Sunday, March 28, 2004


We were sitting on the couch, waiting for a movie to start.

"Oh," I said. “I almost forgot. My mother called. My Uncle Mitch died today.Or, maybe, yesterday; I'm not sure. Anyway, we have to drive down for a service on Tuesday."

"Is this going to be a big deal?" FW asked. "Wasn't he supposed to be some sort of well-known guy?"

"He was well-known in our family," I said. "All the time I was growing up I had to hear about Mitch. He was a spy in the war. He was at the Nuremberg Trials. He played cards with Harry Truman. He knew Kennedy. He was in Berlin when the wall went up. He'd been everywhere and done everything."

"Was any of it true?"

"Who knows," I said. "I've never come across his name in any of the standard histories of the war, or of the OSS, or the CIA. Who knows?"

"So what about Tuesday?"

"We have to drive down to Mitch Junior’s place. Then we all go to the church. Then it's back to Junior's - they're having a ham. Then home."

"That's going to be a long day,” FW said. “Maybe we can leave right after the service and get home at a decent hour."

"I think they'd be insulted if we skipped the ham," I said. "A ham's a big thing in Virginia. It's almost worth somebody dying, because then you get to have a ham."

"So, your mother told you all this stuff about your uncle when you were growing up? About what a great guy he was?"

"Right," I said. "It was pretty constant."

"How did that go over with your father?"

"At the time, I can't say I would have noticed, one way or the other."


We were in the church, waiting for the service to start.

"This isn't such a great turnout, for one of the most famous men ever," FW said.

She was right. Mitch's children were there, none with spouses. FW and I. My mother, my brother and his wife. A few other assorted cousins. There were three old men in the last pew. No one knew who they were.

"Apparently, there was a problem with the obituary," I said. "The Post wouldn't print all the stuff Mitch did without independent verification. So they held the notice. It's supposed to appear later this week, if they can get the facts."

"What about Marlene's kids? FW asked. "Surely they heard their grandfather died? Or are they waiting for the official notice?"

"Someone said they took a ride down the shore," I said. "Because it's such a nice day. They'll probably be back at the house later."

"I'm sure," FW said. "Did Mrs. Junior go with them?"

"She had to stay to get the food ready," I said.

"Aren't those hams already cooked?"

"Got me," I said. "But even if, I guess you have to warm them up."


We were in the dining room admiring a ham.

“That’s hickory-smoked and spiral-cut,” someone behind me said.

There were a lot more people at the house than there were at the church. There was loud talking and laughing. Some cousins were playing cd's and dancing on the back deck. It was a regular party. A bunch of Mitch Junior’s friends had shown up and he was holding court in the den.

“It’s getting pretty vicious in there,” my brother said.

“How so?” I asked.

“Junior’s carrying on about what a prick Mitch was; he’s getting pretty animated.”

“Anything good?” I asked.

“Just the usual,” my brother said. “Nasty drunk. Yelled at Aunt Nan. Smacked Junior around. Never paid any attention. Never played catch. Blah, blah, blah.”

“None of our business,” I said. “Have a sandwich and relax.”

My cousin Tim was motioning to us from the hallway.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Did you hear the doorbell a minute ago?”


“It was a delivery service. They had Uncle Mitch’s ashes. Junior signed for them, then he just dropped the container on the floor by the door and went back into the den. So, I put them in the hall closet.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I was afraid your mother would see them and get upset. Apparently she’s the only here who had any use for Mitch. I didn’t think it would be right for her to notice him just unattended over there, or maybe even trip over him.”

“Well, thanks for that,” I said. “I think I’m going to head out now.”


We were sitting on the couch, waiting for a movie to start, when the phone rang. It was my brother.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said.

“Am I supposed to say something sarcastic here?” I asked.

“I’m going to call Mitch Junior. I want Mitch’s ashes.”

“You do,” I said. “And why?”

“You know that putter I use? Do you remember that Mitch gave it to me years ago? It always meant a lot to me. Well, what I’d like to do is take Mitch’s ashes and fill the shaft of my putter with them. Then I could take Mitch out on the course with me all the time. It would be a way to honor his memory.”

“You think that’s fitting?” I asked.

“Better than leaving him in the closet behind some busted up umbrellas.”

“True,” I said. “But there are other considerations.”

“Like what?”

“Well, the way you putt it probably wouldn’t matter, but still, the extra weight might mess up your stroke.”

“It wouldn’t matter,” my brother said. “Anything else?”

“This is kind of touchy,” I said. “But Mitch was a country club guy. He didn’t go near the public courses. Do you think he’d like being dragged around those cow pastures you play?”

“It’s still got to be better than the back of a closet.”

“And, finally,” I said. “If you’re serious about this you’re going to have to drive back down there and pick them up. No way that asshole Junior’s going to go out of his way to ship them.”


We were just about to go to bed.

“Who was that on the phone earlier?” FW asked.

“Nobody,” I said. “Just some lunatic.”

“You were on the phone for a while, for talking to just nobody,” FW said.

“I’ve known for a long time,” I said, “that you can’t argue with stupid people and make them smart. And I’ve lately come to the realization that you can’t argue with crazy people and make them sane. Of course, everyone knows that instinctively, and as a matter of course, but it’s different when you’re actually in a specific situation. You’re in it before it’s defined, then it’s defined, then it’s crystal clear, and you wish you weren’t there, but you are, and the thing, the argument, if that’s what it is, has its own life and its own momentum, and the escape route, the graceful exit, isn’t right there, it’s just a little farther out in front of you and you can’t just grab onto it, but you think you are moving toward it, but you’re not, you’re just getting deeper and deeper into the insanity.”

“So who was on the phone?’ FW asked. “Your mother or your brother?”

Tuesday, March 23, 2004


"Daddy, the Simpsons is a real cartoon, isn't it?" asked Thing One,

"It certainly is," I said. "But what do mean when you say 'real cartoon'?"

"I mean, real people aren't yellow."

I was thinking of Uncle Will, who liked the bottle, and how he ended up. "Right, " I said. "Real people are generally not yellow."

Tuesday, March 09, 2004



"Let me have a good pound and a half of the steelhead," Harry says, knowing all along that it won't be that simple. There are about six fillets laid out and they are all pretty much the same size.

The fish counterman, (a boy, really) picks one out and lays it on the scale. A pound and a quarter. "How's that?” he asks.

"I really wanted at least a pound and a half," Harry says. "That's not enough."

The boy picks up a second filet, adds it to the scale. Two and a half. "How's that?" he asks.

"That's really too much," Harry replies. "I don't need that much."

The boy stares at Harry. He stares at the scale. He shrugs his shoulders. He is out of options.

"Could you cut one of those pieces?" Harry asks.

"They don't like us to do that," the boy replies.

"I'd really like you to cut one of those," Harry says.

The clerk eyeballs Harry for a long second, exhales slowly, then, very deliberately, takes one of the filets from the scale and cuts it in half.

"Thank you," says Harry. "That really wasn't so hard, was it?"

"The way you say 'really' all the time isn't right. It sounds very disrespectful. You're act like you're better than everybody."

"Thanks again," Harry says. "Really."


Harry is a little agitated on the way home. The confrontation was annoying, but so insignificant that there was no way to profit from it. It would barely make an interesting anecdote, even if LZ could possibly want to hear one more, one more, one more what....

Maybe I should get one of those blogs, Harry thinks. People just rant and rave on them about all kinds of nonsense, and they're getting quite popular. I could probably set it up from work, Harry thinks. No one would notice, or even care. I could think of a catchy nickname and get some good graphics. Then maybe I could become a famous complainer, an advocate for reasonable people. Maybe my insights.... Well, doubtful. And what would be the point, after all.


"When I was buying the steelhead, I saw that flounder was $10 a pound. Who would pay that much for such a nothing fish?" Harry asks.

"The Catholics would," LZ says. "It's Lent, they have to eat fish, but they don't like fish, so they get flounder, because it tastes the most like nothing. And of course the stores know they're coming for it, so they raise the price."

"The steelhead was reasonable," Harry says.

"That's because the Catholics haven't discovered it."

"Well, let's hope they don't."

"I wouldn't worry about it. I think they're OK with the flounder. They eat it for a certain time, then they buy a big Easter ham for themselves as a reward."

"Are you talking theology?" Harry asks. "Or commerce?"


Harry usually tries to take his coffee alone, but it's become increasingly more difficult. Beatrix, a new woman in his section, has taken an interest in him. She shows up at desk to chat. She rides the elevator with him. She sits with him in the cafeteria.

"How was your weekend?" Beatrix asks.

"Fine, Beatrix. And yours?"

"Call me B," Says Beatrix. "My husband and I went to a Secular Humanist convention in Washington. It was wonderful. You should come to some of their events."

Harry wonders why B thinks he should, but he doesn't pursue it. "We don't get out that much," Harry says.

"It was wonderful to be around so many like-minded people," B says. "Very inspiring. Did you know that I was a philosophy major in college?"

I've got to start writing all this nonsense down, Harry thinks. Maybe I can work it into my blog. Then he remembers that he'd dismissed the whole idea. But still, for a second, it seemed that he did have a blog. The notion had become quite tangible. At least for that second.

Back at his desk, Harry looks up the official Secular Humanist website. He hadn't been aware that Secular Humanism was such an organized thing. There were manifestos, statements, and positions that covered everything from evolution to education to sexuality. Apparently, Secular Humanists were quite the freethinkers.

He wonders about B's motives. Was she some sort of libertine? Libertiness? Was there some oblique something being telegraphed? What did it mean when someone told someone else about Secular Humanism? What went on at those conferences? What events was B referring to? I mean, he thought, To what events was B referring?

"I hate it when you say that," LZ says. "It's not funny."

"I think I'm being stalked at work,” Harry says. "Well at least shadowed. Or maybe recruited."

"Who's the guilty party?" LZ asks.

"Do you remember that new woman I told you about? The one who sat next to me at the office Christmas luncheon and couldn't find one thing on the menu that she could eat. Finally, she ordered some white bland thing off-menu, then had a big piece of cake."

"This doesn't sound familiar," LZ says. "Are you sure you told me about her?"

"Her husband has the same jacket as I do. The red one."

"You never mentioned any such woman," LZ says. "Or any such jacket. What does she look like?"

"She's small. If you were to see her, you'd say she was elflike, or elfin," Harry says.

"Would I?"

"But she's not really elfin at all. It's an illusion. Brought on by her bright orange hair. She must have dyed it to create that very effect. .And her wardrobe. She wears a lot of muted browns and greens. Woodland colors. If her hair weren't like that, she'd be much more Dickensian than elfin. A Dickensian waif."

"You must have put quite a bit of thought into her," LZ says.

"Not really," says Harry. "I'm just working on my powers of observation. And description."

Harry's lying in the dark, LZ's asleep beside him. Then Harry falls asleep as well.

I like the idea of a platform, Harry thinks. But the rest of it, I don't know. He drives to work with the radio turned way up, to drown out his lack of thoughts. He is barely settled in at his desk when B appears.

"We have these neighbors," she says. "A very nice young couple, but they're real fundamentalists. Anyway, they asked us if we want to go see that new religious movie. The one where Christ is beaten and then killed."

"Sound like a night out," Harry says. "What did you tell them?"

"I told them we couldn't," B says. "I told them we're moving this weekend."

"What will you do then?" Harry asks.

"We'll probably go see something else," B says. "Then stop somewhere for a drink."

"I mean," says Harry, "what will you do this weekend when your neighbors see you haven't moved?"

"Oh," says B. "I guess I'll tell them it fell through."


Harry calls LZ before leaving the office. "How about we all go out for a pizza tonight” get?"

"It's still Lent," LZ says. "On Fridays in Lent the pizza place will be packed. It's part of the whole Catholic fasting deal. We'll never get a table."

“Right,” say Harry. “Maybe instead, we could get a babysitter, go to a steakhouse, and take in a movie.”

“Have you been talking to that woman again?” LZ asks.

“Which woman?” Harry asks.

“The woodland sprite, the one I can’t remember.”

“I’m sure we’ve talked about her,” Harry says. “Don’t you remember when I asked you about sickening, organic, caffeinated tea and what you would do with it? That was her too.”

“Can’t say it rings a bell,” LZ says.


“You’ve been moping around the house all weekend,” LZ says. “What’s going on?”

“I thought I was puttering,” Harry says.

“No, you’ve definitely been moping. And I know why.”

“Why?” asks Harry.

“For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve taken people at face value. You never asked or wondered why that act the way they do. You just responded to them as if they really meant what they said. It was almost farcical. At first I thought you were being facetious, maybe trying to act cool, by not reacting.”

“Go on,” says Harry.

“But as the years went by, I realized it couldn’t be an act. No one could sustain a performance like that for year after year. So, I began to see this lack of affect as in integral part of your personality, something almost clinical. It was close to sociopathic.”

“You’re saying,” Harry says, “that taking people at face value, believing what they say, is a sociopathic trait.”

“Certainly,” LZ says. “How else would you describe someone with absolutely no regard for social conventions?”

“Fascinating,” Harry replies.

“But now, suddenly, for some reason, a light came on,” LZ says. You’re going around looking for reasons, for hidden motives, for what’s behind the curtain. But, you got a late start and you’re fumbling around, not sure of what you’re doing. You’re not very good at it and you don’t like not being good at things. Hence the moping.”

This is pretty good material, Harry thinks. Not as good as I’ve been getting from B, of course, but it’ll do once I punch it up a little.

“That makes a lot of sense,” Harry says. “Oh, and while I’m thinking of it, I’ll be staying late at the office tomorrow. I’ve got a project I’ve got to get working on.”

Monday, March 01, 2004


A large woman was blocking my way to the grapes. I couldn't imagine what was taking her so long. Then I realized she was picking some from the bags and eating them. I tried to make eye contact to communicate my disgust, but she kept her head down and continued munching. Must be some sort of grape fiend, I thought. Finally, she shuffled over enough to let me get to the bin. I stared hard at the bags, trying to will myself to pick one that hadn't been pawed through.

"Don't bother," she said.

"Excuse me?" I said. "Were you talking to me?"

"Don't waste your time on the grapes. They're sour."

"Oh," I said.

"The last time they were on sale I bought a bunch and they were all sour tasting. That's why I was trying these. I think they only put them on sale when they're sour. So don't waste your time."

"Thanks," I said. "I won't."


"Did you remember the grapes?" LW asked.

"I didn't buy the grapes," I said. "They were sour."

"If you forgot, you should just say so," LW said. "How could you possibly tell that they were sour?"

"You don't want to know," I said.

"Two is going to be very disappointed," LW said. "She's a real grape fiend these days."

"She'll just have to get over it," I said. "I'm not having sour grapes into this house if I can help it."


"Daddy, did you see my setup in the other room?"

"Yes, I did," I said. "It's quite extravagant. What's going on with all the doll furniture and blocks all over the floor?"

"Just the doll children are having a party. They are eating grapes and cake. There is no Mom and Dad."

"Why no Mom and Dad? Where are they?"

"They died."

"How sad. What happened to them?'

"Nothing happened. They got too old and they died."

"The children must be very upset."


"Or maybe they're better off."

"They are better, Daddy."

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