Saturday, July 26, 2014

Memory: Mr Rabinowitz' Toupee

Back in the day, sometime in the mid seventies, when I was in high school in Brooklyn, our class had a favorite substitute teacher. His name was Mr. Rabinowitz. He specialty was word games, particularly Hangman. He was probably about fifty, maybe older, and although he had a very jovial personality and was always cracking jokes, there was something sad and threadbare about him. I think we all noticed it. It wasn't something we spoke about, but it was something always present in our minds. It wasn't that the sole tweed suit he always wore was tattered; it wasn't. But heck, it was his only suit and it smelled vaguely of mothballs, which gave the impression of a lonely old bachelor with no mother or wife to take care of him, of someone who had dedicated all his life to teaching and who had somehow forgotten to live his own life. Of perhaps he had never learned.  

When I said earlier that there was something threadbare about Mr. Rabinowitz, I mentioned the general impression. But there was something else. Something specific. His toupee.

I suppose I should describe this toupee. There really was nothing quite like it. It sat on his head like a bird's nest; very old, very tattered, and very obvious. Even for the seventies, it looked leftover from the rakish fifties. If you have ever seen the Ten Commandments, the scene where Moses and God made the waters of the Red Sea rise up on both sides while the children of Israel walked through on dry land, then you would have a good picture of this toupee. It was rolled up in the front and on the sides and looked like a dense meshy wire of hair. It was as if he had a mini stadium rising from his head.

We never said anything about it to his face but the class bullies -- Steven, Mark, John, Augustine (the same kids who always bullied me) would always comment on the toupee outside his presence.

This went on all the time.

One day, however, Mr. Rabinowitz surprised even the bullies. Mr. Rabinowitz arrived in class with his notorious toupee flipped end over end. The glue, or whatever it is that holds toupees together, had not worked and the toupee sat upside down, wrong-side up, like a hairy-sided tongue on top of Mr. Rabinowitz' head.

None of us said anything. None of the bullies laughed. Mr Rabinowitz was an elder, after all, and not like the younger teachers whom kids generally argued with or continually mocked to their faces. He had obviously dressed himself without a mother, daughter, or wife or even a mirror to help him. Why hurt his feelings? I suppose we thought other adults would notify him of the flapping tongue on his head. I was his favorite student; I suppose he saw something both pitiful and kind about me. But I wasn't going to tell him either.

On the way back home, on the bus, he stood talking to me. The toupee was still on his head --upside down, flapping. No one on that Brooklyn bus said anything.

This is my biggest and first memory of the open secret, the secret everyone knows but no one speaks of. There have been other open secrets since then of course. The teacher with his fly open, the student whose dress was splattered with menstural blood, the secretary having an affair with the married director. But this is the open secret I remember deeply.

I'm not sure if those were kinder times or not. Perhaps no one told Mr. R. about the toupee because they didn't want to hurt his feelings. Perhaps folks just hate discomfort. Perhaps we felt someone else would do it. Those were some of the reasons I never told him. I also didn't want him to always remember me as the girl who made him aware of his embarrasment. Kill the messenger and all that. I'd like to think that he never realized what happened that day or that he only realized this great humiliation when he arrived home and that he somehow convinced himself that it had only happened a second or two earlier and that for most of the day he had been his wonderful, rakish, suave self. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Poem: Everything old is new again

Everything old is new again; not good.

I wake and sense the return of the old dread, the grief of helplessness.

This is so not good, I tell myself.

I call out to my husband: Bring my Bible, quick!

I repeat the 23rd psalm,

Loudly, desperately, grasping it

like a lifeline.

This is soooooooooo not good.

The autumnal depression is storming me again.

I try to outpace it

like an orphan on a railroad track attempting to outpace a barreling train.

This is soooooooooooooo not good.

Depression, I'd thought we'd parted ways.

So many more rational griefs had my attention 

I'd forgotten you.

And suddenly here you are again.

A nameless barreling dread.

For no apparent reason

suddenly returned and hovering

seeping into, flodding into 


attempting to conquer me

The fight has come suddenly

I struggle to prepare,

racing about, grabbing armor

like a sentry suddenly awokened out of sleep.

I've said "suddenly" so many times in this poem.

But that's how it feels

this sudden powerful onslaught:

This is soooo not good.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Poem: Yes, we have no bananas

Over the centuries, living things have simply dropped out of existence.

Human tribes, the dodo, dinosaur, languages,

different species of seeds, nuts, the like.

Now I hear, bees are dropping dead.

All over the place.

Lions, elephants, tigers.

And bananas too

might soon be gone --

some fungus or what-not.

The dinosaurs were before me --

so I don't care about losing them.

Human tribes?

Well, I guess I'd feel weird

if I woke up to see no other black folks around.

But, frankly, I think I'd be able to see

that kind of genocide coming

from a ways away.

Disappearing languages?

Yeah, call me cold..but..

it might be a loss --

certain concepts, cultures, lost because the words they were linked with are gone--

but yeah... I'd still be somewhat unscathed.

The loss of the bees: nah I wouldn't like that.

I mean... no bees, no food right?

But I still trust the humans to kinda find a workaround.

No elephants? Lions? Tigers?

I suppose I'd tell my grandkids about the lost beasts

as if I were describing some great mythic beast of yore.

It'd be sad, but I'd still hold up.

But bananas....

to live in a world without bananas....

no, I don't think I'd like that.

Just keeping it real.

I'm a poet and all

But I'm still pretty shallow and self-concerned.

So, yeah...

Just saying.

I wouldn't go bananas or anything

to wake and find no more bananas in the world.

But I'd probably be really bummed for a while. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian, by Andy Weir

Andy Weir has managed to create an exciting book about numbers. The Martian is a fun book. It’s a quirky book with an engaging main character, but it is not a perfect book.

Its perfection lies in the fact that the main character is as much an alien to the reader as he is to the world he finds himself in. He is an earther stuck on an inhospitable planet where he faces starvation, death by cold, death by thirst if he is not rescued. But he is also an alien -- a martian if you will-- because unlike the rest of us Earthers, he is an astronaut. Astronauts are not made like you and me. They are constantly heroic, they don’t allow fear to oppress them, they know stuff.

Our hero is in danger, but there is absolutely no doubt in the reader’s mind that he will save himself and stay alive until he is rescued. In that respect, the bus has no tension. And yet tension is everywhere because the hero Mark Watney is constantly on his toes and constantly having to muddle through botanical, mathematical, engineering experiments. This is where the fun comes in. The Martian feels like a survival manual. It feels like nonfiction. The reader is constantly being taught about space, chemistry, physics, and botany. But it doesn’t feel as if one is being taught. One is simply being pulled along breathlessly in the wake of a kind of superman whom one cannot identify with but whom one likes because he has good humor and seems like a humble but smart guy.  

But as I said, the book has problems.

The problems are mostly in the sections that are told in the third person. It is here where the author shows that he has much to learn about writing scenes, descriptions, and real characters. The third person narration didn’t add much to the book  and only shows the shortcomings of the author. All that said, I recommend this book highly if you are a math geek and if math doesn’t give you a headache.

This is a short review. A larger review of this book will be up at THE FAN in August 2014

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Anatomy of the breakup of a friendship

It's Thanksgiving 2012 and there are Thanksgiving pics (turkeys, etc) on the page.

                                                     "Happy Thanksgiving, you're my best friend!"
She posts the status on her friend's timeline and CAMERA Zooms out and we see three other tabs on the browser opened. One of them is a mail program where she is in a chat with this same younger woman.

OLDER BLACK WOMAN writes in the chat dialog box: "I posted something on your timeline."
The YOUNGER WHITE WOMAN writes back in chat dialog box: "LOL! Off to see!"
The older woman returns to facebook. The young woman has answered the post: "LOL! Oh, you're so sweet! Yes, you're one of my best friends too."
Camera pulls backward and we see the actual older woman.
                                                      OLDER WOMAN
                                    (reading the post and looking wounded)
                                             Oh? One of her best friends? So that's it. Silly me.

An OLDER WHITE MAN comes into view in the background eating a sandwich.

                                                   OLDER WOMAN'S HUSBAND.
                                   (looking over her shoulder at her computer screen)
                                             Uhm? What're you silly about?

On the computer screen, the young woman has written in the email chat: "This is the chapter I was working on for my novel."
Older woman reads it, then writes: "Ooh, love it!!! That's so good!"

                                                  OLDER WOMAN
                                             Apparently, I don't know my place. I'm one of her
                                             best friends. But not her best friend.

                                              OLDER WOMAN'S HUSBAND
                                             Who has one best friend anymore? And let's face it.
                                             She's young. She's got tons of family. She's in college.
                                             She's got a church group. All you have is me. If you're so hurt, tell her.

On the computer screen, the young woman writes in the chat box: "You really like it?"
Older woman reads then responds: "I loooooooooove it! You're so talented."
                                                 OLDER WOMAN
                                           No, it's all good. It's good to know my place.

                                                 OLDER WOMAN's HUSBAND
                                            Good Lord! Don't take it to heart.
On the computer screen, the young woman writes in the chat box: "I was working on Family Court stuff all morning. Aaargh, the evil in the world! The stuff I could tell you! There's this little girl. Her grandmother calls her a skanky whore. I'm really just so upset at it. But the kids has no one."
Older woman reads then responds: "Ah."

                                                 OLDER WOMAN
                                            I've already taken it to heart.

                                               OLDER WOMAN'S HUSBAND
                                           Don't do anything drastic or anything. She's a good friend.
                                           I mean, it's not as if you see her in real life. So it's not necessary
                                           for you to tell her what you think, is it?
On the computer screen, the young woman writes in the chat box: "I get so depressed sometimes about the stuff I see."
Older woman reads then responds: "Life is hard, yes. But at least you have a lot of friends around you. And you haven't suffered as she has."

                                                OLDER WOMAN
                                          Well, I never tell people in real life how I think.

                                              OLDER WOMAN'S HUSBAND
                                  (reading over her shoulder)
                                        True, but at least in real life, she would see your face and
                                        know she hurt your feelings. And maybe you guys could talk it out.
                                        Besides, you like her so much. You're always worried about her.
                                        Was that a little dig, by the way?

                                                 OLDER WOMAN
                                        Talk it out? Are you kidding? Do you know how shameful it is to let
                                        someone know how hurt you feel because they don't like you as much as
                                        you like them? And yes, it was a dig. But, why is she telling me
                                        her problems if she has all these friends? But don't worry. Let it go.
                                        I'll just listen to her news and be kind. I'll comment and I'll still be nice to her.

Younger woman writes: "Are you saying I've never suffered?

                                                OLDER WOMAN'S HUSBAND
                                       No shutting of the heart, please! And how can you do it? You're both so
                                      sensitive. You've cared about her and worried about her all these years.
                                       I long's it been? ten years since she was in high school,                                                             right? All through college, and law school, and now that she's got her home
                                       office. She's always been there for you and you for her.

Older woman responds in the chatbox: "I didn't say that."

                                                OLDER WOMAN
                                        Too late. I know my place now. Don't worry. I won't hurt her feelings.
                                        I'll just stop sharing my heart with her and I'll know my place. Darn it!
                                       This girl is always talking about much she suffers more than other people.

                                                  OLDER WOMAN'S HUSBAND
                                   (groaning and returning to the kitchen.)
                                       So you're not going to be patient with that anymore?

                                                OLDER WOMAN
                                       If I cared, I'd argue with her. But now I don't care.
                                       Am not gonna argue. And I'm not going to worry about her anymore.

                                              OLDER WOMAN'S HUSBAND
                                        You're just way too easily hurt.
Computer screen opened to several browsers with the email program and facebook open. Older woman reads the email chatbox from the young woman. The young woman's status reads: "As a Christmas present to ourselves, we're going that little girl. It's just too much the way her grandmother treats her."

                                                 OLDER WOMAN
                                          (fuming to herself)
                                               Seriously? Her health is crappy. They're in money crisis.
                                               Her marriage is in trouble. And she wants to adopt this kid?
                                               Darn it! It's like she keeps bringing trouble on herself.

Older woman types her response: "Well, do what you think is best. Pray about it. But if you decide to do it, don't tell me any of the troubles you get into because of this adoption."

Young woman types back: "Okay then, fine." The browser shuts down.

                                                OLDER WOMAN
                                      (fuming to herself)
                                              Seriously! With all her family and friends, she wants me...
                                             a mere "one of her best friends" to care?

Fade out as Spring comes out and we see the old woman's computer screen. The email program is not opened.

                                                                           THE END



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