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Category Archives: relationships

He Left His Scarf in My Car

Having just learned that musician Billy Faier died this past year, I’m posting a poem that he inspired many years ago. 

He left his scarf in my car.
Sleepily I fingered the hand-woven wool
that had embraced his neck
on countless winter sojourns.

Then I saw my empty finger:
my ring was on his piano
or perhaps on his hand now
playing Bach.

roadAs I drove into the morning sun
a million ghosts of one-night stands
faded into history:
my ring was on his piano
and his scarf was in my car.


Letter Delivered As A Dream: Short Short Story

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Following is an excerpt from Love and Other Illusions, my recently published short story collection.  “Letter Delivered As A Dream” is a short-short, as they call them, so I’m giving my loyal blog readers the entire story. It was originally published in Hot & Bothered 3: Fiction on Lesbian Desire, ed. Karen X. Tulchinsky. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2001. Love and Other Illusions can be purchased as a Kindle on Amazon.

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Letter Delivered As A Dream

Do you remember that summer when our biggest problem was ants?

We who were so well versed in the habits of the cockroach were astounded by the rapidity with which ants reproduced.  By mid-July it had become impossible to leave any kind of unpackaged foodstuffs anywhere. It became a religion with us:  our lives revolved around maintaining a crumbless kitchen.

We bought dozens of round red traps, nearly identical to the ones we used to capture roaches in the city.  The ant population diminished, but by no means disappeared.  I suggested my mother’s method of smoking them out of their holes; you remembered your fifth-grade ant-farm-in-a-fish-tank and wouldn’t let me do it.

ice cream coneIt rained a lot that summer, and no one had told us about muggy country air, from which you with your allergies suffered terribly.  We’d planned to go hiking and antique-hunting, but ended up playing Scrabble, venturing outside only in the cool moist evenings.  We held hands walking into the small village for Haagen-Dazs ice cream cones eaten on the walk home.

Meanwhile, the ants kept on coming, an army of ruthless marauders.  When I brushed one from your leg you confessed you liked the feel of them  tickling your skin.  And so I discovered another way to delight you: like an ant I crept lightly up your calf, past the hollow behind your knee, more lightly still up your thigh, until you pulled me into you.heartstitchesbroken

Ah, summer.  How old were we then?  How young?  What were we thinking when we rented that little cottage in the mountains, knowing so little of the country, anthills, each other?

By late August we’d given up on ant control; they traipsed freely through the mound of spilled sugar, or clustered around a cake crumb on the floor.  Our truce was such that when one got squished beneath the heel of my sneaker, you stunned me with authentic tears.

The morning after Labor Day we washed the linens, packed our unused tennis gear and retrieved odds and ends from beneath the bed.  What about the ants? I asked you; won’t the landlady be horrified if we leave them? Against your protests I bought a can of Raid, and while you waited in the car, I carried out a search and destroy mission.  When I emerged, you looked grim. I turned on the engine and we headed back to the city–me to Brooklyn, you to the Upper West Side. As expected, both apartments were overrun with cockroaches after a summer of neglect.  That night on the phone you admitted you had no qualms squirting and smashing the nasty little creatures, so much more repulsive than our industrious country ants.

Over the years I’ve developed an aversion toward killing ants.  But this morning I discovered one already dead in the sink, a victim of cockroach poison.  Hastily I flushed it down the drain, feeling a sudden sharp pain as I thought: where are you?

Love & Other Illusions: Short Stories by Marcy Sheiner

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Finally! A collection of deep, delightful stories on love, friendship, joy and pain by… oui, c’est moi!

For decades I’ve been editing stories by other writers, and in between I’ve written a few myself. Now they’re ready to face the world as a collection. And no, they aren’t sex stories, which some readers expect from me, since I’ve published plenty of those. The eleven short stories in Love and Other Illusions are mainstream literary fiction, some sexy (I hope) but nothing explicit.  I’d like to think they still generate heat and passion: I was feeling passionate when I wrote them.

As I say in the introduction, I’ve always been drawn to novels—both reading and writing them—more than to short stories, just because I always want more, and I’m sorry when a story ends. But in the time I spent preparing these for publication, the genre began to grow on me, and I developed more respect for the form. I’ve even been reading more of other writers’ short stories.

I’ve edited a dozen collections of women’s erotica, wrote the self-help  Sex for the Clueless, and a memoir, Perfectly Normal. I also ghosted eight books of nonfiction under other people’s names. These stories, however, are a different breed: all were written by me, are credited to me, and are being promoted by me. (My publisher, the brilliant Jean Marie Stine, says the time for humility has passed!) The point is, you never know if and when there’ll be more where these stories came from,so don’t miss reading them.

Brief story synopses:

ocean.jpgSAVING MY LIFE: In which Uncle Yernie pulls his little niece out of the crashing ocean, and saves her life in more ways than one.

LO SIENTO: Martha leaves her live-in boyfriend at home and goes to Mexico to ponder their relationship. Will she leave him? Will she stay? I’m not telling!

(Lo Siento means “I’m sorry” in Spanish.)

WHAT: The anxieties of commitment are overcome and love conquers all—doesn’t it?

LETTER DELIVERED AS A DREAM: A couple share a summer idyll with a colony of ants in this short-short story.

A TRAGEDY OF CHILDHOOD: An older woman is hurtled back to her past when she befriends a young mother and toddler, and helps the child overcome her fear of escalators.Escalator

THE UNIVERSE WILL PROVIDE:  Will it? The answer would be a spoiler, so you’ll just have to read it to find out.

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER: What makes a woman beautiful? How do her looks affect her life and personality? Her loves and her friendships? Even her career is affected in one way or another, especially if she’s extremely beautiful or extremely not. Every woman privately knows—even if she won’t admit it—that what she looks like is one of the most basic yet complicated issues in our lives.

images-1THE COUCH: Q: When is a couch more than a piece of furniture? A: When it’s sold as part of a self-improvement plan.

A woman’s decision to sell her couch brings the house of cards she’s built, and the man who’s in it, crashing down around her.

BAD AIR DAY: What begins as another bad air day for asthmatic Sharon ends up just the opposite when someone new comes into her life. Caution: This story might Feed your Head with its mind-reading and other psychic phenomena.

heartstitchesbrokenTHE SOUND OF ONE HEART BREAKING: As war breaks out in the desert, two people on the precipice of a relationship discover they  are also breaking out—with herpes!

NEVER LOOK BACK: The most popular story among baby boomers these days seems to be the loving reunion of high school sweethearts, years or decades later. In this case he’s a Vietnam vet, she’s an anti-war ex-hippie. Can they find each other again?

THE FOURTH AND FINAL MARRIAGE OF SADIE NUSSBAUM:  When octogenarian Bernie Solomon has a heart attack, his adulterous affair with Sadie Nussbaum is exposed. After he dies, his agoraphobic wife doesn’t even notice he’s gone, while Sadie plays the role of grieving widow and his daughter finds out about them.

Great Guilt Trip With Babs


It’s not that there’s anything astounding or remarkable about Guilt Trip, the new comedy with Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen, mother and son on a road trip through hell. What’s so good about this movie is how utterly REAL Barbra is in the role of Joyce Brewster, a 60-something widowed mother. Most women of our generation will recognize themselves and their friends in the character–but when I say Streisand is real in Guilt Trip, I’m referring to more than characterization. Her acting is real in Guilt Trip; it’s possible she’s never done so well in any previous film. Anne Fletcher, who directed Guilt Trip, seems to have known exactly what to do with her.

I’m assuming direction makes the difference: in so many of Barbra’s movies–from Funny Girl to Prince of Tides right on up through Meet the Fockers–she has a tendency to overact, but in Guilt Trip I didn’t see a single instance of her usual emoting. Every smile, tear, conversation, and subtle reactions are conveyed in a way that is seamlessly real, and if I’m overusing that word, it’s because nothing else can better describe Streisand’s performance and persona here. Maybe it’s just, as Mick LaSalle says in The SF Chronicle, “Maturity has released something in Streisand, who, having gone beyond trying to sell herself as a babe (as in “The Mirror Has Two Faces”), has a new warmth.”

Seth Rogen is Streisand’s son, Andy Brewster, an inventor hawking his organic cleaning fluid on their road trip. Andy’s humorless presentations doom his product before it can get off the ground. He rejects Mom’s advice to zip up his performance, and who can blame him when it’s thrown at him amid  600 other pieces of advice to drink more water, visit his high school sweetheart, see a shrink, yada yada yada. Sounds like a stereotypical Jewish mother, but it doesn’t come off clichéd. I saw the picture with my son, and we both related to the mother-son dynamics. Besides, Mom is vindicated in the end, when Andy finally takes her advice and it pays off. In between rejection and triumph, of course, they have to travel a long long road. It’s great fun for the audience if not the riders.


(Above: Barbra as Joyce Brewster eats a humongous steak dinner in an hour, thereby getting it free.)

As an old Barbra Streisand fanatic who’s been watching her since 1963, hasseen every one of her movies, most of them multiple times, owns most of her recorded work and had a personal Streisand adventure of sorts (see my post on meeting her in a New York HoJo), I have the right and the credentials to criticize or praise her (though so does everyone else, come to think of it!). I say this because when I checked out  Rotten Tomatoes to see what film critics and ordinary viewers are saying about the movie, I was disappointed–even kind of hurt, since so many of them dismiss GT as crappy drivel for little old ladies. You know, us old fuddy duds who don’t know a thing about le cinema but adore false sentiment. Oh, boo hoo and a big boo to you too! I laughed my way through most of Guilt Trip, was emotionally moved, and saw a two-hour sliver of truth and beauty. I don’t expect every movie to transform my life. A lot of them don’t even transform my two hours of watching! This one had side-splitting laughs and the whole thing was fun. Which is enough for any piece of entertainment to deliver.


On Friendship: Sex and the City (Film)

 This was written a few years ago and posted on my memoir blog, which I took down about a year ago. I thought I’d moved it onto this blog, but apparently I didn’t. I’m putting it up now, and if it seems out of date, that’s why.

I just saw SEX AND THE CITY, and it was the best two-and-a-half hours I’ve spent since I rented the TV show’s DVDs. Fashion, beauty, love, sex, laughter, The Big Apple…plus, it’s a very secure feeling to know, when everything falls apart, it’ll all be made right at the end. The movie was panned, mercilessly and unfairly, in the NY Times. Hey, nobody’s saying this is high art. For what SATC  is, it was well done. A lot of scenes had me tearing up, especially at the tender way Carrie’s friends take care of her, and I realized that a big appeal of the show lies in its romantic view of friendship. In an age when we’re not supposed to romanticize romance, the romantic impulse in SATC is superimposed onto friendship instead. Maybe that’s what I always liked about the series.

Friendship is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot this century, almost as much as I think about aging. In the last century I had dozens of friendships, ranging in longevity from three to forty-five years. I’m talking close friends, not mere acquaintances, mostly women, some in California, some in New York. Today I have almost none. I lost a few people to the Grim Reaper, but the others either drifted away, intentionally dumped me, or I dumped them. Some of the dumpings were as dramatic and painful as the deaths. I’ve spent much of this century trying to figure out what happened.

Before I could figure out the breakups I had to look clearly at the relationships as they were. One reason I’m so moved by the friendships in SATC is that I’ve never in my life had friends who treated me the way these women treat one another. Charlotte sat on the bed and spoon-fed Carrie during her meltdown. Miranda the attorney saved her apartment, and Samantha arranged to move all her belongings back into it—all accomplished while sitting on a veranda in Mexico, where they’d gone to nurse Carrie back into a reasonable semblance of human. Who has friends like these, much less three of them? I wish!

I used to say that the women in SATC were like no women I’ve ever known, that the show was a gay man’s fairy tale…but I suspended disbelief because I love fairy tales. What I was talking about then was the clothing, the clubbing, the fabulous life they led, the money. Let’s be real: no New York columnist at Carrie Bradshaw’s level, writing three times a week, makes enough bucks to pay New York City rent, much less buy Manolo Blahnik shoes with regularity. Now I realize it’s the actual friendship, the heart of SATC, that’s the real fairy tale. Contemporary women are beyond the myth of Happily Ever After with the Prince—but we still believe it can happen with girlfriends.

I used to consciously and seriously believe in friendship. It was one of my core values. Back in the 70s, when I got into consciousness-raising and the women’s movement, one of the first illusions that got tossed, along with the bras and leg-shaving gear, was romantic love. We actually held seminars and workshops on the subject. You’d be ridiculed if you believed that coupledom, as we sneeringly called it, could save you. It wasn’t just theoretical, either—I’d been married, I’d done the whole husband-kids-picket fence routine, and found it wanting.

We believed in forms of group living as a Solution, an antidote to the nuclear family, a phrase as loathsome to us as coupledom. Maybe a variation of the Israeli kibbutz would save us, maybe Chinese Socialism. We read up on these things, studied them. The hippie commune is now an old joke, but many of them were serious efforts to forge a better way of life, to raise happier kids. I lived in two or three group situations, all disastrous in one way or another. Still, though I came to the conclusion that communal living was my own worst nightmare, I didn’t stop believing in friendship as the key to a good life. I put a lot of time and energy into my friendships, as much as I put into my kids and each of my serially monogamous relationships—maybe even more, to my everlasting regret. As an investment in the future…better stick to blood, it really is thicker than water—though I haven’t had much luck in that department either.

You’d think by now I’d be done idealizing freindship, but, while I may be disillusioned, I’m not completely cynical. If I were, I wouldn’t  be so enamored of Carrie Bradshaw and Company. Somewhere deep inside, I still believe that do-or-die freindships exist. I imagine that a lot of other people, or at least women, have them; in fact I know that some women do. I’m always reading stories by older women who say it’s their friends who pull them through. Just this year I read a memoir by Isabel Allende and another by Lilian Rubin, both praising their glorious friendships. I know a San Francisco woman whose birthday parties I used to go to—the last one I attended was her 70th—where dozens of devoted women come to honor her with gifts of poetry and love. These aren’t casual acquaintances, either, but intimate friends, nurtured during four decades of living, working, and political activism in SF.

I don’t want dozens of close friends. One or two would suffice. At a relatively late age, in my forties, I began a new friendship that turned out to be far healthier and more positive than previous relationships. Andrea’s primary life work was collecting people, and when we met, through a mutual friend’s death, she signed on for life. (People in New York tend to be that way—whomever you stumble into can end up a lifetime connection from which you can’t opt out without major drama. Californians, I’ve found, are more transient, drifting in and out of each other’s lives with little fanfare). During the eighteen years I knew Andrea, I learned what had been missing in previous friendships. I also faced up to my own failings as a friend, and learned how to do better. When she told me she had lung cancer, I confess that my first selfish reaction was self-pity: I’d finally found a real friend, so of course she was going to die. And she did.

Until 2003 my longest lasting friendship was one that began in high school. We gave lip service to the depth of our love and loyalty, but the truth is, our friendship came nowhere near SATC quality. In addition, vast gulfs of differences existed between us: she was the stable housewife and mother, and, like so many Americans, assumed hers was the normal life, mine aberrent. Once, after our kids were grown, she said it was a miracle that mine turned out so well despite my lifestyle. I wanted to say, maybe it’s because of our lifestyle, but my inability to defend myself was by then ingrained in our relationship.

Despite our differences, we had an intense emotional bond, a gut-level connection that was, at certain times and under certain circumstances, deeply satisfying. Our conversations could be profound, often spiritual. The odd thing was, while in some ways I was invisible to her, on another level she knew me better than anyone else. I loved her, and I love her still—but sometimes love is not enough.

The friendship ended during a health crisis that put me into the hospital seven times in one year. For the next two years I was sick, poor, and profoundly dissatisfied with my life, and she got tired, she said, of my “negativity.” At this time other friendships also fell by the wayside. Not only didn’t people help me when I was sick, they couldn’t even tolerate me. Yes, I was whiny; yes, I cried and complained a lot—but I don’t care how negative or insufferable I might have been at that time…what the fuck are friends for?

One friend in New York who I held onto happened to call a few minutes after I arrived home after four days in hospital. I was all alone, frightened about taking care of myself, and was trying to figure out the medication instructions the nurse had given me. Unable to make head or tail of them, feeling utterly lost, I answered the phone crying. From 3000 miles away, Joani called the hospital and got the information, then called me back to deliver it. At that time I had friends in San Francisco who told me, “Gee, I wish I could help you, but I’m all the way on the other side of the bridge.” So, yes, Joani is a keeper.

Unlike four or five other alleged friends.

For almost 30 years I’d been helping S. with her health crises—taking her to doctors, writing bureaucratic letters for her, giving her a television when hers broke, always making her musical compilations. I never expected much from her because of her own health problems, but she did manage to go out to a play or movie from time to time…so why couldn’t she visit me just once? Another friend stuck it out for a few months, even drove me home from the hospital once, but then she decided we were “going in different directions.” She was trying to be spiritual and kind, she explained, while I was becoming bitter and negative. After fifteen years of friendship, she walked out the door because I wasn’t being spiritual enough for her.

I’m aware that in reciting this litany of complaints against others, I’m opening myself to judgment and disbelief: when we hear stories like these, we automatically wonder what we’re not hearing—the other side. We read between the lines, imagining the awful deeds this person must have done to deserve so much bad treatment. It’s true my ex-friends have their own points of view, and for sure I’m no angel. But from my point of view, this is what happened. At the age of 63 I’ve become someone I never in a million years thought I would be: a lonely, isolated senior with few resources and no support system.

It’s a cliché, isn’t it—the notion of fair weather friends,  the old saw that in times of need you find out who your real friends are. The only thing is, I should have found it out long ago. I’d led a life full of crises as the single mother of a son who had seizures and surgical procedures. I felt quite alone with all that—and it wasn’t just a feeling. I see now that I just couldn’t bear to face the truth: I’d already given up on romantic love and the nuclear family; if I gave up on friendship, what would be left?

My mother used to tell me, “You can never count on anyone but yourself.” I scoffed at her cynicism. My generation was different. We’d care for one another. All you need is love and so forth. But as it turns out, to employ another cliché, Mother was right. My life has shown me that all I can count on is myself. I loved watching Sex and the City because it offered a momentary escape from that harsh reality, a few minutes or hours to pretend that life can be the way I used to think it should be.

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