I have had fiction and nonfiction published in many literary magazines: Glimmer Train Stories, North American Review, Colorado Review, Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, Another Chicago Magazine, killingthebuddha.com, Lost, the Chicago Reader, and others. Awards include an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in prose and an Illinois Arts Council literary award for creative nonfiction. I have received prizes in Chicago Public Radio’s Stories on Stage competition, Chicago’s Guild Complex Prose series, Glimmer Train’s short fiction competitions, and the Jewish Cultural Writing Competition of the Center for Yiddish Culture. See Links to these sources. Below is a selection of excerpts from my work.
On the Promenade Deck
My homage to Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain.
Sleep comes easily in the wonderful chair with the fine blanket, the good air, and the gentle motion of the ship. Only sleep would explain the missed transition from open water to mountainous islands that now rise before her. The voice on the loudspeaker—Gordon, the social director—announces that they have entered Prince William Sound, the last great landmark before they dock in Seward tomorrow. They are in a narrow channel, with strings of islands not so very far from the side of the ship where she sits (Charles would have known if it was port or starboard). The mountains are covered with greenery—pine or spruce growing along rocky shore, then extending up, a velvet carpet. Heavy clouds rest along their ridges and poof into their valleys. She finds it cluttered. Compared to the forever expanse of open water, that is. On this journey, Julia’s companion has been the perfect fit of sea and sky at the horizon, stretching out, out, out… . She would have liked to slip through the thin line, like a piece of mail through a slot, like a sea otter in the water.
The air is cold, and damp, so she places her book and reading glasses on the wooden table and adjusts her blanket around her legs, pulls it up to her neck, tucks it around her shoulders and the whole length of her thin body. Julia’s chair is lacquered wood, padded the whole length by a thick navy cushion. An excellent chair. Her blanket is of checked wool—good quality; dry clean only. And it is the last day.
Dots on the Page
The roots of my life as an editor.
When I was just learning to read, I had a book about a brother and sister named Dick and Judy. Not Dick and Jane--I always say--but Dick and Judy. One night, I sat on the couch in my living room, attempting to read this book. I must have had the concept of words by then but not the concept of sentences, because this is more or less what I saw:
Here comes Dick Dick is a boy
Here comes Judy Dick is her brother
I read these words again and again, and they didn’t make sense. Why did the boy have the same first and last name? And why was Judy Dick someone’s brother? And the more I tried to understand—the repetitive names, the odd relationships--the more frustrated I became. I must have screamed or thrown the book across the room, because one of my parents came to the rescue and asked what was wrong.
“Why are these people called Dick Dick and Judy Dick?” I demanded. “None of this makes sense.”
The rescuing parent recognized the problem and explained punctuation: The little dots on the page are important. Each marks the end of a unit; when you see one, you pause, and then go on to the next idea, like this.
Here comes Dick. Dick is a boy.
Here comes Judy. Dick is her brother.
When I heard that, I got a warm, glowing sensation of understanding—that this tiny dot of ink could unlock meaning on the page.
Stone Age of Intimacy
North American Review
A portrait of a practical little Italian girl.
Arlene is a practical girl. I mean, she’s down to earth and she seems to understand all the things I don’t—everything from how to be the boss with your kids to pulling the starter on the lawn mower. And her husband’s a handyman, so through him, she knows a lot about how things work. Once, one of the light switches in my house started to melt and send out smoke. I was scared, had no idea what to do, so I called Arlene. All I had to say was, “Smoke... coming out of my light switch,” and she ran over to check it out. No questions asked. She made a bee line for my basement, flipped the circuit breaker, came up, removed the offending switch, and that was that.
She’s a nurse, too, so anytime a child on the block has a fever or falls off a bike and cuts their lip, Arlene’s the one to call. She’s got what I call comforting hands, and she always knows what to do—whether to use ice or heat (one of the things I can never remember), whether to go to the emergency room or just lay low. What a relief to have her there.
I guess she can be a real spit fire, too. You wouldn’t necessarily know that from talking to her, but I heard from her husband. One summer evening, a bunch of us neighbors were hanging around on the front lawn, just shooting the breeze. She was mad at her teenage son because he took the car when she’d said he couldn’t. And to let off steam, she was making fun of him, filling us in on his secrets. How he goes through the house, from one mirror to another, primping like a bird, checking his every angle, every hair, before he’ll step out the door. We’re all chuckling along with her in sympathy when the son pulls up. Arlene spots him and marches off to discuss the matter at hand. Meanwhile, Arlene’s husband watches after her, shakes his head, says in a whisper, a warning, “Never mess with a little Italian girl--if you know what’s good for you.” I never thought of her as a little Italian girl before, but there you are. She is a little thing, that’s for sure.
Glimmer Train Stories
Two sisters at the bedside of their dying father.
Two sisters stand in the dim light of a hospital room. They are tiny women—less than five feet tall, smaller than size-five shoe. The younger one, Renee, has a silver streak in her close-cropped black hair, and no jewelry, while the older one, Jeannine, wears cat-eye glasses, New York auburn hair, and complicated earrings.
A man, their father, lies in the bed, head on the white pillow. Closed eyes, wisps of white hair, bruised and punctured arms, so thin and weak. Lines and wires lead to tubes and dripping bottles; monitors display graphs and blinking lights. The hospital’s name is stamped on his thin gown in a repeating red-and-blue pattern: Providence, providence, providence, providence. His wrists are restrained, in soft terry-cloth bands near his waist.
“I hate the bands,” Renee says. She imagines the torture of having her own hands restrained. “Look at him. What damage could he do?”
“He bit through the ventilator,” Jeannine reminds. “Just yesterday.”
“But he’s still alive,” says Renee.
He opens his eyes, and when he sees that both his daughters are beside him, here from the West coast and the East, he gives them the mother of all eye rolls: taking in the full meaning of their presence. Had he not always been the one to fetch them at the airport--flight numbers and itineraries posted on the refrigerator for weeks in advance? He tugs at the wrist bands, his hands in a fist.
After Hours: A Journal of Chicago Writing and Art
Issue #20-21, Summer 2010
The probing of a dream image
I’ve been dreaming about art the past couple nights. First, it was me, carrying a new acquisition to my office because I wanted to show it to my co-workers. It was a heavy black affair—big squares of tile or metal, with embedded chains and other gee-gaws that one arranged on a horizontal surface to one’s liking. This piece, then, I suppose, was an ongoing creation. Made by an artist, bought by me, but then in my hands, ready to arrange and rearrange in a way that suited and pleased me. So off to work I went with it, eager to show what I had bought. Part way to work, however, I became aware that the piece was too heavy for me to carry any more, and since I was traveling via public transportation, I would need to leave it somewhere and reclaim it on my way home. Rather than a thing of delight, then, to show off to my co-workers, it had become a burden and a project and, yes, a problem, that I now needed to solve. Where could I leave it? Where would it be safe?
With a woman behind the counter in a subway station? She was dressed in a uniform, the heavy cotton shirt, the heavy wool pants, a light shade of blue, and an emblem on the sleeve, a maroon regimental stripe on the pants. A metal badge. A ring of keys. The symbols of officialdom. She had the tired look of those who must face the public day after day, who aren’t well paid, who are weary of the repetitive questions, the public cluelessness. Weary too of their own invisibility and routine, no vision of the future, just the unbearable day to be gotten through. She was a heavy woman, little muscle tone, soft flesh, everything settled into a round, weary shape. Her hair was pulled back, no fussing, no pride, no interest even in what might have been, what could be for any woman, her crowning glory.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Can I leave this with you, and pick it up on the way home from work?” The artwork was wrapped in black plastic bags, the heavy-gauge kind, but as I had struggled to carry it, the wrappings had become tangled, and some of the tiles and corners, and chains and metal were exposed. I suppose it might have looked dangerous.
The woman behind the counter looked at me. If I were to stereotype or generalize, which humans are fortunately or unfortunately hard-wired to do, I would say something about lumpen proletariat, not because the term would strictly apply to this woman. After all, she had a job. She was not a thief, a beggar, or a thug. The word would come to mind because of the sound of that awful word lumpen, which had always sounded to me like a blob, a lump, and she did look that way to me, slumped behind the desk, her fleshy arms resting there, her fat fingers splayed, not a sparkle of alert intelligence or engagement in her eyes.
I don’t mean to insult her. After all, she is my creation—a person who I judge to be one of the army of the living dead. And me, on my way to my office, to show off an art purchase to my co-workers, a work as inaccessible as a flat, black tile.