Category Archives: memoir

33.Axle, the clever puss, and Shenya, the healing dog


Josh bought Axle from the 92nd Street Shelter when he lived in New York City.  Axel was a grey and black tabby whose cage said, “Not good with children.”  Josh brought him back to his tiny apartment in Hell’s Kitchen with the bathtub in the kitchen.  Axle loved to play with Josh’s feet.

When Josh moved to Seattle, Axle moved into  white mansion with Josh’s family.  The other cats in the house were outdoor cats.  Axle, being from New York City, was afraid to go outside.  He slinked outside on his belly.  My niece, Amanda, starting walking the poodle down the street and the cats would follow.  That’s how Axle learned to take walks.

When Axle moved in to our first house, he was in heaven.  He was the only cat in the house.  He had fallen for me early on, and he developed a complicated routine to compliment mine.  While I was taking a shower, he sat on the dresser.  When I was finished, he lay on the bed, etc.  He had different places  to sit  or lay for every move I made.

Axle became an outdoor cat, and even though we lived on a busy street, he was an expert at crossing it.  He was an expert at fighting other cats.  We found out later, that he went around eating other cat’s food that was left outside.  He developed a stomach that hung down.  I would follow him around, which he hated, and watched him “flemen.”  When a cat flemens, they lift their lips over their front gums.  They look odd.  They are taking in information, like we read a newspaper.  I did a solo show about Axle called “Puss Puss Piss Piss.”  It was about how he became a successful artist and I was the scholar writing about him.  The exhibit at the center of the show was his litter box, where I had made poo out of clay and surrounded it with rings in the sand, like in Japanese rock and sand gardens.  It was a satire also of the controversy surrounding the NEA’s funding of the madonna made with pee.  I had seen it in the Brooklyn Museum of Art and was struck by it’s beauty, which was never mentioned in the debates.  Senator Jesse Helms was outspoken against the funding of the NEA and so his photo was included in the cat box, and Axel had peed on it.  The show began with me announcing, “Many of you know me…in the Biblical sense.”

Axle stopped his routines when we  bought Shenya. Shenya (short for “Shenanigans”) was the first wheaten terrier that Josh and I brought into our lives together.  Shenya was an older, rescue dog, sold to us by her owner’s daughter.  We later found out, by reading the wheaten digest list online, that Shenya’s owner had been prosecuted for abusing her horses and other animals.  Once, this owner was walking down our main street, and Shenya jumped into my arms and starting shaking.

Shenya was ungroomed when we took her home, her coat long and shapeless.  The first things she did was try to run away.  On our first walk, she somehow got off her leash and ran down the middle of the street, but submitted to me as I hugged her.  It didn’t take her long to love us.  Especially since we fed her her favorite dish, spaghetti and meatballs with parmesean, from the table.

Whenever she got nervous, Shenya would jump into my arms, and I would hug her tightly. She often did this at the dog park, to everyone’s delight.  I watched the film “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” and there was a wheaten terrier in it who did the exact same thing, so I figured it was in the bloodline.

I was in my thirties, striving for success in the theater world, performing in solo shows and having my play produced in Austin, Texas.

This was also the decade when I had horrible friends, perhaps because I was in the theater world.  Also, over and over again, plans to produce my play elsewhere would be set up and shortly fall apart.  And I was getting a lot of rejections, as all writers do.  I didn’t really have the temperament for all of the rejection, so, between my career struggles and my bad friends, I became depressed.

Shenya would heal my depression.  She took me out of myself, as I made her happiness my goal.  I also took up gardening, planting lavatera, which made our garden look English, and quince and poppies and  tulip, daffodil, and Iris bulbs ,periwinkle groundcover, butterfly bushes, scented Philadelphia bush, heuchera, hostas, and euphorbia, to name a few.  I drove for miles to various dog parks all over the city (there were none in my neighborhood).

My friend Leslie was a successful theater director, who was promoted to artistic director of a local prestigious theater.  She was an arrogant show-off and  she would go on and on about the work of  her other friend, ad nauseum, but never talked about my work, even though she directed it.  Josh is a contractor, and she wanted to talk to him about doing work on her house.  We went out to dinner with her husband, Ike, and they told us they had no money to pay Josh.  We wanted her theatre to give my play a reading (just a reading!) so we miscontrued this as some sort  of trade off.  Ike was a jerk who, when we went out and offered to pay for drinks, ordered the most expensive drink in the restaurant (very high end), then had several.  That is a good judge of character–beware of those who order expensive drinks on your tab.  When Josh stupidly went to work for them for free, after a grueling day at his paid work, Ike offered no food, beverages, and refused to talk to Josh.  When I heard this, I put a stop to the whole thing.  I went out to lunch with Leslie and told her that I thought she was using us.

She never did give my play a reading.

I had another director friend who was constantly standing me up or arriving very late.  I detest people who are late.  I cannot relate to them, as I always make a point of arriving early, leaving half an hour before for every appointment within the city.  The final straw came when she moved to Florida, and I planned on staying with her.  A few days before I left, after I had already   bought my plane ticket, she said she would be out of town and that her house was far from the beach and had no shower.  Who would ever expect that?  Josh and I went to Florida together for a vacation and stayed at a B&B.  I broke off the friendship, and then our mutual friend broke off  our friendship because she thought I was wrong and wrote me a nasty email, so I lost 2 friends.

There were other disappointing friends who once “forgot” to come over for our dinner party, and another time, when I invited all my friends together, did not speak or participate.  They then said, “You need nicer friends.”  They were right, but we needed nicer friends than them.  At one of their dinner parties, their fellow academic colleague yelled at Josh when he suggested that bullets be registered with the police for gun control.  So she was hardly one to give advice.

One friend, Lenore, who failed her playwriting class when trying to get an MFA in playwriting from the University, was completely crazy.  She would repeat the bad gossip people said about me, telling me that people were saying “Who’s this?” and holding out their hands in a satirical manner, showing off their engagement ring.  This is how my impending marriage was treated, as a joke.  People who repeat bad gossip about you to your face are hurtful.

Lenore would go on and on about her friend X, about all she and X did together, ad nauseum.  But when I took X’s playwriting class, X told me she did not associate with Lenore at all.  “Our friendship is all in her head.  She does not live in reality.”  Lenore was on many boards and was the president of a playwriting association.  When I asked X about this, she said, “No one else wants to do those jobs.  Lenore is the only one who volunteers for them.  Everyone else is busy writing.”  Lenore was not writing plays.  She was too busy being the town gossip.

Lenore had picked a fight with me the night before I was defending my dissertation.  Then she called me over and over, and I wouldn’t answer.  I broke up with her the next day.  Her husband called and told me Lenore was jealous of me for getting a Ph.D., she had always wanted one for herself, and begged me to become friends with her again.  But I had had enough.

That was all why I needed Shenya to heal me.  People were trecherous and disappointing at the time, and Shenya was all love.  Petting a dog lowers your blood pressure.

Axle followed Shenya and I on our walks.  He crossed streets with us, being sure to look both ways.  Shenya had a boyfriend, a brown lab named Duke, who tried to mount her all the time.  Shenya was happy to flirt with him, and always had a spring in her step after encountering him.  Duke hated cats.  So when Axel came by, he charged him.  Axle sprung up in the air on four feet and landed on Duke’s back, digging his claws in.  After that, Duke left Axle alone.  Axle would not be bullied.

One day Axle had large lumps the size of tennis balls coming out of his neck.  We took him to the vet, knowing something was very wrong, and found out he had lymphoma.  We gave him chemotherapy, which made him scream and howl.  But then he got better.  He was acting like a kitten, and he was so happy.  We deluded ourselves into thinking he would be all right.  Then the vet said, “He’s still going to die, you know.”  We didn’t know that.

Axel started to have debilitating seizures.  They would take up so much energy.  After a seizure, I would wrap him in a towel and feed him salmon and cream.  That would be his last meal.  We decided he was in too much pain and we took him to the vet to be put down.

“We will give him 2 shots. The first one will relax him and the second one will stop his heart.”

I remember sitting in the living room, surrounded by boxes of Christmas decorations, unable to move.  A friend came over.  I was disheveled and crying.  I couldn’t decorate the tree.

I wanted a new car for so long, and we got one soon after Axle died.  The car no longer mattered to me, because Axle was dead.

Shenya got cancer, too.  This time we took her to an animal acupuncturist.  Shenya could not climb up the stairs one day, so I carried her.  She was very heavy and it was difficult for me to climb the stairs.   She died in my arms the next morning.  She had not wanted to be a burden.  I began to howl in grief.  I could not stop howling.  I was like the wife in Fanny and Alexander, who paced back and forth wailing when her husband died.

We attended a ceremony for people who had lost animals, and I gave a speech about Shenya.  When I started to speak, a rooster crowed.  I took it as a sign from Shenya.  At the ceremony, we ordered a rock made with her picture and Beethoven’s words, “Immortal Beloved,” carved on it.  The rock sits on our porch.  Then we bought a burial plot and tombstone with Shenya’s photo on it at a pet cemetary.  We planted tulips in front of the grave.  The soil was rife with worms.



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30. Madonna

On Sunday I realized with horror that I had lost my $300 Madonna tickets.  They were not in my desk drawer in my office where I kept our passports, birth certificates, and titles to our cars.  I looked in my bedside table drawers and they were not there either.  I couldn’t think where else to look, and I distinctly remembered putting them in the desk drawer. The concert was on Tuesday  night.

The whole incident reminded me of the time when I missed the Seinfeld show at the Paramount.  Saturday night we had gone to a club where our friend Geoff was playing bass.  Only he didn’t show up.  On Monday as we were driving, Josh asked me when Seinfeld was playing.  “I think it is on the 17th,” I said.

“Karen, it’s the 19th!”  We screamed.  Josh yelled at me.  I didn’t know what had happened to me.  We were supposed to be at Seinfeld when we had gone to the club instead.  I hadn’t checked my calender.  How could I not have looked at my calender?

So Monday we woke up without the tickets.  The morning started at 5:45 a.m. when I got up and opened the door for Ariel, our soft coated wheaten terrier, to go out. Only Syd, our ragdoll cat, escaped, and ran under the fence out into the alley.  Barefoot and wearing my nightgown, I ran across the poop in the yard, down some steps, and out into our parking space which was filled with gravel and pieces of wood.  I picked Syd up and brought him into the house.

A zit the size of a volcano had erupted on half of my face.  My dermatologist prescribed an antibiotic and two creams for my adult acne, so this was rare.  The zit was so huge I wanted to put a band aid over it.

When Josh got up we searched for the tickets to no avail.  Later on I was off to the endodontrics wing of University of Washington hospital for my fourth attempt at my root canal.  The dentist told me he had once flown to L.A. for a U.C.L.A. game without all the tickets for himself and eight friends. He had called Ticketmaster and they emailed him the tickets. He completed the root canal only to tell me I needed surgery.

I got home at 5 p.m. and it was too late to call Ticketmaster.  I didn’t remember what company had sold me the tickets, so I tried my online credit union.  They were remaking the website and said they had given me a temporary password, which I had never received.

Thankfully we had a dinner date at Poco Wine Bar on Capitol Hill (in the other Washington) with our good friend Brad, the brilliant host of a radio show  with a background in liberal talk radio who has interviewed and dated many famous people and always has a good story to tell.  We were talking about how he dated Delilah, who had appeared on Katie.  We ate salted caramel popcorn, macaroni and cheese with prosciutto, and a warm chocolate layer cake.  I needed the comfort food and I felt better.  On my new diet I eat what I want one day a week.  I’ve lost 33 pounds.

Brad said he knew we would find the tickets and everything would work out.  We arrived home at 10 p.m. and we were too tired to look for the tickets for tomorrow’s show.  Josh got up a few times during the night to search for them in my office.

The next morning Josh called Vivid Seats.  He had discovered that he had paid for the tickets and found the record of it in his email.  We asked them to email us the tickets. The man on the phone said he would call us back.  Fifteen excruciating minutes later he said he couldn’t email us the tickets because we were part of a group sale.  We were devastated.  I said I would buy tickets from a scalper for my favorite performer.

If I meditate and listen to my intuition, I have been known to find lost items.  When I was young I used the ouija board to find cleaning supplies and it spelled out exactly where they were.  When I got back from living in Florida for a year,  I used meditation to discover that my passport was in a red purse in my armoire, a place I would never have thought to look.  This time I had a gut feeling that the tickets were in my sock drawer.  That was not a place I would have chosen to put  concert tickets.  I emptied the sock drawer, but found no tickets.

I looked in the back of my night table.  I called Josh in to take a look back there, and we found the tickets in their small envelope two feet away from the sock drawer!

We arrived at the 8 p.m. concert at 7:30 p.m. only to discover that for $300 we had the worst seats in the house.  We were behind the stage and the screen in nosebleed seats.  We looked out on the backstage sets.  I had bought the tickets the first day they went on sale. I complained loudly about the seats because I was pissed.  A Seattelite actually walked down the steps and took a look at my face, then went back to his seat.  No one gets upset in public in Seattle.  Key Arena was about a quarter full.  I insisted we find better seats, while the other passive Seattlites, who also mentioned they paid $150 for each seat, resigned themselves to their fates.

The opening “band” came on after 9 p.m.  It was one man playing turn tables of Madonna songs, with a few other popular songs.  It was the worst opening act I had ever seen.  I didn’t want to hear Madonna songs from anyone other than Madonna live. He went on and on.  Madonna didn’t come on until 10:00 p.m.

A bell rang, and monks dressed in red hooded gowns came out.  A huge incense dispenser swung from side to side.  Madonna came out, wearing a tight black cat suit and a long blonde wig.  She was singing a new song I had never heard before.  She continued to sing unfamiliar songs, including “I shot my lover dead in the head” which featured her shooting an automatic weapon at her dancers, who fell down and the screen nearest to us showed splattered blood.  I remember seeing that she did this number after the Colorado movie theater shooting, which was completely inappropriate and easily could have been cut from the show.

At one point Madonna dressed in a majorette uniform and twirled a baton.  It was kind of sad watching a 53 year old woman wearing a majorette uniform.  I was impressed, however, when she walked a tight rope made of a kind of ribbon in her high heels.

Madonna would sprinkle bits of her hits throughout the show, singing the entire songs only a couple of times.  She did sing “Vogue,” “Express Yourself,” (in which she added the words “born this way” to mock Lady Gaga’s rip off of her song), and “Like a Prayer” for her last song.

I still couldn’t see the main screen, as we were kicked out of our seats by their rightful owners.  Luckily, we found empty seats nearby. I never saw Madonna’s face.  She was so far away she was as small as a Barbie doll. She never sang “Like a Virgin.”

It was by far the worst concert I’ve ever seen and the worst seats I’ve ever sat in and the most expensive tickets I ever bought.

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29. The creepiest massage ever

Never buy a Groupon voucher for a massage without checking the reviews first, I learned the hard way.  About a year ago, I purchased two massages without thinking to read the reviews.  I wrote about the first nightmare massage in an early post, “Unhappy Endings.”

After “Unhappy Endings,” I read the reviews for my upcoming 90 minute massage at Sangraal Body Works in Seattle, to my horror.  “DO NOT GO HERE” several reviewers wrote.  One person said that upon arrival, the masseur was eating his lunch in a small room covered with trash, barefoot.  She said there were two overflowing baskets of trash by the massage table, and that the whole cramped room was a mess.

In the back of my mind I must have been thinking, “Go out of your comfort zone and get material for your blog.”

I arrived at the office building and knocked on the door.  I heard a voice but couldn’t tell what he was saying.  I knocked again.  “Hold on!”  He said.

“Sorry, I couldn’t hear what you said,” I said, entering the room and noticing the vacuum cleaner sitting out amidst some other clutter.  “I’ll go into the other room while you change,”  and he slid the mirrored doors shut.  He was short, with his balding hair caught in a ponytail–a look that retired long ago.

I have rarely had a male masseur, and I was nervous about it.  I didn’t see a licence anywhere.

I lay face down on the table, hoping he’d turn on music.  He did, but it was so faint that the sound of cars soaring by on the busy street bothered and distracted me.

He didn’t ask what kind of  massage I wanted or how much pressure he should apply.  He just started pressing points in a deep tissue massage.  I prefer Swedish, light pressure.

He started asking questions about my writing, which, for a writer, is like asking a fat woman if she is pregnant.

“What is your memoir about?”

“My misadventures.”

“Like. smuggling machine guns into Egypt?”  I suppose this was his attempt at humor.  I wasn’t laughing.

“Do you have a publisher?” Ugh.   I’m a playwright.

Towards the end of the massage, when I was in a zoned out state, I noticed my fingers were touching something.  Then I felt something.

His package! Oh my God, icky icky icky. He didn’t ask me to move my fingers, which had instantly recoiled.  Why was the massage table at that level?  I couldn’t tell if he was erect or not, but the package was firm.  I didn’t realize my fingers had  been rubbing against his pants at crotch level.

“Feel free to move your hand where ever you want,” he said, too late.

Disgusted, I got up and left, feeling dirty and violated.  I wrote what happened in a review on Yelp.

But I certainly had a story to tell.

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26. Two Dangerous Mistakes

As I was reading auto and apartment listings in the Seattle Weekly, my eyes drifted towards the personal ads.  In New York City, personal ads were for sadomasochists, transvestites, etc.  But here in Seattle, the ads seemed to be written by normal people.  I mentioned this to Ashley.

“I know someone who married a man she met through the personals!  You should definitely write one!  Karen, if anyone needs to get married, it’s you.  I could never afford this house on my salary alone.”

My ad read:  “SWF, new in town, looking for SWM. New in town,  Ivy League educated, long legged F seeks noble voracious reader with tantalizing mind.  I love tennis and sailing.  Must be financially and emotionally mature.”

Ashley insisted I put that last part in.  I didn’t really love tennis or sailing, although I had taught tennis and spent weekends of my childhood sailing on my father’s boat.

I received 60 responses, and Ashley invited her friends over to help me decide which ones I would date.  There was a male model who just included a photograph , with no letter.  Ashley said no.   We narrowed it down to three men.  Most letters were eliminated because they began with “Hi Baby.”

Ashley and Mike were going away one weekend, and I was to house sit and dog sit their mixed breed rescue dog, Sunshine.  I was the one who walked Sunshine now.

I had bought a maroon Honda hatchback with the money saved from my telemarketing and Amway jobs and my mother’s help.  It was my first car.

I was coming home from the dog park with Sunshine in the car when I locked the car door with the house keys inside the car.  I panicked, not knowing what to do.  I was in real trouble.  And then it started to pour.  Here I was, outside in the rain with Sunshine, and no place to go.

Desperate, I went to a neighbor’s house, and knocked on the door.  An old man answered.  I explained my situation, and he invited me in.  He had probably seen me naked in the outdoor jacuzzi.  His wife offered me tea, which I accepted.  They spoke with thick German accents.  Thank God they were home.  The old man said we should check the house to see if there were any open windows, and call a locksmith.

The old man actually found an open window on the first floor.  He climbed in, and let us in.  I was so thankful and relieved.  The locksmith came and opened the car door.  I never mentioned a word of this incident to Ashley, who already thought I was flaky.

Then one of the men from the personal ad called me.  I told him my address and he said he would come pick me up.  When Ashley called to check in with me, she freaked out when I told her about the date coming to the house,

“You gave a stranger our address?  Karen, he could be a serial killer, and he knows you’re alone in the house!”  Oh God.  I had made another dangerous mistake.  I felt sick to my stomach, and very much afraid.  This was TedBundyville.

The stranger arrived at my door, and of course he looked nothing like his photograph.  He sported a mullet, which was a deal breaker.  I was afraid of what he’d do if I rejected him, so I stupidly got into his car.  He drove me downtown and took me to a raucously loud bar in Pioneer Square.  We could barely talk to each other over the noise.  I was bored and uncomfortable.  Fortunately, this was Seattle, and he was harmless, taking me home safely.

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25. An awkward dinner party

“I’ll do anything to help,” I told Ashley, and unfortunately, I meant it.  I couldn’t stand to see her crying.

Ashley had obviously thought a lot about what I could do.

“You could take out a student loan for five grand.  I’ll pay you back.”

She was asking destitute me, who made $700 per month, to help pay back her wealthy father?  Then I made one of my worst mistakes ever–I agreed, and I agreed without an I.O.U. that I would be paid back.  I didn’t want to do it, but I felt guilty about staying with her for weeks.

This mistake I had made was right up there with the time a director offered to have my play produced in the Edinburgh play festival in Scotland, if only I changed the ending.  I would not compromise my artistic integrity.  So I didn’t get to go to Scotland, which I regret to this day.

Ashley was careless, like Tom and Daisy in the Great Gatsby.  She used the women who worked for her to pick up her dry cleaning and do her bidding.  I considered this an abuse of her power, and anti-feminist.

Ashley had dinner parties every weekend.

“Karen, how do you cook corn?”  Ashley didn’t cook.

“I’ll do it, ” I said.  “You put it in a pot of boiling water, after you husk it.”

“How long do you cook it for?”

“About three minutes or so.”

“How do you know if it’s done?”

“You just know.  That’s cooking.” I said.

One of Ashley’s guests had a baby with too much water in his brain.  I watched as he repeatedly banged his forehead against the coffee table.

“Isn’t he hurting himself?”  I asked the mother.

“That’s how he learns.” She said.  That baby was me, repeatedly banging my head into obstacles, taking a long time to learn.

At the dinner table, Ashley was telling everyone how wonderful the new corporate credit card was.

One of her women “slaves” pointed out that the card had limits.

“Oh. I didn’t know that. I use it all the time.”

“Have you been buying clothing with it?”  The slave asked, nervously.

“Well, only work clothes.”

“That’s against the rules.”

“Oh, whoops!” Ashley laughed, but everyone was silent.  Apparently everyone knew about Ashley’s shopaholic ways.

In the middle of the dinner party, one of the slave’s husbands, who was drunk, said, “I don’t like the way you use my wife.”  Everyone was stunned silent once again.

“You make her buy drugs for you,” he said.  “I don’t want you exploiting my wife, making her do illegal things, anymore.  I’ll report you to the police if you try that again.”

Mike stiffened.  “I think you’re drunk.  I think it’s time for you to leave.”

“Is the pot for her, or for you, Doctor?”

“Get out of my house.”

The next day, Ashley was upset.  “I can’t  believe Patrick attacked me last night, in front of everyone.”  I wanted to point out that perhaps she shouldn’t use her staff like that.  But I just listened to her deflect blame.

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She keeps me in her basement; it is a daylight basement, in her sprawling home on  Queen Anne, Seattle.  Ashley married a doctor shortly after graduating from Cornell, and now she has this huge house overlooking Puget Sound, where she has graciously allowed me to stay for three weeks while I find an apartment, buy a car and furniture and dishes and silverware.

Ashley is pregnant.  She had been pregnant once before, right before her wedding.  She aborted her child because she wanted to be thin, not pregnant, at her wedding.  I implored her to keep the baby.

“But you’re a pro-choice feminist, and you’re the only bridesmaid not supporting me!”

I was pro-choice, but I did not believe in aborting a fetus because it was growing at an inconvenient time.  I was pro-choice because I knew abortions would be performed whether they were legal or not, and I wanted a woman to be able to have them safely when they were too young, or couldn’t afford to support a child.

“Everyone thinks Mike and I are the perfect couple,” Ashley said.  Ashley came from money, old money.  Her parents lived in a mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut.  She had never had to struggle, unlike me.

But it was clear from the next morning that there was trouble in paradise. Ashley said I should pick up the mail when it was delivered before Mike came home at night.  She would take the mail from me, rifle through it, curse, and tear  up the bank statements.

“I can’t let Mike see that I am over drafting each month.  I’m just getting over being a shopaholic.  I go to meetings.  My lowest point was buying a remote control holder.”

Meanwhile Mike and I were getting stoned every night.

“You can never tell anyone that Mike gets high every night.  He’s on call all the time.  No one can ever know, he has a good reputation.”

One of Ashley’s wifely duties was to secure the pot.  We were always going to far away dive bars to meet dealers.  One time Ashley left me alone in the bar, and a drunken biker approached me.

“You are my dream girl from the 70’s,” he said.

“Really?  Because you are my nightmare.” I said.

It was only a matter of time before Mike found out that Ashley was  over drafting and over spending, and, apparently, as I couldn’t help overhearing  the violent fight I cowered from in the basement guest room, that Ashley was dipping into her child’s college fund.

“We could go to jail for this!”  Mike yelled.  Ashley must have been writing bad checks. Mike screamed at her for hours.

The next morning, at breakfast, I couldn’t look at Mike, I didn’t say “good morning.”

Ashley acted like nothing had happened.  She later confessed to me.

“I’m in trouble with my dad about money too.  He’s trying to teach me the value of a dollar.  I borrowed five grand from him, and now he wants it back.  He keeps hounding me.  Where the hell am I going to get five grand?”

She started to cry.

“I wish I could do something.”

I was living in her house rent-free, eating her food.  I felt beholden to her.  I had already caused damage to her house.  She had asked me if I knew how to kill slugs, and I salted them right on the deck.  I forgot to put out a dish with beer in it first, to draw them in.  The salt removed the stain on the deck.

To make up for that, I offered to clean out her jacuzzi.  I spilled the buckets of water from the jacuzzi down the incline of Queen Anne hill, near the house.

Shortly thereafter, long bugs appeared in the shower of my bathroom.  Soon they infested all the bathrooms.  Ashley called the exterminator, and I was to let him in.

“These are water bugs.  Did you have a flood here recently?”  He said.

He talked at length about the bugs, and then took me outside to see where the bugs were coming from.  He took my hand as we walked down the rock path.

When he called Ashley he said, “Beautiful house.  Beautiful girl inside the house.  Is she single?”  Ashley eagerly told him I was available.  Thank God he hadn’t appeared when I was using the jacuzzi naked, which Ashley and Mike found shocking.  “We have neighbors!”  They warned.

“Ashley, I am not dating an exterminator!”  I said.  How desperate did she think I was?  She was always trying to fix me up with ugly guys.  On the first night that I arrived, she had tried to fix me up with Cheese man, which they called him because he didn’t eat cheese.  He was bald with thick, giant glasses.

“Cheese man likes you.  He said you’re the most alive, vibrant woman he’s ever met.”

“Ashley, he’s hideous and old!’

“He’s loaded.”  Cheese man worked at a large software company, and he owned stock in the company.”  Ashley was becoming Jane Austen’s Emma.

And now here she was, needing my help.

“Actually,” she said, “There is something you can do.”

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23. The Vision

I was 24 and I didn’t own one plate,  one fork, or one piece of furniture.   All I owned was a mountain of books on literary criticism.   Tears rolled down my face as I taped up my boxes of books to take with me to Seattle, where I would be studying for my Ph.D.  Why am I doing this on my own?  I thought.  I had never thought of marriage before, I thought only about my career as a professor and playwright, like my mentor, Paula Vogel, who went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and teach at Yale.  That was my destiny, I was sure of it, my mother was sure of it. My mother had always championed my literary aspirations, despite her suggestion that I should get a job working with computers. But life hadn’t happened to me yet; I hadn’t had to make tough choices.

I’m not sure if I was really crying about leaving the East Coast.  My parents had made it clear that after age 21, I could never again live at home.  And my mother  was so cranky, stressed, and shrewish that I only took jobs during college where I could live somewhere else, and this also made it impossible to live at home on Long Island while searching for a job in Manhattan, or getting an internship.

“You’ve got to come see Jack’s house that he’s building for his son and his new wife!”  My mom urged.  But my face belied that I had just been sobbing, and I couldn’t get it together.  Finally I relented and met the young couple, who were my age, to my chagrin, and toured their beautiful new house.

When I returned home I cried again.  People my age were already married and living in houses.  I would be making $700 per month in Seattle as a teaching assistant.  Was this really what I wanted?  I decided I would rather be married and having my father-in-law build us a house.

On a plane ride to my father’s condo in Bermuda, while I was dreaming up the first monologue that would be published, I realized my own self-worth.  I realized I loved myself, my talent, my sense of humor,  my intelligence, my long thick hair and long legs and big breasts.  I thought anyone would be lucky to love me.  I had taken the first step to finding love:  I realized I loved myself. Or possibly I was a conceited narcissist.

My mom had gone out for a while and she returned with two thoughtful surprises:  a red balloon, because she knew that was my favorite movie, and a book with photos of  Seattle.

The only photo I had seen of Seattle was on a poster displaying tall evergreen trees.  “When I think of Seattle, I think of tall trees and tall men,” I told a friend.

While speeding down a highway from Providence to Chicago to visit a friend with my colleagues from Brown, driving a stick shift when I didn’t know how to use the clutch, before almost flying through the toll booth because I didn’t know how to downshift, I said, “Maybe when I get to Seattle  I’ll have a boyfriend.  Maybe he’ll have a car.  Maybe he’ll have a luxury car!”

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