What’s it all about? And why would anyone want to read it? Well, let me try to explain without losing your interest too quickly. Basically, it’s all about me. Shameless self-promotion: of my writing, of my novels:
Where Are the Cocoa Puffs? and Reis's Pieces, of my amazing ability to come up with clever captions on photos of my travels . . . And also, a blatant representation of my stupidity when it comes to spelling, editing, and computer-type stuff.

My debut novel:
Where are the Cocoa Puffs?: A Family's Journey Through Bipolar Disorder was released in September of 2010. My second novel: Reis's Pieces: Love, Loss, and Schizophrenia, was released May, 2012!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Pay it Forward

My husband and I watched Pay it Forward for the first time the other night. I know, it’s an old movie. My daughter came into the room and asked, “So, how many times have you seen this movie?” “None,” was our answer. “Never? You’ve never seen it?” She was shocked at our movie paucity, but assured us we’d chosen well.

Watching this movie, only days before Christmas, got me to thinking about little, and, yes, even big acts of kindness. We like to think of the holidays as a time for such things, but often we get stuck in the machine of buying and wrapping and eating and stressing, and we forget the little things. Even those of us who don’t quite buy into this whole judgmental-old-man with an a long white beard, (Santa, or God, if you wish) who, if we’re naughty, brings us coal or damns us to hell -- even the most syndical of us, must surely abide by simple acts of kindness. Those of you who’ve read my maraschino cherry essay, might not believe I’m capable of such a thing, but let me assure you, this holiday season and beyond, I will (even if it’s as simple as disposing of a half of maraschino cherry) offer up little acts of kindness. My only request from the recipients -- pay it forward . . .

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Best, the Only and the Unexpected

This is a little piece I wrote last year. I thought it apropos for the holidays. Sadly, as this was written a year ago, everything listed may not be available from Hammacher Schlemmer this year. Enjoy! Warning: This story does contain some 'mature' scenarios and words that might offend sensitive sorts.
The Best, the Only and the Unexpected
by Karen Winters Schwartz

I guess the best place to start something is at the beginning, but since the beginning is really impossible to define, it gets a little tougher on just where to begin. I could start this with something like: ‘I was born,’ or ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .,’ or ‘I am an invisible man,’ or even, ‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.’ But since only one of the four statements is true, and even that one seems questionable at times, I guess I’ll just start with early Christmas morning and Aunt Sharon’s startlingly massive tits.

So there I was, in the throngs of Aunt Sharon’s “hello” with my face pressed into that startlingly impressive mound of flesh. It wasn’t like Aunt Sharon was big and fat and gross. No, she’s beautiful, for an aunt, and her tits are truly amazing. Oh, you think, a fifteen year old boy’s dream, his face nestled into the pure sexual pleasure of her hello. Well, you would be wrong -- dead wrong. It was awful! The inability to breathe, the leering look on my older brother’s face, (I could just make it out over the soft pink flesh) the coarse laughter of my father -- these, the least of my problems. What got me, what shook me to my adolescent core, was the actual withdrawal, the shrinking away of what little bit of manhood I sported between my legs; and with that withdrawal, the sudden irrefutable conclusion that my brother, Mike, was right; I was a frigging fagot!

Oh, all the signs were there! My love for literature, the arts, my obsession with music, movies, my skinny hairless body . . . There wasn’t a nanogram of testosterone anywhere and there was little hope there ever would be. Not that my lack of manhood has anything to do with this story. And not that being gay would frigging kill me or anything, but really I did long for something ‘normal’. At least, I’d like to believe that . . .

But here I was, nine months, three weeks and thirteen hours away from my sixteenth birthday, and I looked like I was twelve -- some sort of screwed-up Peter Pan Phenomenon. Even the most disrespectable gay man would not look twice at me. The only hope my sad little body had of getting any sort of sexual attention was from priests and pedophiles.

“Merry Christmas, Allen!” said my aunt, releasing me from her grasp with a wicked grin, her hands still caressing my brown unruly mop of hair. “Maybe later you can unwrap them fully!” My father and brother laughed mercilessly.

“Leave him alone, Sharon!” came my mother’s voice to my defense, but it was hard to understand her words through her own laughter. Merry frigging ho ho ho!

And then came my cousin, Jeff, right behind her, shoving me ‘hello’ good-naturedly with his broad massive manly hands; and me, proving Newton’s second law of motion, almost falling into one of Mom’s innumerable potted plants. More laughter from the peanut gallery -- it was nice to know that I was a steady source of entertainment. But I laughed the loudest, because if you can’t laugh at yourself life is going to seem a whole lot longer than you’d like. (Garden State, lest someone sue me. God, I loved that movie!)

My little cousin, Megan, looking terrified by the possibility that she might actually be alive, was close behind Jeff. She looked nothing like her older brother. (Aunt Sharon’s men were sort of like my Mom’s potted plants -- innumerable.) Megan’s little spider fingers were nestled between the mixture of baby teeth and naked gaps and a few hopeful permanent teeth; her red hair was pinned on top of her head like a troll doll; her worried look was perpetually etched into her face. “Megan! Get those fingers out of your mouth!” said Aunt Sharon, rudely ripping Megan’s fingers from the safety of her lips.

I made my way over to Megan and tugged gently, lovingly on her crazy pony tail. “Ow!” she cried, but then she smiled her even crazier semi-toothless smile. Someone smaller and weirder than me. I loved this little girl!

Finally the door was shut, coats were put in the closet, presents were put under the tree, and the dog settled down. Because, let me tell you, I was eager to get all this ‘Hello, glad you’re here’ bullshit out of the way and get right to the presents. And I don’t want you to think it was because I was the least bit eager to see what people had picked out for me, because I knew from the fourteen Christmases I’d been through, that the older I got, the likelihood of getting something that was not intended to be placed on my body, (socks, underwear, ugly old man shirts, fluffy faggy mittens . . .) and something that I actually wanted, was as likely as Aunt Sharon growing a third tit. (Which would really be rather interesting.)

What I was eager to do was to pass out the wonderful gifts I had purchased from the most incredible mail order catalogue ever -- America’s Longest Running Catalog . . . Offering the Best, the Only and the Unexpected for 160 years . . . Hammacher Schlemmer! I had worked my butt off bussing tables at Schmidt’s Sausage House all summer and now on weekends. I must have seen ten thousand hot steamy Bahama Mamas, laying stiff and pink and tasty on their bed of sauerkraut go passing by, and scraped ten times as many sausage remnants into the garbage. Oh, how the rats of German Village must have waited each night with their whiskers quivering with gastronomical anticipation! But it had all been worth it, for I now had the financial means to give everyone the Best, the Only and the Unexpected.

Agonizing hours had been spent perusing their catalogue -- eye numbing sessions on the computer studying their website. But ultimately, decisions had been made, money had exchanged hands, packages had been UPSed, gifts wrapped, and finally Christmas had arrived. So it was with great altruistic enthusiasm that I gathered this family of mine and sat them around the Christmas tree. Megan insisted that she play postman, which was annoying as she read like a retarded trout might read, and the name tags proved to be a slow and arduous task. I tried not to fidget excessively as I watched Megan’s lips tremble -- her brow knit in concentration as she tried to sound out ‘To: Mike. From: Mom,’ but my father still found my disposition disturbing. “Will you sit still? You’re sloshing my coffee about!” he growled, placing his hand firmly on my knee and forcing me into stillness.

Mike unwrapped the package of tidy whities. “Thanks, Mom,” he said, dropping the packet down by his chair and not even feigning enthusiasm.

“Well, it’s something you need!” Mom’s voice chirped.

“Gosh! I hope I get some!” My capacity for sarcasm amused me to no end. My father’s hand tightened on my knee until it flirted with pain, and I was forced to squirm away to help Megan. I think we all agreed that Christmas should not run into New Years.

“Let me help you there, Meg. I’ll read the tags and you can deliver them.” She seemed pleased by this arrangement, and things began to move along in a reasonable fashion.

The first of my wonderful gifts to be delivered to its lucky recipient was my mother’s gift. She held the large heavy package on her lap and her face glowed with anticipation. “Whatever could this be?” She teased me by lifting it and shaking it about and dragging out its unveiling.

“Open it! Open it!” I finally blurted out.

My brother shoved me hard in the back. “Christ! Stop being a f-ing fagot!

“Mike! Language!” cautioned my mother.

“What’s wrong with f-ing? It’s not even in the dictionary!” quipped Mike.

My father sighed. “We all knew what you meant.” Megan looked around in her usual confusion. Mike rolled his eyes. Finally my mother ripped the paper apart with gusto. My father mumbled, “What the fuck?” as he took in the lovely gift that sat on my mother’s lap.

“It’s The Pop-Up Hot Dog Cooker!” I announced.

“Oh my!” she exclaimed.

I jumped up and pointed to the picture on the box. “See! See? You put the hot dogs in the middle holes and the buns in the outside ones. Its 660 watt electronic heating coil has time settings so you can heat your dog to your taste preference. And it has a removable crumb basket for easy cleaning.”

“Wow! We might just have to forget about the roast and have hot dogs for Christmas dinner. Thank you, honey.” She hugged me, and even though I knew she was joking about hot dogs for Christmas dinner, there was no doubt that she loved it.

“Jesus Christ,” mumbled my father. His attitude did not concern me in the least. He liked hot dogs just as much as the next guy, and the first time he had the pleasure of biting into a dog cooked to his taste preference -- oh, I knew his attitude would change. And besides, I’d purchased him the perfect gift as well.

More gifts were unwrapped. My grandmother loved The Full Bottle Wine Glass, which held an entire bottle of wine. No longer would she have to concern herself with my mother’s insistence that she limit her intake to one glass of wine. My cousin, Jeff, seemed pleased The 40 Foot Marshmallow Blaster. Aunt Sharon pushed the soft cloth of The Turkish Shower Wrap against her soft chest and thanked me. I only hoped I’d get the opportunity to see it on her wet substantial body. I’d almost ordered the life-like Remote Controlled Tarantula for Megan, but decided last minute to spend the extra $30.00 on The Remote Controlled Flying Pterosaurs, which was a good thing, as even the harmless looking dinosaur freaked her out at first.

I was thrilled to procure my own tidy whities along with an impressively large bag of white tube socks, a new winter hat (light blue, with a yellow stripe, if you can believe it), a couple pairs of Sears ‘special’ jeans and a red plaid button down shirt. I was barely keeping my enthusiasm contained, when I finally unwrapped something that squelched my sarcasm; Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol 2 for Xbox 360. Now this is something I secretly wanted, but had not told a soul -- not something I was willing to admit to, and certainly something my father and brother would not endorse.

You see, I fancied myself a bit of a singer. My mother loved my voice, so I knew that it was she who had purchased this gift. I smiled at her with gratitude, my new treasure secure on my lap. “Thank you,” I told her, and I could just make out the look on my father’s face with my peripheral vision and felt the rough shove of my brother’s hand.

“Fagot!” he said.

Could he not come up with something a bit more original? Certainly there must be other adjectives that even his minuscule brain could come up with to describe me.

I went to the dwindling pile of gifts and pulled out my brother’s box. I handed it to him and watched as he tore the wrappings aside. He looked at me incredulously as he sat with my gift perched on his knees. Mike shook his head. “I don’t even have a fucking fish.”

“Mike!” my mother warned, but she could not be heard over everyone’s laughter.

Okay! Okay! I admit this gift was more for me than Mike. But really, he was a pain-in-the-ass. Why should I spend my hard earned money on an ass? “You can borrow Ralph!” I told him, and grabbed the box off his lap, as I was eager to hold its precious contents in my hands.

As I opened the container of The Fish Agility Training Set, Megan slid over and we took out the amazing tiny football and soccer ball, the soccer goal, the hoops, the slalom course and even a limbo bar! Final gifts were being unwrapped as we absorbed ourselves with the possibilities. Could Ralph, who was rather small for a goldfish, really learn to slam dunk?

My attention was pulled away from the training set when I heard my mother (who had taken over the postal duties) say, “Here’s your gift from Allen, Carl.” Her smile was something more than a smile as she handed my father his gift.

I believe everyone in my family was afraid for me, even my father, as he sat there with his package on his lap; but I was not concerned. It was not going to be a repeat of last year when he found The Pocket Sized Germ Eliminating Light, which set me back $69.95, the most ridiculous thing he’d ever seen. No, this was going to be good. I’d wisely passed on The Million Germ Eliminating Travel Toothbrush Sanitizer, balked at The Men’s Extended Reach Body Hair Groomer, and chosen something truly useful this year. So that it was with the utmost pleasure that I watched him tear away at the package.

But before I reveal the gift, let me build reader suspense, and characterization, and all that crap, by telling you a little about my father. My father is a Buckeye. Now in most societies if you called your father a nut it would not be considered a compliment, but in Columbus, Ohio it’s a given -- almost everyone here is a nut. The few individuals in Columbus (I think there are twenty-seven in total) that poo poo the football team -- believing that it actually detracts from Columbus -- sucks away attention and moneys from the other things that the city and the university offers -- art, music, theater, learning, research, betterment of man . . . These individuals, who refer to the game as a barbaric extension of man’s hostility against man, are, according to my father, fucking fools. And according to the other 747,753 other people living in Columbus, the fact that my father makes a living, and a good living, at being a Buckeye, rates him right up there with doctors and lawyers and in some circles, equivalent or superior to the President of the US of A and the Pope. Maybe you have to live in Columbus to understand this phenomenon, but as an ex-football player with The Ohio State University football team and recruiting coordinator of the best damn team in the entire universe -- well, my father was a demigod.

Now my dad spends a lot of time traveling, watching prospective players, sitting in his office; talking to high school coaches on the phone, messing with his computer and doing God knows what else. Only something like a heart attack would cause him to miss a home game and he somehow manages to travel to most of the away games. So he spends an unreasonable amount of time sitting on his ass, especially on cold metal benches, and even more time bitching about the recent eruption of hemorrhoids, so as I said before, it was with the utmost pleasure and great confidence that I watched him expose The Portable Gel Seat, $59.95. A lot, I know, for a cushion, but this was a special cushion.

It’s compact, with an integrated handle and a center groove that eliminates contact pressure of delicate soft tissue and has 16 small vented openings to allow for adequate ventilation. And I told my father all this, as I watched him slide the seat from its box, and slip it under his derrière. “Hey, this is nice,” he smiled as he shifted his massive frame about on the pad. “You worked really hard this year. Thanks pal!”

Mike was quite behind me -- didn’t punch me or anything. My mother beamed. Grandma was swirling imaginary wine in her glass. Jeff was studying his marshmallow blaster. Megan was investigating her right nostril. Aunt Sharon’s beautiful face was smiling above her breasts. And, me? I was grinning at my dad. Maybe you don’t think giving my dad something that made him call me pal was such a big friggin deal, but let me tell you, when my dad smiled down at me from his new gel cushion with something close to pride in his eyes, all the money I’d spent, all those long hours of lugging around sausage remnants, all the ribbing I’d endured, was nothing, and Christmas was everything it was meant to be.
Give the Unexpected !

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


“So, you’re really into this whole Buddha thing?” Josh asked. He smiled his best smile and admired the curve of her lips as she sipped from her wineglass.

Emily put the glass down and tilted her pretty head to the right, causing the tips of her long blonde hair to sweep towards her bread plate. “Well, I wouldn’t choose to describe my search for peace and enlightenment as ‘Buddha thing.”

Uh-oh. He cringed internally. He glanced ever so briefly and desperately at the amazing swell of her breasts, then he was right back to her face. “Hey,” he said, giving her his best sheepish-boy-grin. “Buddha, enlightenment -- it’s all good.”

Is that the best he could come up with? Fifteen minutes into their first date and already he’d screwed it up. Josh searched his brain for some semblance of a relevant remark. Enlightenment -- what-the-hell did he know about enlightenment? He was saved by the waiter, coming up suddenly from behind, placing the salad first in front of Emily and then in front of him. “Wow,” he said, looking down at his salad. “This looks edifyingly fulfilling. A tranquility of green . . . Progressively healthy . . .” To his great relief, Emily smiled.

Josh stabbed a cherry tomato and contemplated its round redness as he held it in front of his face. “If not now? When?” He popped it into his mouth, and Emily laughed. Josh chewed happily, his eyes scanning the restaurant. His mouth came to a sudden stop.

Emily turned to follow his gaze. “What?” she asked.

His eyes went back to Emily. “Oh!” He waved the air in dismissal. “Nothing.” She frowned. He shrugged. “It’s just my ex.”

Emily turned back to the other table a few yards away and to their right. He watched as she studied the two women settling into their chairs. “Which one?” she asked.

Josh sighed gently and looked at the two women. His ex, looking as beautiful as ever with her dark straight hair pulled gently up and away from her face, her long legs nearly bare, her black skirt only slightly covering her upper thighs. She crossed those luscious legs as she leaned towards her friend and said something; and he just couldn’t help the stirring between his legs. And then her friend -- tall, blonde, startlingly sexy -- laughed in such a way that made him glad he was sitting down. He licked his lips, shifted in his chair, making subtle adjustments, and said flatly, “The brunette.” Emily nodded her head slowly, her eyes still on the women.

“So, you work in advertising,” he said. “That must be interesting. Is it anything like that show? What’s it called? Mad Men?”

Emily’s green eyes turned back his way. “Who broke up with whom?”


“Who broke up with whom?” she repeated.

He looked at her blankly. Who broke up with whom -- was that even right? Should it be: who broke up with who? Certainly, whom broke up with whom, didn’t sound correct . . . Emily raised her eyebrows slightly. “Well,” he swallowed. “It was, you know, a mutual thing.” Which was an outright lie. It had been all her doing. He was still laid flat out and recovering. And this dinner, this woman -- this blonde enlightened bombshell of a beauty named Emily -- was part of his twelve step plan. He looked down and negotiated a piece of endive onto his fork.

As he brought the fork towards his mouth, his eyes naturally drifted back to the table. “Aw, Jesus . . .” he uttered, and had to bend slightly at the waist. He watched Emily turn back towards the table and take in the scene he’d just witnessed. The two women were leaning over the table, their tongues playing on each other lips, their fingers tangled in each other hair. He sunk a little deeper into his chair.

Emily turned back his way, her eyes wide and then narrowing, “Mutual, huh?”

Josh brought his fingers to his forehead. His favorite college buddy joke -- show me any lesbian, I’ll set her straight . . . Now he’d apparently done just the opposite. Jesus . . .

And then, as if reading his mind: “My brother, Ethan,” Emily said. “He can be a bit of a jerk. Always claimed he could ‘cure’ women who wanted women.”

Josh laughed. “Well. That’s ridiculous!” And he put the lettuce into his mouth.

Now what? Where to go from here? Continue to date -- ridding the world of heterosexuals, one woman at a time? He was so rattled, he doubted he could make it through the main course, much less to the possibility of Emily’s place, and then onto step number ten. He’d have to add more steps! He swallowed his food and a reached for his wine. Alcohol! Maybe that was the answer. Then he felt the warm pressure of her hand on his knee, and she was smiling at him.

“Hey, Josh. Buddha, enlightenment, lesbianism . . .” She paused, her eyebrows rising suggestively, “. . . heterosexuality . . . It’s all good.”

Monday, December 7, 2009

A note from Karen and a warning

Due to great demand, (okay, it was only one person. [Thanks, Craig!]) I've added more to After the Wife Knows. This is now a pretty long piece. Those of you that are new to my blog, might want to start with something shorter and funnier -- maybe The Gardener. Warning: there are some naughty words in After the Wife Knows!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

After the Wife Knows

In light of recent ‘Tiger’ events, I thought I’d change things up a bit (a little darker) and add this excerpt from one of my old novels -- one that will, most likely, never see the outside of a computer. But, none the less, there is, perhaps, some decent writing in my old stuff.

After the Wife Knows

Tom entered the bar right on time. He checked his watch. It was five p.m.. He flipped open his cell phone -- no messages. He wasn’t at all surprised that she wasn’t here yet, but that didn’t keep him from feeling irritated. Was he the only one in the world that owned a watch and used it? He sat at the bar and popped a pretzel into his mouth. The bartender came up. “What can I get you?” he asked.

“Scotch. On the rocks,” Tom answered. He looked around the room. It was full of the usual after-work-boys that weren’t quite ready to go home to their wives. He imagined there were a few, like him, that had no home to go to anymore. He tried to figure out which ones they were. It was hard to tell. All the men seemed to have that, ‘I’m here and no one can make me leave’ attitude. Maybe he was all alone in here. The bartender brought his drink and he stirred it absently. He checked his watch. It was five-o-eight. He stared at the light tan swirls of the scotch as it mingled with the ice. It was lovely. He brought the glass to his lips and closed his eyes to the gentle sting that bathed his tongue and throat.

He’d gone to see that doctor, just as his brother, Jerry, had insisted. What a joke. He found it amazing that these people, his brother included, actually got paid, and paid well, for what they did. The shrink had sat in his big leather chair, trying to appear as if he cared, and said, “Your brother tells me you’re not handling the separation from your wife very well.”

Tom simply shrugged his shoulders. “The only reason I’m here is that Jerry threatened to have me committed if I didn’t agree to see you. Can he do that? Or is he just bullshitting me?”
“If Jerry feels you are a threat to yourself, or someone else, then, yes, he can see that you’re admitted to the hospital. I doubt he’d make that final decision himself, seeing that you’re his brother; but he has a lot of good friends and colleagues that would happily step in.” The psychiatrist smiled.

Tom shook his head in disgust. “You people make me sick,” he said, but he was smiling good-naturedly. “Okay. So what do I need to do to get Jerry off my back?”

The doctor leaned forward slightly. “Well, for starters, accept responsibility for your affair. If you feel you screwed up, and you want your family back, then stop feeling sorry for yourself. Stop drinking yourself into oblivion and fight to gain their forgiveness. If, on the other hand, you truly want a new life, then accept that, and go out and begin it.”

“So you’re telling me I have to act like a normal rational human being -- make hard mature decisions?” Tom said with mock horror.

This time, the doctor’s laughter was deep. “I think that’s what Jerry has in mind.”

Tom grinned. “You don’t think I’m nuts, do you? You’re probably thinking, my brother’s an over protective son-of-a-bitch that throws this perfectly great guy at you just to complicate your day. And you’re right! I really think it’s Jerry that ought to be in here. Do you think you could help him get over this obsession he has with me? I mean, he thinks I’m totally helpless -- always has -- that it’s his place to make sure I make it through the day. It’s truly pathetic.”

“I think you need to concentrate on your own problems,” the doctor said seriously. “If you truly believe Jerry thinks you’re helpless, and that bothers you, then prove him wrong. Take control over your life; and don’t let Jerry or anyone else tell you what to do.” He sat back a bit and tapped his pen on his desk. “But you need to take control. Alcohol won’t ever give you control, only the opposite.” Tom watched the pen move up and down, and then, half way between up and down, it stopped abruptly. Tom looked up, and the doctor continued. “I believe you know that. Maybe your drinking to excess has less to do with your unhappiness and more to do with driving your brother nuts, I don’t know. But I do know that Jerry thinks the world of you and he’s worried sick . . .”

And so that’s the way it had gone -- an hour’s worth of lecturing, with Tom having very little to say. He was just glad it was over. Whether he’d go back, was something he’d have to think about. He checked his watch again and drummed his fingers on the bar with impatience. This was getting a little ridiculous. Why was he sitting around waiting? He didn’t need to put up with this shit. He took another sip of his drink. Maybe he should leave . . .

He knew she’d arrived without looking up. He felt the collective appreciation of all the men in the bar -- the subtle decrease in the volume of their words -- the slight shift in the air as they all turned her way. He fought the urge to look up. Lost. Slowly raising his head towards the door, his breath stopped in his chest. She was floating towards him, her hair swinging from her shoulders, her lips parted, just a sliver of darkness between that red. He closed his eyes to the beauty of her approach. When they reopened, she was there, her soft lips sweeping his cheek, her smell. He heard the almost inaudible moan of disappointment escape from his fellow denizens. He could not help but feel proud, as she sat down next to him, the presence of her body sending shivers of pleasure to his groin -- every bit as powerful as that very first time.

“What are we drinking?” she asked, her voice more lovely than he remembered.


She wrinkled up her nose. “I think, I’ll have something else.”

“You’re late.” It felt good to say something harsh. She shrugged her shoulders -- she was unconcerned. “I thought you’d dropped off the face of the earth,” he continued his attack.

“No, just lost in New Jersey. Ran into some friends in the city, they hijacked me to Jersey. I’ve been there so long, I’m worried I’ve picked up an accent. What do you think?” She smiled. “Am I talking funny?”

Her smile softened him. “No. You sound just fine. Cell phone? You never picked up.”

“Passaic River. Long story.” The bartender came and took her drink order. They watched as the bartender took down the wine glass and filled it with Sauvignon Blanc. He placed a napkin down and placed the glass in front of her. Maura placed a five dollar bill on the bar and took a graceful sip of her wine. She turned her lovely face towards him. She studied him. It was the first time she’d actually given him a good going over. “You don’t look so good.”

Tom frowned. “Thanks. What a lovely thing to say.” The bartender came back with Maura’s change and he smiled appreciatively as she waved it away.

Maura continued to ponder over Tom. He looked away from her and took a long swig from his glass. “Your wife knows about us,” she finally said. “She overheard our last phone call.”

“You’re amazingly astute.”

“Why are you angry with me?” she asked casually, flippantly. “Did you think she would never find out? Do you think that lies upon lies don’t pile up, until even a blind man can see them?” She took a sip of her wine and set the glass down gently. “Don’t you blame me! Everything was out on the table, Tom -- before we ever sat down to eat.”

“Shut up.” He turned away. His face collapsed into tears, and he hid behind his drink. He could feel her eyes on him and he was drawn away from his scotch, back to her eyes. He turned slowly to meet them, prepared for anger, disappointment, sadness . . . But he was shocked, and then annoyed, by the boundless pity they conveyed. He looked away. Things were worse than he thought. Maybe Jerry was right, maybe he ought to be in the hospital. Her hand squeezed his arm and she leaned her head against his shoulder.

“I’m sorry that you’re in so much pain,” she whispered. “I’m sorry that it’s over.” She pressed harder into his shoulder. “I’m sorry that it began. I hate to see you hurting so.”
He pressed his body towards her. “I brought it all on myself,” he whispered back, through silent tears. “I never wanted anyone, the way I wanted you. God, how I ache for you, even now . . .
But, I don’t think I know how to live without my wife and my kids.”

“I know. I’ve always known that.” She brushed her hand to his cheek, pushing away some of the wetness. “That’s one of the things that made it so easy. Me and my carefree life, and you, with all your commitments. It was idyllic.”

He closed his eyes. He’d known that. Somehow, he’d hoped he was wrong -- that she was so desperately in love with him, that she’d see this as a chance to be together. He would’ve liked the chance to make the choice, even if that choice seemed a forgone conclusion. He put his arm around her, and felt the warmth of her body. He smelled the sweetness of her hair, felt its softness on his skin. He was overcome by loneliness.

“Why don’t we go to my place?” she whispered, moving her hand gently along his thigh. He closed his eyes to its pleasure -- let out a tiny puff of air. “The last time,” her words tickled his ears, “can be as good as the first, if only you’re apprised.”

Tom stood outside the door of the house. The night was darker than most, due to the small winter storm that had blown in from the north. The air blew cold against the back of his legs, going right through the thin cloth of his pants, whipping up his spine, and biting hard into the back of his head. He pulled up the collar of his coat in an attempt to stay the cold wet flakes of snow that hit his neck, melted, and then ran down his shirt. The keys to the house were in his hand; and he toyed with them, the sound of their jingling just discernable over the wind. His fingers grew stiff with cold. The keys fell onto the stoop, and as he bent to retrieve them, he glanced back toward the safety of his car, the wind and snow attacking his face. He shivered involuntarily and stepped back from the doorway. Yes, the lights of the bedroom windows above were still dark; the boys apparently asleep. Tom stepped back toward the door and leaned his head against it.

For a full five minutes, he stood there, head to the door, before slipping his keys back into the pocket of his coat. He felt around for the doorbell in the dark; his fingers finally finding the tiny round protrusion and pressed it gently. It took some time before he heard the hesitant words above the hiss of the wind. “Who’s there?” Sarah’s voice. He was paralyzed into silence. Would she let him in? Only when she said it again, a little louder, with a touch more concern, did he find his voice.

“It’s me, Sarah,” he said, loud enough so that she could hear him through the door. “Can I come in, please?” He was answered by silence -- a long moment slipping by -- his emotions surging, his voice just not cooperating for a second attempt. He was collapsing. Collapsing under the weight of rejection. He would freeze to death on his own front steps, key in his pocket, but the door securely closed to him. There was a certain ironic tragic appeal to that . . .
The newspapers would surely pick it up. Maybe even the evening news. Would there be photos? “Here’s Mr. Benson before his breakdown.” Perhaps a nice family shot -- maybe the one where he’s playing soccer with the boys -- Sarah smiling in the background. “Here’s Mr. Benson frozen to the steps.” A gruesome ghastly shot. All human dignity gone. A tearful interview with Jerry. “He was the best brother anyone could ever have . . .”

Then Tom was reprieved by the small sound of the click of the door as it opened. He stood up straight, and tried to look dignified.

Sarah’s eyes scrutinized him as the light from the house struck his face. “You’re drunk,” she observed. He shook his head in denial. He’d only had one drink -- hours ago. “Then why’s your face like that? Your nose all red?” she asked, her voice in light accusation.

“Maybe it’s because I’m standing out here in the fucking cold.” He smiled. He couldn’t help smiling, she looked so good. She was wearing a SUNY Albany sweatshirt with tight blue leggings. Her hair was slightly ruffled as if she’d been cuddling with someone. She was, as usual, barefoot, a fact that always amazed him in the winter. Her toes looked soft and delectably pink. He licked softly at his lips -- he’d always had this thing about her feet.

She laughed, but her face quickly grew harsh. “Don’t you make me laugh,” she warned, her voice mingled with anger. “I’ve got every reason to hate you -- slam this door in your face, and never speak to you again, except, that is, through our lawyers.”

“Please, Sarah. I don’t have a lawyer. I don’t think you do either.” Was it possible she had a lawyer? He pushed that thought aside -- keeping the panic at bay. “Please, let’s you and me just talk.” He looked at her pleadingly. She sighed slightly, then stepped aside and opened the door to him.

“The kids are asleep,” she said.

“I know. I waited until their lights were off,” he said as he stomped his feet on the rug and shook the snow off his coat. “You look so good,” he told her, smiling warmly.

“Don’t start,” she warned, pointing her finger at him. “I’ll throw you right back out in the cold!”

“I can’t help it. I’ve really missed you.” He gave her his gentle, playful, come hither eyes. He added to the look the slightest stroke of his hand against her cheek.

She shoved his hand away, her eyes flashing true anger. “Get out!” she said. “You’ve got some nerve! If you think that you can come in here, pulling that fucking boyish charm on me, you think again!” She glared at him. “Get out!” she repeated.

Tom’s face disintegrated. “Sarah, please. I’m sorry. Sometimes it seems all I’ve got is charm.”

“It’s not enough. It never has been.”

He looked at her. Was that hatred in her eyes? “Eighteen years, Sarah,” he said quietly. “Isn’t that worth a conversation? Can’t we please just talk.”

“No more screwing around?”

He looked at her sadly. “I’ll be good. I promise.”

She closed her eyes and nodded an okay. He took off his coat and boots. He glanced around his house. Nothing had changed, and yet everything had changed. He took in each possession no longer in terms of theirs. That table was his -- he’d been the one who really wanted it -- that chair . . . Well, that should be Sarah’s. What about the coat rack? He’d made it; but wasn’t it for her? He looked at her, bewildered. Had so much changed in such a small span of time?

She gave him no answers, but turned and walked away. He followed her, as a guest, into the living room. She sat in a chair far away from any of the others. “Come on,” he said. “I don’t want to have to yell. I said, I’d behave.” She gave him a look of distrust, but moved to one end of the couch. She pulled up her legs against her chest and wrapped her arms around them, fitting nicely into the corner. He sat in the middle of the couch and faced her. He wrapped his arms across his chest. He was still freezing. “You should have a fire going,” he told her.

“You’re the one who always liked the fire,” she said crisply. “Not me. I believe in the evenness of central heat.”

Tom nodded his head. This wasn’t going to be easy. He’d spent hours thinking of what he was going to say, once he got the chance, but now, looking at her, nothing seemed appropriate. “I don’t know what to say,” he offered weakly, which was decidedly the wrong thing to say, because he saw the look of disgust cross her face. “No. That’s not what I mean,” he added quickly. “I do know what to say, I just don’t know how to say it.”

“With your mouth, Tom. You say it with your fucking mouth.”

“It doesn’t help that you’re so angry.”

“I’m not sitting here to help you.”

Tom let out a long sigh. “How about, you help us? I screwed up. We both know that’s true. I know things haven’t always been easy for us, but we’ve been together forever. I don’t want to lose you. I meant it when I said, I miss you. Sarah, I can’t make it without you and the kids.”

She just shook her head.

“I know. I know,” he said. “Maybe that should have occurred to me before I . . .” He stopped, ran his fingers through his wet cold hair. “I’ve done a lot of soul searching this last week and a half. Looked at a lot of my faults --”

“So, you took the week off? Just sat around and looked?”

He closed his eyes and sighed. “You know, I don’t always think things through.”

“No shit.” She looked at him coldly.

“Remember your cat,” he said softly.

“How could I forget?” There was a dangerous look in her eyes.

“Will you let me tell you about that? Exactly what happened, without hitting me or something?” Sarah shrugged. He studied her face a moment -- decided to take the risk. “It was summer, as you may recall. I was coming home from work. You and the boys weren’t home. I can’t remember where you were.” He stopped and repositioned his feet a bit. “I was driving down the street, and I saw the cat rolling around in the driveway, you know, the way cats do, like they haven’t a care in the world. I’d had a bit of a bad day, and I suppose it pissed me off a little that here was this cat rolling around in my driveway like he owned it or something.” Sarah narrowed her eyes at him. He shifted his gaze and went on. “Anyway . . . I decided to play a little joke on him. You know, scare him a bit.” He stopped again and rubbed his hand into his face. “I really thought he’d move. I thought he’d run away and then glare at me with those damn cat eyes, just like he always did. I even gunned the engine so that he would hear me coming.”

“He was getting deaf,” Sarah threw in coldly.

He shook his head at her. “I didn’t know that.” His voice began to choke. “I never dreamed he wouldn’t run. Sarah, I swear, I didn’t mean to kill Albert.”

She looked at him with surprise. “You called him Albert,” she said softly.

“Wasn’t that his name?” he said in sad confusion, tears running down his cheeks.
She closed her eyes. “Yes, that was his name.”

“So you see . . . it wasn’t totally an accident. I just didn’t think things through. That’s the way it was with Maura.” Sarah’s eyes flashed at the sound of her name, and Tom regretted using it. He stumbled on. “You see, there she was. I just thought I’d play this little game. I thought she’d run -- this old fart of a married man gunning his engine at her -- but she didn’t.” He shook his head. “And then, I just couldn’t stop.” Tom had his eyes closed; and he was quiet for a time. When he opened his eyes she was staring at him. Her eyes held no compassion.

“Do you think you can ever forgive me?” he asked.

“I don’t think it’s something that’s forgivable.”

“You don’t mean that.”

Sarah’s lips tightened with hatred. “And how’s the slut now? What’s her name? Maura was it? What kind of stupid name is that?”

“It’s over. I won’t see her again.”

“And I’m supposed to believe that, because . . .?”

Tom shook his head. “I guess there’s no reason for you to. There’s no reason for you to believe a thing that comes out of my mouth, except that I don’t think in eighteen years, I ever lied to you, until I started seeing her. True, I might have stretched the truth a bit where Albert was concerned, but I knew how much you loved him. I was scared shitless. You can be pretty scary when you’re mad.”

She smiled. Tom knew how much she liked her power to frighten. He jumped on the moment of lightness. “Dr. Sweeney, that’s the guy I’ve been seeing, he thinks we should come in together -- you know, marriage counseling. That sort of thing . . . Or if you don’t want to go with me, go alone; and tell him all the terrible things about me. He thinks it would help.”

Sarah looked at him. “Help what?”

“Help save our marriage,” he said softly.

“I’m not sure that’s what I want.”

Pain snaked across Tom’s face; and he was left breathless and fighting panic. “Can’t we at least try?” he said, with renewed tears. “I just won’t believe you don’t love me anymore,” he managed to get out, before collapsing into his anguish. He covered his face and turned his head into the couch. A few minutes went by. He could not gain control over his weeping. He longed for the sweet burn of scotch and the soft numbness it would bring. He felt the shift of the couch and knew that she was leaving him. Well . . . Okay . . . But he would stay here, and cry, until all she was left with was a wet couch and a dead dried-up husband. Then she would have to worry about how to remove the body -- how to shield the children . . .

He heard the soft pad of her naked feet as they stepped across the floor-- stop -- and then her words, “I’ll come with you. It’ll give me a chance to tell someone else what a fucking asshole you are.” And then -- the soft noise of her walking away.

The sting of her words hit him like an olive branch, and with that sting, his heart beat a little faster with the sweet flicker of hope.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Coconuts: That’s why I love Belize

Small terns strutted ahead anxiously, never taking flight, as they were not quite sure of our intentions. The day was awesome -- the air still, with no humidity -- the sea, a shimmering blue. My daughter, Sarah, and I walked along the beautiful, debris covered beach of Hopkins, Belize, Central America. We studied the fresh array of unmatched shoes, coconuts, plastic bottles, brown clusters of seaweed, copious amounts of green sea grass, shattered unidentifiable pieces of plastic, neatly sliced halves of oranges with their gut sucked clean, the severed head of a pineapple . . . All of which had found their way onto the shoreline of Belize.

As we walked, Sarah suddenly declared that she wanted a coconut. I said, “Take one. They’re everywhere.” She found this beautiful large green monster of a coconut. We walked on awhile with it before we came across a rare, but hard, rock thrusting out from the edge of the surf. This rock was next to a pier and a group of small Garifuna children were playing and splashing in the water under the end of the pier. Sarah, who isn’t all that large, started throwing the coconut against the rock in an attempt to break its thick green covering and get to the good stuff. I began to help her. We took turns thrusting this thing against this rock and the children -- five boys and one girl -- the oldest no more than seven -- came splashing out of the water and grabbed this massive nut.

We stepped back in surprise, and then amusement, as they took their own turns throwing the nut against the rock. They got down on their knees in the surf, the Caribbean waters glistening and slipping off their bodies, and held it in their hands and banged it against the rock. They stood up again and threw it some more. Sarah and I just stood there, smiling and watching. I threw in a, “Wow,” here and there, but the children weren’t talking to us -- they were strictly concentrating on the task at hand. Finally, after a good ten minutes, the thing started to give up and split apart, and then these boys got their little hands, and their feet, and their fingers in there, sitting in the surf and having a tug of war. This involved more banging and more pulling.

Another ten minutes went by. We were still standing there watching and smiling, the hot Belizean sun beating down on us. The green husk was gone at this point. All that was left was a fuzzy round ball about the size of a small cantaloupe, and these boys were tugging on the whitish fiber that covered the inner stone, throwing the strands of fibers about their heads and flinging it into the sea, until, at last, a perfect light tan globe was revealed.

The oldest, and most hard working of the boys, after a half hour of work, stood up, dripping from the sea and proudly handed the coconut to Sarah. She bowed slightly, smiled and said, “Thank you! Let me shake your hand.” And then she shook all the children’s hands, and then they ran, without a word, back out and into the sea. And that, is one of many reasons, why I love Belize . . .

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mickey Mouse Hands

As an optometrist, I have a lot of wonderful and interesting patients. One day, this fairly normal looking, thirty-year-old man, who’d just graduated with a Master’s in film/production/writing, comes in for an eye examination. He’s moving out of state, and this will be the first and last time he’ll be coming to my office. He’s nice. He’s funny. We’re having fun. I’m feeling a little slap-happy as it’s late in the day and I have a three day weekend ahead of me. I can’t help noticing his hands; and then I begin to obsess over them.

“Which is better? One? Or two?” I say, but my eyes and my mind are on his hands.

You see, he has an impressive amount of dark hair on his arms, not ape-man or anything, but impressive. As I casually gaze down his arms towards those hands, quite suddenly (and shockingly) the hair is gone! Right at his wrists; it just disappears into lily white hands. Where is the hair? What happened to it? I’m concocting all sorts of scenarios in my head: he’s filmed a hand cream commercial in one of his last classes and he was the star; he accidentally dropped his hands into a vat of Nair; he has some really strange disease where hair won’t grow on his hands; hand chemo?; he singed all his hairs off in some bizarre grilling accident . . . ?

Well, it’s driving me nuts, so I finally think to myself, “You know, Karen, you’re never going to see this guy again. Just ask him.”

So I do.

“This may seem like a strange question,” I say, “but it’s not like I’m going to ever see you again . . . I just have to ask.” I pause a moment -- think about keeping my mouth shut, but then I just can’t. “What happened to the hair on your hands?”

He looks at his hands, flips then over a few times and says, “Oh, I shave them.” In all my concocting it never occurred to that he would do this purposefully and repeatedly. He goes on to explain that he never liked the way his hands looked, so he pulled a few hairs off and he liked the way it looked so he yanked out a few more . . .

“Well,” I, stupidly add. “It gives you something to do.”

He’s still admiring his hands as he says, “You know, no one ever notices.”

Of course, I’m thinking, but manage to keep inside my head, “Everybody notices! They just don’t have the balls to ask.”

We part on the best of terms. I shake his hand ‘goodbye’. “And really,” I think, as he leaves my life forever, “the man has beautiful hands.”

Monday, November 30, 2009

On the Edge of Cliché

He was standing on the edge. The edge of desire. The edge of his future. Smoking his last cigarette, thinking deeply, inhaling deeply -- exhaling -- the smoke curling around him in the dark night air. In his mind’s eye, he looked over his shoulder and saw his past laid out on the ground like a gutted trout. Organs of his failure glistening in the hot sun . . . He’d gotten himself into this. Neatly, he’d boxed-up his world of solitude. And, if he was lonely, whose fault was that? If his head hurt, and his hands cramped, and he was floundering in his own despair -- it was all part of the game, wasn’t it? Part of what must be endured.

When she was there -- before she’d left him to his own devices -- she’d kept him from his true desire. Oh, she was something, alright.

“Come on, Shakespeare,” she’d chided, disrupting his thoughts; the perfect combination of words flying out of his head. “Take a break, will you?” He’d look up from his magic fingers, wishing he could hit delete, and she’d be gone.

Be careful what you wish for . . .

It was true -- you can’t always get what you want. Last month, only days before she’d slipped out the-door-of-his-life, he’d watched her -- positively breathtaking -- as she swirled her glass of wine. Then she’d rolled her eyes to the heavens, and said to the small gathering, “My husband.” She’d flicked her eyes his way. “The writer.” Yes, he’d watched her at the reception, and it was he who was the bleeding man in her glass.

He sighed, closing his eyes to his past. Turning away from the gloomy night, he took a step forward, into the future, throwing the cigarette onto the ground and crushing the smoldering end with the heel of his brushed suede shoe.

His fingers quivered with anticipation as he reached for the doorknob. The knob turned. The door squeaked its complaint. The light from the house -- his house -- sliced through the night. His eyes fell immediately to the desk, to the neatly stacked pile of rejection letters, to the coffee cup sitting cold, lonely, and deserted near the open laptop. A few quick steps and he was there, running the tips of his fingers lovingly over the keyboard. The monitor jumped back into life. The words -- his words -- harsh and dark against the white, danced before his eyes. He sank down into the chair, picking up the gnawed pencil, and placed the eraser between his teeth; as was his habit. Letting the pencil dangle from his mouth, he stared despondently at the clouds in his coffee.

His eyes shifted to the whiteness of the monitor. He reached toward the light with shaking hands, and blacked out the words of the entire document, blackened them until the screen was dark -- as dark as the night outside his walls. Nodding his head, he pursed his lips in satisfaction. His index finger hovered momentarily, like a tiny helicopter, over the delete button. Then, with an exact movement, his finger descended. The monitor stared back, bright and harsh and white in its nakedness.

He stared at the harshness a moment before removing the pencil from his mouth and throwing back his head with a hysterical hyena laugh. Reaching for the coffee, he slugged down the cold brew, cringing in pure disgust. Then, the pencil back between his lips, he hit the undo button, and laughed again when his words magically reappeared. As the pencil moved up and down in his mouth, “click, click, click,” against his teeth, he moved the cursor to the end of the document and began to write.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Gardener

“Why did you cut it all off?”

She stares out the window.

“Why?” he repeats.

She turns to him slightly, her eyes narrowing with disapproval. “Why, Stanley? Why does everything turn into a drama with you?”

Stanley turns from her, looks out the window. She studies, with a sliver of pleasure, the wretched lines upon his face, and knows he’s taking in the trauma of the open wound -- taking in the splattering of dying leaves remaining in the yard. She turns back to the window -- a small breeze blows across the grass; the leaves burst into life. His voice quivers slightly. “You knew, I loved it. Looked at it everyday . . .”

She rolls her eyes impatiently. “It was banging against the house. Threatening its very existence. Keeping me up at night.”

His eyes come back to her, a little danger in them. “And, I suppose, he did it.”

She laughs sharply. “Well, I certainly wasn’t going to climb up that tree with a chainsaw strapped to my back!” She sees Stanley shiver slightly at mention of the chainsaw. She laughs again. “Vrrrrrmm,” she says. He cringes.

The image of Pablo shimmying up the tree -- the chainsaw strapped to his glistening muscular back, his arms rippling with the effort -- makes her smile. It was a hot day, and she’d sat on the patio, two sweating glasses of lemonade nearby, and watched the gardener ease his body onto the limb. “Be careful, Pablo!” she’d called. His smile flashing down on her; then the excitement of the noise, the ripping away of the branch, the thrill as the limb hit the ground, the leaves fluttering up in despair. Then Pablo climbing back down -- watching him rip the branch apart -- coming over, every now and then, to smile at her, wiping gently at the sweat along his brow, reaching his hand out and sipping from her offering of cold lemonade . . .

Her beautiful memory is suddenly shattered by her husband’s words.

“You could’ve had him trim it just a bit,” he whines. “It surely wasn’t necessary to lop off the entire thing!”

She tilts her head Stanley’s way, looks away from his tragic face, slides her eyes over his slopping shoulders, runs her eyes down the soft swell of his belly, and wonders; what could she have Pablo lop off next?

Shameless self-promotion

If anyone is really bored today-- just sitting around attempting to digest Thursday's meal -- check out the following web site: http://www.goodmanbeck.com/ and hit the 2010 tab. Where are the Cocoa Puffs?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Art of Happiness

The Art of Happiness
By Karen Winters Schwartz

Her hair was the brightest of reds. The sort of red that makes you wonder, “Who comes up with these colors?” And she was crying, for the third time in less than ten minutes. Which is the exact amount of time I’ve known this woman. Her name is Betty and she’s in her late fifties, American, and extremely unhappy. Seems her mother, who had Alzheimer’s, had died -- nine months ago . . . Sharon is nearby. I’ve known Sharon for about twelve minutes. Sharon is in her thirties, a Garifuna living in Chicago, who is back in Belize for a beluria. Sharon is a little drunk -- maybe a lot drunk and she is extremely happy.

We are all on the beach, dressed in bathing suits and sunshine. We are on the north beach of Hopkins, Belize, Central America. My husband and I discovered this wonderful country in the late nineties and built a house south of Hopkins two years ago. Hopkins is a village along the southern coast, in the Stann Creek district of Belize which consists of about one thousand souls, primarily the Garifuna. The Garifuna people are known for their warmth and welcoming attitude, so that there is also a rich blend of Maya and Guatemalan workers, Creoles, red-eyed Rastafarians, Chinese restaurant and grocery store owners, retired expats, fortune seeking and displaced foreigners, transient hikers and tourists -- all who roam the pot-holed streets and beaches of this small coastal village. Although it’s not yet possible for us to live there fulltime, we spend as much time there as we can. Sarah decided to spend two months of her summer break from college in Belize and I deemed it necessary to accompany her. We have long term renters living in our home who work at North Hopkins Bay, so we have a sweet little arrangement allowing us to stay at the resort on those visits where we don’t demand the use of our own home. We stayed at the resort for a week, before Sarah moved in with the friends that she was staying and I flew back to my home in Central New York State.

Sharon is telling us about her grandmother and the beluria. A beluria generally begins on the Friday after a love one has died and climaxes on the ninth night with a festive party of drumming, dancing, drinking and feasting. Sharon’s grandmother died a year ago. She explains that a beluria can be called for every year. It is an opportunity for the departed soul to reach out to the living, letting their worries or concerns be known by entering the body of a living loved one. Sharon doesn’t believe her grandmother is unhappy -- she doesn’t expect she’ll have a lot to say during the night’s celebration.

At the mention of the dead grandmother, Betty cries for the first time. It quickly becomes obvious that this woman’s sorrow is inconsolable. “Baby,” Sharon tells her, taking her in her dark arms. “Your mama wouldn’t want you to be so unhappy.” Betty wipes at her tears with her beach towel. “It takes a year,” Sharon assured her. “You have four more months and then you will be over your mama’s death.”

Well, I wasn’t so sure about this. Betty seemed the sort of sadness that time could not fix. Later, when Sharon had wondered away with her beers and Betty had stumbled off in her misery, I tell my daughter, Sarah, about this encounter. We’re sitting by the sea and Sarah is reading the first few pages of The Art of Happiness she’d ordered used and over the internet to bring with her to Belize. She was complaining that it was way too simple for her. She’s been studying Buddhism and working towards enlightenment for awhile now and she is way beyond the basic concepts of this book. “Maybe we should give this book to Betty,” she jokes.

“Hey!” I agree. “That’s not a bad idea.” “We could just leave it laying about where she might find it.” “Well, we’d want to make sure she found it . . .”

A few days pass. I’ve seen Betty coming out of one of the villas, so I know where she lives. We were on our way to dinner with a couple of friends and I say, “Right there. That’s Betty’s villa.”

“We should leave her the book,” Sarah says. But neither of us are brave enough to walk onto her porch and leave the thing.

“I’ll do it!” says one of our friends, Valerie. She steps onto the structure without hesitation, carefully sets the book open and upright, then we hightail it out of there.

The following day we’re on the beach, facing a prefect sea and Betty comes out of nowhere and asks me, “Did you lose a book?” I look at her with confusion. I’m lucky as I have my sunglasses on -- hiding the partial lie -- the partial truth -- and shake my head no. “Well, it’s so strange,” she says. “On my porch -- open to a page, was The Art of Happiness, a book my mother told me, before she died, that I should get. I thought, because I was crying the other day that it might be from you?”

I shake my head some more. “I didn’t put it there . . .”

“Well, its so strange. Maybe it’s divine intervention.”

“Yes,” I agree. “I think it’s from your mother.” Betty is smiling as she says, “She told me I should get it. I just never did.”

She left after awhile -- after we’d talked about books and living in Belize -- about a lot of different things and you know, she didn’t cry once. And I believe -- I truly believe, that the book wasn’t from me, or from Sarah, or from Valerie, but from all of us and from everyone --but mostly from Betty’s mother.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Masturbation & Mother-in-laws

My mother-in-law, Ruth, is the sort of person who must fill up a space with movement, or a silence with chatter -- who drives a calm person mad, and a mad person catatonic. She is the sort of person that goes up to my guests at our summer party and talks to them about the benefits of masturbation.

"Karen, your mother-in-law is talking to me about masturbation!"

"Yes. I know...." I say, flipping the chicken on the grill and wishing I wasn't too busy to get shit-faced. "What can I say?"

I am a person who likes the sea, winged creatures floating on updrafts, small frogs croaking unreasonably loudly in the night, and the silence of solitude. And the silence of companionship -- my husband’s thigh pressing gently into mine as we read side by side. A reasonable sort of person, if I don’t say so myself.

The time is the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, the place is my home, the cast is my mother-law-in and myself. My husband is at work. I don't remember where my girls are. My mother, who lives next door in an in-law's apartment, is asleep. And I am alone with Ruth; and she's talking nonstop. She's been talking for hours, pacing about with her head tilted to the floor. And I: moving about the house, cleaning an already clean counter, picking up a stray object, re-scrubbing the frying pan. I am afraid to sit -- lest she devour me with her prattle. Suddenly her talk turns to masturbation. I am fully aware of her feelings on the subject. I scrub the pan harder.

“Ruth,” I say, “I really don't need to talk about masturbation."

"Well." She stops her constant movement. "It's nothing to be uncomfortable about."

"I’m not uncomfortable with masturbation, Ruth,” dropping the sponge to prove my point. “I just don't feel the need to talk about it."

"Well, what do you want to talk about?"

I am panicking in my head, trying come up with something to talk to this woman about -- anything! But, I fail. She commences her movement. I pick up the sponge. The momentary silence is quickly filled with the continuation of her words.

“I knew these two women,” she prattles on. “Two sister’s who lived together. They had a very nice little house. Maryann liked to garden. Jean, she loved to cook. Neither one of them ever married. They were both, however, afraid to touch themselves.”

“It must have been a challenge,” I tell her, with tempered sarcasm, “for them to bathe.”

"No, Karen." She holds her temper with me. "They touched themselves to bathe, but did not masturbate."

I sigh, close my eyes in misery. She continues. "And they both went crazy."

I feel the need -- couldn't stop myself -- from reminding her that mental illness is a biological brain disease and not, in anyway, connected to a lack of masturbation.

And we continued this dance of mother-in-law and daughter-in law. Eventually she went home, and my mother woke up, and my daughters appeared, and my husband came home, and the frogs croaked and the birds were on wing.... But I have yet to fully recover; and continue to feel the need to masturbate, repeatedly, while screaming into a pillow.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Problem with Maraschino Cherries

The four of us, Linda, the two Pauls, and I eat every night at the Italian restaurant even though we’re in Mexico. It’s the one restaurant in this all-inclusive resort that does not allow anyone under the age of twelve. Paul K. and Linda, the couple that we’re traveling with, are childless. They have little desire to watch children eat. This particular evening, I’m sitting across from Paul K. and I’m maturely eating a gross amount of food. As I shovel in the last bite of my risotto into my mouth, and anticipate a totally unnecessary dessert, I watch the waiter cleaning away the dishes from the booth that I’m facing. I notice that he’s failed to remove a small red object from on the seat of the booth. I study this small red glob. I consider of getting up and removing it myself; but I’m lazily glued to my seat.

The waiter comes and removes our plates. The four of us order decaf cappuccinos. I’m still not ready to make my way to the dessert bar, but my eyes linger, with mild concern, every once-in-awhile at this bright red object on the bench. Paul K. begins to tell us of his good deed of the day. Earlier, on the beach, he removed a broken cinder block from the surf, saving some poor soul a stubbed toe. My eyes, again return to the red object. I’ve pretty much decided that it’s one half of a maraschino cherry. I resolve to do my good deed of the day; but before I can get my lazy ass off my chair, the hostess suddenly appears, leading two women to the accursed booth. They are large American women. And wouldn’t you know, the larger of the two is dressed in a white terrycloth strapless pantsuit. She wiggles her way into the booth before I have a chance get up or utter a word.

I sigh in resignation. And I, not one to be shy regarding my own social shortcomings or lack of do-gooderness, tell my three tablemates about the demise of the maraschino cherry. They all glance at this woman who is ignorantly eating her bread and sipping her water, completely unawares. As we all wait, with patient morbid curiosity, for her to get up and make her way to the salad bar, I study this woman. As I said, she is large and the pantsuit is tight and it’s strapless and the restaurant is cold and there is nothing between her breasts and the thin white terrycloth. I ask my friend, Paul, if he might shift a little to his left, thus blocking my direct view of her anatomy. She eats her bread very slowly. We wait, while sipping our coffee.

“Here we go,” I announce as I see her shift to get up. We all watch surreptitiously. At first there is nothing to be seen but the vast whiteness of her derrière. Then we all see it, down low, almost to her thigh -- a perfectly red splash of color on all that white.

“There it is!” declares Linda. We all nod solemnly. “She won’t wear that a second time.”

“Well,” I say, refusing to totally accept my guilt, “she never should’ve worn it the first time!”