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Leaning Over Infinity

I feel foolish—

wasted time, breath, bother

the years my sister and I

didn't speak to understand

but to better, judge, doubt—

how she didn't invite me

to her wedding because she knew

I would say not to marry him

how I stopped listening

because there was nothing

about her way of being

I could understand

how she would agree

with my sage advice

then do whatever she wanted

how I cringed at her choices

how I just let voicemail pick up

how reaching back

into our childhood

all we shared

was a deep divide

how I envied other sisters—

the fantasy of closeness

and connection

how she was never

my sister

but a weight I carried

how she died

alone in her son's living

room and he went to work

without noticing.

For my sister, March 9, 1959-June 12, 2018

From forthcoming book by Linda McCauley Freeman, The Family Plot (Backroom Window Press, 2022)

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Featured Writer - RoseMarie Navarra

Four Months on the Couch

128px Steve Nash Andre MillerWe sit and talk and laugh, he at one end of the sofa, I at the other, with cups, saucers, fruits and cakes covering the glass-topped coffee table and music pouring from CDs on the dining-room player. The TV, without sound, is showing the Lakers and the Suns in their third playoff game. Paul Simon sings; John Coltrane plays - background music, underscoring the Lakers and Suns moving balletically back and forth on the court - to Chopin now.

I say, “ Horowitz should see his Chopin being used to accompany these seven-foot giants in a basketball ballet, passing and leaping and layups and slam-dunks.

He laughs, looks at me. “How could it be, thirty years later, we could meet again and connect like this?  Who could have predicted this?”

Before I can answer, he yells “Yes, Stevie! A three-pointer!”

Steve Nash, his eye swollen, his lip bleeding, smiling as the score moves up from his astonishing three-point jump shot, taken completely off balance; and this, after he had played his usual brilliant passing game.

“Our boy is so amazing!” I say.  (We’d never had children together, so we  decided to adopt Steve Nash as our incredible son – a harmless eccentricity of old age.)  “I think he takes after me,” I claim, “I was a pretty good shot in high school.”

“Maybe,” he says, “but he does have my blue eyes.”

And so we sat for four months – learning from each other what had happened during the thirty years since we had known each other when we were mere youngsters (in our forties),  psychologists at a college counseling center.  I look at him, a bit wrinkled, gray hair, thinner now, at 71, and still see the handsome man I knew thirty years ago.  He looks at me and can’t possibly be seeing me as I am.  He says I’m “gorgeous.”   But I know what he sees.  It’s impossible to look at each other now and not see each other as we were and as we are somehow blended into some version of us no one else sees.  It’s The Enchanted Cottage here in my living room, where we experience each other’s former beauty and strength as it blends with our much more developed senses of compassion, humor and wisdom.  

The basketball game over, we face each other. “It’s been four months,” I say to him.

“Yes, I know.  Four months—on the couch.”

“Four months is a long time to spend on a couch,” I say.

“True,” he says. “What are you suggesting?”

“Well, I know older people do move more slowly.”

“So I hear,” he says, smiling. “Are you telling me to put on some speed?”

“Well, not exactly, but even at my age, four months of foreplay is a bit excessive.”

“You are a shocking old dame, aren’t you?” He laughs.

“Yes, a shameless hussy.  I admit it.”

“And I do love a hussy,” he says.

Ocean waves, music crescendo, fade to black.
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© By benefit1970 (Flickr: Steve Nash and Andre Miller) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Featured Writer - Bythema B. Bagley

Bythema B. Bagley is an educator, administrator and musician, who now explores communication and creativity through the artistry of the written word. In recognition of her career achievements in education, the arts and her contributions to community development, she has been awarded the Doctorate of Humane Letters by the Board of Trustees and the President of Delaware State University.

Grandpa's Garden

Bagley Grandpas Garden2Grandpa was super. He was very, very tall. When we looked up at him, his hat blocked out the sun. Mom said, “That happens when you’re short like you are.”

He was nice to children and regular people, but he said, “Children are my favorite people. They listen, learn and ask good questions.”  In his garden, there were so many interesting things to learn: the names of flowers, plants, and why bees, butterflies and worms were so important. He always took time to explain and made sure that we understood.

Much of the bounty from his well-tended garden would be canned, pickled and stored away for winter when the growing and harvesting had been completed. Onions and garlic dried and hung –corn, beans and tomatoes blanched, canned in scalded Mason jars, and stored in the root cellar to be made into winter soups.

When the last snow melted, and the ground was mushy and muddy, we began to get excited. As the trees assumed a faint pale green or pink or red at the tips of the branches, our excitement heightened. That was when Grandpa began to walk about the garden patch at the end of his day n the coalmine.  My brother and sister and I were at his heels every day, absorbing like little sponges his love of gardening, waiting for the most important news of the planting season.  

When at last the ground was tilled, the carrots, beans, corn, tomatoes and potatoes planted. Early one Saturday morning, we saw Grandpa in Bagley Grandpas Gardenthe one bare patch of ground left.  He had a heavy pointed stick in his hand making lines in the dirt. We leaped out of bed, ate the quickest breakfast possible, and ran out to the garden to see which of our names had been scratched out in large letters. Grandpa planted the seeds for planted in scratched out rows.  As that lettuce matured, it proclaimed to the neighborhood in whose honor the garden was planted that year.  

Everyone, even, Grandma asked permission of ‘that person’ to take lettuce from that spot.

©MRBQ Photos reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
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© ©MRBQ Photo reprinted with permission.  All rights reserved.

Recent comment in this post
Colleen Geraghty
I was so touched by this story about your grandfather. I could feel the excitement of spring and the children's joy at being able... Read More
Monday, 20 June 2016 22:02
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Featured Writer - Melissa Fischer

Melissa Fischer is a dog trainer, an artist, and a writer, as well as a wife, a mother and a friend. I love what I do and strive through my art and writing to share the beauty I see in life. Melissa was artist-in-residence at Acadia National Park, October 14 -31. The following is an excerpt from Melissa's Musings and Doodles about the experience. She writes about the artists struggle to believe in oneself and one's cretive vision.

FischerM Schoodic Point Rocks at Sunset 111515When I was first at Acadia, I had a couple of easy painting days, then a few days when it felt as though my brushes were bewitched and wouldn't do anything they were supposed to do. I felt discouraged and had to take a step back, to spend some time hiking, sketching and praying to recenter myself. When I had started getting frustrated, I had begun comparing myself negatively to other artists, so I had to remind myself to paint in a way that is true to who I am and not feel that I need to paint like other artists.

FischerM Ravens Nest 102115After a day of reflection, I returned to my painting with more focus and a more relaxed confidence that allowed me to immerse myself in what I was doing and paint from my heart and out of my connection with whatever aspect of creation I was observing at the moment. This was one of the biggest lessons I came away with from my time as artist-in-residence. The concentrated time immersed in art with no other distractions brought the issue unavoidably to my attention and pretty much forced me to deal with it, which then set me free to move forward. 

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Featured Writer - Allison B. Friedman

What's Playing at the Paris Theater

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Paris Theater New York2 by litherland on Flickr.com
My Grandma Sally was a career criminal, and if there were a Hall of Fame for Liars, she would have been a charter member. Her crimes were petty, insignificant really, but Grandma Sally was truly gifted. Octogenarian criminality is rich fodder for performance art, and she was a natural. She lived her life at the heady intersection of inspired eccentricity and faux normality, which was a clever ruse if ever I saw one. Her disregard for social mores she found inconvenient was coupled with an unfailing ability to accurately assess when it was time to pull the plug, play dumb, and/or flee the scene.

Grandma Sally started exercising her talents early on. She was only 16 when she hurled herself into the path of my very aristocratic, very wealthy Grandpa Murray, who she met by stalking him on a Harlem subway platform. He had caught her eye while she was doing an errand in his very swanky neighborhood, a mere ninety blocks north of her home in a working-class neighborhood that almost qualified as “modest”.  Poor Grandpa Murray didn’t know what hit him. Grandma Sally travelled ninety blocks, twice a day, to brazenly insinuate herself into his daily commute to and from his place a business, a fancy law firm in an even swankier neighborhood, and the next thing he knew, they were getting married.

Pleasure was Grandma Sally’s passion, maybe even her life’s work, and her standards were pretty lofty.  She loved the limelight, and thrilled to danger. She would invite, even encourage, the discovery of her criminal transgressions. For Grandma Sally, the best part of any caper was that her hapless victim knew she was absolutely guilty as charged—and that she would get away with it anyway.  

Grandma Sally had a laugh that was astonishingly large for a woman of her small stature; a combination of a whoop, a hoot, and a cackle, that laugh was so contagious that it went viral, every time. Even in repose, she seemed to be laughing. She was a woman of many mysteries, including her natural hair color (I only knew her as a stylish honey blond) and how she managed to keep the thick, waxy, ever-present red lipstick she wore from getting all over her teeth, I’ll never know.

She was in her early 80’s in the early 1980’s, widowed by then, and I was in my early 20’s. In Grandma Sally’s company, I was stunned to find myself behaving like an authentic grownup when one of her inspirations showed signs of careening out of control. She was utterly infectious, and her own best audience, too, laughing, always laughing, as she reported her illicit activities. My mother is her daughter, and it is extremely obvious, at least in my lineage, that mirth can skip a generation.  
Grandma Sally lived at 215 E. 68th street, in a many door-manned building that also housed a famous kiddie-show TV star who travelled everywhere with two enormous, perfectly groomed poodles, one black, one white, and an incredibly handsome network news anchor who Grandma Sally felt certain was not a “real” man. The very fancy Paris Theater also lived in that neighborhood, just a couple of blocks away. A precursor of the indie movie houses that have since sprung up all over NYC, the Paris Theater showed mostly racy foreign films with French and English subtitles.
The marquis was huge, edged in lights, and the ticket-takers were homogenous, handsome young men with exotic good looks that suggested continental origins.  They wore impeccably tailored uniforms the color of a fine French Bordeaux, old Hollywood style with a military flare, gold braid and blinding, shiny brass buttons, complete with small, severely structured hats that aspired to being jaunty. The hats were worn perched at an exactingly saucy angle, anchored by a gilt elastic strap beneath the unfortunate wearer’s chin. (“They all look like fagelehs,” sniffed Grandma Sally). The ticket-takers and ushers and the unfortunates working behind the ornate concession stand were trained to adapt an effete Parisian air and a subtle arrogance that some people might find a little intimidating. Grandma Sally, of course, was not one of them.
On the day of the Paris Theater caper, the ticket-taker was demonstrating mild annoyance as he attempted to create order amongst the ticketholders who had stupidly arrived on time for the opening of a new, very blue movie that had gotten fairly salacious press. The mere mortals who came to the first showing of the movie did not seem to understand that in France, and at the Paris Theater, apparently, it is considered inelegant to do pretty much anything on time. Thick ropes of burgundy velvet attached to gleaming brass posts provided the blueprint for crowd control, and for the most part, the ticket-taker’s personal authority, demonstrated by the indifferently aggressive toss of his saucy-hatted head, prevailed.
Part of the cachet of the Paris Theater was that no matter when you got there, you were going to wait on a long, long line, sometimes snaking around a corner or two. This stroke of public relations genius was designed to make both the inhabitants of the Checker cabs streaking by and the hurried pedestrians en route to whatever they were late for all pause to wonder what fabulousness was happening at the Paris and why they were not part of it.  

Grandma Sally loved soft porn, and she called me pretty much long-distance (I lived uptown, in the now not-so-tony neighborhood of 121st and Amsterdam) to invite me to accompany her to the big-ticket dirty movie that was opening at the Paris Theater. I was in graduate school at the time, and when I pleaded mid-terms as an impediment to my taking part in this fine adventure, she started laughing that laugh, pronounced me a prude, laughed some more, and, inevitably, I found myself heading downtown, knowing full well that this excursion was rife with possibilities. I briefly hoped we would not get arrested. Under normal circumstances the thought of being under arrest was somewhat quelling, but this was Grandma Sally, after all, and the possibility that the two of us could get booked, fingerprinted, and end up sharing a jail cell was pretty titillating.

We rendezvoused in the lobby of her building, and staked out the Paris, a mere two blocks away, from the covert vantage point of the back seat of a taxi. The velvet-roped line was three city blocks worth of discouraging, rounding two corners and implying a significant wait time. I may have started to say something sensible about a later show, but Grandma Sally held up her hand to silence me, and instructed the cab driver to let us off half a block away from the entrance. There was a cadre of uniformed “fagelehs” patrolling the line, but Grandma Sally dodged them expertly, maneuvering her fierce little body at warp speed as she flounced straight up to the ticket booth. It was March, and not very cold, but she was wearing her mink coat, for effect, I think. “Two, please,” she said.

She stood there motionless, then shot me a look that informed me that it was I who was footing the bill. As I fumbled for my wallet, the unfortunate ticket-seller behind the elegantly rounded glass-enclosed ticket booth tried to spit out the phrase “Sold Out”, but Grandma Sally held up a hand to silence him, the money changed hands, and two tickets spat out, just like that. At that point, a uniformed member of the movie police attempted to direct us to the end of the line, but Grandma Sally was in rare form. Her visage read “evil glee” and she was smiling almost sweetly as she said simply this: “ I’m not waiting in that line. I’m pregnant.”  She patted her mink-clad midsection, for emphasis.

The Captain of the Jaunty Hat, plainly annoyed, looked down his nose at me for assistance, but I knew my role in this scam. I met his gaze directly and nodded my head slowly, up and down, several times, simultaneously offering up a well-practiced subtle shift of my eyes to inform him that Grandma Sally was most definitely off her rocker and it would be best to just play along. It didn’t matter anyway, because she had already bolted past him and was now impatiently holding the door to the theater lobby open for me. As I passed through the doorway, she turned to the very mystified gatekeeper, and said, quite loudly, “You really ought to do something about that hat, you look like a fageleh!”  A few ticketholders lassoed by the velvet ropes began to applaud, and Grandma Sally curtsied and started laughing that laugh.

We were cracking up like crazy as we chose our seats and got ourselves situated in the completely empty Paris Theater, accompanied by the mournful voice of Edith Piaf, a soundtrack of French sorrow that was crashing through the enormous stereo speakers in the almost empty theater. It wasn’t long before two dandified ushers approached us, but I was nonplussed; my money (literally) was on Grandma Sally. They didn’t try to eject her; they wanted to know if she wanted popcorn. “Yes,” she said, “Double butter, and put some in the middle. Eating for two, you know.” She paused a moment and added, “And bring some for my girl. Single butter for her.”

Popcorn was delivered, and Grandma Sally sent the usher back twice, once for more napkins and a second time for a couple of large Cokes, one regular (for her), and one diet (for me). I didn’t have to pay for any of it. The doors to the theater finally opened, and as the room filled, a couple of patrons, laughing hysterically when they spotted her, actually paused to high-five Grandma Sally as they selected their seats.

Grandma Sally liked the movie well enough, but this didn’t stop her from loudly proclaiming it pure smut to everyone within earshot and asking for her (my) money back before we departed the Paris Theater. The same terrified ticket-seller refunded the tickets, and ponied up a couple of free passes to insure that Grandma Sally would patronize the Paris Theater in the future. Grandma Sally graciously accepted the passes and pocketed my money. A member of the movie police hailed us a cab without our even asking, and once we were safely inside, Grandma Sally lost it completely, out of control hysterical, gasping with laughter while narrating these events to me as if I had not been there. The cab driver got a little nerve-wracked and let us off at her building, two blocks away, without even attempting to collect his fare.

The doorman at her building split a wide grin when he opened the back door of the Checker, and Grandma Sally spilled out, already recounting a hilariously embellished version of the afternoon’s events as he escorted her from the curb. She told him the story three times, calling him by three different names in the process, the last as he was attempting to steer her into the revolving doors to the lobby. Her voice, and that laugh, really carried. I was made to corroborate every detail, even the ones that were pure fabrication. It didn’t even feel like lying.
By this time, Grandma Sally was running late for her weekly “canasta” game (it was really high stakes poker) and she needed some time to freshen that red lipstick and figure out the evening’s cheating strategy. I suspected she was going to have a whole lot more fun than I was, especially as I was about to pull an all-nighter in what suddenly seemed to be a despairingly sedate academic ivory tower.

We said our good-byes, and Grandma Sally pulled me to her and impulsively air-kissed me, French style, red lips smacking together loudly somewhere in the vicinity of each of my cheeks. Still laughing, she said, “ Au revoir! We’ll always have Par-ee. Next time, the Emporium, 79th and Broadway. Or maybe a Broadway musical.” And of course, I agreed.

I was heading for the revolving doors when, as an afterthought, I asked Grandma Sally to refund me the Paris Theater (free) ticket money. I wanted to take a cab uptown, a small luxury in anticipation of the grueling night of study ahead. “A cab?” She cheerfully feigned horror.  “Graduate students are too poor for cabs. Take the subway.” She was still chortling as she turned and flounced her tiny mink-clad self in the direction of the elevator. By the end of the evening, she had tripled my money playing dirty poker, and the following morning she called way too early, waking me up to brag about it.

Note: Paris Theater photo by Litherland on Flicker
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Featured Writer - Barry Menuez

The Old Hotel

menuezcurtis hotel3“Excuse me young man, are you alone?” asked the new bellhop in the lobby.

“Yes, for now, I just want to buy a comic book in the gift shop,” I answered.

“But you shouldn’t be here all alone.”

“I live here in the apartments in back, my parents are upstairs. I come down here all the time.”

I watched the bellman go to the front desk and ask about me. I couldn’t hear the words, but I saw the manager on duty nod in my direction as if to say, “He’s ok.”

This was the old Curtis Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, 1941. I was eight years old and had been there for about two weeks. My parents had gotten back together a year before, remarried, and now my dad was here in Minneapolis on assignment for ten months. He was part of an early management consultant firm and had the task of helping the Honeywell Corporation re-organize for war production. We lived in the apartment complex attached to the rear of the hotel. Our permanent home was in Chicago, the headquarters for Dad’s firm.

From September 1941 to June 1942, I had the run of the place, a boy version of Eloise. The Curtis Hotel billed itself as the Largest in the Upper Midwest: 800 rooms, with restaurants, ballrooms, clothing stores, public steno, travel agency, drugstore everything under one roof. I was the only kid living there and the staff got to know me and looked out for me.

I was enrolled in the nearest public school, in third grade, about four blocks from the hotel, nestled in the middle of old tenements and worn out frame houses. This neighborhood was mainly newly immigrated Scandinavians: Swedes the majority, then Norwegians and Danes and a few Finns. Added in were poor Sioux Indians from the reservations in the north. The men worked the hard manual jobs at General Mills, Pillsbury, and the railroads, ten hour days, six days a week if lucky enough to have a job.

My classmates were mostly bi-lingual and spoke with a distinct accent. I sensed a common strain of pride, intelligence and stoicism. No complaints about their poverty and deprivation. I was quietly tolerated but felt held at a suspicious distance for the first weeks of the new term.

I made friends soon enough. I was good at it. This was my fifth school change and I had picked up some techniques for being the “new boy”. My rules for survival: stay cool, be prepared for all class assignments, but never volunteer to answer questions, wait to be called upon. If someone hit me, strike back full force immediately even if he’s bigger and older. Bjorn was my first and best friend there. He and his pals approached me one day and asked, “What are you doing here with us? Where do you live?” I had feared this question, but told them straight up that I lived in the Curtis Hotel due to my dad’s temporary work here in the city.

“How can you live in a hotel?” Bjorn said.

I did the best I could again to explain that our real home was in Chicago. This time in Minneapolis was a temporary deal and the Honeywell Corporation was paying for all of it. We couldn’t ever afford it on our own.

I could not begin to explain to them the strange irony at work in my life. They did not know that only a year and half ago, my mother and I were living in a shabby boarding house in Akron, Ohio. Three years earlier Dad had gone off with another woman. My mother and I were surviving on corn fritters and hot dogs through the last years of the Depression.

I understood my classmates’ poverty but didn’t know how to express myself at that age. I felt I belonged with them but my current circumstances created a chasm between us. How could I tell them I went with my parents every Sunday afternoon to the main dining room of the Curtis for their lavish Swedish Smorgasbord? If my father had not come back and remarried my mother, I would still be Akron, Ohio, eating corn fritters.

I slowly blended in, even though my clothes were new, while those of my classmates’ were ill-fitting hand-me-downs. Their shoes had rounded heels and holes in the bottoms. We all ate the same free lunch under some government Depression era subsidy.

School was fairly easy for me; my Chicago experience had put me a bit ahead of the pace of this immigrant oriented curriculum. I became one of the boys and even did well in the coed gym classes. During the harsh winter, we were indoors and gym time was usually Swedish folk dancing to old 78 r.p.m.’s.
The Minnesota winter came early with deep cold and snow.

Sunday, December 7th dawned, the day that will live in infamy, and life changed in the city, the hotel and at the school. My classmates’ dads got better jobs as the factories shifted to war production. Their older brothers enlisted for a chance at a job and to serve their new country. The hotel was filled with military brass, defense contractors, engineers, all juggling for position in the war boom. The Scandinavian immigrant mothers were yet to discover the meaning of a Gold Star in their window, one for each son killed in combat.

Just before Christmas, Bjorn finally accepted my repeated invitation to come to my place after school to listen to our radio serials and have some Ovaltine. Leaving the school, I looked at him and gasped, he was wearing only a thin flannel shirt, no sweater, and the wind chill had to be minus twenty.

“Where’s your coat, Bjorn?” I said.

“My brother Nils has it, it’s his turn. Let’s go!”  Off we went into the bite of the bitter wind. No more questions. When my mother opened the apartment door, I saw how shocked she was, but she recovered swiftly and warmly invited Bjorn to come in. She made us the Ovaltine drinks I had promised.
Bjorn, sometimes with Nils, came home with me occasionally, but I was never invited into their home or the homes of any classmates for the entire time I was in Minneapolis.

During the Christmas break, my parents were going to Chicago for the company holiday party. I was to stay behind in the care of my twenty-one- year-old brother, Ross, driving with friends to Minneapolis from college in Ohio. My folks went off on the Hiawatha, the super luxurious and high speed train to Chicago. Ross was due shortly. I was excited to see my brother; this would be fun. I knew we would go to movies. After a few hours alone in the apartment, the phone rang. It was Ross on a payphone. I heard him deposit a handful of nickels and dimes, “I’m snowed in here. A blizzard has shut us down, the roads are closed. Are you ok?”

“I guess so. Mom and Dad left at noon. I’m by myself.”

“I’ll call Dad’s Chicago office and leave a message. He should be there soon. They can find him and let him know. Stay where you are and I’ll call the Curtis to let them know you’re alone.”

“When will you get here?”

“I hope sometime tomorrow. You’ll be ok. We’re close to Eau Claire, Wisconsin. When the roads open up we can move. See ya soon.”

I hung up. I felt very alone. It was dark now. I turned on the radio for my shows and tried to stay calm. A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door.
“Who is it?” I had been told never to open a door without knowing who was on the other side.

“Hello, Barry, it’s Mr. Fitzpatrick from the front desk. I need to talk to you.” I did know him, so I opened the door. He stepped in a few feet and stopped.

“Your brother just called and then your dad, too. I understand what’s happened, but you’ll be fine. You stay in the apartment for the rest of the night, ok?”

“Sure, but I’m getting hungry. Can’t I go down to the drug store for some snacks?”

“Please stay here,” he continued, “Rita, the waitress, is coming up from the Coffee Shop with a dinner for you in about an hour.”

“Wow. I know Rita. Thanks a lot.” I said.

“Rita will make sure you’re set for the night. In the morning one of us will come and take you to breakfast in the Coffee Shop. Do not leave your place in the meantime. We’re all here for you. Goodnight.” Rita came as promised bearing a tray with a cheeseburger, fries, a chocolate shake and a bag of cookies for later. She briefly sat with me as I ate, then she had to get back to work. She went over how to double lock the door and told me to call the front desk immediately, at any time, with any problem.

“You know we’ll be looking out for you. Charlie Anderson is the in-house detective on tonight and he’ll keep close watch on this section. You know Charlie, right?” Rita said.

“Yes, he’s the one going off duty when I leave for school. He says Hi to me.”

A quick look out the window confirmed my earlier survey, the city was completely shut down, nothing moving. I listened to the radio until I got drowsy.
About 8:30, my mother called from Chicago, jolting me back to attention. “I am so sorry this happened,” she said. “Are you alright? Did they feed you? Did you hear from Ross?”

“I’m ok, Mom. Rita came with food, the manager stopped by and the detective is going to be watching this area real hard.”

“We’ll be home the day after tomorrow. The railroad is supposed to be back in service,” she said. “ Maybe Ross will be there tomorrow. It’s going to be fine and you have no school to worry about.” A little voice inside me suggested that I might use this situation to my advantage, “I’m running out of things to read and I can’t go outside to the library. I know the new comic books are on sale downstairs.”

My mother, never fooled for a moment said, “I guess you deserve a little extra. When we call the front desk in the morning, I can tell them to charge five comic books to our bill. Will that help?”

“Thanks, Mom. I miss you.”

“We’ll talk in the morning. I love you. Bye for now,” she hung up.

I remember lying in bed listening to news and weather reports--all bad, war and blizzards. Finally, I heard a lone snowplow working the street below our windows. I remember falling asleep listening to the wind rattling the windows and the snow swirling. I half dreamt I was snowbound in a log cabin in Alaska, a low fire in the fireplace warming the room. I was the hero of my favorite radio serial, Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy. A rap on the door early the next morning sent me scurrying to see who it was.

“Hello, are you there? It’s Bill Johnson, the bell captain, time for breakfast.”

“I’m here, Mr. Johnson, give me one second.” I had slept in my clothes and only needed shoes and a sweater. I followed Mr. Johnson down the hall; he was in a hurry but friendly. The Coffee Shop was crowded with Army officers, colonels and captains. I had learned to recognize their insignia. Mr. Johnson tucked me into a banquette in the far corner and Kiki, the waitress for that section, came over, “Look at you, you look like the outcast of the islands. Did you sleep in those clothes?”

“Yes,” I said.

“And what’d you do with the eggbeater?”

“What eggbeater?”

“The one you combed your hair with this morning,” she laughed with great self-appreciation, “I know what you want, right? It’s pancakes and syrup with lots of butter and bacon.” She was back quickly with a glass of orange juice, milk, and a big stack of pancakes. On the side were the bacon and the butter which came over from a German dairy in Wisconsin, pure butterfat and salt.

“Thank you, Kiki,” I piped up.

“If those don’t hold you, I’ll bring you some more, Sweetheart.” I came to love coffee shop waitresses at an early age.

Dad called after breakfast to tell me that they would be on the Hiawatha tomorrow: The Milwaukee Road had all lines open. He said their big party was that night. He was sure Ross would be with me by bedtime, “You’re doing ok, I can tell. You’re a real trooper. I’m proud of you.”

I couldn’t complain after that so I kept up my brave act. “See you tomorrow, Dad!”

Mr. Fitzpatrick, the day manager, was back on duty and called the apartment. He suggested I come down to pick out some comic books at the drugstore.
“After that, you come by the desk and I’ll get Mr. Johnson to take you down to lunch,” then he added, “please do not go outside the hotel” After lunch, I wandered the corridor behind the main lobby reception desk. It was lined with shops: The Poppy Shop, Western-Union, the Nordic Travel Agency, and my favorite, The Public Stenographer and Notary Public. Each small office had floor to ceiling glass fronts and glass doors with gold lettering identifying the business.

Miss Kaplan, the steno on duty, had placed her small sliding nameplate in the bracket under the door sign. I knew her from a couple of visits with my Dad who gave her occasional dictation and typing assignments.. She saw me looking in, and since no one was with her, she beckoned me to come in, “I heard about you, all alone. How’re you doing?”

“I’m doing fine. I'm sure my brother will make it here tonight.”

Miss Kaplan was warm and reassuring, “I know the highways are open now and the trains are running. Just be patient. You know, you’re the talk of the hotel staff, this never happened before. I think it must be fun.” I was sitting next to her at her desk and noticed a thick volume sitting on the near corner. It was titled Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler.

“Why do you have a book by Hitler?”

She took a breath and replied, “My father gave me the book and said I had to read it to understand the evil we are fighting and to know why the Jews, and our family is Jewish, are in great danger.” Before I could respond, a client came in and I slipped away. This moment with Miss Kaplan and the image of the Hitler book was to come back to me when Life Magazine released photos of the liberated Nazi concentration camps.

I went to the drugstore at the end of the same corridor and picked out my five comic books: Captain America, Superman, Batman, Red Ryder, and Smilin’ Jack.

Late afternoon, Rita arrived with dinner, exactly the same: cheeseburger, fries, milkshake and cookies. It was good to see her, but she couldn’t sit with me this time. I remember being lonely and a bit apprehensive as I solemnly ate my food. Everything changed an hour later. There was a knock at the door and Ross yelled, “Any survivors left in there?”

“Just me,” I answered, and threw open the door. There were big hugs and smiles from Ross. He was pretty rumpled himself, unshaven, and in need of a hot shower.

“I need to get some food. Come downstairs with me, you can have dessert,” he said, looking at my tray with the remains of my dinner. He had already spoken with the night manager to let him know he had gotten through.

My folks got back on schedule the next day. I still had a few days of Christmas break left before school started up and was so happy to be with Ross. He had to be in Miami, Florida, on January 6th to report to flight school with Pan American Airways. He had earned his basic pilot’s license at Ohio University under the Civilian Pilot Training Program and was eager to sign up. Pan Am would train him with hundreds of others and then lease them to the Air Transport Command. Ross had dropped out of his senior year of college to enlist and wanted to see us all to say good-bye. It would be five years before the four of us would all be together at the same time again. I remember Ross going out to a New Year’s Eve party with his college pals and disappearing for two days, a final binge. My mother was quite distraught when she had to see him off on the train, a scene played out all across the land every day in early 1942.

My ninth birthday came in February and I went with my folks that evening to the main dining room of the Curtis. A twelve piece orchestra played, literally, behind the potted palms. A cake was brought and the bandleader went to the mike to tell everybody it was my birthday. The whole dining room sang Happy Birthday and the bandleader asked what song I would like him to play, “Chattanooga Choo Choo," I said. Dozens of couples hit the dance floor. It was great.

Winter faded, spring came. Bjorn, my other pals and I went on long exploratory walks through Minneapolis. We thought it fun to go racing through Dayton’s Department Store to look at the model trains in the toy section before being shooed out by the floorwalker. Once, on a warm spring day, we walked the bridge over the Mississippi River into St. Paul and back.

The end of my sojourn in Minneapolis came too early; Dad took us back to Chicago immediately after my last day of school. I barely had time to say good-bye to Bjorn and my schoolmates. I found Rita and Kiki in the Coffee Shop, they both gave me a hug and made me promise to come back soon.
I didn’t make it back until 1976.

A convention assignment took me to Minneapolis and I arranged to stay a week at the Curtis Hotel. Years earlier, the hotel had torn down the apartment section and replaced it with a health club with indoor swimming pool and elaborate workout facilities. The lobby and  corridors seemed tired; worn carpets covered the open spaces and hallways. The glass enclosed cubicles had been taken out to make a big open space for trade show display. There was no Public Stenographer, no Western Union, no florist, all the rest long gone. The Coffee Shop was still in the lower level beneath the front lobby. I had breakfast there every day and let the memories float to the surface. I could see Rita and Kiki working the floor, teasing me and chatting up the customers.

The Curtis Hotel was razed in 1984 at age seventy-five.
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Holly Christiana
This was a real delight to read, and I could easily read more of this. You brought it vividly to life - the lopsidedness in schoo... Read More
Friday, 08 January 2016 02:11
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Featured Writer - Tim Brennan


Featured Writer

Timothy Brennan is a poet, painter and woodworker who has lived and worked in San Francisco, in Brooklyn, and now in New Paltz, where he has been renovating his old house for over twenty years with no end in sight. His poems have been published in The Chronogram, Awosting Alchemy, and in the 2011 edition of the Wallkill Valley Writers' Anthology. New poems will be included in the 2014 edition of the WVW Anthology.


The carpenter's kneecaps slip in pain
twisted against the ladder's rungs.
His shoulders and back ache from years
humping lumber up ramps and stairs,
hefting sheetrock to walls and ceilings.
He's tired of the making and remaking,
his house or anyone's,
but what else can he do?
He dreams in perpendiculars
of posts rising from the earth's center,
his beams resting level and true.
He orders a world with geometry,
makes molding-lines merge at a corners' turn
and, in a house's relations of shape and proportion,
leads one's eye through the terror of chaos
to the friable, tentative edge of beauty.
His body moves through the light-filled space,
at its own pace. He frames his enclosure
without words or, sometimes, thought.


How quickly when we sit for dinner the phone rings out
as if it's sensed the heat or the smell
of sausage and peppers hot from the pan
and signaled the sister of my tired wife
to speed-dial and add a last consideration
to their earlier discussion of Mother's prescriptions,
or finances, or hospice nurse––
or maybe as our number's spun through the cyberverse
it's just our time to just say no
to NYPIRG or RISD or the DCC–– or,
if the names of certain friends appear on the screen,
to not pick up at all, not engage troubles so severe
and insoluble for so many years,
they exhaust our end of the conversation,
and cannot be assuaged especially at dinnertime,
which is when they need us most. And so, coldly
seated before the pasta cools, we sip our wine and eat
with interruption's salt of resentment overlaying the first bite.
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Featured Writer - Susan Chute

Susan Chute is a librarian ensnared by poetry and pictures.  She moved to New Paltz six months ago, after heading the Circulating Art and Picture Collections at The New York Public Library, and found Wallkill Valley Writers, which has developed her writing immensely.  Last year at the Library, she taught a workshop on poetry and art at called The Colored Line, the Pictured Word.  It was very well received.  She has been published occasionally in journals far too obscure to mention here. She hopes you enjoy her words.

A Certain Moment of a Passing Hour in the Uncertain Cosmos


Six o
ʼclock falls over 
the afternoon 
in windy March on the way to night.

The sun slides low 
through venetian blinds,
frosting my wrinkled hands with glittering white.

The pine branches spread dirty arms, 
rock, moan and bow, 
swayed by their god on high, sparkling and scary.

 Previewing their planetary skyshow, 
the far reaches of the universe 
fling empyrean feats of firmament 
on my picture window, afterimage of time after time, 
evanescent episode of the everlasting view.

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4177 Hits