Background

A Pool Hustler's Daughter grows up in subterranean America. She dreams big, hustles daily and loves her Daddy. With empathy, fascination and grace she navigates and inhabits every tier of society; sees beauty and hope and magic in all things; respects and lives by the "mitzvah."
A Pool Hustler's Daughter calculates the trifecta payout at the racetrack, hides money on three parts of her body, has an arsenal of "Uncles," and keeps a baseball bat by the front door. She values friendship, loyalty and experiences over "things." Like her father, she seeks to learn "The secrets of the universe" and believes "Life ain't on the square." She applauds the self-made and those who learn to "overcome" their circumstances. Her door is always open for a sofa to sleep on, a hot meal, or an eager listener for a life story.
























Friday, May 12, 2017

Goosebump Goddess

"Tell me, the dream, again..."

"Well, it's night, and New York is particularly quiet. It's not necessarily late at night, it's just the neighborhood that's quiet. Maybe it's a sleepy street in the Village, but more often than not, I think it's Brooklyn"

The therapist thought, never in a million years would I think I would hear a dream that took place in Brooklyn. Times have changed.

"Okay, Brooklyn" the therapist answered the girl.

"And, I'm holding his hand. I can't see his face. But he is dragging me - up the stairs - to his apartment."

"And the apartment, what does it look like?" the therapist probed, bored at this point, and thinking about redecorating her house in the Hamptons.

"There are tall ceilings. Wood floors. And a mattress - on the floor - with white sheets."

"Do you feel safe? In this apartment?"

"Yes."

"Do you see a man's face?"

"I told you already. No. I don't. Or at least...I used to not see one."

"Does he speak to you?"

"Yes, but it is garbled. I can't understand everything that he says. Some - but not all. It's a dream, you know?"

"What happens, once you are in the apartment?"

"The man takes my bag or suitcase, whatever it is that has my belongings in it. He carries it for me and puts it up against a brick wall. He drags me to the mattress."

"Do you have...sex...with...this stranger?"

"NO - we don't have sex...right then... And he's not a stranger. Technically not a stranger."

"Technically?..."

"That's what I said. I do - I mean, we do know each other."

"So, you're friends?"

"Yes - I mean - it's fresh...it's new...but old at the same time. Do you understand what I am saying to you?"

"I think I do. You mean you think that even though you just became friends, you already feel like you know him?"

"Yes. I...think that's what I mean."

"Why don't you sleep with him...in the dream?"

"We're...not in love...yet"

"Is that important to you?"

"God, yes, very important."

"Are you mad that you are not in love?"

"No, because I think we are...falling..."

"I see...there is potential"

"Potential, yes. We are both...falling..."

"What do you do...then? On the mattress?"

"I told you. We listen to music....It's not the type of music to make you think too much. It simply makes you...feel good. And...relaxed...Peaceful. It's gentle. He's...big...but gentle."

"Well, on the mattress...does he touch you? At all? Do you touch him?"

"We just listen to his records and hold hands. We listen to the music. We listen to each other breathe. We listen to each other's stomach gurgle...maybe once or twice. We are hungry. I think we forget to eat something. That is all."

"You mean to tell me you spend a weekend, lying on a mattress on a floor, in Brooklyn, listening to records, holding hands with a man, who is new to you, but not so new, and the two of you stare up at the ceiling with all of your clothes on? "

"Yes. Although sometimes we feel the vibrations, from his speakers. They are large and old fashioned. The beats from the music pulse into the wood floor and shake the bed occasionally. They are the speakers I remember having as a young woman. They were bigger than some refrigerators. Those giant speakers, and listening to music - Sterolab's song Cybele's Reverie specifically -lying on the wooden floor of my first apartment. Well, it is one of my fondest memories of being a young girl. And I relive this memory...with him"

"A man who you just met, but feels like an old friend?"

"Yes, well - familiar. He is familiar because of these dreams that I have already had..."

"And the two of you are alone in the apartment.."

"Well, not technically alone...he...has a cat"

"Okay, there is a cat"

"Yes"

"Is the cat friendly?"

"Yes, the cat is happy that I am there."

"Is the man happy that you are there?"

"Yes. I...believe he is. In fact, I know he is. He's just good. I can't explain it more profoundly than that. He's good."

"But you...and this man...in the dream...you're dressed...what are you wearing? Is that something you remember?"

"Um...he's wearing shorts being held up with a belt and also a worn-down concert t-shirt. There are Sambas lying beside the bed, on the wood floor."

"Sambas?"

"Soccer shoes"

"Oh"

"What.., are you wearing?"

"A dress. Thin, silk, dark colored. The hem is above my knee. It has buttons from top to bottom. I am not wearing stockings. It is Spring - or summer - obviously - the boy - I mean - man - well, he's wearing shorts, isn't he?"

"I see."

"I've been having this dream for...I don't know, at least three years. If not longer. But there has never been a face...you know...on the man? Well...not...until now"

"I see. You know who this person is, don't you?"

"Yes, I do know who this person is."

"You've been having this same dream for three years. And now this strange man, who's not a stranger, has a face. And a name I presume?"

"Yes, he has a name. It's...foreign. And I probably pronounce it incorrectly."

"Does this...make you happy?"

"Happy...and angry. I don't know if he has ever had a dream about meeting me, before we met?"

"Just because you dreamed of him, before you met him, doesn't mean he has to have dreamed about you before he met you"

"I wish he had"

"It's not essential to him loving you. We all fall in love differently. Remember that"

"I will"

"Has anything changed other than seeing the man's face, in this dream of yours? It's obviously incredibly special to you, or you wouldn't keep having it, for so many years"

"Well, on the last night, of the weekend, he takes off his shirt and places both of my hands on his belt buckle, and he helps me take his shorts off."

"Are you conscious of him being naked?"

"Well, he's not naked. Like, I told you. He's in his boxers. Or at least I imagine him to be the type to wear boxers."

"Do you undress?"

"Well, he unbuttons my silk dress. I told you, there are many buttons on the dress. But he is patient, and unbuttons them all."

"And now, you are naked?"

"No - I told you! We are not naked! I am just in my bra and underwear! But, but, I am shaking now. I'm nervous. I want to tell him to touch me, but I don't. I have Goosebumps...all over my body. And I am wet...between my legs."

"O-kay. You started telling me the dream, this dream you've had for awhile now. Well, the details..."

"They have started to get filled in...And...I didn't think the details would ever...get filled"

"I'm starting to think you want to sleep with this person."

"I think you're right"

"But you just said, you have to be in love. He has to have dreams about you, just like you have dreams about him."

"I know."

"Do you...do you have an orgasm in this dream?"

"Well, I don't say a word...in the dream. I just...I just...take one of his hands...in my own...and place it in between my legs."

"You do?"

"He kisses me, softly, and my lips are trembling, and my legs are shaking and before I know it...I'm..."

"Cumming?"

"Yes"

"Do you wake up right then? From the dream?"

"No."

"What happens next?"

"He smiles at me"

"He smiles?"

"Yes. A big and silly smile that makes me feel warm...on my insides. Just like the first night that we met. That feeling. The warm feeling. On my insides, that first night. Well, it surprised me. I think I made him also feel warm on the insides, that first night. I think it surprised him, too."

"That's sweet"

"Well, he's sweet...and passionate. The kisses and the smiles...well...they put me at ease...I won't say that Temptation being his favorite New Order song had anything to do with it..."

"I'm not sure his liking the same song is enough..."

"And he hates Cat Power. And I love Cat Power. Why on earth does that excite me? It excites me a lot!"

"Did you kiss him, the night you met him?"

"No, but, at the end of the night, he threw his coat on and squeezed me in his arms and ran out the door. Like...disappeared in a cab, within seconds..."

"So.."

"Well, he was nervous, I don't know, maybe he was just under the weather, but I just, well, I had this feeling he was afraid he might kiss me that night..."

"Afraid to kiss you?"

"I don't know...afraid something might happen. Afraid of what he was capable of. Not that I...well, would ever make the first move. I just...liked the way it felt to have him sit beside me. I hoped he would hold my hand or something, under the bar that first night. Maybe just wanting to hold hands with him is how he became the face of the man in my reoccurring dream."

"Are you in love with him?"

"Well, that night, I...I was sober. I even told him, I don't drink too much so that all of my decisions are deliberate...and made from an authentic feeling...not from...alcohol..."

"And?

"Well, the bartender made some kind of a quip and I answered him by saying something like, I wish I liked someone enough to sit and talk with them for hours"

"And what did the man sitting beside you say?"

"He just said wow, I think, and sipped his shot of Tequila. Then I looked up at the clock above the bar and realized I had just been talking to him, for hours..."

"You didn't answer my question. Are you in love with him?"

"Well, I think, in the dream at least, I love him."

"Does he love you...in the dream?"

"Yes....He does...love me. He loves me even though I find the slightly sociopathic Husker Du song Diane to be a great love song. Maybe, he loves me because of that reason."

"Did you ever cum from this dream before?"

"No, never before"

"You have never cum in this dream before? The dream you tell me you have been having for three years? The one where up until this point you do not speak, nor ever get naked? The one with a man without a face?"

"You are correct."

"The dream with a man who always has a record collection, a cat, and soccer shoes. The man who has an apartment in New York? Maybe Brooklyn?"

"Yes. I know. It sounds crazy - although the cat detail is brand new. I am still trying to wrap my head around it. And he has a Caveman like quality. At the end of the day, I am old fashioned and need to be won. Need to be possessed."

"You think this man, who's face has finally appeared in your reoccurring dream is a Caveman?"

"Well, he eats Wild Boar"

"The fact that he eats Wild Boar makes you think that he is a Caveman?"

"Yes, a Caveman with a sophisticated palate. Imagining him asking an Italian Butcher for Wild Boar pleases me, immensely."

"Wild Boar?"

"Yes, Wild Boar. And I think it is indicative of him having a deep-down Caveman like quality. Like he could hit me over the head with a wooden bat and drag me away with him. Kind of like the Husker Du song Diane but - without a rape, or knives..."

"I am not familiar with Husker Du"

"Oh, it's just a band. From my youth. And Diane happens to be one of my favorite songs. He sent me an acoustic version. I loved it. Goosebumps."

"Goosebumps?"

"Yes, Goosebumps. He is a very sweet Caveman. Wouldn't really ever hurt me - physically. Just the initial bump on the head, some dragging. Would put ice on the bump, and feed me Ibuprofen and some brown liquor until the swelling went down."

"Wow. You have some interesting fantasies."

"Remember, I am a writer. In the Stone-Age romantic genre."

"Does this man, the one with a face now. The one who you liken to a Caveman because of his foray into Game meats. Does he remind you of anyone you have met before?"

"No, not at all. That is the best part about him. He is completely unique. And brand new. I hope he thinks I am also unique, and brand new."

"Now is that the end of the dream? Your climax? Knowing you love one another?"

"Well, not...exactly"

"Not...exactly???"

"Well, I roll on top of him and kiss him fervently."

"And then..."

"Well...I have sex with him"

"Is this the first time you have had sex in this dream?"

"Well, yes. The first time. You know...from our speaking before...I have not had many lovers...hardly...any...But I always wanted...someone to teach me... about sex...it might be him...I mean...I want this man to teach me about sex. But I want him to love me first."

"You've changed"

"I think I have - or been changed, at least. In fact, I feel like it is out of my hands and I am just watching it all happen. And I am enjoying watching it fall into place."

"Sex - just the one time?"

"Well, no. A few times...I can't seem to get enough of him...And once I think I've had enough, he starts to touch me again..and it starts all over. But I welcome it. I welcome him. Like I said, we're hungry."

"And that's the end of the dream?"

"Well, no, not exactly..."

"What do you mean, not exactly?"

The therapist looked at the clock on the ceiling. The session was almost up. This girl - today - was exhausting. She had been talking in circles. But at least her dream wasn't boring. The therapist looked at the girl- sitting in the chair in front of her - and she was smiling, and quietly...content.

"I kind of want to hear him tell me - You're it"

"You're it?"

"Well, yes, its the opening line to Sonic Youth's Teenage Riot"

"Is this another song?"

"Yes. Another song. Music is important - to me - and my writing."

"You want him to tell you - you're it?"

"Yes, just like Kim Gordon."

"Kim Gordon?"

"And then I will tell him - you're it."

"Listen, I don't know who these people are that you speak of - Kim Gordon? Sonic Youth? But what you are saying - telling someone - this man who was in your dreams for three years, who now has a name - foreign - I think - and a face - and soccer shoes - and a record collection - and an apartment in Brooklyn - and..."

"A cat, he has a cat"

"Well, it sounds romantic. You know, telling someone - you're it"

"I know"

"You know?"

"I like this dream."

The therapist looked over this girl. This girl who was talking in circles. This girl who was smiling. This girl who was quietly content.

"I... see that you do."

The girl in the chair stood up and started walking toward the door to exit.

"I...I think this dream...it's...just...the beginning...And, I like the way I feel right now. I'm not in any rush...I like waiting...I hope he doesn't mind waiting...for me..."

"Let's wait and see what happens" the therapist advised, cautiously. Her stomach was growling. She hoped there was a Protein bar in her desk drawer that she could eat quickly before her next appointment arrived.

And then the girl - who was actually a woman(but who felt like a girl - when she thought about the boy - who was actually a man) made her way out the door of the office, skipping slightly, and feeling warm on her insides all over again.









"

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

'Twas the Night Before 40, arriving Winter 2018

The song "Que Sera, Sera" had been playing inside of her head all day. That night, after feeding her two young children organic macaroni and cheese, she loaded the dishwasher (being careful not to put plastic inside of it) and began to sing the song aloud. She liked the sound of her own voice. Did anyone know that? Her grandmother, mother, and even her young daughter often secretly hummed a tune in the kitchen. It was in their DNA.

She wondered if "Que Sera, Sera" was the first hit song to come out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie? She wanted to know if Doris Day had been sexually harassed on "The Man Who Knew Too Much" set the way Tippi Hedren had been while filming "The Birds." They were both blondes, but Day was a girl next door with a matronly figure, whereas Tippi Hedron smoldered on the screen and could certainly have set fire to the film reel with just one look. Both her daughter, Melanie Griffith, and granddaughter had great sex appeal, too. Must be in their DNA, she thought.

She was curious if America's Sweetheart, Jimmy Stewart, had ever cheated on his wife? Her great-uncle had been a bombardier with Jimmy Stewart in WWII. Bombardiers made her think of Joseph Heller's "Catch 22" and also the actor Alan Arkin. She wondered how old Arkin was now and how he and British actress Judi Dench felt about winning best supporting Oscars for such short screen times. She slammed the dishwasher shut and quickly dried her hands so she could get these burning questions answered via a Google search on her Iphone.

She was getting drowsy. The two Melatonin plus the herbal anti-anxiety pill Ashwaganda that she bought from Whole Paycheck were starting to kick in. She remembered the six months of her life when she was on real anti-depressants (Zoloft) and anti-anxiety medicine (Xanax). She was just 23 years old. How could she have been so scared at such a young age?

She turned off the houselights and grabbed her cup of Celestial Seasons "Extra" Sleepytime tea with an obligatory shot of whisky in it. She started drinking it when she was on the anti-depressants which felt like speed inside of her 23 year old body and caused her to have trouble sleeping at night. She thought about how "Clerks" filmmaker Kevin Smith took a supporting role as someone who worked for Celestial Seasons in a film starring Jennifer Garner and Timothy Olyphant. The movie name escapes me, she thought, another Google search. Her father used to watch Olyphant's TV show "Justified" before he died. He loved Hillbilly culture. "Rebels" he called them. She thought her father was so brave. He loved danger, and lived a life without regrets. He rebelled against the ordinary and the comfortable. He lived his life with purpose. Life, to him, was a great adventure. She yearned for her own, adventures, and to have a purpose. She wanted to be a writer when she was younger but gave up that idea because of lack of money and had been sidetracked. She knew she wasn't the first, nor the last, to claim this defense.

The shot of whisky in the tea in order to calm the nerves or the tummy was a trick she learned from her grandmother, the same lady who sang aloud, and alone in the kitchen, and had old English heritage. She wondered if non-organic tea was really bad for you. She drank a lot of tea and felt close to her grandmother when she held the hot cup in both of her hands. She often thought about dead people as if they were still alive, in the same room with her. She had conversations with them - in her head.

She walked down the hall to her bedroom, which was dark except for the reading light beside her side of the King size bed. Her daughter, dressed in Alice in Wonderland pajamas, slept on the far right side of the bed. Her toddler son slept on long pillows and a blanket on the floor beside her side of the bed, thumb in his mouth.

Her husband was out of town for work that week and the kids often slept in her room while he was gone. She was lonely most of the time and their warm bodies and warm love made her feel less lonely.

The radio was on and the volume was set to a low, white noise. She loved talk radio. She loved falling asleep listening to the radio. Sometimes, she was surprised how it impacted her dreams at night. She could have multiple dreams in a single night and then wake up either emotionally exhausted or exhilarated. The best dreams were the ones where she let go and admitted what she liked, what she wanted, and pushed to get what she wanted. Dreams where she was sexy, sometimes having sex. Dreams where she was a female James Bond and her super ego was saving the world and saving herself. Dreams where she felt powerful and important and making her mark on the world.

Tomorrow was her fortieth birthday. Remembering this caused a sharp pain in her tummy and she went into her bedside drawer and popped another Melatonin in her mouth which she swallowed down with red wine remnants from a crystal goblet from her wedding registry that had been sitting there souring since the night before.

She felt regret.
She felt guilt.
She missed her father. There would be no call from him first thing in the morning.
She missed her youth.
She missed creating.
She missed having fun.

Why had she always been so afraid...of life? Of saying and acting without needing the approval of others or a bright green go light to turn on? How had playing it safe actually...kept her safe?

Tears streamed down her face, and, trying to muffle her sobs from her sleeping children, she turned up the sound on her alarm clock radio, a relic from college, from a time when she was on the verge of coming out of her shell but...didn't. Not entirely, at least. She played it safe. She had always been too scared. A scaredy cat. Wah, wah, wah, she said aloud, mocking herself. Debbie Downer over here, she thought.

Ira Glass began to introduce the guest on his radio show, "This American Life." She turned off her lamp light and asked God, her father, Buddha, any and all holy spirits - the universe - for a second chance. She wanted to wake up tomorrow and say yes.

There were so many things, so many...at least ten...that she had wanted to do...before she turned forty...




Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Day of the Dead 2016 - The Dago Version

How do you make important life decisions when your Consigliere is dead?

This is the problem I face.

My father was a walking encyclopedia who also believed in magic and spiritualism. He defined human nature as the axis of the earth, to which all life revolves around. To understand human nature was to win at life.

He balanced the rational mind(espoused by his hero, Ayn Rand) with a surprising, irrational one(he meditated, studied past lives and learned quantum leaping just before he passed away.)

I went to my father to help me solve every one of life's problems. Whether it was a corrupt landlord(don't pay last month rent), a high fever(enemas), a broken down car(he'd send his friend with a tow) yet most of the time, the answers came down to how to handle other people. You know, like Don Corleone, in The Godfather(I would have given anything for him to have left this world picking tomatoes from his garden with his grandchild by his side.)

My father always respected what the other person wanted. He said this was the biggest mistake a person could make...not listening. This advice helped me excel at my sales career. You have to ask what someone really wants - even if it seems embarrassing - and try to give that to them. One client just wanted someone to sit and talk with for an hour every week to break the monotony of their work day. Done. One wanted a $1500 laptop for a 1.5 million dollar order. Done. Another, fame - his name in lights - in a Wall Street Journal article. Done.

My Dad was a great listener - even half asleep on the sofa with the Bears on and his Dachshunds barking - he had super sonic bat ears.

Whether you wanted to earn a million dollars, partake in a threesome, or commit a murder - he would acknowledge your desires (as crazy and as far fetched as they might sound) and give you a platform to defend those desires and then give you your due(no one could calm down a crazy person better than my father.)

Once the acknowledgment was out of the way, he would say, "let's talk reality now" and push you in a pragmatic direction. My father, like LBJ, was a great pragmatist, making keen observations from his bathroom library. He always thought that even the loser in a situation should walk away with just a little something - just a taste. Keep in mind, a lot of his life lessons were learned in the pool room, where one can easily find themselves broke, when on the losing side of things, and in the dead of winter, someone throwing you a nickel for the bus home is a lot better than having to walk.

My father also enjoyed challenges, the more complicated the better, because he took great joy in overcoming them.

A few of my father's favorite mantras:

Desire pushes action

Even early twentieth century self-help guru Wallace Wattles devotes two chapters to this premise. Stanley Kubrick's Dr.Strangelove...

If you're depressed, try and accomplish one task a day and work your way up from there.

You must be active, you must stay busy.

Most people wouldn't jump off a cliff, if they could push someone else off instead

Get rid of the toxic people in your life

If you're broken-hearted, you must "torch."

Find a jukebox bar, get drunk and listen to sad love songs and cry for a week. But only for a week - any longer and you're a masochist.

Fuck them, fuck those mother fuckers

Trademark Freddy - Never give a shit about what anybody else thinks of you. A lot of people are scared to see you accomplish what they cannot.

Be in charge of your own life

Never let anyone else make decisions for you. You must be in control. Unless you're giving in to the universe to allow for magic.

Some people are dangerous. Stay the fuck away from them.

Some people create their own bad luck. Some peoples' only pleasure in life is saying no or hurting you(aka sadists.)

Never, ever give power to considerations when trying to achieve a goal

If you need to have all of the answers before committing to a goal, you've already lost. It doesn't happen like that. The goal comes first.

Change the game

Change the variables and put yourself in control of your reality.

Accept every form of generosity that comes your way and accept every opportunity to help someone.

Be over the top with being grateful to others who do nice things for you. My Dad performed at least 3 good deeds every day.

Don't give up on people, yourself, or a situation so easily.
Just because it hasn't been done before, doesn't mean you won't be the first. Everybody deserves a second chance.

The only way you know you're getting paid back money you've loaned, is if the guy you loaned the money to still knows exactly how much he owes you.
A lot of people still owe my Dad a lot of money...

Never be one of the masses. Be an individual.

Always use your head and question what's missing. Think for yourself.

Stand out, be a rebel, wear crazy clothes(my father was famous for purple polyester bell bottoms), be loud, be unforgettable, like a tiger in the jungle

Stand tall, have good posture

There's a scientific reason applied in the service to standing tall. You hone into your own power and emit that power to others. It automatically makes you feel better about yourself, more confident.

Never deny yourself pleasure in this life

You'll regret it.

Every single day I have a question to ask my father - a problem that requires his unique services in order to be solved. Every single day I try and predict the best version of what he would say.

No one in this world had my back the way my father did. My happiness and fulfillment was one of the utmost priorities of his life. He was never too tired to answer my call, come to my rescue and talk me off a metaphorical ledge. He never let me give up on myself. That's why I feel like I owe him to hang in there and achieve everything he ever wanted for me. It's a lot of pressure, but I'm trying(I hear him yell, don't try - DO! Commit, commit, commit!)

He made you forgive yourself if you made a mistake. He gave you permission to move on.

He absorbed any humiliations

He admonished guilt

He thought life was a divine gift, and if you weren't making the most of it, if you weren't enjoying it, you were letting yourself, and the world, down.

Every single day, I try and listen to my father.
Every single day, I try and teach my children the lessons I learned from their grandfather.

He told me that life ain't on the square...

In my dreams, he often gives me advice.

In one dream, I travel back in time(something my father believed in) and cure him of his illness so that he can be with me today to help me - to spoil me with love, affection, gifts, listening, my favorite foods, to teach me new things, to watch sports with, to pick up the kids from school, have them sleepover and to take to the pool room with, and, most importantly, to regale me with stories of underdogs - Davids defeating Goliaths - that always made me stronger, smarter, more powerful and inspired me to take on the world!

I miss our mutual awe and acknowledgement of all the pleasure and joy that's available and of just how amazing life can be!

I try hard to hear this voice, his voice, guiding me.

My Consigliere.

My Pops.

Every single day, I miss my father.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Photographers Danny Lyon and Helaine Garren both captured American Outsiders

I had the great pleasure of catching the Danny Lyon photography exhibit at the Whitney museum in NYC. Lyon was a Brooklyn kid who attended the University of Chicago and shot a lot of his best work around Chicago. He's most famous for his series "The Bikeriders" and also a short series on Uptown Chicago in the early 60s. Just a quick note - the history of Uptown includes a large Hillbilly contingency(I think there might be one honky tonk bar left.) You know who told him to shoot in Uptown? Hugh Edwards, famous Art Institute of Chicago photography curator and professor. He's mentioned in the exhibit at the Whitney. You know who else was Edwards' student? The late Helaine Garren, who captured the outside world of Bensinger's pool room and my father in 1972. Hugh Edwards was so taken with Helaine's work that he purchased a large stack of her photos. Danny Lyon is known for capturing "outsiders" in America, and you know what, Helaine Garren, a peer of his, achieved the very same damn thing with pool hustlers. Here's a photo from the Lyon's show(on its way to San Fran next) called "Navajo Boy." Once I saw Hugh Edwards name up at The Whitney, and saw this pool photo, I felt Helaine with me and that I owed her so much for teaching me about photography and the great Danny Lyon of which she was a huge fan. Can we all agree that Helaine Garren and Danny Lyon are on par with one another? That Helaine deserves her own, "aha" moment, even if it only arrives after her passing? Helaine Garren is the High Art Godess of Pool and deserves proper recognition. In honor of her New Year, I pledge to keep educating the world with how remarkable she was, and how special, alive and important her gorgeous works of art are. She deserves her own Whitney show, her own book and her own acknowledgment. It's her time. I just wish it had come sooner, but, thank god, art is forever...Danny Lyon's excellent photograph, "Navajo Boy" is on the right, Helaine Garren's photograph of my late father and Peaches is on the left. They're side by side like they should be - peers...XXOO

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Million Ways to Die in Carcassonne

A Million Ways to Die in Carcassonne by: Catherine Bentivegna Adami

Première partie: Les chaves-souris

My arrival in Carcassonne, France began with a scream. Yep, that’s right, a scream. Well, also, one, long, drawn out, “What…the…fuck?” en anglais. The website stated that there were only two blocks to walk from the train station to my hotel yet that same website failed to prepare me for the most frightening five minutes of my life. This was a far cry from the pastel colored, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg MGM inspired musical sound stage I had expected to stroll onto singing the Academy Award nominated song “I Will Wait For You” followed by a triple cheek kiss from a young Catherine Deneuve.

THANK GOD for Mark Zuckerberg, because without him I might be mort. Seriously. The only thing that kept me alive (other than my children, right?) was my mission to write (when I could finally get a decent internet connection) a Nietzsche themed “that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” zero star Expedia review, titled “You may as well have told me to wear a head scarf at a Trump rally” that I would most definitely post on my Facebook page.

So, there I was, in the South of France, near Les Pyrenees half dazed and cranky from spending all day riding rails beside exquisitely dressed men and women. I mean, even the Dame de Billets was wearing a Louis Vuitton scarf and Joy Eau de parfum. Yes, the French were a people that I envied not only for their good looks, svelte figures and depressing, realistic filmmaking, but - more importantly- for their far superior (at least Bernie tells me so), Socialist system. You mean I didn’t have to work eighty hours a week for a decade to pay off my student loans? Is France where the Four Hour Work Week guy grew up?

Suffering from jet lag, I was forced to walk around like a zombie because of my fear of hallucinating on Ambien. It was dark outside, I hadn’t had a sip of Bordeaux in a whole thirteen minutes, and I was starving. One of the hardships of European travel, don’t you know (Frommer’s always omits this) is feeling self-conscious about eating a lot - in front of people. Especially fresh, mouth-watering delicacies impossible to find back home – many, without pasteurization! I believe, on the European continent at least, les Americains are forced to adopt binge eater behavior. Like, you buy dinner pour deux (or so you tell the serveur) and shove it, truffes and all, down your throat with your bare hands, in the lift that you barely fit into, alone, before someone sees you. Or, you knock over un petit enfant in better shoes than yours in the train aisle in order to sit next to a blind, eighty year old Madam granting you a few uninhibited moments of cramming chocolats noisetiers into your mouth with oxygen breaks, undetected.

A complete one hundred and eighty degree turn from how they approach meal portions is when it comes to drinking alcohol. In this instance, excess is not only okay, it’s celebrated. I mean, if you’re not slurring your words while a guy named Guy funnels aperitifs et digestifs down your throat (or basically the French version of an upside down Margarita), you will stick out like a sore thumb(note to Frommer’s – something else you’ve missed.) One person, regardless of waist size, can guzzle down Champagne, four bottles of vins de Bourgogne and a Cognac and nobody bats (foreshadowing) an eye! They give no fucks. Are you starting to understand the impetus behind the New Orleans credo Les Bon Temps Rouler?

Another place you can be uninhibited in France is in the bedroom. Their tricks of the “tongue trade” made them the hit of English aristocrats back in the day. You may as well indulge in this area, too, granted your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/life partner/soulmate/boo/Dominant will let you. May I remind you that history’s most famous “home wrecker” Anne Boleyn was trained at French court before meeting King Henry the Eighth?

When it comes to insulting my home country, America, the French are also quite skilled. To be fair, I enjoy reminiscing about the good old days of the Vichy regime and the colonizing of Africa and Asia. Thanks for the Vietnam War, guys! I say. They really like to hear that. Nobody’s innocent here, I tell them, wagging my pointer finger at them like Napoléon making a speech in front of his troops before being exiled to Elba(where the hell is that place, anyway? Is it on a map?) America, is place where you can be un cochon, anytime you want, in the comfort of strangers, also les cochons. My own gastronome version of liberte fraternite egalite. Evidence of why America is still great.

Back to my story – okay, so, it’s late evening, I’m tired, and all I want to do is relieve myself in the privacy of my hotel room. “This toilet has been sanitized for your protection” is one of life’s great love letters, isn’t it? After a few minutes in my room, I figured I’d be drooling on stiff, bleached bed sheets dreaming of French actor/filmmaker Guillaume Canet, lover of Edith Piaf star - Marion Cotillard. I like to imagine Guillaume sur un cheval(he’s a famed equestrian), sneering, in that special way only a French man can, in tight taupe pants with a riding crop in his hand…I’m reminded of the French designation, ”experts in the tongue trade” and get all Molly Bloom Irish, “Oui , je l'ai dit oui, je veux dire oui ! » Note to self : Download Belle De Jour and The Story of O from Criterion tonight.

So deeply was I enjoying my own fantasy world (what’s new?) that I failed to notice the, um, oh, one or two hundred blood thirsty bats (or so it seemed - nothing at all like those benign Looney Toons crows I grew up with) huddled together and scheming on long, thin branches above me, licking their tiny, sea lamprey lips who, after a single, large gust of wind, race toward me, en masse, thirsty for my sang americain.

I rolled my suitcase quickly across twelfth century cobblestones, like a Cathar running from torch wielding Catholics, while simultaneously dodging sub-standard French automobiles (you might get cheese and wine right, but cars, I don’t think so!) With these cascading black creatures only a few feet from my head, squeaking loudly and contemplating their obvious kill shots (there’s a lot of meat on me, fyi) I almost went so far as to jump off the medieval bridge I was hyperventilating/panic attacking on and hide beneath it. Luckily, I remembered how Pablo Picasso’s mistress Marie-Therese nearly died from an infection from river rats. River rats. Scratch that, I told myself. I could never pull off Anne Hathaway’s Fantine short hair. Nope, bats over rats. It sounded cooler.

Before ever arriving at my writers’ retreat, completing my masterpiece, and getting reviewed in the Sunday New York Times Book Review, I would be eaten alive by a swarm of stylish (they are French) bats. You never know, my gambler’s fallacy voice told me, having read far too many Young Adult books as an adult - these might be vampire bats and - listen up - you might live forever! Remember Only Lovers Left Alive? Maybe one of these blood suckers is actually smoking hot vampire/British actor Tom Hiddleston? You could star in a Jim Jarmusch film!!!

What tortured me at that moment, other than the thought of having all of the blood sucked out of my body from tiny bat teeth – was how my story would be told on the evening news. Would I (much skinnier without the blood inside my body, obviously) make the glossy cover page of Hello magazine next to the God of mischief himself Tom Hiddleston? Or - would a TV producer drop "A Medieval Town Massacr"e for a story on Khloe Kardashian’s overexposed workout routine? Will the Kardashians ever let the rest of us hard working people (I know, I know, Oprah said they work a lot) win the news hour? Was this my coda?

The Doors’ Jim Morrison (he’s buried in Paris you, know?) began singing…”This is the end…Beautiful friend”…

I imagined my thirteen year old son, a scholar and lover of all creatures both real and supernatural saying, “I mean, what are the odds? EATEN ALIVE? How diverse does my family seem now? My mother was EATEN ALIVE BY BATS. IN FRANCE. ON HER WAY TO A WRITERS RETREAT. That woman just wrote my Harvard application essay for me. Thank you, Mother!”

And then I saw Alfred Hitchcock, or his ghost probably, walking his tiny ghost dog who took a real shit on the sidewalk, making a mandatory appearance in the Hitchcock film that was now my life. Hey, where was a phone booth when you needed one? So that I could run into it, and hide? Then it hit me - there are no more phone booths. I’m dating myself even suggesting a phone booth. Vieille femme! You’re done for!

I made it all the way to the glass windows outside the Hotel Terminus restaurant where I watched couples eating dinner over candlelight. I read on the train that this area of France is packed with people who escaped Franco so I start yelling, “Ayuda! Ayuda!” hoping they speak Spanish. The hotel appeared super “old timey,” as my daughter likes to call it, and, slightly sinister, like - a good place for Mia Farrow to give birth to Satan. Nothing glamorous. They scrimped on the velvet and did a half-assed job cleaning what I presume are blood stains in the marble foyer. Alright, F. Scott Fitzgerald may have taken a leak here, on his way to a much better hotel. Hemingway may have killed a man and then wrote a few misogynist passages. Henry Miller may have slept with a Chambermaid and not paid her. Alice B. Toklas may have stolen a recipe for her cookbook.

Screaming outside the restaurant window, I was like a Gerard Depardieu (post Le Dernier Metro) homeless guy who has a heart attack on the New York City subway platform and who everyone assumes someone else will give mouth to mouth resuscitation to. All of a sudden, hipsters don’t like beards for some reason(?) and not one of them wants to go near the guy because he smells like urine and looks like poverty. He’s been broke ever since losing his car window washing business on the Bowery during the Giuliani administration. Now he can only afford the ninety-nine cent menu at McDonald’s, hence the clogged arteries. Not one person will help him.

Absolument the hotel diners think, cutting into their rare steak au poivre with a fancy Laguiole knife, watching thick red liquid slowly ooze onto their plates while sampling the wines of the Languedoc region. Someone else will save this enormous, hysterical Americain before her eyes are feasted on by bats.

Trying to cover my face before it’s nibbled on – I suddenly remember Box Office Giant of American Seventies Cinema – the blonde haired, blue eyed, man of few words, the actor Steve McQueen. That’s right – Steve F’cking McQueen. He shot the racing film Le Mans in France in 1971. Supposedly having snorted all of the cocaine available in France, he woke his wife up in the middle of the night with a pistol in his hand, talking crazy, like any six pack ab sexy/reform school survivor/war hero/Stella Adler student/Paul Newman rival/Sam Peckinpah muse high on drugs might do. And you know what saved their lives? BATS. That’s right, the chateau they were staying at was filled with bats, flying squeaky squirrels who all of a sudden, out of nowhere, scared Steve and brought him to his senses. Without les chaves souris there would be no Bullitt, no The Getaway, and no Towering Inferno (ok, maybe that shouldn’t have happened.)

I stopped screaming. I was en route to a writers’ retreat. In France. For a week. Avec du vin. Avec beaucoup de vin. Sans enfants. Without any responsibility other than to decompress, restore, and write. Located in what is known as the “Rainbow Valley,” I was going to see and hear a waterfall every damn day. Fresh, mountain, spring water flowed here. Words flowed here. Could anything be more magnifique? For a mother? A writer? After forty?

Inspired, I pulled hard on the brass handle of the giant door of the Hotel Terminus. Fighting off gale force winds, I began to taste the Duck Fat Dinner for three that I would eat, while guzzling aperitifs, digestifs, and three bottles of wine, sitting down, in front of witnesses, at the restaurant that night, not giving any fucks. Un beau cochon americain.

With my hard earned cli in my hand, and wide, still intact eyes, I gazed lovingly at the old timey lobby, missed my children, and welcomed my next, aventure spectaculaire.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Time For Firsts

I'm feeling good
I'm feeling oh so fine
Until tomorrow, but thats just some other time


- "I'm Waiting For My Man" Velvet Underground



Growing up with a constant fear of the rug being pulled out from underneath transformed me into a control freak, albeit a "laid back" one. A "planner" my father would remark, misses out on "spontaneity." In general, I stayed out of serious trouble. I was never caught for curfew or brought in for police questioning.
"What squares I have as children" my father would tell his friends.
Growing up a "pool hustler's daughter" I always had more than one "emergency" exit.

The first month or so of freshman year at university, you can usually identify those that will return home with a degree, and those who will be sent back home to attend community college. Not all, but many kids growing up in strict or conservative households, once their parents drive away from the dorm, become the first in line for a beer bong at a frat party, deflowered, or cheating on their sweethearts back home. Who wants to inhale this unidentified substance? I do! If they are truly rebellious, having stewed deep dark family secrets for the past seventeen or eighteen years(emotional abuse, anti-psychotics, adoption, abandonment, Al-Anon membership, a pregnancy or worst yet incest), distance from home can be both a tremendous relief and also a time for expressive rage, for all past wrongs, as this is the first time in life, each young person is forced to deal and get to know his or her true self. In hindsight, college is far more about survival then it is about academics. Yes, we all know the economic value of that degree, may even actually LIKE anthropology, but there is tremendous value to be found in successfully completing four years surrounded by every imaginable danger and vice without the guilt and discipline of living under an adults roof. And these vices are ten fold in New Orleans. To put it in perspective, even Dub-ya had to graduate Yale, and don't think that was easy.

At an early age, I was counseling my mother on her marriage and promising her that she was "not" fat. My father I would have to beg to "change your spaghetti sauce stained shirt" and "get a haircut." I was a master storyteller. If my parents were screaming or breaking dishes, I would take my young brother for a long walk around the block. "They're in therapy" I would tell my nosy Lincoln Park neighbors "they are supposed to let it all out." Thank goodness for the dime store psychology I learned on the Phil Donahue show.

I had thought of myself as "metropolitan" when I began my freshman year at Tulane. I had been a social drinker since the eighth grade, using a fake id to get into nightclubs at fourteen. I was always chosen to answer the door when we ordered in beer from the local pizza place. I would put my hair up in a towel and throw on a robe, somehow thinking I looked older this way(I was tall) and told the driver it was my apartment and I was getting ready for a party. The driver could have cared less, but I needed a "back story." There were so many go-rounds to acquiring alcohol in a big city like Chicago, that I knew them all - eating at an ethnic restaurant #1(girls are already pregnant and married at thirteen in some cultures, how bad can a margarita be?), have it delivered by a pizza parlor or liquor store(nobody wants to carry a case of beer up three flights of stairs only to have to carry it all back down), or the old faithful: pay a homeless person to buy it for you. Heck, I had been buying beer in my PAJAMAS with Clearasil on my face and a scrunchy in my hair at the White Hen Pantry at the bottom of my father's apartment building since I was thirteen. Although the eighteen year old drinking age in New Orleans intrigued me, free vat at the frat house was not going to make me go all Clockwork Orange - yet.

I had no desire to do drugs when I got to Tulane. The only time I had really smoked pot was when I was thirteen, at a party at a condo just off north Lakeshore Drive. It was the summer before freshman year in high school, and whatever I did smoke was laced with something(or I was just a wuss). It was hot that night, and I was sitting on the window ledge of the second story apartment. I took a sip of Tsing Tao beer and a few seconds later, I got this head rush and almost fell out of the window. Had it not been for an older, stronger, Israeli teen from Lincolnwood, I might not be writing today.

I shared a taxi with my girlfriend who was living with me at the time and another girlfriend who would later become a silicon lipped, weight obsessed television and film actress. I don't know how, but I think I got caught in the plastic seat covers. The street lights as we zipped down the expressway were so blurry and making me nauseous. My girlfriend who was staying with us brought me down to my King Size bed in the basement of our apartment, knocked on my mother's door and said "Catherine needs to talk to you" and ran down into her own bed and hid under the covers.

My Mom came down the stairs and I told her exactly what had happened. Everything sounded like the "Bionic Woman" or "Six Million Dollar man" - you know that noise when they fight in slow motion and use their super powers? Oh, yeah, and I was hallucinating. My Mom, sitting up in my bed, asked me what I was seeing, stroked my hair and smoked a cigarette in the dark.

I eventually fell asleep and when I awoke late the next day, I felt fine. My Mom made me one of her famous home made breakfasts and took me clothes shopping for high school, which I would be starting shortly. She did not punish me, nor tell my father and we never spoke of it again.

Did I mention my parents were a bit unorthodox? Not many parents say "You will NEVER be as cool as we are." They also never felt it was their job to "rat" on their children's friends. Growing up was hard enough without having a few adults you could be honest with and trust to keep you safe. They wanted to be those parents. Drugs were around our home and social circles growing up, so in order for me to rebel, I didn't do any. In fact, when I smelled the wacky tabaky outside our front door only to find my hippie mother dancing to John Lennon, I was mortified.

Upon leaving my father's Streeterville apartment with my high school girlfriends on a Saturday night he would hand me a key, a twenty, and request a kiss on the cheek. If he asked me if I would be drinking I would say "Champagne, maybe." Champagne always sounded so much more acceptable than "Southern Comfort" and my parents always snuck me a little champagne on New Years or if we went out to a fancy restaurant, like the famous "Bakery" on Lincoln Avenue, for dinner. When the girls and I would be half way exited out the front door, my father would yell from the living room "Oh yeah, and, don't do any drugs" and howl with laughter.

I learned about early twentieth century anti-immigration sentiment in college American History class. Yes, these immigrants could learn the English language and even dress like Americans, but were they TRULY Americans on the inside? Conservative America feared(still fears) their ascension in society. Although I am a Daughter of the American Revolution(DAR) on one side and a third generation Italian American on the other, I could kind of relate to these early immigrants. I always felt like I had to make sure I was an intriguing mystery as I mixed among different socio-economic classes, different geographies of America, the world. I could dress the same and talk the same - luckily my Mom spoke perfect English - as my father was south side "neighborhood" spewing colorful "dems, does, ders and aint's" with rapidity and an occasional "cocksucker" thrown in for good measure. That first week of college, an ex-communicated Mormon girl from our floor came back from a "rush" party and told us how a future sorority "sister" blatantly asked what her father did for a living and how much money he made. Any desire for acceptance into the Tulane Greek system was squashed right there and then for me. I would remain an outsider. "Oh, your father is a pool hustler? How exotic!"

So, for some amazing reason, I managed to last four years of high school and four and a half years of college without doing any hard drugs. All of my friends respected my choice and I could avoid participation very easily. I had put cold rags on the foreheads of my girlfriends freaking out on acid in high school, wiped up vomit from the face of a friend sitting on the ground outside Molly's on the Market on Decatur in New Orleans post-shrooming, found tissues for bloody noses, been the recipient of back rubs or found ice cubes for xers, even ridden in the cab of a pick up truck transporting a six foot long water bong, but I had somehow kept clean.

With only a week or two left of my Tulane University experience, I found myself in a chilly December in New Orleans, about to say goodbye to all I had loved. Many of my friends I began school with had left for home, although I was lucky to still have a few around. Some were younger, or fifth year Architecture students or just fifth year like myself. I lived in a barren side apartment of an old Victorian mansion on the South Carrolton streetcar line near Oak Street. My living room had a single chair and a small TV I had owned since I was ten which only carried a few channels - Fox being the best. This was great as I had to watch "Melrose" and "90210."

I had a gigantic bedroom with floor to ceiling windows and an unusable fireplace. I only had one lamp in the bedroom and the whole house was extremely dark. The kitchen was as long and narrow as a matchbox. I rarely entered it as I was deathly afraid of finding a giant palmetto bug or cockroach in there. I was broke as can be, as this extra semester was not covered on my scholarship and my father limited my allowance. The only food I could buy was instant white rice and soy sauce which I ate for both lunch and dinner. If I was really living it up, I would spring for a green pepper, which I would fry up in olive oil and eat on top of the rice. All extra money went toward ice coffees, occasional partying and cigarettes.

I can't emphasize how depressing it can be that fifth year of college. Yes, you are so happy to still be in college, in a beautiful town, in beautiful blue sky warm weather, but you feel like, regardless of friends still there, as if an era has ended, like in my recurring dreams where I go back to Tulane in my thirties and I feel melancholy as my friends are all gone and I don't feel like I belong.

Any way, I had some regrets about college, and living alone in that dark apartment, starving to death, metaphorically and literally, I decided I needed to accomplish a few "college" experiences so I could leave college feeling like everybody else. One of these experiences was doing drugs. I had been offered every substance on the planet, been the only person not on drugs among a hundred at a party, I had said "no" to drugs. This was my time to say "yes."

I gathered my best girlfriends who were also still in school with me and we went down my list of options. We created a pros and cons list of each drug, their cost and any side effect. I knew I did not want to hallucinate, as I never forgot that thirteen year old scare, so magic mushrooms, acid and the magnanimously popular ecstasy were out. Marijuana, I had tried a few times, but was just not as much of a risk, and I was always afraid of lacing or hallucinating. As far as we knew, no one hallucinated on cocaine, but they did have heart attacks - as recently as Sam Kinison so I was wary. Okay guys, I said to my pals, sucking up my mortal fear - lets do some Blow! I cannot tell you how excited people who love drugs are to see someone do their favorite drugs with them. All the girls told me what to expect and went ahead and made the purchase. We were going to take the streetcar all the way down to the French Quarter and par-tay!

One of the girlfriends brought the "package" over to my apartment so we could all partake. Since I had no furniture, no one "hung out" at my place for very long. We found a mirror and laid out the "lines." All the girls tried to teach me the proper way to inhale the powder through my nose. It felt quite intimate actually, I mean I am sticking a dirty dollar bill up my nose - yuck! I remember the salty taste in my mouth but started smiling and laughing a bit. I knew I needed a cigarette. All the girls told me that I wouldn't really get drunk tonight, so watch out as I might suck down twenty drinks without noticing. When we arrived at the beginning of Bourbon Street, four young hotties sashaying down the middle, they all asked me "Do you feel it?" "Yes! I feel like a million bucks!" I exhalted. The Quarter and my big ass had never looked better. I barely felt the cold and was grinning from ear to ear. The best part was that I was not hallucinating - my biggest fear not realized. My heart was indeed racing but I managed to keep Sam Kinison's face out of my head. I was too happy. We headed to OZ, the gay dance Club on Bourbon which had the best DJs in town. It wasn't too crowded, but the Gays were not pleased with more heteros taking up floor space. The girls kept pulling me into the bathroom for more "bumps" but I didn't feel like I needed them as often as they did. They had told me I would never be as high as I was those first two hours, but I was still having fun all the same. It was the middle of the week and I stopped dancing on the floor of Oz, among glow in the dark, muscular, hairless, speedoed men on the top of the bar watch a drag queen belt out "Total Eclipse of the Heart" in a black robe, blond wig and platform go-go boots. Not to sound cliche, but it was a religous experience. All my insecure thoughts were zapped from my head that joyous eve. It was amateur night at OZ and you could tell the performer was a bit nervous. So was I.

The rest of the night went by so quickly, I am sure we hit Cafe Brasil on Frenchman in the Marigny and some how back to campus around dawn. I remember walking home on empty South Carrolton that morning, people walking to work or out for a cup of coffee, and me all dressed up, still smiling, still awake(a rarity if you know me), stopping at the Italian bakery on Oak Street. I bought two glazed doughnuts and ate them on the street enroute to my house, looking up into the sunny, and slightly less melancholy blue New Orleans sky.

I remember an eighth grade field trip to a forest preserve a few hours outside of Chicago. Late in the day, 90 kids met at this beautiful, grand canyon like rock formation with an algae filled waterfall at the end of it with crystal clear water at the bottom. Eighty-nine thirteen and fourteen year-olds - one guy who looked like Prince and rode a purple banana seat bike was thought to be seventeen - climbed up the slimy rock and jumped down the six foot waterfall, getting soaking wet. And I just stood there - as if my skinny Guess jean wearing, thirteen year old self was a chaperon WATCHING. I remember my classmates calling me to join them and then quickly forgetting me as they easily got caught up in the group euphoria of non-thinking time and just plain old messy fun. I can remember the argument in my head - the battle actually - should I stay or should I go? My heart wanting to go,but my feet cemented into the muddy rock below. I just watched, "too cool" everyone guessed.

On the long ride back on the school bus, I tried to block the giggles and screams of the wet mess of adolescence rocking all around me. I turned the volume up on my water-proof yellow Sony Walkman to blast Yaz's "Only You." I leaned my head against the glass window watching the farm houses pass until I could see the famous Sears Tower skyscraper in the distance, knowing I had missed out on something special. I felt incredibly guilty, but I also felt safe.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Divine Intervention

Divine Intervention

This week marks seven years since I was laid off from my 15 year tenure in high-pressure sales. This was my first job out of college and it ended when I was 37 years old. My new boss, who was younger and had once been my peer, asked if we could meet. I asked him if there was anything serious that I should know about, and he answered “Nope, just checking in!” as giddy as a KGB officer knocking on your door with a silencer, who says, “It’s okay, Madam, I just want to talk.”

I was laid off within five minutes. I had been given the old bait and switch.

I finished college wanting to go to grad school and write, but I owed Tulane 14 grand and they would not release my transcripts until I paid this. Plus, I owed Sallie Mae and a few credit card companies who so graciously gifted my unemployed self, thousands of dollars in credit. I was twenty-two years old and buried in debt. I had to dig myself out of that hole, and so I begrudgingly moved back to Chicago and started this job. By the time I received my transcripts (and my diploma!) at age thirty, I had to pay for my wedding and there was a baby on the way. The dream of being a writer felt done for. Caput. I would never get those years back. At work, I felt like the impetus for others to buy their dream cars, their dream homes, summer homes, homes abroad, and diamond bracelets for their wives, but who was helping make my dreams come true? I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t need much. I grew up with few financial resources and I could get by with very little.

My life in those fifteen years had gone 0-100 MPH every single day, and the days – 40, 60, 80 hours a week went by way too fast. I could never enjoy my children, much less a vacation or a day off without being planted in front of a computer or at an Internet café (bear with me Millennial) every day writing proposals. My post-partum, short lived four day work week always ended up being five. My grandmother died while I was on the computer in the business center at my hotel visiting her. I was at a funeral and one of the partners in my office insisted on a con call and sent me an obtuse email, refusing to spend five minutes to answer a client’s question. I repeated, “I’m at a FUNERAL.” No response.

After being laid off, I wondered – what’s next? I felt old. Who was I? I was so numb. All the time.
I wondered, was it possible to slow time and reignite the playfulness of my youth? To feel, alive?

Shortly after joining the ranks of the unemployed, thieves stole thousands of dollars of work clothes, nearly my entire wardrobe, from the back seat of my luxury SUV(I get misty eyed just remembering both the clothes and the car). Divine intervention? My friend, who is an independent filmmaker and knew of my life-long passion for writing, did not comfort me after the loss of my exquisite Piazza Sempione trench coat (like I had hoped he would) and instead said this, “Thank God you were robbed! You need to make it hard to go back to the way things were…”

The way things were…like fearing that I was accidentally going to crash my car into the viaduct on the highway…every single day…so I could stop racing…no one was going to tell me to get off this track…how many laptop keyboards could I destroy with my fists or cellular phones accidentally get thrown out my second floor window? I needed Divine intervention…


A few months later, I beat out 12 candidates for another high-pressure/paying job where I would make even more money than before. The recruiter said “I must have you!” but I just had to meet his boss, who was flying in especially to meet me. I was going through these motions because I thought this was what I had to do, rather than what I wanted. A girl without a familial golden parachute. A girl who had to feed and clothe herself. A girl who to this day still thinks she might end up in a woman’s shelter and has made numerous friends promise that she can live in their garages or guest rooms if it came to it. A girl who feared risk with every fiber of her body.

The day of the interview I had a terrible bout of what I assume was again – Divine intervention. I was throwing up and experiencing diarrhea that only Judd Apatow could possibly understand. I was so nervous and dehydrated that I could barely talk, my face looked slimy and green, my teeth were chattering and my limbs were shaking. I drank a cup of coffee, thinking it would wake me up, but instead I had gut wrenching stomach pains and was sweating worse than Mark Wahlberg after the seventh take of a sex scene in “Boogie Nights.” Even my normally cheery mother was rendered speechless when asked, “How do I look?” When she dropped me off at the interview, I told her to circle the block. My spasm filled guts told me this wouldn’t take long…

I sat in the conference room as my limbs jerked involuntarily and as sweat dripped from my forehead and onto the table, and then my dress, even though the room was a crisp, cool 60 degrees. The group of people assessing me were still wearing their coats and even sweaters and I was burning up so badly that all I yearned for was stripping off my constricting clothes and emptying the water cooler bottle above my head and over my naked body, in the hallway, followed by an old fashioned, satisfying, mouth open and drooling, nap, on the drenched, industrial grey carpet, like a happy hippo in a mud pit.

There was a girl sitting directly across the table from me with long dark brown hair, in glasses and a pant suit. She was me, fifteen years prior. I saw the blank expression on her face, the pale skin, the lack of vitality, one might say, misery. Like, the last girl Prince would write a song about. I thought this nightmare might be a Sartre, No Exit situation where I would be stuck with these disappointed corporate honchos, including my bitter, younger doppelganger, talking only in buzz words, for eternity.

I won over the boss, right off the bat, with my damp palms when we shook hands and then by laughing inappropriately and surprisingly somewhat fiendishly. Like when Tom Hanks hears his adult voice for the first time in the movie Big. I was possessed by a demon. I thought I might faint. I squinted as the fluorescent lights blinded my eyes. Sounds vibrated from soft to excruciatingly loud as if I had accidentally ingested magic mushrooms during Mardi Gras. My throat itched and my voice was hoarse like in a nightmare where no words can come out of your mouth. As if I could even remember a single word in the English language?

Everyone at that table wanted this Bataan Death March of interviews to end. The meeting only continued, I believe, in order to avoid a potential lawsuit for discriminating against a woman who lost control of all bodily fluids. You know how HR likes to cover its bases!

My insatiable thirst could not be quenched for water, which I kept pouring into my glass and spilling all over the table like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas being asked about that Coke can during the Anita Hill hearings. The liquid just made me have to run out of the conference room and into the bathroom and I seriously considered making my home there in the stall permanent. My children could come and visit me on weekends, couldn’t they? The artificial scent of ocean breeze forced through the vents every five minutes wasn’t so bad. I never wanted to leave the security of that bathroom stall. I never wanted to go back into that conference room again. I never wanted to go back to that kind of life, again.

This layoff was my one chance to be…me again.

The interviewers got suspicious. Was I a dope fiend going through withdrawal? That’s certainly what it felt like. Shedding those clothes and that old life was incredibly painful. 15 years at the same job is a long time. Longer than my marriage or college - it was significant. Love it or hate it, I grew up at that job. To this day, I still dream about it.

I was pretty sure my mother was going to have to take me to the Emergency Room once I collapsed into her waiting car outside the office. I was too weak to even pull the seatbelt over my chest as my heartbeat was irregular and I was breathing heavily like those annoying marathon runners on the treadmill at the gym. The phone rang. The recruiter said (as nicely as my new boss had when asking me for that meeting) that he didn’t recognize the person in the interview and that his boss was going to take a pass.

Didn’t recognize me? I had never been so happy to hear that I was someone different.

I immediately remembered my friend from college, the tough talking New Yorker who had asked me seriously, a few years before being laid off, "Where have you gone?"

I hung up the phone and the speedy carousel spins started to subside. “Thank god, they took a pass!” I told my mother with the enthusiasm of someone about to receive a life-saving organ, “Thank God! Those people were trying to KILL ME!”

This layoff was my one chance…to go for it! To create the life that I had always dreamed of. To actually, live a life, you know, that I could defend, like in an Albert Brooks movie?

Seven years ago, I would not have been able to defend my life. Today I can. Thank you, universe, for that layoff.
I am different than that girl in the conference room seven years ago. I sold my luxury SUV and went to NYU to learn my craft. Older than my teachers and classmates, I savored eating 99 cent pizza slices every day and sleeping on the love seat with my best friend’s one eyed cat in her small, air conditioner-less studio. I’ve ridden on a night bus to NYC streaming Asian beauty pageants filled with exotic food eating immigrants (that I’m convinced doubled as an opium/knock off purse smuggling operation) fearful of falling asleep lest I wake up without a kidney. I won a free week writing in France and slept in a twelfth century house to the sound of waterfalls! Saw the American West for the first time on a week-long train ride and marveled at our enormous, magnificent and beautiful country. I know my late father and grandfather smiled at me from heaven when I passed though Glacier National Park in Montana. I perform at open mikes(and I'm over forty!)

I’m a writer! A writer. I live a writer’s life. Many many sacrifices have been made, but it has all been worth it. My father told me I have to believe there is no other alternative. My first novel is being published next month, and at a snail’s pace I have made it to the finish line of my transformation, of being different.

Let me be clear, many people came out of nowhere to help me realize this dream. I’m the result of people buying me a meal, coffee, letting me spend the night at their homes while traveling, introducing me to programs that I could apply to and encouraging me every single day. People who I’ve barely had a conversation with will pull me aside or email me and tell me how much my journey means to them, how my story may have moved them, how they live vicariously through my bare bones travels and adventures. So many friends have provided me with a golden parachute of sorts that’s made up of their belief in me.

I cry every time I think about that. My people are divine.

My higher self(you know, that person you always thought you could be?) has been realized. I’m comfortable in my own skin(well, more comfortable than ever before!) This is huge! Sometimes its like people are meeting me(i.e. the girl I always dreamed of becoming) for the very first time.

Risk, I found out, is good for you. It's how we all grow.

Since being laid off, I often hear, “You’re so passionate! When you talk about your writing, you get so excited! You emit JOY!”

Isn’t joy and bliss an ingredient of youth?

That’s right, my life is an adventure now. Every day offers the possibility for another great story to be born.

My kids tell me that I inspire them and they often tell me about their plans for life after college.

I've had the opportunity to go back in time, and to return to the path that I was on when I was twenty-two, that I had left open, and untraveled, but now I'm travelling that road with the wisdom, gratitude and life experience of maturity - to know how good I have it. Second chances are possible and sometimes Divine Intervention is necessary.

I hope some of you get laid off - at least those of you that need it – like I did - if only for the chance to look in the mirror, smile at someone you've missed - your true self, your higher self - and say “Yes! I knew you were still there!”

It's never too late!


Thursday, April 21, 2016

TO BE IN PRINCE'S ENTOURAGE

By the time I arrive at Paisley Park, my fingers and toes are numb, having just climbed a twenty foot mound of snow on all fours over a fence and into Prince’s sacred recording compound. There's a fifty degree below zero wind chill and my stark white faux fur jumpsuit does nothing to keep me safe from the elements. It's Minnesota…in March.

When I reach Prince’s mud room, there's nothing but bags of salt, rubber boots and enviably separated recyclables. At least one hundred bottles of Yoo-hoo in one bin. Guitar Center, Target and Ulta Beauty plastic bags in the other, a Costco sized cardboard box of Altoids.

“Take your shoes off” a tall black man with a bow tie tells me.
“Are you Jerome?” I ask.
The guard just rolls his eyes, annoyed, returning to his crossword puzzle and continuing to sip a Red Bull.
“Take your shoes off. Prince just polished the floors.”

I delicately place my snow boots next to a pair of high heeled purple cowboy boots my toddler might fit into.

At the end of the mud room there's a door, with hanging white beads. Behind those beads is a purple light. I think, why not “Blue?” You know, like the song? It doesn’t matter. The purple light...like a moth to the flame... I...must...go...there...

“Where do you think you’re going?” the man, refusing to admit he's Jerome from Purple Rain, asks.
“In…there?”
I point toward the beaded doorway.
“What’s the password?”
“The password?”
“Yes, the password”
Although still trembling from the cold, dressed in a purple satin negligee, I take a deep breath and smile. I've got this.
“What,” I answer.
“What?”
“The password is what.”
"What?"
"The password is what! You know, like you told Morris Day in the movie Purple Rain!" I yell.
“I told you I'm not Jerome. Are you trying to mess with me? Are you even black?”
“Not that I know of!"
“Are you Latin?”
“Si, Si. Ciao Bello! Come sta?” I answer confidently.
“You're speaking Italian.”
“No, Hablo espanol! Taco, burrito, Corona. Tony Orlando?”
“You’re not Spanish.”
Like an MI6 agent, I changed accents quickly.
“That’s because I’m from Scotland and I’m the great love of Sonny Crockett from Miami Vice. You’ve Got The Look, Jerome!”
“I’m NOT Jerome! Do you even play an instrument?”
“Are you kidding? Of course, I can play an instrument! I'm a percussionist.”
I tap my lilac painted nails on Not Jerome’s brand new IPAD screen. He is not happy.
“Do you believe in God?” he asks, seriously.
“Oh, absolutely. I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior. Can I save you? I forgot to ask you when I first walked in the door. Thanks for reminding me. I forgot my pamphlets.”
“You need to leave Miss, and you know what, you don’t look 29!”
I grab my white fur snow suit and bend over to place my foot into the first pant leg, preparing to leave. I hope Not Jerome is looking at my backside while I have time to come up with something. I notice that he's still frustrated by his crossword.
“Wait, wait, I don’t want to leave yet. Being in Prince’s entourage is on my list of things to do before I turn forty, I mean thirty! I swear I will cleanse my naked body in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. You’ll just have to drive me there. I’m afraid I told my cabbie to go.”
"You're a dreamer and a fool," the man denying that fact that he is Jerome tells me.
"Yes, I do dream a lot. I'm always so brave in my dreams; sexy, witty, a problem solver. I usually wake up in the morning slightly melancholy and exhausted." I respond.
“I’ve heard enough, you’re outta here. You could never be in Prince’s entourage.”
"I thought admission was EASY here, remember?" quoting song lyrics that made me hopeful.
I spy the crossword with my third eye for a quick second and I thank god for having fed my brain meaningless bits of pop culture since infancy.
Rhoda” I scream.
“What?” In denial he is Jerome asks.
This is when being the daughter of a white Baby Boomer mesmerized with television becomes an asset.
“Spinoff of the Mary Tyler Moore Show? Thirty Across.”
Not Jerome hesitantly writes the word in.
“Fine, you’re in," Jerome concedes, happy to have beaten his all-time best record for finishing the Friday New York Times crossword. He couldn't wait to regale Prince with his victory tale later that morning over pancakes. Prince, a virtuoso since early childhood, was rarely impressed.

It's even more beautiful than I could have imagined, once I saunter through those white beads and into the heart and soul of Paisley Park.

I hear from afar, my most favorite lyrics of all being sung.

Girl, you got an ass like I’ve never seen……

Weak, I tell you, weak in the knees, I was, trying not to slide across the freshly polished floor.

I’m drenched in purple light and follow what looks like the yellow brick road into a large Drawing Room, with a dance floor, and mirrors on the walls. I am reminded of the Kiss video.

At the end of the yellow brick road there is a giant pedestal, with a golden throne atop. There he sits, in all his purple glory, Prince, in tight black pants, and a purple paisley satin scarf around his neck, drinking Yoo-hoo, and with tiny feet dangling off his chair(I'm envious as I wear size 11.) A young girl dressed as a belly dancer stands beside him with a hand held mirror. Prince turns his head toward the mirror to fix his hair every few minutes or so while he speaks.

“And you are?” his royal highness asks.
“Cathy B.”
“Cathy B.?”
“Yes, like Sheila E. She's my cousin.”
"What's your style?" Prince asks.
"Oh, you know, Nasty Girl/Sex Shooter living in an Erotic City wanting a Love Bizarre."
“Do you believe in God?” he asks. This line of questioning is getting old fast.
“Yes,” I answer,” when I bought your album, for the first time, with your picture on it, I thought I was looking at the face of Jesus. The older girls made me memorize and recite the lyrics to Dirty Mind at slumber parties or else they would put my hand in warm water while I slept so that I would pee myself"
“I’m flattered, but you didn’t answer my question. Do you believe in God?”
Then I try to throw him for a loop, “Only when I hear your music, Prince. Your songs, the dirty ones.
“The Dirty ones? But you know I stopped playing those in concert. I'm a man of God now.”
“You were a man of God when you wrote those songs. At times, those lyrics, those melodies, well, they make me have…visions. You have indeed provided me with numerous religious experiences...and, of course...orgasms.”
“I’m glad my music affected you so, Cathy B., but unfortunately I can’t play those songs anymore.”
“I'm deeply saddened by that decision, Prince. I'll never be able to take a bubble bath and not think of The Ballad of Dorothy Parker. Pure poetry. And It from Sign O' the Times, well, way to put it out there! Slow Love and Adore can’t be on that list. They’re just too damn beautiful - precious works of art, really. I could live without Head, since when it plays, it sets up, well, and you know, probably from experience, expectations for an evening? I don’t want to disappoint or vice versa. And the line All good things they say never last, and love isn’t love until its past from the song Sometimes it
Snows in April
, from the album Parade? Well, I hate the month of April, you and T.S. Eliot are on the same page for that one. April is truly, the cruelest month. The critics, they really tore you a new one over Purple Rain’s follow up film, Under The Cherry Moon, didn’t they? So unfair!
And Sexy Mother Fucker I can’t even begin to tell you…that should have sealed the deal with the Kennedy Center honors as far as I'm concerned..."

“Okay, okay, so you like my music,” Prince says, trying to shut me up. I'm wasting his time.
“I think you are a musical genius,” I tell him looking into his seductive and all-knowing brown eyes.
“Tell me, Cathy B. Why are you here?”
“Why am I here?" I ask back, "Great question, Prince! Well, one of my items on my to do list before turning thirty is to be in your entourage.”
“Thirty?”
“Yes, thirty. All I need are a few sit ups and a spray tan and I am good to go. My biracial heritage slows the aging process...”
“You can’t be black.”
“But my soul is. And you let Sheena Easton in and she’s not black!”
“Sheena can do the splits!” Prince screams back at me, with a fire in his eyes.
“Listen, Prince. If you want to see an ass shake, then I’m your girl!” straight out of the Purple Rain playbook, that one.
“Fine, but make it quick. My mani/pedi starts in a half hour!”

First Prince asks me to sing.
It was just like my American Idol audition, all over again:

I ain’t saying your helpless but sometimes, sometimes, those are the things, that being in love’s about…

Prince winces at the sound of my voice and opens his mouth wide for some Lutefisk that is hand fed to him by the teenaged belly dancer. The Patchouli incense burning throughout the room does nothing to diffuse the smell of the stinky fish. In the purple light, Prince begins to resemble less like my idol, and more and more like Brando at the end of Apocalypse Now. He puts on black mascara in front of the hand held mirror while chewing loudly on the white jelly like substance. No wonder Paisley Park has a fence around it.

Then Prince asks me to dance.

But, I’m wearing black fishnet stockings, and he just got the floors polished, and…well, I slip and fall right onto my back, hitting my head, hard. I hear my Wendy and Lisa inspired hair spray hair crunch against the wood. I see stars until I determine it’s just a disco ball hanging from the ceiling above me. I pull myself back onto my feet quickly, just like my personal trainer always tells me to. I need to demonstrate quick reflexes. I fear Prince might question my age again...

“How white are you?” he asks me, giggling. The Yoo-hoo Prince was just drinking shoots right out of his nose.
“A Daughter of the American Revolution, actually. Do you like crust less finger sandwiches?”

“I need you to be exotic, Latin, bi-racial, a musician, a singer. I only work with the best.”
“I mean I am Mediterranean. I can put a curse on your friend in the mud room, you know, the one who is pretending he is Not Jerome. I just need a goat…and a switchblade.”

“Enough!” Prince is getting kind of pissed now, I’m wasting his time, and he needs another Yoo-hoo.
“Jerome!” Prince yells from his golden throne.

I knew it! I heard from the Paisleyvineearlier that day that Morris Day of The Time loaned Jerome out to Prince in exchange for paying off some of his gambling debts to the Minnesota Mob. Another life ruined by a fixed Pakistani Cricket game.

“Get this girl out of here! She’s CRAZY. And get me another Yoo-hoo, Dammit!”
Jerome strong arms me now, wearing a bow-tie is not indicative of being a nice person, I determine. He drags me by my giant feet while my satin teddy slides across the shiny, sparkling dance floor. I feel like I am about to drown in quick sand. My dream of being in Prince's entourage before turning forty has been ruined by my parent's lack of paying for song and dance lessons as a child. I couldn't wait to blame them in person and of course, tell my therapist all about this "breakthrough."

“You’ll regret this Prince!” I yell. “You suck Purple Ass!” I scream mid-drag. “And so do the Vikings!” "I could never root for Brett dick pic Favre!" "Even for you, Prince!" “I’m glad Warner Brothers took your money!”

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

First look at my debut novel, On Elizabeth Street! Available June 4th!

Billiards Digest November 2015 Cover Article,"The Epitome of Cool"



An essay on my late father, Freddy 'the Beard' Bentivegna, David Mamet, Helaine Garren and the pool room that inspired Walter Tevis to write "The Hustler" - Bensinger's Billiard Academy


http://www.billiardsdigest.com/new_current_issue/nov_15/bb_index.php

Friday, September 11, 2015

Spotted Dick: Chapter One

November, 1989

Please don’t send me to the Gulag for saying this,” the elderly man whispered across a
splintered wooden table tucked away in a corner of the local police station, fearful memories of the
early Soviet occupation still replaying in his head. The never ending rapes of German women and girls,
relocations, more train rides that did not end well. Comeuppance, perhaps? These were not financial
reparations by any means, but psychological and spiritual revenge. It was about submitting and being
dominated. The farmer, now mayor, did so peacefully as a lamb, in order to return to some semblance
of sanity, which to him, was working in the fields. It was physically exhausting, yes, but also a
calm and soothing way of life, and he worked at it doggedly, like a cart horse with blinders on. To the
mayor, stability- through ignorance - was bliss. His current responsibility- a man – recently moving
into his small, East German town, that he ruled, for show only(or so he thought) was ruining that bliss.

The station was a converted barn that once housed livestock and emitted a pungent porcine
odor, especially when the doors were closed and windows shut as they were that afternoon to keep out
the cold. A peasant farmer descended from a long line of peasant farmers, the old man had long been
counted on to not think too much, ask any questions, or complain, yet he found himself complaining
today. If it wasn’t for his hysterical wife beating him with a broom the day before and insisting he do
something about the crisis in their small town, he would not have sent the urgent message to Berlin. This
was a man who’s only affectation was an occasional cup of real coffee to help him through a long, hard,
work day – one of the perks of being mayor. He did not drink, nor smoke, and other than the coffee,
which, how could you blame the guy for wanting real coffee, could not be “bought.” He loved patriarchy
and deferred easily to his younger superiors, such as the well-dressed man who sat
across from him. This obedience was why he was the incumbent mayor for the past thirty years.

It was cooler than normal that November and the gloomy grey sky outside and chill in the air
made one think it was about to snow. Only massive amounts of cigarette smoke could mask the stench
of the old slaughterhouse. The Lieutenant, who sat across from the old man, winced after the smell
entered his large nostrils and proceeded to light up. Feigning interest, he force himself to stare right
back at the mayor, who was wearing a soiled and dusty tweed coat, with brown dirt visible underneath
his seventy-five year old fingers, the remnants of having picked turnips out of the ground just that
morning, his jet black hair slicked back with sweat and grease, trying to make a good impression, his
cobalt blue eyes red with dust, beads of sweat forming above his brow and descending down the deeply
cut lines of his bright red cheeks and a nose rosy with burst capillaries, “but he’s horrible.”

The mayor looked around the open police headquarters, hoping no one else had heard him.
“He is a…special case, yes,” the Lieutenant agreed, nodding his head.
“Comrade, please forgive me, I want to do my part for the party, I do, really I do. I will do it,
gladly, but it’s just that we’re a small, quiet town of farmers, working hard to produce for the people of
East Germany. We’re old fashioned and simple and know not of city ways - especially sex, drugs and rock
and roll. The people here, they hate him.”

The Lieutenant, twenty-five years younger than the mayor, had won awards for calming down
shaky and scared snipers on the East side of the Berlin Wall. That’s why he had been hand-picked by
Moscow to work a “special case” some fifteen years ago - he webbed words laced with catnip that never
failed to seduce and subdue the listener. He didn’t care much for politics. Politics – Fascism specifically –
had been the ruin of his entire family. How could his parents have been so foolish as to believe in
anyone other than themselves?

In person and by his military service record, the Lieutenant appeared to be the most devout and
by the book spy for the Stasi - the East German Secret Police where everything was green-lighted and
under direct order from the KGB in Moscow, but every single thing Lieutenant Kristopher Schroeder did
every single day, was for himself – period. It was the only motivating factor in his getting out of bed
every morning – to take care of himself – to survive, like he did selling metal scraps he stole from
abandoned farm equipment to buy food after the War ended and he was homeless, orphaned and
alone. His nanny had spoken both Russian and Polish to him as a child, so Kristopher spent most of his
time in the Russian quadrant of Berlin hustling in the black market. It was a relief to speak a language
other than his mother-tongue, German. There was something about disassociating himself with Hitler,
Fascism, mass destruction and death – that warranted a new beginning. The Soviets promised they were
the peace keepers. Most East German citizens felt they had no choice but to be there, “on the other
side” but some, like Kristopher, wanted to be. The “old” Germany was marked with so much failure. At
least the “new” Germany, on the East Side, for what it lacked in freedom and civil liberty, it made up
for as a place to break free and begin again for those who remembered the past, a humiliating past.
How much longer would this East side last? Where would he go if the wall actually fell as was predicted?
What new set of liars would he have to bow to?

He hated his parents, he hated his grandparents, his aunts, his uncles, his cousins, all fools, he
would tell himself. Even with all of this sour bitterness, like the taste of molded bread he ate huddled
fireside in the freezing cold next to shattered glass and empty cathedrals in the decrepit and
post-apocalyptic looking Berlin, he didn’t want to hate Germany, the land, the salt of the earth people,
the peasants, like this mayor, people who worked with their hands and whose downfall was their
susceptibility to be used as simple minded minions serving a blood thirsty cult not of their own
invention, of which they would pay the price for generations forward.

He was a great, great, spy - the best – and turned the most sought after assets from the West to
his side, the peace side, the East side. He allowed himself to be led by this new group of blind
politicos, but he would never be the fool. He knew exactly how the system worked and he would not
invest or sacrifice anything into it, that he did not receive back two-fold. He leveraged his talents
for his own good, his own personal prosperity, and definitely not on behalf of a mustached charismatic
leader, a buffoon. Even the new, mustached buffoons. No, Kristopher existed only for himself. His only
responsibility being one over the hill, ex-pat Englishman, causing trouble for the folks of yet another
quaint East German town, a one-hit wonder, seventh in line to the Earl of Glastonbury, Lord Richard
Lionel Albert Wickham aka Spotted Dick.

“Mayor,” the Lieutenant began calmly, “thank you for being so candid with me. I told you to
contact me anytime you needed me, so here I am, all the way from Berlin, just to see you!”

“And him, The Englishman – I hope. The people…”

“Yes, him, too.”

“Good, thank you.” The mayor seemed relieved. He wondered if the Lieutenant understood that
he neither needed nor wanted to be so important to his country - to the fate of world peace – the fate
of communism in the East. He just wanted to be left alone with his chubby, raven haired wife who kept
him warm at night.

“I will do what I can to get a handle on the situation. I will. Oh, and, I’ve brought some coffee
and that anti-itch cream you like for your wife.”

The Lieutenant opened his brief case and passed the two items across the table. The mayor
went to grab them and the Lieutenant placed his hand, like a Lion’s giant paw, on top of the mayor’s
hard worked, wrinkled, calloused hands.

“You are providing the most important service in all of the country. Remember that. I chose you.
(he had to remember the Mayor’s first name but blanked for a moment, too much vodka on the train
ride that morning - Boris? Karl?)There will be parades and a statue of you in the town square one day. Understand?”

“I, I just don’t understand how he could be so important to peace?”

“Don’t worry about understanding. That is what the party is for. Just please keep him safe and
happy a little while longer, that is all, I promise. Believe me, I know how difficult he can be, I, myself,
have been waiting a long time for him to finally be useful.”

The Lieutenant ceased clutching the mayor’s hand and lit up a cigarette.

“Thank you comrade. Especially for travelling all the way here. It is a great honor to serve this
great country. To help bring peace!”

“To peace,” the Lieutenant nodded, exhaling cigarette smoke across the scratchy table. “Peace.”
Yours and mine, he thought.

Goosebump Goddess

"Tell me, the dream , again..." "Well, it's night, and New York is particularly quiet. It's not necessarily late at...