boston book festival

The new nasal pillows kept me up half the night. While not as obtrusive as the full mask, which was like having Darth Vader sit on my face and sigh all night, the new contraption is less nasal pillow and more vengeful nose plug. Both, however, are preferable to dying in one’s sleep, so I carry on as I carry on. I woke up two hours later than intended, looked outside at the rain, and decided to blow off the Boston Book Festival. Went downstairs and poured a bowl of Cheerios but because there was no milk I reinstated my plan and took off. I am easily manipulated, even by breakfast cereal.
The festival commandeered Copley Square, with events running all day in the Boston Public Library and Old South and Trinity churches. Vendor tents around the square sheltered publishing companies, free coffee, radio stations, etc. One tent had a lineup of authors each spending an hour signing books that were being given away. Yes, given away. Not crap books either; books by people you’ve heard of: Ken Burns, Jay O’Callahan, Barbara Lynch.
My favorite event was Writer Idol. Here’s the description from the website:
In this freewheeling session, a professional actor will perform the first page of your unpublished manuscript for the audience and a panel of three “judges.” Judges are agents and editors with years of experience reading unsolicited submissions. When one judge hears a line that would make her stop reading, she will raise her hand. The actor will keep reading until a second judge raises his hand. The judges will then discuss WHY they would stop reading, and offer concrete if subjective suggestions to the anonymous author. If no agent raises a hand, the judges will discuss what made the excerpt work. Though all excerpts will be evaluated anonymously, this session is not for the faint-hearted or thin-skinned! While judges will be respectful of the work, laughter and even scorn from the audience is to be expected. To participate in this session, bring THE FIRST 250 WORDS of your manuscript (fiction or non-fiction only, please) to the session. It must be double-spaced, titled, and clearly marked at the top with its genre. Participants will leave the manuscripts in a box at the front of the room, and manuscripts will be chosen randomly by the actor.

I don’t watch American Idol but due to popular culture salvo I understood that the panel included the Simon judge; lots of eye-rolling and stinging commentary, the Paula Abdul “nice” judge, and… you get the picture. Or maybe you don’t and if that’s the case don’t change anything. The difference of course was the anonymity of the writers. No need to parade that cliché-suffused spasm of a first page in person; the actor did that for you.
A few things I learned:
Don’t open with the weather.
Opening with your character just waking up is risky. By extrapolation, if you must open with your character just waking up, do not under any circumstances have her talk about or even notice the weather.
Your first few pages should not describe urine running down any leg. In fact, avoid vivid chronicling of all bodily functions. It might be okay to describe bleeding, provided it is from someplace that does not typically bleed — gashes, eyes, etc. Menstrual blood falls into the former category.

It was hard to listen without comparing my first 250 words with their first 250 words. Harder still was not staring at any person who stood up and hurried out after the judges' sometimes ruthless criticism. What I wanted to do was stand at the door and conduct exit interviews: “Why are you leaving?” “Was that your piece that just got skewered before the crowd?” “Why are you crying?” “Do you think you’ll ever write again?” I suppose it’s good practice for the rejection letters we all have to open.

I left the festival with a few literary magazines, a stack of books, some free and some purchased, all signed by the authors, and went straight to my friend Debbie’s for a lovely evening of sparkling toilets, delicious food and good company. I got home at 1:00 a.m. without the milk.


Freecycle Etiquette: A True Story and a Cautionary Tale (and an annoying line break.)

I read through a few of my blog posts and realize that some of you might think that I am nice, and sappy. I offer this post in contradiction. Insert [sic] where necessary.

This one's for you Lizzy, 'cause Debbie's not good at clicking either.

Debbie and I belong to the same Freecycle List and exchange witticisms and clever wordplay on a variety of subjects, freecycle being the recent favorite. While many of the goods offered through freecycle are decent, usable, sometimes even valuable, there are the items whose owners don’t recognize are too tired to go any further than the trash. I bring you Suzi (not her real name) and her treasures of such dubious value that even the most rigorous of recyclers may flinch.

Suzi to Freecycle:
2 Crazy Straws
2 Standard Pillowcases
Baseball Hat Cleaner

Suzi to Freecycle:
3 Chloraseptic Sore Throat Relief Strips
4 Raspberry Drink Mix Packages (Just add hot or cold water)
(32 Minerals and Vitamin C) (A Dietary supplement)
Finger Nail Polish Remover
Sponge for Body Wash (Never used)
Toothpaste (Some used.) Didn't like the flavor.
I want it gone ASAP

Debbie to Me:
Come on!! D

Me to Debbie:
Thank God someone has offered this. My polish is chipping badly and Lord Knows I can't spend the 69¢ for a bottle. Gas up the car, we're goin' to Nashua!
Suzi, get a grip!
(Sure you don't want any empty margarine containers? Just slightly used...)

Debbie to Me:
Run--don't walk!
She also offered three strips of some cough-related thing, I think.
Interested? Three f-ing strips.
The height of bad taste, I know, making fun of freecycle. Can't help myself.

Me to Debbie:
I think we need to start a compilation of the *interesting* things people think other people want. Again, there's a thesis in there somewhere...

Suzi to Freecycle:
4 Folders
Want everything gone ASAP or it will go to Goodwill.

Me to Debbie:
OK, now Suzi's getting to the MEAT of her stash. Stay tuned...

Suzi to Freecycle:
Reference Book 2 Volumes A-Z (Brand new) (I want it to go to a real good home)(I paid alot of them)
Electic Bands for stretching
5 Folders some used some never used must take all.

Uh-oh. Here's where Debbie’s aim goes awry. She hits the "reply" button instead of “forward” and sends these e-mails, intended for me, to Suzi.

Debbie to Suzi:
Threats now.

Suzi to Freecycle:
5 Folders some used some never used must take all.

Debbie to Suzi:
Must be spring cleaning...in the fall. I love this: "Reference Book 2 Volumes A-Z (Brand new) (I want it to go to a real good home)(I paid alot of them)"
Whoa--more folders. Some used, some not: must take all. Is this a fucking joke?

Debbie to Suzi:
Still going--you were right. She is really getting down now. Stretchy band?

This is when Debbie calls me laughing hysterically which I take for crying and panic. With the laughing and the two feet in her mouth it is hard to understand what she is saying.

So, two questions: Should Debbie apologize to Suzi; and do you think that the 32 Minerals and Vitamin C is *per packet*, or is it 8 Minerals and Vitamin C per packet, times the four packets?


what i overheard

Starbucks, a weekend afternoon. A man in a suit is sitting at the table across from me, looking anxiously from his watch to the door and back again. A woman approximately his age, mid 60s I’d say, walks in, looking nicely put together, and begins to look around. They make eye contact, and the man stands and approaches her. They shake hands and speak as they walk to the counter to order. I continued working; reading or writing for one class or another. They return with their coffees and sit. Their conversation, which I cannot help overhearing, is about the day, the weather, other mundane topics, but with a tenseness not fitting with the casual conversation. I think maybe it’s a job interview. After a few more minutes of stiff banter it becomes clear that it is not a job interview, but a blind date. I am now much more interested in their conversation.
Taking a chance that weekend afternoon, after who knows how many weeks or years of being single, widowed, divorced, they sat at this neutral and public place, over coffee, not too much of a time commitment in case it really goes bust, and took a gamble that I imagine must be difficult.
Now they’re talking about his digestive system. Something going on with that, but it doesn’t sound too serious. I find myself wishing him off that topic. No, not on a first date! Don’t bring up your colon on a first date! I am his fan, I am rooting for him, hopeful for him, and I wish I could coach him from behind her back; gesture my finger across my neck to signal cut that topic short. He stops as though he hears me, and says in best barroom cliché fashion, “Enough about me, tell me about yourself.”
She tells him about where she works; management, or executive secretary, or some such. Not a job she wants to spend a lot of time talking about, and she doesn’t, moving on to another safe if unremarkable point. They chat back and forth this way, and I find myself attending to my work but pricking an ear up if the conversation sounds like it might go somewhere. It is mostly first date-ish, sheltered and shallow and nervous. The date itself is enough of a risk; no need to push things. Not at that age.
The date starts winding down. Maybe one of them had to be somewhere, or maybe one of them built in an escape mechanism as recommended on match.com. The woman excuses herself to the restroom and picks up her handbag. The man politely stands as she does, having grown up in an era when that was still routine, an era foreign to most of the people at Starbucks that day. A minute passes. The man takes a sip of his coffee and looks at his watch. Not impatiently, just habit. He says softly to no one, “I really enjoyed myself today, and if you’d like, we could do this again sometime.” He pauses and looks down at his now-empty cup. “I really enjoyed myself today, and I’d like to see you again.” He shakes his head slightly. I am looking at his reflection in the window, trying to seem uninterested or out of range of his earnest rehearsals. “I really enjoyed myself today, and if you’d like, maybe we could go to dinner.” Yes, that’s the one. That tells her not only would you like to see her again, but you’d like it to be a longer and more relaxed time, I coach.
The freshened woman approaches the table. He stands again, and they agree that it’s time to be leaving. “I really enjoyed myself today, and if you’d like, maybe we could go to dinner.” She agrees. He will call her. They leave, the three of us happy and hopeful.


two $100.00 parking stories

Spring, 2009

I’m taking a class at Lesley called “Fine Arts of Boston.” The class consists of going on field trips to artsy places and writing thoughts and reviews and making presentations and collages. It is not a big challenge but I will not be returning the three credits.
The first field trip was an architectural walk through Boston. Symphony Hall, Old South Church, Boston Public Library; check, check, check. Column, capital, entablature; check, check, check. Write a paper, collect an A, go to the Museum of Fine Arts. Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, still rivals after all these years. Photographic Figures in the new Herb Ritts Gallery (go!) Dürer, Rembrandt, van Gogh, Gauguin, and Renoir. Chuck Close, David Hockney, Gerhard Richter, Susan Rothenberg, Andy Warhol, and Takashi Murakami oh I could go on.
Part three of the class is to be a field trip to the theater. What will it be? Pinter? Moon for the Misbegotten? Shakespeare? The Cherry Orchard? Edward Albee? Death of a Salesman? Oh we are ripe with possibilities. The chosen play? Shear Madness. Self-proclaimed “America’s Favorite Comedy.” We will go cheek by jowl with the folks swarming from buses, still damp from their Duck Tour boat rides and thrilled at the shopping possibilities at Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Tickets are $34.00. Meet out front at 7:15.
Fine Arts of Boston. This conjures images; grand images; images of a city that writer Oliver Wendell Holmes dubbed “Hub of the Universe.” Shouldn’t we be more careful about what we dump into this “Fine Arts” pile? Should Shear Madness ever rest against the breast of Matisse’s Carmelina? Join Degas in a pas de deux? Have tea with van Gogh at Houses in Auvers?
It is with this backdrop that I bring you Two $100.00 Parking Stories:
First $100.00:
Got lost in Boston. I am one of the few who can do this despite having a GPS. It's a talent. Too late to have the nice dinner I was going to have before the play, I parked, fed the meter through 6:00 p.m., and went into a food courtish place on Tremont Street. At the Chinese take-out counter it was between the Corn Syrup Orange Colored Sesame Chicken, or General Gao's Gelatinous Mystery Meat. Went with the chicken. Ate half of that, chucked the rest, and stopped at Starbucks. It was going to be a long night and I was already tired, so I had a big latte.
Sussed out the theater. Still half hour before it was time to meet the group. Walked around a bit and noticed I had a parking ticket on my windshield: $100.00 for parking in a bus stop. After 6:00 it becomes a bus stop, says the sign that I didn't see. Neither, apparently, did the seven other people with tickets on their cars. Last time I'll ever park on Cash Cow Boulevard.
Drove around looking for parking. Nothing on the street, naturally, and I wasn't about to pay $30.00 to leave my car for two hours. I couldn't afford it at this point what with that hundred-dollar ticket. Drove by the theater and watched from the car as the group gathered in the rain waiting for the professor who had the tickets. I pulled up to one of my classmates and gave him the envelope with my ticket money in it and asked him to give it to the professor with my apologies; I wasn't feeling well and had to go home, I said.
Ticket to play I didn't want to see: $34.00
Parking ticket: $100.00
Bailing out and going home to sit in front of the TV: Priceless

Second $100.00:

Had class in Cambridge today, at Lesley on Mass Ave. at Porter Square. After yesterday’s pricey parking episode I decided to play it safe and use the Lesley lot. More expensive, but at least I didn't have to run out and feed the ever-ravenous meter monster his bi-hourly meal.
After class I went to the desk with my ticket to pay for my car to simply exist for four hours. "$15.00" requested the attendant, stamping my ticket. I counted my bills: $9.00. But my friend Donovan told me to always carry a $100.00 bill wherever I go. I pulled this out and handed it to the attendant. "Oh," he says, shocked at my affluence and the sheer madness shown in handing it to him, "I can't take that."
"It's American money" I contended. "I can't take it,” countered he. Well, I said, one hand open with the $9.00 on it, the other with the $100.00 bill on it, "you can have this.... or this."
"Okay, $9.00."


he's leaving home

I’m writing his name in Sharpie on the towels he’s taking with him to college. When I first met Demetri I could have dried him with a washcloth, and today he’s packing the trunk of his 1994 Mercedes S-Class, grit still under his fingernails from getting it into tip-top shape, and preparing to drive it across the country. This country; the one that looks more formidable to me now, on the brink of having my oldest off on its roads, in its towns and cities, its red states and its blue states.

I helped him with his laundry, something I hadn’t done in years, and made sure he had a flashlight and some extra batteries and that his AAA membership was up to date. That’s all I can really do now; the rest he did himself, which is pretty much how it’s been the past few years. He’s big now.

I’m not sure yet how many ways I’ll miss Demetri. The house will be quieter; too quiet, probably. The piano will have no one who can really play it. The kitchen will be cleaner. I’ll miss his sense of humor. I’ll have to figure out how to use my camera. I will miss our night-owl conversations about life, cars, and balls of string. I’ll miss the King Tiny face.

When the kids were growing up there were lots of things that ended without us really knowing that they had. Yes, we celebrated when they were done with diapers and when they lost a first tooth, but we didn’t notice when they stopped making burglar alarms out of household items, when they stopped playing with Lego, and when they didn’t need us to get them juice any more. Had I known I would have savored the last time sitting in my lap. When they stopped saying things like, “If there were rioters, and they asked idiots, imps and scoundrels to help them riot, wouldn’t that be bad and very destructive?”

I’ve savored the last few months with Demetri, and now it’s coming down to the wire. The trunk is packed. Towels are there. Flashlight too. Now I’m just waiting for him to say, “Mommy, if there was a seismograph for how much I love you, for the rest of the time the earth was here, someone would have to keep changing the rolls.” Then I’ll lift him gently off my lap, pour him some juice and he’ll be off.



I wrote this in March.

I joined Facebook about a year ago. I have two teenaged children and I wanted to see what it was about. For a long time I stayed hidden under a pen name, until one person found me. Then another, and like a shampoo commercial from the seventies my “friends” list multiplied exponentially until I was soon “friends” with forty people, some barely acquaintances. Some had recently made guest appearances in my writing. A best friend from elementary school reminded me via my “wall” of a disgusting soda mix we used to drink. I had written of this concoction in my journal two months before.

It can get overwhelming at times, especially when people post photos of us as pre-adolescents, or unquiet teens, so young, so spirited, so naïve. Who knew then that Della would slit her wrists? That Natalie and Vicky would die of cancer, leaving young children to face monumental loss? How some of us would go to college, grad school, medical school, and become professionals while others floundered, never getting much traction. Are we all shocked to be on the cusp or over the edge of 50? We didn’t know then how much our teeth could hurt, how fat or farsighted we could become, or how dark could be the pain of losing a child.

I’m finding myself glad to be in the virtual presence of these kids. Yeah, for me they’re still kids, as am I. These are the barely-formed people who knew the barely-formed Monique, a perspective only they will ever have.

I’ll see some of them some time, I’m sure, during trips back home or to here or there. I’ll see them in their present adult forms, and hold up my mirror to see what is different and what is the same. What parts are essential to who we are, no matter the age and what parts change as we grow, wizen, age.

My assessment of Facebook, if anyone asks, is that sure, it’s great for today’s kids to network and share. But its real value is to those of us who have separated, and lost touch of our childhoods.



While driving recently with friends through Marin county we stopped in the little town of Point Reyes Station to walk around and find lunch to take with us to the beach. I became entranced by a rough knotty board, painted dark gray and nailed to the side of a building on the main street. It was a bulletin board, or was once. All that was left on it were small weathered corners of posters past, a profusion of rusty staples, and a couple of odd little drawings of faces or pieces of faces, painted onto thick rough-edged paper. It appeared that the board had been repainted, brushing right over a few posters.

This got me thinking about staples again. Staples in the context of history. What treasures have these staples held? What have they seen? What little piece of history, in the shape of a poster, has covered this small shard of steel, and that one? In my hometown of Woodstock, New York, there are telephone poles along the main drag rich with staples. According to wikipedia, “wood [utility] poles decay and have a life of approximately 25-50 years, depending on climate and soil conditions.”

I like to think the staples that held the posters advertising Paul Butterfield or Orleans; Johnny Average and Nicole, or Maria Muldour; or the post-Robertson Band playing at the Joyous Lake are still there, little tokens held close by the wood, part of a shiny and now rusty past.


i ramble

Last Saturday, after the movie and the party, just when I thought I was going back to Nina's for the night, she arranges for me to be swept up and taken to Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble, compliments of Mark and Karen. This just doesn't happen often enough in the woods of Massachusetts and I spend a little time adjusting back to “Woodstock legs.” The ones that keep you upright through the unpredictable.

Oddly, the guests for the evening were Chris and Lorin Rowan, who played with brother Peter many a night in the late 70s at Rancho Nicasio, the nightclub in Marin County that you may recall from my recent San Francisco post. What are the chances that 30 years later I’d walk into a barn on Plochman Lane in my hometown and find them playing? They still play often at Rancho Nicasio too.

Next up Levon. To zealous and loving applause he comes out and sits at the drums. He looks frail, and starch white, his dentures now too big for his throat cancer survivor thin face. But when he starts drumming it becomes clear that he is still the old master; always on time; eyes and smile communicating with fellow musicians; he is Levon. On doctor’s orders not to sing, he played his drums for us pa rum pum pum pum, and his mandolin too. His daughter Amy and a few guys in the band covered the vocals brilliantly for him.

Song highlights for me were a honky tonkish Simple Twist of Fate. It Makes No Difference, out no doubt to Ezra, brother of Amy, who died a week earlier, a suicide story as sad as any. And Cassandra Wilson, with her sweet deep jazz voice taking a few verses of The Weight. That song hasn’t sounded as good since the Staples got a hold of it.


woodstock. don't try to understand it.

Funny and interesting article, I thought.

“For young people the only career paths are law enforcement or lawn care,” said Peter Cantine, an owner of the Bear Cafe, a popular restaurant.
And restaurant work. Don't forget restaurant work.


i see stars

Yesterday was hot and sunny as I stood on line outside to see a film at the Tinker Street Cinema in Woodstock, movie house of my youth. I haven’t seen a movie here since I left in 1984. It’s the same and it’s different. I don’t remember the walls being red pleated cloth, but the tin ceiling with its peeling paint is the same, although the layer coming off is unlikely one I ever sat under.

I helped upholster those seats in the 60s, when Sy Kattleson transformed a small church into a cinema. I didn’t know then that it was an indy theater. I’m not sure that label had even been invented yet. Theaters were theaters, and they played movies, and that was that. I remember the seats being black vinyl, each of us children helping an adult by providing an extra set of albeit small hands to hold the vinyl in place while staples were popped through. The seats are cloth now. More comfortable and better looking. Upscale, even.

My brother worked there as a projectionist when he was a teen. He was one of those A.V. kids who could repair a break in no time and get the movie back on the screen before the audience got restless.

I saw a lot of people I recognized from growing up in Woodstock, but no one I really knew. Just vague faces from an out-of-focus past. The movie we watched was a special advance screening of Taking Woodstock, a film by Ang Lee and James Schamus based on the memoirs of Elliot Tiber. Lee and Schamus were there for a post-film Q+A, along with Michael Lang, brainchild of the festival, his face still as mellow and cherubic as it was 40 years ago. It was a sweet film, made sweeter by this cinema and this town and these people who have come to embrace their village bearing the name of, according to Mr. Lee, “the most important cultural event of the past 1,500 years.” It opens on August 28th. Go see it. It’s the feelgood movie of the year, nothing illicit required.


san francisco

I returned yesterday from visiting my friend Beth in San Francisco. I went with two other friends and we had a splendid, savvy-native tour. Good restaurants. Good parks. Good weather. Really good weather. Weather I would like to own. At the Ferry Plaza farmer’s market I ate peaches that made me think that perhaps there was a god. Illogically delicious peaches for a northeasterner who thought she understood them and is shocked to discover she didn’t. I could move there for the peaches, but that wouldn’t be the only thing. The strawberries were miraculous too.

We took a ride north one day, stopping at Rancho Nicasio, just off of the beautiful Lucas Valley Road, a nightclub/restaurant I worked at for a while during an interruption of my Woodstock years. I spent some months doing bookkeeping there, and house-sitting for the owners who were spending an extended visit with family back east. It looked pretty much the same, just cleaned up a bit. Thankfully the dingy dusty animal busts were still on the walls and the dark wood interior was intact. They removed the purple tie-dyed length of Christo’s Running Fence, a project completed in 1976 wherein he and Jeanne-Claude installed an 18 foot high, 24 and a half miles long curtain across the hills of Marin and Sonoma counties. It used to hang from the ceiling, billowing in the breeze of the fans. I wonder if the new owners knew what it was when they took it down, or if it was removed before they bought the place. I wonder where it is now, that 18 by 40 feet piece of cloth that had fleeting fame as part of a project that was deconstructed after 14 days and purportedly left no visible trace. I still think about it 33 years later.


woodstock in july

My sister and I made a 16x24" Spongebob Squarepants cake this week for Mila, who turned 4 yesterday. I’ve never actually watched the show, but I do know of him, both through Mila and courtesy of my friendly neighborhood and worldwide media outlets. Jay Leno points out that although some may not know who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they do know who lives in a pineapple under the sea.

I'm no cake decorator as you've perhaps by now noticed, ("practice makes perfect," says Luc) but it was fun to turn flour, eggs, sugar, and butter into a giant cartoon sponge. When asked why Spongebob and not one of his beloved superheroes, Mila divulged a greater plan; next year is Spiderman, followed by Batman. I'm glad to have a nephew who thinks these things through and plans ahead. I've got a year to practice.

I present for your amusement a picture of the finished lovely, followed by the spoils, entitled Fear and Loathing in a Pineapple Under the Sea.



I heard on NPR this morning that Iceland has applied for entry into the European Union. This makes me a little sad; as the NPR commentator pointed out Iceland has always been an ardently independent nation. The big world economic suck affected them in prodigious ways, decimating their economy and currency.

The things I love about the EU are the same things I dislike. Crossing borders is a breeze, but I miss the slowing to take notice that I am in a different country, with different customs, a different language, and different money. I miss getting my passport stamped.

Yeah, the euro is easier than having to exchange and keep track of different currencies, but I miss the individuality of the monies. The Italian lira, with its amusing number of zeros. The French franc that dropped a few zeros in 1960, confusing my poor grandmère. The one I miss the most is the Dutch guilder, especially the 50g note, with its beautiful sunflower splashed happily on the front. Here it is, in case you missed it…

I’ve never been to Iceland, except for a day spent waiting for a storm to pass at the airport in Reykjavik back when Icelandair to Luxembourg was the cheapest way to get to Europe. I’d love to really visit.

The language is complicated and permits such things as “Quirky subjects,” the idea of which delights me even though I have no idea of what it is even after reading the wikipedia entry. I'm impressed that geothermal energy supplies nearly 90% of the country’s energy needs. They were smart early on to tap this resource. We have resources too in the forms of wind and sun and we’ve all but ignored them.

I’ll get there someday. Hopefully soon enough to drop a few krónur.




“An electrolyzer built into a car would eliminate the need for a hydrogen storage tank, and with the right partnership, I believe we could have pee-powered cars capable of 60 miles per gallon on the road within a year.”
The right partnership. I wonder who that could be.


so long frankie

I read an article in the New York Times Magazine years ago about what the afterlife means for a variety of people. Fran Lebowitz will use hers to return phone calls; Ross Bleckner will have his ashes mixed with paint to be used by his favorite 10 artists for a group show. My favorite though was from Frank McCourt, who died yesterday, and whose words we still quote with amusement in my house:

“My hereafter is here. I am where I'm going, for I am mulch. It's a great comfort to know that in my mulch-hood I may nourish a row of parsnips.”

McCourt deserved a longer life and a shorter death, and I’ll miss knowing that he walks and talks among us. Speaking to a group of students after the publication of Angela’s Ashes he once said, “I learned the significance of my own insignificant life.” With that he nourished a throng of unknowns to write their own “insignificant” stories, a generation of voices that might not otherwise have been heard. Parsnips indeed.

Endpaper; The Afterlife, As I See It


winter, 1975; excerpt from something bigger

Bob P. owned the apartment building I moved into, an okay landlord as they go. Second floor on the left, two rooms and a tiny kitchen. There were four of us living there. Me, my boyfriend Danny, Jim the Greek and his girlfriend who renamed herself “Free” after escaping a violent relationship. She was Hispanic, from one of the tougher neighborhoods in NYC. Free had a daughter in someone else’s custody, with whom she hoped one day to be reunited. Jim was a smart and literary alcoholic, who seemed to have come from a background that allowed him an education. He read poetry, plays, and classics, and was funny as hell. Too bad about the alcoholism; he might have been my favorite professor of English Lit, Contemporary Poetry, or Greek Theater. Jim later was shot in the stomach and spent a long time in hospital. Lived though. Not like some of us. He wore professorial specs and a Sundance Kid mustache, and baked amazing bread in that kitchen barely big enough to boil water.

The way we lived was spare. Clothes to get through the week, a pair of shoes, maybe two, and a few of our favorite books and records. No need for furniture. A mattress on the floor was plenty. No table, no chairs, we sat on the floor and read The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus aloud, each taking a part or two. I remember a few other people there. Alfie, a local playwright, Jed, a tall guy who cross-dressed and had a sister named Julia who threatened to call the cops on Danny if he didn’t stay away from him. Jed was a junkie, and Danny was an ex and future junkie, with a few clean years between states. Jed was flamboyant and loud, another drinker, and fun to be around. Once I saw him chasing a car down Tinker Street yelling, wearing four-inch platform shoes and a pink feather boa, carrying a glass of scotch. He was chasing his sister. I don’t know why.




Now if they would just make a device that removes it from your ass and funnels it directly into the tank as you drive...

Incredible exploding pressure gauge

or, how to wreck four tires and a pressure gauge in one easy step.

I'm exaggerating. I did however inadvertently fill my tires to above 60 psi (max rated - 42) at the Mobile station in Groton, near where Old Ayer Road comes in. All that air for the low low price of $.75.

Today the car was driving funny, so I stopped at a gas station in Acton, took off the valve caps and and stuck them in my pocket, put in my $.75, and with the pressure gauge on the air hose checked the pressure of the first tire. 62 pounds can't be right, I thought. So I got my pressure gauge from the glovebox and checked it. It shoots out to 60, the highest psi measurable with this home device. Shit! thought I, and go to the next tire. 60, wow. I put the gauge onto the third tire and with a pulse the end blew off, springs and washers and little black widgets spilling onto the pavement. I used what was once the top of the gauge to release 20 lbs of pressure from each tire, but I think I need to get another gauge. Yeah that and don't go to the Mobile station in Groton anymore.

Next stop, Trader Joe's for groceries. I put my keys in my pocket and realize that I'm still carrying the vitamins that I never took this morning, so I go back into the car for my water bottle. I open it, toss a vitamin back, take a slug, and get ready to repeat when I realize that the fucking valve caps are still in my pocket, now mixed with the vitamins. I counted them. Four. Well that's good, I didn't just swallow a valve cap. I think I better add ginko to my vitamin regimen.