Saturday, June 15, 2013

For the Record

A couple of weeks ago I posted a piece titled Now Is Not the Time. In it, I portrayed my father as a monster. While this was the case when he was drinking, it wasn't always the case. Although there was tremendous fear and sadness in my childhood, that wasn't always the case either. So, in honor of Father's Day, I'm setting the record straight.

The other side of my father was a man who was undeniably artistically talented. The other side of him was a man who was mind-blowingly intelligent. He knew stuff, and he knew how to do stuff, and it always appeared to me that it was about 80% instinctive. My father was an uproariously funny man. He had a wealth of idiomatic sayings and colloquialisms that never failed to amuse. My favorite of these, to this day, is "Don't tell your mother. She'll shit little blue bricks with red handles on 'em!" My father had a deep appreciation for nature, for being out in nature, and for the simple beauty of a sunlit day. Many were the times I heard him say, "Sure is a purty day." Always that leftover Ohioan "purty", never "pretty"... and I loved that. My father was a good man, a caring man, a man who was proud of his family.

My father also happened to have a disease called Alcoholism. And that's where the monster lived. In the thirty plus years since he passed away, I have managed to separate the monster from the man. I have grown to understand that he wasn't his disease and his disease wasn't him. I have been able to forgive any wrong. Most importantly, I have been freed to love him. And consequently been freed to love myself (there's a ball of wax for another discussion on another day). I'm not going to dwell on this aspect of him today. I will only say that if you or someone you know has a substance abuse problem, please seek help. Today. Now.

I get my sense of humor from my Dad. That seeing the greasy underside of things, sardonic way that I have? That's all Harold Black. That throwing a joke at the unbearable and making it livable? That's my Dad. I get any artistry that I have from my Dad. Now that I'm becoming more familiar with the artist inside myself, more comfortable with it, I'm really enjoying it. It's allowing me to feel more of a kinship with the man I called Daddoo, the guy who adored his bright-eyed little "Punkin," his Barboo. According to the letter that my Grandma Black wrote to my mother the day after I was born, "Harold was over the moon when he called us at 2 AM to tell us the news..." Over the moon. I can picture him, after pacing for what must have seemed like days, finally having the doctor come out and say, "You have a little girl, Mr. Black." I know he teared up. I know he did whatever gesture qualified as a fist-pump back in 1961.

He was a man who loved to tell people what a talented pian-y player his youngest daughter was. Having suffered his own mental anguish at the hands of the Catholic church and the strict, abusive nuns of his parochial school years, Dad never went to mass with us. The only time I can remember him going to church (other than a wedding or two) was for my First Communion. My Dad attended every play and musical I was in, whether I had a lead roll or not. Point is, for all his drunken ranting, my Dad loved me fiercely. And he was proud of me.

I love him too. I love him even more now. I'd give anything to be able to sit across the table from him tomorrow and say, "Happy Father's Day, Daddoo!" Because I know I'd get to see the thing I've really been missing for the past 31 years - that look of adoration that a man gives his grown-up daughter for somehow, despite of the odds, being the shining woman that she is.


The following is a series of cartoons that my Dad drew for me. Someone had given me a cat named Patches. My Dad tolerated, but had no real affinity for cats. So, he sketched these for me in hopes that I would teach the cat something useful, like warbling. These sketches are among my most treasured possessions, and they are a perfect amalgamation of my Dad's brilliant wit and artistic genius.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Parted Out

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I am a part of all that I have met...
My family.
My parents who gave me life, carried me, scared me, scarred me, loved me, ignored me, laughed with me, made sure I had piano lessons and (not always) patiently listened to me practice, and applauded with pride at my recitals even though they'd heard the songs 100 times before.
My siblings who tortured and teased me, but were fierce protectors if anyone tried to mess with me.
The grandparents who loved me, who commanded respect and taught me to show it to all my elders; my Grandpa who taught me to ride my bicycle and my Grandmothers who taught me to cook.
My Aunts and Uncles and cousins who taught me that sometimes what's on the periphery is a steady hand and a warm heart.
The the various extended relatives and old folks at the family reunions of my childhood - the ones who let me sit with them when there were no kids my age to hang with; the ones who pinched my cheeks and told me what pretty blue eyes I had; the ones who flung cards back and forth at each other, all the while making mysterious clucking noises and gasps of exasperation, as they played euchre and pinochle.

I am a part of all that I have met...
The priests, the preachers, the nuns, the zealots, the heretics, the sinners, the doubters, the scholars - all of whom taught me that searching is fine provided you don't go looking any further than your own soul for answers.

I am a part of all that I have met...
My friends throughout the years who have held my smile as surely as they've held my tears.
My friends who consistently give more than they could ever take.
My friends who graciously take, knowing that it pleases me to give.
My friends who hear the song in my heart no matter what tune I'm singing.

I am a part of all that I have met...
Bozo the Clown who made me Belinda of the Day and sealed my 15 minutes of fame when I was 6 years old.
Michael Landon who signed the crumpled rodeo ticket I held in my sweaty, grubby 8 year old hand and then winked at me as he handed it back.
Viktor Petrenko who shook my hand for an extra second and smiled so graciously when I told him what a beautiful skater he is.
Michelle Kwan who signed my program and drew a little heart next to her name.

I am a part of all that I have met...
The lovers I've had over the years, both kind and cruel.
The lovers who made my heart soar wildly when they spoke my name and my skin tingle with a single brush of their fingertips.
The lovers who left me in various ways and made me wonder what I could have done differently.

I am a part of all that I have met...
All of my Hungarian relatives who welcomed me and opened their homes and hearts and country to me.
The old gypsy woman who sat next to me outside the train station in Győr, Hungary - we couldn't speak each other's language, but her toothless smile at being offered half of my piece of meggyes rétes has never left me.
The Hungarian woman who ran up to me on a street in the village of Rabacsanak and asked me to smile because she had never seen someone with braces before.
The fish monger at the Budapest open market who chuckled when I opened my hand full of forints and fillérs and told him to take what he needed because I hadn't been there long enough to figure out the currency yet.

I am a part of all that I have met...
The elderly people for whom I've held doors open and the gentlemen who've held doors open for me.
The old man on the subway who only nodded and sighed with relief when I offered him my seat.
The kid I flipped a quarter to when he didn't have enough to get on the bus, who sheepishly muttered, "thanks" as he made his way past me down the aisle.

I am a part of all that I have met...
The store clerks, the postal workers, the restaurant servers, the overly caffeinated coffee shop vendors, the paper boys, the kids selling cookies and calendars and candies and gift wrap - the millions who have touched the money that I (and who knows how many others) have touched and, perhaps, gave back change that they (and who knows how many others) touched.
The librarian who, the summer I was 10 years old and couldn't be satiated with any amount of written word, said to me, "Boy, you sure do like to read!"

I am a part of all that I have met...
The gravely ill, whose hands I held while wishing with all my heart that my tears had magical properties to heal them.
Those whom I kissed on the forehead one last time, whispering, "It's okay to go. I love you."
The dead, the gone-too-soon, the ones who left me, heart in shards, wondering at the cruelty of the Universe while at the same time feeling thankful that I'd ever even had the opportunity to know them.

I am a part of all that I have met...
My beloved, who changes the way my world spins with a single smile and whose heart breaks whenever I cry about anything.
My beloved, who gives me space to be who I need to be.
My beloved, who supports me, loves me beyond the galaxies and back again, whose touch, as the song says, "sends me".
My beloved, whose deep baritone voice sounds like music even when he's talking about fishing and motors.
My beloved, whose skin is so familiar to me that it's almost as if I've known it all my life, whose scent, by turns, both excites me and makes me feel cozy and sleepy.
My beloved, whose big, rugged hands that are capable of doing so many things amaze me.
My beloved, whose humor leaves me breathless with laughter, and whose intelligence so often leaves me in stunned silence.

I am a part of all that I have met...
The children I've cared for, whose wide-eyed enthusiasm for life taught (and still teach me) that life is to be lived out loud.
The children who've taught me that life is much more interesting if you can imagine a magenta colored sky and green cows and flying cups of cocoa, all the while making up words that Lewis Carroll would delight in.

I am a part of all that I have met...
The teachers who opened wide the halls of knowledge, who took interest in my voracious thirst to learn, and who, as they handed back a paper with an uncharacteristic B grade, were stern enough to say, "Quit screwing around, you're so much smarter than this."
My piano teacher who never gave up on a song, who challenged me with harder music rather than giving me songs she knew I'd be comfortable with, and who, when I choked and forgot where I was in the song I had memorized for the recital, patiently whispered, "Just take a deep breath. Good. Now play. You know this." She had tears in her eyes when I finished and clapped louder than anyone else there, even louder than my parents.

I am a part of all that I have met...
The bosses and co-workers and clients who have, by varying degrees, frustrated me, pissed me off, wore me out, delighted me, made my day easier, made me laugh, and, on occasion, "got" my rather sardonic sense of humor. Especially the ones who have kept in touch and that I now count among my friends.

I am a part of all that I have met...
The doctors and nurses who have seen to my care when necessary.
The doctor who figured out that my appendix had ruptured when I was just a baby, thereby keeping me from death.
The doctor who finally figured out what was wrong with my crappy leg, thereby keeping me from amputation.
The nurse who kept me company at 3 AM when I couldn't sleep, told me funny hospital horror stories, and gave me pizza. That was good medicine.

I am a part of all that I have met...
The fellow up on Mt. Rainier who took my picture.
The lady on the subway who, without asking what was wrong, gave me a tissue when I started crying.
The guy who helped me off the ground outside the grocery store when I tripped over my own stupid feet.
The gent who gave me a winning smile at 6 AM, told me I had a nice truck and left me grinning the rest of the day
The old man who told me one of the best jokes I've ever heard back when I was a bored receptionist
The guy at the ice cream store who nearly made me swoon when he sang Level 42's Something About You and then bowed when I applauded.
The kid who thought I was the funniest grown up he'd ever seen when he caught me dancing in circles in the rain.
The crack whore who played scrabble with me
The musicians, actors, writers, and artists who buoy my own creativity.

Oh, the myriad fantastical, wonderful, amazingly beautiful, crazily lovely, funny, flamboyant, sad, interesting, blessedly weird, annoying, ubiquitous, vivacious, intelligent, mercurial gathering of souls. Oh, this gloriously unwashed crowd. Oh, this ineffably rich gallimaufry of people I have had the unmitigated, immutable, ineffable pleasure to meet.

I am a part of all that I have met, and all that I have met are part of me.

We are not alone. We are never alone.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

With Teeth

I am writing once again off of a prompt from the fine folks over at You'll find both the prompt that I received and the one I gave at the end of this post. And now, without further ado...

Annie listened to the wind howl and watched the fire dance to its song. She heard what had to be a pretty good sized limb snap off of a tree outside. She pulled the blanket tighter around her as her thoughts drifted to her Great Grandpa's WWII stories. Grape Pop - a name Annie had bestowed upon him when she was a toddler who thought that great and grape were the same word - had been dead for a decade now. Still, he was never far from Annie's mind. Shivering, she recalled his story about spending most of an entire winter huddled in a foxhole. When she was little and he would mention how that winter had been one "with teeth", Annie couldn't help but picture a small, vicious creature made entirely of snow and baring teeth of tiny, razor-sharp icicles. As if on cue she heard a scurrying noise in the attic and made a mental note to buy mousetraps next time she went shopping.

This winter was definitely one of those kind with teeth. Even on the mountain, four feet of snow in less than a month was a little excessive. She could count on one hand the days that she'd actually had power, and she had already burned through a quarter of a cord of wood. "I'm not complaining," she said to the scurrying noise in the attic. "I love the snow, and I love living here in the middle of nowhere." The noise stopped as if the maker of it was considering her statement, so she continued. "It's just that if I'm going to live without power, I'm going to have to find an old manual typewriter so I can finish writing my book." Scurry. "Hey! There's no need to be that way. I only hate that idea because those things don't come with auto-correct and there's no delete button."

Annie realized that not only was she talking to an unseen rodent, but that she was also imagining that it was giving her cognizant responses. She'd heard of people living alone in the mountains for so long that they went a little, as her nephew would say, "gone-zers." She wondered if Gone-zers knew they were going gone-zers, if there was a moment of clarity when they thought, "I've gotta get off this fuckin' mountain!" They'd step out of their cabins only to be held at bay by an army of rat-sized monsters made of snow, all gnashing their teeth in anticipation of a tasty morsel of human flesh.

Annie shook her head and sighed. She stood up, clutching the blanket around her, and went into the kitchen. She filled the kettle with water and set it to boil on the camp stove that she kept on top of the electric stove that was failing to be any kind of use lately. She opened the cupboard and brought out a mug, tea, sugar, and whisky. Once her concoction was properly brewed and medicated, she took it back to the living room. She curled up on the sofa in front of the fire and held the mug up to her nose. She closed her eyes and let the steam and the scent coming from the mug wrap around her head in warm fingers. She took a first tentative sip and felt the heat from the tea and the whisky burst in her chest and send hot tendrils into her arms and down her torso. "Take that snow monsters," she taunted the imaginary beasts with icicle teeth. "That's right. We're only tasty when we're freezing, aren't we." Scurry. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. We don't need any opinions from the peanut gallery," she yelled up at the ceiling. Scurry. "Defiant little bastard."

Hours later Annie awoke, still wrapped in the blanket on the sofa. The fire had burned down to embers. Light that felt all wrong was filtering through the window. Annie scrubbed at her eyes with her hands and looked again. "Fuck me," she muttered. The light was all wrong because snow had drifted up to the top of the picture window frame. "That's at least a seven foot drift!" She complained to no one in particular. She stoked the remains of the fire, added some kindling, and as it caught added a couple of logs. Then she went to the kitchen and set up the old percolator on the camp stove. It had taken her one power outage to realize that neither man, nor beast, nor snow would keep her from her daily appointed grounds. "Hyuck, hyuck," she muttered at herself. "You so funny."

An hour later, fortified with hot coffee, wearing four layers of clothing, and armed with a shovel and a broom, Annie dug her way from the front porch around to the back of the house where the picture window overlooked the river. She cleared a spot on the patio to stand in, then began sweeping the snow from the window as carefully as she could. "Wouldn't do to knock a hole in the window, kid. Then the snow monsters would have an easy in," she reminded herself. It was a grueling process, complete with the occasional face full of snow depending on the humor of the wind. First she'd sweep some snow from the window, then shovel it away, throwing it up and over the bank of it that was piled against the patio railing. By the time she was done, she was sweating and shivering. It was no longer snowing, but the temperature had dropped at least ten degrees.

With teeth, Annie thought as she shouldered the broom and shovel and made her way back around the side of the house. She left the broom and shovel under the front porch overhang, took the old snow sled that she used for a wood scuttle and made her way toward the woodshed. Once there, she filled the sled as high as she dared with logs, then harnessed the rope at the front of the sled and began to trudge back to the house. It was only about 30 yards, but in four feet of snow and as many layers of clothing, 30 yards had a way of feeling like a quarter mile. Plus, she thought, I'm already whupped from digging out the window.

Annie stumbled slightly, jerking the sled as she did, causing it to ram into her and send her face first into the snow. Half flailing and trying to push herself up, sputtering snow that she had swallowed, she screamed, "Oh, you dirty bastard! You filthy fucking snow monsters!" It was easier to be pissed off at a fictitious creature than to blame herself for being a klutz. Even so, as she felt snow crystals making their way down her neck, the thought flitted briefly, with teeth. "Oh, shut the fuck up." Again to nobody in particular. She managed to get to her feet, gathered and piled the logs that had fallen off back onto the sled, then got it in motion again. She managed to get to the porch without further mishap, but was breathing heavily by the time she pulled the sled in out of the weather and under the overhang. It's so cold that it hurts to breathe, she thought. Like having cold viper teeth in my lungs. Invasive little pricks those monsters.

Annie left the wood where it was on the sled. She'd bring it in later. She needed a break. And more coffee. And dry clothes. "And I'm having popcorn for breakfast. With extra butter! I don't care what any of you have to say about that!" She again addressed the assembly of none, and none argued with her. Half an hour, a mere two layers of dry clothing, and a fresh cup of coffee later, Annie sat in front of the blazing fire, voraciously devouring an enormous bowl of buttery popcorn. With her left hand, the one currently not drenched in butter, she flipped open the magazine article she'd been reading - a fascinating piece about how bees communicate with each other. She heard the scurrying noise again. She looked down at the bowl of popcorn, then looked up at the ceiling. "Oh, you think so! Not a chance. Mine. Mine. Mine, all mine." Scurry. "Whatever. Fuck you."

Annie munched her way through the entire bowl of popcorn and the rest of the bee article. For a while she forgot about snow as she lost herself amid the sound of bees on a warm June day. She forgot about the visitor in the attic. She forgot about snow monsters and icicle teeth as she flipped to the next article, a tear-inducing piece about the healing power of dogs with people suffering from PTSD. So caught up in the piece, she hardly noticed herself setting the empty bowl aside or wiping the butter off her hand onto the old blanket. Once done with the article, she became acutely aware that after a hard workout that morning, she'd been sitting without moving for at least an hour and a half. She felt stiff and her joints popped in angry protest as she shifted. "Medic!" she whimpered, then hissed at the pain in her ankle. She twisted her leg around and looked down. There were two small scrapes. No, that's not right. Tell the truth, they look like puncture marks. But I don't remember being... Her thoughts were interrupted by the scurrying sound. With teeth. "Oh, shut up! Will you really just shut the hell up already about the teeth?!"

Annie shook off the thought and stumbled into the bathroom to get some antiseptic cream. As she passed the front window, she realized that she still needed to bring in the wood from the sled. If she didn't, she'd only have wet wood to throw on the fire and that wouldn't be good. "Nope, not good at all." She giggled a little hysterically at her own voice. Ankle forgotten, she pulled on her boots, propped open the front door, and stepped out to get the wood. It was already starting to get dark and looming snow clouds weren't helping. She started toward the sled and then stopped in her tracks. Heart palpitating, all the spit dried up in her mouth. There, on top of the logs, was what looked like a tiny snowman. Except that it was hunched over. More of a snow rodent, really, if she thought about it, and oh boy, she sure was thinking about it. She didn't want to see, but even in the relative winter gloom, she could see something else. The thing that had stopped her so suddenly and breathlessly. "No... you don't... it isn't...those are not..." But the glint was unmistakable. Teeth. Sharp teeth. Annie's feet seemed to move on their own, taking her backward toward the front door. Her hand found the latch without her telling it too. Annie's full attention was on the snow (ohgod don't say it because saying it means I'm crazy) monster. With that thought she threw the door open, jumped inside, and slammed the door shut.

She leaned against the door, breathing heavily, eyes shut, for what felt like at least ten minutes. It was long enough for the throbbing in her ankle to come back. Annie heard a strange, high-pitched noise and was nauseated to discover that she was the one making it, and that it was the sound of herself whimpering. She clamped both hands over her mouth in an effort to make it stop and thankfully it worked. I'm not crazy. I'm not crazy. I'm not. Ohfuckohshitohdear. She began crying and that was better. It was a mixture of rage and relief and those were feelings she could understand. She limped into the living room, sat down heavily on the sofa. The bottle of whisky was still sitting on the coffee table where she'd left it the night before. She grabbed the bottle and took a swig. It was just the slap in the face that she needed. "I didn't see that. I'm overly tired and my brain is a little wonky from being snowed in for so long." Scurry. "No! You do not get to weigh in on this!" Scurry "Shut UP!!" Scurry. She began to cry again.

Excerpt from Snohomish County Sheriff's Report, 13 March 2009:
Subject was found after landlord filed eviction notice for non-payment of rent. The body was well preserved due to cold temperatures. There appeared to be bite marks consistent with that of a rodent, however, no visible signs of rodent infestation, such as feces, were found anywhere in the home. Scratched into the wooden coffee table next to the sofa where the body was found, was the phrase, "With teeth."

For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Grace O'Malley gave me this prompt: with teeth.
I gave dailyshorts this prompt: Like sugar and salt.