Monday, December 28, 2009


My grandmother was new to the small Catholic town when she met my grandfather. The young daughter to a Protestant pastor, he a young Catholic man, they later wed during a quiet ceremony with only two witnesses standing by.

Years later, she is Grandma, he is Gramps. Together they have raised a large family with tough love, boisterous debates, piano lessons, boat trips, good food, great laughs and strong Catholic traditions and faith.

"Religion." I say in their dining room after pork roast and mashed potatoes. "What should I do about religion?"

My mother and father raised me to be a good Catholic girl. Penance. First Communion. Confirmation. Even a school run by an old scary nun. Scott was raised to be a good Jewish boy. Bris. Bar Mitzvah. He even went to a Jewish summer camp. His mother wanted him to find a nice Jewish girl to marry, but he met me instead. And because of the times, we were able to have a large, loud wedding with 150 witnesses standing by.

"As long as you raise them with a foundation. With faith." They tell me, referring to the future children I hadn't mentioned yet.
"They can make their own decisions later, like you are now."

And before I can say Jesus, a passionate discussion snowballs into a fat white man with a carrot for a nose. Slumped beside Grandma's pink beeswax candles, the man melts. The man is doubt. My brother points to the charcoal stone buttons, the red and blue striped soggy scarf and the sinking top hat, but Grandpa lights a fire under the table and turns Frosty into a warm puddle.

"I never quite understood the difference between the father, the son and the holy spirit." I say.

"Can you explain the difference between ice, water and steam? If you can, you can understand the difference between The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit." Dark creases empty and fill his wrinkled eyes as he fights for faith, as he has always fought for faith. A retired engineer, he tells us about the religious debates he once had with the atheist scientists in his college class. "When I think of the entire universe: stars, people, the world, I cannot imagine that it all evolved from two molecules that just accidentally bumped into one another. I cannot help but believe that there is a higher power that created it all."

Grandma wipes crumbs into a pile as she explains her blind faith. When her eldest child died overseas in the 1980s, she tells us, it was this blind faith which led her to recovery. Led her to find relief from grief during daily morning masses.

There is more conviction and passion coming from my grandparents' dining room table than all the altars of my childhood churches. Perhaps this is why I ask them, "Religion. What should I do about religion?" and not a priest or rabbi.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Penny's Poop

I have been hiding Penny's poop all over town, under dirt, dried leaves and even corn husks.

After the first snow storm, I thought I was golden for months. Clean white snow balls to coat the poop like confectionery sugar. No one will ever know.

But this morning, I ran past one of Penny's poops. It had scattered all over a stranger's front yard.

How could this happen? I covered it with snow!

now is deceptive. It preserves poop like the toilet paper cloths once used to mummify ancient Egyptians. And one day soon, Penny's poop will defrost and come back to life. It will be everywhere and everyone living in our walking proximity will know that it was me hiding the poop. Me pretending to retrieve a plastic bag from my empty pocket whenever anyone drives by while Penny is squatting. Me scooping snow; shoveling dirt and gathering dried leaves. Me hiding Penny's poop all over town. Me.

I will remove this poop before anyone sees, I decide, and if anyone sees, they will applaud my honesty. I bring Penny home. I grab my keys and snow shovel and drive to this person's front yard.
I put the car's flashers on to be safe and move like a ninja in my black spandex. One quick scoop, I tell myself. But the poop is frozen like little reindeer lawn ornaments and when I try to shovel them up, they skate and scatter.

I begin to panic.

My words run through my head for when this homeowner comes outside to ask why I am shoveling his yard. "Hi there, I was walking my dog here the other night and I had run out of doggy poop bags because she had already gone earlier in the walk and she went on your lawn. I meant to come back to clean it up, but it completely slipped my mind. So today when I was running by, I remembered and went home for my shovel. I'm really very sorry. I usually ALWAYS have my doggy bags with me."

I often think up elaborately realistic lies for why I am late or why I am doing something wrong, but I never actually say them aloud to the person. Usually I just run away, mumbling an awkward apology.

I have been in this stranger's yard for too long now.

Crouching, I stare the poop down. I consider picking it up with my fingers. It's covered in ice, I think reaching. It's still poop, I remember pausing. I grab
a ball of ice and guide the poop into the shovel. This technique works.

Next house: horse farm.

This poop has only been there for an hour, but it is already frozen to the snow.
I just need to get one big shovel full of snow and poop, I think, as the shovel bounces against the ice.

Three horses watch me, standing in their feces. Why am I trying to remove poop from a horse farm? Because I am a good neighbor and responsible citizen.

I push the shovel into a couple inches of ice and pull its handle down. It doesn't move. I try again harder. This time the shovel cracks into the ice and shoots Penny's anti-celebratory confetti high into the air. Chunks rain down over me.

I run for the car, cursing myself.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

We drove from the cities, gasping.

I miss walking everywhere for everything.
I say.
It's human nature.
He says.
To want whatever it is you don't have.
I like where we are.
I say to disagree with human nature.
Me too.

I just wish I could walk places.

I know.

Friday, December 11, 2009


She held a box of crackers and a couple of other things in her hands, which I cannot remember now. And as her three items went beep, beep, beep, she asked me seriously, 
"How do you spell benign?"

And I thought: Hmm, I think there is a silent G in there somewhere- "Wait what? ... REALLY?"

"I never really believed that I was sick."

Her first doctor was wrong, very wrong. Luckily, her second doctor thought her first doctor might be wrong, very wrong and took his own scans and biopsies. The tumor on her leg is not cancerous, he told her. B-e-n-i-g-n.

My arms went up and down in squealing silly delight. I wanted to yelp throughout the grocery store, but I stayed where I was while my heart exploded and leaked out from beneath my finger nails. This is what it is like to win the lottery with a bunch of your friends. "We need to celebrate." I told her. 

On my drive home from work it was snowing and I was crying, as I knew I would. A quick cry of relief to reverse all of the fears I had had for two weeks.

Brunch. We'll still have brunches, I thought, of bacon and bread and coffee and orange juice and laughter and Sheila AND Liesel.

Happy. What a word. What a perfect, beautiful word to use today.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Barry: a fictional story

Barry hated his job. Barry hated his wife. Barry even hated his children.

Barry deeply despised his wife, Lee, because she was smarter than him; more attractive than him and because she was not supposed to be with him. She was supposed to be with the mayor’s son, but fifteen years ago, Barry knocked her up. Really she knocked herself up, but it was Barry’s naked body she used.

Why she chose an ugly plumber for revenge was beyond Barry, but at the moment of seduction, he wasn’t about to complain. She called his company to fix her sink and when Barry arrived, Lee was crying. Afraid of women and terrified of crying women, Barry asked to see where the problem was.

“The problem”, she squealed through clear drippy snot, “is men.”
"O.k., hmm, tricky, I can’t fix that.” He said. “So you’re all set?” His words drowned in an awkward mumble as he backed for the door.

"No, I’m not all set.”
And she seduced him. This was not difficult. Barry was an unattractive twenty-four year old plumber who had never been kissed and when Lee leaned toward him, his pimply pale body jumped at the opportunity to touch a woman.

I’m not gay! He thought to himself.

“Who do you like better,” his mother once asked him queerly, “Elton John or The Spice Girls?”

“The Spice Girls are dumb, but I like ‘Tiny Dancer,’ why?”

“Just curious.”

After a few make out minutes of head tilting and tongue touching, Barry was out of ideas and began mimicking Lee. Everything she did, he did back. She touched his cheek; he touched hers. She touched his hair; he touched hers. This worked swimmingly until she ripped off her thin leather belt. Barry mimicked, unbuckling his tool belt and dropping a large adjustable wrench on Lee’s left foot.

Lee called the plumbing company five weeks later. The secretary, Milly, the girl Barry really wished he had dropped his wrench on, gave him the message:

Lee Precious called.
“Tell that ass hole Barry, I’m pregnant.”

Probably the most profanity Milly had ever seen, let alone write on a sticky note.

Milly was sweet. She had been hired a week after Lee’s first call. Milly was a small woman, lady, girl really. Short curly brownish hair, freckles and two very nice boobs. She once caught Barry staring at them. He had been waiting at her desk to ask about the day’s schedule. She was on the phone with a client. She’s such a good secretary, Barry was thinking, with such perfectly swollen water balloon breasts. It was after this thought that Milly looked up. Her eyes caught his and he blushed.

“I was wondering about today’s schedule. Sorry, I don’t know why I said ‘boobs.’”

“Huh? You didn’t.”

“Ok bye.”
The secretary before Milly was an old dirty woman who smelled like body odor, coffee and dirty feet. Nobody liked her, but she had been around for ninety-seven years, answering the phone and complaining to the boss that the plumbers didn’t appreciate her. So Barry was the card guy. Every couple of months, he bought a Thank You card from 7-11 and made everyone sign it.

Milly was young, organized and had a very pleasant vanilla odor. She was also, however, the boss’s “off limits, touch and die” niece. Off limits, to Barry, meant she was even hotter. She was pretty, with a nice set of boobs for sure, but there was something a little wrong with her. She had very small eyebrows, Barry realized one day. A flaw that soon turned into a fantasy. Driving from job to job, Barry would often imagine Milly plucking her eyebrows for hours, to make them perfect for Barry (the young, interesting plumber at work). Milly could have been in a relationship with a big, handsome man named Buck and Barry would never have known. Unfortunately after the infamous sticky note, Milly rarely looked at him.

When Lee was eight weeks pregnant, Barry married her. Lee’s father, a wealthy businessman of business, guilt him into it.

“Be a man.” He said. “You made this mess, now you have to swim in it.”

Barry hated swimming.

Barry’s mother, on the other hand, was happy about her son’s nuptials.

“Thought you were gay, son.” His father said to him.

“I had no idea you had a girlfriend!” Barry’s mother exclaimed.

“Oh Mary, take off your sleeping mask” A saying he coined after Mary woke up one morning and thought she had gone blind in the night. Bill had rolled over and pulled the mask away from her eyes. “He knocked the girl up."
Barry’s father was a straightforward man. Barry usually appreciated his honesty. Not this time.

“Stop that Bill. I don’t like that.”
“I feel bad for the girl’s father. He’s got to give his only daughter away to our son, the plumber.”
“There is nothing wrong with being a plumber. Besides he’s applying for business school this winter.”
“I am?”
“You are. I told her father, Dan, you were hoping to go to graduate school next fall… Oh stop it, don’t look at me like that. You’re a plumber, for Christ’s sake!”
Barry yelled, his arms flailing like a monkey losing its balance. So that was that. He had no say in the matter.

Fifteen years later, Barry drove to work in the city five days a week. Occasionally, he was asked by the secretary to fix a sink or toilet leak. Those were the good days, but all the other days were bad boring days of answering calls, making calls, reading things and pretending he was smarter than he was. Barry hated his job.

And he hated his children, Jane and Daniel. Lee had given them everything they wanted because "they only have one childhood, Barry". Barry once asked Dan if he wanted to go camping. Daniel cried. What a baby, Barry thought. Another time on vacation, Barry asked four-year-old Jane to go for a walk with him on the beach to find sea glass. She screamed.

Barry told his young daughter, who then screamed louder.

Barry wanted to run away from home. He would get away, eventually. He was saving. He had promised himself when he took the job in the city that he would save up and run away. Unfortunately, Lee found his secret savings account. He had kept it for years. Barry told her that it was a back up retirement fund, but she didn’t believe him.

“I want to run away.”
She shook her head.

“You’ll never run away. You need me.” She said. “You know where you’d be without me? You’d be a dirty little plumber!”
And they both yelled,


He never had had much aspiration for a career. He had seen men in his life work years and years at jobs they hated. He didn’t think it was worth it. He wanted a job he didn’t mind, preferably a job he liked. He wouldn’t make as much money, but he would make enough for beers after work with his buddies and dinner with his pretty wife at night. Barry would live contently ever after.

Unfortunately Barry’s plans changed when he was seduced by a crazy rich girl who wanted revenge on the old mayor’s son. She ruined his life with spoiled children, khaki dinner parties and a boring sexless marriage. And Barry had been faithful! Lee probably hadn’t been. She probably slept with other plumbers, the young guy who cut the lawn on Friday mornings and even some of her friends’ husbands, but Barry had been faithful. Really, he didn’t much choice in the matter. He was still pretty ugly, but he dressed all right. Lee made sure of that.

“I’m out.” Barry told her.
“No, I'm sorry Barry, please don't leave. I love you.”

“What? No you don’t.”

“I do, Barry, I love you. And I need you.”
Barry laughed.


There was a pause before she dared to ask him if he loved her. Suddenly Barry was confused. He hated her. Didn’t he? But at that moment, she looked sweet and sad. Oh no, Barry thought, she's crying.

“I have cancer, Barry.”
Barry laughed again.

“Yeaaah right. You just want to make me feel bad.”
“No, Barry, I’m telling you the truth. I have breast cancer.”

Barry was shocked and didn’t say anything for a very long time.



“Are you happy that I’m sick?”

“I don’t think so. No, no I’m sad.”

“You are?”


Lee changed and then Lee died, but the four months between her diagnosis and her death were the best four months of Lee and Barry’s marriage. Lee wouldn’t pester Barry about his job, his torn jeans or his tendency to watch games at the bar with his buddies. And Barry changed. He used his secret savings money to quit his job in the city and take care of Lee. He cooked dinner every night, cleaned the house and even did the laundry. During this time, Barry realized that he had long ago learned to love Lee and now he was learning to like her.

The night before Lee passed away in her sleep, she curled up beside him and said,

“I think death is the only thing that could have scared me into admitting that I love you."

“I love you too, Lee.”

The next morning, Lee was dead beside him. He kept her in bed for a while. It was nice to have her there, sleeping quietly. Eventually, he called the hospital and the list of people she had written down for this very moment. He organized the funeral, the burial and the platters of mini ham sandwiches. On the drive from the graveyard to their home, Barry told Daniel and Jane that he loved them. They didn’t respond. Maybe they hadn’t heard him over their sniffling, Barry couldn't tell.

A moment later at a stoplight, Barry blurted,

“I’ve always loved you guys. I just didn’t like how you treated me.”

“You used to be mean to us.” Jane snorted from behind him.

“When?” Barry pressed.

“You were never home.” Daniel said.

Barry turned around to face the blushed cheeks of his tearful children and said the most heartfelt apology he ever had.

“I’m sorry Dan. I’m sorry Jane. I’m going to start working from home now. I’m going to be a fix it man!”

And he was. He started with fliers and friends. His first couple of calls were pity jobs: people in town wanting to give him money. Eventually, though, he built a name for himself and turned his garage into a shop. During the summer months, Jane was Barry’s adorably bright secretary and Daniel, who also loved fixing stuff, was Barry’s assistant.

Two years after Lee’s death, Barry asked out Milly. She was a waitress in town and her husband had recently left her for a prostitute he swore was his soul mate. That’s what Barry had heard anyway.

Over their candle-lit table at The Olive Garden, Barry handed Milly the sticky note she had written for him so many years before. She giggled when she saw it. Barry smiled and bit into a garlic bread stick.

Barry and Milly shared cheesecake for desert.
Two weeks later, they agreed to share the rest of their lives.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


A young woman walks up to my cash register and hands me a pink and black magnet.

"Can you tell me how much this is?" She asks.

"Yes, it is $4.99." I say.

"Ok, I don't want it, that's too much."

I put the magnet beside me and ring up the rest of her college girl groceries. After she leaves the store, I read the magnet.

To the world you may be one person,
but to one person you may be the world.

This girl's world isn't worth $4.99 plus tax.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Fictional Conversation from a Non-Fictional Experience

Mom, I tried to brush Penny's teeth.”

What? Why? She's a dog.” She would say in her nonchalant and yet funnily articulate way, as if I did not know that my dog was a dog.

“She wouldn't let me do it though, she kept running away from the toothbrush as if it were a loaded gun. She even clawed at the bathroom door to escape.”

“Should I be worried about you, Rachey? Are you alright out there in the woods?”
Yeah why?”

You tried to brush your dog's teeth.”

The vet said to.” Then we would laugh.

Monday, December 7, 2009

This Tenderness

Once Scott stops shuffling the sheet to align it perfectly with the comforter, my feet melt, and I wish we could hide inside this tenderness forever.

photo by Patrick Cummings

"Get it Penny, GET IT!"

Scott congratulates the dog quietly in the kitchen for killing a black fly. I look up from the book on my lap to eavesdrop. It's quite sweet really. Like a father and daughter hunting together.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Solder Stole His Ticket

I was secretly and only slightly silently pleased to hear the news that my brother, Patrick, would not be flying to Afghanistan.

"At least you're not required to go." I tell him. Could be worse, Patrick, you could be made of chicken wings, marshmallow fluff and baby teeth, but you're not. You are made of Old Black Beard bravery, Spider-Man strength and you have a heart that should be molded into a cutter, like a Christmas cookie cutter, for God to mold the hearts of all big brothers. I'm sorry I never call,
but I'll see you on December 25th.


"They told us fifty-fifty." Sheila whispers to me in the kitchen. Standing in my socks, I try not to cry. I smile and nod my head pretending to myself and to her that this information, this scientific statistic given to them by an oncologist in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is not news to me.

"She may not be with us next year."
Liesel's mother said to the two of them the night before, Sheila tells me. "We don't want to think or talk about that now." I imagine they were smiling when they said this, the way they do when they don't feel like smiling.

Across the kitchen, Liesel leans against the sink, laughing with Scott. No matter which fifty of the fifty-fifty she is given, I that know Liesel's homemade strawberry ice cream heart will never expire and everyone lucky enough to love and be loved by her will always have a bowl half-full in their hands.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


She slides across the soft wooden floor like a fearless five-year-old skier learning to stop at the bottom of the bunny slope. She bounces back to me, the pink squeaky toy in her mouth. 

Squeak. Squeak. Sqeeeak!
It's play time.

She is jumping on the couches and curling my area rugs like the painting of a windy beach. I don't mind. Here she can't run away in a distracted hunt for squirrels, cats or birds. She can't pull her leash to smell every blade of grass and pee like a boy dog on every other mailbox (even though she's been running on empty for miles). She can't hump strangers' dogs and she can't bark at joggers who yell, "That is not o.k."

Here her ears stand when I squeal the words: "Ready to go OUTSIDE?" "Hey Penny, where's that BALL of yours?" and
"wannaa TREAT?"
I ask my dog many questions. Why? You wonder. Because she always responds with a wagging tail.