The Story Teller

“How come there are no pictures on the walls?” asked my first date. “Did you just move here?”

I looked around with alarm, stymied for a second—I had never given any thought to the bare walls—then quickly regained composure.  Did I tell him there was little disposable income in our household for paintings, for cameras or frames? That my mother had no interest in home décor? That my father held maximal frugality in high esteem?

No. I told him none of these things because I hadn’t such language then. I crossed my fingers and said, yes, we had just moved in.

But the next day I called my friend Rosie Greene, whose house was beautiful, full of paintings and framed photos, whose mother perpetually offered us cultural treats—plays and concerts, books we had to read. “Rosie, you and your mom have to help me,” I sobbed into the phone. “We have to hang pictures on my living room walls.”

My plaint was Mrs. Greene’s command. She drove us to a shop where canvases covered with shapes in riotous colors were strewn upon tables, stacked in racks. “Modern art’s just the thing,” she said, but abstraction held no appeal for me. I was drawn to a wall hung with heavy, ornate frames filled with images of elegant women, dashing caballeros leading Arabian steeds. As I gazed at these figures, new worlds opened before me. Each painting told a story. “Bathsheba at Her Bath,” I read, distressed by the sorrowful face of King David’s beloved, her defeatist stance. “Rembrandt,” I murmured with awe.

“That won’t do, dear,” said Mrs. Greene, steering me away from voluptuous, lost Bathsheba. “Choose something less . . . imposing.” She redirected my attention to scenes of crooked streets, country cottages, flowers spilling out of vases, turkeys and venison dressed with fruit.

Yes. Mrs. Greene was right. These indeed were more appropriate for my stark rowhouse walls. Using my saved-up baby sitting money, I purchased a scene of tangled red roofs and chimney pots, another of rambunctious irises tumbling out of the picture plane, a cottage with a white gate almost hidden by wildflowers, a green and yellow field glowing in bright sun. In years to come, I would feel a thrill each time I saw these old friends on the walls of the world’s great museums. I would come to know their makers well: Utrillo, Van Gogh, Monet.

As for photographs, I culled the best from a stack stored in a dusty shoe box tucked under old newspapers in a corner of our dining room. Rosie and I bought frames and strategically placed them on tables and shelves. I cut out a picture of Rock Hudson from a Photoplay magazine and framed that, too. Rock wore a jaunty sailor cap and his teeth sparkled as brightly as if this were an Ipana ad.

“Who’s that?” asked my beau on our second date. “Your brother?”

“Yes,” I answered, fingers crossed. “He’s away in the Navy.”



Little White Lies

Why are little white lies white?
Why aren’t they green or yellow?
What color are big lies?
I can’t imagine a black lie.
How would you see it, judge its contours, its depth?

Are we to surmise that a black lie is evil?
An opaque hunk of obsidian obstructing your view, in your face, blocking your progress?
While a white lie prances along a rainbow, following the arc to infinity?

Is a white lie lyrical?
Does it hum a tune, have meter and rhyme?
Are characters in a white lie chaste, their motives pure?
Do they love their parents, feed the homeless, help old people cross the street?

Black lies probably are not gregarious.
They doubtless do not mix well at parties, network, participate in football pools.
Curmudgeons they!
You would not take them home to meet your mother or invite them to your beach house or ski chalet.

White lies, on the other hand, wear well, wear clothes well and sport the best haircuts, layered and sleek with just a few strands popping up in a pert cowlick.

White lies are transparent.
You can step right through them, as if they were not there.
They are never obstinate, opinionated or obvious.
You barely notice them.

At table, black lies hog the watermelon, spitting seeds out of the side of their mouth in a well-practiced maneuver that dirties your rug.
White lies prefer dainty tidbits, tartlets of crème fraîche and caviar (the real thing), thin strips of marinated carrots, Chantilly for dessert.
White lies are fastidious. At meal’s end they lift their napkin from their lap and tap the corners of their mouth, as if a trace of food lingered.

Black lies are bullies.
They push white lies against the wall and punch and threaten, torment them.
Their sharp elbows and loud guffaws startle white lies.
In the face of black lies, white lies become ever more reticent, shy.
They are quick to seek cover, change their tune, lose conviction.

Brick upon brick of black lies reach skyscraper proportions.
White lies may aspire to create tall edifices but succumb to gravity.
Their tiny legs cannot climb so many steps, their wee breath gives in.
They cannot stomach whooshing elevators that reach the clouds before you can say Jack Robinson.
Leaving black lies to rule heaven and earth.

Homage to Bradford Pears

I am a blazing Bradford Pear on the apron of Route 24, escorted by a clone, we two alone resplendent among a cascade of evergreens and dull deciduous species that transit the seasons in silence like supernumeraries upon a crowded stage.

I am more at home in Philadelphia or Washington than here in always splendid California, where my own magnificence might be overlooked amid your mountain and ocean vistas. But I adapt. My crimson leaves dapple in your long warm days, glisten under the spectacular canopy of stars that is your night sky.

As we tire of our brilliance, grow weary with exhibitionism, my clone and I will take a final bow, shed our gold lamé, red taffeta, orange brocade, and sleep, burrow like bears in Winter.

The geese fly in like Chicagoans to Boca Raton, as we go out, our candle snuffed. The squirrels have stashed their acorns, the bees have made their honey. We make our brief offering—beauty that delights the eye, warms the soul as  darkness descends—then rest, regroup, until our next act—March, when we will adorn your freeways again, our alabaster blossoms a chaste harbinger of Spring.


Who Will Speak for Pet Rats?


Squeak and Brownie

I speak for pet rats in their immaculate white cage, nudging each other with long snouts their owners find precious. I speak for them because they cannot speak for themselves. They cannot say their better natures are not what they exhibit here, lightly pummeling one another for a turn at the water spout, gaily rolling about, each trying to commandeer the short shaft of sunlight available to them.

I speak for pet rats who if they could would say they were never meant to live in a land of Legos and nerf guns of all calibers, of electronic airplanes and robots and a wall of books explaining a world they never asked to be part of.

They yearn for the thrill of the hunt, for ragged orange peels scattered among yesterday’s coffee grinds. Instead, their food is brought to them on Fiesta Ware, chips of apples, broccoli, cheese—a lot of cheese, suddenly, in this formerly lactose-free household.

If they could, they would tell their owners the alley is their game, where danger is not in the form of an old, blind cat who no longer can leap and scavenge downy tidbits, smiling in victory over his ruined prey, silver tufts hanging from his golden paw.

I speak for pet rats who if they could would say they are losing their skills: how to spread plague, how to dodge sots hurling empty bottles of Thunderbird at them, how to burrow in ivy till night falls then burst forth to forage in your compost bin.

What can they become in this unnatural habitat? As you caress them, tweak their so-called noseys, consider all this.


Breaking Bad Season 5 Finale

National Geographic

Thoughts, Questions & Predictions

T’was a night of excrement shedding—first the remnants of Gus’ empire, the jailed DEA informers, then Hank’s business in the john.

And excrement disappears in an eddy, chemically reduced to nothing, never to be seen again, like many bodies/images in Breaking Bad.

Will Hank let his intuition sink into nothingness, as he has so many times before? He loves Walter and will want his family to retain its newly rediscovered equilibrium. (Let bygones be bygones?)

I believe Skyler planted the Walt Whitman book in the john, so that the clue would find life.

Perhaps the chronic image of the vast Albuquerque sky and the name Skyler are related.

Perhaps, next year, in the grand finale, those ideas will be joined to the multitudinous catastrophic images of water — or has that already happened, with airline crash detritus falling into Walter’s swimming pool, and Skyler wading in like Virginia Woolf in her final visit to the sea?

Regarding the insect images in season 5: The exterminator family will succeed Walter in the global meth trade, with the killer nephew—who was trained by the master—as meth maker. Just as WW succeeded Gus, and Gus succeeded his Mexican partners, ad infinitum. Inevitable.

Finally: Walt will take the ricin. Jesse will OD, on purpose. And Skyler et al will walk into that huge New Mexican sunset. Remember the Icarus references?

But btw – Have we ever seen Lydia’s daughter, of whom so much was made earlier? Is the child Mike’s granddaughter—one and the same—swinging carefree in the park? Loose ends—many.


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