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As kids growing up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, we’d see plumes of smoke spiraling into the air miles and miles away from home. We could even smell it. Hopping onto our bikes, we’d take off, our own children’s brigade of ambulance chasers.
We’d always find the fire somewhere in Cleveland and stare straight up as the powerful sprays of water began to drown out the beautiful flashing orange and yellow flames.
Our family, the Greenwolds, has had a Pandora’s box of secrets, which, were slowly unearthed: a grandfather’s death by suicide, insanity on both sides, a Jewish second cousin who became a Catholic nun, a California abortionist who served jail time, and an adopted son who became the most famous arsonist Cleveland had ever known.
I would visit my widowed Aunt Ethel at the Essex House, parking my bike behind some bushes. She would buzz me into the beautiful lobby – nice enough to live in – which had a huge white birdcage that housed two white doves. The Essex House was not for children. There was a deathly silence about it, as if nothing fun ever transpired behind the chain-locked apartment doors.
I’d run down the corridors, with their diamond-patterned carpets, and kiss Aunt Ethel hello, something my mother trained me to do. An oddly shaped old lady, she had bird-like legs and a massive torso, hidden under stunning expensive clothes, often with rhinestones. She liked to sit in the den on the brocade-covered sofa, where her television was always on.
Across the street we could see the yellow “rapid transit” hauling passengers to downtown Cleveland.
I always selected a snack from my aunt’s refrigerator. The freezer held a stack of frozen dinners and a carton of orange sherbet. I scooped out a bowl of sherbet and found some Pepperidge Farm cookies to dunk into the sherbet.
Then I settled myself on the leather chair in the den opposite her. She had thinning white hair, which hung like straw from her head - she was already in her eighties - and only wore a wig when she went out. It made a tremendous difference and made her look almost beautiful.
The poor woman had been widowed twice and was so lonely she never stopped talking even when I went to the bathroom.
My parents – Harold and Bernice – were close-mouthed about most family secrets but not so Aunt Ethel. Nothing was off-limits to her, not even the pyromaniac Arthur Deitz.
Our distant cousins, Alice and Mace Deitz lived in one of the grand apartments on what we might call Shaker’s “apartment row.” All the buildingswere named after fancy apartments either on New York’s Park Avenue or in Miami Beach.
The Deitz’s lived in the Doral, right next door to Aunt Ethel. Their only child had been a boy with a terrible deformity. He was born a hermaphrodite and was very sickly. Because they had money, they took their boy near and far, even overseas, to see one doctor after another.
The little boy did not survive. Mace and Alice decided to adopt.
Arthur was a quiet boy. He didn’t have many friends. He was also strange. Alice and Mace were not young – they were in their mid-forties, European-born, escaped the Nazis before it was too late – and they had no idea how to relate to their strange new son, who arrived swaddled in blue blankets, mirroring his eyes.
Doubtless they had sang him lullabies, read him nursery rhymes – “Solomon Grundy born on Monday” – attended school conferences but nothing worked with their budding little criminal.
Aunt Ethel, in her shiny red nail polish, was the source of this information.
Enter the lovely Doral apartments and you may catch a whiff of marijuana. Yes, it was from Arthur, who, apparently did nothing after he graduated high school, but stay in his room all day getting “high.”
“Do you need anything, dear?” his kindly white-haired mother would inquire at his bedroom door.
Arthur rarely answered. His door remained locked. Some evenings he would leave home. Alice would leave him food at the foot of his door, mindful that placing her tuna casseroles or sweet and sour meatballs were like feeding a prisoner.
It was at night that Arthur came alive. He had discovered his true calling.
In his car, and we can only surmise that his parents had bought him an expensive one, not a Cadillac like their own, but perhaps a stalwart Buick or Mercury in which he kept the tools of his trade in the trunk.
How did he select his buildings to burn? And why was he so successful?
It took the police a couple of years to catch him. Although his fires never caused fatalities, he probably didn’t care one way or the other. It was the beautiful burgeoning colorful fire that mattered. And made his life worthwhile.
Like many sociopaths, he had a manipulative relationship with the Cleveland chief of police, whose name was Frank. After each fire, he’d call Frank from a pay phone, speak a few moments in his slow marijuana-laden husky voice and then hang up. We can only imagine what fun he was having.
Did he want to get caught? Quite possibly. Only then could his true brilliance be appreciated and brought before the public eye. But he’d have a whale of a time until that happy event came to pass.
Who doesn’t love watching a good fire? The black and white scene in the film “Rebecca” as the home Manderly burned was quite wonderful – goodbye mean Mrs. Danvers – but it can’t hold a candle to the real thing. The smells, the vibrant colors, the excitement, the possibility of death by fire like Jeanne d’Arc, as flames spew in the air, untamable.
Alice Dietz answered the knock on her apartment door.
A police officer flashed his badge.
"Is Arthur Dietz here?"
"I’m sorry," she said, "he’s asleep in his room."
The officer brushed passed her. Smelled the marijuana and pounded on the door.
"Open up NOW," he shouted.
Alice was flummoxed. Wait till her husband heard about this intrusion.
They were wealthy people, after all.
Now the officer was kicking down the door, his revolver drawn. Other officers had filed into the house which smelled like chicken soup and sponge cake.
Arthur was asleep under the covers, like a baby, when officer Frank entered the room, which was wall to wall filth, dishes of uneaten food on the floor, candy wrappers, a few porn magazines, unwashed clothes. The walls were lined with posters – rock bands and fire engines, one of the high tiller man engine spewing out water. His Ethan Allen desk was searched by one of the cops. Sure enough, there were articles in all the Cleveland papers about every fire he’d ever set. He underlined various parts with a yellow highlighter, as if he were a college kid studying for exams.
Frank, the fireman, stocky with a wide face and blue eyes, finally had a good look at the city’s worst arsonist, the young man playing cat and mouse with him and ruining his sleep.
He was goofy-looking, to be sure. Young. In his early twenties. Looked like one of those kids in the Our Gang comedies on television.
Arthur smiled up at him, blue eyes flashing.
"Well, here I am," he said, throwing off his blankets and holding out his hands to be cuffed.
Frank just shook his head.
"Turn around, kid," he said, cuffing them in the back. He was not a mean person and gave the kid some slack.
As Frank and the officers led their boy out the door, Alice stood in her apron, smelling of food.
"Sorry to say, ma’am, we’ve just caught that arsonist you’ve been reading about in the papers."
Alice gave a soft laugh.
"We’ll see about that,” she said. “Just wait until my husband gets home."
Ruth Z. Deming, winner of a Leeway Grant for Creative Nonfiction, has had her work published in lit mags including The Writing Disorder, Literary Yard, and Hektoen International. A psychotherapist and mental health advocate, she runs New Directions Support Group – www.newdirectionssupport.org - for people and loved ones affected by depression and bipolar disorder. She lives in Willow Grove, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia.
I smoked a bowl.
I came across four snacks
2 pieces of Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum
I bought a box of Bazooka Joe two weeks ago during the snowstorm in a fit of whimsy. I used to love Bazooka Joe as a little kid, but honestly who didn’t? I collected all of the mini-comics and taped them to my desk in my childhood bedroom. Those Bazooka Joe Raps, in particular, really spoke to me and I carried Zena’s around in a Tinker Bell wallet until I was about 22. I thought the fortunes were poetic.
Having lit the bowl and inhaled many times over in the past hour I decided to happen upon the Bazooka Joe, almost coyly but basically predatorily. But the two pieces that I just had, stuffed in my mouth one right after the other, are unpardonably bad. Not only is the piece so hard that it feels that it will never be malleable, they’ve thoroughly changed the mini comics. They aren’t comics anymore, they’re these really random pictures and word puzzles. It takes my boyfriend, Zack, five different read alouds to get the following: “Say these words out loud to figure out the phrase they are like: BUNN ANN ASP LIT.” When he finally gets it we laugh for longer than the joke probably merits. The gum loses flavor and I spit it out. Is childhood over? Thanks, Joe.
1 Wyndridge Crafty Cream Soda, Farm Soda.
The night after my best friend and I returned from an impromptu trip to Colorado, we decided to debrief on our trip experience by going to a fancy craft beer bar. This place down the block not only has takeaway six packs of some of the hardest to find beer in the city, they also have one of the most comprehensive cocktail menus I’ve ever seen. Though to be fair I haven’t seen a lot of comprehensive cocktail menus.
She drank fluted gin drinks and I had Sazeracs because they sounded like something ballsy bon vivants drink even though I don’t like whiskey of which they are basically cups of. After five of those I decided to buy a four pack of fancy cream ales to drink while watching Iron Giant, but I fell asleep on my couch before I could crack one open.
When I woke up the following morning, dismally hungover and Iron Giant’s menu screen still babbling at me, I discovered that I didn’t buy cream ales at all. I bought extremely expensive nonalcoholic farm-style cream soda. I have no idea what “farm-style soda” is. I don’t drink soda, so outside of my making my boyfriend laugh the cream soda served absolutely no purpose.
Until tonight, when I realized that besides water we had run out of our regular beverages (beer and orange juice). I decided to have a cream soda to take with my antibiotics. After Google searching whether or not weed and amoxicillin will kill me, I popped the top to the cream soda. I can’t believe it’s not a fucking twist off top.
It’s the sweetest beverage I’ve ever had. THC is known to enhance the reward system in your brain, which induces you to pick sugary treats. It explains why ice cream and candy taste so goddamn amazing when you’re high, because not only does THC induce you to eat but it also rewards you with a euphoric feeling when you do. Sugar releases more dopamine during this pleasure response than other tastes.
But even with that science that I learned from a TED talk while writing this, Wyndridge cream soda is overwhelming in its sweetness. It reminds me of the soda version of English Bitters, the beer that is typically served almost warm and basically flat. This cream soda is barely carbonated, so sugary that it makes me slightly nauseated, and warm because I hadn’t bothered to refrigerate it.
Zack reminds me that I intended to bring this fancy soda as a gift to our friend’s house for Super Bowl Sunday. I guess I got all psyched that it could be a nice gift and texted the host about it, and now we have to go out and buy more. That’s like $15 dollars that I’ll have spent on soda.
MorningStar Farms® Parmesan Garlic Veggie Wings
The grocery stores by my house ran out of the MorningStar veggie hot wings that I like. Yes, that sentence embarrassed me while I was writing it. My boyfriend and I decided to get these garlic vegetarian wings for dinner thinking that we could just pour hot sauce over them and they might be like a really flavorful version of the type we wanted.
Both of us have made halfhearted attempts to be better vegetarians this year, which includes a barrage of frozen food options that neither of us like. The stockpiling has helped us stop doing things like declaring particularly beer-laden Thirsty Thursday something we call “meat holidays.” Meat holidays are days that we decide to eat meat even though we tell people we don’t, which ends up with both of us in line at the Crowned Fried Chicken on 40th
and Market eating chiken breasts and drumsticks (me) and thighs and breasts (him) out of paper bags at 1:00 AM.
The “wings” take forever to cook, like trying-to-be-fancy-and-cook-Hot-Pockets-in-the-oven sort of forever, and when they’re finally ready they are burning coal-like pucks of gluten. I forgot that since Parmesan isn’t vegetarian that the breading is a weird cheese simulacrum and it coats your mouth with a chemically taste. The entire kitchen smells like garlic powder. But that doesn’t stop both of us from eating the entire box worth of wings with a shellacking of Frank’s Red Hot on top.
1 three week old “Monster” cookie
Every year one of Zack’s co-workers gives him a mason jar with all of the makings for cookies. This was the first year that I made the cookies, which have M&Ms and oatmeal in the mix. I found out from a friend when I was bragging out my culinary success that these are called Monster cookies, presumably after Cookie Monster. Which is so motherfucking adorable.
There is this whole complicated science that NPR covered about how to get the right texture for your cookies, including what amount of flour yields those melty, leaky cookies. You’re supposed to add additional flour, which I did. But mine still ended up more on the crunchy side. They were still basically good.
We kept the remaining cookies on the top of the fridge until we forgot about them. Before going to bed, and wanting something sweet that wasn’t soda or gum, I remembered the cookies and grabbed the plastic bag.
Surprisingly, the cookie was edible if not delectable. It scraped the top of my mouth, but not unlike the way that a crusty baguette would. I thought about how good baguettes are, and as the angry cookie scratched the roof of my mouth I drank a cup of water out of a mug with a bichon fries and went to bed early. Stomach full, memory exhausted.
Jane-Rebecca Cannarella is an editor at HOOT Review, a crazy cat lady, and a Nutella enthusiast. She received her BA and M.Ed from Arcadia University, attended Goldsmiths: University of London, Sarah Lawrence College, and is finishing up her MFA at Antioch University. When not poorly playing the piano, she chronicles the many ways that she embarrasses herself at the website www.youlifeisnotsogreat.com. She occasionally drinks wine out of a mug that has a smug poodle on it, and she's not wonderful at writing in the third person.
Our guide took his powerful hand off the steering wheel and pointed.
“Look… baby is dead,” he repeated.
A tiny, lifeless, doll-baby baboon was hanging upside-down, pressed against his mother’s belly. She was clutching his limp body to hers as she raced around the parking lot. The little guy’s head and arms were flapping beneath her. Emerging sight seekers from all sorts of four-wheel drive, Land Rovers were giving her wide birth. She held out her other hand, this desperate mother baboon, scooting from one group of onlookers to another to another, crying and begging.
“Baby dead,” our safari guide, Jeff said again as our truck stopped. He had introduced himself, when we first met him, as Japheth, named after the fourth son of Noah.
“Call me Jeff,” he had said smiling. The words of our language seemed difficult in his mouth but his compassion and knowledge of the animals of the bush was heartwarming. We were encouraged to speak a few words of his language, Swahili. Asante sana (thank you very much), poli, poli (slowly, slowly). Later, we were to find out from the Park Ranger that the baby baboon or his mother had just lost their grip and the baby had fallen from the tree to its death. Wishing to avoid the drama, I executed my own survival strategy by keeping away from the whole swarming troop of baboons in the parking lot. Their sharp teeth and the aggressive strength of the males were intimating. I slowly made my way to the small exhibition area. We were at the main gate to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania traveling with the expert outfitters, Thomson Safaris out of Watertown, Mass. Paula, my wife had organized everything for us, including shots, pills, sunhats and shoes. It couldn’t have been done without her. Our goal was to try to encourage our granddaughters to look up from their I-Phones and to see a world they might never have otherwise known. I also wanted them spend some time with their with dad, our son, who no longer lives with them. I was surprised that they agreed to go with us. After all, at our advanced age (I don’t feel 80), I wondered if our existence had any relevance in their lives anymore and I worried that they had been prejudiced against us by their mother.
An unimaginable proliferation of animals awaited us up ahead, inside the largest imploded volcano crater on earth. It is a hundred and five square miles in area and two and a half million years old. I was biding my strength for the entire trip. An aging bull myself, my legs were weak and my hands quivered. My pill case was overflowing and I kept it close at hand. This would be my last trip to Africa. It was becoming just too hard for me and for Paula (we’ve been here six times) who recently had both knees replaced, but we wanted this one last trip with our son and granddaughters. We had done the same for my other son and his children a few years ago, also with Thomson. In the days to follow we would we would see many things including a dead Cape Buffalo, brought down on the Serengeti Plains by a pride of lions. The lions were lying around under a Acacia tree, resting after the kill. Jeff explained to us that the Buffalo’s survival strategy is to remain with the herd. But, when the bull ages and he gets one or two steps behind, he is vulnerable to attack. That’s when the lions finish him off.
“I don’t see any blood,” my son observed.
“That’s because lions kill by suffocation,” Jeff answered.
“Lion grab buffalo from below and wrap his arms around his neck as he bites windpipe.”
That evening at dinner, Alexa, my 17-year-old granddaughter, explained how the mother baboon periodically tested the dead baby for a pulse. She mimed the event by pressing her own delicate finger to her neck.
“She must have known that the baby was dead all along, but she just wouldn’t let it go,” Alexa said.
“Mother hold on, until baby putrefies,” Jeff said.
“The other baboon with her tried to help her by throwing the dead baby away,” Alexa continued. “But the grieving mother just picked it up again. The other baboon must have been trying help her friend, the mother, to deal with the reality of the situation. You think?”
Nina, our youngest granddaughter (14) looked on wide-eyed.
“Let’s not talk about it, Papa,” she said. “It makes me cry.”
Jeff explained that the baboons were becoming a menace in that parking lot and the Rangers should either trap them and relocate them or to kill the alpha male. He pointed out that one of the animals had been the subject of a boiling oil attack, probably by some mean-spirited local person. His lips and mouth had been burned away.
Attempting to avoid the whole swirling event, I made my way back to the truck. I needed no more excitement. Jeff unlocked the door. I found a seat. He had explained that the baboons were smart enough to open unlocked doors themselves to search for food. I sat down and opened the window against the stuffiness of the truck. That was a mistake. Suddenly two large males appeared. They jumped through the opened window and brushed by me on their way to the front of the truck. Jeff, standing outside, saw them, opened the door and screamed at them. They retreated, back across my lap and out the same window next to me that I had opened, but not before stealing something from the front windshield shelf. They knew where eatable items could be found but they ended up with Jeff’s medicine as it turned out.
“Later, Alexa said that she watched me during the baboon invasion. Instinctively, I turned my face away, avoided eye contact and protected my face with my hands and sat immobile. Any attempt at an offensive move would have resulted in being bitten, Jeff said. I was grateful that they had left me alone. I would have to be more careful in the future. I should not have opened the window. I hoped that this would be my last untoward personal encounter with the animals while we were on safari. Unfortunately it wasn’t. My next would be with a lion.
Early the next morning, sitting outside my tent, I was enjoying the fresh hot coffee made from the beans grown on the south-facing slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater. I could see the steam rise from my mug. At 7500 feet above sea level the air is crisp even at 3 degrees South latitude. Our tent camp was located just below the equator. The vast African plain stretched out before me. In the distance I thought I could see the misty mountain of Kilimanjaro. I thought of the vast place as a testing ground for survival. Who’s seed would multiply and who’s would diminish? Who would get enough food to live on and who would die? Whose children would prosper and who’s would be eaten? No nuanced culture existed here with virtual winners and losers. Only survival mattered. Nature was cruel and decisive. The whole dilemma was ameliorated by the thought that tonight I would have my usual double gin mixed with quinine water smilingly used to keep the malaria away. Thoughts of Hemmingway’s characters came to mind. Lying in my mosquito netted tent in the dark of night, I had thought of the beautiful, seductive Lady Brett Ashley. I could understand why Hemingway wrote about her. I also thought of the lethal firearms one needed if one was to get out from the protection of the truck. The power of the lions and the danger of a charging Cape Buffalo would dictate the need for immediate protection. We were interlopers, impotent in the vast sweep of this cruel land. Our job as observers, now, was to quietly act as witnesses and to generate enough funds for the government to set aside these huge spaces and to pay for a force of rangers that would protect the animals, not only from the people but the poachers armed with AK 47’s. The poachers had downed a ranger helicopter while we were there, killing the British pilot. It was a war. The elephant tusks and the rhino horns were sold to the Asians. One was carved into trinkets and the other ground into a powder said to recapture the sexual potency for aging, rich, old men. Political matters were rising also in the face of an Tanzanian expanding population. The indigenous people, the Massai were asked to leave. People also complained that elephants were decimating the trees. The big cats sometimes wandered into villages and had to be killed. My son had asked me how it was possible to just have Jeff drive the vehicle through a space equal to the entire State of Connecticut, and still be able to find all the animals. I told him that although the odds were low, they were better than actually looking for the animals in Connecticut. I wanted my family to also see the Olduvai Gorge where the Leakey researchers had determined that the first man had walked the earth. His bones were discovered in the volcanic ash of the explosion two and a half million years ago. Theory has it that our common predecessor made his way north to Siberia, through Asia and eventually across the ocean to Australia. The distance was calculated at being no more than sixty miles wide since the Northern Hemisphere was locked in an ice age, which had reduced the ocean level, by four hundred feet. Early man also made his way to Europe then across the North American land bridge and all the way south to the tip of South America. Eventually, his people populated our earth. We are, in fact, all of us, his brothers. Each of us is the survivor of this first man.
Our own hardships included driving through a certain forested area of the Tarangire Park. After a particularly hot and bumpy game drive we arrived at the end of the day to a two-hour stretch of rough road . The area was infested with Tsetse flies. Their bite drew blood. They stung as they swarmed. Killing them brought blood spatters on the truck windows. We were covered in welts. I could smell my own sweat. The constant wild swinging of the fly swatter and the bumpy road had its effect on me. Having once had a cancerous prostate removed, my bladder control had been compromised. So now I was miserable, covered in bites, awash in blood, urine and sweat. I wanted a restroom and a shower as soon as possible, but I was to be disappointed. When we got to our tent site, there was neither. An unsatisfying chemical toilet and a thirty second lukewarm splash filled from a hand filled bucket had to do. I felt wretched, but we all seemed to survive. Upon reflection, I realized that if this family trip was not the most luxurious, it was, indeed, a mutually shared adversity that would either bring us all together.
“When is the migration?” Aaron asked.
Jeff stopped to think before he answered.
“Depends on the rains and they have changed lately. We worry about the effects of global warming. The animals are suffering.”
The measure of our humanity, I believe, as the dominant species under the sun will be measured by our ability to nurture the weaker ones among us. In the cycle of life, our fate is bound up with all living creatures. As their fate goes so goes our own.
Finally, I must relate my last story, one that even I cannot quite understand. We were on a game drive passing through the Serengeti. I had nodded off into a deep sleep in my seat. Suddenly, Alexa woke me:
“Papa, wake up. Don’t move and be very quiet,” she said.
A lion was just passing by. A kill was nearby. The pride had killed a Cape Buffalo, a very big creature. I looked down and as she passed under my window. I had the uncontrollable urge to reach my hand down and pet her. Her tall body loomed just under my open window. I touched her at the small of her back as she passed beneath me and she allowed me to trail my hand on her back until her rump passed. She was hard and sinewy.
“Papa, this is not a petting zoo!” Alexa said. “That lion could have jumped up. Papa, why’d you do that? Why?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t know. I don’t know why.”
“You are very lucky. She could have torn your arm off,” Jeff said. “not good, not good, at all.”
Alexa stood. I put my arms around her.
“I love you,” I said.
“You need to be more careful, Papa, “Alexa said, her eyes wide with concern.
“I love you, also.”
Nina came over to me. I held her.
“I love you too Nina,” I said, but she was silent. Her only reaction was to hug me tighter.
Ralph Gilbert has been published twice online in CommonHealth: I Ski, and No Laughing Matter, and once in The Legendary: A Time for Katz.
I’m coming clean. I’ve had more than one partner. In fact, I’ve had more than half of a dozen. It’s not so much that I volunteered to research an array of men for the benefit of the fairer sex’s erudition as it is that I’ve morphed. My life partner, correspondingly, has changed.
It has taken time to love all of those fellows even though I’ve tried, for over thirty-five years to do so. Despite my efforts, none of those personae lasted more than a few cycles.
First was an adorable dude from my university with whom I shared puppy love. In the words of my grown children, who recently discovered my husband and my university yearbooks and the pictures contained therein, that first partner was “cut,” “snazzy” and otherwise “physically becoming.” He was soft spoken and passionate, too.
Following that cutie was a fellow graduate student with whom I lived my “spaghetti years.” As a research assistant, and as an instructor, respectively, we made little money. Yet, we enjoyed our scholarship, our friends, and each others' company. Whereas that doctoral candidate had a lot more hair and a much smaller waist than does my present hubby, I loved him dearly.
Thereafter, I paired with a young professional whose career launched alongside mine. He meant to be a top artificial intelligence researcher and I was focused on becoming a rhetoric professor extraordinaire. We could not have foreseen that he would evolve into a manager of software architects and that I would give up academia, first for parenting, and later for writing. In the interim, we bought our first piece of not-hand-me-down furniture and adopted a few cats.
My next partner was an extremely patient man. He saw me through many pregnancies, only four of which resulted in children. One of those pregnancies, which ended with loss and a massive hemorrhage, almost resulted in the death of me. That valiant supported me during that rough journey and during the rest of them.
Even the best of my gestations brought multiple trimesters of nausea, of swelling, of cravings and of a temperamental bladder. Supportively, he bought me weird food, fluffed my blankets, and emptied the cats’ litter box. To boot, the pregnancy resulting in our youngest child cost me nearly six months of bedrest and sixteen hospital trips. Nonetheless, my guy ran our house, organized care for our preschoolers and toddler and rushed me to emergency rooms as needed. There are no adequate words to describe the marvel that was that husband.
Yet, he got replaced. In his stead was a hubby that could concomitantly find missing plastic toys, debug vast expanses of code, and buffer me when I collapsed, repeatedly, from raising several high needs offspring. That he regularly took the garbage to the curb and cooked hamburgers was to his additional credit.
When the last of our kids entered elementary school, my helpmate again changed. The new one, when not traveling globally for work, or dropping off sons and daughters at activities and friends’ homes, bought groceries and took the cats to the vet. He also explored religious life with me. We logical positivists became devout theists.
Next, I lived with a fearless man, with whom I moved myself, my children, and my household half way across the planet. From the first world nation of the United States to the first world nation of Israel, that partner backed me during our vital transition from a cool clime replete with seasons, to a desert zone, where winter means rain’s fertility and summers meant dust storms.
Together, we moved from a vast continent of freedom surrounded by oceans to a physically small land of freedom surrounded by enemies. In our new home, my family was no longer in the religious minority, but was part of the majority who celebrated our traditions. The period was fantastic, frenetic, and fulfilling.
Sadly, that swell guy was replaced by someone else. At the time of our greatest marital stress, I thought about getting so sick that I died, about my mate getting so sick that he died, and about us getting divorced. I am relieved that none of those dark fantasies were actualized when that difficult husband was traded.
These days, I have a partner who is a cuddle wonder. As we progress, together, through midlife’s sunrise, we’re a little physically slower than we were in our youth and early adulthood. We’re a lot more rhetorically careful. We’ve merited to see a child married and to become grandparents. We are sharing, b’ayin tova, an emotional renaissance. Additionally, as a couple, we’ve become acquainted with an entirely new flight of medical specialists.
I wonder how long I’ll be able to keep my most recent partner. Perhaps, it’s possible, after so many exchanges, to make peace with one man and to venture through old age with him. The most recent edition knows where to poke my back when it hurts, and which words to use when I spy an anxiety-provoking creepy crawlies. Plus, he’s good at reducing the discomfort I experience in my negotiations with offspring, students, publishers, and injuries. The one almost always remembers to compliment my chicken soup, too.
I’ve had many husbands. It’s possible that I might have several more. For the time being, though, whereas I’m grateful for the love and lessons I’ve gleaned from each of them, I hope to hold onto the one I have.
KJ Hannah Greenberg, an evergreen inventor of printed possibilities, fashions lively texts and watches dust bunnies breed beneath her sofa. Her eclectic works are dedicated to lovers of slipstream fiction and to oboe players who never got past the second orchestral chair. She's been nominated four times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature, once for The Best of the Net, and helps out as an Associate Editor at Bewildering Stories. Hannah's nonfiction books are: The Nexus of the Sun, the Moon, and Mother (Broken Publications, 2016, Forthcoming), Word Citizen: Uncommon Thoughts on Writing, Motherhood & Life in Jerusalem (Tailwinds Press, 2015), Jerusalem Sunrise (Imago Press, 2015), Oblivious to the Obvious: Wishfully Mindful Parenting (French Creek Press, 2010), and Conversations on Communication Ethics (Praeger, 1991).
In the olden days people took baths and those very infrequently. It was an event. And it was a laborious process to prepare for the event. Water had to be collected, probably from a stream or river that was a good hike from home. Water is heavy and only a limited amount can be gathered and transported by bucket.
Once back at the farm it has to be heated – if you’re lucky. As it is an event, attendance is mandatory and the entire clan is assembled for the task. People had large families back in olden days. The honor of the first dip in the tub – and it was a wooden tub, which probably leaked, this honor went to Father, the family patriarch, the breadwinner, the hardest working member of the clan.
Father worked the farm, husbanded the animals, plowed the fields, planted crops. He’d return to the farmhouse after a long day’s work, covered in sweat, dust and animal shit. He’d get the first bath.
People in the old days didn’t trouble themselves much about hygiene. In point of fact, they were hygienically stupid and needed help with the washing. This was the job of Mother. Once the bather was in the tub, Mother would scrub them down, washing off the sweat, the dust, the shit, most likely with a hog’s hair scrubbing brush.
Next after Father would be the eldest son. Again Mother would go to work removing the grime and filth. Junior would then take his place, dripping and naked to warm at the hearth besides Father.
Next in line, the youngest of the elder sons followed by the girls. All this time, the bath water, a turgid stew of bodily fluids, dead skin and nature’s by-products, grows more fetid.
Then, the younguns. The smaller children. By now the bathwater is at least half urine. And cold. But Mother keeps to her duty despite the small children’s complaining and whining.
Now, it’s the Mother-In-Law’s turn at the tub. She can manage without help so Mother get’s a moment’s rest to towel off the family. There is only one small fabric remnant to do this job and it is continually rung out onto the floor.
It’s Mother’s honor to take the last bath. She’s sent the smaller children back to the crick with buckets for some clean water for herself. She’s earned it. As she waits for her turn, she bathes the final member of the family – the Baby
What’s left of the bath water, what hasn’t sloshed out from all the comings and goings, the splash fights of the kids, what hasn’t leaked out between the staves, is by now a frigid sewer. Into this goes the Baby.
An unhappy baby is a miserable thing. They have little tolerance for cold and wet. Mother does her best but is continually distracted by wet, naked children sliding across the floor and Father now demanding his evening vittles. Sometimes the Baby even slips under the water for a moment or two coming up sputtering.
The ruckus reaches a high point, Mother is distracted, the Baby once more submerged. Clean water waits in the large cook-pot hanging over the fire. Mother is exhausted after scrubbing down eight imbeciles, evaluating each one in turn, reflecting on her miserable, penurious life. A nice bath would feel good.
She drags the tub across the floor, out the back door, across the porch, tips it up to empty. In the excitement of bath night, she’s forgotten about Baby who exits the tub with the bath water remnant, sliding and spluttering across the yard.
This is the kernel, the lesson – Sometimes something good, a sweet little baby, gets thrown out with something horrible, the bath water. Leaving fictional actuality and entering metaphor, the thing to draw the attention to is that for a while, the good and the bad are co-mingled. The one exists in the other. Good and Bad are not as easily separable as a baby and bath water.
If Baby were not a physical being, if Baby were a being that existed as liquid, how could one distinguish Baby from Bath Water? How do you know what to keep and what to get rid of? If you yourself are liquid baby permeated by filthy bath water— the medium of your existence, that in which your life swims, how do you start to pull away, separate, transform?
Before becoming Ice, Water has to learn what it is to be cold. You learn how to do things by doing the things you are learning how to do.
Roger Pitcher has been previously featured on the Legendary under his own name and that of Bud F.X. Landry, his curmudgeonly alter-ego.
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