Spending Souls

I’m no prophet.  No oracle who pokes around in something’s innards and boldly predicts the weather, the future, or the rise and fall of the stock market.

And I never could have foreseen the outward rippling effect of a poem I wrote in 1987.  It has been used as a reading in churches all over the world. Last year, a brilliant young composer named Eric Lemmon set it to music.

At this moment, as I observe the clown car of presidential candidates, pouring out in their big, flappy shoes spouting hate, creationism, guns for everybody and other wacky-doo grade school notions, I think it might be time for the reappearance of this poem:

All this talk of saving souls,

Souls weren’t meant to save,

Like Sunday clothes that give out at the seams.

They’re made for wear; they come with lifetime guarantees.

Souls were made for hearing breaking hearts,

For puzzling dreams, remembering August flowers, forgetting hurts.

These men who talk of saving souls:  They have the look of bullies

Who blow out candles before you sing Happy Birthday

And want the world to be in alphabetical order.

I will spend my soul, playing it out like sticky string into the world,

So I can catch every last thing I touch.

Tattletale

One morning in late winter when I worked for the frozen- dinner folks, I hung my coat on the hook behind the door of my office.  For whatever corporate logic, my small office was right on VP row, where good deals were made and dilemmas were wisely resolved.  Usually.

That morning, some anomaly of sound made a top-secret discussion among several vice-presidents clearly audible to me.  What I heard was so stupid it made “hold my beer and watch this” seem inspirational.

It seemed that the USDA had ruled 100,000 pounds of salisbury steak dinners unsellable because the description on the side of the package failed to list pimiento as an ingredient.  What the VPs were proposing was the excavation of a huge hole and the burial of the perfectly good food.  Like with several backhoes.  In a town with a population so small that the burial would have major entertainment value.  It was to be highly secretive, which, I imagined, would have involved the killing of the backhoe drivers and witnesses. Even to me, a lowly peon, this seemed short-sighted.

So I flounced (ask my husband, anger makes me a powerful good flouncer) down the hall into my boss’ office, and with righteous indignation, I tattled!  Not only did I spill the details on this top-secret, idiotic plan.

I threatened to call 60 minutes.

Well, the rest of the story went something like this:  My boss went to his boss and they both decided that this could be turned into a PR win if we could locate a Food Bank who could handle that food.  Which we did.  We not only saved the population of a small town and a bunch of backhoes.  We fed a lot of hungry people.

And inadvertantly, we established what turned out to be a tradition.  The company donated to that Food Bank every year.

Sometimes, tattling is a very good thing.

Why I Will Never Play Carnegie Hall, or, The Day the Music Died

I started piano lessons in fourth grade.  After the first two lessons, I had visions of appearing before huge crowds brought to their feet, screaming “Bravo” and moved to tears by the brilliance of my artistry.

My teacher was Mr. Thomas, a kind, pear-shaped man who gave lessons in his home.  He had a wonderful grand piano, a plain wife and two homely children.  I could often smell dinner cooking during my lesson.

I raced through all those colorful “John Thompson” piano course books. But I discovered two things about myself that would stomp all over my dreams of a classical career: I hated to practice, and I had stage fright. Not ordinary stage fright. I’m talking no eating or sleeping for a week before a recital; puking and diarrhea on the day of, and mind-numbing terror as I waited my turn like a person next in line for the guillotine.

It was public recitals, the Moonlight Sonata,and my first pair of high heel shoes that brought my dreams of stardom to a screeching and mortifying collapse.

I was an eighth-grader and one of Mr.Thomas’ advanced students. I had chosen Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” for my recital piece.  Beethoven was one of the first composers to make use of pedals in his piano compositions, and the pedal was vital to the emotional, haunting feel of the piece.  So there was that.

I got a new dress for the event. Best of all, I got my first pair of heels. They were only an inch-and-a-half high, but they might as well have been stilts. The circus was on its way.

I sat waiting my turn, so frightened. Then Mr. Thomas stood and introduced me. He sat down, looking proud. I wobbled my way to the piano bench, took a deep breath, and began to play. It was fine for the first ten seconds, and then my calf and my foot on the pedal went into a spasm, caused by the unusual angle the heels had created.

No more sustenado pedal. The “Moonlight Sonata” turned into chopsticks, Mr. Thomas appeared to be having a heart attack, and my mortification was indescribable. I did finish the piece to sparse applause.

So that’s the reason you will never hear me at Carnegie Hall. And the fact that my skill set was clearly somewhere else.

Reporter Nearly Trampled By Startled Turkeys

For 20 years of my career, I worked in PR and advertising.  Nothing as grand as “Mad Men”.  More like Pa Kettle meets Upton Sinclair.

It was the mid 1970s when I was hired as company magazine editor for a large frozen dinners producer.  Women who traveled the country doing business were rarer then. Most of the travel I did was to small towns where the company was the major employer.

I learned more about the breeding and processing of turkeys  and chickens than I ever wanted to know. I visited hatcheries (a nightmare for my baby animal soul as they casually culled the less than perfect chicks.)  I walked through processing plants and interviewed workers whose titles included “Killer” , “Craw Puller, and my personal favorite, “Eviscerator.”

You wouldn’t think that any of this would have been life-threatening.  Not to me, anyway.  But you would be so wrong.

One day I visited an experimental turkey farm.  Turkeys in the wild are pretty shrewd characters.  Turkeys bred for maximum breast meat are so stupid they will drown in the rain.

The farm manager and I went into a very large building where hundreds of teenaged turkeys milled quietly about, making soft gobbling noises.  I wanted to get a photograph of these guys, so the manager waded out into the middle of the flock. They came almost up to his waist.

It was a great photo in the making.  I carefully focused the camera, then pushed the button.  As the flash went off, all the gobbling stopped.  Then hundreds of turkeys began a loud, frightning gobble and went into stampede mode.  The plant manager screamed “run for your life,” and we did.  We hit the door, opened it, and slammed it behind us.  We could feel the thud of the turkeys hitting the door.   Our hearts were pounding.

There would be no pictures of turkeys to accompany my article.  I had survived to write another day.  I have to say, though, that Thanksgiving has never been the same.

Pictures and the End of the World

imageIt is sobering when you stand at the gravesite of your last surviving parent.  First, you realize,whether you’re seven or seventy, that you’re an orphan.  Secondly, as you watch the casket descend, you realize you’re next.

If you are the oldest sibling, you are also aware that you’re the only one who knows the names of all the people in those old family photos.  I always wondered why I would discover albums full of photographs in dumpsters, or sold at yard-and-estate sales.  At one time, these folks were loved, or made great apple pie, drank themselves to death, wore false teeth, or lost an arm in a war or a threshing machine accident.

The pictures wind up in the trash because nobody remembers (more…)

Two Weddings and No Funeral


My first wedding began with my father and I taking a step down an aisle in a Catholic Church.  It may not show on our faces, but we were both praying that the groom would die before we got to the part where dad would lift my veil and kiss me goodbye.

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He did not.

Over the next 20 years this man cheated on me twelve times.  He was a lawyer, and I wasn’t paying attention.

So, I was ten years single.

And then I met the love of my life.  He is tall, handsome, and wicked smaaht.  We married standing before a rabbi, under a chuppah.

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That was twelve years ago.  We both pay attention and don’t cheat , because we want to be together always, and we both have serious, life-threatening illnesses.  We laugh. We fight. We apologize. There hasn’t been a funeral.  And, although we know that such things happen, we dream that they never involve either of us.