Tuesday, July 24, 2018

My Ocean




Where it rolls is left behind
Over sand wash working nights
High above the book from fingers slips to floor
Wake lean over get it back
See the dirt a bug a license lost
And he is you asleep anew and older too
Sheets and bones a rosary slips from fingers to the floor
But every time you give it back
It slips again and rolls on sheets
And knuckles washed and pointing to the floor

The Last Of The Red Hot Squirrels



“Oh my God, Mr. Tony, what are you doing?”

Nick opened the gate and walked into the garden just as I was putting down the Havahart trap containing one very upset squirrel.

This has been the summer of the Great Squirrel War of 2018. Overrun with them, our diplomatic contract granting them a sizable percentage of my produce had been  broken. They were now eating everything, and making the neighbor’s cat dizzy with their constant circular frolic along the top of the garden fence. 


“I’m getting rid of the squirrels, Nick. There are too many, and they are eating everything.”

Nick looked up from the straw of his juice box and reconsidered offering the captive critter some snack from a mylar bag. The little Nick whom I met five years ago is now the not-so-little Nick who is taller than all of us, and sporting wispy first growth facial hair. His head is styled to the moment, cross cut above the ears and parted sideways all the way around with the thick growth above the bowled furrow gathered into a Seussicalular top knot. Kids and their stylings.  I suppose we all did that, wanting to fit in, and then years later laughing at photos of our emotional attempt to look like our favorite Beatle. 

“What are you going to do with him?”

“I’m giving him to Sophie Tucker, so he can be with the 31 I’ve already caught and gotten rid of.”

31! Really? That many?”

“Yes, and aren’t you going to ask me who Sophie Tucker is?”

Over the past five years, since Chris and I moved here and became his neighbors, Nick has learned that any conversation with me will entail references and words at best cryptic or at worst indecipherable even upon explanation. His over-glazing sometimes keeps him from even asking a single question that might involve strenuous mental attentiveness. Now, I can almost see him weighing the entertainment factor of the answer to his question against the effort needed to ask it. Sometimes, he will play along, other times, he will simply retreat into his mind and into the pleasant experience of being with a man who is to him a weird foreign country made familiar. He deploys his faux tired voice.

“Okay. Who is Sophie Tucker?”

“What kind of schooling produces a fledgling high schooler who does not know who Sophie Tucker is? That’s what I want to know. No, it’s not even a question. Important stuff is never taught in school. For instance, have you been taught which fork to start with when you are seated at dinner at the French embassy next to Pamela Harriman? And that’s Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman, in-ci-den-ta-ly. A woman with so many skeletons in her closet, you wouldn’t even need to choose a fork for the escargot; just a pry a wishbone out of her. She was full of wishbones, that one. Where were we?”

“Sophie Tucker.”

I always know that despite my rambling, Nick will keep up. He must sense some value in this, and because he does this, I have a better feeling about his future.

“Right! You know she grew up not far from us. We could actually walk to the house she grew up in. And she’s buried up at the end of Jordan Lane in the Jewish cemetery. That is where squirrel #32 is going.”

“You’re gonna bury him in a Jewish cemetery?”

“No, Nick. Squirrel 32 looks a bit too goy for that.”

“Hunh?”

I weigh the merits of introducing Nick to some entry-level Yiddish, and set it aside.

“Sophie Tucker was called ‘The Last of the Red Hot Mamas’ and don’t ask me who the ones were who came before her because, honestly, she is the only red hot mama I’ve ever heard of, so let’s just assume there is a lineage and that she was the caboose, a word that sure sounds Yiddish, but actually isn’t.”

“Hunh?”

“She grew up in Hartford. In the South End. She got married and she worked in a greasy spoon on Fishfry Street. Can you imagine?” 

I paused to look at Nick and realized that I’d have to pause more frequently to unpack some items that I take for granted.

“A ‘greasy spoon,’ Nick, is what you call a low class and cheap restaurant where you can’t be sure of the sanitary status of the utensils, okay?”

“Right. I knew that.”

“Good. So she was working there and going home to this husband and a baby, and all the while dreaming of being a Vaudeville singer instead of slinging hash, and really, who could blame her? I think of her as a zaftig chanteuse version of Myrtle Wilson in Gatsby.”

Again, a pause to check Nick’s face for exasperation. I don’t think he is listening any more. He is fixed on the very terrified squirrel gnawing at the metal ribs of the cage and desperate to be free.

“I think Sophie was just like that squirrel. She felt trapped and doomed and she couldn’t take it. She was like Maggie the cat on that hot tin roof.”

(I didn’t even bother looking at Nick to see how that might have registered before I continued.)

“So one day, she up and left. She took off her apron, and just like Kathy Mattea she knew that Forth Worth couldn’t hold her because her dreams were bigger than the Texas sky. Only instead of Boulder, she got a one-way ticket to New York City and that is where she became a ‘Red Hot Mama.’ And now she is dead. And back home in this mashugana place. And buried up on that hill not so far from where she grew up, and I am not sure what that teaches us. They say you can never go home again, but really, you can never get away from home is the better lesson, I think. That is why the insolent Veda told her mother Mildred Pierce that no matter how many restaurants she opened, she would never get that chicken grease off her hands, and she was right. She was right, Nick. She was so right. She just shouldn’t have said it. Just because you are right about something doesn’t mean you should say it. I wonder what Sophie’s descendants would say. I’m sure they still live nearby. If we walk by that house, I bet we can hear them in there playing her records and singing along with her on “Some Of These Days.” 

“I got in trouble at school yesterday because I said something, and I was right, but I still got in trouble. I mean serious trouble.”

“Oh? What did you say?”

“This girl was being mean to me. She does it all the time, and she gets away with it. She says anything she wants to me. She calls me anything she wants.”

“What did you say, Nick?”

“So she’s all in my face and pushing me and everyone is laughing.”

Nick. What did you say?”

“She told a teacher that I called her the N-word.”

“Oy. Did you?”

“Well she says it all the time. And all her friends say it.”

“Oh. Let me guess. She’s black?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, Nick. Well, this is a big lesson for you. Black people can use the N-word any time they want. It is theirs to use and it is never ours to use. And it doesn’t matter if it’s fair or not. It is just how it is. I’ll tell you how I learned this. I used to use the word ‘Trannie.’ Same deal. All my trans friends used it, so I figured I could use it or write it. They got pissed. I got schooled. They can use it. I can’t. Same thing with the N-word. So what happened?”

Nick didn’t want to talk about it anymore. (He also didn’t even blink at my use of the word “trans” which damn surely is a sign of the mainstreamed sexual times in which we live. In my day, trans would have meant only Siberian railway.)  Instead of listening, Nick was trying to push a potato chip through the bars of the cage. He said, “I think he’s hungry. Maybe we should name this one Sophie Tucker.”

“No. No names. Only numbers. If I start giving them names, I’ll start thinking how cute they are and then I’ll stop catching them and then they will go back to eating everything. There are lots of woods up there on the far side of the cemetery. Plenty for him to eat, and at least 31 other squirrels for him to play with. And, the dead don’t care if you eat their flowers. I’m just worried that it may not be far enough away. I don’t know if squirrels are like dogs that always know how to find their way home even if they are many miles away. For all I know, I may be trapping the same squirrel over and over again!”

“Can I come with you? Are you going to bring him there now?”

“No.”

Not only is Nick not allowed in my house, he is also not allowed in my car. We don’t need the neighbors seeing us harboring an underage boy. The garden is as far as Nick is allowed, and that was permitted only after a frank discussion with his wise father five years ago.

In case you haven’t yet surmised it, Nick is the “son” that an older gay man like me may get in his life should the circumstances allow it.  To be sure, he is not the “son” Chris and I would have chosen or created. Ours would have been a brilliant modern dancer, an Olympic gymnast, star of a remake of “Lassie Come Home,” or Tadzio in a remake of “Death in Venice,” a stunning prodigy mathematician/pianist, a precocious boy Youtube star who ate Mozart for breakfast and was able to pay off his fathers’ mortgage and move them to Beverly Hills, before dropping dead of exhaustion before turning fifteen. That would have been our son. That is probably why gay men are better as the ‘gay couple next door’ rather than as actual parents, but don’t quote me on that because I have gay friends who are raising kids.

I looked at the squirrel. So innocent and with heart racing. So unprepared for everything that was happening to him. My primary consolation was that they don’t have memories like mine or Nick’s. Should he escape, he’d scamper home, but tomorrow he’d be back grabbing at the sunflower seed/peanut butter schmeer inside the same trap. 

And then, I was a million miles away in time, but only a few feet from where I had been a kid just like Nick, for this was in fact the street I grew up on. I didn’t seek this street out when Chris and I were looking for our next house. It just happened to be exactly what we wanted.  We moved in, I took down all the trees and created the walled garden I saw in my dreams. Sometimes, at the end of the day, I sit down and scrape the wonderful black dirt of this garden from beneath my fingernails and think about the perfectly yet curiously homebound cycle of life; of even an adventurous and far flung life like mine.

When I grew up on this street, it was a dirt road, and I couldn’t stand it. I wished for wings, not to see the world but just to rise up and get away. No word had more beauty for me than “away.”  All creation was divided into two. There was where and what I was, and there was “away.” I would look at my parents and my younger brothers and all my neighborhood friends and their parents, and I knew instinctively that they held no dreams of “away.” I was different from them. I was the “away’ child. I was that dandelion seed that screams to be lifted and blown far by some Sirocco that finally carries it over the high fence into a place you’ve never heard about but love instantly upon arrival. I was that dandelion seed whose heart broke while watching “The Wizard of Oz,” and who wanted to shout at the TV screen, “You don’t need to go back there! Kansas is nothing! Wake up, girl! You have everything I want! Stay there! What is your problem?”

Sophie Tucker felt “away.” The urge was strong enough to make her leave husband and child. Any local jury would have condemned her, but not I because I know what it feels like to be desperate inside your heart.  To wake up at the age of 25 and to say, “What have I gotten myself into?”  Unlike Sophie, I wasn’t exactly slinging hash. I had indeed gotten far away from this street, but in the process, I had gotten myself into another trap with albeit fancier trappings.  That is another story, but I was like a horribly misplaced orchid trying to squirm though a crack in a concrete sidewalk, elbowing for enough air and water to live for another day, to collect my thoughts, and finally, to get again “away.” My problems, like Sophie’s were not that big. It was our desire that was big, our unfounded need for so much more than we had been handed; our sense of injustice at our lot in life; our belief that good wasn’t enough when there was gorgeous right around the corner. Say what you will about our abandoning of our lives, we really had no choice but to follow our instincts. This will strain the comparison, but you might say that I traded “Mother Church” for "My Yiddishe Momme" and I never looked back with one ounce of regret. 

Nick had wandered away. Perhaps he had heard his mother calling for him. She seems to have a sense of how long he spends in my garden. Worried that he is annoying me, she will call him home after a spell even though I have assured her that he is never a problem.

Nick is not an “away” child. He is already home, and not destined for reinvention or transformation. He doesn’t want or need wings. There’s no leather bound suitcase under his bed begging to be packed at midnight for a furtive run to the bus station, to Broadway, to the constant stepping down a notch on the playbills of your private Vaudeville circuit and that final return to the street you grew up on, rationalizing your disillusionment and  valiantly making a pretty quilt of the scraps you daily bring forth from that suitcase, still under your bed, still willing to take you away again, should you still be willing to go away again. You silently swear to your garden you’ve still got it in you.  But Nick? He’ll have just the learning that comes from making little mistakes between snacks provided by loving and careful parents.

It’s just you and me now, Squirrel #31.  His tail is whipping. His eyes are wide. His sharp claws are braced against the cage. I can’t begin to imagine his panic. Or maybe I can. 

I haven’t the heart for triumph today. I know I’ll regret it, but for once in my life, I’m going to choose the less courageous, less pioneering, less star-stuck, less dramatic, less decisive, less dazzling, less original path. No musical showstoppers will be written about what I am about to do, but I open the trap and step back to watch Sophie make a run for it, home again before dark.






Monday, November 13, 2017

Robert Sorrell - Jeweler To The Imperial Court!

Have you ever wondered where those queens get their gorgeous bling?  I loved meeting and interviewing Robert Sorrell. I hope you'll enjoy reading his story. He is a native New Yorker and 100% pure NYC Gay. Out today on SFGN.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Studying Steve Bannon

Because your life is in his hands, you ought to be studying Steve Bannon.
Never once having read Breitbart, I have been doing my homework about Bannon, concentrating on what he has said and written that is most widely disseminated.
I think he is right about the threat of radical Islamic extremists who want us dead. I think his adulation over the Judeo-Christian tradition is short-sighted. His adherence to nationalism over globalism is short-sighted. His praise for traditionalism is rooted in fear over some unspecified future change. 
Religion, nationalism and traditionalism are the pillars supporting his backyard and the fence around it, but he either ignores or doesn't like the fact that his home was other long before it was his. In fact, his world has been other many times over before it was his. Bannon's backyard was nothingness and timelessness, and then it was water or fire and stone, and then the province of plants and animals and naked people whose actions would shock a traditionalist in a time machine. His yard was owned by other nations speaking other languages and with other gods. The stubborn lines drawn by his philosophy are the ones he learned in maybe third grade. 
In a nutshell, Bannon is someone who has seen roaches in his kitchen and wants to exterminate them. Great, but what he forgets is that if my neighbor in the apartment down the hall has roaches, I have them. What he forgets is that roaches mutate. There will always be some form of roach in his kitchen making him swing a club just like the naked caveman who used to squat in his backyard. The better route would be to genetically modify the roach to make it not a pest. Apply that strategy to his philosophy and you get internationalism, intermarriage, globalism and harmless/non-aggressive religion. (Everything he currently hates.) 
Knowing this about him, everything falls into place. In 2014, Bannon said this about Putin, "I’m not justifying Vladimir Putin and the kleptocracy that he represents, because he eventually is the state capitalist of kleptocracy. However, we the Judeo-Christian West really have to look at what he’s talking about as far as traditionalism goes — particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism — and I happen to think that the individual sovereignty of a country is a good thing and a strong thing. I think strong countries and strong nationalist movements in countries make strong neighbors, and that is really the building blocks that built Western Europe and the United States, and I think it’s what can see us forward.
You know, Putin’s been quite an interesting character. He’s also very, very, very intelligent. I can see this in the United States where he’s playing very strongly to social conservatives about his message about more traditional values, so I think it’s something that we have to be very much on guard of."
A visit to a good optometrist might help Bannon and might help save our lives and those of our children.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

My book ENDING ANITA has been published!

I'm please to announce that my book ENDING ANITA - How Two Key West Bartenders Won Gay Marriage For Florida has been published and is available on Amazon.



Monday, August 08, 2016

The Indeterminates

First a deep breath. Spade and clippers in hand. Where to start? This garden is overgrown. Away for just a week and look what happens! Barely passable are the brick paths. Their underlying layers of weedblock are breeched. Warning to those who want to “build a wall” to keep undesirables out, dandelions without passports invade on parachutes and root in tiny fissures between bricks. Neatly pruned tomatoes that had sworn to be bound to the discipline of their stakes are thrashing about like bewitched wild things, and their shoots detain me as I walk by.

Is overgrowth a decline in the arc of life or just the lush fulfillment of youth? Is it the glorious spurt before the going to seed? I ask only because not-so-little Nick is also now overgrown. He has been set upon by hormones, and what had been a perfectly compact boy is now the somewhat mystified and confused owner of a body stretching and fomenting. He came into the garden to see what I was doing.

“I’m bringing this wild place under control is what I am doing, Nick. Look at how we can barely walk the paths without having our ankles strangled by the rampaging nasturtium. And that Clary sage with its purple spikes loaded with bees is like a raft bound for political asylum. Or like a roadblock in Kabul.  And the encroaching portulaca clumps need a good haircut, don’t they!  And look at that caryopteris. Trying to walk around that thing could cause scoliosis. What is that on your arm?”

“I broke it. I was on my bike and I crashed. You have to sign it.”

His cast was wrapped in bright red medical adhesive. (In my day, a cast was white plaster and the tape was fleshtone.) As he handed me a Sharpie, he explained that he had flown over the handlebars and walked home with his forearm at an odd angle. Most vexing for him is the doctor’s order that he not go swimming for six weeks. He’ll probably always remember this as the summer when he couldn’t swim or do fun stuff.

“Well I suppose this gets you out of that summer school thing your grandfather arranged for you?”

“No,” he said with some irritation. His grandfather, a chef, had paid for him to go to a cooking school, with an eye to passing down to Nick his profession. Nick wasn’t having it. ‘They said that even if I can’t chop stuff, I can still do everything else.”

I tried to imagine carving a radish into a swan using only my left hand and a ginzu knife.

We never do what our fathers or grandfathers want us to do, do we? My father wanted me to be happy under the hood of a sports car. He brought home wonderful cars for me, including a Triumph Herald. None of them ran, and I was not going to learn how to make them run. Although Nick would have empathized, I kept this business to myself.

Instead, I said, “When I grew up in this neighborhood, we didn’t have a community swimming pool. We made do with a brackish pond on the other side of town. Rather than swim, I played ball. Everyday, I dragged my bat and glove down to the playground where I always got picked last and played right field where nothing ever happened. It was actually very meditative.”

It’s funny how clearly I remember it. Standing alone in deep right field with my Don Drysdale glove hanging limp by my side. The smell of the grass. The smell of the glove. A garden snake with an errand passes my shoes with no curiosity. The voices of all the other boys would become so far away, and in my head I was very very far away. I was in Hollywood. Fabian himself had come from California. He was telling me to get in his car, and he was taking me straight to Hollywood. I knew that Hollywood was where I would grow into whatever it was I was meant to be. In Hollywood, no one had to fix a car. That is about as far as my daydream would go. I’d play it over and over again until I’d drag my bat and ball home for lunch. I wasn’t happy.

“Nick, I hated baseball. I only did it because that’s all we had. Except for Wednesday afternoons at 1:30 when we had Arts-and-Crafts. I made ashtrays or eagles out of plaster-of-Paris – which, incidentally is what a cast for a broken limb was made of in my day, with a dish towel for a sling.”

“So what you’re saying is you were a weird kid.”

“Yes. I wasn’t happy being weird then, but I am now. Just like you are not happy about your summer school or your arm or much anything these days, but someday, if you’re lucky, you will be happy and you’ll cherish all those things that will have gotten you there. The question is, what’s it going to be with you? Will you become a chef like your grandfather?”

“No.”

“Don’t say no. Say ‘Who knows?’ because you don’t know.”

It used to be so much easier to pontificate like this when Nick was shorter than me. Also, I am hardly one to talk to this kid about planning one’s future. I have never planned a single thing that has happened to me. When I was exactly his age, I had a best friend, Jay McGowan. We were outcasts, two matching loners. On a good day at recess, we played double-dutch with the black girls. One day, Jay announced that he was going to visit the seminary because they were having an open house, and did I want to come. I did not know what a seminary was, but of course I agreed. We both came from pious Catholic families but my parents would never have dreamed that their kid would consider the priesthood. Jay’s parents, however, were the kind of first-generation Irish American Catholics who wanted to offer their firstborn son to the Church.

I fell in love with the seminary the instant I saw it. Silvery granite Gothic with a tower that could be seen for miles.  It was like Downton Abbey for the Holy Family. Every seminarian had his own room! (At home, I shared a bedroom with my brother.) They put on a musical show for us, and said that they put on plays and concerts and variety shows all year long. A very handsome seminarian played the guitar and sang a Harry Belafonte tune, “Oh I’m sad to say, I’m on my way, I won’t be back for many a day, my heart is heavy and my head is down, I had to leave a little girl in Kingston town.” Okay, I thought, he's trying to let us know via a song lyric that we will have to give up girls if we enter the seminary. No problem. And from what I could see as I watched the seminarians charged with charming us, it wasn't a problem for any of them. I was a fourteen year-old cherub who knew the score. Jesus take the wheel, and no girls in the back seat! 

I scanned the many acres of the lush green campus. I saw playing fields, tennis courts and a gymnasium in the distance but no one said anything about baseball! It wasn’t required! It wasn't even encouraged! I knew in my heart this wouldn't be Hollywood, but it would be an easy slide into second base until I could steal home.

Before saying goodbye, they brought forth a gigantic round silver tray supporting a mountain of Oreo cookies. Have all you want, they said! This sealed the deal for me.

How could I have never heard of this place, I thought!

That evening, still humming “I’m sad to say I’m on my way,” at dinner, I announced to my parents that I was going into the seminary. I don’t think I was fully aware that this meant I intended to become a priest, but that is certainly how my parents read it. My mother cried with joy. My father frowned at his plate, confused but compliant. A few months later, I left home, and that December, my parents came to the seminary for the annual Christmas concert and heard their son do a solo, Maria’s introduction to “Do Re Mi” from the Sound of Music.  "Let's start at the very beginning," I sang out to a full house. When my choirboy soprano voice ran up that scale and walloped that top note, the auditorium burst into applause, and the bishop beamed at me from his front row seat. I thought, “So this is what it means to have a priestly vocation, to be the youngest of 650 men ages 14-24, all pressed together spiritually in an all-male community forbidden to venture beyond the property edges.” That year, I had my first cigarette, my first drink, and in the library I looked up the word homosexual. I eventually quit smoking….

Nick followed me about sullenly while I yanked out encroaching clumps of armeria, and drifts of creeping phlox. As always, he had come into the garden because I talk to him as if he were an adult. No one else does that. Today, I had not yet told him anything helpful or even odd enough to take home and think about before falling asleep.

“Nick, see that tomato plant? That one is named Roma. It gets to a certain height and it stops growing. It flowers all at once and it makes all of its tomatoes at once. That kind of tomato is called ‘determinate.” See this one here? This is a SuperSweet 100. This one will keep on growing and flowering and making tomatoes until the first strong frost in autumn kills it. That kind is called ‘indeterminate.’  The determinates seem to have a specific plan. They follow their plan, and that is it with them. Very predictable. The indeterminates however run like crazy until they just can’t run any more because the world turns cold. People are the same way. Some are like the Roma. They do what they're told. They have a plan and they follow it. They are the kind that read the IKEA manual before they assemble the furniture. I guess it makes them happy. I don’t know. I was never a determinate. Then there are people like me, like the indeterminate Supersweets. So full of desire to see and do everything that the only thing that can stop us is death itself, but until that happens we want to go everywhere and see everything and taste everything. We never get enough. We want more Oreos!”

“Hunh? Oreos?”

I had forgotten that my reminiscence about my introduction to the seminary had happened silently inside my head.

“Here’s the thing. I think you may be either a lazy indeterminate or a discontent determinate. The jury is out on you, Nick, but whatever you turn out to be, don’t be afraid of anything.”

“I’m not afraid of anything.”

"Well good. That’s half the battle. Now go home and make a list of ten things you might like to be in this world. And no, Jackie Chan [Nick’s current hero] is not allowed on that list. I also don’t want to see ‘astronaut’ on that list. Okay?”

“Whatever.”

“And give your mother these hot peppers. Or cook them yourself, Mr. Summer School chef.”

“Whatever.”

I watch him leave the garden, slower than when he was younger and used to jump about like a squirrel. Soon he will be so engulfed with adolescence that he won’t have the inclination to visit. His time in my garden will become something he will think of ruefully among all the goods of childhood that we give away. I will become uncool. Maybe even “strange” or “weird” in his new cosmology. Years may pass before he will like me anew. I hope the world he is entering will be kind to him. I hope he will be lucky, as was I. I am suddenly Professor Marvel wondering if Dorothy will make it home okay.

Turning back to the task of ordering my own raging universe, where overgrowth cannot be stopped, the song that took me away from my childhood repeats itself in my head.

“I’m sad to say, he’s on his way.
He won’t be back for many a day.”






Wednesday, June 22, 2016

For This I Live

All seven varieties of basil in my garden have leafed out beautifully in response to the regular heat of the new summer, but knowing what is to come - the dreaded and inevitable black mildew - I am wasting no time.
Today before sunrise (the oil in the leaves is strongest at this time) I took in a large bowl of it. I also clipped some parsely, sage, oregano, savory, arugula and thyme because, well, there it was, all green and leafy and ready to be mixed in with the basil to produce a unique pesto. Last week I dug up some young garlic. Fresh garlic has a mellow flavor (like a seminarian's neck.) It is difficult to peel because its skin isn't crispy, but if I can't give time to such a celestial ritual, what should I be doing? Our supermarket here in this less than chic suburb hasn't started the seasonal stocking of pine nuts, so I am using walnuts and no one would be the wiser If I hadn't said so. Cheaper, too. The olive oil is virgin but nothing too fancy. (It's not the violin, it's the bassoon.)
I added two dried Carolina Reaper hot peppers from last season to the black peppercorns when I ground them up, being sure to use rubber gloves rather than risk ruining yet another pair of contact lenses. Never able to decide whether I prefer parmigiano or pecorino romano cheese, I throw in some of both. I can't tell you the relative measurements. I just keep adding things until I get the color, consistency and taste I like. The result is very thick and smooth, not like commercial pesto which is really just oil with some bits swirled in. I can always add more oil when it is decanted. I spoon the pesto into jars provided by my husband who buys a particularly precious and pricey yogurt called "White Moustache" (available at Cafe/Bar Boulud across from Lincoln Center) that comes in perfect jars for freezing pesto.
I filled seven of these, six of which went into the freezer, destined to make the trip south with me to Fort Lauderdale in November where I will taste my summer garden throughout the winter and inflict friends with them rather than arrive at their doors with the usual bottle of wine. I drizzle some olive oil on top of the pesto before putting on the lid. I don't know why I do this. Instinct, or maybe something I once saw my grandmother do. I think it seals and protects it.
I'll be making several more batches, each one different, until the mildew shuts down the factory. For this I live. And now I am stationed in the full sun, like bright laundry on a clothesline, snappy and chattering with the neighbors, chiding the chipmunks and ready.



Friday, May 20, 2016

The Month Of DisMay

A cold May had my fingers numb as I pried bricks from a section of path that had become a roller coaster. Some burrowing critter may have tunneled during the winter below the path, causing the brick to sag. I removed them in order, stacking them according to a system that would make their reassembly fast and accurate. When Nick came running into the garden, I took a moment to stand and return the demanded fist bump. Six months had passed since we had spoken. For an eighth-grader that stretch can be a time of tumult with each day burning something new into the circuitry of a young man. For me, it had been a sojourn oddly saturnine in places despite the Fort Lauderdale sun. When he asked me what I had done all winter, I could not think of anything. Is that what it means to be relaxed, or had I been afloat in my head more than in the ocean? I was glad to be back. Glad to be in the garden. Glad to have these repairs to make. Glad to have lugged heavy bags of gravel to fill the sunken trenches that had made the paths swoop beneath the bricks. Glad to know that I am not superfluous in this place. Glad for the shock of the oddly cold month of May, a month to be remembered as DisMay.

Nick walked on the walls of the raised beds as if on a tight rope and talked about the six months of winter that I had missed and that he had spent at his new school.

I said, “So now you like Breakdown Academy? Remember how you hated the idea of having to go there?” He rolled his eyes at the old joke and opening his jacket, he pointed to the words embroidered into his shirt.

“It’s BreakTHROUGH. And I like it a lot. But today I got a pink slip.”

“You did? Well I’m certain an opportunity to wear it will someday present itself to you.” This went swiftly over his head, probably for the better.

“I accidentally punched someone when we were playing.”

“And what does the issuance of the pink slip get you?”

“Like detention. You have to sit in a room and do nothing.”

“So it’s like Florida!” I added brightly. “That’s not so bad.”

I poured the gravel into the ruts and used a rake to level it before adding a new layer of weed blocking fabric. Nick changed the subject.

“My homeroom teacher brought his fiancĂ© who’s a guy to school.”

I didn’t look up from my work. So is this where we are going now, I thought. Will this be the year when the gay thing will enter the conversation? I had always known that sooner or later Nick would grow into the realization that his neighbors are a gay couple. I think my going to Florida for half of every year may have thrown him off track for a time because the ordinary understanding of coupling precludes extended absences, but ready or not, I would have to say the right things in response to any questions from him. I hadn’t thought it through. I pretended this news was nothing.

“Really? For show-and-tell?”

Again the eye-roll. “We don’t have show-and-tell in eighth-grade. It was something where parents and teachers met and teachers brought their husbands and wives.”

A plane flying overhead made distracting noise and it reminded Nick about something. He said, “Oh! I asked my teacher about the Lindbergh baby.”

Last summer, we had a protracted discussion about the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby when I claimed it was buried beneath a rose bush I was pruning.

“He told me that you weren’t making it up. Lindbergh was a famous pilot.”

“Of course I wasn’t making it up. They called him ‘Lucky Lindy.’ You ought to consider becoming a pilot. You’ll get to go places and there’s good money to be made.”

“No, I’m going to do engineering.”

“What on earth does that mean?”

Nick was ready for another subject-change. I can only guess as to how ideas come to the forefront of the head of an eighth-grader.

“So the three people I admire most in the world are Jackie Chan, Homer Simpson and Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

“You can’t be serious. What about Bette Midler?”

“Who?”

“Nevermind. You know Lindbergh was interested in engineering when he was your age. First cars, then motorcycles and then airplanes. I think aviation is what you should focus on.”

“I’m going to figure out time travel.”

I was now replacing the bricks and my back was beginning to ache.
“Good. You can go back in time and help get the Lindbergh baby back to his parents. You’ll be a hero and get a huge reward.”

“How much?”

“I don’t remember the amount, but now that I think of it, if you brought those dollars back with you into the present, you’d be short-changed. Better to get the reward in diamonds.”

"What if I got the cash but put it into a bank before I came back to the present?”

“Not a good idea. Banks were failing in those days, and besides, even if you picked one that survived the Depression, they wouldn’t hold your account open for that many years, and how would you be able to convince a bank teller that you had opened the account 90 years ago? No, get diamonds.”

What followed was a surprisingly astute speculation on the part of Nick as to what holds its value better in the long run, cash or diamonds. Maybe he ought to consider a career in finance.

“I’ve got it, Nick. Here’s what you do. You take the reward in cash and deposit it in a bank that will survive. Something like J.P. Morgan or Wells Fargo. Mrs. Lindbergh’s father was a partner in J.P. Morgan so she can help you with this. When you set up the savings account, you have the teller take your fingerprints. You tell the bank that no one can access the account unless their fingerprints match, and that the account must be kept in perpetuity, accruing interest at the agreed upon rate. That way, when you get back to the present, you simply walk into the bank, wave your hands, slap your palms down onto the blotter, leave your prints and get your cash!”

Nick did not respond. He seemed to have tired of the subject and had become lost in thought. Then he said, “I missed you when you were gone.”

“So did I, Nick.”

“You missed yourself?” This he delivered with a mischievous grin as he ran out of the garden and jumped on his bike.

Yes, I thought. I had missed myself. I hadn’t realized this until Nick’s joke. I had lost track of myself while in Florida where that is so easy to do, and where it is actually encouraged. I had filled the space of me with sensations and with other people. I had stopped generating my own heat, with no one, myself included, seeing the difference. Then I got into the car and returned, glad for the work needed in this garden, glad to find that in his growing up, Nick hasn't outgrown his visits to my garden, and glad even for the searing cold of DisMay.