The Perfect Horse Costume

by Marshall Marcovitz

There are some people who remember everything about the past.  I’m not one of them. But, in my mind’s eye, I can still see the horse costume my mother made for me when I was eight years old. Roy Rogers had Trigger, a palomino. Gene Autry had Champion, with a banner that said, “The World’s Greatest Horse.” Not as great, as the one my mother made for me, silver with four coal black hoofs. She made it on her Singer sewing machine. It seemed like every night, I could hear that clickety-clack of her making the costume, stitching it together: four leg sections, body, and horse’s head with a shimmering mane. She had me try on the head again and again to make that sure that the eyeholes were lined up with my eyes so I could see. She always wanted what she did for me to be perfect.

When my father got home late, he’d ask, “You still at it? You’re not finished yet?” The impatience in his voice made it clear to me that he thought she was wasting her time, trying to make it ‘just right.’ He wasn’t home much, but when he was, he was always angry about something.

Finally, it was the day of the Halloween Costume Party scheduled for the gym at 2:00 p.m. After a morning at school, I walked home for lunch and ate my usual peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread with a glass of milk. Then my mother helped me into my costume. It had a zipper in the back. I put on the head. It fit perfectly. The eyeholes fell exactly where I could see in front of me.

I went into the apartment as a boy. I came out a horse—a really fast horse.  I galloped down the street to get to school on time. I gave a few Whinnies…. Even now I smile when I think of the sound coming out of me. WHEEEEOOOOOO!

Just before I got to school, I had a terrific urge to pee. I had forgotten to go at home and now I strained to keep it in.

When I reached school, I ran to the boys’ bathroom. I wanted to be careful not to ruin the best, almost perfect, horse costume.

As I recall, I went to unzip my pants, but I couldn’t find the fly. I was standing over the boy’s white porcelain urinal ready to go – desperate to go, but I couldn’t find the opening. Where was the pee-hole? I felt all over – inside my left leg, inside my right leg…as high as my bellybutton.

I couldn’t believe it wasn’t there. I had to go – I kept holding it in harder, and harder. I kept looking over my shoulder, thinking someone was going to come in, seeing a horse standing over a urinal. I was embarrassed that someone would think I was playing with myself, which my mother told me never to do.

I finally worked up enough courage to go to the nurse’s office, thinking she would help me.

The door was locked. Maybe the nurse was at the Halloween party. I went to the gymnasium where everyone had gathered in their costumes. Mine was probably the best, but I couldn’t stay at the party because I had to pee so badly.

So, I dashed out of school—really galloping, galloping down the busy streets of Chicago.

I looked down and saw this yellow stain, spreading, and spreading down my leg. I was so embarrassed. I can see it today. The yellow stain getting wider and wider. Physically I felt relieved, but emotionally I felt terrible. How could this happen? Why did this happen?

Now I felt I had ruined my mother’s horse costume.

When I got home, my mother was there. I could see by the look on her face that she could see the yellow.

“What happened?” she asked.

Angrily, I said, “Mother, there was no pee hole. I couldn’t get it out because there was no opening.”

My memory of what she said is foggy … but the memory of the look on her face is sharp and clear. She looked horrified and devastated that the costume she had made out of love and had made me so happy had caused me such pain.

She was stunned. I don’t think she had ever seen me this angry. And I don’t remember ever feeling so angry, loving and sad all at the same time. I loved that horse costume, and I had loved talking to her, standing next to the sewing machine, while she was working on making the costume, and it was just the two of us.

Some memories are foggy, just out of focus snapshots. This one is sharp and clear.

I always loved her, but I felt she had let me down. She had made this beautiful costume that I couldn’t get out of.

I felt trapped, by my mother’s creation. By the very thing that I thought was world’s most perfect horse costume.

Marshall Marcovitz, who died in 2020, was a much loved member of the IRP community. For Voices, he was the first photo editor and a frequent contributor of prose. 



The Night I Raced Michael Jordan

by Marshall Marcovitz

“Grandpa, did you really race Michael Jordan?”

Yes, I did.

“Who won?”

Who do you think?

I don’t trust my memory as much anymore. Searching my past for memorable feelings is highly unreliable when you’re in your eighties. I forget lots of words and names now, and I used to be a spelling bee champion. But I’ll never forget the night I raced Michael Jordan. Yes, that Michael Jordan, the best basketball player in the world—EVER! All six feet six of him stood “this” close to me and flashed his famous “MJ” smile. We were waiting for a nasty Chicago rainstorm to let up. Rain was coming down in sheets, blown sideways by thirty mile per hour winds off always-breezy Lake Michigan. We were leaving the Northbrook Racquet Club. The Chicago Bulls basketball team had their practice facilities there and I played tennis there too. My grandchildren love this part of the story. Michael and I carried our own gym bags. He lugged a budging duffel bag stuffed with all his basketball practice equipment and CHICAGO BULLS stenciled on the top. It looked like it weighted a ton. Mine? It looked more like a small backpack. I had tossed my sweaty tennis clothes, Stan Smith white tennis shoes, my Jimmy Connors signature metal tennis racquet, and my shaving kit into the bag.

We waited. The rain wouldn’t let up. He suddenly looked at me. I looked back at him. He had that grin on his face. Everybody knows that  “23 grin.” I smiled back. I spoke first.

“Let’s go for it.” I said. I still can’t believe I actually spoke first.

He went “Humph. “

We continued to wait. It rained harder.

Finally, I said to him, “I’m going for it. I’ve got to get home for dinner. How about you?”

He looked at me. Again, he had that sly Jordan smile. “In this weather?”

“Come on, I’ll race you.” I really can’t believe I said that. This is where my grandkids crack up.

“You challenged Michael Jordan to a race!” They fell on the floor laughing their heads off. I’ve never said anything funnier, or more ridiculous in their opinion. I had just dared the greatest basketball player in the world to race me. Michael looked at me with an even bigger smile. He scratched his head as if he were mulling over the odds on a million-dollar bet.

“Where’s your car?” I asked.

He said, “See that Red Corvette, that’s me.”

I said, “See that green Volvo station wagon. That’s me.”

Then he said, “You’re on. One two-three—we’ll take off on three.”

I’m ready,” I said.

I looked at him. He looked at me. We gave each other a little salute.

“One, two, three!”

I heard “three”, glanced over my shoulder where he had been. The rain was  still pouring down, the light was dim. He was gone. Before I even got started – he was ten, twenty feet in front of me. I looked around. I swear I only saw a dim blur leaping into the Corvette, two red taillights glowing, an engines roar. He was gone.

The incident means much more to me now than when it happened. I have five grandchildren: Spencer, Houldin, Olivia, Jonas and Hunter. I love them all very much. I’m eager to show them the world, but I don’t get around much anymore, as the song goes. I want them to think of me as a pal, a youthful grandpa who can do everything they can do, even though I know it’s not possible, probably not even advisable. It’s not my job anymore, to be their pal. It probably never was. The grandpa they have is eighty-three and needs a walker to get around. I’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I feel like a car that’s gone from having an automatic transmission to a nineteen-fifties stick shift model.

My grandson Jonas wants to “be like Mike.” He’s got that intense competition gene, just like Mike. I bought him a vintage Bulls jersey, 23 with “Jordon “on the back. I told him that Michael is a hero to me. He could score fifty points a game, make the winning basket, but win it taking and making the last shot of the game. He was a real “clutch’ player. He always preached the value of hard work. “No matter how gifted you are, you need to put in the work, or you’ll never achieve your goals.”

“Michael never stopped believing in himself,” I tell Jonas.  “When he was retired he said, “One day, you might look up and see me playing the game at fifty. Don’t laugh. Never say never, because limits like fears, are often just illusions.”

I hope my grandkids will always remember that their grandfather raced Michael Jordan and I like to think that they will tell their kids the story. Now I think where did I get the chutzpah to talk to him? What would I give to be able to lose a race to Michael Jordan again?

Marshall Marcovitz, who died in 2020, was a much loved member of the IRP community. For Voices, he was the first photo editor and a frequent contributor of prose. 


Leonard Cohen and the Year I Became an Old Man

by Marshall Marcovitz

Leonard Cohen is staring at me from an old black and white photograph.  There have been rumors that he’s dying. In the photograph, he’s wearing a dark suit perfectly pressed, and a starched white shirt with carefully knotted tie. His thin, bandy legs are crossed exposing the knee-high compression socks he’s wearing to keep his feet from swelling. Just like I do. A plump, furry tabby cat sits at Leonard’s elbow. As always, he’s wearing a hat—a black Borsalino classic with a narrow brim. I imagine Leonard admiring himself in the mirror, lovingly combing his hair, and then stepping into his trousers with a funny little wiggle as he slides the zipper up.

Even when he was younger, Leonard Cohen often sang about the end of life.  “Well, my friends are gone, and my hair is grey/I ache in the places that I used to play,” from The Tower of Song is one of my favorite lyrics at this time in my life.  Just before Cohen died, he wrote, “You have a chance to put your house in order.”  That thought makes me think of my own mortality.  Now that I’ve reached eighty and my old friends are around that same age, I’m flooded with a Tsunami of illness– mine and my friends: In the year before her death a friend struggled with an untreatable illness. She spent an inordinate amount of time every day managing her symptoms. Struggling with illness is about vulnerability and courage, about anger and strength.

My friend Ben who lives in Northern California, in a melancholy mood, wrote to me about a poem he read: Elk at Tomales Bay by Tess Taylor.  He reminded me of the hike we took together there.  I thought about that hike standing in the cold sea wind in our short shirt sleeves. Later that night at dinner, sitting at our table at Hog Island Oyster Co. we were shucking and slurping cold, firm, plump Pacifics harvested a few hundred feet away.  Someone from a table close to us had spotted us at the end of the day and remarked on our toughness.

“Do you still have your toughness?” I wrote Ben.  “I feel that I am rapidly losing mine. If I live many more years, I think that I will look upon my 80th year as the year I became an old man. The year of falls and the carrying of canes instead of hiking sticks, the year of ingrown toenails and infections—the year when every task is a mental and physical challenge taking much longer than it should and much longer than it took a couple of years ago. And it feels like procrastination is the order of the day.”

More friends send me birthday greetings and the wishes they express fall into a pattern: “Wishing you tremendous joy, health and love on this special birthday. You are living a meaningful life. May it continue to bring you beauty in every breath.”

Cohen is resting his left hand on the handle of a cane. A rather regal pose, not a feeble picture at all. He’s not smiling. He looks seriously straight ahead. Eyes narrowed, eyebrows arched. I suspect he asked his barber to shape his eyebrows. “Make them look curved,” I imagine him saying.  Just like I do. I’d rather get a good haircut than obsessively recount my life now that I’m eighty. I could dream about sex, my fantasies, jealousies, and failures. Looking into the beginning of the end is beginning to feel like a Stephen King novel.

I think of the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson’s eight stages of development: The final stage: Ego Integrity versus Despair. His idea is that when we’re older, we face an existential reckoning: We can either make peace with our choices, as unwise as some might have been, or we can spend our final years in a stew of our own regrets. Leonard seems to have made “peace” his choice.  Which will I choose?


Marshall Marcovitz has been telling stories through words and photographs for many moons. He was inspired to write this piece by the music and poetry of Leonard Cohen—especially Cohen’s humor and humanity when approaching his own death.




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.