Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Birthday Song

On that day,
stars of the ancient land
opened like widening eyes
in a blue night expanding
edges of the universe,
as we approached each other
dressed in robes of brown lambs wool
asking how to start over,
hands raised in tents like olives
on smooth stones as round as hope
with tongues minted from basil,
not starting from some checkpoint,
no, but wanting to dimple
the granite fissure of time,
to smile whiter than the pearls
of a newborn's first milk teeth,
with rubies glowing as deep
as the color of friendship,
see after these long years how
two old flames find each other,
ah, the touch of foot on soil,
the fit of lock to a key
in a place where ends find beginnings,
where hearts are not hostages,
where drums regard distance,
and the world is created once again.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

First Light Love

for Diki

Once I thought I'd found love
but it was a monkey skin
swinging from a curtain rod.

When I tickled its chin,
it jabbed me with toenails.
I felt so pricked,

spotted with holes,
a constant downpour raining
through my shocked mouth.

So much for that story.
Now I think love is a cream
for rubbing on my chest

that makes me smell good
when I step out of the bath,
softening my heart

with a certain carelessness,
and something else.
You are my first light love.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ballot Language

Some people want to hide the taxi on your tongue. "Talk ballot language. No lies. Say either Yes or No." Stalling for time, you squeeze out a few more words about how some stupid asshole politician doesn't have a clue and probably will never have a clue even if someone handed him a magnifying glass to read all the answers, which only gets a pained look and you don't know what to do except to keep explaining what he said in the taxi looking to find weapons of mass destruction. Always maybeing. Call the Scheherazade help line. You like details, want to know the color of a ribbon on a dress, how the clouds were tacked in the sky, or the taste of macaroni and cheese as it clots on your tongue. Your big mistake is in believing other people want to hear the same thing. No, they don't, mouthwonk. Details confuse things. They hide the hedgerow. If you give a shunt, whoops, there goes the operation. Wheels and all. Check the macaroni. Blame technology. Blame Gatekeepers who need to hire more police officers for special events. Then it comes down to, “Do we have the money: Yes or No?” Check the square box. Run with the wolves. Hail a cabbie. Tell me the way to Happy Hour.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tkhine in Kislev

Light a candle. One for the mother in San Mateo
who handed her kids to safety from a bashed window
in her last live moment of knowing what to do—

for the victims of Mumbai, India,
another terrorist billboard flashed across the Internet,
may your spirits find peace—

for the children of Israel and Palestine
who traveled to the fjords during the summer
to hear each other's voices—

for the new president and his family
who look for change
from windows blotted with oil—

for my children who gather at my table
arriving from their lives
to find their own place—

for the man who sleeps next to me
as we hold each other,
rudders of the same dream—

for my parents
who skipped out early
and never said good-bye—

for the poets, writers, and artists
who continue the blessing,
and to the darkness which circles our eyes.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

17th & Webster

The first thing I see in the morning as I exit the freeway from 980 heading into downtown Oakland is the Donut Shop at the corner of 17th and Webster and as I think now I don’t even recall if it has a formal name, a place run by a Mom and Pop who have two kids—a girl and a boy—both in college. I know this because I have talked to Mom about becoming an empty nester. Sometimes during this past summer, she mentioned that she and her daughter had fights, the girl hissing that she couldn’t wait to leave for college, and this hurt her mother. She says that the boy who is already at Cal Poly is different, isn’t that way, keeps his feelings to himself and we admit together that “boys are different.” As soon as they see me enter the door they know I will have a small latte to go and begin the steam low-fat milk in the espresso machine for the layer of foam dusted with cinnamon that gets me going. Sometimes I don’t feel altogether great about being so absolutely predictable so I’ll order a glazed maple donut or a dozen donut holes to bring upstairs to share. There are two oak tables in the front and several counter spaces toward the back of the shop where people are already nested with breakfast and a newspaper, or memorizing the numbers of a newly purchased lottery tickets. We talk about different things in snatches as the growing line of people permits. One day we chatted about the rising price of rice in Asia, almost everywhere. There are people in the donut shop that I recognize from AC Transit, but mostly not. People are coming in for their morning coffee, cans of soda, tea, and of course, donuts that tempt me every morning from behind their glass counter that separates me from sugar and fat, but I hold steadfast most of the time, donuts being something that I only ate for lunch in junior high school, six rings at the time, chocolate flaking on my tongue like eaves from Hansel and Gretel’s candy house in the woods, or sometimes donuts dusted with a spring coating of powdered sugar. I’ve eaten enough donuts and have fond memories of all of them. I’m happy to order a latte, nodding as Mom or Pop point to the espresso machine. During the summer, both of their kids worked for a few days in the shop, making change at the cash register and getting breakfast sandwiches of bagels with something spread between them. I usually have two dollars in my wallet for the price of a latte that I unfold and place on the counter like a bet. I never can get enough coffee, its bitter taste spreading throughout my mouth, straining between my teeth. On my way out, whoever made my coffee, Mom or Pop, reminds me "to have a good day." Standing just outside the store is Patrick, another regular. When it rains, he’s on the inside of the shop, closer to the lottery ticket machine. Patrick’s a homeless guy who sells the Street Spirit to his customers. I am one of his regulars. For 14 years he played with Fats Domino and Chubby Checker, practices on the piano when he can at the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music. One day I met Patrick’s daughter who was walking with him on the street past the AC Transit parking lot on Franklin. A beautiful African-American woman , 27 years old, with the same dark sparkling eyes as her father. Patrick told me her age when I asked him later. He’s got a crooked smile and those sparkling eyes, always wears a hat, an ambassador on the corner of 17th street waving us on as we head toward the elevators of downtown Oakland. On our way out, he reminds us to “Have a good day.” The donut shop is where we make our transitions, where we gather as a breakfast tribe with donuts, coffee machines, and lottery tickets on our way to work.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tkhine in Chesvan

Election Day 2008,
a holiday where newscasters were intelligent
as if the moment had brought out the best in them and in us,
friends picked up their phones to call and text message,
the same people we would talk to years later
remembering the evening when the world changed color,
telling the story
of where we were and what we were doing
when city streets shifted
with faces uplifted
and hearts flew out in the shape of doves.

Fly to the nearest branch
before salmon go extinct
before dreams are quarantined.

Follow a wing,
an opening through clouds.

Lead us from this desert of ticker tape
that measures value by each day's closing.
Fly, fly to the nearest bare branch

away to a mountain-top
where striped tropical fish
swim with the prophets.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

We Make Bureaucracy: 4

Like most Americans who work in some sector of major industry, I came to accept that all I needed to do was to show up.

Now I ask, what is that bit of wisdom about most of life being about showing up?

What I didn’t understand and came to realize, is that sometimes it’s about only showing up. Being reliable is a virtue. Deviating from this norm is never a good idea. Bureaucracy doesn’t know how to deal with deviation. Dilbert, a cartoon strip by Scott Adams that was syndicated throughout the 90’s, mined rich material from just this fact.

But let’s examine a few things. When the fulcrum of power is based at the top and then “trickles down” through the organization in classic triangular fashion, something amazing happens.

A manager's gaze becomes fixated on the chain of command that connects his office to the next upward rung. He’s not a bad person, no, just some poor schmo who’s also caught in a flytrap, making sure that the lines of communication are open between him and the manager who serves as his own lifeline to the top. Securing and defending this relationship occupies the majority of his time, more so than the people who work for him. Poor guy. He’s thinking about next fiscal year.

But then employees who populate the lower echelons of any organization are left without hope.

Barbara Ehrenreich in her book “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America,” writes, “If you are constantly reminded of your lowly position in the social hierarchy, whether by individual managers or by a plethora of impersonal rules, you begin to accept that unfortunate status.”

Bureaucracy is bad for democracy. If I come to work every day with a sense that I am ineffectual, can’t change anything, will be punished for speaking my mind, and ultimately “it will always be this way so why try and change it,” why the heck should I try and change anything? If I’m getting a message to not rock the boat for the privilege of collecting a paycheck, I will do exactly that and feel the same way about government, or anything else (cable or telephone company), which I presume wields some kind of power over me.

The dot-com world was no panacea, and in all honesty, just as filled with bureaucracy, after all we’re human beings who want to delegate stuff to someone else. But given that fact, there also was recognition of the individuals who made up a team and what a team needed to become successful.

Is that so terrible?

It's time for us to restructure ourselves as a team again and to move away from this stifling bureaucracy that looks like America.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

We Make Bureaucracy: 3

After the dot.com bust, I took stock. My area of expertise was writing about technology, a scribe who detailed the inner workings of countless software packages, advising users when to enter their names, when to press Return, and when to call technical support. I became adept at transforming binders of documentation into online help systems.

One day I answered an advertisement to manage a Web site for an Oakland-based company on a temporary basis. Later, I applied for the permanent position, and got the job. But there was something oddly familiar about this new setting, and not in an entirely good way.

During my initial “honeymoon period,” management had tolerated my dot.com credentialed glow. But forays into taking initiative became increasingly suspect. A series of monthly “brown bag” lunches where employees could share information about mutual projects, became construed as “empire-building.” My annoying habit of asking questions at weekly staff meetings rather than accepting explanations at face-value, bordered on insubordination.

I was a fly. I was flattened. But fortunately, I wasn’t stupid. Did I mention that I was a single mother?

Reporting to a new manager and banished to my closet without windows, the light finally dawned. I realized that I had returned to a bureaucracy. There in my worst moments, I would softly bang on the door and whisper to myself, "Let me out."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We Make Bureaucracy: 2

I’ve often wondered how a bureau came to reside inside a bureaucracy. A bureau seems harmless, a drawer in which a person places clean socks. But bureaus of the administrative kind seem shrink-wrapped in concrete with divisions of labor meted out amongst various offices, a personnel system that operates primarily to minimize lawsuits, and a hierarchy that lacks any freshet of communication, and which only serves to fan the flames of the grapevine.

I have spent the major portion of my working hours warehoused in various bureaucracies except for a brief stint in the dot.com industry.

The real gift of the dot.com days in my humble opinion was not about stock options, but in serving as a hot house for developing new work relationships.

For however brief a moment, I attended monthly meetings that offered information about sales, upcoming contracts, proposed new development, and invited me to participate in forming goals for my division.

After years of occupying a cubicle as a technical writer for the offices of engineering, banking, and government firms, I was suddenly asked to speak up and participate, and not just dully nod my head in response to the latest administrative bulletin, which had arrived through interoffice mail in an ugly envelope.

Team meetings were accompanied by an endless supply of pizza, and a selection of mineral water, which all bespoke of a budget that was being spent, in some small part, on employees. This made a big impression, and as my time ticked on, first for a company that was trying to develop a product where couch potatoes everywhere could order online goods via a TV remote, and then for a company which allowed architects to communicate globally, something else stunned me.

At our team meetings, everyone who sat around the table was expected to generously pipe in at the appropriate moment with suggestions based on our area of expertise. One person wasn't supposed to have all the answers. We were that person.

Driven to release a new product had the net effect of wiping out years of in-bred hierarchical instinct and replacing it, or at least advancing the notion that collaboration, proven by many managerial theorists whose work had been adopted overseas in countries like Japan, was an alternate way of organizing the workforce, or at least conducting an experiment among the multitudes of dot.com foosball lovers.

For roughly five years, from 1995 to 2000, collaboration became a new craze, motivated by profit itself and not by some soft-hearted sixties refugee like myself who yearned for a more humane way of working, and legitimized everything in its path.

So what if there wasn't a sound business plan developed by a person who understood a profit and loss sheet? That was a mere detail. So what if venture capitalists were unable to recoup their initial investment? Something more was at stake.

Although the dot.com era fizzled out in an explosion of overpriced technology stock, one thing remained clear: there was no one right answer, there was only a team.

Monday, October 27, 2008

We Make Bureaucracy: 1

Many would think I have the ideal job. What do I do? Talk with developers about the company Web site of which I am the primary guardian, and respond to an occasional email from someone in the office who wishes reassurance that their needs are being met.

Few know of my actual existence. But why should they, when I am hidden in a closet at the edge of the telephone information center where seven days a week, men and women raise their telephone headsets to advise customers how to travel from Oakland, Berkeley, Fremont, or even San Francisco to some other destination, providing instructions about where to catch a particular bus, or transfer, and how much money it will cost.

The TIC, for that’s what it’s called, plays an important role for riders who are on the streets and haven’t yet learned to download schedules to their PDA devices either because they don’t have one or because they can’t find that link on the home page, or simply need the reassurance of a live person’s voice who can successfully advise them on lost and found items and where to go to pick up a purse, a laptop, a beloved hat.

“Sir, where are you? There are lots of bus stops in Oakland.”

In the meantime, I sit in the closet which is about 10 feet wide and 12 feet long but nicely appointed with oak-stained office furniture that I imagine as recompense for shutting me up in here, while outside are the voices of people who welcome each other in the morning and wish each other a good evening at night, and advise each other of food that is available in the kitchen.

For while employees of the TIC have sworn off highly caloric fried and salty taste treats as a diabetic’s worst nightmare, every so often, a gooey chocolate cake makes an appearance. Whenever it does, I get a slice.

The real reason I am shut away in an isolation booth is a vestige of the last turf battle between certain departments who are now regrouping for another possible skirmish, which honestly might throw me back on the floor in front of a window. Not a totally bad thing.

It's not that I'm locked inside my office, which I've decorated with post-its , and a plush teddy bear sitting on my desk with a red and white hat from last Christmas. I can easily come and go. But apart from a virtual team that resides in Atlanta, Georgia, I don't have a reason to work with anyone here on a daily basis. So what am I kvetching about? Bureaucracy. What else do I have to do?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I learned how to play Scrabble at a bridge table in Henniker, New Hampshire which is where we escaped the ravages of Bronx summers, where adults in our family gathered beneath a birch tree to mark everyone’s names at the top of a score pad.

My Uncle Harry, often sat down on a lawn chair to pick his tiles wrapped in a white towel, water beading from his ample torso. He’d come from swimming in Dudley Pond, about a mile walk from the farmhouse, a place that was resplendent with frogs, water moccasins, and bloodsuckers. We were from the Bronx and used to scores of cockroaches and rats, so we swam and rowed undaunted by these country creatures before returning through fields of Black-Eyed Susan and Goldenrod to the Scrabble board.

”Let’s play,” they said.

Everyone, meaning my mother, Uncle Harry, Aunt Jeannette, and anyone else who might be there, sometimes my father who took the Greyhound bus to join us on the weekend, sat in their designated spot around a bridge table and hoped for a good selection of consonants and syllables as they selected their first round of letters. Carefully, they picked their hand from the top of the dark purplish Scrabble box. Sometimes they used a brown paper bag which saved them from having to turn the letters face down. Then there was silence. The point was to keep a poker face, not to give away any information about the hand. Next, they placed the tiles in their wooden trays, smooth and oiled from continued use, turning each letter so that its point value displayed in the lower left corner of each square.

My mother squinched her eyebrows together throughout the game, trying to use all of her seven tiles to net 50 extra points. My Uncle Harry wanted to win by any means necessary, a cutthroat player who included humiliation in his bag of tricks. Aunt Jeannette, the artist in the family, liked to arrange the tiles with her long bejeweled fingers, moving them around with no apparent purpose. My father loved to discover new words less interested in winning and frequently called upon the dictionary for validation until cries of, “You’re making that up,” stilled his creative urge.

”But it is a word,” he said.

Sometimes they burst out in Hungarian expletives, which we children, raised as English speakers, could not understand. But as I sat at their knees, I learned the game. First, it was necessary to understand the playing field, a square broken into smaller squares, 15 by 15, with a star dead in the middle. Radiating squares of light and dark blue eased into pink to indicate a double word score. Red squares marked that most hallowed of all places, the triple word score, which my relatives pondered for half hours at a time, trying to squeeze their letters into that corner of the board much like Cinderella’s sisters tried to force their ungainly feet into a glass slipper.

When the game got slow, I gazed at the area called “Letter Frequency,” a code on the left side of the board. The code indicated the number of tiles for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet, the letter “E” being the most frequent at 12 tiles. Numbers and letters converged. Uncle Harry understood that convergence. He kept track of the number of letters on the board. I circled the table and hung at each adult’s elbow knowing the truth of what they had in their hands. They taught me the rules. Hold on to a “U” because you may pick the “Q” and you’ll need that letter to do anything. They blocked openings so no one could worm their way into a triple word score. The “S” was a special because you could build two words at once. Nothing like a plural for extra points. And then there were blanks that could become any letter at all.

They knew so many words, fluent in their adopted language. Until I was old enough to join them at the table, I freely offered my gifts of cat and dog and couldn’t understand when my mother choose not to use them. When she really got stuck she’d say, “I can’t do anything.”

“Nothing? You’re the one who used all seven letters two hands ago.”
“No. I really can’t.”
“Come on. You must be able to do something!”
”I can’t.”
“Are you sure?”
“Go ahead then.”

which signaled defeat and acceptance in the same breath. My mother’s predicament was a common one: No matter how great the word you had in your hand, it didn’t count unless you were able to put it down on the table. Personal creativity and talent was one thing, but practical opportunities were another.

They are gone now, adults who never revealed their pasts. What I know about them, I learned through playing Scrabble. In some important ways, they are like blanks for me and I keep making them up, running them through to the dictionary of my mind. Maybe it was because they had watched the Holocaust from this side of the Atlantic and the horror of what they saw which made their pasts too painful.

Or maybe it was because they all died before I had a chance of speaking with them as an adult.

Maybe they are all gathered around a bridge table, still playing the game that they loved.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tkhine in Tishrei

There always will be song in this place
where basil and wild mint grow

green by the dove's first call
where old ones walked

bent and wrapped in bark fringes
knotted and tied for fingers to caress

songs rise up as prayers enfold us
in a tent of shawls

fire huddles where wind
cuts each sand grain to a facet

the same place we cannot go back to nor forget
how living creatures turn into their own shadows.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Waiting for Rain

For days weather reports predicted rain.
Forecasters pointed to satellite models.

Yellow meant some rain.
Green none. Red a torrent.

I stayed up all night.
Between 10 and 10:30,

I thought I heard something.
Then again at 11.

In the next moment, I saw a bird
emerge from a branch.

I'm not sure if I'd confused a horn honk
with a downpour, but I did.

When you want something so much,
it's easy to get confused.

At 11:10 I heard trees sigh.
They were waiting also.

I went on the deck and looked up.
Then I put out my hand.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Walk on the Wild Side

Vendors said, no more free coupons.
First they'd consider buttons
as red as bypass surgery

bringing users
face-to-face with their own credit cards.
Because conversion happens one click at a time.

Enter drop-dead menus,
free-form fields, back up  on the Internet

paraded naked in the street,
hair plucked and strung across lutes
by those who occupy a higher register

in robes that are purple and soft
as fingers that pull on beards,
because conversion happens one prayer at a time.

Time is a lottery many play but few win,
an orange ticket on the driver's side
that falls from the dash

as sand funnels through ears
unable to hear the wind,
the way a camel's lips twitch

before pressing onward
past the next dozen ravines
there's water.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tkhine in Elul

Mother, father,  birther sof the cosmos
shimmering light over everything
I gaze on trees
guarding night from ocean
standing at cliff's edge
where a wind chases empty words
down along the shore
waves bow and then withdraw
as so many of the living drown
and leave the dead to float
in this smoky tent of dreams
laced of cinnamon.

In my house of corrections
I can't stop from playing
a historical ballad
giants swallowing ogres
who shout Uncle.
Those idiots were full of shit.
You and I knew it. Ask any bank teller
along the estuary for his side of the story.
But what could I fix?
And was there anything
I really wanted?

any day you spend the night
we move across time zones
orbiting from living room
to bedroom
holding on to each other
like keys to the house,
traveling over lakes, mountains,
renegotiating treaties
fought in past wars.
All my renegade heartaches
fall asleep.

Friday, August 22, 2008

For Diki

You are a street festival inside my heart
from every road-side stop you ever made,
at the biggest honky tonk in Houston,
where you carried your bass guitar somewhere in the vicinity
of bars in pre-casino Shreveport where music played at the Louisiana Hayride all night,
and sometimes inside cyclone cages to protect the band
from breaking glass,
or in the rumble seat of a runaway bus
to witness the longest piss in the world.

I listened to your stories drinking Merlot,
waiting for you to stop talking long enough
to kiss your German-American-Indian
Bayou lips and double-lick mine.

You are a CD on my car radio
playing Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.
I'm wearing shades,
got my party face on, it's Friday and
soon we'll be riding
near Mission San Juan Bautista
just past La Carpa, tent of the farmworker.

You are a crystal ball
that catches my love
in colors like lilac, rose, buttercup, cream,
and because I know this is my last love,
and because I know how love can be tossed
into the gravel pit of time,
every moment I'm with you I celebrate
this now, now as long as I can hold on to it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tkhine in Av

A hummingbird drinks
red salvia
as sparrows flit
from their high-wire act
into a robe of trees.

Cats sit
like redwood burls at the end
of my couch.
The long yawning prepares for night.

Daylight shows up.
Fog lifts
summer peacock
feathers fan green and blue
over the water

routine throws a switch
and I'm back.

Sometimes I wish
I could shake out politics and money
from the daily wash.

A fistful of licorice twists
a pot of purple basil.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Tkhine in Tammuz

"Of all our feelings the only one which really doesn't belong to us is hope. Hope belongs to life, it's life itself defending itself," Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch

A sprig of snipped wire falls at my feet.
My neighbor recites a litany of her past dogs.

There is a tight black place behind my eyelids.
I have a crazy longing for a cigarette.

In summer, Big Sur never sleeps.
A franchise of fire marks up the sky.

My lover is gone for six days a week.
He warned me about that.

I didn't listen, protected
in his arms from my alarm clock.

Why worry about something
when it doesn't rest upon the mantlepiece?

Better to take things as they come.
As time shortens, pine needles scratch at the air.

Only sing to me, Shekhinah.
Your Love pools in my heart.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


A job where I made a ton of money? I wish it had been different. But that's water under the toll booth now.

My father thought work was supposed to be meaningful, a mechanic who wanted machines not to just operate safely, but well. Pops liked to fiddle around with things, could spend an entire weekend getting the rear view mirror of his Chevy set at the right angle so he'd always be able to spot a police car behind him.

On principle, he didn't believe in paying parking tickets, and so his car was always in danger of being towed. He thought it was outrageous that he had to feed the meter. "It's another tax," he said. "Everyone's got their damn hands in my damn pockets," and he'd start tossing forks at the dart board that hung outside the kitchen.

My sister, Cindy and I would just giggle, not sure what else to do. Sometimes we'd come home and ask, "Where's dad?"

My mother would say, "He's at the tow yard." I'm not sure when he figured out that it cost more money to get his Chevy at of the yard than it was to pay the meter. But then he stopped coming home for totally different reasons.

I didn't understand it all, and I'm not making excuses for him either. The parking meters were only part of it.

A piece of him fell away each time he had to say "yes" just to please a person above him who didn't care or know anything about the hum of metal. Like I said, he loved machines, and couldn’t work for anyone who didn't feel the same way. He got fired from job after job until he decided to keep his mouth wired shut. Then another piece of him fell away.

My mother watched his happen. She knew there was nothing she could do. "If he wants to act like a fool that's none of my business," she'd say to me as I helped her carry the clothes back into the house from the outside washing machine. "And I'd be a fool to try and change his stripes."

But she wasn't as understanding when he came home past our bed time. I could hear them arguing from my room. "At the tow yard tonight, Sid?" They both knew he wasn't at the tow yard, at least not the way she meant, since he had paid a shit load of money to clear his record of parking tickets so that every cop on the beat wouldn't threaten him with revoking his license.

"I was down there giving some old engines a look. Said they might pay me for fixing them up. The old man down there sells used cars on the side" That was the story. But after my mother didn't see money coming home, she began to get suspicious. He didn't want to compromise for her either, couldn't do that one-man one-woman thing.

After awhile, they just stopped talking, one of the reasons I've never wanted to get married. I take after my father, probably why I understand him so well, at least that's what Cindy says. But he did teach me something about compromise.

The kicker is that the longer I work in Central Dispatch, the more I've come to see how all the people working around me made the same compromise. We're here to pay our bills, even if it started as something else at first.

Some days I look at them, my co-workers who ask me how I am in the morning and tell me good-night before I walk out the door, and I don't like them. Because they help me to see who and what I've become.

"Hump day," says Danila.

"Two more to go," I answer. We do the math in the elevator, in the parking lot, at our desks.

"Doing anything this weekend?" he asks.

"May go to my sister's,"

"C'mon, man. Why don't you come over the house and we'll watch the game together?"

"Next weekend," I promise him again. One of these days I really will go to Danila's . Right now, I'm still figuring things out.

I watch management practice a pagan religion of who is the King of the Hill. The King answers to the Board of Directors. Lines of loyalty radiate from there. It's only partly about work.

I know how my father must've felt. Each day I slough off another part of myself. One day I say something to the sheriff that I know is incorrect because I'm covering for a supervisor who didn't fill out his paperwork correctly. Another time, I don't respond right away when a driver radios me for help because I can't quickly pinpoint his call. It's a slow erosion. The next day I try to do better. All I have to measure myself against is the work and for that I am grateful.

So when Carter comes up to me and asks, "Henry, can you do a shift this weekend?" I don't resent him. He knows I don't have family and like coming in to make a few extra bucks

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Goat and a Slinky

My avatar, the LeftOver Chef is in the house tonight.

You gotta know what to do with leftovers, otherwise that get pushed further back into the refrigerator until they disappear into mold workings. Cans of garbanzo beans. Old spaghetti. Grated cheese. Or chicken from last weekend. Freezing? I'm not a big fan. My mission is to enter the kitchens of online households everywhere. Give me a bunch of leftovers and I guarantee to make a tasty meal.

Watch as the LeftOver Chef performs kitchen surgery on yesterday's dinner. Nothing in my grocery bag. Nothing up my sleeve. No casseroles cooking in the oven. How will you recognize me onscreen? I have a full head of black hair streaked silver in front, and a handlebar mustache. My secret word is "passelhump" and my weapon is in turning over burgers. I can to wipe out my enemies in a single flip.

I travel seeking out nasty refrigerators throughout the Web, not exactly the Web, but in the pages of Second Story, my home away from home, my vacation spot that costs nothing but a yearly subscription.

I didn't just get here. At first, I wasn't sure who I wanted to be. There was a virtual closet of wigs, shirts, shoes, even belt buckles. Of course, I wanted to be a man. That part was easy. The question was, what kind of man? And I don't mean tall, medium, or short either.

I started off as the Animator. He was a fun guy. My secret weapon was that I could animate other avatars coming at me with full guns bloated. Then I could zap! Turn them into a dancing tie wrench, or Robin Williams, or Joe Bazooka. After I turned this guy with biceps that had Popeye's DNA written all over them into a squeaking mouse, I felt that I'd reached the zenith of my powers.

So I turned in the Animator guy's password at the programmer's chop house, and went searching for another character. A car with five superjets? I'm not mechanically inclined. Some guys love to tinker, but not me. A regular guy in a suit and tie. Duh. That's who I get to be most of the time. So I lurked around as a nobody, checking out the action.

Some wild parties up on Hunts Point Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard. A lot of smooth lines drove around that corner, which is when one decked out babe pushed a bag into my hand and said, "hold this for me." It's the kind of thing airport security warns you about. "Please inform security if you see an unattended bag, blah, blah, blah." But this was no bomb or bag of weed. It was a container of milk, a can of tuna, cheddar cheese and chips. And only a message at the bottom which read: "You're trapped in a well with a goat and a slinky. Describe how you escape."

The solution was simple. First, I had to make friends with the goat. So I fed him the paper bag. It was a big paper bag. Then I used a temporary password for the Animator whom I'd already retired but who still had one last good round, and used that time to turn myself into a half-pint person, stepped on the goat's back as he was finishing the last remaining shreds of the paper bag, jumped on the slinky, slamming it with all my weight, which propelled me from the goat's hairy back up to the ledge of the well. There I hung. Having hooked my foot around the slinky, I grabbed it, wrapped the wire with one hand around a rock, while I held on to the ledge with my other hand, and finally pulled myself up.

The goat was still at the bottom of the well with the rest of my groceries. Not wanting to seem ungrateful to he who had provided my means of support but with no further powers of the Animator at my command, I searched the landscape for a large bucket with a good rope that I managed to secure around the girth of the goat and hauled him and my groceries into the light of Thursday. I had one minute remaining and none too soon before the Animator avatar expired. I was no longer a half-pinter, but felt like a beer anyway. I retired to the nearby pub.

After I sipped my beer down to a foam mustache, it was time to get busy. With no paper bag, I stuffed my groceries beneath my windbreaker and searched for a kitchen in Second Story. Now there are different organizing principles around the place. I didn't want to search by country. Just by room. I selected "kitchen" from a drop-down list. There I was in this kitchen with granite this and and gleaming stainless steel that like some realtor had staged the place and forgotten to cart home the goodies.

I made myself at home and started cooking. Milk, tuna, cheddar cheese and chips? They don't call me a bachelor for nothing. I knew exactly what to do. I looked in the pantry and found flour. There was a stick of butter chilling in the refrigerator.

I made a tuna casserole, crumbled some of the chips over the top and circled the rest around the platter. Then all these people started showing up in the kitchen, nodding and smiling at me, talking in different languages. I didn't know what the hell they were saying, except I figured it had to do something with the food, because they were all pointing at the center of the table. So then I said the word, "passelhump." It just seemed like the right thing to do. Everyone sat down. They waiting for me to sit down also before we began to eat.

I always knew work had to be fun.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Me & My Blue Tooth

"How you doing?" says Carver, my manager, a short guy with a sarcastic sense of humor that can get really old when it's not funny, which is most of the time.

I'm built like a bus driver big around the middle with a bad back, an occupational hazard of sitting in one place for 8 hours a day. Exercise? Eating right? It sounds good on paper. "Just fine."

"How's the back?" I was out for a few days last month for physical therapy. I'm still taking a shitload of drugs for pain, supposed to gradually cut down the dosage. I don't know what the hell the doctor gave me. He said there could be side effects. Great. The company bought me this ergonomic chair so they don't have an OSHA lawsuit on their hands. But I appreciate it, anyway.

"You look like a big hen sitting in that chair. Don't hatch any eggs," says Carver.

Real wise guy. The only difference between the two of us is that we're just located at different places on the same hell hole, that's all.

Now the room is glowing with computer screens, the hum of our voices talking over a Blue Tooth. This is my favorite time when I'm center stage with the video of buses coming over the Bay Bridge, the whole Bay Area scaled down to bus routes and traffic patterns, as they turn different colors to indicate what's happening. Captain Kirk never had it so good. My cell phone vibrates on my belt, but I don't answer. I'll see who called later. Right now the light is shifting toward dusk. For the first time since I got back to work, I'm starting to relax.

I rub my scalp. There's an annoying bump on my head, a cyst. I forgot to ask the doctors to look at it when I was in the hospital.

"Stop." I hear a small squeaky voice.

"Who's that?" I speak into my Blue Tooth. "What's your route and block number?"

"It's me, doofus." something that my sister's six year old kid would say. "Up here."

"You gotta be kidding."

"I tired of hanging here by myself. You should pay me more attention."

"You can't talk. It's not possible."

"Who says I can't?"

"If you can, I think it's time for me to retire."

"Why don't you?"

"There's a thousand reasons," I say.

"Name one," says the squeak.

This little hooligan is showing no respect. "For one, no medical coverage. What am I supposed to do about my bad back?"

"Tsk, tsk. Is that all you've got? A bad back?"

The flickering light of my screen is entering an opening in my forehead between my eyebrows. Or maybe it's one of the streetlamps. I'm getting flustered. "Listen, buddy. There's something called a pension, and I won't be able to collect it for another 10 years."

"Then what are you planning to do?"

"Keep working, of course."

"Your funeral. Ever think of doing something else?" Now I hear another noise. This nut case is actually chewing gum.

I turn off the Blue Tooth, hoping that might shut him up. "I don't know what else to do," and before I can say anything else, the squeak jumps in quick. "Have you considered a career in cooking?"


"Sure. You spend hours every night preparing lunch for yourself." I guess that's true. I cook every night between the six o'clock and 10 o'clock news. But a career? The little guy's head sure is screwed on the wrong way, or whatever it is he does have. "And face it, bubba. That's what you do when you're online. Maybe you can fool Carver, but you don't fool me for a minute."

"Give it to me straight, Clyde."

"You have a lot of time on your hands."

Carver is coming toward me with another one of this dumb jokes. I go back to my screens and think that this has not been one of my best evenings.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Summer is a Sunshine Sandwich

It's hump day and I'm sitting on the camel's back. July 4th is coming up for a long weekend. I might go to the big barbeque with my sister's family about an hour away from me in Vallejo. But if I go, I face the interrogation.

"Henry," my sister always says in that annoying authoritative way that older sisters have, convinced that she knows how to live my life better than I do. Sometimes I think she's right, but I'd never in a million years give her satisfaction of saying so. "Why don't you get married? You're getting too old to be living on your own. A person needs company." She and her husband look up at each other, their eyes meeting over their salad bowls. They've been married for more than 20 years and actually like each other.

Cindy's a former programmer who's now a librarian in the local school district and Ron worked his way up from a grocery clerk to becoming the manager of a chain of small specialty grocery stores.

"I have to meet somebody first," I hedge, something which I think should be obvious to most people. But Cindy isn't most people. She sits up straight in her chair, and focuses her green eyes right where she knows I can't hide. "What about that woman you met online that you were telling me about?"

I should've never said a thing. "What about her?" I say, and stuff a large piece of lettuce into my mouth. Between cholesterol and high blood pressure, we don't eat much meat anymore.

"We went out for coffee."

"That's it? For coffee?"

"I had a regular and she had a soy latte. I knew right away that it wouldn't work."

"How can you say that?" She looks at Ron for spousal support.

Ron ducks back down in the salad. I owe him a game of Gin Rummy. "Don't get me involved," he says. "I know how the two of you can be."

So I tell Cindy that we drank coffee, talked for an hour, and then decided to leave. She worked at the university in the Graduate School of Business Administration and wasn't my type. I'm sure I wasn't hers. Gucci bag, red nails, blonde streaked brown hair with two college degrees. She told me about her divorce and kayaking. Kayaks on the estuary every weekend and documents different kinds of birds, part of a wetland restoration program. Cindy ohhs and ahhs, and thinks that's really cool. Maybe I'd like to come along some time, blah, blah, blah. What was I going to say? Tell her I don't go yakking on the very first date? Seriously, she just didn't stop talking, overly nervous. I close down when I'm nervous. Cindy thinks I should give it a try, call up the yakker. I think Cindy is full of shit.

I think I'm a late bloomer, or maybe I bloomed too early. I don't know anymore. Never got married because I was too busy figuring things out. Now I'm not too sure what I figured. All I know is that things are the way they are, so why change them? I've got a job, a pension which not a lot of people can say these days. Cindy also thinks I'm full of shit. So now we're even.

It's time for me to go back to my apartment. I wish I had more friends.

Danila is my friend. We've been working next to each other for the last year. He offers me a can of Coke. "Yeah, thanks man." I pop the top and take a swig, glad to have something in my stomach. We work the same shift starting at 4:30pm. Danila came over to this country three years ago from Romania and has a degree in electrical engineering but can't get a job in his field because he doesn't have the right degrees. He's happy to work the swing shift and do electrical jobs on the weekend for some contractor friend.

"You want chips?" he pushes a bag toward me. Cheetos. I like anything with cheese.

"Thanks, man. I owe you."

"Nothing," says Danila who wears a watch embedded with dark red stones. He says they're garnets. He says he got it in Romania many years ago. "A few more hours," he says. It's been slow tonight."

I hate it when it's slow. Better when there are accidents, or when the drivers call in about some problem on their route. That way, the shift doesn't just drag. I'm sitting here monitoring screen displays. I surf the Internet whenever I can. The company has pornography sites blocked. Too bad. Not that I'd expect anything different. "Greg says that we may have to work a double-shift tomorrow night because one of the regular guys are out sick."

"No can do, man. I need to bring my car in to the shop tomorrow." I really know that Danila has a special evening planned for his wife's birthday."

"No sweat," I say. "I can do it."

"Say. What are you doing for the July 4th weekend? Want to come by and cook up a few sausages?" Danila wasn't a big man on the barbeque, but he liked sausages, special ones that he ordered from somewhere back east.

"Thanks, man. I don't think so."

"You got plans?"

"Yeah," I say. "My sister's invited me over."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A & E and the Story of Retirement

Work came into being when Eve plucked the apple from Tree, and God showed Adam and Eve where to find the time clock. Of course, each tradition tells a different version of that ground-breaking event, however some kind of tree be it ash, banyon, or tamarind usually figures into the recitation. But as human beings rarely agree on anything, every tradition would like to believe that their version is the absolute right one. As far as I'm concerned this makes as much sense as arguing over operating systems because when you come right down to it, all systems are buggy. It's just that some systems are more venerable to hackers.

So the question is—do I expect to be lounging around in my flannel pagodas sipping Bloody Marys on a deck in 10 years? You bet your red socks I do. It's called Retirement, a subject on which I've been known to religiously expound especially on the way up the elevator on any Monday morning. So after Adam and Eve got expelled from the garden, there was no more low-hanging fruit to pick from the Tree. Anyhow, there was no need to pick because they'd already figured out that they weren't going to live in a perfect world.

In this imperfect world as soon as they touched a branch, berries no longer grew from a bush, and when they picked an orange and placed it on the ground inside a leaf, they could no longer count upon the naranjo to spontaneously peel and dissolve into juice with pulp like from the finest Maui resort. The fact is they were hungry and unless they could figure out a way to fill their stomachs, hunger would come knocking upon their door. Work was no longer a concept. It had suddenly become all but too real. Fast forward past Cain and Abel, which for Adam and Eve meant more work.

Did they have a great role model here? It's not that I'm trying to be critical. Just look at the facts. You might disagree with me, but the Bible isn't exactly a handbook for new parents. God got ticked off about the whole Tree thing and told A & E where to go. There was nothing pretty about it. Abel keeps sheep, Cain tills the soil until he goes East of Eden, and A & E earn their daily bread with a lot of ritual sacrifice to fill up the down time.

So finally one day Eve sits down on a rock near their 3-bedroom, no bath house and looks at her reflection in a pool of sweet water. "Uggh!" She traces her finger across the wrinkles of her brow, cups her breasts with her hands and lets them parachute back down again. She looks a mess, plus there's that pain in her right finger joint that might be arthritis and there's no Tylenol in the medicine cabinet. "Adam," she says. "Where are you? We need to talk."

Adam comes hobbling out of the house and hitches up his pants. He was taking a nice snooze on the bedroom mat and isn't pleased that Eve has awakened him. Adam has reached the ripe age where he understands that not everything needs to be done immediately. He wishes it hadn't taken him so long to come to that fragile realization, but nonetheless, is glad that he finally gets it. Maybe he wouldn't have been so quick to eat the apple, at least told Eve that he needed to sleep on it before making a decision. But after 30 years, that's all water under the big rock, which is where Eve is standing motioning to him. Does he love her? Of course he does.

”What took you so long?"

He bends down and splashes water in his face from the pool. "I was sleeping. What did you want to talk about?"

She motions for him to sit down on the rock. "I'm tired, Adam. Look at me. Once my face was smooth like polished marble. Now it's filled with so many wrinkles, I could plant seeds inside its furrows."

"You will always be beautiful to me, Eve."

"Don't be a fool," she says, brushing away his hand from her shoulder. "What I'm trying to say is that I'm tired and I can't keep going like this. And look at you." She motions to the body that could once hold its own on Muscle Beach without steroids. "You cough more during the night than you sleep. And you're always falling asleep during the day."

"So what are you saying?"

"I think we should stop working."

"Stop working?" Adam looks around and lowers his voice. "But you know we can't."

"Give me one good reason why not."

He looks at her dumbfounded. "Surely you remember the Apple thing. We'd be putting our lives in jeopardy."

But Eve is the materialist. With three babies and no help, she's had to be. "I say we should stop working. My fingers hurt all the time from weaving and baking. We've saved enough all these years."

"I'm not so sure," says Adam, who is suddenly warming up to Eve's idea, but is trying to not let it show. After all, he's not able to run to the next mountain anymore, and certainly not to where the pomegranate trees grow. He used to be able to do that in a half day and now it takes him several. He's tired also.

"I can't keep living like this." Eve is excited now, splashing her foot in the water. "After Cain and Abel and then Seth, I need a break." And then she says something truly amazing. "Adam, we both deserve it."

A sense of entitlement had never occurred to him. He thought they'd both lost any privilege they once enjoyed. What a novel idea. Adam pulls himself up from his seat and once again hitches up his pants. "Let's talk about this in the morning," he says. "I need to sleep on it."

Adam is pleased that he’s figured out a way to finish his nap.

He lies back down on the mat and falls asleep. Then he dreams of Eve proffering the Apple and his thinking, “Why the heck not?” But everything caves in and God starts to hurl thunderbolts and chase them away saying a bunch of mean things just because they were covered up with that year’s pick of banana leaves. Sure, it was a long time ago, but here was Adam having a flashback.

Still, he had to admit her idea did have some merit. Stop working. Get up every morning and listen to the birds singing without digging in the potato patch. He remembered how Eve had figured out a way to dry their food by leaving it in the sun for a few days on the big rock. And he had stored away strips of meat in the smokehouse on several threads of sinew. He thought about it some more. They’d eat through their provisions within six months flat.

But Eve had a good idea. She wasn’t the only one who was tired of doing the same thing every day, and he longed to travel before his hide permanently dried up like one of the hairy oxen around the place. God had never actually put a ban on broadening horizons, at least He hadn’t said anything about visiting rights. Just the messy stuff about sweat and toil and pain. He woke up refreshed from his nap, again threw water on his face, said a few ritual prayers, and sought out Eve’s whereabouts.

She was sitting outside the kitchen running her fingers through her hair. It used to be long and black, but now was speckled white like his. “I need a comb,” she said. “Since I lost my old fish bone, it's always knotty.”

He sits down on the ground next to her and takes her hand. “You’re right.”

“After 40 years, now you're agreeing with me?”

“Not about your hair,” he says realizing his faux pas. We need a break. Maybe we can’t stop working because it’s been decreed by you-know-who, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with us slowing down. Maybe for three or four months,” he calculated, thinking they had just about enough food stored up for that amount of time. "Then let's take it from there."

Adam was glad he had slept on it. Eve was pleased she’d suggested the idea to him.
Little did they know what they were contributing to future generations of human beings.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Midnight at the Oasis

I spend 75 percent of my time on the phone with two 15 minute breaks when I fly to New York to meet a guy who doesn't know me from Madame Tussuad's.

"Where the hell did you come from?" He's walking in the theater district around 47th Street pulling a shopping cart that's filled with a bunch of stuffed plastic bags. "I'm in a hurry," he says.

"I have as much right to the street as you do," I tell him. He's grinding the wheels into my ankle. What an idiot. I give the cart a kick. There's plenty of room to go around.

"Ill show you who has to slow down." He hooks his leg behind my knee. But before he can, I spin away and land on the other side of him, near the curb.

"Stupid motherfucker," he says in an accent that could be Eastern European, maybe Romanian, and keeps pulling the cart along the pavement, waiting at the crosswalk. It's around 5pm and the temperature is a dropping fist. I don't have gloves and my hands are cold.

Now we're both there waiting for the light to turn green. All the yellow taxis are speeding by. After all, it is New Years Eve. "What you got in that cart?" I'm half hoping for gloves. Mine are in the car.

He wipes his forehead with the back of his hand and stares at me with brown eyes, not too sure if he wants to answer. His hair is also brown. His olive complexion is overgrown with stubble.

"You stupid, man."

"Henry," I say and offer my hand. At that moment, the light turns green and he barrels across the street, a few taxis are still trying to edge their way over the white line to make a photo finish. I have no idea why I'm following him, except that I have nothing better to do. Shoving my hands deep inside my windbreaker are not keeping them warm. Waves of people are hurrying by, women in high heels with cleavage and rhinestones, men in suits, perfume and cologne mix and freeze into slush. There are enough kids on skateboards and people in jeans and t-shirts to fill up a baseball stadium.

He parts the crowd behind his wheels. I'm the first one there following behind him.

"Julio," I say. "Wait up!"

"My name's not Julio," he turns around and looks at me over his shoulder. "Scum bag."

Whatever did I do to deserve such endearment? Cars are honking and there's the general din of people shouting with cell phones ringing from a hundred different top ten lists. We pass a few Greek restaurants and I smell gyros and grilled onions. I'm beginning to lose him, but now I have to keep up, just to see if I can. "Wait up! Hey, shopping cart! You! Me Henry! It's New Years, man. Bad luck to start off with bad vibes." And just like that he turns around and grabs me by my wrist and pulls me along side him with a few people jumping away like they don't want to be contaminated.

"Danila!" This time he extends his hand. "Hurry your feet."

"Where we going?"

"To the restaurant," he says. "I cook tonight. It's a big party." Danila thumps the side of the shopping cart. "This way. We're almost there." And he turns the corner on two wheels to a rundown looking restaurant called the Oasis on 8th Avenue with a striped white and green awning. "In here?"

"You got gloves? My hands are freezing"

He pulls me inside. "It's warm."

It was warm alright. Two other men and woman were standing behind a chopping block and looking up at us holding steel knives. "Danila," says the woman, wiping her hands on an apron. "We thought you'd never get here."

"The streets are like subways. No room to move." He points at me. "Henry will help us. Right?" He looks at me while he removes several slabs of beef from the shopping cart and throws them on the chopping block.

Now I have a lot of experience in customer service but none in cooking. I think what the hell. I know how to make scrambled eggs, but I can see that eggs are not on the menu. The men are mixing a yellowish sauce and drizzling some over a long rectangular tray. One of them gives a few twists of a pepper mill and shoves the dish into the largest oven I've ever seen in my life.

"You!" One of them points to me. "Wash up back there. Put on this jacket and then you can work the desk." He throws a cranberry jacket at me and goes back to his cooking. Danila opens a door to the outside of the restaurant. There are several crystal chandeliers and a mosaic tile floor. I quickly count about 30 tables and a 150 seats. This is a big place.

"Where did the accident occur?" I ask in my cranberry jacket. "At the corner of MacArthur and Broadway?" I see it on my screen. I press the phone and dial for someone from the sheriff's office to arrive and make an accident report. Insurance has its demands. The dispatch desk says that they're sending out someone right now. It's probably helping to add a little spice to their evening. Mine too. Plus every accident is different. Sometimes it's the driver, sometimes something else. You never know.

We can't ask the police to do things like that because they have enough homicides in this downer to fill the front page of a newspaper. The City Manager says that they need 40 news officers just to keep current with retirements. Anyhow, the county Sheriff's Office knows how to fill out paper work as good as the next person. If I was starting out all over again, I might consider a job with the police. They get great pensions. But then I don't think I'd like the work.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Background on the Leftover Chef

I used to think that my worse nightmare was being assigned to cleaning up Times Square after the ball had dropped on New Years Eve. No one there but me with piles of shit. But then again when I thought about all that overtime, maybe it wasn't such a nightmare. First I'd round up a homeless crew. I'd have to do that before everyone started drinking, scope out some of the older kids on skateboards. They'd know how to maneuver. I figure I'd need about tops, 80 people. I'd hand out a bunch of freebies to restaurants and leftover crap from marketing promotions. Then we'd go at it, sweeping up tons of confetti, plastic cups, gold streamers, and water bottles.

Sure, we'd have to work through the night but what do I have to do on New Years anyway? So when it got to be share time about "Hey, what'cha doing on New Years Eve?" I'd know exactly. It might make recruiting easier too. How many New Yorkers get to say they've been part of a Times Square cleanup? I'm not talking here about the Sanitation Department. More like regular subway stiffs. Now I'm thinking it might be real easy for me to put together a group of people as long as they weren't half drunk, which would be the real stumbling clock. Maybe I'd recruit people a few weeks in advance from Craigslist. Sure, I think people would want to sign up. It would be a lot cheaper than throwing away a couple of hundred dollars on booze. Anyhow, think about all those those AA members roaming around, a goldmine of people. I'd print up about 100 stickers saying something like, "I Swept the Square." When anyone on the street saw you wearing a sticker they'd pull you aside and ask, "What year, man? I was there in 2008." It would be a conversation piece like having a dog. I could even win a MacArthur for doing community service. Then I'd be able to take off from work for a year and do anything I wanted.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not even a New Yorker. I don't even work in New York. The whole idea started as a nightmare that got me my own television program. It only happened because I was bored. Working all day in Central Dispatch with the phone constantly ringing? I may as well call up the Neptune Society and tell them to come and get me. No, I'm not naturally a morbid person. At least I didn't start out to be. Anyhow, my mother always used to say that "If you're bored, you've only got yourself to blame." What she didn't know, bless her soul, was that sometimes it can be middle management, upper management and everyone in between.

So here's the thing. Take one middle-aged, slightly balding 6 foot 2, white guy who buys his pants at Wal-Mart and eats at Chevy's, and tell me what've you've got? A demographic, right? Wrong. I don't want people to actually know who I am because I've gotten into deep shit playing in that sandtrap. I could tell you stories. Like the time I wrote my boss a helpful little note, I mean it was polite and everything, explaining that she didn't need to bless every freaking thing moving out of our department. It took months to get a single letter to the customer about why a bus didn't show up on time, and there's a stack like this piling up on my desk. And what do I get? A written reprimand "for overstepping my authority." Someone please draw a chalk circle around me now. Plus the usual crap about not respecting a woman's authority. Which is about when I can trace my first glimmering as the Leftover Chef, except I didn't know it then.

Every evening I had to listen to the neighbors' television and music turned up to mega disciples. Now it wouldn't have been so bad if we actually liked the same thing.

"Can you please turn it down a little?" I'd ask them in my best groveling voice whenever I saw them in the laundry room, roommates going to community college or something. I think one of them was taking business classes, and the other was dealing outside the apartment building. And they'd say, "No problem, man. Sorry about that." Nice kids. Then they'd go back to their place and turn up the volume even louder.

By then I was in my early thirties and had already served in the military and worked as a nurse. I knew I had to keep the job. But how do you stay in one place long enough to qualify and then pay for a mortgage? I pondered that question nightly until I arrived at a solution. I just had to find a way to make it interesting.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Missing You

I look over my shoulder to see if you're sitting next to me.
I smell my pillow hoping to catch your scent.
I draw the covers close hoping for your arms.
I walk in the back remembering what we said to each other.
I sit down to dinner tasting what we ate.
I turn on the radio listening to your station.
Pictures from our last trip are inside my camera still waiting to be downloaded.
I'm brushing my hair.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Tkhine in Sivan

All I had to do was reach, a candle
found in a bin filled with a hundred identical things.

Now it stands enshrined on my coffee table
overseeing books, my glasses, and remote controls,

part of a stilled life.
All the better for me to listen.

You're in a place where I dream
and then fall back to myself without a safety.

A cross-hatching embroiders our love.
June-bug, you remind me of my own mom who died
when I didn't even eat salad,
the way you hugged me
when I first stepped inside your kitchen.

People I've loved I'll meet
somewhere in a casino, not just sitting around

taking bets on when the new coals will die down,
house lights turned up and burning Siberian tigers

melting into bling.
I have no reason to believe differently.

Bless You, my candle, for hills around my house
and trees outside my window shimmering,

for the Golden Poppy and its torch
running up and down the fields,

the horizon across my brow,
and Your words allowing this woman to give thanks.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tkhine in Iyar

Hear me out in less time than it takes to boil water,
You who created the People with your wisdom
and commanded us not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge,

which is not why I came
to this coffee-spilled table,
near a parking lot filled with hybrid cars.

God loves the ones who speak out,
which is what I'm trying to do
talking with You while my boyfriend's
in Louisiana, and I hope you'll bless him

so he may journey back to me safely
without sitting on the tarmac for a half day
so that we might see each other
before we return to work,

and bless my step-daughter counting the days
for her below market rate housing unit,
my son who is beginning to understand
the past does not need to dictate who he is,
and my daughter whose strength shines from her eyes
as she drives between her college dorm and Santa Rita prison.

For so many years I felt like an oxe
pulling the cart of my family
along a thirsty road
making sure to avoid ruts,
and now You have breathed back
into my dry bones
so that I am a young girl sitting here
in a coffee shop near the airport
awaiting my love.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Data Hublet

It was one of those relaxing Saturday mornings where I had a chance to look at my loveable geek sitting behind something other than his souped-up laptop computer. Actually, he was slumped behind the kitchen table and was sipping tea, not his usual double-strength French roast.
“What’s wrong?” I asked the geek.
He placed the porcelain cup that I’d bought at a local garage sale on the bridge table. Despite all stereotypes, not all geeks make a lot of money, at least not this one.

“What do you mean?” he crinkled his one brow at me that the boys on “Gay Eye for the Straight Guy” would’ve just loved to wax.

I stepped up to the plate. “Well, I said, two things,” having learned to enumerate things clearly enough so that my geek could go right to the source with a minimum of distraction. “Number one, you’re sitting here instead of your office. And number two,” I said, stirring the half-and-half into my own coffee cup, you’re drinking tea. Tea!”

Behind his hazel eyes, I recognized slight hurt. “Today I’ve decided I like tea. Besides, I’m designing a data hub,” he said softly. “And I need to drink something different.”

And was I chopped liver? Last night he’d had a glass a wine with me, but had disappeared for the rest of the evening to “think about things.” I should’ve known better than to even ask, but then again, I’m a glutton for punishment. “A data what?”

“It has to do with business objects.”

I hated when he did that, rolling something out there to tease me, and then leaving it alone again। He knew I’d bite. “Okay. I’m listening.”

“A data hub guarantees a master identity for a given business object, such as a customer, or a product.”

There was nowhere to run or hide. “Say again.”

“Say you’re in the supermarket and you have a bunch of stuff in your shopping cart.” I’d heard enough about shopping carts to last a lifetime. “I mean a real shopping cart,” he interjected, recognizing my blank stare. “Say that each item in your shopping cart has a memory about the exact place it had come from on each aisle, and from any section of the shelf.”

I nodded appropriately. “Well,” he brightened, “your shopping cart would be a data hub with the ability to unify and reconcile common data across a collection of information systems.”

I could see that something had clicked for him. Today it wasn’t me. But there was always tomorrow. He put down his tea cup, and went to his desk.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Using Happy in a Poem

Spring arrives in cold wet buds
and packs the trail with color.
Green is shipped home in winter.

Banks give way to supermarkets
parking lots become condos,
and a restaurant, is now a pool.

Down the street on Ashby Avenue,
a pizza parlor changed overnight
into a music store.

A year ago, you moved into my heart.
I've become what I've always wanted.
H A P P Y.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Tkhine in Nisan

Offshoots of spider
plants on my deck keep time
with the wind as do leaves

of the California Laurel behind them,
moving with something that can only be felt
and not seen.

I am feeling my way in this month of Nisan
showered and rubbed with olive oil
as I burn caskets of memory,

faces that shaped me
by what they demanded,
drifting inside their own shredded bark.

Now vernix covers my nakedness.
I am in a subtle time of my age
when I can appreciate what sheathed choices contain.

A goose feather for the counter-top.
Bless this man who comes to me
as I listen for his car driving up to the gate,

and let me always remain open toward him
and to myself
and to You.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Email Message Sent to on High

I keep hearing about guns going off in funeral parlors,
watch the polar ice cap splinter into teepees on the evening news. Oil runs into blood in deep ditches without a staff. Today somebody spray-painted the 10 Commandments on the pavement in front of where I work. I took it as a sign recounting the day in my small place across the street from a canyon preserve where poison oak flashes its red glittery leaves, cattails teach scripture wearing seeded beards, and poppies slope down the hill blazing a golden path.  

Friday, March 14, 2008

Tkhine in Adar II

I come before you,
a woman who catches white blossoms
before they drift to the ground,

begging you, merciful God,
to allow my country to hear the words
of the Winter Soldiers
testifying this weekend in Washington, D.C.
how they can no longer
honor military guidelines for killing
other human beings,
and while I'm on the subject,

allow the people of Israel and Palestine
to become so weary of violence
they demand of their leaders
to find an olive branch
which has not been cut down,
and to stand beneath its small shade
as they approach each other
with an offering of fresh goat's milk.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Chekhov List

On the drive back from LA
we pass through almond trees dusted with white blossoms,
from mountains, rolling hills, farmland, to a web of powerlines,

half-way houses of gas stations and their convenience stores
with heavy duty oil booster and engine oil treatment,
thirsty tune-ups in a 32-ounce glass,

models of Chevron gas trucks from different years
mounted above the cashier where there's phone
and gas plastic, but no redemption cards,

flag decals, flaming eagles, skulls grinning inside
glowing crosses, girls in stiletto heels wrapped in the American
flag, a dust brush, a life lite, a flashlight and a CD organizer for the car.

We settle on a jumbo pack of corn chips
sealed with its own container of salsa, pull-off top.
I am hungry and want to get it

the way I thought about you
all weekend on a retro hotel bed
carved with roses.

Long Line

There's a long wait in a long line
People are standing in the street,
No one's handing out bags of groceries,
I'm getting cold waiting in a long line.

To pay parking tickets at the DMV,
or for some crazy stuff at the store I don't need.
I have to send a money order to my family.
I'm getting old waiting in these long lines.

For a chance at a machine to wash my clothes,
then I go next door to see a sports show,
Drink a beer, wait for the bathroom key.
I still need to make an appointment with the DMV.

Now I'm stuck in traffic to pay a bridge toll,
Or on standby so I can fly back home,
I'm waiting for my divorce to get final,
I'm waiting for my life to get real.

I've been waiting in a long long line.

Monday, February 11, 2008

DOAEN 20: Tkhine in Adar

What is Revealed / What is Hidden

Last night I heard frogs
that survived the winter in Leona Canyon
celebrating their mutual existence
a chorus of peeps and croaks
from beneath piled reeds.

More hidden is Gaza
where wounds are always open
shipments of medical supplies
and food pour through barricades
from beneath the watchful eye of the Sphinx
while children sell their bodies
wondering where on standby
God waits and at which airport.

A cantor sings Saturday morning
of the dwelling place for the mishkan
where the Shekhinah builds her nest
from our offerings, twisted linen
blue, purple and crimson
yarns with a design of two cherubim,
a breathing space for Your holy spirit
to huddle between.

Help me this morning
to understand why countries can only offer
law and not justice,
why peace
is the absence of war,
why hate
sings Your name,
and why our hands clutch
at these gold nuggets of fear.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

DOAEN 18: Tkhine in Sh'vat

"The renewal of the moon shall be for you a beginning of new moons; it shall be for you the first among the months of the year."
Exodus 12:2

Lord, if you're out there today
hesitating someplace between the branches of trees
in the interstices of black matter,
or in the dotted lines that stitch
hemispheres into a radiant globe,

I, your daughter, beseech you
who reflects
from beneath the cool shadow
of her parents' death
so I may

take a breath and exhale
into a lover's ear
as you score
chronicles of the winding canal,
through and out

listening so closely, you may understand
the sorrows of the world, and by that
I don't mean the common every day stubbing,
but why a child is shot in the abdomen
by a stray bullet while taking piano lessons,

glass shattering,
or how a journalist is gunned down in the street
for telling truth, in my own community,
far from other cities where terrible things happen
for which I have no ample words.

All I know
is I must find my way back to you
like a child
pushing through wild grass,
wandering far from home.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

DOEAN 17: Food Service

The airplane attendant wears a black apron with gold-braided edging and serves me seltzer water with a lime from the foot cart speared on top. Then she pours Diet Coke into two plastic cups of ice. Guillotines rumble up and down the aisle. Attendants advise passengers to watch sharp elbows. A herd of people make it up the aisle to the bathrooms in the back. A bald man seated in front of me plies his hair with long red fingernails. Upon landing, I hear that a baby has been delivered in a MacDonald's bathroom to a girl who worked behind the counter serving french fries. Exit / Salida. From french fries to grits and ice-box coconut pies. I'm in Monroe, Louisiana. We're there for a week and then back. Crap. I spent last night researching with my vibrator so I could better explain to you how to get me off. How can I describe how fast, how soft, how slow? Allowing someone to see who I am sexually other than myself never was a possibility. You've increased my options. I'm stoned and reading the Wall Street Journal. The recession never looked so good. My daughter has shared me with you, but once again wants to become the supreme center of my attention. I sleep in your LSU t-shirt, and she sleeps in her boyfriend's camouflage jacket. Mom's boyfriend is an annoyance, particularly while hers is unavailable. Last year I served both her and Jefferson hot cocoa before he went to do eight months in Santa Rita. I revert to my primary role as nurturer, and remain in the kitchen cooking food. We eat chicken soup, pesto pasta and she returns for second helpings. Tomorrow she leaves for her next round of adulthood. My cats meow for water. They know what they want.