That girl at the party sitting in a chair, plastered from too many beers slurred, “You smell like wheat germ and almonds.” I wasn’t sure whose scent she was describing, but I was the only one close enough to be inhaled and registered.
I remember thinking then, almost thirty years ago, what an amazingly precise olfactory perception for a nearly senseless drunk. I laughed after she said it, but she didn’t seem to mind, not taking it as ridicule anyhow. It wasn’t. The weirdness of her image drew a laugh to fill the gap that most certainly emerges after a statement like that.
She brought on the chuckle because she used the word wheat germ. Back then, who at this Bruce Springsteen-blaring keg party would know such a thing? Not me. And then I worried about how I smelled. I didn’t know whether wheat germ smelled foul or fragrant. I wrenched my neck to sniff my pits. I still can’t smell myself.
Almonds? What do they smell like raw? Nothing. Roasted and chopped, they smell heavenly, like earth and sun. If a lover ever told me my aroma was nothing lovelier than freshly roasted and chopped almonds, I’d blush with the flattery.
But here was this inebriated partygoer unconsciously tossing out poetry as if no one was listening or worrying about body odor. She might have been talking to herself, but my youthful narcissistic self felt besieged with momentary muse-filled doubt.
A few days later I asked my mother what wheat germ smelled like. And without a second’s notice of the question’s oddness, she replied, “How the hell should I know?”
January 13, 2017
Friday, the 13th. A writing day. All day. Buried in cybernetic space, capturing words and ideas like butterflies to the net, I emerged this evening disoriented. Have I been gone all day? Did I leave the house?
When I used to write papers in college, I’d experience that world spin standing still feeling, like just getting off the ferociously spinning playground merry go round where obstreperous middle school boys spin captives sick or flying. I’d spread papers out over the long, royal blue shag carpet of my apartment floor in the days before personal computers (gulp). I wouldn’t even get out of my pajamas for an entire weekend. Just staring at endless scribbled words. That was when I could write in nearly legible cursive penmanship.
I’d shuffle papers, pages and pages of written approaches, starts and stops, fits of penetrating insight overlaid with banal truths and just plain shitty prose. I turned and tossed the visions of literary geniuses and abstruse philosophical stalwarts of literary theory over and over in my head, never coming to a conclusion, never quite figuring it out.
But the stretch, though painful, felt like progress, growth and expansion. I felt my brain swell with inflammation and information. It hurt so good. I hated it. Loved and hated it.
The struggle is not the same now. I read better, comprehend more. Though merely a comp. lit major, I can write a short white paper section on patient warming techniques in the operating room through radiation, convection and conduction devices, condensing thermodynamics, biology and quantum physics into 750 words, like I did today. Before that I wrote about patient engagement strategies in healthcare, and after that I wrote about 5 superfoods for longevity.
No, the struggle is not so much in comprehension anymore as in attention span and endurance. I mean it’s all fascinating and boring at the same time. The process, the mechanics–blind fingertips smashing keys. But the flow–the lost time in some other realm–that’s what keeps me coming back for more.
I was 2 when Kennedy was assassinated. Did I sense the country’s overwhelming grief and fear? Did it stick to my tiny ribs and embed itself inside a pocket of my little brain? We are all vibrations, vibrating strings, emanating frequencies and dust. How could I escape the world that seeped inside my cells?
A Room of my Own, a ten minute write I published here was published today on the site that inspired me to begin the daily habit of ten minutes to drain-write. I’m finding the creative sprints have opened possibilities, even whistle beckoning to begin or finish those bigger projects.
Read the piece here. Hope you enjoy… Again.
A room in this old house, holds history–
mine, yours ours and theirs.
This room is where I sleep nights;
it’s where I awaken each day to
slatted light from vertical blinds
that open to a window laden with
orange tree leaves and ripened
fruit, the color of the sun setting
on the Pacific not more than a mile
from this very room in this home.
Its cornflower blue walls contain
my thoughts and prayers, my
ujjayi breath, sometime despair.
This oaken floor steadies my
bare feet, wears my yoga mat,
including the cat on top who
skrick scratches her claws in it.
But it wasn’t always my cave;
it belonged to others before me.
Two nieces slept here, the last
who chose the wall colors, and
the one before who now sleeps
in my parents’ home, while they
sleep in mine now, in their room,
which used to be the play room
for loud television shows and toys
and kool aid colored couches for
friends to jump on and destroy.
And before that, it was the bedroom
my husband designed and had built
by a friend who charged too much and
stole his baby grand piano on pretext.
And before it was our bedroom, where
our children were conceived and I
labored in our big blue sunken jacuzzi
tub beneath the bay window and lime
stone tiles surrounding the midnight blue,
it was an office converted from a garage,
where his business began selling hardware,
which eventually turned to software and an
office elsewhere, which he sold to find
more fulfilling work, which he still seeks.
But when my parents moved in, we moved
the bed, desk, dresser, night table and lamps
into my room, the room I share with no one
except the dog, a few cats and the constant
turnstile traffic of inquirers and visitors living
in and outside the house, my room, the hub,
with its Picasso print of woman-dove face in
black and white, who resembles my oldest
daughter even though I bought that print
twenty years before her birth, and now that
she’s twenty herself, she tattooed that face
on her left arm, just like it appears on my
bedroom wall, above the hand painted
poster that asks, “Is there no way out of the
mind?”, purchased and overpriced by a
friend of my daughter’s who painted and
sold it to me after she returned from rehab.
And the Van Gogh with the gilt frame, huge
hanging above my bed, well that was a gift
from my nephew when he was only 23, and
he knew I loved art and so wrapped this big
old Starry Night print and gave it to me, so
that’s why it’s there framed above my head,
garish and cliché but sentimentally stationed.
Because my room holds pictures of my girls,
and a fan that cools me summers and a
heater that warms me winters, and dozens
of ceramic boxes and knick knacks and the
remains of my jewelry box, what wasn’t
stolen by someone who knew the dog
well enough not to get bitten as an intruder.
This room holds hours of frustration, and
ideas, poems and graded essays, years of
reading and writing, drawing, coloring and
crocheting, fretting and forgetting, crying
and laughing, the entire history of a house,
its inhabitants, furnishings, we call home.
Sipping a Rasputin stout,
hoping for animal inspiration,
I watched the household pet,
a Japanese bobtail cat leap
from four-paw standing to
mid-air leap on a moth quest.
She stood tall on two paws
her ears spread wide apart
with aggravated intent.
She looked like a gazelle
and a giraffe, tall and swift;
then I remembered the zoo,
when I braved the school bus,
field trip mom amid 3rd graders.
While the cheetahs and lions
drew the crowds, the tree
dancer oddity, half breed
or so it seemed, of flight
and height, panic and poise,
stole my attention, ever the
soft touch for the under dog.
And hard as I tried to bring
the children to her windowed
habitat, they didn’t understand.
“That’s weird,” my own daughter
declared, and I contented myself,
alone in my fascination for freaks,
to have learned about this wonder.
Perhaps my father was the first,
with his absence,
except for the rare storms from his daytime slumber
to terrorize us into quiet so he could sleep.
I once got caught in the cross fire of his flying hands.
I was not yet 3.
My older sisters squealed and screamed him awake.
But I was too naive to run.
Before that, he was the myth my mother made us believe
about fatherhood and tender love.
First Cut II–
Another one I summons from memory caves
was the gorgeous boy
with the ass long shiny silk brown hair
and tan flawless skin sunk into Italian brown eyes.
I was 13 and he 15.
He paid me attention, walked with me at night
on a quiet moon-lit road named Candlewood as we
murmured our intentions, our future married selves
–or I did.
I couldn’t believe he was interested in me, a brainy
average-looking girl with the wrong kind of hair that refused
to hang long and straight from a middle combed part.
And a week after that walk under the old gibbous moon,
when I told him I wanted to marry a bodily lover,
he failed to appear, non-responsive, ghosted–
and I cried the cliché with a painful heart, torn
and scorned, never to be stabbed the same again,
my pillows my week-long companions in sob-town.
Though others made Caesar of my heart, dagger
hurlers and stabbers, I remember them vaguely.
Not like the first cuts, the baptismal soul’s sarcophagus.
August 21, 2016
Late summer cleaning: Decluttering my room brings me to well-traveled roads. Everything I touch feels or smells like time: last week, month, year or decade. My room aggregates time.
But not just this room. I’ve inhabited rooms all my life, fortunate as I am to have had roofs over my head. Only by choice have I slept outside a room–from camping under the stars, backpacking across the country or passed out drunk on a stranger’s couch.
My first room–one of my own–had tan shorn short carpet covered in down feathers slowly de-fluffed from my down comforter through small growing holes. I shared an apartment with my older sister after I left the home I shared with my husband for nearly 9 years. We were on hiatus. Six years of separation. And this room was the first I called my own, having shared all my other rooms from birth to age 29.
Though the circumstances of my landing in this room in an apartment complex settled below the hump of a freeway on ramp dampened the excitement of this first time experience, still I marveled at the possibilities: stamp my own identify into the fabric. Finally, I could fill a space with me, pieces of me in art, furnishings, bed sheets and comforters, knick knacks–all my choices.
As it turned out, however, I’d only half live in that space and the only addition to the bland, bare tan room, bed and dresser I unloaded moving in was the escaped goose down feather floor covering. Between obsessive work hours and mad dash dating, I hardly spent time in that room I slept in for two years before I bought a house, where I lived for another three or four years before moving back into my marital home, where now, 21 years later, I have my own room–sort of, mostly–to clean.
I’ve never joined or worked for the circus. Can’t even remember going to one as a kid but must have as an adult with small children. I just don’t remember one. Maybe I’ve blocked it out. I know zoos are a drag. I get bummed seeing the animal prison cells, even the ones that try to look like “natural” habitats. I know–and the animals do too–that they are NOT free. It’s unnatural.
But I did work in a carnival on Long Island for a couple weeks when it was in town. I don’t recall where it was, some place for it to spread out over a good square half mile or so. I want to say at the Islip Speedway or maybe at the Farmer’s Market grounds, but those don’t seem to jog my memory. Yet I can see that carnival in my mind’s “movie” reels.
The booth panels were coarsely painted royal blue, where the tickets were sold and pay checks were picked up. The rest of it was a winding affair: serpentine rows of small squar-ish booths, tents, food stands and rides. I worked a game booth. The floors strewn with straw partially hid the dusty dirt floor beneath.
Actually, I worked a few games: the balls thrown at wobbly flat wooden clowns with painted white faces that only took three balls to knock down three clowns. They defied the laws of gravity and never seemed to fall all the way down. I also worked the ping pong ball toss in the ceramic cups that alchemically caused ceramic and lightweight plastic to create super bounce. And then there were water pistol shooters to knock down ducks or rabbits passing back and forth. Hardly anyone won, so I mostly collected quarters.
I remember smelling popcorn around me and on my clothes for two weeks solid. I was 13. I just learned to drink coffee, creamed blonde and sugared sweet. That summer, I also found a boy who liked me. I don’t remember his name though I’m sure it started with an R or an M. He was cute, brown short hair with a bit of curl in the tresses. He kissed me and put his arm around me a lot, claiming his own. I was thrilled to have attention paid me–my company desired.
He would visit me at the carnival. We’d get coffee on my breaks, and he’d walk me to and from the carnival. We’d go on rides sometimes after my shift, though for the life of me I must not have had much of a will to survive, having seen how those rides were assembled and by whom. No one looked to me as if they were long into their parole, even with my young, naive eyes.
And when the carnival started packing it up, I looked for the guy who asked me if I wanted to earn a few dollars manning the booths, to no avail. I checked the blue wood paneled booth with the door sign “administration” or something official like that, but I was told to come back. I did. Twice. And then I brought my mother, who I watched stomp up the two stairs to the booth window, her arms flailing in threatening gestures and her shoulders pulled back. I couldn’t hear the exchange, but she came back with cash.
Ah, the short, sweet life of a teenage carnie.
At the diner at 4 a.m.,
cheesecake and coffee
the brew so dusty sweet
and the cake real ricotta.
At the diner, we’d talk
after the bars close
and the beer wore off,
and eat French fries
or eggs and put dimes
in the table top juke box,
hear our favorite songs
like Free bird and
Sympathy for the Devil.
And we’d splay our
legs on long, red, vinyl
seats sometimes cracked,
our backs against booth
walls of plastic sheen.
At the diner, we’d hum
the songs we heard at the
bar we just left, our favorite
local bands playing, while
we drank Heineken and
smoked Camel cigarettes,
out back for a J or two.
But under the bright lights
of the diner til quarter to 7 or
later, we’d laugh sometimes
spitting our coffee or Pepsi
at some stupid shit one of us
said, and everything’s funny
when you haven’t slept all night.
At the diner, off the expressway,
the waitresses know us, and
bring us our eggs and toast
the way we like them, sunny
side up and easy tan and grape
jelly in the little plastic peel off
boxes, three or four of them.
And every Friday and Saturday
it was the same for us three,
Deb, Jackie and me, at the diner.