Submissions that are on the featured section of the front page

Insistent Animals

Like livestock, we walk the steel maze
to our impersonal deaths, admit design

is a murderer; there is no exit that doesn’t
reduce us to beast, just our bodies’ meat

dragging us down. Afraid of your dwindle
toward dotage, I want longevity like

the Laysan albatross. Her courtship spans
nearly a decade before offspring, but still,

she takes care to nudge her mate off the nest,
still has the will to gently peck his bottom

like some kind of kiss, then spends three
seasons at sea to remember him better.

I am alleging I love you like this world
won’t parch, your face won’t ever blanch.

Home

Home, boy / Home, boy / Everybody needs a home.
– Iggy Pop

I.

The very rich may differ from the non-rich, as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in a short story, and not just because they have more money, as Ernest Hemingway wrote in a story of his own. The very poor differ from the non-poor, and not just because they have less money. Degrees of wealth and property ownership largely determine how lives are lived. 

Perhaps some places prompt reflections on such matters more than others. In Detroit Hustle, Amy Haimerl describes her experiences of becoming a homeowner in a city going through bankruptcy proceedings. A white person from elsewhere who’s able to marshal hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate an old house in a very poor, predominately black city is, as she acknowledges, unusual. Her memoir chronicles her and her husband’s efforts to create a home for themselves while being respectful of their neighbors and conscious of the very different circumstances of most of their adopted city’s fellow residents. 

My experiences of buying and fixing up a house in Detroit differed in many respects from Haimerl’s but also caused me to contemplate the ways financial resources (among other things) shaped my interactions with my surroundings. Unlike Haimerl, I grew up in Detroit (though, like her, I did spend several years in Brooklyn); when I bought a house I was returning to my hometown, not navigating new territory. When my wife and I first saw it, the house practically announced a personal connection, decorated as it was with memorabilia from the nearby university where my uncle played basketball in the 1960s under the coach who had lived in the place that became ours. Unlike Haimerl’s, our house had not sat vacant for years or been stripped. The coach’s widow had lived in it for half a century, and after we bought it following her death, her daughter found a photograph of her father and my uncle in the arena a few blocks away. If the animal-loving Haimerl felt she’d found the house to buy when she saw a cat walk across its roof, I thought I’d found the right house when I discovered this family association. (I later learned that my uncle had visited his coach’s house decades earlier.) Unlike Haimerl’s, our house was inhabitable; it had plumbing, electricity, a boiler, radiators, and a water heater. It did need a lot of work, though, and for some of the big jobs (a new roof, a new driveway, new windows) we turned to professionals. According to Detroit Hustle, Haimerl relied on contractors for all renovations and repairs. My wife and I, in contrast, did as much as we could – removing wallpaper, repairing plaster, and painting as well as minor electrical work and some plumbing – ourselves (with much help from my handy father).

Despite all these dissimilarities, however, Haimerl and I did have this much in common: we could both afford to buy and renovate an old building. Even if Detroit houses at the time had seemingly low purchase prices, as anyone who owns an old house can attest, remodeling and maintenance are not cheap, especially if the building had been basically abandoned, like Haimerl’s, or somewhat neglected, like ours. (The previous occupant of the house we bought was ninety and bed-ridden when she died in it; it’s understandable that she might not have been fully on top of the place’s upkeep.) As Haimerl describes in her book, it would have been essentially impossible to get a mortgage loan at the time we bought houses in Detroit; all deals were cash deals. My wife and I were able to draw on our savings, as were Haimerl and her husband, but they also needed loans to pay for their (much more extensive) reconstruction effort. Neither she nor I bought a house that had been foreclosed. (Hers had been previously purchased by a couple who had wanted to move into it but ended up being taken elsewhere by their jobs.) Even if we didn’t directly benefit from someone else’s financial misfortune, we did belong to a somewhat small group. While perhaps not the very rich (an even smaller group in Detroit), we were certainly not the very poor (a rather large group in Detroit). We had incomes and willingness to spend large amounts of money to transform old buildings. We chose to put more money into our houses than we’d be able to get out of them if we chose to sell anytime soon. We were different. 

Not so different that we could spend all the money we wanted to immediately and painlessly, as mogul Dan Gilbert apparently can when snapping up downtown skyscrapers, but different nevertheless. Our resources were not unlimited – Haimerl had to borrow money from family and then pay it back upon finally securing a bank loan after the appraised value of her rehabbed house increased, while my wife and I spread our various projects over the course of a few years instead of making all the changes we wanted at once – but they were considerable, at least in comparison to most other Detroiters. We could afford to make choices that might not be financially prudent simply because we decided to live in a city where houses were simultaneously extremely cheap and outrageously expensive. Haimerl’s $35,000 house ended up costing her about $400,000, no small sum in a city where, when she bought in 2013, the median sales price for a house was less than $20,000. 

II.

Whatever characteristics might set me apart from my neighbors, I’ve never felt at home in any of the other cities I’ve lived the way I have in Detroit. Familiarity is surely part of the reason. We bought a house not far from the one where I grew up and where my parents still lived (and not all that far from my uncle’s). The living room of my parents’ house was where my wife and I got married, in a ceremony performed by a judge who still lived down the street when we moved back to the city. Despite a long absence, I still had friends in the area – some who, like me, had departed and returned and others who never left. I still knew my way around the streets where I learned to drive decades earlier. All of the schools I’d attended in the city were still open, and although I’ve never been an exemplar of school spirit, I know other Detroiters witnessed all the schools they’d attended disappear, which they found disorienting and sad. (One of my former schools did close soon after I returned to town.) 

Familiar faces and landmarks alone do not make a place feel like home, however. I did live long enough in another city to make friends, establish routines, learn how to navigate its streets (and subway tunnels and bridges) and become more or less settled. We never owned property there, but we did consider buying. Yet plenty of people feel at home without ever buying a house or apartment; a deed does not make a home. Being a native doesn’t do it either: lots of other people in that other city grew up elsewhere, and they belonged there as much as anyone else. Though we didn’t know our residency there would be temporary (if lengthy), I’m not sure it ever really felt permanent either, and I was not sorry to leave. 

In many ways, the city we moved back to was very different than the one we’d left: far fewer people lived in it than once had, resulting in neighborhoods with many vacant homes, even as certain parts of the city were hugely transformed by new development. Not too long before we left, my wife and I lived in an area without a lot of options with regards to restaurants, so we were thrilled when a place opened just a block or so from our apartment. In addition to offering food and drinks, this café would regularly display the work of local artists, and the first piece of art we’d ever purchased came from a show there. When we came back, that area had become rather trendy and was filled with restaurants and shops. Not far away, a building that previously housed a bare-bones art gallery and an unlicensed after-hours joint (a “blind pig,” in local parlance) now boasted a popular bakery and boutiques that not only served the neighborhood but attracted patrons from the suburbs – folks not likely to have been seen in that part of town years earlier. Yet that place where we ate, drank, and purchased a photograph long before was still there, and still mounted art exhibits, and we again became regulars. Even with all the changes, much that was recognizable remained.

The restaurant’s patrons and employees always have been a diverse lot, as should be the case in Detroit: inside it looks like the city in which it’s situated. This might seem like an unremarkable thing to anyone unfamiliar with the city, but Detroit inculcates an awareness of race in all but the most oblivious (whom some might quip tend to live in the mainly white suburbs surrounding the mainly black city). If all or most people in a place in Detroit are white – something I don’t remember happening much when I was a child but discovered did sometimes happen after I moved back – it’s immediately noticeable. When I remarked after having dined at a new restaurant where everyone – both the customers and the workers (except perhaps for the dishwasher or others out of sight) – was white, that it just felt wrong, a (white) acquaintance replied that, as long at the establishment made no overt effort to exclude black people, then he saw no problem. To me, though, there is a problem. I can’t help wonder what makes a restaurant in city with Detroit’s demographic make-up draw (and hire) absolutely no black people. What about such a business makes members of the city’s black population feel unwelcome? I know it made me feel like I was in some outpost from another city; that is, I didn’t feel like home to me. And something about the place must signal to black residents that it is not intended for them – because what are the odds in a city where more than eight out of every ten residents are black that no black person would be visible? It certainly doesn’t feel accidental. And it definitely doesn’t feel right. 

It’s not just a matter of economics. Sure, Detroit’s poverty level is no joke, but to suggest that all black Detroiters are poor – too poor to patronize an upscale eatery, which would thus need to attract a suburban (i.e. white) clientele – would be absurd. I’ve been to equally pricey restaurants where my wife and I might have been the only white people on the premises (which makes sense, statistically). Even if they put no “Whites Only” sign hanging above the door, the owners’ decision to have an all-white staff sends a message about who they are comfortable with – and who they’re not. 

After living in Brooklyn, I lived in Portland, Oregon, for a few years, and if I wanted to be exclusively in the presence of white people I would have stayed there. 

III.

If home is where one has roots, then there’s nothing like deracination to make one appreciate those roots. It can take leaving your hometown to actually see and appreciate it. Moving to country where you’re far from fluent in the main language and where, when you arrived, you knew no one can be an overwhelmingly positive personal experience – as it was for me when I did it for a period in my twenties – but a profound sense of disconnection is likely to accompany it. For me, relying on English-language news sources meant I might have been informed about major stories of the day but knew little about what was happening locally. Even if I had been more aware of what was happening politically in the city where I lived, I would have little input regarding it, since I couldn’t vote there. Even after I figured out the transportation system and could find my way around town, virtually every turn of a corner yielded a new discovery rather than the reassuring familiarity of home. 

From such an experience, you recognize that home’s not merely a shelter (for I had that), or where you have family (for my wife was with me), or the place for which you carry a map in your mind (because you can develop more than one of those), or where you speak the language (because you can, theoretically anyway, learn a language anywhere with enough time). That’s not to say it’s some indescribable abstraction. 

If you’re lucky, as I have been, then home is nothing more (or less) than where you want to be. (And it makes all the difference if you can afford it.) 

Interview: Pamela Winters

 

Pamela Murray Winters’ first full-length collection of poetry, The Unbeckonable Bird, was published by FutureCycle Press in 2018. Her poems have appeared in Fledgling Rag, Gargoyle, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Gettysburg Review, Beltway Poetry, and numerous other journals and anthologies. She received an MFA in poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts and was awarded a 2017 Maryland State Arts Council grant for her poetry. She’s a lifelong Marylander but a new resident of Bowie.

Congratulations on the publication of your first book of poems, The Unbeckonable Bird. It’s a terrific collection, really—rich, witty and insightful.  Also your work offers a wide range of subject matter. There are several themes interwoven throughout this collection. I’m wondering if you can highlight a few that stand out to you.

Well, there’s music: the making of it, the reaction to it. There’s observing and being observed—the poem “Watching Game Shows” is one of the oldest poems in the book, from when I was beginning to think about the implications of being seen by a camera or an unseen audience of indeterminate size. That’s something that’s almost de rigeur in our culture now, but the tension of innocents on ‘50s TV is visible and nearly palpable; they’ve never been looked at like that before.  

Another theme is desire, even greed. The “me” in this book is the me who spent, and spends, much of life missing out on things because of fear or deprivation or other demons and therefore revels especially gleefully in whatever falls out of the one-armed bandit. It was a hard moment, about a year ago, when a trusted mentor accused me of being “greedy” as a poet. He might have been right! Too many words, too many images, too many lists. I know where I came from, so I know why I’m greedy.

I have a very deep belief in God, and I’d like to think of the book as being spiritual, but I suspect that’s not the way a lot of people would see it.

Greed and grace, I guess?

Who are some of the musicians and poets who help inspire your work?

When I discovered Richard Thompson’s work, in my late 20s, I began to feel like things within me were aligning a certain way, like I’d found some part of myself. I won’t drone on about this; I wrote a blog post for Charles Jensen that goes into it in a whole lot more detail (https://charles-jensen.com/2011/08/04/pamela-murray-winters-on-richard-and-linda-thompsons-shoot-out-the-lights/). 

A few things I love about Richard: he’s not afraid of the dark, of the deep deep dark, but there’s always a belief in the light. “Hard on Me” is a brutal song about, possibly, an overbearing father, but there’s one point when he sings, “Hard on me / Like they were hard on you.” He moves away from that, but it’s this wholly unsentimental, un-lampshaded moment of empathy that elevates the song. He’s also one of the first musicians who hooked me with music that wasn’t necessarily beautiful: a voice that could moan like old machinery, some seriously demented guitar. It felt real to me. I wasn’t raised by musicians or with any intention of being a musician. I was raised with everyday music as everyday life: hymns, silly little songs, whatever my father might whistle. Some part of me perceived music as more like walking than like dancing. That didn’t really hit home until I started to listen to Richard.

I love low voices. Richard’s isn’t that deep sort of bass, but it has a sonorous quality. Norma Waterson. Joan Armatrading. Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes. Maggie Roche. Hearing the Roches sing the Hallelujah Chorus on “Saturday Night Live,” way back in the day, was another cell-altering moment. I still begin a lot of my creative-process workshops with their recording of the song.

I always loved Emily Dickinson. I think I was a bit in love with the Emily image in my youth, maybe more so than the poetry itself, because I was a ridiculously romantic and introverted teenager. I outgrew some of that. Anyway, Emily’s odd word choices, her cosmos-ranging mind, and her nettle-like humor—a beautiful sting—meant, and mean, a lot to me. Later, in what I think of as my second phase of poetry, I was really taken with the work of Adrian Blevins. She’s from the same part of the country as my mother, near Roanoke, Virginia, and there’s something in her naturalistic loquacity that feels really right to me; it gave me a sort of permission to indulge myself in words. David Wojahn’s Mystery Train, which contains a number of poems inspired by pop music, was revelatory and also led to my decision to attend the low-residency program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I got my MFA. Then there’s Deborah Digges, my requisite “favorite poet.” She can be both elegant and fearless. Her poems are intelligent and rich, and they have tiny roots or fingers that just dig in. I did my critical thesis on her work for my MFA. Vesper Sparrows and Rough Music—twin pillars of brilliance. Eh, that sounds pompous. She’s just really good.

Music is so immediate—the listener is really confronted by a song unless he or she leaves the room or presses “stop.” Do you ever find yourself, as a writer inspired or, on the contrary, daunted by this kind of immediacy?

A couple of Februaries ago, I was on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, in a theater on the cruise ship, listening to a concert by the North Mississippi Allstars, when I found I had to leave to write. I whispered something to my husband and slipped out, and I went back to our cabin and wrote two poems: “Born in Deep Ellum” and “Relinquish.” The first was inspired specifically by what was happening onstage immediately before I left, and the second had been percolating over the previous few days of a really wonderful vacation with Rob on the Cayamo music cruise.

If I really loved music, wouldn’t I have stayed? But at that moment, my need to create took primacy over my need to hear more of a really spectacular set.

How many of me—people suddenly leaving—would it have taken to affect Luther and Cody Dickinson and their friends up on that stage? How did I matter to their music? (What does it mean that it is only this very moment that I thought to wonder whether they’re related to Emily?)

I was once backstage interviewing Richard Thompson (sorry, I know) before a show in Oregon when he had to step out for a sound check or something. Here’s what I did, alone in his dressing room. (1) His guitar case was open, and empty, and I took a photo of the inside of his guitar case. (2) I ate two of the strawberries on the food table. He had offered them to me earlier, so that was OK. (3) In retrieving the strawberries, I saw a note, open, on the table, next to a plate of cookies. I read the note. It read something like this: “Dear Richard: Please enjoy these cookies. I am here because my husband Mike was your biggest fan. He bought the tickets for this show. He died two months ago. I hope you’ll play his favorite song, ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning,’ in his honor tonight. Sincerely, Mary.”

I don’t know whether Mary knew this, but there is seldom a concert where Richard doesn’t play “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” Although he changes his set list along the way, from time to time, he was almost certainly going to play “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” anyway.  And he did play it. How was the world changed by Mary’s note? Would she hear it and think Richard had granted her request? Would he feel different playing the song, maybe thinking of Mike and Mary? Was her request fulfilled no matter the intentions behind the result?

I don’t think I’m answering your question very well.

I can be hit by a poem upon reading it, or upon hearing it read, but seldom does anything, even poetry, move me like music. I imagine we have different sorts of receptors for art; God knows I know a lot of people who are unmoved by poetry, and musical tastes differ.

I would like to be able to do as a poet what certain musicians and painters do—something beyond words. Something that involves tones and colorations—it’s not impossible in poetry; it’s just a whole lot harder to do. 

This is your first collection of poems but you have been quite active publishing in magazines and reading your work at readings for years. When did you know that you had a collection of poems you wanted to share with the world?

I was a serious-to-a-fault poet in high school and college—really, so terrified of the world that I got in my own way—and I somehow lost my faith in poetry after that. I’d dabble in it here and again, but it wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I went back to it in any real way. Then I felt like I had to make up for lost time, so for years it was a matter of trying to hit the right spot between rushing things into print that I wasn’t quite sure about, or with a publisher I didn’t really respect, and trying to be as brilliant as humanly possible and holding out for a big-deal publisher and probably choking on a burrito and expiring upon a heap of unpublished poems. 

I was writing from, let’s say, 2006 to 2016 before I really tried to put a book together. I take that back—I actually have two small, self-published chapbooks that enjoyed a blessedly minute circulation. I found that as soon as I finished them, I hated half the poems in them, and that made me wary of rushing into anything. And I had a creative thesis as part of my MFA in 2015, but, as with the chapbooks, I was sure right away that this was not a manuscript I was ready to stand behind long term.

I got to a point where I had enough good-enough poems, and then I worked on making them better, and then I found (after a few unsuccessful attempts) a really good publisher, Diane Kistner of FutureCycle Press, who liked what I was doing. FutureCycle had published my friend Melanie McCabe’s second book of poems, What the Neighbors Know, and that’s where I got the idea to submit there.

In case the timeline is useful to anyone: I started sending out copies of an earlier manuscript, on a very limited basis, in 2016. I sent out a version of the book that became The Unbeckonable Bird in the spring of 2017—just as I’d come out of several months of major depression—and got an acceptance within 72 hours. The book came out about 14 months later.

Can you talk a bit about the title of your collection (The Unbeckonable Bird) and the wonderful cover art?

As with so much of my artistic life, the title has its origin in Richard Thompson (I know). Around the time I was looking for a title, I was having some kind of discussion on Facebook, probably about a recurrent dream in which I’m trying to get to a Thompson concert and can’t find the venue or my tickets, and this friend—who happens to be a childhood friend of Richard’s—commented, “Ah, Richard—the unbeckonable bird!” Having no idea what he was talking about but loving the word “unbeckonable,” I asked for more info and found out about Lawrence Durrell’s poem “Echo,” which presents music as a sort of unbeckonable bird. (My spell-check is still redlining “unbeckonable,” by the way.)

The artwork on the cover is called “The Taxi.” It’s a woodblock print by Olivia Moore (https://www.etsy.com/shop/PoofyDove). The image is of a nuthatch who is delivering passengers to their home in a sweetgum pod. I love that the piece has its own weird little story. I don’t know Olivia, but I know she’s a Christian, and I expect that she and I are both taken with this dream of deliverance from an uncertain world on the wings of something greater. 

Your collection includes a few prose poems. When you sit down to write how or when do you know if the given poem will be a prose poem or if you will write a more “traditional” poem?

The biggest influence in getting me to wherever I am as a poet from wherever I was 10 years ago—let alone 40 years ago—is my longtime teacher Stanley Plumly. He’s got this group of students who’ve worked with him for 5 or 10 years or longer; we meet up whenever we can. He’s got strong opinions about things like form. Between those ideas and the concepts I learned in grad school, I’ve got good underpinnings.

But—and I know this isn’t much help—when I sit down to write, it takes whatever form it wants to. Sometimes, and I blame Stan, I’ll start thinking, “This could be a sonnet.” Often, and I’ll blame or credit Stan for sure, I know to lop off the beginning or the end—he’s a big believer in “start in the middle, end in the middle.”

“Dave and the Wolverine” became a prose poem because there was just so much of it. A manic excess. It suited what I knew of Dave Carter, who I interviewed a number of times before his sudden death at 49 and who was a pure creative. He talked about his songs beginning as parts of dreams and how he’d get on his bicycle and just pedal out the songs, effectively—his whole being becoming a sort of engine for the art. This is not to say that a free write should become a poem or song without editing, but with what I wrote of Dave one day, thinking about a dream I had not long after his death, I couldn’t conceive it as anything but a prose poem. Same with the two vignettes that became “Two Texas Folk Films”—one of which, probably coincidentally, is also about Dave and his partner Tracy Grammer. These were all somewhat effervescent language poured into a straight vessel.

You have lived in Maryland for years. Do you think there is something inherently Maryland-y about your work?

Although I was born in D.C., my parents were living in Takoma Park when I was born—why didn’t they just go to the hospital down the road?—and I’ve lived nearly my whole life in Maryland except for a few years in northern Virginia. When I moved back to Maryland, I was surprised by how subtly familiar it seemed. That Maryland accent, which is still thick in the more rural areas, was part of it. 

Maryland doesn’t have the stereotypical associations of other places. I imagine my work would be different if I’d been raised in New Jersey or California—I’d be fulfilling or reacting against such stereotypes. Because of its diversity, Maryland has been called “America in Miniature.” (That is, I’ve heard that it’s been called that. I’ve never heard anyone call it that.) We’re also a place that’s neither quite north nor south. So there’s a stealthy, hard-to-pin-down quality about Maryland.

I’ve worked as an election judge on a number of occasions in both Maryland and Virginia. I love the attitudes at the polling places in southern Anne Arundel County, where I lived until recently. (Lots of male voters in shorts, even in November!) I was horrified at the results of the 2016 presidential election, and in the days afterward, I kept flashing back to my fellow workers at my polling place, a selected bipartisan group, upholding what we perceived as small-d democratic values. I hated the result—my precinct went solidly for the “winner”—but I couldn’t hate the people. I still can’t hate the people.

My perception of Maryland includes a wry sense of humor and a basic decency.

A lot of my sense of Marylanders, those people in coats in the parking lots going from point A to point B because that’s how life was, went into my poem “Maryland Yellow.” It, and a number of other poems in the book, now that I think of it, came about in late 2016 and early 2017, when I had a very serious episode of depression. (The election, while it didn’t help, wasn’t the cause; I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety my whole life.) The visit to the City Winery in New York that inspired the Joni Mitchell poem was for a last-minute-scheduled Richard Thompson (I know!) concert about 10 days after the election. Then the job interview mentioned in that poem. I think I visited the Building Museum with my friend Jesse around that same time, just before I really began to have trouble just getting through the day. I was just grabbing onto whatever would help me, as John Irving put it, keep passing the open windows.

You are a wonderful reader. As a poet what do you get out of reading your work in public?

Thanks! I always have to tell the story of how I burst into tears at the podium and ran from the room at a reading I was supposed to give in college. That story is self-abnegating or self-aggrandizing depending on how you look at it, I guess.

I learned to read when I was very young, and in kindergarten, the teacher had me reading to my classmates and was impressed that I could hold the book, open and facing the audience, and look down on it and read upside-down. She wanted to move me up a couple of grades. My mother, wisely, wouldn’t let that happen, and it’s a damn good thing, because although I was also tall and could have passed for a second- or third-grader, I was nowhere near that in emotional or social development. I was just a good reader.

But I was a ham. I’ve got poems about “tap-dancing” in my room to “Give My Regards to Broadway”—I was pretty much that Gilda Radner character Judy Miller when I was a kid. So there was this tension between my extreme shyness and my desire to be heard that, once I got my equilibrium, has made reading exhilarating.

Three days ago, I tripped and fell, face-first, on the sidewalk a block from a reading in Chevy Chase. I mopped the blood off my face, pointed out the injuries to everyone I saw so they wouldn’t assume I had something contagious, and did the reading on what I imagine was a wave of adrenaline. It made me feel almost badass.

Now, that said, I think my best poems, or at least the ones I like best, tend to work a lot better on the page than as performances. It can be frustrating. Some of my stuff demands multiple exposures before it really works, and I still don’t know how you get people to sit down for that in the first place.

Tell me about your new work, if you can. What have you been up to lately?

I’m well into a second manuscript. I workshopped it with David Wojahn at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Conference in August 2018. It’s not well-sequenced yet—we had to submit a workshop manuscript, so I pulled together whatever I had that seemed ready, and I’ve been writing a lot this year, so there was a lot. There are more poems about music, unsurprisingly, but I aim to get more in there about my childhood and family and about my experiences with mental illness. The fact that writing such poems is difficult for me to do, or to do well, suggests to me that that’s what I need to be doing.

There are also two sets of poems that will probably be standalone chapbooks. One is about my longtime love affair with New York City and my ongoing mild adventures with the friends I have there, who are superannuated bohemians with day jobs. (“There are dozens of us. Dozens!”) Another is about Andy Warhol. I never expected to write about Warhol. A month after I got my MFA, my husband and I went on a driving vacation that included the Warhol Museum, and I just started writing Warhol poems like mad. A lot of them go back to an incident at a long-ago job: I worked in the library of a modern art museum when Warhol died, and there were people who were jubilant over his death. That’s been marinating in my mind for a long time, maybe around questions of sincerity and intention in art. I dunno.

I’m also working on poems about the Fruitlands community, a utopian plan by Bronson Alcott that went dreadfully wrong. Louisa May Alcott writes about it wonderfully in Transcendental Wild Oats: “About the time the grain was ready to house, some call of the Oversoul wafted all the men away.” I mean, what would Bronson have worn to his philosophical discourses if his wife Abba hadn’t sewn the hairshirts?

To Climb Green Trees

The sidewalk is sterilized white.
I could eat off its sunlight.
People creep along it like spiders

who could shrink in the heat, leave
this world without their dark webs
I watch this from a window

in an air-conditioned room, a screen
in front of me telling me who is dead,
from bombs, from guns, knives, stars.

I don’t want this knowledge.
Instead, I wish to climb green trees,
where every leaf knows what to do,

bud further upward, branches’
octopus arms reaching for the sun,
catching what it can in its growth.

Hazard

Down to the rotting
forest floor, little shocks
of sun, panty-pink,

slip below crowns
of simple-leaved trees.
Green ousts peach,

claiming branches. Layers
of duff drift beneath trees’
heart-murmur utterance,

under the dieback,
witches’ broom, sad trinity
of cloud, tree, cloud.

A filth fly passes through
the low charnel house
of decomposing brushwood.

It’s a fuel bed, ready
for wind, hazard, erasure,
and the true red of flames.

DIFFERENT

On Saturday morning, 12/21/63, a date with no prime number unless you count the 2 in 12, the 2 in 21, or the 3 in 63, Richie, my thirteen year old brother, and I, at age eleven, acting on our instinctual understanding of the privilege of seniority as our parents corralled us into the back of their Ford Falcon, claimed the thrones of the window seats by forcing Alan, our protesting and crying seven year old brother, between us. With my mother telling my father when to go faster, slow down, and shift lanes, they drove us into Manhattan from our home in Queens for allergy shots.

Plumes of smoke wafted through the air as my mother chain smoked Marlboros in our hermetically sealed vehicle. My brothers put on a big show: they coughed, gagged, gasped, and raising their voices above the Singing Nun’s Dominique, pleaded, “We can’t breathe! We’re suffocating!” My mother forbade the lowering of any window. Since it was the cusp of winter, she said, “It’s cold,” but we knew from experience that if it had been summer she would have proffered, “The wind makes too much noise,” and during the other seasons used either or both excuses, or just said “no,” and if the protests continued, hollered, “Shut your mouths.”

I sat silently because I was “different,” and I don’t mean “different” just because I was weirdly smart. Several weeks after I turned ten, I overheard my mother on the telephone use that word to describe me and concluded that was what the doctors, who gave me puzzles and anatomically correct dolls to play with and asked me all kinds of questions about how I liked my family and others, must have told her. Instead I did what I always did when we took trips in the car: I studied the different license plates, searching for one with only prime numbers after ranking each letter based upon its alphabetical order. I had found one two years earlier when we traveled to a cousin’s Bar Mitzvah in Montreal. It was on a car with a New York license plate that read: WCE2357. My mother had been putting on her face in her pocket mirror, smacking her big red lips together when I spotted the vehicle. She said she saw me smile, but I don’t think I did.

As usual I lost my ability to focus on license plates when I saw Manhattan looming in the distance. Separated on all sides by water, it seemed a foreign land that was not meant to be accessed. My mother said, “The bridge,” we took the Van Dam Street exit, and I waited and worried. It didn’t matter which way my mother told my father to enter the city; the 59th Street Bridge, like the London Bridge, might fall or the Midtown Tunnel could be washed away and I would drown in the murky depths of the river. When we crossed the threshold of the two-level bridge, I closed my eyes and went inside myself, beyond skin and skeleton, to the blood vessels, where I rode the current of a vein to my heart, then coursed along an artery to an extremity and switched back to a vein, while amplifying the comforting, steady thrums of my heart until they drowned out the metallic buzz of the car as it shimmied over the bridge’s steel grates.

My mother guided my father west and south and selected a parking spot, and we exited the car next to an office building that held its own in a towering row. I hated that I was the second shortest boy in my fifth grade class, and as I walked to the allergist’s office beside buildings that morphed into classmates with glassy eyes that shined down at me, I felt more like a dwarf than I did on a school day. I kept my composure and looked at their faces, quickly turned away, and when I raised my head they were buildings again, and I feared that their cold, grey steel had pierced the heavens and it was only a matter of time before the sky ruptured, collapsed, and smothered me.

When we entered the doctor’s office, I sat next to Richie and my mother plopped down beside me. My father talked to the receptionist and settled on the chair next to my mother. While my brothers and I waited for our turn with the allergist, my parents and Richie read magazines they removed from a table that separated us from a man and woman about the age of my grandparents and Alan took a little car from a box of toys beside the table and drove it on the carpeting while humming like a car engine.

My mother started to cry, and my father, with moist eyes, squeezed her hand. Richie looked at them and wiped a tear from his cheek. Alan, steering his car in imaginary traffic, was oblivious. With curiosity I looked at the covers of their magazines. My father’s was the Saturday Evening Post. The issue was titled “John F Kennedy In Memoriam A Senseless Tragedy.” It had a picture of him in a jacket and tie above the dates 1917 to 1963, neither a prime number because the sum of the digits in 1917 is 18 and 18 is divisible by 3, and 1963 is divisible by its two prime factors, 13 and 151, although 1917 includes the prime numbers, 7, 17, 19, and 191, and 1963 the 3 and 19. My mother’s said, “Kennedy and His Family in Pictures by the Editors of LOOK Magazine.” It had a photograph of JFK sitting beside his standing son, the son’s left hand resting on his right shoulder. Richie’s was the “JOHN F. KENNEDY MEMORIAL EDITION” of Life Magazine.

I glared at each of the covers, despising the Kennedys. I had been in class when the principal announced over the P.A.: “President Kennedy has been shot and killed. Let us bow our heads and observe a moment of silence.” But there had been no quietude; instead my teacher and classmates burst into sobs as if they had been an enormous balloon of sorrow that some evil monger punctured with a pin. I had looked around, as an outsider, on the edge of discovering what being different meant, at the commonality of their expressions, feeling nothing for them or for the dead president.

On the evening of the death of the President, my parents had cried while watching the news and commiserating on the phone with family and friends. “Poor Jackie. What will she do now?” “Little John. Such a cute boy. His father taken from him.” “You know how little girls love their daddies.” “Did you see it? Cronkite removed his glasses.” “She’s a strong woman. She’ll be okay.” Richie, and even Alan, had shed tears. I had sat apart and stared at them, wondering how I could share their genes, their blood, yet not be of them, and instead be so different I might have been an alien from another planet. So what, I thought. Why did it matter that he was dead? Or that she was a widow? Or that their kids had no father? What did that have to do with me? Or my father, mother, and brothers? Or our extended family and friends? Or my teacher and classmates? The moon would sink, the sun would rise, there would be a new day, a new president, the country would continue to be and so would we. No matter how long I pondered these questions, I didn’t know why these things mattered to so many people. That night in bed I had my first inkling of how I was different: their feelings extended beyond their own skin to others and mine didn’t.

After a while, as I sat beside my family at the allergist, their silent sorrow screamed at me, “You’re different. A freak!” and my hatred of the Kennedys extended to my parents and brothers. To calm myself, I pictured the prime numbers in ascending order, first the 2, then the 3, 5, 7, and 11, and it wasn’t until I reached 211 that I was okay again and knew what I had to do.

I removed the issue of Life Magazine, which had a cover photo captioned, “Mrs. Kennedy, Caroline and John Jr. wait to join procession to Capitol,” from the table, opened it to a random page, waited a few seconds, sniffled, wiped my eye, and commented with all the sincerity I could muster, “This is so sad.” My parents, in unison, raised their heads and looked at me. My mother opened her mouth to speak, but her lips merely trembled. My father squeezed her hand again, and as my mother shook her head, he said, “Yes, Jeff, it’s a terrible thing when a person dies and leaves a family behind; it’s a bigger tragedy when it’s the President because his family is the entire nation. We’re grieving because we’ve lost someone important to us. Remember how sad you were when you lost your protractor until we bought you another? When a person dies, shared sorrow is the only meaningful currency; no amount of money can bring a person back to life.” Then he continued to read his magazine. My mother stared at me awhile longer, but I pretended not to notice while I feigned reading.

The receptionist said, “Mrs. Fece, the doctor will see you now,” or that was what we heard, and the woman opposite rose, nodded her head to the man beside her, and followed the receptionist into an adjacent room. In my family we didn’t poop, shit, take a dump or crap or do number two, a deuce or doodoo. We defecated, and what came out wasn’t poo or ca-ca or a turd. It was stool or feces, and so when we heard the receptionist say, “Mrs. Fece,” I looked at Richie, who struggled to contain his laughter, and Richie looked at me, and in a whisper that must have been heard by my mother because she stared at me again, but this time with narrowed eyelids, I said to him, while pointing my head in the direction of the elderly man, “He must be a fece too.” Alan, still on his knees beside the little car, lifted his head and alternately sniffed the air and held his nose while he scrunched his face and dispersed the air in front of him with waves of his free hand. The three of us burst out laughing.

After Richie, Alan, and I received our shots, we and our parents exited the building. When I stood beside the Falcon beneath the gigantic office buildings that pierced the heavens, I wasn’t afraid the sky might fall. Instead I remembered my brother’s and my laughter, which the car’s metallic roar repeated minutes later as it shimmied over the bridge’s steel grates on our return trip to Queens. That evening I heard it again in my parents’ chuckles as they watched Hootenanny on television.

When I went to bed, I thought about what my father had said at the allergist’s office. If shared sorrow was the only meaningful currency when a person died, in a different circumstance, like when a person answered to the name, Mrs. Fece, another currency might be meaningful. Perhaps shared sorrow was one side of a coin and shared mirth the other, and sometimes I was the same as other people. I fell asleep imagining I twice flipped a coin in the air. The first time it landed on heads, the second on tails.

In the morning, at breakfast, beside my plate there were two shiny quarters, one dated 1949, the other 1951, both prime numbers, each of which I saved. I looked at my father, then my mother. “You know?” I asked.

My father smiled. He said, “Of course. Now go on, eat your eggs.”

My father died on 6/12/12, a date without any prime number. It was a very bad day.

Captain Marvel Goes Down in Gigolo Hall of Fame

When my wife of these last thirty-nine years kicked me out of the house and I quoth “for being a dipshit” the week before the fourth of July, I holed up in a little camper on the other side of town just so I wouldn’t have to lay eyes on the heifer. “What’s wrong with you?” she demanded to know, the spray of her saliva hitting the lenses of my pilot’s sunglasses like matrimonious shrapnel. I told her that honestly I thought I was having one of them midlife crises things. She did one of the most comical double takes you ever heard of before giving me the stankface, “You can’t have a midlife crisis! You know why? Because you’re already old! Your daddy died in his fifties and you’re almost about retirement age even if you already done the quit working part! You’re lazy too!” I couldn’t argue with that since it was mostly true but I be damned if I was going to let the old woman call me old. I was two years her junior! 

She had been mad ever since I came back from Iraq where I worked for a government contractor called “Deepwater, LLC” bossing a bunch of Mexicans to paint stuff with the cheapest white paint known to the industry. If I stuck it out for a year, my contract said I was going to get $100,000 and boy did I need it. However, they made me go home after 4 months because the military downsized and withdrew not unlike my testicles on that fateful morn. One day me and my paint crew woke up to discover that Uncle Sam left us high and dry and ripe for execution. I about up and pissed myself when I saw how lonely that little circus tent out in the middle of nowhere was. We was a regular Trojan horse with an impressive wall around us without so much as a slingshot for self-protection. If them ISIS had known we were in there all alone I imagine I’d be talking to you without a head attached to my body. So I didn’t get all the money I planned seeing as to the short duration, and this is what Gladys was really mad about. I’d gone through tens of hundreds of dollars at the L’Auberge Casino Hotel upon my return to Louisiana. It was real sweet for how long it lasted because I was a high rolling terror at black jack and roulette.

The trailer was right across from a school with one of those black and orange “For Rent” signs on it. The old bat didn’t say much but the rent was cheap and the little camper trailer would have been the Taj Mahal in a KOA campground full of them but being in this neighborhood of fine brick, ranch style houses was irritating to some, my new landlord, Judy, apprised me. I thumbed out some cash from my fat money clip and then she begun to get real chipper like she’d been sipping the sherry with Justin Wilson—the Cooking Cajun himself. 

“Ooh, what do I call you Mister?” 

Well, I suppose she thought I was older than her because she wanted to call me mister somebody but I told her the same thing I used to tell the grade school children in my neighborhood years ago, “You can call me Captain Marvel.” I don’t go in for all that Mr. Ray bullspatter. She kind of frowned when I said that but she snuck another glance at my wad, which I retired to the front pocket of my Dickies. I could have said, “Ray Landry, Dahlin.” Pour it on real thick too but instead I just stuck with Captain Marvel. She clucked to herself, handed me the keys, and waddled back to her nice brick dwelling after she stuck the money in her bra where I’d seen her put her cell phone a little earlier. Cash money covers a multitude of sins, not to mention identities. She walked off real slow like there was something I wanted to look at. She called over her shoulder at me, “Next month’s rent is due at the first of the month, Mister Captain Marvel.” I wasn’t about to hither to her thither. She could cram that to whence it came.

It was lucky for me that there was a good ole boy across the road name of Mr. Glenn who was originally from Texas. He was an old guy and rode his imitation Hoveround everywhere. That thing could flat get it too. The only time he climbed off it was to plant azaleas in his yard or to take a leak. I don’t think he was old enough for WWII but he had been in the military, Korea maybe, and he talked about being stationed in Hawaii when he was young, except when he said it it had an “uh” on the end instead of an e sound. I don’t know how you’d spell it but looks like it would be something like “Hawai-uh.” He’d been a boss for construction crews and such when he a younger man. It was plain to see he’d been a helluva man when he was younger. A real John Wayne type. When he’d get irritated he’d say, pardner too. Except the way he said it it came out “pad-nah.” He ran up and down the street watching over what happened except when he had to go to the doctor or some place for dialysis. He was near blind and one time the power ran out on his scooter and he sat out in the middle of the street saying, “Help help!” He wasn’t in too good of shape these days.

Now, Mr. Glenn’s wife was a real ring-tailed tooter. She said her name was Angie but I knew that wasn’t her real name. She was from some foreign country. I made out to figure just where she was from and I’d ask Mr. Glenn all sly-like, who looked me square in the eye and said, “Florida.” Now, I was in an awkward situation, torn as I was between my curious nature wanting to know where she was from and him not wanting to tell me. “Naw sir, I mean, where is she from-from? Where her people from? “Florida,” he said again and one eye twitched open a little further like that crazy look Clint Eastwood likes to get before he shoots some punk. 

One day they flagged me over just as I was leaving the trailer for my morning constitutional to give me some homegrown blueberries. They both called out to me, “Mr. Captain, Mr. Captain!” Anyway, she let it slip her family was going to be visiting from the Philippines. Speaking of flags, they liked that I hung out the red, white, and blue on the metal flag holder attached to the trailer. Let people know what’s what. Mainly, I would sometimes get overwhelmed by a powerful feeling of patriotism when I’m drunk but it seems to dissipate as I return to sobriety. Angie herself had a strong accent but she let it be known that she didn’t like foreigners coming into our country. 

Staying up all night watching infomercials for erectile dysfunction, real estate sales, and vitamins makes a person start to wonder about the future. I decided Captain Marvel needed a whole new persona or outlook on life so the first thing I did was jump in the truck and head to the Goodwill to see if I could find a white or powder blue Seersucker suit with hopefully a little mint green bowtie. Why, I could see myself drinking one of those root beer and ginger ale drinks and speaking with one of those cute Georgia southern accents everyone loves so much in the movies. My old persona was played out and it was high time I became someone new anyway. Hell, I might even shave because it hit me that what I really need to find was one of those sugar mamas to keep me in the style I had not grown accustomed to instead of that other heifer with her stretched out tramp stamp mean-mouthing me all the time. Barring that, not being able to acquire the Seersucker, I’d just stick to my kind of natural rockabilly look I’d painstakingly developed throughout my fifties. I was blessed with the natural sideburns for it and that says a lot.

On a Friday night, I made sure I looked tight in my fifties garb for the senior citizen dance since I hadn’t any luck finding the seersucker. Even slicked my hair back. I was sure to find me a sugar mama in that lot. Bring on those ‘old money’ or nouveau riche saber-toothed cougars! I pulled up into the parking lot and a few people were outside smoking cigars in Hawaiian shirts and a couple were sucking hard on those electronic cigarette dealios. All the men had white hair, or no hair, except for a couple that were busy fooling themselves with dyed jet black hair or a toupee here and there. Not that I don’t have my fair share of white hairs myself but I knew that compared to these duffers I’d look like a teenager. Hell, I still looked young. I’d been carded a number of times into my late forties because I was blessed with a baby-face by God above. He knew I’d always be poor so he made me goodlooking instead.

“What’s shaking, Jackson?” I asked one old man who was staring at me like he’d just seen me on an episode of 48 Hours. 

“You sure you’re old enough to go in there, young man?” One old-man with a thin, well-oiled mustache laughed like he’d just told the most hilarious joke of all mankind.

“They been asking me that my whole life, Jeeter,” I said.

“Oh well,” the mustache man said, “there ain’t nothing in there but women so old their titties are full of sawdust.”

“That’s all right,” I winked. “I came to play hot potato with all the gals I can.”

The whole group of them guffawed and tittered at that one.

These men were of a certain age and disposition that allowed them to call a bra a “brassiere” and not make a funny expression afterwards. 

“Do you jitterbug, junior?” A lady with white-hair piled up like blue cotton candy asked. 

“I ain’t bragging,” I said. “But I do it all. I’m what you might call a full service swinger. I can do the mambo, the watusi, rumba, and even macarena if you insist.” 

I’d taught myself these dances by answering an infomercial with VHS tapes. The kind with the three easy payments you always hear about. I made two of them anyway before I changed addresses. I’d get teenage gals, bored housewives, and latter day Lolitas to practice with me when I lived in the Flip Flop Apartments. I watched all these Cuban guys dancing with beautiful women, and I do mean WOMEN all night long so I decided I was a fool not to teach myself these dances.

Another old gal shrilled, “He’s all yours, Frieda!”

Frieda about come unglued with giddiness I’d never seen in women half her age owing to the Shakespearean innuendo of my words. I thought men-o-pause made them halting and old biddy-like but not this one—she was a genuine saber-toothed cougar. She wasn’t like some of them younger women I knew. You know the kind that are always bored with life and give you those constipated looks when you hold the door open for them. ‘I know what you’re after,’ their evil eye looks say. Now a woman like Frieda has a lot to give, and she ain’t through giving it all yet. She’d already been through that aforementioned stage of females who think they’ve done seen it and had it all and don’t want none of it no more. She’s ready for a young man to keep up with her. I just hoped she had the pocket book and matching bank account to cover me. My disability check hadn’t come in yet and when it did I’d have to unhook my old lady’s claws from it or she’d have spent it up in a minute. In another year, I’d be able to partially retire. I didn’t want to mess around and die and not know the sweetness of retirement. For now, if I couldn’t make my life as a gigolo take off, then I’d have to think of another get riche quick scheme. And, I only call it a schema because I felt like time was shooting out the ass end of an hour glass like the proverbial sands on that old soap.

I’ll be damned if Frieda didn’t pay my $5 cover charge for me. Visitors had to pay a $5 and anyone under 62 had to pay an additional $4. The Pearly Gates Senior Center dance hall looked like a roller rink on hardwood floors. There was a giant disco ball hanging from the ceiling to boot. A gaggle of assorted canes and walkers was standing against one wall while the dancers themselves were on the floor groovy dancing, line dancing, Cajun dancing, two-stepping, twisting, and disco dancing. It was a regular dance free-for-all. Dancing with the Stars made everyone feel like they could dance and would look like a star doing it at Pearly Gates. My partner said she wanted to jitterbug but I found out what she really meant was a kind of less vigorous, bastardized version called the rock-n-roll. This all worked to my favor because I doubt I could have flipped her rather large posterior through the air and not come unbalanced myself and ended up with my own broken hip, mashed cloven foot, or worse yet, hospitalized. It wouldn’t do for either of our reputations if one or both of us ended up with broken hips. 

I saw the hopeless faces of the women lined up in their cushioned chairs. As we boogied down past the table of these elderly vixens I heard, “That’s a good looking man! Is he an actor?” 

Next another one countered with, “Yeah, but what’s he doing with that slut?” 

After we had rock-n-rolled for 4 songs straight Frieda said she needed to catch her breath and disappeared to the lady’s room. I took out a handkerchief and mopped at the sweat on my brow. That woman could plumb get after it on the sawdusted parfait. Next thing I knew, a lady who I believe referred to herself with unlikely moniker of Oleta leapt in front of me and then hitched at the waistband of her green hotpants. Her enormous twin peaks, stuffed as they were in the bedazzled blouse, were monumental and thankfully immobile though she tried to convince me she’d been like that since age fourteen. “No sag, just fact!” She told me her name meant “winged one” though I found it unlikely she could get off the ground with those puppies and, of course, I had to let her know that I was Captain Marvel to one and all. She introduced me simply as “The Captain” to the raucous cheering section, which upped my desirableness I must admit, who were ravenous for new man flesh. Just one glance at all those dance veteran faces let me know I was being seriously objectified. 

“He’s a baby!” One old gal cooed.

Another said, “He’s a dreamboat!” This immediately made me think of the theme song to the Love Boat television show for some reason and I began to hum it to myself.

Now, I’d never been much of a Romeo as a young man. Women my own age seemed unmoved by my pale skin, hazel eyes, and jet black hair I’d known come from a strain of Comanche Indian in my family, females given white-sounding names but it was obvious. Two of my elder brothers, who had already messed around and passed into the happy hunting grounds or some place a tad warmer, even had that red complexion to their skin and were right tall sons-of-bucks. All that being explained, older women than me had always loved me! Now, don’t ask me why. The more unrealistic a relationship could possibly be, the more likely they were to give me the eye. Love, exciting and new. I whistled a bit here but I think women who are a little older appreciate and trust a whistling man. At least, this is the conclusion I came too after relieving myself of spiked red punch every twenty minutes or so. The male geezers of paradise all walked in whistling, doing their business, washing their hands (some) so much so that it seemed like a bird-calling convention. The echo in that particular lavatory had an echo that was custom-made for whistling jeeters and bebop rock-a-billy crooners alike.

Anyhoo, some of the gals give that come up and see me sometime look even when they weren’t exactly aware of it.  So then Miss Oleta 23 skidoos me out to the dance floor for some serious Cajun two-stepping. It seemed like the peanut gallery was an impenetrable chorus but I found that once one of their number was whisked onto the dance floor by a dandy male that they then became fair game. For now, they were hooting and hollering about what a whore Miss Oleta was! It was nothing for these retired ladies to share a pit stop in the restroom one minute and then refer to her dancing friend thusly, “Look at that uppity bitch!” Unless, of course, she was dancing with another woman. That was just okie doke. Those babes who had only recently retired, to the septuagenarians, octogenarians, nonagenarians, and centenarians were as googly-eyed over men as high schoolers at their first pep rally. 

This surprised me at first, but Miss Oleta, like her sister-in-arms before her, seemed to not register the catcalls and insults of her sister-coven, but instead she radiated a dreamy countenance of ultimate romance that Disney would be hard pressed to duplicate in one of his princess movies. She let it slip somewhat ungracefully that she’d once been the Soybean Fair Queen of Audrain County. She sat in a convertible Corvette and waved to the crowd sitting up on top of the seat. “It’s hard on your ass,” she whispered in my ear. Real insider stuff and more I heard about fair queens and tractor pulls galore.

I observed my original mark, Miss Frieda, returning from the lady’s room with a slow dawning expression of betrayal. I began to back that ass up right to the table like the bravest lion tamer you ever witnessed considering I lacked chair, whip, and pistol when it came to the ferocious ladies. I danced with hind-end so far out and away from Miss O that one would have thought I was afflicted with some horrificent spinal disorder. I couldn’t honestly say these were the kind of men and women you hoped died choking on their own vomit because I consider myself a populist in this regard. I wasn’t here to enjoy myself. This was business. Bidness. A matter of economic survival. I needed me a retired baby mama. No baby, just mama. Capiche?

Miss Frieda cut in between myself and Miss O. She foxtrotted me off to the center of the dance floor and told me how handsome I was. Her eyes were green without a hint of hazel and yet her pupils were shaped more like a cat’s eye than any human I’d ever seen. She used those eyes to hypnotize me and I didn’t even notice the clawings of Oleta on my back but would bear the bloody scars of a wolverine afterwards. 

“My third husband always told me I was beautiful before sex but afterwards he’d say my conversation was a bore and I needed a personality transplant,” but almost as proof that this was untrue she kind of lowered her hands so they were resting on my hindend. “You don’t think I need a personality transplant, do you hon?” She tapped me a couple of times to insure that I was empathetic to her plea.

“How long ago was that, Miss F?” 

“Hmmm, I’d say that was about 1974.”

“Before my time,” I winked.

“Shut up!” She roared. “You’re such a baby and I’m keeping you all for myself. I refuse to share another man with Oleta Beard! You know, she takes hormone replacement therapy?”

I shrugged. I assumed that was a bad thing.

“I’m 110% natural woman,” Frieda said. “A young man like you should be able to appreciate.”

“I am very, very appreciative,” I thought I was rubbing her ass cheek but it turns out I’d been buffing up her luxury designer handbag for the last couple of minutes. It ought to shine now.

“You like that old thing?” She asked with a smile on her red, too red, lips.

“Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies,” I made my best innuendo eyes at her.

She laughed and beat on my chest like an old-time actress pretending to be in distress. 

“You’ve have those sexy lined eyes I love so much,” Miss Frieda said. “But you have to be careful your whole face doesn’t collapse in ten years or so. That happened to my second husband just before he died.”

I said, “I have just the right amount of gray in my hair that everyone loves,” repeating that line from the commercial somewhat doubtfully.

“Oh, of course!”

We were dancing still but all this talk was throwing off my timing. I didn’t even know what kind of dancing we were doing anymore. She had thrown her arms around my neck so that her forearms touched my neck and she cast spells with her hands and fingers. My hands were on her hips and we moved back and forth, more or less in time with the music that seemed to have gone back to the Big Band era. And now, Miss Oleta came up behind me and synced her body to ours so that now we were dancing a lascivious threesome and I was the meat in this geriatric grinder. I couldn’t see Miss O’s face but if Miss Frieda’s was any indication I’ll bet it was full of violent shades of green eye shadow.

The next thing I knew Miss Frieda had thrown me in the floor and I was covered in sawdust and grime from spilled drinks that had become a kind of paste. The two, formerly ladies, were going at it in a row that ole “Hands of Stone” himself would have been proud of. From my vantage on the floor I wasn’t about to take sides, I just wanted to see a good fight. I have to say now I can’t understand why girlfriends from my teenage years sometimes tried to provoke fights between me and some other dude. It’s wonderful for your self-esteem to be fought over. On the other hand, I was all about the payday than the romance so this was a somewhat awkward detour from my nefarious plans.

“He’s mine and I love him!” Miss Frieda said.

“Love! Yeah right, heifer!”

Slap and grab. Left-right, left-right! I hadn’t seen this much action in or out of the ring in years. Miss O’s upper plate popped out onto the dance floor and then the bout was over. Miss Frieda stood there with her wig hanging over to one side. Miss Oleta was holding her teeth looking for something to dip them in and another gallant fellow came over with his glass of ginger ale to oblige. She sighed and stumbled away as if she’d forgotten all about her love for yours truly. Miss Frieda fixed me with a disgusted look. I guess she expected me to wade in and fix her rival with a right cross. 

“Oh, I know your kind, sonny!” Miss Frieda said. “I see who you are! You’re the love ’em and leave ’em type.” All this, despite the fact that no loving had officially transpired. Not only that, but I hadn’t left yet. It could have been one of the blows to her head had shook something loose too.

The chorus of women at the table now all looked at me with anger and lust. I knew I had to get out of there before they tore me apart. No doubt that as soon as I left the Pearly Gates Senior Center I’d go out in the Gigolo Hall of Fame. Despite the fact that I hadn’t successfully gigolo’d anyone or received payment for my services. 

I ran out the back door. I wasn’t about to be crucified for this kind of love.

The Liars’ Asylum – Review

The Liars’ Asylum by Jacob Appel
Reviewed by Charles Rammelkamp

“The Liars’ Asylum”
Short Stories
Black Lawrence Press, 2017
16.95, 180 pages
978-1625579751

The eight stories that make up Jacob Appel’s The Liars’ Asylum are like eight episodes of Seinfeld on steroids, zany plots involving feckless characters whose motives are never so pure, often questionable. All of the stories are narrated in the first person by a variety of protagonists ranging from teenaged girls to men in their sixties, from schoolkids to psychiatrists; from Maia in “The Summer of Interrogatory Subversion,” living with her divorced mom, just turned eighteen, “transforming me overnight from adolescent to liability,” to Leo in “Picklocks to Oblivion,” a man whose job is to transport severely disabled people in a medical van.  They take place in different locations from New England to the Mid-Atlantic, with a couple of the stories set in the provocatively named Virginia town of Oblivion.  

In one story, the seventy-eight-year-old mother of the narrator’s wife is impulsively marrying a man over thirty years younger than she, a pet store owner, in a ceremony that will take place in the pet store. Her daughter tries to intervene.  In another, Laurie Jean, a fourteen-year-old girl, is recruited by her Aunt Jill to help Jill, forty-eight, snare a man she is interested in by going to work for him in his business of creating realistic synthetic flora for theme parks. In yet another, told by the aforementioned Leo, a sexpot out-of-work actress, Janine, his girlfriend, tries to get Leo to perform a mercy killing. All very bizarre situations but just plausible enough to be compelling in a Jerry Seinfeld bizarro-world sort of way.  All of the stories involve people having (or not having) affairs, all related in the confidential, confessional tone of somebody getting something off his or her chest.

But the truly admirable thing about these stories is that the resolution to the plot always comes as a sort of surprise, whether it’s Leo pulling the plastic bag down over Janine’s head in “Picklocks in Oblivion” instead of the paralyzed victim’s (though not killing her) or the girl Maddy, the teenaged narrator of “When Love Was an Angel’s Kidney,” coming upon her mother having an affair with a man who is not Maddy’s father, and the conclusions each reaches.

The title story, which anchors the collection, is narrated by one of the psychiatrists, Ian Shaddock, and may stand for the whole in the sense that the people in these stories are not always honest and seek some sort of justification – some sort of asylum – for their behavior. In this story, the narrator works in the psychiatric emergency room of a hospital. One morning he arrives at work to find a handful of people who have been infected by a “truth storm.” They confess secrets to dear ones that they should keep to themselves – sexual improprieties, financial shenanigans – as if they had Tourette syndrome and cannot help themselves. Marriages are ruined, jobs lost. These bouts of confession only take place after the patients have been caught in the rain, though Shaddock is convinced that the rain is not the cause.  Meanwhile, his wife Vicky desperately wants a baby that Ian is not so keen about having, and he falls for a social worker at the hospital, Marlena. These are his own secrets, his own lies. How he resolves these before the judge of his conscience is the magic of this tale.

Magic is indeed at the heart of these stories, how they are resolved (or not), whether it’s the lifelong secret of Esko Virtinen’s sisu in “The Frying Finn” or Rebecca Hertz’s unresolved feelings about her suicide high school Physics teacher decades later when the teacher’s daughter tracks her down to interrogate her in “Prisoners of the Multiverse.” As Marlena observes to Ian at the end of “The Liars’ Asylum,” “Like I told you, mystery is sexy….” The mysterious is the magical. And it’s sexy.

Appel’s writing is vivid and the voices of his narrators are compelling. Leo observes about Janine, after she’s revealed the plan to euthanize Dr. Bingham, the paralyzed patient they are transporting: “She slams the metal blade of her seatbelt into the buckle, as though cocking a shotgun….”  In the story, “Good Enough for Guppies,” when her daughter Sheila reacts with horror to the idea of her mother actually getting married in a pet store, Glenda retorts: “What’s wrong with a pet store? It’s good enough for guppies and swordtails.”  Or take Marlena in “The Liars’ Asylum” describing her past: “I was a born-again Christian for a couple of years, and then I played the mandolin in a bluegrass band. Mostly, I managed to hurt people a lot….”  Laurie Jean about her Aunt Jill in “Bait and Switch”: “I had sudden thoughts of dipping her Xanax in rat poison.” Moments of insight casually tossed off with the breathtaking skill of a seasoned storyteller. This is a truly delightful collection of stories.

Our Fine Old Flat Chested Gal

March 14, 1983

Dear Sir or Madam:

Forgive the vague salutation. I could not determine the current president of the IBTC, so I am hoping this letter reaches the correct party. 

I want to share with you the story of my grandmother, who would have been a staunch supporter, probably a lifetime member, had she known about your group.  

I want to tell you how she could have used your help. 

I am sure that after you hear her remarkable history you will agree to induct her as an honorary member posthumously. It would have meant so much to her and her equally dainty descendants.

Please advise me as to who should receive the details of her biography and I will forward them gratefully.Warmest Regards, 

Ann Keebler-Gladstone

#

June 2, 1983

To Whom It May Concern:

Unfortunately, we are between presidents at the moment and will swear in our next leader at the end of the month in a tasteful (members only) ceremony at our headquarters, The Dome. You may know it as the “little yurt” from the media, or more playfully as the “breastquarters” from our longtime supporters.

In the meantime, as I am sure you will understand, we are fully occupied with the necessary preparations for this important event.

While we are in this transitory state, our resources are limited. 

We will contact you after the next term has begun. 

Sincerely,

Melinda Carriage

Interim President, IBTC

MRC/rb

#

August 10, 1983

Dear Interim President Carriage,

It has been two months since our last correspondence, a copy of which has been provided. 

I trust your new president is faring well during the transition. 

I realize you and your new leader have hard jobs: officiating functions and performing countless administrative tasks while simultaneously appearing proud of your organization, even though that may be difficult, even humiliating, at times. 

I am still hoping to obtain honorary membership for my dear grandmother Gigi. 

Please let me know the proper channels to follow so I can move the process forward. 

Much gratitude to your organization and its fine work. 

Warm regards,

Ann Keebler-Gladstone

Encl: (1)

#

November 3, 1983

Dear Interim President Carriage,

It has been three months since my last correspondence. I have included a copy for your reference.

My hope of obtaining a posthumous membership for beloved grandmother Gigi has not yet faded.

 Perhaps if I share some of the details of Gigi’s life, you may feel compelled to kindly expedite her membership. We have an upcoming family reunion in February of next year, and it would mean so much to the clan to share this honor publicly with the people who love and admire her most. 

Grandmother Gigi’s bright smile was her calling card. In her hometown of Glenford, Massachusetts, her body’s slim, straight profile was much admired when she was young. During the 1920s, when figures such as hers were fashionable, she turned heads and had her pick of partners for dances or walks on the boulevard. She was desired not only for her “bee stings” (her words), but for her kindness and generosity. The Gladstones supported a community hospital and were well known for its considerable endowment (unlike dear Gigi). 

Gigi was, in fact, well known for her parties and salons. I do not have copies of the guest lists, but I have been told they featured Glenford’s elite, the leading thinkers of the community, including the deputy mayor and the author of a regional cookbook which was in print until 1937. 

She was so well known in certain circles that a local swing band popularized a number especially written for her: “Our Fine Old Flat Chested Gal.” Perhaps you remember it? 

I have attached the sheet music for the IBTC archives.  

 She liked to fool people. This was part of her charm.

In our family, there are many tales of how Gigi successfully disguised herself as a youth, as long as she didn’t speak and kept her hat low and a scarf over her face, and her hair tucked away. She spent hours in saloons, on her secret “spy” missions as she called them. I am sure she was just listening for mentions of her own name, of which there were many.

After half a dozen of these adventures, she no longer donned the costume and would not reveal why. Her cousin Amory suspected she had been found out, for she avoided certain streets for the rest of her time in Glenford. 

Her brother Wilfred had a different opinion about what he called her “sinister exploits” but I choose not to reprint them here. During one such “incident” all of the handkerchiefs went missing from the house, only to be seen in the pockets of what Wilfred called “Lotharios” over the following months. As Gigi explained it in the family lore, these men had shown her a great kindness over the years, and she wanted to offer them a small token of appreciation. 

I do not share Wilfred’s opinion, but prefer to think of my grandmother as a true pioneer who, in entering public drinking establishments unaccompanied, broke barriers for women, secretly.

I do have a treasured photograph of Gigi in her heyday on the Glenford Green, a community park with many bushes, a gazebo, and a medium-sized fountain. Here, all of the town’s citizens, regardless of class, mingled.  

Apparently, my grandmother was fond of this place. After her saloon adventures, she would spend hours in the park reading books. Her parents were puzzled by this as her own book collection was scant and they never saw her reading at home. She explained that she checked them out of the library and returned them on the same day, according to a letter her mother wrote to a friend in 1927: “She is an intelligent girl, spending many afternoons on the Green, improving her mind. Her father often jokes that she has gone through the library catalog twice. I am puzzled by the state of her clothes after many of these excursions. They are sometimes torn, filthy or (forgive the indelicacy) soaked through with sweat. I do not know how reading could have caused this, but she assures me that she often chases squirrels for exercise in between chapters.” 

I find her pursuit of knowledge, combined with healthy exercise, is strong evidence of a well-rounded personality. 

There is so much more to tell, but obviously, assisting your new president fulfill duties is of the utmost importance, so I will close here. 

As I mentioned, her family had money, and so her hi-jinx were mostly tolerated. After all, she was Gigi Gladstone. 

I hope this letter has interested you enough to hear more. She did much to help our country (with the love and financial support of her family) despite her “scant endowment.” She was lucky to have been born when she was, come to think of it. Perhaps she would not have had so much fun in another decade. 

Please do let me know what the next steps are to receive membership for dear Gigi, a true hero to our country who used her small blessings as a remarkable service to the US of A – this information I can send in a separate letter, if you are interested to record it as part of her membership application. 

Regards,

Ann Keebler-Gladstone

Encl: (2)

#

November 12, 1983

Dear Ms. Keebler-Gladstone,

It has indeed been a busy few months! We have laid the groundwork for numerous projects which have been made possible by the generous support of both members and the general public.

With the help of our Platinum Club donors, our assets are growing. We are working with craftsmen, a landscape architect, and a plaque master on the initial designs for:

  • An official marker to be erected in The Plains, Virginia, at the birthplace of our founder Fanny Surrey 
  • A pool near the “little yurt,” which in its reflection of The Dome will create a pair of equally appealing symbols, one flat and one not – truly a clever representation of the beauty in all sizes that the IBTC champions
  • A small plaque to be placed at the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce (above what is now the door to the utility room) marking the first secret meeting of our group in 1949

We, like Gigi, have struggled mightily and overcame many obstacles to build an organization to raise awareness and acceptance for women who are large in spirit, if nothing else.

We have included the application packet here, along with other information we hope you will find interesting, including information about remembering the IBTC in your estate plan and making a monthly donation on a convenient schedule. 

Please do continue to let us know of Gigi’s illustrious history. 

Perhaps a small scholarship in her name can be established so that Gigi Gladstone can continue to contribute to our nation’s success long after she has moved on to her great reward.

Our new president tendered her resignation last week, citing exhaustion. Once again, I will be the temporary commander of our stalwart vessel.

We look forward to hearing from you. 

Most sincerely,

Melinda Carriage

Interim President, IBTC

CC: Morty Minkum, Membership Committee

Ann Smalls, Giving Fund 

Mark Tippett, Facilities

Lulu Morgan, Grants and Awards

B. B. Tatum, Estate Planning Coordinator

Candice Snide, Friends of the IBTC

Encl:(6)

#

December 3, 1983

Dear Interim President Carriage, 

I was delighted to receive the membership application and the accompanying materials about the many outreach/fund raising events and the upcoming capital campaign. Your group certainly does keep busy!

I will complete and submit the application soon. 

However, I did promise that there is more of Gigi’s story to tell, and I will include a few more chapters of her life here. I hope you will add them to your archives, so that her history can be documented in some official capacity. I am certain that after learning more about my grandmother, you may even waive the application process altogether. 

I have related Gigi’s charmed life throughout the 1920s, but after the crash her curvy sister Gilda, who looked well fed and strong, attracted all the attention. She was tall, kind, and slightly dim, always wanting to please. As a service to our returning naval heroes, she began spending time at the dock, welcoming home many sailors who were tired and shorter than she by providing an ample bosom upon which they might rest their heads. She was much admired for her charity at the dock, offering her “pillows” for exhausted deserving brave men who had spent all day scrubbing decks. 

This was a service that Gigi could not provide. 

She had been told for much of life that her boyish figure was coveted by men and women alike, but with the country’s descent into desperation, no one liked to be reminded of want. 

Gigi could have been twisted by bitterness and jealousy, for surely it is a trial for a woman once pursued to find that she is suddenly skipping away from nothing. But instead, Gigi spearheaded a new program she hoped would assist struggling citizens during this difficult time: The National Hope Chest. 

She asked for donations of pillows of a certain size, and, along with a friend whose former fortune was made in the garment industry, designed a simple harness to hold the pillows in line with the heart. She then offered these tools to the small-breasted women of the northeast and, using her sister Gilda as an example, spread the word that all females must do their part to support the troops. Petite women now could benefit from the boost of their augmented physique. Some say that the program was just as important for these dainty ladies as for the men to whom they offered succor.   

Gigi was hailed as a hero by the press and by the boys who so looked forward to coming home. Citing a tightening of the belt to sympathize with the struggling masses, generals and commanders often cut tours or missions short to give themselves and their men a most deserving reward.  

Unfortunately, our enemies were watching and (wrongfully assumed) recklessness on the military’s part. All they saw were brave men emptying their hearts and becoming weak when a slightly taller woman offered her services as a resting place for the patriot.  

Unbeknownst to Gigi, her program, while founded to support and strengthen our nation’s defense, was having the opposite effect to the outside world. 

But my poor grandmother had more serious problems, as the Gladstone fortune had, like so many of their friends’, been sucked away to nothing. For both the nation and the house of Gladstone, things were getting desperate. 

The few family photographs from that time show that the Gladstone women’s once magnificent hats could no longer be refeathered for the season, and now sat on their heads like damp owls. Gigi’s father’s scowl was deeper than normal because of his dwindling fortune, no doubt. 

But he had also grown to resent what he saw as the inappropriate attention both of his daughters attracted. He can be forgiven, I suppose, for not having the long view. He could not see how the sisters were giving women opportunities. They could now use their bodies to comfort strangers, a right that, as I understand, had been denied decent women until Gigi’s time. 

I must stop the story for now, as I am sure this is more than enough evidence to grant Gigi membership in the coming weeks. Perhaps our family can look forward to toasting to our dear grandmother’s acceptance into your fine organization over the holidays.

Warm regards,

Ann Keebler-Gladstone

#

February 12, 1984

Dear Ms. Keebler:

We were intrigued by your last letter and hope that your family was able to recover from the misfortunes suffered by so many of their generation. 

Unfortunately, at a minimum, we do require an application from all those who seek membership, and, of course, the application fee. Our general policy has been to induct only those members who could travel to The Dome for a swearing-in ceremony – an event, our members often tell us, they will remember for the rest of their lives. 

Perhaps after her application had been approved, you can travel in her stead. 

Morty Minkum

Co-chair, Membership Committee

IBTC

MMM/rb

#

February 12, 1984

Dear Interim President Carriage, et al:

How unfortunate that we did not hear from the IBTC before the holidays. 

However, our family reunion is but a few days away, and I wanted to send you the rest of dear Gigi’s story in the hopes that you will consider granting our beloved grandmother the place she deserves in your organization post haste. Unfortunately, I am pressed for time here and have not been able to complete the application, but surely you will be swayed after hearing how Gigi diminutive figure helped to save the country and regained the fortune that has sustained our family for many years and that will continue to buoy us along the future’s uncertain seas. 

After Gigi’s sister Gilda met her husband, a short but determined fellow with a permanent kink in his neck as a result of her stalwart comfort, she became a new model for women in the National Hope Chest program. Its participants no longer used their contraption to the benefit of our fine military men, but as a means to lure potential partners, and to eventually land “the whopper.” This method was effective and the ranks of the program’s participants rapidly thinned. 

Once the marriage was final, these new wives assumed the harness was no longer necessary, as their husbands surely were now devoted to their undersized assets. 

Sadly just as a wave of weddings had served to dissolve the NHC, in the next five years a new wave of broken homes was the result. These abandoned women, many of them mothers, came to be known as Gigi Brides and among their joyless ranks was Fanny Surrey, founder of the IBTC.

So now my grandmother had a new challenge: to give these women renewed hope and a way to earn a living. 

Meanwhile, a wealthy industrialist named Keebler, who had been able to ride out the Depression with most of his fortune intact, was looking for a lucrative way to help with the war effort as America joined in the noble fight to rid the world of horror and mayhem (as has continued to the present day). 

The troops needed everything, from pickles to blasting caps, and many resources to produce the goods. 

While pickles did appeal to Mr. Keebler, the meager profit available from such a venture did not. Eventually he settled on submarine customization. 

This project seemed doomed from the start, as installing the sub’s enhancements proved a challenge. Mr. Keebler’s hires struggled to maneuver in the vessel’s tight spaces. Most men who sought the work, despite having suffered from want, found themselves stuck and were quickly overcome by the panic of the claustrophobe. 

Gigi learned of the industrialist’s predicament when the headline appeared in the local paper “Grease Used to Free Panicking Submariners.”

Gigi realized she could supply all of the petite employees Mr. Keebler would need.

As family lore would have it, Gigi used her tomfoolery again and disguised herself as a potential hire wearing Wilfred’s last good pair of work boots, which ended up covered in grease by day’s end (and for which he never forgave her). But ultimately, it was for a good cause as she managed to insinuate herself into submarine spaces that no others had ever reached. Apparently, her disguise fooled no one. She was clearly a she.

As the foreman marveled, she wiggled and shimmied with such success and confidence that the entire group of job seekers forgot why they were there. 

As luck would have it, Mr. Keebler approached the job site at this moment and wondered what had captured the attention of this large group of men.  

From what I have been able to piece together, my grandfather saw my grandmother first when her petite derriere popped out of a port hole. He was taken with her moxie and her diminutive size and developed an instant affection for her.  

Gigi knew a man of quality when she met one and so it did not take much wooing for him to win her. 

So, Gigi found herself in the happy position of being married to a millionaire before she had quite gone to seed. She was able to offer many of the Gigi Brides an honest living as Keebler employees (or “squeezers” as they were nicknamed for their contortions). 

Mr. Keebler did adore his wife, and she gave him a son, my father, to carry on the Keebler name. Out of respect for the Gladstone’s well known generosity, he hyphenated my father’s last name. 

Keebler Submarine Adjusters, Inc. went on to make millions over its long operation, which extended for two decades after the war was over.  

When her husband died, my grandmother inherited the Keebler fortune, along with the company that bore her husband’s name, which she promptly sold to devote the remainder of her life to enjoying herself. And she certainly did that. 

In certain (lamentably dwindling) circles, she is still fondly remembered.   

I must close as there is much to do for our reunion, only a few days away. We will use the grand ballroom in Wilfred’s place, now occupied by his niece and her husband. Wilfred also lived a happy life, by the way. His fortune was made in handkerchiefs.

Please contact me as soon as possible with the (hopefully!) good news about Gigi’s membership. We especially hope to share it with my mother, the widow of Gigi’s only son who, regrettably, is in sharp decline. It would surely brighten her last days. 

Regards, 

Ann Keebler-Gladstone 

#

February 20, 1984

Dear Ms. Keebler-Gladstone,

It seems our letters of 12 February crossed in the mail.

We were unable to locate a telephone number for you using directory assistance.

The IBTC is delighted to inform you that we called an emergency session of the membership committee and have awarded Gigi Gladstone membership at the Platinum level, which entitles her (or in this case her descendants) to all full privileges and benefits. This exclusive group is comprised of our most admired members (one of whom is a state senator who prefers to remain anonymous). 

Please find attached a certificate stating her award which your family members can proudly display at your reunion. 

One of our representatives will be in your area in the coming weeks and can arrange a small ceremony at a location of your choice. We hope that your mother has rallied and can attend. 

At the ceremony, it will be a delight to meet you and your family so we can brainstorm ways to honor your grandmother publicly. Surely the new Heritage wing at our breastquarters (not yet under construction) should bear her name, and this impressive memorial can become a reality with your family’s generous support.

We are also in need of facilities support at the breastquarters, as the Official Fanny Surrey HVAC system has recently given out. 

We look forward to hearing from you about these and other ventures. 

Welcome to the IBTC family!

Melinda Carriage

Interim President 

IBTC

cc: Rebecca Sned, Co-chair, Platinum-level Membership Coordinator

Marie Longfellow, Undersecretary of the Undersized; Official Archivist

Morty Minkum, Membership Committee

Ann Smalls, Giving Fund 

Mark Tippett, Facilities

Lulu Morgan, Grants and Awards

B. B. Tatum, Estate Planning Coordinator

Candice Snide, Friends of the IBTC

#

April 10, 1984

Dear Interim President Carriage,

We were pleased to receive the materials about Gigi’s posthumous acceptance into the ranks of the ITBC at the exclusive level. 

Our family reunion was a success, though slightly marred by the disappointment that we could not claim an acknowledgment of her many accomplishments from your organization in time to share it at the gathering.

Mother departed this earth on February 20, the day your last letter was mailed. She has been buried in the family mausoleum, next to her beloved husband of 40 years. This fine marble monolith is also the final resting place of Gigi, who we hope is delighted in being reunited with her devoted daughter-in-law in the great beyond.

Along with this sad news, we must also regretfully but respectfully decline membership for dear Gigi. This was my mother’s deathbed request for being so shunned by the IBTC. I tried to change her mind (as I am sure you were simply overwhelmed with all of your fund raising projects), but as her eyelids descended for the last time she whispered her last words regarding your organization, which I do not wish to repeat here.

Such being the case, we must also decline your kind offer to meet us for a ceremony.

Best of luck to the IBTC, 

Ann Keebler-Gladstone 

#

April 20, 1984

Dear Ms. Keebler-Gladstone,

We were disappointed that your family has declined your grandmother’s membership, for surely she deserves this great honor. Ms. Snide of the Friends of the IBTC had been planning a welcoming weekend for your family which featured an awards dinner with an open bar and the reading of an elegy to Gigi Gladstone composed by our poet-in-residence (a three-time winner of the Bartley Farbus Award for Enthusiasm in the Arts). 

In preparation for this event, our archivist, Ms. Longfellow, has been researching Gigi’s history. We have found two photos featuring your grandmother accompanying your grand father to the annual Submariner’s ball at the White House, copies of which have been attached. We have also had them restored and framed, and are shipping them by separate post.

More good news: The IBTC is excited to inform you that we have named Gigi Gladstone as this year’s recipient of the Triple D in Spirit award. Lucky winners have a small bust carved in their likeness that remains on display in our hall of heroes in perpetuity.

We hope you will reconsider your decision. 

Most sincerely,

Melinda Carriage

Interim President 

IBTC

cc: Rebecca Sned, Co-chair, Platinum-Level Membership Coordinator

Ann Smalls, Giving Fund 

Marie Longfellow, Undersecretary of the Undersized; Official Archivist

Candice Snide, Friends of the IBTC

Harold R. Rosenthal, Attorney at Law

Grace “Cookie” Landon, Membership Recruitment

Encl:(2)

#

May 29, 1984

Dear neighbors, friends and correspondents,

We are moving and are sending this sadly impersonal letter. 

However, after this brief explanation, we hope you will understand why we had to share our big news in such a regretfully anonymous manner. 

The Fundación Apreciación de Mama of Central Costa Rica (the Breast Appreciation Foundation of Central Costa Rica) has purchased property adjacent to the world-famous Rancho Maravilloso and has invited Gigi’s descendants to the opening ceremony of Gigi Gladstone park, which includes 40 acres of gardens, ponds, walking trails, a gift shop and restrooms with innovative, state of the art, environmentally-safe plumbing. 

We have decided to remain in Costa-Rica, as the Fundación has kindly invited us to be docents in the Gigi Gladstone museum and to live on the property as long as we’d like – at no charge! We have accepted their generous offer and will be out of the country by the time you receive this letter.   

This was not a hard decision to make, even though other offers to honor Gigi have been proposed by at least three admired organizations in the last few months. We appreciate the sudden interest shown in our relative’s charmed life – but the Fundación went above and beyond to win our hearts. 

We will be closing up Gladstone manor for an indefinite time, though our staff will remain to maintain the grounds. 

We will send our new address by post to our friends and extended family sometime in the coming year. 

Again, apologies for this mass letter, but we couldn’t wait to share the news of our exciting adventure with our dear friends, professional contacts, and those who have shown interest in Gigi’s story. 

If you are ever near Rancho Maravilloso, please stop by and enjoy this beautiful tribute to our most deserving grandmother, truly a pioneer for small chested women everywhere. 

Here’s to Gigi!

Warmest wishes and kindest regards,

The Keebler-Gladstone family