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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Because She Was A Woman

Eons ago, I knew a gentleman who frequented this jazz club in The Village (the stuff of legend). His name was Robert John and he was a poet and a cartoonist. An old bohemian in the flesh!

More often than not, he sat alone at the bar, drinking and chain smoking, a grumpy old man who just wanted to drink, smoke and listen to live music. He had friends, but he was not exactly a social butterfly. In fact, he preferred to grunt at people than speak to them. Then he’d do the Times puzzle and ignore us all.

He was perfectly capable of intelligent discourse, but he had to be in the mood and he had to like you. I somehow managed to charm him, probably because I said something inappropriate in his presence or insulted one of the resident reprobates in a particularly clever way. It was an odd pairing, to say the least, because he was at least 50 years older than I was and yet perfectly suited for the friendship.

I had started publishing a zine then mostly to amuse myself and friends, and in trade with other publishers. Robert John somehow got his hands on an early copy and actually requested copies thereafter. I was greatly honored, but not as much as when he gifted me an original editorial cartoon and permission to reproduce it in any way I wished. That was epic!

After a particularly moody short story in one issue, he gifted me two poems that were perfect companion pieces. Even as I grew cynical about the subject of romantic love, these speak to me still.

I just wanted you to know
During my solitude,
I told you
    all there is to know
about me.
    Trouble is,
you never heard a word.
You weren't even there.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Even your absence 
    overwhelms my air.
Breathing deeply,
I can feel your aura
    filling my lungs
& wonder . . . 
could I hold my breath forever?

He told me the best joke. It’s a little twisted, but that’s why it worked.

A little girl's cat died.  
She asked her father, "Daddy, where's my cat?"  
Dad tells her, "Your cat is with God now."  
The little girl thinks about this for a moment 
and responds, "Why in the hell would God 
want a dead cat?"   

He told me once that he was proud that my writing had developed and found a strong voice with which to “tell it all!” He particularly enjoyed that I displayed my anger in the form of satire, dispensing with all hypocrisy and stupidity.

He has been gone for years now, but I still think of him. I wish he could read my more recent work and critique it for me. One time, long ago, I was ranting at the bar on some feminist issue or another and he started to tell me a story, or perhaps it was a poem, and it began with the words, “And because she was a woman…” I don’t remember much more than that, but that line has stayed with me for two decades and it will be the title of an anthology of short stories about women.

I have two stories finished and revising a third. "Nadine and Libby" will probably end up in there as well. I want to finish at least a dozen. Tentatively, I want to have this ready before summer starts. Just one more project to distract me from life...

Robert John would have loved that. (Not the denial, the book idea.)

Cover Image: Salvatore Vuono /

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