On My Own

So being single sucks almost as bad as being on the sinking ship that was my marriage. I never really dated before I was married–I think I just kind of floated in and out of boys’ beds, and this was before texting, and largely before internet dating sites. It’s a different world now, isn’t it? I’d feel old, except for the fact that the men now interested in me have lost most of their hair and some of their mojo. That makes me a spring chicken by comparison, albeit an exhausted spring chicken.

The first blind date ended pleasantly enough, with a quick kiss on the cheek, and the promise to be in touch. The next day I received the following email. “Wow, I masturbated to you four times this morning! I haven’t gizzed this much since I was in high-school! I probably shouldn’t be so honest.”

Would you have responded to that? Or, if you’re a male, how would you have responded to a woman who became thusly unhinged after a 20 minute drink? Never mind.

Other men: a pock-marked writer who brought his son to the first date (deal breaker), a bass player whom I really liked but does not enjoy receiving oral sex (deal breaker), a brilliant journalist who speaks four languages who seemed to be into me but has suddenly stopped texting (bye-bye, it was nice meeting you), a former investment-banker-turned-thriller-writer who I can’t even go on one date with because I downloaded his book off of Amazon and it was wretched. I would rather have spent all this time with my dumb dog, who these days has been shitting in the kitchen as his method of protestation.


Christmas Story

This guy who plays bass invited me to a Christmas party where his band was playing. He wanted someone there, another musician, for whom he could strut his style, but I don’t think he expected me to actually show up. When I walked in, I found myself at a party for construction workers thrown by a local builder responsible for the reprehensible eight-bedroom particle-board mansions that are being thrown down like weed seeds west of Boston. I wanted to run away immediately, and quickly drank two vodka tonics to numb my effete sensitivities and stay the course for at least one song. I flirted a bit with these two enormous red-headed twins, one with a beanie, and the other with a beard, but I was clearly not their type. For one thing, I had not understood that the implied dress code for construction company Christmas parties is “Guns-n-Roses” chic, or something like that, which is everything that I have never had in my closet. More damning is that I didn’t have blue-collar-cred, the ink that I have never considered drawing upon my too-good-for-ink epidermis. Also, I was the only chink there, which is not an uncommon occurrence, but all the same, it’s a dubious distinction that seldom comes with any advantages. I found a chair in a dark corner and sat there like the sullen twat that I am.

Before the band played, the owner of the company, Ed, short, bald, slightly bow-legged, and meaty around the shoulder, lumbered up to the stage to address his employees. He started with, “Let me tell you how to make America great again.” Fuck no, I thought, and looked for the exit. “Manuel came to me when he was forty-six years old, and wanted a job. He’d moved from Guatemala, didn’t speak English, and I wasn’t sure he was right for us. I thought he was too old for hard work, and I had ten twenty-year olds waiting to fill the spot. But I gave him a shot, and guess what, for the next twenty years, Manuel worked fifty hour weeks, never missing a day, never calling in sick. We need more people like Manuel in this country. This is how we make America great again. You don’t even know how much I fuckin’ love this guy. Come up here, Manuel.”

Manuel came up on stage, wearing a tweed cap, and yes, sporting some tats on his grizzled arms. Ed handed him the mike, but Manuel didn’t want it. Ed said, “I’m not asking you to speak, amigo, I just want you to hold it for a second.” Then Ed went to a corner of the stage and pulled a canvas cloth off of some chairs, only it wasn’t chairs. “This is for you Manny, God knows you deserve it and then some.” There was a huge Harley Davidson Heritage, a $20,000 bike. I was already crying all over myself before the bike, and I don’t even know these effing people.


Just like a man don’t

What a nice fateless system to believe that the great equalizer of women great and small is their sexual education, their grasp of the subtle power of fruity hair, lip gloss, and leg squats, their outward nodding and inward nodding off, their polite acceptance of a Bob Dylan song (she is told that this one is about her) while they lie post coitally with their honeys. Bob performs and so does she, he pleases by pleasing himself apparently, and so does she, straddling the luggage rack and throwing her head back. He sings his song in three minutes or so, which is ridiculous because she needs at least ten repeats of that song to get off, and besides, a very tight hold, not choking, but an elbow wedged against her neck and a knee pinning down her thigh to be confident that the shaking that is about to take over will not upset the boat, the luggage rack, whatever, that she won’t deflate alarmingly and shoot out the hotel window like a blow-up doll if you know what I mean. We sound dirtier than the traditional balloon when we expire.

He has a nose like a beast, and it bleeds on the bathroom tile. If you cleaned bathrooms, would you accuse the man or the woman of leaving nearly perfectly round spots of blood in and around the toilet? Would you think it was the man or the woman who left B.D.’s greatest hits in the media console, the man or the woman who accidentally snapped off the crank to open the window for her to fly away? You were sick, your tongue was swollen with germs, your eyes were crusty, and I only went out for ten minutes in three days for cold medicine to come back again to the hot room that smelled of five types of mucus and my own involuntary desire. You were very sick onstage, and very still, and because the others were jumpy, you looked the smartest. You looked at me, and because everyone else in the audience was passing sixty, I looked the hottest to you. In that particular venue, we were each other’s obvious choice. It wasn’t even a choice. We can make do for awhile.



I watched Freddy in the shower today; he is packed and moving out tomorrow. I think he is relieved. I watched him soap up, closely, measuring his shoulders among other features. I handed him a towel and wanted to dry him off myself, which he hates. I feel like he’s going off to a war zone. I thought I would be relieved too, but I am very sad. I don’t know what it is we are saying goodbye to–I don’t know who he is anymore. I’m sad that we once shared our dreams with each other, and then did not fight together to keep them alive.

The truth is, the separation is going to be easier for him, and even beneficial. He will be relieved of my corrosive criticism. Everyone thinks I’ll be just fine except they are worried that I’m going to be totally broke. My ten-year-old daughter said “Mom, how are you going to pay rent without Dad? I think you’re being naive.”

I’ve been a terror to live with, I’ve been tyrannically selfish. He blames me for most everything going to shit, and of course that cannot be the case completely, but it’s true I’ve done little to help him on his journey. I should have shown tenderness. I should have taken care of him. I should have given him the sense that I was on his side. I should have been loyal.

One consistent problem of the past eight years has been my impatience with his grueling work schedule–the alarms of two different cell phones going off at 1 or 2 am every morning, and Freddy setting off to put in his ten hours at Blankfleet Inc. I was angry that he wouldn’t fight for himself, that he would just stick with this job and look for no others. For someone who still tells everyone that he is a painter, though he’s had no time or energy to lift a brush for years, to sign away bits of his soul, and more obviously, important bits of his physical health, was an every day tragedy. (He would be angry at my conceit of claiming to know what he’s been doing with his soul. He would say that all the paintings are being painted in his head and just waiting. That could be true, but how is the world supposed to appreciate that?) He had nothing left in him day after day. He drank and handed the kids the iPad while I went to work. On some rare weekends, when he was able to sleep more than five or six hours, the light would come back, and I would feel like we were in the same space. This was rare. He never wanted to come out with the kids and I, and I felt alone.

We might have a few hours of reprieve, after sex, and then we would go back to bitching at each other; no argument can be won against me, not because I’m right (I can usually see later that I’m not right) but because I will fight to the death. I think what he wanted was for me to use my temper to fight for him, to slay all his obstacles, and I wasn’t up to it. He wanted me when I was strong and egoistic. He wanted me even more when I cheated on him. When I was vulnerable or submissive, I turned him off.

In the past couple of months, I’ve been manic. I’ve been taking on project after project, and going out on weekends, and leaving Freddy with the children while I hustle. I come home after midnight. The children aren’t stupid. I’ve been either practicing for hours, writing for hours, composing for hours, or catting around town; I’m so fucking afraid of being old and alone. I tore down the suspended ceiling in the living room instead of taking the kids to the beach. What kind of mother does this? Did my mother do this to me? (Actually, I wish she had–she was far too stifling and ever-present. Maybe if she had left, I would have had a chance at becoming a nice person.)

Last weekend I went to Connecticut for a night. Beach club. Wasp heaven. The boys with their pink shorts and yacht belts, and the girls conspiring out on the pier. The parents rubbing sunscreen on their babies, and a D.J. playing big band music. So-and-so introduced me to Mr. Henry Thoroughbred the 12th, I shit you not, yeah the name is fake, but not the number. They were all fine. They were all nice and quiet. I was lost without my children, I drank a couple of glasses of wine. I woke up at five the next morning and wanted to go home, but had to endure a kayak trip first. They were so beautiful, Daisy and Soren, when I came home. Soren was running around without his pants on, and Daisy has been trying to look like Ellen Degeneres, got her hair chopped, wears converse and boy clothes. I asked Freddy if he thinks I am a bad person. He said that I am a psychopath.


Bomb Love

Obsession with Hiroshima going on two weeks now. At the park watching baby boy sing song with finger games, he is not quite succeeding in mirroring his young au pair. His fingers puzzle him. What if it happened now? Blonde with bun chasing her two tiny dogs, speaking to them in both French and English. I am not in Kansas anymore. She wants to give her daschunds a leg up on the competition by raising them to be bilingual. Luminositized. So what do you want to do now?, asked suggestively, pressed in the doorway. I want to read more testimonials about the blackened marshmallow bodies and the boy holding his eyeball.


Nothing Compares

I promised Tony, the day Prince died, that I would write about him. I could only say that he’s mega-talented and mega-sexy, which is what we all already feel. Really, who feels otherwise? No one I would call a friend.

Tonight my last student brought in “Nothing Compares 2 U”, the Prince tune that Sinead O’Conner made her siren song. Five chords over and over again, standard stuff, and pretty kick-ass lyrics if you can bag up your jaded 21st century bitterness and let a little sweetness infiltrate your dry heart. My last student, you should know, is the oft-mentioned Mr. Bollinger of Bollinger, Bollinger, Douchebags, and Assoc., and his suit and tie and healthy tan would make it difficult to mute your cynicism. You may come up with your own theory as to why Mr. Bollinger chose this particular piece.

We spent a half hour getting a handle on the five chords, and when we got that down, another half hour attempting to play the chords on the main beat, to the one count of every measure. This was so very frustrating for us both, as Mr. Bollinger does not like to count. You have to count, Mr. Bollinger, I said, the beat is non-negotiable. Oh, I see, he said. It’s a lot like skiing. What, I said.

Well, after you get the basics down, you can kind of finesse around things. You can add your own style.

No, I said, it is not like skiing at all. The beat does not change. You set it, and there it is, whether you are a beginner or a musical genius.

But these notes (the vocal line), he said, some of them are fast and some of them are slow.

Aargh, I said, aaaargh! The beat is divided by these notes, but the beat is the same. If you won’t count, there is no hope. We are white people, Mr. Bollinger, and we must count. Believe it or not, Mr. Bollinger, even black people have to count. People of every color must count. Do you seriously think Prince didn’t count?

After all these years Mr. Bollinger still believes that he can merely “feel” the rhythm, and I am not saying that he can’t, just that the idiosyncratic rhythm that he feels is like–well because his rhythm has no pulse, it’s like listening to someone pretend to tell a story in Japanese when they don’t know any Japanese but they still think they sound good. It’s like being blindfolded and needing sonic radar to tell you where the road blocks are so that you can avoid them, so you listen carefully and are then guided into smashing into rocks and trees nose first.

But Mr. Bollinger was pleased by the end of the lesson, and he smiled very big and told me I was a cool teacher. You did it, he said, you got through to me. I can play it now, it’s like magic! No, I said, YOU did it! Good job! What would be the point of telling him otherwise?


What Child is That?

Hello I am Z and my calling card is vulgarity. Mind your P’s and Q’s, your pricks and queens, hold your teacup between your legs for hours and don’t tell anyone anything. Nothing.

I am a sad gentle woman who couldn’t scare a leaf off a tree, I play piano for the school choir, I spend any money I earn on pretty and useless dresses, fantasizing that I will one day be invited to a party, an awards ceremony, a date with a Pulitzer prize-winning poet, and I occasionally go for a brisk walk and deny myself candy bars so that I will still fit into these dresses. I have grey hairs on my head that I must color and grey pubes that I shave off. I look haggard when I am trying to play jazzy versions of the Nutcracker. I desperately want a divorce. My husband drinks and works a midnight shift. He does not like people, he does not like dogs, he does not like messes in the kitchen. I went to a party with my husband, but it was not a party for pretty dresses, it was a party for jeans and comfort shoes and cinnamon scented candles from Yankee Candles, everyone’s favorite Christmas destination. At this party, I talk to my dentist and my hygienist, who are husband and wife. The hygienist is drinking red wine spiked with vodka and saying “I’m so fucking drunk!” to people who have had her fingers in their mouths.

I go back to my home, ask the babysitter to stay late, and put on a pretty dress. It is brocade and form fitting, and it cost me six rehearsals of jazzy, up-beat holiday tunes plus three concerts. I look like I am trying very hard when I wear it. I drive to the city, I drive around a neighborhood I know vaguely where cars are parked for blocks and blocks because of all the holiday parties. I was invited to a party on this block, because I looked like an easy lay. I was invited by my online short fiction teacher, whom I chased down offline on the pretense of getting one of his books signed. He regretted inviting me, by the look on his face when I showed up. He was with his wife, and she was taller and prettier than me. I’d spent fifty dollars on good vodka to take to this party so that I wouldn’t look as poor as I am. This house is a house I will never myself be able to afford, and I struggle to think of something to say to the very cool, beautiful woman who owns the house, who recently sold her memoir to Hollywood. I tell her I like her shoes but she does not hear me. For a very long time I am stuck with a pudgy weirdo who shows me videos on his phone of his circus acrobat practices; he is embarking on a new career as a circus performer to say “Fuck You!” to all the magazines who have stopped publishing his reviews. He has taken hundreds of videos, and I am both anxious to leave him and grateful I have him to stand next to.

I sit down next to a cross-dresser. Her name is Marit but I accidentally called her Mark. She is the pre-eminent something-or-other of the NYT, and when she asks me what I do, I think I am very clever for replying “I am a dilettante”. If I had a career to break, that would have broken it. The acorns on the street are crushed under my heels when I walk out. There is no where to go.



I remember the high school boys being enthralled with Reservoir Dogs, The Usual Suspects, and then Pulp Fiction when it came out. I thought this guy, Tarantino, was so subversively funny, so caustically honest, and just uncontrollably creative. And he is all of those things, but with a crazy jutting chin and a mouth naturally shaped like a sneer, which I didn’t imagine. Tarantino is an Italian name right?, so I pictured, I don’t dunno, a wiry Italian race car driver. But on Letterman one night, here comes this doughy oaf with grating delivery, very spitty out the mouth and over-excited, totally uncool in the eyes of a teen girl. He was like every geek I’d ever met all rolled into one. Guaranteed to be a terrible kisser and a spaz on a date. Even worse, he also looked like my Dad’s dentist.

My Dad’s dentist Dr. B was also his golf buddy. Most of his patients were golf buddies. Dr. B’s gentle daughter Kim was in charge of the children’s teeth, and cleaned my brother and me, but when I was fourteen, I had to have two teeth pulled as prescribed by my orthodontist because of overcrowding, so I sat under Dr. B. He worked on me like I was the 50th cow in line at his ranch, breathing heavily through bush-filled nostrils. He stabbed me in the gums, and actually dropped a tooth down my throat, which I was instructed to cough out into the little fountain by the chair. He was a fucking nightmare, and watching Tarantino on TV, I had to be reminded of him.

The opposite can also happen; you meet someone super smart, charming, full of joie de vivre. He gets you. Walking down a busy street, he pulls you out of the way of a bicyclist coming up from behind, and it’s admittedly very much like a rom-com, except in real life it’s not cheesy because that bicyclist would really have run you down. He makes sure that you sit on his left side, because is right eye is glass, and this also seems literary, like what’s-his-name with a club foot. Then you purchase his book, which just came out. You are so excited to read this thing, you sit in the car and read it all like you are starving. And it sucks. It really is no good at all. You hope you will never have to tell him, lying to his face, what a good writer he is.



I am badly near-sighted, which, without my glasses, is being demonstrated now by craning within inches of the monitor. Walking my dog tonight in the moonlight, the blurry moon looks no more wondrous than the round light fixture on my kitchen ceiling. I can see only one star, and it flashes like a small mistake out of the corner of my eye. I wonder what would happen if I really needed to see to survive, if the campground where my family was waiting was marked by three tall pines I couldn’t see, or if the bison I wasted five arrows on, for food for the winter, was but an old gray rock on the prairie.

Freddy used to love to make fun of me for having such bad vision; his own better-than-20/20 was a point of pride. As if my being unable to see clearly was a personal flaw caused by too much nerdiness, or something like that. When he drank, I could take off my glasses if I didn’t want to see him, and put in headphones if I didn’t want to hear him, but I could still feel him, and for that there was no fix but to stop feeling.


A Cruise Adventure for Tony

I can’t figure out why google images of “wife dare cruise” are of Tom Cruise, and the same search on Bing pulls up spread-eagled married fatties on holiday. I can’t even figure out how I involuntarily requested this search, because I did not type it in. By comparison the following selfie is as sinful as oatmeal.


This is the sunburn I received from not getting anyone’s attention long enough to help apply the SPF 50 waterproof twenty-bucks-a-tube sunscreen. I forgot my own rash guard in the panic to remember to bring everyone else’s rash guards. By everyone else, I mean ten of us, the whole surviving maternal arm of my well-meaning but ditzy relations, from swaying, frog-faced Obaa-chan, to five little hooded-eye crickets, whose incessant chirping was quickly drowned out by vaguely tropical (if Coppertone could make a sound) unceasing intercom music.

I don’t have a lot to say about the first three days, because if you will notice in the photo, in the drinking glass is my fourth or fifth packet of Dramamine pills which I’d started popping several hours before boarding. They slowed me down so much that the journey through miles of a hellishly long and narrow corridor to the cabin was fraught with narcolepsy. It was only through tracking the fish on the carpet (the fish, my brother noted, in a brotherly way to help his typically disoriented sister, swam upstream to the bow of the ship), like a drunk college student, that I ever was ever able to return to cabin 10518.

I fell asleep on Obaa-chan’s shoulder during the five-minute mandatory safety drill, and I wonder if this and my absence for the entire duration of the boat ride to Bermuda convinced her that I was a drug addict, and this is why my mother says she has decided to cut me out of her will. If I was awake at all, I was throwing up, so that was my trade-off. In both cases I was trapped in the cabin.

The whole thing was my mother’s idea, and being a timid creature, I could not say no to her grand plan of fun memory-of-a-lifetime-making family togetherness. To anyone who does not throw-up at the thought of an inconstant horizon line, my sensitivity is cause for ridicule. “Oh, you’ll be fine, just wear one of those wrist-bands. It’s all in your head.”

It’s not in my head, it’s out there: a giant floating bodily function, over water that goes down to unimaginably immense pressures where there is no sun, and nobody loves one another (only the kind of white blind life that hunts in the dark without caring a flick about its own thousands of specks of progeny), how many feet down, how many miles to dry land, those are numbers surpassing the limits of my mind, which can only measure in terms of its own energies. Unfathomable fathoms. Nothing to look at to get a sense of place but the texture of the waves. This is all the part of it that I like–the feeling of being small and just as unknowable to those creatures down below as they are to me.

Onboard in our strange onboard world we are so many overweight and pampered cruisers eating, like, ALL the time, for what reason I am trying to understand. Seven restaurants, two of them open 24 hours, we are eating lox appetizers and cheese plates and cream asparagus soup and roast beef and pasta and two desserts, using as many dishes as possible, drinking two and three glasses at a time, and flushing the byproducts prodigiously. This must be the ultimate kind of R & R you save up for, for the like the whole year. It wouldn’t be so awful if, like whales at a cloud of krill, we were sucking it all in actively. What’s awful is that we are sitting there being spoon-fed by a haggard wait-staff numbering in the hundreds, who underpaid, and sleep-deprived, are stuck on the ship for 7 months at a time feeding, cleaning and washing us. We are an army of babies tottering in weekly cavalcades off the Boston docks. But unlike with babies, you know there is no love. How could there be?

The service staff was, I have to say it, largely divided by race into hierarchies. The European staff (for instance, the white-blond girl who coordinated child care, whose accent made my brother fall all over himself) worked fewer hours without getting their hands dirty. The people I didn’t see so much of, not only because the disparity of their body mass to the patrons was so pronounced, but also because they had a habit of darting away into their quarters at the lowest level of the ship, were young South Asian women who are in the roaring belly washing and folding endlessly (3 poolside towels thrown on the chairs x 1,200 guests in and out of the pool area, so 3,600 pool towels, and maybe 1,500 sheets, and maybe 6,000 regular washcloths and bath towels on a daily basis).

I came out of hiding when we docked to pink beaches, teeming reefs for snorkeling, and the dazzling brightness of oddly inclusive locals (well, in Boston, they would be saying “We don’t like you intahlopers.” I forget what it feels like to be around people who are nice.) The kiddoes almost drowned a couple of times, a seashell necklace for my daughter cost eighty dollars, and Obaachan ripped up her knee when she fell over onto rocks under the duress of me trying to push a snorkel mask over her big head. She laughed it off.