Saturday, April 14, 2007

Bartlestein's First Fling

By Joseph Epstein

LARRY BARTLESTEIN has played it safe all his life, and playing it safe has paid off. At sixty-four, he is a wealthy man, his two daughters are married, he has two grandchildren and another on the way, and he and Myrna will soon celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. In his set of friends, this last fact is nearly worthy of Ripley's Believe It or Not. There were lots of early divorces, and a number more when couples reached their mid-forties. Some had still not settled in. Bartlestein read in Chicago Magazine last month that his high-school classmate Joel Meizels, the real-estate developer, had just forked over $40 million to his third wife. The figure made him whistle. The two earlier wives probably hadn't done much worse.

To Bartlestein, playing it safe came naturally. He had been a passably good student in high school, majored in business at the University of Illinois, taken and passed the CPA exam, and married Myrna Perelman, his high-school girlfriend, soon after graduation. Myrna, who had gone to the National College of Education in Evanston, taught grade school for the two years that it took Bartlestein to get his MBA at the University of Chicago. A job offer from Merrill Lynch followed, but it involved moving to Dallas. It was around then that his father-in-law made Bartlestein one of those offers not many people could refuse.

Perelman Plumbing is a major manufacturer of sinks, tubs, and faucets in the Midwest, one of the four or five largest in North America. Irv Perelman, the first Jewish licensed master plumber in Chicago, built the business out of a small warehouse on Western Avenue, near Diversey, after returning home from World War II. A genuinely modest man, he retained the thick, callused hands of a plumber, grime permanently encrusted under his fingernails.

"Larry," Irv Perelman said when his daughter told him about their prospective move to Dallas, "what's it going to take to keep you two here? I'd like the business to stay in the family, and Myrna's mother and I like having our daughters close by." Myrna's older sister Susan was married to a dentist in Highland Park.

"What do you have in mind?" Bartlestein asked.

"I was thinking about making you a vice-president in charge of the administrative side of the company, and eventually let you run the whole business if you turn out to be good at it. Starting salary of $50,000 a year."

In 1966, $50,000 was serious money, more than twice what Merrill Lynch was offering to move Bartlestein to Dallas. Besides, Myrna wasn't eager to leave Chicago. Why not, Bartlestein figured? He told his father-in-law he was grateful for the offer, and ready to give it his best effort.

Irv Perelman was of the my-word-is-my-bond school. He had no craving for power or status or glory, and he felt no need to bully or lord things over his son-in-law or anyone else. He just wanted to turn out a good product at a reasonable profit. His employees, who after five years became automatically vested in the company's profit-sharing plan, tended to stay put, many for their entire working lives. "No need to be a pig," he once said to Bartlestein. "Run this business right and everyone will do OK."

Bartlestein spent long hours mastering the details of the plumbing business. When Irv Perelman turned seventy-five and stopped driving, Bartlestein began picking him up on the way in from Northbrook. Most mornings, Irv read the Trib and then, after he put down the paper, the two generally talked business: investing profits, enlarging the plant, designing a new line, patching up troubles. After much careful effort, Bartlestein had gotten the firm's less expensive sinks and faucets into Home Depot, which turned out to be a shrewd move. His father-in-law treated him without condescension, as if he were a full partner, which is what he made him on his 50th birthday.

One morning, on the drive down, Bartlestein mentioned that he was thinking of getting a new car, a Mercedes. His father-in-law came alive. "Do me a favor," he said, "and buy another kind of car." Bartlestein asked why. Irv, who never talked about his wartime experiences, answered that even today he didn't like to think about it, but his battalion had been among the first to liberate the Jews at Treblinka. "I don't consider myself a prejudiced man," he said, "but the least I can do to keep the sights of those days out of my mind is not to have to drive to work with my son-in-law in a German car."

Bartlestein bought a Lexus. He continues to buy a Lexus, a new one every three years. He has come to think the Lexus is the perfect car for him: dependable, not too showy, efficient, quietly luxurious. He has himself become a kind of human Lexus.

AFTER THE death of Irv Perelman--at eighty-one, of a heart attack, early one morning at his desk Perelman Plumbing has continued as a family business, with Lawrence R. Bartlestein as chairman and chief executive officer. Bartlestein has invested both the company's and his own personal profits well. He has twice been president of Temple Jeremiah. He is among the major contributors in metropolitan Chicago to the Jewish United Fund, manufacturing division. He golfs at Bryn Mawr Country Club. Myrna, a better golfer than he, regularly wins the over-fifty women's title at Bryn Mawr. His daughter Debbie is married to a cardiologist and has two children Of her own. Jennifer, his younger girl, married a documentary filmmaker and is now, after two fairly traumatic miscarriages, in her eighth month. Her husband Charlie isn't making his nut, so Bartlestein helps out with a couple of grand a month.

At his annual physical less than two months ago, Bartlestein was assured by his internist that he is in excellent health. He does the treadmill and rowing machines at the East Bank Club, his weight is about what it should be, and all his numbers--cholesterol, blood pressure, PSA, and the rest--are good. Financially, medically, domestically, he is in the black, in the clear, sailing in calm waters.

So the question is, what is Lawrence R. Bartlestein doing in his office at 6:45 P.M. on a Wednesday night slipping his hand under the blouse of a young woman named Elaine Leslie, a designer at Perelman Plumbing? Elaine at this moment has her hand on Bartlestein's belt buckle, loosening it with what seem like very deft hands.

Only minutes ago, Elaine Leslie was standing behind Bartlestein's chair as he studied the designs and production costs for a new mid-priced line of faucets, a project she had brought in for his comments. He felt her hand touch his shoulder, then go upward, massaging gently, her fingers raveling the hair on the back of his neck. He pushed his chair away from his desk, and before he had time to say anything she slid smoothly onto his lap, and his arms were around her. Presently she will descend to do unbidden what Bartlestein, head of a company whose estimated worth is well over $100 million, has never quite found the nerve to ask his wife to do.

Bartlestein feels himself trembling slightly as Elaine, moving quickly, removes her blouse and slips out of her skirt. Now they are on the floor, Ms. Leslie (as Bartlestein persists in thinking of her) directing the show. Bartlestein feels oddly detached, hugely excited yet curiously outside himself, looking in. He recalls that he is a grandfather. He has had back trouble of late, and hopes he will not throw something out of whack before this session on his office floor is over. Until now, he has never in his life slept with anyone but Myrna.

Earlier this year, Bartlestein had lunch with Eddie Jacobs, who handles his account at Bear Stearns. Eddie's third wife is in her early thirties, and, Eddie confided, he is sexually very active. That was the slightly bragging phrase he used, "sexually very active." Bartlestein's own sex with Myrna is and always was decidedly less so. He enjoyed it, and tried to be a patient and in no way brutish lover; Myrna was without expressed complaint. But after the first year or so of their marriage, sex had never been at the center of their life. When their daughters arrived, and his responsibilities at the office increased, most of Myrna's complaints were about the hours he worked at Perelman Plumbing. Bartlestein's adult life has been lived through a very sexy age, and he has tried his best not to be swept up in the craziness.

Bartlestein and Elaine Leslie are now lying on the Oriental rug in front of his desk, she on her stomach, he still on his back. He looks at his watch: 7:18. The Polish cleaning women, he knows, come on at 9. Clothes are scattered across the floor. He is still wearing his T-shirt and black socks--"executive length," as the saleswoman at Marshall Field's described them to him. Now they remind him of those ridiculous movies shown at the stag parties he used to attend for friends on the night before their weddings.

"What exactly are we doing here?" he hears himself ask.

"I believe there are several names for it," Ms. Leslie answers.

"I guess I mean why are we here?"

"For pleasure," she says. "It pleased me. I hope it didn't displease you."

Bartlestein feels complimented. "I'm still not putting it right," he says. "How did we get into this position?"

"I got us into it, Larry," she said. "It's OK to call you Larry, isn't it? I thought you could use a little relief."

Relief, Bartlestein thinks: interesting word.

They dress, and Bartlestein asks if she would like dinner; he can tell Myrna he has to entertain a customer at the last minute. She says no, thank you, but since her car is in the shop, she would appreciate a ride home.

On the way, Bartlestein finds conversation awkward. He asks if she grew up in Chicago and she answers New York, but she has lived here for almost twelve years. "I still think of myself as a New Yorker," she adds. "Can't help it. Being a New Yorker is like being a member of an ethnic group." This makes Bartlestein wonder. Is she Jewish? Her name doesn't give much of a clue.

Bartlestein drops her in front of her large apartment building on Armitage, off Lincoln Park. No talk about his coming up; no mention of their getting together again. Looking back as she closes the car door, she says, "Thanks for the ride, Mr. Bartlestein," forgetting to call him by his first name.

DRIVING HOME, Bartlestein attempts to decipher Elaine Leslie's motives. He rules out simple sexual attraction, at least on her part. Although, like all men, he still checks out every woman in sight, and figures he will probably do so on his deathbed, there is nothing of the flirt in him. He is careful to send no signals to his female employees, and has certainly never sent any to Elaine Leslie, who was hired not by him but by his father-in-law. He is without illusions about his own attractiveness; women, he knows, find him perfectly resistible.

Perhaps, Bartlestein thinks, still searching for motives, she views sex with him as a way of getting ahead in the office? Blackmail is always a possibility. A wealthy man with a settled home life, Bartlestein has put himself in a position where Elaine Leslie could do him real damage. His mind racing, he conceives the possibility of an office pool, with the prize going to the first female employee to bang the boss. Who knows?

He thinks back to the day when, near high-school graduation, he and Myrna first made love--"going all the way" was the name for it then, a phrase, it occurs to him now, that assumed there was no way back. Having taken her virginity and in the same moment given up his own, he felt, rightly or wrongly, beholden to her. In those days the sex act was not only exciting but a matter of the deepest intimacy, implying trust on every level. There was nothing trivial about it. Now, for Elaine Leslie, it was a means of relief. Which was the better arrangement? Bartlestein hasn't a clue.

He is not disappointed to discover that Myrna isn't home. A note in the foyer tells him she has gone to her book-discussion group at Sue Levin's. There's lasagna in the fridge, with instructions for warming it in the microwave. She may not be home until after 11, and will try not to wake him. Bartlestein, who gets up at 5 A.M., is usually asleep by 10:30. The note, as always, is signed "Love, Myrna."

Eating the lasagna quickly, Bartlestein moves to the bedroom where he checks his shirt for lipstick and his clothes for perfume, and--always the safe player--showers before getting into bed. He is sure sleep won't come easily but it does, and without any of the anxiety dreams that have plagued him since he turned sixty.

In the morning, Bartlestein looks over at his wife, her face, even in sleep, shining with kindness. He and Myrna don't confide in each other regularly; there are many things, chiefly business worries, that Bartlestein keeps to himself. But their marriage is built on being able to count on each other, on never being a cause of embarrassment, let alone humiliation. What happened last night, if it were to come out, could only cause her both.

Usually they have coffee and toast together, but this morning he decides not to wake her. After he has shaved and dressed, he kisses Myrna gently on the forehead, and tells her he is leaving a bit early. "Love you," she says, pulling the covers up and falling easily back to sleep.

IN THE office, checking Elaine Leslie's file, Bartlestein learns that she is 23 years younger than he, is a graduate of the Pratt Institute of Design, earns just under $70,000 a year, and is divorced with no children. She has been with Perelman Plumbing for eight years. According to the reports of the people she has worked for, she is excellent at her job. She is also, Bartlestein reflects, good-looking, dark, petite, and vibrant. Not to mention fine in bed, or on the floor.

The question is how to erase what happened last night. These days you have to be very careful about letting someone go, even someone who royally deserves to be fired, which Ms. Leslie clearly does not. Screwing the boss hardly qualifies as a reason, especially when the boss has put up no fight whatsoever; more likely it qualifies as grounds for a high publicity sexual-harassment suit.

Earlier, driving to work, Bartlestein wondered whether he might arrange to have her lured away by another firm, perhaps even fix things so as to pay part of her salary. He is on friendly terms with Teddy Mohlner, head of a rival and larger plumbing firm. What if he confessed to Teddy his "indiscretion"--that is the word he decides he will use--and asked him to take Elaine off his hands by hiring her for $20,000 more than she is now making. He would come up with the additional money out of his own pocket. Once the deal was in place, he could tell Elaine he had heard Mohlner was looking for designers and was willing to pay up to $90,000. Was she interested?

But now Bartlestein thinks: what am I, nuts? Imagine confessing his problem to Teddy Mohlner. Imagine signing up to pay twenty grand or more a year for the foreseeable future, all for a quick roll on the floor. Talk about dumb schemes!

"Hi. Larry Bartlestein," he finally says to Elaine Leslie on the office phone. "I think we should probably have a talk. Are you free for dinner any night this week?"

"Tonight I can't," she says. "But tomorrow night's OK."

"Great," he says. "You know Erwin's, on Halsted? How about we meet at 7."

"See you there," she says.

Bartlestein's heart is racing. How the hell did he get himself into this? He sees scandal, lawsuits, a divorce, his careful life going down the tubes. The problem facing him is how to disengage smoothly, without bad feelings and worse consequences, but his mind floats off when he seeks a solution.

AT THE bar at Erwin's, it occurs to the waiting Bartlestein for the first time that maybe he doesn't really want to disengage from Elaine Leslie. Doesn't he deserve a little time off for an entire life of good behavior? He can afford a lady friend, and what with his long working hours and frequent business travel he feels reasonably sure he could arrange to bring the affair off. Maybe it makes sense to let this business unfold, wind down of its own accord.

Erwin's is a restaurant with good food and a fairly low level of pretension. Hoping that he won't be seen, at least not by friends or business associates, Bartlestein has scanned the room with care. Elaine Leslie is only a few years older than his daughter Debbie. Seeing them together, would someone take him for her father? Better that, he thinks, than for some old guy chasing young broads, a sugar daddy. As he ponders whether people use words like broads and sugar daddy any more, Elaine walks up to him at the bar.

She is wearing jeans, close-fitting, and a red cashmere cardigan over a white T-shirt. Her dark hair, cut short and brushed back, accentuates her delicate ears. On them she wears simple silver ball-shaped earrings; on her feet, moderately high heels. Her lipstick is darker than what she uses in the office. Noting these things, Bartlestein thinks that Myrna, who jokes about his obliviousness to her clothes and jewelry, would be amazed at his powers of observation. He also thinks he would have a hard time convincing anyone that this young woman, dressed for the attack, is a niece from out of town, or a business associate.

"I don't know this restaurant," she says. "Looks like a good place for a tryst. Or are trysts only in the afternoon?"

"Good place for dinner, actually," Bartlestein says, "and for talk. What're you drinking?"

She orders an apple martini, something Bartlestein has never heard of. From a small bag she takes out a white box of long, slender cigarettes. Lighting one for her, Bartlestein feels he is in a movie from the late 1940's, which, he reminds himself, is well before Elaine Leslie was born. In fact, everyone in the restaurant seems young to him: the fellow who asked for his reservation, the bartender, the woman who has shown them to their table, the waitress who recites the list of the evening's specials. After the first two specials, Bartlestein can never keep track. Elaine orders a veal chop, he the swordfish.

"So," Bartlestein begins, as the waitress goes off. "What do you see happening here?"

"Between us?" she says. "I kinda think that's your call."

"I'm a lot older than you, I'm your employer, I'm married, I'm even a grandfather."

"Really," she says. "I don't think I've ever slept with a grandfather before. I certainly never slept with my own."

Her jokiness puts him off, but he persists. "Why would you want to waste your time with me?" he asks.

"Think of me as Florence Nightingale," she says, lifting her martini glass--tall, with a blue stem--in a toast to herself. "I like the idea of bringing comfort to the wounded troops."


"Maybe not wounded. Maybe stifled. I don't know, but when I was standing behind you at your desk, I felt an overpowering sadness, as if you were a little boy who always did what he was told and didn't have all that much fun doing it."

"I don't think of myself that way at all," Bartlestein says. "I think of myself as a lucky man, in lots of ways."

"I'm only reporting what I felt," she says. "Funny: you say 'think,' I say 'feel.' Difference between men and women, I suppose."

When their food comes, Elaine's veal chop is enormous.

"They don't spare the horses here," Bartlestein says.

"Let's hope they do," she replies with her quick smile.

Bartlestein is impressed by the way she tucks into her food. Myrna, who worries about her weight, nowadays rarely eats anything but salads and fish, and never much of either.

"How do you eat like this and stay so slender?" Bartlestein asks after she has polished off the chop, the potato, the broccoli, and a large salad, and ordered a dessert of chocolate mousse and raspberries and a double espresso.

"The torture of exercise," she says. "The choice for me is simple: jog five times a week or buy my clothes at maternity thrift shops."

"Which reminds me to ask, if it's not too personal, how come you've never had children?"

"Pretty personal," she says. "My ex-husband turned out to be a child himself, and since he didn't show any signs of growing up, I didn't see much point in raising another one. There's another reason. I had an alcoholic mother. I'll spare you the details, except to say that my dad took off and left my brother and me in her very shaky care. When your own childhood has been a misery, you think hard before bringing more children into the world. At least I did. Still do, actually."

BARTLESTEIN FINDS himself touched by this young woman. He learns that her younger brother died in a car accident. She went to college on Long Island, to a school called Adelphi that he had never heard of. To help pay her way, she had waited tables. She wanted to be an actress, but auditioning made her too nervous. She had always been good at visual art, had an instinctive sense of design, and was able to get together a portfolio that won her a scholarship to Pratt. Her marriage, she tells Bartlestein, lasted four hellish years.

What Elaine described was a life lived pretty much on her own. How different from the case of Bartlestein's own daughters. Mostly thanks to Myrna, the girls had been carefully guarded and ushered through a gentle girlhood ending in safe marriages to Jewish boys of roughly their own background. They had been backed up all the way. Elaine Leslie flew solo, and was still doing so. Bartlestein admired that.

"You know," he says, driving her back to her apartment on Armitage, "we really haven't talked about the purpose of this dinner."

"You mean the purpose wasn't strictly nutritional?" she says.

"I mean where we're going."

"I think I'll let you decide that," she says. "I understand your situation is much more complicated than mine. If you want to put a stop to things now, we can do that, too."

"You're an amazing kid," Bartlestein says, pulling up in front of her apartment. "But maybe you already know that."

"I do," she says. "But it's nice to get reinforcement." She gets out of the car before he can come around to open the door for her. "Have to be up early," she says, looking in, "I work for a real tyrant. Thanks for dinner."

On the drive home, Bartlestein feels exhilarated, youthful, high and happy as he hasn't been for years--decades, really. He knows men whom he thinks of as terrific chaos managers. At the East Bank, he occasionally runs into Jack Meltzer, a friend from high-school days. On his fourth marriage, all of them to much younger women, Jack has twice declared bankruptcy, is in serious hock to the IRS, and at one point had mafia goons after him for too-slow payment of juice loans. Yet he shows no obvious traces of stress. At the club he still takes more than his share of shots at half-court basketball, flirts with women, tells jokes at which he himself laughs the loudest.

Bartlestein is not like that. If a shipment is delayed or profits are down by a half-point from last year, he can't sleep. How he has avoided ulcers is a mystery. "Know your limitations" was one of his father-in-law's great mottos, and Bartlestein, taking it seriously, had discovered his early on. He needs his risks to be carefully calculated, his days to be orderly, his life to be routinized. Take care of the details, he believes, and the larger matters will take care of themselves.

Are we talking about a mid-life crisis here, Bartlestein wonders? He had never put much stock in the notion. Men of a certain age become interested in younger women and want to drive around for a while in red convertibles. Not much crisis there, it seemed to him, just random desire conquering good sense. So isn't he entitled, too? At sixty-four he is already well past mid-life. Hasn't he earned a last--make that a first--fling?

Details, it is all a matter of details, and details are Bartlestein's specialty. If he could master the details of the sink-and-bathtub business, surely he can master the details of a relatively simple love affair without stirring up trouble. True, the stakes are high. If he is caught at it, Myrna will never again regard him in the same trusting way; she might even want a divorce. He will lose the respect of his daughters and their husbands.

Before he turns off the freeway at the exit for Dundee West, he has decided not to break things off with Elaine Leslie.

"LARRY," MYRNA says as soon as he enters the house, her voice shaking, "I've been trying to reach you for hours."

Bartlestein takes out his cell phone. He'd turned it off before going into the restaurant.

"What's the matter?"

"It's Jen. The baby was stillborn, strangled on its umbilical cord. She went to the hospital by ambulance, but it was too late. Larry, it's horrible. Almost full term, and now this nightmare." Tears are in his wife's eyes. She embraces him. She sobs, clutching at him. Bartlestein holds her, rubbing her back slowly in a circular motion. He tries to block out everything he has been thinking on his ride home. The thought crosses his mind that his own behavior may have had something to do with his daughter's misfortune.

Bartlestein does not think of himself as religious, but he leads his life as if cosmic justice prevailed. A man does good, and good is likely to be his reward. The reverse is also true--not always, not inevitably, but mostly. He knows there are thousands of exceptions, but somewhere firmly lodged in his mind is the certainty of cause and effect, of acts having roughly predictable consequences, of people getting what they deserve. Somewhere, an accountant keeps a fairly careful record.

"Dr. Oberman says that Jen isn't going to be able to have children, ever," Myrna says. "She's heartbroken. The hospital put in a cot, and Debbie is going to spend the night. Thank God Jen won't be alone."

Bartlestein's mind, usually so concentrated at moments of business crisis, is scattered. Despite himself, he can't help comparing his wife, her makeup ruined by tears, body slumped in grief, eyes red, exhausted by her daughter's suffering, with Elaine Leslie's youthfulness. He feels a perfect son of a bitch; and he feels his own age.

EARLY THE next morning at Highland Park Hospital, Bartlestein finds his daughter sitting in a chair near the window. Her older sister has gone home. Her mother is coming in later. Jennifer is his perennially troubled child. True, until now her troubles, though real enough to her, have been minor. She needed glasses, then braces. Her skin wasn't as good as Debbie's. She turned out to have a bit of a learning disability, and needed remedial teachers in grammar school and special tutoring later on. She sulked through adolescence, her sadness strong enough to send her to a therapist. She was unhappy with her nose--the Bartlestein nose, high-bridged, nostrils flared. Bartlestein didn't protest when Myrna said it should be fixed.

Nothing has seemed to go easily for Jen. Maybe because of this, Bartlestein loves her even more than her sister, though he tries never to show it. He loves her more because she needs him more.

"You OK, baby?"

"I'm OK, Daddy," Jen says, and her eyes begin to tear up.

"How's Charlie taking it?"

"He's been great. He's talking about adopting. I wanted my own children so much." All her efforts at bravery collapse, her head drops to her chest, she begins crying. "Why me, Daddy? Why always me?"

Bartlestein holds her, kisses the top of her head, rubs her back as he did her mother's last night, mutters over and over that everything's going to be all right. He feels her thinness through the robe. He stays for twenty minutes, holding his daughter's hand, neither of them saying much. He leaves after hugging her at great length, feeling inadequate.

Will this inability to have a child become the story of his daughter's life? Maybe he has raised both his girls too protectively. He has done everything he could to make them safe, has been the net over which they flew. Except they never really quite flew, not even Debbie; they never even quite got off the ground. They are conventional girls-decent enough, not mean or selfish, but in no way out of the ordinary.

But then, Bartlestein thinks, neither is he. Through cautiousness he has ventured little while gaining much. He has concentrated all his energies on his business: making and selling sinks and tubs and faucets. But what has he given up in return? Passion is what Bartlestein feels missing from his life. If he lived more by his instincts, he would already have begun to let his affair with Elaine Leslie play itself out, to see where it led. But he doesn't live by his instincts; he lives by rules, by repression and self-sacrifice, by fear of shame and worry about guilt, by what he has always taken to be moral principle. At the moment, he doesn't feel particularly moral.

On the floor of his Lexus, Bartlestein notices a small suede bag. Opening it, he discovers lipstick, a tweezers, a small mirror, a compact. It must belong to Elaine: lucky thing he didn't take his wife to the hospital. It's only a little past 7:30, so he decides to drop the bag off before Elaine leaves for work.

On the freeway, his cell phone rings. Myrna.

"What do you think?" she asks anxiously. "Is she going to be all right?"

"She's obviously very depressed. It's understandable enough."

"What terrible luck!" his wife says. "She wanted this baby so much."

"Rotten luck," Bartlestein agrees. "Crappy, crappy luck."

"We have to stand by her, Larry. Jen's going to need a lot of help."

"Right," Bartlestein says. "Look, babe, I'm just getting off the freeway. Call you later."

Bartlestein finds a parking spot half a block from Elaine's building. Ringing her up from the lobby, he's answered by a man's voice. Bartlestein says he has Elaine's cosmetics bag. The owner of the voice says she's out jogging but he'll come down to get it. A minute or so later, a young guy, tall, in shorts and a tank top, a baseball hat worn backward on his head, greets Bartlestein.

A relative of Elaine's, Bartlestein asks?

"No, a friend. Scott," the young man says with a smile, putting out a hand for Bartlestein to shake. He has large good teeth, very white. Bartlestein, a grinder in his sleep, has lost four teeth on the lower left-hand side and now wears a bridge.

"Thanks," the young man says. "I'm sure Ellie will be glad to have this." As he walks away, Bartlestein notes his long sun-tanned legs and athletic calves.

BARTLESTEIN GOES through his day, takes meetings, deals with suppliers over the phone, answers correspondence. Part of his plan is eventually to leave the business. He has thought he'd probably sell it to one of his larger competitors. What exactly he will do with the time available, he doesn't know. He'll find something.

Actually, until meeting Scott, he had been thinking that one of the things he might do was to show Elaine a few bits of the world in an expansive, expensive way. Now, he is thinking about his foolishness in imagining this could ever have happened. At a little past four, his secretary buzzes that Myrna is on the phone.

"Larry," she says, speaking quickly. "Bad news, but everything's OK."

"Myrna, be clear, please."

"Jennifer stuffed a fistful of pills down her throat. Thank God they got to her in time." Myrna is sobbing.

"My God!" Bartlestein says. "What do we do now?"

"I don't know," she says. "Please come home right away. I need you. We all do."

Bartlestein drives in a dark rain along the Kennedy expressway. Myrna's last words on the phone had been, "You're so good in emergencies, darling." Vaguely, he wonders if he will ever create an emergency or two of his own before he leaves the earth. But that is not his role. He tries, without much success, to imagine his daughter's despair as she grabbed and gobbled down those pills.

A list is forming in his mind as he turns off the freeway. He will press ten grand on his son-in-law to take Jennifer on a vacation once she has her health back. He'll find the best shrink in the city for handling this sort of post-partum problem, if post-partum depression is what Jen is going through. He'll call Marry Cohn, his lawyer, to see what he knows about adoptions in China, in Korea, in Guatemala, here at home. He'll look into the business of surrogate mothers; another lawyer he knows, Henry Waller, has made a minor legal specialty of this. Naturally he'll pay the expenses.

Tomorrow he'll call in Elaine Leslie. In his office he'll tell her that, pleasing as the prospect is, his life is too complicated just now for them to continue seeing each other. He'll mention serious family troubles, not going into any details. He will always be grateful to her, he'll say, leaving unspoken what, exactly, he is grateful for. What he is truly grateful for, he realizes almost with relief as he pulls into the driveway, is that she showed him a kind of life he is now certain he could never lead. He pauses for a second or two as the engine of the Lexus dies away, breathes deeply three times through his mouth, and heads for the house. It's a little past 5. Marty Cohn never leaves his office before 6:30. Might as well call him now, Bartlestein reasons, his spirits picking up.



Thursday, March 01, 2007

Fat Jokes

A mother took her five-year-old son with her to the bank on a busy Lunchtime.

They got behind a very fat woman wearing a business suit complete with Pager. As they waited patiently, the little boy said loudly, "Gee, she's Fat!"

The mother bent down and whispered in the little boys ear to be quiet.

A couple of minutes passed by and the little boy spread his hands as far as they would go and announced; "I'll bet her butt is this wide!"

The fat woman turns around and glares at the little boy. The mother gave him a good telling off, and told him to be quiet. After a brief lull, the large woman reached the front of the line. Just then her pager begin to emit a beep, beep, beep.

The little boy yells out, "Run for your life, she's backing up!"

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Why, Why, Why

do we press harder on a remote control when we know the batteries are getting dead?

Why do banks charge a fee on "insufficient funds" when they know there is not enough money?

Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars, but check when you say the paint is wet?

Why doesn't glue stick to the bottle?

Why do they use sterilized needles for death by lethal injection?

Why doesn't Tarzan have a beard?

Why does Superman stop bullets with his chest, but ducks when you throw a revolver at him?

Why do Kamikaze pilots wear helmets?

Whose idea was it to put an "S" in the word "Lisp"?

If people evolved from apes, why are there still apes?

Why is it that no matter what color bubble bath you use the bubbles are always white?

Is there ever a day that mattresses are not on sale?

Why do people constantly return to the refrigerator with hopes that something new to eat will have materialized?

Why do people keep running over a string a dozen times with their vacuum cleaner, then reach down, pick it up, examine it, then put it down to give the vacuum one more chance?

Why is it that no plastic bag will open from the end on your first try?

How do those dead bugs get into those enclosed light fixtures?

When we are in the supermarket and someone rams our ankle with a shopping cart then apologizes for doing so, why do we say, "It's all right?" Well, it isn't all right, so why don't we say, "That hurt, you stupid idiot?"

Why is it that whenever you attempt to catch something that's falling off the table you always manage to knock something else over?

In winter why do we try to keep the house as warm as it was in summer when we complained about the heat?

How come you never hear father-in-law jokes?

And my FAVORITE......

The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four persons is suffering from some sort of mental illness. Think of your three best friends -- if they're okay, then it's you.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

How to Write A Short Story

By Pico Iyer

An old master gives us an exemplary what-not-to-do list in her new book

Alice Munro spins tales that show us, again and again, and with wondrous grace, how much can be done in a simple short story. Yet the 74-year-old Canadian does it by breaking every rule ever taught in a writing seminar, setting up a master class along the sidelines. Her latest--her 11th--collection of stories, The View from Castle Rock (Knopf; 349 pages), marks a departure from her usual examinations of women in rural Canada leaving home to remake their possibilities by drawing instead on family documents, historical records (from 19th century Scotland) and what feels like memoir to piece together, in 12 parts, a fictionalized chronicle of how her tough-minded clan got from the Ettrick Valley near Edinburgh to America. Yet it shows, as usual, how to draw gasps from other writers by defying the laws of gravitas as effortlessly as Michael Jordan defied those of gravity.

Pocket the $30,000 you would otherwise spend on an M.F.A. writing degree, and just consider her example(s):

1. Don't think you need special effects or big-budget drama: Castle Rock takes its initial cues from everyday letters and diaries and just lets them enjoy a new life in the imagination. A girl walking to school in rural Ontario in 1942 can be riveting--if you describe the walk in the voice of her future self, in the city, many years later.
2. Don't eschew the plain. In one typical exchange here, 38 spoken words out of 39 are just one syllable long (the exception is "cannot"). In a later story, 37 straight words last one syllable each.
3. Don't assume you know more than your characters do, or condescend, even to children. A young girl, Munro's alter ego, tells an affluent employer how, where she comes from, "children walked barefoot until the frost came in order to save on shoe leather" and people ate "dandelion leaves, nothing else, for supper." Just as we're shaking, she admits (to us only) that not all of this is strictly true--and so tells us as much about the sly, storytelling imagination of the girl as about rural circumstances that really were desperate.
4. Don't try to make your characters consistent. Life doesn't. A janitor abruptly decides he will become a writer, while his glamorous wife, selling fox capes in a big hotel, suddenly, while still young, develops Parkinson's. Munro's fiction seems uncannily true to the world because destiny plays havoc with characters' circumstances even when they don't do the same themselves.
5. Don't get beyond yourself. Wandering around a church, a narrator realizes, of belief (though it could apply to much else), "You must always take care of what's on the surface, and what is behind, so immense and disturbing, will take care of itself."
6. Don't give us a steady point of view. Describing her family's long passage across the ocean, Munro swerves like a roaming camera from one heart to the next, and the happy result is that we see all her people as they seem to themselves--but also as they look to everyone else.
7. Don't stick to what you know firsthand. A recurring theme that binds these pieces together is of people talking with the dead. This is possible, some in the book suspect, so long as you've drunk enough brandy.
8. Don't look away from anything. Blessed with a farmer's unsentimental eye, Munro offers up a clear, highly practical explanation of how you kill a trapped fox.
9. Don't be linear or too sensible. That what-happened-after-the-story-ended appendix? Put it in the middle, as in the story "Lying Under the Apple Tree," so that the end of the narrative can have its full kick and bite.
10. Don't be afraid of going where you've never been before. There may be a tad less assurance and narrative latticework in these memory pieces than in Munro's more familiar masterworks, as she experiments with different voices (old Scottish), different settings (the 19th century), different structures (one piece lasts 61 pages). Yet all the stories ultimately come back to her master themes, of sloughing off the world one knows and trying on a new life that's unimaginable.

See Michael Jordan run a fast break backward.



Saturday, December 16, 2006

I want need one of these

Christmas Carols

1. Schizophrenia --- Do You Hear What I Hear?

2. Multiple Personality Disorder --- We Three Kings Disoriented Are

3. Dementia --- I Think I'll be Home for Christmas

4. Narcissistic --- Hark the Herald Angels Sing About Me

5. Manic - Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Buses and Trucks and Trees and.....

6. Paranoid --- Santa Claus is Coming to Town to Get Me

7. Borderline Personality Disorder --- Thoughts of Roasting on an Open Fire

8. Personality Disorder --- You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm Gonna Pout, Maybe I'll Tell You Why

9. Attention Deficit Disorder --- Silent night, Holy oooh look at the Froggy - can I have a chocolate, why is France so far away?

10. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder --- Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle,Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells , Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells,

11. Tourets - We wish you damn crap Christmas and a chicken in your New Year.

12. Delusional - I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus.

13. Major Depressive - Silent Night, Lonely night...all is sad...

15. Seasonal Affective Disorder - Walking in a winter bummer land.

16. Manic - Joy to the World...the sex is free.

17. Work-a-holic - Away in an office, no time for the family

18. Post-partum Depression - What child is this...

19. Autistic - Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, .....

20. Acute Stress Disorder - The 12 days of stressful Christmas

21. Agoraphobia - There's something stuck up in the chimney and I don't know ho to get out

22. Alzheimer's - On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me...oh dear...I can't remember what they gave me?

23. Dyslexia - We wish yuo a happy Chirstmas and a mrry new yaer.

24. Insomnia - 'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring not even a mouse...and once again I'm up staring at the clock unable to fall asleep.

25. Kleptomania - You're a mean one Mr. Grinch

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tips and tricks I gathered from 4 days of sweat and sautés.

By Frances A. Largeman-Roth, RD, Food and Nutrition Editor

Always on the lookout for better ways to do things, I showed up recently at a healthy-cooking boot camp at the renowned Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York. And after a whirlwind 4 days in hot kitchens, I came away with some strategies that I can use at home--and so can you.

• Pound pieces of meat (such as pork loin and chicken breast) flat before cooking them. It makes smaller, healthier servings look bigger and helps tenderize the meat and allow for even cooking. (Check out our recipe on page 156 for an example.)

• Instead of a wok, use a sauté pan for stir-fries. Professional stove-top burners are big enough to heat a wok completely, but the smaller home burners don't work as well.

• Make pesto with walnuts instead of pine nuts to boost your omega-3 fatty acids. Add walnuts to salads, too.

• Sneak in healthy fat and fiber by adding ground flaxseed to waffles, meatballs, and smoothies. You'll find flaxseeds in the baking or bulk section of most grocery stores; just store them in your fridge. It's easy to grind them in a coffee grinder.

• Replace ¼ cup of all-purpose flour in quick bread and muffin recipes with the same amount of nut or seed flour, such as almond or hazelnut. It gives a subtle nutty flavor and boosts the good fat and fiber.

• Use roasted garlic cloves to replace some of the oil in aioli and creamy dips. Instead of 1 tablespoon of oil, use 3 smashed cloves.

trading: CIA chef Mark Ainsworth shares healthy cooking tricks, like the six quick-and-easy ones above (Photo)

If you've ever fantasized about going to culinary school, you can check out the boot camp experience at

Monday, November 06, 2006

Any Minute

By Kelly Peterson

I open my window to the soggy air
and think about closing it--because of the air conditioning.
The breeze picks up and the trees rustle in their anxiety.
I notice the parched, yellow grass
and get a little anxious, too.

I bend down to the opening of the window I couldn't bear
to close,
and the sky is a gray blanket, veiling distant rumbles of heat
And for one second
it smells like summer when I was
nine by the pool watching lifeguards,
unmanning their stations, as we
sit by the fence and play with our
three quarters thinking "Maybe
I'll buy me a Sno Cone while I wait
for the rain to pass."

The trees and the wind get louder
and the air is so dense you feel like you'll drown if you
breathe in too fast.
Finally, like that stupid finger flicking pencil game, it snaps.
The heaviness breaks as real thunder cracks, twice,
and the sky flashes, once,
and I think how it's time to close the window,
since it's going to rain.

Any minute now.

Any minute.

13,000 people playing chess in Mexico City

Misconception ...especially for ppls who believes it...


* Orkut is NOT deleting profiles!
* Orkut is run by google which is having a 300% growth in terms of revenue for this fiscal year!
* They can handle any abysmal requirement of processing power or space!
* They are NOT experiencing any information processing or storage problems as yet!
* Orkut or google is not bankrup yet to send a single stupid mail to a person and ask him to forward it...They still hav technology to inform all the users at a single time..
* If any such thing was there orkut would surely have removed the invite friends option in its recent makeover.


* Until Today, there is no way to keep track of where a mail gets forwarded!
* Microsoft will not know if I send a mail from google server to my friend (EVEN IF IT IS A FORWARDED MAIL) unless you explicitly execute some code or click some link!
* However may I wish, I have no means to know whether my friend is forwarding the mail I sent to him or not. Nor does Microsoft, Google or any other corp. or inc.

Misconception #3: No comments about emotional messages appealing a person to forward a mail because it will either...

* suddenly make his love of life realize that she should call him/she should meet him/She should fall in love with him!
* or increase life expectancy of himself or his father/mother/ brother/sister /any other relatives!
* or make something "GOOD"(?) happen in his life!
* or earn him an unexpected fortune!
* or because some poor/crippled/ terminally infected/just infected/dying person will get money for every mail you forward!(I do not mean to disrespect the intentions but it is pointless as your forwards cannot be tracked)
* or just because it is part of a world record attempt!
* or because this e-mail is part of "chain" that many people have kept or going for no particular reason so you should also do the same!


Sweet Tooth

By Timothy Hedges

IT IS THE summer of my parents' divorce, and I have just found out how many licks it tares to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.

Travis, one of my campers, tells me the magic number as I stand by the yellow bus and wave my afternoon goodbyes. He heaves himself to the top of the steps before he turns and, with a sticky mouth, says, "Six hundred fifty-four." Some orange goo clings to the end of the wet candy stem in his hand, and I imagine the sugar I gave him working its witchcraft in his hyperactive body. I worry that he'll end up jabbing someone in the eye with this new potential weapon, something he did with a Capri Sun straw last year before he got kicked out of camp.

"That's cool, Travis," I yell, but he has turned and stomped down the aisle where he is small enough to disappear behind the high-backed plastic benches that are crisscrossed with duct tape patches.

As the bus revs twice and pulls away down the campus road, I see a small hand emerge from an open window and then a white stick cartwheeling to the ground.

Last month--as my high-school graduation present, I guess--my parents finalized their divorce.

"We're legal now," my dad said as he sat at our kitchen table and held up a piece of paper with fancy letterhead. Mom was hovering in the doorframe of the dining room, biting her nails and trying to look happy.

"Congratulations," I said. "What do we do now? Back handsprings?"

"Honey …," my mom said, running her hand along the chin-up bar she'd installed in March when Dad started to move his stuff out of the house.

"It's O.K.," Dad said. "We just felt it was important for all of us to recognize that it's official now. Signed, sealed, and delivered." He rapped his knuckles on the table in some sort of musical knock and looked at me. "It's better for everyone this way. You understand, right, kiddo?"

My dad had stopped calling me Amy when I was in junior high, fight around the time he accidentally saw me running to the bathroom in my training bra. After that, I became kiddo or slugger or ace, and he started buying me baseball caps for every birthday, even after I quit the JV softball team.

"I understand, Dad," I said. "We all understand." I looked over my shoulder at my mom. "Can't we just eat now?"

Mom nearly sprinted to the oven to remove the warming casserole.

Dad leaned his chair back on two legs. "Guess who shot three under par today?"

My mom held the casserole with a pair of yellow mitts. "Who?" she said.

I raised a glass of milk to my lips and waited for the story to end.

It is my first summer as a counselor at Camp Running Buck, though last year I was a counselor-in-training, running errands, getting meds, fixing snacks. Plus, I was a camper here, way back when I was one of the kids trying to make the longest boondoggle key chain in the history of the world, back when I would join my friends in calling the place Camp Run Amok--though I didn't really know what that meant.

Now, I am eighteen years old--legal, my dad might say, for thirty-nine-hour workweeks and voting the bastards out of office. The camp job's supposed to help me earn some spending money for my freshman year at Ohio State.

Running Buck is a day camp. I'm in charge of the eight-year-old boys, which means I'm in charge of Travis Trotwood, one of the camp's legendary troublemakers.

Today is Monday, a bad day for Travis. At the beginning of the summer, his morn sent a note saying that Travis sometimes skips his medication on the weekends he's with his dad.

When he gets off the bus in the morning, I greet him with my usual: "Travis, my man, how's it going?"

"Shut up," he says, crunching his face in a glare that looks painful.

Eric, the counselor who always cheats at capture the flag, slides up next to me as we continue to greet the campers. He nods toward Travis, who is drifting across the parking lot, kicking a rock. "That kid is a time bomb."

"Shut up, Eric."

"Whatever," Eric says. "You want me to nail him in dodge ball for you?"

"Nail yourself" I say and leave to gather my boys, two of whom are already sword fighting with tree branches.

By lunchtime Travis is missing. Last year, he ran off at least once a week before Todd, the camp director, finally kicked him out. This year, he's been better, though he still disappears. I usually break protocol by not telling anyone and just wait for Travis to let me find him.

"Travis," I yell across the soccer field in the direction of the woods. "It's time for lunch"

Malcolm, a boy with blue-tinted braces, is at my side, tugging on my shorts. "Do you like physics?" he says.

"Not now, Malcolm," I say.

As I reach the woods, Travis emerges from behind a tree, giggling. He charges me with a Popsicle-stick switchblade, his third knife of the summer. He has perfected these weapons by using rubber bands and sharpening the blades on the blacktop parking lot. His curly hair bounces as he runs, and his tongue protrudes through a gap in his teeth.

He skids to a stop and points the knife at Malcolm's eye. I think about diving in front of Malcolm, like they do in slow-motion movie scenes.

"Gosh, Travis, we've been waiting for you," Malcolm says, calm as ever. "Don't you know it's lunchtime?"

"Shut up," Travis says, the smile vanishing from his face. He lowers the knife. "I was just joking."

"It's all right," I say. "But now we have to hurry."

I look over at the rest of my boys. Billy is sitting in a mud puddle. Ian, who suffers from mild autism, is spinning in circles with his arms outstretched. Nick is spread-eagle on the grass, staring through his binoculars at what appears to be nothing. William, who calls me "Teacher," is hopping around with his hands on his thighs in what I recognize as a pee-pee dance.

I raise my hand toward the switchblade. Travis looks down as if he doesn't know what he's holding, as if he can't remember the dozen conversations we've had about weapons.

"Travis," I say.

He takes the sticks in both hands and snaps them in half with the brittle pop of a dozen cracked knuckles. He looks up at me without blinking and throws the broken sticks into the woods.

After Dad officially moved out in May, Mom got herself diagnosed with Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. She doesn't want me to know that she takes pills for it, but I've seen that she hides her prescription bottle in the flour canister. When I see it there, I imagine her amongst the army of glassy-eyed campers who get escorted to the nurse's office every day at lunchtime, obediently swallowing in an attempt to help them--what?--stay focused on kick the can?

When I get home from camp, Mom is in the living room riding the three-speed bicycle she has propped up on cement blocks. She is still in her work clothes. The bike is part of her therapy, Dr. Mackovic's suggestion for helping her maximize her efficiency. She's supposed to stay active as much as possible, to ride the bike while she's reading her insurance reports at home. Today, though, she's reading People magazine.

She closes the magazine in her lap and looks up as I pause at the bottom of the staircase. A drop of sweat plummets down the swoop of her nose and drips onto Britney Spears's face.

"Shouldn't you change clothes?" I say.

Mom looks at her blouse and smiles. She stops pedaling, and the wheels continue to spin. "I know,' she says. "I was just …" She puts her hands up near her ears and makes chopping motions. "I had a day today. I just had to do something."

She points at a hand towel on the banister, and I throw it her way.

"How was today for you?" she asks, patting at her forehead.

I do not tell her about Travis shoving Malcolm into the pool or about the phone call Todd, the camp director, made to Travis's morn while Travis lay facedown in a beanbag chair in the office. I do not tell her that Todd used the phrase "strike two" or that he glared at me when he found out I'd been giving Travis candy to reward his relatively good behavior.

I want to talk about Travis, but my mom is about the last person I would ask about families or little kids. She's riding a bike in our living room. She has enough problems.

"Today was fine," I say.

Mom says, "Are you seeing Bob … your … are you seeing Dad this weekend?" Like my father, Mom has developed a problem of not knowing what to call people.

I tell her he offered to take me to an Indians game on Saturday, but I don't really want to go.

"Go, honey" she says. "It will be fun. For both of you." I shrug.

Mom starts pedaling again. "I should get a yellow jersey," she says. "I feel like it's the Tour-de-France in here."

"You should shut the drapes," I say and take the stairs three at a time.

I arrive at camp on Tuesday to find that Travis is serving a one-day suspension for the pool incident. When he comes back, Todd says, he'll be on serious probation. One more strike, and he's out.

I want to argue, to defend my guy, but, really, what can I say? The record speaks for itself.

Two years ago, when he was six years old, Travis was suspended for two weeks for throwing a chunk of cement through a car window. Last year he went through a three-week stretch when he'd run from his group at every opportunity. We'd usually find him in the gymnasium or the girls' locker room, flicking the light switch on and off and laughing his hysterical laugh, kind of like Woody Woodpecker hitting puberty. Then last August, he earned his ticket out by slugging Edgar Heller on the ear and drawing blood. Todd says Mrs. Trotwood had to do some fancy footwork to convince the camp to give Travis another shot this year.

One condition of Travis's return is that we have imposed an unofficial restraining order to keep Travis away from Edgar Heller. Their groups are never supposed to be within one hundred yards of each other. Edgar is this round kid who suffers from Tourette's syndrome, which I guess makes it harder for us to kick him out of camp even though he once stuck a needle in another camper's leg.

But today, Travis is gone, and, what can I say, I miss him. I should, according to every other counselor at camp, be thankful for his absence. This is the first day all summer I've gotten my boys to Closing Circle without being ten minutes late. It's hard to say why I like Travis so much. It probably has something to do with the fact that after the first week of camp, Mrs. Trotwood requested that Travis be in my group all summer. That's why I've had the eight-year-olds for six straight weeks. I guess I took her request as a compliment rather than a punishment.

While the boys are swimming, I head into the office. I offer to hold the fort while Nurse Linda tracks down kids who skipped their lunchtime meds.

Aside from a girl with beads in her braids sleeping on a cot by the window, I am alone. I spin on Linda's swivel chair and let her oscillating fan blow loose hairs back toward my ponytail. Near my feet I notice the box of hanging files that contains every camper's emergency medical forms.

Though they'd probably let me look at these if I asked to, I glance around to see if anyone's coming before prying the box open with the toe of my Reeboks. Leaning down, I flip to the Ts. I'm not sure what I'm hoping to find, but I'm disappointed there's not much to see on the Trotwood form. It's filled out in shaky blue pen, and most of the Ts are uncrossed.

The right-hand side of Travis's emergency form is blank. All the boxes for the father--name, phone number, employer, insurance carrier--are empty.

On the back, Travis's medical conditions are checked off dutifully: asthma, allergies (peanut butter, bees), ADHD, depression. Prior history: chickenpox, scabies, broken finger.

The only other interesting item shows up in the space reserved for Notes. Mrs. Trotwood had written "Travis and his father," but crossed it out and wrote "Travis likes storybooks."

The girl with the beads sits up on the cot and says, "I want to go home. I want my daddy."

I slip the file back in the box and spin my chair to face her. "Your daddy's on his way," I say in my best doctor voice. "Your daddy's almost here."

In the seventh inning, the Indians take the lead on Omar Vizquel's suicide squeeze. My dad cheers so mightily that he spills beer on my shoes.

We have made it through "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," and I am ready to go home, but my dad is one of those "we gotta stay until the end of the game no matter what" guys.

"Great game, huh, champ?" he says, holding out a bucket of popcorn so salty it cuts my lips.

I have never been the champ of anything, by the way, unless you count the third grade Math Olympics, which I'm pretty sure my father doesn't.

"Here comes the wave," Dad says, nudging me in the shoulder and laughing when it's our turn to stand and throw our arms in the air.

I run a finger around the sides of my cup of nacho cheese, and it comes out yellow. I put it in my mouth and watch as the scoreboard flashes a ghost, then reads "WALKS WILL HAUNT." My dad is totally into this scene.

In third grade he talked me into taking a father-daughter Saturday morning judo class. He was so happy when he showed me our matching white uniforms. I lasted three months before I broke down crying and told my mom I hated it, all that flipping and yelling for no good reason. She must have told my dad. He never said anything to me about it, just took down our white robes from where we hung them on the basement door and let me sleep in the following Saturday.

A curly-haired boy in an old oversized Albert Belle jersey stumbles up the aisle next to us, and I tell my dad he looks like a kid I know at camp.

"Camp" he says. "How's that going?" The Twins have put runners on the corners, and I know my dad doesn't really want to hear about camp, about Travis, about anything.

"Camp's fine" I say. "Good old Camp Run Amok."

The Tribe turns a double play, adds an insurance run in the eighth, and holds on for the win. Dad high-fives strangers. As we're leaving, he stoops down to pick up cheap plastic souvenir cups that have been left behind. He stacks a half-dozen.

"For your dorm room," he says and winks. "These might come in handy."

How can I tell this man that no one at OSU will want to drink from a crummy used cup with C.C. Sabathia's face on it?

On the way home, doing eighty on I-71, my dad turns off the radio postgame report and tells me he's found a new condo in Dublin near the Applebee's. He makes it sound like the setting for an old cheesy prime-time soap, like Melrose Place. He is way too excited about the pool, which he says I can use anytime I want.

When I don't say anything, he says, "I know this is all pretty hard. Your mom and I."

For the last six months, ever since Mom and Dad sat me down in the family room and blew me away with their divorce announcement, he's been trying to talk to me about it, like that's one final piece of the puzzle, like he's making sure he has my approval or something.

I shift in my seat and roll the window down another two inches. We're passing some farms near Medina, and the air is ripe, but I lean my face into it anyway.

"We love you," Dad says and reaches for my knee without taking his eyes off the road. He hits some skin near the hem of my shorts and quickly retracts his hand.

"Remember judo?" I say.

"I remember." His hands are stiff now, at two and ten, keeping us inside the white lines.

"I'm sorry I hated it."

He clears his throat. "It's O.K. I always thought you liked it. At first, I mean."

"I wanted to," I say. "I did want to."

"Well," he says.

We're back in the silent darkness of the interstate. Not a headlight in sight.

"I still use some of those moves," I say. "When a guy gets fresh."

"Who's getting fresh with you?" Dad says, hands tightening on the wheel.

"Kidding, Dad. I was just kidding."

Dad spends the next five miles humming the Ohio State fight song and tapping his thumbs on the wheel.

We pass the exit for Mansfield. My parents lived there for a year right after they got married. Years ago, whenever we drove to Lake Erie, we'd stop for ice cream near their old neighborhood. My parents as newlyweds is an image I can't picture.

"Dad" I say carefully, like I'm defusing a bomb, "what happened to you and Mom?"

"Wow," Dad says. "That's a tough question, little lady."

"I was wondering."

"Me, too, actually," he says with a chuckle that annoys me. "I mean, it's not like I got up one day and decided that I didn't want to be a husband anymore. It was more that I just stopped being one."

"But why?"

Dad has the Malibu on cruise control, and we lurch a little as we head up a hill.

"Life's not easy to predict, kiddo. This wasn't part of a master plan."

"H'm," I say.

"This isn't helping, is it?"

I say nothing.

Then Dad hits me with his line of lines, his trump card, the credo I wish he would just tattoo on his forehead and get it over with: "The divorce is best for everyone," he says.

"Trust me."

It is another steamy Monday, and Travis is cranky.

Since he returned from suspension, I've continued to bribe him with candy. A good day (no spitting, scratching, running away, dumping William's lunch in the pool, threatening to kill Malcolm's mother) earns Travis a sandwich Baggie full of candy. Travis has a sweet tooth, and I'm playing it for all it's worth.

I feel guilty about pumping Travis full of sugar before sending him home, but it sure beats spending the day waiting for rocks to be thrown at my head. The first day he earned a Baggie, I challenged him to count how many licks it would take to get to the chewy center of the Tootsie Pop. He cocked his head at me as if to say, "What the hell would I want to do that for?" But later that afternoon, I could see him thinking hard as he sucked on the candy.

Today's assignment is to come up with a group name that we can put on a poster and decorate during Arts 'n Crafts Hour.

William suggests Buttsniffers, Malcolm insists on Centrifugal Forces, and Ian murmurs that he would like to be a Little Mermaid. After Nick's Bird Watchers gets shouted down, Billy raises his hand and says, "Ninjas." Travis perks up and starts a voting snowball by grinning at Billy and saying, "Yeah, ninjas are cool."

Within minutes, the boys have wrapped their T-shirts around their heads to simulate ninja masks. As the mock battle escalates, I see that Travis and Billy are working side by side, showing each other moves, mimicking each other's yells.

I think how popular I would be if I showed up at camp later this week wearing my dad's old judo robe, the one he left in the back of his closet, the one I suddenly wish I'd kept. Mom and I discovered it last month when she asked me to help her clear out some stuff. "Things we no longer need,' she said. Almost all of it was my dad's.

Travis, in his fearsome mask, rushes my way.

"Hey, Amy, you want me to show you my death grip?"

"Death grip?" I say. "Will it kill me?"


I do one of my crazy judo stances to scare him off. "No thanks," I say. "I'd prefer to live."

That afternoon, Travis announces that he hasn't brought his swimming trunks. They're usually crammed into his pint-size Igloo cooler along with his lunch and some Matchbox cars. He doesn't bring a backpack like the rest of the campers.

"Do you want to get a suit from the lost and found?" I say.

Travis makes a gagging face. "Can't I just sit by you on the side?"

I nod. "Why don't we get some stuff from the office? Books or cards or something."

While Ian splashes happily in the shallow end and the other boys hold a cannonball contest off the diving board, Travis shows me the book he picked out, the story of Peter Rabbit.

"You wanna read it?" I say.

"You read it," he says, shoving the book into my hands.

"Don't you know this story?"

"Read it," Travis says, and I hear frustration in his voice.

I read slowly and make sure Travis's eyes are done traveling across each page before I move on. I stop reading a few times and pretend to let Travis help me with the difficult words.

"Naughty," he says and waits for me to repeat it.

"You're faking,' he says. "You know these words."

I shrug. "It's a hard book."

When we're done, Travis looks up and says, "You know what we learned in school this year? How to write letters." He wipes his hands on his shorts. "Can I write one?"

I go to the office for crayons and paper.

"Who's the letter to?" I ask as Travis begins writing.

He looks up from his work. "Peter Rabbit."

I lean over his shoulder to get a peek.

"I know it's not real," Travis says. "Peter, I mean. But somebody should tell him to stop getting into trouble."

A little while later, Travis hands me the letter with a picture of a rabbit across the top.

"Dear Peter," I read, "I dont like vechtables. How dos it feels to be a bunny? If it means you have to eat vechtables, I woldnt want to be one. Why didnt you listen to your mother? You shoud always listen to your mother. You were bad for going into Mr. MacGregors garden when your mother told you not to. If you did that in America you coud get put in the lectric chair I hope you learned your lesson. Your frend, Travis."

"You can have it,' Travis says, pointing at the letter. He hands me the crayons.

"Thanks" I say. "Maybe I'll mail it."

"You're dumb," he says, smiling at me. "Rabbits can't read."

That afternoon we're all in Pinecone Forest terrorizing the eight-year-old girls. I have been banned by the Ninjas, and I demand to know why.

"You don't have a penis," Malcolm says and races off into the trees.

In addition to my banishment, Travis insists that I be punished.

"I'm going to eat your hands off," he says. Then he whispers, "It's just pretend. I won't really do it."

I am left to fend for myself, handless and alone. I join the girls and vow revenge. Today's war is called Royal Animals versus Dinosaurs. The girls, of course, are the Royal Animals. We race around pretending to be unicorns and Pegasuses. One strange girl named Anastasia says that she's a vulture. My boys, the Ninja Dinosaurs, carry guns. We raid each other's forts for an hour, stealing wood, calling names, taking prisoners.

The Royal Animal-Dinosaur battle ends when Travis knocks Anastasia down Bear Mountain, a steep incline of tree roots and shale that's not really worthy of its lofty name.

One minute we are all yelling happily, the next Travis and Anastasia are playing tug of war with a tree branch, and then Anastasia is all elbows and knees, cartwheeling down the mountain. Anastasia screams at the bottom of the hill, and I race past Travis, whose face is so clenched up, he looks like he's trying to make himself explode.

"Stay there," I say to Travis as I skid down the slope. "It's O.K. It was an accident."

I pinch myself for not staying on his team, for not watching him more closely.

Tears stream onto Anastasia's shaking body as she clutches her bleeding knees to her chest. I put my arm around her shoulders and tell her it'll be all right, she's fine, there's not much blood. If I can convince her she's O.K., maybe I can avoid taking her to the office, where I'd have to fill out an accident report. Travis would be done. "Strike three," Todd would say, holding the report triumphantly.

Eric, the camp's most obnoxious counselor, yells down to me from atop Bear Mountain. "Want me to take this kid to the office?" He has Travis's arms pinned behind his back, and Travis is doing his best to kick him in the shins.

"Let him go," I say. "I'll take care of it. It was an accident, right, Travis?"

"Sure," Eric says. "An accident." He gives Travis a little shove as he lets go.

"Don't run," I say to Travis. "Please. You can help me."

"She started it," he says, and this makes Anastasia start crying again.

I stare at Travis. All I have to do is report him to Todd and the rest of my summer could be so much easier.

I get Anastasia to calm down by talking to her in my British accent. I've got two Band-Aids in my fanny pack and I stick them to her knees, figuring that Todd won't notice the injury as long as Eric keeps his mouth shut. I know it's stupid and irresponsible not to report it, but for Travis, I'm willing to take a risk.

By the time I get Anastasia back on her feet and to the top of Bear Mountain, she's laughing.

My boys are seated on a log, comparing rocks, except for Travis, who is leaping at tree branches, trying to snap them off.

I pass Anastasia off to her counselor, Megan, who says, "Thanks. You know how I get around blood." She sticks her tongue out like she's just bitten into a lemon. "Your boys are being good. Except for … you know."

"It's O.K.," I say. "Anastasia's tough. Right, kiddo?"

Anastasia is picking at her Band-Aids and ignoring me.

"I'll take care of the accident report,' I lie, looking around the quiet forest. "I guess the war's over. Who won?"

Megan shrugs. "Nobody ever wins these things."

This, I think, may be the truest thing I've heard all summer.

That afternoon, Dad's Malibu is in the driveway when I get home.

I find him in the den putting golf balls at a tipped-over Indians cup. The rest of the stack is on the coffee table.

"Hey, champ," he says, lining up his shot. "You left those in the car last week."

"I didn't know you still had a house key," I say.

He holds up the magnetic key box that we keep underneath the gas grill out back. "I lived here for fifteen years," he says.

I kick a ball back his way. "Thanks for the cups."

"No sweat" he says, doing a fist pump as his ball disappears into the cup from ten feet away.

"Mom know you're here?"

He slowly follows through on a putt, raising the club until it nearly shatters a track light near the TV. "I'm here to see you. To talk."

He sits in the rocking chair, placed where his La-Z-Boy used to be, and takes a deep breath like he's about to jump into a pool.

"O.K.," he says. "This has been on my mind since Saturday." He clenches a fist, each finger making a popping noise.

"Here it is. I just wanted to tell you … I'm proud of you."

"Thanks," I say. "Do you want a lemonade or something, because I could …"

"I just want to talk, Amy. I want you to listen."

I sit on the couch and hold a pillow on my lap. I would very much like to take a shower, wash the finger paint off my forearms, remove the knots I let Nick tie in my hair.

"Your mother and I did the best we could for you," he says, hunching toward his knees like a basketball coach drawing up the winning play. "You knew we weren't happy."

"No" I say. This makes him sit back in his chair.

"No, what?"

"No, I didn't know you weren't happy. I was."

"But that's the point" he says. "We wanted you to be happy."

"Thanks" I say. "Good job."

"You know when the first time we talked to a lawyer was? You were eight years old. Eight." He talks like he's just reminded the jury of the crucial evidence. "We always said we'd get you through high school, but sooner or later we'd have to stop pretending."

"How was I supposed to know that, Dad? I was just a little kid." Something is rising in me, the same frustration I felt when I was trying to explain to Travis why pushing Anastasia down the hill was not O.K. "So now I'm off to college, and you can make your big getaway? That's what you wanted to tell me? You want me to make you feel good about it?"

"I'm not trying to get any extra-credit dad points or anything. I just want you to know that we always wanted you to be happy. Even if we weren't. Your mother and I … we

… I just don't want you to hate me. I don't want you to be angry all the time."

"I don't hate you," I say.

"We just want you to be O.K. We were always pretty pleased about how you turned out--in spite of the awful parenting, I mean."

"O.K.," I say. He wants me to tell him he wasn't an awful parent, but I won't do it.

"O.K.,' he says.

"So do I tell Mom you were here or what?"

Dad shakes his head. "Just give her a hug when she gets home. She'd probably like that."

I follow him out to the car with his putter in my hands. He bounces a golf ball on the driveway and catches it in his shirt pocket. He raises his eyebrows at me, and I can't help grinning.

Inside, I scoop up the souvenir cups and put them in the dishwasher. I line them up so that all the Indians are staring at me upside down, smiling their spring-training smiles, looking forward to sunny doubleheaders, each of them dreaming of winning the pennant.

Friday is Cookout Day at camp. Each kid brings in an assigned item, and we burn hot dogs and s'mores at the campfire pit near the pond.

We're in the woods looking for good roasting sticks when Malcolm rushes over.

"William wants to know if you'll marry him. He wants to be married and have babies with you."

"Tell him I'm free next Monday at two o'clock. But I'm not ready for babies yet."

Malcolm runs off screaming, "She said yes. She said yes."

This will be my ninth marriage of the summer, though no one ever asks for a divorce.

Later, while the other Ninjas take turns guzzling from a two-liter of generic soda called Dr. Ahh, I take Billy and Ian down to the fire to roast some hot dogs. Ian is turned sideways with an arm up to his face to shield himself from the heat. I have to wrap my hand around his as a guide to make sure his hot dog ends up near the flames.

Up near the rest of my boys, I See Edgar Heller come out of the trees, and from the grin on his face, I know something bad is about to happen. I let go of Ian and take off running, but I'm too late. Edgar grabs Travis's Igloo cooler and races across the open field toward the pond. Travis is right behind him. I yell at both of them to stop.

Edgar and Travis disappear down a trail behind some six-foot cattails. I skid around the corner and freeze when I see Edgar pitch the cooler ten feet into the pond. Travis stares at his Igloo bobbing in the water, then charges at Edgar. Travis takes a swing just as his feet hit the gravel, and he loses his footing in a spray of rocks. Edgar is off again, ducking into the trees. I yell at Travis to stay put and then I'm hot on Edgar's tail.

Edgar is extremely fast for an overweight eleven-year-old, and he's good at navigating the woods. I can't close in on him and after five minutes I head back to see what I can do with Travis.

I'm in sight of the campfire when I spot Travis throwing Edgar's backpack into the flames.

"Holy shit," I say, not caring if anyone hears. Where the hell is Todd? I think. He's usually guarding the fire against clumsy campers.

The plastic and synthetic fibers of the backpack catch fire with disturbing quickness, and foul black smoke billows over the sea of marshmallows on sticks. Then I see Edgar. He's at the opposite end of the field, looking at the fire and moving his feet like a bull about to charge. Travis notices Edgar and fishes into the flames with a long branch. He pulls the flaming backpack from the coals and turns, laughing, to face Edgar.

Little kids are running everywhere. Counselors are grabbing campers left and right, pulling them away from the action. Eric is crouched near Travis, looking like the guys in my old judo class who never knew when or how to strike. Travis swings his stick, and some burning pieces flake off and land in the grass. I see Todd racing across the field and know that Travis's summer camp is over.

"Put the stick back in the fire, Travis," Todd yells in his best "I'm an adult do as I say" voice.

"Put it down" I say, trying to be the good cop, walking forward, hands squeezed together as if in prayer.

"Tra-vis" Todd says, pronouncing each syllable like he's in super slow motion.

"Give me the stick," I say. "I saw what happened. It's Edgar's fault."

The entire camp is staring at us, one hundred and fifty campers with their jaws open, completely silent for the first time in the history of children.

"Come on, Travis," I whisper.

Travis keeps stepping backward until he's near the edge of the pond. His chest is heaving, and, for once, I can see inside his head. It's like wheels spinning in quicksand.

The backpack continues to burn at the end of his stick. He's waving it in figure eights like a magic wand. We're all just standing there.

Then Travis makes a motion like he's hitting a home run and lets go of the stick. The backpack flies off, and Eric hot-foots out of the way. When I look up, Travis is sprinting. He's around the corner of the pond and into the woods before any of us can move.

"That's it," I say. "He's gone."

Todd stomps on the flaming backpack, and the fire goes out. "That little bastard," he says, loud enough that I'm sure some campers can hear. "That little piece of shit."

"Did you see that?" Eric says. "He tried to hit me with

that shit. He's dead." He looks down the trail where Travis disappeared and breaks into a run. When he gets to where I'm standing, I stick out my foot, and Eric goes flying.

Three hours later, we haven't found Travis. Every counselor is on alert, but there's been no sign of him. Though the buses are arriving to take the kids home, Todd is holding off calling Mrs. Trotwood as long as he can.

I am in the office with Todd. He hasn't talked to me since I tripped Eric.

"I went out by the freeway," I say. "Just to check."

Todd runs both hands through his hair. "If this gets bad," he says, "we're all going down. That includes you."

Nurse Linda looks like she might cry. "Maybe we should call the police."

Todd checks his watch. "Let's give him another hour. I'm going on one more round."

I follow Todd into the woods, and we split up. He heads down Bear Mountain toward the creek, and I make my way through Pinecone Forest for the third time.

I've already walked every inch of this place, calling Travis's name, yelling that everything's cool if he'll just come back. I keep telling myself that Travis is messing with us, that he really is fine, that Todd will change his mind, and Travis will step off the bus on Monday morning, frowning and telling me to shut up.

I am sitting on a tree stump when Travis lets me find him. A quiet laugh gives him away.

I look up, and there is Travis, perched in a tree, twenty-five feet off the ground, half hidden by leaves.

"Travis," I say, trying to act like this is no big thing, "time to come down. Buses are here."

Travis shakes his head. "Not coming down."

"Then I'm coming up."

The lowest branch is above my head, and I wonder how Travis managed to scramble so high. Like a gymnast, I heave myself up, testing the branches as I go. They seem sturdy, but I take my time.

When I get to Travis's level, he moves out on a limb to make room for me, so I slide into place, one arm wrapped around the tree trunk and the other moving about awkwardly, unsure of where to land. Travis is looking at me like I'm in a zoo.

"How long you been up here?" I say.

"Since the whole time."

"What have you been doing?"

"Laughing at everyone," he says.

"Everyone's looking for you."


"They're worried," I say.

"I don't care," Travis says. "They just want to be mean to me."

"What happened today wasn't your fault. You know how Edgar is."

"My swim trunks and goggles were in my cooler."

"The goggles might be gone," I say. "But we got the other stuff with that big, long net from the pool. It was pretty funny. Eric almost fell in."

Travis peels some bark from the branch and flips it into the air. It looks like it's floating on the way down.

"So," I say, waiting for Travis to make the next move.

"So what?"

"When are we going down?" I say.


"We can't really stay up here forever."

"I can."

"What about if we have to go to the bathroom?"


"What about when we get hungry?"

Travis squirms a little so he can reach into the pockets of his jeans. I picture him floating through the air and grab him by the elbow. He glares and twists away. In his hand are two Tootsie Pops.

"Want one?" he says, offering the grape one.

We sit quietly and eat the candy. I look at Travis and wonder if I'll ever see him again. No matter what I say--to Todd, to Mrs. Trotwood, to my mom and dad--there are things I just can't change. Maybe Travis is right. Maybe we should stay in this tree forever.

Travis nudges me and points. Through the leaves I see Todd jogging along the path. His head is down. We are safe.

"Travis," he yells, using a singsong voice usually reserved for lost pets. "Amy!"

Travis looks at me and smiles. His head bobs happily, and I can't even picture his angry face. He puts a hand over his mouth to cover his laughter, and I do the same.