A Wee Ball


Entry #1: A January Diary

That cat seemed to love that little boy nearly as much as she did. From the time he was able to pick up the ever-spreading, quite portly Bo, Dylan would careen around with Bo eternally spilling out of his arms and sliding every which way, while Dylan staggered under the weight. The loving, philosophical Bo just let it all happen, trusting, she supposed, that he was close enough to the floor that serious, lasting damage was unlikely. Bo let himself be carried from room to room, and hoisted on to various pieces of furniture, and shoved through holes in the cat climbing tree, often purring through the entire journey.

Dylan would finagle Bo on to the sofa, look up at her and say, “Want to snuggle him with me, Abuela?” To which the only reasonable reply, even while she prayed that she would not tear up and be unable to explain this to a child so young was: “of course I do.”

Bo slept with Dylan at night, and spent most of each day in his room as well. They had a favorite game they played, where either she or Dylan would look up from reading, playing trains, racing around the house doing laps, measuring various things with his animal measuring sticks, jumping from couch to couch, making a fort, and suddenly say: “What a minute! Where’s BO!?”


At which point they would dart around the house, pretending great alarm, venturing from room to room while saying: “I don’t see him in here. Huh. Where in the world could he be?…” until at last they would end in Dylan’s bedroom, where Bo invariably lay curled into a wee ball, a mountain of blankets surrounding him.

On New Year’s Eve, the final day of a rough year, Dylan said to her: “Buela, want to play a game with me? I’m going to curl up with Bo, and you cover us up with all the blankets you can find, and pretend that we’re a present, and unwrap us!” Dylan glanced at Po, then made himself into a ball that replicated the exact positions of the cat’s head and paws. He raised his head to say: “Make sure you start with OG blanket. On top of me. With the fuzzy side down.”

OG blanket was followed by second OG, then 3rd OG, then a baby blue electric blanket, then a fluffy down comforter. When any trace of living creatures had been thoroughly obliterated into a shapeless heap of fluff, she said: “Oh! Look!! A present!!! I wonder what in the world it could be?!?! Oh boy oh boy, let’s unwrap it and see. Let’s take off the wrap…why…there’s nothing here but more wrapping paper!” She proceeded through each blanket layer, pretending pouty frustration each time a peeled off blanket exposed no marvelous surprise.

When at last Dylan was revealed, she exclaimed: “Why look! It’s a boy! A lovely and wonderful boy! Not to mention a cat.”

“Again, Abuela, again!! Make Bo and me a present again!!!”

Dylan tucked his head and folded into a ball, and she thought: how in the world did he get this idea? This magnificent idea? And piling the blankets atop him, on New Year’s Eve, it seemed to her that this was the best idea she had ever heard. She could not imagine anything as lovely, as perfect, as making herself as small as she possibly could, being covered by a mountain of tenderly embracing warmth. Smaller and smaller, she could be swallowed by this cozy cave, until she disappeared altogether. Until she would not have to see the things January would bring.*



*This is a work of fiction. In real life, the cat is female.

On-Line Dating: A Glimpse at the Rage and Hatred behind Orlando, Baton Rouge, the Republican National Convention, the Country in General, and the World at Large


I admit it. My parents were Republicans, though they came to that same track from vastly different sides. My father grew up in a small Pennsylvania town, part of a sizable extended family of first-generation French all struggling to keep their children fed. He was so far down the hand-me-down line of cousins that his feet were forever crippled by shoes that never quite fit. My mother, on the other hand, was the daughter of a Naval officer, raised in frequently-changing “quarters” where servants cooked and cleaned and manicured the grounds. My mother remembered, with great fondness, how her parents sent the help home each evening and did the dinner dishes themselves, so they could chat about their day.

But my mother and father, born in 1919 and 1920 respectively, prided themselves on their social liberalism. And like all children who grow up with all parents, I had nothing to compare them to, and therefore no idea how truly remarkable this was considering the time and place. My mother worked as a chemist during part of World War II, and never tired of telling me how she and her lab mate shared a beaker to drink water from. He happened to be African-American, though in Norfolk, Virginia in the mid 1940’s, one said either “Negro” or “colored.” She never thought a damn thing of it, as she would have said herself.

I thought my mother might explode with pride when a new child moved into my 4th-grade classroom in the middle of the year, and became my best friend. She was Mexican, from the country itself, and I thought every single thing about her was wildly exotic and perfect – her flowing, jet-black waves of hair, her circle skirts with donkeys and cacti and such. I walked around my house saying her name, slowly savoring each syllable of E-LO-DI-AH. E-LO-Deeeeee-Ahhhhhh. And when Debbie Allison – one of those prim 10-year-olds whose youth is an entirely wasted slog in their march toward the thin-lipped spinsters they were born to be – conspiratorially whispered in my ear, “I don’t like Tommy Whitesong; he smells funny,” I was completely baffled about what she meant. All I could think of was when my father’s cheap after shave (that I had undoubtedly bought for him) was around for a bit too long, it took on some rather rank undertones. I told all this to my mother when I got home; and whereas my mother was not one to throw her arms around anyone or make a show of feeling, she did straighten her skirt and say, “good for you.” Tommy was one of two – count them, two – black children in my elementary school. Even as a kid, I thought it must be kinda hard to have just one other person who was like yourself in an entire overcrowded school, and I thought Debbie Allison was a mean little twat.


My father’s best friend was always “Uncle Bill to me.” He lived at the top of the hill where our street began, and we lived most of the way to the bottom. Every year he brought his whole family down during the holidays so his kids could play with the Lionel trains that ran all around our Christmas tree; and we would go to their house for a dinner of potato latkes (certainly one of the best things ever) and an evening of dreidel. A few times a year, he would come to our house by himself, right around the time I was going to bed, and I knew that he and my father would either hole themselves up in our little den, talking into the wee hours of the morning, or they would set up a card table in the living room and play chess, in virtual silence, for just as long. My parents were involved in numerous bridge clubs and neighborhood groups and medical-related stuff that kept them socially active, but Uncle Bill was the only real friend that either one of my parents had.*

So here I am, 60 years old, trying to gather all the various things one has to gather in order to [re]enter the world of on-line dating. Years ago, I ran into someone who referred to this world as The Wild West – meaning a vast land where there are no rules, a whole lot of very bad behavior, some good souls, and absolutely anything can happen. He nailed it. And, into this maelstrom, one has to proceed with the lowest possible expectations while maintaining eternal, even if faint, hope. You have to believe that whatever it is you seek is 1) out there, somewhere (it is), and 2) you can find it (um….).

At this point, fifteen years after my divorce, I believe myself to be a seasoned and skilled decipherer of on-line profiles. If I may quote from Joan Crawford addressing the PepsiCo good old boys: “This ain’t my first time at the rodeo.” Perhaps I should add that the line was preceded by her saying: “Don’t fuck with me boys!” What this attitude translates into is that I am very, very selective in communicating with anyone. Believe me, this is not a case of me passing up terrific potential guys, this is a case of me saving both parties additional wear and tear on our fragile sense of hope. When I was an on-line dating newbie, I wrote a nice note back to each and every person who took the time to write to me, just as the daughter of Mary Barbara Mills had taught me to do as a necessary part of maintaining a civil society. What I found was – people will then argue with you, often with frightening intensity! They will badger, bully, name-call, hurl insults – all in response to a very lovely note that wished them all the best! Last week, I forgot my own rule (Do NOT Write Back!) when I received a note from a guy who seemed very decent, and worked in a field quite similar to mine. I wrote back, told him that I really wanted to find someone in an entirely different line of work, for balance, and I wished him well. He completely went off on me. At length, and with a degree of rage and hostility I can’t imagine feeling, let alone directing it at a complete stranger?!


OK. Onward. Wild west. Expectations sub-low. Hopes, um, in tact enough, I hope, to be awakened if there is reason.

Last weekend, I received on on-line approach from a guy who seemed…pretty good. Cute, a bit off the beaten path, fun-loving and witty, and seeming to be genuinely seeking something of substance in both a woman and a relationship. I responded. We emailed back and forth, safely and anonymously through the site, throughout the afternoon. At one point he asked me what I do for work; I responded that I was a clinical social worker in private practice. He wrote back: “It’s completely unhealthy to spend time with people less fortunate than ourselves.”

Earlier in my life, I would have assumed that he was joking. I probably would have laughed. But, lo these many years of life later, instead I wrote back and asked: “Are you serious?” He replied: “Absolutely, yes. That has been my experience.”

We were, as of that moment, done. Out of curiosity, I went on-line and started researching. I wondered just what percentage of the people in my own country, and then the world, I should shun from here forward if I followed this credo. Using income alone as the determining factor, this handy rule would save me from any further pesky interaction with more than 65% of my fellow citizens, and wow, certainly well over 80% of the people on the planet. While I was pondering the complexities of the term “less fortunate,” and the multitude of things that covers beyond money, my phone indicated that a new message had come through.

Yep. New note from The Guy. “I mean, these people have undoubtedly stolen from you, right?”



Is this guy seriously suggesting that the “less fortunate” will eventually steal from you? No! He’s suggesting that they have already! Somehow what came to mind was shoplifting, a frequent rite-of-passage in the upper economic brackets. I mean, my daughter’s acquaintances who did a very brisk business in shoplifted Abercrombie merch out of their middle school lockers were among the wealthiest kids in the school.

I did the on-line equivalent of un-friending someone on Facebook – I un-favorited his ass!

Deep breath. Wild West. Onward.


Next morning, approach received from a cute guy with a wonderful, open smile, looking for a Real Relationship. He had lots of pics of himself at various charity events looking very dapper and sincere, a give-back sort of a guy who made himself interesting by being interested. We exchanged emails back and forth, both of our interest clearly piqued. He indicated he would like to talk on the phone, thereby taking our relationship to the next on-line level; and though I hate talking on the phone with strangers, I agreed that it made sense. He suggested that I text him when I was free to talk later that day.

I did, and even though he had originally said he’d wanted to talk, he immediately blew up my phone with a flurry of texts including additional photos of himself in various locations, various tidbits of news about his day, and a number of questions for me. Hey, I’m pretty flexible, and I hate to talk on the phone, so OK, texting it is. After flitting across various topics, such as his workout routine (de rigeur for men on-line and over the age of 50), he said: “Hey, both of my parents were born in Italy. I’m 100% Italian. What’s your background?”

I said: “My father was 100% French, first generation. My mother was essentially a WASP.”

He: “Are you Jewish?”

Wait, are there people who honestly don’t know what WASP means? Is he double-checking if I perhaps converted at some point?

Me: “No.”

He: “Good.”

Me: “Why?”

He: “I don’t get along with Jewish women.”

Here I am again, saying for the second time in as many days: “Are you serious?”

He: “Yes.”

Me: “Why?”

He: “Because they’re whining, nasally, pretentious, drama filled, high maintenance, boring women.”

I am…utterly dumbfounded. And sad. So sad. There is certainly nothing I can say to a gent in his late 50’s that can possibly alter his views, and this is neither the time nor the place. The only thing to do is…move along.

Ding! A new text comes through: “…also, they never ever take their wallet out to buy a man a drink. In other words they’re cheap as shit.”

So, no, I am not surprised when I go to my computer each morning, and see the headlines that summarize the latest unimaginable tragedy. I’m shocked. I am filled with grief. I am disheartened to varying degrees of near-paralysis. But I am not surprised. In the world of on-line dating, where one might easily expect people to be on their very best behavior, a murmuring level of anger, blame, prejudice, aggrieved bitter rage – all of these lie barely below the surface for so many people.

I am sure that each of the men I encountered believed that their perspective is entirely justified.

And that is how it begins.


elderly people

*My parents remained unshakable in their Republican ideals, in the way of a woman born into great privilege whose much-adored parents never missed an opportunity to decry how FDR had ruined an entire nation, and a man born into a fatherless home of endless want who had lived his very own American Dream of rising from the great unwashed to become A Doctor; and who therefore believed with all his heart that this was, indeed, a land of opportunity where anyone with a whit of determination could pull himself up by his bootstraps and succeed. And, perhaps he was right, for his time. If “anyone” was white. And male. And not needed to work from such an early age that dreams could not even form.

Know When to Walk Away


Those of you who have been following my blog closely – and have you two met, by the way 😉 – have witnessed the birth and development of my third novel, entitled “Pushing the River.” Over the course of the past three years, the novel has endured several structural changes, a complete change of narrator and voice, and the completion of an early rough draft just weeks ago.

“Pushing the River” was inspired by the real-life event of a baby being born. During the fall of 2012, my house swelled from a population of 2 – if you count my dog – to an assemblage of seven people and four animals. Originally, the house itself intended to tell the story of the most astonishing four-month period in its 100-year history.

One time previously, I put this novel aside for a time; I paused, unsure how – or if – to proceed. Ultimately, I decided to change the narrator from the house’s boiler to a regular old third-person omniscient narrator. I heartily missed Merle the Boiler, and always wondered if he might return.

Alas, Merle will not be coming back.

It is with a kaleidoscope of ever-shifting mixed feelings that I have decided to put this novel to rest for good.  The current situation with this now three-and-a-half year old child renders it impossible to continue a work of fiction based on his entry into the world.

There is much good work, and good writing in the would-be book, and the deep, unparalleled satisfaction of having put into words some things I had set out to say. What more, after all, can any writer hope for?

“I was trying to feel some kind of good-bye. I mean I’ve left schools and places I didn’t even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don’t care if it’s a sad good-bye or a bad good-bye, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t you feel even worse.”

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye


What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

–Jack Kerouac, On the Road


image by Pablo Picasso

“Is It Possible to Fracture Your Penis?” NEW from the novel “Pushing the River”



a reminder to my family and friends with wild imaginations: this is FICTION

She didn’t think about Dick as often as she used to, which struck Madeline as remarkable.

But when she did think of him, she often thought of his…boomerang.

She had long heard the giggles and rumors from the mutual friends who ultimately introduced the two of them. They saw each other every day for two weeks after the evening of their meeting, their words becoming so much chicken scratch, background noise, to a deepening enchanted spell that took hold of them both. Still, in their demure newness, she took the first shower – separately – then waited while he took his. When the sound of the running water ceased, Madeline was unable to wait a second longer.

She opened the bathroom door to an entirely pink-tiled world heavy with steam. Dick pulled back the shower curtain, wiping the water from his eyes, and opened his arms to her.

When she pulled back from their embrace and took his hand to lead him to her bed, there it was. Her eyes widened. “It’s my boomerang,” Dick said.

“Because it always comes back to you? No matter where it’s been?” she said.

Dick laughed. “No. Because that’s what I call it.”

The dazzling sun of the summer afternoon dimmed to dusk and then to dark before Madeline and Dick uttered their next words. “So. Boomerang. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”


Dick laughed and kissed her on the temple. “It got broken.”

“Oh, stop. That’s not possible.”

“Obviously it is. Possible.”

It was many years before the internet. Many years before Madeline was able to type the words “broken penis” into the google search bar and get the following from the Mayo Clinic website:

Is it possible to fracture your penis?

Answers from Landon Trost, M.D.

Yes. Although rare, penis fracture can occur when there is trauma to an erect penis.

During an erection, the penis is engorged with blood. If an engorged penis is bent suddenly or forcefully, the trauma can rupture the lining of one of the two cylinders in the penis (corpus cavernosum) responsible for erections — resulting in a penis fracture. The trauma most often occurs after accidental injury during intercourse, but can also occur due to aggressive masturbation or taqaandan, a cultural practice in which the top of an erect penis is forcefully bent.

A penis fracture is a painful injury. Signs might include a cracking sound, immediate loss of the erection, or the development of dark bruising of the penis due to blood escaping the cylinder. Sometimes the tube that drains urine from the body (urethra) is damaged as well, and blood might be visible at the urinary opening of the penis.

A penis fracture requires urgent medical attention. The injury can usually be diagnosed with a physical exam, and prompt surgical repair is typically recommended.

Left untreated, a penis fracture might result in deformity of the penis or the permanent inability to get or keep an erection firm enough for sex (erectile dysfunction).

At the time, however, Madeline only knew what she had seen. And experienced.

“Does it hurt?” she asked. “Do I need to worry about hurting you?”

“Not at all,” he said.

She giggled, then said, “I’m sorry to laugh. You broke your penis!”

It wasn’t so funny when it happened. It hurt like a mother. And I heard it break.”

“You’re kidding?!” Madeline said. “What in the world happened?!” Dick took a breath in preparation to answer, but Madeline took her index finger and held it to his lips. “No, wait. Don’t tell me. No history. Not right now. Just this moment. Just the two of us. And Boomerang.”

boomerang construction

“Lachrymose.Febreze.Get Shorty,” NEW from the novel “Pushing the River”


“Nope,” Madeline thought to herself. “Nope, nope, nope. Bathetic, mawkish, maudlin – that’s what I’m being. And, my personal favorite – lachrymose.” Sometimes Madeline was goddamn glad that she had spent part of one summer studying lists of words to expand her vocabulary. “Lachrymose,” she let the word swirl around inside her. It wasn’t every day that you could find a reason to use one of your very favorite words of all time, but when that opportunity was suddenly there, boy howdy, that was a banner day. That could turn a shit of day right around.

“I. Will. NOT. Be. Lachrymose. No sirree Bob.” Madeline marched up the staircase with intent, paused at the top to wiggle back and forth in a little dance, and two-stepped her way into her bedroom. Carefully moving aside the freshly laundered pile of clothes, she proceeded to rip the sheets off her bed with a vengeance, then crumple them into the smallest ball she could. She held the ball in front of her, arms fully extended, the entire length of two stair flights to the washing machine. “Ha. I knew I saved this for a reason,” she thought, ripping open a sample packet of laundry detergent that had arrived in the mail months ago. Tide with Febreze. Guaranteed to eliminate your toughest laundry odors, it said. “Well, then, my detergent friend, be true to your word. Eliminate, eliminate. When I lay my weary little head down on my pillow tonight – alone, in my own bed – I don’t want a single whiff, not one hint of a whiff, not a hair of a tinge of a mite of a pinch of a speck of a trace of a hint. Of Dan.”


The machine’s lid sang out as it snapped closed, making a slight symphony with the rushing water and the whistling of the hot water pipe.

Madeline decided to slam the lid again. It felt highly satisfying. But when the last reverberation fell silent, it was as if a little bit of the air had escaped from Madeline’s inner balloon. Her footfalls up the stairs sounded slow and shuffling. There was no dance.

Her intention was to put away the laundry. She swung open the side-by-side doors of the primitive armoir she used as her clothes cabinet. She ran her eyes up and down the stacks of clothes, back and forth across the three shelves. She left the doors agape, and went to lie down on the sheetless bed.

Her flat palm grazed across the mattress pad, and with the gesture, an image: Dan. Also lying on his back, the two of them facing the ceiling. Newborn Dylan, tightly swaddled and sound asleep between their two prone bodies. Their hands reaching toward one another, clasping.

Madeline leapt from the bed and threw open the door of the hall closet, tossing years’ worth of accumulated stuff around, searching for something she was certain had been stashed ever since Kate’s first big camping trip. Febreze. Spray. Mountain fresh scent.

Madeline bounded back into the bedroom and went to work on the pillows, nearly soaking them with spray. Then onto the mattress itself.

“Out damn spot!” She thought: “Wait a minute. Macbeth? Shakespeare?? I thinketh not. Waaayyyyy too literary. How about Ellmore Leonard? Get Shorty?? ‘FUCK YOU, FUCKBALL!!’”

Dennis Farina Get Shorty

“Crooked,” NEW from the novel “Pushing the River”


You could see it right away when he was born. Something strange with one side of his face. Even as a brand new teeny little newborn, barely out long enough to have dried off and gotten the feeling of air in his lungs. Wriggling around, even though he was straight-jacketed inside that hospital blanket, you could see there was something going on. When that little one went to cry, or to yawn, or let out a holler, one side of his mouth wasn’t cooperating with the other side. One side stayed perfectly, utterly still, while the other did every bit of the work.

Of course, lots of things happen when a baby is going through the whole business of being born. They get stretched and squished and crumpled up pretty good sometimes in that short distance between where they come from and life outside. Lots of them creases and folds just go away all on their own, and lightning quick, too. Nobody paid much mind as they paraded in and out to coo at the new baby, not when he was going home with a mama who had barely reached fifteen years of age.

Them nurses coming in and out of that new mama’s room seemed to have their eyebrows permanently raised up. They looked mostly at the floor, stealing quick-like glances at each other as they passed. If anybody noticed that one side of the baby’s mouth was refusing to join forces with the other, not a one of them said a word.fine-art-newborn-portraits

Dylan did all them things that babies do right on time, like he was reading right out of some handbook. He smiled and gurgled and cooed up a storm. Seemed that little cuss was going to have a tidy sum of things to say when he grew, cause he was practicing and testing out different sounds he could muster nearly all of the time.

Thing is, if you’d have hunkered down to look at one exact half of his face while he was chortling away, you’d have seen the whole rainbow of life’s feelings passing through his sparkling eyes and across his laugh-pinched cheeks and through that lively little mouth. But if you’d hunkered down on his other side, the other half of his face would have set there stone still. His eyelid blinking just a hair slower than the other, the cheek laying flat, and the mouth as limp and unmoving as a fish way too long out of the water.

That little baby was born with a couple of nerves not connected up the way they was supposed to be. Sets one to wondering if this was the hand of God – showing a mighty peculiar sense of humor– or some fluke in a very big and random universe. Or maybe Dylan hisself had some sense of his own unfolding life.

The Male Body, new from the novel “Pushing the River”


When she thought of Dan, she thought of his shoulder. His right shoulder. The one she rested her head on when they lay in bed. Don’t ever get out of the pool Dan, she thought to herself; because that swimmer’s shoulder is worth dying for.

Madeline became deeply attached to bodies. To the body of her lover. The curve of the calf, line of the toes, rises and declivities of the chest, sprout of hairs on the lower abdomen – every bit of it became an imprint deep within her, just as a baby duck becomes imprinted on the first thing it sees, nothing forever after seeming right, or even possible.

She remembered when she first saw Michael – the previous body in her life — naked. He looked like one of the blue people in the movie “Avatar” – stretched to unreasonable tall leggy thinness. But in a short time, his body was the only one that made sense to her. Legs that were not as long, calf muscles that were less taught seemed…mildly distasteful to even consider.

Hands, most especially, stirred inside of her. If e e cummings carried her heart in his heart, Madeline carried his hands.


Madeline thought of Dan’s hands. The dense, ropey tendons across his palms from that disease she could never remember the name of. The blood-red tips of his fingers.

My problem, Madeline said to herself, is that I want someone at the receiving end of my thoughts. That voice inside of my head. The “me” voice. I like the idea that someone else might be hearing it. Otherwise it’s just me. Me me me. Seems a little overly self-involved. Seems a little pointless to be doing a running narration of my own life to myself, for myself.

That’s where the body comes in, she realized. That’s why I carry his body around inside of me. So he’s there, too.


Art, top to bottom:  Judith Roth, Judith Roth, Leonardo Da Vinci