Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My Dreaming Window

This is my kitchen window, at the back of the house, where I do my thinking and dreaming and writing, where my eyes unfocus and my mind wanders peacefully.

Once upon a time, there was a lush growth of ivy, thirty years of ivy, cascading down the brick wall that faces us. The owner of this building decided suddenly to destroy the four stories of ivy, and with it an entire ecosystem of birds and squirrels. I to this day fail to understand his reasoning. In a city where green is a rare and precious commodity, who has the temerity to kill that green? And if ivy were really destructive, then ancient universities and libraries the world over would long ago have crumbled to bits under its weight...

But that is neither here nor there.

Because the birds have persevered, the bright finches and dove-colored doves, and they visit the suet cube I hung from our rusty, rickety, dangerous old fire escape. Their little soft birdy noises keep me company in my solitary moments at the window, without disturbing my various trains of thought.

I have learned to see not the brick wall, but the sunlight and the tree-shadows cast there.

Where is your most special place for daydreaming?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Five Stages

Once again, the time for our annual trip to Texas draws ominously nigh. Ten days in San Antone with my mother-in-law, truly a daunting prospect. My own mother commented the other day that every year I go through a predictable battery of emotions in the days leading up to this trip. It was a true insight (my mother is nothing if not psychologically insightful), but, further, I have discovered that my stages of dealing with this annual pilgrimage closely follow the famous 5 Stages of Grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

Denial: Although Sgt. Pepper repeatedly reminds me that I must do so and soon, I delay purchasing the airline tickets till the last possible moment. The weeks and days pass by, I am frequently online aimlessly wandering about, and still I do not pay a visit to the Jet Blue website. It is simplicity itself to accomplish this task, and still I do not. I am in full-fledged denial. We are not going to Texas, and so I have no need to buy the tickets.

Anger: Finally, grudgingly, I make the reservations and the purchase. We have a departure date, we have our seats. We have laid claim to the little packages of chocolate chip cookies and blue potato chips and crappy headphones that will all soon be ours. And now, I am angry. I am testy. I feel put upon and act out at home. It is Sarge's fault that he has a mother to whom we must pay this visit. I begin to believe that we exist in some odd opposite universe, where he begat her to torment me.

Bargaining: I lose my nerve for the task ahead, and begin to plead with Sarge like he's God and can grant the reversal of fate. I will bake his favorite molasses cookies every day all year, watch Kung Fu movies, get out my violin and serenade him, discuss the works of Philip K. Dick (okay, that wouldn't be such a hardship) ad nauseam (but that would), and generally fulfill any whim or dream that he could cook up, if he would only let us forgo the trip. Heck, I'll even do all that if he would agree to make it a seven day road trip with a three day visit instead...I can tell Sarge, who really feels the same way I do, is about to start bargaining with me to let him stay home, so I rapidly cycle into the next stage,

Depression: I'm now resigned to fate, and become sadly quiet and pessimistic. I cry easily, and lose interest in daily activities I once enjoyed. I have trouble sleeping and lose my appetite. The black cloud descends...and I find myself caught between gloom and a dubious

Acceptance: I honor this new stage with the purchase of sunscreen and travel-size toothpaste and I unearth our duffel bags. We are going to Texas, it won't be so bad, at least it's in the 80s there and the Mexican food is amazing...

but then, in a strange out-of-body moment, I book a hair appointment for Monday morning, our departure date. Because if I have a hair appointment, that means we're not going to Texas...

and I'm right back at Denial...

Dark Night Blues

Why am I still awake at 3:50 a.m.?

Dark Night Blues - Blind Willie McTell

*Photo: "Dark and Quiet" by Tusu, from Flickr Creative Commons

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Grandma Eva's ruby and diamond ring. It makes me feel almost decadent when I wear it, so I wear it nearly every day. Grandma's fingers were just a bit sturdier than mine, and so the ring has a tendency to slip to one side but I don't mind that it has a little life of its own. It sparkles most transfixingly under any light, and I have been known to stop and stare, surreptitiously, at my own hand while shopping for apples and cauliflower in the market...

I like to pretend that I am a once-wealthy lady, who has suffered a reversal of fortune and fallen on hard times, but who will never, never, give up her rubies...

For Mistress MJ

Go HERE for a book report.

More Rejected Post Topics

Late in the evening of a fruitful day. I wish I could be so productive all the time. I went to the gym and did the grocery shopping, paid the bills, sort of, cleaned the house and did the laundry, worked at my awful dissertation, wrote half a chapter of my book, made the dinner, and knit an entire arm of Hedgie's sky blue sweater...

I would think I was all coked up, except that I wasn't.

But now I'm strangely wired from my own industry, and not ready yet to shut it down. If I could only wring one more thing from this busy day. So here I am, back at my computer. I would love to write a post, but can only think of unsuitably bizarre, dull, morbid, random topics.

Here's a sample--more rejected topics from my oddly amped-up brainpan:

1. Bizarre: My hamster's icy refusal of a proffered bit of hazelnut biscotti.

2. Random: Hedgie has a particular individual quirk of speech that causes people to ask, at least several times a week, whether she is British. I have taken to answering this stupid question with the following: "why yes, I found her on the streets of London, and she was so adorable that I just had to import her back to Brooklyn!" Hedgie just rolls her eyes, long-suffering.

3. Dull: My knitting. I do a lot of it, I buy a great deal of yarn, and I have a baker's dozen (read: more than 20) projects going, all stuffed into various tote bags around the house.

4. Random/Dull: Flowers. As part of my effort at sunny good cheer, my house has flowers in every room now--carnations in the bathrooms, lilies on the dining table, branches of peach blossom by the fireplace, daffodils in Hedgie's room, and something tenacious and pink, whose name is hard to recall, residing in the front hall...that's too many flowers.

5. Dull: My quest for a name for the hero of my novel. The heroine has a name, quite a good one, but the hero is so far nameless. Sarge and Hedgie were on the case this evening, Hedgie shouting names of Roman emperors and Greek gods from the tub, and Sarge armed with a pile of history books. Still no luck. His stand-in appellation is ridiculous. I'm finding it hard to take him seriously.

6. Bizarre: The incredible scavenging possibilities on the streets of my rich neighborhood. People throw away the most extraordinary things. Just this morning, on my way from market, I picked up a little book of portraits of Native Americans, a Smithsonian reprint. Recently, someone around the corner put out a little pile of lovely purses. And last year, my next-door neighbors threw out, and I retrieved in great excitement, a brand-new, still-in-the-box Fulla doll. Who throws out a perfectly good Fulla doll?

7. Dull, very very dull: The weather. It's spring, but it's chilly.

8. Dull, and bizarre, to everyone but me: more Severus. Two back to back posts about my special friend are probably one, maybe two, too many.

9. Morbid/Random/Dull/Bizarre: Pippin's ashes are ready and waiting at the vet's office for me to pick up. Yes, I paid a small fortune for his cremated remains, God only knows why, I don't think I was entirely in my right mind the night he died. I haven't been able to bring myself to walk the ten blocks to pick them up, for what are probably obvious reasons. If you haven't experienced the joy of what "they" refer to as "cremains," well then, you wouldn't know what "they"don't warn you about: there are bone fragments, some of them sizable, in that there heap o' ashes. I know this because I also have a box of dad hanging around the house...

I know for sure that you're thanking me for this last little item...

But I think I've thoroughly worn out my day, as well as my welcome, and I'll close up now.

Just be glad I didn't post about any of these...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

How much is too much?

I repeat myself ad nauseaum: I'm a daydreamer. I guess I repeat it so often because I've come to believe it's my defining characteristic. It always was, but now as an adult I'm self-aware so I can see it clearly.

I ask myself, how much daydreaming is too much daydreaming? When has a girl's fantasy life become just a wee little bit too vivid?

I'm not sure it really matters, in a way, because I can't seem to stop myself. But I'm wondering just academically whether I spend too much time engaged in it. I guess I already know the answer to the question. But in a sort of masochistic truth exercise, a healing confessional, let me admit to the following misdeeds committed during episodes of Living while Daydreaming (which should probably be, in the High Home Court, a prosecutable offense akin to Driving while Intoxicated)

1. (I've mentioned this before, but as it's grievous, I'll repeat it) While engaged in a romantic moment with Sarge, he asks "Am I interrupting something?"

2. I hear Hedgie's voice, coming in as if from a very great distance, "Mama....mama....mama....mama....MAMA....MAMA!!!!!....why do you have that funny smile on your face?"

3. I drop Hedgie off at school, and on the way home pay Snape a visit in his dungeons...I arrive home at my real life door to my house, cart full of groceries, with no memory of how I got there. No memory of the market, the walk, not even a memory of fishing around in my purse for the keys. (See, it's almost like Dissociative Identity Disorder, but much more fun).

4. Just as Sarge and I have "our song" ("Misty Morning, Albert Bridge" by the Pogues) so too do Severus and I have a song (okay, I'll admit it, because it's just you and me here--it's "Just Like Heaven" by The Cure. But even more tellingly revealing of my delusion, I just know that he would find that completely distasteful, because he thinks our song is "Some Kinda Love" by the Velvet Underground. Because he would never be so maudlin. And because he's S&M like that. Plus, of course, dark-ish wizards love the Velvets, don'tcha know).

5. I've worked out a kink in the space-time-fiction-reality continuum that allows for these fantasies.

6. Just as I have to budget time for my workout at the Y, so too must I budget time for daydreaming. And which do you think gets short shrift? Although to be frank, I can multi-task at my workout.

7. I'm crocheting myself a pair of black lace above-the-elbow fingerless gloves...and let's just say that I don't plan on wearing them to any occasion in this world...

8. I've burnt the dinner more than twice and I'm really a good cook...yes, that was me standing at the stove gazing off into the distance long past the ringing of the kitchen timer...

9. And then there's THIS.

I won't even continue. It's just much too obvious that the jury's back on this one.

And now I must leave you to return my full attention to the Potions Master--I've been neglecting him of late, and he's getting itchy from his long lonely hours in the dungeons--I leave you to ponder the question that's really on my mind, though: can a Jewish girl from Brooklyn and a testy dead fictional British wizard with a penchant for the Dark Arts ever really have a chance at happiness?

And if you read through this, knowing that I'm completely sober as I wrote it, and you still respect me in the morning, well, God bless.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Vernal Equinox: I Will Show You Fear in a Handful of Dust

Spring today.  Although I love spring, all I can think about is this poem, "The Waste Land," and the first section. I think I'll just revel a little in my cloud of black gloom and existential angst.

You can read and if you like, go listen to Eliot himself reading in his evil little voice--but trust me, it grows on you:

T.S. Eliot reading "The Burial of the Dead"


April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke's,
My cousin's, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu.
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?
'You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
'They called me the hyacinth girl.'
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Od' und leer das Meer.

photo from Flickr Creative Commons, by Two Stout Monks

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fatoush: A Love Story

Michel and Me--my wedding luncheon--don't say a word about our enormous glasses! We were wearing them to check out the ring!

We all have intense olfactory, aural, and gustatory memories of those we've loved and lost--more than pictures and stories, a smell, a taste, or even the sound of a key in a lock or a jingle of dog collar can bring them back to us with stunning clarity.

Food is a great trigger for us all I'm sure--we can remember through food--nothing taps all our senses like it does--

My father-in-law, Michel, was a wonderful cook; you might even call him a natural born cook. I loved him very much, and am so sorry that I had the pleasure of his company here on earth for only a mere ten years, such a short time to get to know someone. In that time, though, he introduced me to his life, his culture, his personal history, through the meals he made for us. When I met Sarge and his family, I was already accustomed to Arabic food, growing up as I did right around the corner from a thriving Arab community on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. We shopped at Sahadi's for hummus and olives and pita bread, stopped in often at a little place for exotic fruit ice cream, and for a treat ate dinner sometimes at Tripoli, a very grand local Lebanese restaurant. But until I met Michel, I'd never had real home-cooked meals of this sort.

Michel appreciated my interest, and would school me in the ways of the Lebanese kitchen as much as possible, he would lay out a little dish of feta and olives, olive oil and "Arabic bread" at the breakfast table, and the two of us would share these treats before we made our way to the regular old eggs. He showed me how to make thick, rich lebneh by draining whole milk yogurt overnight in a colander lined with paper towel, then seasoning with garlic and mint and salt and pepper. He introduced me to the addition of fragrant orange flower water to lemonade, and I've always thought that it was as close to a magical fairy drink as anything could be. He made tender, falling-off-the-bone chicken in a tagine placed in their fireplace, and when I was pregnant with Hedgie and food tasted strange, his stewed chicken and moggrabiyeh became something of an obsession with me.

But nothing reminds me of Michel more than the fresh, wonderful fatoush salad he would prepare every time we visited. I can see him clearly standing at the little wooden butcher-block island, carefully cutting vegetables with his little paring-knife, in the Middle-Eastern way, even and precise, so pretty and unlike the rough, lazy salads of my own kitchen. Cucumbers, lettuce, sweet good tomatoes, maybe some cauliflower bits if they were around the house, a dressing so light and rich at the same time: crushed garlic, olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt, pepper. And on top of this would be the small, even, toasted Arabic bread squares, waiting to soak up the delicious garlicky lemony juices. Michel told me that no Lebanese household could ever tolerate wasted food, and so the stale bread would find its place in this way. Even leftover, soggy, the salad would be the most sought-after tupperware in the fridge, when Sarge and I made a late-night snacking foray.

For Sarge, these foods are the taste, scent, and texture of his childhood in Beirut. For me, they're the essence of Michel, and the kind way he welcomed me into his family, my real introduction to a culture once foreign, but now a true part of who I am: the Lebanese blood of my daughter, the memories that are now mine too, a very real vestige of a world that might have been lost but not for our meeting in the kitchen!

Kiss Tag Boy Crazy

A new development in 8-year-old Hedgehog's development--notice how blithely I trip from the total psychic meltdown of previous post, to lighthearted musings--made itself known last Saturday.

One of Hedgie's very best friends is a boy, I'll call him Hector, a marvelous charismatic little boy I believe I've spoken of before--he's naughty, rip-roaringly funny, and so kind with Hedgie, and he's an intellectual powerhouse, perfectly matched in his wide-ranging and obscure interests and little obsessions to her own idiosyncratic way of being in the world.

Last week, Hedgie and I were talking about crushes--who had one on whom in her class, among her friends. I asked--probably I shouldn't have, but I couldn't resist--"do you have any crushes going right now Hedgie?" She told me she had a crush on Hector. "Really?" I asked. "Do you think there's a difference between having a crush and being good friends?" "Yes," she replied. "There is a difference. But in Hector's case, I have a crush and a friendship. You know, I think he's really handsome."

Ah. Well, Hector is a handsome little boy. And, even more compellingly, he has such a courtly manner with Hedgie--deferring to her wishes, letting her hold his hand as they walk down the street. Friendship and a crush--on such lucky happenstance are marriages built. I should know. But I didn't mention this to her.


Saturday mornings Hedgie, Hector, and their other dear friend Nicole attend Tae Kwan Do classes, after which we all retire to the charming local cafe for Limonata, Whoopie pies, lavish paninis, and other high-end gastronomic delights (which at this moment in time, I might add, I can ill afford, but I figure, hey--what's life for if not a Saturday afternoon guilt-free indulgence...). The children take their own table and spend a nice hour discussing Lord knows what--they seem so sophisticated and well-behaved, until the moment when, suddenly, they aren't. We parents joke that that moment comes unbidden--and then they must be set free poste-haste, before chaos descends on the quiet little bistro--the three children bum-rush the door and crowd through it comically shoving--bursting forth wildly into the sunshine and fresh air like they'd just spent a month chained in the dankest of dungeons.

Usually, their reclaimed freedom is expressed in unstructured running, up and down the block, until they are winded. Last Saturday, though, one of the children called out "Kiss tag!!!!!" and of one accord they began a new--ominously new--game of, well, kiss tag. I needn't elaborate, I'm sure. Hector pursued the girls, who stayed a step ahead, shrieking, until they allowed themselves to be caught and kissed. Over and over, until it was decided that there would no longer be a "base" and so all bets were off. Screaming, catching, exaggerated smooching on cheeks.

The parents--well, we weren't sure what exactly to do. We were trying not to laugh, trying not to watch, trying to chat idly about other things.

I wonder what Hedgie will be like as she gets older. Will she be boy-crazy like me? I was, am, and always will be absolutely stark-raving boy-crazy, I know, I know, I've said it before. Even now I am, as boy crazy as a happily-faithfully-married woman can be. It's a joke in our household--Hedgie's aunt, my sis, is always warning Hedgie "don't be boy-crazy like your mama!" Hedgie always laughs.

I'm alarmed, but amused, but resigned to the inevitability of it all, but resistant--a kiss--so innocently given and taken--but still, watching my girl laughingly running away, and then letting him catch her--

Monday, March 16, 2009

How Do I Do It? The Worst Most Self-Indulgent and Shameful Blog Post Possible...

This is the pressing question, the one I've lately not been able to answer, not in theory, not in practice.

I'm having a damned hard time of it, juggling the little balls--I was never much of a juggler anyway--all through life I've pulled it off, sort of, but with plenty of rest stops along the way, to stare out my literal and figurative window, to regroup by inaction.

When in the past I've absolutely needed to, I could focus with laserlike intensity, to the exclusion of all the clamoring around and within me. In school, I'd pull off last-minute kamikaze operations that would turn out splendidly, but would involve late nights and chewing on coffee beans a la Charles Ryder in "Brideshead Revisited." Since Hedgehog came along, and even more lately, though she's gotten a life of her own but is much more sentient, in need of attention and conversation, I find myself flagging.

There is so much I want to do and need to do--for an eventual livelihood, dissertation, writing projects; for my own soul, knitting and reading and even this, writing little essays here for my blog, just to keep my writing hand in; and then the thousands of little chores and errands that run the household.

My days have become a rushing wild wind and a paralysis, all rolled into one barely contained ball of anxiety. Literally, the daily breakdown is: 80% frantic worrying but not doing, worrying to the point of anxiety attack, and 20% everything dull and necessary, the dishes and the laundry, making breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, seeing people off to work and school, bills, jockeying bits of money hither and yon to cover everything, then they come home again and need to be fed and talked to and loved and nurtured, and I am completely exhausted and unable to offer the sine qua non sort of stuff of life, to offer the things that my family needs and deserves just because I love them bottomlessly, and they are wonderful and offer me back a whole world that I can't live without. Sometimes, lately, I just don't have it in me though.

Today I walked Hedgie to school, and listened to her prattle happily about that and this, then returned home to see Sarge off, he could see I was already coming undone but had to go to work of course--and there I was, confronted by the hideous maw of computer--the Dissertation file whose very little icon makes me shudder with fear--and the blue binders full of notes and research and articles and scraps and bits of writing--but also the sink of breakfast dishes, the crumbs on the floor--and the phone calls to be made to my dear friends, who know I have a tendency to disappear into the ether for days at a time when I'm feeling like this, and I miss them but know I'll just start weeping piteously into the phone and what kind of conversation will that be? I really don't like to do that. I'd prefer to keep my extremis to myself, contained in the paces of the kitchen and livingroom--

I've always had a terrible, dreadful, anxiety, since I was very little, and lately it's flowing not ebbing, and the only thing I can do to hold myself together is to shut my mind down for long periods of time and wander around like a ghost, wringing my hands and tidying aimlessly--some of you have surely known bad anxiety, and you know what it's like--if not, it's impossible to describe, without sounding like a lunatic or worse, the demons that creep behind, and then as they gain power, which they always, always do, begin their flying and flapping about one's head, work their way inside one's brain--that's the worst--there's nothing worse, for me. All creativity and productivity is at a standstill. When I'm like this, I just go on autopilot and sort of hope, pray, it will pass and the world will settle back down and I can pick up my pen, my broom, the phone, the checkbook and begin again...

This post is awful, the literary equivalent of sinking back on an overstuffed divan, swooningly, praying someone will hold the smelling salts under my nose or at least pinch me back to myself, or maybe just call in the existential paramedics, or angels with soothing hands and good ideas...

Before a few weeks ago, Pippin was there doggishly, and the baleful look he cast my way, as I paced and hyperventilated, could be salubrious. But now he's gone, and my hamster, lord knows, offers nothing in the way of comfort. He doesn't even make eye contact!

I'm undone, beyond exhausted, and now this unfortunate post will testify to it, to the very worst, most overwrought, incompetent, self-indulgent parts of me, the parts I loathe.

But maybe it is like a crying jag. Icky, humiliating, and necessary. Once you've cried, and dried your eyes, the storm has passed, even if only temporarily.

Wish me luck, though. Or better yet, ignore this entirely...I think this may come under Rules of Blogging: Never Blog during an Anxiety Attack!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Winner of a Nice New Custom Pair of Handmade Socks is...


Cyberpete, you won with your hilarious dissertation title, "Two Years' Research: Men in Uniforms are Hot"

You were all funny, though. I wish I could share the sock love even more...

Next step--CyberPete, email me at "theweatherinthestreets@gmail.com" and tell me the length of your feet in inches, as well as a few of your favorite color choices for socks.

Thank you all very much for being so game!!!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Window Ledge: a True Ghost Story

During the early spring of my junior year in college, I took a spontaneous road trip with my boyfriend John, our perpetually self-medicated and wild-haired friend Iain, and our mentally unbalanced usually manic acquaintance, Andrew Wellstood*. We were a motley band, ready for adventure, as we set out that morning from our campus in suburban Philadelphia, crammed into Andrew's car, cigarettes, stash, and tunes at the ready, unsure of where we were headed but certain it would be grand.

Andrew drove, and the closed car filled with smoke of the more fragrant variety. The contact high alone was epic. In the midst of the good times, Andrew had a brainstorm: we would go all the way to Connecticut, to a rocky little beach he knew of, and then from there to his family manse which was at the moment uninhabited and ready for us to infiltrate.

I knew that Andrew was wealthy, very wealthy, and very very crazy, very intelligent, and came from a troubled family background. I imagined that his house of origin would be suitably eccentric, and so was quite game to catch a glimpse of it. Although had we not been game, it was useless to protest: Andrew had a plan, and by God he would follow through on this plan come hell or high water; that's the form his extreme mania took. He would have been scary, but for an odd sort of affability that balanced his less pleasant tendencies. Besides, I was with John and Iain, and although they were sort of ineffectual as men, well, I reasoned that there were three of us relatively stable sorts and only one of Andrew.

As we wove the roads, stopping occasionally for snacks and gas, tumbling out of the car in a thick cloud of sweet smoke like a scene from a bad college road trip movie (which was in fact apt), we learned more and more, in bits and pieces, of Andrew's background. It became rapidly apparent that his family was not just troubled in the usual way, but was in fact completely insane, Gothic, with more than a touch of the macabre.

He was open about the rampant alcoholism, paranoid schizophrenia, out and out psychosis, the anger and violence and darkness, broken trust and ultimately multiple suicides, that plagued the generations of his family. I, not entirely a stranger to dark family closets, was only a little put out; more fascinated than anything. But I will admit that looks began to pass between me, John, and Iain...just little glances, but there was a creeping unease, even as we drove through the cheerful daylight hours...

In the late afternoon, after much detouring, we were finally in Connecticut, arrived at the grey little beach as promised, and we left the car and stood for a moment to admire its bleak and eerie bay. For a half hour or so, we walked gingerly over its rocky shore, John stooping now and again for some bits of sea glass to make into earrings for me, should we ever return home; it had begun to feel a bit dreamlike, a long way from the silly bustle and jocularity of the campus. We were all rather quiet, even Andrew. As we walked aimlessly, a damp and insistent fog crept in, and the air was chilly although I wore John's sweater, and soon the warmth of the car seemed much preferable...

It was a quick, silent trip to the Wellstood House; as we pulled into the rounded driveway, it stood before us, large in stature and effect; not a friendly house, I had the distinct feeling that the peculiarly animate centuries-old stone was giving me the once-over, eyeing me from the tops of its proverbial tortoise-shell eyeglasses, and finding me unsuitable.

Andrew pointed out landmarks around the house, as one would show off one's rose bushes or the pretty paving-stones one had set just the summer before--or even the path where one's little sister had taken her first steps--"Here's the well, see this, where Uncle jumped in one night and drowned...and there, right up there, is the window Father threw himself out of, twice, but he didn't die either time, I suppose the drop wasn't far enough...but here's the tree, he hung himself from this tree and died that time, we saw him swinging..."

Unconsciously, I gripped John's cold hand with my own...Andrew was an enthusiastic and almost spritely story-teller, and it was difficult to know at the time just what was fact and what embellished fact and what outright fiction. However, I came to know later, much to my horror, that most of it was simple truth or something very close.

We were all feeling a bit giddy as Andrew led us into the house; I had no initial impression beyond its subdued grandeur and anachronism--here was a house out of time, and we had left the modern world, at this point rather dragging our feet. Andrew led us up the curving central staircase, past rows of enormous portraits of 18th- and 19th-century Wellstoods; I tried my best not to make eye contact with them. He showed us to our rooms, saying cryptically, "Granny is away, so it will be all right for us to stay here tonight." I supposed it wouldn't be all right were she there--although the house was enormous--

The house appeared to be a maze of rooms, enormous and tiny and seemingly nothing in between, long hallways, back staircases, and so very very many windows, long windows everywhere, peering out into late dusk. Everything was both dusty and incredibly clean at the same time, if you can imagine such a strange dichotomy. It was immaculate and gloomy, silently disapproving of our offending adolescent presence within its walls.

After the tour, of sorts, we settled in a long living room downstairs, appointed with a stiff, unyielding horsehair-and-velvet couch and rows of straight velvet-upholstered chairs, rigid sentries against the dark wainscoting. Andrew lit a fire for the chill, and it flickered dismally, the little flames dwarfed by the enormity of their stone prison. We ate something we'd brought along--like refugees--I don't remember what it could have been, perhaps Pringles and beef jerky and I must have had a bottle of my ubiquitous Diet Coke?--and made valiant small talk, our natural co-ed exuberance and laughter quelled in the somber atmosphere. The darkness pressed in all around us, an unwonted suitor caressing my hair and ankles and making me more and more jumpy until I suggested that perhaps it was time to retire--but I wasn't sure at this point which would be the worse scenario, lying awake in the grim bedroom, alone with John for dubious protection, or shivering in the dour living room with ground-floor windows staring in at us.

When Andrew brought us back to our room, it looked dreadful, lit by two tiny wall sconces that cast a trembling and sickly yellow pallor over the heavy rugs and furnishings, the ornate bed with the scratchy mattress and insufficient decorative bedcovers...Andrew turned to me and smiled in the half-light, and pointed to a corner window near the bed--"see, there's the window I showed you, the one my father jumped from, twice."

And with that, unceremoniously, he retired. I remember that John and I made for the bed, fully dressed, and pulled the coverlet around us, and lay for what seemed an eternity, stiff with cold and fear, not talking much. But eventually, John fell asleep, that traitor, leaving me wide awake as the room pressed in around me.

The next moments in that still, still room were long, and I was scared, and then I was terrified. Something compelled me to glance at the corner window, had it been closed? It was now open, just a bit, enough to let in a chilly breeze that stirred the curtains, drawn back to either side, a light breeze that carried not an early spring freshness but something else...and then I saw it, clearly even in the dim light--

two hands, the fingers long and alive, hooked over the side of the window sill, clutching the ledge.

Immediately I buried my face in John's warm back, he grunted and shifted in his sleep, and then, I turned again to look at that window ledge--they were there, those hands, clutching, clutching...I squeezed my eyes shut and when I looked for a third time, they were gone, and the window was closed, the curtain pulled back but completely motionless, the room quiet but for the hitch in my breathing.

It was an eternity of minutes, maybe it was a second or maybe it was an hour, but at last I heard a light tapping on our door, and someone--it was Andrew--poked his head in and hissed at me, "Granny has returned unexpectedly from her trip--you'd best be as quiet as possible, I don't want her to know we're here--we'll leave in the morning before she's awake--"

"What?!?" I squeaked trying to contain myself.

"Don't worry," said Andrew. "She's mostly deaf and quite a bit blind, so it shouldn't be too difficult. She never comes into this room anyway."

It was true, Granny had returned. She spent the better part of an hour walking the halls by our room; I could see the shadow of her little feet, crossing back and forth, back and forth. Whether she was putting away her luggage, or simply pacing the halls, watching and waiting with a sort of a sense that people were in her house who shouldn't be there, I just don't know. I do know, however, that even after she settled down and the footsteps stopped, I did not sleep that night, not for one instant.

In the morning, just after dawn, Andrew hurriedly rounded us up and, groggily, silently, we exited the Wellstood House, ran to the car, and hot-footed it back to our college.

John, Iain, and I often spoke of that night in the following months, and it became much easier to laugh about it when we were well away from there; it came to seem miserably funny, even. But I never mentioned the hands at the window ledge. After all, who really knows whether it was a trick of the light, or of my already overtaxed nerves and imagination...still, I know what I saw there, even though I'm not sure why I saw it.

Several years later, Andrew Wellstood committed suicide. To this day I can see him clearly, smiling as he told his stories of ghastly tragedy.

*some names have been changed, for reasons quite obvious.

Photo: "Moonlight Escape" by McBeth (from Flickr Creative Commons)

Roll Call of the Loved Animals

Rusty Boy Beauty, Caesar, Shashlik, Rein, Jackson, Susy, Dilly, Kishka, Suky, Minnie and Tashy, Winston, Fluffy, Worky and Churchy, Friedman Pasha, Patsy Cline, Dr. Frizzle, Babe, Buddy, Bugsy, Tom, Vivi, Lily, Nosy, Pippin...

Birds, fish, hamsters, mice, dogs, cats, some with us for months, others more than a decade; the biters, the bullies, the arrogant, the cuddly, the submissive; the ones who floated through life, seemingly oblivious, and the ones who loved back, fiercely; the inscrutable, and the ones who wore their hearts on their sleeves; the ones who flew and the ones who scuttled; the ones who ran in fields and swam in lakes, the ones who slept the day away; the ones who begged for food, and the ones who behaved; the ones we fostered and the ones whose tiny lives we struggled valiantly to save; and the ones who died in our arms...

and the wild creatures, called simply Frog, Toad, and Worm, Caterpillar and Newt, Squirrel, Spider, Sparrow, and Fox, nursed to health or placed out of harm's way...

In the names, remembered or now-forgotten, whimsical or well-considered, literary, historical, or childish, the story of a family who loves animals.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sock Finalists

You folks came up with fantastic dissertation titles--

I laughed out loud, and I learned the phrase “titular colonicity,” also that titular colonicity screws with old European librarians.

Now if you would just oblige me and vote for one of the finalists--you have until Saturday--just go to the sidebar and pick your favorite! Vote once, and those who are finalists should also vote. Vote! That word is starting to sound peculiar to my ears...

Here are your choices:

1. Straight to the point:

“Two Years Research: Men in Uniforms are Hot”

2. Assisting me handily in my delusion of reference, if not actually naming my dissertation:

“Alan Rickman in Chains: The Woman who Turned that Jowly Frown Upside Down”

3. Clever and accurate use of jargon combined with hilarity:

“Strain Theory and Geriatric Delinquency: The Applicability of a Theoretical Model Across Old Knudsen's Poop Fetish”

4. Pithy and succinct:

"Gimme that Fucking Degree: I am Worth It!”

5. Just plain old made me laugh out loud:

“Podunk Police Departments: We Make Mirrored Sun Glasses Look Good and Son...You Sure Got a Purdy Mouth”

6. Also made me laugh,

“Rural Law Enforcement: Where ‘Breathing My Air’ is an Arrestable Offense.”

7. shit, and one more,

"Why Blogging Beats a Doctorate: Fetishism and Solipsism"

8. Gd dammit, I can't miss out on one of those flattering ones that reference me, I mean come on now...

"Unholiest Housewife in Handcuffs: An In Depth Insight into Lust, Law, Leah, and Lusciousness"

I don't know, I had to stop somewhere. We also had titles that could be used for an actual dissertation. I’ll be contacting you for help with the frakking thing itself! You’d probably do a better job than I am, even if it's not your field...We also had alliteration, Yiddish, German, awesome slang that I had to look up ("zoots"? Now I know), funny take-downs of academia, and general funniness. This is why I usually just draw a random number.

We Interrupt this Contest so that I Can Tell More Things About Myself

I've been tagged by dear Megan for the little meme that's sweeping our corner like a particularly tenacious rhinovirus (how many times has some version of that joke been made...). Also, I think I'm well on my way to expanding my "101 Things about Me" to "1000 Things about Me" and this helps it along...

The gist of it: "Mention six things of no real importance about yourself" and then tag six more people--see, it's like a chain letter but more fun.

I'm tagging

Faycat--and I know you're busy cooking up a storm, but I still want to hear six things about you!!!!
Suzy--yes, yes, I know you're in semi-retirement, but...

and here's some more about me...

1. I've "heard" (through my latest interwebs stalking expedition) that my ex-something-or-other who wrote a bio of the Rolling Stones is now working on his memoirs. I'm wondering trepidatiously whether, if the book is ever finished (he's a notoriously slow producer), I'll be included. I fear I will, and I fear I won't. You know what I mean?

2. I've been waking up at 5 a.m. every morning and drinking really strong coffee on not enough sleep, which sets me up for a nice mid-morning anxiety attack. You'd think I'd have learned by now...

3. Our hamster, Whomper, a scientific oddity, has grown so enormous that he no longer really fits his hamster cage and wheel, and so I must buy him a rat cage. It's not his diet--he's fed nothing but his seed mix, and an occasional broccoli and carrot treat.

4. My morning makeup routine consists of Perfekt foundation (ladies, I can't sing its praises enough), and Benefit lipstick in "Good to Go". That's it, but my crammed-full makeup case would mislead you. I'm a products hound.

5. I love the smell of chlorinated pools.

6. I've had a recent change of heart, and now prefer the subway system to taxis. Two dollar ride that'll get you absolutely everywhere? I'm so glad the MTA and I have been able to renew our vows.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sock Contest Redux: Name that Dissertation

It's time once again, as it is every hundred posts or so, for me to spread the Hand-knit Sock Love around the world, and so opens my third Sock Contest. If you win, I will knit a pair of socks for you and you will be very very glad to own them.

The rules are a little different this time around, however. The last two contests were simple random drawings. This time, you must work a little for your hand-knits.


1. Please submit, in the comment section below, a title for my doctoral dissertation (which is, in case you're not sure, just a glorified academic paper that gets me a Ph.D if I manage to finish it). Dissertation titles, like most academic journal article titles, should ideally contain the following: a pithy set-up sentence, giving some general information, followed by a colon, followed by a pithy, more specific explanation, relating to the thesis or general topic area.

some examples are

"Graduate Students in Limbo: A Survey of Lackluster Excuses for Non-Completion of Dissertation"

"Holy Knockers: A Comparison of Cup Size in Urban and Rural Housewives"

"Uniform Fetish: The Demographics of Women Who Fantasize about Being Handcuffed, Batoned, and Roundly Kissed"

Some info to get you going on this: I've been working on this piece of shite half-heartedly for several years now, whining and worrying ceaselessly the entire time. My general topic area is rural police departments. The even broader field is Criminal Justice.

Your title doesn't need to follow the above format if it seems too complicated; one sentence will do. The title may reference Criminal Justice, police, my laziness, or all of the above.

Make me laugh if you can.

2. You have until the end of the day, Wednesday, March 11th.

3. Enter as many times as you like!

4. I will choose finalists, and you good folks will vote for your favorite.

5. I will then knit a pair of socks for the winner.

Don't be shy! I really hope to see some entries here!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Green Glass Bowl

I inherited any number of things from my grandparents, Eva and Max. From Grandma, a penchant for fretting and some skill with a crochet hook; from Grandpa, acerbity and a peculiar dark way of seeing the world; from both, my Judaism and a love and understanding of classical music.

I also inherited a green glass bowl. This bowl rested dead center of their enormous, formal dining room table for as long as I can see backwards into the past, probably since long before I was even born, always filled, predictably, with fruit: apples, bananas, peaches, and pears with only slight seasonal variation. We were welcome to help ourselves, and we did so--bananas to be sliced into cornflakes, or a stray peach cut in half and shared between me and my sister.

But the fruit was really for Grandpa Max. He was a creature of unflagging habit, and just as he shaved every day with Noxzema and traded his ubiquitous suits for short-sleeved button-up shirts and trousers in the summer, washed with Ivory soap and listened to the classical music station every morning for two hours after breakfast, so too would he eat fruit, two or four pieces a day, day after day and year after year. Lunch and dinner, he would without fail end his meal this way, eaten quickly, matter-of-factly as one would take one's vitamins. He ate apples including their pits and cores. He ate bananas in three bites. Peaches in two. He would often bite off a piece of peach, then hand it to the invariable doberman drooling and staring hopefully at his elbow. The dobermans died and were replaced by new generations of dobermans; the green glass bowl and the simple fruit remained the same.

I have this bowl now, dead center of my table, and more than anything else, tangible or intangible, it invokes for me daily the presence of my grandfather.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Hedgehog has a very bad little boy in her second grade classroom, we'll just call him Sam. Sam is much reviled around Chez Weatherinthestreets; he teases, he pushes, one must go in to see the teachers about him sometimes even, and I know he's their Number One problem. They actually seem a bit unsure about how to handle this little wretch. But despite the very real problems with Sam, Hedgie is a secret fan of bad behavior. Part of this ill-concealed glee comes from the fact that she herself is incredibly well-behaved in school. If I were to psychoanalyze, I would say that she gets a vicarious thrill out of others acting out their Id when she herself is tightly governed by her Superego. But I won't get too Freudian here.

Or maybe I will. On our walk home from school this afternoon, Hedgie was bursting to tell me a story: in art class, when they were supposed to be creating little figures of some sort out of clay, Sam took advantage of a distracted art teacher. "Mama," Hedgie was actually bouncing along the street with laughter and excitement. "Sam made a clay penis! And then he glued it to the front of his pants and marched around the room showing it off!"

My reaction? I burst out laughing. How fabulous! I even said that to her. I asked Hedgie what the teacher did, and she said, "scolded loudly!" and I said I wasn't sure that it was deserving of a scolding. I told her that I didn't really think it was wrong to talk about penises or even to make a clay model of one.

But Hedgie, even in her delight, was still sensible. She reminded me that it was all about context. "Talking about penises in school would definitely be okay if we happened to be studying the human body," she said firmly. And making a clay penis? "That's okay too, but not to parade around and disrupt the class."

I had to concede the point.

Monday, March 2, 2009


I've posted my favorite "dirty" poem HERE if you'd care to peek.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


A little parlor sort of game--I was assigned a letter, "U" in my case, and am to give some words that begin with "U" that are important to me in some way. "U" was a challenge, but here goes...

unusual: I like to believe I am this. In fact, my whole life has been a pursuit of being unusual, being thought to be unusual. I'm not sure whether everyone feels this way, but I can't stand the thought that I might be usual, ordinary, standard, typical, regular. It's almost an obsession, and, I'll admit, a conceit.

"Ulysses" by James Joyce: When I was reading it for the first time for a college course, my dad (whose favorite book it was) and I discussed it at great length one night, I sitting cross-legged in the hall of my college dormitory, he back home in Brooklyn. Dad said, and I've never forgotten, that he would read it periodically over the years, and every time he read it, it was more meaningful than the last time. Now I know that's true--the longer I've been married to Sarge, the more the book means to me; it's a portrait of, among other things, a long marriage.

unbelief: I've always believed in God, deep down, but have at times struggled with unbelief and have come to the conclusion that I would rather cast my lot in, take the leap of faith, and just let myself believe. It's been at times almost like a conscious decision, however paradoxical that might sound. Unbelief is too uncertain, too scary.

unbending and unbuttoned: The dichotomy of Leah. My tightly-wound self at odds with the more free, more free-wheeling, self I know I am.

uniform: I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I love a man in uniform. Soldiers, police. All the symbolism, the regimented strength, the suggested experience. What can I do, it's just another of my fetishes. Maybe it's because I just can't abide weakness in men. I mean, weaknesses are wonderful and individual, of course (everyone's got them), but not overall weakness; that makes me feel squiggly. Maybe that's not fair, but I must come clean that I cannot. The uniform says, "I've got a gun and I'm not afraid to use it!" Okay, just kidding on that last part.

urban: I'm urban. I'm comfortable in the city, on the sidewalks, I've got good street smarts, I can get anywhere on the subway, I can make my way quickly through a milling herd of tourists, I hate Broadway shows (just like a good native NYer should), I can tolerate noise and ruckus and 3 a.m. traffic on the expressway. The funny thing is, I'm comfortable in deep country too. But I'm a city girl at heart.

*photo by Leo Reynolds, from Flickr Creative Commons