Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Let A Demon Show You the Light

C.S. Lewis image from
I've just read C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters. Twice. He's a British Christian scholar from the WWII era who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia and is probably sexist, homophobic, racist, etc.-- but maybe not; at least none of that is obvious in this book, and there is much that is speaking to me.

I was led here by my imaginary dead lover David Foster Wallace, my current favorite writer because he wrote one of the most amazing books I've ever read: Infinite Jest. I fell a little in love with him while reading that volume, and a little more while watching a humble and charming DFW being interviewed by a German woman whose accented voice sounds so lovely and alluring in this video. (Beware: it's part one of nine, and addicting.)

In another interview somewhere else, my imaginary dead lover said Screwtape was his favorite book, so I determined to read it.

Lewis writes of a world I heard about in my youth, in which Heaven and Hell exist, and God and Satan battle over each human's soul. The twist is Lewis writes the book from Satan's point of view, or rather Screwtape's, who is a high-level bureaucrat in the "Lowerarchy" and is instructing his nephew, Wormwood, a novice "tempter," on how to subtly and surreptitiously corrupt the soul of an innocent man.
Wormwood being instructed by Screwtape
in a theatrical production; image from

No extravagant evil is required for Hell to gain possession. Peevishness is just as good as murder for the job. In fact, Screwtape advises Wormwood to focus on encouraging the smaller sins--selfishness, dishonesty, pride--in his "patient," since they are so much easier to achieve.

Reading this book, I realize how confusing our modern world is, and how complicated to make personal decisions without these larger-than-life archetypes to light the way.

I like to see myself as sophisticated, able to discern the difference between gradations of gray, unlikely to be fooled by simplistic black-and-white representations of the world.

But Lewis, a very intelligent and accomplished man--Oxford and Cambridge scholar, author of more than 30 books--proposes we do just that: separate all things into one camp or the other. Every step you take is either a step towards God or away from Her. (And by "God" I have no idea what I mean, except perhaps the whole point of everything.) (And the gender change is mine, of course.)

Lewis goes on to posit that God created all the pleasures, which She sincerely wants us to enjoy. Smoking and drinking, as I read it, are not "sins" if undertaken with a joyful attitude. But Screwtape and his league of tempters work to pervert all God's pleasures by twisting them inside out, or turning them into habits, which Lewis describes as things that are harder and harder to forego even as they provide less and less real pleasure.
Screwtape composes a letter;
image from

The lesson is simple: Habits are bad; Pleasure is good. Pleasure is so good, in fact, that any real pleasure we are able to create for ourselves leads us farther from Hell and closer to Heaven.

Mid-book, when the human's soul seems to be slipping through Wormwood's fingers, Screwtape admonishes his nephew: "you first of all allowed the patient to read a book he really enjoyed, because he enjoyed it and not in order to make clever remarks about it to his new friends. In the second place, you allowed him to walk down to the old mill and have tea there--a walk through country he really likes, and taken alone. In other words, you allowed him two real positive Pleasures. Were you so ignorant as not to see the danger of this?"

This viewpoint is a revelation to me--the opposite of my early Catholic inculcation that God wants us to suffer, that suffering brings us closer to Heaven. Not so, this book suggests. Or at least, not only that. It's also bliss. It's exaltation.

Sitting in the sun while waiting for my son to finish a phone call the other day, I got a vision of myself standing by a broad river. Then I saw my body levitating slightly, maybe three feet, off the ground. It seemed the simple pleasure of enjoying the sun on my face was bringing me closer to God.

In my horoscope for 2013, Rob Brezsny advises me to "ramp up [my] capacity for pure enjoyment" in the coming year. That sounds like it fits the plan. The trick will be discerning "pure enjoyment" from the sexy come-ons of disease-addled facsimiles, all dressed up in their finest and disguised as fun.

I am an old woman, but there is still so much that I want to do, so much I want to understand.

I have stale habits of thought and body that I want to shed in the coming year (and the new Mayan era), but not via "the conscious fume and fret of resolutions and clenched teeth, but the real centre, what the Enemy [by which Screwtape means God] calls the Heart."

I am praying that I will be able to hear my own Heart above the cacophony of Screwtape's clever confusions this year.

Come, pray with me.

Come, listen for your Heart.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Welcome to the 14th b'ak'tun

On this day of great significance on the Mayan calendar, I welcome the New Era and pray for healing for our planet and all the people on it. If I understand the Long Count Calendar correctly, we have been part of the 13th b'ak'tun since a mythical Creation date of August 11, 3114 BC. That 5,000-year era ended on Dec. 20, 2012. On Dec. 21, we moved into the 14th b'ak'tun.  

Let us learn to love here.
Copal--the traditional incense of Mexico--burning in three-legged pots. Image from

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Is This Love?

I want to know what love is. So many stories swirling through my head. A relative leaves his wife of 30 years for a younger woman who makes him feel awake and alive. Is that love? She dumps him and he returns to his wife, caring for her gently when time disables her. Is that love? A friend is married five times, and five times enthralled with each new husband's magic. Is that love? Another friend leaves her long-term angry husband and promptly falls for a woman, exchanging depression for a suitor's anxiety 
I know baby love. Yes. It's so easy to love a warm, cuddly creature without wiles or guile, who cries when she's unhappy and smiles when she is glad--who depends on you for life itself. That love is unquestionable. That love is assured.

But what about this other, grown-up love? Does it even exist? I want to know the answer. I want to understand it in my bones, my tissue, my lymph and blood. I want to feel it in my ligaments and tendons, my muscles and fat--in the strands of my long silver hair, down to the very tips. I want to know it in the callouses of my footpads and mucous lining of my nose. I want the goddess to whisper it into the whorl of my ear. I don't want to wonder.  I want to know!!! 

The Greeks depict Love as a beautiful woman, married to a hardworking cripple, having a long-term affair with a violent, brutish man. She also has other lovers, mortals whom she might turn into a flower or a constellation if he displeases. Love is disloyal and capricious. She is also the goddess of Beauty. Are they inseparable? Do we only love that which is alluring, enchanting? Does that make love superficial? A trick with smoke and mirrors? An actress in full make-up on an artificial stage?

Then there's Love's son, the mischievous bow-boy, wrecking havoc where he will with his arrows,   enjoying the trouble he causes when he makes people fall in love with the most unlikely recipients--an ass, a friend's wife or husband, oneself. Did the Greeks know something we are missing? Is romantic love a kind of insanity? A pre-pubescent boy's joke?

Buddha and Jesus both said that love is universal--that we shouldn't love one person more than another. We should love everyone. Love everything. Does that make romantic love a failing? A trap? A misleading sidetrack on the one true path?

Last night at the restaurant, my love frowned and stared into space, unhappy with the service, unhappy with the menu, unwilling to make light conversation--a grumpy old man.

Then this morning, under the covers, his skin was warm and pliant. I grasped his hand and held it in both of mine at my chest. So many images swirling through my head: food he cooked for me; homes he repaired for me; paychecks he brought home to me; the family sitting in a darkened waiting room while I had surgery for cancer; the births of each of our three children, and the surprising words he whispered at the head of the bed that first time, holding my hand, helping to take me through the pain: "Swim. Swim to the top."

My life is like a long swim underwater: voluptuous, graceful, alluring, but with my breath held, with that slight anxiety that I might not make it back up to the top in time, might never feel my head burst through the surface into air and light.
The first image is a 1560 painting of Aphrodite, Eros, and Ares by Paris Bordone, the second is La Primavera by Botticelli. I found both of those on the Schmoop website, here.. The woman underwater I found by googling "underwater swimming" but can't site the source because now google is telling me it's me! Yikes!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Death Angel

A 14-year-old girl was beheaded in Afghanistan last week for refusing a marriage proposal. The suitor and his brother grabbed Gastina (no last name) when she went to a well near her home to fetch water and cut through her throat with a hunting knife. They are under arrest, but it's not clear if they'll be punished. I read the story and saw this picture at  The Daily Beast.

Afghan women walk near the district police headquarters in the Kunduz province. (Johannes Eisele, AFP / Getty Images (FILE) )

The photo reminds me of Margaret Atwood's novel Handmaid's Tale, which describes a future in which the religious right takes over the U.S. and Canada and forces women into slavery, requiring they dress according to their rank in the new society. Fertile women, rare in the future, wear long, billowing red dresses and veiled hats signifying their wombs. Men of high rank impregnate the red women--the handmaids--in a religious ritual based on the Bible story of Abraham and his wife Sarah, who told him to make her maid pregnant when she couldn't conceive.

The novel impressed me. Reading it feverishly years ago, I thought over and over, "This could happen here!" Living in the Bay Area, it's easy to believe that we have evolved beyond primitive misogynistic ideas. We see women with power in the news every day. Both our senators are women. The former speaker of the house came from our town. Marissa Mayer lives in a hotel penthouse in San Francisco and was hired away from Google while pregnant to be Yahoo's CEO.

But humankind doesn't always progress forward. Heard of the Middle Ages? World Wars I and II? And it's not like we've run out of extremist ideologues who lust for power.

Anything, it seems, is possible on this planet. Human beings are capable of all manner of evil.

Malala is shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan for advocating that girls should be able to go to school. Marita is kidnapped and sold as a sex slave in Argentina, provoking her mother's lifelong search. Eastern Congo is dubbed the rape capital of the world.

I have high school students who tell me they've never experienced gender discrimination, and for that I am glad. But I wonder if they even recognize when their rights and freedoms are being threatened, by this year's efforts to limit women's earning power and healthcare options in the War on Women, by a campaign to give embryos rights, even by something as seemingly innocuous as pop celebrities like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry saying they are not feminists.

Not feminists?

According to Wikipedia, Feminism is a movement pursuing equal social, economic, and political rights for women. Isn't everyone a feminist? What sane human being could disagree with these goals?

And I also wonder about the three women in this picture. Who are they? What are they feeling beneath their acres of cloth?

The thin white trees, the bare brown earth, the door slightly open in the tall clay wall, all are eerily beautiful--and frightening.

The way the far woman's black burka billows like wings on an angel of death when she whispers past...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Living Doll~ A short story by P.C. Fergusson

Waiting in a beauty parlour on Union Street ("Don't call it that!" her daughter admonishes. "They're called hair salons now."), Charon picks up a copy of Vogue magazine and opens to a picture of Susan Sarandon in a story called "Women of Hollywood." Sarandon looks fantastic in the photo, dressed in a black leather trenchcoat with a studded belt and black heels. The story says she's 66.

"This woman is 66 years old!" Charon announces to the small lobby lined with beauty products, turning the magazine outward to show them the black and white photograph.

"I know. Isn't that pathetic? She rocks it better than I do," says the young receptionist, a pretty girl with a wide face in a blue and white striped crewneck sweater.

The certified eyelash tinter clicks over in her high heels and snatches the magazine out of Charon's hand. She is wearing a low-cut blouse and a miniskirt, penciled eyebrows that extend beyond their natural boundaries. "She's had work," the tinter says, chewing her cheek thoughtfully and tapping a painted fingernail on the page. "She's had at least one facelift, botox, implants..."

Charon nods skeptically. She can tell all that from one picture?

"Anyone whose neck looks like that at 66 has had work done. You start thinking about it at 40," the tinter informs.

Charon has come to get her own "work done" after noticing a sign advertising eyelash tinting. She hadn't known eyelash tinting was possible before she saw the sign. "Is it dangerous?" she asked the receptionist when she made the appointment.

"No," the receptionist laughed. "We use a vegetable dye, so it can't hurt your eyes, although some people say it stings. We're all certified here."

Charon's eyelashes have chagrined since she lost them during chemo. They grew back gray and stubby, and her efforts to mascara them into existence have only mild results. She doesn't want to be one of those old ladies with makeup inexpertly applied -- a blotch here, a clot there, a daub of red on her forehead...

The receptionist brings Charon a cup of chai just as the tinter tells her to sit on a high leather chair by the window and close her eyes. She wedges her cup between the tiny bottles and shiny implements littering the tinter's table. The tinter puts what feels like medical tape around each eye, then slathers on a cold gel.

Charon thinks of her colleague, a woman close to her age, lying in an open casket the day before. She wore pink lipstick, as she had never done in life. Her little wire-frame librarian's glasses were gone, and her troublesome, bushy hair. A flowery turban encircled her head instead. She looked much more feminine, Charon thought, by which she meant frail. And she seemed much smaller--small enough to fit in the narrow, powder-blue casket, which Charon had helped to lift out of the white hearse onto a silver wheeled platform and drag into the church.

"Can you tint my eyebrows, too?" Charon asks, her eyes still closed.

"I can, but you're also going to need me to shape them. Tinting alone isn't going to do much."

"Let me start with the tint and see how I like it," Charon resists the sales pitch.

The idea of pulling out even one precious eyebrow hair is odious to Charon. So much has been lost. Now the hair on her legs and under her arms is so meek it rarely requires shaving. Her pubic hair is splotchy, making her feel old. But the hair on her head, at least, is longer than it's ever been before, falling almost to the rise of her rump. She loves the way it brushes her bare back when she walks naked from the bedroom to the bathroom in their flat--free to be immodest with their children grown and gone.

"Her new boyfriend is 35 years old," the tinter continues, slathering a cold paste on Sharon's eyebrows.

"You're kidding! I thought she was still married to that guy she met on Bull Durham."

"No. They were divorced a couple of years ago."

"Thirty-five? Wow." Charon thinks of Demi Moore and other women who've partnered with younger men, thinks of her own crush, years before, on a friend of her children's, and the vulnerable situation that puts a woman in--wanting to look younger than she really is, wanting to be more beautiful.

Sometimes there are photographs outside of Rudy's Pub, where Charon and her husband go for drinks on Wednesdays, of the strippers on Broadway. The female photographer lays them out on the sidewalk, hoping to make a sale. Women handle their breasts in the photos, stick out their butts, lean close to the mirror to put on cosmetics. Charon doesn't like the photographs, although she imagines they are art. And she is put off by the younger woman who is often inside, looking like a child's dress-up doll in a big, wide-brimmed hat and long, fingerless gloves, brightly colored dresses.

Charon has often cast her eyes toward this woman, thinking to make a connection, as two of the very few women in the room. But the living doll is unavailable as she perches on the window sill next to her shiny polka dot handbag, surrounded by a flock of old, admiring men.

Someone once said that Sports is serious business, but Fashion and Beauty are not. And why is that? Charon wonders. Is it because women obsess over beauty to win male approval, while men obsess over sports for themselves?

One night Charon watched the doll flirt with the bartender--an older man with a sizable paunch and an areola of wiry gray hair in a loose tee-shirt. She placed one hand over the other on the bar, elbows out and forearms flat as in an Audrey Hepburn picture, put her chin on her hands and stared up at the old man with big, widened eyes. "Love me!" she seemed to be commanding or pleading, not sure if her beauty was a secret superpower or a wound.

"Love me! Love me! Love me! Love me!"

The tinter squirts something cold and liquid on Charon's eyes and wipes them roughly with a towel. "How does that feel?"

"It stings a little."

"Do you want more?"

"I don't know. Is that what's making it sting?"

She squirts on more cold liquid, then swipes Charon's face with the towel and brings her a big, hand-held mirror.

Charon's eyebrows are clownish, too thick and an unnatural, bright red-brown color. She suppresses a gasp. Her eyelashes, though, look better, with excess black tint lining both the upper and the lower lid.

"Okay. You're right. I guess you better shape them," she says.

"Good," the tinter says as she pulls more tape off the roll and applies it around Charon's eyebrows. Then she is wielding a thick little paintbrush, standing back for a moment to look at her handiwork, cocking her head to one side.

Charon thinks of the priest putting his hand into the casket to adjust her colleague's turban, touching her face with a paternal fondness that made Charon uneasy.

Later, he rolled up a little scroll and placed it in her colleague's hand, like a window dresser rearranging a mannequin. Charon didn't like that, either.

But she liked the open-throated singing of the young cantor in his long, black dress. She liked the swinging of the censor with its strong incense and tiny bells.

"What about my hair?" Charon says. "How do the ends look?"

"We can take care of that for you," says the tinter. "Hasn't Lucy got a 4:30 open?" she calls over to the receptionist. Then she flicks her wrist and a scorching pain rips across Charon's forehead.

"Ow!" Charon is shocked by the sudden violence, puts a finger to the bald skin where part of one eyebrow had been.

The tinter smirks, "Are you okay?" she asks, but doesn't wait for an answer before daubing her paintbrush on the second brow.

"Yes, Lucy's got a 4:40 open," the receptionist says. "Do you want it?"

"Okay," Charon hesitates. "But I hope she doesn't have to take off too much. I really like it long."

Still later, he had leaned over the coffin and kissed her cheek or forehead. Many people had kissed her. The other priests in their funny, flat hats and long, gray beards. The family in the front row, the first in the long line to view her. The lead cantor and the other singers.

One got down on his hands and knees before the coffin and touched his forehead to the marble floor three times.

"It's too thin," the the tinter is saying. "It's not healthy. They're going to have to cut off a lot."

"Okay," Charon says. "Okay."  She clutches the armrests, bracing for the next rip.

Monday, November 12, 2012

So a Woman Who Walks Down the Street is a...?

Reading Kate Zambreno's new book Heroines opened so many avenues in me. It is a book about suppressed women in literature, including wives of the greats (Zelda and Viv,, lovers, characters in books, and women writers themselves.

Zambreno's scholarship is deep. I wrote down 20 names I'd never heard of, and plan to research. She writes a little about literary theory (which I know nothing about and am not interested in learning) and a little about herself (which I enjoy). If you're a woman and a writer, or someone interested in same, I highly recommend this book. It inspired me in a number of ways.

First and foremost, it led me to refigure this blog, and decide I wanted it to be more like the newspaper column I wrote for years -- a place to philosophize, consider events, laugh about them and explore; to discuss what is happening in my life and how I feel about it; to attempt to make the personal into the universal, and transform experience into art.

But that column appeared in print. This will be different. In her book, Zambreno describes starting her blog Frances Farmer is My Sister and discovering a community of people online to talk with about issues that are important to her. My synapses started firing like a bag of popcorn in the microwave. Wow! I want some of that!

But where to begin?

I started by googling "feminist blogs" to see what was out there. One happy hit led to this year-old article by Emily Nussbaum about SlutWalk NYC in New York Magazine; it's a great read that brings up interesting issues about the ways women dress and male aggression, and best of all, it has a list of feminist blogs Nussbaum likes at the end.

I spent the rest of the day following her links. I liked what I found so much that I didn't come up for air until hours later when a dinner date forced me to stop. Yet it was such a glut of information that I couldn't recognize at the time which posts were really going to stick with me.

Now I do.

One that stuck was this post about getting fat to avoid men's attention at puberty. on Jezebel The post originally appeared on The anonymous interviewee describes the disturbing experience of moving into puberty that I recall:

"It started off subtle at first. Lingering stares and comments under the breath that you couldn't quite make out. I couldn't understand why these men were speaking to me that way. I may have had breasts and hips, but I still looked like a child...After I turned 16, it got unbearable/ I literally had men grab me, pull at me, hiss and whistle at me."

I didn't get fat myself, but after being a strong, happy, independent child with full agency and full membership in the human race. it was unsettling, to say the least, to be pushed out to the sketchy perimeter--to become a quasi-human, one it was okay to yell rude things to, to push, to violate with impunity--when I grew breasts.

Another one that stuck described a study about what women do to avoid harassment on the street (a dozen things or more), and what men do (nothing).

Unfortunately, with the ephemeral quality of the Internet and the wide range of my surfing that day, I can't find that exact article this morning. But I did find two organizations devoted to changing the climate for women in public, and two riveting stories about being harassed that went viral: This one about being groped on Muni in San Francisco and this one about enduring a threatening rant after refusing to talk to a man on an LA train.

Both of those stories were linked in a CNN article on various studies, statistics, and plans of action to address the harassment of women in the street.

It was a revelation to me that there even were a non-profit agencies like Stop Street Harassment, and Hollaback! attempting to prevent harassment of women on the street, because the experience seemed so pervasive to me, like a fact of life, like a force of nature.

When I moved out of San Francisco in my late '20s, one big motivator was the harassment I got almost every time I left my flat on 19th and Guerrero in the Mission District. Men would drive by and call rude things out the window at me, or mutter unpleasantries as I passed them on the sidewalk.

People who claim this is complimentary or irrelevant are not living in my universe. There is threat implicit in inappropriate sexual comments made in public.

To men who've never experienced it, I say imagine how you would feel if someone bigger and stronger (or maybe just exponentially meaner) passed you on the street and said he really wanted to fuck you, or liked your butt or penis. (Insulted? Afraid? Disturbed?)

To women who don't seem to be bothered by these comments, like my daughter, I just marvel. It takes a very self confident woman to brush that stuff off. I don't consider myself meek, and I wasn't able to do it. In my case, it literally drove me out of town.

When my husband suggested moving back to San Francisco almost 30 years after we left, I resisted. I had the vague impression that the City was dangerous. But he was so eager that I agreed to give it a try. And now that I'm here, I love living in San Francisco. But I'm older, and my flat is in a richer neighborhood. And even so, I walk fast and keep my eyes down when I pass men at night. And women shouldn't have to grow older and richer just to gain the right to walk unmolested down the street.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

And the Dead are Newly Risen

North Beach Notebook was originally conceived as a travelogue-type blog about living in San Francisco, but I don't want to write that anymore. I just want to write.

I spent half the weekend reading Heroines, a book by Kate Zambreno that just came out Nov. 2. I found it by following a post on facebook from an old high school friend of my daughter's. That led to a web site called The New Inquiry which had an interview with the author, here, and an excerpt from the book, here, and also mentioned Zambrino's blog Francis Farmer Is My Sister, and that led to me rushing down to City Lights Books to buy it.

The guy at the counter was such a dick. (That's part of my new blog aesthetic: being allowed to say words like "dick." Allowing myself.) First he told me to look in the Women's Studies section for the book, since the topic was "so specialized." Why is that? I wondered. Why is a book about the suppression of women in literature (the wives of great authors [Zelda and Viv,], lovers, characters, women writers) filed in Women's Studies, while a book about men is filed in the general section? Why don't we have a Men's Studies?

It's an ostracism, a diminishment. It felt like being banished to the "kids table" at Thanksgiving. And is the experience of being a woman "so specialized?" It doesn't seem that way to me. It seems universal--it is everything. And I'm pretty sure half the people on the planet feel the same way.

But anyway, I bopped down the stairs to get the book. Of course it wasn't there.

Mr. Dickhead gave a big sigh and shook his head like I was an incompetent who was causing him a migraine before he tromped down the stairs to look himself. As he crouched peering at titles on the bottom shelf I said, "See? No Z's."

"Actually, there are three Z's," he said testily.

"No Zambrenos."

Back upstairs his more helpful counterpart said he'd seen the book -- two copies -- somewhere. "It's gray. Outsized. Slim." Mr. D. wanted to send me away and told me he'd call if he (ever) found it, but I lingered among the shelves, trusting Mr. Helpful to solve the problem without directly asking him to--that might have been seen as an insult to his coworker.

This reminds me a little of what happened later that night, when I was supervising a high school dance as part of my job. (I am a high school English teacher, which is why I have previously censored myself from using words like "dick" on this blog, but I don't want to do that anymore. Like I said.) I arrived early and the two adorable sisters in charge of decorations were hovering around a big morass of blue and white ballons strung together with white ribbon on the floor of a big, empty room. Every so often a helium-filled balloon star rose out of the jumble.

"It's too heavy. We're going to have to pop half the balloons" the blonde sister told the brunette one, desultorily pricking a little white one with a small scissors. It popped.

Their mom stood nearby talking into her cell phone. "We haven't got lift off. We need a helium tank here, stat!"

I looked up at the rafters, down at skeins of yarn in a paper bag. "You could just hoist the whole thing up. Hang it from the ceiling," I said. The blonde daughter was skeptical. "I don't want to electrocute myself," she said, before they wandered out of the room. "We have to go get dressed."

Then a male administrator, a very tall man with an odd kind of bouncy swagger, walked into the room. "Their balloon cloud won't float," I told him, thinking to enlist him in my project.

He looked down at me from his great height. "That's their problem. What makes you think it's your job to deal with decorations?"

Sometimes I think there are basically two types of people in the world: problem solvers and... You know what I mean?

So anyway, the problem solver at City Lights eventually tromped up the stairs with an armload of books, including a slim gray one on top. I looked at him hopefully. "Did you find it?"

He had. And I was rewarded for my submissive subtlety with a great read that kept me going all day and all night, and then percolating all the next day and night until this very morning when I sat down on my red couch beneath the small window, inspired, to refigure my old blog.

And I bought a second copy and talked my friend into reading it. And I saw that Kate Zambreno is coming to SF to speak next week. And I learned of a mysterious venue in the lower Haight in an abandoned apartment lit by candles where a man named Janey reads his poetry about snow by flashlight to an audience sitting on the floor. I'm going to go there!

And the balloon cloud floated over all the teenage dancers for most of the night, until some prankster snipped the anchoring yarn and it floated down atop them, and they had such a time stomping and popping and laughing and dancing. We all had such a time.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Why I'm Not Leaving The Flat This Weekend

One problem with living in San Francisco is it's hard to find the "STOP" button. Last weekend was so full of fun that I practically keeled over dead.

It started Friday after work when I joined a few colleagues at Southern Pacific Brewing, a clean and hip little hard-to-spot, hole-in-the-wall with outdoor seating, artisan beer, and some powerful voodoo that makes roasted brussel sprouts taste good.

That night my sister and her husband arrived for the weekend, and though we'd planned to stay in, we couldn't resist having a couple at our favorite local, Specs, before heading over to consume super-delicious Chinese food at House of Nanking.

The next morning we were up early to ride over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito for breakfast. On the way, we passed through Aquatic Park where hordes of swimmers were emerging from the water after braving the Bay all the way from Alcatraz.
After stopping to admire them for awhile, we headed over the GGB and on to Sausalito, where I neglected to take pictures, but trust me: sitting outside eating breakfast while looking over the sparkling water to the San Francisco skyline is good.

On the way back over the bridge, we came upon this protest march about conditions in Syria. A few signs criticized Obama. I'm not sure what the U.S. is supposed to be doing over there, but after seeing the march, I'm going to look it up. Maybe this weekend, while staying in!

That night we left our guests on their own with a set of keys to the flat while we went out to see Sista Monica at Biscuits and Blues on Mason with friends. We'd bought the tickets months before. It was a really good show, and we loved the venue: small and intimate and low-ceilinged, with good southern food on the menu like catfish and corn fritters.
Then it was Sunday and time to ride our bikes to Golden Gate Park--which is more strenuous than riding to Sausalito, by the way, because of the big hills in between here and there--to see Opera in the Park. We stopped and bought sandwiches at a deli on Arguello, and really enjoyed the show.

It was an epic weekend, with good friends, good food, good music, good drink, and lots of sunshine and exercise. Just recounting it here has given me a warm glow. Then on Monday Ace told me, "I don't want to do anything for at least a week, so don't include me in any plans." And I understood. I really did. I put absolutely nothing on the calendar for this weekend. But now it's Thursday, my day off, and I can't help noticing on sf.funcheap that there's free Klezmer music at Yerba Buena Gardens today...

Where is that STOP button again?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

15 Strange Claims Schwartzisbigger Makes About Penises

After reading Naomi Wolf's paean to her genitalia, Vagina, Arnold Schwartzisbigger quickly penned one of his own. Following are a few excerpts, plagiaristically titled "15 Strange Claims Schwartzisbigger Makes About Penises."
1. A penis is not happy without a hole. Penises like to go into holes. Vaginas are good; so are mouths and anuses. Although some say a male mouth or anus isn’t as attractive as a female one, that’s just silly! A hole is a hole is a hole is a... Even something resembling a hole, like, say, a slat, can confer happiness. As Nora Ephron once remarked about her ex-husband, ‘That man could have sex with a Venetian blind!’

2. Your penis makes you a god--or at least a king. This is obvious and agreed upon by everyone. Penises are like little scepters that confer regality upon those who own them. God gave men penises so they would know they have dominion. Whenever there is a difference of opinion, merely check to see who has the penis, and that person wins. If both people have penises, the one with the bigger penis wins.

3. What’s Foreplay? People with penises don’t require foreplay, which is another sign of godliness. Men don’t want to “beat around the bush,” but prefer to get right to “the point,” with or without mutual consent, which is a sign of their widely-admired “can do” attitude.

4. The penis can control the mind. This isn’t always a good idea. Ask Bill Clinton. But it’s another piece of evidence that the penis is an extremely powerful tool which God gives only to righteous people who deserve something awesome and powerful.

5. The penis evolved to help men reach nirvana. It’s pretty obvious the penis isn’t just about making babies, otherwise they’d be dropping off about now due to overpopulation. No. Penises are also about the evolution of the soul. Putting your penis into a hole is like meeting God, particularly when She’s wearing super sexy red, crotchless panties.

6. Ballsacks can think. Like when you’re really really cold, and your ballsack shrivels up, and your balls try to ascend into your body, they’re thinking, “Shit! It’s really fucking cold out there!!”

7. The penis is the meaning of life. It is not surprising that when the penis stops getting erect multiple times daily with no provocation whatsoever, its owner feels like laying down in front of a train, thereby really inconveniencing a lot of upright commuters who are only trying to reduce global warming by using public transit. Without penile-hole interaction, what’s the point?

8. Men don’t need love, because of penises. It’s time to admit that cooperation with people who don’t have penises is just a colossal waste of time, because even if those people decide they “love” you, they aren’t going to let you stick your penis in their hole whenever you feel like it. Studies show that men who are disrespectful and cruel get to put their penises in holes just as often as men who are kind and considerate. Therefore, “love” is overrated.

9. Penises get depressed. Most men who don’t get to put their penis into a hole regularly are unhappy, and some even turn to violent crime. This is caused by “penile depression,” and is one reason prostitution should not only be legalized, but mandatory for all unmarried penisless people over 21.

10. They feel grief. One way to tell if your penis is sad is to examine it carefully in the mirror. Is it frowning? Droopy? Hanging its head? If your penis looks sad, it probably is. Try putting cute little costumes on your penis. A big nose, glasses, and a little moustache are bound to cheer your penis up.

11. Sex is all about the "penis-hole connection." Like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the penis’s attraction to the hole is deep. In the midst of penetration, men can experience the transcendent penis-hole connection that defines reality as we know it.

12. Women tell men not to touch their penises because they are greedy. Women don’t want men to be happy. They want men to be their slaves. Ignore anyone who tells you not to touch your penis and masterbate freely as often as possible, preferably in public while watching children on a playground.

13. Penises make men smarter and better. There’s a reason men have dominated math, science, politics, literature, art, philosophy, fashion, dance, media, business, architecture, sports and pretty much all of society for time immemorial, and it’s not because women have been spending 90% of their time perpetuating the species. It’s because men have penises. Even so, it’s a good idea to outlaw birth control and abortion to ensure there is no unwelcome shift of power.

14. Porn will ruin your penis. Pornography is a feminist plot to get men to stay inside their houses masterbating instead of going out to rule the world. Remember, it’s better to supress a real woman than to watch one being supressed on television or your computer. Try to limit your pornography consumption to three hours a day.

15. People without penises are unfathomable. What do they even have to think about all day? It’s a mystery.

This post is a riff on a post about Wolf's book called "15 Strange Claims Wolf Makes About Vaginas" which you can find over here: Anna North's Post on Buzzfeed. Thanks for the inspiration, Anna!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sista Monica and More at the Fillmore Jazz Fest

We bussed over to the Fillmore Jazz Fest the other day, and came upon this freelancer playing music with just an ipad plugged into an amplifier. Percussion is provided by a tapdancer on a piece of plywood. How cool is that?! I wish I could tell you the name of the duo. A woman standing nearby was holding up CDs, but I didn't buy one. I DID drop a couple bucks in the box, though. Everyone should support street music!

After that we saw the band from St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church. This is an actual church with services every Sunday at 1286 Fillmore, on the corner of Eddy. "It must be an ecstatic church," my friend Kim said, since the purpose seemed to be to bring people to a state of ecstasy through music. There were several saxophones, each taking a turn at soloing, and three women singing the Lord's Prayer and other religious texts. You can learn a bit more about this wildly unorthodox, orthodox church HERE.

We stayed at the Eddy Street Stage for the next act--Sista Monica, who belted out a blend of gospel, soul, funk, and R&B. This woman was hot! EVERYONE was dancing. I think I burned 2300 calories moving to her music! :) So fun. She mentioned an upcoming date at Biscuits and Blues on Mason Street Sept. 8. I'm hoping to go. Her website is HERE. Here's a little taste of her stuff:

The guy in the red baseball cap outside the barrier on the left got on the dance floor later. He took off his black jacket and OMG, was he ripped! This guy definitely puts some time in at the gym. He had on a skin-tight red spandex top, bright red clogs, the red ballcap, tight jeans, and a diamond-studded belt buckle of a panther. Quite a sight. Only in San Francisco. You can get an idea of Sista Monica's personality in this short clip. I would have taken more, but I was too busy dancing. I've already got the Fillmore Jazz Festival on my calendar for next year. I'm definitely going back.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

To the Underworld

Ceri wasn’t in the mood for a party the night she met Al Detwinder. And she’d loaned her daughter the car, so they would have to bike/train. But she’d told Hermione they’d come, and was curious to meet Al, so when the hour approached, she dutifully pulled on her party clothes, including the pocket bra with the fake breast inside.

It was going to be a Doofus Party, which meant they were supposed to bring stupid gifts to exchange. “Don’t spend any money” Hermie had said in her evite, which featured a picture of a bum rooting through a dumpster. “Just find something in your drawers that you don’t want.” So Ceri wrapped up the salad spinner Stu had bought when they had moved to the City six months before.

The spinner was supposed to replace the washer/dryer they’d left in the suburbs. After researching online, Stu’d gone out and bought the spinner, a big puke-pink plastic bucket, and a cheap toilet plunger in Chinatown. Then he’d cut little triangles and diamonds out of the rubbery red cup of the plunger with an X-Acto blade. “This will help the water circulate,” he explained.

Ceri could see right then that it wasn’t going to work out, but she didn’t like to discourage him, and Stu kept at it for a week or two, creating customized hangers he could load with wet clothes and deploy in the bathroom, the tiny kitchen, and the extremely long hall, until the whole place started to smell like mildew, and the windows in the front room were slimy and wet on the inside, dripping tears.

When he agreed to stop, Ceri agreed to do his laundry. She was only working part time now, so it seemed fair. And besides, she liked sitting in the warm laundromat with the dryers spinning, listening to the low hum and swish of the machines. Sometimes other patrons would join her on the flimsy white plastic lawn chairs, or stand at the counter folding clothes, but no one attempted conversation. Mr. Bubbles was a chapel in North Beach; the patrons were supplicants, praying for clean clothes.

For their second gift, Ceri chose a factory-knitted article of clothing that her mother-in-law had sent home with Stu. It wasn’t a sweater, exactly, and it wasn’t a shawl. It was some kind of bastard offspring which went over her shoulders and hung down to her knees like outsized priest’s vestments—a swal, maybe, or a shwetter—big and bulky and unflattering and so bright white it was blinding, something someone religious might wear to a funeral. She was glad to get it out of her small closet, where it was taking up too much room.

When it was time to leave, Ceri donned her talismans: her helmet, with the bright lights Stu had rigged up on top—blue in front and red in back; her fluorescent-yellow vest over three layers of clothing; her fluorescent Velcro leg straps to keep her pants out of the teeth of the chain; and woolen gloves with the fingers cut out, to provide an extra layer of skin if she fell. Stu approved of all the protective gear, though he liked to pretend that nothing would hurt her—that she was the same woman now as she’d always been. And he didn’t wear any of his own.

They left the flat just as it was getting dark, riding down Columbus past the neon-bright strip clubs dotting Broadway on the left and the honey-hued City Lights Bookstore on the right; sailing by the coppery-green, triangular Zoetrope studios building owned by Francis Ford Coppola, and skirting around the base of the big, white Transamerica pyramid, which gave the San Francisco skyline a magical appeal.

Stu was the better biker by far, but Ceri had improved over time, and liked the picture she made flying down Columbus with her yellow vest flapping, efficiently steering her steed. Even so, she followed Stu’s lead about when to take a lane, where to position her bike in the rank of cars at a stoplight, when to cross the street against the light, and when to wait.

They arrived at the station with just a few minutes to spare, and hoisted their bikes up onto the bustling bike car. The trip to Mountain View was long, and Ceri dozed in her seat, dreaming first of her daughter, driving Ceri’s car through the desert; and then of the view from the surgery table—that scorching disc of white light.

When they finally got to their station, they tumbled out of the car and hurried down a busy street until they found the entry to Mors Park pathway. It wasn’t lit, and the night had become black and impenetrable and freezing cold in the hour they’d spent on the train. There was a short chain link fence on each side of the path, and two walls of black trees which curved together to form a ceiling overhead. Ceri could barely see a few yards in front of her, and was reluctant to enter the tunnel of trees. Then her headlight blinked out. Fear skittered up her spine.

“Wait for me! Wait up!” She scrambled closer to Stu, so she could use his headlight to see. When a dry leaf scuttled across the path, she gasped loudly. Stu laughed.

“Are you sure this is the right way?” she complained.


“Fuck. My hands are freezing!”

“You should go down to Chinatown and buy some gloves like mine. They’re really warm.”

“You should let me wear them.”

“No way.”


Ceri laughed in spite of herself, secretly glad that Stu hadn’t wanted to keep her cloistered in a car. She was sick, yes. Her prognosis was poor. But that didn’t mean she wanted to be treated like an invalid.

As her eyes adjusted to the dark, she was awed by the night landscape. The black shadows pushed against her like an enormous cat, demanding attention. She felt awake and alive in a way that she wouldn’t have in a cozy car. But when they reached the end of the path 15 cold minutes later, she was also glad the ride would soon be over and she would be safe inside.

They continued slowly down a dark road lined on one side by large, ranch-style houses, and on the other by a vast, empty field. Every so often, they stopped to peer down a driveway to try to locate an address. Then Ceri saw a face in a small patch of light.
“Hold up. I think that’s Hermie in the window,” she called out to Stu. “Yes, it is. We’re here!”

Hermie came out to greet them when they clattered down the driveway. “You made it! Welcome! You can park your bikes in Al’s REI room,” she grinned. She opened the door to an enclosed porch lined with shelves that were stuffed to overflowing with brightly colored ropes and carabineers and lanterns and snowshoes and sleeping bags and fishing poles and much, much more.

“You can return these at any time, you know,” Stu joked, referring to official REI store policy. Hermie laughed.

Seven pairs of ski boots of various sizes lined the top shelf. The smallest pair was sparkling pink. “Look at all those boots,” Ceri marveled. “Does Al have a daughter?”

“I don’t know…” Hermie’s voice trailed. “I know he has sons.”

The party was in a remodeled garage, with sliding glass doors leading onto the driveway. The room was overflowing with music equipment and people. There was an electronic drumset, a keyboard, three congas on stands, two giant mixers covered with dials, speakers hanging from the ceiling, and an old stand-up bass leaning regally in a corner.

One counter was piled with wrapped presents. Ceri put hers on top. People stood together in clumps. An alcove held a small refrigerator with a stock of wine and beer, some snacks. There was a couch and two chairs arrayed around a coffee table. Every chair was occupied. There was nowhere to sit.

“This is Al, our host,” Hermie introduced them to a very thin man with a very long nose. He had a smooth face framed by wispy brown hair, and pearly white, nearly translucent skin. He was wearing a floppy hat, jeans, and a tie-dyed t-shirt.

“Hello,” Al held out his hand, and Ceri took it.

“Thanks for hosting Hermie’s party at your house,” she said. Al smiled and nodded. Ceri liked him right away. “You have so much musical equipment here. Are you going to play for us?”

“Yeah, that’s the idea—later, when some of the crowd clears. There are some very good musicians here, and more coming. I think we’ll be getting a vibraphone in here later, and more guitars. It gets pretty crowded. That gentleman over there—Doug—is an excellent sax player. He teaches over in Oakland. Do you play?”

“No, not really. I’m trying to learn to play the piano, but I’m not progressing fast enough.”

“Sounds like me,” Al’s mouth curved up at one corner; a dimple sprung in his cheek. “Here, let me hook up the keyboard for you.” He put his hands lightly on her shoulders as he maneuvered around her to get to the instrument, then leaned over it carefully to extract a fat cord from a big tangle on the floor.

“Don’t bother. I really can’t play. I just fool around.”

“Fooling around is fine. That’s all any of us ever do here—fool around.” He plugged the cord into the back of an amplifier. He had long, slender fingers with oversized knuckles, clean nails.

The party was much bigger than Ceri and Stu had envisioned. They knew very few of the other guests. They squeezed over to the alcove with the refrigerator, where they each grabbed a beer and met Luis, a guitar player from Brazil, and Ceri overheard Doug the excellent sax player talking about their host.

“Al’s famous, man. Can you believe that? I was reading this article about some archeologists using a new technology to photograph hieroglyphics, and it said Al Detwinder had invented it. His name was right there in the magazine!”

Ceri glanced over at Al and saw him pulling the door to the driveway closed, to keep the noise down for the neighbors, she supposed. He hovered around the equipment, showing a novice how to use a keypad to manipulate the synthesizer. Ceri wanted to touch him. What was it that compelled her? He was different somehow, set apart: very thin, very quiet, very self-contained—an ascetic. She saw him reach into a bowl of nuts and extract a single almond, place it between his front teeth.

When a chair opened up by the door, Ceri quickly maneuvered into it, and Stu followed. Their roles were reversed in social situations—Ceri led. The wall on that side of the room was covered with pictures printed out on plain computer paper, including one of Al with two boys in fishing gear, standing up to their waists in a bluegreen lake, and another of him standing stark naked on a snowy mountaintop, looking out over an impressive vista of mountain peaks.

Luis began setting up his acoustic guitar and amplifier in the corner behind them, arranged a microphone for singing, and began to softly play. Doug appeared at one of the conga stands and added a beat. When another man joined him on a second conga, fumbling a little, Doug moved to the keyboard, his fingers confidently sounding the keys.

Hermie started the gift exchange part of the party, with its particular rules. Names went into a bag, names came out, gifts were selected and opened. One man got a hula outfit with coconut breast cups and put it on. Hermie got “You Go Girl,” a funnel that would let her pee standing up. Al got a plastic dinosaur bone on a necklace chain. “Is this real?” he asked. Ceri squeezed past the drumset to get into the bathroom. She pulled her iphone out of her pocket before dropping her pants to the floor. Settling down on the toilet, she googled Al Detwinder’s name.

Here was a picture of him in a white lab coat, with a long list of the projects he’d worked on, all with arcane and mystical-sounding names like “Modeling with Gaussian Thread,” or “Decoding the Basic Field-Theoretic Function of the Canonical Partition.” So he is a guru, she thought, an interpreter of mysteries, a traveler between two worlds.

And here was a story from nine years prior, still proclaiming the “news” on the internet: Mountain View neighborhood reels after tragedy…

Ceri quickly clicked the link to see if it connected to Al. A school picture of a darling girl appeared on the screen. She looked a little like Ceri had in kindergarten: curly black hair framing plump pink cheeks; a big, wide open forehead; sparkling brown eyes. She was smiling into the camera with the tiny rounded teeth of six-year-olds, the wine-dark lips.

Ceri’s thumb raced to the first paragraph of the story. “Al Detwinder won’t condemn the teenager who struck and killed his six-year-old daughter in a remote neighborhood of Mountain View yesterday.”

Ceri gasped and pressed the iphone to her chest, heart thumping.

She read the article about the death twice, lingering over the strange comments Al had made to the press. She read another about the teenage driver, whose blonde hair was cropped short above his puffy white face, who was a regular attendee at Bible study and a junior in high school—until he went to jail; and still another about the eight-hour sentencing hearing, where Al’s wife had worn black lace covering her face.

Al’s wife—what had happened to her? She wasn’t at the party. Had she left him? Did she blame him? He had been there, after all. He had failed in his primary responsibility as a parent: keep your child alive. Someone pounded on the bathroom door. Ceri quickly zipped up her pants and returned to the party in a daze, envisioning the accident right outside, on this road.

Al had been riding his children to school on their bikes—two boys and a girl. They were all wearing helmets; they were following the rules. Little Flora was in front, and pulled over when Al stopped to fix her brother’s chain. Then Al heard an explosion.

He must have run!

He must have dropped his son’s bike to the pavement and run. He must have knelt in the roadbed, gravel gouging his knees, and lifted her limp body…

The teenaged driver rushed out of the car screaming, pulling his hair. Two cars slowed as they passed without stopping. Al put his fingers in Flora’s mouth, scooped out the blood so she could breathe...

Ceri dropped her iphone with a clatter. Partygoers turned to look, wondering if she was drunk. Stu gave her a quizzical look from across the room. Had she harmed him? she wondered. Had she invaded his privacy by reading his story? Nine years later, and still shrieking on the internet.

How did he do it? Ceri wondered. How did he speak softly, play music, eat a single almond?

When she got back to the chair, Stu told her it was almost time to leave. CalTrain cut service from the Peninsula at 11pm. She saw Al’s thin legs receding up the narrow stairs to the main part of the house. She squeezed Stu’s shoulder. “I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going?”

“Nowhere. Just a minute. I’ll be right back.”

The top of the stairs opened into vast darkness. The room was plush black. A thick couch to the right sank deep into pile carpet. Every inch of the east wall was covered with artwork—100 frames. The back wall was all windows looking onto the roadway, the tall trees, the empty field. The only light in the room came from a small glass bar to her left. Al was bent over it, lit eerily from below. Ceri heard a slight tinkling as he stirred a drink with a glass stick.

Al looked up. “Who’s there?”

“It’s me, Ceri. We met downstairs.”

“You’re not supposed to be up here. The party’s downstairs.”

“I know.”

Al bunched his eyebrows and walked over to her, stopping too close. She smelled the gin and olives in his glass. She smelled marijuana.

“Why are you here then?” he said in a low voice. She couldn’t tell if he was angry. “What are you looking for?”

When she didn’t answer he extended his face closer. His breath was rich, intoxicating. He took one of her hands, started to squeeze. “Hmmm?” he pressed.

“It’s about…” Ceri tried carefully to extricate her hand. “It’s about…your daughter.”

“What?!” Al dropped her hand and jumped back.

“I’m sorry!” Ceri cried. “I googled your name. I was so intrigued by you! I read about the accident…”

A groan began rumbling through him like an approaching tsunami. Ceri tensed to flee. “I’m sorry,” she said again. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. But I was thinking you could help me...”

“Help you?!” His voice was a sharp rock bursting on pavement. “Help you?! What the fuck are you talking about?”  There was a thud as he threw his glass to the carpet. Ice and alcohol sprang and wet her shirt. “What do you want? What does this have to do with Flora?”

“I have cancer!” Ceri blurted. “And I thought you knew something…about Death, and acceptance. Something that could…”

Al’s hands were on her shoulders, gripping hard. He swung her to the wall and slammed her back against sheetrock.

“You think I know something about Death?” he seethed. “You think I have some secret?”  His voice was a low rasp, hauled up from his bowels. Flecks of spit leapt from his mouth and stung her cheek. “Well I don’t. I don’t know anything about it! And as for God, if you see that Motherfucker up there, bring Him a message from me, okay? Okay?” He shook her roughly.

Ceri nodded.

“Tell Him to suck my dick!”

Al let go of her shoulders, then. All his energy rushed away. He hunched over before her, hands on his knees, making strange gulping noises.

She wanted to put a hand on his back, to comfort him. She wanted to smooth his thin hair, but she was afraid. She slid deftly to the top of the stairway. “Okay, Al,” she whispered. “I’ll tell Him. I’ll tell Him what you said.”

Out in the driveway, Ceri re-donned all her talismans: her helmet, her vest over three layers of clothes. Doug came out to dissuade them from leaving. “If you want to stay for the jam, I can put your bikes in the back of my station wagon and drive you home later.”

“That’s nice of you—thanks.  But I think we’d better get back.”

Another musician was unpacking his gear in the driveway. “Looks like it’s going to be a good jam tonight,” he said.

“Yeah, pretty good. But that guy on the congas, he’s no drummer,” Doug complained.

“It doesn’t matter,” the first musician batted his hand at the air.

“Yes it does. He has no business playing.”

“C’mon, man. It’s a party. It’s all good.”

“No it isn’t!” Doug puffed out his chest. “He needs to admit he’s no musician and step back. Like our host. He’s a good guy and all, but he’d be the first to admit that he’s no musician.”

Ceri swung her leg over her bike and pedaled up the driveway. As she turned onto the road, she noticed a sculpture in the yard—how had she missed it before? A red light flickered in a glass bowl, like a mouth full of blood.

“Wait up!” she called after Stu, wanting to peer into the center.

But Stu had already started off into the darkness, and she had to hurry. She had to hurry to catch up.


TIP JAR: Yes, this story is free. But if you want to express your appreciation, you can find it on Amazon here:
  • To The Underworld
  • and then a) buy a digital copy for 99 cents, or b) leave a review, or c) search for the title and then click on it to move it up in the rankings. THANKS!

    Cover art is a Gian Lorenzo Bernini sculpture depicting Pluto abducting Proserpina. It can be seen at the Borghese Museum and Gallery in Rome.

    Sunday, July 1, 2012

    Fifty Shades...Of Gay!: a short parody

    Because after reading the bestseller Fifty Shades of Gray, I couldn't resist... 

    1. I’m a 21-year-old college student from Portland who has never had sex or masturbated. All my friends tell me I look really hot, though. When my best friend, the editor in chief of our school newspaper, got a cold, he asked me to go conduct his most important interview of the year—with a reclusive billionaire businessman. I’m not sure why he didn’t ask a real reporter on his paper. Probably because he thinks I look hot.

    2. I have to drive all the way to Seattle for the interview, and I arrive at the billionaire’s office out of breath. I’m so nervous in the plush surroundings that when his secretary swings open the door, I trip over my feet and fall on my knees into his gigantic penthouse office. Crap! “You look good in that position,” Rock Hardway growls. My whole body electrifies at the sound of his voice, particularly down there.

    3. I recover myself and sit on a huge white leather couch overlooking all of Seattle. I have a list of questions my friend gave me. I am distracted by Rock’s good looks. He is really young for a billionaire. He wears a white linen shirt and gray pants that hang off his narrow hips. Oh my. One of the questions is embarrassing, but I don’t want to disappoint my friend. I bite my lip and look up at him through my lashes, asking shyly, “Are you gay?”

    4. Rock Hardaway looks like he is going to beat the crap out of me. Holy shit! “Why do you ask?” he scowls. Even though I’ve never had sex, I start thinking about humping him right then, on his big mahogany desk. “Because you’ve never been photographed with a woman,” I answer quietly. “No. I’m not gay,” Rock answers, and my heart drops. “But I’d still like to help you on with your jacket.” Oh my!

    5. The next day I am at work at a hardware store in Portland when Rock walks through the door. That’s just a coincidence, my snarky subconscious taunts me. But my inner goddess does a double back flip in glee. He came all this way to see you! I help him find all the things on his list—cable ties, rope, masking tape, handcuffs. I ask him if he’s doing some remodeling, and he says no. Hmmm. Then he asks what I like to do in my spare time. I say read Thomas Hardy.

    6. I tell Rock that we still need a picture to go with his interview, and he agrees to a photo shoot at his hotel the next day. Whoa! My friend Pedro is the photographer. When I walk Rock outside afterwards, I trip and almost fall in front of a car! Luckily, Rock catches me, and as I look up at him, for the first time in my life, I want to be kissed. But he just stares at me with smoldering eyes and runs his thumb slowly over his lower lip.

    7. Instead of kissing me, he asks me out for coffee, where we learn a little bit more about each other. Turns out he is the son of a crack whore but grew up with a wealthy family who adopted him at age six, plays concert-level piano, flys helicopters and gliders, works out every day with a professional kickboxer, makes  $100,000 an hour, and is trying to eliminate world hunger. Jeez! He makes some cryptic comment about having unusual tastes, but I know a lot of people who drink green tea matcha lattes!

    8. The next day, I’m surprised when he sends me a first edition of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’urbervilles. The card has some cryptic quote about romance and warnings. My roommate says it’s worth more than $14,000. Does this mean Rock likes me?

    9. That night, my friends and I go out to a bar, and I get drunk for the first time in my life. I call Rock from the toilet stall in my inebriation, and he is really worried to hear me slurring my words. Next thing I know, Pedro is out in the parking lot trying to kiss me—and he’s not even gay! Then Rock appears out of nowhere and scares Pedro away with his powerful glare. He also helps me to puke in the bushes. When I pass out, he carries me back to his hotel.

    10. We sleep together that night—which Rock says is a first, he never sleeps in the same bed with anyone—but nothing happens. When I ask him why in the morning, his presses his mouth in a hard line and grumbles that he isn’t gay. Besides, I still smell like puke.

    11. That’s when I notice I am practically naked. “Who undressed me?” I ask. He says he did. That makes me blush, and then he says he’s so mad that I got drunk and put myself into danger that he wants to spank me. Crap!

    12. I bite my lip, and his eyes blaze. “Why don’t you, then?” I tease him. But he says he isn’t going to touch me until he has my written consent. What?! He says I’m going to have to sign some kind of crazy contract. Double crap! Then he invites me to dinner to go over the details.

    13. When we are in the elevator going down to the lobby, though, all kinds of electricity bounces off the walls between us, and Rock is so wild with desire that he grabs both my hands and pushes me against the wall, kissing me really hard. I’m starting to think my friends are right. I am hot! Then his chauffeur drives us directly to my house, even though I hadn’t given him my address. Uh oh.

    13. That night, it turns out he wants to have dinner at his house in Seattle, so he flies me there in his helicopter. When he helps me strap in, he says how much he likes the harness. Whoa! I tell him how much I admire his competence in not crashing and killing us both on the way!

    14. At dinner, we have oysters and expensive wine. He shows me how to swallow without chewing. I ask him why he sent me such an expensive book. He says something about choices: that Angel Clare wants to put Tess on a pedestal, and Alec d’Urberville wants to debase her. I say if it was me, I’d choose debasement. That sets his eyes on fire. I think he really likes classic literature!

    15. Rock tells me he’s never flown anyone in his helicopter before, just like he’s never slept with anyone in the same bed. He tells me I’m all kinds of special—he didn’t even know that he liked guys! Then he tells me he’s probably not my kind of man, because he isn’t romantic, and I can never touch his chest. What?! He also tells me he doesn’t make love, he fucks. Hard. Jeez! So I ask him, “Who’s complaining?”

    16. Next he shows me a secret room he has in his enormous penthouse mansion that contains all kinds of torture tools like paddles, whips, floggers, canes, shackles, carabiners dangling from the ceiling, a big X on the wall with restraining cuffs, a padded bench, a red leather bed, and a giant, purple, stuffed dinosaur trussed up in the corner.

    17. I’m pretty freaked out. “Is that Barney?” I gasp.

    18. Rock ignores the question and pulls out a big contract that lists “The Rules.” They cover things like obedience, sleep, food, clothes, exercise, personal hygiene, and looks. It must be 100 pages long!

    19. “Do you expect me to read all that?” I breathe.

    20. Rock says that he wants to have a unique kind of relationship with me. He will be The Dominant. I will be The Submissive. He pulls out a baseball cap and puts it on sideways. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to react to that, so I ask if we’re going to have the dessert that’s still sitting on the dining room table—strawberry shortcake with lots of whipped cream. LOL.

    21. Then he flips the contract open to his list of the “hard” rules. There will be no sex involving fire, pee, poop, knives, blood, medical instruments, children, animals, breath control, or electricity. Gross! He says I will have to follow all the rules. If I don’t, he will punish me.

    22. “So…no dessert?”

    23. “Come on, Andy,” he commands. “Tell me what you’re thinking. Is there anything I’ve mentioned so far that you object to?”

    24. I cock my head to one side, considering.

    25. “Paddling? Whipping? Caning? Spanking?”

    26. My mouth quirks up into a smile.

    25. “Dildos, vibrators, butt plugs?”

    26. I wrinkle my nose.

    27. “Little silver balls that I put up your who who?”

    27. I frown.

    28. “Genital clamps?”

    29. I wrinkle my brow.

    30. “Binding hands in front? In back? At the elbows? Feet to head?”

    31. I open both eyes wide and raise my eyebrows.

    33. “Ice cubes? Hot wax? Instant pudding?”

    34. “Look, Rock…” I begin to waver.

    35. “Dressing up in spike heels like Tina Turner?”

    35. “Wait a minute. Slow down.”

    35. “Eating from a prescribed list of foods?”

    36. “No!” It finally becomes too much for me. “I object to the food list! No one tells me what to eat!”

    37. “Fair point well played, Andrew,” he murmurs seductively, and I wonder if he’s really from Seattle.

    38. “Look Rock, I’m really not qualified to decide all this stuff, because I’m a virgin,” I confess. “Maybe I should call my dad.”

    39. Rock is stunned. Then he’s mad. Then he’s burning with desire. Then he gives me a really intense look like maybe…he LOVES me! Holy Crap!

    40. “Well, then,” he says in his low, stern voice. “We’ll have to take care of that right now. Forget the secret room. I’ll take your virginity the old-fashioned way in my bedroom first. We can do the genital clamps later.”

    41-44. I have my very first orgasm when he’s simply pulling on my nipples with his long fingers. Extraordinary! Then he undoes his zipper and his manhood springs free. Holy cow! Then he takes me from the front. Whoa! Then he takes me from the back. Oh my! I like it so much that I scream out his name. Then I give my very first blow job in the bathtub and he cries out my name! Afterwards, he asks if I’m sure I’ve never done this before.

    45. After that, he gives me a lot of expensive stuff, like a laptop, a blackberry, a cell phone, a closet full of designer clothes, a free doctor’s appointment, a whole bunch of cash in my bank account, and a new car!

    47. He meets my parents. They like him.

    48. I meet his parents. They like me. I also meet the evil bitch who seduced him when he was 15 and turned him into a kinky sex monster. We dislike each other.

    49. There’s a lot more sex, some bondage, a little light flogging with blindfolds, and three spankings.

    50. Eventually, we go back into the special room and he beats the holy crap out of me. That’s when I decide that I don’t want to be The Submissive, after all, so I return all his stuff and break up with him. But don’t worry; it’s not over yet, because I really miss him and all his cool stuff--especially the helicopter!


    Fifty Shades...of Gay! is one of many short stories, plays, novels and columns you can find on my Amazon Author PageSee what I'm working on now at

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