alcohol · death · depression · Maggie · people

Ice Cubes Retaining Right Angles

“And now she wants to fucking sit Shiva!” Maxine says, slamming her tumbler down on the counter, the ice cubes still retaining their right angles, the scotch having been drained.

“My fucking sister!” Maxine pulls on yellow latex gloves to scrub the dishes, which look ridiculous relative to the pima of her Peruvian dress.

Maxine balls these dresses up in lingerie wash bags, then hangs them up still wrinkled to dry off the back porch. The back porch, despite Maxine’s best efforts, is overrun with morning glory and brugmansia. Poison blossoms, she remarks—“Like a fun tea!” (She was at Woodstock after all).

“Shiva! My goy sister!”

And Maxine furiously scrubs a dish, which is barely tainted by her lunch. A faux scampi, and sesame-crumbed seitan. Clean food, clean plates. Maxine, regardless, will later die of a sticky and indelible cancer.

I hold her cat while across the room and glance at a bulletin board Maxine has constructed. It details what birds she’s seen, and where. That sapsucker in Slovakia, the ravens in DC.

“The fucking nerve!”

Maxine scrubs her ashtray, even after two cigarettes, and places every clean plate in the dish holder beneath the kitchen window.

“My mutha never worried about me, goddammit. And now I’m supposed to sit in a goddamn room with towels over the fucking mirrors, because now my goddamn sister—my fucked up oldah sister wants Shiva for the mom…for my mom…” She slumps at the kitchen counter.

Despite everything, the cat purrs. He’s a Norwegian Forest Tabby and prefers clutching your shoulder versus remaining curled in your lap.

“It’s ok, Mags.”

“I’m just tired of being the responsible one, Thawm,” she cries, “Look what happens when you’re the one who was supposed to be ok.”

“’S’alright Mags. I love you. Want me to water your plants?”

I put the cat down, his padded feet thudding on the hardwood floor. He walks away pretendingly nonplussed, the way cats do with ears still held back.

Watering the plants will only encourage the morning glory, but the offer stands. Maxine sobs, not for the first time or last, while I unravel the hose from beneath the back stoop and make sure the door is closed so that only I, not the cat nor anything else, gets out.

Cayden · childhood · family · home · Maggie · parenting

Answers Like Burning Paper

The questions used to be easy. And if they weren’t easy, they were at least innocent, answerable with simple Google searches.
Cayde would ask:
“What’s the inside of a blueberry look like?”
“What’s a blue whale skeleton look like?”
“Did tyrannosaurs have feathers?”
(The last one is great, because it’s a matter of both science and whimsy, which are fantastic collaborators in the art of metaphorizing. Imagine a reptilian killing-machine wearing a feather boa. The jokes write themselves).
I’d show Cayde pictures on an iPad while reclining in his bed.
“That penguin’s fat.”
We worked in the declarative.

My friend Maggie Jaffe and I used to run a small press publication years earlier where, over a Spartan plate of salsa and cream cheese, seitan and grapes (also scotch), we’d argue about fonts.
She’d go to a writers’ retreat in Vermont and I’d have to type up the issues and take care of her cat, a Norwegian Forest Tabby. I’m really bad at computers, much better at cats. It was a quasi-agreeable situation.
“Is this going to be the prison issue, or the Ernesto Cardenal issue?”
We were both bird-lovers, birds that sometimes show up in the mouths of felines. We were fashionably ironic, me and Mags.
The poetry overflowed, took up a lot of space. I wound up with boxes that I couldn’t store in my apartment with its one and simple closet. I kept a box of manuscripts in the trunk of my car, my mobile attic.
Attics get broken into as do cars, and long story short, poetry wound up scattered over the streets of North Park one night, and a Florida St. Samaritan returned some of the loose pages to Maggie, tire prints and all, asking: “Are these yours?”
Mags and I spent 9/11 together, watched the buildings go down in a wreck of dust and concrete, with the papery aftermath of dossiers and fax sheets floating light despite the heaviness of everything—this stupid detritus which caught the sun when you wished to God it didn’t look so beautiful in its descent.
Maggie was pretty mad about the poetry, all those ruined papers.
How do you apologize? In a formal letter? Sans serif with a Goodyear watermark? Tough questions.

Cayde has tougher questions these days.
“What’s the Illuminati?”
“Why didn’t Thomas Jefferson and John Adams like each other? They wrote a bunchuv letters to each other.”
“Who killed JFK?”
“Why did they burn Martin Luther King’s house down?”
“Tell me about Gandhi?”
I’m equipped to answer these questions, and why I still have residence in Cayde’s bunk come bedtime. Cayde’s actually carved out time: ‘7-7:30’ Daddy and I talk about things; ‘7:30-8’ we play along with Jeopardy.
These questions are hard, they’re just not declarative in nature anymore. The inside of a blueberry is an easy thing to Google, moral relativism is not.
“What was the worst war?”
“Why were we in Iraq?”
I don’t want to mess him up.
“Let’s not talk about Iraq tonight.”
“There’s no such thing as a good war,” Cayden says, wearing kid pj’s, and I’m not sure if it’s a statement or a question.
Studs Terkel, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Dwight Eisenhower, MLK. I flip through my mental Rolodex of primary sources.
I kiss him square atop his mop.
“Not tonight, Dude. Later. We can talk later.”
We’ll talk later and erase the tire-prints, maybe look at pictures of dinosaurs with fancy feathers. That’s easier.

Maggie · wife

Women’s Day and Bright Shining Dots

It’s International Women’s Day. There is history and her-story.
There’s this misnomer: ‘Behind every successful man is a good woman.’ This is a misnomer because it suggests a rank and file. If I’m successful as a man, it’s not because women are peeping over my shoulder; it’s because they are standing right next to me.
What does ‘being a successful man’ even mean?
We are human; the genders are equal in their strengths. Sometimes different, but the yin and yang wouldn’t be what it is without a tight compartment of unity despite difference.
You don’t ‘grab crotches’, you don’t prescribe to the Genesis idea that men have headship in the family because Man is the closer iteration of some bearded God.
No—you work together.
Can I list the women who have elevated my life, who are not the ‘behind’ women that have led to my perhaps success?
My wife. I’m a bright shining dot because of her. She is my everything.
My mom. She loves my dad so much, and I learned how to love by watching them together.
My grandmother, and how I miss her: I would tend her garden, she would water my own garden by asking the simple question: ‘How are you?” We would talk for hours.
My Aunt Deb McMahon: She gave me the blueprint for adulthood.
Maggie Jaffe: prolific poet to the end. Sadly beautiful and a force of prose.
Janet: who is my Mamó and oils my Tin-Man joints.
Elaine: my landlady on paper, but better my friend.
Debbie: who takes my kid to plays and brightens his eyes.
The labbies and techs at work, also my sisters and my cousins, all my surrogate moms, the women who teach me things in my career, the women who inspire me to be a better technician and human being; my co-workers, my friends.
Happy International Women’s Day.