Saturday, January 19, 2013


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In a dark, medium-sized auditorium filled mostly with older couples of all genders, I sit near the wall in back.  There are people in the balcony with better views, people sitting down in front for the best views of all.  Having just dealt with and slain all ghosts of Christmas in Minnesota, I have come to Key West to see if any other ghosts need straightening out. 
I know this is the wrong attitude for the place I'm in.  Arizona has turned me tough.  I am the older lady who should have let Rod Stewart return to his studies.

But a famous poet is coming on stage and I must listen.  I’ve heard good things, and I know some of his friends, so politeness must rule: I must listen to Billy Collins.  I hope he’s good.  Billy does come on stage and he looks far younger than a man of his talent should.  I miss my eighth grade band who had been up there earlier, in my mind.  I’d been just about to play my first trumpet solo. 

Bill walks up to the microphone and starts telling a joke, but I can’t tell if it’s his or not, a poem or not, or just a funny line.  Is this to warm us up?  He only has ten minutes.  I warn my students about plagiarizing all the time, but here I go, retelling a poem-joke that Billy told:

Q. What is one unfortunate thing right on top of another?

A. My love life

How I got into a Billy Collins’ poem, I don’t know.


I tiny-raise my hand in the dark, pardon myself, and leave to no one’s notice but my own.  There’s a dog outside I know from yesterday passing by with his owner.  This prompts me to walk towards my house, which is what we call our hotels here. 
I walk down Fleming, past Fausto’s.  I pick up a sandwich at the deli and some Diet Mountain Dew.  I know what I need.  I know what I don’t: the drunk screaming couple on the first night, stumbling down this very street.  How did they acquire that much property to split in the first place?  

Some of us still have to make a living, so I go home and drag my laptop and my pop and my cell phone and my water and my pen down from my room out to the covered deck where the reception is best.  I must check in with my one jillion students lest two jillion exist by the time I get home.  Admission rates at my school rival those of a concentration camp in Germany.

I settle in at my post, and start knocking out e-mails.  I regret to say that this is what my life of teaching has become.  I am also the leanest I have ever been in my life, all bone and muscle and ear flap.  I have no explanation for this.  Other times in my life I could have claimed super-fitness or super-sickness.  These days, it's just me being me, with just enough Botox in my head to make people look twice.

Other guests come through and people like to visit, so I get up and lean against the doorframe of someone else’s haus door.  I listen to two other Germans debate the fallout of World War II.  

I always start out working so quietly.


I didn’t come here to learn what German kids are being taught these days.  I didn’t know that when I went home for Christmas, I would be researching my dad’s cousin’s service in the Korean War and find the image of a man stabbed up the anus, and other men laughing.  I can’t say that we had these kinds of talks across my family’s dinner table.  I don't even know if I have a family anymore.  In the breezeway here in Key West, three Germans descend on their historical education like wolves, and then we defend all versions of it.  We can't all be lying, which means truth must be here somewhere.

I regale these other Germans with a classic tale from my childhood, one that I’ve always found amusing about my family.  I trot this one out when ice begs to be broken, and sometimes when it is melting, melting.  At least when my mom tells it, it works: She came home from school to help her mom get supper one time, waited for her dad to get seated at the table, then from behind wrapped her little girl arms around his neck and breathed onions into his ear.  He always said he hated onions, but somehow--on his little girl's breath, and probably all the time--he loved them.  My grandma hid them in everything. 

I'm sure my Grandpa Leo was not expecting, "And hey, guess what else?  I think we might be Jewish!”  to be sung out next by his little girl, still just recently arrived home from the local Catholic school.  I'm sure my mom thought this would go over just as well as the onion. 

“You might be," Leo said. "But I'm not."

I touch my ear flaps sometimes even now, wondering about the truth. 

1 comment:

  1. You've been processing a lot of stuff, it seems ... and all I can think to say is: did you get the name for your newest kitten from your grandpa? ...