Beach Cookout

Lulubelle smirked. There was nothing special about this. It was just some weird barbecue.

“Have a hot-dog, honey.”

“You know I don’t like hot-dogs, potato salad, watermelon, or any of this stuff.”

“It’s a cookout at the beach, babe, not a five-star restaurant.”


He knew something was wrong. Lulubelle had been somewhat lacking in enthusiasm for, uh, anything, for a month or more. He thought it was just a woman’s thing, but maybe she just didn’t like him anymore, and it had nothing to do with a beach picnic. “I hate love,” he thought.

“I’m not staying over,” he said when they reached her apartment.

“Why not?” Lulubelle looked at him bewildered. “I thought…”

“No. Not this time. I have some stuff to do and, you know, sometimes a guy needs time to himself.”

“You want to break up! I knew it! Look, I’m sorry I didn’t like the food at the picnic or your friends, or pretty much anything, but I don’t… That’s not fair!”

“Lulubelle, if you don’t like anything, then…” he stopped before he said too much. “I’ll call you later.” He leaned over and kissed her softly.

Lulubelle lugged her beach bag up the stairs to her one-bedroom apartment and unlocked the door. “You’re too picky,” her mother’s voice echoed in her head, “and too critical. Just because everyone doesn’t do things the way you do doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Sometimes you need to relax and enjoy something different. If you don’t learn how, you’re going to live in a very small world.” She was 7 at the time and had walked home from a friend’s birthday party because she didn’t want to eat yellow cake.

“Have I done that again?” She set down her bag.

She went into the shower to wash off the salt, sand, sweat, and disappointment. As the hot water streamed down her head and shoulders (clever product placement) the phone rang.

“Damn,” she thought, turning off the faucet, stepping out of the shower and grabbing a towel.

The phone rang. Why did she always leave it on the desk instead of bringing it with her into the bathroom? She hurried on wet feet — careful not to slip — and reached for the phone. “Unknown Caller.”


Just got home from the supermarket and I am tussling with vanity and reality. And I want to punch a self-important little gay kid in the face and say, “Dude, when you’re 66 you see how it is for you, you little faggot!” I know he’s gay because — besides the obvious — he’s wearing a very conspicuous rainbow ring and speaks with the kind of lithp one might pick up from TV or movies as part and parcel of the identity. I have nothing against gay anybody — one of my most beloved boyfriends also happened to be gay — and a person’s gender preference is none of my fucking business (and vice versa) BUT we’re talking major advertising.

OK everyone’s shocked but here’s what happened.

I pull into a lane to check out my groceries. I’m behind an extremely obese man about my age in a motorized cart with his groceries in front of him as one who uses such a cart is likely to do. He’s fine. He’s typical. He’s got on a blue and white gingham shirt, red suspenders and a c’boy hat.

“Are you with him?” asks the child wearing the store badge, the rainbow ring, a Roger Waters moustache and is clearly a checker.

“WHAT?” I ask a question that means many many things beyond “I didn’t hear you.”

“Are you with this gentleman? Because if you aren’t, I’ll check you out on lane 5.”

“Cool,” I say and follow him to where he can do his job briskly and as he was trained including annoying the shit out of the people behind me by explaining to me my receipt (because I’ve never seen one before?) “If you give me a review you’ll get extra fuel points.”

You don’t want my review, child. You do not want what I would say.

I would like to meet ONE woman who EMBRACES being old, who loves gray hair and a body that responds to neither diet nor exercise, who thinks walking with a limp is the be-all and end-all of human experience. Who KNOWS that no matter WHAT she does, she is never going to look all that good. She might look fine. She might look “attractive for her age” or “that color is great on you” but (with rare exceptions) she’s never going to be pretty (except for her age). My Aunt Martha, for example, was a 9 — maybe even a 10 — for 80. Except, maybe, for the chin hairs.

How in hell would I be with a grotesquely obese old man? And why did I feel insulted by the kid’s assumption? And why didn’t he just say, “I can help you on number 5. ‘Hubby’ would’ve come along had that been the case.

And what about hubby? How did he get there? Broken back? Farming acccident? War wound? What right did I have to be insulted by the kid’s assumption? That’s the part that bothers me most. Yes, the kid had poor social skills, but I’m a superficial bitch.

With whom WOULD I be if I were with someone? That’s a moot question. I wouldn’t be with anyone. I’m not and it’s (pretty much) by choice. Mr. Right probably DID come along but I’ve never been Ms. Right. Too emotionally warped. And am I so superficial that I am insulted that this little twerp would think someone as spellbindingly lovely as I would be with a fat old guy wearing red suspenders shopping from a motorized wheelchair? Yes. I am that superficial. Exactly that superficial.

And I feel bad about it — and that’s weird, too, because how many times was I NOT asked to dance in bars because I wear glasses and, though pretty, nothing flashy or glamorous? I can tell you. I was NEVER asked to dance back in the “what’s your sign” days.  As a friend said of me once, to a guy she wanted me to meet, “You won’t notice her when she walks into the room, but after 20 minutes, you won’t see anyone else. Martha is THAT interesting.”

Maybe the guy in the wheelchair is interesting, too. I don’t know.

Allergic to Life

“I don’t want to go. I’m allergic.”

“Allergic to what?”

“You know.”

“You mean everything you don’t want to do? That’s what you’re allergic to, Jasmine.”

“Why are you so mean?”

“I’m not mean. I just wish you were interested in something.”

“OK, well, I’m allergic to stuff I’m not interested in.”

“What ARE you interested in?”

“I don’t know. All week I have to work and then on the weekend, I don’t know.”

“You don’t want to do anything. Are you allergic to your JOB?”

“Oh, Roger. Leave me alone.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Roger got up off the bed and left the bedroom. The next thing Jasmine heard was the front door slamming.

Jasmine picked up her phone and pushed the button leading to Roger’s phone. She heard it ring in the front yard, but Roger didn’t answer.


Ha  ha ha HA HA ha  ha HA HA HA HA… OH my. Sorry, the word “control” makes me laugh. It’s not honest laughter, or belly laugh laughter, it’s rueful laughter.

Humans have evolved innumerable ways of attempting (and sometimes effecting) control.

Passive/Aggressive: Just don’t respond to or deal with what your partner has expressed. Or, better, agree. Agreeing is good. Some examples:

a) She calls you when she gets home from her job (as you asked her to). She’s a teacher, so she gets home earlyish. “Hi Honey. What time do you think you’ll be home for dinner?”

“Around 6.” (Fact is, you’re not COMING home for dinner, but if you tell her the truth, she’ll just want to know why, etc. etc.) Ultimately, of course, this kind of thing leads to the erosion of trust between the couple and divorce.

b) I’m reading the minutes of the faculty meeting for my department. “Whoa,” I think, “they’re getting rid of the classes I teach! They’re sending them to another college next year! That might be OK. Well soon, someone will talk to us about it.”

A year later, I’m reading the minutes of the faculty meeting (I was not expected to attend — or wanted — as I was a lecturer, not a tenured faculty member) and I see they have SENT the classes to another college as of the coming fall. Wow, any minute the boss will talk to us (me and the other teachers). Never happened. I contact the union. “We’ll look into it,” they said and never responded about having “looked into it” until it was all a fait accompli. Why? To keep control over what they wanted to do and the agenda that propelled them, it was best not to have any contact at all with the people who would be directly affected by the change, best not to tell them, give them options or protect them through the end of their contracts. This led to a lot of people being suddenly and unfairly out of work.

Scapegoating: This is one kind of control my mother practiced on me. “You look at me like that one more time and you’re not going anywhere.” I look at her in puzzlement. I don’t know what my face is doing. “All right, that’s it. You’ve wrecked this Saturday for everybody. No no one’s going anywhere.”

In reality, SHE didn’t want to go anywhere or maybe my dad wasn’t up to it. I don’t know what the reality was, only that wherever it is we were going, we weren’t and it was my fault that the entire day had been ruined. I think (maybe, if there’s anything rational to this) 1) I’m nearsighted and did not have my glasses on, 2) I probably squinted at my mother and it just hit her last nerve.

I have no idea now and I had no idea then. BUT this type of interaction led to some pretty awful fights once I was old enough to fight back, fights that involved saying things to her like, “You’re not the boss of me!” and “I hate you,” countered by “You’re not my daughter!”

Gaslighting: There’s control through gas-lighting which is the creation of a false reality and then practicing any of the other control techniques on the person unwittingly trapped there. The Evil X was a MASTER at that. Driving home from town. “When are we getting the satellite hooked up so I can watch the Chargers this fall?” (He asks, knowing full well that ISN’T going to happen)

“Who said we’re doing that?”

“You did. Several times. In fact, you promised.”

“No. We can’t afford it.” (He’s not contributing anything to the “common” good; the “we” is being kind. His way of NOT paying rent or anything else was simply NOT paying rent or anything else.)

“You fucking bitch. You lied to me.”

This ultimately led to, “I hate you, I wish you were dead, I don’t love you anymore, get the fuck out of my house.” Should have happened sooner…

Frontal Attack — Verbal or Physical Violence, Relentless Criticism:  Just one example — the Evil X once called me a “controlling bitch” simply because I asked him what he wanted for dinner.  I could write a lot under this topic, but I don’t want to, really. It’s enough to say that if you create an atmosphere in which your partner is afraid of you, you can control them.


I don’t know about people or where the need to control others comes from other than the sense of being out of control combined with being dependent on others for feelings of self-worth. I know some people feel the need for power over others as a way to feel good about themselves. One of the Good Xes said once, “The most dangerous person in the world is an insecure person.” He was right. A person who cannot stand up for him/herself, being self-reliant and able to face the day alone is dangerous.

I learned very early in my life that all we can possibly control is our response to factors that are external to us most of the time and the way we deal with daily life necessities. The cliches like “Make the best of it” or “Put a good face on it” are actually good advice. And…all this probably explains why I live alone. 🙂

Wounds all Heels

Time really does heal wounds, maybe not all, but many.

Long ago I was married to a guy I met in 9th grade. It was a terrible marriage. We were both too young, too broke, too a lot of things for what we’d taken on. His dad — one of the handsomest men I ever met — followed the Calabrese method of wife and child rearing. It was all my husband knew, though he did take it to new levels. Not dissing Italians AT ALL. It’s just that he came from a strongly paternalistic home where the husband physically enforced his role as the master of the family.

I finally extricated myself. That was an interesting process, and another blog post, maybe but probably not.

Years later I had been places. I’d been in China, married a different guy, moved to San Diego, far, far away from the scenes of my first marriage. I was with friends at a lecture at the art museum in Balboa Park. We took seats in the second row. At a certain point, I looked up and saw my ex escorting his wife into the auditorium. They sat almost directly in front of us.

I was stunned and bewildered. My ex seemed only vaguely familiar, though it had only been 10 years since our divorce. I said to my friend, “That’s my first husband.”

She knew some of the stories of the marriage.

“Oh my god,” she said, “What are you going to do?”

“Nothing unless he sees me. That’s over and done with it. In fact, I barely remember it.”

“How can you ‘barely remember’ being married to someone?”

“I don’t know, but I’m glad about it.”

He didn’t see me, so I escaped that moment in the easiest possible way, still perplexed and filled with wonderment that the intervening years and experiences had healed what had once been a gaping wound.

Drama Tic

“You could meet somebody.”

I scream internally. “Now that’s a scary thought,” I tell the mailman.

He laughs.

In one very brief moment I envision all the drama of a relationship. I know some people meet, fall in love, spend their lives with someone who cherishes them and cares for them and vice versa and at the end one of them must contend with life on their own for the first time. It’s bittersweet and romantic and beautiful and I admire it very much.

But it ain’t me, babe.

I don’t know if anything bears out my theory, but I think the home in which we grow up becomes our idea of a “normal” household and family and mine was very dramatic. I never liked the drama. My response was to get out of the way, but the creators of the drama were crafty, would often devise dramatic plots and then wait in ambush for me to return and pounce the moment I walked in the door.

I’ve observed myself as an adult, and I have seen that inside me is a “wait for the shoe to fall” mechanism. I can endure only so much smooth relations before I start feeling anxious that something will happen to disturb the peace. The longer things go well, the more uncomfortable I am. This is true with my friends, not just my significant others. I have managed to recognize it so I no longer create drama to relieve my anxiety and bring the shoe down.

Having seen this in myself I’ve seen it in others. I have a friend who will pick a fight to relieve his frustration with life in general. I now think it’s a pretty common stragedy.

Not Until I’m Forced…. Breaking Up with a Friend

My mom taught me a lot and one of the things she taught me was that I can yammer all day and it won’t change anything. In fact, later down the road, my own words could be used against me.

My theory — that if I express myself clearly and the other person really listens, they will understand and come around to my way of thinking — is bogus. No they won’t. They’re listening with their own words echoing in THEIR ears (as mine echoed in my own?). A true give-and-take conversation is rare.

Many “deep” conversations with wouldbe boyfriends taught me that, too. You know, “We need to talk,” the talks NOT leading to breaking up (those came, too).

I’ve also experienced that when people do things to me I don’t like, my objecting probably won’t matter; if they didn’t want to do what they’re doing, they wouldn’t BE doing it.

Recently I was forced to end a friendship. I would have avoided it. My (now former) friend insisted on talking it over. Her big thing is “communication.” Communication (for her) does NOT involve listening to me. It’s been months, and I still do not think she understands, “I don’t want any more contact with you. I don’t like you any more” — words I would far rather have kept to myself, by the way. It doesn’t always matter what you say to someone. More important is what they hear.

This all began when I attempted to tell her honestly what I felt I had to say — “You’re physically in very bad shape. You need help at home. Your boyfriend is not a trained carer and it’s not fair to him or you for you to use him in that way.”

I would have left it there and kept silent over the fact that her boyfriend is mean and abusive (boyfriend – 80 years old), but she pushed me. Since I’ve been closely connected with her for thirty years and with them as a couple for 20, I KNOW their situation. Finally, after hearing yet another recitation of the boyfriend’s verbally abusive behavior, I said, “Do you love him?”
“Of course I love him.”
“OK, then, well, I have to get dinner,” I said, and got off the phone.

Rationality has NO place in that conversation. It was the end. She loves him. He mistreats her. I have no place or interest in the conversation.

I suddenly saw why, over the years, I’d heard so many conversations complaining about why this or that friend or family member no longer responded to her phone calls, emails, etc. They were just not as dim or tolerant as I. I also knew that she would not let go (she hasn’t) because she can’t lose. I knew I was in for some residual unpleasantness.

Since then she’s gotten real care; she’s written me to tell me. In her letters she’s also told me what I need to do if I want her friendship back. She’s called my other friends purportedly to learn if I’m all right because if I were all right, I’d want to listen to hours of wailing on the phone, right? All of this is bait to get me to contact her if only to tell her to stop it. I don’t like being manipulated. She has turned my feelings from pity to active dislike.

And so yeah. If things reach a point between me and another person where THIS conversation is necessary it is also the moment when I am prepared to give up the friendship. I hope not to, but…

Poem for My Mom

The process of sorting and packing uncovers many surprises. I found this poem (I hardly ever write poetry) I wrote in 1996 when my mom was in the hospital about a month from death. Our relationship was difficult — she was difficult and very messed up, much more than I knew when I wrote this poem. I spent as much time as I could with her in the hospital. Otherwise I was driving or slogging through the snowy and icy streets of Billings, MT, looking for a nursing home where she could live after she was discharged. I loved my mom — but, as with many loves, it was not unalloyed with sadness and even hatred.


Winter light fades,
Short days shorten, then are gone
The last beam of a dogged sun
Bends ’round the pines
And drops.
You press my hand against your lips
And drift into sleep.
The afternoon slips away.
Tulips on the windowsill and get-well cards can’t stop

The Be-atch Where I Live

My life is a litany of mistakes. Seriously. I’m out here on the western edge clinging for dear life. 32 years ago I married a man. He and I moved out here from Colorado for his job. He left twenty years ago, and I stayed. Blessing? Curse? I don’t know and I don’t even know WHY I stayed!

But SURFING is the perfect metaphor for living in California. Sometimes the tide is in, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s a record high tide, and it’s dangerous, and the expert surfers are out on the south facing beaches waiting. Some of us might hang out on a pier watching the swells and thinking, “It looks exactly the same. There’s just more of it.” Sometimes it’s flat and frustrating, and anyone who goes out just bobs on the surface waiting for a break that will absolutely NOT come that day. (That’s me.) The thing is, NO ONE stops looking at the ocean. Hotel California?

After thirty years, the mentality has seeped into my intrinsically mountain mentality. The surfer waits. The mountain person finds another way around, chooses a better day, or (if this is the goal) makes the summit or dies. In my mind, the mountain person acts on the world. The world acts on the surfer. If there’s no surf, most surfers go home. Surfers have friends, but it’s every man/woman for him/herself out there when a wave comes. Going into the high mountains, most of us are NOT Reinhold Messner. We need to be roped in; we need to be able to trust our team with our lives. Surfers help each other, too, but because the medium is different, for surfers help is often a desperate effort attempting rescue.

One is not better than the other. I’m not even sure I like one better than the other. I watch surf films and climbing films. I have surfed and I have climbed. Both are fun, but I would vastly prefer to feel rock under me and see it in front of me than water. And, today, these days, I think I made a mistake coming here in the first place, another mistake staying as long as I have. While WP would like me to write about how this mistake has been a blessing, how can I reduce 30 years of my life into a simple “blessing” or “curse”? It all depends on how I CHOOSE to look at it. As my mom said over and over, “You have to take the good with the bad, honey.”

Sometimes there is no surf. There are always mountains. What’s a mountain person going to do in a world like this? Was it a mistake to stay here so long? Why did I?

“Neither Far Out nor in Deep”
Robert Frost

The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.

As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull.

The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be—
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?

Occasionally it’s like this:


Most of the time like this:

Un-Strip Poker

“How many?”
“No. Wow. I’ve seen six-toed cats but you’re saying your cat has seven toes on one foot and six on the other?”
“A regular Johnny Bench.”
“What about his back feet?”
“They’re normal. I don’t know if cats ever have that digital mutation on their back feet.”
“Imagine that guy climbing a tree if he did. 26 toes!”
“Yeah, actually, the little three-toe cluster is like a super-thumb. We’re here. Come on in. I’ll make you some tea and show you Johnny Bench.”

Terry and Julie entered the 1950’s tract house repurposed as two two-bedroom apartments. “We live up here,” Julie explained as they opened the front door. “A couple of hookers live in the basement apartment.”
“You know they’re hookers?”
“Judging from the sounds coming up the ducts all night every night, and the constant slamming of the back door. I’ve never seen them.”
“Yeah. It’s awful. Howler! Howler!” Julie called her cat, an innocuous looking but ferocious pocket-tabby who’d given birth to a litter of 8, one of them on Julie’s bed. The kitten bonded with Julie and followed her everywhere. From the kitchen came the banshee wail that had gotten Howler her name.

“She’s with the kittens. Come on.”
Almost weaned, the kittens mostly hung around their mother out of habit and a need for security — and sometimes milk.
“Here he is.”
“Amazing. I wish I could have a cat.”
“Who doesn’t?”
“So, now we’re here and we’re alone, what do you…” Terry reached for her.

Julie was nervous. She was wanted Terry, but…there were a couple of  problems smack in between them like concrete freeway dividers. Never one to allow objective reality to impinge on illusion or desire, Julie looked at her feet.

spock_leonard_nimoy_lifesize_cutout_buy_now_at_starstills__39592-1“You want to…?”
“Yeah, but I feel weird doing it in your matrimonial bed,” said Terry, a light edge of New York Irish dark irony sharpened the abrupt cadence of his Flushing accent. “I don’t see why you don’t leave that d***.”
“On the floor in my office?”
“With Mr. Spock looking on?”
“Yeah. We can turn him around.”

Julie had a six foot cardboard image of Mr. Spock standing guard in her home office, an “office” that was, in fact, usually her bedroom.

“All right.”

Holding hands, they walked through the living room and down the short hallway of the grotesquely anonymous tract home. “Hurry up and build those things bub, them GI’s are home and breeding like rabbits!’

Julie spread out the bedroll on which she usually slept. Her husband, well, he was, he was, well, Terry was right. Julie should leave him. She just couldn’t, somehow. She wished she knew why.

They undressed and lay down beside each other. They’d wanted this for a while, but ended up falling asleep in each others arms. No wonder. The hookers kept Julie up all night and Terry?

The winter sun ran its short course, and the light showed pink on the curtains when Julie woke from her nap. “Terry, Terry, wake up. It’s getting late.”

“We just SLEPT????”
“I guess we needed it.”

Julie stood and wrapped herself in the quilt her grandmother had made for her long, long ago and far, far away. Terry saw a pack of cards on the desk. Julie and her husband sometimes played cribbage.

“Can you play poker?”
“OK. Sit down. I’ll deal. Every time you lose or I lose, we have to put on a piece of clothing.”
“Yeah! UN-strip poker!”
“Exactly. But I get to tell YOU what piece of clothes to put on and you get to tell me, OK?

Neither Julie nor Terry was very good at the game and the hands they drew weren’t great, so before long they sat on the floor of the living room in socks. They were halted in mid-giggle by the sound of a key in the lock.

“Shit. It’s him.”
“Why didn’t you tell me he was coming home?”
“He’s early.”
“What should we do?” Terry stood about to make a dash for the office and his clothes.

“What’s going on?”
“We’re playing poker. John, this is Terry.”

Terry, well-trained, reached out to shake hands with Julie’s husband.

“Terry needs a ride home.”
“What the F*** are you doing?”
“We’re playing poker.”

Terry had gone into Julie’s office and pulled on his clothes.

“What HAVE you been doing?”
“Nothing. I need to take Terry home.”
“I’ll take Terry home,” said John.
“I don’t think so. Not without me.”
“I have my bike.”
“No, it’s OK, Terry. It’s my car too. We’ll put your bike on the rack.”
“My dad bought the car,” said John.
“No. Your dad made the down-payment. I made the payments.” Julie thought of all the days and nights working in the ski factory paying for the car and putting John through school. “Damn,” she thought. “It’s MY car!”

The three got into the VW Bug. John enraged, Julie and Terry both terrified. They dropped Terry and went to a Mexican restaurant and ate in silence. Julie knew John would not do anything until the event had festered inside for a while, fermenting and fulfilling itself in blind rage. John would not talk about it or think about why it had happened or the part he might have played in it. 

The next day, Terry called. “I don’t see why you think that guy is so bad. I thought he’d beat me up but he just gave me a ride home! Maybe you’re wrong about him.”
“I’m not wrong about him.”
“Well, it was incredibly embarrassing, sitting their naked in your living room when your husband came in. Are you OK? Did he do anything to you?”
“No. It hasn’t registered yet. But it will.”
“Why do you stay?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t fucking KNOW.” Julie started to cry.
“Are you coming to school?”
“I don’t know how. He took my bike to work with him.”