rev 21 4

My downstairs neighbor Peter caught me by the arm outside the school yard and said, smiling, “My brothers and I used to beat up on each other all the time!”  He had witnessed moments before, one hundred yards to the west, the sudden and rapid breakdown of a fairly routine and even civil walk to school this morning with the boys – Carter, Bennett, Teak – as he and his two kids and we four strolled up 84th Street.  The conflagration happened somewhere just as we reached Amsterdam Avenue, or perhaps as we stepped off the curb heading east.  I don’t know: I was in front talking to Peter.


The tell-tale increase in volume from behind me, which comprised voices in opposition to one another and was distinguishable in 112608malla_miintensity from the variation that exists in Group Intensity Over A Shared Video Game Conquest, caused me to pivot and spot Teak, the youngest, at 5, trying to take a swing at one or both of his older brothers.  The exact location of his punch was less important to him it seemed than was hitting something Human-with-the-same-DNA.  Preferably Carter or Bennett, but then I would suffice as well.


Dragging him across the street in his anger – for a 5-year-old scorned does not care about oncoming cars or about vehicles with four or more axles – I managed to stave off an attack for at least 1.5 seconds.  This treaty ended as abruptly as its lifespan when Teak hauled off and kicked Carter in the butt, after which time all three boys in sequence kicked each other in buttocks and shin, punched in back and arm, and hurled verbal insults intended to inflict real and/or imagined harm using words as complicated as one can muster within the two-syllablic range of elementary school English and from what Harry Potter and Sandra Boynton books they have read or been read to from, not to mention the occasional Spider-Man movie, which ups considerably the vocabulary arsenal.


Peter and his kids had long gone ahead, he wisely curtailing our genteel discussion about Thanksgiving plans and how I enjoyed cooking – I was in the middle of a monologue on how I experiment with new stuffing recipes and detailing my favorite one of chestnuts and apricots and the time I blew up the chestnuts in the microwave – and they were well ahead of us toward the chain-link gate where kids from 1st through 4th grades enter (Kindergartners go through the front door).  Somehow, we managed to traipse along without anyone drawing blood, and at the place we do every day, we stopped for our prayer.  First, all three boys were told to apologize to one another, notwithstanding the objections from Carter that he hadn’t offended but one (Teak).  Not interested in legalistic exactitude but rather universal love as well as expedience, as I was running late for work, I reiterated my instructions to apologize then and there.  We prayed, and Carter and Bennett ran off through the gate.  I cannot claim that it was precisely “delightful” group communion with the Living God.


Peter stopped me outside the gate as I held Teak’s left hand (so he could suck his right thumb) and offered his words of mutual understanding.  The Fraternity of Fatherhood.


As I continued down the block towards the front entrance to take Teak in, he pulled his thumb out and said, “Dad?”




“Can you wipe my tears?”


I bent down and took the heels of both hands and rubbed them across his cheeks.  I didn’t see or feel tears, but he had felt something, and he didn’t want to be seen in front of his classmates with a wet face when it wasn’t raining.



photo:  malla_mi


One woman’s dream is another man’s nightmare

I woke up quite upset on Thursday morning while in London.  I had had a bad dream.


Waiting for the five hours’ difference between there and New York to pass, so that I could call the Lovely K once she dropped off the boys at school, I dialed her at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.


“I had a bad dream last night, honey.”




“Yeah.  I dreamed that you had…you know, passed away.  I was biking down the path from the store to the ferry boat in Point O’ Woods and realized this – that you had died – and I was devastated.”


“Oh.”  There was a pause.  Then she laughed.  “I dreamed that I was riding around in California all night long with Brad Pitt.”


This is a true story.

Over dinner…

Sitting in Chaat, a Bangladeshi eatery in Shoreditch, down a difficult-to-find Red Chapel Street, I am the only customer – they are booked for the night, all 16 seats of their 25’-square restaurant – but the coffee-colored skin lady welcomes me at 6:00 when she realizes it’s just me.  Her first party is at 7:45, and I assure her I’ll be long gone before then.  I am fresh from the British Museum – where I learned more about King Nebuchadnezzar, saw the first known map of the ancient world, a painting of Daniel in the lions’ den that was sublime, and the Rosetta Stone – listening to vintage Bowie – Jean Jeannie – to be followed by Marvin Gaye and Lynyrd Skynyrd, quite the eclectic mix, and reading about San Francisco’s Lesbian Avengers group in The112008machinedance Sun magazine.  The writer expresses her frustration over her erstwhile lover’s decision to “transition” to become a man, wondering aloud to the reader, “why would anyone consciously choose a role that throughout history had encouraged insensitivity and aggression?”


Then I thought about Jesus.


Didn’t he – the King of all kings, the one who had created maps and song and art and men and women – take on a role where he assumed, and absorbed, the ultimate form of aggression by people who were insensitive to him, and then laid down his life for those very aggressors along with us?


I ate my samosas, mutton with peppers, basmati rice and hot alloo, with raita, and listened to this forlorn woman in the Bay Area, who – though she says she later hugged her lover with his “broad, flat chest with satisfaction” – nevertheless, “walked home alone.”



photo:  machinedance

A writer’s limits

On the day that Mom and I were married, it had been raining.  The men who were in Kerrville for our wedding all went and played golf in the rain that morning, and had more fun than success.  The women did whatever women do on wedding days, which usually means lots of make-up, lots of hair, and lots of conversation.  They also ate brunch and drank things called mimosas.


111508octavineMy most clear memory is standing with the minister at the front by the altar with my groomsmen on one side and the bridesmaids on the other, some 200 people in the pews watching, and seeing Mom come down the aisle toward us.  My eyes were fixed on her.  I burst out crying.  Believe it!  But I got it under control and then she arrived and stood next to me, as serene and confident and happy as I had always known her to be.  I looked like a penguin in my tuxedo; she looked like an angel in white.  But as beautiful as she looked on March 8, 1997, she looks even more beautiful today, because I know her eleven years better.


Sweet, right?  The assignment was for the parent to write about a memory, 6-8 sentences or a couple paragraphs long, and give to our children to read in class during a parent-child exercise.


Well, perhaps it was endearing.  But apparently it was not particularly well written from a 2nd grade standpoint, I learned harshly yesterday morning at Bennett’s “Open School Day,” in which we had a peer-to-peer writing segment, and in which I paired off with Bennett, was most gracious with his piece, and during which he ripped me to shreds.


I packed into Ms. Garetano’s class, Room 2-202 at P.S. 9, at 9:00 sharp along with about 25 other parents.  After the warm-up assignment of using play money to buy items at Bennett’s “store” and see if he could make change from $18.75, or $2.50 and so forth, we got to the main event.


Confessing here my writerly pride, I had assumed that our children were reading aloud our stories to those present.  I was looking forward to hearing the whispers behind me of “Ooh, how witty…how incisive…what brilliance and charm and beauty and connubial love…”  In short, I was thinking I would wow them.  Now, I knew the piece was not my best work.  But I figured that, these being Upper West Side parents notwithstanding, they’d still see the literary genius standing behind the 2nd grader.  They might be hedge fund managers, but I was the blogger among them.


Seems my pride needed to get taken down three notches by a Small Human a few feet shorter than I.


Ms. Garetano told the parents and students to pair off in families and for “Table Leaders to grab two sets of colored pencils and four sets of Personal Revision Forms.  OK, children?  Two sets of pencils and four sets of forms per table.  All right.  Tables 1, 2 and 3, you may go.”  Pause. “Tables 4, 5, and 6, you may go.”


Bennett and I cleared a space on his desk area, and he read through my piece again.  (At this point, I was resigned to missing out on an adulatory crowd, but I still figured blowing away an 8-year-old with my prose was like shooting fish in a barrel.)  He read mine first before I was to read his and prepared to critique my piece by marking up the revision form, which had category headings such as “Did the writer add enough feeling?” “Did the writer use ALL 5 senses when writing?” and “Are there parts that the writer can show not tell?”


He put a check by “Is the writer’s idea a seed idea?” – meaning:  is it specific, and not a “watermelon” or broad idea – and then the proverbial red ink started to spill.


He underlined “fun” in yellow pencil where I had written that the golfers had had “more fun than success.”


“What’s that mark for?” I asked, my smile starting to transmorph into tense facial muscles.


“You gotta ‘crack the word open,’ Dad.”


“What does that mean?!”


“Look–” and he pointed to criterion 4 – “Did the writer ‘crack open’ simple words?” – “you gotta crack that word open.”  Fun.


“OK,” I said, and shut up.


Crack open “fun”…


Well…it was fun that the guys’ challenge that Saturday morning in Kerrville was more to keep the balls out of the puddles rather than in the hole.  And that Wes beaned a house off the third tee and we cackled like kindergartners.  And that Dave K was a maniac in the golf cart and probably had all Yankees thereafter banned from operating machinery south of the Oklahoma-Texas border.  It was “fun,” and I could have cracked it open…more like that.  Bennett was right.


Then the Critic underlined in pink the word “happy” when I wrote that Karen reached the front of the sanctuary and I told the reader that she was “as serene and confident and happy as I had always known her to be.”


“What’s THAT for?!”


He checked off “YES” next to the criterion, “Are there parts that the writer can show not tell?”


Hmm.  How do I show that Karen was “happy.”


I could say that she was smiling, but that was merely an outward indicator.  How did I know that she was happy, know it enough to share it with the reader?  Perhaps it was that she looked stunning, and everyone knew it.  Perhaps it was in my poring over what she knew about me, and seeing her step forward, past all those people, and that she was willing to step before God and take vows to stay with me for the rest of our lives together.  Perhaps it was that, and that her family knew what she knew about me, and that she walked past them nevertheless, looking stunning, to go before God to say those vows.


I don’t know.  I can’t really answer this.  I can’t edit my story yet.  It is a work in progress.



photo:  octavine

The Singer

111408telzeyI heard faint singing, even though I had earbuds in from my iPhone on the downtown B train, headed for Herald Square.


I looked down, and there was a Chinese lady, about 70 years old I’d guess, reading sheet music inside plastic slip covers and a dull pink plastic floppy binder.  The lyrics were in Mandarin or Cantonese characters, and I wouldn’t have known it was music were she not singing while her eyes groomed the page.  Her voice was gentle, between a child’s plea in the middle of the night and a bird’s call.  In her salt-and-pepper hair was a sequined pink hair-band.  She had three bags: a red plastic bag with empty Tupperware containers, a white canvas tote bag with the words “Advanced Imagery” printed on it, and a green one closed at the top.  Her rust fleece jacket, zipped to the sternum, revealed a maroon and cream scarf wrapped neatly around her neck.


A Hispanic woman in her 20s was sitting next to this Singer, occasionally looking at the sheet music as well.  Unsmiling.  I wondered how long they’d been riding next to each other, and how long they still had to go.



photo:  telzey

Choose your bedtime artist profile wisely

I am stressed today.


Last night I had a number of anxiety dreams, including a Dali-like one where I was in a buffet-style cafeteria with a colleague and my boss, and I was trying to serve myself breaded chicken, kernels of corn (which I had overlooked the first time through the line and was glad to see second time around), peas, and rice.  (This was a fairly bland meal, and as some dream in black-and-white rather than technicolor, so I must dream in foodstuffs-for-the-ulcerative.)  The wood shelf that held all these items on the buffet was slowly rising up from the left side, I realized toward the end, so that as I shoveled the rice with my Ineffectual Dream-Produced Fork onto my plate, only a fraction of the grains actually made it onto my plate.  By the time I had finished filling my plate and found my colleagues, they were done eating, and my food was cold.


I had read a children’s book on Dali to my 5-year-old at bedtime.  I call my dream with the sliding food, “Persistence of Hunger.”