Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Stork Dropped Us

That night we slept over at the home of distant cousins, Shifra and Alfred Appel. By then our luggage had been found and delivered. Shifra was not sure that she wanted us sticking around for long. Patty sensing her reticence, suggested that we her give her the Nina Ricci perfume that had been bestowed upon us by Air France as "first class passengers".  After receiving our token gift, Shifra  mellowed out a bit, but not much.

She woke us up at 6:00 am the next morning. The Israeli sun was already creeping through our curtains. "If you're gonna find a kibbutz that will take you girls in, you'd better hit the downtown offices first thing in the morning." she said.

The first kibbutznick flatly refused us."There's no way that we can take responsibility for a 14 year old girl." he said tersely. We were sent on our way. We traipsed from one office to the next that morning - all sang the same tune.

Finally, I remembered a youth movement from when I'd been in Haifa three years ago - It was left leaning, Shomar Hatsair - The Young Guardians.  When we presented ourselves, the burly man behind the desk said, "Okay. Even a girl of 14 can work."

They put us on a bus headed for Ashkelon and told the Egged driver to let us off at the road to Sde Yoav.  It was a brand new kibbutz and the driver had never heard of it - but they told him that it was cross the road from Kibbutz Negba which had been around forever.

We didn't have excessive luggage, but it was still a schlep from where the driver left us off to the entrance of Sde Yoav. We trudged down one long dusty road. We were greeted with little formality and immediately put to work.  Our job was to remove rocks from a big open field that was needed for seeding.

Neither of us were sissy kids; I for one, had worked with my father for years lifting and hoisting and my sister was willing to give it a go.  We set to work in the heat of the day with a few other volunteers. Our sole task was to bend down, pick up rocks of varied configurations, and heave them into a huge pile. As I bent over for maybe the twenty-seventh time, I remember having the distinct feeling that a stork had opened his beak and dropped us down on this God forsaken plot of earth.

We toiled away that day and the next - By the third day, watery boils were sprouting on our arms and it was agreed that we each had a case of sunstroke. Our crew leader said, "Listen to me, you sisters, both of you, go to the Dining Hall and make yourself useful over there."

Our work in the Dining Hall was heaven compared to where we'd been.  They taught us to mop floors with their Israeli mops which were sticks with rags over them, way different from our string mops back home. We peeled potatoes sitting on overturned plastic tubs out on the back porch. We refilled salt shakers, placing a little rice in the bottom of each shaker so that the salt wouldn't harden up.

This all went on for about ten days when my sister began to get restless. I'd stayed with an Israeli family in Haifa as an exchange student in 64'. Patty phoned them and asked if she could come for a visit. They agreed to a few days.

"I've had enough of this drudgery," Patty complained, "I've gotta move, I've gotta see what's going on. I'm headed out. I'll take a bus from the top of the road."
"Come on, you can't just go wandering around the country, all on your own." I argued.
"Yes, I can," she replied.
 Before I could say more, she'd set off up the dusty road.

Some days later, it could have been a week, I was out in the fields picking peaches with the others. A soft breeze blew through the nearby willows and the sun was strident, but not overly so. Gazing up, I saw Patty on the horizon. She appeared off in the distance, a silhouette, something like a woman from the days of Abraham carrying an urn on her head. As she drew closer, I saw that she was wearing a new dusty blue tank top, on her feet were a pair of bonafide Israeli sandals. She returned victorious and in high spirits. I couldn't help feeling a tinge of envy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


We'd traveled to Israel via Air France and had been unexpectedly upgraded to first class on the second leg of the journey.  But they'd lost our luggage. Our first morning in Israel was spent wandering around in search of a bathing suit, so that we could hit the beach and not waste one precious moment of our time in the Promised Land.

Neither of us had ever worn a two piece before, but that's what we tried on in the crowded hovel of a Tel Aviv shop.  We each squeezed behind the curtain of a tiny make shift dressing room.  My two piece was orange, remarkably the color of an orange.  As I was cupping myself into the top, the shop owner came in to check on how I was doing.  He started feeling me up, inserting one breast at a time into the top and then fastening me from behind.  I tried to shoo him out, but he was taking his good ole time -  He then proceeded to do the same to Patty. We were rattled, things like this did not happen where we came from.

We paid the bill, stayed in our suits, wrapped a little something around us and descended upon the beach.  The sky was blue, but the sun had not yet exploded into its raging self. The water was cool as we waded in. We took a deep breath and whooped with joy. We were alive and at last in Eretz Israel.

That afternoon, we took a bus headed for the Egged Central bus station. A lot was happening - drying off, shaking out the sand, exchanging money, finding directions, getting on and off buses. When we finally sank down into our seats, I began digging in my purse. I soon realized that I'd lost my wallet, with all our money. We hadn't bothered about travelers' checks. I felt that sinking feeling in my gut. Who was I anyway to think I could shepherd around a 14 year old little sister?

People around us realized that something was wrong - there we were two American girls, arms flailing.  One man advised us to continue on to the Central Bus Station and inquire at the Lost and Found.  Lo and behold, by some miracle, a kind soul had turned in my wallet with all those American dollars.  I let out a moan.  I wanted to reward the kind soul in some way. But the Egged clerk informed me that this was not necessary - if I wished, I could put a donation in the charity box and call it a day.

I still think of this kind soul who turned in my wallet - Surely there is goodness, and I had felt it keenly that day.

The Threat

Yes, we were what you'd call free range kids back in the 60's way before the phrase came into usage. I was 20, my baby sister who wasn't much of a baby anymore was 14.  I had transferred to Boston U. in my Junior year to be near Steve.  It was early summer, when I picked Patty up at Logan Airport. She seemed to waft off the plane.

I took her to my apartment in Allston. Later when we were wandering around the neighborhood, an innocent flyer publicizing a trip to Israel caught our eye.  We were two sisters looking for adventure and love. My relationship with Steve was having its ups and downs.

We phoned home that evening and proposed the scheme to our parents - For some not to be understood even to this day reason, my frugal father said, "Yes, you two girls can go."

The first thing that we did was go to a downtown Boston department store to buy short shorts. We knew that Israelis in no way wore Bermuda shorts. Somehow, we got our shots and they must have expedited my sister getting a passport.

The days were drawing closer to our departure, but I was having second thoughts.  Things had shifted with Steve; I wanted to stay close to his side.  But Patty was adamant. "If you don't go with me, forget about having anything to do with me for the rest of your life," she said in a voice that brought a blade to my heart. For some reason, I believed her.

At that point, Patty left my place and went to stay with Tom and Rose.  Tom and Rose were high school friends of Steve's who'd motorcycled from St. Louis to Boston. They'd found an a rickety apartment in Roxbury where Tom painted and Rose went out to earn money as a nude model.  Into macrobiotics, a bowl of brown rice and a pair of chopsticks were always in view and you'd hear Vivaldi as you stepped through the door.

Rose must have been the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen with deep brown eyes, long straight hair, features even and smooth - Tom was short with wire rimmed glasses and very clever.

This was where Patty stayed while I tried to sort myself out. For a while, there were two camps: Steve and me on one side of the Jordan and Patty, Tom, and Rose on the other. We kept a distance. But in the end, I knew that Steve would be going back home to St. Louis for the summer. I'd lived in Israel at age 17 as an exchange student. I  knew that I'd been my most spunky self at that time, maybe it could happen again.  So with some reluctance, I agreed to undertake the journey with my kid sister.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A New Bride

     At 24, I was a new bride having married on the rebound.  We'd moved into a shabby apartment, not on the good side of town. Venetian blinds covered the windows. Later I purchased some ready made curtains at Sears and replaced the blinds, but the curtains were too short for the length of the windows and they always looked like a kid in hand-me-downs.

    Reading was my main reprieve.  I escaped into novels such as The Eiger Sanction by Trevanian and The Guns of Naverone by Alister MacLean.  Somewhere in those stories, I read about a zen monk who had patiently raked up a huge heap of leaves, it had taken him hours, when an easterly wind sprang up and in an instant scattered the leaves to the four corners of the monastery garden.  It was at that moment, that the monk became enlightened. 

     This story stayed with me for years. I thought of it in moments of desperation when all my best efforts seemed to come to naught. The becoming enlightened part was not really part of the mix.

     It was in the first three months of marriage, back in the early seventies when I got my first inkling of the much bantered around word - "Karma" - what goes around, comes around.  My new husband had a choice to make - whether to attend his Grandfather's funeral in Pittsburgh where we lived or to attend his friend's wedding in St. Louis where he'd been asked to be the best man. He chose the later. 
Didn't matter that his grandfather was a pillar of the Jewish community, that he'd been a decent guy into his nineties, didn't seem to matter.

     We set out for St Louis in our brown VW wagon on the Thursday morning of Thanksgiving. I had a job teaching seventh graders on the South Side and I was more than ready for some down time. I remember taking along my sewing basket and some material, patterns and pins. 

     Arriving in St. Louis, we were greeted and fed a snack - We would save the Thanksgiving feast for Friday when we could all sit down and enjoy it together.  That evening, I heard a tip-tapping sound coming from the kitchen; it was the unmistakeable sound of cockroaches tip-tapping on the tin foil which covered the turkey left on the stove.

     Back home, as I was unpacking, I noticed that a couple roaches boldly waltzed out of my sewing basket. They colonized. Our apartment became infested with them. Our red haired landlady refused to pay for an exterminator. Somehow we learned to live with them.

     One Sunday afternoon, I was cleaning the apartment. Orderliness was important to me, not so to him. My new husband often took himself off on trips with his friend, Bill. They chased trains all over the state, shot photos of them coming around a bend. 

     On the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet, we had stashed away the plastic bride and groom from off top the wedding cake.  Giving the top shelf a cleaning swipe of the rag that day, I managed to scatter a half dozen roaches from the folds of the plastic bride and groom.

     I stayed in that marriage for nineteen long years.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Incantatory, mythic, psychological -  flying

Wounds inflicted on succeeding generations from the murder of Macon's father's by Whites
Pilate carves out independent life style - 3 generations of women under one roof
Spoiling Hagar
Women who love too much
Growing tired of a woman and "tossing her aside like a wad of gum that loses its flavor"
Incompatibility of married couple - Ruth and Macon
Visitations with the Dead - Pilate with her father and Ruth's trips to her father's graveyard
Knowing your people
tyrannical father
racial retribution
striving for independence - gold
finding those who you feel comfortable with - akin to-
bildungs roman
importance of friendship

Work of Ethnography - finding roots: unknown Michigan town, Dansville, PA, Shalimar, VA

Brueghel Icarus - opening scene introduces panorama of characters and themes: Guitar, Ruth pregnant with Milkshake,  2 sisters - discrimination at the hospital, suicide/flying (means of freedom and escape

Characters:  Milkshake, Macon Dead, Ruth, Corinthians, Magdelaine, Guitar, Pilate, Reba, Hagar.

Importance of names -

Favorite scenes:
*fight on porch of general store in Shalimar
* hunting scene where Guitar tries to strangle Milkshake who loses breath and almost dies
* Hagar's death - pre-death shopping spree - selling diamond ring for Hagar - white standard of beauty
*Guitar and Milkman visit Pilate for the first time - soft-boiled egg, picking                                                                                                                    
 raspberries off the branch, Milkshake falls in love with Hagar, story of the earring, the way the women eat, sing, description of the house.

*Corinthians spreads herself across the hood of Porter's car.
* Milkshake meets Circe and then undertakes mythic trip to cave - sheds the suit and shoes, vestiges of his pampered life                          
*Danville with the Pastor
*Sweet - love scene, washing each other in the tub
*Hagar tries to kill Milkshake at Guitar's place - Guitar's talk with Hagar about her self worth
* Guitar tells about the Seven Days group
*Lena reprimands Milkshake for ruining things for Corinthian
*Pilate shows up at the police station and gets Milkshake and Guitar released with                                                              
 her story.
*Ambiguous ending
*Death of Macon's father, Jake - shot five feet in the air off wire fence where he'd sat trying to save his land.
*Children in circle sing of Solomon who flew back to Africa
*Milkshake punches father and pushes him into radiator                      

Who is the hero of the book?  Is Milkshake a hero or an antihero and at what point does he become

Is Pilate the heroine?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Return of Milkshake

     A concrete stairwell, somewhat like a bunker is where I met Andy.  He was just finishing up at 420 Evaluations where he worked as a Cannabis doctor from 11am to 7 pm four days a week. He bounded down one flight of the stairwell, reached the landing, while I was climbing up step by step from the street - we met somewhere in the middle. In my arms, I was cradling his beloved dog, Milkshake, who had been "stolen" from him sometime over the weekend.

    Andy's stepdad and I had driven from Hollywood to Carpenteria that very day on the 405 to rescue Milkshake. Truth be told, he'd not been stolen.  He'd been picked up by a Carpenteria Compliance Officer who seems to have found Milkshake tied to a lamp post outside of a restaurant. Officer Lopez had gone into the restaurant and found the dog's owner - Andy -and given him his card.  Andy had been out of compliance with town ordinances.

     Andy reached out and grabbed Milkshake from my arms. He collapsed onto the concrete step in his dark dress trousers and gathered Milkshake up to his cheek, kissing her over and over. Tears of anguish and relief filled his eyes. "Milkshake, my love," he moaned, kissing her white patched face one more time.

     His fervor and intensity hollowed me out - a thirty-five year old man, my son, contorted in his embrace of a tiny dog.

     It was in September three years ago that I began to connect the dots. Andy had gone delusional. A graduate of Albany Medical College, he'd done two years of a surgery residency at UCI - then a one year research spot in Tucson, when one fine day, I got a call from him after a four hour long surgery on his left hand due to a lab accident, a call that marked the end of the world as I knew it.

    "Swear that you won't tell anyone, not even God, not even God, " he said to me in a hoarse whisper.

     That was the beginning of the 10,000 delusional stories that I'd hear morphing from one shape to the next over the course of the following three years.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Four Magic Beans

He sold the family cow for four magic beans.
And his mother said, "Jack, how could you?"

But Jack, you've never told us why,
And we've been wondering all this time -
What were those four magic beans?"


Beyond all blessings,
beyonds all songs,
beyond all praises,
beyond all consolations,
is there one thing?
could there be one thing
more important than anything else?

"Who am I?"
"Why am I here?"
you ask -
eternal imponderables,

There is an answer
not found in words,
beyond all blessings,
songs, praises, consolations.

More beautiful than anything
visible, audible,
smelled, tasted,
waiting to be felt
with each breath.

Then the heart dances.