Archive for January, 2018

Riding Rails

I am a certifiable genius in one specific area.  If there is a way to alienate a group of people, I will find a way to tap into that knowledge and make it happen.  I do this because?  If I don’t do that, they will beat me to it.  They will do it first.  Better that I should pre-empt the inevitable and leave me to the gratification of being the prime mover.


Chugging along in a quiet contentment is something I can do, but it is not basic to my nature.  It feels like something contrived, like something undertaken as stasis between significant events, a balance achieved but precarious at best, and waiting for chaos to assert dominion.  Being overstimulated always brings fluidity to the balance.  Stimulation, whether for good or ill, can bring down a house of cards, a suspension of Junga blocks, or a period of insightful self-control.


Stimulants are legion.  Positive ones include music, poetry, writing, conversation, human touch, happy faces, good food, warm mittens, cool breezes.  But any of these can be turned on their heads to yield inverses.  Consider hard rock, cop killer rap, political propaganda,  hateful diatribes, beatings, smiling rictii, lip-smacking gluttony,  global warming to extinction, a jet stream gone amok yielding violent weather events that ultimately usher in global dystopia.  Point made: stimulation is wonderful until it isn’t.  But good or bad, stimulation tips balance.


I need people but do best socializing one person at a time.  Two generates a triad with the inherent tension of the construct.  Who gets attention?  This one or that?  Him or me?  More than two is a group, and all bets are off.  If I am a different person depending on whom I am addressing, who am I in a group?  A problem.  Just sitting in a room with multiple persons is a potent stimulant.  I will never be whole in a group with every aspect of myself engaging disparate faces.  In a choir, singers all face the director, a benevolent autocracy.  One of my mother’s favorite questions was, “What will people think?”  Corollary to that was, “If you act like that, they’ll think you’re not quite right.”


My typical reply: “Good.  I don’t care what they think.  What people think of me is none of my business.”  Of course that is a lie.  I do care.  I worry that I will say the wrong thing and offend.  A nice old woman would remain silent.  I resent that I must be silent when I want, even need, to be known.  Anger builds.  If I am addressed I will say the very thing that will be sure to offend, even alienate.  Better to reject you before you can reject me.  Proof that it is I, not you, who is in control.  Lose control and die.  All this before anybody even says a word.


We have come full circle.

Now where must I roll?

Chugging down the track,

again I ride the rails,

I can do it.

Yes I can.

I can do it if I think I can.

I think I can.

I think I can.

Will I do it?

I know I can.

I will!

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I woke up this morning with a question:  “Who is that person who speaks in a clear strong voice during my dreams?”  The voice is female.  It displays none of the subtle cues alluding to self-doubt that characterizes every other human voice, speaking always conditionally, surrounded with the frippery of adjectives and adverbs.  Whoever she is, she simply knows.  I decided to title her The Knower.


Now, remembering the intensity of the dream, I feel uneasy with the definite article.  This is a conscious entity living at the very core of all that I am.  It surely deserves the intimacy of moniker.  I pull one degree back from the abstract and christen her Knower.  That feels better.  This must be how evolving humanity conceptualized God.  But the voice was unmistakably female, a she.  Knower becomes Knowa.  It is interesting that the strong center of my being is gender defined.  I should think something so basic would be androgynous, even asexual.  Perhaps the true essence of sexuality is defined by much more than genitalia.


Thinking back to past dream encounters, I remember Knowa instructing me in her clear resonant voice to coat every joint with synovial fluid before subjecting them to my body’s weight.  Ever since, I do my morning ballet horizontally, still under the covers, placing my structural components in every position I can imagine and some that I can’t.  It never fails to allow me to move through the day with more fluidity and less joint pain.  At last I throw off the covers, stand and do my morning belly-dance, undulating to the zither in my head.  My inner Catholic does the obligatory spectacles, testicles, watch, and wallet, as a final blessing on this morning ritual.  I smooth my hands over all my curves.  Yes, all of me is accounted for.


First the teeth, then the brain.  Having learned the hard way about losing dreams by waiting too long to record them, after morning ablutions I make a bee-line for the computer.  I Google “knower”, squint at the screen, and groan.  As usual, somebody already thought of it.  There is an entire website defining “The Knower” as exactly what I had intuited.  I am definitely not alone on this lumpy little planet and can relax in the certainty that anything I think of has been thought of before.  There is at least some comfort knowing that I am on the right celestial orb.


It’s comforting to muse about Knowa.  It was she who warned me of my father’s transition in a dream, even as he lay dying.  Asleep in a Virginia motel room, I visioned the deathbed agony happening concurrently in California.  Then in her clear unmistakable resonance she intoned in a voice that covered the horror of the scene like a soft blanket, “We are showing you this because otherwise you would be much too upset.”  She was right.  If I had found, with no forewarning, that note from the Columbus Police Department fastened to my front door, explaining what had happened in my absence, I would surely have died on the spot.  As it was, there was all the guilt associated with being unreachable when my father needed me to tell him one last time that I loved him, but the pain was cushioned by the beautiful knowledge that dreams really can express the actual.  This was my proof that there is surely more than what we can ever know, and that even though I can in no way explain the workings of the Infinite, I know it exists.  It knows my name.  It cares about how I feel.  What greater gift could my father leave me as his last goodbye?


For half a century I had nursed the anguish that he deserted my mother and me when he returned from the war.  If he had loved me, he would never have left.  This bitter thought reminded me of a small box I had found in my mother’s memorabilia.  I remembered there was a letter on air mail stationery inside it addressed to me.  Suddenly I felt driven to find and read the letter sent from Ireland where Daddy holed up during the war as technical backup for the “Little Boy” bomb and its actuator he had invented.  It was still there at the bottom of the third box of letters, photographs, poems and journals I rooted through.  I had glanced at it many years ago but tossed it aside, sneering at the perceived hypocrisy of the thing.


The front of the folded sheet of air-mail paper read, “To My Baby on Her 5th Birthday.”  He had cut out a picture of the flag and fastened it to the paper with a dressmaker’s straight pin as a decorative touch.  Scotch Magic Mending Tape had yet to be invented.  Opened once again, the letter read:


When God made you, He wrought with the gold and gleam of the stars, with the changing colors of the rainbow’s hues and the pallid silver of the moon.  He wrought with the crimson that swooned in the rose’s ruby heart and the snow that gleams on the lily’s petals.  Then glancing down into His own bosom, He took of the love that gleamed there like pearls beneath the sun kissed waves of the summer sea, and thrilling this love into the form He had fashioned, all heaven veiled its face, for lo, He had wrought you, my Baby……….Daddy


My father loved me.  He did.  He really did.  I wish Knowa had told me that a long time ago, but maybe I wasn’t yet ready to believe it.  Being Knowa, she surely knew.


I will sign this with the name Daddy gave to me.  It means “gift from God.”


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It’s hard to remember now the first time I saw Denise.  One thing that sticks in my memory was the frumpy dress she wore as a concession to the job interview.  It had the apologetic look of something hung for too many years on a wire hanger.  After that day it was over a year before once again I saw her in a dress, and that too was calculated to accommodate and to influence.  What she liked to wear was running shorts, the shiny, fitted kind, and a T-shirt with the neck and sleeves cut out so she could stretch and move.  She was a mover for sure, a mover and a shaker, not one to be fettered or restricted, ever.  Denise hadn’t worked for me a week before all of that was firmly understood.  If I was to benefit from her expertise, things would be done her way.

Her dark curly hair, inheritance from her Italian father, was cut to softly frame her face, but usually she shoved it up under a braided headband to keep it off her neck while she ran her daily sixteen miles.  She was fanatic about those miles, convinced that if she missed even one day she would regain the pounds she had lost, compliments of her long fingers and sensitive gag reflex.  I learned after we became friends that she had gained the weight after her mother died.  Denise and her mom were not speaking.  Hospitalized and mortally ill, Mom begged her to come and see her to make peace.  Denise only said, “Later maybe,” and then suddenly her mother died.

Denise told me, with dry fixed eyes, how guilt had summoned the fat and slathered it over her body in great quivering blobs, insulation against her shame.  Shame because she hated her mother, with her long blonde hair, azure eyes and sweet southern speech that never could seem to deter Daddy from having his way with her big sister.  She hated her mother for her ineffectiveness, her softness, her gentleness, all the things Denise would never allow herself to be or feel.  Arms crossed like breast armor, she paced as she talked, about how she never let Daddy touch her.

“He would get drunk and try to sweet talk me onto his lap, begging me for just-a-little-kiss.”  Her eyes flashed hatred, lips curled, the taste of scorn acrid in her mouth.  “I would fold my arms up like this (poking her elbows out, coupled with an upward thrust of chin), and it worked.  If he grabbed for me, I ran.”  Later, she showed me her fat photos, grotesque images only vaguely resembling her now thinner face, only the fair skin and gold-brown eyes begging comparison.  It’s too bad I didn’t understand the fatal connection then, so early in our story, between Denise’s dead and unmourned mother and my own long blonde waves, my blue-green chameleon eyes, and my slow, soft southwest drawl.

Denise was the answer to every employer’s prayer.  I had bought and expanded a tiny business and was suffering from too much success, too much growth, too fast.  When Denise showed up, the last bookkeeper applicant on my interview list, she was just too, too much.  She came to my small time Laguna Beach bookstore-coffeehouse from the renowned South Coast Plaza, shopping center Empire of the Segerstroms, and had performed impressive financial feats for many businesses bigger and richer than Fahrenheit 451.  Confidence radiated about her like a force field, scattering assurance as she moved and gestured, conquering any room she entered.  I had to have her.  We fenced some about pay, but I didn’t try very hard.  She had me in the bag.  Before she left my office, the job was hers, and I had a savvy accounting person on staff, who would shepherd me through the myriad mysteries of payroll, financial statements, taxes, everything.  When Denise demanded a free rein, I agreed, happy to apply my own serious effort where my heart sang, buying and selling wonderful books, brewing serious coffee, and dreaming up events to tantalize the mind and delight the soul.

Denise showed up every morning at 4 AM, and amid a flurry of computer printouts, stacks of invoices, books coming and books going, ignoring the din of grinding coffee beans and musicians warming up, with the phone plugged into one ear and the other ear scanning for ambient information, she performed the miraculous.  She made peace with all the creditors, set up payment plans, kept an eye on the early shift of sleepy eyed employees, and successfully passed on to me her confidence in our secured future as a viable business entity.

I appreciated her.  The employees adored her.  The delivery people tried to date her.  The accountant sent her roses and proposed marriage.  The Alta-Dena Dairy man accosted me in my office, flexed his lovely black neck muscles, tensed his jaw, and accused me of making her work too hard.  I didn’t resent his passionate protest; I understood.  Denise had us all, every one of us, in her pocket.  She was afraid of no one, matching verbal assaults, parry for parry, with the most hostile of collection specialists.  They were less than no match for her.  She listened to everyone’s problems, asked the questions that mattered, applied her interest in people as liberally as Miracle Whip to the dry bread of our pitiful little lives.

And then the unthinkable happened…unthinkable but unmistakable.  She wanted to be my friend.  I couldn’t believe it.  Me, feminine translation of nerd, a frumpy middle-aged grandmother, retired engineer, business owner to be sure, but Denise couldn’t have any illusions about all that.  She worried about how hard I worked, how many hours, what I should eat.  She lured me away for long talks and relaxing cocktails and light healthy suppers.  Her interest in me was a heady elixir, applied soporifically to my vulnerable ego.  She asked endless questions about me, everything surrounding me, how I got to be the person I am, how I felt about everything and everybody in my life.  Nothing was too forbidden to be discussed, no private terror too discreetly hidden to elude her interest.

As the summer of 1992 approached the dog days of August, Denise distilled the essence of what she had learned of me in a poem written for my birthday and attached it artfully to a poster of a small girl child with long blonde hair sifting sand on the beach.

The poem read, in part:


“Dorothy by the sea,
Her eyes bright with wonder,
Does she dare to live today,
To bathe in the ocean’s water,
To run freely with the seagulls,
To fear not the ocean’s waves,
To be all that she has ever been?

Dorothy by the sea,
Will you use the sand of life
to build castles or let it sift
through your fingers?
I too believe the star’s light lives.
I believe in you.”


It was dated July 31, 1992.  On July 13, 1992, just two weeks and four days before, Denise had begun her artfully contrived six figure embezzlement of my beautiful store, a loss that would lead ultimately to bankruptcy and divorce.

After 25 years of light and life in Laguna Beach, Fahrenheit 451 Bookstore was soon to be a memory, and I, who had dared to follow my bliss and embody my dream, had entered a Twilight Zone where Rod Serling’s voice posed, and continues to pose, an endless litany of questions, but not a single answer.



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The End

During the cold Massachusetts winter that I was nine, my father disappeared. It was a difficult time for my mother, and for me, the end of the world. Looking back, I see it was the end of her world as well. Mother was a musician and poet, creative and excitable. Sometimes she scared me, but she was all I had, and she loved me. She had good reason to be behaving strangely: Bank accounts were cleaned out, electricity and gas turned off. A fire had destroyed our basement, and we were anticipating eviction.

I wrote a poem for her, an attempt to reassure her, and maybe myself as well, that I could make things better.

I’m a little sunbeam
Not so very tall.
I want to make you happy
Which is not hard at all.

Just mind you and respect you
Each minute of the day
And I will make you happy
With everything I say.

For I love you and I trust you
And I know that you love me,
And I will make you happy.
You just wait and see!

We hung on with help from the church and family far away in Texas. They were concerned but states away from our problems.  Then, unannounced, Daddy appeared at the door on Christmas Eve. He was dragging an enormous fir tree behind him, much taller than our ceiling. Mother cracked opened the door, refusing to let him in, her voice breaking as she hissed, “How could you be so stupid? That tree won’t fit in here! Take it away!”

“But it’s for Dottie. She’s got to have a tree for Christmas,” he pleaded.

“I don’t care who it’s for!” she shrieked, now past caring if the neighbors should hear. “You don’t love Dottie or you wouldn’t have left us here without food or money. Go away! I don’t ever want to see you again!”

My father shrank, jaws clenched, tears plying salty rivulets down his cheeks. Then he bent and broke off a branch, handing it to my mother. “Please take this for her,” he said and turned away, dragging the now imperfect tree down the front steps and out of my Christmastide.

Mother and I watched him drive away, quietly falling snowflakes softening the glow of the Packard’s receding tail-lights until they were no more. She pressed the branch into an urn and positioned it with a cruel irony where our holiday tree had in past years stood resplendent. I kneeled and stroked the pathetic, solitary branch, finally hugging it to my chest, sobbing. Mother left me to my grief, but of course she borrowed it for a poem:

“In her arms she held the sprig of green
As though calla lily rare
Embraced in love and mourned in loss
Her heart knew much to bear.”

I felt icy fingers of resentment slip into my mind to ask what I didn’t dare formulate as words, “Why can’t I have privacy for my grief? It is, after all, mine and not yours.” But I quickly disclaimed the ugly concepts, choosing others more dutiful with which to feel a proper gratitude for the poem. Passing years taught me that my mother, too, had her very own grief to bear. I missed my father terribly but was glad that he was safely removed from our pain.

One night before he left, Mommy had roughly awakened me. She dragged me into the bathroom where Daddy was seated, tugging groggily at his lowered pajama drawers, attempting to cover himself. He, too, was sleepy but was evidently sick as well. “I want you to know just how bad your father smells,” Mommy spoke, jaw tense, her face blotched with anger. “Smell him! He’s sickening! He makes me want to vomit!” I was embarrassed for him, and was shamed by my mother’s deficiency of grace, a concept for which I had no verbiage, but a completely adequate vocabulary of feelings.

The end of this period is marked by my mother’s hospitalization which followed an eventful period of paranoia. She flushed many casseroles, donated by concerned neighbors, down the commode, believing the gifts to be poisoned. A welder, attempting to remove a no-longer-used oil tank from our basement, had started a fire that destroyed all the precious plunder stored there. Mommy decided that it was the will of God to punish our sins because she saw “plain as day” the word “Will” etched in soot on the basement door.

My Aunt Judy was sent for. She rescued me, and I was saved. Driving cross country with her and her husband, Wesson, I was overwhelmed by an intense optimism. When Judy lamented the death of a still-glowing lightning bug that had splatted our speeding windshield, I quipped, “Well, at least he died with his light on!”

The next chapter of my story describes my sojourn in the home of my Aunt Judy, whom I adored, and Wesson, her fat, bald, cigar chewing, and aggressively unfriendly husband. Judy, a beautiful, statuesque, and successful purveyor of upscale ladies ready-to-wear, provided a luxurious standard of living for herself, for Wesson, and then for me, while he dabbled at various sales and mechanical drawing jobs. He immediately pegged me as dangerous, noting the seriousness with which Judy undertook her task as guardian ad litem. Forgetting that children grow vigorously, that first year while attending a trade show, she bought thirty-two Bobbie Brooks blouses for me, brought them home and insisted that I try on each and every one while she smiled and chewed on the rich nut of her new mothering role. She was delighted by this opportunity finally to have a child, even one not of her own blood and belly, but definitely a link to her soul.

Wesson was a horse’s derrière of a different color. He was clever to never accost me when Aunt Judy could hear. “You think you’re something special, Little Miss Priss,” he would sneer. “Mommy’s sweet little thing! Your crazy mother is the only one who thinks you’re worth anything.” Of course I hated him. This was a new uncomplicated kind of hate. It was sweet to taste its purity, unlike the bittersweet complexity of the love/hate I felt for my mother. Wesson arose early, and disdaining the civility of robe or dressing gown, he swaggered fatly in his boxer shorts, his long, soft, pink thing flapping below. I saw him, and he knew I saw him, so expose himself to me, a repeated act at once lascivious and aggressive. Whenever, at my request, Aunt Judy prompted him to adjust his pants, he feigned a shocked surprise, modesty affronted that I should have noticed.

Wesson enjoyed manipulating me to do things that inspired terror. Once each year at the Texas State Fair he required that I ride the big roller coaster, always in the lead car, wedged in between Judy and the press of Wesson’s sweaty bulk. “You have to ride it just one time,” he crowed. “It’s good for you. Keeps you from being a namby-pamby. Come on. Let’s get it over with.” And afterward, “Now was that so bad? You should listen to your old Uncle Wesson!” He insisted that I climb the giant pecan tree, whose luxuriant limbs shaded our backyard. He cut and installed wooden rungs to provide purchase for my slippery tennis shoes on the featureless lower trunk.

Victory over the tree won for me a new confidence, and I climbed it often until I was permanently grounded due to the onset of my menses. At the first sight of blood, Judy declared me a woman, bought me a training bra, and instructed Wesson to stop trying to make me into a tomboy. That was his cue to begin dropping suggestive references to my tentatively burgeoning bosom. I cringed, slumped, hugged my books, and walked lightly, a parody of the invisible.

Succumbing to Wesson’s nagging, Judy several times loaded me onto an airplane, destination pinned to my blouse, and sent me and my suitcase to stay with my mother in her Boston rooming house. The experiment always ended badly, local authorities indignant, and I was returned to the comfort and relative security of Judy’s Dallas home, not a bad arrangement if I could steer clear of Uncle Wesson…
Even more at http://www.morethanenoughtruth.com

The entire story is part of Dante’s Wedding Cake, using an inversion of the metaphor of the Circles of Hell to describe a life.

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