Saturday, November 3, 2012

Email From My Dad: Return to Brigantine

Dear friends and family,

Woke up early this morning, 7:00 am.  We were anxious to get home and assess the damage. We left Phylis' brother's house at 8:30 am, and stopped at McDonald's. Phylis had two Egg McMuffins. I had the new oatmeal. Not bad. We then headed down to the Shore. The conversation along the way was limited, mostly because of my voice problems, but also because both of us were trying to imagine what we might find. We had received no information except for the general view that parts of the Jersey Shore had been devastated. We had heard that the Shore would be rebuilt, but would not be the same. A little scary. 

What worried me most was the paperwork, administrative bullshit, and bureaucratic inefficiency. Phylis is terrible at this sort of thing, and my usual negotiating and communication skills have been greatly impaired. Also, I am not too good at shoveling sand, working pumps, evaluating electrical problems, determining what is and isn't safe, and a thousand other things that I can't even imagine because I have ignored these things my whole life. Phylis would have to take the lead in these areas. 

Driving over the bridge into Brigantine, both of our anxiety levels increased ten fold. Our initial impression was that the town didn't look too bad. We were hopeful, but still worried about our block. We drove up to our house and did not see any water. My car was parked in the driveway. I looked inside, no water, and it started right up. We walked into the house, looked in the garage: everything seemed OK. We switched on the downstairs lights--no problems. We walked upstairs and throughout the house.  Everything was exactly as we left it. The final test was the TV.  Totally OK, including cable.

I am happy to report that we have had absolutely no damage or problems. We are now going to drive around the island and survey the situation. Tonight we are going to the Borgata for six nights. We made these reservations in anticipation of not being able to live in our house.  I hope our luck continues.

Love to everyone,

Ira and Phylis

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Email From My Dad: Pre-Sandy

HI Kids,

I'm hearing rumors of a big storm heading for the Jersey shore. If they are true, which I doubt, based on the last time when nothing really materialized, I am taking some preliminary precautions. Phylis just went out to buy an umbrella. We will keep all our windows closed. I will keep everyone posted.



Thursday, October 25, 2012

Out, Damned Spot: An Email to My Wife

I sent this email to my wife yesterday. She told me she found the email enjoyable and funny. I honestly can't imagine why. I was in an angry, hateful mood when I wrote it. Nevertheless, this is fairly representative of the type of emails I send her--so I decided to share it.  

From: Seth Pollins []
Sent: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 3:13 PM
To: Karen Pollins
Subject: Out, damned spot, out!


I had been looking forward to this day for months: the day I would finally wear my cardigan with my white button-up shirt (the shirt I bought at Banana for my birthday). This might seem superficial to you, perhaps obscene. What can I say? My outfits serve as armor, a defense against the dark side of the force. Wearing the outfits I've envisioned, I feel calm, confident, a hero in my own drama. This helps me. More than this, clothes often come to embody certain moments for me, and today the cardigan/button-up combo was meant to embody this crisp clear day: autumn--the season as a feeling, if not a date. The only complication in this vision was the recent temperatures of the Writing Center: since day one, the heating/air-conditioning has been fucked up here on the second floor of the Villanova library. While we broil in the Writing Center, the people in the Math Center down the hall bundle up in layers, assaulted by air-conditioning.

Anyway, when I arrived at the Writing Center today, I was already hot and bothered. (The weather is unseasonably warm today, and I had to hurry from the car to the Writing Center). So I immediately discarded the cardigan, and rolled up my sleeves. Soon I discovered the spot--and the horror began.

I was in the middle of my first tutoring session when I happened to notice something on my sleeve. The spot, perhaps 2 mm across, faintly rust-colored and certainly not obvious (but visible to me) materialized, seemingly out of nowhere, like a phantom, an ominous spot on an x-ray, a hint of disease, ruining my white shirt and my perfectly constructed hero-vision.

I said to my student, "Excuse me, please," and I rushed to the bathroom, where I gathered a tremendous wad of wet, soapy paper towels and frantically scrubbed my shirt, exaggerating my horror as I scrubbed, clenching my face and scrubbing harder until I actually began to feel the exaggerated horror as real--all too real. By then I had drenched my shirt, and when I looked in the mirror I felt desperate and ugly, and I became preoccupied with a sole, burning thought: I need a haircut! Worse, I realized I hadn't shaved for days, and this, I knew for sure, just enriched the impression that I am exactly the type of ugly slob that rolls out of bed and throws on whatever-the-fuck shirt, stains and all. So, with my beard growing, wolf-like, by the minute, and my woofing, hideous hair flouncing about, I rushed back to my session, hating myself and my shirt, and sat down.

The student, obviously a bit perplexed, looked at me with not one, but two elevated eyebrows.

"What happened?" she asked.

Can a dry-cleaner clean a small, nearly imperceptible stain? If I'm the only person that can see a stain does that mean the stain is impossible to clean?

I found your phone; I left it on top of the water cooler.

I put potatoes in water for dinner tonight. Make roasted potatoes and chicken and broccoli. For you, you can make either the chicken breast or tempeh. If you make the chicken breast, remember, since you are not eating the chicken on-the-bone, or with the skin, you merely need to cook the chicken. Put it on the baking sheet with foil, and bake for 24-26 minutes. This, perhaps, is the ultimate picture of just how insipid eating chicken without bones or skin can be: a piece of chicken baking on a fucking sheet of foil. But that's what you prefer.

OK, let me know if you have any questions.



Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Short Swimsuit: A Personal & Historical Account

The Rumpus published my piece on short swimsuits:

My father wore a short swimsuit. I have a goofy picture of him, circa 1970: he’s on the beach holding his infant son (my brother, Scott), and he’s wearing a short blue swimsuit with white piping and a nifty snap at the waist. This was the Golden Age of short swimsuits—an epoch that lasted into the eighties. As a child, I experienced the end of this epoch. I have a picture of myself, circa 1983: I’m on the beach in Stone Harbor, and I’m wearing a short red swimsuit with a white and blue stripe down the side.

You can read the rest of the piece here

And here is a pic of Steve McQueen in a short swimsuit:

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Grandmother's Passing

My Jewish grandmother, my father's mother, died on Sunday at the age of 92. Grandma Pollins was my strongest link to my Jewish heritage. Now, in the wake of her death, I find myself wondering what, if anything, connects me to Judaism and the Jewish culture.  

My father wrote in an email to friends and family:

"We sat with my mom and sister all day Saturday. Although she was in a lot of pain and mostly out of it, my mom momentarily recognized me, said my name, and smiled. During our vigil on Saturday, I tried to make some sense of life and death. I was looking for some evidence of a spiritual world to which my mom was hopefully entering. I must report I did not find any. I still believe, though, that our life here on earth does have meaning and is part of a grander plan that is a mystery."

This is how I was raised by both my father and mother. I was not raised with a strong religious sense. I was made to know, however, from an early age, that the world is full of magic and mystery. This is how I hope to raise my children.

I spoke to my Grandmother a week ago. She was lucid, but immensely sad. She cried for the entire conversation, even as she affirmed, again and again: "I've lived a beautiful life, Seth. And I love you so much. Your wife is so beautiful. And your baby will be beautiful. And I love you so much."

For thirty minutes, she recited some form of this affirmation, over and over and over. I just kept saying, "I know, Grandma. I know. I love you too." Few people in my life have adored me so completely as my Grandmother.

It struck me, when I heard of my Grandmother's passing, that, inevitably, my daughter will grow up without much of a sense of her Jewish heritage. When I think of my connection to my Jewish family, I  think in terms of culture and bearing: a gregarious, frantic way of moving through life. I think of the nervous stomach I've inherited from Grandmother. I think of my inordinate passion for chicken, especially the fatty parts.

None of this, obviously, is necessarily Jewish--but it is, to me. The way my Jewish grandparents moved through life, the way my Dad, in protest and submission to what he inherited from his parents, moves through life, the way I move through life: this is all I know of what it means to be Jewish. 

And yet, my father, despite his obvious Jewish bearing, is not exactly a steward of Judaism. My Jewish family, my aunt and uncle and cousins, are close in heart, but distant in space.

Of course, I will continue to light the Hanukkah candles and recite the Hanukkah prayer. I will continue to celebrate Passover. I will continue to eat the bitter herbs, dipped in salt. I will continue to drink the wine, and dot my fingers into the glass and onto my plate, pronouncing plagues as I do so, "Frogs, Locusts, Boils..." I want my daughter to experience these rituals.

But there will be no one in my daughter's life who will be capable of teaching a larger sense of what it means to be Jewish. There will be no one as essentially Jewish as my Grandmother (or my Grandfather, who passed away a few years before).

Among so much else, this feels like a loss to me.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Jamaal May's Facebook Status Updates

My buddy and Warren Wilson classmate, the poet Jamaal May, writes some of my favorite Facebook status updates. They're are almost always funny and thoughtful, and often challenging. If Facebook status updates are a viable and distinct genre (and I believe they are), Jamaal is a master. Here are a few recent examples:

"What percentage of people who describe themselves as "blunt" and "outspoken" are just tactless assholes who are too lazy to work on that shit. Gotta be up in the 90s right?"

"My compulsion to multitask has resulted in me failing at making tea not once but twice this morning. Once when the boiled water sat alone until it was no longer boiled, and once when the smoke alarm informed me that all my water was now steam. Might as well do away with the pretext and just have this shot of whiskey straight."

"I'm surprised how many strong fiction writers don't seem to know 'black man' or 'arab woman' is not a complete description of a person's look to anyone who dosen't think all non-white people look the same. When I read 'Asian boy,' I can't make out a face. I don't even know what stereotype I'm supposed to be seeing, because if he's from Japan he's not even going to look remotely like a Bangladeshi boy, for example. It's not just an identity politics, race relation, or whatever the BS panel buzz word is this week, issue. Never mind me taking offense, (especially since that's written off as being 'too sensitive' these days) it takes me out of the story. It's at the very least a basic craft issue and I find it bizarre people aren't learning this in their creative writing programs. Could you imagine workshopping a story with a white narrator who describes ever secondary character he encounters as 'the white bank teller,' 'the cute white guy down the hall,' 'the white mechanic...' Umm... actually, I kind of want to read that story."