was a poor actor; he gesticulated while he sang, which was disturbing to some; he was considered an inferior musician to Adolphe Nourrit, who had been expected to be assigned the role.  The crowd went wild over Duprez, leaving Nourrit miserable.  Berlioz and an Irish friend both tried to calm Nourrit, but the poor fellow was never the same.  He killed himself by jumping out of a window at age 37.
 During this 1837 performance, the conductor put down his baton momentarily to take a pinch of snuff, as was his habit.  Unfortunately, he missed cueing in the brass, but Berlioz, alert to the potential disaster, signaled the brass himself, and the rest of the piece went well.  In our performance, conductor Bruce McInnes made an about-face during the brass fanfare sections of the piece, facing the audience and those of us in the far corners of the auditorium, which was so large that unless one was sitting in the center of the audience, there were rhythmic discrepancies due to the slow speed of sound. 
 There was no question in my mind that I would always play to the be
st of my ability; my efforts would be channeled one hundred percent toward the proper playing of my part.  What amazes me now that given my rebellious nature, I never blew a performance deliberately; that is, it never occurred to me that I could easily blast “Lovely Rita, Meter Maid” while we were supposed to be performing Haydn, or, worse, chime in with Led Zeppelin during the Requiem.  It never occurred to me to leap from the corner balcony onto the stuffy concert-goers below.  Now I realize how easy it could have been.
 My parents, aunt, and grandmother all attended the performance, and as usual, embarrassed me.  My grandmother was mostly concerned with my physical appearance, and all four of them fussed over me excessively.  At my age, nineteen, I wanted to shove my relatives out of view of my classmates, who by then were laughing at me among themselves, or so I believed.
 During my next year at UMass, I felt so discouraged by the academic and social scene in the music department that I chose to attend part-time while working at a bagel deli restaurant, and when I got fired, I left UMass and took a job in Vermont as a live-in nanny.  I had always aspirted to live in a rural area, a romantic teenage dream.  The unpaved driveway leading to the family home was a half-mile long off a winding country road.  When it rained, the cows would break out of a nearby dairy farm and graze on our lawn.  Mostly, though, I was surrounded by the overwhelming quiet of the place; the only sounds anyone heard were occasional flocks of birds and nightly crickets; there was no traffic buzz or mayhem of city life or whispering classmates.  I realized the reality of silence, that surely it was the grandest sound ever heard.

 

 

Running

I’m getting back into running after all the injuries and weight gain and loss adventures.  So far, I can run .3 miles.  I am determined to run .4 miles tomorrow.  I am getting stronger each day.

Here’s something I wrote in 1999.  It’s based on Virginia Woolf’s essay, “Street Haunting.”

JOGGING IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD ON A SPARKLY OCTOBER MORNING

Suppose you decide you’d like to sweat a bit, and you don’t realize — or perhaps you do — that there will be the sweat of humanity you’ll experience in the process — the agony of kitchens that have too much burnt fat in the air, how they’re sticky and dusty and beg to be cleaned, but the strung-out young mother in this two-and-a-half room apartment in the local projects doesn’t have the energy; she can’t leave the kids alone, but alone she must leave them in order to work, how at her last apartment she couldn’t afford a tank of oil until the next welfare check came — yes, you want her sweat and the stinking sweat of her six-year-old because you truly believe that all little boys smell bad, yes, his smell too, and the drunk on the bus — horrors, such awful sweat emanating from every pore of his spent body that you couldn’t bear to inhale but had to, because you had to breathe eventually, and even breathing through your mouth you could taste the booze as one would taste mouthwash, and mouthwash makes you sneeze — you don’t know why — so you want to sweat a bit, so you call the weather to find out the temperature — what will it be today? you ask yourself, and you reply no to the shorts and yes to the size small sweat pants that you couldn’t wear when you were fifty pounds heavier, but of course you don’t want to remember you ever were that size, or half that size — or do you? you ask yourself, and you realize that it is only because you know, and you know you know, the memories are true and real and you can face who you were then, that you know where you are now and where everyone else is, so you add to the sweat pants, which fit, a T-shirt and a sweat shirt covering that, strap on your Walkman, harness your 23-pound Sheltie, who you’re going to pretend is a Doberman at this ungodly hour, and ungodly it must be, because you must go out before 4:30; the magic disappears as the rest of the world wakes up and the drunks go to bed, and you put on those running shoes you bought yesterday, to replace the ones that wore out and were wrecking your feet because of it, and these shoes feel so much like mothers to your feet, although you’re worrying that they’re not broken in — will you get blisters? you wonder, but the dog is aching to get outside and you’ve got your plastic bag, which came from Stop & Shop, for her you-know-whats, and you lock the door behind you and off you go, like a bullet, down the hall not quite tiptoeing, down the stairs keeping in mind that if you take the elevator you might get stuck in there like a bug between the windows, dying to get out the way you and your dog are dying to get out, your dog even more than you are, and you turn on Steve Winwood’s “Back in the High Life” which isn’t your favorite music but it has that spell on you, the spell that is spurned by heavy drum beats, cymbals, and bass guitars, that beat that keeps you ahead, maybe one step, maybe more, always going forward, like an electrical current or a telephone signal or a desperate telegraph in 1968 pleading for her son’s body, now that it has been found in the jungle where the mine had blasted his neck away, and as you listen to this music you realize that The War meant World War II, and that “War,” just “War,” meant Vietnam, plainly that, and to the young it is just a murky idea, a poppy that dies in October and is forgotten, and you begin to run, the dog following, but soon she stops to find a potty, and you wonder what she smells; was the dog who peed there before you running loose, and did he get hit by a red Jeep Cherokee, and did his owner than stuff his dead dog’s body into the trash along with last night’s delivered steak tip dinner Styrofoam containers? or maybe it was pizza, you think to yourself; you’ve got to leave this guy some leeway, surely, as you jog past a candy-wrapper on the street, which maybe, just maybe, is some lady’s power bar who decided she needed the energy to walk from her house to her car, to go buy some Diet Coke — three cases of it — or maybe Caffeine Free Diet Coke, because she’s health conscious and just read in a magazine that one of the keys to being happy is to do in moderation, although she’s never heard the term skeptic used for its original purpose, and you remember the time this lady who smelled like smoke and had makeup smeared on her face like a warrior tell the cashier, “I only want that ‘diet’ soda; I picked up the regular Sprite by accident — I don’t want it; I’m on a diet!” and you suppressed a giggle because surely this woman, if she drinks all that soda, will burp a great deal the morning after, like a hangover — and how you rode your bike home that day laden with groceries and toilet paper and toothpaste, which you sorely needed because surely, you should be brushing your teeth more, so you won’t offend anyone on the subway or — horrors! — someone in class right after you drank that cup of coffee, or perhaps decaf if you were hyper, at 6:30am before your 8am class, your breath would smell of coffee, second-hand coffee, which is sour compared to first-hand coffee steam or the smell of a freshly opened vacuum-packed bag of Starbucks Gold Coast Blend, which you ground for yourself this morning and brewed to the consistency of maple syrup and spent 45 minutes drinking, which is why you scrub your teeth before you go out jogging, so you can breathe mint and fluoride and some other unknown chemicals only her dentist knows for sure, and as you’re jogging on the sidewalk, because this part of Warren Street has a well-paved smooth sidewalk complete with ramps going into the street, you pass the house where a real Doberman lives, where they keep the poor old boy chained to the side door on perhaps ten feet of chain, then when he barks at passersby, which, of course, anyone would do if they were tied like that, the owners yank him in and yell at him and act disgusted for something that wasn’t his fault, and you wonder if they ever walk him — surely, you’ve never seen any Doberman walking on your street, and how you’re tempted, and you’re sure others are tempted, to phone the ASPCA to rescue the poor old boy, but like everyone else you’re afraid to get involved, and the house passes by you, or perhaps you pass by this house, and you hear no barking, so you’re relieved because the Doberman has been spared another beating, and you pass by the school where young folks in cars are parked in the back tasting the sweetness of kisses and maybe more behind steamy windshields; perhaps they are too busy to see you running past with the poky little dog, then you reach the Waltham line, and in the first house, or perhaps the second, a light turns on, then turns off, and you wonder about the seventeen-year-old inside who has gotten herself laid for the first time, how the boy she hardly knew, who had that short-man complex already, who had a nervous laugh, a greasy pimply face, who was a nerd, who shifted from one side to the other as he stood, telling some bad joke that he and he only finds funny, this seventeen-year-old doesn’t find him the least bit attractive; in fact, she’s repulsed by him, and repulsed even more now that he has his thing in her and is rocking, or rather, doing blows to her, again and again, and he’s saying ooh and ahh and baby that’s right and she wonders if she should be making noises too, because her friends had told her that this was the appropriate response, but then as she lays there she leaves her body and stands in the corner of the room, watching the two of them, and he’s sweating and is gross to the touch, and the only sweat she feels is that which has dripped off of him; in fact, she’s quite bored, and he comes up with the line, “Baby, I love you,” and she doesn’t know what to say, she wishes he didn’t love her, but she’s heard what she’s supposed to say, she’s heard it in the movies, so she replies, “I love you, too,” and hates the lie and the filth, and suddenly he spasms and is spent, saying oh, oh, baby, and s
he wonders what it would be like to have the name, “Baby,” and she knows she will be repulsed if anyone, anytime, ever calls her that again, and he gets off of her and she turns away and gets out of bed, and looks at him all shriveled up like a newborn and waits until he sleeps, which he will do in an instant, and she takes a long, warm shower, washing off the filth of what he called love, and sleep on the couch, and you know tomorrow she’ll weep like a mother who’s lost her child, and the next week he’ll send her roses, and she’ll retch at the smell of them and wash them down the garbage disposal, but for now the lights are off in that house, and it passes by, or you pass by it, and grieve for the young girl and her dignity, and you feel the pain in your gut for any girl who’s 17, or 16, or 20, who hasn’t yet felt the knife of rape and prostitution sear through her, and a loss so great that her beauty will never be the same, and you don’t have to put her out of your mind, you know her, and embrace her, for she is in the sweat that is you, as the Walkman, which has Auto-Reverse, flips the tape and you hear the other side of dear Steve Winwood with the beat, and round the corner pretending that you’re in Copley Square and the crowds are cheering, and you feel the muscles in your legs; they are hard and taught, like the hide that’s stretched across a drum, one of many drums, as your dog stops to take a poop, which fortunately is right under a street lamp so you can see it and pick it up, and you wonder how you got to this corner so quickly — was it the new shoes? you wonder, and you are reminded of how folks always say, “That camera takes good pictures,” which is about the stupidest thing you can say; after all, it’s the person who takes the pictures who deserves the credit, but no, no, never admit that your friend is talented, lest you get jealous, and jealousy is a sin, of course, coveting thy neighbor’s wife, one might say, but really, the backbone of all this religious dogma is decency; surely we don’t need the ten commandments if we were only to make the rule, “Be polite,” because if we are grateful when one does something for us, and share our goods, and give the bad waitress a bigger tip than the regular ones get, then we are doing our job and can be right and would never consider killing another person, simply because it’s not polite to do so, and you’re thinking this as you pump one foot in front of the other and thankfully the dog isn’t lagging too much, as you round another corner at the condo complex where some emaciated 30-year-old is shooting heroin, waiting for the next welfare check, and you think about your muscles some more, and how lucky you are, as a dark-colored car whizzes by and the dog tries to chase it, and you quietly tell her to be polite, realizing she will never grow up and will never sin, and you think about growing up and remember how some of the young school kids said they grew up fast because their parents got divorced, and you want to laugh and cry with them, because they are part of you, whether you approve of their idleness or not, and you realize that if you’d been asked the same question, you’d have said you had been a late-bloomer, that you didn’t grow up until you turned 40, and even now, you’re afraid you’ll suffer through yet another lesson like a monster would move through lace curtains and feel the pain of the fragile cloth upon its skin, which is your skin, which is sweating, as you breathe evenly but not coordinated with your steps, which you’re not noticing anymore, and you start to wonder what’s best: runner’s high, writer’s high, intellectual high, or the simple joy of looking out a window at a woman jogging with her dog at 4:30am in October, and wonder: could that be you? and if it is, you know it is, but you’re watching yourself occasionally because you are that person in the window, too, and as you throw your dog’s poops into the dumpster, you hope that you don’t have to pick them up and throw them again if you miss, but you don’t, so you turn into the side door of your building, and here comes what you set out to find in the first place: a little sweat, and you know you must feel this sweat from all angles, smell and taste it as one would taste a wintergreen leaf, and capture that feeling — if you can — in words, so that it becomes more than fleeting, and can never be washed off.

A Poem for Joe

I know it’s late.  I’ve been spending money all day, and tonight it seems to be coming to a head.  Like I bought two pairs of headphones today.  I kid you not.

I feel intensely lonely today.

Here’s a poem I wrote for Joe in 2002.  I would have given it to him, but he never read anything I wrote for him.  He’d just glance at it, set it aside, and say, “I’ll read it later, after the game,” whether there was a game on or not.

smokin' joe

(Originally, there was a sound file here, that was lost in transfer.)

Here’s the print version:
For Joe

On the sidewalk, a teen whittles
an oak branch, perfectly crafted.
Looking at each other, we laugh:

How on earth did we get here?
It’s always the same spine,
the same sad whisper.
Our cheeks crease unnoticed,
our hair, our rumps follow….

The boy’s jackknife flashes;
he mounts, rides off, waving.
Earth abandons her poles;
time, that trickster, disguised as delicacy,
draws us as close as two muscles
intertwined in the same perfect limb–
an item saved, a given.

Let us pick life off the bones,
meat falling into our laps.
We are still hungry.
We lick our fingers like children;
(blood, sweat, urine,
a forgotten dose….)
the inner skull unfolds,
a flood of innumerable pages.

Our oneness always new, embryonic–
no need to plagiarize–
moving together like tectonic plates,
we hug the earth, each other–the rest is redundant–
we have dreamed of this, all our lives.