Minutiae #16 The social awkwardness of being childless

Most of my friends don’t have kids. I’m not sure if this is by design or accident. I don’t have kids. People having kids doesn’t bother me. The few friends I have who do have kids I tend to like both the parents and the kids and in some cases I like the kids better. I adore my nieces and nephews. And I adore my sisters and brothers who had them.

People having kids doesn’t bother me. Not having kids doesn’t bother me either. But there is something about someone pontificating about the glories of children and how there is no greater joy in life than having kids – specifically after finding out you don’t have children that bothers me.

Here is a real life conversation that I endured:

Recipient of the greatest gift on earth: Do you have kids?

Me: No.

Recipient: You don’t? Really. Why? You don’t know what your missing. My children blah blah blah blah blah blah blah insert meaningless but heartfelt ode to being a parent and the greatest gift on earth. It the best thing that can ever happen to a person. The recipient then looks at me and says staring straight into my eyes “There is nothing better in life than having a child.”

I can see how this can be true based on the fact that I feel deep love for a few young people in my life. But really what am I supposed to do.

Stupified me looks at Recipient of Greatest Gift and I say, “Oh, wow really”. And I think to myself “I’ll have to get on that age defying sperm egg thing and see if I can get that to happen for me too.”

I don’t have these conversations very often. I don’t want to pretend this is a regular thing. I had the same sense of irritation when I was in university taking my (sweet assed) time and people would sardonically ask me if I had moved on to my graduate degree. I can’t comprehend why people want to start these stupid conversations or why they care if I take 5, 7 or 10 years to do my BA. Who fucking cares?

But there are times I get irritated. For example with Mr. stupid conversation above and then more recently.

This is how it goes. I go for a business meeting that happens to be in a bar. The person I’m meeting offers me a glass of wine and I say hell ya and she says well it has to be 5 o’clock somewhere and I say YES with more enthusiasm than I should. So I order chardonnay which I instantly regret because I remember someone saying that only old ladies drink chardonnay and they said chardonnay with an english accent that you might hear on Coronation Street. So the chardonnay comes and this is all I can think about.

So we’re having a drink in the lounge when Jennifer (who works at the hotel) comes in and starts talking to a young pregnant woman in the lounge who is there with her son.  Her son is about a year and half and he’s super cute dressed in dungarees, a plaid shirt and neon runners. His name is Ashwin. I am sipping my chardonnay remembering that it’s 5:00 o’clock somewhere when Ashwin comes up to me and rests his little hand on my knee. Looking up he says in his baby boy’s voice “Shake my hand.” so I do. Little dungaree man offers me his hand and I take it and the whole transaction feels so good and is so successful for both of us that we do it six more times. Pretty soon he’s sitting in my lap and he’s in the mood for a monster cuddle. You know how it goes. His very pregnant mother coos mostly at her son, my little bar date is cooing. Even the bartender comes around to watch and coos. Now we are all cooing.

Soon we are discussing the birth of baby number 2 still deeply imbedded in mom’s tummy….we move to the incredibly sweet nature of dungaree boy who is still nestled in my lap and then we move on to the general greatness of all babies everywhere. And why wouldn’t they be sweet and perfect. There has been no opportunity for them to be ruined or damaged yet so they’re like perfect little human beings.

Up until this point I have been right in there like a dirty shirt cooing about the greatness of the mini humans and how fab they all are. But then Jennifer friend of pregnant lady starts on the “children are the greatest gift to humankind” train and I’m like oh brother I know where the hell this is going. Predictably Jennifer starts beating her chest like an excited monkey while railing on, then pauses looks at me and says “Do you have any children?” And now I’m beginning to feel like I need to come up with something that will make OTHER people comfortable with my childless state of being. A) a lie – I never wanted kids b) the fertility clinic failed me c) I dated losers for far too long in my life d) the whole middle part of my body doesn’t work e) I forgot to

Anyone of these could do but regardless of what I say there is always the awkward “moment” – that pause after the question and the pause while you wait to answer and then the pause when they hear why you’re childless which is not a casual conversation between strangers. But I find myself fumbling towards an excuse. And then the moment passes and everyone carries on and the little boy toggles down from your lap and over to his mother. And then life resumes again. Ancient sorrows buried under social protocol.

My most recent encounter happened at another meeting when a woman who knows I work hard for certain causes said “I guess you don’t have kids do you.? Right. Because it’s only the childless who have time to save the world. I know so many excellent mothers, parents, fathers who throw themselves into amazing causes.  This is what I wanted to say as well as fuck you. But I didn’t. So I’m getting it off my chest here.

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Poem of the Week: The Word that is a Prayer by Ellery Akers via Poetry Mistress Alison McGhee

The Word That Is a Prayer
– Ellery Akers

One thing you know when you say it:
all over the earth people are saying it with you:
a child blurting it out as the seizures take her,
a woman reciting it on a cot in a hospital.
What if you take a cab through the Tenderloin:
at a street light, a man in a wool cap,
yarn unraveling across his face, knocks at the window;
he says, Please.
By the time you hear what he’s saying,
the light changes, the cab pulls away,
and you don’t go back, though you know
someone just prayed to you the way you pray.
Please: a word so short
it could get lost in the air
as it floats up to God like the feather it is,
knocking and knocking, and finally
falling back to earth as rain,
as pellets of ice, soaking a black branch,
collecting in drains, leaching into the ground,
and you walk in that weather every day.

For more information on Ellery Akers, please click here.

Thank you to Alison for finding and sharing these gems.

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Minutiae #15: The Piano Recital

It seemed appropriate that this right of passage, this milestone of sorts, this small ritual take place in a cedar church with a vaulted roof that pointed upwards trying in its own small way to touch the blue sky.

670px-Play-Jazz-Piano-Step-3The kids walked in sitting in the pews to the left of the church. Some were dressed in patent leather shoes with tiny adult heels, flouncing dresses, a large flamboyant flower in one girl’s hair,  there was a suit and tie, and others dressed  just like kids – jeans and running shoes. They ranged in age from 6 to 14 and I spent some time identifying which little person and teen would be who in the prototype adult world. That one looks like a Mable I thought to myself as I sat in the pew facing the front of the church while family members, grandparents and parents settled in for their child’s end of year piano recital.

Mable was a chubby little girl with a big flower in her blond hair. She had straight bangs and big eye glasses. She looked about 10 and already her outfit had an air of eccentricity. She was her own person.

The piano teacher, beautiful, with long blond hair  the colour of the sun and the demeanour of an angel stood on stage beside the aging creaking piano and explained how difficult this was for each child. How terrifying it is to perform particularly on a piano as nasty as this one. And I remembered my one and only piano recital and walking on to the stage in my new black shiny shoes and sitting at the piano,staring at the keys for what felt like a lifetime – dead silence as the audience waited for the blond little girl to begin her piece. And the longer I waited the worse it became – seconds stretched into an eternity as I stared at the keys wondering if I could begin. God knows what divine force intervened and pushed my fingers to the keys to play and then suddenly applause. I lived when I thought I would die.

The first little girl was no more than six with chocolate long hair and hazel round eyes. She walked to the stage, up the stairs, announced her piece and sat and played. She finished her short to-the-point piece, stood and faced the audience and curtsied. I loved the performance ritual and watched as each student stood up, and repeated it. Some stumbled while others looked like it was just one more chore, one more thing their parents wanted them to do or to achieve – a tick mark in their budding life resumes.

Mentally I had already developed a fondness for little Mable and was happy when I saw it was her turn. She walked half absentmindedly up the stairs, her flower hanging jauntily at the side of her head. She, like others, announced her piece and sat at the piano. She waited just a moment or two too long before she started playing and I worried that she was suffering the same fate as I had – the epic mental battle to begin something you don’t want to do.

But when she played I realized that she might have that internal battle but her fingers and her heart showed she could tackle those keys with an almost nonchalant ease – a kind of miniature expertise. She didn’t use the sheet music in front of her but instead kept her head facing the stained glass, staring at it as if looking for inspiration or maybe escape. And even though I didn’t know “Mable” I was secretly thrilled at her absentminded brilliance and I clapped like I was her blood relative when she finished and curtsied and then promptly fell off the stage.

I stopped mid-clap horrified for this little girl, hoping this would not be the beginning of something that would shape the rest of her life. Bullying, self loathing, pressure.  The course of our entire  lives are often set in motion by these small moments that haunt  our adult selves sometimes until the grave. The  unresolved nuggets of shame and hell.  Mable got up, blinked, adjusted her flower and took her seat amongst the rest of the performers.

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Then came Alex. I had watched Alex a little. Like Mable he seemed flamboyant but in an entirely different way. He had a shock of wild, dirty blond hair. He wore a private school suit and was the only boy to do so. He was maybe 14 at the most. He chose to play a medley by The Red Hot Chili Peppers which I was eager to hear.

He stood up, walked to the stage and gave a flamboyant bow and looked at the piano students and said, “I might be playing a little longer than the rest of you.” Another young eccentric. His fingers cascaded along the keys as a brief warm up, as a way to warn us that what we heard before was nothing, that he was different, he was going to give us the performance of his life. And he did. He played flawlessly with his heart and his soul. I thought I felt the church shake. My heart skipped a beat.  Sometimes you are faced with something extraordinary in the unlikeliest of places, in the shape of a young boy, a soon-to-be man with crazy hair and an impeccable suit – his awkwardness belied his astonishing gifts that we were lucky enough to have experienced in this small church with a steeple that almost touched the sky.

I wanted to seek him out after the performance. I wanted to tell him that what I saw was special, that what I heard was extraordinary, that what I had witnessed made my night. So I did. I found him and I told him exactly that. “Next time I see you” I said, “it will be on a big stage and I’ll be paying for the privilege.” He smiled ear to ear. The boy with the wild hair and the suit replied – there was no teen coolness, no boy teen bravado. “Music is my passion.” he said. “It’s my passion. I was nervous.” he said. “I would never have guessed it. “I said “You were amazing.” and I walked away.

I think about those nuggets, those things that hold us back or propel us forward that are buried far away in childhoods lost and teen years gone. And then when we analyze our lives from a distance years later we go panning for gold or deceit in the hope of uncovering the mysteries of our lives. How did we get started on this or that? I don’t know if strangers can make a difference. But we all hit rough times and there was a strange frailty to this kid and I hoped that by sharing my heart with him for one brief second that maybe this would be a small nugget to inoculate him against life. That’s all.

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Poem of the Week: Father’s Voice by William Stafford via Poetry Mistress Alison McGhee

Father’s Voice
– William Stafford

“No need to get home early;
the car can see in the dark.”
He wanted me to be rich
the only way we could,
easy with what we had.

And always that was his gift,
given for me ever since,
easy gift, a wind
that keeps on blowing for flowers
or birds wherever I look.

World, I am your slow guest,
one of the common things
that move in the sun and have
close, reliable friends
in the earth, in the air, in the rock.

Thank you to Alison McGhee for curating these pearls, these beauties and to these fearless artists who take us where the heart doesn’t always want to go,

For more information on William Stafford, please click here.

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My nieces – wildlife advocates – collaborators – A plea to save Elephants and Rhinos from extinction

My nieces Ella and Taya have been great supporters of the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos. This post is a collaboration between the two. Ella wrote it in French and Taya translated, edited and added her editorial precision to the content of this piece.It’s a work of real collaboration.

My niece Ella she has been raising money, marching, and giving talks to her friends and fellow students about the crisis facing Africa’s wildlife. This was written after the girls visit with their family to Kenya this spring. I think they’re remarkable, Ella is 12 and Taya is 14.

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I’m asking you, if you love elephants, rhinos, and animals, are you doing everything you can to help them?

My family and I recently went on a trip to Africa. While we were there, we saw some amazing animals and surreal sights. Some of the most fascinating animals we saw were the eight elephant herds, and about twenty five rhinos. I find that it’s crazy to think that, at the rate we are going all the rhinos will be extinct in ten to fifteen years and that in fifteen to twenty years,elephants will be gone as well.

One of the worst things about this crisis is that we, as humans, are in full control over this problem and over their lives. The two main reasons for their disappearance are ivory poaching and habitat loss. Ivory poaching is what I find really astounding.  How could people want to kill these beautiful animals for their tusks? And then they use them as a symbol of their high social status, or to show people they have money. There is still hope of ending ivory poaching, but with every day that goes by, their chance for survival decreases.

Did you know that in the last one hundred years 95% of the elephant population was killed for their ivory tusks? And up to one-hundred elephants are killed each day. There are now only about 400,000 African elephants left in the world. Maybe this number seems big to you, but it is actually quite small compared to how it used to be. In 1940, only 75 years ago, there were about 3 to 5 million African elephants in the world.

Elaphant 2

Rhinos are in greater danger because many they are rapidly approaching extinction. The main reason that rhinos are killed is because their horns are believed, by many countries, to be a cure for disease.  For example, in Vietnam, they believe that  rhino horn can cure cancer. However, their horns are made of the same thing as our nails, so biting our nails and using rhino horn for the treatment of diseases has virtually the same effect.

For some time, it appeared that there was hope for rhinos. In 2002, the number of rhinos killed was 25 which was surprisingly small. It kept improving each year, and in 2006, ten rhinos were killed. In 2007, that number went down to seven and it looked like an end to rhino poaching was approaching. However, since 2008, the numbers of rhinos killed each year has dramatically increased. The years following “the big improvement”, the situation has gotten worse, to the point where, in 2014, we have killed 1215 rhinos for their horns.

In Africa, we were able to see one of the five remaining northern white rhinos left in the world. We also saw the southern white rhino, and the black rhino. There is no hope for the northern white rhino, as they have tried to introduce them to each other and they will not mate, They will be officially extinct as soon as the five remaining rhinos die. The black rhinos are also endangered, with 4,848 rhinos left. The southern white rhino came back from an extremely close call with extinction and they now have a status of a near threatened species with 20,000 southern white rhinos left.

The poachers, even though they are the ones who kill elephants and rhinos for their ivory, are not the main reason for the approaching extinction of these animals. The big problem we face is the consumers. Their demand for ivory is the main reason these species are endangered, as without the high demand, the poachers have no reason to kill the elephants and rhinos.

In order to stop ivory poaching, we need to stop the consumers from killing elephants and rhinos. In a poll back in 2007, the IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) discovered that 70% of Chinese, the largest consumers of ivory, weren’t aware that they had to kill  elephants in order to get their ivory. The word for ivory, in Chinese, means elephant teeth, so many thought getting ivory was similar to pulling out somebody’s teeth. As a result of this poll a campaign was launched to raise awareness of ivory poaching. The campaign was simple enough- a poster explaining ivory poaching and how they got the ivory. The advertisement done by JC Decaux, the biggest outdoor advertising company in the world,

The posters had an outstanding impact on people’s views of ivory. Another survey, this one in 2013, showed that the posters had been seen by 75% of the population, and the number of high-risk consumers of ivory (those who are most likely to buy objects made of ivory) had been cut in half. There is still hope for the animals if we act fast, and are committed to making a difference.

When my family and I were in Africa, we saw many incredible things, but there is one memory in particular that stands out. While we were driving through the plains, we came across a group of about eight rhinos. We drove a bit closer, and we saw eight piles of rocks there, under a tree. There was a sign beside the tree.  Ol PejetaThat was when you fully realize the effect of poaching on these animals. The rhinos had a life before they were poached; they had a family, friends, and others who would remember them, much like us.

Their death affected the other rhinos, just like the death of someone we knew and cared about would affect us for the rest of our life.

We need to save these animals while we can. There is still hope, but how long will it last?Rhino 2Elephant 1

Rhino 1

Elaphant 2

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Pledge for a Sustainable Community – Changing the world one business, one community at a time

This is a project I oversee, manage and helped to develop. It was recently shortlisted as a finalist in the category of CSR at the World Chamber Competition in Turin. This week we are off to present the project to an international audience and fingers crossed – we might win. Either way, it’s an honour.

Here’s a little bit about the program:

The Burnaby Board of Trade’s Pledge for a Sustainable Community program has been selected as a finalist in the category of “Best Corporate Social Responsibility Project” at the 2015 World Chambers Competition.

The Pledge program, which is a comprehensive online resource and planning tool with the goal of helping businesses large and small reduce their carbon footprint, was one of only four entries selected as a finalist out of a record number of submissions from across 39 countries. Finalists will present their projects to a panel of judges at the 9th World Chamber Congress in Torino, Italy in June.

Read more here!

Wish us luck:) Changing the world is possible. Believe it.

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Postcard Fiction: Meyer Got the Fuzzies

Meyer reached over to the night table beside him. With his head on the pillow and one eye shut he struggled to find his half empty bottle. With that keen sense of awareness that always warned him when something would go terribly wrong, he knew the bottle would spill over before it did. And it did. Meyer groaned. Fuck. HIs head was pounding and the stench of stale cigarettes, booze and old furniture filled his nostrils. He thought he was going to be sick.

He lay back in bed fighting back the waves of nausea that overcame him. His shaking hands reached for the overturned bottle.  He sat up, tipped the bottle back and drank what was left. Ahh. He could feel the warm liquid travel down inside. Already he felt that small feeling of recovery. If he could have another drink he could make it , he thought. He wondered what day it was and reached back in his mind for anything that might anchor him somewhere in time.

It was just like Sharon said. “The booze is going to eat your mind.” she said. “It’ll kill you Meyer.” Christ.. The truth is he was too much of a coward to take his own life. Too squeamish. PiIlls. He had a hard time taking even baby aspirin. A gun. Too messy. Hanging. What if he miscalculated. The brain damage would be horrible for Sharon and Trish, never mind his mother. She’d never forgive him. Drinking himself to death seemed like the path of least resistance and somehow it seemed cleaner. At least that’s what he thought until he sat up and looked around his apartment. Fuck. What a stye. That’s what Sharon said last time she visited.

“You’re a pig Meyer. What the hell happened to you. Brilliant career. Great kid. Me. Now look at you. A dog wouldn’t even eat off this floor. And you stink like hell. When’s the last time you changed?”

He sat up. His single sorry bed reminded him of himself. A sorry mess, single and alone. His sister always told him he had no stamina. She was right.  No stamina for life much less anything else.

Suddenly he remembered out of nowhere what day it was. Saturday. Fucking christ in hell. It was Trish’s birthday party. He was supposed to pick up the cake and the balloons and come to the party by 4:00. What the hell time is it? There was one person in the world he was more afraid of then his wife Sharon and that was his 7 year old daughter Trish. She would look at him with those steely blue eyes and see right through him. He was sure she never blinked. Sometimes he wasn’t even sure if she was human. She had this ‘other’ kind of quality he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Then other times he would never feel so loved. She’d wrap her arms around his neck and he could feel the warmth of her little stringy body. He could feel tears welling in his eyes. He reached for his cigarette, lit it  and checked the time. 2:15. He hadn’t missed it but he couldn’t waste any time and wasting time was something Meyer knew how to do better than anybody else.

He ran is hand through his wavy black hair. What  the hell. His hand hit a bump. Warm, fuzzy, pulsing. Meyer wasn’t given to fights but occasionally he came home with bruises, broken glasses, war wounds. He had grown accustomed to them.It was the price of giving up.

He slowly sat up and wandered over to the mirror. Jesus Christ. He looked at himself in the dim light. He looked for his broken glasses. I’m getting’ old he thought to himself. Can’t see a fucking thing. He peered harder in the mirror and saw two distinct bumps on the top of his head. What the fuck?  If Meyer didn’t know better he’d say they were horns. As one of the former leading criminal defence lawyers in the country he’d been called many things including the devil and those times when he allowed himself to feel anything he sometimes felt like the devil but he didn’t actually think he was the devil. Sharon, who’s acute sense of social justice weighed like a dead cement block on his mind, was right. He had finally been won over completely by the dark forces.

He reached up and touched his right horn. Small, furry glowing, it felt warm to his touch. As he stroked his horn it rotated on his head while the left one bent over double like a limp weed. He reached up and stroked his left horn and it stood up straight like a soldier on duty. They stood about two inches on the top of his head. He pulled at them thinking it was some kind of bad joke. They didn’t budge. Every time he touched them he felt this warm glow inside. Like a fire. He wondered if it was Satan’t torch. It almost felt like the warm glow of scotch after his first sip.

Fuck. I gotta get to the birthday party or my kid will sue me. Like father like daughter ,he thought. He was panicked by the new additions to his head but he was more panicked at the emotional exile he would feel if he fucked this up. And oddly, the warm glow emanating from his horns soothed him in a way he hadn’t been soothed in a long time.He didn’t know what they meant but he knew he had to get his sorry ass over to his ex-wife’s or he’d be dead meat. Deader than he already was.

He grabbed the cleanest pair of kakis’ he could find which were wrinkled and stained but not smelly and an old   t-shirt. He didn’t know what to do with his head. Towel wrap? No. Ridiculous. Baseball cap? He set the cap on his head. The cap rested on top of his horns. Admittedly the slightly skewed cap gave him something of a jaunty look and it brought a slight smile to his face. He looked around his ashtray strewn apartment with crap everywhere. Piles of dirty plates, empty bottles,and clothes everywhere.  What the hell. His eyes finally came to rest on the red beret. Then he remembered Eizerman had been here one night. Eizerman was an artist but these days he was mainly a junky.A big mellow sad-eyed junky who wore a red beret.He came here one night and they sat up and talked and drank till dawn. They both passed out and when Meyer finally woke up he was gone. Never saw him again but he left his beret.

Meyer grabbed the beret and put it on his head. The hat fit over the top of his horns perfectly. He looked at himself in the mirror and he recognized something about himself from when he was younger. For a brief moment he saw that hopeful optimism of his youth  but it came and went in a flash and Meyer was left with nothing but himself, his horns and this god awful beret that stunk like bad beer and made him look like a transvestite.

Alright he said to himself. I gotta get the hell out of here and to my kids party.  Just the act of saying that brought him back to that world and place he occupied just a few short years ago. Accomplished lawyer, husband, father, member of the community and empty shell of a man. He thought of Sharon. A woman as hard as nails and uncompromising in her pursuit of justice.  But she was as hard on herself as she was on him. When sex was still something he was able to think about he thought about her. Her long legs, her long black hair her unruly sense of dress – often accompanied not unllke himself by some stain. Curry, mayo, mustard. Generally a condiment but not always. It was the one way in which they were alike. He loved her. Did he just think that? Was he crazy? He never let his mind go there anymore. t was over. Enough of that he thought as he lit another cigarette. He reminded himself to splash some aftershave and bring some chewing  gum before he arrived or his kid would give him the smell test and then give him hell. What were they teaching them in school these days anyways?

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He arrived at the party at 4:27 exactly, just late enough to be given a mouthful of hell. “Meyer, what the hell?” Sharon said as he stood outside the door in the pouring rain.  He looked at the Frank Lloyd Wright rip-off house that he and Sharon bought together and which he had walked away from.  He couldn’t believe he had ever lived there.  Who was that person anyways?

“Where were you? This is a kid’s birthday party not some cocktail party you show up fashionably late to? Come in here. You look like hell by the way. What’s that on your head? Jeezus Meyer what’s going on?

“I don’t know what’s going on Sharon. I feel like I’m losing my mind.” ”

“Believe me Meyer, you lost your mind long ago.”

“Sharon, I know. But look at this. I woke up this morning and look I don’t know what the hell they are or where they came from.” Meyer removed his red beret and stood before Sharon his horns straight and at full alert.

“Jesus Meyer. What the hell. You’ve grown horns. Two of them!”. Sharon stepped closer to Meyer and reached up to touch his horns.

“They’re soft. Christ they’re moving. It’s like they’re looking at me.” Her voice softened in a way he hadn’t heard in years. They hadn’t’ stood this close since their divorce when she had pushed her finger in his chest and called him an asshole for giving up. This time her voice was soft.

“I can’t let Trish see them.”

“Meyer don’t be an idiot. The most forgiving person in your life is your daughter. Until she’s an adult of course and she’s realized how much you’ve screwed her over but until then she’s the most forgiving person in your life. Go show yourself Meyer. She’s a good girl.”

Suddenly Meyer felt like he was 5 years old again. Naked, young, uncynical, reborn. Standing as tall as he could he went upstairs to look for his daughter before  her guests were to arrive.

Post script:

I wrote this as a result of a challenge from a friend over wine and drinks one night. She gave me the topic and I had to write whatever I wanted. This isn’t my usual style of writing at all but I was reading the Yiddish Policeman’s Union at the time and I was heavily influenced by the voice of that author. I did this purely for the fun of it.

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