Archive for November, 2009



by mdjb

A woman is applying lipstick. She has short reddish brown hair. From the reflection of her eyes in the vanity mirror, it looks as if she might have recently been crying. As she finishes her makeup, however, a smile comes to her lips. She turns face on and gestures with her right hand, perhaps a sign of dismissal. Pan to her right. On another chair is a little beaded bag which is embroidered with the name Megan.

Zoom out.
On a gray sofa, sits a well-dressed, but disheveled man smoking. He looks to be about thirty-five. His eyes are red in a different way from Megan’s. He may be inebriated or perhaps halfway there. It could be he works too hard and doesn’t get enough sleep. In his other hand is a remote control, which he now presses to replay the scene on the television screen. Megan, in a swoop-backed gold dress approaches the vanity table. She is going to apply her makeup once again.

Zoom out.
The man is sitting in a luxuriously appointed living room behind a glass patio door. There is an in-ground pool, obviously large. One end of it is in view. The sun sparkling on its water produces diamonds of white and yellow and a myriad of colors between those and cobalt blue. In a window to the left can be seen a woman in a maid’s uniform. She is intent on some business that is not immediately apparent.

Zoom out.
There are several houses of similar status, each with a large pool out back. The houses are similar though not exactly alike, but from this distance there’s a sameness to them that might be thought monotonous in tone. All are white with touches of gray and brown. Nobody is in the water nor sitting beside any of the pools. If there are diamonds of light on their water, they don’t come into focus, and the blueness is not cobalt, but the color of late afternoon sky.

Pan to the left.
The houses are on a ridge overlooking a town. Is this Los Angeles? Where else could it be? This view has been seen often in films about Los Angeles, usually at night, so the millions of points of light give the impression of a hive of busy people, unidentified, unseen, working, producing. Anonymity indicating now the creation of slices of life with which anyone, from any town, including this one, may later find reflections of themselves.

Zoom in.
Traffic intersects the town in a grid which seems so firmly in place, so defining, it appears to have always been in existence, as if allowance for movement had defined the spaces where business might be transacted rather than the other way round. So. It has been agreed. Movement is the defining perspective. The sun, with all the opportunity for displacement in the vast sky, chooses rather to follow its usual direction. It is setting, and that sky blues down.

Zoom in.
Through the gates of a movie studio. Panning. Buildings and unused sets, places looking very different from the town which surrounds them, and not well-lit at this time of day, bring back bits of memory of times not lived, viewed rather, but just as real, just as pertinent. The scuffles, shouts, dialogue in murmurs can still be heard though nothing is being said at this moment. That is the trick of memory. Get lost in it, and you may never find your way out. A man in a uniform and carrying some unidentifiable prop walks up a few steps and enters the side door to a building. This is a sound-stage according to a sign which can be briefly glimpsed. We follow him into the darkness. A rectangle of light, doorway to another world, inside or outside of this darkness (it’s so hard to tell), enlarges as we move towards it.

Only after the light has expanded to fill the view, do things come into focus.

Here are men fussing with the settings on huge cameras, which can be rolled on dollies.

There is a trio of women laughing and discussing some hugely private joke. One of them gestures, “about this big” with her hands, and they laugh harder, though one suddenly turns demure as the uniformed man passes, her laughter lessening into a flirtatious smile. Her eyes are too big to be in front of the cameras, which is why she works on this side.

A man on a crane platform is adjusting huge spotlights as he is being directed by someone below though he can very well see for himself what he is aiming at. The huge living room set below is already being lit from several viewpoints, the overview being one the most important even if it is the least observable.

Everything here is huge. And temporary. Everyone here knows the ratio. Size must compensate for and counterbalance length of existence. If all goes well, memory will lend its sense of permanence to the events occurring in this atmosphere of transience. If things go badly, well, that is never discussed, at least not as a possibility at the onset.

Zoom in.
To a row of dressing rooms. A woman taps lightly on the door of one before entering. At a dressing table sits a woman with short cropped reddish hair. She is smoking a cigarette and looking impatient as we can tell from the arch of her eyebrow that can be seen in her reflection in the mirror. She doesn’t turn to greet the other woman, but indicates with a gesture a chair on which the woman should lay the piece of costume she has brought. From the looks of it, this is a period piece. Or perhaps this is the period. Anything and everything may seem anachronistic here. The woman leaves the room.

Zoom in.
To the eye in the mirror. It is a world-weary eye, the eyebrow above it, no longer arched but appearing relaxed. A sudden blur of movement off to the right attracts the eye’s attention, and then the woman turns to see what caused the reflection of that blur. We can see this is Megan, and though her face is unlined, we know she is older than the first time we saw her, therefore this view is chronological. This is not the flashback. This is now. Or then, but later, depending on the timeframe. She decides she must have imagined the movement, and dismisses with a gesture what did not happen. The gesture is now an automatic reflex, one that has come to be identified with her. She made it so often without realizing it, until a European director, possibly the German, or was he from Austria and only directing in German, pointed it out to her, and then she developed it into a trademark.

Pan left.
From Megan’s hand to the costume, which is revealed to be a bustier, to a poster of Mistinguett taped to the wall, to a chair on which sits the little beaded bag embroidered with her name.

Zoom out.
Megan is on a large flat-screen, and with a snapping sound, she and the dressing room and everything in it are at once diminished to a small white dot that lingers for a moment in the center of a black rectangle before fading. Then all is black. All is nothing.


The Injured Party

by mdjb

The woman, after giving them the once-over, and apparently deciding they are safe enough to stand near, gets on the elevator, joining Martin, Ray and Suzanne. Before she does, as the elevator door moves she finishes her conversation on her cell phone. She sticks her foot in the door jamb to prevent it from closing before she has had a chance to ring off.
“Yeah,” she says, “Well, you tell him I want all that’s coming to me. I’m the injured party here. Listen, I gotta go. I’m on an elevator. I’ll call you back.”

On hearing the words ‘injured party,’ Ray thinks of the time when he was eleven years old. He and his brother Mike were in the playground down at Van Cortlandt Park. They were trying to impress each other with their athletic ability. Mike sat on one of the parallel bars and with his toes hooked under the other he slowly lowered his torso backward until he could touch the rubber mat with his hands then he raised his body upward and maneuvered himself off the bars. “Try that,” he said.
“Try this,” Ray, the younger brother, said. Standing between the bars, he gripped either bar with each hand and swung his legs up to put his feet over either bar, but as his legs were up in the air, he lost his grip and fell on his back with a thump on the mat. Uncontrollably, his brother let out a laugh. The action might have seemed to an observer like some kind of comedy routine, but Ray began hollering, “Oh, it hurts. It hurts. It hurts,” and it did. His body was wracked with a painful crushed sensation as all the air went out with his voice. In a few minutes, he recovered enough for Mike to help him home, but his back has bothered him all of his life since then.

On hearing the words ‘injured party,’ Suzanne thinks of when she was eight years old and in the street trying to retrieve a rubber ball. A man in his car, attempting to pull out of a parked position, and apparently not seeing the child, gunned his motor and hit Suzanne, knocking her backwards several feet. This produced a long gash on her upper thigh, which bled profusely, then healed with a scar that looked like a strip of pink rubber. Her parents won a law suit against the careless man for twelve thousand dollars which was held in trust for Suzanne until she was eighteen. The money paid for college, but for many years she felt extremely self-conscious about the scar and would not wear skimpy bathing suits to the beach, even though several friends told her she had an attractive figure.

On hearing the words, Martin remembers the time he and his partner, Jack, now deceased, were shopping in Bed, Bath and Beyond. Martin was bending to look at bathroom shelving units and as he stood and turned to make a remark to Jack, he did not notice someone had placed a cart full of metal tubing in their vicinity. The store was being renovated. “Uh-oh, watch it,” Jack said, alarmed, but Martin didn’t realize why Jack said the words until too late. He turned his head and banged the side of it into one of the metal tubes with a loud painful thunk. “Are you all right? Are you bleeding?” Jack asked. Martin was too dazed to think for a moment, but after Jack said there were no marks or even a bump, they walked out of the store without asking for help or seeing one of the managers. They went to a coffee shop and sat quietly and had a cup of tea. In retrospect, Martin always feels that was a foolish move. He never mentioned it to his doctor until his annual physical several months later, but the doctor said an occasional headache could be attributed to stress or something else. If any real damage had been done, Martin would have known about it earlier than this.
Sometimes, he thinks he might die of an aneurysm alone in his apartment, if he doesn’t die from the disease that killed Jack.

The elevator door opens on fifteen and there are a man and woman waiting to get on. The woman with the phone gets off and is so involved redialing her connection, she bumps the shoulder of the woman getting on. Doesn’t apologize, just says loudly into the phone, “Hello, hello, are you there?”
As the door closes the bumped woman says softly, “Excu-use me.”
Suzanne says to Ray, “Could she have spoken a little louder, so the people at reception would know she has a new cell phone?”
Ray, distracted by a spasm in his back, says nothing, only nods.
“I know,” Martin says to them both, “Don’t you just hate such self-important people. The injured party, indeed.”



by mdjb

Ivy, have you read Tony’s latest piece? It has a certain effulgence, but it’s totally implausible. He could have a brilliant career if he just spent a little time editing for details.

Yes, I’ve seen it. I loved it. Why do you always pick the details apart? Can’t you ever be carried away by the enthusiasm of the writing? You always give with one hand and take away with the other. And you don’t even do that for me.

You don’t need my criticism, I mean, my kind of critique. You’ve got the stuff.

You don’t think I need to hear something encouraging, or even disparaging? I do. I need to know you’ve noticed, and that you think something about what I’m trying to say, good or bad.

All right. All right. I’ll read your latest tonight.

Don’t do me any favors.

You just said you wanted me to.

I want you to want to. I don’t appreciate your throwing me a bone.

What are you talking about? I love you, and I love your writing.

Exactly. And I can do nothing wrong.

I never said that.

Recently, you haven’t said anything. What was the last thing of mine you read?

Didn’t I tell you I thought you did an excellent job on Our Inexperience? I critiqued it to the letter and couldn’t find anything wrong with it, except the title. I advised you to try and find another, but you had it published without changing it. So what was my advice worth?

Adam, I wrote that story eighteen months ago.

I didn’t mean that was the last thing I read. I was simply pointing out that you listen, but you don’t accept suggestions. Of course, I’ve read your recent work. It looked fine. I just haven’t commented on it.

Name one.


I wrote that last year.

The Scent.

Six months ago.

Okay, all right, I’m not going to go through a chronology with you. What’s in your notebook at this moment?

You know I don’t want you looking in my notebook. I always mention when I’ve finished something. Then, I wait and wait to hear your thoughts. I haven’t heard anything from you about my work in ages. You always have time for Tony and Frank and Joe, and the others. And you’re always telling me about them. How do you think that makes me feel?

There are only so many hours in a day. Firstly, I get paid to review published work. Secondly, you never read my column. I mention those guys to see if you’re even aware of what I’m doing. Face it, Ivy, Our Inexperience was the last story you had published. You never want to promote yourself.

It was the last thing I had published, and it was the last thing you read. Don’t you see a connection?

It wasn’t the last thing I read. We’ve already established that. And I don’t see your point. Are you saying you need my approval to send something out?

You know what? I don’t think you really understand women at all. You only seem to review men. Of course, I read your damned reviews. I can’t remember the last time I noticed a woman’s name in your column.

Ah, now we’re getting to the heart of the matter. For your information, Frank is a woman. She uses a pen name.

She’s a lesbian, for chrissake. That doesn’t count.

Stop swearing, will you? It’s unbecoming.

Forget it, Adam. Just forget it.

I didn’t bring it up.

I’ve got work to do. You can put these dishes in the sink when you’re through with your paper.

Where are you going?

I told you I’ve got work to do. And then, I’m going out for a while.

You want to have lunch together later? It’ll be a nice change of pace.

I’m meeting Liz at the plaza for lunch, and then I’m going to the hospital to see my father.

Want me to take you there?

You don’t have to. I can drive.

Hey, before you start working, aren’t you forgetting something?

You surely don’t expect…

Your notebook. You’re forgetting your notebook.

Yes, right. I forgot it.

PMS. I love you.

What? What did you say?

PS. I said PS – I love you.



by mdjb

October ’95, I think it was Friday the 13th, we had a cocktail party. Wanted to get both families together. Figured it would be a lark to invite Malachy, who was a personality. If he would come. Nora asked him to bring his brother Frank, a darker light, because she wanted the balance right.

They came and the party was a success. All evening long, Malachy regaled us with personal achievements. Frank quietly impressed with tales of overcoming hardships. He never mentioned he was writing a memoir, only that he was about to retire after many years of teaching.

At one point there was a toast to Nora’s mother, who had been hospitable when first Frank the lad, then later Malachy, had returned to America.

I joined in, though this was only a story to me, and I felt inadequate under Malachy’s gleam.

The next year, on publication of Frank’s book, saw a shift in their status. Suddenly, the quiet one was the star.

Nora and I went to every booksigning and reading within our range.

One evening, I’m sure it was before the Pulitzer, I had to work late. Nora went to Barnes & Noble and saved me a place. When I arrived, they had already closed off the public access. When Frank arrived, I was allowed with a couple of other latecomers to ride down in the elevator with him and his agent. I nodded but there was no sign of recognition. As we exited, someone led him to a table and handed him a glass of wine. I joined Nora and her young cousin Stephen in the seated crowd.

After a sparkling reading, he signed many copies of his book. We straggled until there were only a few people left.

Nora placed a book in front of Frank and asked him to address it to Stephen. The agent spoke up. “Please, no personal requests. Only autographs at this time.” I looked around the room. There were only nine people still in attendance.

Nora said, “That was a wonderful reading, Frank. I wish you much success.”

He looked up and for a moment it seemed he had trouble connecting the words he had heard with their source.

Then he said, “Nora? Is it little Nora? Jaysus, don’t do that to me. You scared me half to death. A voice out of my past.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. I was holding her elbow and I could feel her tensing.

“How many years has it been?” Frank asked.

It was then that I realized he had crossed over. Twenty minutes earlier the room had been filled with close to two hundred people, and Frank had treated them to bits and pieces of his dark history, opening his soul as it were, and he hadn’t seen, I mean really seen, any of the faces in front of him.


All Souls’ Day

by mdjb

“How was your Hallowe’en?”

“Well, as you know, I spent it with Edgar P. and James J. who might have been Friends of Bill W. in their dotage if they’d hung around long enough. It was Jim’s idea to get bashed at Byrnes’ place, but Edgar remonstrated because he said the last time he’d spent an evening there he woke up in some godforsaken hospital in Baltimore and couldn’t remember how he’d gotten there or why. Nobody would speak to him, but he overheard a nurse saying they’d found him in a heap on the street. It was his second out-of-body experience, and he never wanted to go through that again.
“Jim said we all owed it to him because none of us helped him celebrate the centenary of Bloomsday. And you were missed.
“‘Oh, let it go,’ I said, ‘It was five years ago, for godsake.’
“I had to go to the Cracked and Dry Relief Fund to borrow enough to relieve cracks and dryness. By two a.m. we had spent the last of it and they were asking us to leave. By three, when we began baying at the moon, we were forcibly ejected.
“I would just like to mention here – that C ‘n’ D Fund never truly refreshes nor gets refreshed. Once it goes dry, I’m thinking of changing its name.”

“To what? The Hopeless and Empty?”

“Funny. Anyway, Jim was complaining about never being paid attention when he had really important things to say, and damn, if Edgar didn’t choose that moment to invite us back to his place to try some wine he said he had in the basement. I declined. Jim said, ‘You see what I mean? No one ever listens.’ ‘I’m listening,’ I said, ‘But it’s hard when you get like that.’ ‘How d’yer mean?’ he asked, ‘Sounding verbose?’ ‘Cranky was more what I had in mind,’ I said and then he clammed up. He wouldn’t utter another word for about forty minutes. It was all mood and eye movement, and with the morose one in the other corner complaining about some thumping noise nobody else could hear, the evening was going rapidly downhill.
“There were signs that it would dissipate earlier than expected when Edgar raised a toast to all future indulgences being held in the same venue based on the expansive display of character on the part of the proprietor, just around the time he delivered another round and said, ‘Gents, these are on Marie Antoinette,’ and nodded toward the queen herself who was at that moment inhaling something off an extended fingernail. She smiled at us, but really, she looked like pre-reformed Drew Barrymore more than Kirstin Dunst. We all nodded thanks.
“After playing coquette from a distance for about twenty minutes, she finally walked over to the table and we got a better idea of why she’d bought the round. It was a cinch she was going to be going home alone. I think she may have been the first to start the baying.”

“So they asked you all to leave?”

“Well, near as much. We’d spent all we’d brought with us, and when Marie Antoinette realized none of us were buying she stopped also. Surprisingly, it was Edgar who silently motioned cajoling her to spring for another round, and then he brought up the basement stock again, but you know how he gets when he’s off the wagon; he’s likely to get you under it.
“Jim said Nora was going to kick his arse six ways to Sunday when she discovered what he’d done with the pin money, but he was baying as loud as the rest of us when Marie bent over and bared a mole-studded buttock toward all of us in the back. ‘Ah, a full-orbed moon,’ Edgar quipped, and I knew he’d used that somewhere else. ‘Helen,’ he said when nudged by Jim. ‘Reminds me of Helen.’ ‘What a thing to say, man,’ Jim retorted. ‘I meant your remark about Nora,’ Edgar said, when he thought he’d been misunderstood, but I could tell Jim was enjoying the reference as he’d first read it, the randy old bugger.
“So there we were whooping and baying and generally misbehaving when this big brawny Dickens character comes over and lifts me and Jim by our collars, drags us out the front door and deposits us on the pavement. I almost felt the corporeal urge to upchuck ‘You’ve passed last orders, mates,’ was all he said.
“A moment later, Edgar came out seemingly of his own accord, brushing invisible lint off his lapel. ‘Gentlemen,’ he says, ‘the invitation still stands.’ I passed again because I knew I had to visit Zelda this morning, but I think Jim was willing to test his fortitude, and Nora’s patience.”

“You’re a pip, Scott. Thanks for taking the mick off my hands this year.”

“So, what’d you get up to, Ernest?”

“Oh, my usual level. No matter what you might hear, I always get up to my level.