“One less bell to answer”

Received this week: G. found wandering + naked in apartment building last nite. In room 25, 6th floor at [… Hospital]. …had been rapidly deteriorating…


First met G. in 1971. I was at a dimly lit disco (Blow Up) down the street from the United Nations on Forty-ninth street at which an oval bar, also small tables, encircled a packed dance floor. At intervals lights flashed so rapidly that we dancers jerked backward, forward, appeared to stop moving entirely as flicking flashes of light splashed and whipped us. Our bodies writhed-snapped-twitched more slowly than time itself in a comedic dream illumined. Capped teeth glowed florescent blue in these strobes as did white shirts. A few roasted chestnuts (in lieu of dinner bought from a street vendor earlier), lay uneaten on the bar while I supped on icy vodka. G. (also at that bar though as yet unknown to me), had recently emigrated to New York from Dublin, Ireland, was sipping whiskey, had already downed a pint of courage-giving Jameson (I later learned), while sitting in a blue Toyota parked nearby.

Overheated and intoxicated, I’d ripped off my sweat-soaked blouse and brassiere, dropped them on my barstool, was left wearing a maroon-colored, cashmere vest. The time of year was early winter, like now. Just before my soon-to-be lifelong friend G., a few others, and I left for an after-hours place, I felt an embrace from behind and felt arms slipping into the armholes of my vest. One cool hand enveloped a sweaty breast, a second cupped the other. I didn’t turn to see who it was, one didn’t in 1971. I just took one of those brash hands and dragged the attached body (who turned out to be G.), with us when we left. Once outside, the sounds of the city were muted. An inch of fresh thick snow had fallen, coating everything including every care in the world.


 A few of the songs heard over and over and over that year: Take Me Home, Country Roads, My Sweet Lord, Never Can Say Goodbye, Me and Bobby McGree, If You Really Love Me, One Less Bell to Answer* whose words go in part …

…..A chair is still a chair
Even when there’s no one sitting there
Well, I’m not meant to live alone
Turn this house into a home

When I climb the stair and turn the key
Oh please, be thereStill in love with me

One less bell to answer
Each time the doorbell rings I still run
One less egg to fry…

*[Songwriters BACHARACH/DAVID Published by Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC, Performed by The Fifth Dimension, 1971]

R.I.P. Dan Fante






image-8Died yesterday in Los Angeles where we became friends who also admired each other’s work. Oh Dan! A kindred spirit! A delicious writer who I interviewed for my book  Love in the Second Act in around 2005. Dan was in a very happy time of life, was exceptionally prolific, thrilled by his new love and his new son. Our interview titled Like Lazarus risen from the ashes follows:

Dan Fante is a fourth-generation Californian living close to the Pacific Ocean, in Southern California. His new wife Ayrin will shortly give birth to a baby. Dan is the son of John Fante, the noir writer first published in 1932 in the American Mercury who is sometimes called the Italian Hemingway. Born in Colorado in 1909, an alcoholic who had a tempestuous relationship with his own father, John Fante had a career that was a roller coaster, which went from fame to obscurity and back to fame. When John was in his late forties, he was diagnosed with diabetes that caused him to go blind when he was sixty-nine. Because his wife, the poet Joyce Fante, was willing to help him, he was able to write one final novel, called Dreams from Bunker Hill.

Dan, the second of Joyce and John’s four children, had a wish to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a writer even as a boy. Due to alcohol his ambition was thwarted. Finally, at age forty-six, his lifelong ambition was realized when his first novel, Chump Change, was completed. His second novel, Mooch, followed three years later and has been optioned by Danny De Vito for a film adaptation. The third novel in the trilogy is called Spitting Off Tall Buildings. It was published in 2000. Dan has also published a book of poems, and soon a book of short stories titled Corksucker will be published by Sun Dog Press. His books have been translated into twelve languages.

We set up our appointment by telephone. It’s a few weeks before the birth of his baby, and since it’s been a while since I’ve seen him face-to-face, I ask on the telephone, “Do you still have the earring in your ear?”

“No. I wear a red stone in my nose. I had a nose ring first, but since my new life began I’ve had a diamond stud in my nose. That’s what you remember but it wasn’t in my ear it was in my nose …”

Of course. It was his nose.

“To celebrate my marriage, my wonderful life, the diamond stud was traded in for a red stone.”

Dan’s “wonderful life” has been like Lazarus, risen from the ashes of a vastly different, mostly unwonderful, earlier life. Our face-to-face interview is convivial and light. Dan’s an easy guy to talk to. The first thing he tells me is that his history with women has been poor indeed.


“Simply put, because of my alcohol problem, I really never allowed myself to sustain anything that would improve my self esteem. I was good at a number of different things but I would drink and screw them up. Being the son of a hypercritical guy, I was also the recipient of some of his angst. I moved to New York at nineteen where I began the struggle to get an identity of my own. Almost immediately I married and a child was born. A son. The marriage lasted about five years.”

At the time, Dan was driving a cab. He had ambition but no direction. He drove a cab for seven years in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. In those years the fares were very low but the tips for short trips were very good.

“So I worked Madison Avenue. Usually if I took an eighty-cent fare, I’d get a buck and a half tip. I moved from the Bronx to a hotel called The Pickwick Arms on Fifty-first between Second and Third. I’d get off work at five-thirty. There was a Blarney Stone at Fifty-sixth and Broadway. I was trying to write but my drinking was quite out of control. I was out of control sexually. Needless to say, my wife, my son and I no longer lived together.”

He gathers his thoughts.

“Around 1971, I couldn’t drive a cab anymore, I got to a place where I hated it, I could no longer do the hours. There was no air conditioning in those days. It was a brutal kind of job . I went to work as a chauffeur. I worked eighty hours a week as a chauffeur. I had a blue polyester suit void of any natural fiber. You could stand it up in the comer. I had a clip-on tie, a Greek seaman’s cap. All very nice. At this point, I lived in this little apartment on Sixty fourth and Second above a hamburger place. The apartment had never had a phone. When I wasn’t driving my limo I was drinking.”

It’s not hard to imagine Dan’s seedy side, though these days he’s scrubbed and pink and wears a Hawaiian shirt open at the collar.

“I was in a relationship with a woman who was on cocaine and black beauties and we were at each other’s throats constantly. There were no children, thank God. Then l went into partnership with the owner of the limo company. I moved to the West Coast to open the L.A. arm of the company. Within a year it was the most successful limo company in L.A. Suddenly I was showered with money and success. We had the entire rock ‘n’ roll clientele of Columbia Records. We drove all the rock groups. We drove Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, everyone wanted us.”

He had the first stretch limousines in L.A. with pastel colors. One limo had eight pounds of crushed pearl in the paint. “We called the car Pearl. It was magnificent.”

But his drinking and drug use escalated.

“I had sex with anyone and everyone. I told my business partner, ‘Buy me out.’ He came at me with a handful of money, which was about twenty percent of what the company was worth, but l took it. After that, I rented a house in Laurel Canyon on a street called Wonderland Avenue which is, in effect, the country even though it’s five minutes from Hollywood. It’s up in the hills. Quickly I got into a terrible financial situation. My car was repossessed. I was getting in a lot of trouble, getting DWIs, driving drunk, hitting parked cars. I wound up homeless sleeping on a friend’s couch. I had to find work and tried selling a door-to-door dating service in Hawthorne and Torrance. It was so fucking hot. I’m wearing a suit and tie and going into people’s homes. People were throwing me out. Then I went to work for someone who hired indigents in a converted motel on Motor Avenue with five other down-and-outs selling office supplies by phone.”

“Oh. I think someone like you called me once and it cost me five hundred dollars.”

“This work is called telemarketing. I had another wife at this point. That was the early eighties. That marriage lasted about ten months. As soon as I started on the phone, I was unstoppable. I had the gift to slam people on the phone. Quickly I had a house in Venice, a brand-new Porsche, an aerobics teacher girlfriend … another disastrous relationship. But—though I didn’t know it at the time—I was bottoming out. It wasn’t until I stopped drinking at forty-two that I was able to stabilize emotionally.”

He’d been in therapy for fourteen or fifteen years, had been in the thicket of despair and had three suicide attempts that he can remember.

“I had sex with everything except a 1950 Ford. The monumental thing that occurred in my life, stopping drinking, didn’t happen until I was—if you will—into my second act. When I stopped drinking at last I stopped the major part of my self-destruction. I thought I was just a psycho. No shrink ever said, ‘You’re an alcoholic.’ Not once. Once I was sober through the help of a twelve-step group, an emotional leveling was possible … My relationship with women … with everybody … with God … began to change.”

There’s emotion in his voice, softness in his face.

“Having a spiritual aspect in my life changed everything. The great gift is that I’ve finally found a marriage—this is my fourth, by the way—that fulfills every need. And, I’ve found what I intended to do—what God intended for me to do—with my life.”

“Would you say your novels are biographical?”

“Oh yeah-autobiographical-similar to the kind of stuff my dad wrote but more honest, gut level. In 1935 you couldn’t be as graphic as you can today. My stuff is similar to Hubert Selby, Jr., to Bukowski, although I’m a better writer than Bukowski.”

“A lot funnier.”

“You’re not going to find too many yuks and chuckles in Bukowski.”

“I laughed a lot when reading your novels. I saw your play, The Closer, about telemarketing. I laughed like hell watching it.”

“The L.A. Times put it at the top of their list of plays for the year. It ran for two and a half years. I’ve written a play for my wife that—I hope—she’ll be doing down the road. There’s an ease and comfort to this relationship. I no longer even want to get angry, have adrenaline rushes.”

“ls it possible that you’ve got a closeness in this marriage that your parents had in theirs late in life? I take it your mother and father were very close at the end of your father’s life.”

“Your reference to my parent’s relationship is correct. While my father was blind and a double amputee, my mom, at the cost of her own health, cared for him. For months he would wake at night in a blind delirium and not know where he was. Mom was always asleep down the hall only a few feet away. When he regained him self after months of semi-confusion, he was able to dictate his last book to her word for word. Remarkably, his prose was flawless. Not one word was changed. He saw the entire manuscript before he said it out loud. I was there and witnessed many of those dictation sessions.


“I was just talking about my distaste for adrenaline rushes to a friend who I exercise with. We walk every day down at the beach a couple of miles, forty-five minutes.”

“Are you planning on being in the delivery room with your wife?”

“I hope so.”

“That’s the plan?”

“Oh, my gosh.”

“First time?”

“It’s so much different. I’m just so grateful and thrilled at my age—I’m sixty—to have my health. I just lost another one of my friends . . .”

“They’re really tumbling. Mine too. One of mine just committed suicide.”

“Normal people in their forties and fifties are witnessing their parents’ getting old plus a smattering of deaths. But people in twelve-step programs—people who’ve lived hard—they’ve seen a lot of death … people normally in the prime of life. I am really guarded and jealous and grateful about my health. I’m actually in very good health for my age. My liver is healed. No damage. I take stuff for cholesterol. Lipitor. My blood pressure’s fine. I exercise. I had a real identity crisis. I didn’t know what I was sexually but when I got sober that changed. My sexual identity is completely heterosexual now. It’s all wonderful. In truth I was never homosexual, I was omnisexual.”

“Is your wife happy?

“Oh, yeah. This is her first marriage. My wife lived in New York, Paris, London. My wife and I come from very different backgrounds—she’s a runway model, a print model, an actress. Our connection is the theater. We’ve got a strong connection there. I’m a fourth-generation Californian.”

“Were you married in the church?”

“No. We were married in Vegas. The baby’s due in a couple of weeks. I write at home in the morning. My wife is now in the last two weeks of her job. It’s all good.”

And, right on target a few weeks later, he e-mail to say that his wife, Ayrin, has given birth. I immediately sent him an email by way of congratulations and get his reply:

Thanks, Alison …

My arms hold breath
Life and death
And the song is everywhere
Perfection is everywhere
I will never be the same again
Never again

“It’s a boy. We’ve called him Michelangelo. I’m his during-the-day caregiver. The enclosed photo is of me, my wife, Ayrin, Michelangelo and my mother, Joyce Fante. My mother’s 91 and still correcting my grammar.”


Encomium Andréa


A great friend has come to town. We’re meeting on Sunday morning at Russ & Daughters Cafe on Orchard Street. Because I rarely get to that part of town anymore, I leave home an hour early in order to have time to ramble around a neighborhood I once knew in which I should have feared for my life but didn’t, as one didn’t (in those days) when one should have. There’s major construction along East Houston Street, as if the entire wide street is being redesigned, also, boutique hotels (new to me) like the Gatsby Hotel. (The Gatsby, are they serious?) and the East Houston Hotel near Eldridge advertising a red deck. (A red deck!) A group of tourists gather on the narrow sidewalk in front of Yonah Schimmel’s Bakery intently listening as their guide explains the differences between blintzes, knishes, latkes, and kugel – noodle and potato. Overtaking a hand-holding couple, I hear:

Kyn-ish! It’s always made with potatoes wrapped in dough like a samosa.

Is it sweet?


As sweet as cheesecake?

Yes. Just like cheesecake!

I bite my lip. I’m tired of know-it-alls and resist interjecting a long list of (cheese, cherry cheese, blueberry, kasha,  spinach etc.) possible knishes both sweet and savory. Image-1-5Just past Allen Street I reach the original Russ and Daughters Appetizer shop, frozen in time. A long line of hungry shoppers runs out the door and down the street. This is where I’ve stood many times with my father at 7 am waiting for the doors to open at 8. (My father liked to buy our bagels, lox, cream cheese, whitefish, sable, smoked salmon, pickled herring, etc. for Sunday breakfast early and never minded waiting.) Standing with him beside the window displaying herring, whitefish, hunks of lox, etc. in all seasons, we would smoke and talk. Later, when I no longer smoked, he still did, lighting up, taking a few puffs, and tossing his barely smoked cigarette into the gutter. Waiting enabled a visit without our big noisy family hijacking the intimacy of a conversation. Turning right on Orchard Street, there’s a corset shop, then, a string of shops selling discounted luggage, leather, linens, hats, gloves. (The operative word is discounted.) Once my immigrant grandparents shopped here. In those days the street was chock-a-block with pushcarts piled with many of these same bargains.

Early for the rendezvous (I guess it runs in the family), folks (some with luggage, yes luggage, perhaps on the way to or from an airport), gather in front of Russ and Daughters Cafe. I’m told by the no-nonsense hostess that a table for two will be available in an hour and a half and am promised a text when the time comes. As its happened, I haven’t seen Andréa Vaucher *** in a couple of years. Not that we’ve lost touch but we aren’t exactly current either. As there’s been a very salty sea of obituaries and bad news of late, a visit with a healthy, outgoing, not-world-weary, vintage pal is a glad event. A diversely talented accomplished writer and journalist, my friend Andréa has been a great playmate and pal. We share the same taste in books, come from similar backgrounds. As I wander up and down a street that’s filled with ghosts of my immigrant ancestors, I’m struck by how many and varied are the places where our paths have crossed through the many years of friendship: in Paris, in Greece, in California, in New Orleans, in Gloster, Mississippi where Andréa once arranged a fellowship for me at a forest retreat. One time we drove from Los Angeles to B.C., Canada in my blue Saab, eating salmon jerky and oyster bergers along the entire, heart-stopping Oregon coastline. photo-48

When she arrives, time stands still. We wander over to the Essex Street Market to drink Cuban coffee and catch up. Later, at Russ and Daughters Cafe seated under a display of colored seltzer bottles (like my parent’s used to have delivered weekly), we share an order of crispy, dumpling-shaped potato latkes surely made with schmaltz, then order bialys lightly toasted with cream cheese, capers, tomatoes and raw onions. Andréa goes for smoked salmon while I choose fishy lox. Our waitress asks, Still water or seltzer? We cast our lot with homey seltzer. While we eat, sip, yak, laugh, nod, listen, digest, a camp song comes to mind: Make new friends, But keep the old. One is silver, The other gold. Later: stepping back out onto sun-dappled Orchard Street, breathing in the heady smell of an irreplaceable autumn day on the Lower East Side, I feel like a million bucks. Swilling seltzer and breaking bialys with my piquant old friend has rendered me rich indeed.


***[Andréa R. Vaucher writes about the arts, travel, style and spirituality for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Tricycle, among other international publications. She is the author of Muses From Chaos and Ash: AIDS, Artists and Art (Grove Press) and the recipient of Visit California’s 2013 Eureka! Award for Best Digital Feature for her Huffington Post blog: Los Angeles to San Francisco: From Goat Cheese to Gaultier. Gateway to her site: ]

Withering; last leaf, last rose, apples

photo-42 photo-43

President: Do you agree with Ben, or do you think we can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?

Chance: As long as the roots are not severed all is well. And all will be well in the garden.

President: In the garden?

Chance: Yes. In a garden, growth has its season. First comes spring and summer but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.

President: Spring and summer?

Chance: Yes

President: And fall and winter?

Chance: Yes.

Ben: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature but we’re upset by the seasons of our economy

Chance: Yes. There will be growth in the spring. …I like to watch the young plants grow. Young plants do much better if a person helps them. …A garden needs a lot of care and a lot of love. And if you give your garden a lot of love, things grow. But first, some things must wither. Some trees die…

[from Being There, Jerzy Kosinski]


‘Tis the last rose of summer, Left blooming alone;

All her lovely companions, Are faded and gone;

No flower of her kindred, No rosebud is nigh,

To reflect back her blushes, to give sigh for sigh.


I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one! To pine on the stem;

Since the lovely are sleeping, Go, sleep though with them.

Thus kindly I scatter. They leaves o’er the bed,

Where thy mates of the garden, Lie scentless and dead.


So soon may I follow, When friendships decay,

And from Love’s shining circle, The gems drop away.

When true hearts lie withered, And fond ones are flown,

Oh! who would inhabit, This bleak world alone?

[The Last Rose of Summer by Thomas Moore]


Soon to wither apples.

Post-coitus tristesse, or


…postpartum depression, or jet-lag, or there’s-no-there-there, or bonjour tristesse, or s.a.d., or depleted, or low t., or Shoo Fly Don’t Bother Me, or stone in my shoe, or Stop the World – I Want to Get Off, or gas, or A Hole in the Bucket, or

Pictures of the Gone World by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t mind happiness
not always being
so very much fun
if you don’t mind a touch of hell
now and then
just when everything is fine
because even in heaven
they don’t sing
all the time

The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t mind some people dying
all the time
or maybe only starving
some of the time
which isn’t half bad
if it isn’t you

Oh the world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t much mind
a few dead minds
in the higher places
or a bomb or two
now and then
in your upturned faces
or such other improprieties
as our Name Brand society
is prey to
with its men of distinction
and its men of extinction
and its priests
and other patrolmen

and its various segregations
and congressional investigations
and other constipations
that our fool flesh
is heir to

Yes the world is the best place of all
for a lot of such things as
making the fun scene
and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
and singing low songs and having inspirations
and walking around
looking at everything
and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
and even thinking
and kissing people and
making babies and wearing pants
and waving hats and
and going swimming in rivers
on picnics
in the middle of the summer
and just generally
‘living it up’
but then right in the middle of it
comes the smiling


This place, three

I occasionally order a cream pie from a tiny kiosk at the port beside what once was the old old bakery run by brothers. After heating the opulent pastry, the pleasant owner shakes a powdering of confectioners sugar across its crusty surface, smiles and asks, Cinema? I nod. She shakes on a small cloud of cinnamon.

The last time I saw my great friend Lily (hours before she died, not that we knew it then), I’d just arrived in Greece, was elated/depleted at once. Lily prepared sweet milky tea along with a small mountain of buttered bread topped with yellow cheese. At one point she peeled an ivory-white clove of garlic and folded it into a fat slice of soft, fresh bread. While she ate, her green marbled eyes burnt with delight. Until sunset, we drank tea, ate bread and cheese and then I switched to coffee and she to whiskey. lily

I’d first arrived in Greece on 21 June, 1970 under a full moon, age twenty-four, had sailed  from New York with my four year old son on the Greek liner ss Queen Anna Maria, Cabin Class. We’d been ten days at sea. Two drinking friends had driven from Mojaca, Spain (an American, long dead, a German, alive and well and living in Marrakech), met us; also a young half Norwegian/half English male au pair. We raced to see the Acropolis, taking a lick of LSD on the way up, and I filled my pockets with still-warm, ancient marble bits on the silky way down.


After a few hours sleep at the Grand Bretagne, we piled our hung-over selves along with baggage and one Norwich Terrier named Oinki into taxi/s that took us to the Port of Piraeus that resembled a set from the film “Never on Sunday” which, now that I think of it, it had been. We got the 8:15 a.m. ship, took First Class tickets for about $2 each. We stopped at Aegina, Methina, Poros along the way, reached the Isle of Hydra around noon where we (kits, cats, sacks and wives) disembarked.

My German friend had rented a hilltop house for us through a Russian woman whom she’d discovered by chance on a quick visit a few days before. This woman lived with her two children, a husband who was often away working along with a borzoi named Julik, a mutt named Metropolitan, in a lopsided,  whitewashed house just below ours. After we’d dragged ourselves and our things up about a million steps to our rental, I encountered the Russian, Lily, for the first time noticing unusual green eyes. Her hair was wrapped in a scarf as she and her children were whitewashing. One of us remarked, Ah. Summer Solstice, the longest day, the long summer stretches before us. In a thick middle European accent, Lily corrected, No! The long days are finished. The days are getting shorter now. Summer is really over.

Why are tomatoes so luscious here? They never taste this way anywhere else. I never eat them anywhere else. Ditto grilled calamari, horta, raw onion, tzatziki, feta, cream pastry with cinema …

One time I glanced over at Taso’s Café Neon from the Roloi Café and saw Taso’s crusty old father sitting in his usual chair at a side table sipping something and mused, Amazing that Taso’s father is still alive, to be told, Taso’s father died twenty years ago. That’s Taso you’re looking at.

Begrudging: After shaking her head – Tipota! – [nothing] – a fatuous smile at the corner of her mouth on each of several visits, the worker at the post office will eventually shrug, reluctantly turn and thumb through Poste Restante mail boxes, usually finding mail addressed to me from someone who has been dead for at least three years.

Uninvited: the volume of normal meowing increases to a howl, piercing, screeching, bawling, doleful, whining caterwaul. Which cat is this? I peer into the black velvet night, shine my torch, glimpse only a cat’s raised rear end, tail curled, the cat unidentifiable, the grating yowl, frequent, urgent, persistent on and off through half the night. Why not! Cats can always sleep all the next day.


Unfailing: the scent of jasmine, second cousin to the the olive, silent, unassuming, climbs (floats) through my open window whether invited or not.





Bad good luck


Speaking of bad good luck:

[Example #1]

In summer one of my guests (a friend who I’ve known since she was four years old) told me that some beads she was wearing while washing her hands at the bathroom sink while staying at my Greek house had broken, scattered, many disappearing down the sinkhole. Since the necklace was the last gift given by her mother (a close friend as well) who suddenly, shockingly died soon afterwards, she asked if there was any possibility of removing the sink-trap on the chance that some of the beads had gotten trapped there … unlikely as that might be. As it was middle June, and I was far away, I put out a few feelers but quickly realized it would be better to wait until I was actually able to oversee the operation personally. (Try explaining ‘sink-trap’ to a non-English-speaking Greek or Bulgarian.)

I arrived in September with many little (and not so little) tasks on my to-do list. One beautiful day melted into the next. Some things got done, other’s didn’t, some half done or almost begun. On 2 October, my friend and I marked the third anniversary of her mother’s death. On 9 October I marked the anniversary of my own father’s death. As my time here had begun to run out, I realized much on my to-do list would most likely remain undone. On 9 October, as it happened, a local friend stopped by. Being a seasoned homeowner, I asked her advise about sink-traps and was given a short lecture that included the following information: “Usually, if you can actually get a sink-trap off these old pipes, you won’t be able to get it back on.” We wandered into the w.c. and bent to study the s-shaped pipes with bulging trap. She gave it a little test tug to demonstrate the procedure necessary for removal (albeit dicey) and lightly twisted. No sooner had she touched the trap, when we heard the sound of crumbling. When I turned the faucet on, water leaked onto the bathroom floor; a crack in the pipe had opened  above the trap. Needless to say, my friend was embarrassed. I told her not to worry, obviously the 40-plus year-old pipe had seen better days

Later, a worker came by to have a look. It was nearing sunset. No sooner had he bent to examine the pipe when an entire section (including the trap) came off in his hand. We took the rusty rotted part outside to examine. As the trap was staring us both in the face, I asked if he could possibly remove it and tried to explain about the beads. Though quite strong, he tried, but the corrosion was so bad it wouldn’t budge. He tried and strained while I braced myself to possibly behold contents that would likely be beyond disgusting, thirty-five years of god knows what. Not one to be easily discouraged he strained again and again until the screws began to turn.


Spreading a blue plastic bag across the wall, I snatched the trap from him and spilled out what looked like volcanic ash. (see photo above) Using my index finger, I spread the contents but neither felt nor saw any beads. I further examined the calcified muck. Nothing. My heart sank. I was about to throw the lot away (thus erasing for eternity the slim hope-against-hope of resurrecting a precious gift ) but decided to push my finger through again, more slowly. In doing so, I separated out a few minute (the size of the head of a pin) bits that felt like calk but actually could have been beads, copper colored, one blue…. Could these be them? I couldn’t imagine they were. I sifted through, removed as many of these bits as I could find, and put them into a small bowl with water so I could take a photo (see photo below) that I immediately emailed to my friend who lives above the Arctic Circle. I wrote: Could these tiny beads be yours? 


Not twenty minutes later I received the following reply:  

Yes! YAY!

I could hardly believe it.

I wrote back explaining the strange coincidences that had configured to make the discovery possible. I told her I too was amazed. And I was. Am. Always will be. I told her I’d no idea they were so tiny, had come very close to throwing the entire mess away. After draining and drying the beads, I enclosed them in cling wrap, also a small plastic bag, then wrapped the slim package with tissue paper. All went into an envelope and was marched right to the post office at the port and mailed. When I returned home the following email was waiting:

[Example #2]

When Z. [her daughter] lost her first tooth, we were visiting my mother. Z. had been excited that her first tooth was loose. Suddenly, while we were eating dinner and Z. was finishing off a piece of garlic bread, I noticed a gap in her tooth row: the tooth was gone. She’d swallowed it. She was crushed and wailed for ages.

 So I went through her poop all the next day. To make the hunt more challenging, we’d been eating a ton of fresh sweet corn. Much of this passes through the system undigested. I kept thinking, “AHA, I’ve  found the tooth!”, only to realize with disappointment that it was yet another kernel of corn.

The tooth did turn up eventually and Z. was thrilled. I earned big points with both her and my mother that day! Z. still has that first tooth, along with all the others she’s lost, in a little ceramic box that my mother found for her.


October 9th

dadVarious statuettes loiter in a corner of my enclosed terrace. Joining them, my father as a young college graduate about to take on the world. And my mother too. Little could he imagine the bumps and tripwires he would encounter concluding with his death in New York overlooking the East River on October 9th a few years ago. Following, an excerpt from a work-in-progress titled Tomorrow Is Forever, a full length fiction/non-fiction using an epistolary format (a continuation of “Lost and Found” published by the Am. Univ. of Paris/Sylph Editions). Some of those to whom I write in this book are already dead, like Lily, my Russian friend. If I can ever get my desk cleared a bit, this is the next work on which I’ll be focusing entirely.

[Unedited excerpt from Tomorrow is Forever, Part II – 2009]

Dear Lily,

My father’s funeral at Reddins on 14th Street, the same place that handled Dorothy’s. We had his college photo blown up, 3 feet by 2 feet, and in it he looks like a movie star. It was hung above his pine coffin chosen by my mother. The coffin was open at first for those who wanted to see him ‘in repose’  which I did and did and did, as did a few others, but not all. The people at Reddins had not done a very good job of covering his battered face and neck; the way they combed his hair would have made him laugh. But, they did shave him which mattered to him greatly as he hated being unshaven. 

The coffin was covered with it’s lid for all eternity and a short service began. We’d hunted down the rabbi who had spoken at Dorothy’s graveside the year before. He said Kadish, some prayers, and several family members also spoke. I read from my book – Love in the Second Act – a chunk of an interview conducted with my father and mother three years earlier about their visit to the Blue Grotto on Capri. My son spoke, as did my two sisters, and others.

We ended with Richard Harris singing music from Camelot, which was the last musical DVD I’d brought to my father and mother shortly before he went into hospital. My father sang along, his tenor voice still beautiful despite dementia, still knowing every word:

. . . By order, summer lingers through September.

In Camelot. Camelot. Camelot.

But in Camelot. Camelot. That’s how conditions are.

The rain my never fall till after sundown.

By eight, the morning fog must disappear.

In short, there’s simply not.

A more congenial spot.

For happily-ever-after

than here in Camelot.

Then his coffin was lifted up and carried out to the hearse waiting on 14th Street, and we all trailed behind.

The cortege of three limos and a few private cars followed the hearse to the cemetery somewhere in Queens, near Flushing. The cemetery was chosen by my mother years before, and, of course, agreed to – as he agreed to everything decided by my mother for sixty-eight years – by him. This is where my mother’s Russian mother, her Russian father, grandparents, aunts, uncles, step-mother, et al are all buried. Thus, my father of working-class origins, shall rest with mother’s bourgeois family, not his own who are buried together in another cemetery a few miles away, for all time. Of course there is a parallel space beside his for our mother.

A few who had not spoken before, spoke at the open grave, among them my brother, my niece Abigail, who began her talk by saying:”Grandpa Bill, where are you now? Beautiful old man. I think of your kind face as I enter apartment 16B. And there you are, watching PBS at a deafening volume in your underpants. Your greeting, followed by the slow and dignified walk into the other room, to put your trousers back on…”

Finally, the unadorned coffin of Professor William Greenwald, who taught Economics at City College in Harlem for 63 consecutive years without missing a day, who, when I would publish a book, would sit up all night reading it in one go, was lowered into the grave he and his wife had purchased during a drive thirty years before.

There were flowers distributed that my sister Nancy had grown. These were dropped one by one onto the coffin by each of us, along with a shovelful of dirt. Flowers and dirt mixed on top of the coffin.

Reluctantly leaving my father alone there, we were driven in the hired town cars back to  Greenwich Village to eat bagels and lox, whitefish, sable and more from Russ and Daughters without our father sitting regally at the west end of the long table for the very first time in our lives.


500 coal-black butterflies

with my father’s hazel-marbled eyes

have infested the trees

in the garden below

This place, two


Finally the days of rain end; a rim of sunset can be seen.

Doors have swollen from the rain.The door to the old house won’t open; the door to the front gate won’t close. During the downpour, the leak under the metal spiral stairway stopped but water from the kitchen ceiling dripped onto the table where my papers and fresh bread are.

When the sun has dried everything, I fill in a crack in the terrace above the kitchen with acrylic sealant shot through a tube with a kind of cocked gun.

After scrubbing my dirty laundry in the red plastic bucket with soft cistern water, I begin to hang it on the line that’s strung across the terrace. A couple of pastel-colored plastic clothespins crumble when I pinch them, exhausted after doing their work through a long, baking hot summer. The sun is still strong, though it is now October. Almost before I finish hanging the last bits, the first have already dried.

Olympia, the hobbling tiger cat, hasn’t visited once. I’ve seen her at two different taverna’s, fat and swaggering, oblivious to my lack of affection at last. Perhaps it is because I still pine for Vigilante (see photo), also a tiger cat, that I can’t warm to Olympia, who is probably Vigilante’s second, third, or fourth cousin.


I’d sworn that I would never adopt a cat. Once, a renter had adopted nine cats and when I got to the island I found nine little faces meowing plaintively every time I opened my door. I then made it a rule that anyone staying in my house would be immediately evicted if they adopted a cat. If one had to feed cat/s, they must do so outside the gates of the house. However: One winter night the wind howled, the rain fell in buckets, and I heard a thumping on my kitchen door. I opened it to find a drenched cat so desperate to get out of the rain she had been throwing herself against my door. I let her in, told her, Just for tonight. She stayed six years. From that night on, whenever I would return to the island, day or night, rain or shine, winter or summer, I would drag myself up the last forty steps, put my key into the lock of my front gate, swing open the door. I’d then hear a light thump on the terrace in front of me. From out of the apricot tree (given by Lily) would leap Vigilante, onto that terrace. She would stand looking at me. (If cats could cross their arms to indicate impatience or ‘it’s about time’ she would have.)

The worker was due on Sunday. He turns up on tuesday but has not brought the right tools. He reschedules for friday.

A black cat crosses my path on the way to the post office. Another cuts in front of me on the sea road. Still another follows when I walk past the usual chickens and donkey and women gossiping down and around to dinner. At the taverna, this cat rejoins her litter of noisy kittens, one of whom climbs into my open backpack bringing more doses of bad luck except in Japan or UK, where black cats are said to bring good luck. The sleek green-eyed mother cat follows me home, darting under my feet, almost causing me to stumble. And, yes, got fed. (“He watched the dark eye slits narrowing with greed till her eyes were green stones. …then he poured warm bubbled milk on a saucer and set it slowly on the floor. –Gurrhr! she cried, running to lap. …He listened to her licking lap.” from Episode 4, Calypso, James Joyce, Ulysses) I’m wary of the promised good/bad luck and await the coming bad/good luck.

















Singular friend


Saluting my singular friend Rie on her birthday:

rie and zoe

Rie with her granddaughter, Zoe, on Hydra.


Rie, Zoe and I. Walking the back road evermore.


TASHKENT PAGES – Anna Akhmatova

I was with you in the mysterious gloom,

Walking as if in no-man’s-land,

But suddenly the crescent moon

Skimmed like a diamond boat over the meeting-separation …


And if that night should return to you

In the course of your hidden fate,

Know that someone dreamt

About this sacred moment.