Friday, November 28, 2014

Doris, Goddess of Fish: a short play

Characters: Connie, Suze, Beatrice, Dave, Drew, Madison, Conga Dancers 1-4

A group of six people sit on chairs facing the audience.

Connie: Hi, I’m Connie and I’m an alcoholic.

Suze, Beatrice, Dave, Drew, Madison: Hi Connie!

Connie: Today’s reading about Doris the Goddess of Fish reminded me of a bartender I used to know. Beautiful hair…

Madison: I knew Doris!

Beatrice: No cross talk, please.

(Madison squirms in his chair)

Connie: I’d come up to her bar as if to an altar, and ask for the elixir of life. She’d pour something golden and sparkling into my glass, or maybe deep red, like the wine-dark sea…and I’d drink. (Connie takes a big, sensual breath, stretching her arms over her head and luxuriating in the memory). Such a feeling! Why, it’d go right through me! Warming up my limbs…unclenching my heart…making me feel strong, and sexy, and smart...


Connie: And I’d drink…wanting more of that. (Looks around.) Anybody would.


Connie: And I’d drink, and I’d drink, and I’d just never stop. I guess that’s why I’m here tonight. It’s not that I don’t like drinking. It’s that I like it too much.

(mumbling in semi-unison)
Suze: Thank you, Connie.
Beatrice: Thanks.
Dave: Thanks for sharing.
Drew: Thanks a lot.
Madison: (nods)

Suze: I’m Suze and I’m an alcoholic

Connie, Beatrice, Dave, Drew, Madison: Hi Suze!

Suze: Today’s reading reminded me of my best friend’s mom in high school. Her name was Doreen. How we loved her! She’d throw these parties, open up her liquor cabinet. She had this infectious laugh…I remember one time when I was so drunk I couldn’t stand up, and my mother called over for me to come on home. So Doreen and her nephew John—a very handsome young man that I had a big crush on--got me into the shower, to sober me up. The water soaked through my shirt, and my breasts were showing through the fabric… (stops to take a deep breath)

And he got his hand up on my rib cage, under my breast--just under, so I could feel the weight of it laying along his thumb…

Beatrice, Dave, Drew, Madison: (shifting in chairs)

Connie: And I’d drink…

Beatrice: (to Connie) Please don’t interrupt someone else’s share.

Suze: Doreen and her nephew were laughing! And the water was pelting down. But I felt dirty.


Suze: And it didn’t work, either—the shower. It didn’t sober me up. They just moved me over to the toilet when I started puking. Then they peeled off my wet shirt--that always happens…And Doreen called my mom to tell her I was spending the night.

(The meeting is interrupted by a conga line of four people. #3 carries a music player blaring loud music with a strong drum beat. #4 stumbles a little. All are dancing and partying, holding drinks up high. Laughing. Having fun. They dance through the meeting, making whooping noises.)

Conga 1: (stopping and looking around, perplexed) Is this the party? (the music switches off; the rest of the line continues to dance in place)

Beatrice: No, dear. It’s not.

Conga 1: (laughs) This isn’t 400 Rampart Street? Doris’s 21st birthday party?

Beatrice: Nope. This is 300 Rampart. 400 is down the street.

Conga 1: Oopsie! So sorry! We’re just looking for Doris!

(#3 turns up the music. Laughing, and whooping, Conga line starts dancing off)

Connie: (calling after them) Looks like fun!

Conga 1: Hop on!

Connie: (shaking head) I better not.

(Conga line dances out the door.)

Dave: Are you done, Suze?

Suze: Yes.

Dave: Hi, everybody. My name’s Dave, and I’m an alcoholic.

Connie, Suze, Beatrice, Drew, Madison: Hi Dave!

Dave: I’m new to AA, and I haven’t really got with the program yet. I don’t have a sponsor, and I’m not working the steps. But I decided I wanted to stop drinking a few weeks ago, so I started coming to meetings, and it’s been a big help. I guess what’s working for me is I’m developing a relationship with God in these meetings, and that’s something I haven’t been able to do anywhere else, at any organized religion. But now I’m talking to my higher power—and trying to turn my life over to God, as I understand Her. And that’s not very well.

Connie: (chuckles)

Dave: By nature, I’m really more of an atheist. And to tell the truth, I think of God as my imaginary friend.

(companionable laughter)

Dave: But now, when I’m in trouble, I ask God to help me. And I’m in trouble a lot.

(more laughter)

Dave: I’ve been feeling a lot less lonely lately. And I haven't been getting in as much trouble. So I’m grateful to have found you people. Thanks for letting me share.

(variations of the following)
Connie: Thanks, Dave.
Suze: Thanks.
Beatrice: Thank you.
Drew: Thanks a lot.

Drew: My name’s Drew and I’m an alcoholic.

Connie, Suze, Beatrice, Dave, Madison: Hi Drew!

Drew: I have an announcement. I said last week that I’d do the coffee commitment. Madison said he couldn’t do it anymore, so I stepped up and said that I’d do it, but then I showed up early this week to make the coffee and Madison had already made it, so I’m going to have to give up the commitment. I’m sorry. I said I’d do it, but I just can’t. I love you guys.

Suze: Thanks, Drew.
Dave: Thank you.
Madison: Thanks.

Connie: (rolls her eyes and looks at the person next to her)

Madison: My name’s Madison and I’m an alcoholic.

Connie, Suze, Beatrice, Dave: Hi Madison!

Drew: I’m really sorry about the coffee.

Connie: (guffaws)

Beatrice: (frowns and shakes her head at Connie, putting a finger over her lips)

Madison: There was always drinking at my house. My dad drank every day. My uncle died of it. I remember going over to my wife’s house for dinner, when she was still just my girlfriend, and thinking, ‘Wow! Her parents aren’t drinking with dinner.’ I was really impressed by that.

(some random nodding)

(Conga line returns with only three people. #4 is missing. Music is blaring and others are dancing.)

Conga 1: I’m so sorry to interrupt you again, but we lost our friend Barry. We thought maybe he dropped off here.

Beatrice: Haven’t seen him.

Conga 1: Okay. Well, if he shows up, just send him down the street to Doris’ party, would you?

Beatrice: Will do.

(Conga line dances out elaborately, swinging their hips and raising their glasses high. Conga #1 winks at Connie and motions for her to join them. Connie shakes her head, but smiles.)

Madison: I remember going into my father’s bedroom, the day my uncle died, and finding my dad crying in there. I never saw him cry before or after that one time. He really loved his brother, I guess. And he told me that day that Uncle John was just too sensitive. That’s why he had to drink. That life had done him wrong, somehow. And I formed this idea that drinking was noble, and romantic…a tragedy of mythic proportions. I thought of drinking as some kind of artistic activity.

Connie: You got that right!

Suze, Beatrice: (look at Connie askance)

Madison: But my cousin Danny, about my age, 15 at the time, he was the one to find his dad. Uncle John had been holed up in some fleabag apartment. He’d lost everything by then: his job, his wife, his children, his house, all his money in the bank. He hadn’t answered the phone for two days, so Danny went over there and got the manager to let him in. He must of known beforehand what he was going to find. But you don’t like to believe it, at that age. At any age… You’re still gonna hope things are gonna be okay…

(Attentive silence. Everyone is focused on Madison.)

But they weren’t okay. Danny found his dad stone cold dead on his burnt-orange carpet in his yellow underpants. That’s how I picture it, anyway. His empty bottles of Jack Daniels strewn around the room, sparkling from the little bit of sunlight that dribbled in through the windows.

Uncle John was thin as a rail by then. Like a worn out piece of gray cord. His face looked kind of knawed on, and mean as the devil. Scare the life out of you, just looking at that face, like any second he might reach out and grab you around the neck and choke the life out of you. All us kids kept a wide berth.

And cousin Danny, he never got over that shock. Died one night walking out on the freeway. Cops said it was a suicide. But I don’t think it was. Just a stupid accident. Just too damn drunk to notice where he was.

Connie: And I’d drink…

Beatrice: (to Connie) Please stop saying that.

Connie: Who me? (Connie takes a flask out of her pocket and pours something clear into her coffee cup while staring steadily at Beatrice.)

Beatrice: (looks at Connie bug-eyed)

(Others raise their eyebrows and look around at each other dumbfounded, unsure what to do.)

Madison: I guess I’m finished, anyway.

(several voices, scattered, quietly): Thanks, Madison.

Drew: I just want to say again that I’m sorry about the coffee.

Connie: (guffaws loudly) Nobody cares about the damn coffee!

Drew: I think they DO care about the coffee! I think maybe you ought to care about the coffee a little more than you do!

Beatrice: I think that’s all the time we have for today.

Connie: What? Look at the clock! We’ve still got 20 minutes to go!

Beatrice: Has everyone had an opportunity to share?

Connie: How about you, Queenie? You haven’t said anything.

Beatrice: No one has to share here. Just like no one has to come to these meetings if they don’t want to (gives Connie a meaningful look).

Connie: Oh I want to be here. (Takes a drink of her spiked coffee.) I’m lovin’ this!

Beatrice: You are?

Connie: Yep.

Beatrice: Really lovin’ your recovery?

Connie: You bet.

Beatrice: Maybe I do have something to say after all.

Connie: I can’t wait to hear it.

Beatrice: I’m Bernice and I’m an alcoholic.

Connie, Suze, Dave, Drew, Madison: Hi Bernice!

Beatrice: I saw a movie recently, called Under the Skin. Anybody see that? With Scarlett Johansson? She drives around the streets of Scotland, seducing these men. But what she’s really doing is harvesting them for food for her alien planet. There’s this great scene where she’s walking away from the camera, taking her clothes off. And the men all follow her, with their big erections. She is so beautiful! How can they resist? But while she walks on top of the black water, they sink down into it, and get trapped.

That’s all.

Connie: What? You call that a share? What’s that got to do with you?

(Conga line of 3 returns noisily, dancing, stumbling slightly. The music is louder than it was before. When they talk, they slur a little.)

Conga 1: (shouting above the music) Doris sent me down to invite you all to the party! It’s really happening!

Connie: (stands) The hell with this bullshit. I’m coming with you! (moves to the back of the conga line and starts dancing emphatically; turns to wave to Bernice as they dance toward the door)

Suze: (looks around at the others sheepishly, then joins the end of the conga line) Don’t judge me!

Drew: (Joins the line behind Suze, placing his hands lasciviously on her hips and making lewd gestures with his pelvis while smiling at the audience. The conga line dances out. The room is quiet. Only 3 people are left.)

Beatrice: (looks around) Well, I guess that ends the meeting. Anyone want to go for another coffee?

Dave: I’ll come

Madison: Me, too.

(There is some noise at the back door. All three turn to look. The missing conga dancer stumbles through, drops to his knees, crawls towards them, then collapses on the floor in front of them, snoring loudly.)

Beatrice: What the…? Hey you! (nudges him with her foot) Wake up!

(loud snoring)

Beatrice: (looks around with exasperation at the others; shakes his shoulder) Wake up already! You can’t sleep here.

Conga #4: (slurring his words) Is this the AA meeting?

Beatrice: This was the AA meeting. It’s over now. You’ll have to come back tomorrow.

Conga #4: Did you know that Bill Wilson asked for a drink on his deathbed?

Beatrice: (rolls her eyes at the other two AA members) Look, Hon. I’d love to talk philosophy with you sometime. But not right now. We’re locking up.

Conga #4: Your fucking founding father! His dying wish! And they wouldn’t give it to him! The bastards! (his head drops loudly on the floor and the snoring resumes)

Beatrice: Shit. What are we going to do with this guy, now?

Madison: I guess we could drop him off at Doris’s party.

Beatrice: Do you think you can lift him?

(Dave grabs the man beneath one armpit and Madison grabs beneath the other. They try unsuccessfully to get him on his feet)

Conga #4: His dying wish! The bastards!

Beatrice: Never mind, Guys. Just put him down. I’ll come back after coffee with the janitor. Maybe he’ll have sobered up some by then.

Dave: All right.

Madison: If you're sure it's okay.

Beatrice: It's fine. (The three walk towards the door together. She turns back to survey the room before she dims the light and closes the front door.)

Conga 1: (enters from the back door, trailing a scarf. She walks over to the man on the floor and starts twirling the scarf over his body and around his head seductively, coaxing him up.) There you are, Barry. I found you! What are you doing here all alone? Come on back to the party with us.

Conga 4: Doris?

Conga 1: Doris is looking for you. She wants you back at the party.

Conga 4: (struggles to get to his knees) Tell Doris I’m coming.

Conga 1: Okay, Barry. We’ll tell her together. Upsy Daisy, now. Follow me. (puts her scarf around his neck; leads him along towards the door)

Conga 4: Wouldn’t give him a drink!

Conga 1: No worries. We got you covered. There’s plenty for everyone. (Conga music rises softly as they weave out the door.)


Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

Find more of my writing on my Amazon Author Page

The cover art is a collage of photos found on the Internet including the underwater dancer by Kurt Arrigo.

TIP JAR: Want to express your appreciation? Leave a review here: Doris, Goddess of Fish

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Things I Saw in San Francisco Today

We walked down to the water from North Beach, planning to take the F up to Mount Sutro, where we wanted to explore a hiking trail we had noticed on a recent bike ride up there. The streetcar stop was in front of an abandoned-looking building that I've seen before, but I never noticed the artwork on the sidewalk in front of it, memorializing the deaths of two men killed by police during a maritime general strike in 1934.

The text on the ground says "Police Murder" and "Men Killed--Shot in Back." Turns out it is the Longshoreman's Memorial Building, named in honor of the two dead men. Times have changed, I thought. Then I remembered news stories about the recent police killing of an unarmed man in Ferguson, Mo., and I wondered how much.

We rode the F to Church and Market. Along the way two Muni workers came on board and asked to see people's tickets, rousting three homeless men in the process. We got out our clipper cards, but they weren't interested in checking on us. I'm aware that being old, white, clean, and dressed in reasonable clothing (without holes) gives me some protection from harassment, but I feel bad for the others. As we moved off, the three men were standing outside as the Muni workers wrote them tickets--tickets I'm guessing will never be paid.

We got out a few blocks later in front of the old "Church Street Station" across from Safeway where my husband and I used to go at all hours when we were first dating 35 years ago. It was open 24 hours a day then, and was on our driving route between San Francisco State University, where we often stayed late putting out the now-defunct Golden Gater, and where I lived in the Mission on 19th and Guererro in a super huge flat that must cost multiple thousands per month today. I guess our diner became a restaurant called "Home" in the meantime, at least that's what the sign says. But it's all boarded up now--has been for three years, at least. I wonder how the landlord can afford to leave it empty, and why no one wants to open another restaurant there? It seems a sweet location. At least, it always was for us.

We waited there for the 37, a little-used bus that took us up to the trailhead on Stanyan near 17th. A sign at the entry said "Quiet Entering the Forest," and once inside, sure enough, I wanted to whisper--it was so beautiful. It's astonishing to find this lush natural world in the middle of San Francisco. Here are a few of the things I saw.

We spent a good, long time hiking up and down and all around the trails in the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve, including one called "Fairy Gate," until we came out of the forest on Parnassus, and walked down to Haight to catch another bus. Many of the trees in the reserve are eucalyptus, which I know aren't native. I'm not sure what the fuss is about re-planting native species. After all, white people aren't native to North America (and are doing a lot of damage here, by the way), and no one is tearing me up by my roots or asking me to leave.

Once on the bus, we were back in the City again, with a sweet young homeless man--looking handsome, disoriented, and heart-breakingly vulnerable--asking me how to get to the library, and a Romeo talking too loudly on his cell phone to a girlfriend he wants to visit tonight. 

We got off on Kearny and Market, where we often wind up standing to catch the 30 Stockton home after an adventure, and I saw another sign of City living there. It was a hand-drawn map of the universe on the bus shelter. Or maybe just a warning about how we live.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The "D" Word: a column

“I think we should use the code word ‘pomegranate’ to mean divorce from now on, because I truly don’t want to hear the ‘D’ word in our conversations anymore. K?”

I was home on my day off, texting my husband Mark at work. He had left in the morning while I was still under the covers--not saying goodbye, not kissing me, his shadow moving heavily through the darkness around the foot of our bed.

“For example, last night you would have said ‘If we get a pomegranate, it will be because of Nick.’” Nick is our 27-year-old son who has schizoaffective disorder, which one doctor helpfully described as both schizophrenia and bipolar disease.

“That sounds much better,” I continued. “Or if I was in a fit of pique, I could shout, ‘I want a pomegranate!’”

I added this last bit just to entice him into the conversation. Pique isn’t my current preference. Lately, I almost never threaten divorce. A divorce would be just another huge problem to deal with, when I could use a few trauma-free years.

I waited. I’ve grown good at waiting. Nick has taught me that. I’ve had conversations with my middle child in which almost all I do is wait. He won’t hear me in the moment. He refuses. He takes a stand against hearing. But later, perhaps, an idea I’ve suggested will take hold.

A few seconds passed before Mark texted back. “I wish I had a big glass of pomegranate juice right now! Oh, I mean divorce juice.”

“No ‘D’ word!” I countered.

“What about when I_mean_pomegranate?”

“I don’t think you ever mean that!”

“I could say Dover sole.”

“Hahaha! Good idea!”

“And then, if I wanted Dover sole, I could say trial separation!”


I love my husband’s sense of humor, which has come in quite handy over the years. I also love his big, bushy eyebrows—over the top, like Groucho Marx; his gymnastic brain; his secret, little heart; and his quick metabolism. At night, under the covers, he’s my private blanket-warmer.

But there are also things I don’t like, such as his moodiness. His mood goes up and down more often than a bride’s nightie, as my late father might say. Mix that with his manly disinclination to question his own behavior, add my womanly inclination to make nicey nice, and you have a recipe for dysfunction. And yes, we have that. We have that a lot.

The irony is that I don’t mind, really. Dysfunction is my home. I feel comfortable there. I wouldn’t know what to do with Heart’s Ease if Helen slipped it into my drink on Sparta, deciding in her queenly way what pain I shouldn’t feel.

Mark and I are both children of unhappy marriages. That could explain things. Our parents didn’t like each other much, but they never divorced.

I remember thinking at a very young age that my mother was wrong not to divorce my father. I vowed that if I was ever stuck in a marriage like hers--in which my father, bipolar, made her life miserable--I would get one myself. Divorce has always been in my toolkit.

And social strictures notwithstanding, there isn’t much wrong with divorce. Countries with the highest divorce rates also have the best records for women’s rights. A woman who can get a divorce is a woman who is capable of independence because of fair property, employment, and human rights.

True love? Soul mates? Until death do we part? Bah! I’ve seen the product of buying that bill of goods. One friend’s husband comes home after 30 years to say he’s fallen in love with a younger woman—that hokey old tale. Another friend falls in love repeatedly only to decide, upon reflection, that the object of her great passion isn’t God’s gift, but a curse. A third loses her true love to alcohol. Yeah. There’s that.

Then there are all the people I don’t know who are harmed by our myths about love and marriage: men who kill their ex-wives because if they can’t have them, nobody will; women who kill themselves because their husbands left; men who kill everyone because the universe disappoints their fantastic expectations.

In my world, romantic love is hooey. Love is not a gem you find in the forest if you’re lucky and then enjoy for the rest of your life. Love is a struggle. Love is a peeling back of layer after sometimes-stinking layer in a possibly-doomed effort to get to the bright, shining center. Love is a two-person project. In my world, it makes sense to stay married when both are working on it, and to get a divorce when one stops.

The trouble with my world is it requires constant re-evaluation. Does this tender day make up for that horrible one? Has he given up completely, or is he just taking a break? Have we finally crossed the line? Can—and should—this marriage be saved?

This mental state reminds me of quitting smoking. If I tell myself I can have a cigarette sometime, my mind always wonders if now is then. It’s far easier to decree that I can never have one. Then I can put cigarettes out of my thoughts.

Perhaps that’s what I’m doing now—making it easier on my mind—by trying to take divorce off the table, after so many years of having it on.

But perhaps to maintain the equilibrium, just as I stopped suggesting divorce, Mark started in. I don’t like where he put the compost bin? Maybe we should get a divorce. I don’t think he’s taking the right route to Britex? Maybe we should get a divorce…

Recently, we were in the midst of a divorce-themed fight when we accompanied our eldest to her lab at Stanford, where she’s getting a PhD in Genetics. We sat squished together on the tiny couch in her cluttered office while she went to the back to check on the fruit flies. Mark had his phone out and I mine as we argued back and forth silently via text, thumbs tapping.

“We’re a terrible match,” he texted that day. “You obviously think so, too.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.”

“No, I don’t! In fact, I quite enjoy being married to you. I find it amusing and interesting and fun. I just wish it would go down differently when we fight.”

We both paused and simmered over that information, staring down at our phones. “You two look cute!” our daughter called out, passing by the office door.

The length of this contentious marriage is pretty impressive—31 years come September 24—but is that a sign of health, or sickness? What exactly is the difference between perseverance and perseveration, anyway? No one knows. And if they tell you they know, they’re probably delusional. Stick that in your DSM-5.

Still, that longevity is one reason I want to take the “D” word out of our vocabulary—I’d like to make it to 32. And the weight of shared days adds complexity to our relationship which can’t be replicated.

Over time, Mark has made deposits in the bank of goodwill which cover his debt when he behaves like an ass. At the birth of our first child, when I was lost in a miasma of fear and pain, he was the one who leaned in close, gripped my hand, and whispered into my ear, “Swim up. Swim to the top.”

Twenty years later, when the doctor telephoned to discuss the results of my biopsy, saying cheerfully, “If you have to have breast cancer, ductile carcinoma in situ is the kind to have!” Mark was the one who rushed home from work, breathlessly bursting through the front door and crushing me into his chest.

And a year after that, on the sunny summer afternoon when two policemen stood in our kitchen to tell us that our youngest child, a high school senior, had been taken to jail for conspiracy to rob a bank, Mark was the one who shared my stunned and incredulous look.

The list goes on.

I know a divorced and remarried woman who concluded that she had just exchanged one set of problems for another. And so, like a country and western singer, I want to stand by my original man.

Who else would feel a tsunami of pride when our eldest puts on her white lab coat? Who else would understand, despite evidence to the contrary, that our youngest isn’t a dangerous criminal, but an impulsive and credulous youth with a capacious heart? And who else would continue to hold out hope for our middle child, nine years deep into his mental illness, now homeless with a pregnant girlfriend in tow?

No one would.

I want to take divorce off the table for the good of our three grown-up children, yes, because we’re better equipped to respond to their crises and triumphs as a team. But mostly I want to do it for ourselves. Because Mark knows me better after 11,000 days of marriage than any new man or woman ever could. Because I want us to form a more perfect union, and we’re not done. And because I never learned how to eat a pomegranate.

Are you supposed to chew or spit out the seeds?


The "D" Word 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

Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

TIP JAR: Want to express your appreciation? Leave a review on Amazon, hereor just search for the title and click on it when you find it to move it up in the search rankings. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Like a phoenix from the fire

It's strangely inspiring to know that you are never too old to have an identity crisis.

Some time ago I posted a short story here that resulted in threatening emails from a male reader. Then abruptly I decided to change the focus of the blog from a sort of personal column reminiscent of the one I had written in local newspapers when my children were small to a political commentary on feminism. I didn't see a connection at the time. (Hahaha!) I completely redesigned the look to a garish yellow background with ugly knife slashes through the canvas that offends me this morning, published two posts, and then abandoned the blog entirely. For two years...

And so, without conscious effort, I made a more cogent comment on the challenges of womanhood than I ever could have imagined.

Because when faced with difficulty, women often submit, or run away, or self harm, or give up, or react in some other passive manner, as I did with this blog. I'm not saying these aren't sometimes good choices, or that only women make them, but just noticing what I see when I look around me, and wishing it were a little different, a little more balanced.

So now I'm back. I'm going off to the back end now, to see if I can get rid of the garish wallpaper, tidy up a bit, and get all my links working again. Wish me luck! And wish me luck in being selected for a writer's residency on Amtrack this summer. I have two novels in progress that I want to finish--both involving kick-ass women. :)

I can totally see myself writing them here: