Archive for June, 2010

Zuzu’s zippy hour

 “The martini special tonight is hot tangerine – made with fresh-squeezed tangerine juice, lime, vodka and ginger. Six dollars until 6:30. “

Zuzu orders two. It is 6:15 already. And the sweet potato shoestring fries. She likes the colors, she likes the sweet and salt tastes on her tongue. She wishes her friend would get here already, instead of leaving her on this crowded patio bar at happy hour, surrounded by people in groups, work groups, mostly, but also social groups. Social groups. She rolls her eyes at herself and swishes the tangerine juice at the back of her mouth, where it stimulates a little flood of salivary excitement.

“Good,” she says out loud, then looks around to see if anyone noticed. No one did. The volume on the patio is increasing steadily, exponentially, as the end of happy hour approaches. The men in the lawyer suits have their ties loosened or removed and they roar like elephants, heads back, trunks exposed. They must be funny, she thinks and puts a sweet potato fry in her mouth.

“Mmmm,” she says, and wipes her lips. The ladies in the floral dresses at the next table over are handing gift bags to the head of the table, a red headed woman wearing a pale blue sleeveless dress. They are all laughing.

“They are all laughing,” she says. The waitress, walking by, sees her mouth move and leans over.

“Can I get you another?”  She waves her finger at Zuzu’s glass.

Zuzu nods her head sympathetically, not really meaning yes, just acknowledging her presence. The ginger gives this martini such a nice zip, she thinks.

“Nice zip,” she says to the men at the table with their big laughs. They wave their glasses at her. Her cell phone, sitting in her purse at her feet, begins to vibrate, but the ginger is more zippy than the phone, and she misses her friend’s call.

When the man with the best figure and the zippiest smile gives her a ride home later, she talks him into stopping at the Sunflower, where she buys Chunky Monkey ice cream,  a frozen soy dessert called White Creation, and some butter and eggs. They eat ice cream and soy cream and drink whiskey and fall in a sugary haze into bed, where their relative receptivity is fair but not stellar, as Zuzu has found to be true often enough with stranger sex.

In the morning, she finds ice cream dribbled on the 500 piece puzzle she’s been working on every Friday night for the last six months, and the man with the zippy smile is in the kitchen, making coffee and humming a song that might be comforting in someone she knows well, but is irritating to Zuzu, who prefers to be left alone in the mornings, as well as most evenings and some afternoons.

“Some afternoons,” she says out loud, wiping White Creations off of her puzzle, an English garden that is heavy on lilacs and trellises.

“Coffee?” says zippy man, sticking his head out the kitchen door.

She takes the coffee from him and gets out her cell phone, picking up her message from Angela, an apology, an explanation. She doesn’t listen to it all the way through.


I expired on the day of my death. It had been my aspiration to move others, to lift their eyes, their voices, their hearts. At times I may have failed, and I may have succeeded at others. It is not my place to make that judgment.

My death.  I was talking about my death, wasn’t I? Leading one to question my presence here, on this page, letters crawling across the screen from a dead man. There are certain things that are hard for me to perceive, from this side of the expiration. For instance, whether or not my typing can be heard. There is no physical keystroke, you see, no finger pads, no fingerprints. I have no fingerprints. I find that wondrous.

I hope and pray that the little ones on the other side of that thin membrane that separates us will continue to learn, will continue to do right because that is what is in their hearts. I know, of course, from human experience, that the will to do right begins as a set of rules and gradually becomes a part of the body and mind, bred in the bone, as natural as breathing.

It does not matter now, wherever now is, but I was not an old man when I died. It was my job to hold still, as an old man does, to listen and to offer what solace I might. The church gave me the means to learn this, and the living, and for that I am grateful.

There is a lingering part of me still hovering there in that stone building, listening to the choir, preparing the sermon. I even imagine that I can feel the polished wood, smell the incense. There is an echo in dying; I did not know that, and I listen to it repeat, reverberate, and dissipate gradually in this timeless place. I wonder if timelessness has no beginning or end. I wonder that even as the sense of time falls away from me. The children will be singing now, in the fields where the bluebells wave in the damp green grass. A song I taught them, to comfort them, to fill their lungs, to give them all the breath they might need to live well, with or without me.


Don’t take anything personally


Just because I didn’t return your phone calls, don’t take it personally. I know my call is important to you, so I will stay on the line and be served by the first available representative, and if I hang up before my important call is answered by you, dear first available, don’t take it personally.

Don’t take it personally. I’ve cancelled many appointments, returned many plates of pasta, rejected many offers of marriage, I’ve even discontinued my membership in more than one gym. Don’t take anything personally, it’s only natural that not all magazine subscriptions will be renewed in perpetuity. Like an eternal flame at a contract cemetery, there will come a time when eternity is cancelled, when the flame is snuffed, when remembrance fades in the gradual way of worn silk, disintegrating plastic, faded photos on cracked gray stone.

I know my call is important to you, and I will stay on the line until you answer; I will put you on redial for as long as it takes; I will renew my connection with you from here until the hereafter. Don’t take anything personally. It’s as natural as an invasive vine, creeping onto the headstones, the marble slabs, the infant’s crèche in the moss-bound north. It is the inevitability, the gradual erosion of stone, the reclamation of body and earth by heavy, wet green ferns.

Even here, don’t take anything personally. Even the high dry wind carries every ash away, in the four directions and more.


I was as good or better than I’ve ever been before. Even when, last August, I volunteered for Meals on Wheels and gave blood to the victims of that tsunami, that tsunami – I never can remember the names of tsunamis, seems like there’s one every month or so. It was in the newspaper, a feature piece by Jolene Kreuger Guttierez, that the tsunami victims that moved here – maybe it was the hurricane, that hurricane last year? Feature article by Jolene Kreuger Gutierrez, with a picture of me surrounded by – not refugees, you know, because refugees are like illegal aliens, but anyway, they were people displaced by disaster, with me in the middle of them, and we were all smiling. I had a French manicure and big chunky highlights done the day before the interview.

I have been taking care of people and disasters since I was a little girl. I remember saving a puppy who was running down the street, chasing after him in my big wheel. Mama says I was calling to him, Boo, come here puppy boy, come here and he kept running the other way ‘til I thought to go get an ice cream to share with him. I had to eat it fast; it was awfully hot that day, and then awhile later that puppy came up and licked the ice cream right off my face. I put the leash on him like Mama said and then we took him to the pound, where they take care of strays and keep them off the streets.

When I became a famous sexologist, it was something I was very good at, much better than I’d ever really expected or planned to be. Sometimes, expertise just falls into a person’s lap, so to speak, and I was thrilled to say that my interior life, my inner cupboard, you might say, is just full as can be of secret pleasures. Secret Pleasures is also the title of my first book, which might have won the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-fiction, had it not been for the poorly timed release of Tim Cook’s Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting the Great War, 1917 – 1918. I was happy for him, obviously,and spent some time with him at the awards ceremony that year. He does drink a bit, of course, and I had quite a headache the next day, although I didn’t let it interfere with the research for my interview with Rielle Hunter. 

“How’d you decide on your subjects, Dr. Luce?” She asked me. I was in good form, sexology is my long suit, you might say, and so I told her about my first interview long ago, with a Playboy Bunny whose name I can’t really give here for legal reasons.  Well, you know Dick Cavett was before my time, but not before this Bunny’s time. She was a bit past her prime, of course, and looking for some copy; a few inches in a tabloid goes a long way. Her secrets were relatively obvious, and at that time, you see, scandal wasn’t really scandal the way it is now.

(writing retreat activity: Using a collectively generated set of prompts, create an “unreliable narrator”.)


Using your fingers, mix the flour, sugar, water and vanilla into a light, pliable dough. Chill the dough for 30 minutes. While the dough is chilling, get your grandfather’s portable Remington out of the closet, where it’s been sitting since 1986. Dust it off with a microfiber cloth and a toothbrush to loosen the keys. Put the Remington on the kitchen table and make a cup of coffee.

Put a sheet of paper into the Remington. Adjust the ribbon, winding it first one way and then another until you find a bit of ribbon still inked. Dust the breadboard with sifted flour. Roll out the dough into a thin sheet. Pull the arm to roll the paper firmly in place.

Cut the dough into 2-3 inch squares. Press firmly on the A key. Type a sentence about a dog jumping over a fence. Keep your chin up. Typing is hard. Turn to your friends for advice. Your mother says something about the ribbon and a bobbin, but her mind is wandering again.

As the keys begin to loosen up, you may discover an unexpected treasure. Turn the oven on to 350 and wait for it to warm.

While the oven is warming, type as quickly as you can with your fingers pounding like hammers or like nails on the railroad, which was built by hard-working Chinese and Mexican laborers 150 years ago, and whose fingerprints are on it still.

Type your sentences, your bromides, your homilies, your dichos, in as many languages as you can think of and have the accent marks for.

Cut the paper into strips. Lay one strip into each 2-3 inch square of dough. Fold on a diagonal, like a baby’s nappy, an empanada or a lumpia. Lay each baby on an ungreased cookie sheet and pop it in the oven.

Fortune smiles on those who wait. An old friend will give you advice this week. Enjoy what nature has to offer.

Using a hot pad for safety, remove the cookies from the oven. Let cool. Repeat three times a week.

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June 2010