Short Fiction

At Loose Ends


She felt raggedy, unraveled.   She looked it, too.  But once she started working she couldn’t stop; wouldn’t stop.  Didn’t matter if she couldn’t finish in just one sitting she wanted to get as far as she could.  Maybe it was her obsessive, excessively competitive nature that made her count the rows of stitches?  Or perhaps she just liked to see the thing materialize, soft between her fingers.

Too much coffee and a restless leg made her stop around three thirty.  She rubbed her neck and then her eyes as she looked at the pieces.  Knitting is creation — there’s a reason it’s used to describe healing for broken bones —  making something new exist in an open, fractured place.

So she knits all night to fill up the broken, empty place. Thinking about the sweater, socks, blanket, hat takes up the loose yarn and energy she would spend on thinking and crying. Mourning is for the daytime and knitting is for the night.


creative non-fiction

Factory Ladies

One of my first jobs was working in a phonograph needle factory.  And, no, this is NOT a piece of flash fiction set in the distant past.  Before you get too far ahead of yourself in guessing my age, I was a “kid.”  I worked with a couple of other “kids” on a part-time basis and we worked alongside a group of full-timers, all women, called respectfully, “the ladies.”

These were not highly skilled, specialized jobs.  I think I worked fifteen hours a week, for five bucks an hour doing a menial, low-tech assembly line type of job involving little pieces of plastic, glue and a machine scientifically called “the squeezer.”  The Ladies performed only slightly more sophisticated processes full-time, for eight hours, five days a week.  When school was out we kids could work eight hour days, too.   Thankfully we had a cap on our weekly hours because it was mind-numbing work.  The glue would stick to my fingers creating weird bumps and the fumes would sometimes give me  headaches.   One of the ladies also did pink-collar admin work for the factory owner, a guy who bore a striking resemblance to Pop-Eye, except instead of a pipe he bobbled a burning cigarette between his lips. Clearly OSHA wasn’t very interested in monitoring suburban phonograph needle factories, because the place was one spark and a bucket away from an arson investigation.

I got the phonograph needle factory job from networking (before that was even considered a thing).   My good friend worked there and she recommended me.    It was a pretty easy job, it was local, and it gave us something to talk about other than school.  We were sixteen years old and marking time until our futures arrived.  Or rather, until we left town to meet up with Future at college.    And we were accomplished, eager eavesdroppers.  We knew when the Ladies dropped their voices low that they were gossiping about the owner. However, there were three main topics of general conversation:

  • Food, or more specifically what was for lunch and what were you planning to make for dinner that night.
  • Death, or more specifically what recently deceased bodies looked like.  Sometimes there was a spiritual component to the conversation: was there a hell?  Was promiscuity punishable by damnation?  There was one Lady who calmly maintained her existentialism and this seemed to upset one of her co-workers who was sure this  position would send her straight to Hell.   After these vigorous debates the Ladies would break and all eat lunch together.
  • And the most provocative topic was sex.   The most vocal and continuing debate was over the sexiness of Elvis Presley, Chad Everett (star of the TV drama,  Medical Center, 1969 – 1976 ) and  Richard Chamberlain (Golden Globe winner for Best Actor, 1962, as Dr. Kildare.  Also outed as gay in 1989.)    Again, television medicine did little to answer their questions about death, but it led to some serious romantic fantasy.  The Ladies did not censor themselves.  I took their openness as recognition of my own womanly maturity — mostly fantasy itself.

These women were earthy realists.  Of the five, only one was married.  The others were divorced. Two had children, and clearly the single women were self- supporting.  The Factory Ladies were very nurturing, proud and protective of us kids.  We kids treated them with respect and found out more about their lives — how different they were from ours and how hard they were.  Even though they didn’t expect that their work lives were going to change very much, they knew that we were on the edge of a transition we were still too dumb to comprehend.  Maybe they remembered themselves, fresh at their own thresholds, wondering what they would have done differently?  Or maybe they were just cheering us on.

The bulk of my spending scratch and college funding had been raised from some cushy and steady babysitting gigs ~ a stroke of financial good fortune brought on by a deficient teen social life.  All of the women I met growing up were either mothers or teachers.  I didn’t know any lawyers or doctors who were women, and most of my friends’ moms worked at part time jobs during school hours, if they worked outside the home at all.   I did get a subscription to Ms. Magazine as a Christmas gift from the progressive family I babysat for, and my parents insisted on personal independence for me and my sister, but I had little frame of reference about my career options.  Although I watched TV, went to movies and read books I just never internalized that I could make a living creating any of those things.  And I venture to add that neither did my parents.  But working alongside these women gave me some insight to the meaning of work, of camaraderie and how to navigate a difference of opinion, that respect is due to all types of work.  They may have asked us to refer to them as “ladies,” but they were working women.  To this day I cringe (and then say something. I aim for humorous, yet pointed) when I hear anybody say in any work-related context, “Have the girls do it.”  Or, “I’ll assign it to my girl.”   I’ve heard both men and women refer to their associates this way, and in the recent past.

Women work.






Forever, Plastics

Perhaps my goal here is to further “afflict the comfortable,” but this BBC Earth video from 2009 left me awestruck.   I discovered it visiting the site of the poet Liz Brownlee who is participating in the A-to-Z Challenge again this year (her “A” entry is about the albatross).  I became her WP follower two years ago when I first survived  A2Z and she continues to inspire me with both the depth and breath of her work.


“Just One Word: Plastics.”

That quote is from the 1967 film The Graduate.  An innocuous little quote, but it is what’s been keeping me up nights.  More specifically it’s the growing amount of plastic in the water.  Let’s start small and consider the microbeads from beauty and cleaning products that may have already entered the food chain.   These tiny (smaller than 2 millimeters) bits of plastic are added to our face washes, toothpastes and nail polishes to help us exfoliate.   But unlike organic grainy products like sugar, sand, shells or coffee grounds that break down, these microbeads travel down our drains and into the sewer system. Since they are too small to be filtered out at local water treatment plants they flow right into the ocean (they are even too small to join the huge floating garbage patch — more on that in a bit) where they are eaten by fish….who are in turn eaten by bigger fish…. and, well, you get the idea.  The plastic bits are also great at absorbing other pollutants in the water — intensifying their toxicity as well.

Maybe there’s hope.  Congress passed and President Obama has signed legislation banning the manufacture of polyethylene microbeads late last year.   ( H.R. 1321, or the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015), but the ban on products containing microbeads isn’t in effect until January 1, 2018.  The manufacture of products containing microbeads begins six months earlier on July 7, 2017.  This legislation was sponsored by New Jersey’s  Representative Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.)  So let’s give thanks to some bipartisan efforts in passing legislation to protect us (and our waters) just a little bit.

One of our local environmental advocates is NY/NJ Baykeeper.  The good folks of this organization published the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary Plastic Collection Report. (You can access the link to the February 2016 report from NY/NJ Baykeeper.)  Their estimate is 165 MILLION plastic particles are floating in the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary ~ that seems like a big number for a localized area that prides itself on water tourism.

But the West coast isn’t immune to the growing footprint of plastic either.  It’s a real thing, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch – 270,000 tons of plastic garbage  floating across the ocean.   How can we possibly think that our children’s children are going to be able to swim in the ocean on a summer day?   I grew up within a 2 mile walk to the Atlantic Ocean.  I took for granted that I could go to the beach anytime, in any season.  I’ve scavenged for driftwood in the deep cold of winter and I’ve walked on the beach at summer’s twilight, feeling the sand cool between my toes. I’ve cleaned beaches with various groups and marveled at the junk coughed up by rough surf.

Then I realized with great shame that even with self-awareness and best intentions, I am part of the problem.  I buy bottled water, I drink coffee in a to-go Styrofoam cup, I eat  my morning yogurt from a plastic container.  My newspapers are delivered dry in plastic bags.  I can rationalize that I recycle plastics at home, but it that enough of an effort to stem the tide of floating junk?   I began to really look at every product I touched today.  Here’s an abbreviated list:

Lip balm and tubes of make-up

Personal care products: tube of toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo and hair dryer 

Plastic bag to carry my ice cream home from the market

The garbage bag in my plastic kitchen garbage can is also plastic 

My electronics:  laptop computer, cell phone, e-reader (not just plastic, but toxic e-waste, too)

Okay, then, what’s the alternative?  The NY/NJ Baykeeper Report includes guidelines to move towards a “plastic-free” lifestyle.  I’ve added them below as well:

Bring reusable bags to the grocery store.  Shop products sold in bulk at the grocery store.  Check out ECOBAGS®, ECO Lunchboxes, and EcoDitty for a great selection of produce bags, lunch bags, sandwich bags, and more.  Use a reusable glass or stainless steel bottle or mug, such as Klean Kanteen and Love Bottle.  Carry reusable utensils with you. When ordering take-out, opt-out of plastic utensils.  Ask your server to wrap your leftovers in aluminum foil instead of using polystyrene foam boxes.  Say no to plastic straws. Check out Glass Dharma for durable glass straws.  Dispose of cigarette butts in a receptacle. The filter is composed of plastic.  Use fewer garbage bags by composting food waste and paper.  Check out all natural personal care products that do not include plastic microbeads. When in doubt, check the product label for polyethylene or polypropylene. If the product contains either of these ingredients, it contains plastic microbeads.


The reality is that Nature will do her own cleaning after humans have polluted themselves out of existence.  But I don’t want to just ride the plastic gravy train until we can walk back to Russia from Alaska.  So I’m also going to give a shout-out (and link) to young New Jersey company looking to reduce hard-to-recycle waste, Terracycle.  These folks started out in 2001 and have taken some creative approaches to waste, recognizing that in case it’s too late to put the brakes on our disposable society, maybe we can alter the life cycle of waste. Hey, outside the box thinking means never needing a box at all.




Snowzilla 2016 Musings: Is Michael Pollan’s Advice That Useful?

In the words of my spouse who once said, “You have to eat EVERY day!” I thought this recent post from Moderately Charmed Beginnings was spot-on and raises a number of questions about access to food and the amount of energy it takes to plan and cook your meals.

Moderately Charmed Beginnings

IMG_0720.JPG The view of our street after the storm ended.

A few weeks ago, the Obama administration released its updated dietary guidelines. The guidelines directed Americans to consume more fiber and vegetables and reduce added sugar. I read many articles on the guidelines, and most of the articles concluded that the guidelines were somewhat vague and abstract, and therefore unhelpful and confusing. As usual, it seems most Americans would be better off if they followed Michael Pollan’s dietary maxim: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Food, as Mr. Pollan defines it, is the fresh food you find in the perimeter of the grocery store–vegetables, whole grains, beans, fruits, fish–the kind of food that eventually rots. Generally speaking, it’s not the food you find in boxes and bags. Eating “mostly plants” means that the majority of your daily food consumption comes from vegetables, pulses, fruits, and whole grains. His advice is more nuanced than that, but…

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Short Fiction

Squirrel In The Grill

The baby was up all night, poor thing.  Poor new mother, her night clothes covered in snot and sour milk, standing over the sink.   Too tired even to decide if she wanted a shower or a cup of coffee.  And nobody around to care.

They were new settlers in a new suburb.  Great big house with no furniture in it yet, only one baby (so far), now standing on a patch of cold brown sod.  It was so nice when they moved in last August.  A ticklish breeze and the smell of fresh grass made them feel like adults — or maybe it was the mortgage and the big-ticket lawn mower?  They closed the season with a Labor Day barbecue for their friends.    It was right before her last trimester and she felt so happy, ready for their life to really begin.

Now the winter was ragged and rough.  He forgot to cover the grill the last time they made steaks back in November.  Then snows covered the yard and grill covering wasn’t as much of a priority as being a new father and revving up his new snow blower. She sighed and chewed at her chapped lips. The baby’s crackling snores came out of the nursery monitor and she stiffened just a bit.

She wasn’t sure what she saw.  It was just a sensation of movement outside, maybe a bird?  She watched.  It was a fat squirrel squeezing out of the side vent of the grill.  Its bushy tail made a flourish as it hopped on the rounded stainless steel top.  Its eyes were bright and it moved with the agility of a creature used to the luxury of deep and uninterrupted sleep.

She looked down at her mismatched, dirty pajamas and noticed her clinging, greasy hair. She wondered if that squirrel was a mother, leaving her babies to get a breath of fresh air and something to eat.  Or maybe to just be a squirrel again for a little while.  A warm tear rolled down her cheek.  This wasn’t how she thought it was going to be.  No, not at all.





Short Fiction, Uncategorized

I Knead Words

The dough is still tough, cold but in a little while it will be elastic, warm.   My hands will pull, throw, twist and fold until it glistens and obeys my commands.  I’ll make sure it will look forward to its rest in the warm buttered bowl.

But now I focus on the work and anticipate the earthy smell of the yeast, the chewy crust and the warm crumb.  A story turns itself over in my mind as I knead. Words are like bread.  They rise and sometimes they turn out tasty.  Sometimes they don’t, but like my less-than-perfect loaves, I’ll enjoy them anyway.