Parochial School, 2016

It’s simple, really.

Hold your breath underwater.

Ten seconds for you,

ten seconds for God.

careful not to mix up

their, they’re, there.

Careful not to confuse you

or you’re or your.

We wore knee-socks high

to the hinges in our pelvises

to cover would be bends and leaks, split-open tangerines

and hid sticky collar bones beneath starchy

primary fabrics.

The sacred was lost to the profanity of our bodies,

And like Nietzsche, to us, God was probably dead.

 

Read this poem in the Journal of Applied Poetics

Mr. Zapata Serves Lunch

Every week, a note came in through the slot in the door — that, being the mailbox — from our neighbor, Mr. Zapata. The note was short, and reminded us that we were invited to the man’s house for lunch on Saturday afternoon. We never objected to these invitations, but were confused and partial to the predictability of the crossword, and the cerebral boredom of our children’s weekend phone calls.


We hoped that our weekly lunches would bring us closer together, closer to finding out who he was, and why we mattered to him. But they didn’t. 


Mr. Zapata lived alone, in a small dusty house to our right. The house was trailed by a big backyard that was overgrown and mostly dead. Tangled weeds kissed the brick-bottom belly of the old, tired home, and slowly attached themselves to its foundation. The earth made love to this home; the earth tried to save this home. There had once been life in that yard, but it seemed to have fallen away, like many other things in Mr. Zapata’s life. His wife had died several years earlier, and he never remarried. His three children — two girls and one boy — lived in California, and rarely made it back to Chicago, leaving nearly everything they had once known behind to the crumbling currents of the Windy City.

Because he lived alone, Mr. Zapata was a mystery to us, and felt far away. We hoped that our weekly lunches would bring us closer together, closer to finding out who he was, and why we mattered to him. But they didn’t. He never asked about our life or our children (we have three), nor did we bother to ask about his. There was something missing. Something that felt wrong about these unsolicited and empty lunch invitations. We talked about the weather, local politics, the price of milk. Whatever may have challenged us, distanced us, or made us better, was carefully avoided. No effort was made by our host to understand us, nor we him. All the same, we were invited back each week.

We came to the conclusion that kindness was what compelled Mr. Zapata to invite us, perhaps in addition to loneliness. This explanation was uncomplicated and demanded little attention. This was perhaps a naive judgment, however. We knew nothing about this odd old man, but we had convinced ourselves that Mr. Zapata was decent, with simple intentions, and that made our decision to share lunch with him easy.

We sat through lunch, week after week, and expected little. Mr. Zapata was kind, and always served us first before helping himself. Although it was lunchtime, the deep pockets of midday, Mr. Zapata always served dinner — a large roast, roasted root vegetables, several desserts, and scotch. This was strange, but unusually comforting. We ate dinner-lunch on paper plates around his beige formica kitchen counter. It was nice. It was easy.


The table was set with service for twelve. However, it remained just the three of us, and nobody else ever showed up. The conversation was the only thing that was the same.


Last week, however, Mr. Zapata served us lighter fare. Instead of his usual roast, the old man served finger sandwiches and summer salad. Instead of scotch, he poured three large drip-drop glasses of lemonade from an expensive looking crystal pitcher. This time, we ate at a large dining room table, set with what we later decided was Mr. Zapata’s best china. The table was set with service for twelve. However, it remained just the three of us, and nobody else ever showed up. The conversation was the only thing that was the same. Simple, structured, and awkward. We pedaled our way through the unbearable noise of small talk and the tiny clanking sounds of cutlery on porcelain plates. We finally resigned ourselves to the absurdity of it all.

This week, no invitation came through the slot in the door — that, being the mailbox. No request swept the entryway floor, inviting us to join a curious old man for a curious Saturday meal. Instead, we cleaned our home and finished the crossword puzzle. We did what we used to do before we met Mr. Z., before we had the joy of eating his strange lunches. We called our children, walked our dog. Left that space empty.

We received a call the next day from Harold Anders, Mr. Zapata’s lawyer. Before I could ask any questions, I was prompted to come next door. “And bring your husband,” he shouted before hanging up.

We didn’t say anything, just looked at each other, and then at the phone. My husband let us out through the side door — it was faster that way.

I knocked on the big oak door. Mr. Anders, who was irritatingly young, pulled back the door before I could remove my wrinkled, arthritic knuckles from its smooth finish.

We were invited by the young lawyer into a house we had never seen. It wasn’t at all like the house we ate lunch in every Saturday afternoon. With little introduction, the lawyer began a guided tour through the house. “How long have you two know Mr. Zapata?” The lawyer asked.

My husband and I turned to each other quickly, immediately recognizing the complete humor, and sadness of it all.

“Since we moved onto the block,” I said, hoping that would be enough.

“So, fifteen years?” asked Harold Anders.

“Yes,” I said softly, deeply hurt by the sudden realization that in all those years, I had learned nothing about Mr. Z.

“Why are we here?” I asked.

“Mr. Zapata died last night,” said the lawyer quickly, “you were the only people he wanted me to call.”

In this moment, there was nothing I could say, nothing I wanted to say. We didn’t ever really know him, didn’t ever know why we were invited to share a meal with him every week. This is what families were supposed to do, not strangers.


Before, the walls were bare and untouched. Now, these same walls were littered with photos of who we assumed were family and friends. 


Harold Anders continued his guided tour of the big, empty house. We discovered this new, open house with the same nerve and curiosity as fresh lovers. Unseen spaces and lumpy piles of old and new possessions begged for our attention. Craving perhaps what Mr. Zapata was never able to provide. We tiptoed through, afraid the sounds of the house would further complicate this unseemly arrangement. We hovered over the steps and up onto the second floor. This is apparently where Mr. Zapata slept, and to us that was sacred space. We were quiet for several minutes.

“Why are we here,” I asked again, “Isn’t there a family member or a friend you can call?”

“There’s nobody. You two are the only ones he indicated for me to call once this happened. Is there a problem?”

Before, the walls were bare and untouched. Now, these same walls were littered with photos of who we assumed were family and friends. We also noticed a couple degrees, framed in smooth wine-colored wood — studies in English literature, mathematics. We sat in the old man’s bedroom and tried to understand him, figure out who he had been without disturbing the now complete and quiet presence of his home. We began to dissect every moment of our weekly dinner-lunches. Tried to assign importance to what may have been irrelevant. Why did he insist we eat in the kitchen, on plastic plates and with plastic cutlery. These are details that maybe don’t matter in death. But it was all we had.

It was a deep loss. One so profound I could not see through it, or make it logical. We don’t ever understand loss, but in those careful moments of sweeping through Mr. Z’s house, I felt I had no right to mourn him. Where were his children, his siblings, if he had any?

The house seemed to hold so much life after Mr. Zapata died. As we finished our round through the home’s enormous spaces, Harold Anders pulled out a piece of paper and read seven easy words: ‘Everything. To my neighbors on the left.’


I can accept that I don’t know or understand everything, but this was exceptionally strange, and unexpectedly tragic.


“I don’t understand,” I said plainly.

“I don’t think there is anything to understand,” said the young lawyer. “Mr. Zapata wanted you two to have everything.”

We tried to understand our part in Mr. Z’s death. Why us? Why were we the only ones he wanted called? What did we ever offer him? Maybe it didn’t matter. I can accept that I don’t know or understand everything, but this was exceptionally strange, and unexpectedly tragic. I wanted to know why I was now made to be a part of Mr. Z’s death, and in some odd, and perverse way, his life. Maybe I didn’t need to know. We come and we go through people’s lives like sand through a sieve — it often does not matter, and we rarely notice. I was a stone on a sand dollar, stuck in the tiny holes of Mr. Z’s sieve. I could not find my way through to the other side.

We never found out why Mr. Zapata invited us over for lunch every Saturday. And we never found out why he served us dinner for lunch. We didn’t know the old man, yet found so much joy in his company, and unbearable emptiness in his loss. Things make sense in life because all the pieces are there, ordered and numbered with spaces to fit. In death, that myth unravels like a shriveled garden hose with nothing to water, and the tiny pieces scatter like ants to their mission hill. We find out nothing ever had a place at all.

 

Originally published in Lumen Magazine, Fall 2015

Questions on Writing

My collection of written and published poetry is growing and I am still struggling to find my voice. I worry that my work may sound redundant, monotonous, uninspired. When you write about yourself, the life and experiences that you alone hold, you begin to wonder if your writing is turning inward, perhaps even bad. I write short stories about strangers. I write stories based on lives I have created, lives that may or may not exist. As a writer, I think about what it means to represent a personality, a story, an experience in my work. How honest am I  with that portrayal? How can I know with certainty that my story does not do its characters a disservice? Is is ethical to tell somebody else’s story without their knowledge or consent? Writing about yourself is boring. Writing about writing is bad. What next?

Praxis 1

I have everything neatly lined up in several rows, all managing to quietly mock the chaos of my life. I think this sense of minimalism or neatness that I think i crave is all fake. I like clutter. Think better with clutter. Am more inspired by clutter. But, I try to pretend that clutter is not the way of my world. I try to pretend that I am neat and exist within the boundaries of sanity—not boring, but not too eccentric. I took out my nose ring and bought clogs. Traded my roughness for traditional working-girl comfort. Some might say that I have sold my soul to the man, that I am part of the establishment now. And I am. there are unchecked realities that are made comfortable by the establishment. like paying rent and taking the bus and scheduling dentist appointments.

Promote and aid charities providing clean water to Gaza cities

This summer, Israel and Gaza experienced another tragic war. Once again, residents of the region lived in constant fear of rocket fire or air strikes. Many fled their homes, some found refuge in bomb shelters, and the lives of all were changed. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 69 Israelis and over 2,100 Gazans, mostly civilians, were killed.

But the cessation of rockets and airstrikes has not undone the consequences of war. Within Gaza, in addition to an overwhelming death toll, Israeli air strikes effectively destroyed the area’s entire agricultural infrastructure and any possibility of immediate economic growth. For Gazans, though the airstrikes and rockets have stopped, many of the long term effects of the war are only now being felt. One of the most alarming consequences has been the destruction of the Gazan water system, rendering hundreds of thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians virtually incapable of accessing safe, clean water.

At the onset of the fighting, Gaza’s water infrastructure was already critically overextended. According to Haaretz, even in quiet times, more than 90 percent of Gaza’s water is unfit for drinking, and over-pumping has resulted in seawater and sewage contamination of the groundwater.  During the most recent escalation, 11 wells and two purification plants in Gaza were completely destroyed, and an additional 15 wells and four purification plants were partially destroyed. Eighteen miles of pipeline were also impaired, and close to eleven miles more were damaged, according to the Palestinian Water Authority.  The Emergency Water Sanitation and Hygiene Group reports only half of the Gaza water system is currently functional, and the functional parts only get water once every five days.  The destruction of the purification plants and pipelines has made it increasingly difficult for Gazans to access clean, potable water.

Additionally, Gaza’s only power plant was destroyed in the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas. This has worsened the already severe problems with Gaza’s water supply, sewage treatment and power supplied to medical facilities. Since the fighting this summer, Gazans have had barely enough electricity to power their homes for a few hours a day, making it virtually impossible to power intensive sewage treatment and pumping facilities as well. Following the destruction of the Strip’s power plant, Gaza residents were immediately urged to begin rationing their water.

The water crisis in Gaza is untenable and requires immediate, meaningful action. Human rights are in everybody’s best interest: A commitment to peace must include a commitment to those with whom we share the land. Say what you will about who started this war or who is to be blamed for how it was pursued, we all bear responsibility for cleaning up the devastation brought on by months of violence. This summer, Israel fought a war against Hamas, yet thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians were devastatingly affected. Our ability to differentiate between the two, as well as our effort to help rebuild the Gazan infrastructure, will provide Gazans with hope for their future and also reaffirm our own commitment to peace. As the American Jewish community continues to assert its commitment to peace in the region, we must ensure that basic rights are not overlooked in the process.

To move forward on this issue, we must begin at the ground level. Abasan Al-Kabireh, a Fatah-run city in Gaza, located to the east of Khan Younis—a densely populated Gaza city that was nearly destroyed in the war—has sustained some of the worst damage in the Strip. The damage has left the 21,000 residents of the city without access to clean drinking water. The mayor of Abasan Al-Kabireh has called upon the international community to help provide the residents of his city with clean drinking water.

This call has not gone unheard. Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) is an environmental advocacy organization, that brings together Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli environmentalists to work towards advancing the sustainable ecological development of the region. FoEME has identified the Gaza water shortage as a key environmental challenge that stifles the development of strong, sustainable communities and ultimately peace in the region.

Meanwhile, Other Voice is a grassroots initiative that empowers volunteers from cities along the Gaza border to shed light on the physical and psychological tolls that ongoing violence and conflict have on Israelis and Palestinians. Other Voice also advocates for a non-violent political solution to the Conflict, endorses coexistence, works to strengthen support for peace in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and organizes donation campaigns for Gazans in need of humanitarian assistance. Both charities are working toward the common goal of providing water for the residents of Abasan Al-Kabireh and deserve our support.

J Street U Brandeis is answering the call by organizing a campus-wide fundraiser for the residents of Abasan Al-Kabireh with FoEME and Other Voice. As American Jews, and as individuals who care deeply about the future of Israel, it is crucial that we remember our responsibility to act. If we are serious about affirming our commitment to peace—as students, Americans, Jews and individuals who maintain a genuine interest in human rights and social justice—we must take steps to empower individuals and projects on the ground, as each hold the power to shift the complicated reality away from human rights injustice and toward a viable peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.

We must remain committed to the advancement of human rights wherever there is a need. Our commitment to peace in the Middle East should be mirrored by nothing less than an equal commitment to the human rights of the citizens of Israel and Palestine.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/turn-on-the-tap-for-gaza/x/9049259

—Shani Abramowitz ’14 is the media coordinator for J Street U Brandeis

Originally published in the Justice, the independent, student newspaper of Brandeis University

Follow Shani on Twitter @grownup_blogger

Nietzsche’s 10 Rule for Writers

From Nietzsche’s Toward the Teaching of Style:

  1. Of prime necessity is life: a style should live.
  2. Style should be suited to the specific person with whom you wish to communicate. (The law of mutual relation.)
  3. First, one must determine precisely “what-and-what do I wish to say and present,” before you may write. Writing must be mimicry.
  4. Since the writer lacks many of the speaker’s means, he must in general have for his model a very expressive kind of presentation of necessity, the written copy will appear much paler.
  5. The richness of life reveals itself through a richness of gestures. One must learn to feel everything — the length and retarding of sentences, interpunctuations, the choice of words, the pausing, the sequence of arguments — like gestures.
  6. Be careful with periods! Only those people who also have long duration of breath while speaking are entitled to periods. With most people, the period is a matter of affectation.
  7. Style ought to prove that one believes in an idea; not only that one thinks it but also feels it.
  8. The more abstract a truth which one wishes to teach, the more one must first entice the senses.
  9. Strategy on the part of the good writer of prose consists of choosing his means for stepping close to poetry but never stepping into it.
  10. It is not good manners or clever to deprive one’s reader of the most obvious objections. It is very good manners and very clever to leave it to one’s reader alone to pronounce the ultimate quintessence of our wisdom.

found on Brainpickings.org

Evaluate differing narratives on Israeli-Palestinian discourse

Last week, on Wednesday, Oct. 1, J Street U Brandeis hosted its third event of the semester, “Non-Violence Amid Violent Conflict: A Conversation with Ali Abu Awwad.” Awwad is a leading nonviolent Palestinian activist and member of the Parents Circle Families Forum, an organization that brings together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members to the violence of the conflict. While spending time in prison during the First Intifada, Awwad participated in a 17-day-long hunger strike that helped him recognize and understand the power of nonviolent resistance.

Awwad’s talk is but one example of the many conversations being held on campus that encourage students to engage in thinking critically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In his talk, Awwad carefully articulated the inherent difficulties in encountering another truth and explained that opposing truths are both authentic. Awwad also emphasized that a lasting solution to the conflict will include the truths of both Israelis and Palestinians.

It took me a long time to believe that diverse and pluralistic conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict like this one even existed. It took me longer to believe that those conversations were happening in spaces that I already inhabited. And it took me an even longer time to participate. I was afraid of these conversations simply because I did not know what the other truth looked like, and I was doubtful that I could allow that other truth into my own narrative.

Growing up in a modern Orthodox community that is perhaps more right of center than most, it was almost impossible for me to participate in an Israel conversation that included a diversity of truths. My Jewish identity and my pro-Israel identity were virtually one and the same. I learned early on that being a member of my community, and especially an active and vocal member, meant subscribing to an overarching and general form of pro-Israel advocacy that promoted “pro-Israel marketing” above all else.

In high school, my classmates and I were carefully taught how to combat the term “occupation,” told that a nation cannot possibly be an occupier in its own land and that the security fence was crucial for ensuring the safety of Israeli citizens and had been successful in thwarting several potential terror attacks since its construction.

However, unless we chose to take an elective Israeli history course, my classmates and I were not provided with the historical context that would have given us a deeper understanding of the term “occupation.” In fact, most of us did not understand why the word was used at all. “Occupation” became a malicious word, used only by the radical left. It was a word that we were, for all intents and purposes, banned from invoking or even asking about.

When I came to Brandeis as a midyear, I was immediately drawn into the pro-Israel community and was hoping to find a conversation that would both make me comfortable and strengthen my love for the Jewish state. But as the years went on and my involvement with particular groups grew stronger, I began to feel that the campus conversation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was wrapped up in partisan politics, was uncomfortable and was deeply entrenched in agenda pushing that ultimately alienated more people than it included.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to spend time at Mechon Hadar, an egalitarian yeshiva on the Upper West Side of New York. I regularly had conversations with students that challenged the status quo I was taught to support on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I learned about our Palestinian neighbor and was encouraged to ask tough questions about the conflict and the region. The bubble that I grew up in and was taught to think within had been opened.

I came back to Brandeis that fall with questions that I hadn’t thought I would ever have about the conflict and found a campus largely apathetic to the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians. The conversation that I had known, facts that I had once believed in and status quo that I was convinced was tenable for both peoples suddenly seemed flawed, dangerous and unsustainable.

Taking a stand that formally acknowledges Palestinian human rights or the people’s right to self-determination is immediately perceived as anti-Israel and perhaps anti-Semitic. These extreme binary representations of the conflict are not accurate depictions of the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict nor do they typify the conversations taking place on the Brandeis campus.

For my first three years of college, I was not being honest about the conversation I wanted to have on Israel and Palestine. I was actively criticizing the nature of the conversation yet intentionally avoiding discourse that would have encouraged me to think critically or beyond my comfort zone. I was under the false impression that our campus conversation was dead, simply because I rejected the notion of engaging with students with whom I may have disagreed.

We all find comfort in our own echo chambers. Encountering and engaging new, challenging narratives is a difficult process that requires patience and an open mind. Hearing somebody else’s story and exposing oneself to his or her truth can be disorienting and quite painful.

But it is an ultimately necessary process to challenge oneself and best understand any issue, especially one as complex as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As Awwad put it last week, “Conflict resolution is a place where both truths come together…not to love each other but to understand each other.”

J Street U Brandeis is the largest pro-Israel group on campus to date. Since its inception, J Street U has been actively promoting and creating spaces for critical engagement on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Although we stand for a two-state solution and develop programming around that goal, we encourage and welcome debates that will challenge us, make us ask tough questions and ultimately strengthen our commitment to self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

—Shani Abramowitz ’15 is the media coordinator for Brandeis J Street U.

Originally published in the Justice, the independent student newspaper of Brandeis University

Follow Shani on Twitter @shani_abramow

Hunter S. Thompson, Doomed Love at the Taco Stand (2001)

TIME asked HUNTER S. THOMPSON, a former copyboy here who went on to an even more exciting career as a gonzo journalist, to report from the set of the movie being made of his 1971 book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in which Johnny Depp plays Thompson and the author appears in a cameo role. Thompson, who this year published a volume of collected letters called The Proud Highway, ended up taking Depp’s car and checkbook on a romantic adventure. Fasten your seat belts…

Oct. 11th (HOLLYWOOD)

Going to Hollywood is a dangerous high-pressure gig for most people, under any circumstances. It is like pumping hot steam into thousands of different-size boilers. The laws of physics mandate that some will explode before others–although all of them will explode sooner or later unless somebody cuts off the steam.

I love steam myself, and I have learned to survive under savage and unnatural pressures. I am a steam freak. Hollywood is chicken feed to me. I can take it or leave it. I have been here before, many times. On some days it seems like I have lived at the Chateau Marmont for half my life. There is blood on these walls, and some of it is mine. Last night I sliced off the tips of two fingers and bled so profusely in the elevator that they had to take it out of service.

But nobody complained. I am not just liked at the Chateau, I am well-liked. I have important people thrown out or black-listed on a whim. Nobody from the Schwarzenegger organization, for instance, can even get a drink at the Chateau. They are verboten. There is a ghastly political factor in doing any business with Hollywood. You can’t get by without five or six personal staff people–and at least one personal astrologer.

I have always hated astrologers, and I like to have sport with them. They are harmless quacks in the main, but some of them get ambitious and turn predatory, especially in Hollywood. In Venice Beach I ran into a man who claimed to be Johnny Depp’s astrologer. “I consult with him constantly,” he told me. “We are never far away. I have many famous clients.” He produced a yellow business card and gave it to me. “I can do things for you,” he said. “I am a player.”

I took his card and examined it carefully for a moment, as if I couldn’t quite read the small print. But I knew he was lying, so I leaned toward him and slapped him sharply in the nuts. Not hard, but very quickly, using the back of my hand and my fingers like a bullwhip, yet very discreetly.

He let out a hiss and went limp, unable to speak or breathe. I smiled casually and kept on talking to him as if nothing had happened. “You filthy little creep,” I said to him. “I am Johnny Depp!”

Outside on the boulevard I saw a half-naked young girl on roller skates being mauled by two huge dogs. They were Great Danes, apparently running loose. Both had their paws on her shoulder, and the gray one had her head in its mouth. But there was no noise, and nobody seemed to notice.

I grabbed a fork off the bar and rushed outside to help her, giving the bogus astrologer another slap in the nuts on my way out. When I got to the street, the dogs were still mauling the girl. I stabbed the big one in the ribs with my fork, which sank deep into the tissue. The beast yelped crazily and ran off with its tail between its legs. The other one quickly released its grip on the girl’s head and snarled at me. I slashed at it with the fork, and that was enough for the brute. It backed off and slunk away toward Muscle Beach.

I took the girl back to the Buffalo Club and applied aloe to her wounds. The astrologer was gone, and we had the lounge to ourselves. Her name was Heidi, she said, and she had just arrived in L.A. to seek work as a dancer. It was the third time in 10 days she’d been attacked by wild dogs on the Venice boardwalk, and she was ready to quit L.A., and so was I. The pace was getting to me. I was not bored, and I still had work to do, but it was definitely time to get out of town. I had to be in Big Sur in three days, and then to a medical conference in Pebble Beach. She was a very pretty girl, about 30, with elegant legs and a wicked kind of intelligence about her, but she was also very naive about Hollywood. I saw at once that she would be extremely helpful on my trip north.

I listened to her for a while, then I offered her a job as my assistant, which I badly needed. She accepted, and we drove back to the Chateau in Depp’s Porsche. As we pulled up the ramp to the underground garage, the attendants backed off and signaled me in. Depp’s henchmen had left word that nobody could touch the car except me. I parked it expertly, barely missing a red BMW 840Ci, and we went up the elevator to my suite.

I reached for my checkbook, but it was missing, so I used one of Depp’s that I’d found in the glove compartment of his car. I wrote her a healthy advance and signed Depp’s name to it. “What the hell?” I said to her. “He’s running around out there with my checkbook right now, probably racking up all kinds of bills.”

That was the tone of my workdays in Hollywood: violence, joy and constant Mexican music. At one club I played the bass recorder for several hours with the band. We spent a lot of time drinking gin and lemonade on the balcony, entertaining movie people and the ever present scribe from Rolling Stone magazine…

You bet, bubba, I was taking care of business. It was like the Too Much Fun Club. I had the Cadillac and a green Mustang in the garage, in addition to the Carerra 4 Porsche, but we could only drive one of them up the coast. It was an uptown problem.

Depp, meanwhile, was driving around town in my car, the Red Shark, and passing himself off as me. It was part of the movie, he said, but it gave me the creeps.

Finally it got to be too much, so we loaded up the Northstar Cadillac and fled. Why not? I thought. The girl had proved to be a tremendous help, and besides, I was beginning to like her.

Oct. 12th (PISMO BEACH)

The sun was going down as we left Malibu and headed north on 101, running smoothly through Oxnard and along the ocean to Santa Barbara. My companion was a little nervous about my speed, so I gave her some gin to calm her down. Soon she relaxed against me, and I put my arm around her. Roseanne Cash was on the radio, singing about the seven-year ache, and the traffic was opening up.

As we approached the Lompoc exit, I mentioned that Lompoc was the site of a federal penitentiary and I once had some friends over there.

“Oh?” she said. “Who were they?”

“Prisoners,” I said. “Nothing serious. That’s where Ed was.”

She stiffened and moved away from me, but I turned up the music and we settled back to drive and watch the moon come up. What the hell? I thought. Just another young couple on the road to the American Dream.

Things started to get weird when I noticed Pismo Beach coming up. I was on the cell phone with Benicio del Toro, the famous Puerto Rican actor, telling him about the time I was violently jailed in Pismo Beach and how it was making me nervous to even pass a road sign with that name on it. “Yeah,” I was saying, “it was horrible. They beat me on the back of my legs. It was a case of mistaken identity.” I smiled at my assistant, not wanting to alarm her, but I saw that she was going into a fetal crouch and her fingers were clutching the straps of her seat belt.

Just then we passed two police cars parked on the side of the road, and I saw that we were going a hundred and three.

“Slow down!” Heidi was screaming. “Slow down! We’ll be arrested. I can’t stand it!” She was sobbing and clawing at the air.

“Nonsense,” I said. “Those were not police. My radar didn’t go off.” I reached over to pat her on the arm, but she bit me and I had to pull over. The only exit led to a dangerous-looking section of Pismo Beach, but I took it anyway.

It was just about midnight when we parked under the streetlight in front of the empty Mexican place on Main Street. Heidi was having a nervous breakdown. There was too much talk about jails and police and prisons, she said. She felt like she was already in chains.

I left the car in a crosswalk and hurried inside to get a taco. The girl behind the register warned me to get my car off the street because the police were about to swoop down on the gang of thugs milling around in front of the taco place. “They just had a fight with the cops,” she said. “Now I’m afraid somebody is going to get killed.”

We were parked right behind the doomed mob, so I hurried out to roust Heidi and move the car to safety. Then we went back inside very gently and sat down in a booth at the rear of the room. I put my arm around Heidi and tried to calm her down. She wanted gin, and luckily I still had a pint flask full of it in my fleece-lined jacket pocket. She drank greedily, then fell back in the booth and grinned. “Well, so much for that,” she chirped. “I guess I really went crazy, didn’t I?”

“Yes,” I said. “You were out of control. It was like dealing with a vampire.”

She smiled and grasped my thigh. “I am a vampire,” she said. “We have many a mile to go before we sleep. I am hungry.”

“Indeed,” I said. “We will have to fill up on tacos before we go any farther. I too am extremely hungry.”

Just then the waitress arrived to take our order. The mob of young Chicanos outside had disappeared very suddenly, roaring off into the night in a brace of white pickup trucks. They were a good-natured bunch, mainly teenagers with huge shoulders wearing Dallas Cowboys jerseys and heads like half-shaved coconuts. They were not afraid of the cops, but they left anyway.

The waitress was hugely relieved. “Thank God,” she said. “Now Manuel can live one more night. I was afraid they would kill him. We have only been married three weeks.” She began sobbing, and I could see she was about to crack. I introduced myself as Johnny Depp, but I saw the name meant nothing to her. Her name was Maria. She was 17 years old and had lied about her age to get the job. She was the manager and Manuel was the cook. He was almost 21. Every night strange men hovered around the taco stand and mumbled about killing him.

Maria sat down in the booth between us, and we both put our arms around her. She shuddered and collapsed against Heidi, kissing her gently on the cheek. “Don’t worry,” I said. “Nobody is going to be killed tonight. This is the night of the full moon. Some people will die tonight, but not us. I am protected.”

Which was true. I am a Triple Moon Child, and tonight was the Hunter’s Moon. I pulled the waitress closer to me and spoke soothingly. “You have nothing to fear, little one,” I told her. “No power on earth can harm me tonight. I walk with the King.”

She smiled and kissed me gratefully on my wrist. Manuel stared balefully at us from his perch in the kitchen, saying nothing. “Rest easy,” I called out to him. “Nobody is going to kill you tonight.”

“Stop saying that!” Heidi snapped, as Manuel sunk further into himself. “Can’t you see he’s afraid?” Maria began crying again, but I jerked her to her feet. “Get a grip on yourself,” I said sharply. “We need more beer and some pork tacos to go. I have to drive the whole coast tonight.”

“That’s right,” said my companion. “We’re on a honeymoon trip. We’re in a hurry.” She laughed and reached for my wallet. “Come on, big boy,” she cooed. “Don’t try to cheat. Just give it to me.”

“Watch yourself,” I snarled, slapping her hand away from my pocket. “You’ve been acting weird ever since we left L.A. We’ll be in serious trouble if you go sideways on me again.”

She grinned and stretched her arms lazily above her head, poking her elegant little breasts up in the air at me like some memory from an old Marilyn Monroe calendar and rolling her palms in the air.

“Sideways?” she said. “What difference does it make? Let’s get out of here. We’re late.”

I paid the bill quickly and watched Maria disappear into the kitchen. Manuel was nowhere in sight. Just as I stepped into the street, I noticed two police cars coming at us from different directions. Then another one slowed down right in front of the taco stand.

“Don’t worry,” I said to Heidi. “They’re not looking for us.”

I seized her by the leg and rushed her into the Cadillac. There was a lot of yelling as we pulled away through the circling traffic and back out onto Highway 101.

My mind was very much on my work as we sped north along the coast to Big Sur. We were into open country now, running straight up the coast about a mile from the ocean on a two-lane blacktop road across the dunes with no clouds in the sky and a full moon blazing down on the Pacific. It was a perfect night to be driving a fast car on an empty road along the edge of the ocean with a half-mad beautiful woman asleep on the white leather seats and Lyle Lovett crooning doggerel about screwheads who go out to sea with shotguns and ponies in small rowboats just to get some kind of warped revenge on a white man with bad habits who was only trying to do them a favor in the first place.

You bet. My mind was wandering, thinking about Lyle. I was just with him in Hollywood. We both had roles in my movie, but Lyle had a trailer and I didn’t. I had to settle for half of Depp’s trailer, along with his C4 Porsche and his wig, so I could look more like myself when I drove around Beverly Hills and stared at people when we rolled to a halt at stoplights on Rodeo Drive.

Oct. 13th (BIG SUR)

I lost control of the Cadillac about halfway down the slope. The road was slick with pine needles, and the eucalyptus trees were getting closer together. The girl laughed as I tried to aim the car through the darkness with huge tree trunks looming up in the headlights and the bright white moon on the ocean out in front of us. It was like driving on ice, going straight toward the abyss.

We shot past a darkened house and past a parked Jeep, then crashed into a waterfall high above the sea. I got out of the car and sat down on a rock, then lit up the marijuana pipe. “Well,” I said to Heidi, “this is it. We must have taken a wrong turn.”

She laughed and sucked on some moss. Then she sat down across from me on a log. “You’re funny,” she said. “You’re very strange–and you don’t know why, do you?”

I shook my head softly and drank some gin.

“No,” I said. “I’m stupid.”

“It’s because you have the soul of a teenage girl in the body of an elderly dope fiend,” she whispered. “That is why you have problems.” She patted me on the knee. “Yes. That is why people giggle with fear every time you come into a room. That is why you rescued me from those dogs in Venice.”

I stared out to sea and said nothing for a while. But somehow I knew she was right. Yes sir, I said slowly to myself, I have the soul of a teenage girl in the body of an elderly dope fiend. No wonder they can’t understand me.

This is a hard dollar, on most days, and not many people can stand it. Indeed. If the greatest mania of all is passion: and if I am a natural slave to passion: and if the balance between my brain and my soul and my body is as wild and delicate as the skin of a Ming vase–

Well, that explains a lot of things, doesn’t it? We need look no further. Yes sir, and people wonder why I seem to look at them strangely. Or why my personal etiquette often seems makeshift and contradictory, even clinically insane… Hell, I don’t miss those whispers, those soft groans of fear when I enter a civilized room. I know what they’re thinking, and I know exactly why. They are extremely uncomfortable with the idea that I am a teenage girl trapped in the body of a 60-year-old career criminal who has already died 16 times. Sixteen, all documented. I have been crushed and beaten and shocked and drowned and poisoned and stabbed and shot and smothered and set on fire by my own bombs…

All these things have happened, and probably they will happen again. I have learned a few tricks along the way, a few random skills and simple avoidance techniques–but mainly it has been luck, I think, and a keen attention to karma, along with my natural girlish charm.

(To be continued.)