Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Last Month and a Half…

...has not been easy.

One Monday I got laid off from the "ridiculous job"--the one that paid less than I made 31 years ago. They couldn't afford the "administrative overhead." Kind of scary considering how little it paid and how few hours I worked. But I miss it. I was getting good Dreamweaver experience, but probably more important was that it provided some structure to my Life in Limbo. A place a went a couple hours a day and saw the same people.

The next Monday, (April 5th) I ha
d to put Eddie-Small-Devil-Kitty to sleep. Out of the blue, on Easter Sunday, he went into acute kidney failure. The vets said there was no hope and the kindest thing to do was to not prolong his suffering. I'm the one suffering now. He was my constant furry companion for 14 years—the longest I've lived with "anyone" as an adult. Sometimes in these last 2 years of endless financial struggle, he was the only one, only thing that made me smile or laugh on any given day.

Well, there's the guy that I've been seeing for the past year and some months who brings a lot of joy and fun to my life, albeit only once a week and the occasional weekend getaway. And there's my most wonderful writing group who have become my friends over the course of meeting weekly for the past couple of years.

So if you don't want to buy my loft (see a couple posts ago), you can always buy some wonderful vintage thing you can't do without on Ebay or Etsy. My wonderful mom gave me a bunch of her 1950s tablecloths, most of which I sold on Ebay but have a few on Etsy, and that's what paid part of the mortgage this month.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Latest Publications

The Truth About The Fact: International Journal of Literary Nonfiction accepted my memoir piece "Walking Away" and will publish it in the Spring 2010, Volume V Number I issue.

And from YourTango, a piece I wrote about why I've chosen not to have kids or get married. They always choose the name for the piece and then I have to somehow say it in a thousand words. No easy feat. I've written a couple of others for them under a pen name.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This is my loft. Wanna buy it? The real estate agent's contact info is at the end!
video

Monday, March 22, 2010




My Loft is on the Market

MLS link: Though here are some pics.



Doubt anyone has ever bought a place after seeing it on a blog, but one never knows.









Wednesday, February 03, 2010

I Swear I'm Going to Update Regularly
1. I hereby swear to blog on a more regular basis. I'm incredibly resistant to, it but everybody keeps telling me I "need" to for one reason or another. Last night even my current sweetie told me I "should" update my blog more frequently. Should is a dirty word in his book and he's not fond of telling anyone what to do, so the fact that he used "should," means I "should" listen.

2. I have not yet listed my place because I haven't had time to clean my loft like so it looks like nobody actually lives here--difficult when I do live here. But worse, it's hard to make surfaces shine when the water stains whatever it touches. Yes, really. Calcium and other minerals, I'm told. When I do list it, I'll post the video my sweetie shot for me.

2. Built my first website (for my neighbor) and uploaded it last night. http://www.santafehikingguide.com/
If you need a hiking guide, I can vouch for Doug!

3. I'm now writing under a pen name for cash for a website. I never thought I wouldn't use my own name but I have more freedom to write about "touchy subjects" and not worried about being Googled. I have 3 other part-time jobs as well and am about to keel over face first into the sandy desert soil.

4. I'm in the third semester of a graphic/web design degree. I don't know if I'll finish if I sell this place, but I got most the hard classes out of the way (Flash, Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, Dreamweaver) the first two semesters.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Wanna Buy a Loft Pt. 2

I took my loft off the market last June after I got an offer 25 grand less than I paid for it nearly 2 years before. By last spring, I had gone back to school for a 2-yr graphic design degree (clearly the BA and MFA are useless here) so I decided to stay. Figured I could live on student loans, unemployment, the contract work that comes my way, and eBay. Of course this means that I work at one thing or another from the moment I wake up till shortly before I fall into bed.

I have again decided to put the loft back on the market in February or March and see what happens this year. I think the straw that broke the camel's back: I accepted a part time editing job that pays 50 cents less an hour to start than I made 31 years ago and about 18 dollars less an hour than my last fulltime job. (For ABQ, the pay is not particularly low.)

31 years ago I was 16 and hadn't even graduated high school yet. I now have 31 years of solid experience and 2 degrees and this is what I can find in Albuquerque. I think it will be an interesting job and will give me a little of the science background I need, but clearly this is not going to pay the mortgage in the long run. (I bought a place I could afford on what I used to make and I'll never see that salary again in ABQ.) Even in a good economy, little in the private sector pays anything. What does pay (military, government, government contractors) I generally don't have the background for.

Bottom line: I can hold out longer. I can finish the 2-yr degree, but why delay the inevitable? When I sell, I'll head back to Minneapolis where I have friends and family (and can live rent-free for a few months), where there's a thriving writing and arts community (where the weather nearly killed me the first time around), where I can find a job. The economy may be such that I won't get my dream job, but at least I know I can find one that will pay the rent. Yes, rent. I'm never buying again!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wanna Buy a Loft?

So much for good intentions. Apparently I'm not much of a blogger--or even a reader of blogs. My neighbor often asks me, "Did you read my blog today?"--as if this is something I do on a regular basis. I don't. I usually just say, "No," but what I'm thinking is a little more lengthy: You've never read a thing I've written to my knowledge--though I've read some of your stuff--and seem generally uninterested in my writing, so why am I going to read your blog? And anyway, we run into each other and chat nearly every day so I don't need to read it, do I?

At any rate, I've been busy selling of all my possessions--and
my neighbor, Kathie's (not the neighbor of the first paragraph) stuff too--on eBay since my loft is for sale, and I'm under the "unclutter" directive. (My seller name is Mnwritergal if you have a burning desire to buy things.)

Yeah, that's the point of this blog entry. Do ya wanna buy a loft? If so, go to the EDOSpaces website.
Mine is the one on Tijeras Ave, Unit 412. (And no, I do not want to sell it myself rather than paying Tim's comission. I'm always mystified that everyone thinks that you--that's the general "you"--should be up for and able to do absolutely anything, whether you know a thing about it or not. Kind of like how in ABQ and editing job pays $8.50 an hour at the University of New Mexico and only requires a GED. And I got a BA and MFA...why? And what message is UNM sending about education? Something like: Come pay a fortune for an education that you don't need because even we only pay starvation wages and don't give a flying fuck about education. I should not be surprised. New Mexico is the fourth LEAST educated state in the nation, though you'd think at least the educators would value education. Guess not.)

Saturday, January 31, 2009

On Blogging

Last week I went to lunch with my neighbor Kathie.
We were sitting in Blackbird Buvette (one of my favorite eateries) on Central in downtown Albuquerque and she said, "You're a writer. Why don't you blog?"

I told her that I had a blog but that I only used it for pieces of mine that had come in print but weren't on the web. I finished by saying, "Blogging is self-indulgent."

She rolled her eyes.

I said what I always say: Anyone can blog. At least when somebody accepts your piece in a lit journal—even if they pay little or nothing—at least there's agreement that you're worth the ink and paper, which in lit journal land really says something. "If you blog, you don't get taken seriously as a writer," I said.

"Famous writers blog," she replied.

"I'm not famous."

"You never know what might come of it."

I wasn't sure what could possibly come of it, but I suppose I had at least set the blog up with a "who knows?" attitude. Some years after I discovered I was actually Googleable, I figured I might as well "promote" myself in a way that took little effort. But I still couldn't fathom why anyone would want to read my unedited musings, despite the fact that people (eBayers) have sent me hundreds of e-mails over the years about how funny my Terms of Service (TOS) essay was and how they loved all the Eddie-Small-Devil-Kitty cat updates at the end.

Still, I have resisted. Until now. But I'm resistant even as I'm writing this. And here's one good reason: A couple of days ago I was telling someone that if you have a Myspace or Facebook page, (I don't) employers can find you. Even if your profile is perfectly respectable, what about your million "friends," half of whom you may not even know? What if a potential employer clicks on said friend and is taken to a profile that is offensive? (I found an ex's profile the day after we broke up and was mortified by his supposed "friends"—all women over the age of fifty with little education and a penchant for posting what bordered on cartoon porn. What did that say about him? Or me—that I had associated with this tacky person?)

Fast forward to that afternoon. I was on phone interview number two with a place in Chicago (God, I hope I get that job) and the man interviewing me said, "Do you have a blog?" The question came out of the blue, but at least I'm quick on my feet and told him what I used the blog for. "Because I'm Googling you now," he said.

I don't know if he later read what's posted here or not or whether it will have any impact on whether or not I get the face-to-face interview in Chicago. But in a way, it made me want to delete the whole damn blog because I write memoir and essay and what I write about is something that would probably never come up in years of working for a particular employer.

It didn't at my last job. Nobody ever said they Googled me (which doesn't mean they didn't) and in six years, I only ever went beyond saying, "Yeah, I've been published" to more than a couple people. And I didn't think anyone at work would be curious enough to type in my name to Google's search bar.

That has changed. Recently a casual friend of mine made a comment about something I had never mentioned. When I asked him how he knew such an odd fact, he said he had Googled me (and read Family Stories.) He worried that Googling me might be strange, but it isn't. Not anymore. I just hope the ramifications of my being Googleable are positive rather than negative, especially when it comes to getting a job.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Friday, July 25, 2008

This was published last March but is not online so here it is.

Jewish Hair

"Is your hair naturally curly?" my Doctor asked in her lilting Caribbean accent, while holding up my eyelid and shining a light in my eye.

Had I known how often people would ask me this question over the course of my forty years, I might have kept a running tally. I arbitrarily decided that this was the one thousand and fifty-fifth time I'd been asked and resolved to start keeping track. I wondered why nobody ever asks the smooth-haired people, "Is your hair naturally straight?"

"Yes," I said.

"You just wash it and brush it every day and it does that?"

She hit my knee with the rubber "reflex tester." My leg jumped. I felt a little funny having this conversation while sitting in my white paper gown on the examination table during my yearly physical, but I said, "Uh-huh. And then I try to gel it into submission."

What I didn't tell her is that after years of trying to tame my hair, I've discovered the secret: I don't wash it every day (though I do wet it down to wash yesterday's gel out) and I only brush it a couple of times a week. I discovered this secret quite by accident. I was running late for class—though I suspect my lit students would have been happy to miss my diatribe about Sylvia Plath co-opting the Holocaust and using it to illustrate her own personal pain in the poem "Daddy"—and only had time to get my hair wet, gel, and scrunch.

Later that day, my friend (and fellow Jew) Rox said, "Your hair looks really good today. Did you do something different?"

"I didn't brush it," I whispered, sure the God of Hair and Hygiene would strike me dead.

"I never brush mine. I just finger-comb it, slather on the gel and hope it doesn't look like the burning bush."

"Why doesn't anyone make special hair products for us?" I asked.

"Yeah, it could be called "Jew-do goo."

My hair has always been an "issue." Until the age of five it was, curly, and blond. Then it turned dark brown and started to frizz and fro. My mother's solution was to hack it all off (I'm still bitter about all the years I was forced to walk around with my hair in the shape of a giant mushroom cloud). She claims I looked cute with short hair but I suspect she got tired of doing battle with me and the hair brush—my hair tangled easily and I used to scream as she tried to comb through it. Had I been born in the nineties instead of the sixties, she probably would have steered my hair toward the dreadlock route. We'd've both been a lot happier.

But that's water under the bridge. Or hair down the drain. At any rate, when I was fourteen I told my mother I was not cutting it ever again, and for the next twenty years wore it long and frizzy. Once again, had I been born in a different era, say the early fifties instead of the early sixties, I would have made the perfect hippie. Instead, born ten years too late, I just looked like a throw-back. During high school in the mid- to late seventies, the popular girls wore their hair in the feathered Farrah Fawcett flip. I had enough hair for three girls and it was never going to mold itself into WASP hair, though I did try—once. My aunt blew-dry it straight for me, (it took an hour) but I didn't recognize the person in the mirror and got afraid. It would be thirty years before I tried that again, and it was just as scary.

I've heard that our bodies change every seven years. I'd like to add, so does hair. Around my mid-thirties, it started to shrink into curls, though the curls don't spring straight from my head; first two inches of gentle wave and then curl. The higher the humidity, the bigger the hair, the tighter the curl. I thought maybe my move to Minnesota from California when I was is my mid-30s was responsible, but happily this is not the case. When I visit my parents in the dry desert hell that is called Arizona, it still curls. When I visit my friends in Northern California—land of just-right humidity, it still curls. I'm coming up on the next seven year change, and I'm desperately hoping the curl stays.

For good or bad, my hair has always defined me, made me stand out. In the WASP world, people never forget me because they always remember the hair—hair that old ladies, old hippies, and African American men, in particular, want to touch. Sometimes they ask first; Sometimes they announce their intentions: "I just gotta touch your hair." And sometimes, with no warning, I'll feel a stranger's hands in my hair. The look on my face (shock, I imagine) usually prompts a sheepish look from the feeler, and an apology followed by words along the lines of, "I couldn't help it. I just had to."

It's a bit of a mystery how hair can hold such power over people, but I, too, have often had the urge to run my fingers through a stranger's hair that I find especially appealing—usually a man's hair in any combination of black, long, silky, curly, corn-rowed, or dreadlocked.

I love my hair now. Love the way it bounces when I walk. Love the weight of it, the lush thickness. And it seems only right that after years of envying the smooth-haired women that they now envy me.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"Jewish Hair" was recently published in Poetica

I had a Flash fiction piece accepted for a book anthology "Blink Again" that will be published by Spout Press.

The ironic thing is that my "Terms of Service" essay on my Ebay listing garners me more attention than anything I've ever written.

Friday, August 03, 2007


My essay "Nonfiction Nightmares" is included in the latest Cup of Comfort for Writers anthology, which should be out shortly.

I really should change the name of this "blog," now that I'm in Albuquerque, which, BTW, is ten times better than living in Minneapolis!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Passing Through - This piece was accepted...oh, around five years ago (and I wrote it around seven years ago) and it just got published in Pennsylvania English. As you might guess, someplace that takes five years to get their act together doesn't have the piece online—just hard copy—so here it is.


Passing Through

I'm rarely happy here but sometimes I'm at peace. I'm most at peace when I'm driving. Anywhere.

Twice a week I make the forty-five minute trek from my lover Mark's house in Hastings back to my apartment in Minneapolis. I leave his place around two in the morning—after a year, we still don't spend the night. I pull out of his gravel driveway onto a dirt road that turns into pavement and passes through the three blocks of Main Street. Hulking buildings from the early 1900's stand dark and still. Old-fashioned streetlights shine on empty sidewalks. Not a car or person in sight, and I feel as if I'm the only living being on earth tonight. Main Street turns into a long, dark county road with no light save that of the moon. I drive through the middle of nowhere, hurtling through the night at eighty miles an hour. Halfway suspended between here and there. I like that feeling.

I pull into my parking lot not far from my apartment in the Loring Park neighborhood. I get out of the car and start walking into the quiet night. Quiet but not still. The wind always blows here, especially down the wind tunnel of Oak Grove Street. I walk with my face upturned. Yellow squares of lights against the dark background of buildings. Who else is still up? Who else knows the power of the night?

The next day I call Mark and tell him what happened on the drive home. Something always does. Another policeman pulling me over for driving too fast. A car driving the wrong way in reverse, in the middle of Highway 94, going back to fetch his passenger who is wandering by the side of the road.

But more often I talk about nature or the weather. The natural world looks different in Minnesota, larger somehow. And weather happens here. I'm not used to that.

"You should have seen the moon!" I tell him. "It was this huge orange ball just hanging there, low in the sky!"

"That's nice."

He doesn't want to know more. He doesn't like to reveal himself through words. If he gave too much of himself away, how would he get it back? So what I don't say is that when I saw that massive moon, I laughed out loud and then I cried. Sean, the one who would have loved that moon has passed through my life on the way to somewhere I have never been.

* * *

When people ask, "Where are you from?" I say, "Berkeley."

"Berkeley? Berkeley! What are you doing in Minnesota?"

"I'm passing through."

But they want to know more. I recite my response.

"I'm a traveler."

But they always ask, "Where else have you been?"

"I've lived in Israel…"

"Israel? Israel! What was it like? Why did you move there?"

I say, "I'm Jewish." Which I think says it concisely.

But I'm not talking to fellow Jews, and they look puzzled.

So I answer their second question instead, which seems to satisfy them. I pick out and recite another one of my memorized responses.

"In Israel, you become inured to the threat of violence; I kept house for an Israeli couple in return for food and lodging. One day I was cleaning up after a large dinner party when I heard a knock at the door. A man stood before me. He said there had been a bomb threat and we had to evacuate the building. I remember standing on the sidewalk, looking up at the windows of our third floor apartment, wondering when I could go back in and finish cleaning. I wasn't worried about the possibility of being blown up; I didn't think about what might happen if all my worldly goods, and more importantly, my passport were blasted to bits; I was worried about getting the dishes done."

What I don't tell them is what it's like to live in a country where the overwhelming majority were the same religion as me—Jewish. They live in Christian America. They know what it's like to belong.

But I didn't stay in Israel, because I was just passing through.

* * *

I'm always on the way to somewhere else, most comfortable when life is in a state of flux and I don't have to wholeheartedly commit myself to anything, anyone, or anyplace. Yet I didn't pass through childhood easily. I trudged. And waited. I was waiting to be pretty and popular. I was waiting for things to be different.

"You were such a good child," I can hear my mother say.

Of course I was. Ugly, shy children don't want to draw attention to themselves.

But how could anyone help but notice my nine-year-old self decked out in a polyester pantsuit my mother insisted was adorable. It was bad enough that the brown bell-bottom pants floated above my ankles, but the shirt was the real sight to behold. It was brown, with long orange sleeves, and smack dab in the middle was a large orange appliquéd pumpkin.

Of course, one must not discount my slightly buck-teeth and The Nose.

When I was ten, I told my parents I wanted braces and a nose job. I knew I would have a different life if only I looked like the person I was inside. I pleaded with them in my nasal voice. Said I couldn't breathe. Dad understood. He had his nose fixed when he was twelve—deviated septum. Besides, so many Jewish girls get nose jobs for their Bats Mitzvahs, that my request didn't seem unusual. I got the braces when I was twelve and the nose job the summer I was fourteen, going on fifteen.

"We'll just give you something to relax you," the nurse said, shooting morphine into my IV. "You have to be awake for this procedure, otherwise you could choke on the blood and die."

My memory does not fail me. She really said that.

When I came back to school people said things like, "You look great! You got your hair cut, right?"

I couldn't believe that people didn't notice that The Nose—the horrible nose I had always been teased about—was gone. But it didn't matter. They thought I looked good. Yes, The Nose was gone. Or so I thought.

My school locker was right next to Angus'. Angus was a tiny, pale boy. Freckled and bespectacled. A few days after school started and we were shoving books into our lockers, I noticed him staring at me.

"You look like Barbara Streisand," he said innocently.

Poor Angus. It's hard to clearly recall a memory born in the red haze of pure rage, but I see clearly my hands pinning his shoulders against the locker, the fear on his face, and his little feet dangling a foot from solid earth.

"Don't you ever say that to me again," I hissed, my new nose just a hair's breadth away from his.

The surgeon had resculpted my nose but it was up to me to carve out a new life. And I had no idea how to do it. When I looked in the mirror, I still saw The Nose superimposed on The New Me. I still carried myself as an ugly, shy girl who didn't belong anywhere.

* * *

"Where else have you lived?"

"I've lived in Brazil…"

"Brazil? Brazil! What was it like? Why did you move there?"

I say, "My boyfriend, Marco, was Brazilian."

But they want to know more so I oblige. "What stands out for me most is how important appearances are in Brazil. On social occasions you must try to leave at least three times (kissing everybody with each leave-taking attempt) before actually getting out the door an hour or two after you first stated your intention to go. Twelve kisses per person. Since everyone travels in packs, each social occasion requires puckering your lips and planting them on at least six different cheeks. Seventy-two kisses. Whether you want to or not. Whether you are serious about leaving or not."

"What else?" they ask.

"Brazilians and Americans are very different. But when Marco was living in the states, he did what most seasoned travelers do—acculturated. When he lived in California, Marco treated me like an independent woman, so I was culture-shocked silly when I moved to Brazil, and Marco turned into a sexist stranger. The first thing he'd do when he came home from work was flop down on the couch and say, 'Sweetie, bring me a beer.' He expected me to wait on him but he also expected someone (a woman) to wait on me."

"One night he came home quite pleased with himself. 'Sweetie! I got you a maid!' If anyone needed a maid, it was me. I thanked him for his thoughtfulness. 'She's expensive because she can read and write a little. I thought that was important. In case your Portuguese isn't good enough to explain things, I can leave her a note.'"

"My Portuguese was good enough but we did have communication problems. Meals were typically included in the arrangement so on the days she worked, I made lunch. But I could never get her to stop work and come to the table to eat. She ate while she ironed; she ate while she folded clothes. After two weeks of this I finally brought the problem to Marco's attention. 'What is it? Am I not saying it right?' I asked him."

"You asked the maid to sit at the table with you?" He was quietly horrified and amazed. "Sweetie, the maid never eats with her employer."

"Finally I told the maid, strange food, strange ways. Come sit at the table for lunch. And she did."

"Marco and I had to pretend we were married because in a Catholic country, living together is a sin. His family knew we weren't actually married but everyone else believed we were." But I didn't stay there because I was just passing through.

What I don't say is how much I missed Marco kissing me and calling me passao. "passion," in English. I don't say that I still have the wedding ring in a small black box in my dresser drawer.

* * *

I left Berkeley at sunset and began the long drive to Minnesota. I wound through the thickly forested mountains of California. My mouth fell open when I saw the lights of Reno, Nevada. Millions of them, gaudy against the night sky. Past miles and miles of salt flats in Utah, I pressed on through the high desert of Wyoming—horrified to still see snow on May 5th. Drove 110 miles per hour all the way across Nebraska. I recall almost nothing of Iowa. I had never seen such flat, wide-open land—hadn't remembered such places existed. But driving through them, I'd have occasional flashes of memory of the marathon road trips I took with my family when I was a kid. Just snapshots—looking over my father's shoulder as we drove through Rapid City, South Dakota, and seeing the red needle hovering at 100 miles an hour, the indoor swimming pool in a hotel, swimming—outside—during a lightning storm in Kanab, Utah. Still, I was struck dumb by the desolation of Nebraska. I drove fast through Iowa telling myself Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska and Iowa may have been utterly inhospitable but that Minnesota would be a bastion of civilization.

It's civilized all right, so stultifyingly nice that I long for a rude convenience store clerk who doesn't speak English as his first language. I long for a dark swarthy person annoyed at the idea of having to serve me, who says little. Instead I get a perky blond person, syrupy sweet, "ya betcha's" littering her speech.

* * *

"Where else have you lived?"

"I've lived in Italy…"

When people say "Italy? Italy! What was it like? Why did you move there?"

I tell them, "My best friend Sue picked me up at the airport. The first words out of her mouth were, 'Let's go to Italy.'

'Spain,' I replied.

'Italy!'

'Spain!'

'If you don't go to Italy with me, I won't go alone,' she said.

'Let's go to Italy.'"

Still, they want to know more. "I taught English there like I did in Brazil. I didn't like Italy much."

"Why not?"

I find myself reluctant to condemn half the population of a country, but I do it anyway. "It was the men. One day I was walking down the street, looking very American in a flannel shirt, denim skirt and cowboy boots. A man yelled from across the street, 'How much do you cost?' I was groped daily on the Metro. And my roommate's friend nearly raped me."

What I don't say, is what I had to do to get out of that apartment with my clothes still on. I've never been able to bring myself to tell that story.

Not long after, I left Italy and took a two month vacation, passing through, Greece, the former Yugoslavia, Hungary, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, England, Spain, Denmark, and probably a few countries I've forgotten.

* * *

The other day I went to see Mark. The roads are tarless now. Totally torn up. The city is doing whatever cities do. Laying pipes or wires or some such. I pulled into the alley to park my car but three gigantic piles of rocks blocked my way. He came out of the garage pushing a lawn mower. Shirtless, black cut-offs hanging loosely on his sinewy frame. He stood there, pushing his hand through his sweaty brown hair. He didn't kiss me hello. A goodbye kiss, yes—but never hello.

"Quite a pile of rocks you've got there," I said.

He did something unusual—he smiled hugely, revealing his crooked, stained teeth.

"Look at my rocks!" He pointed excitedly to a pile. "Aren't they great? I spent four hours on Tuesday collecting them, three hours Wednesday, a few hours last night too. And the best thing is they're free!" He shouted happily.

"What do you plan to do with all these rocks?"

"First I thought just a planter box. Then I thought if I got more rocks I could build a wall by this side of the house, and then I thought with a few more I could build a stone wall around the whole house."

"You have enough to build a small English cottage. I think you just like picking up those rocks."

"Well, I do. There's something spiritual about it."

Mark usually pretends to be grounded in the physical world. But I know it's not true. I've seen him standing outside at 1:00 a.m. in the middle of a thunderstorm—staring at the lightning flashing across the night sky when he didn't know I was watching. He too, exists more fully at night when daytime reality is suspended and it's safe to be ourselves. In the wee hours of the morning I lie beneath him, our legs intertwined. He raises himself up, palms flat on the bed. His long hair brushes against my skin. I open my eyes. See bliss in his smile. He opens his eyes and looks into mine. Two souls briefly touching.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

VFW – This was published in the Rambler a couple of months ago.

VFW

Someone is waving money at me. I serve the next drink while Jim makes kissing noises at me from across the bar and mumbles something about my beautiful eyes under his breath. Jim's friend calls me over and says, "Look at all that hair you have! It's so pretty."


Even with my hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, it's still a wild mane of thick, dark curls. About ten times as much hair as my cousin Lisa—with her short, fashionable boy-cut—who works the other end of the bar.

Still staring at my hair, he asks, "What are you? I mean, your nationality or—"

"I'm Jewish," I say.

"What does that mean exactly?"

I consider the wisdom of having a discussion about the difference between race, ethnicity, religion, and nationality with a man who's on his third whiskey and water. I look around the bar hoping somebody somewhere needs something and am saved by Charlie, who's just put an empty beer bottle on the bar.

"Another Beer of the Month, Charlie?" I ask while sliding the bottle opener out of my back pocket, popping the top, and putting the bottle on the bar in front of him.

Jim's friend yells, "Hey! Jewish Girl! C'mere!"

I walk over, stand in front of him, hands on my hips. "What?"

"Oh," he says, looking at my face. I feel my lips pressed together in a tight line. "Is it offensive for me to call you 'Jewish Girl'?"

"I'm forty years old," I say.


* * *


It was Lisa who convinced me to give bartending a try: "We need more bartenders. The tips are great." And I thought, What the hell. Isn't this what starving artists and writers do to supplement their incomes? Although I spent eight years on the wholesale side of the wine and liquor industry, I had never mixed or served a single drink. After a three-minute interview, I was hired. Two days later I hopped into my Honda and drove to Hopkins, a small blue-collar town about twenty minutes from Minneapolis, ready for my first night of work.

As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed an old, white-haired man patrolling the parking lot. His yellow shirt, with the VFW emblem embroidered on the left breast, marked him as an employee. When I got out of my car, he ambled over.

"You're Lisa's cousin, aren't you?" he asked.

"Yes, I'm Ellen. Nice to meet you," I said, extending my hand.

"I'm Clark," he said. shaking my hand; his grip was firm. "You and Lisa look alike."

"Everybody says that."

I didn't tell him that Lisa is adopted because she likes to be the one to say so. When people comment on our strong resemblance, a mischievous grin always crosses her pixie face as she says, "That's funny because we're not actually blood relatives."

I closed my car door and Clark escorted me through the doors of the VFW.


* * *


My decision to bartend seemed strange to those who know me—I'm not much of a drinker or very social either.

My lover was the first person I told—over the phone. His giggle fit was completely unexpected because I rarely hear him bark out more than short guffaws. "You? A bartender?"

"Why are you laughing?" I asked.

"It just doesn't seem like something you'd do. So where are you working?"

"The VFW."

I heard his deep belly laughs as the phone clattered to the floor.

Next, I told my friend Rox.

After she finished laughing, I asked, "What's so funny?"

She said, "Here's your fucking drink!" doing an imitation of me serving alcohol. Apparently, she thinks my New York edge (everybody is convinced I am from New York, no matter how many times I tell them I'm from Berkeley) precludes my being polite to customers.

"My daughter, the bartender," my father repeated over and over, while silently telegraphing his thoughts: Nice Jewish Girls do not bartend.


* * *


A mug three-fourths full of Southern Comfort, one-quarter Coke, lime bobbing on top—a "Southern Screamer." Hank—bad skin, greasy hair, 5'6", 200 pounds, drinks four of them over the course of three hours. Says he's on foot, so I keep serving him. Tells me as a bartender I need to learn jokes. He ought to know, he says, because he used to bartend at this very VFW. He then shouts a joke at me. Louder and louder over one of the few sober patrons who is on the stage, singing "Only Make Believe." I pray for someone to rescue me before this sloppy drunk asks me to go home with him.
I am rescued. Justin needs another Greyhound. I make it the way he likes: vodka on ice with a splash of grapefruit.

"How's the writing going?" he asks, head tilted to one side, smiling at me.

"Writing's going well." I give a rare smile to my favorite customer. Black hair—streaked with gray, clear, alert, brown eyes—even after downing three drinks in the last hour. And even in his paint-spattered work clothes he carries himself with a kind of quiet elegance.

I am not rescued. The red haired buzz-cut man who says he bartends at the American Legion is trying to hook up with me. He says we are perfect for each other—what with all we have in common—though all I've ever said to him is "Another beer for you?" Tells me he's a great catch. Been married three times. All three wives cheated on him. Tells me he has a master's in psychology. Three small stacks of quarters are on the bar in front of him, almost enough for three Pabst taps at $1.75 apiece. He's two bits short. Wants to borrow a quarter, which his friend loans him. Doesn't leave me a tip.


* * *


Beer of the Month or cheap well drinks, pull tabs or bar dice, karaoke on the weeknights or live bands on the weekends—often polka. The regulars are here at the Hopkins VFW nearly every night. Vets and nonvets, from the very young to the very old. Men and women. The V, as we call it, feels like another world to me. A darkened, cloistered world I am sometimes relieved to step into. After a sedentary day in front of my computer, I'm glad for a stretch of mindless physical activity. At 4:45 when I turn into the V's already packed parking lot, and I see the squat building and the sign that announces "Bingo Tonight," I know that for the next nine hours all that exists in the world is this place. I walk up the concrete stairs, through two sets of double doors and onto the red industrial carpet, into the smoky bar. People are sitting on red vinyl barstools—not backless though: we want the customers to lean into their chairs, stay awhile. Bottles of beer and mixed drinks sit on the high, round, wood-laminate tables. The dark, fake, wood-paneled walls have flat, gold metal pieces screwed into them, with names engraved on them. The Members' Wall. "But you don't have to be a member to drink here," we always say.
The main room has a small dance floor with a linoleum floor (we keep the dance wax behind the bar), a stage, and the "pull-tab booth," which is a room with a long, chest-high, glass counter that holds six different kinds of pull tabs. The customers can look through the glass to see not only the game they want to play, but also to check if they're playing from a new or nearly empty box. The players tell me there's a science involved in pull tabs: "First you see how low the box is. Then you ask around and find out if anyone has hit big today. If the box is low, and nobody's won yet, if you buy enough pull tabs from that box, you're sure to be a winner." The metal rolltop gate, unfurled and locked at midnight, prevents anyone from breaking in after hours. Losing pull tabs are piled high on the bar, in ashtrays, under barstools, and worse—every time I use the restroom, I see piles of pull tabs lying on the stall floors, and I try not to imagine a life that includes sitting on the toilet peeing and pulling tabs.

The V has a kitchen run by Chris Cook (he says he comes from a long line of Cooks who cook for a living) and also a dining room. Two steps down from the dining area is another room with electronic dartboards, video games, and a couple of pool tables. But I rarely have time to come out from behind the bar, which is U-shaped with chairs on all three sides. The space behind the bar is so narrow that the two bartenders brush up against each other as we cross paths. Usually a "right behind you," or a hand on your coworker's shoulder is enough to prevent a collision.


* * *


It's karaoke night and the place is packed. I run back and forth serving customers, my feet bouncing on the thick antifatigue mats behind the bar.

"Clark!" I yell. "Can you please get me another keg of Pabst?"

Clark, the bouncer, is old school. Doesn't think women should have to lift kegs. Although I'm grateful not to have to wrestle and roll eighty pounds of beer in metal from the cold box, I feel guilty asking Clark because he looks so old. Not that he's frail—he appears thin and fit. I suspect he's a World War II vet, though he's never said. He never says much of anything and mumbles through bad teeth when he does.

Clark returns with the keg on a dolly, rolls it off, and hooks it up for me. I thank him, and he goes back to watching the customers. Vigilant. Making sure nobody is going to get too drunk and violent. It happens. Every night, I cut at least two people off. Sometimes I have to ask them to leave. Sometimes we call the police.

Tonight, I see a familiar form walking through the doors. It's Rox, her unruly hair pulled back into a ponytail, wearing what looks like a pink sports bra, over which she's got on a sleeveless lime green shirt—unbuttoned but tied at the waist—and her outfit is completed by green plaid shorts and flip-flops on her feet.

"Hi, Elle," she says, sitting down next to Jeff, who is ripping through a large pile of pull tabs. "I rode my bike here. Do you think it's safe?"

I stare at her. "Fifteen miles? You rode fifteen miles—in flip-flops?"

"It was a great ride. Such a beautiful day."

It's humid as hell, I think, but instead I ask, "What can I get you?"

She orders a Sea Breeze. I make it weak—although a weak drink at the VFW is twice as strong as a stiff drink at any other bar. Rox settles in and starts chatting with Jeff.

I get Wanda, a heavyset brunette, another Pabst tap. I've seen her signal: empty glass on the rail, two dollar bills underneath. Should I make the cardinal mistake of pouring the beer in a clean glass, she will not drink it. And if she has to wait more than a minute before I notice the empty glass, I hear something like, "Uh, Ellen? Hello? Can I get a little service down at this end of the bar?" Even though she never tips me, I have never once purposely made her wait. Until the night of the meat raffle. The single busiest hour on a Friday night is between five and six, and because the second bartender was late, I was working alone. A little old lady from the Lady's Auxiliary was circulating with raffle tickets. A dollar for a chance at a hunk of beef, a vacuum-packed ham, or a free drink. While Randy, the manager, called out the winning numbers, I poured drink after drink for a solid hour and a half. I had run out of glasses—no time to wash them—so when Randy finished with the raffle, he came behind the bar to help for a few minutes. I was making a Whiskey-7 Press for a man sitting a few stools away from Wanda when I heard her say, "Finally! A good bartender!" Now I'm not as attentive.

Simon and Maggie walk in. I have his Beam 7 and Maggie's Beam water—with an extra tall glass of ice water on the side—on the bar before they have their jackets off.

"Thanks, Ellen," he says, shrugging off his jacket, rearranging his ponytail, and settling his bulk into the chair.

Maggie says, "You always remember my ice water," and tips me a dollar.

Every once in a while I glance at Jeff and Rox to make sure he's not bothering her. He has a habit of saying strange things. Once when he was watching two women across the bar, he said, "Wouldn't it be cool if a bitchy-broad, psycho-woman catfight broke out right now? What would you do?" But he's intent on whatever he's writing on a napkin. Later Rox tells me that he lost the napkin and asked her, "I left a note for the bartender on a napkin. Because I love her. Did you take it?"


* * *


It's Saturday night. Bob Allen's Polka Band has just begun to play. I groan. They're playing "Roll out the Barrel."

A woman with a missing tooth calls me over. I don't know her name, just what she drinks: Grain Belt. She turns to her husband (also missing a tooth) and says, "You tell her, Honey."

He tells me, "That woman down there? She's bothering me and my wife. Pointin' at us and callin' us names."

I know who he's talking about. The woman—mid-forties, overweight, frowsy with frizzy hair—came in about an hour ago, sat down next to Charlie, snuggled in next to him, laid her head on his shoulder, and said, "I just want to be close to you." He moved. So did anyone else sitting anywhere near her. She wandered off to a table where she sat talking to herself, laughing every now and again, and yelling "Bitch!" at the woman with the missing tooth.

"Can you throw her out?" he asks me.

When the crazy woman comes back up to the bar for another drink, I refuse to serve her. She throws a glass of water at me before Clark takes her by the arm and escorts her out of the bar. When he comes back, he says, "See that guy at the end of the bar with the baseball cap?" He points to a blond man in his forties—I think his name is Sam. "Quit serving him. He's had too much."

He seems sober enough to me, but I trust Clark's judgment and say, "Okay."

After a few hours, the steady stream of people has slowed to a trickle, and I stop to chat with Raul, the Bingo set-up guy. Every Friday night for the past seven months I have practiced my bad Spanish on him because he's fluent.

"Brandy and I broke up," he says.

"I didn't even know you were together."

"Yeah. Can I call you sometime?" he says, picking up a pen to write down my phone number. He pauses, "Hey, what's your name?"

Before I can answer, I hear a commotion from the other end of the bar. I turn toward the noise. A barstool has just crashed to the floor. I see Sam on his feet, being jerked in a backward shuffle toward the door. He looks like a puppet, but I can't see who's pulling the strings. It takes me a second to register the arm around Sam's neck, because Sam's thick body is hiding the slight figure who has him in a headlock.

Sam yells, "Get the fuck off me," and jerks to one side, trying to wrest himself out of the thinner man's grip. Then I get a glimpse of the man who's got Sam in a chokehold. Lips set in a thin determined line, Clark's pointy VFW hat is still perched atop his white head. Clark kicks his leg between Sam's, and Sam loses his balance and starts to fall to the floor. Clark yanks him upright, pulls his body in closer, and drags Sam out the door.

I come out from behind the bar, grab Sam's baseball cap and coat off the floor, and follow them outside.

I hold out the coat and cap to Sam. As he reaches out to take them, I step back because he looks like he's about to lunge at me.

Clark tells him, "You get going now, hear?"

Sam stumbles off and we watch him go.

"Guess I'd better get back to work," I say, and Clark opens the door for me. I walk into the bar, turning back to see if Clark is behind me, but he's still watching

the parking lot.