My Silent Sentinel

When I was in ninth grade, we played baseball for P.E. They put the boys and girls together, flabby-armed beginners with junior varsity. I wasn’t especially good, but I could hit a double.

On my team was a boy named John. He also played on the school team. When he threw the ball, you heard it go by. He was tall and lean, with the most incredible dark brown hair thanks to at least one Latino parent. No question he was a cool kid. I was thirteen, skinny and awkward long before they were virtues. John and I didn’t breathe the same air. It was nothing hostile—just two people on separate planes of reality. John shaved, while I could pass for eleven. He had 20/20 vision, while my glasses were so thick I could have killed insects with them. At no point had John and I been thrown into a situation that required eye contact. I had no ambitions above my station. The chosen ones did their thing and I did mine.

High school P.E. had a way of taking the fun out of sports because it forced us to play with kids we hardly knew, openly despised, or dreaded to meet in a hallway. But with our permanent records at stake, we went through the motions. Baseball was tolerable and sure beat cross-country (two loops and go!). And even being at school couldn’t stem the heartening crack of the bat. My face got sweaty behind my glasses, my hair stuck out from my ponytail and my socks itched. I did not and still do not have the poise of a girl who, after being catcalled replied ‘High school boys don’t excite me.’ I took whatever position I was given, ran fast and clapped for my teammates. Far as John went, no one blatantly worshipped him. We simply took it for granted that he was a higher life form and followed his lead. He didn’t talk much, but he didn’t have to. His 80 mph pitches said it all.

One day I was playing short stop. The batter hit the ball, sending it into left field. John scooped it up and shot it to a boy behind me. The boy hurled the ball, which headed straight for my melon. I dropped to the ground, letting the ball go its merry way to the second baseman. The hitter was tagged out. We were about to celebrate when John walked up to the first boy. Without preamble he said “Man…if that had hit her, my foot and your posterior would have met in a violent fashion.” Or words to that effect. He didn’t yell at the boy—just got all squinty-eyed. The boy looked so mortified I felt sorry for him. John silently returned to his post, while the boy and I watched him go. Who was that masked man anyway?

Everybody knew it was an accident. The boy hadn’t deliberately aimed at my head, so no one thought to say anything. Except John. The funny thing is, John hadn’t talked to me before and didn’t afterward. A month or two later we moved, and the inscrutable John became a memory. But over the years, I have mused about my silent sentinel. If someone nearly hits another person, a passing stranger might say ‘be careful next time’, if they say anything at all. John threatened bodily harm to someone who had almost hit a person he never talked to. But clearly I was wrong about going unnoticed. In any case, I learned a lesson that day—you never know who’s got your back.

No wonder I've never had a head injury...

No wonder I’ve never had a head injury…

An open letter to married couples – Part 1

Dear Wives,

Let’s just get to it.

I don’t want your husband. I’ve met a number of wives, and we get along great until I meet your husband. Maybe he shook my hand too long, paid me too many compliments, or declared he would’ve have gone for me if he met me first. Let me assure you he wouldn’t, because he DID meet me first.

Okay, it wasn’t me Joye. But he knew a focused, independent-minded woman who didn’t flirt but still had something about her. He liked her looks and her humor. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, said he should go for it. But he decided not to because she was ‘too honest’. She didn’t act helpless or praise him for wearing pants. She laughed at his jokes, but only the funny ones. She turned to him for help, but he bailed on her because he only wanted to be a hero on paper. He sensed she would make him toe the line, follow up on the expectations he set. He knew if he said ‘Let’s go to Tahiti’ she’d be packed and ready. So he backed away, realizing he wouldn’t do a tenth of what he promised. She had something to offer and expected a return on her investment. He knew if he dropped the ball, she would drop him.

So now he’s with you, married and craning his neck around at the women he can’t have. And since he can’t be asked to do anything, he brazenly tries to flirt with me. You see it and decide I’m a threat. He’ll always come home to you, as evidenced by the ring and Social Security check. But you operate on the assumption that all single women are desperate to marry, that they’ll do what they gotta do. Or maybe you stole him and feel susceptible to losing your ill-gotten gains. Whatever the case, let me make it clear: I DON’T WANT YOUR HUSBAND.

Of course I’d like to be married. But what good to me is a man with a wandering eye? It’s a sleazy attempt to get female attention with impunity. Yet you feel compelled to remind me that you ‘know all the tricks’ and I’m not fooling you. All I can say is, you must really love that guy if you think he’d do for me. Soon as a married man flirts with me, I lose all respect. And let’s say he left you for me. I don’t labor under the illusion that my magical powers will keep him from straying. Do I think I’m exceptional? Yes. But give a 3-year-old a Vermeer and he’ll just scribble on it.

Ladies, I’m sorry you fell for your husband’s sweet talk. I’m sorry you were in such a hurry to lock down a man that you ignored his flirting with the waitress on your first date. I’m sorry he laughs off your hurt feelings when you ask him to stop. You don’t want to fight about it (again), so you’re trying to be the cool wife. But that resentment’s gotta go somewhere. Why not toward the woman he’s flirting with, even if she’s not reciprocating? Go ahead, make snarky comments and damage her reputation on the basis that she might steal your husband. She also might establish a colony on the moon. Best to contain the threat, even if it doesn’t exist.

I know there are women who don’t respect boundaries. Maybe you were one yourself, and you’ve heard how…temperamental…Karma can be. I’m here to say that if you need a punching bag, go to a gym. If your husband won’t shore up your vulnerabilities, you have my sympathy. But please vent that frustration somewhere else. I am not throwing myself on the pyre just so you can avoid an argument. And I won’t dim my shimmer either. There’s an upstanding, hard-working, available guy out there and he deserves my best. If some of that light gets in your husband’s eyes, it’s his fault for looking.

I'm just trying to get to the snack bar!!!

I’m just trying to get to the snack bar!!!

Why Don’t You Pick a Man Your Own Age?

Up until 2 years ago, I was repulsed by the idea of dating a younger man. The one-two punch of social convention and emotional need ruled out anyone more than a year or two below me. My dream guy was older, smarter, and wealthier than me. I was not picky about looks or height (despite being 5’9″). I am the proud owner of a celebrity crush on Paul Giamatti. Give me brains over brawn any day. I certainly had nothing to prove, no biological clock demanding I reproduce. Continue reading

On Damsels and Distress

A little challenge to what you thought you knew 😃

Joye Johnson

Way back in our collective consciousness is the damsel in distress. The girl in peril at the hands of a villain. She is tied to the railroad tracks. As the piano thunders, a train barrels down on the helpless girl. But in the nick of time comes our hero! He pulls her to safety, they ride off into the sunset, and Bob’s your uncle.

So imagine how hard I belly-laughed when I discovered the play Under the Gaslight. Written in 1873, it featured the first known rescue of someone tied to railroad tracks. The play is

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Slain Phantoms: A Forthcoming Collection

Although I write books, a poem or two has been known to leak from my pen. So have a couple of short stories. I’m in the process of cobbling them into a book, Slain Phantoms. They showcase some of my issues and fears, and how their exit from my brain to the page set me free. I’ve even made room for a true story, something I experienced that was just too crazy to make up.

Here are some lines of verse to give you a general idea:

Sunny Blonde was the girl I’d be
Yellow towel tight to my head
I don’t want that black doll
I said to my black mother
Laughable uproar at Barbie’s ‘assets’
When commercials were golden long
pretty blond hair
Oh well if your head hurts

Recently a friend raved to me about how threapeutic it was for him to write down his thoughts. When he found out that I have three books published and outlines for 20 more, he said “You must be a well-balanced and rational person.” Uhh, sure. But I got his point. The phantoms are hard to kill, and always manage to procreate before dying. But at least I know how to take them out.



Chapter One of Cress on the Bay

I’ve been workin’ on the sequel…all the live-long day…

A few posts ago, I put up the opening pages of Cress on the Bay, my sequel to Cress in Waterbee. While I plug away on the rest of the book, please enjoy the rest of Chapter 1, ‘Lily Jansen’:

Beneath the smoke of steam and burning coal, the Calistoga Chief headed north. Mothers and grandmothers cooked on small stoves, knowing the ‘pledged to comfort’ rail company would provide no such thing in the emigrant car. It was a place for everyone the rail company considered un-American—Indians, Mexicans, Chinese and colored. This, among other subjects, livened conversations while the scent of roast chicken filled the air. Continue reading

Your Heart Will Go On

Reality–ain’t it grand? You live for years in what you think is the real world, and then one day it isn’t. Many people dread reality, and I don’t blame them.

I’ve had a rude awakening that involved a close relative. I got to see firsthand the truth of this quote:
For years this relative has struggled, has eked by and kept their head above water. We made an arrangement to assist each other financially, and they made a great show of supporting my creative endeavors. I qualified for a grant that eased some of our financial burdens, one that increased their cash flow and enabled me to put more energy toward my start-up. Yet when I asked for a portion of the funds to cover my basic necessities, there was an uproar. There was resentment, name-calling of the ‘entitled princess’ caliber. For the first six months of the program, I heard not a peep from this person, not a word of complaint while Continue reading