Bobbie Wayne's Blog

Short writings by Bobbie Wayne, writer, musician and visual artist. Her stories have appeared in The Ravens Perch, Intrinsick, SLAB, Blueline Magazine, and Colere literary journal.

Black Friday

The first time I became aware of the term, “Black Friday,” I thought it was a new national holiday honoring people of color. Over the years it has, instead, become America’s premium shopping holiday. To prepare us for it, merchants send countless catalogues and emails promising huge discounts on stuff. Everyone, including me, loves a bargain, so it’s hard not to pay attention. If you’ve had your eye on a big-ticket item, like a major appliance, it feels great to save that twenty-five percent Black Friday discount.

It didn’t exactly start off as a holiday, although the phrase appeared in print in 1981 in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and referred to the blank ink in merchant sales on that day. But the first use of the term was when the stock market collapsed in 1869, thanks to Jay Gould and James Fisk, financiers and businessmen, trying to corner the gold market. “Black,” on that occasion meant depressing. In the 1950’s, Black Friday was used to describe the day after Thanksgiving when workers developed ‘mysterious’ illnesses and all called in sick to their jobs. Still later on in the 1960’s, cops in Philadelphia adopted the term since there were so many shoppers coming into the city the day after Thanksgiving that they had to work twelve-hour shifts, putting them in black moods. Finally, Philadelphia merchants appropriated Black Friday and turned it into a day of discounts and sales. Other cities soon followed their example.

The thing is, I am a New Yorker and am suspicious of hustles and come-ons. I suspect that stores raise their prices prior to “the shopping season” and those great bargain prices ends up being the same you would have to pay had the merchant not raised prices prior to the sale. We Americans live in a land of plenty. We’ve become greedy, rather than satisfied. That high we experience when we get something new quickly wears off, causing us to seek another high by buying something else. Retailers understand this. Add agencies use psychology to create false needs which encourage our acquisition addiction. Kids are especially vulnerable to advertising campaigns. Witness the holiday shortage each year when stores run out of the latest “hot ticket” item.

I’m just as greedy and temptable as anyone else, so I resent being played by advertisers. We already have Black Friday and Cyber Monday. What’s next: Automobile Tuesday, Real Estate Wednesday and Cruise Friday? I’m thinking we should adopt my first interpretation of Black Friday. Instead of buying more things, we could designate Black Friday as a day to learn the histories of people of color. All Americans might learn something while saving time, space and, of course, lots of money.

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I read recently that certain right-wing groups refer to the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans from the 1600’s-1800’s as “black immigration.” If this degree of stupidity and insensitivity weren’t so tragic, it would be laughable. These groups are trying to alter the historical record by covering over the brutality and rape that existed. You might say they wish to white-wash black Americans’ history. When we cover over things and try to obfuscate them, the wrapping eventually will fall off and the truth will be revealed.

Back in the Olden Days of the early 1950’s, Chrissy Woodman, aged four, and I, five years old, sat on the Woodman’s front steps on a windy day. My home was just three houses away; and identical ranch house, like all the new homes in East Meadow, Long Island. Each consisted of a tiny kitchen, a small bathroom, a living room and three bedrooms. The largest space was the un-finished basement, which, during hurricane season, flooded in most houses.

The Woodman’s basement was drier than ours; a good thing, too, because a quarter of its space was filled with stacks of newspapers. Mrs. Woodman was from England, having met her American husband when he was stationed there during WWII. She never adjusted to America’s multi-culture, especially having Irish neighbors. Kay, Chrissy’s big sister was a year older than I and attended school. Her mortal enemy, Carol Parry, lived directly across the street from her. The Irish/English animosity expressed by both Carol and Kay’s parents towards each other resulted in spectacular fights between the two girls; fights unfathomable to me at that age, where hair was pulled, clothing was ripped and parents exchanged harsh words.

On this particular day, Chrissy and I seemed to be the only ones on the block. Even our parents were off somewhere. Left on our own, sitting on the cement stoop we squinted our blue eyes against the sand and dirt being stirred up by the gusts of wind. Our blonde hair whipped across our faces while we considered how to occupy ourselves.

“I know,” I announced. “Let’s go down in your basement and get some newspapers.” (I had asked my mother why the Woodmans were storing stacks of old newspapers. “It’s an English thing,” she had replied). Chrissy and I carried as many papers as our small arms could hold to the front steps and sat on them to hold them down. “Watch this,” I said, dramatically, as I pulled a sheet from the paper and held it high above my head by it’s corner, like a flag. The wind seized it; I let go. Chrissy and I watched it soar, kite-like against the scudding clouds of the grey September sky. High across the street it sailed, coming to rest on a neighbor’s rose bush as delicately as any butterfly. Chrissy flew the next two sheets; I followed with two more.

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We Are All Strangers

I have to space out my Fall housecleaning because I can’t do it in one day without neglecting all my other responsibilities. Our rooms are crowded with musical instruments and books. We have three harps, four guitars, a banjo, a mandolin and a violin which live in various rooms and have to be moved each time we vacuum or clean the floors. Our house has fifteen windows, all of which need cleaning, including the ledges which get full of dirt. Each window has one or more curtains, which must be washed and ironed before re-hanging. Our guest room was the last room in which I hung curtains when we moved here; consequently, I was tired and impatient installing the curtain rod hardware. Rather than use screws, I simply used the cheap little nails that come with the hardware. Each time I remove a curtain rod, the hardware pulls off and gets lost somewhere under the bed or the stack of instruments. 

Last week I decided to replace the nails with screws, which wouldn’t have required much effort except for running down two floors to the basement repeatedly for tools. After finally accomplishing my task, I noticed that there were not only cobwebs on the ceiling, but several spiders who had taken up residence. Hurrying downstairs I grabbed a small glass and a piece of cardboard in which to capture the spiders before they figured out what I was up to and sequestered themselves under the bed. I thought of the ten ladybugs I had captured several days prior and how long it took to trap and release them outside.

They had organized themselves into a huddle in a dark corner of our bedroom where the walls meet the ceiling. At first, I just saw a dark, irregular spot about the size of a silver dollar in the shadows. “Oh please God,” I muttered, “Tell me that’s not a huge spider.” Standing on a chair to get a better look, I realized it was a crowd of ladybugs, all piled up on each other like a football team. Getting them out without hurting them took half an hour. I would touch one with the edge of the cardboard to make it move away from the corner so I could trap it in the glass and transport it to the bathroom window where I would release it. Often, they would let go of the wall and drop to the floor where they were hard to see, but, eventually, I relocated all but one.

The first spider proved harder to catch; a real sprinter. Like the ladybugs, it dropped to the floor, fixing to race off. But I proved quicker with my glass and soon the spider was floating downwards from the bathroom window. The second spider had spun a rather haphazard web in a corner. The spider was balled up, peacefully napping until I touched its web. It awoke, only to fall into my waiting glass and was dispatched in the same manner as the other spider. I felt a little bad putting all these creatures outside, knowing the weather was getting colder, but I have enough trouble cleaning around all the instruments and don’t need to worry that I might vacuum up hosts of insects while cleaning. 

Outside, my garden provides winter housing and spring dens for plenty of uninvited rabbits. Each April, I must rake carefully so as not to expose baby rabbits to the ravages of my Border Collie. Thankfully, the turkeys who like to travel through everyone’s yards do not like my dog. They have never flown over  our six-foot fence. Coyotes have passed right beneath our front window, but they too have not breached our fence. The only animals we cannot make peace with are the yellow jackets who bother us in the summer. They land on our food when we eat outside, crawling around the rims of our wine glasses. Our dog is highly allergic to their venom, so I do not tolerate their presence. They are aggressive insects, attacking without provocation. I will trap them and kill them if they come near my family and me.

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A freshman in college, I sat in the library, a thick textbook open atop my desk. Half dozing, I stared at the dust particles sparkling in the sunbeam illuminating my desk. My hand, resting near the book, drew my attention. As though I were seeing it through a close-up lens, my smooth, eighteen-year-old skin, the medium-length fingers with their bitten cuticles came suddenly and vividly into focus.

In that second, I realized that the entity known as “I” would determine the future of that hand; what it holds or releases, where it will go, whom it will touch and what it will create. I felt at once elated and terrified by that knowledge. Never again would I be a passive traveller, robotically moving through life. From that moment, I knew I would be both pilot and ship, navigating my own reality.

For the first time, I understood the meaning of aware-ness.

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A Helping Hand

My college roommate is retired and on a fixed income. We have remained close since graduation. Recently, she made the mistake most of us have made at one time: overestimated the amount in her checking account. some large medical bills came due and by the time she realized she was bouncing checks, she was already being fined thirty-five dollars per bounce. I sent her some money to tide her over while she straightens things out. She had often helped me out in the past, sharing money and food when things got scarce.

When my roommate and I were in college in the late nineteen sixties, our tuition included bed and board. I found the food inedible and lost twenty pounds my freshman year. It wasn’t that I was a picky eater, although I admit I was. The food was truly appalling. One night, we were served liver soup, a pea-green concoction with pieces of beef liver floating in it. Another time, as I stood on line waiting my turn, the boy ahead of me pointed out that there were little black weevils moving in the noodles he had just been served. After that, the only things I would eat in the cafeteria were fruit, bread and dairy products. 

My roommate’s mom had bought us each a colorful enamel mug which held half a quart of liquid. We would fill them with milk to take back to our room unless the cafeteria staff stopped us. Our wealthy friend, M, (whom we affectionately dubbed the Bank of England), would sometimes loan us money to go to the only soda fountain in town; a grubby little dive we called, “The Hole.” There we would buy what passed for a hamburger on a bulky roll onto which we would spoon every condiment available to make it last longer. We always paid M when we got our allowances from our parents. My mother figured that five dollars per week should be adequate, so I was always in M’s debt or starving.

To remedy my financial problems, I spent a great deal of time walking the railroad tracks in search of cans and bottles which I would turn in for their deposit. I came to think of it as a hobby, kind of like playing golf. After all, I got exercise, fresh air and money for my effort. Sometimes I would take my roommate with me, but since her allowance was larger than mine and her mother sent care packages of snacks, her need was not as great. Besides, my roommate and M both went to meals at the cafeteria and ate what they could. 

While there weren’t restaurants in the depressed coal-mining town surrounding our college, there were plenty of places to drink. These became a valuable resource for me. I would walk into a bar and announce that I could eat more hot mustard on the free blocks of cheese set out to encourage thirst than anyone there. The men liked being challenged by a college girl, and would stand me beers while I happily filled my belly with cheese and hot mustard.

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For me, fall is the season of hireth: a Cornish word meaning homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was. I always loved raking leaves each autumn. It was fun because it was an activity my parents and I did together, but it was also an important way of marking the season. Our tiny yard in East Meadow, Long Island, was my wilderness. We planted a willow when house and yard were brand new. Within four years, the tree towered above our roof. “Are you the folks with the big willow?” people would ask. I climbed its branches to a perch where I would eat apples and read, swaying in the wind. Each October, I gloried in the showers of golden leaves and leaped into the piles I had just raked. When the tree was bare, my father would burn all the leaves in a big garbage can. The neighborhood kids would come toast marshmallows. I have an old home movie of one such bonfire at dusk; we kids, high on sugar, sticky-fingered, whirling deliriously in the gathering darkness, each holding a stick with a flaming marshmallow at the end. 

When I turned thirteen, my family moved to the older town of Merrick. My willow blew over on the house after we left. Everyone said, “Shallow roots,” but I knew it fell over in sorrow. That house would never seem the same. Merrick’s trees were old and huge. Maples, oaks and pine trees towered over homes and lined the roads. Smith Street, especially,  was famous for its towering trees whose branches met, arching over the road, forming a tunnel of green all summer and a tapestry of gold, crimson and yellow in the fall.

Our new yard was dotted with oaks which dropped acorns as well as brown leaves in autumn. Merrick, in the mid sixties, had few sidewalks. The yards stopped at the edge of the street. People raked their leaves to the edge of their yards to burn them. The whole town smelled wonderful; a fragrance I still associate with home, crisp air, everyone walking to high school football games, and the glorious anticipation of up-coming holidays.

My father’s job forced us to leave New York in 1962. Thomas Wolfe’s 1940 novel is entitled, You Can’t Go Home Again. I believe he was correct. While I tried to get back to New York as often as possible, things began changing there. The old, venerable trees of Smith Street were cut down, despite the passionate protests and fury of the residents. The street was widened slightly and new sidewalks were laid. Smith Street is hot in the summer and has lost its individuality.

In Massachusetts, where I now live, we bag our leaves and a truck comes and carts them off. Leaf-burning has been banned, as it adds to pollution. We have a fire-pit out back where, sometimes, we toast marshmallows. I toss a few leaves into the flames, just to remember the smell. I still like raking, which is fortunate, since we have a big yard with many large trees. I wonder if there is greater pollution from leaf-blowers, the extremely loud, smelly machines used to blow every leaf into a pile, ensuring a perfect green lawn, than there was from the smoke of leaves burning. I imagine the amount of carbon dioxide and other pollutants my willow and the trees of Smith Street used to absorb, sucking them with their stomata and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere.

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A Musical Wedding

Thirty-one years ago, Dan and I got married on October 18th. It was a garden wedding, at the home of our dear friends, Eugene Martinez and Antonio Alfani.  Antonio, a professional cook, made a risotto and our wedding cake. We were serving smoked salmon, salads, and bagels. Large buckets of ice next to the swimming pool brimmed with bottles of white wine and champagne.

The weather in the Hudson Valley, where we lived, had been unseasonably hot for weeks. The day before the wedding, a cold front moved in, creating a dense fog, and muting the colorful foliage. My father, stepmother, and aunt had arrived from Florida and Ohio several days early. As I drove them on a tour across the Bear Mountain Bridge, we could see the Hudson River, dark and grey-green below, but the tops of the mountains were shrouded in clouds.

On the morning of the 18th, friends were coming from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York City, and upstate New York. I drove from our apartment, several miles away in Tappan, to Eugene and Antonio’s house in Blauvelt to get things prepared. Friends had offered to make dishes of food, decorate, and bring flowers, but the fog slowed everyone down; nothing was ready. I raced around with curlers in my hair, decorating, placing food in dishes, and checking the clock. My father, stepmother, and aunt, three normally take-charge people, seemed incapable of making the smallest decisions regarding setting up. I was exasperated! “Oh please,” I prayed silently. “Don’t let it rain until the wedding is finished.”

I had on the diaphanous top of my two-piece wedding gown and my jeans when I realized my makeup was in our apartment. I climbed over a split-rail fence to get to my car faster. My stepmother, Pat, shouted to me, “I wish I had a camera to get a picture of you right now.”

The service was being officiated by a monk and a rabbi. Brother Andrew was a Scottish Anglican Benedictine monk friend of mine. Dan’s mother had her heart set on having a rabbi perform the service, so we asked Rabbi Gelberman to share the service with Brother Andrew. Both, we noted, were the same height with white vestments and white hair; a matched set. A stoop outside the kitchen door would serve as the altar, facing rows of chairs on the grass for the guests. The wedding party would proceed through the garden, being piped in by our friend, Phil, a Highland piper.

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For your eyes

Dan had cataract surgery on his right eye yesterday. Today he had an early-morning check-up at his surgeon’s office in Gloucester. The whole coast was enveloped in a heavy fog, so I drove. We took Liberty, who didn’t get to go to her Agility class today. After Dan’s appointment, I drove us up and down the curvy, hilly roads to Wingaersheek Beach, now open to dogs since the season has ended. Only 0.6 miles long, lying along the Annisquam River facing Ipswich Bay, the beach has smooth pale sand studded with huge half-buried brownish boulders which look like giant potatoes. When the tide is out (which it happened to be) one can walk way out on the sand. The land is flat here, and the depth of the water increases gradually; a perfect beach for families with little kids in summer, as well as for dogs and their human companions off-season. 

Dan takes out the ball flinger, loads it with an orange rubber ball and lets it fly. Legally off-leash here, Liberty looks like a lead bullet streaking across the sand. With her silver, white and black Blue Merle coloring, the little dog fades in and out of the fog like a phantom. Other people appear with dogs. I watch the dogs playing, tails held high, splashing in the water. “It’s a miracle that we can see this,” I think to myself.

Dan’s eye is still bruised from yesterday’s surgery, but his sight is better already. He has worn thick glasses to correct his bad vision since he was a child. “You have no idea!” he would say when I complained of needing glasses in my sixties. But ten years ago I was diagnosed with Fuch’s Dystrophy, a somewhat rare genetic disease that causes one’s corneal cells to burst, eventually causing blindness. I began seeing a Fuchs specialist at Mass Eye & Ear Hospital. 

Each year, my specialist would say, “There’s not much change; let’s see you in a year.” This year, I was shocked when she said, “It’s time to do corneal transplants.” Both surgeries were accomplished over a three-month period. I was astounded at how much my vision improved.

“It really is a miracle, don’t you think,” I whisper as I look into the foamy shallows at the scores of tiny mollusk and crab shells. “And I have you two and your families to thank for it,” I say, out loud to the people whose healthy corneas are enabling me to see. I wrote both donor’s families, thanking them. “Your loved one lives on in me. I’m an artist, a musician and a writer. Each time I draw or tune my harp or write my blog, your beloved person does it with me. Without the gift of their cornea, I would have lost my sight. So every day, I thank them for being part of me and everything I do. I think of us as a team.”

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Things that go "bump"

I await the first cool days of fall the way little kids anticipate Christmas morn. But since Dan and I moved to Marblehead, MA six years ago, the first of October fills me with a degree of agita. I walk out on the porch, inhale deeply, spreading my arms and tilting my face towards the sky. “Aahh…I sigh, closing my eyes, breathing in the sweet, earthy smell of decay. An orange leaf gently hits my face; harbinger of cooler weather. After a long summer of heat and humidity, it has become…comfortable! Even the sun laps my skin as gently as a kitten’s tongue. So, why this foreboding? In a word, SALEM.

Look at a map of Eastern Massachusetts. Marblehead is the bump sticking out into the Atlantic below Gloucester and above Boston. To drive from Marblehead north or west, one must pass through Salem, and South Salem. The town has a population of 44,280 souls. But not in October. Last year, over 990,000 tourists clogged Salem’s sidewalks, stores and parking garages. Every weekend in October, Salem closes roads (with unannounced rolling closures as needed.) Near Halloween, all downtown roads are closed to cars after 4 p.m.

Marbleheaders on a schedule must drive south through Swampscott or travel to Peabody to leave. These are little hilly suburban streets, already filled with people trying to avoid Salem. Last year’s daytime photos of Salem’s crowded streets look like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. At night, if you dare to try driving through the town, the side-streets are not well-lit. Throngs of people wearing black costumes push their black baby strollers in front of your car, assuming that since they see your car, you can see them. 

With its narrow, historic streets and a dearth of parking garages, Salem is running shuttles this year from Salem State College, bussing in witches, ghosts, monsters and little fairy princesses by the thousands. It looks like central casting for “Ghost Busters.”Why the hoopla? According to Salem’s mayor, Kim Driscoll, when near-by Danvers opened a mall in 1958, the thriving town of Salem went bust. Salem’s comeback was effected by “Bewitched,”a popular tv show that filmed several episodes in Salem around the same time the Witch Museum opened. After the filming of the 1993 movie, Hocus-Pocus in Salem, the income from October tourism began markedly rising.

But the real reason people celebrate Halloween in Salem rather than in Cleveland, Ohio or Eugene, Oregon is Salem’s association with the witch trials of 1692, which still fascinate us. Many residents of Salem and Danvers, formerly Salem Village where many of the accused lived, were happy to forget that shameful past where twenty-five innocent people died.  It wasn’t until 1992 that a witch trials memorial was erected in Salem proper. The actual site of the murders had been forgotten.

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The Hottest Summer on Record

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
Robert, you must be such a liar
To say you’d rather die by fire!
Poetic ends may sound nice,
But if we fail to halt our hate,
We’ll ultimately pay the price.
So why debate
If fire or ice?

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Answer to Saturday's Riddle

"There is a house. One enters it blind and comes out seeing." Answer: It is a school.

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War and Peace

Yesterday was overcast but pleasant so Dan, Liberty and I walked through "old town,"which is full of 17th and 18th c. houses built when Marblehead was primarily a fishing village. We trek uphill on a narrow, crooked street where the pink and purple cosmos have overgrown their tiny plots. Liberty zig-zags from one side of the street to the other, bl...

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Riddles Wisely Expounded

I have read that our lifespan has been decreasing. The average lifespan for an American is about seventy-six years. Compared to human lifespans in the Bronze Age, (twenty-six years), I guess we shouldn't complain. Despite this, many people are out-living their brains, and dementia has become a colossal problem. To ward it off, a whole industry of g...

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September Song

Wednesday was one of those September days when you need a light jacket even though the sun still hints of summer. Dan and I took Liberty for a walk at lovely Appleton Farms in Ipswich, MA, a half-hour drive from Marblehead. The 1,000 acre property, one of New England's oldest operating farms is pastoral with rolling fields, historic farm buildings,...

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What's in a name?

Roberta is my legal name. My Long Island playmates, whose families hailed from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx pronounced it, "Ruh-BUR-duh." By Junior High, I answered only to "Bobbie." Cute, American-sounding, unlike my gloomy Teutonic given name, "Bobbie" is a better fit. I wondered if bouncy, two-syllable female names ending in a long E sound ins...

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We Are Not Strads

The roads from Marblehead, Massachusetts to Boston's Brigham and Womens Hospital are challenging, as are most in this state, and not just for those of us with bird bones. Even wearing my soft cervical collar, my teeth clack like castanets with every pothole and ditch. Driving on Massachusetts roads is, I imagine, like riding the Oregon Trail in a b...

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Tomatoes in my pocket

I woke, (partially) recalling there were tomatoes in my jacket pockets. The jacket was in the closet; hoped I'd remember tomorrow. It's been a bad year for gardening in Marblehead, MA. A cold drizzly spring made for late planting. Determined this year not to plant too many seedlings, I only started twenty seeds. Most years, I give away 20-30 tomato...

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