Saturday, August 26, 2006

Friday, August 25, 2006

American Dream

"JonBenet had been strangled to death with a garrote made from supplies found in the home, her skull fractured and her mouth duct-taped. Forensic evidence suggests she had been sexually assaulted." -- This headline struck me as a warning. The persistence of the JonBenet story is evidence that American culture is becoming increasingly self destructive. As suggested in Nabokov's Lolita, we Americans are on intimate terms with our jailer. We invite him in. Our convoluted desire is for the abnegation of self and we are in denial over it. We want someone else to blame, zip-free. It is even Kabalistic -- "From the forest itself comes the handle for the axe," sings Matisyahu, although his use is from the Tanya. Anyway, last year I finally read Lolita, and I also wanted to read Reading Lolita in Tehran. I was embarrassed not to have read either book yet, especially since Azar Nafisi teaches right here in Baltimore, at Hopkins.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

What Am I Writing Now? Here's a Taste.

For a moment the only sound is that of steam squeaking as it escapes from the waffle iron. Then there is the click of its thermostat, and the light turns green. Steaming waffle quadrants improve a platter beside me. I shuttle between it and the gas cooktop, where sausage sizzles in a pan.

My parents are visiting. She sleeps upstairs; he sleeps down. They are both in his room now, and he is getting her dressed. The door is closed but I hear her protesting. She cries these words: "No!" "Don't!" "Whooaaah!" He is growling at her in a much deeper voice than the one he uses with the rest of us. I cannot make out his commands.

Suddenly the door opens and he comes through the small foyer and into our kitchen.

"There," he says, as though this first task of the day has completely exhausted him, and perhaps it has. He is flushed. He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. He has carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, compressed nerves in both elbows and both ankles, and in his prescription shoes he walks like Frankenstein. Now there is also talk of a pacemaker. They say he needs a 24-hour monitor, but his small-town cardiologist has two broken ones so he couldn't get it fitted this week. Do they know she couldn't call 911, even if she recognized she needed to?

He approaches the counter near the growing pile of waffles. He pulls over the comics and sits to read them on our new red step stool with its padded seat and back. The stool I bought at Target. The stool I bought because it is identical to the one my parents had in their kitchen when I was growing up.

In the 1950s, I sat on a red stool identical to this one and my mother fed me mashed fruit with a spoon. In the '60s, when the seat got a burn hole in it, my father patched it with reddish epoxy. In those days he would also get brown melt holes down the fronts of the short-sleeve polyester shirts he wore to his job as an accountant. By the early '70s, the epoxy was partly ripped like a scab on a wound that had not quite healed. Around then, he quit smoking. By the time I finished college the stool was gone and all of his shirts were new.

Now he has a fat mechanical pencil in his hand and he is doing the Jumble. The pencil is fat because his hands work more like paws. Anyway he does not actually use the pencil. It is only for emergencies. His new trick is to do the Jumble completely in his head and then challenge me to do the same. Perhaps this is some baseline mental test for me, to see if I am headed down the same path as my mother, but more likely he is doing it just to prove he is still smarter than me. I do not try my hardest so he wins. This pleases him greatly.

"Did you save me some fruit?" His eyes loom large behind thick glasses.

"Yes. Be careful, it's hot over there." With my sausage tongs, I am pointing towards a bowl of fruit behind the waffle iron.

He pulls a plastic device from a shirt pocket and begins pulverizing my mother's morning pills. I lean over the cooktop and hand him a small spoon and a custard cup. He works quietly, using half of a banana. The resulting goo is grey, with nubs of blue and green sticking out.

"Has the green light come on yet, Dad?" He peeks inside the waffle iron.

"No, but it looks like they are nearly finished."

A few mornings later the house is empty except for my husband and me. I am sitting on the red stool, working the morning's Jumble with a pen. My husband comes in. I do not look up.

"Why have you suddenly taken up the Jumble?" I do not like his cheerful tone.

"Shut up."

I am stalling on the third word. I write down six letters alphabetically, forcing them into a circle. I tap the pen from one letter to another. Nothing is suggesting itself to me. At the edge of my vision my husband is looking for something on the counter where the waffle iron sits.

"We're out of bananas," he says, and lifts with his thumb and middle finger a half eaten one that is entertaining a halo of fruit flies.

"There are strawberries in the fridge."

He leans over my shoulder. The smell of dead banana wafts between us.

"Trough," he says.



He heads for the trash can under the sink; I throw him a black look. A moment later, from behind the opened fridge, he speaks again:

"And the fourth word is…"

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Roland Park in the News, Sort of

Roland Park Pictures is the producer of the Sundance Channel's new six-part documentary, "The Hill," which premieres tonight. The series examines the personal and professional lives of the staff of Congressman Robert Wexler (D., Fla.). The film company was founded by two women, Elizabeth Holder and Xan Parker, who went to The Bryn Mawr School, in Baltimore.

Monday, August 21, 2006

untitled poem

A work in progress:

I stepped inside the thing I thought I wrote and found it wasn’t there.
I stepped inside the thing I wrote and found ?
I stepped inside the thing I wrote and found a mirror
I stepped inside the thing I wrote and found my mother’s face
I stepped inside and looked in the mirror and I was not smiling
Why was I not smiling?

I stepped inside the thing I wrote and found my father, hanging a chandelier
I stepped inside and found it clunky
It had red lampshades
It hung too low over the table
I smiled and complimented him on his taste

I stepped inside the thing I wrote and found my mother wandering around, undescribed
In some new place
Lost in time and space
Lost in setting, in geography,
Like my father, without her

Friday, August 18, 2006

Pocketful of Mumbles

An essaykin of mine appears in the Summer 2006 issue of Brevity.

I've put the link over here in a new section just for links --->

and here it is again:

Pocketful of Mumbles

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Poem - "Biscuit"


i watched you coming on to me
you were not too tough at first
some clever words, a slow advance
i said, we must have lunch

my growling bear, my salad eater
i met you in the kung pao shop

i, standing by the window
you, pretending to be shy
you brushed my breast as you walked by
and apologized
you thought I might not like you
but I did

then in my car i touched your arm
i met your gaze, we kissed
unsatisfied, penultimately
i put your fingers in my shirt

now take me swiftly, take me deeply
and i will take you on, my man

yeah, noodle man, come take me down
take me with your patois, pate
puree of soul and mince
take me down where you want me
and spill some new words in my mouth

your fruit soup, your watermelon bisque
and when you take me down my panda man
i sure will take you on

you leave me lightheaded, asphyxiated,
groping for the beige banquette
where i first dreamed you, whispering to me
and i woke up laughing, weeping.

"Biscuit," you had said.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Rejected by McSweeney's

On a whim I submitted a goofy piece to McSweeney's Reviews of New Food. They didn't like it enough, so I'm publishing it here. It's not like I could turn it around and send it out to the Gettysburg Review, now, is it? Anyway, as Rebecca Skloot said the other day at the Mid-Atlantic Creative Nonfiction Summer Writers' Conference, if you're a freelance writer, you need a blog. So here's my blog.

I live in Roland Park, in Baltimore, which is a real neighborhood, and it's where some of Anne Tyler's characters live. (I should have known -- of course she doesn't have a website so it was pointless to try to turn her name into a hyperlink. But Googling her led me to a lot of cool links, including, which boasts an actual interview with her and I got so distracted that I nearly didn't finish this post.)

Oh, right, the food thing:

My mistress is annoyed.

Last evening when no one was looking she ate a whole tub of Fresh! Hot Salsa with a crowd-pleaser bag of salty chips, then devoured a large chocolate bar with hazelnuts. (She did not give me any of it.) This made her drink a lot of water. She couldn’t sleep, I suppose because of the chocolate and the water, so she got up, went to the bathroom, took ibuprofen and acetaminophen together, and drank another large quantity of water. Then she slept until 10:30 and woke up groggy, downed four cups of black coffee, and sat here at this screen staring, apparently unable to work. She kept pressing on her belly with her arms folded. She went into the bathroom several times, fiddling with something or other. Around two, she got dressed but found she could not force her feet into any of her favorite shoes, so she settled for a pair of pink and green flip-flops that had lots of pretty buttons and exotic silk flowers sewn on them, and the bottoms were hand painted with little paisleys and polka dots. When she came back, this screen had gone black and in the reflection, she saw something that bothered her in the middle of her cheek and began picking at it. She moaned, and went back to the kitchen to make more coffee.

I wiggled the mouse with my nose and saw the word Fresh! on the screen in an email addressed to McSweeney’s but there was nothing written after it.

The flip-flops were under her chair. My gums were itching.