David-Bowie-david-bowie-21566594-871-1280David Bowie was, for me and I suspect many others like me, a beacon of what freak could achieve. He not only didn’t apologize for being other, he cultivated its colors, reveled in its complications and possibilities, making it clear that somewhere there existed a world in which we outcasts were not only cool, but, desired. We could rule.

He played a role in my Bildungsroman, unpublished novel, Libertytown, and I include part of that here, this morning, because, well, here it is, going.




LIBERTYTOWN, the novel (an excerpt from Chapter 9, August 2004, u no what i mean)

It was that summer, my thirteenth, when I discovered my talent – not for theatre, but for appearing to know myself, an ability to hide the terror I felt inside behind an assumed sophistication gleaned from movies, books, and those Sunday New York Times clippings I’d hung on my walls, I perfected my imitation of who I thought I might be; a scathing wit possessed of an extravagant vocabulary and cultural frame of reference.

At Theatre Camp, I actively cultivated the persona of sophisticated libertine and I played the character with aplomb. It was my signal achievement of the summer, becoming someone I had never been, seemingly at ease and intimidating to both the other students and the staff. Unaccustomed as I was to being thought cool, interesting, urbane, or – most of all – dangerous, I embraced it with vigor and encouraged the myth.

The camp was at a college on the fringe of Baltimore an hour from Libertytown, and of the one hundred or so students attending ranging in age from thirteen to forty-something, only six of us were “dormers“, residing on campus, the others were all local. This resulted in we male theatre dormers, of which there were exactly two, being housed amongst summer students from other programs, most of whom were football players struggling to maintain eligibility. The night we resident campers arrived we were herded to the theatre building for a meeting where we were told the rules which consisted of no underage drinking and no drug use. It was a simpler time, much less fearful, and the notion now of a group of thirteen to sixteen year olds being given such unsupervised freedom would be actionable in most states. After the brief lecture, we were handed our meal tickets and given a tour of the areas of campus we’d need to know, ending back at the theatre building where we were seated and told to wait for our leader.

Lavinia Kazakh swept into the room, bellowing a bravura “Welcome fellow explorers and adventurers in the performing arts. “ She was a prematurely gray thirty-something fast riser in the department who’d begrudgingly taken on the summer program. Soon enough she would label many of us in that room “dilettantes and hobbyists,” but that night, Lavinia hid her frustration that we were children, or, worse, untalented children, by lighting lavender candles and patchouli incense and forcing us all into a cross-legged floor sit, hand holding circle in the center of which she stood – or, rather, twirled and posed and gesticulated as she bestowed upon we humble disciples forty-five minutes of imperious oration on the importance of the bohemian artist in the world, and the pride we should take in being considered “malcontents of unconventional stripe.” It soon enough became clear she did not mean this incited swagger to extend to questioning her superciliousness nor the benefit of spending hours pretending to be a piece of frying bacon, or chatting with trees. However, at the introductory session, she had not yet been disabused of her vision of how grateful we would all be to worship at her mime instructor feet.

When Lavinia finished her reception shtick she encouraged us, well – encourage is perhaps not quite strong enough a word – she demanded we proud malcontents begin to familiarize ourselves with the souls of our fellow adventurers, at which point I was approached by Carrie and Stash, both clad in safety-pinned adorned, torn garments of black and purple, the kind of painfully hip deviant poseurs who might appreciate my Earth shoes and erudition in ways my hometown peers could not, the faux-punk-Beat generation-cum-Bloomsbury/Algonquin-Studio 54 cohort I had always dreamed of befriending. Carrie, who looked like David Bowie with Joni Mitchell-long blonde hair, wore cooly her heroin addict thin frame, and impenetrable sneer of disappointment, was the speaker.

“We can tell you saw through that too. She’s so full of shit. We love fags. You are a fag, whether you know it or not. I’m infallible about these things.”

“She is,” Stash agreed, more personable but less well-kempt, she disdained personal hygiene in a misinterpretation that Patti Smith’s rats-nest hair implied a distaste for bathing, deodorant, and other modern ablutions. “She’s Carrie and I’m Stash, which is, alas, not about drugs, but short for Anastasia. My parents. Dicks. Russian. Stupid name. Anyway, you are a total fag, right?”

It was the first time in my life where the secret I’d never spoken seemed it might be a plus. I leapt.

“Yeah, I’m a total fag.”

The liberation of that utterance is still difficult to describe; the lifting of the weight as they came from me sounding, as they did, so guilelessly true, unpracticed, natural, was as if I had never before actually taken a deep breath. The feelings, urges, and shameful lusts I had tried completely without success to hide but which clearly shone brightly enough to invite the name calling and locker tossings to which I had been regularly subjected throughout my life were now an asset; there was such a throwing off of chains and fear when at last I was able, out loud, to not just own, but celebrate them. I immediately became a new person.

“Goddammit I wish I had a dick so I could be a fag.” Stash, with her kohled eyes, ravishing cheekbones, and bountiful breasts was the least androgynous of we three, who had become in those moments, what Lavinia would later call “the unholy trinity.” I continued my development of the new Parker character, taking my improvisatory cues from Stash.

“Not with those tits. You don’t look like a dyke either.”

“No. Fuck all. I’ve done some diving but I’m totally into dick.”

“Yeah. A day without dick is like a day without …”

“Dope.” Carrie was back into what I would later realize was likely no less a fabricated confession of personal revelation than were my own that summer. “You got any on you?”

“Shit, no. I didn’t bring any. You?”

“Fuck all. Nazi parents checked our bags. They sent us here to the gulag to get us away from all that. Like goddam theatre camp isn’t gonna be all about drugs.”

“And dick. I hope.” And I did. Though I had not yet touched a dick other than my own, though I had spent my life attempting to subsume my desire to do so, within five minutes of meeting Stash and Carrie, I had debuted fully formed the Parker appropriated from the ether of movies, books, media, and my imaginings. He had – clearly – been around the block, perhaps even, worked it. Without hesitation I’d shed who I’d been, the naïve Catholic boy, the unpopular, petrified pussy and become a proud, out bohemian Sissy.

We made our way back to the dorms, where we inaugurated what became our nightly posing as nodded-out junkies, nearly incapable of lifting our heads or coherent speech, a ritual of worshipping at the altar of Carrie’s collection of Bowie albums played on her fold-up stereo at volumes and in enforced isolation meant to alienate us from the three remaining residents; Betsy, a curly red headed white girl from California with “connections in the biz”, Lisa, an ingénue already on the wane and my first exposure to bulimic-anorexics, and the other male, Abe, “a Manhattan Jew,” as he liked to say, whose parents had – for reasons that were soon all too clear – sent him far from his home in the actual center of the theatrical world to study at a second tier Maryland college for the summer. He was my roommate.

I had arrived earlier in the day and claimed the top bunk, but when we reached our room, Abe, who had said almost nothing through Lavinia’s communist indoctrination session, tried to speak.

“I n-n-n-n-need to be … n-n-n-need to be … on top.” I thought he said, but he whispered, barely audible, his back to me as I was unpacking. I turned, not sure he’d really been speaking to me.


Abe turned to me, never raising his eyes from the industrial carpet.

“I n-n-n-need the top … the top … top … bunk.” This time it was a little louder, but equally slow, as if each word required gargantuan effort of breath and mind, as if, somehow, speech was unnatural to him, as if every time he spoke it was like a child learning to ride a bike; he couldn’t just do it, he had to concentrate on every aspect of it and so it was this painfully uncertain, wobbly exercise.

“You need it?”

He slowly raised his eyes to mine, and revealed something frightening, something angry, something pleading. He clearly thought I was taunting him by having required clarification of someone for whom communication was such torture. He would make sure I did not ask again by answering in what began as a whisper, but grew in volume as he hobbled closer and closer to me, getting louder and louder with every word, until I felt like Nell, tied helpless to train tracks, a locomotive hurtling toward me, looming huger and more thundering until I was pulverized.

“I can’t … I can’t … I can’t … I CAN’T SLEEP … UNDER SOMEONE!”

“Uhm … okay.” I grabbed my stuff off the top bunk and moved it to the bottom, wondering how I would make it through the next weeks with this psychopath. While I was, at the time, unusually thin, Abe was nearly invisible; where I was blonde and sharp and quick of tongue, Abe was dark and slow and stuttering, the simplest of spontaneous conversations a challenge for him. But God, or, Whomever, works in mysterious and unfair ways.

Abe was an acting genius.

Supplied with a script, Abe morphed instantly with no visible effort into someone else. It wasn’t so much acting as psychic channeling. That such a tiny little frame and agonized little psyche could contain all the people he became that summer fascinated me. And infuriated me. We would not be friends. I could not forgive his divinely ordained talent nor could he control his envy of my social dexterity, both of us resenting the other’s gift as undeserved fluke of nature, resentment aggravated by the incompatibility of my verbosity and his aphasic disorder.

Our second day of camp, we were divided into cutely named “discipline collectives” of fifteen to twenty students who rotated teachers throughout the day. During the four week session we would be instructed in mime, dance, improvisation, musical theatre singing, acting, classical acting, and for the few remarkably gifted among us, directing, and beginning the second week we would be cast in various shows to be performed the final day. I was relegated with thirteen other students I immediately perceived as the least talented into the Chekov Group. I’d never read Chekov, nor had anyone else in the group, but I at least knew – if vaguely – who he was, while others thought we’d been named after a STAR TREK character. It was clear we were outcasts of whom little was expected, neither as pretty nor as effusive as the other pods with their far better names; the Bernhardts who would concentrate on classical acting, the Barrymores who would focus on modern texts, the Isadoras who would focus on dance-based theatre, the Marceau’s who would concentrate on mime (for whom, of course, Lavinia was the mentor), and the Martins who would concentrate on musical theatre. We Chekovs drew as mentor a tired, wasted looking professor with shoulders so stooped as to appear deformed and prematurely gray hair, Dr. Peter Boynton, who substituted effusiveness for skill and was one of those adults who try to curry favor by sharing secrets and information with their students in tones denigrating the authority they themselves represent.

“The others would never tell you this, my little Chekov’s, but there’s a competition between the mentors to see who has the most talented kids. Sorry Charlotte and Pat, I know you’re not kids. We’re lucky to have you two – grown-ups – I’ll be expecting you to jump in and correct me when I’m wrong.”

Pat and Charlotte were not kids, true enough, but two of the five adults who were taking the course. I learned little of Pat’s biographical details but that she was gray, overweight, old, and a high school chorus teacher who‘d been assigned to take over the drama program despite the fact that her theatrical experience consisted wholly of directing her church Christmas pageant: The Enemy.

Charlotte, on the other hand, was glamorous. Pale almost to the point of translucence, with hair dyed the blonde and arranged in what I thought was the style of Debbie Harry but which she’d meant to call to mind Marianne Faithful, she floated amongst us in a cloud of floral scent and unfiltered Gauloises, and despite the summer heat, wore always a vampirish black cape and long purple scarf that matched its lining. She was all the shades of a bad bruise, this blotch of inky onyx and violaceous shadow, evanescing into sallow, jaundiced flesh, edged with the shocking yellow coif.

While Pat was prone to saying things that made us view her with contempt when we acknowledged her at all, such as, “I know the world has changed and you’re not my students, but, as a favor to me, could you please – it just bothers me so much to see those sweet faces of yours saying – using the – that F word.” On the other hand, Charlotte’s favorite word was “cunt” and she affected a slightly British accent – which she’d somehow acquired growing up in Michigan – and gossiped of backstage goings on at Bowie concerts and how he and Mick Jagger fucked. She attached herself to Stash, Carrie, and me in a way that would now be frowned upon – a woman in her late twenties glomming onto a trio of misfit teens – but in 1974 – joined in our love for Ziggy Stardust and his ambiguous sexuality, Lou Reed and his drug addled diatribes, Mick Jagger and his lips, Patti Smith and her militant iconoclastic retro-romanticism, and Jim Carroll (who Charlotte, and thus Carrie and Stash, insisted I was exactly like) and his hustler death vibe. We idolized outcasts and pretended we too were anarchists. The Age of Aquarius hadn’t quite ended, and the sexual revolution was in full swing, and the scourge of AIDS was yet to infect us, the news was neither instantaneous nor filled with parents murdering their children, priests raping altar boys nor teachers molesting and marrying their teenaged students. I’m sure it was all going on, but it wasn’t polite to discuss it. We hadn’t yet become inured, un-shockable, and terrified like we would once Phil and Oprah had their way with us. So while Pat became someone else to distrust and defy, Charlotte became, along with Carrie and Stash, someone else to impress, another someone willing to recognize the me I longed to believe I was and feared I would never become.

I had not yet learned to recognize this fear in others. I was, at thirteen, incapable of conceiving that grown-ups could be as terrified – or, perhaps, more so – than we young people were. At the same time, I had never thought of myself as a child. My earliest memories have to do with wondering why I was trapped in the body and life I had. I had always wanted to believe that I was unique with a momentous destiny ordained by God to change the world. It was simply a matter of waiting for others to recognize my gifts. God had a special purpose for me, that’s what Sister Michael Immaculata had leaned into me and whispered when the test results for Maryland had been returned.

“Oscar Francis Parker, you have achieved the highest scores of any second grader in the entire state. Your I.Q. is in the high genius range. That means God has a very special plan for you. He has chosen you and you must always listen very carefully for His call, and not waste your gifts or disappoint the Lord.”

It wasn’t until I was in my thirties, when my therapist told me she wished she could throttle the now deceased Sister Michael Immaculata for having put such a burden on a child, that it ever occurred to me the nun could have been mistaken in telling me that. I firmly believed the Pope’s infallibility conveyed directly through his minions. Thus, I have just naturally assumed my entire life that I have somehow failed to live up to the gifts and expectations of the Gods – whichever of them by whatever name I happened to believe at the time – and if I could just try a little harder or be a little better (or a lot harder and better) then everything would happen, the inevitable miracle working I was meant to do would occur.

At thirteen, somehow finding myself a member of the cool and popular group at theatre camp, I believed that miracle to have begun. What difference did it make that I had completely invented myself, that the experiences I claimed in sex and drugs were almost entirely borrowed from books I’d read and things I’d imagined? From this perspective, here in my forties, having grown into someone more Pat than Charlotte, I know that Carrie, Stash, and Charlotte were likely no less invented than was I, but at thirteen, I had no idea, and so when Bernard approached and came on to me in his overt and challenging way, I was panicked about appearing the sophisticate I’d claimed to be.

Starting With a Bang …

I need help. What follows is the beginning of a mystery cozy tentatively titled; Asses to Ashes, Lust to Dust. I have been moving the paragraphs around for days. Weeks. Months. Actually, I started this more than a year ago (there is much more of it) but my inability to nail the opening killed it for me. What do you think?


Edie had vowed she would never voluntarily spend another night under the same roof as her soon-to-be ex-husband, Gary, but, she wondered whether perhaps the detail that he would now never become her ex-husband, Gary, by virtue of his recent death, made it okay. She didn’t, after all, want to be a vow-breaker; that had always been Gary’s job in the relationship.

Well, not anymore.

What little was left of Edie’s never-now-to-be-ex-husband, Gary, lay charred on a slab in the basement, four floors below her in the Twyford & Covington Funeral Home where she lived with her aunt, Jessie. Gary would never again rise to the occasion of cheating, or, rise to any occasion at all for that matter.

Edie liked thinking of it that way; Gary unable to rise. She was no longer sure she believed in any sort of after-or-other life, but in the vague cosmology to which she occasionally subscribed when doing so proved convenient to her immediate emotional well-being, imagining Gary sentenced to eternity sporting broiled, grilled, and carbonized genitals which crumbled to ash whenever he tried to use them almost convinced her that karma was a good thing.
Then she remembered karma worked both ways and panicked. Surely these uncharitable thoughts would result in more disaster falling on her. That was the problem with all these belief systems; the guilt and the paybacks. A person couldn’t just enjoy a little vengeance and come-uppance without having to pay for it somehow. All this New Age nagging about taking responsibility for one’s own reality crap exhausted her.

And what had she ever done to deserve Gary?

Funny how the meaning of that sentence had changed over the years.

Edie had floated at lofty, Harlequin Romance heights during the first ecstatic pheromonal phases of Gary-land. She, the “A Womyn without a man is like a fish without a bicycle” t-shirt wearing feminist who’d sworn never to marry, never to change her name, had done both in embarrassingly short order after having met Gary when she was 31. Edie had realized only months into what she’d expected to be a life of post-nuptial bliss that the once lofty, soaring flight of love she’d so precipitously boarded was, in fact, the Hindenburg of matrimony.

Having chanted the whole “for better or worse, richer or poorer, as long as we both shall live” mantra – albeit absent the “obey” part – and unwilling to listen to the chorus line of people waiting to snark “I told you so”, Edie had hung on for …she couldn’t think about this now. She needed to shower and get to the office so Wade Thomas didn’t have one more reason to fire her, or, more importantly, any more fuel to fire the grudge he had against his brother, her best friend, Ford Thomas, who’d insisted she be hired at Thomas Janiturinal Supplies local distribution center despite her lack of any actual qualifications.

Although who, actually, had the qualifications for spending eight hours a day fielding calls about urinal screens?

Edie did. Now. Having spent limited time in men’s rooms, she’d come into the position having given little thought to the intricacies of urinals, but after ten months she could now recite in her sleep the various sizes, specs, and scents of urinal screen available for order. She knew the cost and estimated delivery date on every variety; they came in choice of color, scent blocked and filter only, paraffin and non-paraffin, water tinting and clear, triangular and round, and especially bizarre, the custom-ordered with specially designed graphics, business logos or advertising imprinted on these rubber-mats manufactured for the express purpose of men to pee on. That there was a market for bubble gum and mango and cherry and lemon and apple and mint and clear sky and spring breeze – and her favorite, no-scent scented chlorinated blocks to maintain fresh-smelling and customer-pleasing public restrooms seemed ludicrous to Edie. Even more absurd was that she now relied on this preposterous pissery-frippery of first-world obsession with aseptic pretense for paying her debts.

Debts for which Gary was mostly to blame. Gary who was now dead.

What would happen now to the debt in both their names? Debt he’d agreed to pay in the pending divorce decree? Was she now – technically – a widow? Edie was still railing at Gary for further ruining her life by inconveniently dying when the hot shower turned brutally cold, the inevitable result each time the undertakers in the basement began the process of flushing a body’s blood, replacing it with formaldehyde. Edie guessed it was Gary’s body that was being processed. She wasn’t sure how she felt about this. Edie was determinedly unfamiliar with the actual process of embalming despite Ethan Covington‘s repeated offers to demonstrate his work to her.

Poor Ethan. He was the latest and – if his approaches to Edie were any indication of his mating skills – likely the last in the long line of Covingtons who’d owned the Twyford & Covington funeral home. Ethan might have qualified as attractive were he not always dressed in suits of cheap, black polyester blends at least one and a half sizes too large in the trouser and a half-size too tight in the jacket. Plus, he never quite shut his mouth completely, his visage seeming to be permanently poised in a half-smile mid-utterance of one of the stock-sympathetic condolences of his trade; “They’re in a better place now.“ Or, “It’s hardest on those left behind.“ Or. “There’s nothing anyone can say to heal your loss but we’re here to ease your stress in this time of tragedy.“ Or, the all-time, everyone must hear it at least ten million times, all purpose, “I’m sorry for your loss.“ Edie wondered what Ethan would say to her now? Was there a combination condolence-come-on line?

“I’m sorry for your loss but now can you go to dinner with me?”

What was wrong with her? What was wrong with Ethan? Other than the open mouthed, cheap-suit thing, and, well, the tendency to bend his six foot three frame into a lumbering stoop which had led to Edie nickname him “Igor”.

Stop it. She had to stop it. She saw him every day and it was difficult enough not to laugh when she did, and what if she slipped and called him Igor to his face? The Covingtons were a respected family – and wealthy. Stinking rich, she thought, thanks to the stench of the bodies they processed at Twyford and Covington. Although as far as Edie knew, there hadn’t been any Twyfords for some hundred years or more and so, soon, when Ethan – who was somewhere in his fifties she guessed – finally drained and stuffed and entombed his father, also named Ethan, who was locked away in the local home for the aged and extremely rich – he would inherit all of that fortune. She could use a fortune. Even if it did come from blood-money, or, draining-blood money.

But she couldn’t. Ethan did nothing for her. And now that Gary was dead she could no longer use the “I’m not even really divorced, yet” excuse to fend off the invitations to dinner, a drink, an embalming with which Ethan had been bombarding her since shortly after she moved into the parlour – as the owners called it, though Edie preferred Crypt Penthouse – with Aunt Jessie when she and Gary had broken up.

With her hair still half lathered in the suds of the bargain brand shampoo which had replaced the pricey tea-tree oil, 100% all natural (her shallow consumerism had over-ridden her bookish nature in objecting to that advertising redundancy) earth elements organic hair purifier – at thirty dollars a bottle it didn’t call itself shampoo – she jumped out from under the reduced trickle of now freezing cold water and cursed Gary one more time.

“Even dead, you’re still causing me grief. Bastard.”

Naked, she got down on bended knee, the un-forgivingly frigid pink and gray pinwheel patterned ceramic tile of the vintage – meaning not updated since somewhere around 1940 – bathroom floor to pour cups of cold water over her head to rinse out the remaining soap-foam. Edie was surprised that her hair – unlike her ego – was no less healthy since she’d been reduced to bargain brands, in fact, it was feeling increasingly thick, luxurious even, and as yet, still vaguely blonde albeit more dishwater than ash, but smoother and shinier than it had been in ages. Maybe it wasn’t the shampoo but the reduction in stress since leaving Gary, although, with her luck it was more likely due to a last gasp of her sebaceous glands before she succumbed to menopausal, middle age aridity and –

She stopped and scolded herself. What kind of woman was she? Her soon-to-be-never-to-be ex-husband was being Frankenstein-ed four floors below and she was worried about her hair, the debts with which she might now be saddled, and getting to work on time at the pee-screen factory. She had not had one infinitesimal moment of regret or sorrow about the stinking, cheating, lying bastard’s demise since arriving home from rehearsal late – very late – last night and having been informed by Aunt Jessie. In fact, there was a virtual symphony of unkind thoughts playing in her head which she worked at editing into the pithy one-liners she would use on Ford when he returned later this week from his latest vacation, this one to Florence.

“It’s a wonder they needed to process him at all; he’s been embalming himself with pretentiously named, over-priced wines for years.”

That wasn’t quite cynical enough.

“How he had any blood left after all the tequila he drank-”

No. Still not very Dorothy Parker-esque.

“He donated his body to science so he’s been pre-preserving it for years with highballs and imported French wine and -”

She’d never been much good at writing her own material. She was only funny when delivering scripted lines. It had always been her misfortune to possess timing but lack wit. She dried herself off, carefully avoiding the mirror. At forty-one there was evidence of a regrettable downward drifting and slackening of flesh. So unfair. Gary hadn’t seemed to age a day and despite no exercise other than chasing bimbos and climbing in and out of various hotel and tanning beds, still had muscle tone and a flat stomach. Well, had had. And, apparently, in a final, delicious irony, it was the tanning bed that had killed him, or so Aunt Jessie had said having been given that juicy detail by Ethan after he’d gone to pick up the body.

Edie checked her cell for the time as she ran into the living room where Jessie was, surprisingly, perched in her recliner, the latest Louise Penny Inspector Gamache mystery novel in hand, and a stack of “to be reads” on the table beside her along with the ever present cold cup of coffee. Jessie usually went to bed as the sun rose and the staff reported for work at Twyford & Covington, at which point she transferred the phones back to them. She’d sleep until noon, then start her day, taking charge of the phones when the staff left for the day after which she fielded the calls from bereaved family members of the very recently deceased, those requesting information about visitations and services, the police, the hospitals, the hospices and the obituary writers for the Pilgrim News-Post, most all of whom – save the bereaved and planning to visit mourners – knew Jessie on a first name basis. She radiated the calming energy of one whose only ambition in life is to accept it.

“You’re up early. Or late. Helluva day already. I was in the shower and it went arctic again and I’m sure it’s because Igor was draining that asshole, Gary. Excuse my language. He should bottle his blood and sell it for a cabernet. He was probably too drunk to know he was on fire. What’s that thing they make movies about? You know – dammit – my mind – oh, spontaneous human combustion. Although, well, with Gary, at least two of those words don’t apply. He was the least spontaneous person I ever met. Everything was calculated. And calling him human is a stretch too. Still, all that alcohol in his blood, it’s a wonder he didn’t go up in a tanning bed years ago.”

Now that, Edie thought, had been almost witty. She’d have to remember it to throw into the post-mortem conversation with Ford when he got back from Italy. If he got back.

Ford had been texting about all the men named Paolo and Fabrizio he’d met at the orinale in Florence. She’d had to ask what orinale meant and he’d graphically explained the history of public urinals on the continent. When she’d sent her patented “Ugh. TMI” response, he’d claimed it was a way to write off the trip as research for the family business. She’d replied with what she thought a rather pithy line about the fit Wade would pitch when he saw gigolos claimed as line items on Ford’s expense account but he had, typical of him, ignored her. He insisted he was the funny one in this friendship. In any event, his tales about those with whom he’d been “sharing meatballs” were, she suspected, mostly fabrications for her benefit as Paolo was the name of the gigolo played by Warren Beatty in Tennessee Williams The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone and Fabrizio the name of the lothario in the musical The Light In The Piazza, facts Ford would have assumed she didn’t know as he fantasized himself the ultimate theatre – “that’s with an “-re” not “-er”, thank you very much” – trivia expert. He also fantasized – frequently and to his great personal detriment – that he was Vivien Leigh in all of her Tennessee Williams roles. Well, Edie thought, Mrs. Stone was a nice break from his usual Blanche DuBois.

Lost in her Ford reverie, it took Edie a moment to notice that Aunt Jessie hadn’t even cracked a smile at her dead soon-to-be-never-to-be-ex-husband stand-up material.

“Aunt Jessie, what?”

“Dear, perhaps you might want to keep such sentiments quiet.”

It wasn’t like Aunt Jessie to tut-tut or disapprove of Edie. She’d been Aunt Jessie’s favorite since she was a child. Unlike the rest of the family, Edie hadn’t questioned Jessie’s retreat from the world nor saddled her with the diagnosis of agoraphobia when five years earlier it had become clear she intended to never again leave Twyford & Covington until she was carried out in a coffin, or, rather, a cardboard box on her way to the University of Maryland to become a research project. Jessie had witnessed enough at the parlour to realize what a waste of money the entire funeral process was and she determined not to burden her family with it. The family objected to this along with Jessie’s hermit-dom, but Edie had defended her, insisting groceries could be delivered, books (and almost anything else) could be ordered on-line and virtual reclusion guaranteed one would be less often subjected to the idiots and dolts who seemed to be taking over the world. The longer Edie lived, the more Jessie’s choice of selective seclusion seemed prescient.

Jessie hadn’t hesitated to invite Edie in when her marriage collapsed and had taken every opportunity to intone phrases she’d long been chanting at Edie like, “Honey, don’t be so hard on yourself.” And “I’m so sorry you’re going through this, you deserve better.” And Edie’s favorites, “You don’t die until your time comes,” and “One thing I’ve learned from living in the house of the dead, no matter what happens along the way in the story, the finale is always the same, we end up in a box.” So Edie was left feeling both ashamed and hurt by Jessie‘s admonishment.

“I guess that was mean-spirited.”

“No, not considering the subject – not that I’m an advocate of speaking ill of the dead, since they provide me such a lovely aerie, but, in view of the conversation I just had with Ethan, it might be best if you didn’t – just now – make jokes about Gary’s death.”

“What did Igor say?”

“I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about but it seems Sheriff Rohrer has told them to hold off on the embalming.”


“Apparently, on further consideration, it’s been determined that being crisped in a tanning bed reeks of possible foul play. And, too, the next of kin -”

“I’m the next of kin. Technically.”

“And separated. Not without some rancor, which is why, maybe, the barbs are best – well – left unsaid. At least, as long as the family is requesting an investigation into the circumstances of Gary’s toasting.”

Edie’s day wasn’t getting any better. A cold shower. Possible new debt to dodge. Another late arrival at the office. And now, it sounded as if her aunt was accusing her of murder.

“Are you saying Gary’s family thinks I killed him? I’m a suspect? Did Ethan say that?”

“Not in so many words, no.”

“Well what did he say?”

Aunt Jessie continued to glance longingly down at the pages of Louise Penny’s novel between responses, as if she’d much rather lose herself there in whatever murder the intrepid Gamache was solving than this messy flare-up – so to speak – in her own life.

“He said, well, he didn’t say, but, rather, he said Sheriff Rohrer told him that in the case of a suspicious death where there is a -” Jessie stopped. She looked at Edie, who was now shaking either from fear, rage, or perhaps her still wet hair which she’d decided she couldn’t dry and be on-time for work, a possibility becoming more remote with every passing second.

“Aunt Jessie, just say it. I’m going to be – correction – I am late for work.”

“Yes, dear, well, he said something about a vitriolic divorce and -”

“I’ve known Mason Rohrer since we were in school together. He definitely did not say vitriolic.”

“No, I suppose he didn’t. Although, honestly, I don’t really know – one way or another – what was said or even implied because this is all coming second-hand through Ethan who was – well – reticent – although also strangely eager. In any event, he – Ethan I mean, suggested that it wouldn’t be a bad idea if I spoke with Aurelia -”

Edie was becoming increasingly impatient and confused and wracked by chills she suspected were not from her now freezing hair. In addition to all Ethan’s other flaws – to which list Edie now added gossiping – he was cheap and the heat barely ever came on in the Crypt Penthouse. Aurelia was a member of Jessie’s reading group, a collection of women of a certain age who met once a month in Jessie’s funeral home apartment, allegedly to discuss their latest book, but mostly for companionship and cocktails they called highballs, all with names no one had used since the days of Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, a group of drunks they all admired. Jessie may have been the only one of them who never left her house, but they all lived circumscribed lives in a world in which they no longer felt much at home, a world that had passed them by, or, perhaps, they had left behind.

“What in the world does Aurelia have to do with any of this?”

“Her granddaughter, dear, Hillary.”


“She’s a criminal defense lawyer. Ethan seemed to think – after speaking to Sheriff Rohrer, well, that you might require her services.”

“Holy shit.”

“Well, I’m not so sure about the holy, but I will cede you the shit.”

… Libertytown: The Novel … an excerpt …

I cannot write anything new today. I spent – almost literally – all day long chopping and slicing and not thinking not thinking not thinking – making a Sunday Sauce; an Italian tomato based sauce which starts with multiple vegetables and meats and requires all day attention for its more than thirty ingredients and as I was in line at the grocery store for the last few ingredients I received a text that last night, the most horrible night I have had in years, a night when I was out on the street, on my cellphone, four glasses of wine to the wind, sobbing about something(s) from ten years ago which STILL feel like yesterday; that same night, someone else I know chose to end their life. And so, no, I can’t write. But I am compelled to share part of LIBERTYTOWN: THE NOVEL, which was born of that night and those months ten years ago when all I thought about was saying goodbye, too. So, here it is. Make of it what you will. Any resemblance to anyone – living or dead – is purely coincidental, and though there is a character named Sissie, she is not the Aunt of my reality, but like everyone else and every situation in the novel – purely the creation of my imagination and the alternate universe in which these characters live. It’s a story, not a memoir.

CHAPTER 2(From LIBERTYTOWN;THE NOVEL copyright 2010, Charlie Smith)

is this what u wanted?

September 2003

             I did. Sleep. Finally. Six cups of coffee, eleven journal pages and four hours later I returned to Healing Embrace so as to be there for Vincent’s massage. He will only see me for his massages, thus our meeting this morning despite my trying to beg off with a call explaining the overwhelming onus of Libertytown and again proclaiming the absolute competence of my partner, Therie.

            “Well, Therie is a very nice woman … for a woman.  But you know Oscar, I don’t like women.”

            Life hadn’t been difficult enough, so my mother saddled me with the name Oscar, after her father, a compromise for allowing my father to make my middle name Francis, after Sissie. Oscar wasn’t, I can assure you, a popular name for a child in school in the nineteen-sixties and never a name by which I was called by anyone other than the nuns who‘d apparently considered nicknames another sin.  “Don’t get all high dudgeon and call me Oscar.”

            “All right then, Parker, dear, you know how I feel about women.”

            “I’m not asking you to sleep with her Vincent, just let her do your massage.”

            “You know I’m having hernia surgery tomorrow. This is my last hurrah for weeks and I want the best. I’ve been loyal to you for years and we’ve been friends since, well, longer than we should say out loud. I thought we had something.”

            “I’m your massage therapist, Vincent, not your lover.”

            “Because we both have terrible taste in men. And it‘s never too late.  I mean, after all we‘ve survived together. We‘re practically the only two left.”

            Vincent and I have known each other since I was fourteen and he sixteen and we appeared together in a god-awful community theatre production, back in the days when I still had pretentious ambitions toward Broadway stardom. We have seen each other through every phase, hated and loved one another like good friends do, and tsk-tsk-ed our disapproval of each others’ choices in career, behavior, and men, or, more often in my case, lack there-of, and more than any of that, we have watched many of the men with whom we did and did not dance along the way succumb to a plague too horrible to speak about, the calamity of which we’d somehow, against gargantuan odds, been spared. It is stronger than love, it’s the bond of survivors.

            Vincent has always been a serial waver and propositioner.  As we traveled from one dark, mirror-balled locale to the next, he’d see something pretty across the room and  “Yoo-hoo!“ while giving what he thought a jaunty little head toss and parade wave not unlike the Queen of England, though he was a small “q“ queen of a rather less heralded monarchy, that one in his head. His pudgy, teddy bear shape and receding hairline had never stopped him from approaching and pursuing one after another beautiful, impossibly vapid and unattainable man, the benefit of his methods having been that every so often, for an evening, weekend, or even, on rare occasions, a month or two, the unattainable became desperate enough or amused enough or would pity him enough to take him up on his lewd offers and ready cash. 

            I have never been willing to sleep with people who felt like they were doing me a favor, and I’ve never had Vincent’s seemingly endless supply of sanguine optimism that sooner or later one would happen upon true love in this manner. I have always been waiting for “the one” and I excuse my failure to find him by pretending moral superiority with the specious fiction that I would rather spend the night in bed with a good book than with someone who mistakes Balzac for a dirty word.

            I arrived at Healing Embrace fifteen minutes early and already, Vincent was there, which was the first indication that something was awry as he is never on time for anything except a trip to a bar. Vincent, my dearest, longest friend, did what all too often dearest, longest friends must do; he brought me bad news. 

            “Oscar, I have something completely terrible to tell you.”

            I laughed.Vincent makes his living frittering away his parents’ savings operating a dinner theatre. He produces (and frequently appears in) musicals during which under-flavored food items and over-priced, watered down drinks, coyly named for the show being presented, are foisted upon patrons by waiters who are also actors, that not uncommon combination. His theatricality is not confined to the theatre. He is better without a script than he has ever been in any part, including his signature role of Emile DeBeque in SOUTH PACIFIC which he trods upon the boards with a regularity approaching that of presidential elections. I have wept through his THIS NEARLY WAS MINE while sipping a Bali-Hai-ball more times than I can count, but, as riveting as his on-stage characterizations are, his off-stage shenanigans are even more affecting, and, often, over the top.

Everything is an extreme in his world, each new chorus boy fling is the “one”, each backstage gossip the most scandalous ever, each affront surpassingly unforgivable, and so, when he told me he had something completely terrible to tell me, I imagined he meant that he had broken it off with his latest insignificant other.

            “Vincent, I’ve slept almost not at all, and have seven more clients today, after which I am returning to a disintegrating pile of rock and plaster with two hundred year old bowed and cracking windows, and sixteen – well, fifteen rooms filled with two-hundred and ninety-seven packed boxes of my life that somehow have to be put in order enough that I can find my clothes.”

            It was here he should have said, “I was wondering why you had on that horrid outfit.” He should have said that. Instead, he said, “Tom is dead.”


            Every time I hear his name, still, it hurts. I am tired. Tired and defeated. All over again. Still. All this empty space later, I rest only on one side of my mattress. Still saving his place. He was Continue reading


Check it out. In my long quest to become a published author, having finished a first novel of the bildungsroman variety, I vacillated between a number of “second” novels, one of which was meant to be a Young Adult, vampire (maybe – sort of – we’d see) story that was grittier and sexier and darker and historical and time-jumping and cosmic and ultimately life-affirming. I never did find a title. Click the picture or this link: for Chapter 1.