Stress Test

Stress – let’s see what could be causing stress in my life?

Maybe it’s the last two weekends working in a busy tourist town in the middle of a pandemic. Everyone’s wearing a mask, but many many interactions with books, beer and credit cards are freaking me out a little bit. 

I shouldn’t have these worries – I’m fully vaccinated. Why can’t everyone just get vaccinated?

Maybe it’s THE END OF UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS. I have less shifts than before the pandemic. I want less shifts than before the pandemic. The bar isn’t fully open so there aren’t many tips at this job. Gigs are starting up again, if you’re brave enough but it’s hard to promote them, hard to ask people to come together. Unemployment has saved my ass this last year and a half. It’s made it possible to keep working on writing and music and pay the bills. I’ve been lucky, because it supplements gigs and record and book sales and tea towels and t-shirts I’ve printed and sold. I’m always hustling but unemployment made the hustle more benign, less stressful.

Maybe it’s having my dad depend on me in a way I’m not used to. For years he had a wife, who passed away from Covid back in December. He also had my brother Pat and my amazing sister in law Karen, and my older brother John. They all lived in Pittsburgh. Now my dad lives in NYC and it’s my brothers Michael and Riley and me looking out for him more. 

Maybe it’s Eric getting ready to go away on tour. I worry for him driving all alone, doing all the work of gigging after the events of last year (Covid, heart attack). They’ve affected him and it’s affected me. Will he be safe from being reinfected? Trying to stay safe while doing all the usual work of touring is a lot. Yet I’m looking forward to him getting back to doing what he loves to do, what he lives to do really. I’m even looking forward to some quiet time to myself, and a chance to watch Halston the Netflix series and some French films. But I find myself anxious just the same. 

I felt really sick yesterday. I mean, I just couldn’t get out of bed. I had terrible dizziness. I was nauseous and weak, convinced I had Covid, or had been bitten by a poisonous spider, or was having a stroke. It was awful. Eric was bringing me water and cups of tea but there was a point where I wondered if we should call 911. I’ve never felt that before. Never felt so vulnerable, like what if this is it and I’ll be like this the rest of my life. What if my healthy life is ending, right now?

My dad has been calling me every morning, to tell me he doesn’t like where he lives, or to ask when we’re going to do something about his hearing, or his eyesight. Sometimes he remembers what he says and other times he doesn’t. He never asks how I am, doesn’t seem interested.

But this morning I called him. “It’d be nice if you came to see me,” he said. I’d driven down last Thursday to take him to the doctor. There’d been a devastating storm the night before, the end of Hurricane Ida. A travel advisory or ban was in effect for coming into NYC. I had to ignore that as my dad was counting on me for an appointment we’d set up a month and a half ago. I’d promised him.

The GPS took me up towards Bear Mountain and down the Palisades Parkway as there was flooding at the usual exit off the Thruway. Traffic was bumper to bumper across George Washington Bridge. I warned my brother who lives in Queens he might have to take Dad to the appointment, which he was perfectly capable and willing to do, it’s just that I’d told my Dad I was coming. I’d promised.

The FDR Drive was a mess. There were abandoned cars littered along the roadway and silt and trash washed up causing more traffic stops and starts. Same on the Grand Central Parkway. It was apocalyptic, and yet the weather was beautiful. I drove like an ace , because what was i going to do, turn around? My brother met me at my Dad’s and we took him together, and the one appointment led to needing to make another so my Dad considered the whole thing a useless exercise. I drove back home defeated and drained.

“Dad, I’m not feeling well. I’m sorry I can’t come this week.” I told him about the dizziness, my worries about having caught Covid after waiting on so many people at work. Maybe it’s paranoia or stress. The dizziness. The fear I was having a stroke. My dad started to cry, saying he hoped it wasn’t his fault. He became so caring. I thought he’d forgotten everything but he still remembered what it is to be a parent. 

I got my Covid test back and it was negative. I saw the doctor and she said it was vertigo, and not to worry.

I don’t know if that’s possible.

I told my Dad I’d see him next week. “I love you honey,’ he said and I felt so much better for a minute.

Upright and hanging in there…hope you are too.

I will be back out playing some gigs/teaching a few workshops in Oct/Nov! Hope to see you if you’re nearby:

  • Oct 7 – 10 Lost Lake Writers Retreat – Alcona County NE Michigan
  • Wed Oct 13 – Natalies Worthington – Columbus OH tickets
  • Sat Oct 16 – Hudson West Fest – Jersey City NJ tickets
  • Thu Oct 28 – Binghamton University Art Museum – Binghamton, NY info
  • Thu Nov 11 – Colony – Woodstock NY – tickets

I Am The Owl Man

“Gosh that bird is loud,” I said to Eric late one night. “It sounds like an owl?”

Eric was caught up in a Val McDermid mystery and didn’t hear me.

“Listen – there it is again! Definitely an owl. Or wait – it kind of sounds like… a person impersonating an owl.” I had Eric’s attention now. I shut off the air conditioner which sounds like a small plane taking off.

There it was – an owl-like cry. Once, twice.

“Must be teenagers, trying to be funny,” I said. It was a hot August night in our quiet little country town. I don’t think about how quiet it is, how few cars even drive past after dark until there’s a sound or a car. I guess we take the peacefulness for granted.

Eric went back to his book and I went back to mine (Naima Coster’s What’s Mine and Yours). The sound of the owl-hooting teens disappeared, maybe to the house down the road that has an above ground pool. What would it be like to grow up in a place like Catskill?

But a few minutes later, there it was again: “Hoot! Hoot”” A human making an owl sound. Just one person. The cry sounded a little more desperate now.

“Listen! They’re coming back this way!” I started to feel a little anxious. A friend was staying with us and he had a big white van he’d bought from a church down south and it still said stuff about The Lord on it. What a great idea for touring – who’s going to mess with a van like that? But I wondered if this alien van from way out of town would somehow draw a person who was possessed by an owl towards it. I wondered if our friend who’d settled in for a quiet night in the country downstairs in the guest room heard the owl, and I hoped he didn’t think it was some weird sex thing we get up to in this part of the world.

I shut off the air conditioner again and turned off the bedroom light so I could raise the shade and peek out. The owl sounds were getting louder.

Under the street light at the end of our little dead end road, I saw a man. He was pitched forward, walking at a fast pace. I could see his skin glisten under the street light, like he was sweating. He let out another hoot. It seemed like he’d walked to the edge of the village and then turned around to head back towards the town. I imagined neighbors all along the street out front peeking out their windows just as I was doing, wondering what to do. The guy wasn’t hurting anyone but I felt disturbed because he was disturbed. Where would he go?

“Should we do something?” I asked Eric. I remembered life in the city, where people talking and shouting to themselves had almost been the norm. I felt bad for even thinking I should do something.

And then the owl sounds got further and further away, and were gone.

“God where did all these people come from?” I asked Eric. We were waiting in line for lunch in a new cafe in our little town. A lot has changed around here since the pandemic. We live in the country but sometimes it feels like New York City. “And when did artists become so uniformly good-looking? I mean, is that a requirement now, if you want to call yourself an artist? That you have to also be attractive?” When we were young, artists couldn’t even afford soap, or hot water. They were kind of sweaty and unfortunate, the sort of people who couldn’t get regular jobs. Now they’re…polished. At least the young people who buy lunch at the cafe in the new artist studio space all seem to be. Their skin is perfect, their clothes are nice. What the hell is going on?


Last Friday I drove down to Queens to visit my dad. I arrived by ten AM and it was almost one hundred degrees. My dad wanted to go for a walk anyway. I told him no and we sat outside and talked for a while. Mostly about how lonely he is. It breaks my heart. Then he said wasn’t it time for me to be getting back home? I’d been there less than an hour.

I was home by three, and when I looked at my phone, I saw friends posting that Nanci Griffith had died. It was like hearing about the death of a long ago lover. Someone who’d shaken me in a major way, but then I’d moved on as I have a habit of doing. Maybe the sense that Nanci Griffith was the same kind of questing soul as I am or was is what drew me to her. I admit I hadn’t thought of her or listened to her in years when I read about her passing away at the age of 68, but it hit me hard and reminded me how much she’d meant to me. In the 80s I was listening to Gram Parsons and Merle Haggard and reading Raymond Carver, Larry McMurtry and Bobbie Ann Mason and Nanci Griffith’s songs were the intersection of country music and a modern kind of American storytelling that was anchored by details you could see and hear and taste. Her voice and appearance was feminine, almost coy. But there was a tough core there, like a wire fence – tensile; forged of steel. I felt all kind of regret at her passing – why had I never even seen her play? Regret that I hadn’t met her. Would we have got along? I’d been on a flight once where she was in first class and her band were back in economy. That’s pretty standard, but I felt like I had more in common with them than with her, like she was on an elevated trip I didn’t have the confidence or drive for. When I read people saying she never got her due I think what is ever enough? She was the biggest kind of folk music star you can be. But you give your life to something and…you want somebody to notice.


Owls represent wisdom, right? But also transition. Change, transformation…trusting the mystery. It is common to feel spiritually activated when you see or hear an owl. They are messengers from the spirit realm.

A week or so after the hooting guy, Eric and I waited in line at our beloved HiLo cafe for some coffee (if you think all we do is stand around buying coffee and stuff at local cafes, you’re probably right) and a guy we kind of know came up behind us.

“Hey how’s it going?” he said. “Hey,” he moved in a little closer, “have you guys heard anything about um…vandalism going on here in town?” We must’ve looked confused because he quickly shook his head. “Nah, it’s probably nothing, just some flowers being dumped in the creek and…”

I couldn’t help myself. I had to join in. “There was this thing the other night…” I said. “There was this guy hooting like an owl. It was really eerie. He sounded upset. We didn’t really know what to do…”

“Oh yeah,” the guy said. “Owl Man. He lives up at Round Top. He’s got some problems but he’s okay.”

“Wait – but Round Top’s like fifteen miles from here. Does he drive? How does he get to town? Does he just like – park on Main Street and then walk around hooting like an owl because at least down here there’s people who’ll hear him and wonder what the hell’s going on…up in Round Top there’s like – nobody.”

“I guess it’s kind of like that,” the guy said. “Anyway, he’s okay. He’s just going through some stuff.

I decided I love Owl Man. I feel like he speaks for many of us. Aren’t we all going through some stuff? What’s the use of hooting from the mountain top if no one can hear you?

This is a late-night cover of Nanci Griffith’s The Flyer…I originally did a version for the Nanci tribute Trouble In The Fields that Pete and Maura Kennedy put together – here just trying to capture a little of the moment in one of my favorite songs. Maybe I was drawn to it cause she mentions Pittsburgh but I think she really captured that lonely but hopeful feeling of being a woman on the road as well as anyone ever has.

persona

“You look like a million bucks,” said the optician’s assistant when I tried on my new prescription sunglasses. She wasn’t trying to sell me anything— I’d already paid for the glasses— so she sounded sincere. I was pleased, proud to have a gorgeous new pair of shades Made in Italy after a couple years struggling along on an old prescription.

Eric tells me I need to embrace eyeglass wearing but I have a problem with it. Glasses on, glasses off. In some situations they seem to help, in others they give me vertigo; disorient me. I’m almost blind in one eye—amblyopia since childhood—and add on the disintegration of aging and too much screen time and my prescription is an insane combination of progressives + near coke bottle on one eye. Contacts have never been an option.

I walked out of the opticians wearing my sunglasses, but a small staircase loomed in the parking lot—sunglasses off. Depth of field is the problem, like going to see a 3D film— the flat picture plane I’m used to over-emphasizing certain objects when I add spectacles. 

Glasses on, glasses off. I tried getting used to them. And they were glamorous! I felt like Kim Cattrall in Sex and the City! Which seemed a little bit of stretch because…

She’s Kim Cattrall. In Sex and the City! Wearing slinky dresses and tottering around city sidewalks on high heels. And I—

I’m me. And I live in the country. Wear cutoffs and (sigh) sports sandals much of the time. Do a lot of messing around with lawn mowers and weed whackers, and on boats.

Boats. I never thought I’d develop such a fondness for boats. But heading down to the creek and puttering around for a little while on the water is a joy. I’ve even finally taken a turn driving and will aim to become comfortable piloting this small aluminum craft myself because if Eric’s away for half of September and I’m home, well, that’s a big patch of boating season I don’t want to miss.

Sunglasses on the creek…

I thought about Newport Folk Fest while I was on the boat a few days ago- how I wished I could play there just once and how the moment when that was possible has probably passed unless I hang around til eighty-something and they push me out onstage in a wheelchair as a relic of the late twentieth/early twenty first century. I hate the jealousy I feel seeing pics of other performers up there on stage. I don’t have an agent, a record label, a publisher etc etc so the festival folks likely won’t come knocking on my door but I remind myself I’ve had all those things – should I be looking for them again? I write, put out music, perform, tour and publish book(s -my first and the second one that’s in the works -aiming for 2022)  AND I’m learning to pilot a boat.

My new sunglasses. The boat. Glasses on, glasses off. Glasses in bag. Creek running fast, Eric steering us north, sunset warming the old red brick factory buildings along the water to a mellow orange. Cider drinkers under a bright blue sail at the new local cider place, young couples strolling along the creek bank. A child waving. Me turning to point at the high tide mark on the old wooden moorings and—

A dark arc from boat to creek. “Your glasses!” Eric said.

Glasses don’t float. They were gone in a second, down down down to who knows where. The rocks on the bottom or out to the Hudson River, up to Canada or down to New York City where they no doubt will wash up near the new City Winery—where I also probably can’t get a gig —and Kim Cattrall will step out of a town car and pick them up and amazingly, my prescription works perfectly for her.

But Kim lives in Canada now. Maybe she does boating?

I can’t even think about the expense, only the relief, that I don’t have to pretend to be the person those leopard print Made in Italy designer shades hinted at but didn’t deliver. If I couldn’t wear them for boating what were they doing in my life?

Glasses on. I’ve got this other pair, more utilitarian. I’d almost declined to have transitional lenses put in – you know the kind that darken to make regular reading glasses into sunglasses. I’d told the optician I didn’t really like that concept, because I wanted to be a different person in sunglasses. But the practical me thought it couldn’t hurt, would give me in effect a second pair of glasses for the price of one.

My dream of that specifically sunglasses person – a glamour queen in screen legend shades – is in a watery grave right now. I’ve got to get something that will work behind the UV windshield, on my bike and on the boat. And eventually stalking a stage. Maybe those kind the fishermen wear? I could always go with aviators, on a cord around my neck. Or maybe stick with the maxim I’ve used in the past – what would someone in the Velvet Underground wear? Why oh why did I stray from the maxim?

Persona is an ever-evolving format. Maybe growing up with paper dolls put the idea in my head that who I am could evolve forever. Settle on one character, one costume, and the game is over. That feels sad to me – but to another person might feel like peace.

You’ll have to excuse me, I have some writing and recording to do. And I need to check on the boat. If it’s meant to be, maybe the glasses will wash up in the next rainfall.

First Tuesday In July

Maybe I’ve gone soft…

I cut it kind of close driving to the station in Hudson to catch a morning train to New York City. “Hope I don’t miss the train…” I thought, kind of wishing I would. I hadn’t taken a dedicated trip to the city since March 2020. I’ve driven through a few times, moving my daughter out of Brooklyn and up to our house for half of last year; dropping off my brother or daughter on a trip back from Pittsburgh. On those occasions I’d come through Manhattan and not even gotten out of the car, back when sitting in a purpose built outdoor structure was the only option for even drinking a cup of coffee. Then there was that quirky trip through back in December: on my way to my stepmother’s funeral out of state – when a Covid test couldn’t be found for love or money in upstate New York, but could be bought for the price of a case of wine from City Winery.

“I don’t live here anymore” has long been my refrain, but usually said with a wistful air, that left the door open.

I honestly don’t know if I have it in me to even dream of living in New York City these days. I was going down to the city to meet up with one of my oldest friends – Adolfo, who lives mostly in Italy now. I also thought it would be fun to visit a museum or two. It’d be a real moment, I thought: the first since my daughter moved out west, to Los Angeles, and the last before my dad moves to assisted living in Queens next week. I felt sure I’d even come up with a meaningful piece of writing, about my soul being in the city, even if I wasn’t physically present, the last several years thanks to my daughter and then, incredibly, my dad for what’s likely to be his final chaper. Part of me just wanted to stay upstate where summer is peaking and the back porch glider, yoga beside the Hudson River and a stool at our little local coffee shop all have my name on them. I feel kind of fragile these days…doesn’t everyone? Did I really need to test myself in the way only a trip to the city can do?

Chances of missing the train slipped away as I cruised by the station and saw loads of parking spaces. FREE PARKING, literally steps away from the train tracks. Sometimes we moan how the area has become overrun, the population tripling and quadrupling the last year, but it is still a sweet spot, idyllic really – a (recently renovated) historic train station right next to the river, where we’ve made a life for ourselves.

So there I was on the train, masked up as required, thinking it would all be fine and that New York would fold me in her loving embrace as usually seems to happen after it first kicks my ass in the corridors of Penn Station. I enjoyed the ride—the beauty of the Hudson River spinning past and the woman in the seat next to me gently snoring. After two months of looking into assisted living places for my father in New York, I saw train stations along the route in a new way: oh there’s Landing of Poughkeepsie; I think this is where that place outside Ossining was. Random bedroom communities of the city I now had way more knowledge of than I ever expected to. We went under ground in Manhattan and I exited the train prepared to battle through the morning throng…

The station was eerily empty. I mean – nobody. Where were the workers hurtling through; the travelers trundling rolling suitcases along? I saw cops and a higher ratio of the homeless and unhinged: a woman on all fours grinding into a large piece of cardboard on the sidewalk; a guy shouting about the police and another man dropping his filthy pants with one hand and holding a bottle in the other.

Corner of Seventh and 34th— Macy’s, the sometimes center of the universe—deserted. I followed my well-worn path of the office drone from Penn Station. I’d been one off and on for many years, up to Bryant Park, once a scary hellhole, transformed a decade or two ago into a verdant space with chairs, tables and free books on carts to encourage reading. A few tourists scattered among the tables and chairs. The heat was coming on. I sat and eavesdropped on a woman and man, she dressed impeccably as if for an audition. She asked him in accented English if his friends had returned to their offices yet. By the look of things, no. Empty windows in buildings above, signs for vague business concepts like WeWork and Salesforce Tower.

I walked uptown, feeling like I’d snuck into a hospital room with strangers – somebody else’s family. No I shouldn’t be here. Museums are mostly closed on Tuesday.

I sought shade on Fifth Avenue, a trickle of tourists around Rockefeller Center and the Nike store; the windows of Saks blacked out except for a few Chanel logos,  like they couldn’t be bothered to do any displays. The corner around St. Patrick’s was empty and it kind of made me feel glad, like watching a shitty restaurant go out of business. I’d looked for solace there a couple times while I was turning into an adult in this city but the Catholic Church is nothing to me now.

The fancy Uniqlo near MOMA beckoned, but the air conditioning was busted—huge fans on the floors blasted warm air. I headed west, passed Black Rock—is CBS still in there? – and the Warwick Hotel, which had been charmingly old-fashioned even when my parents stayed there nearly half a century ago and now looked like a slightly bizarre curio. I wanted to embrace the whole building. Looking north a thin shiny skyscraper bisected the blue sky and made me think there weren’t enough vertebrae in the human spine to look up that high. I remembered when the Citicorp building opened in 1980 (?). It had been an event, how its white half a chevron top felt radical and punctuated the New York skyline. Who marks the events of the dozens of insanely tall structures going up everywhere? “Oh, there’s another one….” 

West across Central Park South. The Essex House remained a comforting emblem of the past, a doorman out front dressed in full regalia. But when you think about the whole idea of a doorman, got up like an officer in some forgotten army, it’s ludicrous. All the pieces that used to fit. This old world needs dismantling but what comes in to take its place? In this part of town…uh, not a lot if the empty stores are any indication.

I bought a bottle of water from a food cart guy. It had doubled in price to two dollars. I try not to buy water in plastic bottles anymore, so I guess it’s better that they cost too much. I descended into Columbus Circle subway station and caught an uptown train, nearly empty, marveling that you could pay with a credit card to go through the turnstile now? 

The last time I’d been up on the West Side was for Bob Dylan — November 2019. I remember Eric and I walking around the neighborhood near the Beacon before the show: “I’ve never known this part of town” I said. That night is bathed in a glow the golden color of Bob’s stagelights. I always wished I could have one more New York life where I was an Upper West Sider. What would it be like? I passed Barney Greengrass, an iconic name in bagels and lox, and the font and signage looked ancient. No, not a lot remains of that Manhattan I fantasized about. 

I turned down a graceful street of brownstones to meet Adolfo at his sister’s apartment near Central Park West It was trash day. So much trash. In amongst the bags and discarded shelves and a whole pile of tarot books, a dark green leather Eames-type chair, beige tufted ottoman. Had some classic old shrink died? It was like a stage set for a psychiatrist’s office—going in the trash? Was there still a bedbug situation in the city or had they all moved upstate too? I wished I had our truck…

Then I saw a moving van, a man and woman wrangling bookshelves into the back. So, even the shrinks are leaving New York? I don’t want to start any rumors. A rat ran across the sidewalk in front of me. The phrase “with impunity” went through my head, like I was watching an episode of Law & Order. I felt repulsed and comforted at the same time.

Adolfo and I had lunch and walked across Central Park from west side to east. He loaned me his Italian straw hat and I suddenly felt chic. I remembered seeing A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy at St. Marks Cinema with him in 1982. We’ve known each other that long. I flashed on us as a couple in a scene from an updated version of Manhattan and I wondered if it was okay to think of Woody Allen films fondly in retrospect only. I wouldn’t watch anything of his—old or new— anymore, but the images they put in my head of a kind of effortless sophistication I could never get to on my own—is it okay to still feel affection for that? Even if he’s the biggest creep of all time, and I’m more at home behind a lawn mower than at an art opening or literary event?

We ambled around the city and by the time I got back to Penn Station I’d walked eight miles and had started getting used to the streets being semi-populated. It had never been easy working in midtown at the best of times and I could understand nobody wanting to do that anymore —not now, anyway—if they didn’t absolutely have to. I’d realized on my way down to Manhattan that there was an election that day in our small town, the position of Village Trustee which is the closest thing we have to a mayor. I felt an obligation to vote and switched to an earlier return trip so I could do my part. Dark clouds were rolling in and as the train headed north, I saw the Hudson churning, boats tilting scarily along the shore.  By the time we got past Poughkeepsie, the sky was red, the sun setting over the Catskills. Giddy visitors piled off the train in Hudson, looking with delight at all the lush green, old buildings and stunning mountains. I felt happy to be home.

But yesterday I took a walk when the rain let up for a little while and listened to Paul Simon’s Concert in Central Park from 1991. The combination of his artistry, the massive audience— hometown boy in front of hometown crowd at the peak of his career, now thirty years ago, brought me to tears. Maybe I was pasting myself in the audience there—I’d seen him at Madison Square Garden around then, one of the most accomplished concerts I’ve ever seen. I don’t remember it in terms of emotional impact but all the elements of craft: songwriting, performing, ensemble playing, musicianship firing at the highest level. Through my headphones now, when he strummed the first chords of Me & Julio, so familiar the audience goes crazy within less than a bar, and he sings Rosie, Queen of Corona and it finally hit me he meant Corona Queens and not the beer…and I thought of my dad moving to Queens, around the corner from one of my brothers and I decided I’m not too soft at all, I’ve carried the city with me and woven it into my family and there I stay, whether I’m walking on sidewalks or just in my dreams and occasional check-ins.

“What I recommend is don’t get the shittiest one of everything—get the second shittiest” a guy on the train advised his younger brother who was trying to buy furniture online for his first apartment. Best; worst—maybe it’s healthier, if you’re able, to choose not to forever fly too close to the sun.

Just Say No

I was walking through Ross Park Fashion Mall with my dad a few weeks back. We were moving slowly, so it was hard for me to avoid the cute weasel dressed in a too small suit jacket, white t shirt, expensive jeans and soft leather loafers with bare ankles who descended on me besidesthe fly-by night looking skin care kiosk.  He thrust a tiny goodie bag in my hand.

“Ooh, I love your mask,” he said, getting right up close to my face. That right there should’ve been enough for me to put up a shield—a back-off barricade or at least a strong right forearm to his throat.

But I let myself be sucked into a conversation with this go for broke salesman. What did I use on my skin? How long had I been doing that? Wouldn’t I just love to try a tiny scoop of this amazing product, right here under one eye?  

Before I could stop him, he’d smeared this glop on my face in the area below my right eye and above my mask. “Wait til you see how this tightens up that (he made a sad face) area there. We’re gonna have to do both eyes, right?” he snorted. “I mean—it’s not Halloween!” He chortled according to his script.

Again, I should’ve been pushing my way out of there. Instead I found myself perched on a stool. My dad had not halted his slow trudge but turned around and was now standing a few feet away, watching this tableau unfold.

“So are you married or are you happy?” he asked, working some more of the glop with a little spatula.

“Both!” I nearly shouted and he came back right on cue: “So what’s your secret?” Then he was flipping open a book of photos of other victims, their right eyes taught and alert, the left eyes slack. “Amazing, right?”

Please Dad, say something. My dad looked like he was trying to remember if he knew me. 

I’ve always been a pushover. Part of it is not wanting to miss out on a potential experience — bad or good, I ‘m often incapable of saying no. I racked up a considerable amount of credit card debt years ago because I couldn’t say no to a Grand Ole Opry t-shirt. It’s that bad. 

Part of it is a defense mechanism. When someone comes at me with a sales pitch, I feel obliged to upend their assumptions. Maybe it’s ego:  You think you know me? You don’t know me. I’m not one of your losers in that binder there, who you plucked out from their lives of drabness-past-caring. Buddy I may look tired but I’ve tried every eye treatment, skin cream and dermatological invention known to man, woman or non-binary person (not completely true — those jade rollers seem really cool but just never got around to it) For this moment, I’m partnering with you, okay—you might even learn something.

And the opposite of that — of course kind sir, I am just  a player in this game of life, bend me shape me, move me around — what grand design placed this (what’s a word for a cute troll?) in my path — it is my job, my mission to go with it, who knows where this encounter might lead? You might think I’ve been around long enough to know it will likely lead to me with less money and some half-baked gimmick. Pride dented but…a story to tell.

I am my mother’s daughter. I remember accompanying her and my dad to a dim conference room in Front Royal Virginia — my mom was determined to collect this wonderful prize she’d been promised in the mail. Of course with the toaster oven came a pitch for a timeshare in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. No obligation of course! Only it felt like bars closed on the windows and doors as the slide presentation began. I sat next to my mother in the front row,. She wore a terrified smile that turned wicked as the slides rolled on. She willed ice water through her veins so that when the lights came up, she was able to march to the sign up table, grab her toaster oven, turn on her heel and flee for the family station wagon where my Dad was blasting the AC. We peeled out on two wheels. The views along Blue Ridge Drive were glorious…

For years, the family code Front Royal was a kind of safe word to ward off scams, and bring my mother back down to earth from her flights of fancy.I am my mother’s daughter and so there I was sitting in front of Eli, the skin care scammer. “And, let’s just get this other eye — it’s not Halloween, right?” Uh, you said that already. His charm was fading. The eye he’d scooped felt pulled taut, like when you put Elmer’s Glue on your hand. I suddenly found the will to bust out of the force field that had glued me onto Eli’s stool.

“Imperfection is the most beautiful thing of all!” I shouted. I grabbed my dad by the arm. “Keep walking,” I hissed. “Move!”

I dropped my goodie bag in the trash.

“What was that all about?” asked my dad.

“Remember Front Royal?”  I said. I don’t think he heard me. But somehow he understood.