I’m Not Dead Yet and Other Affordable Care Acts


/Beth Wareham

Whenever I get kicked off my insurance, I sigh with relief and think “well, I won’t die this week.” You see, I am so loathe to jack with anything that has to do with healthcare or health insurance, it has become a kind of tiny death. And I ain’t talking Freud’s FABULOUS little death. Give me that one any day.

I have to have cancer surgery about every 2 years. Don’t get excited. It’s small potatoes. It simply maintains clarity of cells and gets rid of cells that look, well, un-prom worthy. The last time I had this surgery was at a fancy midtown New York Hospital.

My surgeon was a beautiful young doctor who entered the room with an equally beautiful nurse. Nothing would hurt: I’d just be uncomfortable. The surgeon would guide the instrument and the nurse would run the electricity that flowed through it.

We began. Nothing was out of the ordinary until the surgeon stood up, leaned forward and began pressing her instrument harder into my flesh. Suddenly, the door swung open and the curtain jerked back.

“What’s that smell?” a doctor yelled.

“It’s her,” both doctor and nurse said in unison, heads jerking toward me.

‘Oh,” he said and retreated.

The surgeon said, “we need more juice.”

I expected her to yell “I’m at maximum power now, Captain! She can’t take much more! She’s breaking up!” but she merely moved the dial higher.

I really didn’t feel any pain, just fascination. The burning smell grew stronger in the tiny room as they finished up in about 30 seconds.

I thanked my tormentors – what great shoes on the surgeon! – and left. The hospital demanded I follow up with them tomorrow. I tried and they moved the appointment 4 months into the future.

It was after this event I decided to become more of a PREVENTER of disease: Having something wrong with you was just too embarrassing. WHAT’S THAT SMELL? now haunts me along with WHO’S THE FAT GIRL?

I began going to a gym. A small fancy one. I pounded that cement floor and those machines four times a week. I rode up and down hills, never going anywhere but on ego trips with the owner. I worked and worked and pinched a nerve in my neck lifting weight far too heavy for me. Acupuncture made it feel better for a couple hours. A chiropractor tried to pull a muscle off my rib cage in attempts at relieving the pressure on the nerve.

I fled. After 4 months of agony, I googled a rehab video for pinched neck nerves and cured myself in 2 days.

Two nights ago, I dangled backwards off the bed and when I came upright, I felt my fourth toe for the first time in 5 years.

What does it mean? I really don’t know. Perhaps we run to the doctor too fast, perhaps not fast enough. But I’m going back to yoga and meditation.

I NEVER have to go the doctor then.

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Falling Through Space: A Writer’s Problem



I was working with a client and she called today asking a strange question. The question actually didn’t matter; the answer did. She was lost in her own book.

The most seasoned of authors have been known to mention a kiss that hasn’t happened yet. This monitoring the flow is very much the editor’s job; in film it’s called continuity.

I find it impossible to not get lost in my own book after a certain size is reached. I can keep track up until about 1/2 the manuscript has been written.

For the first half of a book, I find I can read everything that exists and write each day. As a book – and its plots – gets thicker, I just can’t read it each day AND write. Now I do the “Thumb Through.”

The “Thumb Through” is the film industry’s version of the read-through. It’s down and dirty, quick and fast.

The day’s writing is based on the Thumb-Through and notes on the plot.
Sometimes, I actually do the Hemingway thing and sketch out the next day’s writing the night before.

Both techniques work. I’d love to hear how you do it: You can’t write and not know where you are in space. At least if you do, it makes for one dizzy book.

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Yeah I Did It. So What.



/Beth Wareham

My colleague was a guy named Eric. I was on the phone accusing him of having no balls when my phone went PING! In a second there were the two little guys, nestled in Eric’s Aero chair and now lighting up my iPhone. I had to change my tune and say, “you do have balls, Eric.”

Eric, you see, is one of my authors. He knows what it’s like to hand me a sentence. First, I pick up my mechanical pencil, then I give him the wolf stare. He says, in a squeaky unmanly voice, “I’m going to the boy’s room.” I know he won’t return until the “polishing phase,” editing he dreads even more than this round.

When he returns for the polish, he brings me a gift: a giant black dildo. He says he knows the final edit is going to feel like this, in his rear end. I laugh and let the marketing department have the dildo for a few months just for fun.

“Eric,” I say. “Your book is about wine-making but I’ve learned more about blow jobs reading it.”

“Is that a bad thing?” Eric asks.

“No,” I say. “And I never thought about that last little flick of the tongue.”

“Yeah, she had it going on,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. “We’re going into copyediting.”

“You’re going to leave the blow job part in there?”

“Yes,” I said. “No one in copyediting knows what they are. It’s educational.”

“That’s true. So my book has two markets: wine and sex.”

“Yes, Eric, it does.”

A year later, I left that black dildo erect on a pile of belongings after I was laid off. I will never know if the marketing department snuck back and claimed it, but I’d rather think of my bosses, all on the down-low, taking it out for a ride around Times Square.

It’s doubtful, though. That would have taken courage.

To this day, there’s no word on the whereabouts of that magnificent editorial motivator,the giant black dildo, but someday I will find another one, and it will be wonderful.

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Can You Get Hammered and Detox at the Same Time? Maybe.



/Beth Wareham

I write cookbooks. Lots of them. Most without my name appearing in the text. I like this. It allows me to slip the sausage to hundreds, if not thousands, without them even knowing I was there.

I did put my name on this book: Skinny Green Smoothies. You can click on the name to buy it, if you’d like. I wrote it on a rock off the coast of the Big Island and tested it on a rock off the coast of Northern Canada. That’s how I roll, rock to rock.

It’s getting to be green smoothie time again. These amazing nutrition bombs are summer food to me, so I’m just starting to think of them again. I love these drinks for the glow I get…not to mention the very flat stomach at age 55…..but sometimes, I think they are too healthy.

Thus, I’ve written a kind of on-the-fence green smoothie. I’ve added liquids to help you get hammered while detoxing your liver simultaneously. Is this biologically feasible, you ask?

I have no earthly idea. But you’ll feel much better getting hammered if you know you are also detoxing, right?

1 serving

Milk thistle cleans the liver as do the greens and especially lemon.

1 cup baby spinach
Juice of one lemon
1 long squirt liquid milk thistle with alcohol
1/4 cup mint
1 oz white rum
3 tablespoons sugar cane juice, or to taste
club soda

1. Put the spinach in the blender. Strain the fresh lemon juice atop. Add the long squirt of milk thistle.

2. Add the mint, shot of fun and sugar cane juice and process until smooth.

3. Stir in the club soda until you have the drink texture you like. Pour over ice and serve. Smoothiecover

Click on the title here to buy Skinny Green Smoothies: 75 Delicious Drinks for Weight Loss, Detoxification, Energy, Health Clear Skin and Beauty

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Why Do Smart Dudes Love Alien Autopsies?


/Beth Wareham

I’m a man’s woman. What can I say? I’m the youngest of a family of brothers and farting and picking and running and hiding and blowing up stuff is in my DNA. in fact, I tricked one brother into pooping in the branches of a dogwood for a ride on my minibike. Right when Dad was pulling in the driveway from work. (I’ve always had timing.) For the next two weeks, my brother and I did a lot of yard work when Dad unchained us from the basement wall.

I grew up after hanging out with tons of dudes. They all dug aliens. Some would try to create a parallel world and probe me, but I never fell for it. i know they weren’t from Xenia; more like Elmwood Road. We’d climb in trees and make whirling sounds and crash to the ground and the “military” – usually the older guys – would run in to contain the radiation.

Now I’m grown and 18 years married. That’s right. 18 freakin’ years. I married up. A former critic at the New York Times, my husband took me everywhere. I’ve heard Wagner in Hitler’s opera house, sat at the piano where Puccini wrote Madame Butterfly, watched the migration in East Africa, played in the paint-covered studios of Jules Olitski and David Hockney. He made me a sophisticated woman of the world, a woman who could parachute into Albania, find a great restaurant and order dinner within the hour.

My husband speaks English, German, French, Latin, Hungarian (swears, mostly) and studied piano performance at the Paris Conservatoire for 5 years. He also loves – and completely believes – any and all information about aliens.

How many times have I walked into this very room and caught this highly educated man watching a giant rubber alien being sliced like a portobello. The pyramids were built by these guys! He yells. A few days later, he’s picked up some information from Ancient Aliens that Superheroes may have just been visitors from space. Even his favorite characters on the Simpsons are the aliens and he runs around the house saying “Bring me the man named CLIN-TON.”

My husband believes that Stonehenge and Easter Island came from the same craft, the pyramids of Egypt and Mexico from another, and his shirts are starched lightly by Klingons. He passes pugs and says “What’s going on at HQ, Boss?” and knows that one day, whatever came and left these things, will come back and we will all be one.

I say that even the brightest among us are vulnerable to the strangest mutations of pop culture. Men of the world are drawn in by extraterrestrial hucksterism, always have and always will be. From religion to what color we prefer, human beings are just the most irrational strange contraptions ever created. Your weird is why you choose one book over another, this dress rather than that.

I finally realized it wasn’t all the education and civilization driving us, it was the weird.

Now, everyone go away. My Ghost Radar app has picked up vibrations in the cellar. My be my dead Uncle Willie. I need quiet.

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The Clinton’s Basement


/Beth Wareham

Poor Chelsea. All kids make out in their parent’s basement and she must have looked so unappetizing in the pulsating blue. Or perhaps she looked more beautiful, blue eyes bouncing back the shiny azure of the server light.

I never cease to be amazed at all the stupid shit the rich and famous need and want – air-pressure chambers, fish toxin injections, panic rooms (though I have one in my head), hair wranglers. But I must say, this “server-in-the-basement” thing is a fantastic new wrinkle in the game of the rich and powerful.

What would I put on my basement servers? Well, it wouldn’t be dick picks. Hillary probably got group blasts of those from congress. I’d put my financial information, most personal exchanges with people I loved and medical information. The stuff that matters.

Hillary is just too damn smart to not have good reasons to have servers in her basement. She has been a target of some of the most humiliating take-down attempts in the history of the Presidency. She’s got a right to be a bit more discerning than most. Whatever you think of her personally, she has served her country tirelessly and deserves our respect and thanks.

So, I say to Hillary, RELEASE AND REDACT whatever you need to; You have served us so well.

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copyright by Ruth Sidransky

NOTE: This story was written based on the notes of a sea cruise that happened over 30 years ago. The story is true. The names are not true.

For Ruth Sidransky’s novels, click here: REPARATIONS


He was a small man, in height. He sat down at the dinner table and we, as cruise companions, exchanged nods and names.

“I am Fred,” his accented English almost whispered.

‘Where are you from?”

“Montreal.” Montreal. There were Eastern European tones to his voice. I heard no indication of French as a native language.

“Ah, this is Debbie. This is my daughter.”

She slid in beside him on the rose print banquette, and gave me a full red lipstick smile. Large, strong young teeth, a ballerina’s stance.

I waited for him to ask the introductory questions. He did not. He remained composed and still, his white linen napkin on his lap, a glass of water gently to his lips.

I pressed on, “Where are you from?” I paused. “Originally?”


“I’m Russian, my maiden name is Sidransky. A Russian Jew.”

“I am Kline.”


“Not in this case.” He spoke softly. Perhaps ashamed. I could not be certain.

The discomfort passed around the table. Without pause, stumbling over our words, we spoke of other cruises, other voyages, of other cities, of the Danube River bisecting Vienna, of the St. Lawrence Waterway framing Quebec to the south, until Debbie, hesitated, and brought us back to honest words.

She said, “My mother died a year and a half ago.”

“My mother died last month,” I said.

The chill at the table thawed. There was a warming, a sense of kinship, once removed. And there was comfortable silence as we ate our three course dinner: consommé, sautéed Dover Sole, and fruit for dessert.

We’d all ordered the same dinner. Fred rose from the table, refusing coffee, moved with a laborer’s swing, arms and legs, muscular, powerful for a man who was five foot six inches tall.

Debbie lingered over her milk coffee and said, “Kline is a Polish Catholic name. He adopted it when he arrived in Montreal with my mother.” She wiped her mouth with the linen napkin and that signaled the end of her explanation.

We did not usually gather for breakfast at the table, but this morning, Fred was already seated, sipping his black coffee. My husband was still in the cabin, and Fred and I were alone at this round table for eight people. We nodded a ‘good morning’ hello as I slid into my seat.

He was wearing a red short-sleeved shirt, and as he reached his left arm across for a warm roll the numbers, indelible, blue, sharp held my breath. 161304. He’d been in the camps.

And not a Jew? A Catholic priest perhaps, one of the righteous ones? He caught my eye and clearly said, wordlessly, with his eyes fastened on mine, we will not talk of this. And we did not. There were seven days left to the voyage; I would learn the truth of the blue numbers.

In the evening after a day of touring in Mexico, after our rest and shower, my husband and I leisurely walked into the dining room. Father and daughter were chatting happily, and when they saw us approach the table they waved, hurrying us on to our dinner.

Over wine and a sense of the fullness of an ample mea, Debbie talked of her Auntie Rona. “She wanted me to marry a Jewish boy, with lots of money.”

“Auntie Rona?” I asked.

“Yes, on my mother’s side. She was married to my Uncle Miltie, my mother’s brother. He tiptoes around his apartment so no one can hear him. He’s been sound sensitive ever since 1938 when he went into hiding with a Catholic Polish family. He doesn’t work; he hasn’t worked in many years. He is still hiding but now he hides in Montreal.”

“So you are Jewish, your mother was Jewish.”

Fred looked sharply at his daughter. Debbie leaned over his dinner plate and said, “Dad, you like dark meat, let me have the white meat.”

“There’s very little left.”

“That’s fine, I’ll have it.”

The chicken portions, the roasted breast and thigh, were moved across the table; the dark to Fred, the white to Debbie.

My husband and Fred were deep in conversation. And as they talked, I held the burgundy wine to my lips and asked Debbie, “Which camp?”

“Auschwitz. There were many camps. He was moved from one to another.”

Fred leaned over, asked for the butter, turned his head and resumed the business chat with my husband. I overheard words about Fred’s music shop in Montreal, comments about net profits, retail sales and words about castanets. I could not listen to their conversation and ask Debbie about her father’s past at the same time. I paused before I dared ask another question, make a comment.

Then I said, “He was so young.”

“He was fourteen when the war started, my mother was nine.” Her answer was short, almost curt.

I calculated quickly, Fred was born in 1925, his wife in 1930.

Before I could ask another question, Fred asked, “Would like some more wine?”

“A little, thank you.”

Debbie, as her father had done, locked her eyes on mine and cautioned me to say no more, to ask no more. We resumed vacation chat about this and that port, about this and that purchase. I was not interested, but continued the charade.

Another night at sea passed. The morning was glorious, the sea aquamarine calm and I stretched out at the poolside with a book I deemed ‘airplane lit’ when without warning, Fred slid into the lounge beside me in a bright blue bathing suit.

“Hello,” he said.

I turned to greet him and I was struck by the golden ‘chai’ he wore around his neck, the Hebrew letter that is the symbol of life. I was tempted to touch it, tempted to lay the letter in my hand.

Instead I asked, “Where’s Debbie? but wanted to ask, ‘Are you Jewish?’

Best not to ask, not to remark on the golden chain and the golden ‘chai’. The telling would come, most probably in fragments, a memory unearthed, a memory spoken.

There was a sudden gathering of people on deck, a crowd in damp bathing suits murmuring about an ill passenger, waiting for lifeboat number eight to be released from the promenade deck and into the water with a man and a woman on board. There was an ambulance on shore waiting to drive them to the local hospital in Porta Plata. The intimate moment that might have been ignited between Fred and me was gone. The sea was behind me and I turned my face from the sun, avoiding further contact with Fred.

I counted the days before our journey’s end. Tomorrow would be the fifth day. I wanted to know, wanted to record yet another sacred story.

Friday evening at the table, Debbie beautifully dressed in an emerald green blouse and black satin pants, waved her arms about, striking something in the air. In the two minutes it took to reach the table, Debbie had a serene smile on her face.

“Come,” she said, “let us light the Sabbath candles. I light two candles every Friday night for my mother Libby. This afternoon in the cabin I asked my father if he remembered to pack two candles for her. He said, ‘I will never forget candles for Momma, not on Shabbos.”

Debbie asked me to light a candle, a gracious offer. She lit one first, and I the second white candle. We covered our eyes, moved our hands over golden flames and recited the ancient prayer of blessing welcoming the Sabbath bride. And then our private prayer in silence.

We kissed and said to one another, “Good Shabbos”.

Over red wine, a Merlot, Debbie, without prompting said, “My mother’s name was Libby. She never told me, never told us she had cancer: breast, liver, her kidney too. It was hard to find out when it was too late.”

Fred put up his hand and said, “Debbie, enough.”

“Papa, it’s not enough, I need to talk about Momma. I need to remember her. Do you remember her? She didn’t want us to live with her disease. She wanted us to have a wonderful life. At the end she said she had no pain. I don’t believe, I don’t know if that was true. I know I miss my mother.”

“It’s all right Debbie. You can speak.”

Careful not to rupture Debbie’s spill of words, I nodded, letting her and Fred, her father, know that I was listening, listening closely.

“My mother was born on May 5, 1929 and she was liberated on her birthday. Oh, yes. She was free and sick, but she never said so. A friend told me. You should have met my mother. She was lovely. If you asked her where she was from, she would say in her Polish accent that she was Canadian. Often, she said, Canada was the best country in the world. If you asked her about the war years, her time in the camps, she would not talk about it. She had complete acceptance of that time. It was over, and there would be no conversation, no memory talk. It was not allowed, not in my presence, ever.”

Fred said, “Enough, maidela.”

Maidela. My grandmother called me by that name, roughly translated it means ‘little girl’, but it is a diminutive of great affection, usually uttered from parent to child.

My husband and I were quiet, waiting for Fred to continue, if he would. Over consommé, Fred murmured some unintelligible words, and then a torrent.

“I am angry,” he said. “I am angry that people were humiliated, abused and tortured, singled out, and suffered, and murdered.”

He placed his large hand on the table with a thud. “Do you think you are exempt from another Holocaust against the Jew?”

Subdued, I said, “Not in my life time.”

“Really,” he sneered. Angry. “Did you ever read the book, ONE IS TOO MANY?”

Fred stopped his anger, and then calmly said, “The prime minister, McKenzie King, didn’t want any Jews in Canada.”

Debbie, the daughter, and Fred, the father, exchanged silences. And the subject of the war and its aftermath was closed, at least for the fifth dinner at sea.

But that evening we strolled, Fred and I along the promenade deck, As though he was addressing the calm sea, he began to speak. Words and phrases, not quite intelligible, as though memory had a cough, and he coughed up bits and pieces that occurred to him at random, plucking language from memory’s store.

And then a line of cohesive memory: “I wasn’t only at Auschwitz. Before that I was in the Warsaw Ghetto. Almost at the end of the war there were hundreds, maybe thousands marching from one camp to another. The camp guards, angry, for no reason, would shoot the marchers when they felt like. No reason at all. I went to up to an SS guard offered to carry his bags. I thought if I carried the SS bags no one would shoot me. He shoved me away. I walked with the other marchers, and then as we marched, by chance I found a bicycle on the side of the road. I escaped again.”

I dared not interrupt, dared not stop the flow of memory. Fred shoved his hands into his pants pockets and stopped speaking. I attempted to speak.

Fred put up his hand, and said, “My daughter, my Debbie knows most of the stories. No more now. It is hard for me in English, better I speak in Polish. Yiddish I learned in the camps.”

Bits and pieces.

Fragments of a survivor’s tale.

Debbie walked up behind us and said, “Hello Poppa. Did you tell about Warsaw? He wasn’t there for the Passover uprising. In the beginning the Germans called for the men to come to the center of a main street. My father escaped after they put all the men in a circle and made them put all their valuables in the middle of the circle. They grabbed a known gay man, made him crouch in front of everyone, and a soldier put a bullet in his neck. My father was a witness.”

I couldn’t see Fred’s face, but his breath was quicker, his stride strong.

“After the war, my father returned to his home town, Kalish in Poland. There was German officer that some of the townspeople crucified in the middle of the yard where the workers were shot when the Nazis had power. His shoulders were separated from his body. He begged the Poles to shoot him. He pleaded with the workers who were once forbidden to look at him, the German officer. They finally shot him. My father was a witness.”

Fred said, “Yes, I escaped. I am here. And I am going to bed. I had too much sun and too much 151 proof rum to drink. ”

We met again on deck in the morning, the sun pouring down on the open spaces pool side. Fred and Debbie would be in their favorite shady corner. Fred invited me to sit with them with a wave of his hand and began speaking immediately.

“I escaped the march with another boy, Samich. He worked in the gas ovens for a few months; then they gas you. Altogether we rode 600 miles. But first we found a farmhouse. The Russians were already there with five tanks and many soldiers, they were Mongols. The farmer was afraid they would rape his daughter, so he told them she was his wife. They couldn’t wait to get to Germany. There they could do what they liked.”

Fred raised his index finger to his throat and with a swift sign; he slit it.

They asked the farmer who we were, and he said, “They are my sons. ”

“In the night the Russians gave us guns to stand and watch for Germans. And they came, in the distance, about twenty soldiers with bread in their pockets. The Russians ran back to their tanks and they took the guns from us. I grabbed Samich. I know every farm has a cellar and told him to come and I closed the door over our heads.”

At that moment a waiter politely asked if we wanted a drink.

“Yes, we’ll have some wine, a light white Beaujolais, but we will save it for lunch with cold white asparagus in the dining room.”

The waiter turned to the next passenger and Fred eager to finish his story said, “When Samich and I came out of the cellar, all the German soldiers were dead. They made a ring around the farm. A defeated army, they didn’t have the heart to fight. I tell you this, I remember this day.”

“I also remember the moment the Germans caught me early in the war. A neighbor, a nobody, denounced me and they came, the police and took me away. I told the man I would never forget him. I went back to Poland after the war, I went to the police, to the NKVD, the Russian police and by myself I found him.”

Debbie lifted her hand into the shape of a gun, pointed at her father and said, “You shot him? Or was he shot?”

Fred shook his head, looked over at me, nodded, closed and opened his eyes and I saw the death of the informer, the brutality of the slaying to be kept from his daughter.

Debbie anxious to change the subject said, “Let’s have lunch. In the dining room, where it is quiet, and we can be served. I don’t want to deal with the crowds at the buffet on the upper deck. It is too much food to look at en masse.”

There were no others at the table. We were early for lunch. And indeed, the waiter served us asparagus vinaigrette, thick, white, slimy, wet from a can. The lobster was yet to come. Not a kosher food. Fred picked at the asparagus, moving the stalks from one side of the plate to the other. He wanted to say something, something to finish his story of escape with Samich, but it was Debbie who seemed to be the keeper of her father’s memory.

With knife and fork he cut the head off the asparagus spear, delicately placed the morsel in his mouth and Debbie said, “They were starving at the end of the war, everywhere, in the camps especially, but on Yom Kippur, my father fasted, many of the prisoners did, just to show the Germans that they were still Jews.”

Fred called for the wine steward, turned to his Debbie, her blond hair still damp from her morning swim and asked, “What wine would you like, red or white?”

“Order a half carafe, I will only have a sip, Poppa.

“Shall I speak to the steward in Hungarian?”

I asked, “How many languages do you speak?”

He chuckled. “Debbie told you I learned Yiddish in the camps, yes?”


“After the war, first I went to Mexico. It was late at night, and I forgot my key to the apartment where I was staying. So I clapped my hands for the gatekeeper. You know about them. They keep the keys for people like me. The man came with his keys. I spoke to him in Spanish. He shook his head. I spoke to him in English. No. And then he asked me in Yiddish, ‘Do you speak Yiddish?’ Yiddish? We both laughed. Of course, a universal language for us.”

I leaned into his left ear to comment and he motioned me away, “Not that ear, when they separated us at the camps, they hit me with a bull whip. I don’t hear so well in that ear. But I can hear Yiddish very well in my right ear. ”

And another fragment fell into place, out of chronological order, but out of memory’s order. These were the last days of the luxury cruise and I wanted answers, I wanted the story of Fred’s life to make chronological sense.

That afternoon I wandered back onto the pool deck and found Debbie eager to talk to me. I’d had enough, yet I could not, nor would I resist her desire to find closure to her father’s wartime past. She was sandwiched in between the vacationing bodies, women in bikinis hiding their pubic nudity, their firm breasts. She didn’t wait for me to pull up a chair, to sit down and listen to her questions.

She plunged in. “What did my father mean when he gave you that wink at the table? What did he mean by the NVKD?”

“You mean the NKVD? The Communist Secret Police under Stalin.”

“What did he mean when he looked at you like that?”

I raised my eyebrows.

“Did he kill the informer himself?”

“Your father didn’t say, did he?”

“All my life, my father speaks in pieces. A piece here, a piece there.”

“Do you think my father killed his neighbor?”

“Either he did or the NKVD did it for him. They were well known for their killings. Maybe they shot him on the spot, no trial, and a quick execution.”

As though she was still questioning me about her father’s role in the execution of his neighbor, Debbie said, “What is that sun block you are using? May I try it?”

I handed her the PABA free cream and watched her smooth it over her lithe legs, her lovely arms and pick up her romance novel, ignoring me, ignoring the importance of her interrogation. She was done. How much did she know? How much did she guess?

She turned the pages of her book in rapid succession, skimming, reading a sentence, looking up at the sky and then seemingly out of the ether she said, “Did my father tell you that when he returned to the town of Kalish where he was born, there was no one left, no one who remembered him, just the dead man, so he joined the Polish army.”

“The Polish army?”

“It was a safety measure for him, a place to sleep and eat, and he was sure no harm would come to him. I know he is ashamed of this. I learned of this very recently. My mother told me before she died, she told me his exact words. He said, ‘ After the war, I had nowhere else to go. So I went back to Poland. They took me in the army. They would do nothing to me.’ There were so many secrets, and I believe there still are many untold secrets. Not secrets, not really. Things that were best left in the past and surely are best forgotten. My mother knew all the stories, of her family and my father’s family. He was alone. No one was left, not a friend, not a mother, a father, a brother or a sister. No one. Not one person until he met my mother.”

Debbie was in verbal free fall. And I had no pen or pencil, and could rely only on my memory. To no avail. Fred touched Debbie’s bare toes, much as one would strike the white keys on a piano. “Poppa, where did you come from?”

“From Poland, of course. I heard you talking about your mother. Did you tell the time Momma had cancer?”

Fred said, “Libby, my wife came down with cancer when Debbie was 2 years old, and all I could think were the words, ‘What am I going to do with three small children? Ach, she had her breasts removed; then the cancer went to her liver and her kidneys. She lived for many years and she was very sick, fighting for her life. Always fighting.” His words came quickly; they rushed out of his soul.

“Come Debbie, come and take a walk with me.”

And they walked off together, father and daughter, arm in arm. And I dug into my straw bag and found a notebook and a pen, and began to write every word I could remember from the first day we met until this day of the Caribbean cruise. As the afternoon faded into early evening I was still on deck, writing, scratching away with my pen, my handwriting almost unintelligible even to me. I looked up at Debbie, dressed for the evening.

Startled, I looked up when I heard Debbie say, “What are you doing?”



“You and your Dad.”

She stared at my notebook.

Reluctantly, “Would you like to read what I wrote?”


The ship’s white rails bobbed ten degrees against the horizon. Christmas music rang out over the loudspeakers. I smelled the season’s sun block, the tanning oils, saw a fat man lolling on a plastic lounge chair, leaning over to pick at his cold French fried potatoes coated in ketchup. I turned away.

Debbie sat down at the edge of my chair and attempted to read. My handwriting foiled her. I read aloud and she stopped me, “I have something to tell you. He didn’t do it when my mother was alive.”

“Do what?”

“My mother hated the numbers the Nazis tattooed on her arm. She had them surgically removed by a plastic surgeon, and then a skin graft. My father came to Canada in 1948 after the he worked in the lumber camps. He met my mother and they married in the same year. And her family became his family. She was lucky, out of seven children, five survived. I told you; he had no one living, not a cousin, not even a distant cousin. He went to school to study English. He had the numbers on his arm from Auschwitz and some of the students made fun of him. My mother begged him. So he went to a tattoo place and they rubbed the numbers out. They couldn’t get all the numbers out. They couldn’t get all the blue dye out. When I grew up, all I ever saw was a blue stain on his arm.”

“But the numbers are there. I remember them. 161304.” I did not say what I had wondered, his numbers were brilliant on a blue stain.

“He went back to the same tattoo parlor and had the numbers put back on his arm after my mother died. He said, “I am these numbers. They are for everyone to see. I will not forget.”

The sun lay in an orange ball on the horizon. I had no more questions.

At dinner, Fred once again, wore a short-sleeved shirt, his numbers bright blue. I looked away. Fred reached over and held my hand in the way of old friends, and placed my hand over his left forearm, over the numbers and said, “It is 1989. The Berlin Wall is down. What do you think? A united Germany? Who was it that said, ‘I like Germany so much I’m glad there are two of them?’

We laughed our unspoken fear of the New Germany. And ate our dinner.

The tenth day of the cruise. It was over. We jostled with the crowds walking off the gangplank in Miami. We promised to keep in touch.

Fred promised to send me castanets from his Montreal music emporium.

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/Beth Wareham and Jay Davis


Arms pumping and three-figure handbag swinging, Mary Ann felt the first drips of sweat hit the water slide of her butt crack, flowing down to God knows where. It tickled, a strange sensation while in the midst of running for one’s life. She was speed walking down the highway double line in the middle of the nowhere, hoping the men behind her would not shoot.

She couldn’t find one person in her life who could drive out and rescue her. She’d dialed all the friends and family. No one picked up. She had left the scene so quickly and was so frightened, she hadn’t even dialed 911. Hadn’t thought of it, just fled. Later, she’d reflect that all the sugar she’d eaten had clouded her thoughts, made her stupid. Deep inside, she knew differently.

She was a woman alone. Wasn’t it obvious? What shit, she thought. I have a family full of men, a phone full of friends and no one to call at the lowest moment in recent memory. She pumped her arms faster now, moving over to road’s shoulder as a car appeared off in the distance. She figured getting hit by a car instead of a gun blowing a hole in her head was probably more to her liking. A car could drag you though, her mind quickly countered. Maybe a gunshot was better.

Periwinkle kitten heels dug into sand and gravel. Her teeth ground against each other at the sound. She was creating tiny landslides down the roadside with each step and finally a pump remained behind as she kept moving forward. Damn, damn, damn she thought as she wheeled around and grabbed the shoe. She was on one leg now, a flamingo with no water or wings. She knew she looked stupid hopping on one foot in the road in the middle of nowhere. She slipped it back on and strode back to the center of the asphalt, where her shoes worked.

God is punishing me, she thought. For the donuts. I have to die because I ate all those donuts and there is no one to save me. She began muttering words Heavenword: “I’ll stop the sugar thing,” she vowed as her ankle bent outward and she screamed in pain. “I will be more loving.” “I’ll go to Core Class.” She kept walking fast down the centerline and as the car became larger, her thoughts raced. She bit down on her lip again, winced, and a fresh metallic taste of blood filled her mouth.

I’m a bad wife and mother, her inner asshole continued. I’m out here because I’m a bad wife and mother. I’m out here because I do things I shouldn’t. Her legs were growing tired: She was not at her fittest. I’m out here because I’m selfish. I just had to have what I had to have.

Her thoughts grew even darker and sweat streamed down her body. Mary Ann kept rushing toward the approaching car, her thoughts ripping open her middle-aged soul. She could still hear the men behind her yelling in a language she did not know. She moved even faster, her personal fluids – sweat, tears and snot – attracting molecules of dust from the road. Her face took on the dust’s color, a boring hue her decorator friend would have described as “homosexual putty beige.” Why he called it that, she didn’t know. The approaching car, she could now see, had a huge hood ornament. Light flashed on it as she moved toward the road’s edge again to let it pass.

As the car moved closer, Mary Ann felt a new set of fears well up into the back of her throat. Who would be driving a car like that? She thought. The last time she’d seen one that big and rectangular was in Goodfellas. Or was it American Gangster? That’s it, she thought. The 70s. She realized that the 1970s were coming down a two-lane country highway and were headed directly for her. God, I hated those pantsuits, she thought. And the pointy collars. What is a car like that doing out here in the farmlands of New York? Please God, she bargained again. Let it pass.

The giant yellow Cadillac had another plan. It slowly floated between Mary Ann and the shoulder, door swinging open, and a distressed, abandoned middle-age woman was scooped off burning asphalt and thrown directly into the fire of her life.


Like the hair on her husband’s head, Mary Ann’s marriage was disappearing. Her life had been fine until the Ring of Fire engulfed her. Her husband’s early male patterned baldness had turned these last long months of their marriage into an endless stream of Nizoral, Revita, Nism and Folliguard. With each sad squiggly loss on porcelain, the ring tightened around her life. No hair, no happiness until her husband got what was rightfully his, what God had given him. Mary Ann’s husband wanted his hair back.

Life was okay until one afternoon on the boat when her brother-in-law had said, “Hey Jair! The top of your head looks like a wheat field in winter.” Her husband had whipped around to attack the hurtful comment, taking the wheel of their gleaming white 160 Bowrider Bayliner with him. Three passengers skittered hard right and bounced upward as the boat hit its own wake. Mary Ann could see the rage in her husband’s eyes as she fell back hard on her seat.

“Well, what the hell can I do about it?” her husband Jair shot back. “Take Dad and Grandpa to court?” He was running his hand over his scalp now, back to front, back to front, over and over. This anxious gesture born on this bright day was to become his signature move going forward. Back to front as he read his computer. Back to front as he drove. Back to front as he watched the Jets lose, over and over. His anger and disappointment over the top of his head seemed relentless and consuming. Mary Ann needed to help him. After all, she was a girl. Guys ran their hands from back to front. Girls healed. That was the fairy tale she’d been weaned on.

Since that day on the water, Mary Ann had logged onto the Hair Loss Learning Center with him to find help. She researched all aspects, both cultural and scientific, behind the loss of hair in the human male. The Hair Club said, “finding the right hair restoration is like finding the right man or woman for your life.” She repeated this to Jair and he’d asserted “that’s right!”

They went to work, a heterosexual married couple with a purpose, a project. It wasn’t a renovation, but shopping was involved. Special shampoos were ordered and delivered, and for a while seemed useful. Then Jair’s scalp turned dry and he cried out over the unfairness of it all. He was bald and had dandruff! She worried her husband was losing his belief in the world.

She noted every aspect of his hair care on the Hair Loss Log she had downloaded and printed off the Hair Loss Learning Center’s website. Propecia was next. All seemed good until his penis couldn’t get hard and his breasts became sore. The last symptom she noted in the log as “tender nips.” Jair and Mary Ann were getting along, sort-of.

Then he complained and whined and filled the air with fear and conjecture one time too many. She said, “maybe you’re turning into a girl. I’ve heard that happens to some white men as they age.” She didn’t know why she had said it or what the comment truly meant. She had just said it. Her body felt how ugly a thing it was even as her lips moved, releasing it.

He hadn’t spoken to her in three days, so she pulled out the big guns. “Baby, let’s just go see a doctor. A real one. One that treats hair and nothing but hair.”

He nodded slowly and they went.


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/beth wareham


When Brian Williams got confused – or CONFABULATED EVENTS PUTTING HIMSElF IN THE OTHER HELICOPTER – I spent a lot of time thinking on the power of confabulation in story-telling. Granted, Brian Williams was the last person on earth that needed to story tell. But others, like me, do. And we can learn from him, ARTISTICALLY, not journalistically, which is a profession he shouldn’t practice anymore. Not in the way he was.

The horse is out of the barn and Brian can’t go back into the world of the real-believe. I suggest he write name-dropping, mea culpa books that big box publishing will LOVE to print.

The most fantastic confabulators I’ve seen lately is Netflix’s magnificent House of Cards. Benghazi becomes Claire’s bungling Russian subterfuge as the Ambassador to the UN. Frank’s jobs program is the flip side of Obama Care, a program repugnant – no, downright unpalatable – to political opponents.

And all the while, Frank’s isolation, control, and power-mongering grow, culminating in the most horrifying moment of CONFABULATION I have ever seen on the little screen: The President of the United States almost kisses his biographer – a man – in the family quarters of the White House.

Oh, General Petraeus, what hell hath you unleashed. I had never imagined this biographer thing before despite 30 years in the book business. It’s a ghastly image that you, alas, gave me.

Thoughts of gummed-shoed biographers tumbling nude into the beds of the powerful jumped into my head. Politicians. CEOs. Celebrities. Artists. Icons. And that biographer, one hair wrapped around his head – or, if female, crepe-soled shoes – feeling he or she is the power. I thought of Mary Ann giving Mrs. Clinton a big kiss. Elise and Tanya Tucker on the kitchen floor. Mary Ann again, peeping out from under Celo Green’s caftan, or me with a powerful Africa President. I hope none of us did a “Frank’s Biographer” move, though I can’t say about anyone besides me. I sure hope not.

This biographer thing is really skeeving me out. I’m not ready for Presidents’ kissing hired hacks that they mistake, momentarily, for beautiful mirrors. I’m sick of the narcissism that indicates they are not longer attached to the world, no longer flawed and human. As a ghostwriter, I am a toner down of self-promotion and rhetoric. I am a humanizer. Some like how their books turn out and some have a reaction like Frank. I do, however, always get paid.

That’s right: Once you kiss your biographer, it’s over. You can’t write a great book if you buy into that shiny thing that is just a person, doing interesting things. You also can’t be the subject of a good book without being just a human doing interesting things.

So turn it down a notch, biographers. Your subject puts his or her pants on one leg at a time – or, in the case of Celo – only one head can go through the caftan hole at a time. Leave fan books for fans and write the grown-up stuff for us.


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C’mon Nabokov, Jizz A Little


/Beth Wareham

Lolita is a book about language, foremost and above all. I mean, come on, ““Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.” He was in love with the sound of her name.

I love Lolita because of the sexual tension Nabokov creates: He never goes far enough for any of us to be satisfied, except perhaps those on a hunt for pedophiles. His language and technique are so controlled, it’s like being in bed with a complete “withholder,” all whisper and no stroke. You are dying for the guy to just lose it; know you would eventually around this girl-woman, and wait for it with the turn of ever page.

In fact, in his last line, he confirms what the book is about: “I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.”

No sex, just the muse. All of that and Nabokov didn’t want to get laid, he wanted to write. (Oh, to hell with the difference between Humbert Humbert and Nabokov. All main characters in fiction share the author’s soul and I’ll argue anyone on that.)

There a whole bunch of writers – mostly men – all white – who mistook words for sex. Or they chose one over the other. Updike. Cheever. Words were probably the closest they could ever get to that soaring satisfaction of an orgasm with a beloved partner, the one they craved, not the one they had. The longing is hinted at and sad, often fumbling sex makes you want to throw the book down and go find Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Would I trade literary fame for visiting the top of the mountain between the sheets? Absolutely not, never, ever. To be a fully functioning human is the goal here.

But my goodness, it’s time for some men to write great sex scenes. No throbbing tips or heaving bosoms: Real sex scenes with real power. A black hand on a white breast. Rough hands in soft yellow hair. Young men curled together and sleeping. The beauty of the human body, satiated and at rest.

Keeping sex in little genre books and out of “great” literature feels strange because – at least for this reader – sex is a part of the greatness of life.

And I ain’t talking 50 Shades of No Sex Life. Those books are a spoof. I mean, really, have you ever been inside an S&M “chateau? It’s a split-level ranch with fat hairy people in harnesses. LUDICROUS.

Click on the title to buy and walk the razor’s edge of longing, sex and and fear:

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Rabbit is Rich by John Updike
The Complete Stories of John Cheever

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