Online Dating Redux

There’s a recurring theme in the online dating world that involves a man who’s a construction engineer building roads, culverts, pipe pedestals, or may be closing a deal in Dubai. He’ll be back stateside in approximately three weeks. Invariably, he seems to have been born overseas in another country and speaks at least one other language. Italy seems to be a popular location although I’ve also met guys who’ve claimed to be from Russia or Ireland. The profile also includes the following: he has lost his wife in a tragic car accident where she was immediately killed and he took five years to get over the shock, but now is ready to move on with his life. Or there’s a variation in the theme where a child was killed in a car accident and the marriage failed beneath the sturm and drang of loss. Or how she slept with his best friend. His best friend!

All this elicits my sympathy. He is a father and frequently claims to have two college-age children who are attending school in Europe. They are studying software engineering, or sometimes languages. He wants to know what I want from a relationship and I respond with sincere, heartfelt emails. He’s a good communicator and in touch with his emotions. I go through my day with a quiet song that permeates my stubborn belief that I will never again find a significant relationship; I remind myself to refocus on work, family, and friends, and that sleeping alone has its benefits like being able to occupy either left or right side or, if I choose, to entirely fill up a bed with my arms akimbo, feet askew, unencumbered by someone who snores.

But the picture dissolves. I find no such person on the Internet who fits his description. His company is non-existent. He assures me that his website is being upgraded and promises that I will discover all manner of wonderful thing about him and his company once his designer recovers from a bad slide down the ski slope. I hear a small voice telling me that my Mr. Right is my Mr. Wrong. I have a fatal flaw: Despite this Age of Trump, I  believe the best in people. I blame it on the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals that I grew up with, a surrey with a fringe on top and clam bakes everywhere.

Still, I can’t get past my fascination that men can be such horrible emotional manipulators, hired assassins, belonging to a group that fabricates a backstory for the purpose of deceit. The problem is, it’s the same story, and while repetition is good in most cases, in this one, it’s a liability, a fellowship of poseurs, each one carrying a similar calling card. I wonder if they are working for the same agency or are they a network of individual contractors? Online sites do try to catch these cads and strip them of membership, preventing them from preying upon the bankbooks of vulnerable women. But when were words ever a true representation of reality, itself a philosophical argument taking up print in books for the last several hundred years?

Words are stand-ins; whatever meaning they’re imbued with depends on who’s talking, which is what I’ve been reduced to in the face of online dating, sitting on a couch cushion and thinking about words in the Student Lounge of San Francisco State University waiting for an evening class to begin and watching a mostly silent parade: an older man with a leather briefcase and a matching brown leather cap in flip-flops, a young woman with hoop earrings as big as wagon wheels that roll her away to the cafeteria, bags of walking gold fish and barbecue chips, white ear buds and a collar of headphones, a bouquet of voice messages clutched in every hand; students appear holding small cardboard pizza boxes and then I hear the laughter that comes before backpacks.

(Always Continued…)

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White Label

A ghost arrives in my mailbox

on the outside of a catalog 

name printed           a white label 

                  inside a Castro convertible sofa

an opening         
                  to another time

Buy the Golem

Links to my work

Upcoming Readings:

Saturday, April 15, 6pm, Rolling Writers Let’s Jew It! with Susan Cohen, Diane Frank, Richard May, Colleen McKee, and Bejamin Wachs, 1722 Taraval between 27th and 28th Avenues, San Francisco—at the L stop.

Tuesday, April 17, VelRo, 7-9 PM in HUM 512, San Francisco State University Poetry Center.

Saturday, April 22, 1pm Book Passage, Sausalito, 100 Bay Street with Charles Burack and Kendra Tanacea to celebrate National Poetry Month.

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Celia Cruz in Emeryville

I waited twenty minutes to try on two dresses,
one for the evening
(I was going out on a date and wanted to look good)
three jeans with rips above and below the knee
four tops all V-necklines that showed off my cleavage
and a pair of embroidered cut-offs,
no pockets, but why not buy one anyway for fun?
The line was long, a second weekend of Madness Mark-Downs
I might’ve gone over the allowed dressing room limit
but the attendant handed me a number
assigned me to a stall
where I hung up my try-ons and unbuttoned
my plaid jacket, the one I love with the fuzzy lining,
yanked off my T-shirt but started to hear loud music
realized the sound was emanating
from a loose tile above the mirror
(BTW Ross dressing rooms don’t have doors);
lifted up the tile slowly didn’t want to ruin my manicure
when I heard salsa
a horn section followed by shouts
of “Azucar, Azucar,”
started to dance, rolled my hips,
my pants slipped to my ankles
began singing in perfect Spanish
even though I’d taken only one semester
in high school, “Azucar, Azucar!”
And everything fit.

You don’t want to miss The Golem.

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Stonebridge in Pleasanton

dancing inside a circle
of orange traffic cones
wish me luck

shopping trip
automatic doors
glass elevator

dropping down
two strollers
on the prowl

in retail heaven
shopping bag
flashes wide

itching to be filled
with a remoulade
of half-offs

crammed on racks
is the back story

come Dasher
and Dancer…
Donner and Blitzen…

except Victoria
won’t tell me
her secret

i’m gonna
make her
give me a club card

one hundred push-ups
she handles my boobs
so nice

Big Help for those Trump blues. Buy your copy now.

The Golem by Lenore Weiss

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Southland in Hayward

Southland Mall sits like a waxed vagina
hidden behind a concrete preserve
you would never know
what lay behind the FedEx guards
Locksmith keys
no trees
not even a fake orchid
dresses from countries
we don’t trade
agree with anymore
when a clock strikes
the commute hour
queues up
that’s me riding
the up escalator
my halo hollow
everyone tries so very hard
to be cheerful
walk along the white way
past a Shoe Palace
Forever 21
buy two plastic dicks
get one free
mine comes along with me

behind a red curtain
a background
blue or grey

I choose you
we cheese

The Golem is now available!!!

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Upcoming Reading Dates

The Golem

Upcoming reading dates from my new book, The Golem:

March 7, Spice Monkey, 1628 Webster Avenue, Oakland, 6:30 to 9pm, Open Mic

March 10, Nefeli Cafe, 10th Anniversary reading, 1854 Euclid Avenue, Berkeley, 7pm to 9pm, Open Mic

April 22, Book Passage, National Poetry Month Reading, 100 Bay Street, Sausalito, 1pm

June 10, Frank Bette Center, 1601 Peru Street, Alameda, 7pm-9pm, Open Mic

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Breaking out of Jail

old telephone with dial

LPW NEWS FLASH: Found out today that I won second place in the Browning Society Dramatic Monologue Competition for my piece, “Drive to Denny’s.” Award ceremony will be held in San Francisco on March 10. I’m advised to wear a hat and “dress smart.” Let me know if you can join me!

The damn phone was ringing again. She hated those telemarketers.

The landline was only good for calls from health enrollment plans, or calls for someone named Philip Martin. Lots of calls. “Is he there? Are you a relative? Do you know how we can reach him?” For two weeks, different agencies kept inquiring if he were available. She told them to strike her phone number from their list. They didn’t.

Callers wanted to talk to this Martin idiot who must’ve been delinquent on his bills or owed child support all over town. She wanted to put an end to it, unplug the phone jack and let it dangle. Problem solved, right? It was one of those ancient-looking phones with a dial. She liked old things, had picked it up at a garage sale. It worked fine.
The phone kept ringing. She couldn’t believe it. She’d call up the phone company to complain; maybe she’d get them to lower her bill, not force her to have this landline as part of the whole Internet package.

Her next thought was to throw the phone into the garbage. She’d pay for the landline all right, only stop that damn ringing because things were difficult enough; bad enough that her son was in jail for possession of meth and was sure to do time. Her only son, the boy she’d given birth to in her own home, the boy who had placed his ear against a stereo speaker and fallen asleep listening to music, who’d stayed awake at night memorizing the flags and coins of different countries, and who’d won a black belt in karate. But there was always a question in the corner of his eyes, a discomfort she could never reach. He carried distance around his waist like a life preserver.

After his father had died, Charles had shattered into pieces. His father had meant everything to him, an actor and a director who had never known his own dad. George had improvised what it meant to raise a son, but in the end, improvisation hadn’t been nearly enough, a student of the work of Gurdjieff’s, a man who’d spent time with the Sarmoung Brotherhood in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Northern Afghanistan and later met up with some dude named Ouspensky who was a kind of public relations man from a distance. Gurdjieff had explained how people were always in a state of walking sleep. “Which life is real,” he asked as they stretched out in bed. “this one, or the one when we’re sleeping?”

His favorite past time had been in discussing Gurdjieff’s theories, giving professorial lectures to whomever would listen. Their circle of friends dwindled as his collection of esoteric books increased. On the weekends, he trolled local bookstores for defunct international publishers.

The day after he died, he’d come to her bed and made love to her one last time. She felt him. He was obese.

An old friend of Charles had come knocking on her door over the weekend to tell her that her son was in jail. “He wanted me to call you,” he said, a man with a beard who apologized for disturbing her on a Saturday morning. “All my friends call me when they get into trouble.” She thanked him and took down his phone number. Each time the phone rang, she thought it was her son, but it was only a call for Philip Martin.

She viewed her son’s charges and mug shots online. There were deep shadows beneath his eyes. Janeen pictured him sitting behind bars. The County operator had told her that if he were sentenced for less than a year, he’d been in the County, if not, housed in Oregon prison for some nameless time that pulled her down like an iron weight. She waited for his call.

The phone rang once again. “A deep voice with a slight echo spoke to her. “Who is this?”

“Me. Philip.”

“Who the hell are you? You know I’d appreciate if you’d pay your damn bills.” She unplugged the phone jack, but the voice kept talking. She banged the receiver, and tried to shake lose something that was still working within the phone, something that was causing this aberration.

“I’m a friend. A good friend.”

“People have been calling me for weeks now looking for you. You sound like a dead beat. How’d you get my number?”

“Do me a favor. Just press star.”

“Look, mister. This is a bad joke. I don’t even know how you’re talking to me.”

“Press it twice.” His voice was quieter now. “You’ve got to hurry or we’ll lose the connection.”

She didn’t know what else to do, upset after weeks of worry, her sisters living too far away to offer more than well-meaning support. She was tired of pacing from the kitchen to the living room and looking at the clock as if time meant anything more than annoying ticks. “Okay.” She pressed star and threw down the receiver that sent its double-A batteries rolling along the compressed wood flooring as she fell to the couch letting loose a flood of sobs that she’d been holding back all week.

“That’s okay. We’ll do this together.”

Janeen looked up from the couch and wiped her face with the sleeve of her sweatshirt. Standing in front of her entertainment center with its TV screen guarding her CDs and shelves of Lakshmi and Asherah statuettes that she’d picked up over the years at flea markets, was her husband, George, a lot thinner, but it was George all right, a bald man with piercing green eyes and a prominent nose that bespoke of his Russian heritage.

“I don’t understand.”

“Janeen, I’m so glad to see you.” She wasn’t so sure if she was glad to see him. “Aren’t you going to give me a hug or something?”

“How can this be you?”

“You always were the skeptic,” he said, sitting down next to her on the green sofa. She moved over to make room for him. “I know this is a lot to take in, but remember how I used to talk about quantum consciousness?” How could she forget?

“When we die,” he said, “the energy of our consciousness gets recycled back into a different body.”

“How come you’re in the same one? Your last one didn’t hold up too well.”

“So you’d recognize me,” he said. “I did this for you. For both of you.”

George got down to business. He said that the phone was a device he was using on a temporary basis as a way to teleport himself from where his quantum information resided, a places of microtubules. “Like your backup device,” he said. “Sort of.” Anyway, he was there to help break their son out of prison. And as soon as he said that, both he and Janeen were standing in front of the Columbia County Jail, a squat building of yellow concrete with two pine trees growing at either end of a parking lot. There was a stream running along one side, almost overflowing from the spring rain. George had a big smile on his face and held the telephone receiver from Janeen’s house. He explained that all they had to do was to call the jail’s central number.

“And then what?”

“That will open the doors. Don’t worry. Not all the doors. Just his. We’re on the same frequency. Gee, it will be great to see him again.”

“You can’t,” she said. He looked at her like a hurt animal.“This is your son. And he’ll never learn anything if you walk him out of that jail. I won’t let you do that.”

“You can’t make me do anything.”

“Listen to me. I’m your wife, god dammit. At least I used to be.”

She wrestled the receiver from his hands and threw it with her best windup pitch into the stream where it evaporated with a loud hiss.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” he said.

“You don’t belong here anymore. You never did.” She walked away into the Columbia Jail. As long as she was in Oregon, she’d go and visit her son.

The next month, she received a very large bill from the telephone company.

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The Golem from Hadassa-Word Press

New book out soon!

The Golem

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Bernice wondered what color to paint her toenails, being that it was sandal weather and time for her feet to reveal themselves to the larger world and to prospective dating partners. There were so many colors, reds and pinks were her favorites. Forget about those navy blues and blacks that young girls seemed to like; she thought it was a color that was too heavy to ride upon the insignificant weight of a finger or toenail. She thought a person should reserve black for funerals, unsuitable for making appearances on a young girl’s hands, just like Vaneeta’s in her Sophomore English class, and certainly unsuitable for a white woman like herself in her forties.

During the school year, Bernice only wore clear. She didn’t want to distract her students from their discussion of Ralph Waldo Emerson or Emily Dickinson. Transcendentalists like Bernice took their colors seriously. She had taken months to figure out the right swatches for her living room. She’d loved the mountains outside and the southwest sunsets, decided to paint the walls light browns and deep purples, but it was summer now and she’d painted her nails bright red.

She was sitting in her first home since her divorce a year ago; she had a mortgage, her name on the dotted line, and each time she sat down on the couch to watch TV, congratulated herself on her sense of color coordination. Looking out on the patio, she felt like she was in the mountains, not in a town house facing out on a major highway with a dozen or so more units being behind her.

She’d even begun dating and was about to meet Jeffrey at the Starbucks close to the university in just under two hours. This was their first date. She and Jeffrey had been corresponding. Neither of them had photos. She didn’t want her ex to know she was dating, even though he’d probably never know, let alone care. She’d wear jeans for sure and maybe her red top. Red communicated strength and vitality and the shirt matched her nails. She swung her bag over her shoulder and walked outside, excited that her life was taking a new turn.

She drove to the coffee shop, five minutes early, fiddled in her car listening to music going through text messages although she’d scrolled through them at least ten times already this morning. She wondered what she was going to say, but remembered how easy it’d been exchanging messages about their jobs, traveling, music.

Jeffrey played the piano and worked at the local radio station. He said he was getting a photo to post, and she shouldn’t worry; he wasn’t a monster. He’d be wearing a green shirt and a Diamondbacks cap.  She walked into the store and saw a man sitting to her right near the windows. She saw the shirt, the cap. He was African-American, light-skinned, the color of coffee. She swallowed, moved herself forward, and shook his hand.

“Hi, I’m Bernice.”

“Jeffrey,” he said. “Can I buy you a cup?”

“Yes, sure,” she nodded. Thank you,” she said, standing there with her purse and almost knocking over the napkin dispenser with her purse.

He got up and pulled out her chair. She sat down. “What can I get you?”

“Coffee, anything.” He looked at her, puzzled.

“Small latte,” she said, not sure how long they would be sitting there, but a small coffee would give her some wiggle room.

“Good to meet you, Bernice.” He smiled. “Be right back.”

She looked at her nails and then saw Jeffrey at the counter waiting to order. Red was also the color of new beginnings.

Links to my work

Sketchbook Project

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The Half & Half

Earl’s Half & Half was located at the border between Louisiana and Arkansas. The liquor half was in the state of Louisiana, and the grocery half, in Arkansas. Customers joked that you could go from one state to another in less time than it took to sign your name.

The store had started out as a coffee bar, a place for truckers to buy their morning cup. Earl’s customer’s kept asking for more—gum, chips, cigarettes, magazines, then canned goods, fried chicken wings, pizza, and of course, sodas to wash it all down. Earl nursed the bottom-line until his big day came: he was able to afford a liquor license.

Since Hentsbury was a dry county, everyone driving there to Arkansas, stopped to get beer. The place was a goldmine. Sales helped put their girls through college. But five years ago, Earl had come down with a rare blood disease. Rae-Ann stood by his side and watched him sicken and die.

The girls had already moved away. We became her family. And there were always other people passing through—people from Wildlife and Fisheries checking on stands of loblolly, hunters and fisherman, nephews and grandnieces on holiday visits. She worked weekends, didn’t want to be in the house with reminders of Earl: the leather recliner in the living room where he sat watching TV, or looking at the framed photographs over the fireplace with his arm draped around her like a fox stole.

After Earl’s death, we insisted that she go away with us for a girlfriend weekend (we won’t take no for an answer). We rented a cabin in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Whenever she passed by a mirror, she seemed embarrassed by what she saw: an attractive woman who could’ve passed for ten years younger than her actual fifty-three, a fringe of bangs and shoulder-length hair that she dyed a light cocoa, her body plump but not out-of-shape, still able to fill out a pair of jeans with dignity.

They’d met in high school. Earl had been a member of the football team. She’d sat next to him in Biology. I heard her talk about Earl on our walks home.

When he graduated and began to run the front desk of his father’s storage facility, he proposed. They bought a house on a main road leading into town. After the girls were born, she decided to open a day care. She put a large blue sign in her yard with a picture of Tinker Bell touching a sparkling wand to the words Day Care, and ran an advertisement for a few weekends in the Penny Saver.

For years she ran her business out of the house, set up a screened area on the back porch where the babies could play in the summer. When her girls got older, every so often they watched the babies so she could head over to the Half & Half and lend Earl a hand. But after twenty years of running the day care, it seemed like she always had a cold or sore throat, catching whatever the toddlers had. Plus, snacks were getting more expensive and she didn’t think she could raise her rates to cover costs. By the time Earl had been diagnosed, she’d closed the daycare; she’d converted the patio into a greenhouse for tuberous begonias with glossy green leaves and waxy orange and pink blossoms.

We’d mailed her condolence cards that she’d arranged on the fireplace mantel, brought by baskets of fruit, and a book of daily prayers. I brought her a kitten to keep her company. She’d named it Whiskers, an orange and white tabby that liked to hide behind the kitchen curtains and attack her feet every time she walked by. “You scamp,” she’d pick him up by the fur of his neck and scratch the white fur on his belly. “What am I going to do with you?” She always did the same thing—gave him a hug and placed him back on the ground until Whiskers was distracted by a crumb on the kitchen floor, or by some fly that had gotten past the screen door.

The older girl was in Atlanta. She told Rae-Ann that she had an extra room. “Just think about it, Mom. Please. You can move in.” As tempting as the offer was, Rae-Ann didn’t want to weigh down her daughter who’d just gotten married.

Each morning she felt her way through the darkness, colder in the winter months especially after an ice storm, slipped on her work shoes before throwing on the light. A few people relieved her around lunch and after the first mill shift in the evening, the same people who had worked for Earl, like Janice who was getting close to retirement age and wanting to spend more time with her husband who’d been diagnosed with diabetes. Confidentially, Janice had told Rae-Ann that the doctor said her husband had to stop drinking a pint every day, and if he didn’t, he’d probably end up with a liver problem in addition to everything else that was wrong with him. Rae-Ann only told me, because I was her best friend.

People trusted Rae-Ann. She knew about the pastor’s wife, Eudora Franklin. For some reason, Eudora had blurted out how she had become pregnant with their fifth child, and never told her husband. He was pastor of The Living River. “You have to understand, it’s not like I wanted to do that,” and bit her lower lip looking down at the display of Slim-Jims and raising her eyes back to Rae-Ann again.

Earl had never liked Dwayne McCullor who came into the store every Friday to load up on several cases for the weekend. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t like him, but told Rae-Ann over dinner, “He’s not put together right. Can’t put my finger on it.”

Jeff Corkle’s dad was getting milk and orange juice from the freezer and talking about car parts. His friend was having problems with his starter and wanted to know where to get it fixed. A small TV on the counter was tuned to the Weather Channel with news of a cold front moving in by afternoon.

He looked like any one of the mill workers, broad shouldered, wearing a wind-breaker and a Razor Backs cap. But it was his eyes that were strange. Rae-Ann watched. Now he was walking down Aisle 3 and heading back her way. A stream of morning sunlight shone on cellophane packages of whole wheat bread. He picked up a can of Vienna sausage with a pop-up aluminum top and placed it inside his shopping basket. “That’s it. Except for this.” He handed her his thermos, battered from years of use. “Fill ‘er up. I drink this stuff by the gallon.” She turned on the spigot of the coffee pot and kept her finger on the spout. “Also a pack of Marlboros,” he said.

Rae-Ann rang up his bill at the cash register; he stood there shifting from one foot to the other; his eyes darted back and forth as though they were having muscle spasms, almost like he was on the verge of a fit. Then he opened his wallet and said, “How much do I owe you?” It was a few minutes before eight o’clock in the morning. Rae-Ann looked at the TV screen above the cash register. The broadcaster was still talking about weather—some artic plunge.

“Ever try one of these?” Rae-Ann pointed to a pack of tobacco-less cigarettes. His eyes started spinning in his head. “You feeling okay?” she asked.

He rested his beer on the counter. “He screwed me.”

Rae-Ann swept his change into his palm. She didn’t know what else to say. “Thanks, Dwayne. Have a good day,” which is when it happened. Dwayne took out a pistol and started shooting. Everywhere. We’re not sure that he meant to hit Rae-Ann, but he did.

Her daughters asked me if I wanted to take home a few of her begonias. They were in bloom with heavy pink blossoms. The girls found a small cardboard box from amongst her things and told me to pick out whichever ones I wanted. Whiskers jumped into my lap. “I don’t suspect that you’ll be wanting to take the cat home?”

They looked at each other. The cat began to purr. “No,” they said.

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