The Best of Times

by Eileen Brener

Walker Percy[1], the Louisiana novelist and philosopher, wrote that people feel better in hurricanes because, he theorized, the everydayness of life is dispelled by a good storm. People find the best of times in the worst of times and everyone is “…focused, connected, engaged. We know what we are supposed to do and we do it.”  (Quoted by Walter Isaacson in NY Times Book Review, 8/9/2015, p. 32)

Percy’s theory held up, for in 1985 when I celebrated an important birthday,  my daughter’s gift to me was a weekend trip with her to visit my parents on Siesta Key, an island off the coast of Sarasota, Florida.   It was the end of August an auspicious time for hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.

On that Friday, as we prepared to leave New Orleans for the airport, Dad telephoned to say there was a hurricane predicted to hit Sarasota on Saturday.  He insisted he didn’t want to discourage us from visiting, but he thought we should be watching the weather.  Hurricane prediction then wasn’t what it is now, and in New Orleans we’d heard the weatherman cry “wolf” so often that we no longer paid attention to him.  We told Dad that we were coming—hell or high water.

Our flight was delayed for two hours.  When we finally arrived at Sarasota airport at 10 p.m., my parents looked frayed.  Mother said ours was the last plane to land before the airport closed for the storm, and she feared we had brought the hurricane with us.  Dad added he had just heard on the radio that Siesta Key was being evacuated.

Helen, my daughter, and I couldn’t believe our rotten luck.  “Evacuate? Us?” We shuddered.

“Your mother and I have been discussing where we’ll go.  She votes for the Ritz Carlton —of course—-and that would be comfortable unless the storm knocks out the power.  I think we should follow the mayor’s suggestion and go to the elementary school because they have a generator,” Dad announced with a finality I knew too well.

“Oh, my god,” Mother sighed, “You and that school.”  It was a little joke with my parents.  When my father had retired from his position as comptroller of a large corporation, he became a volunteer fourth grade math teacher at the local public school.  There he relished all the small achievements of “his” class and knew in detail the strengths and weaknesses of the school’s physical plant.


Helen and I exchanged a look, suddenly realizing what we were in for.   My parents had been in relatively good shape since their retirement—-relative, that is, to their prior health when both had suffered more than their share of afflictions.  However, the sun and sand of Siesta Key agreed with them.  The cancer and heart disease seemed to have retired too.

“I’m glad we’re here,” Helen whispered to me with the confidence of youth. “I think we can help them get through this.”  I nodded in agreement, remembering with a chill that in the many hurricane scares we’d lived through in New Orleans, we had never once been told to evacuate.

When we got to the condo, my tiny mother, normally content to play lieutenant to my father’s general, took control, barking orders:  Dad was to bag up blankets, pillows, and towels; Helen, to pack cheese, crackers, chocolate and bottles of water; me to find flashlights and a battery radio, while she got toiletries and considered clothing for herself and Dad.  Here she slowed down.  She held up a warm-up suit rarely worn and asked me if I thought it would “work under these conditions.”  I laughed, Dad frowned, and Helen assured her it was exactly right.  Within thirty minutes we were back on the road, this time heading for Sarasota Elementary School.

The Red Cross was there before we were.  They had a table set up in the front hall where volunteers were registering guests as they arrived—-“Just like the Ritz Carlton,” I whispered to mother.  Dad listed our names on the forms and then asked if we could stay in the kindergarten.  Mother looked at him quizzically and he whispered that a new, thick rug had just been laid there.

We were the first evacuees in our room.  My parents did a quick visual survey and decided to set up camp in a corner area where ordinarily small students napped.  We spread out our thick towels, covered them with blankets and pillows, sat down on Lilliputian chairs and set out our picnic on a Lilliputian table.  We had all been nervous until that moment, when suddenly our situation seemed hilarious.  Helen read us a sign proclaiming the Rules of the Classroom:







We laughed until tears ran down our cheeks.  Dad couldn’t tell us why kindergarten students—who presumably couldn’t read—would have such rules.  We agreed it was a good idea not to lean on the wall or carry our trays over our heads, but we weren’t convinced we’d obey the other rules.

The discovery of our bathroom was our next comic moment.  The kindergarten and first grade classes share bathrooms. The proximity was an advantage, but the height of the bathroom fixtures was a decided disadvantage:  the toilets were ten inches high, the sinks twenty-five inches.  We were huge Alices in a shrunken wonderland.

Only two other families chose the large kindergarten room that night, and they were quiet and well behaved—-having read the classrooms rules, I guess.  We woke early and were surprised:  we all slept through the night.  However, getting up was a challenge.  Mother, the most agile of us, was the first to get on her feet; then Helen, who gave me a hand, and they worked to pull Dad up.  I couldn’t help there because my back suddenly issued one of its “stand still” orders and I was not moving much.  To make matters worse, Helen began a sneezing storm.  We had no antihistamines.   And there we were—my ever coping parents worrying over us—-and the four of us standing quietly that early morning in a darkened classroom as though we were lost in a fairy tale wondering what monster we were likely to meet.  Dad broke the spell by reaching for the radio.  The storm, according to reports, was stalled in the Gulf but still likely to hit Sarasota.

Helen and I knew from experience that food is the best antidote to hurricane anxiety.  We prayed that the powers at Sarasota Elementary were on to that too.  Mother, who wasn’t sneezing or aching, volunteered to be our scout and went out to find what-—if anything—-was cooking.  She returned pleased to report that we would be called to eat breakfast at 7:30.   Sure enough, about that time, a woman’s voice came over the intercom:

Good Morning! This is Mrs. OMeally, your principal here at Sarasota Elementary School, welcoming you to our cafeteria for breakfast. Ive learned that we have a volunteer teacher staying with us and Id like to give a special welcome to Mr. Ben Keiley who is in the kindergarten. 

You are to come to breakfast, by classroom, beginning with the kindergarten.  Mr. Keiley, lead your group to the cafeteria.  As soon as they have been served, the first grade visitors will be invited and so on through sixth grade.

Dad shook his head, knowing that stories and jokes about this effort to keep us from harm would probably outlast his lifetime.  But he soldiered on taking us to a pancake breakfast prepared by a local restaurant and served in the cafeteria by Red Cross ladies.

Then the real work began.  My parents went through the school looking for friends with telephones in their cars.  In 1985 portable phones were large and cumbersome.  Dad didn’t have one in his car.  In the library, Mother found a couple she knew; they had chosen the library because they were told sleeping in the rocking chairs would be more comfortable than on the floor.  Ed and Mara were about ten years older than my parents, and their children had given them a car phone.

In a hard rainstorm, Ed, Mara, Helen, my parents and I all went to Ed’s car to use his phone. My dad’s idea was to find a flight to New Orleans out of Miami, which was south of the hurricane’s path, so that Helen and I could get home.  Alas, all flights out of south Florida were grounded at the time and no one could say when they would be flying again.

We went back into the school where my parents contentedly played bridge with Ed and Mara in the library, while Helen and I restlessly paced the hall.  She had quit sneezing and I was limbering up, but we could not be called “happy campers.”

Soon Mrs. O’Meally came on the intercom again to invite us to a pizza lunch, and, she announced, there would be a movie in the auditorium at 2 pm.  The Towering Inferno was being shown.  A disaster movie!

We didn’t go to the movie.  We went back to Ed’s car.  Dad called and found one flight leaving from Miami for New Orleans at 6 p.m.   He got us reservations and planned to drive us to the airport.  However, Mother reminded him of a rental car office near the school.  She suggested Dad take us there.  None of us noticed it was no longer raining.  Helen and I felt terrible leaving my parents to spend another night at Sarasota Elementary, but they handled it well.  We were ecstatic to be escaping.

Everything worked for us on the trip home.  We arrived in New Orleans about twenty-four hours after we left, and we did realize that it was raining pretty hard. My telephone was ringing when I walked into my living room.  It was my parents.  The threat to Sarasota ended, and the evacuation order was lifted almost immediately after Helen and I left.  They were home now putting things away. “Have you looked at your weather report?” Dad asked me.  I had not.  “Well,” he said, “the hurricane is now predicted to hit New Orleans in a few hours.”

And it did, but that’s another story.   My daughter and I frequently recall what have become unforgettable episodes from this almost hurricane story with my resilient parents, the classroom rules, and how “focused, engaged, connected” we all were.

In her story Eileen Brener enjoyed reliving a long ago adventure she shared with her family.  Thanks, Voices.

[1] Walker Percy died in 1990, long before Katrina drowned New Orleans.



by Marshall Marcovitz


In a corner of Greenwich Village in New York City, inside St. Francis Xavier Church, a memorial mass is being held for my friend Jerry. It’s a cool, damp, late May day. Clusters of clouds, patches of sunshine, and small bird shadows float on the sidewalk.  Inside the church hangs a massive reproduction of a painting by Caravaggio. The cracking paint is pitch black dark, splashed with shades of blue and yellow.  It’s a crucifixion scene with a muscular Jesus, blood dripping from his hands nailed to the cross.  Hazy faces of the congregants look up from dark corners. The church smells of old stone, wood, and incense. A feeling of gloom floats in the air. When a shaft of sunlight slices through the stained glass windows,  I can now see the wrinkles on Jesus’s face, a black bruise on his forehead. I can  clearly see the intensity of the crowd’s gaze. The sunlight passes, and the painting and people fall into darkness again.

It had been a roller coaster ride these past few months with Jerry. The endless doctors’ appointments, lab tests, follow-up lab tests. The bluish purple bruise marks on his arms from too many blood tests.  Finally a diagnosis, not good, not much hope. Terminal.   His doctors said. “Three months, six months, a year at best.”  One day he was vibrant and healthy. The next he was like a snowflake falling through clouds, dropping somewhere into a soundless darkness.  A total emptiness.  Blankness. Vanishing from this life.

He rarely left his apartment.. Too weak. He’d  lost about twenty-five pounds. He sat by the window and looked down at the vest-pocket park across the street.   Azaleas and lilacs were in full bloom.  He saw a little girl kicking a white and black soccer ball in front of his neighborhood bar.  He saw a car parking.  A tall woman squeezed out of the driver’s side. Everything in the outside world was taking place normally, as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening on the sixteenth floor, and yet he himself was a prisoner inside the apartment. Too sick to go out. All his normality was gone. Soon he would be gone forever. He used to quote Emile Zola: “I am here to live out loud.” Not anymore.

I remember when I first laid eyes on Jerry. It was in the swimming pool at the Y.  I was splashing around in an aqua aerobics class trying to keep up with the energetic instructor’s demands to “keep pushing!” Jerry was late for class.  He knew how to make a grand entrance, prancing along the side of the pool, a white towel around his neck, wearing a tight little Speedo swimsuit in deep purple. It made him look like he had one of the biggest dicks in the world. We got to know each other because the taller men worked out in the deep end and talked a lot. That’s how our friendship began. I learned he was a retired actor. He had a long career, not as a  leading man, but he was always working.  He looked about eighty and had Broadway matinee idol good looks.

He was born in farm country, in Stockton, California. “My family was quite conservative but they’re good people,” he said. “Real straight, church going people. Me, I liked to put on make-up from the age of six. When I told my dad that I had decided to try my luck at acting in New York City, he looked me straight in the eye and said,

‘Son, if you need to come back home, you can always be a gentleman farmer.’ That was my father’s way of making me feel loved and welcome no matter what.” I was touched by the affection Jerry had for his father.

When I met Jerry I was at a time in my life where everything felt unsettled. I wasn’t accepting getting old very gracefully. “Do not go gentle into that good night,” was me all right.  Jerry lightened things up. He always had a good story to tell. A joke about Richard Burton being too drunk to recite his lines in Camelot. “Can you imagine King Arthur, his crown tilted on his head, unable to remember his lines? The stage hands rolled down the curtain really fast.”  He chuckled. I loved Jerry’s show-biz stories. He was fond of quoting Groucho’s line: “If you can get through life, you can get through anything.”

Then there was a series of medical emergencies. He had a cough that wouldn’t go away. He needed oxygen twenty-four hours a day. He had tubes in his nose to help him breathe. His new companion was a steel oxygen tank. His best friend told me he thought that Jerry was dying, but I didn’t believe him. I didn’t want to believe him. I would come to visit him in his apartment. He would greet me lounging in his favorite over stuffed Polo chair with a way too slender arm under his head. The curve of his jaw was changing into sagging flesh. Canyons and hollow gullies invaded his once handsome face. He wore a gray sports jacket with a herringbone design, a yellow silk handkerchief fitted into his breast pocket.  Folds of flesh cascaded down to his loose collar. “Dying stinks,” he said to me. He was doing his best to be the gracious host. He wasn’t giving up. He told me he was getting used to using a walker to get around the apartment. The oxygen tubes in his nose were still a bitch. “I look like the Creature from the Black Lagoon,” he said.  I admired him for the determination he showed. He tolerated every device that was helping him stay alive.

He showed me a get-well card from his favorite niece from Stockton. He had placed it on the fireplace mantle. ”We hardly speak and out of the blue she sends me this beautiful card. She writes,’We’ve got another actor in the family.’ ” She was referring to her daughter, whom he barely knew, but was touched that the family was proud of actors. “My niece is a simple farmer’s wife. I never thought she liked me all that much,” he said.

As I got older, I hadn’t made many new friends.  Jerry and I had conversations over his last months about what was important to us at this time of life. He was still pretty funny at times: “Here I am at the end of my life, and who am I worrying about leaving? My condo cat Clarisse,  Mary Beth, my dear acting teacher from Stockton who I haven’t seen in twenty years, my bulimic best friend Carol and now my family in Stockton who I visit once in a blue moon.  I’m wondering if my life will have a happy ending. Most of the plays I was involved with had happy endings. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if life were like the theater?”

I have a big favor to ask of you,” he said with a mischievous grin. “Please get rid of all my porn.” He pointed under his bed. “I don’t want my niece and nephew to find it. Nothing can prepare them for this side of dear old Uncle Jerry. We all have our little secrets.”  And I did. I got rid of all his porn.

We talked about our dreams. On one visit he told me he had a dream about swimming with his father in the lake country around Stockton.

“I stripped off my clothes. I remember wearing those tight white Jockey undershorts because they were hard to get off. They kept getting snagged on my heels. My dad and I were bare-butt naked, splashing around. We dove to the bottom, held our breath and played at who could stay under for the longer time. It was so quiet, just the two of us, playing in a stream with a muddy bottom. I thought to myself how much I loved being with my dad.”

I told him  I often dreamed of a car that is being assembled, piece-by-piece. Finally, the car is put together, and it’s ready to roll off the assembly line. It’s all shiny and new. Then the door to the car opens and out drops a corpse!  He smiled at me.  “You should have written for Hitchcock.”

The last time I saw Jerry, memories of family and friends were staring out from photographs that  filled his shelves. He made Mojitos and we laughingly toasted Fidel. It was a lighthearted evening. We didn’t discuss death at all. Even so, a line from an Emily Dickinson poem ran through my head. “Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me.”

Jerry left us. But I believe the dead don’t completely go away. They travel within us. Whenever I go to the theater, Jerry will be with me. When I hear a Sondheim tune, Jerry will be singing along with me. He said at the end: “I’ve had a good life,” and he gave a good life to me.


Marshall Marcovitz is a life-long daydreamer.  In my story about my friend Jerry, I faced the fact that real writing is a lot harder than daydreaming. 







Speaking Up in Paris

by Phyllis Kriegel

In the late 40’s a redoubtable college professor introduced me to the mysteries of French grammar.  I memorized verb forms, studied vocabulary lists, imbibing idioms calculated to spark conversations.

During the 50’s, in reading groups and conversation circles, lycee graduates brushed up my accent and fine-tuned linguistic subtleties.  Along the way I absorbed nuggets of French culture, bits of history.

But the path to passable French was strewn with dangers: cognates that look similar but have different meanings turn out to be false friends. They can betray you in a twinkling.  Baiser as a noun means a kiss, but baiser as a verb means to fuck.  Better safe than mortified: use embrasser and avoid a grosse gaffe.

In the early 60s, aided by a trusty Baedeker, I planned my virgin siege of Paris. To the barricades… bring on the monuments…the chic cafés and venerable brasseries. Allons-y !

In my fantasy life I yearned to be welcomed by the French, to present a mix of charm and wit, a certain je ne sais quoi and l’esprit galore.  Perhaps even have a romantic fling.  But what if I made a faux pas or flubbed le mot juste.

Maybe a well- rehearsed monologue delivered with a smile and sneaking in a snippet of the subjunctive would disarm, pass muster, even at the  French Academy.  This is my first trip to Paris, the most beautiful city in the world. I am thrilled to be here.  I have studied French so that I might chat with tout le monde.

My carefully crafted set-piece apparently worked.  Taciturn taxi drivers, blasé hotel clerks, surly waiters in cafes and snooty barmen at the Ritz responded warmly. The dour woman who ran the beauty salon even offered a smile with a gracious bonjour.

There I was, feeling newly soignée with a trendy haircut and secure in scarf-tying skills. Meanwhile, I longed for the sexy underwear that only the French can dream up.

Chatting with all comers like a wind-up doll, I reveled in the sounds and sights of The City of Light. In street markets and elegant gardens I sauntered, affecting the guise of a disinterested bystander.  But now, as I caught the full measure of seductive scenes overheard, je tout compris!

Diffidence be damned.  If the proper moment should happen, I might even attempt baiser.


I persist in believing that stories happen to people who can tell them.

Measure Time by How a Body Swoons, How a Body Sways

by Carmen Mason

Louis and Loti would dress up on their special week-ends and take the #6 down to Astor Place. She’d usually have a novel by Francoise Sagan (how could someone so young be so, so experienced and already so blase about life, she’d asked Louis, and once she’d laughed, reading to him, “She lived hard and drove fast” from the blurb on the back) or a Fitzgerald short story, or a poem by Millay, cummings, or Dickinson or some scribbled Ayn Rand quotes in her purse in case the train stalled and she could share them with him. Unless, of course, they were busy talking and catching up on the weeks they’d been apart.

As much as she loved her books and her life, Louis loved her, and his dreams of marrying her on his graduation day consumed him. But Loti lived excited, ecstatic in the now, whereas Louis believed it was all a ritualistic practice for their preordained life together. We’ll travel all over the world before the kids come, he’d say. We’ll have two homes, one just for us and the other for when we have to get away from everything. We’ll never stop dancing, Loti. I love you so much.

Loti cherished Louis, but marrying him with his cap, gown and diploma festooning his broad, strong body proffered an event she couldn’t see herself actually being present for. She relished their ardency, but the perpetuation of it was difficult for her to fathom. It overwhelmed her. Just stay here now, kissing me, she thought. Just hold me while we get lost in the smoky rooms, drinking rum and cokes and eating our burgers. Don’t write and direct the rest of it. What will be will be, she thought, smiling into his adoring face. Don’t make me into a runaway bride.

The two had first met one late night when Loti was returning with her girlfriends from her Christmas youth dance. It was a cold and snowy Friday and Louis was coming along with his raucous crew, all two or three years older than the girls. Then one of her friends recognized one of his and they’d stopped and talked and Louis had sidled over to her and said, There’s going to be a dance at St. Helena’s next week, are you coming? And she’d thought how she’d never gone into a Catholic church except to load her water pistol with the holy water when she was eleven and being chased by a bunch of bullies, so she said to Louis, Maybe, I’m not sure I can yet, but she knew she would because he was so big and strong, and he looked at her as if she were not just a new girl on a dark street but as if he saw something special inside her, and no boy had ever done that before.

So she went and they’d danced together all night and they were great doing the lindy and the fish (even though the latter was a worry for her with its two slow daring hip-lifts on each side, because she did not lead boys on) and then he’d called her and taken her out, then they’d kissed outside her apartment door for almost half an hour and she was sunk after that. He invited her to his prom at McBurney Prep and she became officially his when he gave her his school ring, and later, when he went off to the University of Maine and he pinned his fraternity pin on her sweater. So it was all decided – that they were together, a couple, in love.

Every week-end he wasn’t away at college they’d go to Greenwich Village, and later on, dancing at Roseland and every New Year’s Eve, to the Roosevelt Hotel with a big-name swing band and a hefty entrance fee. Just as they would move inside and out to the jazz and the rhythmic musicians in the Village clubs, they would dance perfectly – the lindy, polka, Charleston, fox trot. They were ‘war babies’ of the forties,  now ripe and ready for the sixties.

On those Sunday afternoons, the west Village still had a celebratory feel to it because of the laid-back air of the wider avenues, Sixth and Seventh. Many of the best jazz clubs were there, just beyond the narrow café, bar and shop-cramped side streets like MacDougal and Fourth. They’d walk their way west while deciding where to go first, starting off at noon and not getting back to the Bronx ‘til near midnight, filled with their own slightly relieved lust and the remnants of the slinky syncopation of Herbie Mann, Ahmad Jamal and two remarkable singers, Clayton James, Jr. and his wife, Abby Jones, the flirting, sashaying couple that sang like dueling songbirds, laughed and teased. then embraced and whispered in each other’s ears. And between each number the singers traded teasing words of endearment, their repartee making Loti and Louis blush and squirm with vicarious excitement, for the crooning couple was mirroring what tossed and surged unevenly inside their own breasts. All four were swaddled in a particular splendor, and for the young couple on their special week-ends, their imaginings of love became a palpable spectacle on that small dark stage.

Sometimes they’d press their palms together, bend their foreheads to touch as if in desperate prayer: oh, if we could stay like them. Everything the young couple witnessed became thick with their separate and distinct longings.

If you could find them today – Louis and Loti – wherever they’ve ended up, would they recall the name of that skin and bones lady with her yellow mini dress, her shiny cap of hair and her way of curling herself around Clayton like a morning glory ‘round a pole? And if you could ask them – Louis long gone off to teach sociology at a state college, married with eight children, seven of them adopted from all over the world, Loti to write a novel almost every two or three years and to have two marriages, a love-child from each – would she or he still remember those week-ends in small, dark and cramped rooms where they’d groped each other under the wobbly table, kissing long and deeply?

Even as a little girl Loti had always been impulsive, instinctive, sentient. She loved the smell of odd or abhorrent things – babies’ diapers, her painter-mother’s  turpentine, the potent odor of gasoline on the floor of her father’s local garage, snuffed out candles, skunk emissions! She loved to smell everything- things that were there and things that weren’t, that is, things in the air and the sky, things in the night, things in her room, the part powdery, part animal scent that wafted up when she’d ducked her face inside her blouse or nightgown.

When she had met Louis and kissed his Hungarian-Irish lips, she wanted to climb through them, swoosh around in his mouth that smelled like wild flowers and cold beer. But beyond them was the scent of life unwinding, her life, her mad love for everything she saw, felt, heard, that gave her an urgent euphoria. She still recalled the musty rainy days her mother would bundle her up to go out in when she was little, because she would cry mournfully if she had to stay inside all day.

Her mother had grown to believe in spirited children, children allowed to be feral until it was no longer safe or useful, so she was much more successful with Loti than she’d been with Moira, her first.  Perhaps because like with many mothers, her first child was too much an effort, a proof of a forced and suppliant surrender and compliance to age-old habits and tradition. She yearned for an enlightened, mature competency. Her second child she knew would be her last, so Loti was allowed to be free and perhaps lead her mother to her own greater liberation as well.

But Louis’s dreams of their union consumed him. Soon after they met he’d gotten them jobs at a summer Fresh Air Camp as senior counselors. After days of swimming and making crafts and bonfires and singing “Day is done, gone the sun” and putting the exhausted campers to bed, they’d steal away to a field behind the mess hall grounds and hungrily embrace and laughingly roll down the grassy damp hills , caressing in a frenzied stupor.

Loti didn’t quite know then what stopped her from fully believing, what kept her so inaccessible inside. She would often recall the miniature pale green pepper she’d once found nestling down inside a large sweet red one, a premature twin that would never grow to fruition. It was a perfectly shaped replica curved in a fetal position, yet it had been wrapped in something all complete and ready. She carefully cut the baby pepper out and tossed it, then savored the ripe one.

Three years had passed since they’d met. Loti was now at Hunter College and Louis would graduate that May. On their third December, after months and months of week-end studying, going to off-Broadway plays and skiing in New England, they decided to celebrate and go downtown early on the slow Sunday morning train for brunch, then on to two packed and smoky jazz clubs. They inquired in each if Clayton and Abby were playing anywhere but no one had seen or heard of them in over a year. They stayed for two sets where they’d thrilled to the newly arrived Miriam Makeba who’d just gotten off the boat from Johannesburg a week or two earlier and that afternoon had sung in a plaintive, thick voice, The Lion Sleeps Tonight and Pata Pata, the songs she’d made famous in Africa. She’d warbled her amazing under-the-tongue clicking sounds she’d learned as a baby in her native Prospect Township and she’d synchopated, Gongo twangay, gongo twangay, smiling and charming everyone. I am so happy, Makeba whispered, to be finally in America. Finally.

Years later, Loti would imagine looking up Louis and asking him what he thought about Makeba’s marriage to Stokeley Carmichael, but now on this special day in the traffic-and- boot-splattering snow, they had slushed along, singing, In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight…their fingers locked tight. Everything was darkening quickly all around them.

Up ahead they made out two figures, also leaning together but slanted diagonally, swaying and colliding with a tall chain-link fence which framed an empty park covered in snow drifts. Each time the distant couple clashed into the barrier, clumps of snow flew up and away in powdery specters. As Loti and Louis got closer, one figure broke and leaped away and the other one, a thin rail of a person, stopped and leaned languidly to the side, first resting then sliding down the powdery fence, arms almost straight up in the air. The other figure – the peering couple was sure now it was a man wearing a thin worn khaki jacket – repeatedly turned and went back to pull the frail figure off the fence, then leaped away again. When Loti and Louis got closer they could see the gaunt figure had a rouged and lipsticked face, her thin green coat slapping open with each harsh windy gust, exposing her lean legs, dark and bare. Something in the man’s tortured face, in his forlorn, slurring disparagement, convinced Loti and Louis the two had once been – oh yes, they must have been – in love.

The man did not strike her. He did not menace her beyond his spewing words, but began to circle her and each time she tried to return to the fence, he lunged and pulled her away, then walked a few feet with her, anchoring her. She had on one long, shiny earring and a silver chain with colored stones swinging back and forth over her scant and hollowed breasts. He kept lifting her, trying to straighten her up like a scrawny, discarded Christmas tree, then pulled away to continue his tirade. She repeatedly crooned, Oh no, my man, oh nooo, nooo my man, in a lilting, sorrowful voice. His was throaty, scathing, yet strangely melodious.

Loti did not remember who first recognized them. Had it been Louis or she, their shock and confusion would still have been the same and so too the conviction that this should not have happened, not come so unbidden their way, not on this special day.

Perhaps it was the crazed man’s voice, sonorous and probing, and her rail-thin legs like a tripping ballerina’s, a tangled marionette’s – for  the couple could not see the figures’ faces distinctly as snowflakes splattered and splashed everywhere at once – but they knew instantly they were their week-end familiars. And her careening  and his berating,  Yeah, look at you, you, just look at you, yeah, lookat dat monkey  dancin’ on your back, you cravin’ that skrill sooo sooo bad…You can’t go on without it – yeah, I know, I know  – me too, me too – but you, you a pathetic whore, then her plaintive retort, Oh no my man, oh nooo – both moving to a dance, a dirge, a wail of death.

So who realized it first they would not remember. Who looked into the other’s eyes and said silently, It is!  Oh, God, it’s them.  It’s them!  Who grabbed the other to pull away from the wobbling figures, the snow lacing their swaying bodies?

She would never forget how madly her mind started to race, how those cummings’ lines,  ponder, darling, these busted statues, from one of her favorite poems, scuttled like frightened mice through her head … “monuments and dolls…consider well this ruined aqueduct lady, which used to lead something into somewhere.” And now these two, no, these four were together in their own “peculiarly momentary partnership” and Loti knew it was for her, her omen. As if – she realized later when they’d gone their separate ways – that on that afternoon a circle had been broken, a perfect egg had cracked before them. Yes, somewhere no longer deep inside she knew the world would not do their bidding, would not tolerate forever their innocent, illusory indulgences. Unfairness would visit and be their companion; disappointment would now become part of the beat, the pulsing of their hopeful high hearts. And the snow and the fading light and the long train trip home with the memory of Clayton and his lanky ladylove, swaying, lunging and disappearing into the thickening storm, would separate them, yet remain with them forever.



I write often as meditation and to make some sense of things. It is a way to duel and dance with love and fear, joy and how to say goodbye.

Letter to My Father

by Leyla Mostovoy

Cher Papi,

Je ne suis pas habituee … I am not used to calling you “cher Papi” or writing to you, especially in English, but it will do, since I doubt you are still of this world. You would be past your 100th birthday.

I am writing you to actualize the feeling that in my childhood you might have cared for me, made various gestures to get close to me, all which I might have disregarded because of my allegiance to Mother. She and I had a symbiotic relationship; there was no place for you. She should not have made me the recipient of her secrets, her inner thoughts. A daughter should never become her mother’s best friend. It was not appropriate for me to be told you lied about your economic status in order to marry her. I shouldn’t have known she begged you not to come around to woo her, because she did not approve of your clothing, your whole self. I shouldn’t have been told you promised to change to become the man she would learn to love. Yet after the wedding you showed your true colors: not as a brute or violent man but a passive aggressive one who took revenge upon mother’s initial rejections in a quiet way. All that should have stayed between the two of you. I shouldn’t have been made to take sides, but I was put in that position and I accepted it.

No one is to blame. We each had our reasons, Mother needed to unburden herself to a confidante, sure that her secrets would not be divulged. She chose a young girl who would never wash the family dirty linen in public. I agreed because of mother’s constancy; after all, you were not there for the first two and a half years of my life. At the beginning of WWII you were gone to a work camp built by Turkish authorities friendly with the German govern-ment. You disappeared again when I was five, when Diana was born and there was not enough money to pay the hospital. You took off without leav-ing a forwarding address, and I now realize you would flee whenever you were short of cash. I could not trust you, rely on you. No matter how difficult and demanding mother was, she was always present. I can recall the efforts you made to bond with me, ones I chose to ignore.

You were the only person who gave me a toy: a tank that fired sparkles. You tried to play with me but I refused. Later in life I imagined you bought me such a toy because you wanted your firstborn to be a boy, someone to continue the lineage. A clairvoyant lady told me you had given me the tank so that one day I would know the “one from the other side” whose name began with a Y but was not Yosef/Joseph, my beloved Uncle, but my father Yuda who was watching over me. I think you cared for me, but my heart could not feel it. It was almost as if my mind and my heart did not talk to each other. Maybe in time they would communicate and allow me to feel some connection with you.

When I was in third or fourth grade, you tried to teach me how to solve math problems when I had difficulties with homework. I hated your long and belabored explanations. Just do it and let’s get it over with, I thought to myself, angry and impatient. But you persisted and I disliked you even more. When I broke Diana’s dolls you fixed them without any remonstrances. Alt  hough you were able to repair the torn plastic limbs, the eyes I poked inside rattled in their plastic heads beyond your help. Did I poke those eyes out be-cause I was jealous of my sister, of her connection to you? Whenever you were home, she sat on your lap or stood behind you on your chair and gave you funny hairdos.

You liked to feed your loved ones; you took your time to beat a delicious mousse of butter, egg, sugar and cocoa mother wanted me to have for break-fast when she thought I was too skinny. You made mayonnaise from scratch and I learned to make it from watching you. You bought lakerda, a Turkish delicacy of fish marinated in salt; you skinned and sliced it to perfection. You took us to Ibiz Island to eat grapes right off the vines; you bought cherries that Diana and I gobbled, swallowing the pits so we could eat them faster and you made earrings of the ones that came attached to the stems like twins.  I remember that wonderful birthday Diana and I celebrated on the same day, when you made shadows of animals on the walls to entertain our friends, then showed us a movie about a mouse that gets into the living room of a young woman. When you played it backwards we all laughed and cheered to see the broken vase gather up and become whole, the lady of the house jump down off the couch and the mouse retreat into its hole in the wall. Diana and I always talk about that film. We loved that reverse action.

If only we could have lived life like that. I wonder if I would have behaved differently. I do hope so for your sake and mine. But I do not like the word hope because it has the sense of desperation. After having done everything in our power and finding the problem has no solution, we settle into hope, quiet desperation. At the party I still remember the way you answered when I asked how old I was. Why would I ask you such a question? I am sure I knew. Nonetheless you answered, “You were nine, you are walking on ten, you will be eleven.” Quite philosophical. There is no future without a past.

And that is what I am trying to understand: my past with you, our relationship, the one I always minimized as not consequential until it became more demanding and wanted to be looked at. For a long time I did not believe you meant anything to me, but you did and you do. I want to understand it so the little time I have left here is better lived. I do not want to be that puppet pulled by the strings of abandonment. I suffered when you left over and over again and for the last time on November 10, 1961 in Sao Paulo after my one year of marriage to Manu. Maybe if I could have felt your caring connection for me I would not have experienced life like a puppet and have seen abandonment in many situations. A friend forgets to call back, my husband is late for dinner, catastrophe. I shall never hear from her or maybe never see him ever again.

You and I have a photo, I believe the only one of us together, at the airport in 1956 when I left Istanbul at fifteen to go to school in Tel Aviv. We are standing side by side, with a faint smile directed at the camera. I am almost as tall as you are, both of us in tweed suits, yours is gray, mine blue. Your straight Greek nose and thin lips are contrasted by your pear shaped body. Besides the flowers you gave me an unusual parting gift, a blue eye liner. Were you acknowledging me as a burgeoning woman? I used that pencil sparingly until there was nothing left, until it disappeared the way you did. My friend Ellen, my mentor in New York and the one who made sure I got a driver’s license and went for my GED and the ACE program in Queens College, insisted it was time to buy some new American style make up at Bloomingdale’s. I never attached any sentiments to that eye liner until I began talking about you to my therapist. You also bought me a platinum, pearl and diamond ring because I promised to stop biting my nails. I do not know where it is. Another loss! In 1957 you agreed to take me along on a three month trip to Israel and Europe when you should have gone alone with Mother, probably the only time you two could have been on your own and had the chance to solve your problems.

In 1960 you disappeared again. Months later, in a letter, you asked mother to sell the apartment in Tel Aviv and join you in Sao Paulo. Once settled there, you wanted me to find my way around Sao Paulo without being driven by you so I could become independent. I was angry at you because I saw your suggestion as another rejection, just the way I was furious when you wanted me to understand how to solve math problems. When Manu, an auto electrician, came to Sao Paulo to marry me you wanted to open a repair shop with him. “I told Manu, I will not be caught in the middle of a family drama. If you do something wrong, Father will tell Mother who will then tell me to talk to you.” How could I be sure you would stick around if the business did not flourish?

When in 1966 Manu got permission to enter the United States legally because the quota for blue collar workers had opened, he decided to leave as soon as possible for the promised land. I was reluctant to leave mother behind. “You must follow your husband,” she said. “You belong with him.” From your hiding place you sent word that you wanted to see us—Manu, our two and a half year old son, Dov, and me, before we left for New York, and Diana before she left for Istanbul. In many ways I am like you. I go to sleep very early and wake up before sunrise. You wrote illegal letters in lemon ink to Switzerland to transfer money for your clients. I write down my memories, dreams and thoughts. I am pretty good with math but find life problems hard to solve. That you were unable to teach me since you had no clue yourself. I am good with languages, just like you, who spoke French, Armenian, Greek, some German and a bit of English. When mother put both of us on a diet, I was sent to Azade Hanim, personal trainer, and you were made to eat boiled carrots. Yet both of us ended up visiting pastry shops when out of mother’s sight. You never lost the weight, while I found a way to satisfy both my cravings and mother. I became bulimic. Both you and I lied to mother when in 1959 I went to the Rowal, a café at Dizengoff, to smoke a cigarette in her cigarette holder, making believe I was Marlene Dietrich, and you passed by in your 1959 pistachio Chevrolet, cruising alone instead of looking for a job.

Last night I had a dream about a French word, lacher. Although I knew its meaning (not fully), I could not translate it. I tried to give examples, put it in a sentence, but no one could understand. At the end of the dream someone was speaking and used the word abandonment and suddenly it came to me: yes, it means abandonment. We can also say it means quitter, to leave. When I woke up I realized I had made a mistake. Lacher, the verb, means to let go. Lache, the noun, means coward. I still see you as the coward who let me go, did not fight for me, ran away when life became too complex, too messy within the confines of family bonds, responsibilities, demands. In my mind I know you must have cared for me. But my heart can not feel it. It is almost as if my mind and heart do not talk to each other. Maybe in time I will no longer fear the ache in my head and heart and they will communicate and allow me to feel some connection with you.


 Although English was not my first language for over half my life, I think, write and dream in English. This makes me feel at home as I have never felt in Turkey, Israel or Brazil.

The Valentine

by Ivy Berchuck

It’s a week before Valentines Day.  I am fifteen years old. The mirror tells me I am too fat and have bad skin.  I know about the small heart-shaped box of candy that will come from my father,  a  mini-version of the one he gives my mother each year.  She always frowns and I am always delighted, but this year it doesn’t have the same thrill. The memory is great though.  Every year, the  box becomes that proverbial, miraculous pitcher.  Each time I devour a chocolate I replace it with one from my mother’s box, so mine is never empty, and I know she doesn’t want hers anyway.  I’ve saved all the small heart-shaped boxes in a bottom drawer. I look at them and see my life passing away.

At fifteen I am hoping for more but it seems hopeless.  I stop at the card store on my walk home from school and browse through the displays. I linger over the lacy ones, with birds competing for space with flowers and cherubs peeking through the bushes to shoot arrows at a beloved. These marvels also cost the most.  They are not , not for the casual acquaintance.  Wouldn’t it be something to receive an envelope with one of these spectaculars?

I focus my attention on one in particular. In addition to the usual adornments, there is an actual stuffed red satin heart in the center, inviting a caress.  A crazy idea pops into my consciousness. Why not? I have enough money to do it. I can create someone out there who sees beyond fat and pimples.

I walk up to the cash register, looking around furtively  trying to be casual. “ Oh,” says the elderly man who takes the card from me, “some boy is very lucky to have a girlfriend like you.”  I can feel my face get hot and know it must be a giveaway blush.

At home I wrap my right hand in a towel to distort my handwriting and scrawl across the page in what I think looks like a boy’s writing. I pen, ‘GUESS WHO?’  Sealed, stamped and addressed to me, it seems  the envelope  runs by itself to the mailbox.

On February 13th my mother hands me two envelopes, one large and one small. The quality of the paper of my envelope is even more impressive than the size.  I grab them and run to my room, ignoring the look of disdain on her face. I open the large one first and am amazed at the joy I feel from my deception. Then I open the other,  and I know in advance where it came from.

There are booklets you can buy of cheap valentines that, like paper dolls, you snap out of cardboard sheets.  Little kids love them. There are enough to give one to everyone  in your class. This one has a picture of a fir tree on it and the sentiment , “I pine for you!” I flip it over and it had the name Jerry Held on the back.  He is a notorious flirt, but I can’t recall his ever having done more than give me a quick wave of his hand while his eyes scan the hallway for the slender and unblemished.  It is still more than I expected.

At lunch the next day everyone is sharing valentines. Three out of the four at my table have been on Jerry Held’s list. We just laugh but look with sympathy at Joan who is clever enough to say, ”He probably ran out of stamps.” We all giggle as I pull out the other one. My friends stared and Sally screamed out, “Wow!”  The girls at the next table join us, everyone trying to identify the sender. I just keep saying, “I have no idea. It’s just a mystery.”

I recall that as the story circulated through school and I got a lot of mileage from it,  I actually believed people looked at me in a new way.  I was so happy I stopped refilling my candy box., and my mother said, “Well, it’s about time you outgrew that.” It also turned out that it was  the last year my father gave me the valentine chocolates. He said,” You’re on your own now Sweetheart, just don’t ever sell yourself short.”

If I had thought a deception like this could continue to work its magic I might have tried it at some other low moments in my life, but  I grew to know it belonged to that certain time.  I hadn’t liked what I saw in the mirror then, but slowly believed in the possibilities of the years to come.


Ivy Berchuck rediscovered writing  at the IRP and has been creating memoirs ever since. It happily continues to provide an understanding of who she is and what life has made of her.

The Age of Innocence: A Memoir

by Charles Troob


Little children are bundles of energy. Not me. I sat, placid. I had no interest in running around and tired easily. My brain worked overtime, but the message never got out to my body.

Mother didn’t want me to become bookish and weird, and after school she pushed me outside to play. I enjoyed potsy and box ball and the occasional round of tag or blind-man’s-bluff, but the neighborhood boys were into stickball and touch football. I was hopeless at these; my eyes and hands didn’t work together. I was bored and lonely, eager to escape the prison of childhood.

The after-school problem was solved when I was welcomed in the homes of some classmates. Their mothers were glad to have us in the house, playing Monopoly or card games, or just gossiping. We might even go out and throw a ball around. But at school and summer camp there was no getting away from competitive sports, and when we divided up for basketball or softball I felt like a loser. My parents told me to work at it. What did they know? They had strong bodies and magical fingers, which they failed to pass on to me. The summer I was ten my camp promoted a mile swim across the lake. You had to do eighty consecutive laps in the swimming area to qualify. Week after week I pushed myself. I doggedly achieved both goals, but all I got out of it was the grim satisfaction of mission accomplished. I still couldn’t win a swimming race.

Oh, to be an adult, when I wouldn’t be judged by how fast I could run, how far I could throw, how well I could catch. Still, growing up had its own terrors. Would I be drafted? I could never survive Basic Training. Would I learn to drive a car? Would I develop the strength and skill to lift, carry and fix; to be assertive; to protect my wife and children? Would I, could I ever be a real man?


After my bar mitzvah I began a second Jewish rite of passage, a year-long series of visits to the orthodontist. One day, waiting for my braces to be adjusted, I picked up Sports Illustrated and skimmed a feature about Charles Atlas, the patron saint of 95-pound weaklings. I found it mildly interesting and looked for the followup article. This one was about the seamier side of physical culture. It opened with a description of Venice’s Muscle Beach, exotic and creepy, and shifted to the subject of “physique” magazines, pretending to high art but catering to an audience of homosexuals.

What was that? I had to read the paragraph twice. Wasn’t this physique stuff aimed at dumb jocks? Why would florists and hairdressers want to look at photos of scantily clad men? Live and learn, I thought, and filed it mentally with my huge store of trivia.

Live and learn indeed. Just a few weeks later a scantily clad man grabbed my attention– in Life magazine! This was a still from Pillow Talk, a split-screen: Doris Day and Rock Hudson were each in bathtubs, chatting on the phone. Where the images met, her raised left foot “touched” his raised right foot. It was the softest of porn, “racy” but acceptable in 1959. Doris was shrouded in bubbles, but enough of Rock was on display—his long glistening leg, his hairy shoulder and arms—to suggest that he had nothing on, with our view coyly shielded by the tub wall. I suddenly imagined myself indecently exposed as I often was in dreams, and I quivered with embarrassment.

That issue of Life disappeared, but I found other compelling images of nakedness and exposure. In a book of photojournalism, a man walked through rainy Amsterdam wearing only a hat to protest the Nazi takeover. The scene was tragic and gray, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off that bare ass. I was riveted by an LP album cover with muscular marble gods from Michelangelo’s Medici Chapel. (It never occurred to me to take out the record and listen to the Beethoven concerto.)

In a Manhattan subway arcade I spotted a small magazine with a revealing cover photo and the odd name of Grecian Guild Pictorial. This had to be one of those “aesthetic” physique journals I’d read about. I furtively thumbed it: pages of young men in elaborate poses, some in togas, some just wearing a black patch on a string. How self-conscious and silly they looked, and how intently I stared at them. The faces and bodies didn’t interest me much. My eye was held by the private areas, the butt and the barely covered crotch. Each time I went into the city I’d check out this newsstand on my way home. Then I came upon a string of second-hand magazine shops on Sixth Avenue where I could linger for an hour and sample more widely.

At Forest Hills High School I became aware of hall marshals and gym teachers with beefy builds and glowering faces. Their menacing aura aroused me as I slinked by them. And the next summer there was a new waterfront director at camp, more fullback in build than swimmer. He strutted in tight bulging trunks, a whistle dangling on his massive chest. I got up the nerve to check out the clothesline next to his bunk. His damp jockstrap was there, just as I had hoped. (Did I touch it? I don’t remember.) Then a few days later I was chatting with a counselor as he dried off from the shower. Unexpectedly he dropped the towel and lit up a cigarette. In one continuous motion—he was the fencing coach, and very graceful—he stretched out on his cot, long and lean, every inch on display. It was hard to keep up my end of the conversation.


I was fourteen, just dimly aware of the stirrings in my groin, with little conception of sexual desire. My older brother happened to ask one day, “When you like a girl, don’t you want to get close to her and touch her all over?” “No,” I said, a little puzzled. This seemed to be the wrong answer, and it got me thinking. Maybe this new fascination with the exposed male body was a sign of homosexuality, as the Sports Illustrated article implied. But the bare breasts in Playboy also got me worked up, if not quite as much. Besides, I wasn’t effeminate in dress or tastes or behavior, or particularly interested in the arts. I liked some girls a lot, even if I didn’t want to squeeze them, and I had never had anything like a crush on a boy or a man. I had rushed to see Pillow Talk, but it didn’t make me a Rock Hudson fan.

In that era one heard about “adolescent homosexuality,” a transitional period of same-sex exploration, endemic in boarding schools. Maybe that was it. I might be entering a phase, one that I would outgrow with my baby fat. How could I learn more about this “phase”?

My parents had given me a talk a year or two earlier, after they heard me refer to someone as a “fairy.” They told me not to use that offensive word. All sorts of men and women were attracted to others of the same sex, including a number of famous people. Legendary friendships–David and Jonathan, Damon and Pythias–were probably homosexual pairs.

Still, open-mindedness is one thing, full acceptance quite another. If a homosexual person ever visited us I was not aware of it. Mother chatted fondly about her hairdresser Jackie, who trusted her enough to introduce her to his “boyfriend” Mike. Dad worked with classical musicians, some of whom were homosexual or bisexual. But in their circle of friends nearly everyone was Jewish and a parent and still married to their first spouse. And they took for granted that their three sons would end up just like them. So bringing my questions to Mother or Dad was unthinkable. There would be a melodramatic response and an all-consuming search for a “cure.” Life as I knew it would come to an end. As for my schoolmates, we never talked about sex, or anything close to it. Besides, I never confided in them. Any real secrets stayed within the family.

Needless to say, there wasn’t much information on the subject in the local public library. But Krafft-Ebbing’s Psychopathia Sexualis was conveniently on our bookshelf, studded with fascinating material. Unfortunately it didn’t speak to my particular question. I wasn’t much interested in what homosexuals did, just whether I’d become one, and Krafft-Ebbing was not a developmental psychologist. So his gory detail about perversions just whizzed by me. Only one item made a strong impression: an account of a man who put a handkerchief in his axilla (his armpit), and used it to wipe the face of women he wanted to seduce.

In retrospect, an interest in the aphrodisiac properties of the male armpit was not a good sign.


My last two years of high school were golden. I excelled in all my honors classes, and my classmates began to treat me like a star. My family had moved from a cramped apartment into a sturdy brick house, where every room was bright and comfortable. Now that we had plenty of space, my mother welcomed my friends. She shmoozed with them and kept plenty of food and drinks around. Only a few blocks from the high school, the house became a gathering place and I a gregarious host. The shy little boy was long gone.

Senior year was a victory lap. First in my class, admitted to Harvard, I was voted “Most Likely To Succeed,” which amused me, since I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I spent a lot of time with a girl I’d known for many years. She sang, played the guitar and cello, wrote poetry, planned to be a medical researcher. I was taken with her spirit and her brain, and at the end of the year we had one formal date–with a few polite kisses–before she went off for the summer to dissect mice and rabbits in Maine.

My body was changing. I was already a few inches taller: I was losing my baby fat. Perhaps my quirk would recede. I was still only sixteen—sex with a woman was years away. With any luck, when that time came I would be able to perform. And if worst came to worst, I could always go to a therapist… Why worry about it?


What was I trying not to worry about?

To me there was nothing “wrong” about two men having sex with each other. It seemed odd-the bodies weren’t built to fit-but how could a harmless physical act be immoral? Still, to perform the dirty deed—and get caught at it—was taboo, scandalous, dangerous. If this were my fate, I faced a life of secrecy and deception. My grandparents could never be told. My parents would feel it as a blow to the gut. And what would happen to the adoring children and wife and friends—the only future I wanted? Many homosexuals did get married, I knew. But how did you do that? Did you “cheat” or did your wife know what was going on? Who made the rules? Why would any sensible woman agree? In Europe, it was rumored, mistresses and lovers were common—but even if that were true, we were in the U. S. A.

I couldn’t envision a love affair with a man, much less a life with one. Men just didn’t evoke those kinds of feelings in me. I’d never had an intense and trusting friendship-the chemistry was never there. Besides, the boys and men I admired weren’t the ones that attracted and confused me, it was the he-men with their broad shoulders and meaty biceps. I didn’t want to get to know them better, I just wanted them to—what? Smile at me? Tell me I was man enough for them? I couldn’t connect the dots and give a shape to my obsession. It was troubling and arousing to be near someone who oozed virility; anything more, anything else was counterintuitive. I had no conscious desire to be embraced by a man, and certainly no interest in getting to second or third base. What did you put where, and why? (Later on, when I overcame my terror of being found out and had my first physical encounters, I had to be shown what to do, like being taught to smoke a joint.)

How could my happy world-my enviable future-be turned upside down by something so nebulous?  Was it really possible that I would become a confirmed bachelor who hadn’t met the right girl? How lonely and pathetic! I crossed my fingers and put it out of mind as much as I could.


I was stranded in a place where such awesome questions could hardly be asked, much less answered. So I kept my own counsel and embraced each day’s challenges. What I didn’t know was that the crisis, when it came, as it inevitably did, would make me into a man.


Charles Troob wrote an early version of this piece for the Art of Writing study group. Thanks, IRP, for your encouragement and advice.

Request to a Glass-Winged Butterfly

by Carmen Mason

Might you
fly as slowly
as you can
so I may
take in everything through
your pellucid wings?
It’s so less overwhelming
like that
peering through you
like that.
And if you would
on another day –
may I use you as a parasail
and ride you for a while
and pretend to
be seen clear through
and not found wanting:
just what I am, here and there?

Oh, just for a while
to be ringed in
iridescent phosphorescent
high hued vistas
never seen


I have been writing poetry and prose much of my life. I’ve been published, won prizes but realize I write most for myself — to express, explore, expunge and exhort.