I am four or five years old. My father dropped me off at my best friend Austin's house. I remember playing with him for what must have been a whole afternoon. Something was wrong and I knew it deep inside of me, but was only a child. I could play with the toys and whisper conspiratorially to Austin and most of the time ignore the unsettling feeling in my tummy. Then, Gabriel* came. I had known him as long as I could remember, which maybe was two years, maybe one. He had a long curling mustache, a shiny bald head surrounded by a ring of short hair, and gentle eyes. 

He told Austin's mommy that my mommy couldn't pick me up so he would take me to her. Gabriel is my mother's dearest friend in the world. They worked on cruise ships together. I think he was a captain. He reminds me of my grandfather, Hy, who could catch butterflies in his hands and show them to me. 

Gabriel asks Austin's mommy if she has any water or juice for me, then asks for a book or two for me to read in the car. Traffic is terrible and the trip will take an hour or more. I wonder if he should ask for all those things. I think maybe Austin's mommy will get mad, but Gabriel speaks to her with his quiet voice and Iranian accent in such nice words that I wonder why she should be. 

He buckles me in to the backseat of his Mercedes with my books and my juice and my water. I feel like a princess. I feel safe and cherished with him. I still don't know why Gabriel had to come and get me. Perhaps my parents were fighting and that's why my dad didn't drop me off at my mother's house. Or maybe my dad dropped me off earlier than expected and my mom had to work. They had only been divorced for a year. It was messy. 

There would be other times, when Gabriel wasn't there. When my father would disappear for a week, leaving me with my new stepmother Mary. I wasn't allowed to talk to my mom on the phone. No one would tell me where daddy was (he was on business travel) and why I couldn't go home to mommy (an argument about child support). I wondered why I hadn't gone home yet, and in the middle of the living room, staring down at the dark wooden floors while Mary cooked dinner, I wondered if it was because my mother was dead and no one was telling me. Gabriel wasn't there when I was dropped off in the rear entrance of the parking lot because my mother had gotten a judge to issue a late night "habeus corpus." 

I remember the time when daddy and Mary fought in the parking lot of an airport and daddy and I left on a different flight home and I forgot my favorite pair of shoes in Mary's car....never to see them again. 

But when Gabriel was there, he always spoke in soft tones and brought me pretty presents, like a tiny, pink marble piano that played music. He would remind me--much to my chagrin--the story of when I was two and fell asleep under the glass coffee table with my butt sticking in the air. He would smoke pipes or a cigar, something that had a thick, bittersweet aroma that enveloped the room. 

He would tell me that his family had lived on the same parcel of land in Iran for centuries and that once, when digging up the garden with his father they found chain mail that belonged to a crusader. I imagined him in his family's garden at sunset, surrounded by jasmin and the mingling sounds of a bubbling fountain and the call to prayer.

All the tension and anger and sadness in our lives disappeared whenever Gabriel was there, he was water and all exotic things and peace. 

Then, he moved away, back home. Now he is sick. 

Every once in a while, I'll pick up the phone and my spine will tingle...like a voice from the past I'll hear his voice, so gentle and reassuring even now. The line will crackle and echo. He tells me he had a dream of us and wanted to make sure everything was OK. I have no idea how much the call probably costs, or whether it's safe for him to be calling us. 

And my heart will climb to my throat and I'll try to convey to him in the few minutes we have how much we love him. I tell him everything's fine...I leave out the truth, that I've been deeply torn about some life decisions lately and mom hasn't been feeling well and I'm worried about her. I just want him to know that we think of him often--that we pray he'll feel better soon. 

He says to keep talking until his calling card runs out and I am desperate to tell him good things...I mention I'm a writer now and very happy with my new job. He says "ooh!" with such pleasure and the line goes dead. I hope that he'll be smiling now and remembering the little girl drooling asleep on the carpet and wondering where time went. I hope he'll carry that news with him and be proud of it. 

I'll stay on a bit longer listening to silence just in case and hang up reluctantly. I feel hot tears on my face. The long-distance number I wrote frantically in black sharpie on the newspaper looks blurry. 

The distance between us seems larger than miles and political tensions...it seems infinite, inpregnable. I think to myself how maybe this is the last time. Maybe I'll never hear from him again. I feel like I've lost something precious that I carried with me unknowingly my whole life. I think how very lucky that little girl was to have an angel in her life like him. 

*Name has been changed. 


Like everyone else, I love a good doomsday scenario, but some are more entertaining than others. There's something dreadfully entertaining about the end times, whenever they're going to happen. Think about it. If you're one of the lucky ones, all those empty cars in the street--yours. All the jewelry in Tiffany's--yours. All the rotting food in the restaurants--yours. That is, of course, unless zombies or vampires or giant nocturnal spiders take over after sunset. 

And as for yesterday, where news agencies worldwide simultaneously created and assuaged panic by saying an experiment in Europe could destroy us all? I'm kicking myself for not listening to the The Sun's advice . There is a reason why debauchery is appealing--in those lovely moments before utter annihilation, personal ruin, or complicit seduction, you are almost glorious. Then hangovers, bankruptcies and unintended pregnancies rear their ugly heads and you wonder why you didn't just lean a little more left on that tightrope after all. The ancients had it right--you don't weep at the end of the world, you celebrate. 

I dabble in emergency preparedness like some people dabble in stocks. It's not because I want to survive in a post-apocalyptic nightmare starring Mel Gibson . It's because I'm afraid, as the late, great George Carlin put it..."that a little piece of hell will break loose. That will be harder to detect."

I am CPR-certified, have a first aid kit in my car, and because I live in a tornado prone area, a battery-powered radio, flashlight, water and food supplies for three days for Liontamer and myself. And if I never use these items, I'll be damn sure glad and won't be out my lunch money. 

I pity the poor people who spent thousands of dollars building bunkers and buying grain supplies in 1999, preparing for The Big one. Looks like they'll be eating wheat germ porridge for a long, long time--tortured by the nearness of McDonalds and Dairy Queen. 

And if the rapid punishment of Gustav, Hanna, Ike, and Josephine are really indicators of a global climate shuffle that leaves us all huddled in our libraries clutching Guttenberg Bibles hoping not to freeze to death , than I think I've made my peace and will find solace in a large bottle of Midleton Very Rare, Liontamer, and a ready made meal. 


Grains of Sand

I'm not a patient person. I hate slow drivers on Sunday afternoons. I hate reading directions when I have a new piece of technology or equipment, I prefer to just launch into using it--sometimes to its or my detriment. Let's not even talk about where this Achilles heel led me in college when I took organic chemistry. I'm thankful the most dangerous substance they let me play with was bromine.

Yet, I thought, perhaps like Wax-on-Wax-off, a DIY activity would build character. I could learn to bow to the divine will of time as Dad's Easy Spray Paint & Varnish Remover slowly revealed the wood I had to work with. I could learn to be detail oriented by tediously attacking every bit of remaining varnish with my own two hands and 200 grit, sandpaper. I could foster a sense of accomplishment by making something old and nearly worthless, into something new and beautiful.

I have learned much since then, but not about any of those things. I learned you need a face mask if you're sanding things or you'll start hacking up your lungs. I learned that refinishing in 85 degree weather with 90% humidity and mosquitoes, is a great way to make yourself feel like the single most disgusting, dripping being on earth, maybe minus a really sweaty Mark Henry. I also learned that I should not breathe with my mouth open while wearing a face mask or I'll loose my lunch smelling my lunch--a Cajun food if you must know. Finally, I learned that stripping a chair of its varnish is like unmasking Batman. Do you really want to see what's under the hood? You're going to nearly kill yourself doing it, and it might ruin all the fun after all.

But, I am committed to finishing the job, even though I realised that I could have bought myself a cute pair of earrings and avoided a nasty blister on my thumb for all the time, energy, and money I've spent.

Will BlueToYou put this case to rest or will she give up and throw the chair away in a huff of frustration and despair? Will Liontamer ever quit complaining about the bug bites he got aiding her cause? Will the Joker get away with the diamond?

Stay tuned....


Dust Settles

worn things are lovely 
companionable, honest
their leather cracks and faded buttercup yellows
are voices, predictable and cautionary
do you want to be like me? i am more dust than steel
they say
i am dented where you are strong
i am rust where you are flash

but my cigar box with the label stained and blurred
tells its story slyly, just before i nod to sleep
perhaps so that i miss it, so that i forget
i've been here longer than you, it whispers through the darkness
i've held your precious things, your watch and ripped photos and tin whistle
you drew on me when you dreamed and now i am history
and should you forget me, i will find new secret places between bricks and under the bed
for i am a vessel, and you are only an instrument
who will cherish you?

Happiness is...

Lots and lots of adorable baby penguins! Thank you to Olga for this pic that she took for me in Montreal! :)



Last week was a fairly stressful week, for reasons that don't bear going into. And of course, whenever I get stressed out, I break out like I'm 13, and huddle under the covers with good book. If I were given a spirit guide, it would probably be the ostrich. Sure, I can take the heat, or the freezing cold, eat iron, or elude lions. But when it's all over and done with, just let me shut out the world for a bit and bury my head in the sand.

And that's precisely what I did all weekend. I read, watched movies with Liontamer, cooked dinner, and played online scrabble. It was delicious being so isolated from the world for three days, neglecting all the things I need to do, should be doing to fully embrace sloth. Despite my best efforts, I feel a little guilty about it. I should have done something...even if it was just the dishes. Which makes me wonder: Why should I feel guilty about doing nothing? It's not as if I'm doing nothing while our country is invaded or while a dictatorship is raiding homes. I'm doing nothing in my safe, isolated, suburban community. I'm doing nothing and it has no greater ramifications than a sink full of dirty dishes and a pile of laundry on the floor.

And somehow, doing nothing, even for a weekend, feels to me like being nothing. I had this conversation a few weeks ago with a friend. I tried explaining why I cannot feel worthy unless I am doing something worthy.

I do not want to disappear into suburbia, a frozen face in a yearbook at an antique store, a name on a synagogue register. Perhaps I will be loved, but will I be remembered after all who known me are gone? If I am not then, does my life matter now?

It is a sad irony that I, a woman who works every day to help others understand why its so important that we all cherish and value the inherent dignity and worth of every person, must go out and acquire self-worth.

Maybe I am this way because I come from a broken home where I believed I had to be good and pretty to be loved by my father, and later Stepfather. Or, it could be that I simply struggle to accept my life as it is, now that the days of childhood dreaming are over. I cannot be anything I want to be with loans to pay and real world responsibilities. I've seen too many people more talented than me, luckier than me, hungrier than me. They will be the leaders of my generation, not I. And looking more broadly, perhaps I can blame the American work ethic, which asks people to rejoice at having the longest hours and least amount of vacation days of any industrialized country.....because busy hands make us closer to G-d.

And so, I negotiate with myself. I find solace in knowing the stories of those less fortunate than me, and being a force to help them, no matter how small. I swallow the jealousy I feel when I meet beautiful, smart women, who seem to have it all, and think to myself that maybe they aren't really that nice, or that pretty or that talented. I carry small hope in my heart that maybe one day, I will write a book that people will love and be inspired by and will make them remember me forever.

Around this time I started thinking about when I have been happiest in my life and it has always been when I travel. Although not doing anything for anyone but myself, whenever I'm in a new place or culture, I never question my worth....I like being who I am. I don't mind being jet-lagged, getting blisters on my feet from too much walking, and waking up early every morning of my vacation. I wouldn't even trade my situation for Angelina Jolie's.

After much soul searching I realized that maybe the old adage is right-Idle hands make the Devil's work. With too little on my plate, I begin to get grouchy and drink too much Diet Coke and think too much about my life and allow all the nasty parts of my personality to indulge themselves in a bacchanalia of self-deprecation, anger, jealousy, and selfishness. It isn't doing things that makes me feel worth, its making a life for myself that I feel is worth living. It's removing myself from a funk by filling it with things that have no time for the maudlin.

So, I've decided to try to create a little cheap adventure for myself. I'm making a commitment to go on photography expeditions twice a month to someplace new in the area and to try my hand at a new skill...furniture refinishing. Why furniture? I've always liked furniture design and I enjoy painting...and I have a really ugly inherited dining room set that I'd like to work my way up to making something I could sell eventually. So, today, I drove with Liontamer out to an antique store I've driven past every day for months now and wanted to visit. I purchased for $10, a wooden captain's chair that has much of its varnish stripped already. I have no idea what I'm going to do with it after I remove the rest of the varnish and sand it down, but I am excited to see what I can do with it. And of course, I will share this epic battle with the rest of you.