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Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page


In Prose, Stories, secrets & dreams on April 27, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Roxanne wandered over the rugged asphalt, careful by the potholes that had tripped her up in the past. The asphalt seemed to collect in small balls of tar clustered about the edges of the lot which during the week identified itself as a parking lot, and on weekends, as this was, home to a flea market, ragtag at best. Roxanne weaved her way among flimsy aluminum tables piled high with bolts, screwdrivers, hammers with head held to wooden shaft by duct tape, old Pyrex cooking dishes with tops missing and Corningware with the pale blue design gone vague.

Roxanne thought of this weekend outing as a time of remembrance – a time to conjure up her childhood of the 1950s, so lost to her now. She felt at times an urgency to remember – as a way to knit her life back together, a story now fuzzy and remote and insubstantial. She needed to remember to be sure she in fact had existed – existed still in something other than a dream, something clearer than the hazy awareness allotted by her mandated medication against which, she had learned, it was useless to  fight.

She began with the kitchenware – as one would start one’s day with the bowls and spoons attendant to breakfast, to the unfolding of the day. She fingered a thick, chunky china bowl around which a blue line circled until it met a crack and disappeared. She could re-imagine her breakfast there. When she touched the bowl, in her mind it became home to Sugar Crisps eaten before a flickering black and white screen with Captain Kangaroo on. Having now had breakfast, she followed the length of the table, piled with CDs and VHS tapes on which masking tape revealed their contents. Some stacks of sheet music gave off a musky scent – like that of her grandmother’s basement, the gray concrete walls now rising up before her, the scattered pages of the Herald Tribune stained by her old cocker spaniel’s incontinence. She flipped lazily through the music sheets – show tunes and love songs, gospel hymns and operatic arias – for something to spark sound for her, some tune she could reach for, remember. But she remembered instead that her house had been mostly silent. Only now and then the sound of water running, then stopping, then running again. The sound of the heavy door slamming as her father left the railroad flat with the stale and heavy fog of the Lucky Strikes he smoked back to back to back.

There was an ashtray on the flea market table, stained in some indelible way by the unrestrained chain-smoking of someone probably long since dead. She rarely bought anything at the market, but she lifted the ugly ashtray and bargained with the old man sitting in a canvas chair hacking up the cough imposed by his cigar-smoking, his hands plump, fingers stubby, with chipped and dirty nails. He sold it to her for $1.25.

She remembered her father in the stain of the glass tray, in the small indentations meant to hold the cigarette in place. She went to the curb right there on 25th Street. She strained her face, contorted into rage, remembering, and desperation, and then, with deep satisfaction, heaved the glass ashtray onto the street, shattering it into so many broken pieces lost in the debris that cluttered around the curb.

Annie Quintano


Super Powers

In Guest stories, Keeping hope alive on April 20, 2012 at 2:30 pm

In so many ways, to ask what I would want in the way of superpowers is a waste of time, like asking oneself how one would live if one could live life all over again. But it is fun to wonder.

I was asked that question by a dating service.  I answered that, “I wish I could swing the hammer that would strike the blow that would clear up the mist of misunderstandings.” I was trying to impress my would-be dates. I was also trying to tell my would-be dates that I was a writer, with some charisma, I hoped. So maybe, what I should have given as my wish to have superpowers was simply to be a good writer – or to be a good date for the girl I was trying to impress.

I have since learned more about women who are impressed by such dramatic statements. When I have finished my masterpiece I find – too often – that what was intended as a message for the heart was received merely as an entertainment. So I was revealed to myself as an impostor, one at odds with himself, or – even worse – as a clown.

With one step backward I see now what I really want: I would like to be myself, to accept myself, and to feel accepted. This is as natural as looking through one’s eyes and yet as impossible as seeing the back of one’s head. It is the gift of grace that is rarer than radium, yet commoner than water. To be natural is to be blessed with a superior nature to be at one with oneself. The most supernatural power of all is the power to do what comes naturally.

Walter L. Schubert

A Gentile is Passed Over on Passover

In Guest stories on April 13, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Originally published in The Forward in April 1998, Carol West’s funny, irreverent piece on her efforts to secure a coveted invitation to a Passover seder speaks warmly (and hungrily!) of the annual Jewish feast.

Well, it’s that time of year again, and I was not the chosen one. Passover has passed for the twentieth time, and I still haven’t been invited to a seder.

I moved to New York in 1967 from the South, and my first several years here were a cultural adjustment and a food delight. My only previous experience with Jewish food was a Hebrew National hot dog. I was overwhelmed by knishes on the street, horseradish, lox, good bialys, seltzer water, and chopped liver. My landlady, Mrs. Gruenberg, cooked me chicken soup with matzo balls when I was sick , but I preferred her kreplach. Rugaleh became my pastry of choice.

When Passover came it was matzo sandwiches with cream cheese and jelly for me. At my office, feasts from the night before were discussed and recipes were exchanged. Goodies in abundance were brought from home with the explanation, “Bubbe made too much.” I ate dense chocolate Passover cakes, macaroons, – plain and chocolate – special chicken and a memorable apple nut dessert.

How could I get myself invited to this yearly festival, I wondered. I gave myself a year, then another. It became an obsession, like the prom. With so many Jewish friends, associates, and lovers, I became Don Quixote, searching for an invitation to the elusive holiday meal. Each year, I made efforts to secure a coveted seat. I gently asked, “Are you preparing anything special?” and “How long does your seder last?” Finally, I was blatant and asked, “Will you be having any guests for dinner this year? I could be enticed over.” My friend Stella said, “We always go to a hotel for Passover.” My friend Mitch said, “We’re going to my mother-in-law’s.” My landlady told me, “My dream has come true. I’m spending Passover in Israel.” Another colleague said, “It’s my friend’s turn.” Agnes, a recent convert, told me “My husband wouldn’t understand.” You figure that one out. Doesn’t anyone believe in the kindness of an invitation?

In 1985, I worked with a young German named Helmut. He wasn’t here a month when he got his invitation for the first night seder. His only comment was “nice meal.” I’m still at square one. I am prepared to be a superstar guest. I located a strictly kosher candy store on Madison Avenue, so I’d take the right chocolates. I have a connection who has a connection in Brooklyn, so I can get a box of fresh matzo for twenty dollars a pound. Money is no object. Of course, I’ll send a thank you note with a basket of fresh fruit the next morning to my host and hostess.

If I am ever invited, I’ll accept in a minute, even for the eighth-night dinner. Perhaps after several years of good behavior, I can work my way up to the second night. And then maybe even a cherished seat at first-night Seder. This year I’m starting a new organisation: Invite a Gentile to Passover Seder. Maybe guilt is the way to go.

Carol West

Good Ways to Waste Time

In Guest stories, Keeping hope alive on April 11, 2012 at 6:48 pm

This, is this a good way to waste time? Digging around in the topsoil for I’m not sure what. I’ve been thinking about how wrecked the earth can look after winter – limbs down, sticks caught in thickets, brown and broken. And what a shock it is every year – every year to see the greening of things, the softening.

Every year I’m going to learn the names of plants, the names of birds. Why not me? One good way to waste time – learn the names of birds. And who’s singing what. Even when you can’t see them but can hear them singing and chirping and yapping away in the morning, hidden in the trees before before breakfast, when they have the world to themselves.

The world going to the birds – thrilling. Just listen to all that non-human conversation. Funny how you pay attention to different things at different times in your life. The birds conversing all this time and I couldn’t care less – but now, somehow, I’m interested.

Judy Katz


In Guest stories on April 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm

As a kid I loved Easter holidays, for the main reason that school was out for a couple of days and I got a chance to visit my siblings over the holidays. First there is this long trip to Atlantic City, a long boring car ride. When we get to my aunt’s house it’s all decorated with frou-frou stuff that’s not my bag. My bag is to go through the casinos. My uncle is a known gambler. He has won a lot of money and lost a lot of money. This particular incident I am going to tell you about is hilarious. This could only happen to a kid.

The Thursday before Good Friday, everybody got up and had breakfast. After that, we went for a walk on the boardwalk. After a long walk we were tired, so we had some hot dogs and soda just to rest for a while. My uncle came up with this brilliant idea to stop in the Showboat casino. My uncle said to us – there were three minors with him at the time – stay with him the whole time because we were not allowed to wander alone in the casino. We agreed. His game was craps. After a while it became boring. He saw that we were bored so he moved on to the machines. This was fun to us, although he told us we were not to touch the machines. He put some money in and started playing for about 15 minutes. Nothing happened. A friend of his came by and they began talking, so my cousin Jackie said to me, “What are all these buttons?”

I said, “I don’t know. Let’s try one and see what happens.”

She pressed a button on top and one on the bottom. The next thing we knew, bells rang and lights flashed and people started looking in our direction. I took about four giant steps back from the slot machine, leaving Jackie standing by the machine. My uncle immediately hugged Jackie, kissed her.

I said, “She did it!”

He said, ‘She did good!”

I said, “She broke the machine and she did good?”

He said, “No, stupid, she just won me $100,000 and I am going to buy her a new dress.”

I felt stupid because I was the oldest, and I thought it was my job to be the hero. The rest of Easter that year I was sad. I felt this was the worst time of my life. Before I left for home, I bit all the ears of all of the chocolate bunnies I could get ahold of, put them back in the box, and I smiled.

George Cousins