90 Degree Angles

“You don’t smoke.”

“I do when you’re around.”

“I love you. I’ve loved you a long time.”

“Yeah? So?” Inhale, exhale, smoke rings.

“You’ve never smoked.”

“Like I said. You’re here.” The man in the haze of smoke was uncompromisingly uninterested in her.

She woke up. Another bizarre message from beyond? Whoa. And not that subtle. Who smoked like that? Who didn’t care whether she loved them or not — or, rather, who used her love as a hook?

“There’s something in this,” she thought, shuffling around her room, getting dressed. “I’ll figure that out later,” she thought, wishing badly she had one of those coffee makers where a person could set a timer and wake up to the smell — and taste! — of fresh, hot, coffee.

Long ago someone had drawn her astrological chart. “Squares,” they’d said. “Here, here, here.”

“And what does that mean?”

“Triangles are when things come together for you. See how squares are open at one end? Things don’t come together. You’re going to have challenges in three areas; work, love and money.”

“What else is there besides work, love and money?”

“I guess you’ll find out,” the astrologer had told her. “You’re clearly an interesting person, see here? You’ll have an adventurous life. But, no. Love relationships won’t work out. You’ll find love, but it won’t work. The timing will be wrong, communication problems, all that kind of thing, you know? You’ll have personal satisfaction in work, but no success, no advancement. And money? You’ll have enough, but…”

“Thanks,” she’d said, and plopped her money down.

“Don’t you want your chart?”

“No,” she’d said. “Whatever it is, it’ll come. Whoever it is, I am.”

“But it could be helpful.”

“I don’t see how,” she had replied walking out into the pink light of a beach winter sunset.

“I guess this is just another one of those squares,” she thought, pulling her sweatshirt over her head. “I really want some coffee.”



Sometimes a person has an effect on our lives long after they have gone their way and we have gone ours. A long, long, long time ago I was enamoured of a guy in New Mexico. He was beautiful, smart, and adventurous, and I was me, which is to say, pretty cute but terrified. Still I summoned up the courage (twice!) to visit him. The first time was filled with a chain of small and apparently trivial events that forever changed my life.

It was 1979. I was 27, just out of graduate school. Most of the people I knew were lawyers or on their way to becoming lawyers. I had been working in the development office of the University of Denver College of Law and then got a new job as a paralegal in a law firm that (literally) spawned David Gorsuch. His grandfather was a founding partner.

My friends were all about things. Fancy pasta making machines, elaborate camping equipment that took the camp out of camping, ergonomically designed leather furniture, Brookes Brothers Suits, the whole litany of “Holy shit I’m a successful lawyer now!!! I can have a two-bedroom apartment! Maybe even my own condo!”

As a divorcee living on the income of a secretary, I wasn’t living like that, obviously. One day one of the law students who was clerking at “our” firm said, “What’s with you? You think you’re going to come in here one day and be promoted to attorney?”

I signed up for the Law School Admission Test.

My journey to New Mexico had problems from the start — I awoke to find a flat tire on my car. I had to wait for stores to open so I could replace it. I got a  late start. A few miles after I crossed the New Mexico border, I got a speeding ticket that I more or less flirted my way out of. I had never taken a long road trip by myself and suffered a few sessions of paranoia. I had no music in my car (a ’70 VW bug) only a tape recorder with two tapes, one Donna Summer the other Jane Oliver. Shudder.

I arrived at an empty house where the man rented a room. He was trying to get into medical school at the time and taking organic chemistry. He was a mountaineer who would make an attempt on Everest (North Face, Mallory’s route) in a few years.

There was a note on the back door, “Martha, If you come: I’ll be right back. I’ve gone to the store for groceries.” I was so late, that he thought I wasn’t coming. Back then there were no cell phones and no way to say, “I’m on my way.”

Because I’m a writer, and because back then I hadn’t found my stories, I naturally wrote everything down as if it were fiction, making characters out of the man and myself. For the sake of making it SOMEWHAT fictional, I changed his name to Charlie. We are in Albuquerque. Something like small talk has been exchanged, information about the flat tire, and we are cooking dinner…


“Let’s cook dinner.” He opened the sack which contained cheese and two cans of tuna. He handed me the cans and told me to open them, but I, who had never thought of getting my tire repaired rather than replacing it, didn’t know how to use his can opener. I suppose he thought I was some kind of pansy who had used only electric can openers, but that wasn’t the case. My can opener was even more primitive than his.

“I don’t know how to use this.”

“You don’t?”

“No. I never used one like this.”

“Here.” He showed me opening one can. “Now you do it.”

I did it and drained the oil from the tuna into the sink.

“What are you doing with all that good oil?” he screamed. “You’re wasting it!”

“You cook,” I said, and he did, winding up with a tuna casserole we ate with carrot sticks. Then, it was over. Everything had been prepared, cooked and eaten from one stainless steel pot. I loved it. No Cuisinart for this man; no fancy pasta machine. Just one pot, two knives, two spoons.

“That’s great,” I said.


“That pot.”

“It’s all they use in Nepal, for everything. Cooking, eating, shopping. That’s what I learned there. You don’t need a lot of stuff. You shouldn’t have more stuff than you need because, one way or another, you just have to carry it around with you. The best thing is a thing you can use in a lot of different ways. So, this pot. I brought back two.” He washed it. “Come on. I have to do something. You can help.” We went into what had been planned as a dining room but was now a study. He sat down at the typewriter.

Next to the typewriter was a model of a molecule. I picked it up and said, “Benzene.”

“How did you know?”

“My husband — ex-husband — was a chemistry major.”

“You’re a writer,” he said, suddenly. “I’m trying to write my application for medical school. Maybe you can figure out a good way to say this.”

“OK.” It was the first time I’d heard that I was a writer. The idea was exciting.

“I need to explain why I want to be a doctor.”

“So why do you want to be a doctor? Maybe if you tell me, you can just write down what you say.”

“I don’t know. Inspiration? Inspiration, I guess.”

Inspiration. Wow. I was knocked hard. No one I knew used inspiration as a reason for anything. Reasons were money, success, prestige. Charlie had beautiful legs, a stainless steel pot and ordered his life according to inspiration. I was very, very frightened.

“What inspired you? Write that.”

“India. When I was in India, I saw so many sick, sick people. You can’t imagine. You want to see some pictures?” he got up from the table and went to his room, and I followed like a puppy. I felt like a puppy. I’d been taken in, fed, disciplined and now I wanted to stay.

“Here.” He handed me a big book filled with pictures. I was behind him, still looking all around me. On the wall was a photo of the Taj Majal. There was the dome, some minarets, a slight haze, a reflection; water in the foreground in which beautiful curves moved, curves like the necks of swans or a woman’s arm, everything your mind visualizes with the words, “Taj Mahal.” But, the curves were the necks of camels, not swans; the water was a lake, not the rectangular reflecting pool; the dome was not centered perfectly between the minarets, but stood to one side. The photograph did everything I believe art should do, force you to turn around and look beyond your expectations.

“I love this picture,” I said with solemn reverence.

“It’s mine,” said Charlie.

“You took it?”

“It took me a long time to get everything just right.”

So, now I had to imagine Charlie sitting on an unknown dusty hill in Agra waiting for things to get “just right” so he could take this picture, develop it, hang it on his wall in Albuquerque so that I, a person he didn’t even know, would see it.

That was the end of any chance for coherent conversation between us.


“Charlie” succeeded in getting into med school and is now a doctor. I succeeded in not acquiring a lot of stuff and keeping a comparatively simplified life. It all worked out. And, though I showed up for the Law School Admission Test, in the middle of it I realized I was not the LEAST inspired to become an attorney and I walked out.


Off the Periodic Charts


“What’s that face for?”

“What face? This is my face.”

“You know what I’m talking about. Why were you looking at me that way?”

“What way?”

“Never mind.”

“Taffy, c’mon. What’s wrong? What did I do?”

“I don’t know. I’m sorry. I’m just, I don’t know.” Taffy looked like she might cry.

“Your period?”

“What is WITH you? You blame everything on my period.”

“No, sweet cheeks. YOU blame everything on your period.”

“Well, what if it is?” Taffy burst into tears.

“Oh, honey. In another twenty or thirty years, you won’t have to worry about this any more.” Drake put his arms around his girlfriend.

“You’ll like, that, won’t you.”

“Uh, yeah. But listen, babe. Is it this dramatic for everyone?”

“I don’t know. I’m NOT everyone. You want everyone? What’s wrong with ME?”

“No, babe. Listen, I’m just thinking there might be some way for you to go through this without so much paranoia and tears.”

“That would be nice,” Taffy nodded.

“Yeah, wouldn’t it?”

“I do tend to get pretty upset, don’t I?”

“Yeah. It’s hell. For YOU, I mean. For you it’s hell.” Drake knew he’d just dodged a bullet. “Tell you what. Let’s look into it, OK? You have a doc you like and trust. We’ll start there. Maybe it’s a hormonal thing, and she can give you a pill or something.”

“OK,” sobbed Taffy, snuggling closer to Drake.

“Honey, I have to go to work. We’ll finish this talk later on, when I get home, OK? You call your doc’s office and set something up.”

“You’re LEAVING me? You can’t LEAVE me.”

“You have to go to work, too, honey.”

“Oh God. HOW?”

“Go wash your face, get dressed, get in your car and go, like every day.”


“And call your doc.”


“Bye.” He kissed her gently on the lips and went out the front door. He hadn’t gone 10 steps before he was hit in the back of the head by a patent leather pump.

“Oh well,” he shrugged. “Love hurts.”



Sibling Revelry

“What a lovely creature!”

“Leave her alone. And she’s not a creature. She’s Sandra.”


“Dammit. Stay away from her!”

“The heart makes its own choices, dude. You know that.”

“I hate you.”


“Hi Babe. This is my brother, Josh.”

“Hi. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Uh oh.” Josh bent over Sandra’s hand and kissed it. A charming pink flushed upward from Sandra’s fingers to her forehead.

“Shit,” muttered Tony.

“What’s wrong?” Sandra asked.

“My brother.”

“He’s charming!”

“Exactly. He’s charming. He’s handsome. He’s smart. He’s rich. He’s sophisticated. He’s well-traveled. Whatever.” Tony turned and walked out of the room.

“What’s up with him?” asked Josh.


“No. Not jealousy. Envy. He wishes he were me. It’s always been that way.”

“I think this is jealousy. He’s afraid you’re going to steal my love away from him.”

“You’re right. Wow, Sandra, you’re amazing. Not only beautiful but clearly a master of the fine distinctions in word meanings. Do me. Now.”

“No. I’m going to go find Tony. Go find another hand to kiss.”



“Grandma, you WHAT???”

I look at old ladies a lot differently now and, yes, because I am one. It pretty much never occurred to me when I was a whippersnapper that behind the visual static of their wrinkled faces and lumpy bodies might lurk some very interesting love stories. I could be wrong, I think they just weren’t saying.

I’m thinking about this because this morning I’m drinking a marvelous cup of Guatemalan coffee. I ordered two pounds from the Solar Roast people as a birthday present to me and now I’m savoring it.

A long, long time ago in a faraway place known as Denver, Colorado, my then boss introduced me to his college friend. Let’s call him Ed. That wasn’t his name, but it’s a fine name. Ed was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen. He walked into our office with the kind of grace you never see anywhere, but maybe particularly not in a man wearing clogs. He was long-legged, had black hair, green eyes, and a beautiful, wide smile.

He noticed (who wouldn’t?) the 2″ x 3″ photo of T. E. Lawrence and Lowell Thomas that was on the top shelf of the credenza behind me, leaning against the wall.


“I’m reading Seven Pillars,” he said. “Monster book.”

I was stunned. The first love of MY life was T. E. Lawrence. I got a huge crush on him (thanks to David Lean) back when I was 10 and really NEVER got over it.

“Yeah, it is,” I said. “I read it a long time ago.” I was 12 when I read it, but why show off?

It turned out he was as attracted to me as I was to him and an epistolary and telephone love story ensued. He was, at that time, taking courses at a university in Texas so he could apply to med school. He was already 30. He’d been inspired to this decision by his recent expedition (yes) to Annapurna II. Passing through India (passing through India, got that?) he’d been touched deeply by the poverty and illness of the people. And he’d picked up TB.

It coulda’, shoulda’ worked, but as time unfolded it was clear that though we were attracted to each other and had many commonalities, we were not at the same places in life. I was recently divorced and wanted to “see the world.” He’d seen the world and was ready to settle down and start a family. But in the meantime, his career goals (climbing and treating diseases of impoverished Spanish speaking people) took him to Guatemala to study Spanish and climb. He brought back a yard of Guatemalan weaving and two pounds of unroasted coffee beans as gifts for me.

The night before my one-woman painting show in 1981, I roasted them in my oven. They lent their fragrance and flavor to that moment of my life. There’s more to the story, but as an old lady, I’m not saying.




Connectivity Issues

“I’ll have grilled mahi tacos, two of them. Candace?”


“Roger? Roger? Earth to Roger. Come in, Roger.”

“I’m going home. Sorry guys.” Roger got up from the bar stool, left twenty bucks on the table and was out the door. His first thought was to go home, see what was up with Jasmine, but somehow he couldn’t make himself get in his car.

“I guess I need to think,” he said aloud. “Walk on the beach or something.””

“What, buddy?” a voice came out from behind an old oil drum put on the beach for trash.

“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea, either. So many homeless guys here now. Winter.”

He turned up Newport. Trev and Candace waved as he went by. “So embarrassing. First my girl doesn’t show up with me, now, I dunno. What’s the point of love anyway?” he said to himself. He looked around. All the same buildings, many with new paint, new names. “Everything changes all the god-damned time.”

He fumbled around in his pocket for his phone. He’d call her, see if she wanted to meet him down here, walk on the beach. He had his wallet, keys, yeah, they were where they were supposed to be, no phone. “Where’s my fucking phone?” he said aloud.

“Hey, go down on the beach with the rest of the crazies why don’t you?” said a teenager on a skateboard being pulled by a pit bull.

“Who’s crazy?” he yelled back. “I’d like to see your folks’ dental bill when that dog pulls you into a lamp post!”

He fumbled around in his pocket some more. “Must be in my car,” he muttered, and headed back down Newport to the parking lot at the end of the street by the beach, by the bar, by the bums. As he passed South Beach Bar and Grill, Trevor and Candace waved again. He flipped them the bird.

What was left of day seemed to funnel into one small red spot on the horizon. Roger stood a moment and watched, “What if,” he thought, “it’s real? What if there really is a green flash?”

Part 1: Allergic to Life

Part 2: Something about Cake



Something about Cake

“Where’s old Jazz?”

“Home. She didn’t want to come. I don’t know what’s up with that woman. She never wants to do anything.”

“With you.”


“She probably wants to do stuff, just not with you.”

“You’re an asshole.”

“Just sayin’.”

“I hate that ‘Just sayin’ bullshit. Does that mean that somehow you said it but you don’t mean it or it doesn’t mean anything? What IS that?”

“Take it easy, Roger. I really was just saying something’s wrong when your old lady doesn’t want to hang with you. I’m sorry, dude, if I spoke outta turn or something.”

“No, it’s all right Trev. You just touched a nerve.”

“Are you guys, uh, you know, uh…”

“What, dude? For the love of God! Just say it?”

“How’s the sex?”

“WHAT sex?”


“‘Ah’ fucking what?”

“I don’t know, man, but you know what they say.”

“I don’t know what they say, and I don’t know who ‘they’ are. What are you getting at?”

“When the sex goes, the whole thing goes. ‘Sex is the frosting on the cake,’ as my mom used to say.”

“What does that mean?

“It holds the layers together, if you get my drift.”

“Jesus. Who’s the bigger idiot, you or your mom?”

“Just sayin’.”

“So you think Jasmine met someone?”

“I have no idea. But she never… Oh, there’s my baby now.” Trev stood up as his girlfriend reached their table.

“Where’s Jasmine?”

“Didn’t feel like coming.”

“Well, that’s a drag. Why not? Is she sick?”

“Sick of me, I guess.”

“Dude,” said Trev putting arm around his pal. “You don’t know that. You have to talk to her. But you know what they say, and it’s true about love, too, you win some and you lose some.”

Part 1: Allergic to Life


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.



Relocation Blues

“Brian, dude, what’s wrong?”

“Tammy. Her job’s relocating her to the Florida office.”



“What’s wrong with the word ‘move’?”

“I don’t know. I don’t care. What’s the point of anything if Tammy isn’t here to share it with me?”

“I’ve told you a million times. Love’s a sucker’s bet. Here. Have a cerveza.”

“No. I don’t want a cerveza. I want Tammy!”

“There’s nothing holding you here, dude.”

“Whoa, that’s a good point. There’s ocean in Florida.”

“Is that your phone, dude?”

“It’s Tammy. Hey, babe. What? We need to talk? What do you mean there’s nothing in my life that matters to me more than surfing? What does that have to do with anything? You what? Wow. That’s… I can’t believe it. No. I’m… No. Don’t worry. Why would I follow you back there? The waves in Florida aren’t good enough to entice me out there, you Ho.”

“Good god, what was that?”

“She’s been two-timing me with her boss. She’s not being relocated to Florida for work. She’s marrying him. She wanted to tell me so I wouldn’t follow her out there. Bitch.”

“You want that cerveza now?”



A Good Mattress

The marriage was falling apart. Loralee sensed it, but she didn’t know it with the depth of factual knowledge many of their friends had. “Hubby” wasn’t home much. He had other “interests.” Loralee hadn’t let herself look directly at Hubby’s absences, his late nights, the fact they never shared a bed. She just drifted.

Then, it seemed out of no where, she caught the eye of one of their friends — Mike, very tall, thin, blonde hair to his waist, pale blue eyes, younger by fifteen years. He was so interesting and so beautiful!  She felt like Mrs. Robinson, but she wasn’t, not at all, not in real life and not in his eyes.

They had a few dinners together, dinners filled with amazing conversations. They began writing long letters to each other, though they lived in the same town. They took her dogs to the beach at night. A led to B and B led to C and then came the evening when they were grateful for the 1960s travel trailer parked in her driveway.

“Where’s Hubby?” asked Mike.

“No idea,” sighed Loralee.

“Will he be home soon? Will he look in here?”

“I don’t know when he’ll be home. And he won’t look in here. He’ll go right in the house to bed.”

“Will he expect you to be there?”

“Are you kidding? We haven’t shared a bed in I don’t know how long.”


“Yeah. I don’t think he likes me, actually.”

“Wow. Why not?”

Loralee sighed. “If I knew the answer to that I’d…” she stopped. She didn’t know what she’d do, think, feel. “It doesn’t matter. I sleep better alone anyway.”

“Me too,” said Mike. “C’mere.”

Then ensued the redundant always-new coupling of humans and resulting, this time for Loralee, in feelings of completion and peace.

“Wow,” said Mike. “Older women! No, not women. YOU!”

Loralee just shrugged inside. She was and that was all there was to it.

They heard a car door slam in the street in front of the house. Each was silently grateful that Loralee had driven that evening and parked in the driveway, and Mike’s car was not in front of the house.

“Oh my god,” said Mike. “What’s going to happen? I don’t like the way he treats you, but I don’t want to be caught, either.”

“Shhh,” said Loralee. “I think he’d find it a relief to discover me with you. He’d be off the hook,” she whispered.

They heard the front door of the house open and close.

“You’re going to have to take me home,” whispered Mike. “What if he comes back out and sees your car is gone?”

“Oh well,” whispered Loralee. “I guess it’s my car.”

“You sure he won’t look for you? You guys have separate bedrooms?”

“Yeah. He won’t look for me, believe me. He said sex with me was boring.”

“My God. That’s cold.”

“And unforgettable.”

“I’m sorry, Loralee. It isn’t true, by the way.”

Loralee melted. “Oh Mike, thank you. I think I should take you home, yeah?”

“I can’t spend the night here. I have work tomorrow.”


The pulled on their clothes. Very quietly, they got out of the trailer and got to Loralee’s car.

“He’ll hear the car start!” said Mike.

“No. His room is in the back. Besides, cars start on the street all the time.”

“I never thought I’d get into it with a married woman.”

Loralee spun a U-ee, silently wondering, how she had become a married woman, 40 years old, in such a situation as this.