Where Did Spring Go?

The weather is having mood swings again:  The trees all flowered in last week’s heat and now aren’t they sorry, some of them!  Like our magnolia that usually doesn’t flower ’til mid-April.

Its blossoms emerged around the twenty-second day of March and five days later temperatures plummeted to a frigid 20°. Now they look like so many antique ladies’ gloves, limp and sepia-colored.

The apple and cherry tress came out too and that doesn’t happen around here until May.

Oddly enough they went right on looking gorgeous, freeze or no freeze, with their little branches all sewn with living popcorn.

Some of the daffodils fell on their swords but not all.

Last night when my head hit the pillow I felt like flopping over dead myself. It’s how you feel on a Friday night.

Now it’s new day and almost a new month.


Meantime, could you ever watch this flower-dying footage without a stab to the heart? It’s about one minute into the opening sequence of Alan Ball’s award-winning HBO series Six Feet Under.

Crazy idea that things die and stay dead, when even those poor limp magnolia blossoms know they’ll all be back next year!

(Right? Right?)

The Fabulous Decomposing Ball

Turns out the less you talk the more the other guy will talk. What else are shrinks doing? How else did people find themselves telling Jesus about every last sad thing that was pressing upon them? They did it because someone was listening to them.

Tomorrow I’ll drive through what looks to be a chilly spring rain to “listen” to the 25 people who have signed for my journaling workshop.

Not that I’m some big expert on journaling. Really all I know is that if you tell a story, the person listening will tell a story back. My one aim tomorrow is to help the people who come realize that the things they see and a hear in their daily lives make stories every bit as interesting as the ones some of us get paid for telling.

Here’s a little story now:

I was with my youngest in the supermarket; he was maybe 11. He asked me for two quarters to drop into one of those little vending machines there by the door. He trotted over and the next minute was fishing out a small plastic sort of a ‘jigsaw’ ball which looked like you were supposed to take apart and put back together again.

We knew right away that the people who made it were new to English not just because of what the toy was named – the fabulous decomposing ball – but because of the advice on how to use it printed on a wee piece of paper, which I quote verbatim. It said,

  1. Hold in Hand
  2. Drop to Floor
  3. Have Fun Decomposing.

This  little haiku had four or five perfect strangers  laughing along with us there by the cash register, and for sure that was something I didn’t expect to see happen when I set out that day to follow my same old path to my same old supermarket.

That’s the point though: that’s just the way most laughter comes, unannounced and as a gift, and as often one given to us by some stranger.

If I told that story Saturday I bet a dozen people would come up with stories on the same theme that were funnier still. It’s just how things work with human beings.

The workshop is a brown-bag lunch affair so if you do come, come with a sandwich and a drink.

We’ll have fun, I promise.

I’ll bring extra pens and notebooks for people who don’t think to bring them. Oh and call the library first so they can set up more chairs. The number ,if you live in New England and can maybe get there, is 978-897-1010.

Richard Russo is speaking! And Andre Dubus III! Roland Merullo, Jane Brox and Margaret Livesey. What a day it will be!   

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Stairway to Heaven

Funny that I was just writing yesterday about my teaching days when all of a sudden someone put this up on my Facebook page. It’s from the year I ran the prom and these are the students on the Prom Committee.

I can almost name every one of them.

That’s Nancy Camelo standing over to the right, that much I’m sure of.

She was a good friend to a girl named Barbra who called her “Poco” because she often wore her hair in braids, which is how we all pictured Pocahontas back then.

Barbra herself would not have been in this picture. She didn’t actually GO to the high school that year but came around a lot with her guitar anyway and sat in the back of the class, adding greatly to the discussion. (I was an English teacher so there was always plenty of discussion.)

You’d never get away with that kind of thing today, having a student who didn’t actually go to the school coming to class anyway but that was the 70s for you. I was invited to teach four electives and write the curriculum myself.

 Though she didn’t go to the high school Barbra did go to the prom – in a tux – and back in the 70s doing a thing like that was pretty much unheard of.

I remember on the big night when the headmaster called me over, pointed to her and said, “What is THAT one?” I had no idea what he meant.

 “She’s a human female” I said, probably rather jarringly. He said he knew that.

Anyone could see that, though she was a bit of a tomboy. She always reminded me of how Scout Finch would look at 17.

 I wonder now if I should have said, “THAT one? That’s a young human being.”

But I was more timid then and very young myself and did not understand quite yet that men ran the world and intended to keep running it for some time to come. I guess that didn’t happen now did it?


Here are some generic prom kids from the era now. And underneath them that endless song that gave that prom its name.

Gonna Be Fun!

Yesterday, after I voted in the town election and had my annual doctor’s visit, I went to hang copies of this poster in surrounding towns. It’s for the workshop I’m giving on Saturday at the Maynard (MA) Public Library where, being an expertly unstoppable blabbermouth, I will teach a small group of interested people how to journal – or rather show them that they already know how.

For sure I believe in the practice.  Dark times in my life, journaling is all that got me through I sometimes think. I would drive in my car to someplace quiet, some anonymous outdoor space and just scribble my every thought down on paper. Scribble it down, tear it up. Scribble it down, tear it up.  It worked too. It helped me fish around in every last corner of that messy attic that is the human mind.

And that was just when times were tough and my mind was a toss of conflicting emotions. When times are good inside your head and the livin’ is easy, well who wouldn’t want to write stuff down then?

I have a whole 90-minutes for this workshop during which the audience and I will remember back over our lives, using little starter phrases to get us going. I got a million of those all right. And if you’re not shy about telling your own funny-slash-embarrassing stories you find that your audience isn’t shy either and pretty soon everyone is laughing and slapping their knees, their own if not each other’s and sometimes that too.

I used to be so shy I couldn’t call up the theater to find out what time the movie started but I am not shy now because at the tender age of 21 I got a job where I was thoroughly exposed, right down to my footgear and fingernails. (“Gardening over the weekend, eh Miz Marotta?” No, staining wooden furniture actually.) Or “Miz Marotta! Time for some new shoes!”

You only get remarks like this in the job if you stand between the front rows, among your ‘customers’, so to speak, which is what you have to do if you want them to pay attention and live in healthy fear of getting called on.

You know what that job is now, right? Here are two super-blurry picture of me doing that job many a long moon ago, and along with it some of my ‘customers’ from Sixth Period.

Best job I ever had, I still say. Guess what that job was and I’ll give you a free book on Saturday when a bunch of us will look back together 🙂 (Oh! and the library says “If it’s not convenient for you to register in person, send an email to fmplibrary@gmail.com, include “workshop” in the subject line. and specify which class you’re interested in.”)


Melt Down the Soap & Wash in Kerosene

I’m back to the real world now with a day of work-work-work ahead. Gonna have to improvise for supper. ‘Course back in the old days people really knew how to improvise, as I’m  reminded every time I reach for this 19th-century home management manual that I keep in my kitchen.

Oh sure there were a few things you had to go out and buy before you could begin improvising – the kitchen of the 1890s, for example, was going to need, among other things, “one stove, one coal shovel, one meat cleaver, one clock, one kitchen table and two kitchen chairs’ – but then you could just go town mixing and matching to make do with what you had.

I do that myself now, thanks to this book. Say I’m out of butter and it’s time to make the doughnuts?  I now know I can just scare up some chicken fat, melt it down and add salt. It says so right in this old book that someone gave my grandmother as a young bride at the turn of the last century.

Say I have no chicken fat? I can just use suet. And if you don’t know what suet is, it’s what your thighs appear to be made of when you’re trying on bathing suits in the department store dressing room.

Or say I cut myself with my meat cleaver. With this dandy book by my side I now know all I have to  do is take a handful of flour and some cobwebs, apply that mix to the wound and – presto! – the bleeding will stop.

(And no, I’m not making any of this up.) I am at the book constantly. It inspires me to make do with what I have.

Last month I wanted pink Peppermint Stick ice cream to serve to some dinner guests, but out of respect for people’s diets I wanted the kind made with Splenda. As luck would have it I couldn’t find this kind of Peppermint Stick ice cream anywhere. So I just squeezed a few drops of red food coloring and a few drops of peppermint extract into some sugar-free Vanilla and there I had it, a lo-calorie dessert as pretty and pink as a Barbie prom dress.

And sure, maybe I did use a tad too much of the peppermint extract, whose label says that it’s 89% alcohol, but those dinner guests practically tipped up their sherbet glasses and licked ‘em clean. And really what does a cook from any era want but a tableful of eaters as eager as that?

You should totally come over. Dinner’s at 6:00.

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At The Flea Market

At the flea market there’s something for everyone:

Hearty snacks,

And specimens from nature (?)


Fine collectibles…


And beautiful people… 

Especially this beautiful person, our darling god-daughter Grace.

Seeing her in that setting put me in mind of that great Nanci Griffith’s song where ‘Rita was sixteen years, hazel eyes and chestnut hair,  she made the Woolworth counter shine’ – because this Grace of ours doesn’t make the fake bear-head and the computer mouse from 1995 and the Starsky and Hutch picture look bad; rather she endows them with some of her glow, just like the song says. 🙂

Turn it Down Yo

Alec Baldwin says they’re ruining music, they play it so loud and so ubiquitously. Anyway, that was his Tweet from yesterday, minus that last word. You have to be so succinct when you tweet he probably didn’t dare go for a word so thick with u’s and q’s, never mind that ‘ly’ suffix that makes it an adverb.

He’s right of course about the music that’s playing everywhere. Bad enough you have to sit next to people on the bus the syncopation of whose music is so loud even coming through theirs skull that it comes through your skull too and makes it think it’s at some dance club, poor skull, alas poor Yorick I knew him well.

Also: the last thing I want to hear when I sit down at the dining section of, say, my local Whole Foods is some warmed-over music from the 60’s.

Music from the 70’s I could stand. Who can get sick of Bohemian Rhapsody with its low growls and high falsettos? But Downtown? They’re truly playing Downtown by Petula Clark on the loudspeaker?

The day I heard that I felt like picking up my whole lentil-and-sprout salad and heaving it against the wall –  which in a Whole Foods would be like taking a Jesus statue and putting one of those hats with the straws and the beer cans attached on its head.

Since that day I’ve never again tried to eat there. I’d rather start the day equipped with my own food, wolf it down in my car come lunchtime, then walk into any old joint, even a McDonald’s where you can get some Newman’s Own coffee and that apple-walnut-yogurt cup and listen to the old guys all joshing with each other, happy as clams to be out of the house and away from their wives for a while.

Yeah give me that anytime: the patter of old guys, or teens skipping school, or young parents begging their kids to stop making a choo-choo train of their french-fries on the germy tabletop.

What can I say? Call me a curmudgeon, a Scrooge, an Andy Rooney, but to me music is really personal. If I’m not at a concert where we’ve all paid actual money to hear this one particular show I say keep it away from me.

Unless of course it’s Queen making the music and the song is Bohemian Rhapsody.


Bikini Bottoms and More


Thoughts you have when you’re NOT running at 100 miles an hour:

  1. Young women still love those super-high heels with the straps.
  2. Also camisoles.
  3. Bikini bottoms are just these little triangles, like the little flags kids used to have on the tails of their kites.
  4. A white guy in dreadlocks I don’t know. And here’s his kid in dreadlocks too. Will the kid get beat up? Mocked? Have his hair yanked by big mean boys? You worry.
  5. Hotel pools that let you eat and drink right by the water are awesome.
  6. The happiest-looking people around such pools are the ones who’ve sneaked away from the conference for an hour.
  7. You can tell them by their suit jackets, thrown over the back of their chairs.
  8. Salespeople are always pitching, they can’t help, it and male salespeople especially. By a hotel pool with surrounded by young women in small triangles of fabric what would you expect?
  9. The strawberry piňa colada is a beautiful thing.
  10. A shrimp salad would be beautiful too if only you could figure out how to eat it from a lying down position.
  11. The state of Florida: what a great invention, now truly – and why not let your whole family have dreadlocks, right down to the family dog if that’s what you want.


A Casket Convention?

I’m down in Orlando right now, investigating O-rings.

All my friends laughed when I said I was going to a gasket convention. “A casket convention?” they all said.

People really hear what they want to hear. And we all have had many a good laugh about it too.

Only guess what? I just learned last night that there ARE in fact gaskets IN caskets!

So put that in your pipe and smoke it.

And for those of you who don’t know what gaskets are, they’re O-Rings.

And O-rings, folks, are just plain everywhere….

Even on palm trees.


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We’re All Here at the Deli

It’s lunch-time at the deli and the sidewalks have sent in just about every variety in the vast chocolate-box of humanity.

Here comes a young woman in a peach dress who swishes past, sighing impatiently and rummaging in a purse the size of a cigarette pack. At a neighboring table, another young woman yawns and stands. She wears the briefest of tops, a sort of cross between a slingshot and a training bra. As she stands, she stretches, revealing every fern-frond rib in her delicate midriff.

Here, a young man about 20 sits, in a sweat-soaked T-shirt, hands and arms sooty as a chimney-sweep’s. He has an alert and hungry look in his eyes, which keep losing focus as he wolfs his sandwich in six quick and enormous bites.

Two pyramids of apples balance on the counter, encircled by a kind of pop-bead necklace made of oranges. Brightly-colored as a box of brand-new crayons, they twinkle in the sunlight pouring through the cafe’s plate-glass window.

An old man in big roomy shorts toils toward the counter with a walking stick, his calves gone bald with decades of friction from his trousers.

 A young man behind him stands in hairy calves and the standard chin-fringe, one hip jutting like Michelangelo’s David.

 Here now is an older lady with a facelift so tight it must have straightened her hair.  Here beside her, a friend with a gently-curving back. Three hundred years after Bach’s death, jazzed-up techno versions of his compositions plunk clinking electronic notes down around them like tiddlywinks.

Two male teens approach in tattered denim, with flannel lumberjack shirts tied around their loins. Engirdled thus, they look like Elizabeth the First and a royal companion, taking their voluminous skirts out for a morning stroll.

Now a woman maybe 50 with huge brown eyes sits down beside me. More than half of her long chestnut bob is now given over to graying roots. She wears backless orange pumps and talks rapidly to herself in a high tiny voice.

Chattering away to herself, she fans the pages of a fat paperback. “Alice in Wonderland” the cover announces in bright Disney colors. But I am close enough to see that it’s really a tattered version of the Bible.

 A nurse jangles keys as numerous as those to Heaven’s many mansions. She wears the standard garb of her profession, and, in the delicate wing of one nostril, a small and flashing diamond. In leisurely fashion she makes her way out, her sandwich in its brown-paper bag tucked under one arm.

 Come winter, when we open doors to go out, we duck our heads in dread and make a quick dash into the cold; but on summer days like this one I am remembering we almost swim as we exit, and with the wiggle of a tail-fin, join the warm surging tide on the sidewalk.

Now, abruptly, the woman with the white roots stands, cries in her tiny doll’s voice, “Isn’t it rather foggy in here?!” and makes for the door.

God bless her, I think watching her go.  And God bless a world that gives us the seasons, and crayon-bright tumbles of fruit. God bless the young, and the no-longer-young, and those living in single rooms.

When the time comes for me to leave this place, foggy as it surely is, let me not duck my head and jump, fearing cold. Let this easy summer day be my guide. Let me open that door and sense warmth beyond it, and lightly join the others.

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