Jeannie Zusy Writer - Fiction, Plays, Screenplays Mon, 20 Oct 2014 22:09:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Writing and Riding a Crocodile Mon, 20 Oct 2014 22:09:28 +0000 Back in the 1950s, before my father was a spy, he was the Associated Press Bureau chief for the entire continent of Africa. He had a friend and colleague, a photojournalist, whom he admired because he wasn’t afraid to get in close to get the shot. One day my father’s friend was out on the Nile photographing crocodiles. He leaned over the side of the boat a little too far and fell in. My father’s friend was eaten by a crocodile.

As a child I would ask my father about this story. I wanted to know more. To my inquiries he would always say, “Now, Teeny Jeannie, you know it’s not how someone dies, but how he lives that matters.” Part of me knew that this was true…

I am now writing a story about the lives and departures of my father, my mother, my sister Annie and another. I’ve also been hanging out with a crocodile. Together, we are tracking the steps of those I loved, revisiting places I’ve been with them, and to others, that up to now, I have only heard about.

So far, my crocodile and I have already visited a kitchen table in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (on which my father is born one hundred years ago), a formal dinner party in small town Idaho (where my granny wins the prize in competitive hostessing), and a schoolhouse on the Greek island of Crete (where my big sister turns down yet another marriage proposal). I’ve also conjured up my dead loved ones for a meeting.

We’ve drawn out a map and have an itinerary for what lies ahead. There are many things we know: we will witness kamikazes from a Navy ship in Okinawa, we will play in a park along the Bosphorus and we will drink a mean G&T in a kitchen in Greenwich Village.

And like any great journey, there will be surprises.  For example, who could have guessed that I would be able to find  the original photograph my father took to accompany his first nationally published news story? It’s a portrait of a woman who shot her husband in the head while he slept. I bought it for $7.99 on Ebay. There on the yellowed paper taped to the back of it are his press notes, dated 1934, typed up, I imagine, on his old black Royal.

And so, dear Subscribers, Readers and Friends, near and far, this is what I’ve been up to, what’s keeping me out of trouble, and what I’ll be doing for a while. Thank you so much for your interest and support. Be well!  And now, I’ll hop back on my crocodile…


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Hell Yeah Fifty Thu, 06 Feb 2014 14:43:56 +0000 I wrote this poem for our friend Jim’s fiftieth. I turned fifty in December and this pretty much sums up how I feel about it:


Hell Yeah Fifty

Look at that strutter,
swaying like he’s got no matters,
That mother-fucker must be

Look at him go, like his life is a show,
there’s no doubt in my mind that guy’s

Tall, long and lean,
there are things he has seen,
he doesn’t mean to look mean,
he’s just Fifty.

Fifty came fast,
crept up on his ass,
there’s no need to smoke grass,
he’s already relaxed
because he’s Fifty.

He might look like he’s drifting,
but he’s done some soul sifting,
and now he’s slow shifting
into Fifty.

He’s kissed an infant on the forehead,
helped an old person out of their bed,
he’s played house, he’s played spouse,
he’s played can you find the louse.
And now here he is:

Fifty’s cool, Fifty’s strong.
Just look and you’ll see there’s nothing wrong
with Five: upright shoulders, straight back, curved belly.
And that Zero,
no mistake, it’s a circle, fully connected.
Like that guy,
been around.

Look at him go,
that big five-O.
Where are you going, man?
We all want to know.

Hey, Fifty!
You are fine, you are divine!!!
You look swell!
You wear it well!
Hell, yeah,
you are Fifty.


For all of you turning fifty this year (and beyond), I encourage you to embrace the awesomeness. Tell me your fine fifty stories in comments!



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Cell Phone Symphony, I HEAR YOU Thu, 14 Nov 2013 17:48:08 +0000 Hudson River Line, November 2013

You have got to get the family portrait. You just do. I mean, it’s an opportunity. And you’ll be glad you have it for memories.

I don’t think I can think of anything that’s not taken care of… Really all of our needs were pretty much met… I mean, could it have been better? …Maybe, if they went around and spritzed the guests. I mean to cool us off, a light little spritz once in a while would have been nice, sure. The beach is okay, I mean it’s ehh.

So yeah, I guess I was fired. But not really, because I guess I wasn’t even employed by them. Surprise! Yeah, I was apparently on probation. Who knew? So I went in and they said they don’t need my services and I said Does that mean you are firing me? And they said Well technically, we can’t fire you because we never hired you… So yea…here we go again, right?

(Sigh). It’s Delores. DELORES. Yes. Yes, I am calling with sad news. Aunt Margaret has passed. I SAY SHE’S PASSED. Yes. Twelve- thirty. After lunch. She just sort of expired. Ninety-two. NINETY-TWO. Yes, she had a good long life. Viewing on Saturday, service on Sunday. Saint Augustine’s. At least she didn’t suffer… Okay, I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

Oh okay, so there are two places for breakfast. One is a buffet and the other one is sit down. Well the buffet is better with the kids, plus opens earlier, but well- it’s inside. But right across the hall is the restaurant which is outside with the view and everything which is the view on the website which is what you’re paying for really. So you might figure this out, but you might not, so I’m just going to tell you. You can get your food at the buffet and then cross the hall and eat outside in the restaurant part. No one is going to tell you that.

I’m not bitter. I expressively told them that I am not bitter. Not one iota. It wasn’t for me and I knew that… it just WAS NOT for me…

(Sigh). Hello Al? AL? It’s Delores. DELORES. Yes. Yes, I am calling with sad news. Aunt Margaret has passed…

There are two concierges. Not two concierges, but two concierge desks. Which sounds redundant but it’s not. I mean the property is so large. So there’s one at the front desk, you know, the grand entrance, and another over by the wave pool- past the Kiddy Kamp entrance. So you can stop by the second concierge on your way back from the beach and make any special requests for diet accommodations for dinner that night before you pick up the kids.


I said to them Okay, that is not a problem. I am not earth shattered or whatever. Just wish me luck in my future endeavors, in my employment and career situations. I said Please send good vibes or whatever out to the employment universe that I can pay the bills next month. PAY THE BILLS. Yeah, I said that, but I’m not bitter so don’t worry…

…was down to her last dollar… SHE WAS BROKE…

Oh, the kids will love the Kiddy Kamp, they will love it. Well, they have to, right? I mean it’s your vacation, too.

Saint Augustine’s. If you want to see her, go Saturday. If you WANT TO SEE HER, GO SATURDAY.

My kids are complainers, so in the beginning drop off was hard, but then I’d pick them up and they’d have dreadlocks with beads- even Charlie. By the end of the week drop off was easy.

I will see you there. Sorry to share such sad news. She didn’t suffer… Thank God for that.

Oh, yeah, I thought you sounded… distracted. Try “rote”. R-O-T-E. It’s when you memorize something like abcdefghijklmnop- you know. R-O- Oh, then “rite” R-I-T-. Okay, “rape”. I SAID RAPE. Oh. Then forget it.

Hello! Hello Sandy! Can you HEAR ME? She’s dead… Ha! You’re terrible… I’m terrible! Twelve thirty. Yes, I was there, of course I was there. She just sort of expired…

The “E”s not right. I don’t think you should have an “E” there. GOOGLE IT!!!! That’s what Google is for, isn’t it? Oh, cheat away. Who’s looking?

All you can drink but my personal limit was four. I’m petite, so four. They have five very nice options, but at the Mexican place they make the cutest margaritas.

Saint Augustine’s.

Cutest Margaritas.

You are addicted to crosswords.

I’m terrible!

I’m petite, so four.

The bane of your existence.

She didn’t suffer.

I said you are addicted to crosswords! That’s right. I said it. I’ve been waiting for the right time. No, it’s not because I’m in a bad mood, because I AM NOT IN A BAD MOOD.


And another thing that you might miss because it’s not well-marked: between the Kiddy Kamp and the disco there is a path –

I don’t know what I am going to do.

I’m not bitter. I wish you would stop saying that.

Take a trip, maybe…

-a path that goes into these gardens that are just really well-maintained, manicured really, with tropical flora and fauna, and there’s this little bridge that goes over a little stream and well, the kids loved it. Robbie couldn’t care less about it, but the kids and I would go there everyday after I picked them up from Kiddy Kamp, while he passed out in our room before dinner.

Going underground now. Going into the tunnel, so I’m going to lose signal.

Okay, I’m going to lose signal now… Call me after you’ve booked it and I’ll tell you more.

She just sort of expired…

I’ll call you from the station. I don’t know what I’m going to do now that I have time on my hands. Wanna catch a movie tonight? Hello? Shit…

Hello? Hello? Oh.


Time to put those away. I said time to put your I-pads away, Charlie. Charlie, do not hit your sister. We’re meeting Daddy at his work place, remember? We’re going to see the Rockettes, remember? STOP IT.


(whispers) Do… you… hear… me??

CHARLIE cries loudly.
DELORES cries quietly.

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The Princess Who Loved Books Too Much. A fairy tale. Wed, 25 Sep 2013 13:51:11 +0000 The Princess Who Loved Books Too Much. A fairy tale.

See way out there, across the sea? Do you see? Do you see the slight sliver of land just below the horizon… That’s the land of Listentime. And in the land of Listentime, there is a castle. And in the castle is a princess. She lives on the top floor of the tallest tower because… she likes the view. And from her tall tower, she can see you. She can see your bedroom and your bed and your pillow and your… Yes, she can even see your secrets. And this girl, she is very much like you. She reads a lot. She reads books and books and plays and plays and newspapers and magazines and fan letters…

Yes, this princess reads and reads and reads. And when she reads, she says “Ah-ha!” and “Oh no!” and she gasps and laughs and once they saw her crying… The mice. Once they did. So she is a very loud reader. The king wants her to be a quiet reader. He says, “Princesses should be quiet readers. Or they should not read at all.” He says she gets too involved in her stories, like she’s a character, and she gets way too emotional.

So he threatens to take away her books. In fact, he does. He takes away her books. And her plays and her newspapers and magazines and even the fan letters… He takes away her dictionaries and thesaucerouses— Oh, how do you say…?

And he tells her to “Shhhh” all the time and to be quiet and behave. Oh! And he takes away her journals and her diaries too. Oh my. Things are not looking good for the princess. But not for long, because she has her creativity!!! She starts to write stories in the sand and in the dirt and she makes herself laugh out loud. Really loud. Too loud for Kingy. No. The King does not like this one bit. The reading. The writing stories and the laughing. No no no no. It annoys him like fingernails on a chalkboard. It annoys him like a llama in pajamas. Well, a llama in pajamas doesn’t annoy him. But a llama wearing pajamas might be annoyed….

So one day, he yells at the princess. He says “Too Much Reading! Too Much Story-Telling! Too much laughing and crying and overall emotional … things!” And he tells her he wants her to join the war. Join the war and learn about real life. Or. Live in a room without books, paper, pens and pencils. For a year. Her choice. Yes. In the Land of Listentime there were tears that night. Quiet tears. Because the princess did not want her father the King to hear her tears. But there were tears, tears and more tears. Pouring down her face. Soaking her gowns, her robes, her velveteen princess slippers. Her slippers got soggy and she went squishing around the palace gardens all night long.

In the morning, she pleaded with him. She said, “Father, how can I make such a choice? Those are two terrible choices! Don’t you want me to be happy? I’m just a girl, after all.
How can I choose between war or a life without books?”

Her father the king thought about this. He thought and thought and thought. And this gained her a day to imagine and play and write more words in the dirt of the garden, which irked him.

Finally he said, “Fine. I will give you a better one, a better choice.” And she said, “What, Papa?” for she called him Papa. Papa King. “What Papa King? Do tell!”

He said, “I do not want you to be unhappy. So I will give you two better choices. One, that you marry for love and have a family and live in peace and harmony. The other, that you live in the tallest room of the tallest tower with all your books and story things. Forever.” “But how could I live in peace and harmony if I can’t have my books?! My journals! My pens and pencils?!” the princess said, “That would be impossible!” “Then take the room in the tower, if that’s what you prefer,” he said, “You can read about love and romance for the rest of your life.” And he winked. Because he was sure that she would pick the life of love and family. She was emotional but she was also sensible.

“Yes. Yes, I can,” the princess said. “I can read about it. I can imagine it. I can dream about it. Yes, I can,” she said.

So she took off her velveteen slippers. First she squeezed the left one and then she squeezed the right one and then she squeezed them both at the same time and she squeezed every last quiet tear out of them. They were damp, but no longer squishy. And she slipped them back onto her feet and she kissed her father on the nose and she tip toed up the very tall and narrow cold stone staircase, winding up and up and up to the top room in the tallest tower. There she found an endless library of contentment: Pens that never ran out of ink. Fresh cut paper appeared on her table every morning. It was warm when she held it to her cheek. And what Papa King never knew, was this tall room had a view. It allowed her to see the castle grounds and beyond, beyond the borders of the Land of Listentime, beyond all the things she thought she knew, and all the way into… your bedroom. She could see your bed and your pillow and … even your secrets. And this was very comforting to her. And she was happy. And you were happy. And everyone was happy. Even the king. And the mice. And she laid her velveteen slippers on the windowsill to dry and they were warm and happy. Yes. The princess was very, very happy. She was very, very, very, very, very happy.

(A version of this tale is told by ten year old Betty to her mother, Ma, in my play “Ma and Betty Save the Day”.)

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Pebbles, Shells, Skippers. Wed, 21 Aug 2013 16:00:51 +0000  

Pebbles, Shells, Skippers.

You’ve never seen a beach so covered with pebbles. Each one of them is perfect, smooth, soft and hard to touch. You don’t see sand, though you know it must be there underneath. They come in a variety of tones, grays and beiges of course, but also pinks, blues, turquoises, whites, various shades of egg… Many are even shaped like eggs. You could fill an egg carton with these and present them as a gift… This must be the kind of beach that those home decorating stores send their employees to with the assignment being to collect rocks: Collect as many as you can, fill the back of the pick-up with them. Then they go back and place them in cute little baskets and cover them with some sort of plastic and tie them up in a ribbon. People pay big bucks for these kinds of pebbles. Or little bucks, depending on the store and if they have a coupon this month.

You and your hubby marvel at them. You walk up and down the beach picking them up, showing them to each other, sometimes pocketing them. Is that against the law? Well, goodness knows it doesn’t stop those home stores from doing it, so you figure taking four or eight won’t matter much… You imagine yourself and your husband in the county jail. We didn’t know! They are for our children! It’s the first time they’ve both been at sleep away camp at the same time in fifteen years! They aren’t even at the same camp! They are at different camps for differently timed sessions, so there are five nights- You do that venn diagram thing with your hands, where you face the finger tips to each other and have them meet and slip them into each other to indicate one hand is this one at camp and the other hand is the other one at camp and where the first digits of both hands fingers meet is the five days that you and your husband will be away from them both for the first time in fifteen years.

We are collecting them because… we think they are… beautiful. And our children are beautiful… and we think they might appreciate the beauty of them. Someone said
that we shouldn’t miss them too much- and we don’t – really! We just miss them the right amount, the amount that when you are away from one or two that you love, you feel a little heart-achy but okay because you know they are happy wherever they are. It’s a nice kind of missing, and it beats the alternative. You would rather miss than not miss.



So the next beach is nothing but seashells. Really. Not pebbles or rocks. Just seashells. This time you can see the sand. But when you look down you can see twenty plus perfect seashells that you are tempted to reach down and pick up. There are so many seashells that when you walk on this beach you hear them crunch beneath your steps. It’s good you are wearing your biking sneaks, as this is not a beach on which to go bare feet.
You are feeling rebellious and say fuck the nay-sayers and the don’t miss them-players. You and your husband are going to collect the hell out of these seashells. They are perfect! You know, the classic scallop shape, and of course in a variety of sizes and colors. Some are tiger striped. Some are black and white. Some are solid white. There are also a few – I dunno- mini conches? And some clam shells, some with the clams still in them. You throw those back.

There are also lots of evil seagulls pulling crabs out from under the rocks in the shallow waters near the shore. They pull them out and peck at them and the poor crabs protest and they keep pecking until there is nothing left to peck. Later, when you tell your older child about this she says, why didn’t you stop them? You just stood there and watched! You feel guilty now, a corroborator to a crime. Why didn’t you stop them? You must now tell your child that this happened repeatedly. Over and over again, those three days at various beaches and harbors, you witnessed the seagulls torturing crabs to their feathered bellies content.

Your hubby says, Well, we eat them. We love crab. And in fact, tonight you will have two crab cakes. Which is worse, he asks, being eaten alive or being thrown in boiling water? This is something you would rather not think about, so even though you swore you would not collect a single more seashell, you decide to collect more.


The last beach, the one you walk along before heading to the ferry, is full of skippers. Skippers are what you and your hubby and kids call skipping stones. They come in various shapes, sizes and colors, and they are flat on both sides. You marvel at the different beaches. How, within a few mile radiuses, can there be so many different kinds of beaches? One beach is pebbles, one beach is shells, one beach is skippers. On that first beach, you could not find a skipper to save your life.

Your husband does his best Jerry Seinfeld, Yeah, what’s that all about? You are sure that Jerry or a number of first and third-rate comedians would have much to say on the subject, and you are sure that a number of scientists would have even more… Well, this beach is facing the bay, and this one is facing the Long Island Sound and the ocean’s current is such that… etcetera, etcetera, etcetera… Your husband points out that whenever you do scientists you give them British accents.

The truth is,  you aren’t interested in the truth. Sometimes you are more interested in the magic, the strange and mysterious phenomenon of nature and mischievous fairies. You imagine those fairies making a decision that one bright and full-mooned night, they will collect all the seashells from two beaches and bring them over to the third, they will collect all the skippers from the next two and deliver them to the first, and so on.

By now you each have a handful of skippers. Your husband is a master-skipper, but he is also a gentlemen, so he let’s you skip the first. You take turns. Your first few are sinkers and he kindly blames the stones. You wonder aloud if it is because your heart is heavy. The days of checking out and turning off all contact with the world are gone. You have others that you care about, and there are things going on that involve people that you care about from Cairo to Connecticut. You look forward to going home and finding letters in colored ink from both of your children. You are grateful to have all these people in your life that you care about and miss and you wish them all well. …Oh, yes! The wishes! That’s what was missing. With each turn at skipping you must make a wish. You had forgotten that part.

You watch your dear husband and admire his technique. This reminds you that you want to keep the wrist straight, swing from the elbow, focus on a spot far out that you want to reach. One two three four five skips!!! This is a record! He congratulates you with a kiss and you check your phone and realize it’s time to get in line for the ferry.


Happy end of summer to you all!  I hope you are enjoying the being and the missing and the wishing.

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Shakespeare Short Fri, 16 Aug 2013 11:30:06 +0000 Shakespeare Short

Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival asked a few playwrights to write short plays with a Shakespeare theme for their Iambic Parameters festival. I’m a huge fan of theirs and was happy to take on the challenge. My short play is called “Poor Laura”. It’s based on the great scene in Hamlet when he and his best friend come upon a couple of gravediggers who are manhandling a scull while making room for a new dead body. The scull, Hamlet learns, belonged to Yorick, a man that he was quite fond of. I moved the whole scene into a sandbox and gave all the characters kid counterparts (to be played by adults). It might help if you are familiar with the “Poor Yorick” scene, but even if you aren’t, it’s always good comedy and drama to watch kids on the playground.


The Characters:
DANIEL- 4th grader
CARR- 4th grader
BILLY- 2nd grader
ISABELLE- Billy’s babysitter

DANIEL and CARR, both fourth graders, are sitting in the sandbox at the neighborhood playground. They’ve got shovels and buckets and string and things. It’s late summer.

DANIEL: Dig Dig Dig Dig Dig Dig Dig!
CARR: I’m digging Danny, but I can only dig so fast!
DANIEL: Deeper, faster –you are a digging disaster!
CARR: What are you, my Master?
DANIEL: Come on, Carr! They’re gonna be here soon! We’ve gotta be ready!
CARR: I was ready before you were born!
DANIEL: Were not!
CARR: Was!
CARR: Rot!
DANIEL: I was born first!
CARR: Yes, and I was ready!
DANIEL: Before I was born? You were still… in that place!
CARR: Haaaaaa! Arghhhh! Gross!!!!! Disgusting!!!!!!!
DANIEL: That place!!!!!!!!!!!!!
CARR: That dark and mysterious place!!!!!!!
DANIEL: Dig!!!!!!!! I’m still older. I was older when you were born and I am older now.
CARR: Yes, but I was cooked. I was ready. My mom said.
DANIEL: Who here’s birthday is in January? Is your birthday in January? I don’t think so. No, your birthday is not in January. Your birthday is in March. January, February, March. March is two months past January. Oh, right MY birthday is in January. So I am older than you.
CARR: And when you are one hundred, I’ll be ninety-nine!!!!! Hahahahah! When you are dead, I will still be here!
DANIEL: You will still be here digging.
CARR: Oh. Good. Got it.
DANIEL: Hit it?
CARR: Pretty sure, pretty sure.
DANIEL: Is it hard and plastic?
CARR: Seems to be.
DANIEL: Moving parts?
CARR: Indeed.
DANIEL: Well, come on then! Let me see!
CARR: Chill yourself. Don’t take a pee. Here.
DANIEL: It’s gnarly! It’s got gum stuck to it. It’s all sandy and dirty like it’s been under there for a hundred years. Cool!
CARR: It’s a zombie now!!!
DANIEL: A flying zombie! Catch it!
CARR: It’s back from the dead and will follow us home and.
DANIEL: Just put it over there. Tie it up so it doesn’t go anywhere. We have work to do.
CARR: I’m choking it!
DANIEL: S’already dead, dummie! Out with the old, in with the new! Out with the old, in with the new!
Enter BILLY, who is a second grader, and Billy’s babysitter ISABELLE, a teenager. Billy is holding a stuffed animal.
BILLY: Look at them.
ISABELLE: They are playing in the sand box.
BILLY: Look at what they are doing.
ISABELLE: I see they are playing in the sand box. Do you want to play in the sand box?
BILLY: They are playing with that action figure. They are hanging it by the neck.
ISABELLE: They’re just playing. It’s not alive, you know. It’s a toy.
BILLY: I need to get closer. I need to see. Wait.
He runs over for a closer look. The big boys are singing.
CARR: It’s a lovely day in Bikini Bottom! A lovely day in Bikini Bottom!
DANIEL: A dreary day in your mother’s bottom!!!
CARR: Look, Daniel, he’s swinging!
DANIEL: A lovely day in Bikini Bottom!
CARR: Swinging to the music!
DANIEL: A dreary day when your mother’s rotten!!
Billy runs back to Isabelle.
BILLY: They are animals! Do you see that? They are animals in that sand box!!!
ISABELLE: Well, humans are a kind of animal.
Carr and Daniel start growling and meowing at each other.
BILLY: Cats in a litter box! They are worse than cats in a litter box! At least cats have a purpose! Cats go there to be good and do the right thing. Those second graders are there to be bad and do the wrong thing!
ISABELLE: You know those kids?
BILLY: I know that action figure. I know that first addition, one of a kind, rare and unusual, collectible action figure. I know that… Look at them! They play with it like it’s nobody’s trash! Like it’s a common fly on a horse’s ass!
BILLY: My mother said I could use that word. In context. You are my babysitter, and that is that.
ISABELLE: Well, anyway, it’s just an old lost toy that nobody plays with anymore. The sand box is probably filled with those things.
BILLY: It’s a treasure.
ISABELLE: Why don’t you just go say hello? Maybe you could play with them.
BILLY: I will say something.
Billy approaches Daniel and Carr.
BILLY: Ahoy there, pirates!!
DANIEL and CARR: Arrrrrrrrrrgh!!!
BILLY: I see you are digging.
DANIEL: I see you are not blind.
CARR: What we are doing is what we are doing, but whether it’s digging is a question of mind.
BILLY: It looks like you are digging.
CARR: The digging is done, now we’re on to more fun.
DANIEL: You can watch but you can’t touch, like our friend here.
BILLY: Your friend is tied up.
CARR: Doesn’t help, won’t help. Zombie.
BILLY: Can I see?
DANIEL: Just another Zombie.
Daniel throws the action figure to Billy. Billy takes it to show Isabelle.
BILLY: Now see? This isn’t any old junk, it’s a rare vintage model, I think.
ISABELLE: Just an old toy, Billy, just an old toy.
BILLY: Ahoy!!! This rare, first edition, one of a kind action figure, do you know whose it is?
CARR: Of course! Check the bottom of its feet.
DANIEL: Marked there, plain and sweet.
CARR: Here, on the bottoms, in nail polish, initials!
BILLY: So I see!!! L.V.
DANIEL: It belonged to Laura Valentine.
CARR: Now it belongs to the worms.
BILLY: Laura Valentine?
DANIEL: Her family moved to Arizona.
CARR: They said they were going for the summer, but they didn’t come back.
BILLY: Oh, poor Laura!! I knew her, Isabelle! A girlie of lots of silly, of most awesome awesome-ness. She gave me rides on her bike up and down the street a thousand times. Ring ring the bell! I can hear it now and it hurts my ears! She’d call me out. I’d sit behind her, with my arms round her waist, her first edition, one of a kind, action figure clipped to the back. How she loved that action figure! Carried it with her wherever she went! One time she put it on her head and rode up and down that way. It did not fall off! But now she’s gone and it’s gone and she’s in Arizona and her little friend is here.
ISABELLE: Well, it happens. Let’s go over to the swings. I’ll push you.
BILLY: Will this happen with my Binky? Dropped and never returned? Lost and not found? Left to rot on the ground?
ISABELLE: Someday you might grow tired of your Binky. Someday you might not need Binky anymore.
BILLY: Never!! Never!!! Never!!!!
Billy clenches his fists and begins to shake.
CARR: Hey, what’s he doing?
DANIEL: He’s freaking out!
BILLY: Never!!! Ever!!! Ever!!!
ISABELLE: He’s upset.
CARR: He’s not shaking is he? Looks like he’s shaking.
DANIEL: Looks like he’s quaking! Quivering and baking!
ISABELLE: He gets upset. Now leave him alone.
BILLY: Never! Ever! Never! Ever!!!
ISABELLE: Come on, Billy, let’s go home.
CARR: Wait. Is that-? Billy, did you say?
DANIEL: Billy, we’ve heard about you, Billy? You’re Billy Shakes!!!
BILLY: Is that what they call me?
DANIEL: Ya, you’re like famous! And I can see why.
BILLY: Billy Shaker is my name. You’ve heard of me? I’m famous?
CARR: We’ve heard of your wacky ways.
BILLY: So what are you doing all that for? All that digging. Waking the dead?
DANIEL: Getting rid of the old, making room for the new.
BILLY: You’re burying someone else there?
CARR: Sponge Bob Square Pants, with actual cotton underpants.
BILLY: That’s a find!!
DANIEL: It is a find, and I found it. Right in Jessie Miller’s backpack. Was going to return it, but…
CARR: He’s moving.
BILLY: Jessie Miller is moving?

During the following, Billy becomes more and more unraveled.
CARRIE: Yes, his dad’s in the army or something.
DANIEL: In Arizona!!! Ha ha ha!
BILLY: Does every one have to move?!! Does everyone have to lose their favorite toy? Is there no stopping the growing? The leaving and the going? Of every girl and boy?

Jessie Miller loved that toy! And I loved Jessie Miller!!! Jessie Miller played the drums! Jessie Miller could run! Did you know Jessie Miller?
CARR: Jessie Miller was alright.
BILLY: I was going to marry Jessie Miller! We got engaged at Happy Days Pre-School!

Aren’t any of you upset? Aren’t any of you Angry??? Will you cry? Will you fight? Will you refuse to eat your dinners? Will you give yourself a boo-boo? Will you drink poison? Eat a crocodile? I WILL!!!!

Is this going to happen to the President of the United States? Are his children going to move out of the White House and lose their favorite toys?
ISABELLE: Come on Billy. You’re getting all worked up now. I don’t want you to hurt yourself and I don’t want you to hurt Binky. Your mom will be back from work soon. Let’s go home.
ISABELLE takes Billy by the hand and they leave the playground.
DANIEL: Billy Shakes!!! Billy Shakes!!!!
CARR: Billy Quakes and Breaks and Shakes!!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!
DANIEL: Pile on the sand now.
CARR: Here comes the moving truck. There goes Jessie Miller.
DANIEL: There. Good and buried.

Jeannie Zusy

You are welcome to perform this play, but please do give me credit- and then tell me how it goes!


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Loose Leash and Commitment Mon, 22 Jul 2013 13:56:43 +0000 Two short love stories for a summer day:

Loose Leash

That’s him, the big burley politician sharing his views on the late night news show. She hasn’t seen him in years and never in this context. His smile still has that sweet edge, his intelligent humor and passionate convictions, like his presence, have grown larger.

Twenty-five years, she supposes… It was that first year in Manhattan that he and his wife had taken her under their wings. She was new to the city, juggling grad school with babysitting, waitressing, and in this case, dog-walking. She met them on the corner of Seventy-fifth and Broadway where, while they were waiting for the light to change, she observed that Tessa, their bulldog, had stepped off the curb and into the street. They were neighbors, as in they lived on the same block on the Upper West Side. And this man and his wife were two people in the big crazy apple that were sane.

The wife went out of town on business sometimes, and had encouraged her to dine with him. He gets lonely, she said Keep him company, out of trouble… So it became almost regular that he and his pal would take her and her roommate to dinner. They’d have Caesar salads and steaks with baked potatoes and sour cream and red wine and would sit at the neighborhood spot by the fireplace and it was very cozy and safe and there was no sex between any of them ever and who knows what they talked about, but it surely wasn’t politics. Sometimes her roomie wasn’t available, so both of the guys would take her out, and sometimes it was just the two of them.

So why then did it come as a surprise when one evening while his wife was out of town, she answered the phone to the sound of his panicked voice? He was calling from a pay phone and he needed to see her, he needed to see her now. Was she alone? Yes, she said, Are you okay? I’m running over, he said.

When she opened the door, he was panting.
Are you okay? she asked him. What happened?
I need to tell you something, he said. You’re alone?
Yes, she said.
He was sweating. Come here, he said to her, and he bypassed her into the living area (it was a studio apartment) and lay down on the carpet. Come here, he said, and he patted the floor next to him.
And she did. She went to him and she sat on the floor right next to him. And there was no part of her that was afraid. She was concerned.
I need to tell you something.
Okay, okay, she said, what is it?
He was still breathing heavily, his face flushed. I’m in love with a girl who is not my wife, he blurted out. I’m in love with a girl that’s not…Sarah.
She didn’t know what to say, so she said nothing.
I see her sometimes, he said, in my building…
Oh, she said. She could see he was in a fix. She could feel his torment and it pained her.
I see her, and when I’m not with her I see her, too. Do you know what I mean?
No. Really, Do you know what I mean?

He and his wife were older than she. Looking back, they were probably thirty to her early twenties. They were older.

I see her when I go to bed at night. I see her when I go to bed with my… with…
He lay on his back now and put his hand to his heart. I love her. I am in love with her.

She thought about his wife who was her role model, her employer and her friend. She thought about how they had been like parents to her since she moved here, like a big sister and brother.

Do you think if she came to my apartment or if I went to hers, when Sarah was out of town, if she just…took off her clothes and let me… watch…
I don’t think you should be talking to me about this, you shouldn’t be flirting like that with a girl in your building, doesn’t she know you’re married?
I’m in love with her! I’m not flirting! I won’t even touch her! That wouldn’t be cheating, would it? If we both just…
She sat up then. She stood up.
I can’t get her out of my mind! He was distraught.
I think you should go, she said. I’m really sorry, but I think you should go.
You don’t even get it, do you? he said. He was still there on the floor, lying on his back.
She walked to the door and when she got there she waited for him. He met her there, and she said Sarah is my friend. You love her. You do.
The girl is you, he said to her. Then, shaking his head he said You don’t even know that it’s you…

Looking back on the scene now, she remembers the discomfort and the strangeness after he said this. And she opened the door and he walked out and he looked back at her as she closed it.

Months later, while returning the dog leash to its peg, she squeezed by her friend and neighbor, his now pregnant wife, talking on the phone. I know he does it, she heard her say to the someone on the other end, and seemingly unconcerned with being overheard, Yes, he strays, I know that. But he always comes back to me. He always comes back.

Nothing really changed after that. Or at least, she doesn’t remember things changing… They didn’t do dinners anymore, she now supposes. Once, when she was dining with her new boyfriend, she ran out of the restaurant to say hello to him. She asked him to come in to meet her new love, but he said no. She kept walking Tessa for them, right up until they were all packed up to move across town.

And this is why she so wistfully watches him now, as he talks about gun control and the failures of the Obama administration, on late night TV.




The first one’s says “Always in my heart”, and second one’s is going to say “However far apart”. Or it could be read the other way around and that’s the beauty of it. They had Googled Best Friends Forever Tattoos Feet. One picture jumped out at them both. They have that picture now on both of their phones and this is their visual for Big Bobby: two feet, two different people’s feet, the bottoms of them meeting so that the ball of one foot curves into the instep of the other. The words, in cursive, curve along the bottom rim of one’s left, continue along the bottom rim of the other, so one can read the phrase in an endless loop. The bare feet meeting this way look like two naked bodies, facing each other.

So the one who is getting “Always in my heart” is the one getting married and moving to outside of New Orleans. And the one with “…However far apart…” is staying here, where they grew up. She won’t move to Louisiana- can’t take the heat.

“Who knows where life will take you,” Big Bobby says as he starts on the H of However, “you might both end up in Omaha…” “Ha! Omaha!” The first one says, “Omaha, Nebraska!” And the BFFs find this very funny. “Easy,” he says, “easy…” The second one says “Colorado”. And the first one agrees, “Now Colorado, I can see…” He adds, “Not too hot, not too cold, just right.” And the second one, the one who is now getting the H for However, is tearing up now.

The second one, the one who’s not getting married, asks for her water. She’s starting to sweat. It’s not coming as easily for her as it did for the first. “S’mores with our kids,” she says to her friend, “Auntie and Auntie”. “Like cousins,” says the other.

Cynicism is not part of his job description, and he’s also been doing this for twenty-two years, and he knows what he sees and he sees what he knows. He wonders for how long will the married one’s husband take before he asks her to remove it? Before he asks her to remove herself? Before he follows her request and removes himself? How many times must he go down to see “…Always in my heart…” before he realizes, before he’s threatened; how many times will she pull on a heel, paint her nails, before she sees? The obvious?

It’s a big joke he’s called Big Bobby, because anyone can see he’s not that big. “Just the parts that count, just the parts that count” he always says… “I give you girls twenty years,” he says out loud. “Colorado. I can see it.” He does. “Check back with me then,” he says.


If you are inspired, please leave a comment on my website. I would love to hear from you. Thanks, Jeannie

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Five Fourths of July Wed, 03 Jul 2013 15:53:18 +0000 Happy Fourth of July to all. Here are five of mine:

1. The farm.

Each car arriving over the hill would receive some announcement. Somebody could identify the car and if not, there were predictions, and Mom would run out to greet it. I was sitting there at that window that faced the hill, the only phone here at our weekend farmhouse, pressed up against my ear, mouthpiece tightly covered. I was listening to the party line, and somebody on some farm on the other side of the hill was having a party too, and was worried about not having enough corn or heavenly hash and who would run the barbeque now that Eleanor’s husband wasn’t coming.

I’d watch the cars come down the long dusty and rocky drive to park on the grass, and then the families would emerge and unpack the goodies: the mayonnaise-dressed salads and the jello deserts, the coolers filled with grape and orange sodas, beer, jugs of Gallo wine. Kids would roll out of the backseats, kids we only saw once or twice a year on these family gatherings, bigger kids whose names I never got straight, kids who belonged to the couples my parents had started friendships with so long ago in Cairo and Istanbul and Rome, and maybe Japan – yes, likely Japan, with Uncle Bill, who wasn’t really an uncle but we called him that.

The older kids would venture down to the meadow and the pond and some of us would run to the barn to swing from the rope and land on potentially snake infested hay bundles. The smell of the hay in the barn on those hot days and the smell of the sheep and the sound of the sheep wafting up through the boards were thick with summer. Potato sack races with genuine Idaho potato sacks sent by Mom’s sister Aunt Ruthie, who was still out west, never left it, followed by three-legged races and prizes, always prizes.

Then, the ceremony. Dad and various combinations of us, though right now I’m seeing Jonny, Mark and Davie, who were all boy scouts, raising the flag on the tall white pole, to wave above us and over the whole of Fairfield, Pennsylvania. Then dad would walk up to the porch of the old house and the group would naturally follow him there and he would turn around to face us, and from his back pocket pull out a rolled up version of the Gettysburg Address. He would unroll it with great fanfare. Silence. My father would begin to read: Four score and seven years ago… He and Uncle Bill had fought in the war, as had most of their peers. They had seen it, they believed in what it stood for.

It was solemn when he was done and Dad held it for a while. Then he announced with his signature twinkle: Dessert. There was a rush for the dessert table but there was always enough. And then watermelon and dark and sparklers and the packing of cars and the goodbyes and the dust and the loud of crickets and the quiet on the porch as I sat on his lap, rocking there.

2. Wheaton Plaza.

After the five oldest kids grew up and moved out, the holiday was a quieter thing. Davie and I were the only ones still home, or maybe I was visiting from college, but he was still living there. We put blankets and a cooler in the back of his pickup, Heidi, his black Lab, in the bucket seat behind us, and we headed for Wheaton.

Of course Davie was patriotic all year round, not just on this day, he repeatedly told me, and the bald eagle American flag that covered his rear window, was sure proof. In the parking lot, he poured Heidi a bowl of water and threw in some ice cubes from the cooler. That cooler was a cooler of Cokes, and I remember saying, Davie, how many Cokes can two people drink? We (he) did some damage. Lays potato chips and Chips Ahoy chocolate cookies were also in the picture.

Some lady that worked with him, moving boxes and shelving merchandise at the home supply store, stopped to say hello. She was super friendly and wore the American flag on her shirt and on her arm. As usual, he introduced me as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, which was a dangerous thing to say here in Redskin country. Though Davie is a big guy with a Fu Manchu mustache, so who was going to mess with him? After she moved on, I explained to him again that I was not a Cowboys cheerleader, never was, I just tried out for them once and didn’t even get a call back. In my Flashdance-inspired cut up TAB t-shirt, though, I did look the part.

I climbed into the back of the pickup and spread the blankets out. Davie lifted Heidi up, then climbed in and closed the tailgate. The fireworks from so close were loud and shook the truck and poor Heidi was shivering and shaking. There were hoots and hollers; others were not just drinking Coke. Poor Heidi. I’m remembering now that she had this name bestowed on her for just this reason: loud noises scared her and she would hide. But still, she’d rather be here at Davie’s side, than at home listening to the thunder without him. Davie covered her with a blanket, even covered her head, and she lay there shaking between the two of us, in the back of his pickup. We both petted her and said It’s okay, Heidi, it’s okay, as we looked up to admire the show.

3. Block Island.

The girls were small then. Their arms were soft, plump. It was one of the very few times I can remember that they wore matching sundresses. Maybe it was the only time. I remember saying to John, We look like those people that dress their kids alike. But in this case, they happened to have the same dresses, an Indian block print floral pattern, one in coral, one in green, and they happened to have both chosen them, and they happened to have not cared that they matched, and I wished I had my own dress in that pattern in blue. The dresses had the added addition of little matching shorts to wear underneath, so headstands and cartwheels, which were sure to happen, would reveal more of that pretty pattern, and warm, tan legs.

These were the days before summer camp commitments, and we were open, open to the summer, and in this case, we were open to Block Island, and green hills topped by grand old white Victorian Inns. On this hill stood Spring House, which provided a view of Old Harbor, where the boats seemed to move in and out in slow motion.

There was a miniature house on the lawn there. It was smaller than a playhouse, larger than a doll’s, just right for climbing into and popping heads out of windows and pictures of the two of them crawling and peeking about.

We found four Adirondack chairs, two adult-sized, two child. They were painted red, rather than the traditional stained wood, and we lined them up, right there towards the top of the hill. John and I sat down to take in the view. The view also included a large sand pit at the bottom of the hill where lots of kids were kicking balls around, blowing bubbles. Our smaller one was too small for such adventures on her own, so I joined them both to the great pit, while John saved our prime viewing seats.

We returned to large Shirley Temples with extra cherries, frozen margaritas, fried mozzarella and shrimp cocktail as big as lobster tails. The sounds of the band off somewhere by the harbor, floated up to fill the sky with Gershwin and jazz standards to which John knows all the words. The girls and I put on our light sweaters, the smaller chairs went to another family, and one girl curled up in each of our laps to watch fireworks, a spectacular show.

4. Ridgewood.

Annie was wearing red of course, a tight red dress and sandals to reveal her red toe nails. The Mini convertible was silver, and sitting on top of the rear headrest for all the world to see, was Annie. Her older daughter, Eliza, was on her right, our littler girl in Lizey’s lap, and our bigger girl was on Annie’s left. They were all waving and smiling, and Annie was in her element, euphoric. She was laughing her big giant laugh and shining in every sense under the brightest blue sky. The banner on both sides of the car said Councilperson, Annie Zusy. She had recently been elected. Red stars surrounded her name.

Our girls were six and ten then, just the right ages to parade around in a grand parade with the fabulous Aunt Annie. Al and I walked the sidewalks, crossed barricades, weaving through town, crossed corners, cut through open spaces, all the way down the parade line, trying to get ahead of them and find our way to the VIP Grandstand with our reserved seats and unnecessary cover.

At one point we caught up with Katie, who was playing in her high school band: marching band hat, brass buttons, saxophone. We dodged through the marchers to catch up with her eyes and her smile. There was some talk between Al and I about tough times, rough times and heartache, in ways that simmered quietly and were not prominently on display.

At the Grandstand, many Hellos to neighbors and friends, some of whom I knew. Probably ice cream or popcorn, though I don’t remember really. And then, Here they come! My girls lit up to see faces that they finally knew. People were calling out to Annie: Congratulations! Go Annie! And she was calling back to every one in town. With tired enthusiasm, the girls and Eliza were still throwing out strings of red, white and silver beads.

That night, lounging on so many blankets on the Ridgewood High School field, were just Annie and Al and my girls and I. One of Annie and Al’s girls was off with her boyfriend someplace, the other with some boy who turned out to be not so great. (Alex was in Cairo already, John, working.) We said Oooohs and Ahhhhs and, when I looked at Annie, looking up at those Technicolor pyrotechnics, I could see her quiet pride and enthusiasm for all that lay ahead.

5. Home.

Last year a few close friends and neighbors came to a gathering at our house. A trip with our little one to the party store, meant one of everything adorned with the American flag, and that was a lot of things. Fresh cut daisies filled the small vases and giant sunflowers in the large ones. We hung the large American flag from the deck, for all of the deer and raccoons of New York State to see. The flag was from the United States government, honoring my father. It was large enough to cover a casket, though was never used for that purpose.

We had a potluck of extreme deliciousness and a line up of decadence for dessert. I learned too late that one should never have desserts on the table when you haven’t yet served the main course; I also learned that in this case, especially in this case, you should not to let the children go first. There were puff pastries and fresh pies that were dripping and a huge cake decorated with the American flag. We had seltzer and coke and fresh made iced tea and good wines brought by friends that are much smarter about these things than I am.

My mom had died three months earlier, and we just passed the two-year anniversary of Dad and Annie’s deaths.

Our now ten year old and her friends ran around the yard catching fireflies and jumped the trampoline; our now teenager and her friends hung out in our recently inherited Eastlake furniture. John played America the Beautiful on the trumpet- he’d been taking lessons via Skype with a guy in Florida. And I followed my heart and, much to my friends’ surprise, read the Gettysburg Address.

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Ballsy Apology Thu, 13 Jun 2013 16:32:32 +0000 Dear Ralphie Jeffers,

I am sorry Ralphie. I am sorry that I kicked you in the balls in seventh grade. You seemed like a nice guy in a rough and tumble way.

Previous to this, you sometimes bumped into my desk on your way out of the classroom as Mr. Lowenbach chased you out and to the principal’s office. Once you reached under my chair in music class to pick up a penny. Much delighted, you held it up in the air singing “I found a penny, I found a penny!” Despite the singsong quality of your voice, the music teacher Mr. Walsh was not pleased, and in a to-the-brim, syncopated fashion, he said “Then put it in your pocket.” Come to think of it, your “I found a penny” to Mr. Walsh’s “Put it in your pocket” might have made a cool mix and you were the kind of guy that might have pulled that off.

I don’t know why you suddenly took notice of me that seventh grade spring. Maybe it was my new American Indian look, inspired by the pages of Seventeen: two long braids, a gauze shirt, leather bracelets. Maybe it was a subtle upturn in my confidence as my new dance teacher Roberta Fera had recently told me that I not only had a dancer’s body, but real talent.

Whatever it was, it inspired you to chase me that day, from the cafeteria all the way to Social Studies. You chased me so fast that I had to dart behind desks to skirt being caught. It was a pursuit and I was the pursued, and I was the girl that Ralphie Jeffers was misbehaving for today. I moved back and forth between the desks, and even around Mr. Lowenbach’s. I felt my heart pounding and my baby-powdered underarms grow sticky. And suddenly, there I was, backed up against the shelves that lined up against the windows, and you, you little devilish rascal, were coming right towards me. To do what? I have often wondered. But I will never know… because that was the moment that I lifted my left knee to my chest. And then was the moment that I shoved my left heel into your balls.

I don’t know why I did it.

Your face turned red and so did mine. Then a chorus filled the classroom that would have made Mr. Walsh proud. “Jeannie kicked Ralphie in the balls! Jeannie kicked Ralphie in the balls!” I think you started to cry. And then you left the room. I did not look at you when you returned. In fact, throughout the rest of junior high and then through all of high school, I never looked directly at you again.

That night while getting ready for bed, I casually asked my teenage sisters “What happens if you kick someone in the balls?” “How do you know that word?” Cathie asked. “It really hurts them,” Suzy added. From between the slats in his bedroom door, I could hear Davie shout out “Why do you think they have cups?!” I did not know what he was talking about. The only cups I knew about were the ones we drank from and the ones that poked out of my mother and sister’s bras when they were hanging to dry. Cathie added, “It’s only to be done in self defense.”

And this is why, dear Ralphie Jeffers, I told this story to my daughters. As an example of a method of self-defense. As a lesson in what not to do to a boy that you have a crush on in seventh grade. Oh, dear Ralphie Jeffers, I guess I missed my chance with you. I hope this episode is no more than a mere blip in your childhood memory bank, and that perhaps my finally apologizing for my misdirected overwhelming passion will provide some solace, all these years and so far away from Kensington Junior High.


Jeannie Z

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My Father is Immortal Thu, 30 May 2013 19:30:53 +0000 Three years ago today, my father died. He was 96. I wrote this piece about him when he was 91. I gave it to him and he liked it. Of course I never believed my father would die, so: My Father is Immortal.

I am falling asleep on his lap, in the warmth and safety of his lap, while he reads to me, “Wait till the Moon is Full”… Tonight he sings the songs, usually he simply reads them. I want him to sing them always – but never say so. His voice is deep and rumbly.

I am putting his crew cut in ponytails. I sit on the back of the sofa, a knee on either side of his shoulders, ten, twenty teeny tiny salt and pepper ponytails. I think this is hilarious.

He was in a bad mood this morning so I am baking him a cake in my Easy Bake oven. He comes home and is talking with mom in the kitchen. I am hiding in the family room and then, “Daddy, I baked you a cake.” “Aren’t you a nice girl,” he says, as he lifts me up.

At the farm he has found another rat snake in the cellar. He carries it up the stairs and out of the house, extended in front of him on a pitchfork, takes it out to the side of the tractor shed. By now, all seven of us are gathered round. He throws the snake on the ground, takes an ax and brings it down; he chops the snake into pieces, until it stops wiggling. He gathers the pieces on a big shovel and carries them away.

He’s had a root canal without Novocain. He says he prefers the feel of drilling to the strangeness of numb.

Ghost stories about confederate soldiers on the front porch of the farmhouse. Sometimes at night you can see the light of the dead soldiers, marching over the horizon past the meadow. Over there! Look, do you see it??

My father tells me he will live to be one hundred and twelve and I believe him.

Tonight while Mom is cooking dinner I need to hear about the birds and the bees once again. She’s busy, so here I am at the chalkboard with Dad. He’s drawing me pictures- of a vagina and a penis, of a sperm and an egg. I ask him “Is this what they call “fucking”?” “Some people call it that. I call it making love.” “Why do people do that?” “Well, to make babies. And when grownups are in love, they do it because it feels good.”

I am at the chalkboard again with dad. He’s drawing those pictures again. It’s all so confusing, but I like sitting here with him.

My father is the most handsome man in the world. Ten feet tall, striking, confident. My father wears dark pants and long sleeve button down white shirts with ties. He wears tan pants and sweaters. For bed, he wears a long light blue nightgown. His legs are long and his toes are long. He gets his shoes delivered in the mail. He never goes shopping.

I am looking at this picture of my father as a boy. It’s black and white and he wears a pageboy hair cut, knickers. He looks very old fashioned. He was from a big family, it was the Great Depression, he had his tonsils out on the kitchen table.

He is always reading the newspaper. Gets three delivered to our door. Always reading, always cutting stories out of them with his old black scissors that Aunt Janet gave to him when they were kids. I ask him what is his job and he tells me he is a business consultant, if the Pillsbury Company wants to make orange muffins, he would read all these papers to find out where the best place is to grow oranges.

I am at Mr. Victor’s General Store at Christmastime. I explain to Mr. Victor what my father’s job is. He does not look impressed. I buy my father new scissors.

We are at the Anchor Inn on Sunday night. The whole family. I eat Crab Imperial. At fifteen I am allowed a small glass of white wine from the carafe. I feel very elegant.

I ask him to explain to me what is going on in the Middle East. He says to read the New York Times everyday. It’s hard for me to follow the names, the details. He says remember that behind each story are people, faces. I say it’s hard for me to follow. He says I don’t read enough.

We are at Kenmont. I am in the pool, I am small, he is sitting on the side of the pool. He flexes his feet and I sit on them, facing out. He swings his legs from the knees. I like this, the resistance of the water against us as he swings me.

I am standing by him at his desk in his home office. One of us is holding my report card. He tells me I need to focus. He says, “I watch you. You move about from one thing to the next. Concentrate on one thing at a time, “ he says.

He tells me I am beautiful and a nice girl and the world is my oyster. He asks me where I want to go to college.

He tells me not to be afraid of death. Death only hurts those that are left behind. And I wonder what it was like for him when his first wife, Maureen died, shortly after Jonny was born. I don’t ask him though. I never will.

He’s wearing his white beekeeper suit.

He sings to me “Darling, je vous aime beaucoup, je ne sais quois what to do.” He calls me Jeanne-Marie with a French accent.

He calls me Teeny Jeannie. He calls me Shrimp.

He is pitching the ball for me in the back yard. I need to practice for gym class. I must be twelve or so, which means he’s in his early sixties.

I am in high school now. Dad and I are at church together. Mom and Davie have opted out. Everyone else has moved out. Our drives to and from church are very quiet. I don’t know what to say to him. He told me it was up to me if we went to church. I don’t like church so much but I like having these Sunday dates with him.

Tell me again, Dad, about your friend that was eaten by a crocodile, the photographer, who fell off his boat into the Nile. “It’s not how someone dies, but how they lived that matters, “ he tells me again. And he tells me about his friend that was eaten by the crocodile.

Dad must be doing his army-navy exercises again, hear the headboard pounding up against the bathroom wall?

This black and white photograph of my father when he was the navy captain on a huge ship in World War II. Looks like a Hollywood still. He looks like Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird”. He is so often mistaken for him.

In the kitchen, Mom and Dad hand me a certificate. The CIA has given my father some award for his years of service. This is the first time they have told me about his involvement with the CIA. I feign surprised, Annie told me about this six years earlier.

My first semester at college, I receive my first letter ever just from him. He’s typed it on his old black typewriter- goes back to his reporter days- it says “since you’ve been gone, it seems the sunshine has left the house” and signs it “Dad”.

We are great descendents of the Greek God Zeus. I believe him. Living on Frederick Avenue, my father’s name being Fred, I believe he is the mayor of our street.

My father is 91, almost 92, I say, throwing out his age like a thunderbolt. No ones father is his age.

My father at his easel. My father humbled and proud by a ribbon hanging from his painting. Not bad for a guy who took up painting after he retired at eighty.

He walks the big block. In the winter, he and mom, they walk at the mall. He reads a pile of books a week. Commands attention with the clearing of his throat, settles us when he makes a toast. He wears dapper hats and walks with a cane. When he winks at me I am flattered.

Dad promises me he will live to be a hundred and twelve. My mother says, “Oh, Dear, I hope not”. I believe him.

Ninety-one and this much I know. His skin has gone saggy, it’s spotted with age. It is harder to distinguish the color of his eyes. He has a collection of canes. In pictures I notice that John is now the taller. I’m afraid the weight of our little one on his lap will break him. His naps in his chair are more frequent, unannounced.

Two weeks ago before he went into surgery he assured me that now he’s decided he will live to one hundred and forty. “You’ll be up in years then,” he says. “Yes,” I say, “and we’ll party.” “Till the cows come home,” he says. And I believe him.

He taught me to play cribbage. We haven’t played in a while. Next time we’re home I’ll challenge him. We’ll have sherries on ice.

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