I love this very short story by my friend Sue Allison. It was published in some literary magazine that I can't find the name of (whoops!). She just had another published here in the Hawai'i Pacific Review about the weather—seems an appropriate place for the story. But this one is my favorite. It makes me laugh. PS I can't do anything about the leading except by retyping the whole thing, which I refuse to do at this present.

Additional Tenses You Should Know

Sue Allison

            After learning the simple tenses of the past, the present, and the future, you are ready to address the complex tenses, which can be thought of as the sub-tenses of the simple tenses.  We will begin with the tenses of the past, not because the past comes first, in the traditional view, but because the past is the most popular of the three simple tenses since it is the only one we think we know anything about. The past tense includes the following: the recent past, the middle past, the distant past, the past we forgot about completely, the past we are always bringing up even though people are tired of hearing about it, the past we remember but which never happened, the past our significant others remember differently but wait for social occasions to add their versions, and the Kodak past, which is constructed entirely of memories of photographs and not of the events themselves; the past we’d just as soon no one knew about; and the past we find out later wasn’t even true.

            The past perfect is not to be confused with the past imperfect which in the present we recast as the past perfect but which is really a false past perfect. This is part of the group of wishful-thinking tenses. The past is a place that is basically full of people we used to be but don’t know anymore and often don’t even like very much but who never go away. This is the past other people call our baggage, and is ours to keep whether we claim it or not. Why it is precisely our baggage that seems to interest people most about us, rather than our current fetching figure after three weeks of dieting, is not a part of this lesson. It is not even a part of grammar. Grammar is not about the whys of life at all, which is why we are so persnickety about it.

            The past in which we did not take part is called the historical past. This is the past described in the present the way that people who are in the present choose to describe it, making it a sort of present past and since it thereby requires a new version to be made by every generation, it cannot, much as we believe it to be indelible, be trusted. It also means that it is never over; it just goes on and on, a past without end, which seems a contradiction in terms, but there you have it.

            Another past that needs to be considered is the super past, otherwise known as the cosmological past, which was so long ago it seems like it was in the future and is often feared what the present will become. There is probably a tense for what happens when the future reverses itself but no one has come up with it yet because it is way too out there for anyone to think about whose everyday lexicon does not include the word quark. What we do like to think about, and what we think about ad infinitum, as it were, are our historical and cosmological futures mostly because it is upon them our presents and pasts depend for meaning. These futures are full of people we don’t know but they are all wonderful, happy, attractive, and brilliant people who would not be considered baggage at all. This tense is sometimes called the imaginary future. There are some schools of thought which hold that all future tenses are imaginary, the future being so, but that is a debate grammarians deftly defer to philosophers, who can’t answer it, either. The future tenses include the imaginary future and the perfect future and the perfect imaginary future, as well as the future which will come no matter what we do; the future we’re putting off as long as possible; the future we prefer remains in the future rather than actually become the present because when it becomes the present we are going to have to do something about it; and the future which we think if we plan for will come true. This is the delusional future, a tense that, although it is a future tense, is only used in and for the present.

            The present is a surprisingly tricky tense. We can reinterpret the past in a kind of recursive loop but unlike the present, which seems to have a mind of its own, the past doesn’t actually refuse to be pinned down at any particular point or time. The present tense includes the time during which you are actually noticing what is going on; the present in which you are thinking of something other than what is going on and so have no idea that your spouse just asked you a question or the car in front of you just stopped; and the sudden present. The sudden present happens when you have a brilliant idea which vanishes if you don’t write it down immediately. You think you will remember it later, when it is past and you are the future, but you don’t. It’s also called the disappearing present, or the inspiration present, which is why writers and scientists and artists and inventors and such always carrying little pieces of paper around and scribble on them at inconvenient and seemingly uninteresting moments.

            There is the present during which we are doing something we like so much we would like the moment to last forever; this present is short. But the present we wish would please be over soon is not; it is interminable. What our feelings have to do with time, which is intricately related to tense, being the thing tense describes, is a question it’s sometimes better not to think about for the simple reason that thinking about it is counter-productive. The moment we think that this is a great thing we’re doing and would like the moment to last forever, it’s gone. It’s in the past, no longer in the enjoyable present. Likewise, thinking about the painful situation we’re in merely adds excruciating to interminable.  But there IS a present that does seem to go on forever, a present that has nothing to do with us personally and so which we cannot control or affect with our thoughts, and that is the eternal present, the present that is always there, that we believe has always been there, and that we believe always will be there. This is such a strange and beautiful present that it perseveres in our imaginations despite being constantly disproved. We first experience the eternal present in experiencing our parents; later, when we have children of our own, what we think of them when they are in their cute stage. The eternal present is most vividly and experienced in regard to mountain ranges and seascapes and summer and almost any sunny day; basically the visible world at the time we are in it. Eternity, which may be another word for the eternal present, may or may not exist, but thinking it exists in the present appears to be a survival mechanism of perpetual and stubborn naivete.

            One of the most interesting of the present tenses is that experienced when time appears to be suspended. This is like the eternal present except that it actually is. It is the tense from which the present got its name because it is truly a gift, that long forever Sunday-Afternoon-present in which there is nothing that needs to be done and one can, without anxiety, sleep late, stroll in a museum or in the woods or cook complicated recipes from the newspaper. This is contrasted with the Monday-morning-present, about which enough said.

            In the next section we will uncover more of the complications of tense, including the past subjective and the present relative, but the ever-popular and enigmatic simultaneous future tense, the tense in which multiple futures co-exist at the same time, will not be covered. Also called a relationship, it will be dealt with in another course entirely.


casa de la noche revisited

There is a new piece of art in the bordello-cum-hotel Casa de la Noche. Artist Jessica Antonella used old photographs of the working girls who used to ply their trade to make her painting. The photographs were collected by owner Barbara Poole, who has named some of the rooms after the women who worked in them—Pepita, Rosita. You can see some of the photographs on the Casa de la Noche website. Barbara retains the history of the place, while updating it with current gallery shows, yoga classes and other events. We often stay there, as it is just a few doors from my mother's casita. When I stopped by to visit Barbara, she was hanging a new show, and, thankfully, retained my niece Eva's retainer, which she had left under her pillow in October.


the way home

Taking off from Dallas yesterday.
"Welcome home," said the customs dude in Dallas. I had just been saying to someone on the shuttle bus in San Miguel that it was a pity you never heard that any more.  And then I flew off to New York in the sunset. I had left it in the dawn. And by the time we buzzed Manhattan, it was night.
As is evident from past pix, I always sit on the right, over the wing. That is because I am obsessed with taking pictures out the window of the plane; I am on the right because it means I can hear if someone speaks to me; and I am over the wing because I am always in steerage. I have had to make the wing a part of the frame.
Coming in for a landing over the Empire State Building at home.


la mama

Always hard to say goodbye. Especially to someone over 90. But that is what I must do in the morning. It will only get harder in the coming years.


motorcycle mama

The new motorcycle

I don't know how many of you remember Rosio's old moto (below). She got a new one last year (above), but as you can see she still is going with the color-coordinated parking thing. The new one is a real motorcycle as opposed to a scooter, and she catches some flak from the macho types in San Miguel de Allende. She says many men holler "stupida!" at her as she rides along. Not to mention the one trucker who simply rear ended her at a stop—and then kept going. But she loves the new Honda, and says she likes the commotion she causes. "I am macha!"

The old moto


view from here

The steeple of the Paroguia in the Jardin is upper left.

 From the "it could be worse" department. My suntan salon is visible beyond the red chair, on the roof, the door to my room, with its skylight to the waning gibbous moon, is framed in lilac (or, as I prefer to think of it, jacaranda). I spend mornings with my mother,  midday on the roof surrounded by literal lavender, hollering down to her through the cupelo. Then comida, prepared by Rosio. While Mom takes her siesta I have  a little walk, returning before she wakes up for supper, TV and bed.


ok i'm here!

And the poinsettias are still in bloom! And the sun is hot and yellow.


love you, mean it

Twenty some ears ago today, I wrote this op ed piece for the Times about a Valentine's eve murder. The city was different then—scarier. I just saw Keri the other day, my friend who found the dying man.  I would tell the story differently now. But here it is.

 The white breast of snow was splotched with blood, and my daughter had to step around iced red pools on the concrete as she walked, alone, to the school bus.
   The evening before, Keri arrived, breathless, at the door of our New York City apartment. On the street outside she had seen a man who had just been attacked. Police were taking descriptions of a white male in a black baseball cap who had run away. The man who had been hurt lay there in a pool of blood. "I should have comforted him," Keri said. "The police were so cold. I should have knelt in the snow and just patted him or something."
   My daughter ran over to the window and looked down to the street she walked every day. The blue lights circled, the ambulances waited. "He's gone," she heard someone say. She turned to me. "I think he's dead," she said. "This is my street. I thought it was safe here."
   "Nowhere is really safe," I said.
    This was a year ago, when Hannah was 12, the year she was beginning to realize that her parents were not all powerful, that we could not protect her from all harm. From stories about people with grave illnesses in the copies of the Reader's Digest she brought home from school she was learning that not all stories end happily, that people die no matter how much they are loved, indeed, sometimes because of how much they are loved.
   She did not remember the incident when she woke up the next morning, nor did I, or perhaps I would not have let her walk by that place alone. Her fears were all for the Valentine's Day dance that evening. "You don't have to go," I said. "You are only twelve." Her fears were about sex, not death; both are part of growing up.
   But I would have spared her the blood.
   The man had lived in our building; I had stood on the elevator with him many times. On Valentine's Day his door five floors below ours was sealed with white police tape. He lay in a white hospital bed in a coma, dying.
   Later that day my daughter called me from school. She had decided, after all, to attend the dance. Perhaps her "boyfriend" had come through with an invitation for the first dance, or perhaps her girlfriends, whom I could hear in the background, had talked her into it.
   "Did you see the blood on the snow?" I asked.
   "It was horrible," she said. "I almost threw up. The elevator man told me the man was dead. I called Dad to tell him I was going to the dance after all, but Dad wasn't home."
   "Do you know where he was?" I asked. "He was here, at the office, delivering a valentine to me."
   "Oooh," she said. "What was it?"
   "Candies. In a heart-shaped box. Red velvet."
   "Hey, everybody." I could hear her tell her school friends. "My dad went to the office to give my mom a valentine. Isn't that cool?"
   Hearts. Blood. Love. Death. Splotches on a snowbank.
   It was dark by the time she walked home again, after the dance, her father by her side. Too dark to see the salt soaking up the red to a fainter pink. A sketch of a man's face was taped to the door outside the elevator. The suspect glared menacingly under the words "Wanted for Murder."
   A year has passed. My daughter is 13, and tall. She takes two city buses to get to school. The last snowfall is melting and gray. There hasn't been much snow in New York this year, not like last year or when I was young. The murderer hasn't been caught, despite the fact that a detective from the 20th Precinct papered the area with posters asking for information.
   Neighbors speculated that the killing was a hit -- it had been too efficient, and the victim hadn't been robbed. It made all of us feel safer, to think that it was a personal matter, that the murderer wasn't lurking on the street. But I still don't like to think of the white male, 19-24 years, 5 feet 10 inches, 175 pounds, riding the bus with my daughter.
   She remembers the murder when she walks down the street alone at night. But these days she is thinking more about love than death, though sex and drugs are on the short list as well. There was a seventh grade dance last night, "the Decade Dance," and her only concern was whether her make-up really looked like it was from the 60's. "My friends say I look too 90's," she said. In the year 2000, she will graduate from high school.
   Childhood ends. No place is really safe. But we gird up and go out. We dance and dare to hope for days at a stretch that we, at least, are protected from terrible messages in the cold white snow.

blast from the past

Betsy and I met by the staircase, but recognized one another anyway.

 Celia, a mutual childhood friend 
Conflating fifty years and two lives into an hour or two is quite a triumph. Betsy (above) and I had last seen one another at Briarcliff High. And even then, she was in a lower grade than me and friends with my friends' younger siblings. Then came Facebook, and unexpected contact through mutual childhood friends like Celia (left).  Betsy and I both live on the Upper White Side of Manhattan, are both writers, both 66. And there's a lot of damn water under the bridge. We waded into it. She told me that she was into a high school do-over—she had not been connecting with people in the same way then. Probably too self conscious, like most of us when we were very young. We looked around Fairway's cafe and everyone there was of a certain age. But we didn't see one another as geezers. Forever young.


claudia's snow city

Douglas took a picture of Claudia's today. Is that a sink box on the porch???

Lot of frozen water came out of the sky in New York, too. I just got hit in th head by some on the way back from the dentist. Hope the runways are clear by Tuesday.
So speaking of Johnny, his elder son (my nephew) William was working with entrepreneurs who have made a business out of getting Kickstarter goods to market faster than their originators. William is doing their websites. Not sure how I feel about this, but it definitely proves that having an idea is only half the battle.
Also, Johnny is interested in renting out the Adirondack-style camp he just bought in the woods near the beaches of Rhode Island. Check it out here.
Hannah's friend Rachel Hulin has been getting some good notices about her first novel, Hey Harry, Hey Matilda. Here is one from the Daily News.
And Hannah herself got a nice writeup here. Her Calm-a-Mama brand of herbal tinctures for sleep, teething, focus, calm etc. is doing quite well. She has the New England region of Whole Foods stocked, and is doing well on Amazon. She is looking for outlets in other regions and in small organic/baby/health food stores. If you are interested in repping, let me know.

Johnny and crew got the walls up just in time for the storm.


war stories

Explication from Alaa after the film.
Alaa Hassan had a screening of the documentary film he helped produce, The War Show. It has shown at the Venice film festival, Cannes, Toronto and played to a full house at the IFC Center in the Village. Here is a review from Variety.
    It is such a powerful and personal story of passion and daring and death that much of the time the audience sat in stunned silence. It takes place in Syria between the years of 2011 and 2015, as the Arab spring disintegrated into rebellion, repression and civil war. It was shot by a young woman, a radio deejay, who found that the camera was a powerful motivator for people who wanted to get their stories out. It begins as almost a home movie of her artist friends, creating and playing music and talking and becoming radicalized. They could have been my college pals in the '60s. As the government cracks down on their protests, they are  imprisoned, tortured and killed. The film increasingly covers a battlefield of snipers and ordinance and bombed out cities. And it all devolved so quickly, from chants and signs and peaceful protest to unthinkable violence.
  It gives one to think. Big league.


the vision

The Nightmare

The Vision
A person I know has many cats. Large cats. Fat cats. Pampered cats that eat A Lot of Food. Stocking and organizing and retrieving supplies without destroying the surroundings had become A Nightmare.
 Ding! The vision. A trip to Lowe's and a purchase of Rev-A-Shelf! Installs easily in 20 minutes!
"But it was never easy for me," moaned the DIYer. Some eight hours and two sliced fingers later—triumph!

The Dream Come True


now we are six

Camilla likes lists and calendars and post-its. Wonder where she got this streak of practicality from. In New York this weekend, she and her brother explored Barnes and Noble, Zabar's, the playground and the Dinosaur Museum of Natural History. Camilla was able to check the museum and library off her to-do list, with the Central Park zoo and wild bird rescue awaiting a warmer day. But sometimes one needs to escape practicality, and for that you need a bit of magic. Just don't stay away too long.


buzzing through

After successfully installing her show at a college in New Jersey, Jessica Rath buzzed by for a visit. "A Better Nectar" is an installation including sculpture, "flat art," specially composed music and interactive sound (based on nearby NOAA weather forecasts)—all coordinated to give the visitor an experience of how bees and flowers interact to their mutual benefit. Yes, it's rather cerebral, as well as sensual. Jess is the daughter of my artist friends Ann and Bill Dugan, sometime neighbors in Thomasville, Mo. I meet up with her every five or ten years. I think it went, NY, LA, Mo, Mo and now NY again. I'm always fascinated by what she's thinking about and what kind of art she's making. I am now pulling for her to write. Which she has been doing.

That's the town square of West Plains, Mo., behind us. 


more outdated technologies

The Shop of Outdated Technologies. For instance, I took my last passport photos with my phone and printed them out on my printer.  Or maybe the question is, what does this store still have on offer that anyone wants to buy? #DVD #video #magazines #passportphotos #peepshow #memorycard
Do you even know what these things are?