When I was just a puddle of water with a face Carol protected me. She took me into her body like a balloon and truth be told I didn’t know the adventures she went on with me inside her; she was a membrane protecting me from the salty ocean, and a warm environment — she kept me from freezing, she kept me from drying out. She also, and I am not sure how I feel about this protected me from knowledge. I had enemies, both enemies who knew who I was and wanted to kill me for that, and enemies who didn’t care who I was but would kill me to achieve their own goals.

When they punctured Carol I spurted out onto the green grass. Above me was the sky and the air was thick with the smell of pollen, Dragonflies and damsel flies make sharp banking maneuvers to gather mosquitos. By the water’s edge where there was mud among the reeds water striders glid by on the scum.

“Come to me.” said the pond, or the spirit who dwelt therein. She smiled at me and I slid into her, mixing myself with her.

Who was I now, where did Chloe begin and I end? Why would I know or even want to know. And yet I did.

I think that that want, to know which of our mingled waters, green with the darting euglena, thick with rotifer, came from her. She must have wanted to want that, or known that there was a question she had always wanted to ask when she invited me inside her.

When fire came I rose up high, high, high clinging to the feathers of a fleeing goose. My love, the pond, became lost as steam.

In her death did she learn what was her and what was me? I hope so.

I like to think so.

I don’t blame Carol for lying to me, now that I am a man of power, bursting through pipes and powering the massive form of my body as I make the walls of the enemy city to dust, tear open their tanks and drink the last drop, climb mountains to offer my prayers to the sun.

She made a space for me inside her, and if that space was not the space of the rest of the world until she was punctured and mixed with it, it was, nevertheless a space for me.

I do not call it a lie, at least not when I talk to myself.

Do I call it a lie when I talk to you?

Some times.


Three Lovely People

There were once three people who lived in three houses next door to each other, and their digestive systems worked differently. Marie who lived in the house in the middle which was painted red, had a hole in her head that secreted saliva, and contained a muscle for mashing food and a bunch of small hard bones for slicing it and crushing it. The saliva had an enzyme called amylase which broke down the starch in the food into sugar, and she had a muscular tube which sent food from this hole into the recesses of her viscera for further digestion. She also used this hole to talk.

To the left of Marie lived Oswald in a house that was painted green. Oswald also had a hole with hard stones in it for crushing food and he also had digestive juices with amylase for turning starch to sugar, but these were both in a muscular sac in his body. The hole in his face that he used to ingest food was clean and relatively dry, and he talked by flashing lights from a light emitting organ in his head.

To the right of Marie, in the yellow house with chocolate trimming, was Kathy. Kathy’s face had a big open sac full of hydrochloric acid. She talked with this and kissed with it too. It dissolved food into chyme and then a muscular tube took it to her intestines to extract nutrients.

When Marie fell in love with Kathy and they first shared a dinner, Marie threw up! She thought it was disgusting because Kathy tried to kiss her with a sour organ and then spewed acid all over her food. And then when Marie threw up — since Kathy formed chyme with her mouth — well. Let’s just say it was a bad scene.

But then Marie tried romance with Oswald and — guess what? When he saw that she wanted to kiss him with a face hole that for him was hidden in his body, a face hole that had amylase in it, and bones for crushing food, he heaved!

He didn’t actually throw up because he couldn’t do that.

The point is they were all lovely people and they shouldn’t have gotten hung up about these relatively minor details that don’t actually matter, and gotten beyond it and focussed on something more important.

Which they eventually did!


Sweetie Honey, Now in a Movie

Sweetie Honey had three icons somewhere between her eye and her brain and they were SELF, CHILD, and ENEMY.

And when she had to get herself to do something she would take those icons and roll them over items in her environment.

Once for example she put SELF on a mother bear and CHILD on a baby bear and ENEMY on a human hunter, and she killed the hunter.

Once she put self on Brutus, enemy on Caesar and child on the state of Rome and killed Caesar.

Once she put self on the working classes, enemy on the capitalists and child on the future.

You see how it goes.

But Sweetie Honey wondered — that mind that chooses — where to put those icons called Self, Child, and Enemy — how did that get to be her Self? Who put the “Self” icon on that?

So naturally she did what she could to peel it off, and she found that she could.

And she took a fresh look at the whole situation, and she thought “Sweetie Honey, somebody put you in a movie! Somebody put “self” on the set of decisions to put “Self” “Child” and “Enemy” on different things, and they put CHILD on the story that results from it — yes the story of the bear and the hunter, and the capitalists and workers, and Brutus stabbing Caesar — but not just that. They put it on this very tale, the tale of the Sweetie Honey who realized she had “Self” on her movie-making and then on her realizing that she was making a movie, and “CHILD” stuck to the story I am telling you now — this very story — of the realization that self was stuck to the bear, and then to the sticker and unsticker of “self” stickers — and then to the teller of this story.

But who was the enemy?

Not you, reader! With this act I peel it off!


awful people

sometimes you will have a truly awful person — somebody who will wait for years for his chance to humiliate — or who will hang the chance to hurt and humiliate over another person’s head for years just to watch them squirm — and they will say a beautiful thing — eg that this universe is an emanation of love and light.

and you might think — oh no! that beautiful thing — maybe it’s not so beautiful — if an awful person can say it.

cause it is upsetting. it would be easier if you were sure they didn’t think this universe was an emanation of love and light — or a wonderful unfolding — or whatever beautiful thing they said. it would be less upsetting if you thought they were lying, just saying something they didn’t believe, or understand, to get one over on other people.

and for some awful people that might be right. but — the upsetting thought is — maybe it is not true in some cases. maybe for some awful people they say it, and they believe it. at least for a moment.

and you might think — how am I different from them? maybe I am just saying beautiful things as a way of distracting myself or not truly being here with the hard realities of my life?

but you might not.

you might think — on some level that awful person knows they are awful and when they say they beautiful thing they are trying to have a moment of beauty or a beautiful way of looking at their life — and that’s good! better than if they didn’t at least! The beautiful thing is still beautiful, and true, but they lack the courage to live it. And that’s what’s sad.

You might think that!


View Pain as Information

somebody said to me — you can get in a state of mind where you view pain not as pain but as information. e.g. that your foot is damaged. so it doesn’t upset you.

and i said — maybe with some pain, but some pain — eg a kick to the testicles — it doesn’t feel like that — it feels like a deep sadness.

but they said — view sadness as information — that things are not going right for you.

but i said — look if I view it that way, then I’m trying to, as it were, turn the flank on my sadness — I’m trying to get it so things are going a little better for me — and that’s not information. iow the choice to view my pain as information or not as informtion — that’s not information. that’s — I don’t know — life. Right?

another friendship I lost with my big mouth


not ready for war

our nation had been at peace for many years and then came the war.

I was not ready for it.

T. and I both had troops of young people who we were bringing on a long march. One boy I remember named Samuel would complain to me that mosquitos were biting his ankles and they itched. “can’t we get some anti-itch spray, Captain?” he’d ask me and once even texted me on his cell phone. I’d say to him “No Sammy. You know, this is a war.” And this became something we said so often that we didn’t even have to complete this phrase. We would just say “You know…”

T. said it to me when I felt bad for scolding Sammy and later when Sammy died. “You know…”

You know, you know. It said so much about how things used to be, and how they were now, and how we had not been prepared, and how we would have to make adjustments.

But it came up in so many ways and at so many different times.

the enemy defeated us not with arms but with a bribe; they paid some of our politicians to switch to the other side. and I had to work for people who worked for those politicians. i had to make some difficult choices. i would cry to my wife and she’d say “You know…” And I did.

But now there have been so many upheavals. I’ve seen those politicians receive the electric chair in prime time on Fox news, and I’ve seen the network president who broadcast their deaths receive the same on the opposing channel. I’ve stood on line for hours for bread only to be sent home hungry and I’ve been in a crowd behind a pile of burning cars throwing sprinkler bombs full of anthropocide. I know, I know, I’ve said to my comrades and to myself as we hear the alarm and put on our face gear in a hurry. I know, I know.

But honestly — I can’t help but wonder — what do I know?


Ben Zoma Said: Who is Wise? One who Learns from Every Man

One time my father was driving home from an important meeting in Rhode Island with my uncle Paul and a friend of theirs named Maier Zlotnik asked them to give a lift to a friend of his named Debbie who had been at the meeting.  He said taking Debbie would be no trouble and he would have done it himself but he had something he had to do. So my father agreed.

It became obvious very soon that Debbie had some sort of severe mental illness and Maier Zlotnick had unloaded her on them like a hot potato.  When my father stopped to fill the car with gas she would get out of the car and walk around the gas station, refusing to get back in the car, and very lightly threatening self-harm or even worse.  What should have been a five hour trip from Rhode Island to New York City took fifteen hours.  Instead of talking about what they had to talk about they spent the whole trip trying to convince Debbie to get back in the car and to seek help from a psychiatric professional when she got to her apartment. It took an hour to get Debbie to even climb the two flights of stairs into her apartment. It was six o’clock in the morning when my Father and my Uncle Paul returned the rental car.

While they were waiting for the subway after returning it they discussed Pirkei Avot 4.1 “Ben Zoma would say: Who is wise? One who learns from every man.” with reference to the question: what does it mean to learn from every man.  What for example did it mean to learn from the cowardly manipulative behavior of Maier Zlotnik, who had unloaded the responsibility of caring for a mentally ill woman, in fact for her fate, on the two of them when they had things to do, without even telling them?  

Uncle Paul said: What Ben Zoma meant is that we learn from Maier Zlotnik one thing: don’t be like Maier Zlotnik.  Just as we learn from someone who climbs too far out on a tree, causing the limb to break, that you should not climb out so far.  And we learn from someone who doesn’t climb out far enough on a tree, so his family goes hungry because he gets no apples — do not fail to climb out far enough.  We do not have eyes everywhere.  We cannot try every thing.  The wise man uses the eyes and hands and lives of everyone, the ones who do right and the ones who do wrong — like that execrable Maier Zlotnik.  The wise man learns from every one.

My Father said: I do not think Ben Zoma meant that, although it is true, because he does not say the wise men learns from the behavior or the doings of every man. It says the wise man learns from every man.  What do we learn from Maier Zlotnik?  We learn that the world is such that sometimes we cannot bear the responsibility we have for others.  We learn that we sometimes cannot bear the responsibility for others, as he could not bear the responsibility for Debbie. We learn that sometimes we do not even have the courage to share what we know about our own failings, but we simply hand off people to others like problems for them to deal with.  We do not learn from Maier Zlotnik how we are different from him, and how we can do better than him by avoiding his sins and avoiding his mistakes.  We learn from Maier Zlotnik, if we are wise, how we are the same. 

Uncle Paul gave my father a look like he was being sold something as a bargain that he would have to pay a fortune later in repairs.  “That’s not what it means to learn from someone.  If everyone were the same, there would be no need to learn from anybody.  We would all know everything.”

“And that is what I learn from you, Paul.” said my father.  “Maybe what Ben Zoma really mean is not that the wise man learns from Maier one thing and from Paul another thing and from Ben Kaplan a third. Maybe the wise man learns from everybody means the wise man learns from the fact that there is an everybody: that there is a Paul, and a Maier, and a Ben Kaplan.  The wise man learns that the Holy One Blessed Be He made the human race multiple.”

“And Debbie?” asked Uncle Paul.

“The wise man learns from her that he is not wise.” said my father and their conversation ended with the arrival of the train: my father taking the express, and Paul the local.  “Because if we were wise we would have been able to help her.”

My father was right that they had been unable to help her, or perhaps just unable to help her enough: Debbie succumbed to her illness the following year.  This happened quite a few years ago, although not as many years ago as Ben Zoma identified the wise man as the one who can learn from everybody, and Uncle Paul and my father are both gone.   


בֶּן זוֹמָא אוֹמֵר: אֵיזֶהוּ חָכָם, הַלּוֹמֵד מִכָּל אָדָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: מִכָּל מְלַמְּדַי הִשְׂכַּֽלְתִּי, כִּי עֵדְוֹתֶֽיךָ שִֽׂיחָה לִי. אֵיזֶהוּ גִבּוֹר, הַכּוֹבֵשׁ אֶת יִצְרוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: טוֹב אֶֽרֶךְ אַפַּֽיִם מִגִּבּוֹר, וּמוֹשֵׁל בְּרוּחוֹ מִלֹּכֵד עִיר. אֵיזֶהוּ עָשִׁיר, הַשָּׂמֵֽחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: יְגִֽיעַ כַּפֶּֽיךָ כִּי תֹאכֵל, אַשְׁרֶֽיךָ וְטוֹב לָךְ, אַשְׁרֶֽיךָ בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה, וְטוֹב לָךְ לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. אֵיזֶהוּ מְכֻבָּד, הַמְּכַבֵּד אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: כִּי מְכַבְּדַי אֲכַבֵּד וּבֹזַי יֵקָֽלּוּ.


your father was hard on himself too

i was talking with Alan, an old friend of my father’s from the 4B. I was feeling bad because my career wasn’t working out. I had taken a loan to start a business doing puppet shows to teach children good values — anti-bullying campaigns, anti-racist campaigns and the like. When I first did I had a lot of optimism because I got a contract from the city’s disability services office to do a series of shows about how children could and should accept children with disabilities into their class room. I had made a collection of puppets with disabilities — Rufus a blind puppet, Sarah a puppet in a motorized wheelchair, Chang who was deaf. But the mainstream plan had been sidelined in favor of a magnet school for children with disabilities in the Bronx and there was no need for my services; the contract was canceled. Alan had said I could have sued the city but he advised against it. Poor optics. This was when he said that my father was hard on himself too.

How could that be I asked him because my father was no designer of canceled puppet shows. He was a pediatric surgical cardiac ontologist. Four impressive words, and it meant exactly what you’d think. If a newborn baby had a tumor near the heart it was my father who would figure out which of the blood vessels in those two dueling spider monsters went to the heart and which went to the tumor and cut the right one and remove the tumor. These operations were done with a robotic micro-scalpel and he looked at the cluster of good and bad and borderline vessels on a screen. These took from eight at the short end to one procedure the longest twenty-one hours.

Alan explained to me that my father only got the hardest cases. And in those hard cases the web of vascularization that served tumor and heart were so intricately intertwined that only in 18.4% of my father’s cases did the procedure actually work. In the other 81.6% of the cases either the heart died, or the tumor lived.

But he saved some babies?

He saved some babies. He killed some babies. He let some babies die. Halvah? asked Alan, offering me some.

My father loved halvah. I took a bite and crumbled it off my incisors, and let the flakes dissolve in my saliva.

But that’s not the question you should ask. The question you should ask is how did your father’s success rate compare with the hospitals that performed the procedure without him, who did not call him in?


Their success rate was 18.38%. So the people walking around alive today because of your father are very few my boy. Very few indeed. Maybe a couple of dozen.

My father saved the lives of twenty-four human beings and he was hard on himself?

Very. Why do you think he took those Fiorinol?

Fiorinal, a yellow and green capsule containing aspirin, caffeine, and Butalbital, a barbiturate, was so named because it was developed at the Montefiore Headache Center as a treatment for tension headaches. My father took them by handfuls like peanut M&Ms, and was addicted, so the discontinuation of Fiorinal, if he had ever discontinued them, would have caused headaches as well.

Good luck with your puppets, said Alan. Perseverance keeps honor bright.

That night I took some yellow yarn out of a shoebox deep in my closet and started to make Tabitha, a puppet who would teach children about finances. I was hard on myself, but not as hard as my father had been.

But I was hard on myself about that.