Grace and Johanna on Pleasant Avenue

Grace and Johanna moved into the apartment on Pleasant Avenue in 1981.  They liked it because no one they knew knew of Pleasantville.  It was their escape.

Grace drank, and hated the local liquor stores.  Johanna drank, and loved the local bars.

They bought alcohol downtown.  They shopped downtown too, sometimes.  Sometimes they went to bodegas.(“Ludicrously expensive!” – Johanna – “How can the poor live?”)  Sometimes they went to local fish stores and butchers (“Huh.  Interesting cut of meat.”  – Grace.  No, they didn’t care if was kosher).  Once Johanna went to a live chicken place.  (“Just nope.  I’m not talking about it.”)

Clothing?  Well, stores on third avenue, or their usual: levis and shirts, available in the department stores.  (“Why don’t you ever go to the consignment stores Grace?”  “Because: 1 ” holding up her pointer finger – “I don’t wear dresses. 2 ” her middle finger now “I’m the wrong size, and finally I hate shopping.  You know that.”  “Nonsense,  you love shopping but only with me, because then you can pretend you’re doing it for me even though we both know / hate shopping except for food, but you love it.”  “Fine, we’ll go to consignment stores.”  Grace smiled.  Jo was right, she loved shopping.)

Shoes?  Well Shoes had always been an issue.  Neither Grace nor Jo wore heels.  Both claimed it was impossible to find the shoes that would fit.  Jo had big solid broad(ish) feet that went with her solid broad(ish) hands. Shoes weren’t hard to find, but some sales people were snarky.  Most weren’t.   Grace’s feet were impossibly narrow. (“How can you walk?”  “One foot in front of the other my dear, just like everyone else.”  “You know what I meant.”  “No, really?”  “Damn.”)

Stockings and pantyhose.  (“I’m only wearing tights.  If I have to wear dresses.”  “You don’t Grace, look at me.”  “Your ass looks better in pants than mine does.”  “Nonsense, you just like looking at my ass in pants.”  “True.  True.”)

They festooned the apartment with flowers.  They grew roses on the fire escape.  Bonsai pines and cherry trees peeped out beside the roses trailing over everything.

They planted marigolds, some years they had enough sunlight.  Other years even the petunias didn’t come up.

Basil always worked.  Tomatoes rarely.  That’s one reason they were part of the community garden.  Another was to be friendly with the neighbors.

The neighbors – well there had been a little trouble at the beginning.  Not because they were lesbians, actually it took a while for that to sink in.  Simply, because they were young women living away from their families.  This didn’t sit so well.  Some people thought they were whores.  Again, the garden helped.  So did finding out that Grace was a teacher.  

(“A math teacher.”  “Why don’t you get married?”  “I like living with Johanna and teaching.”  “You could teach if you got married.  Lots of teachers are married.”  “But I couldn’t live with Johanna”)

(What is Johanna?  Not a lawyer.  Maybe a seamstress?  Maybe a secretary?  Not a doctor.  An architect! )

(“Architect.  You make houses right?”  “I wish!  I design how pipes will work in skyscrapers.”  “Why don’t you marry?”  “I like my work, and I like living with Grace.”  “Wouldn’t your husband let you work?”  “I don’t know, but I don’t think he’d like me living with Grace.”)

After a few years, it was clear they wouldn’t marry.  The youngest Reynosa girl had gone to Grace’s school.  She raved about her as a teacher.

The youngest Reynosa girl also didn’t marry.  But she moved to Brooklyn, and lived with a friend there.



It really is that simple

Penelope Trunk annoys me.  I understand the appeal.  She makes it clear that she writes and advises from her perspective.  Even when she pronounces things as absolute truths with citations (often not very good ones, but there, we all cherry pick our sources to correspond to our prejudices), it is still clear that she’s writing from her lived experience.  That is the appeal: that her advice, her pronouncements, her webinars, whatever – they all come from her experience, and are expressed as close to transparently as possible.

It’s that “as possible” that I’d like to play with now.

She edits (of course).  She has an editor (of course).  So her posts aren’t really scream of consciousness.  I suspect her “classes” aren’t completely unscripted either.

That isn’t important to me, but it is important to her (or rather to the Penelope Trunk persona – what the inner woman thinks or feels is something I can’t determine, and I don’t need to determine).  She has stated that complete openness is important to her because of the secrets of her childhood.  She states that openness is her defense (that may be my inference, rather than her direct statement).

I have no reason to doubt her – except –

There’s all this niggling annoying stuff going on.  She’s anti-feminist (I suspect she’d say post).  She’s picked an apparently liberal open (that word again!) voice in which she espouses horrendous ingrained misogyny.

– Marry by twenty five
– Have kids by thirty
– Don’t rock the boat about harassment in the workplace
– Have plastic surgery
– Be empowered by ownership of your actions even if you’re accepting blame for actions against you

And the topper.
The scary one.
The sad one.

– Stay with your man if you have kids.  Even if he hits you.  Even if he hits you in front of the kids.
– Women are to blame for the abusive actions of others

Her mother was at fault when her father hit her.  Because her mother was oh so dreadful and provocative.
She is at fault when her husband beats her.  Because she is provocative.  She does things he hates.

I’ve left the room when adults threw tantrums.  I doubt if I’m the only one.

Please understand, it’s not wrong to respond to horrible behavior of other people.  You have to respond somehow.  (Even saying nothing and bowing your head is a response.  It isn’t even a submissive response if you’re bowing your head to cover up your smirk or rage or, more to the point, when your actions are driven by your own thoughts and meaning, and not by those of the louse making a song and dance.)

It’s right to call out horrible behavior (when you can do so safely).  It’s wrong to indulge in further and more horrible behavior because “she started it!” (That, effectively, is what Penelope says her father did, and her husband does.)

Grownups, at least people I think of as grownups, respond to other adults misbehaving by calling it out and not rewarding it.

For example:

If someone raises their voice, you say “Please don’t raise your voice,” and then you ignore them until they’re acting more sensibly, and with a normal tone of voice.  Or you say: “I’m not going to respond to you until you apologize for your tone, and moderate it.  I’m leaving the room now.”

Or if someone insults you, you say “Wow. That was rude.”  And you ignore them.

If someone threatens you – well.  Do you enjoy that sort of thing?  I don’t.  I don’t enjoy anger at all.  I don’t enjoy other people’s malice and rage directed at me (or at anyone really.)  Nor do I enjoy my own anger.

So anger – I walk away.
Threats, I may or may not call out, but I don’t respond to at all well.

Why do others?

Penelope Trunk (or please, please, please her husband) enjoys the intensity of anger and of a clear attentive response.  That is, I think, what’s happening.  He doesn’t attend, and she needs that, and she knows he can explode.  But she thinks she controls the explosions, and I think she does not.  Those explosions are because of internal events in Matthew.  Her actions trigger responses only because he has given himself permission to (for example) throw her against furniture sometimes.

Because all of this is really in his head, not hers, when she polices her own actions, she still can’t guarantee her safety.

That she “causes” his explosions of rage is a fiction they’ve both bought into.  It’s a fiction none the less.

And that’s what I wanted to say!

I’m glad for her that, if she needs to feel that she controls something, and believing that her actions can control the explosions and abuse gives her some control, that she thus believes herself to have control.  But it’s not real. It’s an illusion of control.

He beats her because he believes there are justifications for it.

It really is that simple.

First deaths

Yet another day.

Ok.  About Juan-Carlos, Manda, and Maybelle.

They had always lived together.  At one point Juan-Carlos moved his boyfriend in.  At another point, Maybelle moved hers in too.

Manda hadn’t really cared much about people.  She’d had birds. and she’d had plants.  And she’d noted that the boyfriends didn’t last.

Let’s be accurate.  She pointed out to Juan-Carlos that Ray wasn’t around when he said he would be.  That he was out later, and left earlier.  That he didn’t do his share of the cleanup.  (Juan-Carlos ignored that, so she shifted tactics.)

Examples follow:
Ray wasn’t around much was he?
Ray was a trifle, oh, sharp with other people when it wasn’t necessary.
Ray didn’t really seem to realize that he wasn’t very kind, oh not to /me/, but why does he keep commenting on your age and height?
Ray eats rather a lot, but comments on you constantly. (The references to appearance didn’t work so well either)

This was her most magnificent plan (that’s how she would have described it to you if you’d asked and if she liked you – but she wouldn’t like you) it took a few examples to get under Juan-Carlos’s skin, but eventually these stories worked very well.  Ray was gone within three months.

Dear, dear. Ray is getting a little near sighted.  No really, I saw him the other day and he didn’t see me. He was with friends.  I don’t know who, but they must have been friends because their conversation was so animated.

Oh, Juan-Carlos I didn’t expect to see you home!  I just ran into Ray downtown.

Coming home late one evening Manda went into a wonderful dithery rant de la rant:
Where was I tonight?  Oh on 52nd Street, coming out of one of those clubs.  I don’t know which one. Didn’t I say?  No I suppose I didn’t.  I was just so startled when Ray and his friend snubbed me. A very nice looking young man.  So it surprised me no end.  I must have told you all about it Juan-Carlos, but all I know is that I waved and he didn’t see it, so I called out to him and he didn’t hear it.   Well!  Imagine my surprise when he didn’t respond!  That’s how I knew he must be aging.  And hiding it! So obviously he’s getting near sighted and perhaps deaf.

You and Ray know such lovely people!  I saw him with the sweetest boy last afternoon. The boy?  Oh I don’t know.  About twenty-five I think.  Dark.  I told you, very good looking.

If Juan-Carlos had other lovers, neither Manda nor Maybelle ever met them.

For two years, Manda had a suitor.  He may or may not have loved her, but it was clear that she enjoyed having him around.  She told him what to do.  She berated him.  She ignored him.  

In anyone else this would have read as nastiness, or a humiliation based relationship.  With Manda however – it was forgetfulness.  She liked the man briefly.  She was sexually intimate with him (that’s how she described it to Maybelle.)  She had enormous contempt for him for not being herself, Maybelle, or Juan-Carlos.  She told him to go away and not come back.  He left.

Weeks later, if they’d cared, they might have read a series in the post about a rash of suicides.  Manda’s man was one of them.  (Or was he?)

Maybelle had a genuine boyfriend.  That’s how he referred to himself.  “I’m your genuine boyfriend.”  She didn’t argue the point.  For six months when she was in her teens she’d gone to movies and clubs.  For a year of her twenties she’d allowed men to buy her drinks.  In her thirties she’d had dinner dates and occasional flings (Manda’s term).  But once, in her thirties, the “genuine boyfriend” called and called again.  He must have loved and respected her – he told her each time they met up: “Maybelle, no one else will love you or respect you.  But I do.  I’m your genuine boyfriend.”

Maybelle doubted his genuineness, his love, his respect.

“That’s easy to test.” said Manda.  “Have him come by tonight.”

He did.  Maybelle, Manda, and Juan-Carlos were waiting.

“Maybelle’s money is in a trust.  I administer the trust.  Juan-Carlos is allowed a very small allowance in return for signing at my discretion.”

“You know I love and respect Maybelle.”

“Maybelle tells me so.  Juan-Carlos says he will offer you 2000 dollars per year to leave her alone.  Maybelle is entitled to 1000 dollars without my signature.”

“I won’t be bought.”

“What if Juan-Carlos offered you one hundred thousand dollars, just to leave us alone?”

Maybelle’s man was venal enough to look interested.

“So, Maybelle, Juan-Carlos.  Who does it?”

Juan-Carlos threw a chair at Wayne.  It startled him just enough for Manda move in and to cut his throat.

The three of them wrapped the body in a rug which they carried to the esplanade and dropped into the river.

He was found eventually.  No one thought of them.

Johanna or Louisa?

What about the miscarriage? Nah, can’t figure out what to say. I can see a hospital room and a view over the east river. Maybe it was Doctor’s? Maybe it was Cornell? I don’t think it was NYU or Bellevue.

Johanna was there for four days. It would have been longer but she walked out. As miscarriages go it wasn’t so bad physically. The horror to Jo and Grace was that she was seven months pregnant and it was a still birth and the embryo fetus thing (as Jo called it) had died almost a month earlier. It had been a boy. And Jo couldn’t conceive again and Grace couldn’t conceive at all. And really when Jo was raped a month later they were glad she didn’t and couldn’t.

And both of them decided that they hadn’t been made for kids, and then heart attacks.

And then no more Jo. And then a kitten who died. And then an old dog: a brindle bully bitch Grace found. She had a tag that said “lulu” but there was no phone number. And then she died.

And that’s when Grace decided that she’d find a pup. And she picked the breed at random, but never regretted it. Loulou was perfection. Asleep next to her. Eating what she offered, nuzzling her. Clearly speaking in his doggish incomprehensible way. Really each moment with him reminded her more and more of Jo. To hell with the land lords.

One morning she woke up knowing that the dog needed more exercise. She took him over the Tri borough bridge this time, and for he first time unclipped the leash. Off he went, and ten minutes later he reappeared, with a duck in his mouth. A still warm dead duck. Grace had a knife and very little idea what to do. [this is where I might come up with a description of plucking a duck?]

How about descriptions of summer and winter on Randall’s. Pity they will never be in the same league as the cold in soldier’s joy and the crispness of the air and the smoke from the cigarette under the banjo strings.

Well at least I can see Loulou showing up with the duck, and Grace’s dismay. Great that he caught it. How had he managed? Is that when she realized how wet and filthy the dog was – remnant of his chase into the water. Guess he could swim. What else that day? Did she hear anything from the duck or dog telling her what he was up to? What could she hear? A splash?

Or had he disappeared then reappeared silently almost unmissed?

The next time he was off lead he padded along by her side, occasionally his nose picked up a scent and his body would quiver. He’d be standing perfectly still. Sometimes the quiver was so subtle she could only feel it and not see it at all.

More of Loulou’s thoughts

Now to describe a thinking dog.

Loulou knew that Grace was dead. She smelled like meat. She didn’t move.

The children had given him am anxiety free chance.

He remembered Grace. He missed her. Every time he thought of her his tail wagged. But now there was Renie and Pam. They argue but not so seriously about whose bed he will sleep in.

It’s not really an issue because he already knows that most of the time he will sleep at their door.

He dragged his bed there as soon as they went to theirs.

The mother laughed when she saw that. She gave him another biscuit.

He got up and retrieved his new toy. Finally he could relax.

His eyes closed. He slept.

That’s a thought for the dog.

The bedroom: as you come in the floor to ceiling, or at least large, window to your right and across from you.

Let’s say the window faces west. Then the door is at the north end of the east wall.

There is a bed on each of the north and south walls. Each is at the west end of the wall.

At the east end of the south wall is the door to the closet. It’s a walk in. But not so large.

There are two dressers on the east wall both low.

There’s a rug at the center of the floor.

The dog dragged his bed to the hall way in front of the girls’ bedroom door. He’s sleeping peacefully now. The girls wonder if they should wake him when they need to go pee.

The answer is clear, he wakes and thumps his tail as Renie walks towards him. He stands and stretches then smiles.

She walks by and he gets up and follows her. Once she reaches the bathroom he walks to a spot where he can observe both the bathroom and the girls’ bedroom. Once Renie is back he settles again at the bedroom door. He is asleep instantly.

The girls are gently snoring within a few minutes.

Loulou gets up and wanders through the apartment. It’s less aimless than you might think.

He checked each window and each door. Yes of course he checked for entrances but also he knew to familiarize himself with the apartment’s natural scents.

He wandered into the girls’ room again. They slept.

That’s when he trotted with purpose to Her room. He plopped down at the foot of her bed and was fast asleep in 10 seconds.


Loulou’s thoughts

Now back to Grace Stroud. She and Louisa, for whom Loulou is named, had had two dogs. Both large. Both male. Both pits. Then they’d had no pets. Louisa’s lungs were weak. A clean house was necessary. A house with no hair. Grace had cut hers short, so that she’d shed less. She’d vacuumed twice and more daily. She dusted. Still, too much dust or what have you. Louisa Mendes, oxygen tank, humidifiers, filters. The second bedroom practically a clean room. Still, too much for her. Every breath painful. For years. Louisa hadn’t smoked. Louisa didn’t have tuberculosis. But something had gone wrong. She had constant pneumonia, constant obstructions. She wheezed.
Every breath so harsh she cried. No, not HIV. Her immune system was fine, and it wasn’t PCP any way. Ordinary bacterial pneumonia, and viral pneumonia. Perhaps not constant. There’d be months free of it. But those months, allergies? Who knew? Not her doctors.

Louisa Mendes had died five years ago. Loulou adopted one week after the room was cleared out.

Now there were dog beds, and Grace still vacuumed twice daily. But now she had Loulou who didn’t cough, but didn’t speak either.

And now she had nothing.

Loulou had been a smallish pup. His mother hadn’t eaten well. Three of the puppies in the litter had died within hours of birth. Loulou had noticed the number of smells decreased. Then smells changed. Harsh. But the bed was softer. Then he went outside with all his sibs. There were still eight siblings. All bigger than he. Nope, he was bigger than four of them now. A while later there were no sibs. Just Grace. And that was wonderful. Sometimes Grace left him alone, and he’d sleep. More often though he and Grace were together. They walked slowly often, because Grace fell down occasionally. He just knew that this was because she foolishly walked on only two of her legs. But he’d realized early on that Grace did a number of silly things. She covered her poor bare hide with cloth (which never quite smelled of her). She’d never developed reasonable callouses on her feet, even the two she walked on, and put things on them when she went outside. Although, when there were spiky things on the ground, the foot thingies made a lot of sense. Also, when it was really hot or cold.

Her nose didn’t work either. She never seemed to know who had been around. She certainly couldn’t tell when a place was too filthy to eat at, or had been cleaned with revolting substances.

She didn’t have much appreciation of rotten either. You could learn a lot about an animal from what its rotting relative, scat, or food smelled like. That made it just so much easier to catch it. At least, it became easier to trace the animal, and to know whether it was worth eating. Sometimes they weren’t.

He’d been overjoyed the few times she’d eaten what he caught for her. After all, usually she fed him. It was only fair that he return the favor.

Once he’d brought her a fish from the river.

That had been fun.

Once she’d taken him to the ocean. That wasn’t a word he knew, yet he did know that this vast expanse was different even from the salt water by Randall’s.




There’s something totally odd. What is it? He wasn’t quite awake and the smells were different. The sounds were off. What had happened?

He opened his eyes, knowing suddenly that the oddity was that anything at all was the same.

Yet he’s awake in a strange place. His Grace wasn’t here. He knew she’d never be here. He whimpers.

A light smell, constant in the room now gets stronger. A little like his Grace.

A soft voice, “oh Loulou, poor boy. C’mere.”

He pulls himself to his feet and lumbers toward the coach. He leans into the almost familiar smell. Her hand moves to his neck, his chin, his chest. He’s relaxed.

“Poor boy. You’ve had a rough time. What a long day for you. It’s all right. We’ll keep you happy.”

— that’s a passage about the dog. I think it’s only clear from the name. Certainly that’s my intention.

What I saw when writing was Luca under the table twitching. But this dog could be asleep anywhere that’s not by a couch.

There’s a bit missing. The part where Loulou is scared of abandonment at the groomer.

Another version of the letter

Back to Tricia (Treesha?, Trisha?) the QA queen. Notice that the girls didn’t know she knew about dogs. But yes she does. Or did.

As a child, her first beloved book had been /wild animals I have known/. Ernest Thompson Seton. A few things stayed with her: all wild animal stories end in tragedy; Seton said that repeatedly. And implicitly Seton said something else: animals are sentient. They’re feeling beings. They’re individuals. She’d always remembered that.

Whenever she saw a squirrel in the park, or a pigeon on the street, knowing it must be unique, she searched for the qualities which defined its individuality.

By the time she was in her teens birds and rodents all looked no less different than people did. Later, she’d honed her perceptions volunteering at the Humane Society.

All in all, yes. She knew dogs.

So when she met Lou-lou, he knew she knew him. He sighed and leaned into her. She felt him relax, and then she scratched behind his ears.

He was perfect.

Her girls knew it too. They realized as he leaned in that he would follow them home. He’d be theirs.

Of course the girls wouldn’t be the ones walking him, or taking him to the vet, or making sure he was housebroken.

So here we go, she thought. I have a dog.

We have a dog. I hope I can remember how to train them. I hope we can afford the vet.

He sighed again. He licked her hand. He licked again.

Tricia picked up the leash. Reeny and Pam smiled at each other. It had taken til just this moment for it to hit them. They had a dog.

Here’s another thought:

There are neighbors. Not actually in the building ; as we know most of the building was empty. Maybe all of it. But there are neighbors. They are in the nearby buildings. They are all over Pleasant Village.

And back to Grace Stroud.

She’d been married to a woman, who died a few years back. Not ten, that’s too long ago. She’d retired from teaching.

Grace had adopted Loulou as a puppy. She’d taken a cruise to Alaska. She’d stayed a month longer than she’d planned. She met a woman who raced dogs every now and then. They weren’t lovers, the woman was too young, she wasn’t any of Grace’s types. Having dogs around though, that interested Grace. When one of the bitches gave birth, Grace asked for a pup. “That one,” she said, “the curious one.”

Mind you, all huskies are curious, but “that one” was advanced. He walked almost immediately. It was impossible to keep him in with the other puppies.

Even his mother couldn’t keep him penned.

The month turned into two, then three. Finally Loulou was old enough to wean.

Grace took him home.

A day after the murder. The police will call Tricia. They’ll ask her why she took the dog. They’ll ask whether she knew Grace Stroud.

They’ll accept her answer, they won’t bother her about the dog, but they’ll give her the vet’s number. “Miss Stroud left a letter. She wanted the dog taken care of, and it seems like you’re doing that.”

Grace’s letter. To whom it may concern: You’ve found this, so something has happened to me. I have no money except for the accounts you’ll find in my desk. My will is there too.

If Loulou (he’s my dog) has not been harmed, please try to find him a home. He’s better with women than with men.

Please find him a home.

I have some jewelry. It’s in the top drawer of the chest in the large bedroom.

The will:

The gist: Any property to the Humane Society. The dog’s stuff to his adopter. The jewelry and silverware is among the property that the Humane Society gets. It’s probably worth selling.
The furniture isn’t valuable, it’s IKEA. Not very interesting. The clothing isn’t valuable either. Clothing, furniture, dishes – all can be donated or sold.

The insurance assessment: Silver gravy boat Silverware service for 20 Silver salad fork and spoon

1 Platinum and emerald necklace 1 Platinum and diamond ring inscribed Grace and Jen, now and forever 1 emerald and gold bracelet 2 large squash blossom necklaces 1 bracelet of three strands of gold: all reddish 1 large platinum cuff

4 Navaho rugs, each 4 feet by 6 feet all four wool, all four gray.
1 rug, cream and black zig zags on gray 1 rug, stick figure people 1 rug, cream, red, black 1 rug, cream, red, black

Glassware – 2 reidel white