The Tiny Cross-Dressing Dancer in My Bag

Imagination going wild at 7am. No booze, no drugs, no accompanying euphoric experience like spectacular nature or sex. Just me reflecting on the small woman who is a man in my bag.

The short, stout store owner, perhaps in his mid sixties and with a halo of mad professor-like white hair, gently but ceremoniously pressed the tiny pink wooden cut-out figure into my hand. For having brought in a new customer to his fabulous furniture and home decor store in Fairhaven, CT, he is now bestowing me with “a prize!” “Is it edible?” I had blurted out instinctively, hopefully, as he reached into a jar. It was just after lunch and a small sweet treat would be perfect. I looked at the object his warm, small hand had just transferred into mine.

“This is me doing the happy dance,” he begins, “I am thankful for what you have done for us!” I quickly glance down at the pink doll in my open palm; it has tiny hands reaching for the stars, a narrow waste and long slender body whose silhouette is whimsically cut as someone wearing women’s clothing. My gaze still on the graceful creature measuring no more than one inch and weighing maximum a quarter ounce – if I ever could guess that kind of lightness – and while I was calculating his imaginary prowess, he quickly added, “I’m wearing my wife’s dress.” “Ah…” I emit, as if that explains it all, smile and look up to meet his twinkling countenance, and out of my mouth falls, “there’s a name for that you know” followed by a wink, which thankfully, he takes for what it is intended as: a gentle and good humored response to an unusual comment and mental image. This little jovial pot-bellied man, doing the happy dance dressed up in his wife regalia.

I mean, had I not been me, he might have scared me away by now.

“I don’t care what you do with it,” he continued, “but you might carry it in your handbag, and when you see a friend or a stranger who does something that makes you happy, pass it on to them.” I, of course, love the concept of “pass it on,” especially when it has to do with gratitude and kindness. I clutch it in my hand reaching for my porte-monnaie buried somewhere in the bowels of my disorganized handbag. I open my wallet, flip to where I keep my little laminated card with the travel-prayer in Hebrew, and tuck the figure in next to the good karma spot.

Meanwhile, my friend learns that the shop-owner is originally from Belgium, (they switch between German and French just to show off their linguistic nimbleness, to which my cross dresser adds Dutch, and so “wins.” Men…), and my friend is told that the owner’s 98 year old mother still travels between Europe and the US several times a year, with her little dog nonetheless, to her home that she has kept over there, “since before The War.” Ah! Nobody can mention “before The War” within earshot of me, without there following a quiet pondering of what might have happened to that family, or that woman, during that time, and what side she might have been on, and how has she emotionally “stayed” there, if she was Jewish, or how does one live with oneself, if one had been a collaborator.

It seems in the imaginary, the majority of people, who are neither victims nor perpetrators, can easily fall between the cracks. It’s the strangest thing.

So by now, I’m trying to figure out if my charming and loquacious drag queen is a landsmann, a fellow tribesman, or not, and instinctively drop into the tribal lingo test. I wander over toward the shelves displaying beautiful ceramic items and tell him how “it’s meshuganneh” that it has taken until now for my friend, his new customer, who has lived in New Haven for most of his adult life, to discover this gem of a store. I’m thinking that if his family goes back to “the old country,” even if they were fancy, educated city folk, he’d be familiar with some Yiddish jargon. He looked at me quizzically with a slight tilt of his head and said “what?” I repeated, “It’s crazy that it has taken this long….” and our conversation continued while I admired the goods, fumbling a bit making small talk while many whacky thoughts bounced around in my mind.

It could be he is simply hard of hearing. A Jew hard of hearing. It happens.

I wonder how many people in this world carry around self-representations of this delightful character in their bag. Many years ago, my friend Jodi once introduced me to this store, and she has since become a regular customer and is on quite jovial terms with the eccentric owner and his wife. “Does Jodi carry a mini-cross dresser around as well?” I ask myself. She never told me about it. It probably didn’t stir up a whacky story for her, that she felt compelled to share. She stuck it in her pocket book, forgot about it, busy as she is saving lives at the Yale New Haven Hospital.

What can I say. Perhaps that’s the point with writers and the writer’s mind: these insane imaginary journeys always take the front seat, despite ourselves, and we have to heed their right to be born. To some, they may seem like a waste of time. Like day dreaming. But the storytelling that have the capacity to make our hearts skip a beat from joy, wonder or fear, is just that: a chance encounter that begets a story.

“Every character deserves the open destiny of life” (Grace Paley)


The Old Man and the Porn Movie: A Love Story

Love Story


She asked him what he wanted to do with the time they had left the rest of the afternoon, now that they were done with the errands at the bank and grocery store. “To tell you the truth,” he said hesitatingly looking at her sideways with the beginnings of a shy smile, “I’d like to go see a dirty movie.”

Part I:

The Man

Tiny Marty Finder was a gentle and friendly octogenarian who had a lot more going for him than met the eye. He was a guy you might say was the embodiment of the saying that one should not judge a book by its cover. Or perhaps he was a reminder that what most people think of as “normal” for a guy his age is simply an arbitrary and random, not to mention false supposition that grandfathers don’t want sex and intimacy, aren’t easily aroused, and don’t wake up with the same aching erection and desires as do younger men.

Marty lived comfortably in a suburb of Boston in a subsidized senior living facility, where most of his needs were met. What he required extra in terms of logistical assistance, such as getting to and from his seemingly endless doctors’ appointments, he had hired a driver, a lovely Russian woman named Alina.

Marty was a Holocaust survivor, and had arrived to Ellis Island from Poland via Germany in 1948. Although he had lived a good life in America by all standards, he now spent three days a week at the dialysis outpatient clinic in Waltham, took about 18 different meds a day, and had diabetes. He did what is not uncommon among survivors: he kept meticulous records and minutes of all his medical and personal hygiene needs and events, in a hand written journal complete with columns and rows, additions and averages. This included notes on the size, consistency and number of his daily bowel movements.

Once married to an American Jewish anthropologist with a penchant for art, he had two adult kids who lived far away, and although they loved their dad dearly, they had their own full lives more than a flight away. Once his wife became a Buddhist and divorced Marty, he lived for his kids and the small but solid business he had built, a printing shop in a then bustling downtown neighborhood filled with mom and pop shops, delis and local urban old world flair, the kind he liked, as the ambiance would some times, on good days, remind him of a happy life in Poland before the war. Everyone knew Marty in the old Boston neighborhood where his print shop had been, for he was quick to befriend people, was pleasant tempered, and with his sweet smile and animated face gladly offered details about his fascinating life in hiding during the war. Even if people didn’t need to have anything printed or copied, they would stop by just to have a cup of coffee or chat for a few moments about the weather or the latest Red Sox results. Marty made people feel good, and having people around to talk to made Marty feel good in return.

He was also genuinely interested in hearing about other people’s stories. He had a sense of humor, despite all the horror he had experienced as young boy; the Nazis had wiped out his entire family. And Marty knew how to love. After his divorce, in the second part of his adult life, he had had two long lasting meaningful relationships; one with a Christian woman his age, whose sultry manner would make him grab her from behind as soon as she came through the door. God how he loved to reminisce about those crazy and delicious years they had shared, when they would go with the flow and enjoy the freedom of the empty nest, good health and decent income – life had been good then. They had talked about getting married, but the trouble was, she wanted him to convert to Catholicism. He begged her to leave things as they were; they were so happy, things were so good. But she wanted their partnership blessed by the church. Marty was a Jew, and had no inclination to change. So, it came to an end.

The other relationship he had was with a Jewish woman, also a survivor, with whom he shared a more balanced and less passionate life. But they spoke the same language – through their shared history – and this made room for such pleasant lightness of being, a sort of beautiful synergy that emanated a serenity he might have bottled and saved some up for rainy days. It surely made up for the lack of fun and raunchy sex, and he felt blessed to have met such a good “shidduch” in his older days. Where he and the Christian girlfriend had fulfilled each other physically in a dreamlike way, he and the Jewish girlfriend completed one another emotionally. Sadly, she died of cancer after they had 14 years together. Since then, he had been single, but remained amorously enthusiastic about women whenever he would meet one he found attractive. This happened often. The older he got, the younger the women would be. His imagination was roaring and his body was telling him he had still much to give in the way of love.

The Woman

The driver he had hired was by his standards a young woman – she was in her forties – and he had fallen in love with her after a few weeks. Alina was a Russian Jewish immigrant who had come to the States in the early 90s with her abusive, former world champion wrestler husband Slava, and their only daughter Sofia. They had gotten special help to come to the States, because Slava was a possible victim from Chernobyl, and showed early signs of Parkinson’s as well as a mysterious blood disorder that was progressively debilitating. She had wanted to divorce him for a long time, but once his illness was a fact, she could not find the courage. She nursed him to the end, and he died ten years after they had immigrated, to Alina’s great but secret relief. The day after his funeral she threw his trophies out in the trash container in the back of her apartment building, together with all the gaudily framed photos of him on top of winner’s stands at tournaments back in his heyday in Russia. Good riddance. She kept one picture of the two of them holding their daughter as a toddler, sitting on a park bench on a beautiful spring day, blossoming trees surrounding their smiling faces. There had once been happy times, and she wanted her daughter to know she had been conceived and nurtured in love.

Alina was tall, had high cheek bones and long, light brown hair that she usually kept away from her face with a comb in the back. Her kind warm eyes would always look straight at Marty, and she was quick to laughter and seemed courageous and brave, something he found sexy. There was something about her confidence that he thought was attractive, but most of all it was the way that she was so cheerful, funny and freely expressed herself that made his heart skip a beat. Like a breath of fresh air in his life. Marty could not help but notice the strong, soft lines of her neck, the round curves of her hips, and he particularly loved to watch her soft hands work as she would do whatever she had to do to help him get ready for their outings. He noticed he began to anticipate the days of her working for him, although the dialysis on those days was not at all anything he looked forward to. Maybe it was God’s way of finally giving him a small reward for all his suffering, by making that whole sickening ordeal tolerable. He couldn’t wait for her to come in the morning.

Three days a week she would show up at Marty’s apartment and help him get dressed, and while she carried his bag to the car, he would do his best to gingerly push his walker next to her, he really only needed it for a little support with balance, asking her how her daughter was doing in school, or how her pottery studio was going. Alina was an artist, and was part of a potters’ coop in Brookline. When she was not working for Marty, or helping her college bound daughter who had just been accepted to the Boston Conservatory with a scholarship to their dance program, she was at the studio, throwing clay, burning or painting, so full of ideas and inspiration she sometimes would forget to go home at night. Sofia would call her mother to ask what was for dinner, or to tell her she would be late because of a social commitment, not knowing her mother didn’t sit at home waiting for her, but instead was at the studio, lost in her own imagination, which together with the endless possibilities of the wet, soft clay was taking her to places expressing the deep creative desires she had repressed for all the years before her husband died.


Yes, a love story could being anywhere.

And it could go anywhere.

And it could be anything.

So, stay tuned for Part II.