Category Archives: Judgment

Country Girl Gawking at the TALL Buildings!

Country Girl Gawking at the TALL Buildings!

The prompt is “Buildings over four stories high,” but there were no buildings that tall in my home town.  The courthouse was comprised of three dizzying stories and that’s about as “high” as I got while I was growing up!

There was, however, one towering structure in my town:


And of course, there were other skyscrapers as well:

IMG_0348But, when I returned a month ago, I noticed competition for tallest edifice:

IMG_0048It is a new structure that stores water piped in  from the Missouri River 60 miles away.
Brave new world!!!

But, just to prove you can take the girl out of the country, let me share some earlier views from the California portion of my trip.

Views of San Francisco still bring out the neck-craning hayseed in me.

Cee has me checking everythng out in black and white lately, and I prefer these cast in a film noir mood:

DSC00500 - Version 2DSC00501 - Version 2
But my favorite is this rather sinister edited version that suggests Armageddon:


Mr. Cole

Mr. Cole

He lurked out in the hall as we all took our seats and came to order.  He took a drink from the water fountain, putting down what looked like a new briefcase as he did so.  He picked up the briefcase and made for the door, then turned and walked back to the fountain, putting his briefcase down as he took another drink.  He started for the door again.  Changed his mind and returned for another drink.  Then he squared his shoulders, picked up his case, re-rounded his shoulders and entered the room.

He was a little mole of a man—sniffy and hunched with scrunched-up eyes behind thick glasses.  When he entered the classroom, he looked straight down at the floor, as though he wasn’t sure one foot would follow the other without great attention.  He maneuvered his way to his desk and stood with his back to us.  He slammed his briefcase onto the desk, then removed it again, as though in indecision over whether he really wanted to stay at all.  Then he slammed it down again.  Removed it.  Slammed it down.

Finally, he moved around to face us and assumed a more teacherly demeanor.  He actually looked at someone in the front row for two seconds, before retreating back around to the back side of the desk, perhaps seeking some protection.

It was the first day of my freshman year in college. Next to me was a very new friend who not only lived in the same dorm but who also had just pledged the same sorority. We sported our bug-like black pledge pins on the fronts of our sweaters, a hand’s distance above the nipple, as we’d been instructed to wear them.  It was a bit like being in enemy territory, for we had already learned that the English department and the dormitories were not the best places to display our new status as Greeks so openly.  Our sitting together was a bit like circling the wagons on a westward journey.  We had each others’ backs.

“My name is Mr. Cole,” the dwarf said. “This is the honors section of Freshman English 101.”  He had facial ticks and a way of floating off into dreams.  Sometimes the end of a sentence just sort of wandered off, as though some other matter of greater importance had intruded upon his thoughts.  We did not disturb him in these reveries.  My new friend Linda and I would exchange looks and she would giggle the sexy little laugh that was her only laugh.  We both admitted, finally, to having a bit of a crush on him.

It was my first of many crushes on “different” men.  Men who had facial ticks or personality disorders that made others look on in horror or disgust just seemed to intrigue me, and my new friend was someone who gave validity to my strange behavior.  She, too, thought he was intriguing.  When we invited him to be a faculty chaperone for our pledge dance, he asked if he would be expected to function in the capacity of a bouncer and I assured him that no, it was more of an honorary position. To our surprise, he accepted, showing up with a tall willowy English department assistant who seemed herself to be of a literary bent.  I don’t remember if they danced, but I believe they dated for the rest of my college career.

You can see by my relation of these details how little I really knew about this man. On that first day in Freshman English, I remember being frightened and feeling inferior to the big town kids in the class.  If the truth were told, most of them were probably small town kids themselves, but coming from a town of 700, I thought of a town of 6,000 as a city , and I was sure that my own excellent academic record was more a result of comparison (there were 15 in my graduating class) than of true prowess.  Mr. Cole explained that instead of studying grammar, sentence and paragraph construction, that as honors students we would be expected to write an essay or story a week which would then be read in class and commented upon.

The night before our first writing assignment was due, my insecurity had kept me from committing a single mark to paper.  We had been given no topic and no direction.  This paper was to function as a sample of where we were on the continuum of writing skills.  This was to be my introduction to the strange gnomish man who had studied under Roethke.  Although I had no idea who Theodore Roethke was and no easy way of determining who he was in this pre-computer, pre-Google age, I had made one of my rare forays into the college library and found a whole section dedicated to his books in the poetry section.  So, I was about to be read by the student of a very important American poet.  And, I didn’t know what I was doing, really.  Our composition efforts in high school had been for the most part limited to essays and term papers.  I’d once written a humorous sonnet about Goldwater and Johnson and that was about it.  How did one go about writing a vignette, which as I recall was our assignment?  Midnight, one a.m., two a.m. ticked away on the smoking room wall as I sat looking at the blank page.

A fly, brought back to action by the hot light of my study lamp, worried my ear before buzzing off to pin itself to the wall. The smoke of my cigarette curled between us, and suddenly, in a sort of astral projection, I was that fly on the wall getting high on the fumes of a doobie that smoked in the ashtray beneath it.  The room was filled with the imaginary bodies of stoned kids splayed out on the floor or with headphones on their heads.  I started to write.  Forget that I had never smelled or seen marijuana, let alone smoked a joint. It was easier for me to imagine that fly getting high than to imagine myself doing so, but within a half hour, I’d completed the essay, set my alarm clock and had joined the fly in its herbally-induced sleep.

The next day, I placed my own sheet on the pile of papers on his desk.  Mr. Cole entered as usual, slamming the briefcase, removing it, slamming, slamming.  I had never been introduced to the term “Tourette’s Syndrome,” but many years later I wondered if perhaps this accounted for some of his oddness.  He would stand at the desk and crane his neck upwards, roll his eyes.  Sometimes he would look at one back corner of the room and then at the other, as though he were privy to some world and audience we had no access to. Seeing a film on Roethke, I wondered if he had patterned some of his odd behavior on his former teacher. This is just a scrap of a remembrance, so perhaps I dreamed it.  In this era of YouTube it would not be hard to check out.

Three days later, he was ready to discuss our vignettes.  There were many in this class, he revealed, who were able to put words down on paper but who were not writers.  There was one student, however, who had portrayed the truth in a way that the others had failed. This student had displayed courage in telling about a part of themselves that no one else had been willing to be vulnerable enough to display. He then read my essay as an example of superior writing to the entire class.

What I felt? Relief, certainly.  Pride?  Sorry, but yes.  I enjoyed being singled out.  After the class, other students came up to me saying they would not have had the courage to write the truth like that or to admit they’d smoked pot and applauded my success in exactly expressing what it was like to be stoned.  On the way back to the sorority house to do our pledge duties, my friend giggled and admitted she had never smoked pot.  “Neither have I,” I confessed, with a sideways grin at her.

I took three classes from Mr. Cole. In Honors Freshman English, I earned an A.  When I took creative writing from him a year later, he seemed to have me completely confused with another student who had taken a class from him the semester before.  He kept calling me Jenny and commenting on how my writing had improved.  The next semester, I took another class from him and in the margin of one of the first poems I wrote for him, he said, “Not quite up to the sudden fine standards you set for yourself last semester!”  I knew then that he was still thinking of me as Jenny and was disappointed that I’d returned to my former standards of mediocrity.  He’d given me a B+ on the poem.  I tried harder for the remainder of my last semester in his class, earned another A and would like to believe I lived up to his expectations. Of Jenny.

We do not always stand out in the memories of those we admire with the same clarity that they stand out in ours. What happened to Mr. Cole, I do not know.  As with many in our lives, when his importance in my own life ended, so did his existence.  I tried Googling his name once and found nothing, which may mean his own poetry books were published in a pre-computer era.  When I Google my own name, there are 209,000  entries listed, probably most having to do with some other combinations of my name, but most of the ones really referring to me have to do with writing. Probably all of those entries deserve a footnote of thanks to Mr. Cole, who was the first to find merit in my words and also the first to be deceived by them.

(You can see a 25-minutes YouTube video on Theodore Roethke here. Other than his reading style, he really doesn’t have much in common with Mr. Cole at all.)

The Prompt: Teacher’s Pet—Write about a teacher who influenced you.

Chocolate-covered Potato Chips and 90210

The Prompt: Grateful and Guilty—write a thank-you note to your guiltiest pleasure

Okay, I challenge you to find a better excuse than I have for not getting posted until 7:10 at night.  I’m told by the owner of the little palapa restaurant I’ve come to after not being able to get online all day that it is probably because of yesterday’s eruption of Colima Volcano about 80 miles northeast of me.  Frustrating but exotic, no?  At any rate, here is my “real” post for the day…Judy

Chocolate-covered Potato Chips and 90210

Thanks be to God for TV that’s evolved beyond Godzilla.
And thanks to him for frozen cream—both praline and vanilla.
Another pleasure is writing in bed. It’s how I start my day.
With no spouse or kids to feed, it’s where I get to stay.
I know that grandkids would be nice, but still I’m rather grateful
that being childless cuts to nil the chances they’ll be hateful.

Chocolate and potato chips, together or alone
are two more guilty pleasures for which I must atone.
I try to limit quantities that pass between my lips,
for if I eat too many, they’re displayed upon my hips.
Another guilty pleasure that’s high upon my list
is a stupid TV show that somehow I just missed

the first time that it came around and which I must admit
is really superficial, although it was once a hit.
Still, I can’t stop watching it when I am all alone—
a guilty pleasure for which I’ve found ways I can atone.
I only watch it from the pool as I do exercise—
computer balanced within view while I aerobicize.

The show I watch is Beverly Hills Nine-Zero-Two-One-Oh.
And that’s about as far as this confession’s gonna go!
I’m sure I’m shrinking brain cells, but I grow them back again
by reading hours of Marcel Proust, and then Anais Nin!
My ending comment must be this sincere beatitude:
for friends who like me as I am, I have great gratitude.

Guilty for my sins and the excesses that are mine—
grateful for the friends who still insist that I am fine
if I never turn out perfect both in looks and my behavior,
I guess the fact that they’re not perfect either is my savior.
Guiltily and gratefully, we all pass through this life,
pudgy from our excesses and battered by our strife.

But that’s how life is patterned, and we all are lucky still
that of our guilty pleasures we’re allowed to have our fill.
Thanks be to our compulsions and life’s excesses of pleasure,
for all our peccadillos end up as life’s greatest treasure.
So, thanks be again for naughty things. We both love and revile them.
With some of them we stuff our mouths. With others, We just dial them.

Hard Drive

The Prompt: Buyers, Beware? The year is 2214, and your computer’s dusty hard drive has just resurfaced at an antique store. Write a note to the curious buyer explaining what he or she will find there.


My Retablo, “Autobiography”

Hard Drive

If you long for mystery,
poems, facts and history,
long perambulations
and wild exaggerations,
recipes and letters and
episodes of Homeland,
Elementary, Sherlock, Friends,
a blogging site that never ends,

Emails, Youtube, Facebook notes,
starts of novels, copied quotes,
OkCupid pictures of
possibilities for love,
notes from nice guys, threats from creeps,
notes from guys who play for keeps,
friends who only write when drunk,
chain e-mails, jokes and other junk,

two hundred drafts of my third book,
(each one different, have a look),
kids stories and their illustrations,
the Christmas plans of my relations,
photographs of my whole life—
its happiness and pain and strife—
some successes but also follies,
fireworks, insects, gardens, dollies,

travel snaps and friendly faces,
rooms at home or foreign places,
birds and children, beaches, skies,
the camera lens is true and wise
and not as given to fraud and lies
as writings filtered through the eyes
of one who feels the joys or pains
of what she witnesses, then deigns

to try to change her reader’s mind
to accord with the type or kind
of thoughts she carries deep inside:
pride’s cutting edge, love’s waning tide—
things lovely, funny, jarring, rare.
So read this hard drive if you dare,
but if you fear a life laid bare,
I have one word for you. Beware.

Mirror Fearer

The Prompt: The Mirror Crack’d—You wake up one morning to a world without mirrors. How does your life — from your everyday routines to your perception of yourself — change?

Mirror Fearer

Every time I walk past it, I look into the glass
and notice how my hair looks and then survey my ass.
I cannot help but look at it, every time I pass—
criticizing how I look, both fuzziness and mass.
And in my deepest feelings, despite my brains and sass,
I can’t avoid this feeling that men must find me crass.
And so I guess I really feel that it would be a gas
if you took away the mirrors from this self-critiquing lass!

The Daily Post: Duck for Cover

The prompt: Binding judgment. Does it ever make sense to judge a book by its cover—literally or metaphorically? Tell us about a time you did and whether that was a good decision or not.


Duck for Cover

Life’s a library where we choose
book after book to read and muse
on the truth of each, or how it serves
to amuse us or to calm our nerves.
It starts with storybooks in our youth.
Cinderella’s lovely, her kin uncouth.

The pretty sister we all adore.
The others? Rotten to the core.
We judge by beauty evermore.

As teenagers, our thoughts are filled
with thoughts of hair, complexion, build—
the ways we rank and choose our friends.
For some, this method never ends.
We judge the world by what we see.
At court, the prettiest are set free.

Our dates determined by their cars,
Our peanut butters by their jars,
Our candidates are movie stars.

World is illusion, say the seers,
the thinkers and philosophers.
We cannot know reality
by going just by what we see.
Yet time and time again, we choose
our futures based upon our views.

The “curb appeal” that meets our eye
determines which house we will buy.
The crust is how we choose the pie.

Ted Bundy had a handsome face
that drew young ladies to his embrace.
An arm sling or perhaps a crutch
brought them into his murderous clutch.
His handsomeness served to distract
till he’d performed his heinous act.

His cover perfect, his act most skilled,
he killed and killed and killed and killed—
lives ruined and ended as he willed.

Crack the book and look inside.
Talk before you choose your bride.
Drive the car before you buy.
Sip the wine and taste the pie.
See what’s inside if you are able.
Don’t go by face or box or label.

Though beauty dulled is less sublime,
scrub the tarnish from the dime.
Looking deeper takes more time.

Don’t choose the cover of a book.
Instead, take care to have a look.
One page nor twenty will not do.
You have the whole book left to view.
Avoid appearances and preening.
Look for truth and look for meaning.

George Eliot coined the adage first.
If for truth you have a thirst,
judging by the cover’s worst.