Tuesday, December 10, 2013



Everything was fuzzy until I woke up in the ambulance en route to our local hospital still dressed in clerical attire. The attendant hovered over me taking my blood pressure, my pulse, saying little, his boyish face a mask of concern.  As my mind cleared, the horror of what I had done engulfed me. I wanted to die.  
      “Please Mary, let me die.”  But it was not to be. Mary had other plans for me and I had to live to face the consequences.

Why did they strap me in so that I couldn’t  raise my  arms? My head felt as if it was lead attached to the pillow. Were there any windows? I felt as if I was being catapulted through space, my world closing in on me. The attendant’s eyes, almost luminous, were a perfect combination of love and concern, two commodities I desperately craved because I knew deep down that I had committed an unspeakable act.  Thank God the siren was not blaring, Sunday morning traffic was at a minimum. 

“What happened here?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know.” But I did know and so did he. Members of the congregation told him they thought it possible that I had a slight stroke, but since I reeked of alcohol and slurred my words as I prayed, he knew. I was drunk.

“I dunno. I think I tripped during the processional. Did the service go on?” 

“Oh I suspect it did, a little tumble won’t stop God’s word.” He really was good at his job, I wanted the ambulance to turn around and just go home with him, there was something so comforting about his smile. It had been such a long time since I received any comfort from a male.
“Oh Mary, this isn’t happening, please tell me this is all a nightmare and I will wake up soon.”

For as long as I can remember I have prayed to Mary Magdelene. I love her because she was a rebel, a tattooed feminist on a Harley who liked to be a part of the action. Whenever anything of note happened, you could count on good old Mary lurking about. She was there at the crucification, although she never got an invitation to that all important last supper. (Must have been a guy thing.) A groupie, maybe a stalker, she loved her Jesus with a fierce adoration. I think this is why I so identify with Mary, I never learned how to tame my loves either, and loving too deeply can be torturous.  I used to love my husband, Thomas, like that, with a ferocity that sometimes frightened me but that love has subsided. No one can keep that intensity up,  not even Mary Magdelene, who had some relief when Jesus died. 

Thomas never loved me as much as I loved him, his ferocity always focused on his work. A contractor, he started his own Construction Company and as it grew and became successful, it took over his life.   High stakes bidding for jobs, gravel pits, large equipment auctions, this is what turned him on.  Never fall in love with an engineer, their analytical minds have no idea how to process their emotions so they stuff them.    Bald and pudgy, he was not particularly handsome, but his overwhelming ambition and enormous ego made him attractive to women, and when he wanted to, he could be the best listener I know. He stopped listening to me a long time ago. I always had a sense that he was cheating on me although I am sure he managed to keep the mean streak that surfaced after we married hidden from his female admirers.

While Thomas turned outward I turned inward, a mixed blessing. Through sheer tenacity, I finished my graduate work at The Harvard Divinity School and became a rector at St Paul's Episcopal Church. It was an amazing accomplishment for me but I paid a terrible price because somewhere along the way I got lost in a wine bottle. The sheer hypocrisy of our life almost killed me: beautiful people living in large home in the suburbs, he a successful contractor, she a rector in the local church doing “good works,” with a direct line to Jesus.  Tortured with guilt, my drinking increased until I became a shell of my former self, missing appointments, hiding bottles. The more I drank, the more Thomas badgered me about my drinking. 

One Saturday morning in September Thomas was eating a bagel, frowning over something he was reading in The Wall Street Journal. Did he always look this angry? I never saw him smile any more, it was as if there was never enough: enough money, enough attention, enough highways to nowhere. Our marriage was on one of those highways.

“I am going to clean out the basement, It hasn’t been cleaned in years, time to get rid of a lot of that stuff.”

Sometime in the late afternoon I returned home to find Thomas’ jeep missing, he had gone out. Exhausted after working a rummage sale all day, desperately wanting a drink, knowing I couldn’t, I switched on the light in the kitchen and was greeted by a counter cleared of the usual accumulation of stuff:  unpaid bills, knapsacks, various and sundry objects, clutter. In it’s place was a lone unopened bottle of wine. As soon as I saw it, I knew. Waves of shame swept over me. It was a bottle I had hidden in the basement during one of my drunken rampages.

A combination of rage and shame flew over me. It was a cruel thing to do and Thomas knew it. If I was suicidal would he have left a loaded revolver on the counter? Today I think of that lone bottle of wine sitting on an otherwise empty counter as the beginning of the end for me, although the final chapter is far from over.  Without a moment’s hesitation, I grabbed the bottle and locked myself in our guest room. 

An orderly wheeled me into a sunny white room and helped me into bed. As much as I wanted to go home, it was decided that I stay for the night to monitor my blood pressure, etc. A partially open curtain concealing the other bed in the room revealed a mass of dark hair spread out on the pillow. I couldn’t see her face, a tattooed arm hung limply by the side of the bed.

“Hi.” Her voice was low, almost in a whisper.

“Shit,” I thought to myself. Small talk was the last thing I wanted.


“How are you?”

How am I? Now there was a loaded question.

“Not so good.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Feel like talking?”


“Sometimes talking helps.”

“Right, confession is good for the soul and all that crap.”

“No, no confession. It’s just that whatever you may be thinking, it’s just not all that terrible.”

“Oh, it’s pretty terrible. Well, I mean other than destroying my marriage and probably losing my job, everything is just peachy.”

“Sometimes we have to loose everything in order to find something.” She changed positions, her hair fanning out like a dark halo.

“And what may that something be?”

“Well, that’s up to you. Whatever it is that you are looking for.”

Thomas barreled  through the door, a typical Thomas grand entrance. Subtleness is not a word I would use to describe him. 

“You have been cleared, you don’t have to stay. I am taking you home.”

I gathered my few things together and slipped into the unnecessary wheelchair. As he wheeled me towards the door I said goodbye to my roommate.

“I’m so sorry but I don’t think I know your name. This is my husband, Thomas.”

“Hello Thomas, my name is Mary.”

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Mark never hurries. That is one of my favorite things about him, that and the way the skin around his eyes gets all crinkly when he laughs. He is tall and when we first met, oh so many years ago, quite muscular. Today there isn’t much muscle left in spite of the fact that he lifts those silly weights every morning. You would think that after forty-six years of marriage nothing would surprise me about him but nothing could have prepared me for it.

We walk along the riverside almost every day unless winter ice or heavy rains prevents it, and it was during one of our walks on a beautiful day in October that the shit hit the fan. I was in a rather contemplative frame of mind, strolling along thinking about swans. I wondered if they know how graceful they are. Proud.  A little boy, a beautiful child about six years old came towards us on a scooter. He wore a helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, shin guards. Nothing will happen to this child if his parents have anything to say about it although there are things from which we cannot be protected. There was a certain arrogance about him, a flicker of recognition, and then he was gone. My mind returned to the swans. It pleased me to see how faithful they are, two swans on the river, always within sight of each other. At least I assumed that there was no adultery on the river, that they loved each other dearly and kept each other warm during those long winter nights. I hope so anyway.

  The sun was shining through the branches making intricate patterns on the ground. Each leaf, holding on for dear life, fluttered until a gust of wind blew it to the Persian carpet of multi-colored leaves surrounding us. I kicked through a pile as I used to do when I was a girl. The sky was such a pure blue it almost made me cry. 

“What a handsome child,” I said to Mark. My inability to have children was a festering wound and the reason I held God in rather low esteem. 

“Notice those clouds? Cumulus. We’re in for some rain later today.” How typical, Mark could never bring himself to even mention children and I suddenly wanted to grab him and shake him like a Raggedy Andy doll until every bit of stuffing fell out. Is there anything, anything at all, in the hollow shell known as Mark other than cotton batting? Forty-six years and I know him less now than I did on the day we were married. 

“I want to talk about children, Mark. Why did you stay with me when you knew you could never be a father. You would have been a great father.” 

Mark paused, he never hurries, especially when he is choosing his words carefully. 

“I have a child and that child has grown and has a child of her own, a little boy, he is six years old.”

“Where are they?” I listened as if I was hearing a radio from another room, only hearing every other  word, making no sense whatsoever. A ping of alarm, even horror, began growing in the back of my mind which had always had a tendency towards negativity. The trickle became a flood and suddenly I wanted to kill him.

“Where are they?” 

“In Berlin. We met during those terrible days at the end of World War Two.  During the reconstruction.”

“Do you keep in touch?” Keep in touch. What is that supposed to mean, secret letters, Christmas cards, long intimate phone calls on a disposable cellphone? School pictures? Keep in touch? I never want to touch this man again. We continued our slow walk, Mark never hurries.

“What is her name? What is your daughter’s name? What is your grandson’s name? I wanted to know everything and I didn’t want to hear another word because I knew if they had a name they were real. Nameless is better, yet I pursued it relentlessly.

“Tell me their names.”

“Her name was Ernestine.”

“Who?” Your mistress or your daughter?”

“She wasn’t my mistress?”

“Well what was she then, she must have been more than a quick roll in the hay.”

“She was a great deal more to me than a roll in the hay, but that was so long ago.”

“So long ago, but you think about her every day, don’t you?”


Ernestine, Ernestine. What a dreadful name, I was outraged although my defenses were down.

“Tell me more, what is your daughter’s name?”


“Gretchen? How quant, right out of a fucking fairy tale. Gretchen!” I spat out the name as if it were dirt.

“And the child’s name? Your grandson?”


“Otto? You had the nerve to name him after your father?”


It was that, that last piece of information that completely destroyed my world as we  continued our walk. An aerial view of two elderly people walking and talking might make you smile and think how sweet, two seniors who love each other after all these years. I hate him. 

I looked out over the river at the swans, keeping their distance, but always within sight of each other.

Friday, October 25, 2013


Bone weary, Deedee eased out of her stilettos and sank into the old plum colored couch which monopolized the small living room in her cramped, unkempt condo. Thirty-something, her body, that outward casing, still turned heads, but her expression was one of perpetual apprehension, she constantly pouted and her eyes squinted as if she either needed glasses or overused them in front of screens, troubled, always troubled. 

  The condo, (three and a half rooms, one bath, half balcony)  painted eggshell white throughout,  had a southern exposure which supplied ample light. The light, however, did not negate a dreary, somber atmosphere. Deedee’s grandmother had left her entire household of massive Victorian furniture to her, and she had crammed every last piece into  those three and a half rooms along with a giant TV, ipad, iphone, laptop and the latest in rarely used kitchen  gadgets - a hodgepodge of advanced technology  nesting in a room straight out of an Edith Wharton novel. The balcony was not exempt. It, too, had worn wicker furniture, including two rocking chairs that competed for space to rock without knocking over a glass-topped table.

On this particular evening Deedee almost wept with fatigue, frustration, and an overwhelming desire to drink. Recently dark moods seeped through her every time she crossed the threshold of her condo, the very same condo that she found so comforting when sitting on the plum couch nursing a scotch on the rocks up until a month ago. Since drinking was no longer an option, those days were gone for good and in their place was an insidious desire to kill somebody. The default button on Deedee’s mind was a screensaver of negativity. It didn’t take much to set her off, triggering flickering shades of doom and gloom.

Although it was late autumn, the evening was warm. She slipped out of her skirt, a boa constrictor, inflicting a stranglehold around her midriff, her pantyhose, runs down both legs, and her turquoise sweater, the same sweater she paid far too much for a week ago because she could not live without it, the same sweater that had “her name on it,” the sweater that brought out the blue in her eyes, the sweater maxing out her mastercard, that sweater. Now she hated it. Fuck it. No one in her right mind would wear anything that cheerful. (There goes the screensaver again.) 

In sweats and an old tee shirt she grabbed a diet coke from her empty refrigerator, maneuvered her way through the furniture, pulled open the sliding glass door to the patio and let out a scream.

“Who the hell are you?”

“Nice view you have here. Come join me. It’s a bit crowded, but there’s always room for one more.” Wedged in wicker, he rocked slowly back and forth,, a marshmallow of a man smoking a cigar.

Jesus Christ! At least when I was drinking, I never had hallucinations.”
“You’re not hallucinating.”

“Oh yes I am.”

“I am as real as you are.”

“Prove it, pinch me.”

Marshmallowman leaned over and gave her a quick hard pinch on her forearm. It caused a small indentation, a mark a little bigger than a bee sting.

“Ouch. Jesus. That hurt.”

“I’m sorry, I just wanted to leave you with a reminder when I’m gone. Otherwise you will think that overactive mind of yours is playing tricks on you.”

Deedee perched on the other wicker rocker,  a dart bird ready to take flight at any moment. Marshmallowman was dangerously close, they almost touched. She had never been a touchyfeely person, she always kept her distance except when she had enough booze flowing through her system. Without the booze, she surrounded herself with a fortress few could penetrate. 

“So, your life hasn’t been going so well these days.” Uncertain if this was a statement or a question, the fortress grew higher, thicker around the shell of Deedee’s fragile psyche. 

“My life is just fine, thank you very much.” Rocking nervously, she took a large swig of her diet Coke and lit another forbidden cigarette, second one today. The Condo Association had strict No Smoking laws and her neighbor was a real bastard when it came to second hand smoke. Through the smoke she looked at this peculiar man who seemed to appear out of nowhere yet knew everything about her. An indeterminate age, the features in his face negated each other. His mouth, a reverse smile holding an almost unspeakable sadness, held secrets she knew he would never divulge, at the same time his eyes, as calm as cows, gave the appearance that he didn’t have a care in the world. Although she did not know it at the time, it was the serenity of those eyes that she wanted. Not blue sweaters, not latte machines, blenders, high thread count sheets, or BMW’s. She wanted those eyes.

“Can I offer a suggestion?”

“Can I stop you,?” she snapped back.

“Well yes, just say the word and I’ll leave. Puff and I’m gone. My mother always used to say you should always leave by the same door you entered.”

“What door did you enter?”
“Never mind that, I’m sorry I brought it up.”

“Well? What is your suggestion?”

“My suggestion: fasten your seat belt, young lady, because if you are able to stay off the booze, if you are able to stay off the pot, the cocaine, all the sugar and spice and everything nice, you will be in for the ride of your life.  It won’t always be fun, but you will learn who you are, and that is a gift few people own.”

When she woke up on the purple couch it had grown dark. She looked at her stilettos on the floor where she had left them and realized how utterly ridiculous they were. There was a red welt on her arm, where did that come from? As she shook her self awake, she had an overwhelming desire to clean, to rid herself of all but the bare minimum in her surroundings. Three-quarters of the furniture, half her closet, most of the crap in her bureau drawers, it all had to go because then she could breathe, and when she could breathe she could begin to dismantle the fortress that kept her hidden from herself.  

Saturday, October 12, 2013


My name is Blanche White or I should say it used to be. I have always hated my name, I mean who would name their daughter Blanche? It’s a cruel thing to do but cruelty was a talent my mother cultivated. She was The Little Engine That Could,  cruel was the fuel that kept her chugging up the endless hill of her miserable life.    And then to add insult to injury - White: frail, pale, definitely female, I was branded from the minute my name was stamped on my birth certificate. When I was in the 6th grade I tried to change it to Abbruhen Weib. Since there are Germans in my lineage,  I went to my  translator app  and came up with Abbruhen Weib.  It wasn’t easy, the German language throws in umlauts and those weird big “B’s” helter-skelter and most keyboards in America don’t have  umlauts or those big “B’s” - nothing I could do about that. I think abbruhen has something to do with cooking and weib  means white which is probably one reason why I almost married a black guy.  I thought  Abbruhen Weib had an interesting ring to it, but it was not to be because the clerk behind the counter  in the Montclair Town Hall just laughed in my face when I told her what I wanted to do. Bitch.
I grew up a fish out of water - a misguided, ill-advised child of the suburbs in Montclair, NJ. The relationship between my mother and I turned incendiary almost from the day I was born, she was scared to death of me and for good reason.  Even I was scared to death of me. If I happened to glance in a mirror I saw a tall hubristic girl with great posture, long brown hair, an insolent expression, world-weary blue eyes surrounded by an abundance of black eye makeup and cargo pants.  My wardrobe consisted of rags, usually black, I bought at the local thrift shop even though we could afford LL Beans and Macys. My days consisted of acts of defiance, my nights spent roaming the streets of Greenwich Village when I was way too young to be doing so.
    Montclair High School was calamitous for me, the entire experience was a bit like one long acid trip. It was during those four years that  I refined my poetic talents, developed my fascination for the strange and fell in love with words. I learned next to nothing. The poetry thing sprung out of nowhere. I would see someone, write a poem and slip it to them under the desk. There was this kid named Max. He loved cars, all he wanted to do was tinker with cars, he probably is raking in the bucks these days fixing old German sports cars. Anyway I wrote a poem: 

There once was a young man named Max
Who had a backseat full of  jacks.
He’s a guy I admire
He can change a tire
Or put out a fire.
I ooze with desire
To cuddle with the young man named Max.

Max read it, turned as red as a beet,  handed it to the guy sitting next to him, and so it began -  my illustrious career as a poet.
“Blanche, we want you to be happy here. How can we do that?” The three of us sat around a small round table, three blind mice, three blind mice, see how they run, see how they run. Who will run first? My mother, wearing pearls, lots of perfume,  and her “I-am-pissed-but-I-am-willing-to-listen” expression, wore stilettos, Gus Peterson, the guidance counselor, was in his usual: khakis, a pale blue shirt and Converse hightops which enabled him to kind of prance down the hall,  and me in my cargo pants and flip flops. My money was on Gus, he’s the one in those running shoes, I’m sure he could turn a prance into a sprint in a moment’s notice.  A piece of paper sat on the table, on the paper was written:
There once was a teacher named Gus
Who was neat, couldn’t tolerate a fuss
His hair was not thick
He was a bit of a prick
A pain was that teacher named Gus

Gus looked like a wannabe basketball player. During the four years I was matriculating in that cesspool of higher learning he lost most of his hair. It was always a surprise to him when he ran his fingers through his hair, only to find none.  Where did it go? His eyes were a pale gray and rather haunted - probably due to worrying about his hair loss. 
“Blanche, You are one of my smartest and most talented students,”  Gus told me glancing at the poem, one hightop resting on top of the other. “Have you given any thought to what you would like to do with your life”? He never said boo about the poem, his face was deadpan, a complete blank.
Now there’s a loaded question to ask a 14 year old.  “I’m very sorry about the poem, it was uncalled for and childish,” I said to Gus, avoiding his question. I really was sorry, it was not my intention for him to read it, and I have no idea who gave it to him.  I’ll have to be more careful with my mini masterpieces from now on.
“You can have a brilliant future, Blanche.” He ran his tremulous hand through his thinning hair, hoping to find a bit more, but it was not to be. My brilliant future was not to be either.
“I think you might like A School Within a School. It is a less structured environment, you might do well there. You seem to have  “a heuristic style of learning.” Would you like to try it?”
“Sure, sign me up.  I don’t know what a heuristic style of learning is, but whatever. I’m game.”
“It means you learn well through trial-and-error and problem solving.”
What a joke. School Within a School. Talk about trial and error, we were free-range chickens, coming and going as we chose, reading what we wanted, and smoking lots of weed. Our problem solving consisted in figuring out how to cut school without getting caught. I became more and more rebellious and then I fell in love with a black guy named George Brown. It all happened quite quickly. Everyone called him Crazy Legs because he ran like crazy on the football field.  

There was an Adonis named George
On the football field he did forge
His legs were amazing
His eyes they were blazing
And those kisses were great, by George

When Crazy Legs and I hooked up we found our literary soul mates, or at the very least partners in crime. We wrote poems together and scattered them throughout the halls of Montclair High.
There once was a man named Obama
Whose election caused quite a trauma
He claims he is black
While denying the fact
That he had a very white mama
     It doesn’t get any better than that, does it? One night after smoking some rather potent pot he wrapped those crazy legs around me like a boa constrictor and said “Let’s get married and move to Germany.” Germany  seemed like a good idea to me at the time, needless to say he could be quite convincing using those crazy legs as weapons. I agreed to the latter, but not the former. Marriage was not a part of my game plan but the names were perfect, my name was White, his name was Brown: (“Truth can be more cruel than caricature.” or as they say in Germany, “Wahrheit kann grausamer als Karikatur.” You gotta love it.) George was born in Germany, had duel citizenship, spoke fluent German and promised me I would never see anything like the German language when it came to words. As I told you before, I love words.
We arrived in Hamburg, a port city in Northern Germany, on a butt cold January afternoon. Although my passport said Blanche White, both George and I told everyone my name was Abbruhen Weib. I was just happy that I was finally in the land of umlauts. For awhile, everything was great, new country, new name, but it is sad but true that wherever you go, you take yourself with you.  One of the first shocks was realizing that afternoons in winter in Germany end quickly. By 3:30 it is dark. Cold cold cold and dark. Some obscure German relative had found an apartment for us, a rat hole, but at least it was a roof over our heads. George was in his element. He will always be one of the kindest, gentlest of men and I will love him forever even though he broke my heart in a thousand little pieces. As soon as we stepped onto German soil he blossomed,  it was as if Montclair had been his cocoon while he waited patiently to bloom. His skin glowed, he looked like one of those dark devil/angels that make girls salivate. He sang gospel hymns in German.  He knew where to shop, where to get the best food in the cheapest places.  He talked to everyone on the streets whether they talked back or not, and Germans  as a rule, don’t talk back, they are a taciturn bunch who dress each day prepared for battle. You don’t see many pastels on the bus. I liked it. 
Hamburg was the beginning of the end for Crazy Legs and me, it wasn’t long before those legs began wrapping themselves around sweet frauleins all over town. I should have known, he was quite a catch, but I really didn’t care, familiarity breeds contempt or as the Hamburgians would say grobe vertrautheit verachtung. I taught German teenagers English.  I loved them, most of them had the same punk wild side I had not so long ago. It was easy to see why The Ramones were so popular in Germany. We taught each other Ramones lyrics: Suzy is a head banger (Suzy ist ein Hauptknallkörper.) Try finding a rhyme for hauptknallkorper. I also taught English to two German architects. They almost wept over their drawing boards when I offered to sing Suzy ist ein Hauptknallkorper to them as a bit of comic relief.  A serious pair, those two. 
“Here’s what you need to do.” Crazy Legs and I talked shortly before he moved out. The departure was amicable, civilized and funny. I knew that as long as I stayed in Hamburg he would make sure that I was OK, and I was. I made enough euros to keep me afloat and I have always been good at landing on my feet.
“You need to be on the prowl for a Danube steamboat company captain and then you need to bump him off.”
“You heard me, either a Danube steamboat company captain or some bozo who sells liability insurance.”
“OK, I’ll bite, why?
“It’s the word thing. The name for the widow of a Danube steamboat company captain is Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitaenswitwe.
“I love it!” It’s times like these that I realize how much I will miss my Crazy Legs.  “But insurance? An insurance salesman?”
“Yes,  it’s Kraftfahrzeug-Haftpflichtversicherung, automobile liability insurance,
I never found that steamboat captain, but I did find a nice German man named Felix who sells insurance. We have been together for three years now. He uses me in all his ads. I sit behind the steering wheel of a Volkswagon or BMW that has clearly been in a wreck. I am a damsel in distress (ein junges Mädchen in der Qual) who is clearly in need of insurance. He dresses me in pale colors for most of the ads but I change into black as soon as the photographer leaves.

Thursday, October 3, 2013



The shadow, said Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung is the unknown ‘‘dark side’’ of our personality–-dark because it tends to consist predominantly of the primitive, negative, socially or religiously depreciated human emotions and impulses completely obscured from consciousness.  Whatever we deem evil, inferior or unacceptable and deny in ourselves becomes part of the shadow.
My cell is dark. I’m a photographer, I like light, it is always the first thing I notice, yet here I am in this hell hole. A mole in a hole, I have become a mole in a hole, or maybe a rat or a bat with little darting eyes. No southern exposure,  it could be day or night, no one would know the difference. One window, more like a slit, looks out over a dry field of tumbleweed surrounded by tall fencing and this mishmash  of wire netting on top. That’s my view, which I can see only by dragging a chair to the window, climbing up, and looking out. 

I grew up on a ranch just outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming, you know where the deer and the antelope play.  Seldom is heard a discouraging word doesn’t cut it though because my father was a drunk and a mean one. I stayed as far away from him as I could. I was outside all day long riding horses. Give me a horse any day over a human. Or a dog. You don’t appreciate the great outdoors until you are locked up. Sometimes I feel as if I am choking in here, bars and walls everywhere and the food is awful. When I get out of this shit box I never want to see peanut butter again. Some of the inmates actually like it here, they call it home. A puppet who enjoys her strings still isn’t free. Sad, they don’t even know they are puppets.

When I was in high school I spent a lot of time smoking pot. It was then that I fell in love with my camera.  I moved to Chicago after graduation and began photographing everything I saw. Chicago was hard for me, I definitely didn’t bloom where I was planted. After Wyoming the mass confusion of city life left me bewildered and very paranoid. I blame the paranoia on Chicago, of course, all the pot I was smoking had nothing to do with it.

I don’t have a cell mate but since our cells are all lined up like dominoes, one large fart in cell #1 and the dominoes could all come tumbling down. My next door neighbor is a Jew named Sadie. Interesting. Not too many Jews in Cheyenne. Neighbor? Not a good word if it makes you think of Mr. Rogers and his soapy little won’t you be my neighbor crap. Sadie didn’t grow up in Mr. Roger’s neighborhood, she grew up in Brooklyn. Her parents were real strict, she told me they disowned her when she came here. Sadie’s a real piece of work: big hair, big nose, big tush, big heart, no filters but she has this uncanny ability to vent and yet hide at the same time. I can’t explain it but you never know with Sadie, you never know what she will come out with next. She can size up a phony in a New York minute, and she knows everybody. Inmates tell her things because she cuts their hair, and as soon as  her scissors start snapping it’s like a confessional. She told me there is something about touching people’s heads that makes them open up. Compared to most of the meshegas (crazy people) in here, she is a positive genius.

Sadie is teaching me Yiddish words. They’re great, it’s like a whole new vocabulary. I write them down in my notebook, it’s my project, something to work on while I do my time. I try to use them, you’ll see. The thing I love about these words is that they are so perfect like for example tush. Or plotz. (to explode) She is always asking the guards to bring her books and talking about God and stuff. If I even for one minute believed in that God she loves, I would have to say that God put Sadie in the cell next to mine. But I don’t. 

Before I was incarcerated I was seeing a therapist once a week. Fritz. He was a Jungian. Fritz would have a field day in this place, so many mean girls trapped in a sea of orange, and when I say trapped, I mean trapped - no escape from each other, a real  dog eat dog world.  Everyone would sooner die than appear to be  a mentsh (decent person) because to be nice is to be weak and weakness is a no no. On the outside there is a whole lot of pretending going on, people playing nice.  In here you are doomed if you let your guard down, you will loose everything: comb, books, paper, pencils, deodorant, dignity, stolen right out from under your nose. We are a den of thieves. Say what you will about this bunch, we steal well, we are pros. There is something I kind of like about it. We are who we are. 

Fritz’ office was dark, too, but at least I had the freedom to come and go back then.  Massive Victorian mahogany furniture dominated his office, taking up space like elephants sleeping on Oriental rugs. It was dark  but it was kind of comforting. Today my comfort is a two-foot wide cot, a desk, a chair, a sink and a toilet, all flimsy and attached to the floor. I guess they think I might use my chair as a weapon, whack a guard over the head with it. And the toilet? Let’s not even go there because there is no curtain. 

The only thing that really mattered to Fritz was that pesky little shadow of mine.  All I wanted to do was talk about photography and why I wasn’t selling mine and all he wanted to talk about was my damn shadow. Fritz was obsessed with my shadow which I found ironic, due to the fact that I always look for light. He told me his primary goal was to “integrate my shadow with my persona.” Say what?  I had no idea what he was talking about but it would have been a good idea if I had listened up because if I had, I might not find myself living in the hell hole I find myself today.

  I always dreaded approaching Fritz’s office. It sucked you in so that it required a certain amount of energy to leave, energy I could never count on. Looking back, (I have so much time these days it seems I do nothing but learn Yiddish words or chew on my cud and “look back”) I should have listened to him more and talked less but when I flopped down on his couch, I never shut up. It’s embarrassing, I was like a wind up doll, a parrot, Polly wants a cracker,  chattering on and on. What I had to say must have made about as much sense to Fritz as it would have made to Polly the parrot. I sure could have used some of Sadie’s vocabulary in that office, Fritz would have loved those Yiddish words.  Kvetsh (complain), that’s all I did.

       It was like that office put some kind of a spell on me, as if I walked into the wrong side of an elaborate tapestry and was caught up in tangles and knots which are the mess I have made of my life. The right side of the tapestry was a Lifetime for Women movie, the projection of my life for the world to see  but Fritz always steered the conversation to that tangled mess, the mishegas behind the fabric. Poor man, he always looked tired, he needed to get out more. Fresh air would do him good.  A little man, he was also a Catholic priest but he never forced the Jesus stuff down my throat.  I think his love affair with Jesus made him kind of spacey, as if he spent most of his time talking to some higher power as he floated through life like a helium balloon. When I was with him he just sat there with his sad brown cow eyes and listened.  Sometimes I thought he wanted to jump out of his chair and strangle me, other times I had the feeling he was sinking. Go figure.

I dreaded any long pauses so I just kept flapping my lips. It became a game of cat and mouse, sometimes I was the cat, sometimes the mouse, but being the mouse isn't always a bad thing, it teaches you to scamper. It took me a long time to learn that lesson but it serves me well in here. I don’t say much and I scamper often. Believe me, it wouldn’t matter if I ever said another word, there are enough drama queens in this place to sink The Queen Elizabeth. Oy vey. (Everyone knows what that means!)

      I suppose you are wondering why I am here. Or maybe not. I’ll tell you because I have nothing better to do and you can either read on or go do something useful like walking your dog. When all is said and done it’s all gornisht. (nothing, beyond help.) Enough with the Yiddish already?  But I can’t stop, it is so descriptive. I love it.

"I'm not sure I can continue with photography.”

"Why not?”

"I photographed this designer the other day. Young. Smart. Her name is Nikki. She came across all sugary to me, but I could tell she was the kind who would hand you a present all wrapped up pretty in one hand while she was stabbing you in the back with the other, something kind of creepy about her.” 

“Maybe you photographed her shadow.”

“Right! Her shadow! I never thought of that.” 

“Anyway, she needed publicity shots. I took about 50 pictures. The hair, the makeup, skin tones,  the whole package, but it was like photographing a mannequin. Then I caught her off guard, she was removing a shoe because her feet hurt, and the shot was incredible."

"Did you show it to her?"  Fritz, loved stuff like this, he always sees peoples’ shadows before he sees the person.

“I did.”

“What did she say?”

“She hated it."  

Fritz sipped his omnipresent tea slowly. “Did you like her?”

I had no idea then what a loaded question that was and where the crooked path of our friendship was to lead me. Almost since the day we met we spent the better part of our time together but I never knew Nikki well. Spending a lot of time with someone means little. Just because a person is familiar doesn't necessarily mean you know them. “Did I like her?” I hated her, yet I couldn’t stay away. 

The more I told Fritz, the more his shackles rose. “Stay away from her. She sounds like a borderline personality to me and that’s the last thing you need in your life now.”

Borderline personality disorder? WTF? All I knew was that her thick black hair covered her head like a bicycle helmet, so short that when you looked at her the only thing you noticed were her hazel eyes, enormous behind her unflinching stare. I never understood how anyone could project such empathy from her eyes while at the same time her face retained an expression of perpetual annoyance. I am in this joint because of her. She framed me. If I had only listened to Fritz . . .

I had no idea where she grew up, where she went to school.  Her parents? Were they living? She rented a furnished room on the top floor of an old colonial house in town, and there was not one thing that revealed her past in that room. The room was scrupulously neat, I felt as if I would disturb a sacred object if I touched anything.  She always kept me waiting so I sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the only thing on the wall, a print of an intense child by Otto Dix who I found unsettling. The girl stared at me as if she knew everything about me while revealing nothing about herself, a perfect replica of Nikki.  The room must have been like an oven in summer, no air conditioner in sight. The window looked out over the rows of cars parked in an Enterprise car rental lot across the street. Whenever I went to see her, I couldn't wait to get out of there.

Nikki was a whiner, a complainer, nothing was ever right with her, but she had this ability to draw people into her circle and then use them for her nefarious purposes. She played me like a fiddle and for some strange reason when she said “jump,” I said, “how high?”

“Lillybelle, I need you to do me a favor.” My name is Lilly, but for some reason she always attached Belle to it. 

“What’s that?”  I could tell I would not want to do it by the way she hemmed and hawed.


“I owe some people money, I need someone to drop off this box, it’s got cash in it.”

“Why don’t you do it yourself?”

“Because I am very late with paying it back, if they see me, they might hurt me.”

“Well, I don’t want any part of it. Find someone else.”


“Is it drug money?” I knew Nikki smoked a lot of pot, I didn’t think she was into the hard stuff.

“No, it’s not drug money, it has nothing to do with drugs.”
“Well I want nothing to do with this, it doesn’t smell right.”

If only I had paid attention to the hair standing up on the back of my neck, I would have run as far away as I could. Johnny Cash is right, you gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” Fritz was right. “Stay away from her,” he told me again and again. Jesus, how stupid could I be? 

So I drive up to this house, ring the doorbell, and was about to hand this bozo the box full of money when all hell broke loose. Blue flashing lights, bullhorns, a friggen’ SWAT team arrives. 

That’s it. End of story. Here I sit and here I shall remain for two long years. I don’t miss men, I certainly don’t miss Nikki, but I do miss my camera. Sometimes I wish I had never seen a camera. I have never known anyone, male or female who has ever given me as much pleasure as my camera, they all pale in comparison. Well, except maybe for Sadie. And Fritz. He even comes to see me from time to time. We kibbitz,(verbal joking) about the klutzs (clumsy people) I have to put up with around this place, every time he comes, it’s a blessing. Mazel Tov. (Good luck)