Archive | April, 2013

Hourglass

Cormac Russell

The singer signaled for the choir to release the songs he wrote
While burying the parchment in the pocket of his coat
But the choir wouldn’t sing it, so he stormed out of the church
Saying “I was wrong. I won’t be here for long.”

Then the street fell asleep and he blew the mist
Into the palm of her hand, spinning stones across the sand
The boats were trawling up the coastline while she poured her thoughts in him
Like an hourglass, saying “Time will pass.”

The comets leapt like angels burning bright across the night
When I heard ghost of Gabriel strumming chords composed of light
The music fastened with the fingers of a player dressed in white
Saying, “Time is done. You won’t be here for long.”

So I kissed her on the bridge and woke up on a ledge
I fell into the sky praying, “Please don’t let me die”
Then they pulled me from the edge
A herd of tigers guided me into the crimson black sky

Mermaids were swimming in the ocean – from my window I could see
A blue eyed girl with pale white hair glancing up at me
I paused a moment thinking that her gaze would suck me in
Then I saw the stars reflecting light from Mars

I imagined that my bedroom would teleport through time
When I could wear my hair long and sing sentences in rhyme
When the saints would whisper through the paint and tell me everything
That I need to know – how to make Time flow

So I kissed her on the bridge and woke up on a ledge
I fell into the sky praying, “Please don’t let me die.”
Then they pulled me from the edge
A herd of tigers guided me into the crimson black sky

Envy

Anthony Ward

My mood refluxes my gut,
A hint of mint
Escaping my mouth
Without reaching my brain.

My temper burnt out
With the icy sensitivity thawing,
As I wish
I could just melt into the flaw.

Internet Dating

Fiona Sinclair

At first my ‘best side’ photo is mobbed by men
so feel like Scarlett O’Hara at a ball,
until I discover lads seeking carefree cougar sex
or a meal ticket,
and from my own demographic;
inquiries after my hosiery,
and panting mobile numbers.

I search through my matches past Kray twin lookalikes,
married men wearing tell-tale dark glasses,
sad self portraits with bed sit back grounds,
for the handful of guys I might accept a drink from-

beginning to e-flirt with grin and wink emoticons,
over the week I virtual two time
men from Rochester and Deal,
who bus stop chat about work and their tea,
neither making the gear change up to seduction.
Difficult I suppose for most blokes
who barely scrawl a birthday card for mum,
to strike a balance between “Hello Sexy” and “It’s raining here”,
and write me into bed with Casanova craft.

Stood Up

Fiona Sinclair

Creeping away from bed and favourite thriller,
you must wash your hair, again,
perform yet another make-up legerdemain,
clamp yourself into iron maiden jeans.

At 52, you do not listen for his car’s theme tune
but on scavenged paper list marmite, toilet roll, milk..
checking clocks you realise he is 30 minutes late,
an old wound twinges He has stood you up.

You rehearse a carefree Where are you?
for his answerphone indifferent as a butler
stretch out before ‘Strictly’
breaking your diet’s indefinite Lent.

Sunday, you are bruised by last night’s blow,
not for shame of the mini-jilt,
but allowing the man’s You have beautiful eyes…
to turn your middle aged head.

Coffee Morning

Fiona Sinclair

Front door ajar, no Jack Russell alarm,
their house has the uncanny air of a crime scene.
‘’Hello?’’
‘’We’re all in the living room!’’
Her casual text had suggested coffee and gossip at the kitchen table.
I put on ‘Jolly Fiona’ like a heavy coat and enter,
am a brief comic turn as I reveal with a conjurer’s flourish
my contribution , a partially consumed sponge;
which is placed on the coffee table beside
a voluptuous gateau and showy cup cakes.
I wince at every incision as my remnant is surgically sliced
’’So everyone can have a piece‘’
then remains uneaten on the plate.

Peeping over my coffee cup,
the other guests are all couples,
paired like ornaments around the room,
making me the oddment in a boot fair bric-a brac box.
Chat reverts to teenagers at college,
a foreign language to me so I watch the jubilee on the TV
and get tipsy on carbohydrates.
Changing course their conversation continues to blow
straight through me,
my initial jollity deflates like air
from a punctured balloon.
I clock watch for my escape plan’s zero hour.
At one , several false starts , as my dry mouth has rusted up.
Finally I scramble mumbling ’ Lunch date’,
then scurry to my car like the last of my species
shown the door by Noah.

The Fashionable Thing

Neil Leadbeater

The most important question sociologists are asking these days is “where were you when company X launched the i-phone?”

“Oh, I was halfway between Queen Street and Wellington Square when the red ribbon snapped and the crowd surged forward in a sea of expectancy…” somebody said.

“Yes, but where were YOU?”

“I was in a dilemma.”

“I was over the moon.”

“I was off-limits.”

The answers came flying back in a virtual continuum.

“And what were you wearing?”

“A smile.”

“Lipstick.”

“Dolce and Gabbana.”

“Were you aware that this was going to be an historic moment?”

“Oh, yes, definitely. A defining moment. Although it was only later that I learned that universities had re-shaped the curriculum to coincide with events: European History from 1650 until the time when company X launched the i-phone; Language and the i-phone; The Politics of the i-phone; Economics after the i-phone.

Life changed that day. The sociologists say so. Everyone remembers what they were doing They all know what they were wearing. Now we divide every aspect of our lives into the time before and the time after THE BIG EVENT. Even the mannequins (who were not wearing anything) walked out of the shop fronts and wiped the smile from their faces. Yes, they acquired a life of their own because everyone else was giving theirs up in order to buy the i-phone. Conversation died that day. The quiet contemplation of nature slipped by unnoticed.

“Who were YOU with that day?”

“Mary Quant, Vivienne Westwood and Yves St Laurent (metaphorically speaking).”

“What were YOU doing that day?”

“I was going for a job interview. I wore a mini in midnight blue and spent most of the interview crossing and uncrossing my legs. It was the best dialogue on offer and they bought it wholesale as they always do. They gave me the job.”

“What were you driving?”

“A hard bargain.”

What did you say to the interviewer?”

“I said I know how to use the i-phone…would you like to see my i-phone?…He really liked it.”

Face-to-face contact lost its connectedness that day. Reactions to sights and sounds were nullified. The wider wonder of the outside world shrank to the counterpane and the art of living was reduced to a few digital routine manoeuvres, heads bowed down in subservience to that all-important phone…

“What did you have in your handbag?”

“Estée Lauder”

“Estée Lauder”

“Estée Lauder”

“And what did you do next?”

“I remember walking into the opticians and asking if I could select a pair of glasses. I had to explain that I didn’t want an eye test, that my vision was 20/20. The glasses were just for wearing on top of the head – a sort of fashion statement.”

“We get a lot of requests like that,” they said. “I take it you just want the frames?”

Now for a moment of reflection.

Our i-phone, which art in our hand, your time has come. Your will be done. Give us this day our connections. Forgive us for not paying attention to anything else when it is now no longer meaningful; lead us not into the temptation of buying the next version and the version after that (whenever that will be) and deliver us from technological failure for this is the only thing that is important to us anymore – the power and the icon. For ever and ever, O.K.

Next month, it will be so last year.

Nightingales

Neil Leadbeater

“Nightingales” was in one of those mean streets where everything is bland during the daytime but hots up after dark. That’s when the flashing lights come into their own, the fluorescent strip above the door, the strobe effect inside. It is where the young like to be among their trendy friends.

When asked, neither Mr Rocking nor Mr Rolling could remember how they had happened to hit upon the name except to say that they liked the idea of something slightly secretive. A nightingale was not, after all, open in all its habits. It hid itself in clumps of foliage even when full-throated, seductive in its song.

At first there was a rumble of opposition but when the local residents realised that it was another way of keeping the youth off the streets – that is, until the club closing time – they caved in and acquiesced in the hope of a quiet life. For some it was, after all, the most exciting place to be on a Saturday night in an industrial town that had long since gone to seed. This was especially so if you were over 18 and under 25 and tired of looking at rain.

The DJ’s spun all the latest discs for the chicks to strut their pride. Most of the time it was innocent enough; just a welcome relief to work off stress form the boredom of daily life. Mr Steady made sure of that. He had a knack of counting the drinks so that all the lads and all the lassies kept on the right side of being sober and went home without a fuss. It was, after all, in his interests to do so. He didn’t want Rocking and Rolling to lose their license. The pair of them were two sides of an equilibrium that kept the show on the road. They looked after each other’s backs.

Things took a turn for the worse though when Mr Steady left. Mr Reeling took over and he had other ideas. He thought that the place had lost its edge. Numbers were tailing off. The club had gained an aura of respectability. The bottom line was that it no longer had the pulling power that was once admired by the young.

It was time to turn up the volume, to let the lads loose at the bar and entice the girls to show a bit more beneath their skimpy dress. Rocking and Rolling were not too sure about this but they needed the money and, in order to get it, they had to move with the times. Whenever they were faced with an incident they tried to contain it inside. This was what Mr Steady would have done. The last thing they wanted was the noise of the law outside.

Reeling thought otherwise. To him, publicity of any kind would give the club an edge. In his book, a bit of notoriety could be a good thing, He welcomed the police with open arms and spoke to them with great civility. He was, he said, “on their side” and treated them with respect.

Rocking and Rolling were out of their depth. Reeling had taken over. He was too powerful for them, too manipulative by half. They only wanted a good time but he wanted the big adventure. He liked to ride on the pillion.

Rocking and Rolling sat on the fence while Reeling shook it from side to side. His downfall was that he never thought the time would come when he would one day tip the scales.

About a year later it happened. It was what every club owner feared. Two lads broke into an argument over a girl. Before long, fists and tankards began to fly. Rocking and Rolling couldn’t pull them apart. Girls started screaming and there was a general rush for the door. One of the lads hit the other so hard his head struck the bar and he fell concussed to the floor. There was broken glass everywhere. The police waded in to the maelstrom like Napoleon at Waterloo. This was no covert operation. It was not as if they had been watching the place for weeks on end. They just got a tip-off and blew the lights out seconds after the event.

This time the publicity was really bad. Nightingales was on the front page of the local. Inch-thick capitals spelt it all out. The premises were sealed off and the police were swarming everywhere. Reeling had let in the unacceptable. All year he’d been opening the door that little bit wider and now it had entered and taken possession and he was, for once in his life, powerless to do anything about it. Mr Steady would never have let things get to this. Mr Steady was a man of tradition. At the back of his mind he had known all along that every time a nightingale sings she does so with her soft breast pressed against a thorn.

Only Everything

Ken Pobo

When we kissed the sky didn’t look
like Gleason in The Honeymooners.
Come to think of it, we both

resemble Jackie now except
that he’s dead. Alive,
we’re remembering tithonias,

a bold orange light
shown right in the moon’s face—
it’s only love, it’s only everything,

it’s only new bulbs
we snug in before
the ground freezes.

Sweet William

Ken Pobo

In spring this flower
gets natty red plates
with jagged edges
that summer shatters—

I snip the stalks
way down. In August,
six new plates appear—

sun, moon
and even a few hungry
stars stop in
to eat off what

early autumn
starts to crack

Happy Haiku*

Virginie Colline

popsicle kisses
the sweet sixteen is laughing
on the Ferris wheel

insouciant hours
crazy hopscotch and leapfrog
in the spring garden

silence on the beach
your sky vast and crystal clear
my heart wide open

a smile of bonheur
the French word for happiness
blooms like a flower

*Previously published in Haiku Journal

We People

Stephen Mead

mostly like walks: coffee cafes, talk river,
occasional laugh bursts & some (lots of)quiet——
Indulgence is insular, & sometimes it’s too much,
sometimes, just right: escape sought in books, movies,
in wondering about others, in not wondering, not——
Long music mornings, afternoons & twilights widening nights
toward a narrowing dawn either fought, dreaded or accepted like slumber.

Then, of course, there’s the dancing, the tangling, the organizing,
the legislating, the resistance or did we give in?

I remember a flash of red: cardinal from the clothesline
2 stories down, that flitting immediacy senses seized.
I remember sunspot days, everything a vivid shimmer, colors:
fuzz enriched. I remember living a single breath with
2,3,4 a.m. strolls of black clarity, of being camera shy of
eyes, other shoppers, other windows, crystal nerves, desperate
anger, anger reined & calm without blindness giving way
to a shrug, a giggle, to a kindness hurt moved beyond.

I hurt for you, you hurt…
& passion entered, enters too, passion linked to all these
things——the walking, the leaving a restaurant & once
in a while,
harassed, smiles
not just getting by because
hatred said wrong: wrong the closeness, even when
there are differences, wrong the surfaces,
the perceptions of what,
who, you & me are.

I remember thinking someday all this would be an artifact,
& money no object (is it?) or maybe even a means,
& the hatred also obsolete, but not the needs, the walks.
Long ago. Some day. Passion. Hand found hand.
Feet, each, a pace, together & diff…
Yes, god knows, & knowing hell, that’s what I believe.

Rain On Your Wake

Stephen Mead

A celebration tonight
for your birthday, 76th, reached nearly
in life, Mom, reached nearly despite
the last agonizing months, eight,
which the diagnosing doctors
overlooked the severity of,
& you not entirely out of mind enough,
giving it the old heave ho’s good try
with a smile to appreciate
beneath the hair net & wincing gaze…

Thus I have learned courage,
as adhered to your spine as the fungus
discovered too late amid the blood
clot havoc in that rehab which could not
rehabilitate you through the I.C.U,
or the Hospice, a fought for blessing,
bringing your grace now to this night.

Outside it is raining, Mom,
& suddenly warm for January,
a thaw in our lives, this river of grief
lavender as your roses, your irises,
your lilies, fertile in the delft
ivy twines over the oak of
& you are own beloved Beauty Sleeping.

Like a time capsule you are submitted
for some heaven on earth, submitted,
a love letter whose enchantment
we are not ignorant of,
yet with no magic key save faith
for the breaking of the spill
on this mournful voyage we fall
& heal through, perhaps just like
this drizzle is

eternity’s rice

BSAA Star Dust, 2 August 1947

Phil Howard

‘STENDEC’ – what could it possibly mean?
A desperate message sent on an Andean
Flight. Perhaps the control tower misunderstood,
Yet the word was confirmed twice in Morse Code,
The last word from an old-time aeroplane
Flown into a South American mountain –
The Jet-Stream may have caused a navigational error,
Then Star Dust flew into dirty weather –
Could it be that the radio operator
Was confused, phased by the unpressurised air?
God alone knows what he meant to say
But STENDEC was Star Dust’s opaque goodbye;
A case where the gap was an ocean-wide
Between sign and that which was signified.

Vulture

Mark Nenadov

Carrion, carrion!
You’ve landed—but you must carry on
the side of the road isn’t the spot
for a feathered warrior.

Soar on
my friend
your wing shows a gap
a lost battle perhaps
you must fly on
before it happens again.

Sadly you patrol the clear blue paths
once again, once again
no sign of weakness
but for a weather worn gait.

This cruel earth shows no love to you
no fear to speak of
but you patrol boldly
soar on, soar on
feathered warrior.

Where do you go beyond the roof
of clear blue sky?
Where do you lay your head
as the world stands aloof?

Epitaph

Mark Nenadov

Whether your voice fashioned it or not
your last blast is caught in cracking rock
and as the whole world races by
they’ll see and pause in your memory.

I found your moan
in a book of epitaphs
copied from sadly chiseled stone.

You gave me hope
that a mystery was concealed
somewhere between the lines
obscured by cracks in the stone
which marks out your home.

( )

Jon Plunkett

Today I rode to work on nothing.
No bike. No Road.
Just a head full of nothing,
spinning off into the suck
and pull of the vacuum.

I carried on into the chasm
if only briefly,
until I found the other side
and rode back out again.
Then the grim empty

of the void’s silent space.
After that I was pummelled
in the flint-black crush
of the holes abyss
turning inward and inward

with each revolution,
all thoughts mashed
and pulped to irrelevance.
I think there was even
a small pop as I imploded,

and became part of nothing.
Part of that stealthy thing
always elusive, always
skulking in the beyondness
of anything and becoming

something when considered.
Today I rode on nothing,
but full of hope
that there is a bike, is a road,
so I can find my way back home.

Non-curriculum

Jon Plunkett

Inside the glasshouse, a metal strut.
Upon the strut, a jar – open.
Inside the jar, honey, sun, a wasp,
its wings glued to a fold, legs

motion slowly in the gloop, abdomen
throbs a sting at nothing.
A child watches, his mouth
a small o, eyes unblinking.

He stares,
stares,
blinks,
runs.

i should have watched your eyes

Jim Bennett

it was one of those moments when the world changed when towers fell when a bullet reached for Kennedy’s head let out the echo of Marilyn singing happy birthday to a soon to be corpse

those picture remain like bricks in a wall conspiracies waiting for the bull dowser to rip them apart and reveal their hidden surfaces in there somewhere in that wall is the lies you brought to our alter and the sacrifice of blood made when you made a promise

but it wasn’t just a promise was it it was an oath and like some oathsworn you were cursed for breaking it cursed by whatever devils move through the world drag at your skin at night poke burning strands into adipose

in the first of the morning light when fingers move along rib cage like a token rosary

i should have watched your eyes they let light into your dark places show the lurking moments when your feelings skulk in the edges of a smile incomplete insincere and irresolute in the corners always in the corners the mouth that doesn’t quite turn up enough the creases that mark laughter round your eyes that do not move enough, the half smile that shows contempt

but then your eyes your eyes i should have watched your eyes i should have watched your eyes seen the sword of hate that swept at me and cut me down brought all i was to some sorry state wondering what was happening while you smiled but your eyes did not

A Grim Depletion, 1819

Chad Norman

Mary rolling in the sand;
a small sealed box in grass by the beach

How our planet withstands the many lives
roiling the lithe hopes of restoration
and overcoming the conquests for comfort
hardly gets beyond the hot stretching drop
of a memory, I ready for, like any desert
under the anxious widening shadow of a meteor.

I once was such a planet. Before the exile
and confinements, before death sat refreshed
upon a collection of empty notched cradles
set in a circle around my still imagination,
my inability to seek, a slack limited thought
finally lifting my chin from my chest.
I resembled a slow rotation. A partial orbit.

All the children were dead. Our brave shunned circle
spun back to three, like the day we left
the deft tongues of London, the minds of parents
stricken with the ills of debts and domination.

Our bright hated triad stuck away stock moments,
clearly shedding the disbelief we quietly carried
throughout Italy until our eyes had to speak,
so the moral hour they met hardened in the mind
trying me alone for errors I allowed to erect
the blasted cell of a love our lives began to pace.

Sucsex

Arthur C. Ford, Sr.

People, People the headlines say:

“Before society puts you away

Cast your votes, place your bets

Make sure you get your dose of sucsex”.

It’s two in one if you get all

One will only get you balled

The other keeps you on the screen

And smitten your life in magazines.

With beauty, brawn, oh yes!

Education!!

You challenge neighboring

And third world nations.

You sing, you dance, and act to script

You “break a leg” and “break a hip”,

You pierce a lip, you sink a ship

Not really caring

What happens next

Sucsex! Sucsex! Sucsex!

You build a mansion, but forget a deck

You wear a clock around your neck,

Sculpting wood and your anatomy

You win a statue at the Academy.

Spondee.spandex,trochee you’re next

The stress, the strain

You change your name,

A spoon’s too small, rehab.’s your call

You smoke, you drink

Your agent thinks

What song’s the best?

Sucsex! Sucsex! Sucsex!

So!

why do we call them”Stars”?

For they’re not out of reach!

And they can’t warm a beach!

So! why do we call them “Stars”?

Beethoven’s Tuning Fork

Byron Beynon

A memory within music,
a ripening
with vineyards overgrown,
and your mind’s ear in tune;
alert with days
you look through a small window
at strangers,
the relentless wave-pulse,
uncorked knowledge
on a journey
through a territory
where time gathers
shards of meaning.
A frustration of the heart’s
burning sound,
your quiet breath of power
blurring with the grey rain.

Coming Home

Alyssa Cooper

That was the first night
that I carried your lights home;
I’d kept them safe
through night,
and carried them
with fragile hands –

and they led me home.

I’ll remember that night
forever.
Smiling
in the passenger seat,
feet on the dash and robed
in smoke.
I saw you in the mirrors;
I bathed
in your voice.

On those old country roads
I was glad
that I never learned to drive.

Whipping through the night
like banshees,
like witches,
we voiced the laughter we couldn’t
hide,
and it escaped
through open windows;
it was stolen
by the night.

The world opened up
like a playground,
swings and sand
that swallowed my feet;
leaping fences
and broken chains.
We laid in grass,
under swollen skies,
and watching the pulsing lights,
the throb of
heat
behind the clouds,
we waited for rain
that never came.
We breathed sweet smoke,
our familiar intoxication,
and I counted
the stars;
I found the constellations that tried so hard
to hide.

And I swore to myself,
you will remember,
forever.
Even as the roach
slipped
from my fingers, finding yours,
and I bathed in the swelling waves
of your voice,
it was the voice inside
that deafened,
echoing
in the night time air.

You will remember
forever,
it promised me.
You will never

ever

forget.

Looking Out for Mrs. Ruff

Donal Mahoney

Opal Ruff, at the age of 83, had been sitting in the same corner of the red vinyl couch in the tiny lobby of the New Morse Hotel almost every day for the last three years. Her eldest son, Herman, a bachelor in his sixties, had brought her to the hotel shortly after her husband, Noah, had died of a heart attack on Christmas Day, 1969.

“I don’t want to go there,” Mrs. Ruff protested at the time, but Herman had responsibilities of his own and insisted that she pack up and move into the hotel.

The New Morse was more of a warehouse for the aged than a hotel. It was not the kind of place Mrs. Ruff would have selected for herself had she been able to get around without a walker. Old folks signed in and many of them never signed out. Funeral home attendants would carry them out. Relatives of the deceased would come by and carry out their belongings in brown paper bags.

It’s not that Mrs. Ruff thought she was too good for the New Morse Hotel. It took a couple of months but eventually she adjusted to her new environment. Now she lived with ash trays in the lobby rather than doilies in her living room. It took a while to get used to a major change like that.

The other residents, most of them elderly males, had gotten used to seeing her on the couch two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. She would sit in her corner of the couch saying the rosary in silence, lips moving, her hair in a tidy bun, her long dress down to her ankles. She could easily have passed for the mother or grandmother of the woman in the famous painting, “American Gothic.”

While Mrs. Ruff said her rosary, the male residents would take turns sitting in the uncomfortable easy chairs, reminiscing and trading tales about when they were young and randy and not limited to the lobby of the New Morse Hotel.

Considering the nature of the men’s conversation, it was fortunate Mrs. Ruff was stone deaf and never wore her hearing aids in the lobby. She had worn them in her first few months but now she left them in her tiny room so she could pray and not have to hear the men discuss their lives in pursuit of women. Mrs. Ruff had nothing against sex. In fact, she had presented Mr. Ruff with eight children, four boys and four girls. All of them lived in other states now, except for Herman, who was busy rearing six children of his own without the help of his wife who, for some reason Mrs. Ruff didn’t understand, had unexpectedly committed suicide.

“Noah and I had a good marriage,” Mrs. Ruff would occasionally say if someone inquired politely about her life before moving into the New Morse Hotel. “He was very healthy for his age and no one expected him to have a heart attack. But he hit the floor with a thump and never moved. I knew he was gone when his water broke and it soaked the living room rug.”

Poverty was the one thing most of the men who lived in the hotel had in common. But there were also a few retired gentlemen who had small pensions as well as Social Security checks they could count on. They chose to live in the New Morse because they appreciated the Ashkenaz Restaurant, which was located on the floor beneath the hotel and was known throughout Chicago for its Jewish cuisine. Most of the dishes were favorites of the Ashenazi and Sephardic Jews who lived in the neighborhood, some of them survivors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald as tattooed numbers on their forearms would always attest.

Harris Cohen didn’t have a tattoo. He had been born eight decades ago in America. He liked the matzoh ball soup and the knishes and kishke that he could order at Ashkenaz. Every month, on the day he received his retirement check, he would celebrate with a pastrami sandwich on rye, loaded with mustard.

“I have never eaten better pastrami,” Harris would often say, “not even in New York.”

He had eaten these specialties all his life and that is why, after retiring from the railroad where he had worked 40 years as a conductor, he chose the New Morse Hotel as his residence. Every morning, unlike most of the other men, he would shave, put on his short-sleeved white shirt, a nice tie, and the navy blue pants he saved from his days on the Century Limited, where he had patrolled the aisles making certain the needs of the passengers were met in a timely fashion. He usually worked the trips from Chicago to New York and back again, which took 16 hours each way and involved sleeping berths for some and at least two meals per trip for everyone on the train. Passengers expected good service for their money and Harris provided it, not because of the occasional tip he would receive but because he liked to do a good job.

“No one ever had a complaint in one of my cars,” Harris would announce in the lobby at least once a week. And no one ever bothered to argue with him.

Harris Cohen treated Mrs. Ruff with great respect. Although he was unfamiliar with the rosary, he knew from his own religion, Judaism, that prayer beads, as he called them, were important. That is why he would never interrupt Mrs. Ruff while she was praying. But as soon as he saw her make the final Sign of the Cross, he would ask after her well-being. She would always assure him that she was fine and then inquire about him. Harris and Mrs. Ruff had mastered the art of pleasantries and each was very polite in dealing with the other.

In fact, Harris often sat at one end of the couch and Mrs. Ruff at the other. After he had paid his respects to Mrs. Ruff, he was free to read his newspaper and strike up conversations with the other men who took a seat in the lobby while waiting for the clerk of the day to materialize behind the desk and give them their mail. Sometimes they had to wait until the ancient switchboard lit up with a call. If no clerk was available, Ralph Doogan, the manager, would come roaring out of his office behind the board to find out what had interrupted his day. Often he had the remains of a gigantic ham sandwich in his hand. Every once in awhile, Doogan would offer Harris Cohen a bite of his ham sandwich and Cohen would always decline. He was not a religious man, but he had been bar mitzvahed as a young man and he did not want to give Doogan the satisfaction of getting him to eat something forbidden to the Jewish people.

“Doogan can keep his ham, ” Harris was known to say. “I like my pastrami.”

The hotel had only one maid, Rozelle Johnson, who took care of 16 rooms on the second floor and another 16 on the third floor. Her rounds took all day. A good Baptist, and a lovely woman in her early forties, Rozelle had long ago put the lechers in the lobby firmly in their place. They knew she was not available at any price.

“Leave that woman alone,” long-term residents would advise any new man who checked in, and they levied that warning with good reason. One of their own a few years back, big Bruno, had paid a great price for grabbing Rozelle’s buttocks as she wheeled her cart down the narrow hall. She hit him with her dustpan on the top of his bald head and then whacked him across the face, breaking his nose. There was blood everywhere. None of the men of the New Morse Hotel tried to get next to Rozelle after that.

As a result of this incident, Rozelle talked regularly with only two residents among those she encountered on her daily rounds. She spoke with Mrs. Ruff when she was in her room and had her hearing aids in place. She admired the spirituality of Mrs. Ruff even if she wasn’t a Baptist like Rozelle. She knew that Mrs. Ruff had accepted Jesus the way Catholics do and if that was good enough for Jesus, it was good enough for her.

She also liked to talk with Harris Cohen, not because he tipped her a dollar a week but because the man was always clean and well-shaven and wore a tie. In the lobby, Harris had the good sense to modify his language when Rozelle was passing through. When she wasn’t there, however, he would advise the other men who sat down what it was like during the Depression. According to Harris, the going price for the company of a woman as fetching as Rozelle was $2.00, not a penny more.

“The ladies were happy to get the money,” Harris would say, “and I was happy to help out. Times were tough.”

Not knowing Harris and his attitude toward women, Rozelle always thought she might be able to fix him up with Mrs. Ruff despite their religious differences. She thought the two of them might be able to keep each other company. And if they eventually got married, the hotel did have a few apartment suites that Rozelle thought would suit them as a couple. Whenever one of these little suites, as the hotel called them, became available, Rozelle would amplify her praise of Harris while cleaning Mrs. Ruff’s room. For months, Mrs. Ruff listened politely and agreed that Harris seemed to be a gentleman. After all, she had never heard his tales of feminine conquests in the lobby because she sat there without her hearing aids, quietly saying her rosary.

One day, however, Rozelle’s lobbying in behalf of Harris got to be too much for Mrs. Ruff. After making the bed, her final duty in the room, Rozelle was preparing to leave when she decided to take a chance and tell Mrs. Ruff that she thought Harris might like to take her to lunch in the restaurant downstairs. Rozelle didn’t know that Harris Cohen, despite being the same age as Mrs. Ruff, had always liked younger women and had savored enough of them over the years, especially when times were tough. Mrs. Ruff, on the other hand, had loved her husband throughout her marriage and had no interest in any other man. But Rozelle had a point to make.

“Mrs. Ruff,” she said, “I wouldn’t suggest your having lunch with Harris if I didn’t think he was a gentleman. He might even ask you to marry him at some point.”

Tired of Rozelle’s efforts in behalf in Harris, Mrs. Ruff moved a little in her chair, put her rosary down, looked Rozelle in the eye, and said,

“And if I married him, what would I do–lift him on and lift him off?”

Rozelle never mentioned Harris Cohen to Mrs. Ruff again. Six months later, she had found another job in a much better hotel.