100 Words About Jell-O

Words that make no sense to a child.

“If you don’t take those ear-muffs off, you’ll be freezing when you go out.”

My Nana had this yellow enamel pan with a black line around the top edge. She made the Jell-O in it. She made that jello just for me. Oh, she made a couple of other things in that pan, like baked beans, but the jello was mine, and it was always there. I understood that my parents and my mom’s parents would always be there for me, just the way the jello was always there.
It may not sound like such a big deal, but these are the things that separate us from the animals.
100 words about Jello. There.

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My Letter From Edward Albee-(Out of the memory box #3)

My letter from Edward Albee Circa 2002

My letter from Edward Albee Circa 2002

Edward Albee’s passing last week was a little hard to take: we only have a couple great American Playwrights left. I wrote him a letter once, and he wrote one to me. The letter (above) was a response to my effusive love of the play “The Goat.” I thought I was the only person that would love the play and I wrote Mr. Albee so he wouldn’t get his feelings hurt when the mixed reviews started rolling in.

(The reviews were so mixed, some critics didn’t review it at all, while it went on to win the Tony award for Best Play 2002). When all of your plays are held up to your “big” play, Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which you wrote when you were 30, life can seem like a downward spiral, I suppose.

Turns out  Mr. Albee didn’t need the kudos from me; in addition to the Tony, the was a runner-up for a Pulitzer that year. I put the tickets in the memory box and didn’t think too much about it until last week, when I saw Mr. Albee’s obituary.

*

We rushed into to the theater and took our seats as the house lights flashed a couple quick blinks for the two-minute warning. We sat up close to the stage in the historic Golden Theatre, so close that when Mercedes Ruehl smashes a plate during a climactic scene, I just about jumped out of my chair. There were glass shards lining the edge of the stage. How nobody lost an eye is part of the magic that is Broadway.

Bill Pullman, the level-headed President in the film Independence Day paired with Ruelh. Together they used Albee’s words to lead you to forget how life is when you think YOU have it weird.  The lead actress does the only thing you can do when your husband might have a very hairy mistress. She drinks.

Jeffrey Carlson, (Hitch, All My Children) , did an amazing job as an awkward teenager playing an awkward teenager in an awkward play. Years later I would find out he was no teenager-kudos to hair and makeup.

I was so mind-blown by the content of the play that I wrote a letter to the playwright, Edward Albee. Surprised when he wrote me back, one sentence from his letter would forever change me:

“No two people see the same play!”

Think about this, it not only rings true, it magnifies the theater-going experience and it means that even your grandmother might enjoy a play where sex with a goat is analogous to all of man’s depravity. It seems so simple but it served as a springboard to freedom to write some of the grittier things that, up until that time, caused me to shy away.

I’m not sure what I wrote to Mr. Albee that garnered me such a profuse thank you note, and it was likely the last handwritten note that made it into the memory box before email took over the correspondent world.

Rest In Peace Edward Albee 3/12/28-9/16/2016

 

 

 

9/11/01

jayesbrain

I was working at the cable company, surrounded by televisions. Everyone was leaving the building. I stayed and waited for more people to arrive for work; I didn’t believe the media coverage of what had happened.  It was all so incomprehensible to me, a “War of the Worlds” kind of hoax. A few people with loved ones stuck in the city were crying. The next day a bunch of us got together and l went to church, a bunch of people of varying denominations went to a local Catholic church to pray. (My dad always told us there were no atheists in a fox hole, this would be the day that I understood him). It wasn’t until the third night after the attack that the smell started to drift to the local harbor.

People held open the doors for strangers entering the grocery store. People made eye contact.  I didn’t…

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Boo-Boo tongue!

Background for a new post…in case you missed this: http://wp.me/p2GNGE-p3

jayesbrain

Boo-boo tongue

The calendar on the wall, the daily kind where you tear off a sheet each day, said November 12.  Even now, six years later, I can’t simply say what day it is, I need to go “JanFebMarAMayJune JAugSeptOctNOV!”, with my lips moving to keep my place, or else I have to start all over again. The day in question is November 12, 2006, the first post-surgery day/date that I can remember. (While I remember little to none of the following events, notes from my journal enable me to share them with you now).

Three distinct things stuck me:

  1. I have boo-boo tongue!
  2. How can it be the 12th , I’m pretty sure it is the 2nd.
  3. If it really is the 12th, why am I still in the hospital?

I wanted to talk, but my tongue hurt! It had a boo-boo. Why doesn’t someone…

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Flashback! Or, why would you ever leave Florida? (Warning: Possible Triggering Language)

This was a happy day before all hell broke loose. It was around Halloween, as evidenced by my orange cup.

Always the attempt to look writerly and content.

He had a severely handicapped little girl, about seven; he said was the result of the Agent Orange from ‘Nam. I had no idea what any of that meant. I knew ‘Nam was ‘Nam as in Viet and I had a very literal idea what Agent Orange was from my childhood friend whose dad was some big shot at a company where one of the components was still manufactured. They kept the herbicide in the garage for emergency weed infestations and a couple of drops made gallons of the desired effect. We shot some of the stuff into a weed with a hypodermic needle to see how it worked. This was before the internet and kids did science experiments with deadly chemicals for fun.

He was a friend of a friend, and no doubt the brace on his foot had something to do with my offering help that day. Someone told him I was a writer and he had this elaborate camera that hung around his neck. It was confusing why someone would add the burden of the camera to their already precarious mobility-but I recognized an artist when I saw one. The photo I was using for my “author” picture was getting old so I said “yeah, what the hell. Take the picture.”

I never thought about something untoward happening because his miniature mute daughter was always with us. Until one day she wasn’t. He pulled up in his handicap equipped station wagon without her, which didn’t strike me as odd since he had joint custody and I just figured it was the wife’s turn to keep her out of danger.

He stepped out of the car with his good leg and dragged his braced leg behind him.
“I’m glad you’re dressed so nicely, today I’m going to take your picture.”

My faulty warning bell did not go off, but this compliment should have been ringy dingy number one.

Soon we were driving down the road in his wagon packed with photography equipment and on the seat between us, a small handgun. Seeing me see it, he stowed it in the glove compartment.

“I always want to be able to protect my companion. That makes up for my bum leg.”

Somehow this made perfect sense to me, and I was happy it was out of sight. Ringy dingy number two.

We arrived at the park where the third warning bell would go off if I hadn’t been so hell-bent on getting a photo for the back of my book jacket. It’s OK to laugh, I think it’s funny, too.

I helped set up the tripod and despite our previous friendly conversations there was something different going on, something I mistook for concentration and poetic license. He looked down into his camera and when he lifted his head back up, he had the gaze of a dog licking his lips in anticipation of a treat, a German Shepard-like anticipation dripping from his clenched jaw. It suddenly occurred to me that I was in a heavily wooded area with a man with a gun. This was before the day of cell phones and my head started pounding so hard I couldn’t hear myself think. I was trying to think of what to do when I heard him over my racing heartbeat suggesting I take drop a sleeve off one of my shoulders, “for the camera.”
**
The therapist had an office in the upstairs bedroom of his lovely home. Decorated in multiple shades of blue throughout, extra warmth provided by a fluffy little white dog that would eventually settle down into my lap after jumping around for a bit,  it was covered by my insurance.  I forget the guy’s name, and I had little respect for him when I found out he was working on his MSW. This, to me was like finding out my brain surgeon had previously, by way of experience, removed a few splinters from a child’s hand. He was getting his MSW and here I sat, owner of my own Diagnostic Manual, a gift from a friend. When you get a DSM-IV for your birthday aren’t you entitled to at least a psychiatrist? This was how my insurance worked, so…

I didn’t feel that I needed someone to talk to concerning the string of things to which professionals like to cling.

“Oh, you were adopted? When and how did you find out? Did you ever want to find your real parents?”
My real parents were George and Bernice and I resented mental health professionals insinuating that this was where my issues might be buried. I went to this particular guy for about a year, and the house noises made by the baby and things like the dishwasher that I never got used to. As unusual as the whole scene was, it was unbelievably pedestrian compared to the college counselor who took his consignees to Happy Hour after our sessions.

I escaped without physical harm or contact from the photo session in the woods, but it came up a couple of years later. I was spacing out, massaging the dog, when a tap on the desk snapped me to attention.

“Earth to Jaye.”

He didn’t raise his voice nor did it contain any sort of intonation at all, and you could tell this wasn’t only his  counselor’s voice, that “flat” would describe his everyday demeanor. I tuned in, my glance betraying my little space-out.

“What were you thinking about just there?”

Some stupid shit I did.

“Did you want to talk about the stupid shit?”

His use of my word startled me just slightly.

I kept a poker-face but the dog betrayed me.

My brain said “no” but my lips, often out of sync with the master cylinder, kept going.

I’ll tell you something stupid I did and you will tell me I was young, anyone could have done it, it was no biggie.

“I promise not to say any of those things, let’s have it.”

So on I went about the man in a leg brace with the Agent Orange daughter and the big camera.

**

In college I was on a first name basis with the handful of security guards, several who surveyed the campus round the clock. Almost everyone chose the school for it’s waterfront, if not the waterfront program specifically. I didn’t exactly choose it at all so much as it chose me. They gave me a handful of money and they had a kid playing French horn on the cover of the catalog. Let that sink in, young parents…I chose my college because there was a kid playing French horn on the cover of the catalog. There were other reasons, sure, but I wanted to continue with my band activities and without further due diligence I assumed French horn kid would be there to show me around the tiny campus.

In actuality, the world-famous organ program, with one of only three (at the time) Flentrop organs in the nation and an outstanding choral program were the only music programs the college offered. The music program was outstanding but in its infancy and there was no place for my Selmer clarinet and me.

If you sat about playing guitar into the night campus security waved at you. They were a friendly sort with implementation of the original ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy firmly in place. I had a friend explain it to me this way: the city has a deal with the school-they don’t police the campus and the school doesn’t depend on them to do so; if you do call them it better be goddamned serious because a single call would likely change this lax position and the city was aching to do it. This, explained to me by my friend that escaped being sprayed by Agent Orange by being a conscience objector and serving two years in a Veteran’s hospital.

I didn’t really believe all of this about the campus police but 36 years later I’m still reading a lot about apologetic swimmers and rape culture so I guess it is true now and it was true then.

Years later while therapist shopping I would recount the experiences both on the on the yellow plastic  couch and later, with the little fluffy dog in the blue room. I reluctantly talked about leg brace man but I couldn’t remember what happened to him. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome was still reserved for military personnel but there was a suggestion that whatever ended up transpiring on that day was blocked out my memory due to trauma. I have never bought into this, but I’m pretty sure there’s some connection here: Around the same time as the Gulfport murder I stopped feeling safe sitting outdoors at various waterfront venues with my guitar. It was time to leave, but I didn’t know it yet.