Sunday, December 15, 2019

Digging through the trash to try to find a piece of the broken angel, I was traveling through the past, back to Tuesday’s dinner, those packages we received back when, the time before the fight. I would eat these coffee grounds if it would turn back time. I got down to the bottom and I didn’t find the piece.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Just waiting for that update that’s going to solve it all. Waiting for it. Waiting for it.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Listening to some Dead show from 1979 on the Internet Archive made me feel suddenly like an interloper or a voyeur. I was never meant to be there, at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Missouri. That place and that time was for them, for the rowdies yelling “Saint Stephen” and “Sit down!” The tenuous, unpredictable nature of a Dead show suddenly seemed not just precious and unique but intimate, private. Yet here I was listening in from another universe. I never did get that feeling listening to tapes back in the day. They seemed hard won somehow—bartered for, borrowed, recorded from a friend of a friend by attaching a cassette deck to a cassette deck. You felt like you earned it and you belonged.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

There was a man on the snowy roof across Houston Street from where I work this morning. I saw him scampering away from the edge with something in his hand, a rectangular object, like a folded-up newspaper, but not a folded-up newspaper.

Of course I imagined him falling off. It was just a story up, behind a big sign for the bar down below, the bar where we always went for company events. But if he fell surely he’d break a leg, break his neck. I’d gasp in horror and my coworkers would scramble to the window to see. Everyone wants to see someone writhing in pain on the sidewalk for one reason or another.

But he made it across the roof and onto another and into a door and down a roof hatch. To warmth and safety.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Waking Up


Jen: A woman in her early 30s, dressed ordinarily.
Stephanie: A woman in her early 30s, dressed ordinarily.
Joelle: A woman in her mid-20s, dressed ordinarily.
Peter: A man in his early 30s, dressed ordinarily.
Sam: A man in his early 30s, dressed ordinarily.
Master: A man in his mid-30s. He is dressed in loose-fitting, white cotton.


A common area in a communal home, austerely furnished. There is a couch, chairs, a coffee table between them. Jen sits on the couch reading a book.

Act I

Stephanie and Joelle enter the room from stage left. Stephanie sits to Jen’s right on the couch and Joelle sits in the chair to Jen’s left.

Stephanie: We need to talk to you, Jen.

Joelle: That’s right.

Jen [apprehensively]: About what?

Stephanie: Some of the things that have been noticed. [Glances at Joelle; Joelle glances back] About you. About your tendencies. Your reactions.

Joelle: Yeah!

Jen [worried]: Who notices?

Stephanie [with a smug laugh]: EVERYONE notices, Jen.

Joelle [eagerly]: You can’t hide!

Stephanie: Joelle is correct. You can’t hide! How can you hide?

Joelle: No one can hide.

Stephanie: He notices too, by the way.

Jen: He does?

Stephanie: Of course he does. He notices everything.

Jen [annoyed]: Notices what?

Stephanie [trying to sound soothing]: You, Jen. You, you, you, you. You’re—

Jen: What?!

Joelle: You’re not being real.

Stephanie [after flashing a look at Joelle]: Not being real. I was going to say.

Jen: I’m not being real.

Stephanie: You’re not being real. That’s right, Jen.

Joelle: Just be real!

Stephanie: Just be real.

Joelle: Be real.

Jen [pleading]: I am being real!

Stephanie: You most assuredly are not.

Joelle: You’re being unreal!

Jen: Like what? When?

Stephanie: Uh… When you enter a room. When you interact. In relationships. With others and yourself.

Joelle: In your relationship with the universe!

Stephanie [shaking her head scoldingly]: You’re not being REAL.

Jen: [Slams her hand on the couch pillow in frustration] What does that even MEAN?!

Stephanie [quietly, resolutely]: You know full well what it means.

Joelle: Everyone knows what it means.

Jen [with a sigh]: Yes. But tell me what it means.

Stephanie: It’s quite clear you’re inauthentic.

Joelle: It’s like you’re acting!

Stephanie: Acting, pretending. Putting on a little play. [In a mocking voice] This is me, I’m Jen. Hello world. I want you to love me, world. Jen is talking. Jen does her practice. Jen reads a book. It isn’t real!

Joelle: It’s a performance!

Stephanie: It’s a performance.

[Jen stares glumly in the middle distance for a few moments, then lowers her head. A few more moments pass before she speaks.]

Jen: You’re right. I know. Of course I know. [She breaks into sobs.]

Stephanie: OK. OK. You know.

Joelle: At least you know!

Jen [softly]: I’ve known it all my life.

Stephanie: Sure. OK.

Jen [through tears]: I’ve been doing this since I was a little girl! God! I’m so sick of myself!

Stephanie: That’s right. That’s right. [After a few moments] Now cut it out.

Jen [holding her hands up in front of her in a pose of supplication]: I’m trying! I’m trying! I’m trying!

Stephanie [quietly]: You can’t try. Stop trying.

Joelle [ingenuously]: Just do it!

Stephanie: Joelle is absolutely correct. Just be. Real. Just be real.

[Jen explodes in an agonized scream, directed at the ceiling.]

Stephanie [closing her eyes and waiting for the scream to stop]: OK.

[Jen rapidly shakes her head, then looks at Stephanie with resolve.]

Jen: OK, OK, OK! Now! Now! Look at me!

[Stephanie peers skeptically at Jen and Jen stares back.]

Stephanie: Yes?

Jen: I’m being real.

[Stephanie scrutinizes Jen for a few moments.]

Stephanie: Sorry. No.

[Jen closes her eyes and grimaces with frustration.]

Jen: Why?

Stephanie: Why?

Jen: Why? What am I doing? What am I doing wrong?

Stephanie [earnestly]: Well, you’re holding on. That’s clear. You’re not letting go. You’re... standing in your own way. You’re—

Jen [agitated]: But what am I supposed to do? I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll do it. I swear I’ll do it.

Stephanie: Stop doing. Stop doing.

Jen [growing more agitated and panicky]: I have to do it. I have to fix it. I have to fix it or I’ll DIE!

Stephanie: Stop. Breathe.

Joelle: Breathe!

Jen [wailing and crying now]: I have to fix ME!

Stephanie: I know. I know.

Jen [not at all comforted by Stephanie; in fact more distressed now]: Aaahh!!

Stephanie: Look, listen, you’re upset. It’s OK. Get upset. That’s when you know you’ve found the locus of the problem. This is the obstacle. It’s right here, now. Where you are upset.

Joelle: This is good!

Stephanie: It’s an opportunity.

Jen: I need help, I need help, I need help.

Stephanie: Stop needing.

Joelle: Stop needing!

[Jen breaks down in wailing sobs. Some time passes. Stephanie places her hand on Jen’s shoulder in an unconvincing gesture of support. Jen flinches slightly.]

Jen [calm now]: What did he say?

Stephanie [after a few moments]: Oh you know, Jen. [Sighs] It’s often not even what he says.

[Joelle nods as Jen looks at her and back at Stephanie with alarm.]

Jen: What did he SAY about me?

Joelle: He said you’re not being real.

[Stephanie flashes a quick look of irritation at Joelle as Jen buries her face in her hands, sobbing.]

Joelle [to Stephanie]: What? That’s what he said!

Stephanie: Joelle—while you are correct on the face of it, please be sensitive to the fact that Jen is in crisis at the moment. Furthermore, it’s not... responsible to repeat Master’s words like that. Willy nilly.

Joelle: Why is it irresponsible? It’s what he said. It’s what he meant. And also—

Stephanie: Shh.

Joelle: Also he told us to—

Stephanie [loudly, alarmed]: Shhh!

[Joelle looks down, chastened, a bit ashamed. Jen raises her head and stares in the distance, at neither of the other women. She’s suppressing her sobs now, sniffing, breathing hard. She appears to land on a realization.]

Jen [darkly]: Joelle, were you about to say that Master instructed you to confront me?

Stephanie [quickly, so Joelle does not reply]: Jen, that’s quite beside the point, we’re here to—

[Jen stands up, suddenly furious, and points at Stephanie.]

Jen: YOU’RE not real! YOU’RE not real! You goddamned bully!

Stephanie [a bit surprised, leaning back]: OK.

Jen [righteously angry]: It feels good, right? It feels good to be right and everybody else is wrong. You act like you know it all. Like you’ve got it figured out. It’s an ACT. That’s an act! And everybody knows it. You’re the biggest faker here!

[Stephanie composes herself for a brief moment and forces a wide smile at Jen.]

Stephanie: Good!

Jen [pointing at Stephanie]: FAKE! Not good! What you’re doing now! Look at that fake fucking smile! Trying so hard to be in control, to look like you predicted I’d be saying this, to look like you don’t mind. That it doesn’t hurt to hear. It should hurt. I’m hurting you!

Stephanie: Jen, you’re being REAL! You’re being REAL!

Jen: I’m not playing this fucking game. I’m fucking serious now. You’re a goddamn faker, and everyone knows it, and everyone has had it up to here with your judging and policing!

Stephanie: Jen, you’re having a breakthrough!

Jen: Maybe you’re right. And you’re having a breakdown. I’m taking you down. I’m calling you out.

Stephanie: Brilliant, Jen! Brilliant!

Jen: Maybe you’re not listening to a word I’m saying. Maybe you’ve never listened. Maybe you’ve never listened to anything anyone says.

Stephanie: Jen, this is wonderful. I’m proud of you!

Jen: You’re full of shit!

Stephanie: Jen, I’m seeing you! I’m hearing you! You are being heard!

Jen [pointing her finger]: And I’m telling you that you are FAKE, FAKE, FAKE. Not REAL.

[Stephanie turns to Joelle and smiles. Joelle smiles back. They touch hands briefly.]

Joelle: This is real, Jen! This is you being real!

Jen: You too, Joelle. Who the fuck are you? You’re a cypher. You’re a nobody. And I don’t mean that in a good way.

[Joelle tries to appear strong and endorse Jen’s transformation but her body language shows that she is shaken.]

Jen: You ran away and came here because you had nowhere else to go. No job. No boyfriend. Flunked out of school. Parents rolling their eyes. You came here to hide. Admit it! You came here to hide.

[She lets her words sink in, then turns back to Stephanie.]

Jen: Stephanie, you let Joelle follow you around like a fucking puppy because it gratifies your ego.

[At this, Stephanie stiffens—she now can’t help but show her defensiveness.]

Stephanie [with a forced little laugh]: OK, Jen. Listen—

Jen: Ha! You listen to me! Aren’t I being real? Aren’t you listening to me being real?

Stephanie [after a moment, sullenly]: Yes.

Jen: You think you impressed him and now you’re the little one-woman ego police. His right-hand woman, doing his dirty work. Pathetic. It feels good to put other people down, doesn’t it Stephanie?

[Stephanie visibly flinches.]

Jen [darkly sarcastically]: Oooh I touched a nerve! I touched a nerve! I found you Stephanie! I found you under there! You are a woman who enjoys making other people feel bad. Or maybe even enjoys making other women feel bad. That’s who you are. That’s the person you are. I’m right, aren’t I? Am I on to something?

[Stephanie is mute for a few moments. She’s clearly trying to suppress an emotion.]

Jen [suddenly]: BE REAL!

[At once Stephanie closes her eyes and bursts into tears. This goes on for a while, Jen looming over her. Jen crosses her arms. Uncrosses them, waiting.]

Joelle [earnestly]: That was beautiful, Jen.

Jen [slightly taken aback, almost offended]: Beautiful?

Joelle [enthusiastically]: You just did so much work! I’m just… moved. I’m impressed. Stephanie was there for you in such a real way. And look how you responded! And now you’re there for her! Look at her!

[Jen turns to Stephanie, who is still convulsing with sobs, now with her face in her hands.]

Jen [skeptically]: I’m looking at her right now, Jo.

Joelle: She’s having such a real moment! Thanks to you!

[A few moments pass as Joelle watches Stephanie happily and Jen watches her with some concern.]

Joelle [cheerily]: It’s like Stephanie was your teacher and now you are her tea—

Stephanie [lifting up her head and stopping herself from crying]: Shut UP Joelle!

Joelle [calmly]: I know! It’s har—

Stephanie: SHUT UP! SHUT UP! Shut the FUCK up!

Joelle [still calm, but tentative]: OK. Sure.

Stephanie: Why is this so hard? Why is this so goddamned hard?

Jen [shaking her head]: Yeah, I don’t know.

Stephanie: This doesn’t feel right. It can’t be right.

Jen: You’re right. You’re fucking right.

Stephanie [looking up sadly at Jen, who is still standing]: Jen, you and I were so close!

Jen: I know.

Stephanie: We were friends! We used to talk. And look at us now!

Jen [again shaking her head]: You’re right. It’s making me sick.

Stephanie: Jen, do you ever feel like there’s something wrong with this?

[Both Jen and Joelle tense up, shocked at what Stephanie is suggesting.]

Jen: Well, I—

Stephanie [tearfully]: I think about it all the time!

Joelle: Stephanie!

Jen [with some difficulty]: I know. I think about it too.

Joelle: Jen!

Stephanie: This can’t be right! Feeling like this can’t be right. This is no way to live!

Jen: Oh my God. Oh my God.

Stephanie: I feel completely terrible and scared and nauseous and guilty and ashamed every single day, every minute of every day.

Jen: So do I. Jesus Christ, so do I.

Joelle [imploringly]: Jen, Stephanie, hold on, hold on, hold on. Stop. This is a test. You’re being tested. Stay strong! Stay with the teaching. You know what’s happening right now. This is the Devil testing you. Master said it would happen! He said it would happen just like this. You have to stay strong! This is the moment! This is the moment right now!

[Jen and Stephanie look at Joelle with skepticism but some deference, too. CURTAIN.]


The curtain rises on Jen, Joelle, Peter, Sam, and Stephanie gathered in a dorm-style bedroom, some on the bed, others standing or seated at desk chairs. They are engaged in an animated discussion.

Peter: But you’re so close, Stephanie! You’re so close to… holding the universe in the palm of your hand!

Stephanie: So close, so close! But never there. Being told that is a kind of… mind control.

Sam: Careful what you say.

Stephanie: I can say what I want!

Sam: Careful what you say.

Stephanie: This is my genuine experience.

Peter: Oh listen to yourself. “My, my, my.”

Jen [adamantly]: We’re doing it, guys. We are just letting you know that we are doing it.

Peter [aghast]: Oh God, oh God, oh God!

Sam: I’m shaking right now. I’m visibly shaking.

Jen: The reason you’re shaking is you know we’re right. You just can’t bring yourself to admit it. Yet.

Stephanie: The time is now, guys. We’re talking about real liberation right? Real.

Jen: All those doubts in the back of your mind. In the front of your mind. They’re not distractions. They’re not delusions.

Stephanie: They’re real!

Jen: They’re real.

Sam: I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud but…

Peter: What are you saying, Sam?

Joelle: Sam! Careful what you say!

Sam: There’s something inside me that…

Joelle [imploringly]: Sam!

Sam [blankly, staring off]: That believes that Stephanie and Jen are right.

Peter: Oh God.

Joelle [sternly]: Sam, that thing inside you. You know what it is.

Peter: You know what he would tell you it is!

Joelle: That’s right. He would tell you it’s the Devil and you know he’s right.

Jen [disgusted]: And he should know! He’s got a Devil inside bigger than any one of us!

[There are gasps around the room, even from Stephanie.]

Jen: Come on! Come on!

Sam [in a whimper]: Careful what you say!

Jen: I am not going to be careful with the truth! He’s the biggest monster of us all!

Stephanie [fearful but admiring]: Jesus, Jen. Wow!

Jen: Remember the cake we made? That I made with Joelle?

[Various people nod.]

Jen: That motherfucker sent it back six times! We made him seven cakes!

[Some shake their heads in disbelief.]

Jen: Joelle, I’m not lying. Tell them it’s true. That we baked seven birthday cakes for him.

Joelle [sadly]: It’s true.

Jen: He didn’t like his fucking birthday cake six times and wouldn’t even tell us why. Peter, you were the one he told to tell us. He told you to tell us that he was unhappy with his cake. Six times! Am I lying?

Peter: No Jen, you’re not lying, but—

Jen: He’s not God, he’s just a little kid! He’s a little kid who figured out how to push everyone’s buttons so he gets SEVEN CAKES!

Peter [aghast]: No, no, no, no, no. Come on, Jen. You know that’s not what’s going on.

Jen: I’m saying the TRUTH!

Peter: He’s not, he’s not, he’s not—he’s not asking you to make him cakes because he likes cake!

Jen [a bit sarcastically]: Aw, Peter. Everybody likes cake.

Peter [his voice gradually rising]: He’s not some, some, some… some little KID who wants another cake and then another CAKE!

Jen [sincerely]: Then what the fuck does he want Peter? What does he want from us?

Peter: He doesn’t want anything from you Jen! Do you pay any goddamned attention to the teaching?

Jen: He rejected cake one, cake two. Cake three, four, five, and six. How is that part of the teach—

Peter: Jen, Jen, Jen, look. You know the answer to that. You know why he did that. Come on. Come on!

Jen: Peter, you better not be about to tell me he was teaching me a lesson.

Peter [adamantly]: He was teaching you a lesson!

Jen: That’s a load of SHIT.

Joelle [abruptly, almost involuntarily, to Jen]: That’s the Devil talking!

Peter: You KNOW it’s hard, Jen! You know these are hard lessons! The teaching is a challenge! It’s supposed to make you doubt! It’s supposed to awaken all of your suspicions, all of your skepticism, all of your cynicism! And when everything is out there it’s supposed to awaken you! It’s not easy! But this is the teaching! It’s a very powerful teaching and it works!

Jen [after a few moments]: I doubt.

Peter: Oh God.

Jen: I doubt.

Stephanie: I doubt too. Oh my God, I doubt too.

Sam [meekly]: I doubt too.

Peter: Sam!

Joelle: Sam!

Sam: I’m sorry! I doubt!

Stephanie: It’s not just the cake. It’s everything. We’ve all been on our hands and knees to scrub his floor. Arranged and re-arranged and re-arranged the flowers that greet him everywhere he goes. Searched strange cities for his tea.

Jen: His fucking tea.

Stephanie: What is it about? What is it actually about? You know, a dispassionate outside observer would say we’re in a cu—

Peter: No!

Stephanie [shaking her head]: Peter!

Peter: Don’t say it! Don’t say that!

Jen: Stephanie, you can say it with a capital C. It’s true and we’re leaving.

Stephanie: We’re leaving. And you can too.

Joelle [in a frenzy]: But when Master demands something he’s demanding you to be free. That’s all he wants! Peter’s right. He doesn’t want cake! He doesn't want something for him, he wants something for you. He has nothing but love inside him! He wants you to make it! If you resist, it’s the Devil that’s resisting! The Devil wants you in chains. What’s happening now is a test. It’s so obvious! Master taught us this! Master warned us this would happen!

Jen: Jo, Jo, Jo. For Christ’s sake Jo. You do know a little about Master’s demands, don’t you?

Joelle [taken aback, shaken]: What are you talking about?

Stephanie: Everybody knows, Jo. Everybody knows, everybody knows.

Joelle [tremblingly, defensively]: Listen to you! Listen to you ALL! Sneaking around and gossiping! Pointing fingers. Judging! And all the while pretending. Pretending you made it. What a… what a… DISGRACE!

Jen: That’s my point exactly.

Joelle [heatedly]: You know nothing! Remember! You know nothing!

[A few moments pass. Joelle is red-faced, breathing hard. The others wear sad, introspective looks.]

Stephanie: That’s not true. I know one thing.

[The others look at Stephanie expectantly.]

Stephanie: Tomorrow before the meditation I am going to defy him.

[Joelle and Peter gasp.]

Stephanie: I’m going to stand up on my own two feet and denounce him.

Joelle: Stephanie!

Stephanie: SHUT UP! [A few moments pass. Then calmly.] I’m going to stand up and tell him he’s a FRAUD.

Jen: I’m standing up too!

Stephanie: I’m going to tell him he’s a HYPOCRITE.

Jen: Yes.

Stephanie: I’m going to tell him he’s a SADISTIC CHILD.

[Joelle and Peter shake their heads.]

Sam [unsteadily, with emotion]: I’m going to stand up too!

Stephanie: I’m going to tell him if he has any idea what freedom means he’d cease his teaching right away. But he doesn’t. So he won’t. But the one thing I can do—we can do [looking at Jen and Sam]—is stand up and WALK AWAY.

Joelle: Stephanie.

Stephanie: What, Joelle.

Joelle: Stephanie, what about the events of—

Stephanie [rolling her eyes]: Don’t tell me about the events of—

Joelle [firmly]: Yes! The events of April 17th, 2015!

Stephanie [ruefully]: The events of April 17th, 2015.

Peter [standing up]: The events of April 17th! Thank you Joelle. We can’t sit and listen to this… this cowardice when every one of us is well aware of the events of April 17th!

Stephanie: To be perfectly honest with you, Peter, I’ve had it up to here with talk of the events of April 17th. It’s turned into such… code. A means of drawing lines between us.

Jen: Yes, dividing us. Testing us.

Stephanie: Testing, judging. Pushing. Making us feel worthless for not doing the goddamned [sarcastically] work required to live up to the fucking haloed events of April 17th.

Jen: I’m tired of the oppressive mythology of that date!

Peter: Oppressive mythology?

Jen [righteously]: That’s right. We’re never good enough, are we? Somehow we’re never worthy of living in the same universe as the one in which April 17th, 2015 took place.

Peter [imploring]: Sam, you were there! Weren’t you actually there on April 17th?

Sam [hanging his head, quietly]: I was.

Peter: I think you should tell the story. I think we need to hear the story.

Sam [slowly]: It was… it was… [beginning to sob softly, then stoically raising his head] Beautiful! It was beautiful.

Peter: Go on.

Sam: It was Master and a few of us. Eight or nine of us. A day like any other, really. We’d done a meditation and decided to take a walk out by the lake. I don’t know who decided. Maybe it wasn’t even Master. But it was a warm spring day. Everyone was so… relaxed for some reason. We sat in a circle on the grass. No one said much. Just a few words here and there. Small talk, I guess. About the weather. About the birds. The lake. And then [trying to contain his emotions]... it happened.

Peter: Tell us.

Sam: I felt a radiant light inside me. Like every atom in my body was shining, projecting light. Something inside of me… dissolved. I looked around and I, I [breaking down]... I realized it was happening to everyone else too! And they realized it was happening to me! We looked at each other like we’d never looked before. We spoke easily, freely. I’m not even sure what about. We spoke about what was happening but not like we were surprised. Because we weren’t surprised! It was all happening, it was happening to all of us, and it was meant to happen. There were no boundaries. Anyone could say anything. And everything was understood. I felt nothing but pure love for everyone and everything around me. Around me and beyond. We were by the lake but we were really floating in space. All my petty worries, my preoccupations, my doubts—they all were gone, annihilated. No more envy. No self-loathing. And I knew in my heart that death was an illusion. It was… it was... [through sobs] the most beautiful experience of my entire life!

[Various people approach Sam and touch him comfortingly, understandingly.]

Jen: Sam, that’s powerful.

Peter: It is. It really is. [Appealing to the group] Isn’t it?

[All solemnly offer nods and words of assent. A few moments pass.]

Stephanie: Sam, what happened on April 18th?

Sam: What?

Stephanie: That was April 17th. Tell us what happened on April 18th.

Sam [reluctantly]: Nothing.

Stephanie: What do you mean, nothing?

Sam [sighs]: Nothing happened.

Stephanie: Did your experience of April 17th persist?

Sam [quietly]: No.

Stephanie: Did you return to your, what did you call them, doubts and fears? Petty preoccupations? Tell the truth.

Sam [quietly]: Yes.

Peter: Stephanie, that’s cruel.

Stephanie: That’s cruel?

Peter: I think you’re being cruel. Yes.

Stephanie [livid]: You want to know what cruelty is, Sam? It’s having the ultimate power over someone and telling them they’ll never make it! Looking them in the eye and saying the chances they’ll make it are so infinitesimally small, they should go home right now. Go home and marry their girlfriend, finish school. Get a job and live out the rest of their days in the dark. Eating, fucking, watching TV. No chance of making it so might as well GIVE UP. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?

[Peter solemnly nods his head.]

Stephanie [growing emotional]: Henry was a good person! He didn’t fucking deserve that! And you know it!

Peter [saddened]: You’re right, Stephanie.

Stephanie [gritting her teeth as she tears up]: I wish he had gone home! [After a few moments] I wish he’d gone back to school and got married! And had kids! Lived a goddamned life!

Peter: We all do, Stephanie. We all do.

Stephanie [trembling with anger]: And you know what Master did after, don’t you? Don’t you?

Peter [hanging his head]: I do.

Stephanie [darkly angry]: He LAUGHED. He laughed about Henry. He laughed in front of me, and he laughed in front of you, and because he is what he is, and we are what we are, [bitterly] we laughed too. God I’m so ashamed! We were so WEAK, Peter. What kind of, never mind teacher, never mind master, what kind of… human being!... [She grows incoherent and finally breaks down. Jen stands up and puts her arms around her.]

Peter: Oh my God, Stephanie. You’re right. I know, I know. I’m sorry. You’re right.

Joelle: He was weak.

Stephanie [aghast]: What?!

Joelle: Henry was weak.

Stephanie: Joelle, I know you’re trying hard to be the good disciple here. But spare us for a second.

Joelle: He was weak!

Sam: Jesus, Jo. This can’t all just be some competition about who can survive and endure and put up with this goddamned shit day after day after day. That can’t be the—

Joelle: Stop looking for a way out! You’re all just looking for a way out!

Jen: Oh because the only way out is up, right Jo? Isn’t that how it works? And name one person who’s ever made it!

Sam: No one ever makes it.

Joelle [tentatively]: Robert made it.

Jen: Robert lost his mind, Jo. He thought he made it and then he had a fucking mental breakdown. He’s back living with his parents right now for Christ’s sake.

[Joelle doesn’t respond. After a moment she drops her head and closes her eyes.]

Jen: Tomorrow we’re walking out. We’re standing up after the teaching.

Stephanie: I’m going to denounce him. And then we’re all walking out. Are we all walking out? Peter?

[Peter stares in the distance a few moments.]

Peter [anxiously]: Oh my God. I am. I’m walking out.

Stephanie: Joelle?

Joelle: I can’t.

Stephanie: You can’t.

Joelle [resolutely]: I can’t and I won’t. I have integrity. I am committed.

Stephanie: Joelle, that’s Master’s mumbo-jumbo.

Joelle [defensively]: It is NOT mumbo-jumbo! How can you all sit here and throw away years of practice? Because you can’t make it? Because it feels good to quit? It feels good to see others quit? That’s the easy way out! You know it!

Jen: Joelle, it’s taking all the strength and resolve I have in my being to quit. Don’t accuse me of weakness.

Joelle: Listen to your pride! Listen to your ego! [Mockingly] Don’t accuse me. Master said this would happen! The Devil would test us, and test us, and test us again, and finally he’d test us so hard that we would desperately want to break, and that’s the moment not to break! I’m not going to break. I’m going to MAKE IT!

Sam: There’s no such thing as making it.

Joelle: Sam!

Sam: It’s an illusion. It’s a sick game designed to get us to make a lot of cakes. I’ve made enough cakes. I’ve done enough prostrations. In the morning. In the evening. Waist-deep in the freezing-cold lake.

Joelle: You’re weak and you just want to quit!

Jen: Joelle, fine. You’re free to do what you want to do. You can join us or you can stay. You’re an adult wom—

Joelle [suddenly emotional]: I don’t have anywhere to go!

Jen [compassionately]: Joelle, there’s always somewhere to go. We can go places together. We can—

Joelle: I don’t have anywhere to go inside! [She points her finger at her brain] I don’t have anywhere to go in here. I have to make it! Don’t you understand?

[No one responds. A few moments pass.]

Joelle [desperately]: If I don’t make it I’m gonna DIE!



A large gathering room. Two dozen men and women sit on the floor, perpendicular to the audience, facing a small platform at stage right that’s festooned with flower petals, with a white pillow on it. Jen, Stephanie, Peter, Sam, and Joelle occupy one row in the middle of the crowd. The people are murmuring among themselves but grow quieter in anticipation of the arrival of Master. Finally a reverential hush descends as Master enters slowly from stage right. His posture and gait are normal, not regal, but there is an air of supreme authority about him, and a subservient awe on the part of his followers. In fact, it’s hard to know how much of his charisma comes from him and how much from the crowd’s reaction to him. He sits in a cross-legged lotus position on the pillow and beholds his audience serenely. A few moments pass as the anticipation of his speaking builds.

Master [surveying the crowd]: How do we feel?

[Murmurs of positive words are heard.]

Master [teasingly]: Really? Come on. Someone feels bad out there. I don’t feel good all the time. Sometimes I feel bad. Sometimes I didn’t sleep right. Sometimes I have a headache. [After a beat] Sometimes I have a hangover.

[Chuckles are heard.]

Master: Someone feels bad. I just know it. [He scans his audience with an air of mild suspicion, as though he’s about to accuse someone.] Someone feels good. I just know it. [He furrows his brow and makes a little comical grimace. More chuckles are heard.]

Master: We feel good, we feel bad. Why do we feel bad? Because we want something we don’t have. Want, want, want. We lost something and we want it back. Someone else has something and we want it from them. Want. Why do we feel good? Because we got it! [He makes a curious guffaw, like an engine turning. The crowd laughs in response.] We got our hands on that thing. But the more we want, the more we get, nothing really happens, right? We’re not happy. We’re not satisfied. In fact we’re miserable. So now we want to break the chain. We want what? What do we truly, deeply want?

[He gazes about, indicating that this is not a rhetorical question. “Freedom” someone says. “To be free,” someone else says.]

Master: That’s right. Freedom. We want freedom. But the more we want it, the farther out of reach it seems. Right?

[Murmurs of assent.]

Master: That’s because we’re trapping ourselves. It’s the want trap! [Another guffaw. Then, somberly] That’s not your true self that wants to make it. That’s your ego. It wants a trophy. It wants a little gold star. It wants some kind of payoff for all the years of devotion, right? All the years of practice? The prostrations?

[He smiles knowingly at the audience and they do the same. They nod sheepishly.]

The ego is a businessman. It specializes in transactions. Deals! [In a salesman-y voice] Boy, do I got a deal for you. I give you A and you give me B. Let’s see what I can do to get what I want. No—let’s see how little I can do and still get what I want! [Guffaws] And what happens when the deal falls apart? When we pay, we pay, we pay and we get nothing in return? [Pauses, scanning the room.] We get mad. Don’t we get mad? We say, To hell with this. [Pantomimes a petulant child stomping away by swinging his arms by his sides] I’m leaving! [A longer guffaw] I’m leaving because I’m not getting what I want. I’m running away. Starting over. I’ll get a new job. I’ll make new friends. And maybe I’ll make it this time. Maybe I’ll make it like this. [Pantomimes a proud face] I’ll make it my way. [Long pause] Let me promise you something: You will never, ever, ever make it. As long as you’re in the cycle. As long as you’re in the trap. You will never, ever make it. [Somberly] You’ll be digging your grave deeper every day. That’s what your life will be. How deep can I make my grave? One shovel of dirt at a time. Deeper, deeper, deeper. I want food! Deeper. I want sleep! Deeper. I want sex! Deeper. I wonder what’s on TV! [Guffaws] Deeper. [Pause] I want to make it! Deeper still. So deep now. So deep.

[A long pause as Master beholds his disciples gravely.]

Master: The want trap. [Master recites the following quotes with a trace of mockery, looking around the room. Audience members cast their heads down in shame, in turn, as in each instance they realize he’s talking about them.] “I want to write a screenplay.” “I want to be a sculptor.” “I want to sing.” “I want to be a chef.” “I want to ride across the country on a motorcycle.” [Pause] “I want to be free.” [Pause] Want, want, want, want, want. Guess what? You don’t know what you want! You know nothing. Want nothing. Know nothing. [Pause] Know nothing.

[Another long pause. Then Master lifts up his arm and snaps his fingers.]

Master: Wake up! [He surveys the audience, who strive to appear as alert as possible in reaction to his command. He snaps his fingers again.] You know what that means: That means wake up. [Pause] Wake up! [Snap!] Wake up. When you’re drifting, when you’re falling. When you’re digging your own grave. [Snap!] Wake up. When you think you’re awake but you’re not. [Smiles broadly] Oh yes, that one. [Nervous chuckles around the room] You know what I’m talking about. [Mimics a plaintive, defensive student] “But I am awake!” [Shakes his head, smiling] You’re not awake! [More nervous chuckles from the crowd. Then another fingersnap.] Wake up! Whenever we feel bored, lonely. Tired. [Snap!] Wake up. [He surveys the room for a long moment, then softly] Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up. [After another pause] There’s no way out but up. [Pause] There’s no way out but up. There’s nowhere to hide. You can run away. You can go back home. You can run away to a physical place. Your parents’ house. Maybe an ex-boyfriend. An ex-girlfriend. You can run away in your mind. You can physically be here—stay here—but run away in your mind. [Guffaws] I’ve seen it happen! You can hide in your mind. Run away in your heart. In your soul. [Suddenly very serious] If you do that I will know. And if you do that you will know. We both will know! And I promise you that you will regret it deeply every moment of every day. [Snap!] You will hear that whether you respond or not. [Snap! Snap! Snap!] You will forever hear the snapping of my fingers. Telling you: Wake up. [Pause] Calling you to the truth. Wake up! I have nothing but complete love for you and that’s why I’m telling you: wake up.

[The audience is silent, reverent. Master exhales, feeling as though all that had to be said was said.]

Does anyone have anything to say?

[He scans the room, taking his time, perhaps expecting someone to reply. No one does.]

No one? [Smiling] OK. Now we meditate.

[There is a sense of a terrible, heavy pall falling upon the assembly. This is represented by an ominous, droning hum that had been playing in the past minute or so but is now just loud enough to be audible. Everyone who isn’t in one already slowly gets into a lotus position, drops down their head and closes their eyes. The stage light dims. The hum continues as all are now deep in meditation. Then the hum quiets as a solitary spotlight shines on Joelle. Her eyes open. She seems confused, scared, bewildered. She looks disbelievingly at Jen, Stephanie, Peter and Sam, all of whom are deep in their trance. She looks all around her, at the prone, quiet bodies. Hesitantly, unsteadily, she stands up, her eyes wide open. She furtively exits her row toward the front of the stage, careful not to draw any attention. Then she runs away, as if for her life, exiting stage right.]


Wednesday, November 06, 2019


a doctor’s expression could change to one of deep concern

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

I gazed out the window after putting Jackie to bed, before shutting the shades, and noticed again the window next door. There was a curtain on the bottom, suggesting a semblance of civilization, but through the top shone a single, harsh, bright light, not a normal bulb but a sparkling dot like a little star that made the room featureless and white and I wondered how anyone could tolerate it, what went on in there, was it some kind of torture chamber.

Thursday, September 19, 2019


Francine believed with all her heart that the altar was Calvary and that again Jesus was offered up for sacrifice.

On my way out of the Bay Ridge Ford Service Center I walked toward the barrier at the entrance, a chain guarded by a man in a booth. I was going to step over it I guess, or walk around it, when there was the man lowering it to the ground, Sir Walter Raleigh-like, so I could walk over it without a care. I thanked him.

“OK, hey! You’re welcome, you’re welcome! No problem at all. No problem. Only one thing, just—see, this here’s a street. There’s cars comin’ in and out. So if you would do me a favor. Just use the sidewalk over there.” He indicated it on the far side with his outstretched hand, still holding the chain in the other. “Just so, you know. For your safety. You understand? Just a favor for your safety.”

I smiled and nodded and agreed and thanked him and smiled.

“‘Cause this here’s a street, see. There’s cars passin’ through. So as a matter of safety. Your safety, you understand? Just as a favor. Use the sidewalk please. Next time. You understand? But you’re welcome, you’re welcome. Have a great day!”

Friday, September 13, 2019

Late at night while washing dishes I had an insight that the Grateful Dead’s peak years of cultural influence were not the ‘60s but the ‘80s.

When I got into the Dead I thought I was late to the party. The ‘60s had happened, the ‘70s too. Jerry fat and gray. I wasn’t around for the Acid Tests, the Be-In. The Fillmore, the Carousel, the Avalon. What could it have been like to go to a concert on a Tuesday night, get dosed by Bear and wind up naked in the park, not lost and despairing but with a dozen kindred souls, all laughing ecstatically, scrutinizing the straight world as it awoke to go to work and not giving a fuck except about the universe? This happened, I know. But not to me.

Shows seemed to occur on the fly yet were promoted—and so memorialized—by gloriously psychedelic posters. Cost a buck to get in, maybe five or maybe nothing. For years this band had played in parks, on the street, on campuses, all the while revolution in the air. I know—I saw the pictures in the books. How I wished I was there. All the clothes were cooler. The hair. Everything was happening and nothing was predictable. You could probably go right up there and sit on that stage if you wanted, by the tangle of cables and the speakers with the tie-dye grilles.

When their audience got bigger the Dead responded in kind: a sound system three stories tall, shows that lasted hours and hours, long weird Dark Stars. Egypt on a lark. I missed all that, too. Now the band seemed diminished, constrained; endlessly touring the hockey arenas of the United States, subject to regulations as to when to stop. Set lists, though still varied and unique, had acquired a creeping formality: some songs were openers, some closers; there were first-set songs and second-set songs and everybody knew the encores. The weirdest music all tidied up and filed away in the middle of the second set. There were tendencies for certain sequences. Tendencies for sequences of sequences. Ronald Reagan was president; nothing was happening and everything was predictable.

I got it on good authority that Jerry was a junkie and I thought, my God. The darkness of it. The coldness. In my naive head all filled with flowers it seemed like a betrayal.

But the music was still there. Jerry bent at the neck, playing furious triplets in dorian mode. The drummers never hitting anything at once. Or on the one. Phil. There was a careening, dangerous quality to the music—dangerous in the sense of something big that’s falling over—that could be quite compelling if you were so inclined. And quite not if not, which kind of proves the point. Turns out the formality provided a context, a foil. The deviations, the surprises, they meant more than mere chaos ever could.

In fact the Dead were never more powerful and influential. They reached many, many more people than they had before. If you were a kid in Pittsburgh, or St. Louis, or Santa Fe, you went to the Dead show when it came to town. Like it or not. There weren’t a lot of kicks to be had in this country in 1983. No Instagram and nothing on TV. If you wanted to do anything interesting you’d better see the Grateful Dead.

It only took a few influential stoners to go at first, then next time ‘round there’d be a horde: younger siblings, someone’s preppy girlfriend and all her friends, jocks who got drunk in the parking lot. And this cycle of influence was a machine: for years the band played up and down the East Coast every spring and fall, through the middle of the country every summer and on the West Coast all the other time. It would be difficult to not go to a Grateful Dead concert.

And everyone took acid. Didn’t matter if they liked the band or not. Many did, but for sure many didn’t. I remember the scene at the Springfield Civic Center in the spring of ‘86. I went with my Deadhead friend Bill like always but there were lots of others from our school. Being a devotee I hoped pridefully that they’d get it, that their minds would be blown by the music. Of course they didn’t give a fuck—except maybe one or two that did. There was always the one or two. But most of them were there because it was there, man. I recall watching a friend, a popular kid whose tastes ran toward the Hooters and Crowded House. He roamed past circles of dancing hippies, bemused, while his best friend sat nearby, cradling his LSD-exploded head between his knees. What the fuck were they doing there? Wrong question. How the fuck could they not be there?

The Dead in fact instilled in the American adolescent a reflex for taking psychedelic drugs and going to the coliseum, maybe telling off a cop or two, then finding their way home Gonzo-style to put the pieces back together. Wake up late for school and mumble at their moms. Kids began to do this at every show—not just the Dead. When Iron Maiden came to town, same thing. Clapton, same thing. The Police, Def Leppard, Bad Company. Didn’t fucking matter. No matter the music, no matter the culture it was intended to represent, when performers looked out from the stage they saw thousands of dosed-out teenagers whose perceptions and reactions could not be relied upon too well. The Acid Test continued.

This was the true influence of the Grateful Dead, and their legacy too.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019


The nurse looked and clucked in horror.

I check my spam folder as a procrastination exercise. Nothing legitimate, nothing new from that Estonian hacker trying to make me think he’s watching me. Just parking deals at JFK and LGA. Discounts at the go-kart track.

Awoke to someone using the whole keyboard at the end of a tune, rumbling bass notes. I had been dreaming about moving out of a house and writing songs at the same time. The songs, two of them, were turning out well except I was having trouble rhyming “morning.” The line was something like, “And if we’re still together come the morning,” and I wanted to avoid rhyming it with “warning” ‘cause I’ve done that already in another song. Can’t have two morning-warning songs. But what else? All I could think of was “adjourning.”

Monday, September 09, 2019

We sat at the bar with money in dwindling piles, like gamblers with their chips. The team was losing, losing, losing and then it was winning, and then it won. We talked about music and restroom hand-drying technology.

We joined our families outside. The sun moved slowly. Maybe sometimes not at all. Finally we said goodbye to our friends who are moving and then we left.

Saturday, September 07, 2019


I don’t know whose idea it was. Maybe mine. But one night we got drunk like we did a lot of nights and drove the back roads home. At a fork there was an orange-and-white striped barrel with an orange light on top, blinking stupidly into the dark, guarding nothing, warning of nothing.

We stopped and I got out. No cars around, no houses. I grabbed the thing—could it even be lifted? Was it weighted with cement or somehow affixed in place, per some regulation? No. I had it in my arms like it was waiting to be taken. I carried it back, hurriedly, conscious now of the illicitness of my deed.

I placed it in the trunk and we drove off, happy, laughing. Satisfied. A fuck you to the Man under cover of the night.

At home we displayed it in the kitchen for a while. We formed a circle around it and watched it blink at us. We laughed. We stopped laughing. We drank. We laughed again.

Finally we dispersed and I took it upstairs to my room. I examined it in the quiet and the solitude. It blinked relentlessly. If I focused on the light everything else around it disappeared. I could almost hear it. Feel it. I put it in the closet and went to bed.

I awoke fitfully before dawn, disturbed by an alien presence, menacing and nameless. The light was pulsing through the gaps around the closet door, filling the darkened room with orange bursts. It seemed to have grown brighter in the night. Stronger. I pulled the covers over my head.

In the morning I opened the closet, hoping somehow it’d be gone. Blink. Blink. Blink. Blink. Blink. I opened the window and leaned out. There was a basement window well below, maybe five feet deep. I dragged the thing over and heaved it out. I watched it fall heavy through the air, wobbling a little. It landed softly, quietly, in a bed of copper-colored leaves. Blink. Blink. Blink. Blink. Blink. I went down and buried it good under the leaves and dirt. Soon winter would come with ice and snow. We’d all move out eventually. Get married, have kids. Careers.

But the infernal blinking would go on and on.