STORIES

  • CHICKEN FRICASSEE

    If your wife Irma, the only one who knew you weren't such a nothing, has been dead for seventeen years, and your daughter calls you from god-knows-where only a couple of times a year and then only out of obligation, and if your friends, the few you had, are either dead and/or living in Boca Raton, and if the shoe store you took over from your father has long been turned into a Starbucks, then it's a bet you no longer bother to match your socks.

    If you should happen to look down and see that the right one is black and the left one is brown (yesterday the left one was white) you don't feel the slightest compunction to correct the disparity. And if someone should notice that there is a mismatch going on in your shoes and tells you so, that'll be just fine with you. The likelihood of that happening, of course, is next to none being that you rarely leave the apartment you've rented, not to mention the fact that nobody is very interested in you, much less your socks. So you mainly stay at home wearing any socks you damn well please.

    But every once in a while, once a year or so, you climb down the three flights from your apartment to the street, you walk seven blocks to the subway and take it downtown to where the store once was, where there once was a storeroom where you first made love to Irma -- on a shipment of boxes filled with suede pumps. When you make this annual trip to the honeymoon suite turned Starbucks, you stand there watching the people walk out carrying their lattes. And then you walk a few blocks to the delicatessen that is still there after all these years and you eat something good for a change.

    It's this year's outing and here you are sitting in the delicatessen at a table near the bathroom, where they put people who don't complain about sitting at a table near the bathroom. The waitress comes over. She is young and pretty and she has a big, round behind, the kind that would soften the hardness of boxes. She asks you what you'd like. You're not sure.

    "You had the chicken fricassee the last time you were here," she says.

    "You remember?" you say. "You remember?" You become aware of the fact that you said, 'you remember?' two times in a row, so you stop yourself from saying it a third time.

    "Absolutely," she says, "you were sitting right here and you had the chicken fricassee, the appetizer portion."

    You stare at her for what seems like seventeen years and then, like an idiot, your eyes start to moisten and your throat tightens but you manage to blurt out, "I'll have the chicken fricassee, the appetizer portion."

    "Good choice," she says with a wink and heads for the kitchen.

    After she vanishes behind the door you look down at your socks. You decide that after lunch you will go home and change.

    THE END

    IN SEARCH OF THE CLITORIS

    I had heard of the clitoris, but I wasn't sure exactly where to find it. It was rumored to be near the vagina, but being fifteen, I had never actually been in, on, or near a vagina myself, except of course, when I was born, so I couldn't pinpoint it with any sort of accuracy. It was a vaginal enigma and I was on a quest to get to the bottom of it. Like looking for a missing person. You know that person is somewhere, but you just don't know where that somewhere is.

    My fellow fifteen year-old anatomical detectives stoked my overheated hormones with tales of driving girls wild by playing with their clitorises. I did my own tale spinning. Not one of us knew what in the world we were talking about. At the same time, each of us was certain that he was the only one who didn't really know, so admitting your ignorance by asking for exact locations was completely out of the question. The need to know drove me to the all-knowing, Grand Poobah among us, the highly experienced sixteen year-old Eugene Venetulli.

    Eugene was looked upon as a sexual god ever since the fourth grade when he brought a vial of his own semen into school, far before any of us were able to manufacture a vial of our own. Supposedly he got Miss Nunge, the 9th grade music teacher, pregnant. He would know where the clitoris was. I managed to sit next to him on the school bus one day where I popped the question.

    "It's in the belly button, you dumb dip shit," he said.

    "What?"

    "I said it's in the belly button, you deaf dork."

    "In one of those little drawings in Webster's Dictionary, it looked like it may be a little lower than that, but I couldn't tell for sure," I squeaked back.

    "Then go fuck the dictionary."

    "Are you sure it's not near -- you know -- the vagina?"

    "Of course I'm sure, dick weed, it's in the belly button," he said. "You stick your pinky in it and play around in there. You can use your thumb or one of your toes if you like. And you lick it a lot. Drives the bitches bat-shit. I've done it hundreds of times."

    "You lick it?" I giggled.

    "Like the bottom of a bowl of Fruit Loops, twerp-o, now leave me alone and let me nap."

    I got off the bus feeling as if I were just told where to find Amelia Earhart.

    As it turned out, I didn't get to put this knowledge into action for over a year -- on a blind date with Estelle Bortofsky, our rabbi's Israeli niece. But, that's another story best kept between Estelle and me. Suffice it to say that I never sought out Eugene Venetulli's advice again, and I eventually sent Estelle an apology note.

    THE END

    THE NAME

    There are no cabs in Manhattan on rainy Tuesdays in March and I was late for a meeting. So I ran, if that's what you call what men my age carrying fifteen extra pounds do. The son of one of my largest clients, told me to come over, "ASAP, dude, this is urgent." Nothing new. He's been calling these urgent meetings ever since he came into the business – a year and a half ago. For sure he will, again, tell me how disappointed he and his daddy are with the advertising my agency was doing. The very same agency that was instrumental in helping the company grow from a few local self-serve yogurt shops into a nationwide yogurt behemoth.

    In a matter of minutes I will be in the active culture, heir-apparent's office. In a chair much too grand for him –– making him look like Mickey Rooney in Love Finds Andy Hardy –– the putz will be wagging his finger at me, threatening to put the account into review unless we get our "Freakin' act together, dude. The ads like suck." I will offer no defense, nor attempt any offense. I will just sit there with a painted look of concern on my face, promising to get "the ship back on course." I lean on clichés when I'm being humiliated.

    Despite, or maybe because of my years of therapy I don't blame myself for my squishiness of spine. I blame it on my name: Leonard Harvey Mandelbaum. I'm certain if I were named something strong, like Miles Cavalier or Armando Black, or even something simple like, Joe O'Neil – people I went to school with – I'd be walking, not running, to the meeting. And when I finally got there I would be the one doing the talking. I'm fed up of with you replacing the good ads we do with the crap that comes out of your challenged mind and then, when they don't work, pointing your finger at us. Unless you start letting the agency do what it knows how to do you could take your shit ball account and shove it up your ass.

    But alas, Leonard Harvey Mandelbaum is a name that doesn't allow that kind of talk. It is a name as far from Miles Cavalier, Armando Black or Joe O'Neil as a name can be. Leonard Harvey Mandelbaum is not merely a weak name, but one so reeking of nasal, flaccid nebbishness it defines me, causing me to risk a heart attack running to a meeting for fear of being tardy. It's a name that eliminates any possibility of ever having a bloodied knife tattoo, a Harley Davidson or a wife named Carmelita. But on this particular rainy day in March I forgot my name.

    I was crossing 53rd Street at 6th Avenue, thinking about how I would apologize for being late, when a midnight blue Mercedes turned the corner. I had the right of way but the driver, who was busy talking on his cell phone, didn't yield. I had to jump backwards to avoid getting hit. The car came so close I felt the front bumper brush my raincoat; at least I thought I did. The scrape with mortality made me angry. Not scared. Angry.

    Without thinking I whacked the back of the offending Mercedes with my briefcase as it passed. It felt good. I wanted to do it again. I gave chase. With the heavy traffic, I was able to keep the car in site. But when it eased up a bit, the car started gaining ground.

    I was about to give up pursuit when a white van pulled up along side. The driver – a large man, probably not named Leonard – rolled down the window and shouted, "Hey, I saw how that guy almost hit you. Get in, we'll get that fucking shit bag." I got into the van.

    We kept up with the Mercedes all the way to Lexington Avenue. The light turned red and I jumped out of the van and sprinted ahead. The almost-hit-and-runner was tapping mindlessly on his steering wheel. He looked rich but stupid. He looked like he cheated on his wife. He looked like every client I ever had. I punched his window. "You almost hit me you son-of-a-bitch! How dare you?" The driver's face froze in fright as if some lunatic was pounding on his window. I punched the window again and then I punched the door. Hard. Twice. The light turned green and the Mercedes sped off. The white van passed by and the driver gave a thumbs up. "Nice going, Rocky!"

    It was really late now. I considered blowing off the meeting, but when an empty cab approached I hailed it down. I took out my phone to text the squirt I was on the way. That's when I noticed my knuckles. They were red and swollen and bleeding. They looked marvelous.

    THE END

    WHAT DO YOU WANT?

    "What do you want?" he said.

    "What do you mean?" she said.

    "To drink."

    "You want to order something to drink before they get here?"

    "I need something to drink before they get here," he said.

    "Don't start, okay?"

    "I'm not starting."

    "You're starting," she said.

    "I just don't want to be with anyone tonight."

    "But you love Andrea and Alan."

    "I don't love them. I like them. A little." he said.

    "Cut it out. They've been our friends for 20 years."

    "Yeah, and I we have nothing left to talk about."

    "So what does that say about us?" she said.

    "It says we're old and boring. But I'm perfectly comfortable being old and boring with you."

    "I think I will have a drink," she said.

    "Good decision. What do you want?"

    "Ummmm…"

    "Andrea and I are rabid lovers, you know. She'll probably give me a blow job in the bathroom tonight."

    "She just got braces to fix her overbite," she said.

    "Okay, I'll skip the blow job. So what'll you have?"

    "Ummmm…"

    "Why do you always say, 'Ummmm,' when you're deciding what to drink? You know you're going to order Pinot Grigio," he said.

    "If you know what I'm going to order, why do you ask me what I want?"

    "So we could have something to talk about," he said.

    "Well maybe I'll order something different tonight," she said.

    "Yeah, and maybe you'll dress up like a cheerleader and take it up the ass on the floor of the garage."

    "You're disgusting."

    "I am, but there's still time to escape before they come. Let's go home and look at those silly pictures Bobby used to draw."

    "Don't start. Please don't start tonight. Please," she said.

    They looked at each other, eyes tearing up, just for a moment.

    "Waitress!"

    THE END

    THE CHESAPEAKE BAY
    BRIDGE-TUNNEL

    The husband can't remember what they argued about the night before. He rarely remembered what or who started their arguments. It wasn't an age thing. He quickly forgot what caused the arguments when he was younger, too. They were, however, both beginning to show their years.

    They were on a road trip. A relatively short one, driving down to Virginia Beach from Long Island. They looked forward to these road trips, in spite of the certainty of long stretches of silence and frequent jousts. The wife was scanning the Sirius radio trying to find a country and western station. They never listened to country and western in New York. But when they were on a road trip that's all they listened to. The husband was driving.

    "So what's the deal with this Chesapeake Bay Bridge?" the husband asked.

    "I think you mean the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge is in Maryland. We're going to Virginia, remember?" the wife said. She obviously hadn't forgotten about the night before.

    "I know that," the husband said. "I'm asking how does the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel work?"

    "What do you mean, how does it work?"

    "I mean, how does it work? You drive on it for miles. It's over the water like any other bridge, and then it becomes a tunnel."

    "So?" the wife asked.

    "So how come the tunnel part doesn't get flooded."

    "What in the world are you talking about, why should it flood?"

    "Because when you are on the bridge you're dry, I understand that, and when you're in the tunnel you're dry because it's covered. But when you head down from the bridge to the tunnel, you know, when you first hit the water, before it turns tunnel, how come the water doesn't rush in – right at that point?" He considered it a reasonable question. He kept looking straight ahead but peripherally he saw her scowling at him.

    "Because, before the bridge goes into the chilly, chilly water, while it's still waaaaaay, waaaaaay up in the air, some very smart men and women knew to cover it all up. Top and bottom and the sides, too. Wasn't that nice of them?"

    The scowl remained, but it was less than convincing.

    "It's like a tunnel in the sky that very, very slowly starts heading down, down, down into the water. It's all covered up, nice and tight, keeping us all dry and toasty. And it does the very same thing when it goes from a tunnel back into a bridge. Isn't that wonderful? Do you understand that my little dolt?"

    He felt like a moron for missing the obvious. But, he continued to look straight ahead. He knew if he looked directly at her he would burst out laughing.

    "Asshole," he says.

    The wife needed to bite her lip to keep the scowl going. They finally reached the bridge, and the country and western station, as if by some divine intervention, started playing an Ode to Billy Joe. When it got to the part about Billy Joe McAllister jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge, they both started to howl. They howled all the way to dry land.

    Years later, long after they should have stopped taking road trips the husband and wife were driving to Montreal. The country and western station was turned up loud so they didn't hear the GPS telling them merge onto I-90 West. They were having problems navigating their way back on track.

    "If you changed the damn batteries in your hearing aid like I told you to this morning we wouldn't be lost, now," the wife said.

    "And what were you doing with your good ears?" the husband said.

    "Schmuck." the wife said.

    "Asshole." the husband answered.

    After a few minutes of silence, at precisely the same moment, they turned toward each other and broke into massive grins. That's when the car swerved just enough to hit into and over the guardrail.

    In the eulogy he gave, their son spoke about how unique and beautiful his parent's marriage was. He was reluctant to mention the fights. He needn't have been.

    THE END

    TOGETHER

    The fact that he ran over his kid seven years ago is not what this story is about. Obviously, running his own kid over is forever the absolute center of everything he'll ever feel or think or be. It's just that this particular story, this tidbit of his life, isn't about that. It's about the fact that after these seven years, he and his wife are still together. They've not only stayed together, they still go on vacations together. They're on one now, in beautiful, romantic Hawaii.

    Technically, they're not together. He's at the bar. She's upstairs, napping, or making believe she's napping. It was a strange morning. The moment the bellhop left the room she jumped him. She was groping for his zipper before he had his lei off. This was particularly surprising in that she hasn't been the initiator of anything physical in a good seven years, now (unless you count the one time she hit him in the face with a cast iron pan). That's not to say she says no to him. Almost never, in fact. Out of some feeling of obligation, he supposes. Very Victorian, but then again they didn't have cars back in those days, either.

    Sometimes he wished she would just tell me to fuck off, and hit him with the pan, again. Better yet, he wished she would hound him about how she often scolded him for not looking carefully before he backed out of the driveway. But we agreed the story wasn't about that, didn't we? So here he was, pants down at his ankles, being pushed -- no, tackled -- onto the bed and straddled like a mechanical bull. She was beautiful. Even her sadness. It was over quickly, way too quickly. She moaned, as always, very quietly. And then she rolled off of him, turned on her side and tucked her knees to her chest. He pulled his pants up, and left for the stool he's sitting on now.

    Twice, he paid for his drink, walked out of the bar and stood by the elevator. Twice he turned around, and went back into the bar. One more drink and he'll go upstairs and take a little nap. Maybe they'll go for a swim, later.

    -----

    She opened her eyes when she heard him leave.

    She hadn't kissed him since the accident. She hated the word, accident; it made it sound like a scratch, a dent, a fender bender. Fucking him, yes, even hugging him, but kissing was out of the question. She long gave up trying to figure out why she still let him inside her.

    But today, at least, she was going to get it over with, fast. She didn't wait for him. She threw him on the bed and mounted him. When his eyes widened, she looked away. As she hoped, it ended quickly. As quickly as when they were kids in the back seat of his father's Buick. She came, but she didn't kiss him. She will never kiss him.

    -----

    The ceiling fan sent down a chill. She pulled the bedspread over her still clothed body. She caught herself holding her breath. She let it out, and began breathing deep and slow. Closing her eyes, she tried to focus only on the breaths.

    THE END

  • THE HAMMER

    In my dreams I am an excellent hammerer. When I bring my hammer down the strike is clean and true. The nail, yielding to my power, effortlessly enters the waiting wood, as if it wanted to go there in the first place. Never a bent nail or a hammer mark, or a smashed thumb leading to a black nail due to a miss hit. For lack of a better description, I am a Michelangelo of the nail arts. At least that's what my father called me after we finished building a new workbench or putting up a backyard shed or paneling the basement. But again, that was in my dreams.

    In the light of day, "Michelangelo of the nail arts" weren't the exact words my father used. What he did call me was "klutzy," or "clumsy" or sometimes a "klutzy, clumsy idiot". If he cursed — which he rarely did, unless it was in a whisper — my father might have called me a "fucking klutzy, clumsy idiot," but I'm fairly certain he never said that. Well, maybe that one time I was standing on a chair, holding a fancy chandelier over my head, as he wired it to the electrical box, and I dropped it.

    It's unfortunate that thousands of shards of crystal can't be glued back together.

    I didn't drop it on purpose, of course — unless it was some kind of Oedipal thing involving light fixtures. It's just that I was, in fact, a "fucking, klutzy, clumsy idiot" when it came to doing anything involving the altering of inanimate objects. It's not that I didn't try, I did. I even practiced hammering when my father was at work. When other kids were playing stickball I was hammering with his impeccably balanced hammer with the hickory handle, and the head of high carbon steel. My father — when he still had hope; when he still thought my clumsiness was a stage that would one day evaporate; when he still believed I would turn out more like him — often asked me to "help" him with one project or another. Each time, I struggled to do something that would make him smile at me instead of laugh. But every time I had a tool in my hand I became a thumbless person who'd been sent in to defuse a bomb. Eventually, whatever I was working on blew up.

    I know, an armchair shrink would say, "You are, a fucking, klutzy, clumsy idiot because your father called you that and you are just living up to his low expectations." But isn't it possible I was born that way? I did, after all, enter the world with the umbilical cord around my neck, or so I am told. Maybe those seconds of oxygen deprivation not only turned me blue, but burnt out the synapses that were intended to instruct me to connect with my father's know-how genes. People are born with far worse maladies. It seems there is a which came first problem here—being clumsy or being called clumsy. I'd ask my father his opinion, but he's long gone and if I did ask him he'd just shake his head and walk away.

    Now, I don't want to paint (by the way, he was terrific at painting) an unflattering picture of my father. Becoming frustrated with my ineptness was utterly understandable. You see, he truly was the Michelangelo of the nail arts, not to mention screw driving, sawing, sanding, joining, gluing, mitering, measuring and a bevy of other woodworking arts and fixing-stuff sciences, and I, his only son, was a moron at all of the above. He not only was a master at those things, those things made him special. He seemed taller with his hickory handled, high carbon steel headed hammer in his hand. In his workshop, in the basement of his home in Queens, he was no longer Leo, the reticent, heavy-accented, barely-educated immigrant. He was:

    "Leo, I can't believe you designed and built such a mahogany coffee table that could be in a museum it's so beautiful with nothing but hand tools no less."

    "Leo, you should get out of the dress business and work with wood for a living, you'd make a fortune, you're so talented. A real artist you are."

    "Leo, wait and see, little Marvin will grow up to be as good as you and together you will open up a furniture business, Leo & Son, and you will be so proud."

    But as fate would have it, we never became partners. His workshop remained his and his alone. I was merely a frequent visitor, who came and screwed up.

    But what a workshop it was. Dozens and dozens of tools, perfectly immaculate, perfectly honed, perfectly lined up like soldiers on the wall, waiting to do the bidding of the general who put them there. My father loved his tools. His family, his house, his car and his tools. Those were the things he loved the most. Not necessarily in that order.

    I remember one time standing in his workshop as he helped me with a project I began in my seventh grade woodworking class earlier that day. The class was making a lamp in the shape of a water pump. There was a rectangular wood block that would have a pump handle on one side, which would turn the lamp on and off. The other side of the rectangular block would have the waterspout. Mr. Goldman was our shop teacher. He was ancient, at least in my thirteen year-old eyes. He was as thin as the rectangular block we were working on and he had one of those comb-overs. His part started about half an inch above his left ear (my father would have been able to give you the exact distance). Mr. Goldman smoked Tiparillos in the back of the room, his breath always smelling like tobacco, eggs and a whiff of whiskey. And, he would say strange things. One of his favorites was,

    "It's important to be 'umble, boys." There were only boys in woodworking shop back then.

    "Admiral Rickover is an 'umble man, a good man. Follow his lead, lads." Nobody had any idea what the fuck he was talking about.

    Mr. Goldman also cursed, and not in a whisper. Nobody tattled on him. Hearing him curse was the highlight of our day.

    "Listen up my pimple-faced shit heads. Today we are going to do two things to get our water pump lamp started. On one side of the rectangular pine block you have in front of you, you will mortise out, with your chisels, a one and one half inch slot where the pump handle will go. On the opposite side of where you make your mortise, you will drill a five-eighths inch round hole where the spout will go. Now, my little peckers, that sounds easy, right? The handle on one side and the spout on the other. But let me tell you this. I've been having my classes make this shitty lamp for over twenty-five years. And I'd say that in twenty-two of those years some cretin with his head up his ass would mortise the slot and drill the hole on the very same side of the rectangular pine block. The very same side! That would be one fucked up looking water pump, don't you think? Twenty two times out of twenty five, so the odds are very high that one of you will, to my chagrin, put the slot and the hole on the very same side of the rectangular pine block, even though I am taking an ungodly amount of time begging you not to do so. If one of you does do that, I will be forced to go home with you and shove your grotesque malformation of a water pump up your mama's cooch. Do you understand?"

    We all laughed.

    I became the twenty-third cretin with his head up his ass to chisel the slot and drill the hole on the very same side. I was mortified, if not panicked. I would die if Mr. Goldman saw my handiwork. I stashed the grotesque malformation under my sweater so I could take it home and beg my father to fix it.

    So there I was, in my father's inner sanctum. He agreed to help, without me having to tell him about Mr. Goldman's plans for mom's cooch. He stared at the block with the slot and the hole on the same side and then stared at me and then he turned back to the block. For a moment he looked like he was going to cry. He reached up and carefully took down the smaller of two coping saws, a keyhole saw, a small drill, several fine-toothed files, three chisels, each with a different size head, a metal ruler and a small paintbrush. He left his hammer on the wall. Then he looked under his workbench where he found a tube of wood glue, a half-dozen dowels of varying circumferences and three small cans of different shades of stain. I was afraid he was going to ask for my help. He didn't. He began to work, looking like Dr. Kildare doing an emergency appendectomy. I stood there without moving, just watching and sweating and thinking of ways to kill myself if my father failed me. I was deciding between jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge and throwing myself under the F train when he tapped me on my shoulder.

    "Marvin, it's done."

    It was perfect. The mortised slot where the handle would go was on the same side it always was, but much smoother and neater, now. As if by wizardry, the wrong-sided hole had disappeared, leaving not a trace, and a perfectly drilled hole appeared, on the correct side, this time.

    "Be more careful next time, vill you, please?"

    He didn't call me clumsy. He just sighed and began to wipe off his tools and hang them back on the wall. I don't think I ever loved my father as much as I did that moment. Nor, would I ever feel as close.

    As the years passed I spent more and more time with my friends and less time "helping" my father, hardly ever going down to the workshop. I gave up the quest to become a great hammerer, but I did become pretty good at home plate. Funny, when metal bats started to get popular I decided to stay with wood.

    High school, college, marriage, a career, a kid, a divorce, another marriage, another career and another kid. And while I wasn't looking my father got old. He and my mom decided it was time to sell the house in Queens and move to the holy land, Fort Lauderdale. My wife, my two sisters and brothers-in-law and I did most of the packing for them. It would be a cliché to say that packing up decades of living is a bipolar memory dredger, so I won't. It took us a couple of weekends to finish. The only thing left was the basement. I volunteered to do that by myself.

    "Dad, I got some extra-heavy boxes and lots of bubble wrap so the tools won't get banged around on the plane."

    "I'm not taking them."

    "What do you mean you're not taking them? They're your tools, you love your tools."

    "Who loves tools? Nobody loves tools, you schmendrik. I don't vant them."

    "Come on, Dad…"

    "I'm too old. I don't use them so good any more." His glasses fogged up a bit.

    "You're going to miss them, you'll see. You're making a mistake. And, anyway, what are you going to do with them if you don't take them? Throw them out? Sell them. Come on, Dad."

    "I'm giving them to David." David was my middle sister's husband.

    I put down the bubble wrap I was holding. No! Don't give them to David, give them to me. I'll take good care of them, I promise. I'm your son for god's sake! Please! Don't give them to David. I could learn to be good with them. I could.

    But I was a grown man so none of those things came out of my mouth.

    "Okay," I said. "That's a good idea. David is a handy guy, he'll make good use of them."

    "You don't need to help me put them in the boxes, Marvin. I'll do it. See if your mother needs you."

    Ten years later my father died. A year after that my mother wanted to leave Florida and come back to New York. I went down for a weekend to begin making arrangements for her. It was Sunday evening and I was about to head back to the airport.

    "Wait a minute," she said, "I almost forgot to give you something."

    She went into the bedroom and came out with a shoebox. She handed it to me. "He wanted you to have this."

    I didn't have to open it to see what was inside.

    It was pre-9/11 and they actually let me take the hammer on to the plane. That was stupid. Even if I weren't a terrorist I could still have gone berserk and tried to whack the guy sitting next to me. But then again, maybe they knew I would miss. As it turned out, nobody sat next to me. I was alone in my row. It was an unusually bumpy flight. I kept the hammer on the seat next to me. When the turbulence got to be too much, I picked it up. I forgot how smooth the hickory handle was. It almost felt soft.

    By the time the plane touched down, I had decided I was never going to use it. Maybe I'd hang it up in my own disheveled workshop for a while, but when they get older, I'll give it to my sons to share. They're both good with tools.

    THE END

    PPUSD: Post-Pelvic Ultrasound Stress Disorder

    The last thing I needed that day was an overly conscientious dental hygienist. A few hours earlier I submitted to a pelvic ultrasound exam, which turned out to be one of the most frightening, not to mention degrading experiences of my life. The kind that can leave psychic scars. I was still shaking when I arrived at the dentist's office for my scheduled cleaning. The fact that I didn't cancel the dentist in light of what I had just gone through is a mystery. Probably a remnant of doctors (even dentists)-are-gods-therefore-you-don't-cancel-the-last-minute syndrome, or the show-must-go-on doctrine or, better yet, the machismo code that doesn't allow you to act traumatized even though you are. At any rate, I didn't cancel and as a result was lying there as Sophie, young and brand new to Dr. Melnick's office, poked and scraped away at my mouth with the zeal of a Jehovah's Witness. I couldn't wait for the cleaning to be over so I could get out of there and start coming to terms with my morning.

    "My next patient cancelled, so I'll have the time to give you an extra special super duper cleaning," Sophie said as her all too eager little hands did ferocious battle with my plaque.

    Not having the heart to dampen her youthful enthusiasm, I tried to say, "Oh, good." With her fingers in my mouth, what came out, though, was, "Oh Chhould," along with a little spray of blood.

    "Great," she said as the periodontal scaler continued doing her excruciating bidding. I was destined to be on the chair for a while.

    Unfortunately, Sophie had a mole on her nose. I mention this not because it's a crime to have a mole on your nose, but when your job requires you to hover over people's faces all day, you should probably consider plucking any hair that emerges from said mole. Sophie had no such inclination and the hair, long and dark and coarse, proudly waved above her dental mask. It reminded me of my mother's cousin, Zelda. Zelda had a plethora of moles on her face, each with its own seldom-plucked hair. It was impossible to avoid brushing up against one of those hairs when you gave Zelda the mandatory hello or goodbye kiss. Even though it was making me feel really queasy, I couldn't stop staring at Sophie's little nose tress. We humans are, indeed, a self-defeating bunch. To make matters worse, it was painfully obvious that Sophie had a tuna fish sandwich for lunch.

    So there I was, bleeding, staring at a mole, breathing tuna fumes and still reeling from my earlier life-altering trauma. Yet, despite it all, I had an erection.

    No ordinary erection, mind you. Not to brag, but this was one mother of a throbber, threatening to punch through my Dockers' Chinos and knock Sophie's instruments of torture right off the dental tray that floated over my groin. Now, I am a grown man and over the years I've learned to control a penis that insists on going its own way. Not this time. It was flexing muscles I never knew it had and absolutely refused to buckle under adult supervision. I tried to cover it with my hand, but my hand, being no match, helplessly thumped up and down in sync.

    "Are you okay, Mr. Landorf?" she winked.

    "I'm chhine," I slobbered.

    "You sure?" she giggled.

    "Accholutely."

    If I were ruthlessly honest, which I'm not, I would have said, "Listen, it's not about you, Sophie. This is strictly a medical thing that's going on." I just thought it, though. But since I was busting with the need to share my saga with someone I decided to continue the silent conversation.

    "The erection you are gawking at is due to the pelvic ultrasound I had this morning. What's a pelvic ultrasound, you ask? Good question, Sophie, let me explain." I closed my eyes and continued as she went on mauling my gums.

    "About six months ago they discovered I had an abdominal aortic aneurysm, commonly called a triple 'A,' which has nothing to do with emergency road service. I don't want to bore you with the medical minutiae, not that you wouldn't be interested, being a hygienist and all. You could look it up in the on the Internet. Suffice it to say, Soph, that an abdominal aortic aneurysm is a dilation of the lower part of the aorta. It's like a balloon. If the balloon gets too big it bursts, and if it bursts, the owner of the now deflated balloon will likely die. Aortic aneurysms are usually not found until it is too late. Sorry, Sophie, life can be fragile. Fortunately, my aneurysm was discovered early enough. If not, you would definitely not be giving me the teeth cleaning of a lifetime. They not only found my aneurysm early, they found it by luck.

    "I had been having stomach cramps for a couple of months or so and since gall bladder problems were popular in my family, my doctor sent me to have an MRI of my gall bladder. It was during the MRI when they inadvertently ran across my aneurysm. Of course, the technician who monitored the procedure didn't tell me what he saw while I was getting scanned, but I could have sworn he whispered, "holy shit," to himself. It's not the kind of thing you want to hear your technician whispering, as you lie entombed in an MRI tube. When the exam was done he told me the radiologist would be in to see me and I should remain calm. Sophie, the worse thing to tell a patient is, 'remain calm.' Those are stroke-producing words and should never be spoken by any person in the medical field. But that's what my guy said, and then he simply walked out of the door, whistling. I think it was the song from "High Noon." I was left alone lying on the MRI table.

    "Remaining calm was not what I opted to do. Instead, I rolled myself into a fetal ball and started to hyperventilate. Finally, the radiologist strolled in. He too, was whistling.

    'You have a significant aneurysm in your aorta,' he said.

    'I have a what?

    'An aneurysm. A big one,' he said, as if I were in the third grade.

    'Is that bad?' I said, as if I were in the third grade.

    "The radiologist then explained what an aneurysm was as if he were giving a paper at a gastroenterology convention. I understood nothing other than this was bad, truly bad, and it could burst at any time and he was going to send the results immediately to my physician and I should see him today, if possible. I drove home in a panic, I told my wife and sent her into a panic. We drove to my doctor, who was trying not to appear to be in a panic. He sent me to a surgeon who scheduled the aneurysm repair the very next morning. Thankfully, he remained calm, and he didn't whistle.

    "A word of advice, Sophie. If you're scheduled to have an aortic aneurysm repaired do not Google the procedure the night before. If you do, you will find a video of that 5-hour operation, including the part where the surgeon picks up the patient's intestines and places them on a tray in order to get access to the aorta. It's the part you will watch over and over until the sun starts to rise. But enough gore, Sophie. My operation was a success, the recuperation was long but manageable and I'm here to tell the tale. There was only one side effect. Retrograde ejaculation. What's retrograde ejaculation, you ask? Another good question. And once I answer it, we'll finally get to the pelvic fucking ultrasound. That's the whole point of our little chat, no?"

    I stopped my cerebral monologue with Sophie and looked up. She was still chiseling away at my teeth and her mole hair seemed a tad longer. I closed my eyes and answered her imaginary question.

    "Retrograde ejaculation can occur after an aortic aneurysm is repaired. That's because the surgeon is operating very close to the urethra. You know where that is, Sophie, don't you? At any rate, the possibility exists that the vessels or nerves around the urethra get disturbed – and you never want to disturb them. They don't like that. Normally during a man's orgasm, the semen shoots through the urethra and goes on to have its first and last experience in the outside world. But when the urethra gets pissed, it sends the semen back into the body. You still have an orgasm, thank goodness, but it's a dry one. Nothing comes out. Am I getting a bit too graphic, Soph? Sorry, but that's what happened to me. I developed retrograde ejaculation.

    "This is serious if you are trying to plant your seed. Obviously you couldn't get anyone pregnant if the sperm remained indoors, and unless something is really wrong it is doubtful you can impregnate yourself. But my wife and I had long finished making babies, so for us, anyway, retrograde ejaculation wasn't bad at all. We actually liked it. No mess, no sticky tissues on the night table, and no debates on the plusses and minuses of swallowing. Unfortunately, the surgeon wasn't so happy when he saw me for a post-operative visit, several months later.

    'I think we should check out the retrograde ejaculation, further,' he said.

    'Why? It's no problem,' I said. 'I'd rather not.'

    'Just to be safe I want you to see a urologist.'

    'What do you mean just to be safe?'

    'It's unlikely but it could be caused by a mass.'

    "Sophie, 'it could be caused by a mass,' is another thing you never want someone in the medical field say to you. A mass! I didn't need to hear another word. I made an appointment with the urologist, he suggested. Let's call him Dr. Mengele.

    'I think we should have a pelvic ultrasound,' Dr. Mengele suggested after reviewing my situation. Don't you hate when they say, "we?"

    'What's a pelvic ultrasound?' I asked, just like you did before, Sophie.

    'It's an ultrasound of the pelvic area which the name pelvic suggests,' he said in that solicitous doctor-way that made me hope his malpractice insurance premiums were killing him. 'It's really no big deal,' he continued. 'A lubricating gel is applied to your pelvic area and then the whole area is gently massaged with a small round wand, called a transducer, creating computerized sound pictures that will let us know what's going on – or in your case, what's not going on,' he chuckled. 'My nurse will do it right in the office.'

    "His nurse! She took me into his office when I arrived, and she was young and busty and gorgeous. Let me stop for a minute here, Soph. I've been married for a long time, and I'm proud to say I've been faithful the whole time. That's a lot of years. So the prospect of a gorgeous young woman exploring my lubricated crotch in the name of medicine sounded rather exotic, even if she was going to be looking for the dreaded mass. I decided to go ahead and have it done.

    "The procedure was scheduled for 8:30 this very morning—just a few hours ago. When I arrived at Dr. Mengele's office I was escorted into a little room that had an ultrasound machine attached to a computer monitor. There was a tube of gel waiting right next to it. There was also a TV attached to the wall. I wasn't sure why the TV was there. I was told to undress, put on the paper surgical gown, opened in the front, and lie on the table and that the nurse would be in shortly. The nurse! I couldn't wait. It was the first time I ever got excited while wearing a surgical gown. There was a knock on the door and in came the nurse.

    "Seems like Dr. Mengele had more than one nurse and the one that gives the ultrasounds is not the one with the tight uniform and big breasts. It was, as his nametag indicated, Joseph. Joseph was an anorexic-looking young man with a ponytail and a soul patch. He got right down to business.

    'The procedure is a simple one,' he said. 'I'll inject your penis with a hormone called prostaglandin, and then leave the room. Within a few minutes the prostaglandin will give you an erection. If you have any difficulty, a pornographic video will be playing on the TV above you. I will return to make sure you attained the erection. The doctor will then come in and ask you to masturbate. He will be scanning your pelvic region with the transducer and be monitoring the results on the computer as you do so. Once you reach orgasm the procedure will be over. You will get dressed and meet the doctor in his office where he will review the results with you. Okay, are you ready to begin?'

    'What the fuck are you talking about?' I said. 'What the fuck are you talking about?'

    'The procedure, sir. Didn't the doctor explain it to you?' Joseph said.

    'No he didn't fucking explain it to me. Not like you explained it to me. It was supposed to be a nurse with big tits rubbing my groin with KY jelly. That's it. No injection. Injection in my penis? Are you out of your fucking mind? Masturbate for the fucking doctor? Porno movie? Orgasm? Is this a joke? Did my wife set this up? Who the fuck are you? Where am I?'

    'Try to calm down, sir. And please stop yelling, the other patients will hear.'

    'Fuck you, I'm not shouting,' I shouted.

    'The doctor needs to see your internal organs and the vasculature during orgasm in order to definitively rule out a mass.'

    "There it is again, Sophie, the M word. That's all he needed to say. It just wasn't fair. If that bloodcurdling word were not uttered, I would have been up and off of that table and dressed and running down the street like a whippet. But the M word, Soph. My frenzied mind saw only two choices. One: stay and get a shot where I never thought I'd ever get a shot, try to get it up and then jerk off as Dr. Mengele watched. Or, two: bolt the hell out of there and die a slow death from penis cancer. I never heard of penis cancer. I wasn't sure it even existed, but just the thought of it glued my tongue to the roof of my mouth. It was the sheer fear of death—not bravery—that drove my decision. I told Joe to go ahead with the shot.

    "He took the needle out of its wrapper. It was very small, maybe a quarter of an inch in length. I felt a little better. My penis saw it differently. One look at the needle and it dove back into my pubic hair like the head of a turtle that just saw a killer whale. Joe fished out the terrified little guy and told me it wouldn't hurt, and to lie absolutely still."

    'Ow, fuck, shit, fuck,' I screamed as the needle went in and both legs popped up into the air knocking into Joe's arm.'

    'I asked you not to move, I could have hurt you," Joe scolded.

    "Don't you hate it, Soph, when they tell you it won't hurt, when they know damn well it will. Why don't they at least give you the chance to prepare for it? Do they think the surprise will deaden the pain? Not only doctors and nurses, but politicians and parents, too. No one wants to tell you the truth when the truth will hurt. But alas, my Sophie, I wax too philosophically.

    'Well, let's just hope all of the prostaglandin was injected. Some might have dripped,' Joseph said as if it were my fault.

    "With that, he walked out of the room. I think I heard him whistle. My penis, sensing the predator had gone, slowly started to come out of hiding, but it was far from aroused. As if on cue, the TV up on the wall started playing the video. Not much of a plot. One naked woman—with silicone breasts that looked like they belonged on Mount Rushmore—surrounded by three donkey-donged men. Our heroine crawled to each of her co-stars who would begin exploring one of her very accommodating orifices. A sensitive piece of feminist cinematic art, it wasn't. It was pretty gross, Sophie. But once again, my penis saw it differently and rose proudly to the occasion. Joe walked in and took a look.

    'Excellent, sir, I'll let the doctor know. He'll be here in a minute.'

    "Five minutes passed. Ten minutes passed. Fifteen. Twenty. When the movie came around for the third time my dick lost interest and reassumed the turtle position. Dr. Mengele finally walked in and glanced down.

    'I'll have Joe give you another shot,' he said, walking out.

    "Joseph came back in. I was so overwrought and exhausted at this point, I no longer offered any verbal resistance. It was if I had been emotionally water boarded and was ready to do anything to stop the torture. Joseph took out the needle and gave me the shot. This time I didn't make a sound and my legs didn't even twitch.

    'Much better, sir. I'm sure you got all of the prostaglandin this time.'

    'Anything to make you happy,' I said.

    "Joseph was right. The prostaglandin went to work as soon as he left the room. To tell you the truth, Sophie, I felt a bit betrayed by my ever-growing penis. Here I was, writhing in surreal disbelief, on the verge of a full-blown anxiety attack and it was behaving like a cowboy in a whorehouse. It showed absolutely no concern for my feelings. Neither did Dr. Mengele when he came back in.

    'Okay, Mr. Landorf, start masturbating as I scan you with the transducer.'

    'Actually, I don't think, I'll be able to with you standing there and…'

    'Nonsense, just concentrate on the video, and make believe I'm not here.'

    'I really don't think I can,' I whimpered, as I felt myself getting limp again.

    'Without seeing the muscles of the urinary tract during orgasm, there is the chance I will miss the presence of a mass.'

    "I grabbed my cock and started rubbing. Sophie, it was not easy. I closed my eyes tight, not wanting to see the movie or Dr.Mengele. I couldn't close my ears, though, so the moaning of the silicone starlet and the sounds of Dr. Mengele's breathing kept breaking through. I desperately tried to shut it all out and conjure up something that would accomplish the task. First, it was my wife and I doing it that time on a beach in Los Cabos, but the memory of the chaffing sand kept popping up, so I brought in Scarlett Johansson as a diversion. That helped, but not enough, so I added Halle Berry to the group, which almost did the job, but not quite. I stretched my improvisational skills and sent in Miss Nunge, my second grade teacher. She inexplicably brought along Jimmy Buffett. That did the trick.

    'Very good, Mr. Landorf.' Mengele said. 'Get dressed and come see me in my office.'

    "My hands were trembling, Sophie. After all, I still didn't know the results. What if he did find something? What if I was going to die? What if I had to be castrated? What if I was going to die and be castrated? What if jerking off in front of a man was really a turn on for me? What if it unlocked a gay gene? Dead! Castrated! Gay! And, I still had the erection. The orgasm didn't even make a dent. That prostaglandin sure does work. Two doses of it certainly do. I dressed and found my way to the doctor's office.

    'No mass. Everything looks fine, Mr. Landorf.' He said. 'Just as we expected. You'll more than likely regain normal orgasm in a month or two.'

    'Just as we expected? Just as we expected? If that's what you expected why the fuck did you put me through this shit you Nazi pervert mother fucker?'

    "Of course, Sophie, I said nothing of the kind. I was still feeling like I was in some kind of lobotomized state so all I could muster was a wimpy, "uh huh," and turned toward the door in a cloud of after shock.

    'Oh, by the way, Mr. Landorf, with all that prostaglandin you were injected with you might maintain an erection for several hours.'

    "Thank you, Dear' I said. The "Dear" just sort of slipped out. I went to shake his hand, but he didn't reciprocate. I probably shouldn't have offered that particular hand. Anyway, I walked, more like ran, out of the office and came, erection in tow, directly to you, Sophie. I thought I was losing my mind when I first came in, but reliving the whole damn thing with you was cathartic. I know you didn't hear a word, but you are a great listener."

    I opened my eyes. Sophie was just about finished. She pulled down her mask revealing another mole on her chin.

    "Clean as a whistle," she said proudly. She looked down at my still-throbbing erection. She winked, again, "If you experience any discomfort just give me a call, night or day," then scribbled her cell phone number on a piece of dental bib.

    "I can't thank you enough, Sophie," I said as I hurried out. I wanted to get home before the prostaglandin wore off.

    THE END

    BACK DOWNTOWN

    I was barely eighteen, a freshman at LaGuardia Community College with no declared major. I didn't drive; my family didn't own a car. I had a very Brooklyn accent. I worked at my father's plumbing fixture store adjacent to Manny Knishes in downtown Brooklyn. I lived with my Yiddish-accented parents in an apartment above the store; I told my friends their accent was French. I loved listening to heavy metal and watching hockey. My girlfriend, Greta, was a twenty-one year-old art history major at Barnard. She drove a cream colored BMW with fuchsia seats. She lived in a triplex on the Upper East Side, with her father, who spoke with a British accent. They had a live-in maid who actually did have a French accent, and a full-time cook. Greta was an accomplished cellist, an avid follower of polo and had the sexual appetites of Catherine the Great on Quaaludes. I considered us a perfect match.

    We met quite by chance, literally bumping into each other at the museum. To be honest, I didn't go to museums much. In fact, the last time I had gone to one was on a field trip in Junior High, where I got suspended for a week for spitting into a Sixth Century Grecian urn. But, I ran across an article in the Daily News about an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum called, The Allure of Picasso's Nudes. I thought it would be an enlightening way to spend a Sunday afternoon. At any rate, I was in the museum, backing up from one of Picasso's creations trying to see exactly what and where the breasts were when fate banged me into Greta. She was gorgeous.

    "What?" I said, although I heard her perfectly.

    "Her tits." she repeated, "Not very squeezable are they?

    I turned toward her and tried putting on a sophisticated, nonplussed, Fred Astaire, oh-I've-oft-times-had-gorgeous-girls-discuss-squeezable-tits-with-me kind of face. Instead, I giggled like a seventh grade Yeshiva girl who just heard the rabbi fart. Months later Greta told me that she found that introductory giggle, "irresistible." That should have taught me a lesson about being yourself. As it turned out, the lesson didn't sink in for almost a year. But what a year it was. A year spent with a girl as stunning, worldly, and adventurous as I could have ever conjured in my wildest of wet dreams. The only potential erection killer in the ointment was Greta's father.

    Greta's mom was dead. According to their doorman—who was from Brooklyn and loved to talk—Greta's dad was an attorney for the Mafia and had a violent temper. Rumor had it that he slashed Greta's mom's throat after he discovered her in bed with her obstetrician, shortly after Greta was born. He never remarried and was insanely devoted to his daughter. In fact, Greta's last boyfriend mysteriously disappeared after he dumped her for another girl. It all sounded ridiculous, but just to be safe, I confronted Greta with what the doorman told me. She said the doorman was insane and I'd be crazy to believe such crap. Then she took my hand and slipped it under her dress.

    "Now, here's something you can believe in," she said.

    The next time I saw the doorman his leg was in a cast and he refused to talk to me. Not a good sign. Perhaps it would be wise to say goodbye. But the thought of leaving Greta had two major problems. One, I couldn't bear being deprived of the endless joys she had to offer, and two, leaving her would probably end up with me being shot in the back of the head, mob-style. I had to stay. I wanted to stay. I just had never, ever give him reason to display his temper. Still, he made it clear that I was not his favorite.

    "How are you doing, son?"

    "Fine, Sir. How's by you?"

    "Quite a Brooklyn accent you have there." He continued in a whisper, "It's a trifle off-putting."

    Trifle off-putting! What nerve that scumbag had.

    What's wrong with a Brooklyn accent? How about losing your wimp British accent you twat? Fuck you, it's my accent you fucking wife-killing mobster fuck.

    "You're absolutely right, sir, I've been working on losing it."

    "Good, and how are you treating my little angel?"

    "Like a princess, sir, like a princess."

    "Keep it up," he said, definitely not smiling.

    If he was unhappy about my accent, imagine how he'd feel if he found out about his little angel's sexual proclivities and that I was the one procliviting with her? What if he discovered the things we enjoyed with great regularity—like the game using the Oxo Stainless Steel Balloon Whisk with the wide, velvety rubber handle? The very same one his cook used. I'm not even sure we cleaned it before we put it back in the kitchen drawer. What if that tidbit became known? It was clear that I now needed to avoid her father at all costs.

    I rarely went to her apartment anymore. We met, instead, at what was then The Helmsley Palace on Madison Avenue (Greta paid, of course). She always brought along the whisk and a small bottle of extra virgin olive oil in her pocketbook (we had the workings for a very interesting reality show on The Food Network). The anxiety about my parents finding me with a 45-caliber slug in my head finally began to dissipate and life, once again, became an unfettered feast, until Greta came to me one day and said, "My dad wants to take us out to dinner."

    A simple request for sure, but no way. Out of the question. I wasn't about to sit across a table from him. What if I blurted out something stupid? What if I couldn't understand the menu? If he thought my Brooklyn accent was bad wait until he saw my table manners. It was almost impossible for me to chew with my mouth closed, I had no idea where the salad fork belonged and rich food made me extremely gassy. Definitely, way out of my comfort zone. To tell you the truth, until that time, the fanciest restaurant I had ever eaten in was Lenny's Fish and Prime Rib Palace in Sheepshead Bay—definitely not a candidate for The Michelin Guide. I wasn't about to make a fool of myself, and I surely was not going to give her father a reason to be angry with me, so I kept making up one lame excuse after the other.

    "Sorry, I can't, I need to study."

    "Sorry, I can't, I need to help my father with inventory."

    "Sorry, I can't, my mother is going into the hospital for a hysterectomy."

    "Sorry, I can't, my aunt is going into the hospital for a hysterectomy."

    Greta was really starting to get annoyed. "Do you want to bring this relationship to the next level," she said, "or do you want us to remain merely fuck-buddies?"

    Merely fuck-buddies was fine with me, but apparently not for Greta. If I didn't agree to go out to dinner soon, I would soon have no buddy to fuck. And what's worse, what if she told her father that I was refusing to go? I'd end up as fish food like Greta's ex-boyfriend. Being wired for self-preservation, I gave in and dinner was arranged. Just the three of us, the very next day at Le Cirque. Damn! My worst nightmare. The snootiest restaurant in New York. I just knew I would do something to piss Greta's thug father off and he'd probably puncture my spleen with his salad fork, which I'm sure he knew just where to find. But the die was cast. I had to go.

    That morning my mother helped me pick out a suit at Macy's. Sage green, summer weight, 40% cotton. A little big on me, but it was on sale. When I got it home I realized it was more than a little big on me. I all but disappeared in it, making me look emaciated. It also cast a sickish haze on my skin, creating a person with both an eating disorder and jaundice. In the remaining hours before the final supper I read what I could about French food and table settings in my mother's, The Joy of Cooking. The time to start getting ready arrived much too quickly. I showered, dressed and started the walk to the subway. I had gone only a block when I noticed sweat stains darkening the armpits of my new sage suit. I raced home, slabbered on some more deodorant and put on two undershirts beneath my shirt and ran out the door again. I looked like I was wearing a bulletproof vest. When I finally got to the subway I was sweating like a pig, water dripping down my back, making my pants match the shade of my armpits.

    I got to Le Cirque almost an hour early. Swimming in my wetsuit, I paced back and forth outside, practicing how to say merci. Finally, their car pulled up in front of the restaurant. The driver came around to open the car door. Father and daughter stepped out. They looked magnificent. Maybe it was a class thing, or genetics or something in the tailoring, but I understood that I would never be like them. F. Scott Fitzgerald was right. The rich are different. Trying to establish a proper tone, I offered up my hand for Greta to shake. She grabbed it, pulled me in close and bit my ear. I wasn't certain whether that was for my benefit or her father's. I looked up to shake hands with him but he was already stomping into the restaurant. Not a promising start to the evening.

    We were escorted by the maitre 'd to the "A" table. The "A" table at Le Cirque is something my father would never have been given. In fact, they wouldn't have given it to the three of us if they knew the skinny, jaundice kid had a father who spoke with a Yiddish accent and owned a plumbing fixture store in downtown Brooklyn. They probably would have given us a table near the men's room, which, as it turned out, would have been a good thing. There was very little small talk at the table. I think Greta's dad was still digesting the ear bite. When it came to order I opted for foie gras and escargot. I ordered the two (at once) because they were the only things I could pronounce. Greta's father selected the wine. I hated it. It was so dry it made my tongue curl. But, it helped calm my nerves, so I kept drinking.

    After my third glass, the food came. I didn't mind the foie gras; it tasted a little like my mother's chopped liver. The snails were another story. They looked like snot and tasted like shit. Shit with garlic. Another glass of wine helped wash them down.

    "How's the escargot, young man?" Her father asked.

    "Orgasmic," I said, "orgasmic."

    Yes, I said "orgasmic." The choice of that particular word was probably due to the wine along with the fact that at that very moment Greta was fondling my balls under the table.

    "Orgasmic?" The father chuckled under his breath almost imperceptibly. It was not a good chuckle. It reminded me of the sound fat Clemenza made right before he strangled Carlo Rizzi in the Godfather. It was an angry chuckle. A knowing chuckle. A chuckle informed by an Oxo Whisk. I poured myself another glass of the foul wine and gulped it down like an Alka Seltzer. He continued to chuckle. That's when the vomit made an appearance at the back of my throat. I swallowed it down, but it popped right back up. It reached the back of my front teeth and then started oozing out of the gap between my cuspid and my incisor. There was no stopping it now.

    Giving no explanation I jolted up and dashed straight for the bathroom, without having any idea where the bathroom was. A busboy with amazing powers of deduction pointed me in the right direction. The door said "hommes." Fortunately, it also had a drawing of a person wearing pants.

    It took me a while to fill the sink. The once pristine porcelain was now covered with the remains of a dozen or so snails; two to three pieces of partially undigested foie gras along with several totally undigested little cornichons; and what appeared to be a gallon or two of red wine. I thought for a moment that I saw my tongue floating on top of the goop, but it must have been a slice of salami from yesterday's lunch.

    It wasn't until I raised my disgustingly dribbled chin that I noticed an older black man in a starched short white jacket with a carnation smartly pinned to the lapel standing next to me. He offered me a moistened towel and a forgiving smile. After I wiped my repulsive face with the moist towel, he handed me a soft, dry, warm one and followed that with a cup of mouthwash and a small bottle of cologne. I immediately wished I could trade my father in for him. I thanked him profusely. When I gathered the composure to walk out, I reached into my pocket and gave him all I had. A stick of Dentyne, my Metro Pass and a quarter.

    Two steps into the restaurant and I caught a whiff of escargot. Fuck these snails! The nausea returned with vengeance, but this time it went directly south. I ran back into the bathroom.

    "The stall!" I screamed.

    My bathroom attendant/father figure led the way. I unbuckled my belt and was out of my pants and underwear before I even closed the stall door. As it was closing I saw him standing there looking sincerely concerned.

    What followed was 4 to 5 minutes of an uninterrupted cacophony of gaseous sounds ranging from geese to backfiring trucks to Tom Waits. But that was it. Only sound. Nothing solid. Nothing wet. I was emptying out like a balloon, which made me feel a lot better. I could return to the Nuts Squeezer and her dad with my dignity more or less intact. Or, so I thought. As I pulled my pants up I immediately saw, to my horror, that they were soaking wet. It seems that in my frenzy to get on the pot I failed to notice a strikingly dark and deep brown pool of liquid covering most of the floor in the sumptuous stall. I already established that nothing came out of me, so by deduction that dark and deep pool of liquid was not mine. You would think that my bathroom attendant dad would have noticed it and cleaned it before my arrival. He didn't. All fathers end up disappointing.

    I zipped up and left the stall to survey the damage. My pants were drenched with a huge inkblot that grew as I watched. I was numb, but not numb enough not to smell the reek of it all. Indeed, my pants, which were beginning to stick to my skin, had obviously gone into a bath of another person's liquid crap. Whoever was responsible presumably ate far more snails than I did. The attendant, I no longer considered him a relative, took out a hair dryer and turned it onto my shit-pants. All that did was make everything hot.

    "Stop," I said, "it's making it worse."

    "Jackie Gleason once threw up in this bathroom," he said, as if that fact would make me forget that I was absorbing a stranger's feces and smelling like New York in August during a garbage strike.

    The sheer terror of it all made my mind work in warp drive. The way I saw it, I had only two choices. One, I could roll up like a ball and lie in the corner of the bathroom. It was an attractive option. Two, I could just get the hell out of the restaurant. I never belonged in Le Cirque in the first place. I chose number two. It was the nobler choice.

    I thanked the bathroom attendant for his help, and walked or rather squished out of the bathroom and found my table. By this time, my pants were all but dripping. I stood over my sure to be ex-lover and her father. I didn't even try to cover anything up. They both looked at me with their mouths agape. The family resemblance was remarkable.

    "Sorry, I have to leave. I have another engagement." I said.

    I probably could have thought of something better to say, but it served the purpose. I turned and walked toward the exit. I noticed people sniffing as I passed their tables.

    I took off my pants as soon as I got outside, threw them a trashcan, and then wrapped my suit jacket around my waist. I had no money, no way to get onto the subway and no pants.

    I had a long, long way to walk, but the night was crisp and clear, and I was strong and young. After a few blocks I stopped looking back to see if I was being followed and started grinning like an idiot.

    THE END

  • A WAKE, OF SORTS

    It's time to say goodbye to my penis
    Ciao bambino!
    Shalom shlong!
    We've been through
    a lot together
    so it's hard, you know,
    but enough is enough.
    Enough inexplicable excitations. Remember
    Arlene Applebaum?
    Enough of not being able to stand up because
    it is.
    Enough worrying if it will.
    Enough itching
    when scratching
    is out of the question.
    Enough of it being the measure
    of your man,
    the shortener of your attention span,
    the lengths to which
    you go.
    Enough of it filling a void
    which can never be filled.
    Enough of it being turned down
    because it's 3AM, she says, and
    we just did it yesterday and you were nasty
    to me last week when we had dinner with the Mirskys.
    Enough of it refusing to do
    what it once could do
    or at least what you'd like to think it once could do.
    And enough of it proving that just like
    your father's,
    it can make babies that grow
    to break your heart.

    SIX DAYS WERE NOT ENOUGH

    AP Release: It has been reported that while awaiting trial for genocide, ex-Serbian leader, Slobodin Milosevich, spends a good part of each day sitting in his cell listening to a recording of Frank Sinatra singing,
    "My Way"
    over
    and
    over
    again…
    Slobodin
    sounds so round
    on the tongue
    not like Milosevich
    which sticks there like a pubic hair
    of someone you didn't want to touch
    after you came;
    making you as low as
    Slobo except you didn't kill a couple hundred thousand
    and besides you don't like "My Way"
    so much though you like "The Sopranos" a little too much
    not to mention you had a doctor scrape away
    something you gave to someone who loved you
    but you never dreamed of drowning five of your own kids
    even so you find it fascinating
    to read about,
    don't you?
    Let's be Frank, now,
    you wouldn't be the first (or the last)
    to cast a stone
    except if it were sharp and heavy
    and aimed at the head of Osama
    or Joe Gagowski (who beat the shit out of you in the 6th grade)
    both created in the image of God
    who, too, sits in his cell listening to "My Way"
    but with tears.

    AN ADVERTISING HAIKU

    With nothing to say
    It is wise to make the type
    Very, very small

  • THE GRAMMARIANS

    CAST:

    MIRIAM - A woman in her thirties.

    WEBSTER - A man in his thirties.


    SETTING: Studio apartment, present day.


    (Music up: Fred Astaire singing, "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." Music begins to fade, lights up. Miriam is frantically throwing clothes in her suitcase. Webster is pacing nervously beside her.)


    WEBSTER: You can't be serious, Miriam. You can't just do this, you can't.

    MIRIAM: Oh, yes I can, Webster. I am leaving.

    WEBSTER: But why? Why?

    MIRIAM: You know why.

    WEBSTER: Oh. You mean that.

    MIRIAM: Yes that.

    WEBSTER: (dismissing the significance) That that is nothing more than a little quirk; a pebble on our path to serenity and bliss.

    MIRIAM: A pebble? A pebble? It's not a pebble. That that happens to be a boulder, Webster, a boulder, and we can't stop it from coming between us. We can't stop it. It's an addiction! It's like verbal heroin.

    WEBSTER: Verbal heroin! Wonderful metaphor, Miriam.

    MIRIAM: It's a simile, Webster, not a metaphor. No, I'm sorry Webster I've had it up to here (she points to her neck). No, no I've had it even further; I've had it up to here (she points to over her head).

    WEBSTER: It's farther.

    MIRIAM: What???

    WEBSTER: You've had it even farther, not further. (He moves his hand over her head.) You see, farther serves best as a distance word, whereas further refers more to time.

    MIRIAM: You're right; I can no further stand to look at you. (She picks up suitcase and starts to leave.)

    WEBSTER: (pleading) But we love one another. Miriam, we love one another.

    MIRIAM: No. We love each other, not one another. When you're referring to two people, it's each other. We love each other. Three or more people it's one another. If you had a twin, for instance I could say that we all despise one another. Oh no! See, see! I'm doing it. I'm doing that! I'm as bad as you! (She turns around, once again, and begins to leave). I told you we couldn't stop.

    WEBSTER: But we can stop, Miriam. We can stop. I know it. I know it just as I know I love you, and that is the only thing that matters.

    MIRIAM: (She puts down the suitcase, turns toward Webster, and tearfully breaks down) Oh, Webster, do you think we can? Do you really think we can stop and love each other like we once did, and just talk openly and honestly, bad syntax or not?

    WEBSTER: (He runs to her. They embrace). Of course we can, darling. I love you more than life, itself. There is nothing I wouldn't do to keep us together. I am lost without you.

    MIRIAM: Oh Webster, Oh Webster, if only that was true…

    WEBSTER: If only that were true. A conditional phrase requires a were not a was.

    MIRIAM: (Exasperated) All right!!! If only that were true; If only that were true. (Sweetly, again) If only we could stop, because Webster, I do love you. I love you so.

    WEBSTER: (He lets go of Miriam and begins somewhat sheepishly) The phrase, "I love you so," sort of just dangles there, don't you think? Is it I love you so much? I love you so little? I love you so intensely? One wouldn't know from your sentence. Of course I know you're inferring that you love me deeply.

    MIRIAM: I'm inferring no such thing.

    WEBSTER: But I thought…

    MIRIAM: I am implying I love you deeply. You are inferring from my implication. Anyone knows that distinction.

    WEBSTER: How are you spelling, "anyone?"

    MIRIAM: I'm not spelling anything.

    WEBSTER: In your head, I mean if you spelled anyone like one word, a-n-y- no space -o-n-e it would mean anybody and would be correct. However, if you spelled any one, as if it were two words, a-n-y-space-o-n-e, it would mean any single person and would be woefully incorrect. But all this matters not, my sweetness. More importantly we love one another, I mean each other, and we should hone in on that beautiful fact. (They embrace once again).

    MIRIAM: Webster, mi amore?

    WEBSTER: Yes, my pretty little polyglot?

    MIRIAM: (she separates from him, and suddenly speaks with great irritation) First off, you said, "more importantly." Importantly! Not a word, I'm surprised at you. 'What's more' would have been the correct choice. And what's more, come to think of it, you said, "hone in." You don't 'hone in', you "home in" with an "m" like a homing pigeon. You hone a skill or an axe.

    WEBSTER: (Under his breath.) I can use an axe, just about now.

    MIRIAM: I wouldn't mind an axe, myself, right now. (She returns to speaking with affection) See, Webster, we make each other feel bad.

    WEBSTER: Badly. We make each other feel badly, - "l-y."

    MIRIAM: (Irritated, again.) Wrong, grammar boy. When describing a condition or a passive state as in how one feels, one needn't use the l-y form. We make each other feel bad is perfectly acceptable, not to mention true.

    WEBSTER: The hell with grammar. Grammar disinterests me. All I'm interested in is having you in my arms. (They embrace again).

    MIRIAM: You're not disinterested in grammar, mon amour. You are uninterested or not interested in grammar. A judge or an umpire is disinterested, as in unbiased.

    WEBSTER: (Can't hold back the anger anymore) Archaic distinction, you trilingual pedant. Modern parlance sees them as synonymous.

    MIRIAM: Well I'll tell you what's not synonymous, you and me.

    WEBSTER: You can say that again, but this time, say you and I.

    MIRIAM: (Miriam has had it) That's it!!! Where's my bag. I'm out of here. You make me nauseous. (Miriam storms out).

    WEBSTER: (He continues as if she were still there.) Actually, my love, its nauseated. My behavior makes you nauseated. If you say you are nauseous… …it means you are sickening, and I think you meant I am sickening. (Webster realizes she has gone. Overdramatically, he collapses onto the floor and begins talking to himself.) Oh no, what have I done? The only person I truly loved. The only person I will ever love. What have I done? I traded my happiness for better punctuation! I'm an idiot. I am a stupid idiot.

    MIRIAM: (Miriam quietly walks back in and bends down and looks lovingly into his eyes) Webster, dear, "stupid idiot" is redundant.

    WEBSTER: Oh, Miriam. Oh Miriam, you've come back. Miriam, Miriam. Never leave me, again. Without you I am a dangling participle. (He takes her face lovingly into his hands.)

    MIRIAM: And without you, Webster, I am an incomplete sentence. But how can we possibly stay together? (She stands up) We're parsing ourselves to death.

    WEBSTER: We just need to stop talking. That's all. No more words. We need to look beyond mere words and look, instead, into each other's hearts. We'll just eat and sleep and make love. It'll be like, "No Exit," except we won't avoid each other; we'll just avoid words.

    MIRIAM: I have to admit, Webster, that's a good start. (With a giggle) You can even say it's a good Sart (re) (She pronounces Sartre with only one syllable, eliminating the final "re").

    WEBSTER: Wonderful pun, Miriam but it's (trying to sound very French) Sart-re; 're'! But no matter Miriam, come, lay by my side. (He reaches up for her)

    MIRIAM (Begins to lie down, then stops) Webster, my sweet?

    WEBSTER: Yes, my angel tongue?

    MIRIAM: It's lie not lay.

    WEBSTER: (Unable to contain his frustration.) Whatever! Come to me, please!!! Just lie down, Miriam, and be quiet. We'll both be quiet. (Miriam lies down and they start ravaging each other.)

    MIRIAM: (almost immediately starts moaning.) Oh…oh…oh…oh…

    WEBSTER: No words, Miriam, no words.

    MIRIAM: (She can barely stop moaning.) Oh…Oh…oh…oh is not really…oh…a word…oh. It's an interjection, a moan, an ejaculatory utterance, usually lacking grammatical connection…oh!

    WEBSTER: (popping up) For God's sake, Miriam, 'oh' is in the dictionary!

    (Fade to black. "Let's call the whole thing off," comes back up.)

    The End