Wednesday, July 1, 2009


 It was spring 1972, and the movie The Exorcist was scaring the hell
out of Americans. My mother had always been interested in the occult (she
currently has a modest sideline as a psychic, tarot reader, and astrologer),
and at this point in time she was in her Wiccan phase. Not that she was
something any 15th or 21st century Wiccan would be proud of: the occult
scene in the early 1970s was more concerned with going through the motions
than getting to the source. Being a witch to them meant buying groovy
candle-making kits at Korvettes and dipping those candles in salt and
vinegar while saying the proper incantations in the hopes of getting
something for nothing. In the world of Druidic dilettante, there was no
premium to understanding the Goddess.
My mother had come across Wicca as she had come across much of her
occult wanderings: she wanted to control the universe because she could not
control herself. Wicca, Tarot, astrology were all ways she could pretend
there was some sense of order in her life, some illusion that the incredibly
random things that kept happening to her could be explained, understood, and
kept in check.
Unfortunately (and quite accurately), we never got a hint of future
events from her astrological work. She never told us that tomorrow would be
a good day for this or that activity, as most astrologers do. My mother
always used her horoscopes to deconstruct what had happened to us in the
recent past.
"You've been in a car accident? Wait a minute." We'd hear pages
turning and subvocal mutterings as my mother rapidly computed a daily
horoscope, then we'd hear her verdict. "You have Mercury square your natal
Sun today. It's a minor accident and you're all right."
"Thanks for the prognosis. Now can you come pick me up?"
Even into my twenties, I was getting phone calls at work:
"Hello, who is this?"
"This is your mother! DON'T TRAVEL TODAY!"
"Ma, I'm at work."
"You have Mercury square your natal Pluto and Saturn today. Don't
travel any more than you have to."
"Look, I traveled to work already."
"I already took the subway, ma."
"Well, I could always buy a kayak, I guess. Stop worrying, willya."
"How could I stop worrying with Mercury square Pluto and Saturn??"

Her psychic powers, separate from her astrological readings, were the stuff
of family legend. My brother and his girlfriend were going to spend a
weekend skiing in the Adirondacks. They were packing the car, and my mother
came out into the street, trance-like, and said "You're not going to make
it". We were used to these pronouncements, and by our teens they weren't
anything but gotten annoying. My brother got all pissy. "You tryin' to put
the whammy on us," he yelled. He knew that she hated when we traveled, and
it would be just like her to put a curse on his car because she didn't want
him to go.
My mother said it was no curse, she just felt that they weren't going to
make it. So my brother remained pissed and told his girlfriend, who was
trembling at the exchange, not to pay any mind, it was just his mother
trying to put a curse on them. Into our teens and twenties, never occurred
to me or my siblings that other people hadn't grown up under the constant
threat of being hexed, hadn't grown inured as we had, and therefore wouldn't
know how to handle the news.
They got in the car, got onto the parkway, got 20 miles from the
house, and the engine blew up. My brother walked to an emergency phone and
called a tow truck, and the two of them spent a cold day on the side of the
road. They got a ride back to our house, but my brother's girlfriend
refused to come inside. She chose instead to wait on the sidewalk for her
parents to pick her up, occasionally looking up at the house and shouting
"You're a witch!!" My mother just smiled.

Anyway, this story is about the spring of 1972. The Exorcist was in
theaters, and for a while Satanism was cool in the arriviste occult
community. One night, at one of my mother's Wiccan circles, one of the
women brought an incredibly tall, evil-looking bald man to our house and
introduced him to the group as a Satanist. To this day I wonder if it was
Anton LeVey, the head of the Church of Satan. My mother always thought my
brother and I were safely asleep during her occult meetings, as my
stepfather certainly was, but I used to crawl out of bed, sit in the hallway
and listen to what was going on. I remember that night being petrified,
literally unable to move, when I heard that that tall bald man with the evil
beard worshipped the Devil.
The Satanist guy had come to my mother's paganklatsch to make some
converts. I had overheard him explain (as a terrified 8 year old with an
already psychedelic imagination) that one of the rituals of pledging
allegiance to Satan was to write Satan a note, asking him for something.
You had to sign the note in your own blood, and then burn that paper in a
candle flame. My mother's compatriots wrote their notes, and I remember a
lot of nervous giggling as Mr. Satanist pricked their fingers with a pin to
draw their blood. When it came my mother's turn, she balked, and asked
Frank, a gay man in her group, to sign the note for her. Frank agreed. Gay
men tend to do anything for my mother. When the ritual was over and the
papers burned, my mother stupidly/jokingly commented to the group that they
all were going to Hell, but she wasn't, because she didn't sign her note.
Frank turned to my mother and said she was condemned to Hell with the rest
of them. My mother reminded Frank that he had signed her note. Frank
informed my mother that he had signed _her_ name!!
The Satanism guy said that was sufficient: my mother's intent had taken
her far enough, and as long as the intent was there and the proper name was on
the note, Satan wouldn't argue over trifles. After all, the guy said, "it's
not like we're dealing with God!"

Monday, June 8, 2009

most embarrassing moment

Anyone who tells you that their most embarrassing moment does not in some way involve sex is either lying or very, very repressed. In my particular case, we were in high school, and she was a cheerleader. I was on the math team. Actually, that sort of explains it all, right there.

It was sophomore year, towards the end of October. It must have been around 4:00 or so. I had just come out of a small alcove next to one of the mathematics classrooms. That was where the math club met, and where the school kept its two 8-bit Commodore Pet 2001 computers. In 1980, these were top of the line personal computers: 64 Kilobytes of memory, 40 character built-in green-on-black display, and the wonder of it all, cassette tape storage. The DNA of the 1990s Internet boom came together in rooms very much like this one.

I accidentally took the long way to my locker. The building itself was three stories high, in the form of a circle about 280 feet in diameter. It was a shining example of late 1950s-early 1960s Populuxe architecture, built expressly for the baby boom generation. I should have turned left outside the math room but instead turned right. When I realized my mistake I decided to just keep walking around the building until I reached my locker.

When I had completed about 60 degrees of arc, I heard the clanging noises of someone at their locker. I walked a few more degrees and there, there at her locker, there in a green and white Sacred Heart Fighting Irish Junior Varsity cheerleader's uniform, there was Rosanna, the girl I had a crush on. Cheerleader practice had just gotten out. She was putting away her books and collecting her jacket. She was a lovely creature with soft brown hair, large doe eyes, a sharp, quick mind, and a body that wouldn't quit -- wouldn't even take time off.

"American Gigolo" had been a popular movie that summer, and in it Richard Gere had a special way of walking toward women he was going to seduce. He'd place his feet in front of him instead of under him, if you can picture that, so that he leaned away from his direction of motion, as if he were too cool to keep up with himself. Transversely, his body slowly slid from side to side every three or four steps. It was a complex series of motions to master. It wasn't quite a strut, and it wasn't quite a lope; it was almost pimpish in its smoothness. That summer all the girls had a crush on him.

I walked up to Rosanna like Richard Gere.

A few feet from her locker I realized that the walk wasn't going to be enough. I had to say something to her.

"Hey, Ro. 'S up?"

"Hey hey, Patrick. 'S up?"

That call and response just about met my neurological capacity.

Without stopping or acknowledging her, I continued to pimp-roll down the hall until I was out of her sight. Then I ran to my locker. My God! I really spoke to Rosanna! The next day, like a cargo cultist, I repeated everything I could as exactly as possible in the hopes that the conditions would be right to meet her at her locker again. For the remainder of the week I'd leave the math room at exactly the same time every day, I'd turn right instead of left, and I'd undulate around the circumference of the building until I reached her locker. Most of the time she wasn't there. Having nothing better to do, I'd keep walking around and around the school until I "accidentally" ran into her, or figured I must have missed her. I became a locker stalker.

One day, just before Halloween, I heard her approach from the other direction. I adjusted my Gere strut so that I would be about 10 feet away when she reached her locker. I caught a whiff of her perfume, a sweet, syrupy teenage scent that gave me an instant erection and halted me in my tracks. How could I talk to her like this? I have enough trouble talking to her when it isn't like this. I stopped and leaned against a locker.

"Who's there?" Rosanna called out. I was trapped.

"Hi, Ro!", I said, pimprolling out from around the curve of the hallway. "It's just me."

"Oh, hi, Patrick!" she said enthusiastically, giving me a small wave. Enthusiastically? A small wave? Was I reading this girl right?

She gave me a smile. "'S up?" she asked. The phrase "'s up?" was a slurring of the question "What's up?"

What's up? If she only knew. "Not much," I said. "'s up with you?"

"Not much," she said. Then, suddenly, she poked her head up. "Guess what?" she asked, a big smile on her face.

You love me and want to run away with me? You want to bring me into your room and let me run my hands through your underwear drawer? Aside from that I couldn't guess.

"What?" I asked.

"Remember Theresa?".

I couldn't think of who she was talking about at first. "Oh, yeah," I said finally. I poked my right thumb over my right shoulder, metaphorically pointing to something that happened far away, or in the past. "She moved down to Alabama, didn't she? In the middle of last semester?"

"Right," Rosanna said, "her father was transferred there. Well, I just got a letter from her, and she said she's coming up to visit in a few weeks!!! Isn't that great?!!"

"That's GREAT!" I shouted. I barely remembered Theresa, but if Rosanna thought it was great that she was coming back, that was good enough for me.

"Well," she said, looking up from her bookbag, "gotta go. I'll see you around. Bye-bye!"

"BYE!" I shouted.

Two weeks later. I am prowling the corridors, hoping to catch her at her locker again. The last time, I had managed to exchange five sentences with her, and that's a conversation on a par with Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God. I had to try again.

I was on my second orbit, approximately a radian away from her locker, when I heard the vicious clang of metal striking metal. BANG! I edged toward her locker. Another CLANG!

"Hi, Ro,", I called, when I was about 5 feet away. She tore the door to her locker open with a BLAM! and looked up. "Hi Patrick," she grumbled.

"'S up?" I quickly asked. "'S up?" was a big phrase that year.

"Nothing!" BLAM! She threw her books into her locker.

"What do you mean, nothing?" I asked.

"I just don't feel good, all right??" She was almost yelling.

"Okay, okay," I said. "I'm sorry."

She relaxed. "No, Patrick, I'm sorry," she said quietly. She glanced over her shoulder to make sure we were alone, then she put her face close to mine.

"It's just that I always get cranky when it's that time," she

If you've got a real crush on someone, that person becomes your personal kryptonite. Whatever skills you have, whatever talents you've developed or possessed ab initio, you will lose the closer you get to your crush. The eloquent become mute, the graceful become gauche, even the mighty are humbled when they stand close to their infatuee. In my case my brain, my magnificent 24 carat seventeen jewel brain turned to soapsuds whenever I saw Rosanna. My reasoning power, the innate talent that let me perform calculus in my head, deserted me and left me believing that walking in circles like a mack daddy and dousing myself in Canoe was the way to Rosanna's heart.

I also lost the ability to understand common euphemisms.

I pulled my eyebrows together. I couldn't think. I pulled up my sleeve. I pressed the button on the side of my watch. The red numbers lit up: 4:07. This made no sense. She always got cranky at 4:07?

She noticed the perplexed look on my face. She loudly exhaled and whispered, "You know! That! Time!" I still had no idea. She sighed. "My friend is visiting!"

I got it! I gleefully poked my right thumb over my right shoulder, metaphorically pointing to something that happened far away, or in the past. "OH!!!! YOUR FRIEND!! The one from Alabama, right?"

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

rose is a rose is a rose is a rose

    When I was in high school, I was in love constantly. With different
girls, of course, but still constantly in love. It was mostly one-sided
love, but that was okay. It wasn't important that the girl love me back,
or even like me, or even know me, for that matter. All that mattered was
that I had a chance to look at her, listen to her voice, and perhaps,
every second Tuesday, exchange a few words with her. If I could do that I
was happy.
It was rare, therefore, that I actually got up the nerve to ask one of
these girls out. So rare that my body wasn't used to it. I mean, I used to
have difficulty coordinating myself enough to open a jar of mustard. To
ask a girl to the movies, I had to get my arms, legs, eyes, hands, brain
and tongue to work together for a period of up to 5 minutes. That just
wasn't possible. And what if she said yes? Oh, Jesus, I would have to have
everything working together for a whole evening! Forget it! That sort of
work just wasn't for me.
So I wallowed. By sophomore year things weren't too good, and weren't
too bad. I was in love with a girl in my European History class, who was
also in my European Literature class, in my Chemistry class, and who
sometimes had the same lunch period as I. Her name was Rosanna, she was a
cheerleader, she was absolutely beautiful, amazingly brilliant, and she
had this weird laugh that for some strange reason used to get me excited.
Of course, in my unofficial position as class clown, I had lots of
opportunities to make her laugh, and thus get myself excited.
She knew my name, she liked me (but just as a friend, from what I had
heard), and we even managed to talk for extended periods going to and from
our common classes. Something was strange, though. I was beginning to find
myself growing bolder. So bold that I was afraid that I was going to do
something stupid like actually ask her out before I could stop myself. And
we know what a slip like that could lead to; walking into walls, drooling,
falling over, and all the other actions of an uncontrolled body. I had to
avoid it if I could.
So things grew slowly worse. I found myself staring at her constantly
in European History class, where she sat against the wall, in front of a
large map of Europe, with her head just covering Sicily. I would trample
students and teachers alike in an attempt to get next to her on the lunch
line. I would place my Bunsen burner next to hers in Chem Lab, praying
silently that this time I would not burn the skin off my hand as I had
done last time. I was, in reality, losing my mind, because every time I
would get near her, a small voice in my brain would say "Go ahead, ask
Finally something snapped in my brain. I decided to leave a rose on
her doorstep, a beautiful red rose, the best I could find. With a card, of
course. A card that said... what? What could I write to her that wouldn't
either be laughed at or ignored? "I love you?" No, that might scare her
away. It certainly scared the hell out of me. "How are you?" No, dammit,
this is supposed to be a token of love, not a get well visit. How about
just signing my name? No; she'll probably take that to mean that I am a
complete imbecile who can't think of something clever to write
With the issue of what to write still unresolved, I formulated my
plan. The first problem I ran into was that I needed a rose. I strolled
down to the florist to get one. It was a beautiful autumn night, slightly
chilly, with a fat orange full moon lighting up the sky like a
jack-o-lantern. A perfect night, I thought, for what I am about to do.
Part of me answered, "Yeah, a perfect night for making a fool of
yourself." I pulled my baseball jacket closer to fight the chill that sped
through my body.
At the florist, I picked put the biggest, reddest, prettiest American
Beauty rose I could find. I asked the woman behind the counter to wrap it
up with a lot of baby's breath, and while she did that, I went to fill out
the card.
My mind raced. I had still not decided what to write to her. Some
poetry, perhaps? But what? A few verses flashed through my head, but
nothing that I wanted. A line from a song? A declaration of love? What?!?
I finally just left it blank and shoved the card into the miniature
envelope; she'll know who sent it, I thought, now the next move is hers.
I paid for the flower and zipped up my jacket; it was really getting
quite cold. I headed down her street, as I had done every night for the
previous six days, gathering information on the layout of the neighbor-
hood, seeing who was out, who was in, and how well lit her house was. But
as I got to the corner, getting ready to walk down that final block, I
hesitated. Why let her see me coming, I thought to myself. If I walk
around the block, and approach her house from the other direction, then
(due to the topography of the neighborhood), she won't be able to see me
approach until I am at her house (assuming she is looking out her window,
that is). Perfect, I thought. I headed around the block.
The streets in the suburb in which we lived are not arranged in
regular grids. Instead, the streets followed older village trails, stream
beds, raccoon runs, and other, more irregular patterns. As such, the shape
of her block was more rhomboid than rectangular, a little like a triangle
with the top point cut off. Her house was near the upper right hand corner
of the rhomboid. At about this time, I was nearing the upper left hand
corner of the rhomboid. I stopped to gather my courage. All I had to do
was turn the corner, walk a few feet, turn the other corner, and I would
be at her house. When I got to her house, (the most dangerous part of the
mission), I would have to open her front gate, creep up her walk, climb up
the stairs to her front door, drop the flower, ring the bell, jump off the
porch and hide in the bushes until she went in. All this from a guy who
once tied his necktie into his shoelaces. I started humming the James Bond
theme and moved on.
I picked up the flower, took one step, and heard someone yell out
"Patrick!". I nearly wet myself. A thousand thoughts were racing through
my head. Who knew I was here? Would I be forced, like James Bond, to kill
them if they interfered with my mission? How do I get myself into these
Realizing that the most important thing was not to get caught with any
incriminating evidence, I tossed the flower over the nearest clump of
bushes and turned around, just as the voice said "Patrick!" again.
It was Kathy, a friend of mine from school. I liked Kathy, and usually
chatted with her at lunchtime or between classes, but now I wanted to blow
her off the face of the earth. She was close friends with Rosanna, and
they would easily tie my presence in the neighborhood with the appearance
of the rose on Rosanna's doorstep. I realized, however that that was what
I wanted. I wanted there to be no doubt in Rosanna's mind as to the
identity of the person who gave her the rose. I turned and greeted Kathy
with a smile.
One and one half hours later, I was no longer smiling. Kathy had
decided to tell me the story of her love life in greatest detail, and I
couldn't get her to stop. I looked at my watch, blew on my fingers, paced
up and down, I did everything to make it clear that I wanted her to go
home. But she was oblivious to all my contortions. She wanted to talk. I
spent the next half-hour thinking up ways ways to shut her up, but to no
avail. She kept right on jabbering.
Finally, two hours after she spotted me, she let me go, saying "Oh,
well, I might as well let you go. By the way, what are you doing here,
anyway?" I froze. She knew I lived over a mile away, but I had to use any
excuse to get rid of her.
"Oh," I said, looking her straight in the eye, "I just went out for a
She seemed to buy it.
I walked her to her door, and then went back to the place where I
crouched two hours before. I had to search for the rose. I knew that I had
thrown it over some hedges, but exactly which hedges I had long since
forgotten. I peered into one yard after another, getting my face scratched
from all the thorns, stickers, prickers, and twigs, until, there, in the
center of Mr. and Mrs. Abbotello's lawn, sat the rose, shining in the pale
moonlight. I didn't want to go up their driveway to get the rose, so I
took a few steps back, got a running start, vaulted over the hedges, and
landed on the face of their German shepherd, Ginger.
Ginger, I'm certain, wasn't sure what had hit her. It was as if the
sky had opened and a person dropped out. She yelped and jumped away,
landing by chance right on top of the rose. I rolled over and looked at
her. She looked at me, then started growling, as her surprise and pain
turned to anger. I wasn't sure what to do now. Like a dream, I heard my
cousin's voice instructing me on the proper defense against a dog. "If you
ever get attacked by a dog," he once said, years ago, "rub his dick and
he'll leave you alone!" The idea behind that, I guess, was that if you did
something nice to the dog, he wouldn't regard you as a threat. But there,
lying as I was on the lawn in the middle of the night, I knew it wouldn't
work. First of all, I knew that if someone was ever kind enough to do that
to me, I would never leave them alone; I would follow them to the ends
of the earth in the hopes that they would do it again. Second, and more
relevant under the circumstances, Ginger was female.
Quietly, without making any sudden moves, smiling all the while, I
reached under Ginger and grasped the rose. I backed off of the Abbotello's
lawn and, once on the street, ran down to the corner. By now all I wanted
to do was give Rosanna her damn rose and go home.
I turned the corner at a trot and sized up the situation. There was a
wild, noisy party going on in the house directly across the street from
Rosanna's, which was good, because it would provide a diversion as I
delivered the flower. I straightened myself up, picked up the rose, and
strolled down the sidewalk. I reached her front gate, gave a glance up and
down the street, and opened the gate. Just then, the lights went on in the
house, and her father kicked the screen door open with a crash!
I knew I was going to die then. He was holding what looked like a
shotgun in his hands, and I was expecting him to take aim and fire at me.
I rolled over the hood of a parked car and crawled away until I was in the
yard of the house next door. When I was hidden, I peeked through the
hedges at her father. What I took to be a shotgun in his hands was really
a tray of lasagne. He appeared to be as confused as I was. He gave a
glance around the hedges, as if he were not quite sure of what the hell
had just happened, then shrugged and crossed the street. He took the tray
to the party across the street.
I was fed up. By the looks of the moon I could tell it had to be near
midnight. I knew that there was going to be constant traffic between
Rosanna's house and the party, and that I would never be able to deliver
the rose safely that night. With all my strength, I flung the rose over
the hedges and into Rosanna's yard. By luck it landed in front of what I
believed to be her bedroom window. I gained a little satisfaction from
knowing that she would wake up tomorrow and see the rose from her window.

I woke up to find the world covered in white. I switched on the
clock-radio above my head to hear the story of how a freak storm blew down
from Canada last night, depositing 6 inches of snow in our area, with more
snow expected tonight. Rosanna, I knew, now wouldn't find the rose until
the first thaw in April. Without a word, I switched off the radio and went
back to sleep.