“Keeping the Magic Alive” for the Uncannily Satisfied

Before you go ahead and read this, lucky you, you have an assignment. I want you to read, “Keeping the Magic Alive,” in the Penmen Review. You can find the link in my publications list, but I’ll slap it in right here for your eternal convenience. (It is not love that makes the world go round these days. I’d give my vote for its being convenience, at least in this spoiled rotten bratty first world hike through life.) Once you’ve read it, you’ll know what the hell I’m talking about in the rest of the post. If you don’t follow the link and read the story first, well then, it won’t be much different from High School when you didn’t read the assignment but came to class hoping not to be called on. But it will be different from your High School diurnal omissions in that you fiercely didn’t want to read that assignment (pages 45-127 in your “A Guide to Good Reasoning; Cultivating Intellectual Virtues-Second edition, revised and updated” text book) and you really really do want to read, “Keeping the Magic Alive,” because it’s twisted, short, doesn’t require taking notes and there will be no test. Here’s the link: https://penmenreview.com/keeping-the-magic-alive/

Did you read it? It’s okay. I won’t call on you.

Last time I spoke with Andy, we were going over, “Keeping the Magic Alive,” the sweet story of a married couple — or at least a couple.  The man is in a frenzy hunting for a shoe, one shoe, a special shoe, and the woman is trying to calm him. She finally gets him to get in the shower and reverse the charge on his ions. While he’s in the shower, she goes to her closet, gets the shoe, puts it where it should be, then gets his car keys and hides them. 

Andy reacted the way men have reacted and one woman (my mother). “Why is she torturing him?” He went further saying she was trying to drive him out of his mind — though my view is that he was already considerably out of it — and ascribed all sorts of wickedness to the woman. Our fearless friend, Leah, laughed her head off. my daughter, too. 

In my mind the woman is not acting as she does without provocation — at least not without a set interaction. It brought up questions for me about the way the insular unit of a couple creates, over time, its own psycho-system, the private balance of habit, power, gender, responsibilities, roles that constitute the unique character of the relationship. These two people do what they do, behave as they do, react to each other, love, fight, divide the labor, and assign each other identities.  All these characteristics are what hold the couple together, day by day, even if that holding together includes a coming apart in certain ways, while observing the boundaries of their marriage — if it’s a marriage.  The two people inhabit these personalities and interact in these specific ways as it has evolved within their psycho-system. It’s familiar; it is freeing or it’s a trap. It is a complicated conscious and unconscious machinery which exists true to this insular creation, and outside of the context of their system they are not the same people.

With generosity, sacrifices, selflessness, conflicts, cooperation, triumph and surrender their history lives on and distorts the present on a frequent basis. Cruelties that would never happen outside of their marriage are possible within it. Fears, comparisons, abandonment and resilient love all clash and live side by side. The odd thing is that this somehow can constitute a sort of multiple personality, an unsettling, maybe alarming, isolated entity that can at the same time be grindingly dull, spiked with neglect, a day to day habitual terror along with committed mutual love that is perceived as lethal boredom.

So just how sick do I want Claude of the missing wingtip and the loving wife who hides his shoes and keys to be? It upset Andy that the wife, without a name yet, was, “trying to drive him out of his mind”. 

Maybe Andy doesn’t get it because he has a happy marriage and neither he nor his wife are terribly lonely or horribly disappointed in each other and their lives.  Oh! What they’re missing! There’s such a lot of depth and wisdom to be acquired from a handful of soul crushing love relationships. You learn a lot about yourself. You learn about your limitations, your psychic pain threshold. You learn about what faithfulness and devotion mean to you when you finally figure out that there is no justification for them. You are living with an enemy who had promised to be a source of support, companionship and inspiration. In that regard you learn about the wicked tenacity of intermittent reinforcement. 

If the partner/spouse is a consistent fount of neglect, rejection and animosity, it’s clear that this is the wrong place to be and the wrong company to be with in that wrong place. Then it’s a matter of imagining how to extract yourself, having a concrete plan of creating your well chosen more harmonious existence, then gathering the courage and determination to act.  Not easy. Then suppose the intimate enemy only makes you miserable on a regular basis but not always, and at times — random times; it cannot be predictable if this is going to not work — that same monster provides camaraderie, affection, sometimes fills the role originally agreed upon and may even furnish a measure of stability? You would think that would be better all around — not good, certainly not great — but at least there is something positive. You would be wrong. That is probably the worst of all circumstances because you’re given a measure of hope. Given just the right amount of hope, you can hang yourself with it.

Then it gets positively biblical. You get accustomed to it, not quite inured to it, but it all develops its own rhythm, even its own (sick) logic. This is how we got to the point that we yawned through our slavery in Egypt. Hey, you think we didn’t once in a while step back and say to each other, “Will you just look at that, Shlomo? That is one fine pyramid we built!” Remember, the Holy One blessed be He didn’t intervene until we had lost the vision to see our misery and hadn’t even the slightest inkling that there existed any other life, that there was such a thing as potential, that there was the possibility of an alternative. That was in the days of miracles and wonders when bushes burned without being consumed, when the Lord spoke to His chosen leader who enlightened us yawning slaves to our misery and got us the hell out of there.

But these new days, miracles lack the luster and awe of old. These days nothing is awesome because everything is awesome. We sense the stirring of a higher power in the unearthly materialization of a parking spot right in front. And if by some fluke we find our bashert and live our lives together in an evolved state of abiding bliss, it is a freakish accident we would never have dared risk flaunting the hubris to pray for. A parking spot right in front is more to scale. Put your palms together and bow your head for that one. 

Andy could not know because he may never have experienced the revelations that abound in the standard version of marital bliss I was writing about in, “Keeping the Magic Alive.” How do you know what lunacy you are capable of if you’ve never been pushed to the brink, surviving in a chronic state of hope like a noose?  

There is also the added complication of having children while trying desperately to save your soul, your heart, your mind and your ethics. Having brought new lives into the world, nothing is the same anymore. Very suddenly you are shocked to know, deeper than bones and beyond the puny focus on your own precious mortality, that there are these new souls, blessed and doomed repositories of your DNA who are lost in the world but for you. They are so much more important than you are — a new learning in perspective. If this spouse co-donor of DNA is any positive factor in their security, your own misery is no less torturous, but not nearly as important.

And don’t intone, “Well why did you have children with him if you were miserable?” because you weren’t miserable before the children were born. Remember I said that having children changes everything. How were you to know? You weren’t. 

And then you find out with chronic intermittent reinforcement and staggering confusion about exits, with loneliness and longing you could never have fathomed, that the definition of cruelty is vague, depending upon context. You find out what you can endure and what you are capable of doing to survive. Need and love and anguish and attachment increasingly blur around the edges, eventually encroaching on the center.

Why did he become deranged over a wing tip shoe? Why did she hide it and then his car keys? Is that whole story too painful a punishment for anyone willingly to endure who just wants to read a story?  And then how about the poor sap who’s writing it?

A Shirt A Towel and One Damn Sock

A few months ago a shirt went missing. I knew it was someplace because, well, where could it go? I never wear it out of the house. I wear it to bed. It was the mauve one not the ochre one of the two in one from Costco. Sturdy, simple, wore it to bed over pajama bottoms. I never wore the ochre one because I look awful in orange of any shade. Besides I just  didn’t like it. But the purplish mauve was just  fine. It let me sleep. An ochre one would have awakened me during the night, especially during the Trump administration.  I threw it in the wash with other things in my hamper, then threw it in the drier with the same  group. When it was all dry, I put it in the laundry basket and started folding. The shirt wasn’t there. It had vanished. Everything else was in that basket except the shirt. I’m a mom. Moms find things.

“I can’t find my term paper! Mom!”

give it a beat

“How did you find that?”

“It was right under the papers on top of the pile.”

The shirt was no where. Not still stuck to the inside of the washer. Not put in Meyshe’s drawers by accident. Not dropped on the floor en route. Not misplaced among the bedsheets. Not adhered via static electricity to another item. No? Then you hit the next tier. Not in the drawer with the cloth napkins, not dragged into a corner by the cat. Not outside being used as a garden rag if Meyshe couldn’t tell the difference. Okay. Not in the car. The last time it was in the car was when I brought it home from Costco and it was still in the package. Getting desperate are we? Not  somehow stuffed down the garbage disposal. Not being used as a mouse pad. Not in the refrigerator or freezer. Not stewing on the stove. 

You get the mood.

I am not good at giving up. Proof is that I’m still here after luck splattered over the whole good/horrible axis has pelted me all my life. But I gave up on the shirt. It was relegated to the massive extraterrestrial landfill of missing one damn socks that is floating out there in some numbered galaxy (so obscure it doesn’t even have a name). Many many years ago I thought I’d solved the one damn sock mystery when I got a look at Frank Zappa’s. He had his feet up on the recording booth console and, my dears, they were special. Special and unmatched. But I was wrong.  He could only have been responsible for a small fraction of the vast world of missing one socks. He was mortal.

The shirt showed up two months after it had gone missing. It had migrated on its own power to a spare bedroom that Meyshe uses for lifting weights. I’d actually looked in that room several times. But that was evidently before the resurrection or exhumation, depending upon the holiness of the garment in question.

Yesterday, my mother’s dining room table was delivered by the furniture restorer. It’s a mid century mahogany set with four leaves that extend it to seat twelve. My mother had the table top covered in imitation blond wood formica, not pretty but practical. She saw three hyperactive kids tearing up the house as young children and foresaw the damage they would soon be doing to the table top with their homework and obliviousness: protractors poking holes, ink, paint, solvents, chemical spills, hot pots set down without trivets, glasses of liquids left on the table to bleach the finish with condensation of fluids. I don’t remember ever seeing that table without the formica. After my mother died, I was the only sibling who had no dining table and anyway, no one else wanted it. I’d always wanted to restore it. So here it was, returned to its infant purity. They brought it wrapped in moving blankets. They unwrapped the parts, tossed the blankets on the floor, then assembled the table. My first thought, honestly, was, “Thank God we finally have a surface to fold laundry on.” Sorry Mom. 

And that’s the first thing we did. Meyshe had brought down the laundry basket before the table arrived, so we started to fold.  There was one purple bath sheet missing. I’d put two bath sheets in the washer, transferred two bath sheets to the drier and Meyshe had unloaded the drier to bring it all downstairs to fold. Some where or some time, one enormous purple bath sheet had vanished. Now, a shirt could easily get lost. A sock, absolutely, nearly mandatory with every wash. But a whole 40″ X 72″ intensely purple bath sheet? How could it hop away? It was not in the washer stuck to the drum. It was not in the drier. It had not fallen out of the basket in transport. It had not been taken out preemptively, folded and put away in the drawer where it should be. Not misplaced in Meyshe’s bathroom. Not still in the hamper which of course I knew because I put both towels in the washer and both in the drier. It had not somehow slipped behind the drier, which would mean it passed through a large box of rags like a ghost. Not in the drawer with the cloth napkins. Not mistaken for a tablecloth and put in with the others. Not in the spare bedroom with the weights. Not under, over or next to any bed. Not in the yard as a garden rag. Nowhere. Forty by seventy two inches of blazingly purple bath sheet, erased from existence without a trace. Of course that’s not true. It exists. It exists where we haven’t looked, or it’s hiding in plain sight, like I do at a party.

Meyshe and I were pondering the mystery of matter, anti matter and doesn’t matter as we looked out over the beautiful young top of the dining table. He said, “Maybe one of the workers accidentally took it.”  He likely meant “steal” but the concept could have been right. I called the furniture restorer.

“Hi Rick. Could you go check and see if there’s a large purple bath sheet mixed up in the moving blankets you took back when you left?” 

I had great hopes for this. For one, it could easily have happened. For two, it would restore my sanity. Things don’t just disappear. We tell our children that when they’re distraught and can’t find something. But no one was telling me. I’m too old for that shit.

Rick got back on the phone.

“Nope. Not here.”

There is something I can do to force the bath sheet to come out of hiding. I can go buy a new one. It is not uncommon that after a couple who’s given up trying to conceive adopts a baby, the woman finally gets pregnant. That could be a myth, a curiosity based on nothing. But Frank Zappa is dead. That distant numbered galaxy is not accepting towels of this size. I am  not good at giving up.

24 Hour Collection

On my mundane schedule today was a 1:00 PM appointment to drop off a big jug of the urine I collected over a 24 hour period. Don’t get the wrong idea. This was all my own exudate. I did not go on a door to door mission collecting samples of urine from total strangers, meaning the neighbors. What would be the purpose of such a collection? If it were separate samples, it could be a health department study determining the presence of certain chemicals, pollutants, insecticides, contamination in the water table. But this was one jug. How do you explain that to potential contributors?

“Hi. I’m from the Good Samaritan Rescue Mission (show badge I.D.). I’m not asking for money, so please doin’t shut the door. The Good Samaritan Rescue Mission is an organization that’s been helping people who are at risk, people from broken homes, victims of domestic abuse, recovering addicts, youth without safe havens at home, just people with troubles who need support and purpose and have no where else to turn. The Good Samaritan Rescue Mission (GSRM) sponsors these people, people like me, gives us guidance and direction, counseling, training for employment, introduces us to healthy eating habits, stable productive life styles, gives us shelter if we’re without housing, protection if we’re in danger. The Good Samaritan Rescue Mission has scholarships for higher education, grants for starting small businesses. The GSRM gets its funding from donations, government grants, from the proceeds of pop-up business ventures, the sale of hand made original art, crafts, practical household and personal tools, all made by us, the grateful people whose lives are changing for the better because of GSRM’s generosity and vision.

“Right now we’re getting ready for our bi-annual county wide Good Samaritan Rescue Mission fair. There will be rides, games, fabulous prizes, a mini olympics, performances showcasing our talents. This time we’re lucky to have Maggie the Magnificent, an amazing psychic and world class award winning virtuoso yodeler.

“Admission is free for everyone who agrees to spare just a few minutes of their time right now and donate a urine sample. All you have to do is take this sterile cup and see if you can fill it just up to that first line. It isn’t much, really only a few drops. It is guaranteed to be completely anonymous. Your urine will not be traceable to you at all. There are no special requirements. No fasting. You don’t have to have abstained from smoking, alcohol or drugs. You won’t be put on any mailing lists and you will never get a letter thanking you so much for your generous gift and then asking for more. Your name will not be added to a published list of donors. It’s just this time, between you and me. One and done. I’ll even throw in a free raffle ticket for every milliliter. You will be helping so many people and it won’t cost you a thing. You won’t miss it. It means nothing to you, but to somebody else, some lucky person in the Good Samaritan Rescue Mission family, it means hope for a future they never dreamed existed. Whaddayoo say? Will you help us so we can help others?”

If the total stranger agrees, the however many raffle tickets worth of neighborly pee will be carefully handed over to me. I put a lid on it, take it with me, then pour it into the 24 hour urine collection jug and hand it over to an employee at Quest Diagnostics.

This is the way I spice up my official medical record.

Carmen’s Burrito

I was eighteen and living in a rooming house, going to the University of Washington in Seattle on a Rockefeller grant in music. I was ill prepared. Naive isn’t even the word because I was very savvy at other things, but things that only apply to surviving my family, a mottled example of the hyper neurotics of intelligentsia. I’d spent my years in public school in a practice room with my cello, or recovering from same. I had one good friend. I knew nothing about the practical world. In preparation for my separation, my mother had to teach me how to write a check, which is now nearly obsolete, so why did I learn it? This was in the days before widespread use of credit cards. There was no such thing as a debit card.

You are so young.

Across the alley from the back of my rooming house was the back door of Hillel and the house next to Hillel was divided into apartments. The apartment facing the alley was shared by three men who were all too old to be students. All three were Jewish though one, who would sue me if I gave you his name, was a monster and a convert. I believe I can speak for my people when I say that his conversion to Judaism did not help us in our eternal struggle with antisemitism. He was engaged to one of the other women renting a room in the house where I lived.  She and I were both in the basement rooms. Besides the aforementioned social predator there was Rolph and Brian. Brian flirted wildly with me and we became whatever passes for girlfriend and boyfriend.

One evening he invited me over to listen to, “this amazing piece of music,” with him. It was, naturally, Carmina Burana (Carmen’s Burrito). I’d never heard it before but read the record jacket while we were listening. It is a work for choir and orchestra. The text is taken from a collection of 13th century bawdy songs written in Latin, German and medieval French.

Brian and I sat on the couch, being blasted by the music he’d set at an overwhelming volume. Carmina Burana is a passionate, rhythmic, insistent piece. I think the composer, Carl Orff was aiming for the evocation of primal urges and primitive tribal behavior. I was oblivious to Brian’s intentions which were obvious, all about the evocation of those primal urges and encouraging of primitive tribal behaviors. He knew I was a professional virgin and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t trying to seduce me into having sex, but he certainly wanted badly to get the juices flowing.

While we were sitting there, the roommates with a pal or two passed through the room behind the sofa. It was clear there had been a pact among them that the living room belonged to Brian that night and they’d agreed to make themselves scarce. So as they hurried through (fastest way to get from point A to point B) there was no pausing for conversation. No conversation at all. But there were plenty of sly knowing looks and eyebrow language, secretive and suggestive smiles. Brian’s response to their sub rosa teasing was squinting eye contact, some stern eyebrow work.

“Good night,” they smirked.

“Goodbye,” he replied.

It wasn’t too many years later that I was told Carmina Burana was the era’s make-out music—the indoor equivalent of parking the car on Grizzly Peak Boulevard way up in Tilden Park behind the UC Berkeley campus, to “look  at the view”.

My thought just now is that it would be only fair that Carl Orff or his descendants be paid royalties every time a post adolescent Lothario wannabe gets past first base using the Orff method of Seductio ad Absurdum.

Brian was disappointed that night. I was much more interested in discussing the notes on the record jacket than I was in evoking those primal urges and, et cetera (yes, dear: Long playing stereo records, record players. Long playing meaning an advancement over the old 78 rpm recordings) .

But let’s be reasonable. The guy was incurious and ill informed. What message could he have been delivering by blasting Carmen’s Burrito all over his (rented) living room walls? What research had he done into the text of “this amazing piece of music”? I will answer in the language of the text:

“Ah! ’Tis too late now. The maiden has found you out. Had she only no brain! Alas! Even now she readies her escape. You stupid mamzer! Why do you even try?  Ah!”

There is a shitload of “Ah!” in Carmina Burana.

So I read the record jacket with great interest as Brian cooled his loins beside me. I had no idea he was going through such a personal climate change. Just wanted to understand what he billed as “this amazing piece of music”. What I read altered my state of consciousness. The notes offered the text of Carmina Burana in the original languages and in translation. Such an education!! It inspired an early retreat from the entire occasion. He could call the roommates back into the living room as I exited stage left while they were pursued by a beer.

But let’s take a peak at the inspiring text, shall we? Here’s a snippet from Carmina Burana (yeah yeah Carmen’s Burrito). For an explanation of why the poem is spread out over several acres, please read the post script.

This is what I read:

Verse 12: Cignus ustus cantat (The Roast Swan)

Once I looked beautiful

When I was a swan.

Misery me!

Now black

and roasting fiercely!


The servant is turning me on the spit;

I am burning fiercely on the pyre:

the steward now serves me up.

Misery me!

Now black

and roasting fiercely!


Now I lie on a plate,

and cannot fly anymore,

I see bared teeth:

Misery me!

Now black

and roasting fiercely!


Perhaps I was just not good at multiple tasking, but after, “Misery me! Now black and roasting fiercely!” I wasn’t in the mood for, “C’mon, baby, light my fire!”


And again: Ah!


Post Script:

In explaining the generous acreage of the poem, I must educate you about the limitations of WordPress, the very popular platform used by countless websites. Here’s the bad news: WordPress is guilty of antipoetism. It is not possible for me to format a poem without having double spacing between the lines. Idiotic. And speaking of idiotic, it is also not possible for anyone using WordPress to indent the first line of a paragraph. Perhaps the programmers and designers of WordPress did not graduate from elementary school as many of us did, where we are taught about standard English usage and the rules of composing proper essays. In my attempts to post this poem with it looking like a poem,I thought of bizarre ways around these shortcomings. I tried using the space bar which I thought would register characters, though invisible ones, so that when the next line of the poem appeared single spaced, the poem would be properly formatted. The results were a patchwork of unreadable lines appearing everywhere in the text field. Nix on that. I thought of taking a screen shot of the poem and posting that, but the image was poor, fuzzy, out of proportion no matter how I manipulated it. The problem with the automatic double spacing when one hits the Return key is that to indicate the space necessary between stanzas, there is then a quadruple space and the poem is so spread out that it loses its coherence. I thus resorted to another unseemly solution, if indeed it’s a solution. I filled the rest of each line of text with an unending dash to register characters–an interesting, not so aesthetically pleasing visual, but at least the poem would be spaced as it should be. Oh, yes. I also thought to alter the color of the text of the dashes so they were invisible in the text field, but gosh oh gee, WordPress doesn’t offer an option for different colored text.  Unfortunately, the dashes appeared on separate lines, double spaced, and ruined the whole solution. So what I was forced to do was to present the poem with double spacing, and quadruple spacing between stanzas. This is the stuff that makes me think I should have taken up some other simpler occupation, like cat trainer, parade cleanup, Public Relations Lackey. So I say unto you, Feh (Yiddish for WTF) on WordPress. Illiterate, antipoetists. Write your representative.

A Dive into FEWTNID

Thank you all for your response to my little quiz about “what to post. what to post”.  I will not read out the statistics, but the general consensus was, “Let’er rip!”  So I will let her rip.

So it is that I must  introduce you to FEWTNID. (The Franklin Electronic Webster’s Third New International Dictionary). I keep this outdated unabridged wonder at my hip when I am writing. I often write sitting up in bed at night, so at the hip is entirely convenient. I have spent many ecstatic hours spelunking in FEWTNID. There are words that astound simply because there is a word for that specific thing. There are words that astound due to their evolution or derivation or the spectacularly disparate definitions. Once I open that thing up, I can be sucked down into it and only come up to steady myself in the new world it has created for me. You may not have the same lust for words as I do, so I won’t bore you with technicalities and obscure word fetish exhumations. Anyway, that’s my introduction to FEWTNID. Read this:

Poor little Tziptkeh vomited on the rug in the hallway. Is it my fault for having given her tiny scraps of raw chicken liver that I put on a small plate near my work station where the big pieces of chicken liver were being cut up and cleaned? I called her and she came running. She came straight to the plate and lapped it all up. Then she circled my legs looking up at me, groaking. So I poured the last of the juice form the chicken livers — just the dregs at the bottom of the bowl where I’d put the raw livers after rinsing and draining them. It was maybe half a teaspoon, probably less. She approached it, sniffed it which is more the feline way of inspection, evidently found it unworthy and walked away. I guessed she was full or maybe she’d had enough of raw liver and would have preferred a palate cleanser or dessert: fruit and cheese perhaps or a cat sized portion of zuppe Inglese — oh! or a sliver of baked Alaska, though the flaming brandy might be a little dramatic for her. Baked Alaska is probably the right choice but not for the reasons you might think. It’s just that we should all be enjoying Baked Alaska while it’s still a festive dessert. As time goes on and Alaska is transformed by climate change it’s going to evoke more anxiety than happy anticipation. At some point we’re going to have to rename it: Baked The Arctic:  Baked Siberia, or maybe in anticipation of unpredictable chaotic geographical climate reassignment, we should toss all reference to locations associated with frigid temperatures and focus on substance rather than place names: Baked Snowball, though that might get tragically confused with the makers of Hostess cupcakes, Ho Ho’s and Snowballs ®®®®®®®®. “Tragically,” because of the copyright lawsuit. And then we are left with Alaska’s tourist bureau needing a new culinary attraction. I’m going to suggest that by the time all this takes place Alaska will be the new Hawaii, so a special Alaskan sweet delicacy could be Mango Moose Cake. Note the importance for obvious reasons that it be called Mango Moose CAKE, not Mango Moose PIE which would have some extremely unpalatable connotations. Have had enough of this tangent? But before I yank us back to the original subject, I really must share what I tripped over in FEWTNID when checking to make absolutely sure about which pole is which: The Arctic vs. Antarctica. I know that of course. But there is always a nagging mote of insecurity that compels me to get official scholarly validation. This comes less from any doubt about the facts and more from my historic and undying doubts about my idiocy. 

“Oh you’re so sure of yourself then that you know you’re incapable of being wrong about something you’re so sure you’re right about! Well go ahead, Ms. Wise Ass, Ms. Smarty Pants, don’t look it up, but don’t come slithering to me if you make a fool of yourself.” (Note that these common references — vulgar is a better term than common — to intelligence or lack thereof put the source of your brain power in your tuchas.) So I did look it up, and that’s when I found THIS: 

“Arctic Hysteria,  n. : a form of individual and mass hysteria that is peculiar to Arctic peoples and is characterized by compulsive mimicry.”

Now this caught me by surprise. The imagery this inspires can keep going: 

1) Grainy footage of an icy wasteland, snow swirling, curling, rioting in the air. Through the clouds of snow we see the entire population of an arctic village, men, women, children of every age, all Charlie Chaplins: the bowler, the cane, the baggy pants and waistcoat three sizes to small—the characteristic mustache—all of them mimicking each other.

2) The interior of an ice house—a large family with five, six, seven children. all their friends, the parents, both the wife’s and the husband’s families, grandparents, sisters, brothers and the spouses, the cousins, the in-laws. It’s a dinner celebration. Was it something in the blubber, in the Baked Alaska, in the air? Did one infected person bring the Arctic Hysteria to the event and infect everyone else? Well, never mind and who cares where it came from because the din of conversation (if you want to call it that) is rattling the ice foundation.

“Stop imitating everything I say!”

“Stop imitating everything I say!”

“It’s not funny anymore.”

“It’s not funny anymore.”

“The game’s over!”

“The game’s over!”

“Stop it!!”

“Stop it!!”

“Go home.”

“Go home.”

“I mean it. You need to leave now.”

“I mean it. You need to leave now.”



This is all being repeated by everyone to everyone, and not simultaneously. No one knows  when it began or who started it (which is, by the way, another dialogue) and no one can stop. It just goes on and on until the sun comes up (which might be in six months).

A doctor is called by a neighbor who leaves town so as not to be infected. The doctor arrives and shouts, “Who started this? Can someone tell me who started this?” And the answer is swift.

“Who started this? Can someone tell me who started this?

An emergency medical team races to the scene, sirens blaring, which by the time the EMT enters the house is being mimicked by everyone in the room.


So Tziptkeh loved the first plate, tiny dots really, of raw chicken liver, but turned away from the micro teaspoon of chicken liver juice. Oh well. She padded off quietly and I continued with the dinner preparations. Then a few minutes later Meyshe and I both heard Tziptkeh in the front entrance hall, emitting deep throated sounds we’d never heard her produce before. Moans, or cat singing. Sad. She sounded miserable. I left my post to see what she was doing. Poor thing, she was arched over the rug that used to lie in the front hall of my mother’s house. I recognized that convulsive lurching of shoulders, her neck stretching, then contracting, shrinking back, forward, back. I couldn’t get to her fast enough and she retched out the chicken liver along with stomach slime. I ran for paper towels and slid them under her as she brought up the second round. She watched me curiously while I mopped up the chewed liver. Having emptied her stomach, she was immediately better. She came over to thank me, curled up under me as I scrubbed the rug. Then she trotted off. Not much later she was eager for her dinner.

How could she say that?

The most awful thing happened. Well, you won’t think it’s so awful, but I did. I met with a friend of mine, a terrific writer whose word I trust. She wanted me to meet someone who publishes and sent an email to both of us as an introduction. She described me as, “a polished writer”.

It threw me into a depression. I won’t say I wept, but I did catch Covid, likely not related, but even so…..

A polished writer? Do I want to be seen as a polished writer? If so I should be wearing high heels and a realtor’s red blazer with a simple brooch on my lapel and a scarf around my neck. I could sell you a polished house that has an “open floor plan”. Not like me at all.

While lying in bed with Covid, I thought about that. She didn’t mean it as an insult. And maybe that was even worse. If she meant to defame me, there are a lot worse things she could have said.

But it did get me thinking about what I want to post here. It’s true that the things I’ve posted so far have been “pieces”, writing I’ve gone over and shaped into a form that satisfies me. But maybe what I should do is not think so hard and just tell you all about it. You may decide for yourself what that “it” is that I might tell you about. It would definitely be more raw, maybe more embarrassing for me. I don’t particularly like spooning my insides out onto the page for others to see. I have lots of published work on the net and in print, so that’s already out there. Do you want something less (for lack of a better word) “polished”? 

I would have to tell you all about FEWTNID too. That’s where I go spelunking on a frequent basis. My life is complicated, and honestly way too much has happened to me. In other words, I do not live a charmed life. I leave that up to my first husband. Everything seemed to go smoothly for him, though  he might not think so. He turned out secure and taken care of, safe and relatively without encumbrances. Oooh, not so for me: Not smooth, not secure, not taken care of, in fact mostly taking care of everyone else and with tons of encumbrances. If that sounds exciting to you, let me know. I’m here waiting to hear from you.

Examples of possible imminent posts:

Arctic Hysteria

Adult Bookstore Bouncy House

The Myanmar Exercize Queen VGV

The Covid Diaries

And much much more. As I type, more is being written………………

So tell me what you want. 

Tumbling into the Maw of the Great Internet Void

I’ve been posting to this blog for a while now, not a long while but long enough I suppose. I have to wonder who is reading it. And the answer I came up with is probably: no one. This should loosen me up a bit, right? If no one is out there chewing on this stuff, I could say anything I want. Yes, but there is always the chance that someone, some rare bird is tuning in. I did send word to a few people and a few groups I belong to and the initial response was,”Yay for you!” from pretty much everyone, but I haven’t heard a word from anyone since. That alone doesn’t mean no one is reading it, but how many people could possibly know it’s out there. Do you? If I get no answer to that I can be fairly sure you didn’t read it, the results of this query being kind of like saying, “If you’re deaf, raise your hand.”  It’s not like anyone is going to make a special search on Google for “Tobie Helene Shapiro” without knowing who I am, so no one’s going to trip over it. Is there anyone out there making a concerted effort to locate a blog addressing their specific and odd predilection , namely, eccentric little old Jewish ladies who refuse to act the way people of her vintage are expected to act, to whit: bOring, rigid, idle, gossipy, clueless, forgetful, easily scandalized, puttering around, lacking interests, forcing pictures of her grandchildren on you, farting a lot, humorless, unenergetic, slow, taking classes in Japanese flower arranging, misses the good old days when Lawrence Welk presided over his champagne orchestra. I am not that and this may be the exact appeal to these strange slim-end-of-the-bell-curve nowhere-close-to-spilling-over-into-anyone-else’s-Venn-diagram readers who are one demographic most likely to laugh and cry at my blog posts.

But how would they find me, especially since they’re almost surely not actively hunting for reading matter that might be secreting itself somewhere under a glitch between two click bait thumbnail videos at the side of a Youtube presentation of rare historic footage of a friend of Mort Sahl’s caught in the Comedy Laugh-Off Competitions at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1966 doing a spectacularly funny satire on California’s Mystery Spot. That particular performance at the ‘ 66 Laugh-Offs incidentally was the cause of the Comedy Laugh-Off shut down that year, because someone lodged a complaint about the speaker’s lewdness, having worn a Santa Cruz Mystery Spot bumper sticker positioned so the big black spot on the sticker was right over her crotch. Had there been no complaint, the performance would have vanished from documented history. But as it was, the noise about the bumper sticker catapulted the UCSC 1966 Comedy Laugh-Offs to the hot topic in local news. First it was the UCSC Daily Californian, which was picked up by the local TV and radio stations which in turn got the attention of the three major networks who all gave the incident a segment on the nightly news. The Laugh-Off Competitions thereafter became a yearly SOLD OUT event. From then on there were always eager talent scouts in attendance. Our comedienne hero, friend of the comedy icon of satire, Mort Sahl, got the nickname “Spot” and was never able to shake it. She is still Spot to this day. But she will not be reading my blog—nor will anyone else unless they trip over me on their way elsewhere.

I’ve been urged to get on social media—the entire line-up of the usual suspects: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and whatever else is out there to suck up time and energy I don’t have, and don’t want to have if it means contributing to the whole anti-social media machine. I still haven’t (and won’t) forgive Mark Zuckerberg for helping get Trump elected. I did once, long ago, venture onto Facebook, but it was utilitarian. I was looking to contact a particular person who might be a good tutor in philosophy and logic for Meyshe and I was told the only way I could get hold of him was to bite Facebook’s bullet. So I did. Within minutes I received a hail of messages from people I hadn’t seen since high school, the very people I had made a concerted effort to forget. “Hi! Tobie! Remember me!? Weren’t those great times!” The great times referred to were the traumatic experiences I spent years on shrinks’ couches working through seeking what is known now as closure—–a vague concept that I think is more chimera than resolution. The “Wow! Let’s reconnect” messages were followed closely by scores of old photographs documenting humiliations I’d actually succeeded in forgetting. Thank you for returning me to the joys of teenage lost-hood (I had to put a dash in there or it would read “los thood” which means nothing). This happened to coincide with one of the first rounds of alarming privacy issues regarding Facebook. The timing was spectacular. Some of the stated issues were violating wiretap laws, distributing data on the behavior of users without their consent, having purchases by users published to a news feed and other celebrative frolicking. I got off of Facebook immediately, not an easy thing to manage. It’s like trying to get your account with PayPal cancelled. An equivalent struggle would be trying to get out of jail free without a Monopoly board or unsubscribing from spam email.

So I’m not on social media. I also do not as yet have a “smart” phone. In keeping with these personal policies I refuse to have electricity, a car, a telephone (I bowed out after Ma Bell got rid of the prefixes on phone numbers like, “THornwall”, “OLympic”, “LAndscape”, ” TEmplebar” and exchanged them for all numbers. Retiring the rotary dial in favor of punch buttons was the last straw don’t you think!). I also cook over a pit in the back yard–that’s where the outhouse is (not connected in any way with the cooking pit) and I am not now using a computer to post this to the blog that I do not have.


Thank you! and Mazel Tov! (a Late Fall Early Winter’s Tale)

It’s been particularly cold in the house today, though outside it didn’t seem extreme at all—-cold, chilly, yes, but not like it’s felt trying to stay warm inside. My hands have been so cold when I’m trying to do anything requiring fingers or grip strength I can barely manipulate objects, certainly not open a jar or even peel open a zip lock bag. The overall impression is that my body is failing—age (the old kind). But I say it’s only the temperature. When this kind of test happens I have to check myself. I ask me, “Would this be happening if I were thirty?” The answer this time is yes, so my system of denial is safe for the time being.

The furnace in this house is inscrutable and most probably malfunctioning, but who could tell really? There’s no owner’s manual though there must have been one at some time.This house and all the others of the 485 houses were plopped down at perfectly regular intervals at the same time and designed by the same developer’s architectural mix-n-match-Blu-Printz-R-Us contractors, the entire tract and everything in it built en mass in 2006, finished and sold moved into and done by 2008. We are dealing with large numbers. 

Here’s how I think it works:

Just for example, all the appliances in all the kitchens are Thermadors. There are discounts on refrigerator/freezer, four burner one griddle gas stove top, double electric wall oven and dishwasher combinations if you order over 25 at a time. Price breaks and further discounts at 100, 200, 400, 600, 1000. But the real price breaks are when you order 10,000 or more identical sets. So these clever developers bought up decommissioned military bases all over the country and flattened hundreds of square miles of ex-government neglected land, mowed down anything growing, whether weeds, trees, or poor people and created hundreds of square miles worth of identical terrain. This way one template was good for all fifty developments. Such a deal on Thermador kitchen-combo bottom of their line sets when you order 24,255 of them. Then the central heating—24,255  furnaces. Go ahead. See what kind of amazing price breaks you can get if you order 24,255 of something. Money is the root of all evil. Hoard it and watch it grow!

I’ve examined the thermostat for the make and model number. The make is Carrier, but there’s no model number visible. I’d have to pry the thing off the wall or get Meyshe to brute strength the thing open (I can’t because my hands are too cold). There’s got to be a model number someplace on, in, under or behind it. Or maybe there’s an emergency Carrier furnace company trouble shooting crisis kit embedded in the wall behind the thermostat. Carrier? Never heard of them. Likely owned by Thermador (a recent acquisition/sex slave of the Jeff Bezos Amazon Alpha Corporate Gobbling Group). I looked up Carrier on the internet. There are dozens of models—photos of the thermostat command models are clearly displayed on their web page: dozens of them. Good, all good. There is, however, not one thermostat depicted that looks anything like the one on this wall. Too old? Obsolete? 

Or: it could be a model not shown online because this model is a special developers tract model—below bottom of the Carrier line basic residential model. The developers tract furnace model isn’t even made by Carrier. Carrier outsources it to a Chinese manufacturer. And they’re only a front for the North Korean factory. The developers tract model is made by prisoners in North Korean “Jail Cities”. These jail cities supply what are suspected to be millions of highly motivated workers—-as long as you work eighteen hours a day, don’t complain and don’t die on the job, we won’t kill you. As long as nothing you make explodes while still in North Korea, no medical experimentation on you. Great motivator—stick and carrot combined in one severely convincing pep talk.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

This could be why this furnace and its wall mounted thermostat don’t work and/or can’t be figured out. The controls, such as they are, do not respond to commands and whatever the little buttons on the control panel do and no matter what crazy codes appear on the screen and no matter whether the buttons and what appear on the screen have anything to do with each other, the furnace itself is unresponsive. After futzing around with the controls forever, it became clear that to make it behave in a manner roughly similar to a climate control command center, I must go to the main house electricity panel on the wall in the laundry room. There are two toggle switches labeled “12”. They control the juice to the furnace. I flip them to the left and it turns on the heat. I leave it on until we’re less uncomfortably frozen. Then I go to the wall panel and flip the two toggle switches labeled “12” back to the right. The furnace turns off. The furnace, therefore is off unless I make the effort to turn it on. This is good for everyone. It saves money on the utility bill when it’s more of a pain to trudge up the stairs to flip the switch than it is to put on a sweater and kvetch. Here we see that kvetching is good for the environment.

Also—and this is not trivial—I feel that I’ve performed a mitzvah, at least one mitzvah. I do not refer here to the unfreezing of the Shapiro hands and toes, nor the careful earth conscious conservation of electric power, nor the lowered energy bill. Somewhere in far off North Korea, a human being I will never meet and never specifically identify, a prisoner incarcerated for leaving out a word in the “Dear Leader” anthem, will not be killed today, and will not be subjected to medical experimentation. We are all glad to be alive. This prisoner and I are partners in the Citizens of the World pact. The  prisoner gives me the opportunity to perform this soul affirming mitzvah, and I save the prisoner from death and torture (not in that order of course. I mean, what would be the point?). 

A hearty, Thank You! and a hearty Mazel Tov!!

The Millisecond Rule

So we’re living in a Hollywood set. Not something I would have chosen. We just had to get a place but fast and this was the first thing we saw that passed inspection, though the rent is ruinous (you may look up average costs of rent in the San Francisco bay area if you have the stomach for it). And here we are. In the epicenter of suburbia. 

We are so out of place, so alien here. The cultural biome of Berkeley where I grew up and my twins grew up is at odds with the island of Alameda which used to be a Naval base. 

We’ve been twiddling our opposing thumbs in this rented Hollywood set for over a year now and I still don’t know any of the neighbors, not by name or by sight. I wouldn’t recognize a single one of them if a crew from NBC knocked on our door, showed us their photographs and asked if I’d ever suspected they were part of a cult traveling cannibal dinner club. I couldn’t even look surprised and say: 

“Gosh, no. They were so quiet and polite. They never failed to say good morning and smile. I had no idea they were foodies.” 

The neighbor/stranger phenomenon is familiar to me. Growing up in Berkeley, I bet you thought we new age enlightened progressive cultural provocateurs would be living in a chronic block party–the sons and daughters of the university and all the fellow travelers to the seventh degree of separation discussing intellectual matters, catered by Chez Panisse, everyone stoned on grass, acid or, “I don’t need drugs; I’m high on life.” Everyone knows everyone else because we all go to the same protests together. How does it go? “From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs”? 

But it’s not so. No one in Berkeley ever sat on the front porch waving at neighbors or gossiping over the back fence. We knew who lived in the house across the street from us, at least by name. That’s because Mrs. Hotchkiss (true: some forebear way back earned that last name because evidently he kissed his hotch) would open her front door at 5:00 P and holler, “STANLEEEEEEEEEEE!! STANLEY HOTCHKISS!!” Not so intimate as if we really knew them, but we’d recognize that yodel anywhere. 

People didn’t trot over and ask to borrow a cup of balsamic vinegar reduction, or drop by just to chat. So here is your proof: Berkeley is not a commune. My parents lived in that house for sixty three years. Well, my mother did. She outlived the monster by twenty-five years (more on that later). In all that time, not one neighbor ever came over or invited them over. And the limit of the neighborhood welcome wagon when they moved in in 1957 was a spray painted message on the garage door, a swastika and, “Kikes Go Home!” There’s your typical upper middle class Berkeley neighborhood before the ’60s interrupted the great white male free for all with its festivities. 

We are on the Island of Alameda now, in an upscale tract. No one knows us and we don’t know them. Kids are not playing in the street. Their parents aren’t calling them to come inside for dinner. What we see of each other are not faces; we only know the cars who live nearby. We are the gold Honda Odyssey. Next door is a Toyota station wagon. Maybe the blue Audi sedan belongs to the spouse with the bigger paycheck. There is a slate grey Tesla a few doors down. And every once in a while when the big white behemoth Mercedes SUV can’t find a place to park near its house, it parks in front of ours. There is a shiny black Lexus that lives across the street, and to complete the Alameda portraiture in the context of the surrounding bay area’s zeitgeist, I have not seen a single Prius in the whole development. 

I’m familiar with this neighbor as stranger phenomenon. It takes a lot of energy and disruption of  the habitual habitat meeting  someone new in the neighborhood. It isn’t the case when you’re a child. Children greet the world as something new almost every day, and there is someone protecting them if the world gets out of hand. Or there should be. For the grown ups, incentive is needed and a reason to risk what you know for something you don’t. 

When I was thirteen, we woke up in the middle of the night hearing fire engines coming down our street. We all went to our windows, all the neighbors who didn’t know each other and we stared. There were orange, red, black reflections and shadows roiling on the face of the house across the street. There they were, all of them at their windows.  This is how I learned where their bedrooms were. House by house, the neighborhood came outside and drifted down the street seduced by fire. A house in the middle of the block was in flames. The noise was an angry storm, a hurricane, glass exploding. We all gathered at whatever we thought was a safe distance, our faces red with heat. The Berkeley Fire Department had put up barriers. A few teenage boys tried to violate them and were pushed back. 

It wasn’t up to the neighborhood to rouse the bucket brigade. We were spectators, nor did the whole block get together to build them a new house. In the morning there was a black heap of ash where that house used to be and that’s when everyone stayed away. The family who lived there simply disappeared. We didn’t know them.

The great  East Bay Hills Fire of 1991 that burned 1,520 acres dense with houses put five thousand of us out on the street. When the authorities allowed us to come back in, we returned to sift through the ruins. All of us did. This was the first time we saw our neighbors. There we all were, without hedges, trees or walls to hide us. We waved then bent back down to our private mounds of ash. 

I hear there are people who know their neighbors, who do more than smile for a millisecond then look back down at their shoes as they pass each other. This here, where our fat temporary rented house is planted, is a millisecond neighborhood.

I’d been thinking as far back as Halloween of 2021 how we could be more approachable, inveigle some form of membership in the neighborhood. So that first year here, I took to a huge sheet of newsprint and drew a deliriously silly Halloween beast along with my version of a terrifying Halloween tale (no bloodshed, no maiming—strictly fear for babies), wildly colorful birdlike creature with a tiny version of itself growing at the end of its tail. I posted it on our front door thinking we’d establish ourselves as the warm and welcoming benignly eccentric artist types who live in model/floor plan #6 — you know, the gold Honda Odyssey. At least it might be a conversation piece, an ice breaker.

Here’s that picture. Imagine it’s big enough to cover half a front door. When I figure out WordPress, I’ll come back and make it larger.

And here’s that story:

This is what broke into our house last night and ate all our pumpkins. It let out terrible grating howls. At first we thought we’d wounded it when we hurled our kitchen cleaver at it, but no. It ate that too! Hungry for carbon steel? We ran to hide in the closet under the stairs, crouched there against the door hoping it had an appetite only for sharp knives, metal and pumpkins, not human flesh. We heard it scraping the walls with its talons, crashing, thrashing. It must have been overturning the furniture, devouring lamps. But how could we know, huddling together, trembling in the dark, our backs to the closet door? I can’t tell you how terrified we were. No one wants to be eaten alive, especially not by something so disagreeable! Oh no! It  had clawed its way upstairs. Doors were thrown open and slammed shut. Was that glass shattering? Or was the monster chewing on it as a dainty appetizer for . . . for us?! We didn’t have our phones or laptops with us, and anyway, AT&T had bungled again and the internet was down. So what could we do but hope—and wait? We took a vow to call the HomeOwners’ Association in the morning if we lived through the night. Things like this should not happen in Bayport!

We heard shrieking, long wails, high pitched buzzing like a gargantuan mosquito, and that hideous rasp that must have been the monster breathing. We listened, shivering together in the closet armed only with coat hangers. My mind was racing. What would be left of the house if we lived to see it?

We fell asleep in our matching pajamas—the ones with the bunnies and smiley faces on them—clutching our coat hangers, too exhausted to do anything but surrender.

I do recall my last thought before sleep overcame me. “Does our insurance cover this?” We woke up to a deathly silence. We waited, our ears to the door . . . . Nothing. The Bayport Beast must have gorged itself on all our worldly possessions and, sated, moved on—still alive.

It will doubtless get hungry again. Slowly, carefully, we opened the closet door. A noxious stench remained suspended in the air—but no monster. We tiptoed out not knowing what we would find. There were a few pools of mauve slime in the entrance hall, but the house looked unharmed—or so we thought. The Bayport Beast had mopped the floors, vacuumed, dusted, re-organized the spice cabinet and made all the beds.

Well gosh! That was nice and all.

But it ate all our pumpkins.



Tobie and Meyshe

Scads of kids in costumes came by, their parents waiting at a short distance on the sidewalk. No comments, not even body language, though one child, maybe five, six years old, said, “Why did it eat all your pumpkins?”

“We were just happy it didn’t eat us!” I said, expecting an answer, but there wasn’t any. He reached in the bowl and grabbed a piece of truly awful chocolate candy marked, “Fun Size!” So neither he nor his mom talked to us, and in return I poisoned her son with high fructose corn syrup in an imitation chocolate flavored base infused with tasty preservatives giving it a shelf life of twenty years. He and his mother retreated from the door and continued down the sidewalk, and that was the end of it.

Here we are so much later and we have more social contact with the huge endemic population of Canada geese who communicate volubly with honks and squeaks. If you didn’t see what was making such a clamor you could think it was a donkey, “Heee HONK!” And incidentally, their waddling could not be more fetching. Their additional commentaries are prolific scat-singing that decorates the gold Honda Odyssey. This is no ordinary bird shit. They fly in formation and shit in concert on command. (“Hey! They’ve got a new minivan down the block! Let’s get started!”)

We made something like 140 humentashen this last Purim, the 17th of March. Three fillings: poppy seed, dried fruit, and dried fruit with hot peppers. I actually considered packaging some up and giving them to our neighbors on either side, maybe leaving them at their doors, a nice friendly introduction. It would be like saying, “Hi there! We’re the neighborhood Jews. And here’s our bribe.”  But I didn’t. There’s a millisecond rule in place, and besides, we’re not going to be here for long.

The Famous Words I Did Not Speak

You know those days when everything goes wrong? That was moving day. The emotional blow was to the heart. We were being ordered out of the house I grew up in, where we’d lived for the past fourteen years taking care of my mother. I’m pretty sure that if I hadn’t moved in with her, my brother and sister would have put her in a home,  her worst nightmare and something I promised her decades before that I would never let  happen.

My vote against it wouldn’t have mattered much. There are voting restrictions on middle children. I’m not a family law scholar but I believe the constitution defines middle children as three fifths of a child.

The oldest has the divine right of kings unless the family charter disavows royalty in favor of more modern forms of governance and social order. In that case, the oldest child instead of inheriting supreme dominance as King or Queen takes on a role more like that of a mafia boss. Either way, the oldest has the kind of power that can be abused.

The youngest, royalty or not, has a magical role. Being “the baby” is a title that can work as a coupon for privilege or an air tight excuse. The youngest can be the darling or the problem child, but the youngest is the only one who can be both. The youngest can be the perpetrator of vile acts and caught indisputably right in the act of vile-itude. But there is never a perp walk. Here’s the magic: the baby can lie (such an imagination!), cheat (so mischievous!) and steal (a terrible misunderstanding), but still be greeted with a round of applause and celebration upon (hour late) arrival. This is power that’s nearly impossible not to abuse.

The middle child has no power to abuse. Any power we gain has to be earned. At best, being in the middle can make us deep, observant, peace makers, even wise which is actually an ultimate power. At worst, being in the middle can make us sycophants, manipulative, desperate for attention of any kind, or worse, accustomed to being forgotten.

First borns arrive with excitement, transforming whoever the two lovers or newlyweds once were into parents. The first child becomes the center of their existence. Number one changes the world.

Then one day, the parents say to each other, “Let’s have another one.” The second child doesn’t change their world or redefine them. The second is an addition to the family, and can certainly become the youngest, but here’s what makes child number two the middle child: the parents think about it and say, “This one isn’t enough.” That is how the middle child is identified: not enough. Then comes the baby. There were three of us in our family. Families with four, six, ten, fifteen kids? I am out of my field of expertise. Perhaps the birth order constellation is repeated in clumps.

Mom was over a hundred when she died. She kept saying that she needed to live long enough to vote against Trump. We sat around the kitchen table discussing the ballot, every issue, every candidate. We marked our ballots and sent them in the day after they came in the mail. She arrived on the planet during the Spanish flu pandemic and left during the Covid pandemic.

Then suddenly the siblings with the vote told us to pack up and get out. Have to sell the house. Have to get the money. Since then, I’ve heard a lot about the disintegration of families after the last parent passes. The ugliness involves inheritances and loss and replicates the dynamics that were in place when Mom and Dad went out for the evening and left the kids in charge of each other. Remember that?

You can imagine I’ve done a lot of thinking about this. What I believe is that the disputes traced down to their roots have to do with the clash between viewing what happens after the last parent passes with either the sibling rivalry model or the parents’ instinct to take care of their children. This is a book, a tome, perhaps an anthology. The title: “Where There’s a Will”. My advice to parents who are thinking of croaking some time in the future: don’t assign one of your children to be the successor trustee. Poison for which there is no antidote.

When my son and I were ordered to GTFO we hadn’t gotten our vaccinations yet and the pandemic was hot. When we’d finally gotten our shots and the two week waiting period was over, we rented the first place that would hold us and the unknown quantity that had been in storage for fourteen years. After that long, you forget what and how much of what it is you had. I notified the owner of “Self-Stuffit Storage” that I’d be vacating. Two days later I got a call from them that my unit had been broken into. The thieves came during a curious gap in the facility’s promised 24/7 staff presence. There were hundreds of units. Mine was the only one to get robbed. Everything had been stored still wrapped in moving blankets. When the goniffs (look it up) found nothing but unidentifiable objects in moving blankets, it must have made them mad so they trashed the place. Their business card: “The Babies” (a terrible misunderstanding).

We met the movers at the new place. They unloaded the truck and cut away the moving blankets, item by item. It was like opening a time capsule. Piece by piece I found out what had been broken, what had been destroyed by time or leaky roof, vermin, negligence, breach of contract, moths. It was harder to determine what had been stolen because it’s negative evidence. “What’s broken?” is a lot easier than “What’s missing?” Then the movers disappeared. I’d managed to transfer the old phone number–the one I’d known nearly my whole life. But when we set it up, it didn’t work. So no land line. As for the internet , the technician for AT&T had given the usual four hour window, but he didn’t show. I called. First they told me he was delayed, then he was further delayed, and then he wouldn’t be coming at all and couldn’t reschedule for another week.

AT&T is the only provider for my purposes on the island. There are many internet providers who don’t even serve the island–same for a lot of things on various levels. The isolation began to come into focus. So no phone and no internet. We don’t have a television, haven’t had one since the house burned down way back in 1991 in one of those celebrated California fires. It melted, or was swept away by looters who stole into the moonscape while no one was allowed back in for safety reasons. I just never replaced the television (one of the best decisions this mom ever made).

And then it was that I discovered that my cell phone was broken. It had finally breathed its last after a long life of very little use. We don’t have “smart” phones–just flip phones. There are reasons, boring, philosophical, practical, psychological and neurotic. Then someone came to the door. It was one of the movers, furious. They’d been waiting for me at the storage unit for two hours. They’d phoned and texted. I’d told them the phone was broken. Maybe I didn’t yell.

What else went wrong? Did I already say that it wasn’t the worst day ever because, after all, I was still alive? Not sure that wasn’t just something else that went wrong.

We were without internet and without phones for a week while everything got sorted out. At first, the mere thought of being cut off from contact, both incoming and outgoing, sent me into a panic, but I did not utter those famous words, “At least it can’t get any worse!” Those are words that everyone is sorry they said. They beg for punishment. They are an insult and a dare to the invisible currents of fortune and misfortune flowing through the private universes that surround each of us as we make our way through our lives. This is why I did not speak them.

So we can rule that out as being responsible for the refrigerator suddenly not working. Luckily, I’d brought the old refrigerator and freezer from my mother’s house. We’d only be in this house temporarily until we found a house we could buy, a place of our own, a place where I can paint the walls day-glow black if that’s what I wanted, a place I am not borrowing or allowed to be, dependent upon the good graces and generosity of a host, a house that can be home, that we can fill with our own personal aesthetic turpitude. (One person’s aesthetic turpitude is another person’s splendor).

The refrigerator and freezer from my mother’s house were going to save me from buying new ones when we settled in our own place. I had the movers put them in the garage and I propped the doors open so they wouldn’t grow mold. So when the landlady’s refrigerator expired on the day that kept getting worse, there was a little breeze of triumph and survival when I went through the kitchen, opened the door to the garage, turned on the light and plugged in my mother’s fridge—–which overloaded the circuit and shut off the electricity.

I had to call the landlady who came over with her husband and introduced me to the panel on the wall in the laundry room. I dug around in the thousand and one boxes to find a sturdy extension cord, figured out how to put the refrigerator and freezer on a separate circuit. We lived with fat orange extension cords wriggling through the kitchen until I could get someone to rewire the garage to avoid any future overloads. So there went another fat suck from my thin mother load of savings.

There are some people, most of them freaks (but in a good way) who move into a new place and by the next morning everything is unpacked, put away, the furniture is where they want it to be, the books on the shelves, organized, the kitchen in order, the cabinets cleaned, the shelves freshly papered. Upstairs the beds are made, all the boxes gone, folded flat and saved for the next big move. The toothbrushes are set up ion their holders, the medicines in the medicine cabinet., the place has been dusted, cleaned, the floors polished. There are little bud vases in the kitchen window overlooking the garden. Each has a single young bloom standing in it. These people are endowed with mystical powers that I cannot begin to fathom. One best not look directly at them without protective eyewear. I am not that person. I am the other kind. I will be unpacked as I find I desperately need the items still in the boxes, one at a time. It can take months, years. Or it may never happen. Someday I will die because we’ve moved and someone like me hasn’t gotten around to lifting me out of my crate.

After the initial shock of moving had calmed, things began to come into focus. I looked out the living room window. There was no one out on the street. The houses all looked alike, every house born on the same day at the same moment. The trees, the bushes, the streets and walkways equal length. Where was everyone? I camne outside and looked back at the house. There was another house identical to ours down the block at the corner, and across the street half a block in the other direction. It was all a facade. We’re living in a Hollywood set.