Friday, August 24, 2012


I went to meet my honey out at a pub in Stroudsburg, NY. I decided to leave my bike at home and drive, we planned to grab a cozy booth, have a big lunch, a beer, and ride on his bike along some back roads down to the lake and spend the rest of the afternoon out on his boat.I waited for him on the front porch of the pub, we kissed hello, went in, and the hostess led us to a remote booth in a back corner of the wood and brass restaurant. As the waitress brought our first round of cold draft beers, the hostess seated a man and a woman behind us. She was a seen-better-days blond. Hard to pinpoint her age, but her ravaged white blond hair was thin and desperately trying to reach her waist. Her too-tight blouse was straining across her missile tit bra, circa 1963. He was an unfortunate looking lackluster man, probably early 60’s in an unflattering shade of grey/blue, revealing a sad pair of deflated man-boobs. It was hard to tell if it was a date, an interview, or possibly a hybrid of the the two. I only noticed these details after we had paid our check, I had to get a visual on the conversation I had just overheard.Jim, my man, had just finished telling me yet another hard-to-conceive story from his childhood. His Dad was a retired Marine who had decided to raise his family in about the worst area of Brooklyn imaginable. Even as the drug dealers, addicts, and prostitutes had taken over the streets, he held fast to his territory like it was Custer’s Last Stand. His brother had left the block many years ago and bought a house upstate, by a lake, he had told Jim’s dad about an inexpensive house that had become available right up the dirt road, but Custer wouldn’t hear of it. Although they would have to sweep the sidewalk of needles and condoms before the grandkids would come down to play, Jim’s dad held his ground. Cops used to question Jimmy as he walked down his block, yelling at the young boy from the car window, “hey, kid!! watcha doin’ over here, it’s dangerous, go the heck home!!” But he was home. The local news had come to interview the last of the holdouts on the block, after a couple of the homes were burned to the ground by pimps or dealers in some payback deal. Jimmy described coming home from school and turning on the TV. He told me how excited he was, his Dad yelling at the reporter, “I’m nevah leavin’, WE was here first, this is OURS (probably referring to his Irish heritage), this is OUR neighborhood,” he was now talking to the camera, and the Puerto Ricans and Cubans who had taken over, his arm outstretched, and pointing down towards the sidewalk, violently delivering the last few rounds of bullets into the imagined scum bag’s body with an invisible firearm. Jimmy sat across from me, mirroring his father’s murderous mime from the 5 o’clock news, with a mixture of pride and disbelief, although it had occurred almost 40 years before.Jim had a million stories like these, and they just kept coming. Charming, horrifying vignettes from his boyhood from the west side of Sunset Park. He was a great storyteller, a fine mimic, I loved to hear Jim talk in a car, or in a bar, I especially loved hearing his tales echo from deep inside him as he would recount another episode with my head pressed against his chest in the wee hours of the morning. These stories explained a lot about his deeply embedded anger and hurt, and I loved how he fluctuated from being “stuck” in all that emotion, and the next minute being full of joie de vivre as he narrated his recipes as he chef-ed around my kitchen, or as he would playfully look back at me with a wink, as he captained us out into the middle of the lake, or led me onto more and more beautiful adventures on our bikes in Upstate New York.“I love complicated men,” I told him, and it was true. I had a fascination and passion for men who had survived problematic childhoods. Maybe it was because I had grown up with a silver spoon in my mouth on the pristine wooded streets of Westport, Connecticut and never had to work too hard for anything; maybe it was a simple case of bad boy complex; or simply because I was just plain fucked up - but I had accepted a long time ago that this was who I am, and what I love, and I had settled on Jim. And as I told him, “I love complicated men,” Jim looked into my eyes suspiciously, like was this a compliment, or an insult, but he quickly resigned himself that it was what it was and took another gulp from his sweaty mug of brew. It was then in that gulp of silence between us, that I heard the woman in the shiny polyester date/interview blouse chatter to her man friend, “I just LOOOVE complicated men!!” I couldn’t quite believe my ears. I looked behind me, her “complicated” man looked dully towards her, he wasn’t trying to decipher her comment, he simply waited for her noise to stop as he went on talking about some sign that a neighbor had put up on his street corner, and was trying to have removed by attending a city council meeting. She went on, “I could listen to your stories all day,” she cood, the plagiarist continued. I had said this to Jimmy just moments before, saying it in all sincerity - little did I know that I had been acting as Cyrano to the unfortunate woman sitting within earshot just on the other side of the pine back of the booth that we shared.I told Jimmy what I had just overheard, he shook his head and closed his eyes like he was recalling being molested as a child. I stopped providing the woman material at this point, now that I was aware that she had one ear on me and one eye on her date/prospective employer. But now she was on her own. “I LOOVE intelligent men,” she told him. He didn’t respond, so she just kept saying it, “I just LOOOVE intelligent men,” a second, then a third time, until she got the response she wanted as he dully told her, “and I like intelligent women.” “Why THANK you,” she said with an insipid giggle, “I ‘ppreciate that,” she snapped back. Jim still had his rape recollection face on and said, “let’s get the hell out of here, it’s a beautiful day out there. She’s gonna suck his dick in the parking lot, and it’s not going to get her the job or a second date.” The man sure had a way with words, I could listen to him talk all day. We got the check, hopped on the bike and rode down to the lake where we spent the rest of that beautiful late August afternoon. I wondered how the lunch ended between the interview/couple. Had she swallowed the man’s penis for dessert in the parking lot, as Jim had predicted; her charms beyond that seemed limited. But enough of that, I thought, as I rubbed Jimmy’s back as he steered us into the welcome silence of the vast placid lake.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


I met my boyfriend just a few months ago, we attached very quickly. We had a few things in common; motorcycles, music, cooking, over-eating, and a desire to be loved by someone who loved us back. I had a failed relationship behind me, he had split up from his wife who he met back when they were just in high-school. They had been happy, raised three children together, had a close knit family, he thought it would be forever. But towards the end he sensed that she had a secret, she had always handled the finances until one day she finally revealed that she had leveraged their house against her secret off-the-rails spending. Since then she had chased lower interest rates, opening multiple credit cards until it snowballed out of control. My boyfriend Jeff was set to pay off the house and retire in a year; his faith in his marriage and plans for retirement were destroyed in what seemed to be overnight.

While Jeff went on high-alert damage control over the family finances, his wife started spending all afternoon on the treadmill in their carpeted basement, or hunting down spray tan at the BOGOs at the local CVS. She had maxed out a credit card buying tank tops in neon colors at nearby Mandee shops- she had lost 50 pounds and started coming home at odd hours; his Straight Edge Christian wife now smelled of cigarettes and tequila. They always spent the 4th of July down by the lake, Jeff took the kids down to the water to watch the fireworks but when he turned around his wife wasn’t there. After the show was done, he and the kids ate hot dogs and hamburgers without her until she showed up two hours later - riding in on the back of the bike behind an Eastern European bottle-blond - dismounting her new friend’s ride in her short shorts, wife beater, in all her spray-tanned glory. It was then that Jeff knew that his family and their life as they knew it had come a sad, slow halt.

She announced that she was leaving soon after, “taking a break” to move in with mutual friends of theirs. Jeff heard from their friends days later that she had never shown up on their end - the guestroom bed was untouched, her car had never been seen in the driveway. She left no forwarding address, she’d never said a word to the kids. Before she left Jeff had asked her if there was someone else. She threw him a sly grin, his oldest daughter chased her out of the house and into the driveway screaming, “wipe that fucking smirk of your face.” striking her in her face with a chunk of ice she had pulled from the front steps of the house. Jeff’s wife sped away from the house leaving Jeff, and his three kids in her wake. They didn’t hear from her for weeks, she never divulged where she was staying - all they had left of her was a kitchen table piled with bills and a half-used bottle of store brand spray tan.

Jeff and I met a few months later, we fell fast and hard. He was strong, masculine, with an open, romantic heart. He had married his childhood sweetheart, had been saving up for a house in the country since he was 9 years old. He had grown up in the toughest area of Brooklyn, had dodged many bullets literally and figuratively before he took his new wife to a beautiful town in Upstate New York where he bought her a house on two acres of land. He had three great kids in good public schools, and now he had me. But the wounds from his ex-wife were deep. I knew that it was best not to date a man who had recently been burned, but it was too late, against my better judgement I had fallen in love.

Jeff would take me for long drives to the country, opening the car door for me, holding my hand as we rolled through the back roads, kissing me softly before we would get out of the car to have lunch at a quaint country inn. He was the sweetest man I had ever met - until the ghost of his ex would take control of our afternoon. Jeff revealed his painful story slowly at first, I would get tidbits here and there, his face tightening, his mouth forming a grimace as the words spewed from his lips. It was hard to listen to and painful to watch; the emotion taking over his body as he pretended to enjoy the Hudson River views. The man was barely managing - he had to work nights, then go home and clean the entire house, do the food shopping, the laundry, make a square meal every night, look after their three kids, catching 20 minutes of sleep here and there wherever he could. The ex was long gone – she had only contacted him once, the morning of what would have been their wedding anniversary, texting him first thing that morning from some stranger’s bed, “no matter what happened, this will always be a very special day to me.” Still, I played devil’s advocate.

“Jeff,” I tried to cut through his vitriol, “you two met so young, she’s just now living out her teenage fantasies .” I hoped that this would somehow help him put a better spin on things, take the edge off his hate - I’d since met his kids, their grades were slipping, they were sad and disoriented, I wanted them to have some sort of relationship with their mom. Jeff would cook up a storm; we would all sit around the table eating and laughing, but after dinner a silence would come over the house - the ghost of their missing mother was lurking about in the buzz of the overhead lighting. How could they live with suddenly losing their mother? I discouraged Jeff from making so much as a sour expression in front of the kids when her name came up. The ex had recenlty started texting them, asking to see them, but they’d all refused. They had removed all signs of her around the house, just the bottle of spray tan remained - collecting dust in the corner of the kitchen, a shrine to the mother that had betrayed them all. Still, I held out hope, Jeff had noticed on his medical insurance that his wife had seen a therapist once or twice. Was this a sign that she was working on her issues for herself and the children? The kids needed their mom, particularly the youngest one. She had opened up to me, we had taken to having heart-to-hearts, I cut her hair one Saturday afternoon, she smiled and said, “um, I think we’re bonding.”

In spite of the kid's resistance to see her, the ex would pipe up now and then, she texted the kids around Christmas saying she had money for them from their Grandparents so they could buy themselves something nice at the mall. They all met up for breakfast, the three kids returning home from the diner an hour or so later, sullen and quiet. Their mother had given them two unwrapped gifts – a waffle iron, and a margarita maker set, seemingly re-gifted from a housewarming party from her new mystery address. She had passed along the grandparent’s money, the kids left the envelopes on the coffee table next to the misappropriate presents. Still, it was a start, I thought, still clinging to the hope that these kids could reclaim their mother. I continued to remind Jeff not to disparage her in front of them, and maybe even offer up the idea that they could forge a relationship with her over time. But it never came to pass. Their mom took to sending repeated rapid-fire “I LOVE YOU!!” text messages from her mystery location, imploring them for support, texting, “I NEED YOU TO COMFORT ME!!” The eldest girl, the one who chased her mother with the block-of-ice-weapon, set her straight immediately, “you’re the fucking mother, we’re the kids. Get it straight who comforts who!!” The writing was on the wall after that, but their mother kept on coming, each attempt more strange than the last. She pleaded with their son to meet her out one night, she devised a plan to get a beater car from her parents in Florida, she asked that he and his sister buy one way tickets to Florida and spend their Spring break driving it back by themselves. The following week she showed up at the youngest one’s school unannounced, ambushing her at her school play rehearsal - forcing the 13 year old to snap photos of the two of them on her phone that she would later post to her Facebook page where she was posing as Mother of the Year. It was long past due that I give up any hope of the kids ever having any semblance of a normal relationship with their mom at this point. I knew that over time Jeff’s anger would subside, now I would support him in whatever he was feeling and listen and nod. With the kids off at school in the afternoon we would lie in his bed talking about the summer that we would soon share, surely it would be a better Fourth of July for the kids - he would pull me towards him in the peaceful drawn shade darkness of the bedroom, until the shrill ring of the intermittent creditor’s calls would slice our cocoon; their repeated attempts to address the multiple defaults of Jeff’s ex-wife.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


My ex-boyfriend gave me a book a long time ago back when we were together, telling me it had great meaning for him, a reflection on how he lived his life. I never read it and now that we stopped speaking it was time to return it to him, why was it so difficult, I had struggled with its return for weeks.

Was there some insight into his psyche that I had missed? Would it unlock some mystery as to why he could never say he loved me? I knew he did, I could feel it when he looked at me, the way he spoke to me; he’d said it twice, but retracted it, denied it, I wished he’d never said it at all. I needed to hear those words from him, from someone; finally I decided to give up and let him go once and for all, it had been eleven years.

The book was ancient, hardcover, bound, yellowed, possibly rare. Tossing it away seemed cruel, he’s asked for my assurance that I would one day return it, I had promised. I always keep my word, it was a thorn in my side, he’d let me down countless times and yet, I always had trouble letting go.

I decided to make one last trek over to his house, I would leave it outside, on his doorstep, no phone call or note. I rifled around in the kitchen and found a flimsy bag I got from some drugstore that i would normally use for trash, the morning coffee filter, tissues, pizza crusts - it would soon be home for his beloved book, it would be joined by his sister’s latest best seller. She had skyrocketed to fame by writing stories about their abusive childhood, she spun it into gold, a sweet fairytale, but I knew the truth - I fell in love with the damage, a man that could never really love back.

The drugstore bag was a sad beige color with black type that said, “thank you”. And inglorious parting sentiment, it almost seemed ironic, I thought perhaps I should choose another receptical, as I slipped both books into its sparse waterproof shell. I had started his sister’s novel, I found her style beautiful and grating in that I knew she reinvented tragedy, it was her version of her family history, but her truth nonetheless. But the other book, the one that held the secrets to my ex-boyfriend’s truth remained unopened by me. Was it that I hadn’t had my eye glass prescription renewed for several years, or was it fear of what I would find on those faded pages? Would it reveal a sweet Tom Sayer-esque tale, romanticizing his childhood days when he would scramble into town looking to roll a passed out drunk for change, or stay after the school bell rang to rifle through the lunchroom trash looking for something to eat while his mother hid under the covers at home, gorging on a Whitman’s Sampler she had bought with the dollar or two she might have used to buy some bologna and bread for her 3 hungry children?

I pulled the book from the sad “thank you” bag. It smelled like history, his house, the slim chance that I would finally make sense of my defunct love. I opened it and started to read the first paragraph, I was immediately drawn in to the prose. Simple, eloquent, a vortex. I placed it back where I had kept it on the top of my armoire, almost out of site, a sticking point, surely one day to be returned to my now "ex" boyfriend.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


I've lived in a few places, Connecticut, Brooklyn, but none more memorable than scenic Allston, Massachusetts. A total dump of a place, a low rent district on the outskirts of the B.U. campus, my parents said that I could have whatever money it cost them to house me in the Boston U dorms, I ran the numbers, I would make a pretty profit if I moved off campus.

I met my roommate in the theater department, she was studying scene design. Wendy jumped all over me when she heard I was seeking lodging off campus, and promised to stop smoking by the time I moved in.

It was a dank basement apartment, but Wendy sweetened the deal with a can of paint and an offer to coat the cigarette stained walls by the first of the month. I had a couple of lawn chairs, a neon clock, and a 1940's mannequin head that gave a living room a cool retro look. I did more of a country theme in my bedroom with some old apple crate art I had framed, a vintage hutch, and a quilt thrown over a mattress and box spring I had centered against the wall, my time spent working for Martha Stewart had a sweet design influence on my subterranean chamber. Things were OK at first, Wendy seemed over the moon that I was her roommate, and we were only a couple blocks away from the best pizza place in Brooklyn, T. Anthony's - where I had spent a couple of semesters honing my eating disorder skills with some of the other girl's in the dorm.

Wendy's room was less than refined, it smelled of dirty laundry, the floor would have been a great landing strip for a faulty mosh pit. Jeans, sheets, mismatched pillow cases, all these smells intermingling with the ever growing pile that was now being fed by her new boyfriend's dirty flannel shirts and jeans. I never saw a light turned on in there, I wasn't sure if all the bulbs were burned out, or if she, in fact, had any lighting in there at all. She seemed to be happy with whatever residual light was being thrown off the urine colored glow of the bathroom light as she picked out the day's "look" from the bedroom floor: one of two pairs of 501's she owned, and a choice of 5 faded navy blue t-shirts. She was kind of a pretty girl, but she did her best to hide it. Her boyfriend seemed fond enough of her in spite of, or because of her stage-techie de rigueur. They would spend hours in her dirty laundry padded cell with the door almost closed, the door nob was missing, and I would have to shade my eyes as I passed, I was scared that I might catch a glimpse of their dirty laundry love making. Eventually, I would hear her emerge from their sex cell, the door in desperate need of some WD-40. She would throw a used condom in our communal wastebasket in the tiny bathroom, grab a 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke, her pack of Salem Menthols, and pad back to the bedroom in her navy t-shirt and beige panties. Contrary to our verbal contract, Wendy had never kicked the habit.

I kept my bedroom immaculately clean, Wendy's bedroom had become a cautionary tale to me. The living room was similarly kept by me, but the kitchen was Wendy's domain, as I never set foot in it. Her previous "roommates" had never moved out, when she flicked the switch they all went for cover under the stove she used for the only dish I ever saw her cook - a cooked-on grease-stained cookie sheet scattered with tater tots. On her nights off from Romeo she would sit at the kitchen table in her t-shirt and beige panties, selecting the next desirable tater tot from the tray with one hand, with a lit Camel Menthol in the other. This would go on during what was usually laundry night - which consisted of soaking one of the two pairs of Levi's she owned in the bathroom sink with dish liquid, the shower rod serving as her cost efficient dryer. The drip-drip of the water from the jeans hitting the dirty bathtub became a makeshift Chinese Water Torture to me.

It wasn't all bad, a couple of girls moved upstairs from us, although they didn't look like any of the girls I knew back in Westport, or even in the dorms at B.U. They had shoe polish black hair, wore a lot of tank tops without bras, and had tattoos the likes that I had only seen on some of the Irish boys who lived on the wrong side of the tracks back in Connecticut. But they were fun, funny, and friendly. One morning I was approaching the building after doing a load of laundry, the girls were on the stoop smoking, and asked me if I wanted to come up for some coffee. I didn't drink coffee, but it sounded more enticing than going home where I would be met with a sink full of dirty dishes, Diet Coke empties, and the ever growing heap of Camel Menthol butts that covered all but the rim of the dusty topaz ashtray that doubled as a centerpiece on our kitchen table.

I went upstairs with the girls, they had a fair amount of light in there, it smelled a bit of old smoke and something else I couldn't quite identify - still, it was fun hanging out with the funny bad girls all before breakfast. The tall skinny one got out three mismatched coffee mugs while the short skinny one grabbed some bottle of booze - they married the two liquids in the three cups and rolled a joint. I was now regretting not stopping at the donut shop on my way home, I would have missed all of this, but it was too late. The substances were taking over, I was trying to act cool while I took in their prison-esque ink and their black bras that littered the kitchen floor. Just as they took a pass on my offer to go for breakfast, two men emerged from somewhere, they dropped a roll of bills on the table in front of us, stole a couple of butts from the cigarette pack on the table and went out the front door with a groggy "see ya". I never ran into the rock n roll looking fellas, or the girls again, for I would be leaving Allston by the end of that coming month.

I had grown quite depressed, my boyfriend and I had broken up before I moved out of the dorm, and he had started sleeping with some of the boys in the theater department. Seemed everyone had someone to love, Wendy and her man rolling around in the dirty laundry room, the girl's upstairs with their mystery men, but I was completely alone, curled up under my antique quilt. I soon met a handsome boy on my way home to visit my parents in Connecticut, he was sitting across the way from me on the Amtrak train. He looked exactly like John Cougar Mellencamp, he was wearing a gas station attendants shirt that said "Phil". It was actually his name, but the shirt was for affect - he was a student and artist attending Tufts Museum School. I gave him my number and didn't hear from him for awhile. I had given up hope and was sobbing in my Martha Stewart bedroom when Wendy tapped on my door and opened it, holding a lit cigarette. "Someone named 'Philip' is on the phone for you," she said flatly as she pulled on the 100 feet of tangled phone cord so that it could make it's way over to my bed. We went on a date that night, and the rest was history. He was smart, looked like Mellencamp, and lived in a huge loft on the South Side of Boston. He worked nights as a waiter at one of the best restaurants in Boston, he had cash to burn and wined and dined me mercilessly until I was spending almost every night cuddled up next to him in his loft bed in the heat-challenged loft; I was in love.

But Wendy had a bone to pick with me when I returned home one morning to fetch a fresh batch of clothes from my Shabby Chic bedroom. She said that I had broken a contract to be there, to be her roommate, friend, confident - which was surprising, she spent most of the time behind the cracked door with her boyfriend, and had nary offered me a single tot. I shrugged, inhaling the second hand smoke of the cigarette she had promised to snub out before my move-in date, I called Phil to confer and he got a friend's station wagon and moved me out that Sunday. I never made it back to Allston, not even for T. Anthony's pizza. I was loft living now, with real Punk Rockers living upstairs, performance artists in the loft next door, and a motorcycle jacket manufacturer below us, life was sweet.

I must have run into Wendy at school after that, but I don't remember, I had moved on from Allston, and Boston University pretty much altogether. I spent my days skipping school watching Philip paint, or riding his bicycle around the expansive loft. We would cook and have large parties, a girl he knew from school came up to me at one of them and said, "you sleep with Phil?" I nodded at her downgrading of my girlfriend status, she went on, "so did I, he's terrible, how do you stand it." It was true, our first night together was horrible, lasting all of 58 seconds, and it never improved; but he was a wonderful guy, showed me all the cool stuff in Boston, made me dinner, I decided early on he was the one.

A year later we moved to Brooklyn, I had gotten my first advertising job in New York, and Phil joined me in New york shortly thereafter. The years took their toll on the relationship, I'd had a sexual awakening in the halls of my ad agency, everyone was dirty, drunk a lot of the time, and fun. Philip and I had grown apart, he was working nights at The River Cafe, I was working days. I offered him a chance to work on things, to get counseling, he took a pass - he wasn't much for communicating, so we both moved on. Many moons after that, Wendy resurfaced, turns out she lived in Brooklyn, too, she friended me on Facebook. Her profile picture seemed as though it was professionally shot. It was showing off her new husband, a very wasp-y looking man. It was a close up of them on a sailboat, gazing into each other's eyes, apparently she'd ditched the Levi's and flannel, and possibility the beige panties judging by the look of longing in her Wasp's eyes. I commented on the photo, "Very romance novel!!" She de-friended me immediately, but that was always the way with us, Wendy and I could never find our groove.

I don't think of Allston much, I lived there for all of a couple of months. But every time I see an overflowing ashtray, a used condom in the street, or a tray full of lingering tater tot grease I look back with a certain fondness and vow to never, ever go back there again.

Monday, January 9, 2012


You look at me like a miracle;
don’t wanna let you down.

Sending me a love song
that’s hard for me to hear.

You say I saved your life
while I look down at the floor.

Or put it in a love letter;
was this thing meant for me.

All you ask is that I hold you
but you deserve much more.

If only I could love myself
as sweetly as you love me.