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baby steps collected works by Louis Liss

copyright Louis Liss 2009

table of contents. baby steps

Writer’s Statement Part I: Fiction Heather’s Nap Part II: Poetry Sonnet of the Sinkhole Allen Ginsburg For My Family Underground Stumbling Part III: Dramatic Writing Pear Tree Part IV: Creative Nonfiction Elementary School Celebrations Food

Writer’s Statement

Ever since I learned to read, books have been a passion of mine. In fact, I have always been inclined to read anything with words on it. Any title that I heard mentioned would spark interest, so much that I could not rest until I had the book and had done my best to read and understand it. Needless to say, I lost a lot of sleep in fourth grade trying to understand Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. As a devoted young reader, my elementary school teachers encouraged me heavily to write. I took each chance I got in every book report, writing response, and personal narrative to develop my literacy skills. During middle school, I began to put more thought into expanding my vocabulary and putting a creative flare on everything I wrote. Writing became an outlet, it became an enjoyable way for me to dump frustration onto the page, and that was why it was logical for me to apply to an arts high school for writing. Lately I have been working on using writing for more than just work or an outlet, but as a tool that I can use to help advance me life. I know that any career I choose, good writing skills will be the key to succeeding and moving higher and higher up the career ladder. Whether I decide to be a poet, journalist, scienctist, or mathematician, writing will help me become an accomplished adult, as well as maintaining a creative release. Over these past four years in Literary Arts, I have endulged this fascination with the written word to the fullest. I have been enveloped in books to inspire my writing, and then entombed myself writing, keystroke by keystroke. By doing this with my classmates, we have become very close. The pieces that I chose reflect the work to which I feel most connected. As a writer, I felt most protective over these pieces, as with all the work I have put into them, they have become like offspring. What follows is divided into the four genres that I have studied each year, separating prose from poetry from dramatic writing, but blending the different years of writing. Please enjoy.

Part I:


Heather’s Nap

A tall fence made of a tight mesh surrounded the bus depot in Lincoln Heights. Mark Formosa stepped up to the barrier, feeling the cool, metal surface of it with his fingers. It was a chilly evening in Los Angeles, almost as cool as it would have been in Portland. He spread his fingers and clawed high above his head, shoving his fingers into the small holes. Pulling down, he attempted in vain to scale the fence. Managing to bend his elbows and lift his feet a foot off the ground, he tried to find a foothold. His toes would stay grappled into the fence, and he had to let go before his arms started to hurt. Stepping back, he surveyed the area; the fence seemingly stretched on all visible sides. He hadn’t journeyed all the way to Los Angeles for a failure. The bus was as good as his once he could get into the garage; however, a fence and a guard at the front gate impeded his progress. Stepping back, he started to walk along the fence, around the perimeter of the depot. The streets around were dim, the streetlights producing little more than an orange glow in the cold, black sky. After one day, he was already tired of Los Angeles. He was done with California; growing up in San Diego was enough for a lifetime. The image of walking around the city with his family, trailing behind all of his siblings was still haunting him. He continued down the dark, cool block; the brick wall of the bus depot beyond the fence had bright, halogen floodlights affixed to its front, lighting a huge parking lot filled with orange busses, sitting almost just a bit more idle than they did in traffic usually. Rounding the corner, he spotted a section of the fence out of the guard’s line of sight. Nighttime made the whole operation seem more devious, although he had specifically picked this time because it was after all the last busses had run, and before any of the nighttime network of busses would return from their run. He had hoped that the fence would be climbable, but this wasn’t the case. Taking a small metal saw out of the inside of his jacket, he turned to the fence and began to saw open a small hole. Half an hour later, he managed to get to the other side. The first piece was difficult to saw apart, but after he was able to unthread the strips of metal to create a hole big enough to get through. The busses were in a seemingly arbitrary order, parked on diagonals. The colossal orange vehicles were square, as if made to be stacked like a child’s blocks. All the busses were shrouded with faint light from the distant floodlight on the garage building, but their interiors pressed against the windows with an aura of darkness. Mark remembered seeing a bus look like that only once before, after a long night of work at the restaurant. He was exhausted from waiting the tables, and walked along the road back home when he saw a bus being pulled up onto a tow truck. Having been used to being at the bus’s mercy, waiting at the

corner, searching for nothing more than the great beacon of light that the front sign of the bus produced to a cold, tired waiter, it was odd to see the giant mechanical monster at the side of the road, pathetic and lame. Mark chose a bus parked on the outside of a row, as it would be the easiest and quickest to pull out of the spot. Taking the same saw he used to cut apart the fence, he wedged it into the tiny gap at the back door of the bus. He expected this would be the easiest spot to enter the bus, as these doors didn’t fold but merely spread open. With a few more giggles of the saw, he was able to prop the doors open just a crack, large enough to get his hand in. He pulled the doors apart, and soon, he was in. His footsteps echoed in the vehicle walking to the driver’s seat. This noise was rare, even during off-peak hours. The noise of the motor and other passengers was generally much louder. Sitting down in the rather comfortable driver’s chair, he examined the instruments. They were mostly darkened digital readouts, looking like the business district of a small town past eight o’clock. He pulled a key from under the visor and started the motor. It turned over with a rather gutteral rumble, and the display systems began to beep loudly. He fumbled around, looking to turn off the noise. He changed the display to “out of service,” and pulled out of the parking spot. As he pulled up the exit, he noticed a metal gate. If it wouldn’t open, he would be in trouble. Slowly pulling up, he willed with hard with his mind to be magnetic. He smiled in cool relief as it swung open, and he cruised out into the streets of Los Angeles. Out of some remarkable feat, the guard hadn’t noticed him leave. Meanwhile, in the back of the bus, Heather Aiken stirred. She slumbered in the very corner of the bus, curled up over the two seats. The driver of the last route hadn’t even noticed that she didn’t get off; he was in a rush to get home, and he hastily parked in the depot, leaving her alone to fend for herself. She had been on her way from Downtown to her home in Santa Monica. Feeling the motion of the bus, she knew she must have slept through her stop. Out of a reflex, she pulled the stop request cord and gathered her things from the empty rear. Had everyone gotten off already? The stop request light illuminated on the dashboard, and Mark grew pale as a ghost. Was there a malfunction? A spectral rider? He thought it ridiculous and tapped the light on the dashboard hard with a hard lashing of his finger. It went out and he laughed. Of course he was alone. “Last stop until hell,” he said aloud, in a voice that he had been making since his infancy, trying to sound like the devil. “Aren’t I on the 20 going down Wilshire?” said Heather. Mark grew wan again, and stopped at the traffic light. He incredulously craned his head over his shoulder, and got a start when he saw Heather standing behind him, with her bag strewn over her shoulder. Nervously,

he made two quick turns onto a quiet side street, worried that he had been apprehended. “What the hell are you doing here?” “I was trying to get back home. This isn’t Wilshire.” Mark was in a fervid panic, his hands shaking on the huge wheel. “This certainly isn’t Wilshire. We’re near Lincoln Heights. I don’t know how you got onto this bus.” “At Grand Avenue. How do I get home?” “I don’t think that’s going to work, since you saw my face. You could rat me out to the cops, squeal on how I started the motor, how I wedged open the doors. I’d just as soon park at a police station and turn myself in.” “You mean to say you stole this bus?” said Heather. Mark concentrated on the road, sitting without speaking. His plan could be ruined. “My mother always did say I slept like a log.” Heather took a step backwards, sighed, and sat in the plush seat, reserved for handicapped riders. At least, she thought, she wouldn’t have to get up – she would be the only passenger on this bus ride. “So who are you?” “Name’s Mark.” He was pushing the bus faster and faster, making quick turns. Each time he turned, he expertly swung the wheel around quickly. It was as large as a big pizza. Heather recalled that it was supposed to be pizza night at home and felt a grumbling in her stomach. “Mark…” “Formosa.” “Nice to meet you, Mark Formosa,” she replied sarcastically. Making small talk with a bus thief had to be one of the most ridiculous things she had done in a while. She shook her head at herself in disbelief. “You from around here?” “Nope, I’m from Portland,” he said shortly. He seemed not to trust her, as though he had no patience for his hostage. Hostage, she thought again. That was what she was. “Where are you trying to go?” she asked. “I’m going to take the Golden State Freeway out of the city, and then I’m going to get into the desert where they’ll never find me. You might want to make yourself comfortable.” “Well, that’s a pretty bad way to escape LA. There’re cops all over the place on that freeway. I know a good back way.” Heather fibbed through her teeth. There had to be a way to steer them home. What would seem like a good back way? “Make a right here and stay on this road.” They were by Dodger Stadium. Wilshire was close; all she needed to do was guide him around side streets until they traveled all the way west, back to Santa Monica. Convincing him to let her off would be another ordeal. “Turn right here, and then make another

right.” “You sure you’re not setting me up?” asked Mark. Heather couldn’t tell if his voice was serious or if he was feigning suspicion. “Just go this way. I know this city like the back of my hand,” said Heather. They drove a few blocks further when she suddenly yelled, “Quick! Take Crenshaw!” Mark obediently turned. They cruised down for just a few blocks until she diverted him to Olympic Boulevard. Quietly, they cruised through Westside. Ten minutes later, they were nearing Santa Monica. Heather knew that soon they would be close to 6th street, and she could somehow find a way off the bus. She would be home free, exonerated from the burden of being on a hijacked bus. “Quick, turn here on to Lincoln Blvd,” she said. Her face felt hot, and her heart was pounding in her chest. Mark obliged and quickly made the turn. “And here, onto 6th Street.” He was driving a few blocks from her house. “This isn’t the kind of street where cops chill, is it?” asked Mark. “I don’t know. This is the way to the desert.” “It looks like we’re close to the beach.” “Everyone in LA knows that the beach is just a hop, skip, and jump from the desert in the middle of Mexico,” said Heather. Mark furrowed his brow. He wasn’t if this was true, but he decided to trust the young Angeleno. Heather was giving the performance of her life, to the theatrical styling of a free ride home. “Quick!” she said, “Pull over here!” “But isn’t this the way-“ “You gotta pull over!” Mark acquiesced and pulled over; he was not amused and very concerned. “Something the matter?” “It’s umm… Cops,” said Heather. She saw no cops, but looked to the door. She slowly sidled toward it. Mark gave a quick coup of his eyes in the outside mirror and saw no cop cars. In fact, he saw nothing at all behind the bus. He shuddered a bit at the peculiar way that Heather was starting to behave. “Heather, I don’t believe I see any cops,” said Mark. “I… Thought I saw...” Heather was at this point lost in her own words. She flung herself at the door, trying to pry it open. She wedged her finger inside the crack and started to push. Mark instantly threw the bus into drive with a rolling screech, and sped up the small Santa Monica tree-lined street. Heather almost had the door open when Mark slammed the brakes and she flew back to her seat, falling on her back.

“Don’t you ever pull that shit on me again,” said Mark. “Please, Mark, my house is right there. I promise I’ll pretend this never happened, I never saw you or anything. I’ll even sign something if you want,” said Heather. “What good is a legal document to a criminal?” “Maybe if–” Heather lost her words and was at a loss. She had no way to ensure that she could keep her mouth shut. Mark shook his head and took a sharp breath, and continued driving North up 6th Street. “I’m going to tell you a good rule of thumb for dealing with other people when you’re partaking in something illegal,” said Mark clearly. “And that is?” “There are only two ways that you can trust someone who knows your business. They’ll keep their mouths shut if they’re in cahoots with you, or if they have a head full of bullets.” Mark smiled. Heather sat back down on the handicap accessible seat immediately behind the driver’s seat. She grabbed her knees and rested her head in between her legs as if she were bracing for a crash. Mark knew what he was doing now, and he made a few turns onto Palisades Beach Road. The Pacific Highway would be an excellent escape route out of town and into the middle of the California expanse of desert where eventually he would find a road South to Mexico. It would all work out – that was, if he could avoid the police. “So I either bite the dust or become your little partner in crime?” asked Heather incredulously. ‘Pretty much, honey,” said Mark. Heather contemplated her options. Was death really so bad? She was looking forward to attending UCLA the following year. Would she ever make it there if she banded together with a bus thief? There was no glamour in any of it as she had imagined in previous fantasies of automobile theft. She wasn’t in a shiny red vintage Ford Mustang, chrome reflecting a pure white light in the bright sunlight beating down, spinning the wheels on a dusty desert road, accelerating off into the orange horizon. Instead, she was on a Los Angeles public bus, as lowly as it got in the Los Angeles societal standard of driving everywhere. “I can hardly believe that you even have a gun. How can I be sure that you even would know how to shoot it without breaking your delicate little wrist?” said Heather, scoffing at the amateur crook behind the wheel. “But how do you I don’t have a gun,” asked Mark. Heather lost her smirk contemplating whether or not he had a gun. If he did, he was certainly a poor marksman. This could result in something even worse than a head full of bullets – a stomach or neck or legs full or bullets. This was certainly not an auspicious end.

“Well, you leave me no choice,” said Heather. “You knew when you woke up that you couldn’t win,” said Mark. Heather broadened her eyes in a slow realization. She was going to have to go along with Mark. “I guess, then, that I’m going to have to be in cahoots with you.” “Even that is generous of me. Any other bus thief would just off you, but I figured you might be able to help.” “How could I help you?” said Heather incredulously. She couldn’t connect in her head how a seventeen year old that had never stolen even a stick of gum could help to steal a bus. “I was impressed by how good your sense of direction was in Los Angeles.” Mark referred to the city as if it were so far away. It felt like China from where Heather was now. “I suppose I could help navigate.” “Do you know how to drive?” “I do.” “If you promise not to pull any more stunts, maybe I’ll let you do a bit of driving. It’s a long and covert way to Mexico,” said Mark. Heather faintly smiled. Her new life could consist of driving a bus and navigating a criminal across the border. Except now, she too was a criminal. Half an hour later, they were close to Malibu. Mark was driving close to eighty miles per hour on the Pacific Highway, the ocean racing alongside them. She could hear the brisk beach air beating on the square windshield. Buses weren’t meant to drive this quickly. Suddenly, she saw flashing blue and red lights pass them by, and the blaring of a police siren followed. Mark went wan, and Heather sat back down on her seat. The cops were just passing, going to a robbery or murder scene back in the city. However, the siren didn’t become any less audible. Mark checked the mirror to see that the car had made a u-turn and started to follow the bright orange bus. It was almost dawn. “Mark, it’s over. Pull over!” “I can’t. We’re going to have to race to Mexico.” “He’s going to win! We’re in a bus! There’s going to be spike strips down the road. We can’t win, Mark. Maybe he just wants to get us for speeding.” Mark nodded and slowly signaled right and pulled over. The cop opened came around the front of the bus and to the door. He pounded on it, and Mark opened it. “Sir, do you know just how fast you were driving?” said the cop. “No, sir,” said Mark. “I clocked you at eighty-six miles per hour. The speed limit here is sixty.” “I’m sorry, sir.” The cop started to take out his tablet and get his pen. Was he going to

ticket and stolen bus? “Oh, and by the way – if you thought you were going to get away with stealing a Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority bus, you were sorely mistaken. Get out of this vehicle.” Mark shook his head and stepped out of the vehicle. The cop looked in and saw Heather. “You! Girl! Get off this bus!” said the cop. Heather began to quietly cry. “Is this girl working with you?” “No, she was asleep when I took the bus. She’s innocent,” said Mark. The cop nodded as he slapped the handcuffs on Mark’s wrists. “What’s your name?” the cop asked Heather. “I’m Heather,” she said between gasps. She gingerly wiped the tears off her cheek, “You’ll need to come downtown and file a police report,” the officer started, but Heather didn’t hear anything else. Mark smiled and winked. “Heather? Ma’am?” Heather came about with a start and looked at the cop. “Where do you live?” he asked. “Santa Monica.” “Okay, then. I’ll drop off Mark downtown, we’ll fill out a report, and then your parents can pick you up. Okay?” Heather nodded. The cop opened the back door of the car and pushed Mark’s head down as he forced him into the car. He opened the front door for Heather. She sat down and the bright red Morning sun made the dark seats hot. A LACMTA truck came and pulled up behind the bus, and a technician got out. Heather, Mark, and the policeman started on the way Downtown.

Part II:


Sonnet of the Sinkhole

For the brave people of Beaver County, PA who must unite against a 65-foot-deep crater The owner of the restaurant was told that his establishment would have to move, for in the ground there was a giant hole, and if it spread he would fall in the doom. Like giant craters on great, rocky mars, the pit stretched deep into the Beaver soil a bit more each day to the boulevard, a single inch from blocking drivers loyal. But what will county locals do to fix the sinkhole running deep to their dismay? As it spreads more still into an abyss, they do resolve to watch it, come what may. Who would have thought disaster of the Earth would happen inside Beaver; a rebirth.

Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg, why did you write? You bitch about everything. It’s a shame you’re dead. How many poems am I gonna read? My eyes hurt, don’t look at me. Why didn’t you die more creatively? Because everyone else dies in their cars. Don’t talk to me under the influence. I’m going to get you off drugs. Get clean, Ginsberg. I like what you’re getting at. I’m not sure I agree, though. You are obscene, and I can’t believe it. Watch your tongue! Go outside when you howl, You might wake the young baby wolves. Allen, gimme more poems. I want them now, hand them over Take me to a fancy dinner. You can wear your best suit And smoke your favorite pipe. Ginsberg. You’re finished with California. Come to Pittsburgh, please. Don’t complain about the smog. It’s something you’ll have to deal with. I hope you fit in ‘cause round here, We don’t like stoners.

You’ll have to sleep at Wightman Playground. My guest room is full. I like your style, dude. You and your silly comrades! When are we all going to Cuba? Nevermind, they deported you. Shame on you! So you think Che Guevara is cute. I don’t think he’s your type, but what do I know? Let’s make a brand new Communist homeland. Shh! It’s a secret You crazy old fruitcake. Leave the boys alone, they’re too young for you. When are you going to settle down? I think it’s time you ought to settle down. Ginsberg, start a family! Watch out because McCarthy himself is gonna find you. I think you are going to be in big trouble, mister! How did a nice Jewish boy get to be so meshuga? Why the hell are you so counterculture. Make me a sammich! Make me a picket fence, and mow my lawn! Make me a family car! Ginsgerg, you’re fired.

For My Family

1. Orchid Orchid, your head is hanging by a thread. Your tongue is loose from your gargoyle face and I don’t like it. You are a gargoyle, just like Laura called me when I came home from the hospital. That’s what you told me, at least, when I was an impressionable toddler. How can a new baby, delicate like an orchid, be an object of ugliness like a gargoyle. sneering with disgust, like a venus fly trap. 2. Cake I’m standing in a small room as prim as a royal wedding. It’s decorated with bushes that are cut with the utmost precision. They are made of three distinct layers, a deep green shrub on the bottom, a finer leaf on top, and small bunches of purple flowers poke from the top like sprinkles on top of an iced cake that I might bake with my grandfather. Every corner is delicate, and agonized over.

Each cake comes out perfectly without fail. 3. Stove I’m toasty as if I’m at home curled up in the groove of the couch that my sister’s and I would run for each evening. We would crank the heat up so high that our sunporch was a sauna, warm enough for a tropical butterfly. Not just any butterfly, the type that lands on your back and follows you out because he loves you. Fight over the channel, and yell during the commercial breaks until dad comes in. “You’re banished from the sunporch, all of you!” 4. Fountain The fountain just looks shiny, not wet. I touch my fingers to it the outside of the frigid stone. It feels like iron. The water finds an alternate route around my fingers like my aunt driving the city, honking her horn, and screaming. at the very top of her lungs. With my best friend, I could always play in the sprinkler on the lawn until my clothes bled. I called my mom and ask for something dry to put on, and she came, but brought the wrong pair of pants. She never picked out my favorite pair.


Dirt Dead bodies Bones Roots Your true parentage The neighbors’ dog you ran over Identities of CIA officials before the Bush administration gets to them Subways Hell Magma Love affairs hot as magma Your grandmother’s alcoholism The juiciest gossip Hollywood relationships Ninja turtles tapes The best music Cars before they are unveiled The black market What kids really do when parents aren’t around Your drug addiction Foundations of skyscrapers The sky in China That bomb shelter you built just in case Unbloomed flowers Model cars from your childhood Unseen rivers Kids’ hamsters Murder victims Company embezzlement Insurance fraud What really goes down under the bed in the middle of the night Pipes

Time capsules, recent and archaic Sewers The liter that you threw into the sewer Your true feelings What you really think A Victorian woman’s opinion Your secret collection of Spice Girls CD’s The trash you waste The bottles you should have recycled The writing you recycle Terrifying basements Dig Deeper.


Sometimes, being a teenager makes you liable to trip on yourself‌ A single extra step, and I could fall, because I sometimes trip on my own feet. Would I be safer if I simply crawled? While I’m outside a busy shopping mall, I teeter to the end of downtown streets. A single extra step, and I could fall. At ends of cliffs I find there are close calls if I run careless, not thinking retreat. Would I be safer if I simply crawled? I call to you, as you stand down the hall, and push you close to falling from your seat. Just another word, and you might fall. To take a risk is nothing I recall, instead I think that I should drag my feet. If I take one more step, then I might fall; I would be much safer if I did crawl.

Part III:

Dramatic Writing

PEAR TREE AT RISE: AIMEE and BEATRICE stand on a stage that represents the back yard of an old house in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They look as though they have just been to a funeral, wearing sophisticated black dresses and old-fashioned veiled hats. Most importantly, there is a pear tree that they stand on either side of. The house could possibly be represented in the background. BEATRICE

This tree.


It’s ours.

(Beatrice is holding onto a sheet of sort of old-looking paper. Her hand is shaking.) BEATRICE

Father left it.

(They both look at each other and relax a bit. They sit down on the ground next to the tree.) AIMEE

Can I see the will again?



(Beatrice passes her the will.) He didn’t write much.


BEATRICE He didn’t need to. He knew what he wanted to leave for us, and didn’t think he wanted us to have to deal with lawyers after he died. He really hated lawyers. And politicians. Real funny.


(There is a significant moment of silence. Beatrice and Aimee don’t look at each other. Aimee breaks it by clearing her voice. She begins to read the will, handwritten in elegant cursive by their father.)

To my beautiful daughers, Aimee and Beatrice: I love you both so much, and you are the best daughters a man could ask for. I leave for you things that I hope you two will use well as a family, and for your future families. Share these things and be close around them. Take the house you have grown up in, and enjoy it; have friends, have children, and love it. Should you wish to sell the house, donate the money. Money isn’t important. That is why I also leave to you two the pear tree in the back yard and all that it bears. ¬¬¬¬Enjoy its fruit and take good care of it, or cut it down and make it into something permanent. It is important to not let this tree go into disrepair. (Aimee puts down the will and looks up at the tree, and then at Beatrice.) AIMEE What exactly do we need to do to take care of a tree? BEATRICE Well, Mom and Dad always used to prune it, harvest the pears, once it got a fungus… Got it. So that will…


He was very specific.



BEATRICE It’s ironic that everything in that will was focused on the family. We’re all that’s left of it. AIMEE He always did want grandchildren; remember how much he badgered Jim and I over Christmas last year? He basically told me to spawn or the family would die. BEATRICE I’m not sure he had a lot of faith in me to have grandkids. AIMEE Well, I think he thought that you’re a lesbian. (Beatrice blushes) BEATRICE I was just experimenting that time he walked in on Sally and me. Oh... I do want kids some day. I just need toFind a guy?


Yeah. (A beat; a moment of silence passes, until Aimee breaks it again.) AIMEE So it’s obvious what we’re going to do about this tree. I agree. We have to


Cut it down Take care of it.

BEATRICE (In unison)

(Beatrice and Aimee look at each other, seemingly puzzled.) BEATRICE I thought we were on the same page here. Apparently not.


BEATRICE How can you do that to this tree? We grew up with it, and it’s been in this backyard as long as I can remember. AIMEE I remember when Dad planted it. He and Mom did it together, and I can remember coming home from pre school one day, and it was sitting in the yard. It wasn’t very tall or thick, and it was too young to flower or bear fruit. The soil around it was still freshly turned, and Mom was fussing with one of the higher up branches. BEATRICE

I was six at the time. You were only four. AIMEE Dad said that we weren’t allowed to climb its branches or eat its fruit just yet; they weren’t quite pears just yet. (A beat.) AIMEE Look, we could really do something nice with the tree. Cutting it down seems harsh, but we could really do something with the lumber and remember it. BEATRICE I was thinking we could move together and take care of it. When the pears come, we could even bake those tarts like Mom always used to. AIMEE I’m just not at a place right now where I’m ready to move around. I like where I am. Don’t be so selfish.


AIMEE It’s not selfish. It’s too much for me to pick up and move here. I love living in New York. It’s stimulating, it’s exciting, and it’s where I’ve always wanted to be. Jim likes it there. We both have worked hard on establishing our careers, and we both are intending to stick with them for a while. It’s not easy to get elected to city government in New York. Jim didn’t get where he is at the law firm so easily either. (Aimee stands up and leans against the tree. She looks very jittery and divided.) That all sounds very nice-


And we just bought our place. In Brooklyn! Can you imagine that? (By now, Aimee is facing Beatrice, and is very worked up. It is almost like she is pleading for her life.) BEATRICE So you have a job, a husband, and a cell to live in. I guess, and there’s...


What? Well I’m pregnant, Bee.


(Aimee looks up with a bittersweet smile, and puts a hand on her stomach. Beatrice is floored, and wide-eyed.) I’m going to have a baby! BEATRICE Oh my goodness! Aimee! I’m going to be an auntie! (They laugh, and embrace.) Minneapolis would be a nice place to raise a child. And what could be more comfortable than our own old house. AIMEE But see, Jim and I want to raise the child in New York. There’s so much available there, so much available to do and learn. There are really great schools, interesting people... BEATRICE

You could get that here, and carry out Dad’s wishes the way you and I both know he would have preferred. (Aimee avoids eye contact with Beatrice, and pretends not to have heard what she said.) AIMEE And I’ll bet when my kid turns sixteen, it won’t even want to drive! There’s a subway! That’s a relief. Remember when Dad taught me to drive? BEATRICE You know, it won’t be so easy for me to move either. AIMEE Well here you are calling me selfish for feeling the same way. BEATRICE But you know I will anyways. I know what’s important. AIMEE So we don’t have to cut down the tree or sell the house. You can take care of them. BEATRICE That’s not what he wanted. He left us these things as a way to keep the family together, of keeping us close. But I have my own family now.


(Beatrice glares at Aimee.) BEATRICE Don’t you dare forget where you come from. (A beat.)

You know, I’ve really made a life for myself in Seattle. AIMEE

Have you?

BEATRICE You know, the coffee shop. I put my heart and soul into it, and I think I’m addicted to it. I have about twenty people working for me running the place, yet I still go in every day to open and close the place. I’ve been considering opening another shop across town, one that maybe I won’t feel so attached to. AIMEE Well I didn’t realize how much you had done with the place. Remember when you first bought the space and it had that smell? Well, it’s come a long way from then. Are you seeing anyone?


BEATRICE No one special. I’ve been on a few dates here and there, a couple one night stands, but nothing special. I guess I’m just not ready for love at this point. (A beat.) I suppose we have drifted apart a bit. We were inseparable growing up.


We did everything together, went to all the same parties, same school, same friends, same birthday presents. Even when I went away to college, you visited a few times, and we kept in touch after you left home too. I have felt a little guilty about not keeping in closer touch. (A pause.) BEATRICE This is all nice to hear, but we need to make a decision about this tree and the house. We have to go totally one way or the other, and stick with it; we both have to be a part of whatever we decide. Just keep in mind what this tree is for. It’s all or nothing, just like Dad said. AIMEE I still don’t see myself moving back here. I finished with that part of my life a long time ago, I can’t be back here. The baby, Bee, the baby… (Beatrice sighs, and looks up into the branches. All of a sudden, she is distracted my something at the base of the tree.) BEATRICE Aimee, there’s something I haven’t told you about this tree. AIMEE

What is it?

BEATRICE Well Mom and Dad put it here for a reason. What are you getting at?


(Beatrice kneels at the side of the tree. She moves a few rocks aside, and then starts digging rather quickly with her hands. She reveals an engraved stone underground.) AIMEE

To my youngest daughter Connie: Now I know my ABC’s. (Beatrice looks back at Aimee, wide-eyed and shocked.) Who is Connie? Do we have another sister? Mom had a miscarriage a long time ago.


AIMEE How come you know about it? Why didn’t anyone tell me? BEATRICE Well, they didn’t want to tell us at all. It really hurt mom, you know. She never really wanted to talk much about it. Does anyone know?


BEATRICE Well, she was only at the beginning of her first month when it happened. They hadn’t told anyone that she was pregnant. Then, she lost it. I don’t know what I would do if….


It won’t. (A beat.) So how do you know all of this?


When I was in middle school and you were out one day, Mom and Dad didn’t realize that I was home, and were talking about it in the kitchen. I heard their conversation from my room. I told Dad later that I’d heard it, and he told me about it. And ever since? That was the end of it. They planted this tree for her.


For Connie. Our little sister.


(Beatrice and Aimee are facing each other, and Beatrice takes Aimee’s hand for a second. A beat.) BEATRICE What are we going to do about all of this? The tree? The house? AIMEE I think we need to take care of it. It’s practically all that’s left of our family, that and us. BEATRICE So it’s back to Mineapolis where it all started? AIMEE Is it fair to my family though? I know it’s what we need to do for ours, but what about my husband? The baby?

BEATRICE Our family is your family. Your husband, your baby... this is their family. AIMEE I have to at least ask him. See how he feels about moving. BEATRICE


AIMEE The tree and the house need to be saved. And so do we, Beatrice. We need to stay close, and keep our families close. I’m going to have a baby soon, and some day you will too. Our families need to live here, to be close to one another. There’s plenty of room for all of us. BEATRICE If there’s not, we can figure something out. We can pass the house down. AIMEE

And the tree. And the pear tart recipe.


(Aimee laughs. A beat. Beatrice looks up at the tree.)

The pears are ripe.


(Aimee crosses over and reaches for a pear, and takes it out of the tree. She takes a bite, and passes it to Beatrice, who also takes a bite. They walk offstage. BLACKOUT.)

Part IV:


Elementary School

The beginning of first grade was a very scary day for me. It was my first day starting at public school, and it was much different from the very close-knit environment at JCC kindergarten. I waited for the school bus with my sister at the corner of my street with my sister Dana, and as I got on, I was frightened by just the noise coming from at least twenty kids, most of whom were much larger than I was. Dana picked a seat for us towards the back of the bus, near where all of her fellow fifth graders were sitting. The whole ride to East Hills, I sat quietly watching patiently out of the window as my sister laughed with her friends. Once I got off the bus at my new school, a dark brick modern building, I was directed inside to find my teacher. Mrs. Bleckman was wearing a pink acetate dress with puffy sleeves that I still remember to this day; she led the single-file line of first graders upstairs to the classroom. The first grade area was one large room with walls that had the same brick as the outside of the building. Walls of lockers divided the three separate rooms. Mrs. Bleckman directed us to sit on the floor at the front of the room near the blackboard, and she sat on a stool. “Who was here for kindergarten?” she said. One of my classmates, Minrose, shot her hand up in the air. She knew what was going on, and had already been talking to some of my other classmates. Was I missing something? Almost everyone had already been there the year before, and I was alone. Mrs. Bleckman started to tell us about first grade, and went over our schedule. I listened quietly while fidgeting on the floor, my least favorite place to sit. I am surprised that I wasn’t more afraid then than I actually was, looking back on the fear of beginning a brand new school with a totally different feel. Despite all of this, I managed to do well in first grade. Second grade was one of my favorites of all of my elementary school years. My teacher, Ms. Stokan, was among the nicest that I had, and there were many interesting rituals that were part of the class. Her reward system, the star system, was a very basic idea. For every good thing that we would do, we earned one or two stars; for a demerit, stars were taken away. Every fifty stars, we would have a hastily prepared “fifty star party”. Considering all the work that they required, the star parties were always a bit of a let down. Occasionally, we would each receive a cookie, or maybe be allowed to play with blocks. Of all the star parties that we had, I can most remember playing with the blocks. I sat with my friend Richie on the floor, and we connected the bright, tile-like wood pieces into new shapes. Six triangles made a hexagon; squares could be arranged around a hexagon to create a new, made-up shape. It was a sec-

ond grade mosaic. Sometimes in math class we were allowed to play with these very blocks, while being told what they were, and learned about rhombuses and trapezoids. Richie and I still enjoyed playing with the blocks, even though it was like being shafted a star party by being told to do math activites. When the ten minutes were up, the room went alive with second graders picking up blocks and putting them back into their bags. Someone always left one in the corner for me to stare at for the rest of class. I always have thought that third grade was the best year of my life. By then, I had established friendships, and began to learn more complex things. We started cursive, portfolios, and writing longer compositions. It was that year that I started to read a lot, reading longer chapter books, and really getting into them. I was up late often reading my favorite book, The Phantom Tollbooth. I mostly remember from that year learning writing with Mrs. Levy. We were introduced to the ideas of having writing portfolios, and had a checklist of types of assignments to do. Reports involved researching and writing, as well as using colored pencils to make a cover for the whole report. The process took days, even though looking back it was simple. Sometimes, the class would read an anecdote from a reader and write a response to it on loose-leaf paper. I can still remember turning in my loopy, disconnected cursive. Mrs. Levy put them up on a bulletin board in the hall, on the off chance that a passer-by would read some of our work. Totally finished final copies were mounted on construction paper that came in a slew of different colors. I can still remember the end of the year; the classroom was situated on a sunny side of the building, and the June light drifted into the cracked open windows. We stapled cover sheets to our colorfully framed brainchildren, and checked off one entry at a time. I finished checking off the last piece, slid it into my portfolio, and felt a wave of satisfaction of finishing the third grade. The years to come weren’t nearly as gratifying. Grade four was a disappointment to say the least. Taking the yearly first day of school picture in the fall of 2000 was exciting, but when I got to school that day, I immediately realized that this year, my first of being one of the older kids, was going to be dull. We were separarted into our homeroom classes, which at the time was very important; the whole class had the same schedule. I breathed easily when I was sorted into Mr. Papa’s class, the one rumored to be the best. Everyone looked exactly the same, which was strange, because we didn’t look as old as I had remembered past fourth grades looking. It was a very odd perspective, growing up and not looking any older. Reading class was slow misery, and it happened to take up the majority of the morning. The only real exciting part of the whole year was when two of my classmates got into a fight. We were

coming downstairs from French class, and a girl had won the poster that my teacher used to show us the different names for the parts of the body. She was holding it proudly, until a boy decided it would be funny to poke a hole in l’estomac with his pencil. The girl was on the verge of tears, and with one hit, they started to brawl. Everyone else in the room did the usual reflex and spread against the walls of the room, forming a circle around the two that were fighting. It was almost like in a cartoon, when two characters that were fighting would be enveloped in a ball of body parts and hundreds of lines, supposedly showing the action in what they were doing. It was only a few minutes until a teacher came in to break them up, but it’s still something I remember vividly. Fifth grade was a swift year that ended as quickly as it began. The most memorable parts were the end of the year, when there was a series of fun events that were the end of our whole elementary school career. There was traditionally an end of the year camping trip that was hyped up for the whole year. Immediately after returning, the fifth graders graduated. There were several meeting with the teachers when they told us everything about the trip, and told us all of the specific rules of the camp that we would be staying at. It was made out to be a place in the wilderness with tents and campfires. However, when we got there, we learned that it was quite the opposite. It was a Christian summer camp that they opened for us in June. The cabins had linoleum floors, fluorescent lighting, and air conditioning; there was a creek, but we did most of our swimming in a pool. The most vivid part of the whole trip was the night that we slept there, we had a bonfire in an empty field. It was cool outside, and the ground was dry. The fire and stars lit the field as we roasted marshmallows and ran around, chasing each other. It was the ultimate recess that we had been waiting for all the years that we had been at East Hills.


When it was nearing the end of December, my mother and father started making plans with my cousins for New Year’s Eve. They were a bit more serious about it than we were. My dad was only into it as an excuse to take time off work. We drove to York, Pennsylvania for the celebration on December 31st just to spend the night, or the day before, and my aunt Andi would usually cook for us. After dinner, I played with my cousin Hannah and talked about the holiday. I wasn’t sure how the ball dropped or why, but I was excited. Would it explode when it hit the ground? What if people were standing on it? Why on Earth do they drop the ball if they need another one next year? I didn’t dare asking any of these questions, as I didn’t want to seem ignorant. My big sisters bet me that I couldn’t stay up until midnight, but I knew I would prove them wrong. If there was anything I could do, it would be keeping the ability to stay awake; I wasn’t much of a sleeper. At about eleven, my aunt served snacks, which included chips with dip made from onion soup mix. It seemed as though people did everything possible with onion soup mix except, naturally, make onion soup. Dad and my uncle Jon announced that they would be making milkshakes to bring in the New Year, as was the tradition when they were growing up. They got out milk, ice cream, and chocolate syrup, and the blender; it was like they were kids again. My dad scooped out what seemed to be a humorously large amount of vanilla ice cream, and Jon poured the milk in, and drizzled over the chocolate syrup. With a quick throw of the switch, the blender let out a guttural roar, and the contents inside swirled about the sides. Jon poured it into two glasses, and together, my father and he tried their concoction. “How is it?” I asked. My dad and uncle laughed and took more big sips from their glasses and looked at each other. “Awful,” my dad said. “You definitely shouldn’t try any,” said Jon. As gullible as I was then, I still knew that they were kidding, and enjoyed a New Years’ Eve milkshake. Another holiday that was a big deal for my family was Passover, a Jewish holiday that celebrates freedom, which takes place in the springtime. The holiday lasts for a week, over which the consumption of bread and all leavened food is forbidden. However, the most memorable part of the whole holiday was the ritual festive meals on the first and second nights of the holiday, the Seders. My father would take time off from work, and as a family, we traveled to my grandparents’ house outside Philadelphia near Valley Forge. We walked in the front

door to a house full of Aunts, Uncles, and Grandparents, all preparing to begin the Seder; we were always the last family to arrive, as we came all the way from Pittsburgh by car. I greeted my cousins, and we talked about our expectations of the meal; we discussed matzo ball soup, brisket, and my grandpa’s usual strawberry shortcake that he made for Passover. However, when it came time to sit at the table, I sat with my closest cousin Hannah. She lived in York, PA, which was much closer to Pittsburgh than Philadelphia; therefore, we visited a lot. We sat down, and immediately opened the Haggadah, the book that had the order for the Seder. I dog-eared the page that marked when the festive meal was to be eaten- an agonizing thirty pages in. Hannah and I filled our wine glasses with the cough syrup-like wine that was used for the all of the Jewish holidays. The Seder started, and the adults went around the table and read passages, until it came time to do the next thing. After a few minutes, we dipped our parsley in salt water two times. Everyone ate it, but I put mine down on my plate; I really hated parsley. More and more we read and said blessings, until it was time for the part I had been dreading. It was time for the youngest child, me, to sing the four questions. I felt my cheeks heat up as the adults looked around the table to scope out who the youngest was. Hannah aptly refused to let me shrug off the questions, so I was stuck. I started making excuses. “I don’t know them,” I said. “Just sing the first few words, and we’ll join in,” said my aunt. “I don’t know how to sing,” I said. The fear of being put on the spot in front of my whole family was intensifying. I sang the first word, and almost within the second syllable, my whole family picked up in a loud chorus of the four questions. The heat was off, the fear was over, and the Seder went on. We went through more liturgy and wine, and Hannah and I snuck in an extra glass of wine. The table started to pass around small white disks that looked like sliced potatoes, and I put one on my plate and looked at it. “What is it?” I asked. “It’s really sweet,” said Naomi, my oldest cousin. “Just eat it whole.” I put it in my mouth, and it didn’t taste like much of anything. “Keep chewing,” she said. I chewed up the mysterious vegetable until suddenly, I felt fire on my tongue. The fire spread onto the roof and back of my mouth, and I let out a little scream. My grandfather, who was about to say the blessing over the bitter herbs, shushed me. After a few more blessings, my finger grazed the folded down corner of the page where at the top, “The Festive Meal” was written in large bold font. Each year, my birthday came after a full, fun summer. Usually, I was at my family’s house in New Hampshire. There was generally a cake, ice cream, and perhaps a neighbor might have come to join in the festivities. I was not used to having a birthday party that kids

my age were having at bowling alleys, Chuck E Cheese, or in backyards. One year, it turned out that my family was in Pittsburgh for my birthday. The memory I have of this celebration, combined with that of my parents’ anniversary, was very pleasant. I must have been four or five, which means that my parents were married for fourteen or fifteen years (as my mother reminded me, I was born on their tenth anniversary, which made a very simple formula for me to figure out how many years my parents had been married for). There were hot dogs, hamburgers, and balloons in my driveway, and I still recall walking down my driveway at the brink of dusk, balloons tied to the drainpipe, and a plastic golf club that I received for my birthday in my hand. There was family at this celebration, and it was one of the first birthdays I can remember.


Some people have been told or can remember what foods they ate in their infancy, whether ground up peas or carrots struck their fancy. At the drop of a hat, they could tell you their toddler snacks, and first grade lunches. However, the earliest information I have of what I consumed as an infant was actually about how I drank. I had been using a bottle since my birth aside from being nursed, until my first birthday. As an infant, my mother told me that I was adaptive and easygoing, and was willing to cope with change, and liked to sleep. It was the day after my first birthday, and I sat at my high chair, enjoying a meal, as well as sipping on a bottle with juice in it. My mother told me that my dad walked in, and saw me using the bottle, and he said, “He’s too old to be using a bottle!” My dad then took the bottle from the high chair as I put it down, opened it, emptied it’s contents into a sippy cup, and threw out the bottle. He put the sippy cup into my hand, and I seemed not to notice. My sisters were not so easy to please. The oldest, Laura, used a bottle for a while, and missed it when my parents finally decided to make her stop using it; Dana had a similar, but not as rocky transition, from what I’m told. Otherwise, I ate a lot as a kid. My parents never seemed to have a problem getting me to eat; I was a sort of chunky kid. In the midst of my impartialness, I still had one snack in particular that I really enjoyed. This snack grossed out my sister, and was perhaps the least possible healthy thing to eat, but sometimes, I would be allowed to partake. The snack, of course, was American cheese dipped in mayonnaise. Dana was literally afraid of mayonnaise. She wouldn’t eat it or touch it, nor could she bear to see it handled. Ironically, it was a childish fear that wouldn’t leave. The only time should eat mayo was when it was in tuna salad, and someone else would have to add it in for her.


As most children did, I colored a whole lot in kindergarten and preschool. The easiest and least messy medium was crayons on construction or printer paper, so there was certainly a focus on it. When I could read, I got a thrill from reading what all the different colors were called. Sometimes, we were given images with outlined pictures, and had to color them in with whichever colors we chose. Some kids in my class would finish with pictures that looked professionally done, with colors that complemented each other, and were well chosen; my pictures looked more like Jackson Pollack paintings. I tried to choose the colors opposite from what the subject would look like in real life. Grass turned out red, and trees had pink stumps. Sometimes, I would attempt to blend colors expertly, and ended up with a lot of brown. I would make theses combinations over and over, hoping that the yield might change and be instead something more aesthetically pleasing. However, purple and yellow always created a rather murky-looking brown. With the short attention span that I had, I soon became really sick of crayons. The way that the line could never be perfectly solid, and always included the texture of whatever I colored over got old. The sticky, waxy residue on my fingers became perpetual with the daily crayon coloring time that we had each day at school. When my teacher opened the cabinet to get the paper and crayons out, I always caught a glimpse of the bright, colorful bottles filled with paint. All I wanted to do was try it out once, and make posters like the ones that the older kids made, with neatly, evenly fields of rich color. The different colors could blend cleanly and with complete control. Occasionally, I would ask if I could use the paint, but my teacher always say, “No, it’s too messy for you!” This distrust in my abilities to be neat with paint upset me, and made me want to paint a little bit more. Finally, one day, I sat down at the filthy art room table that was dark from all of the past projects. The bottles of paint sat on the table, along with plastic dishes, and clean, white pieces of paper at each seat. My eyes lit up with the giddiness of a young child, who had just eaten a large amount of sugar. “We’re going to be finger painting, kids!” said the teacher. I wasn’t sure what finger painting was; would we be making pictures of our fingers? It didn’t sound exciting, nor was it what I envisioned when I imagined myself painting. My vision included an easel, a canvas, a palate, and a fine paintbrush, not to mention a masterpiece in the works. My teacher started to demonstrate how to finger paint. She took one of my classmates hands, and dipped it into the crimson paint that was on the plastic dish, as if his hand were her paint brush. She took his finger and pressed it onto the page, and drew with it a bit. She

held up the paper, and it now had a red happy face, beaming at us, while my classmate looked puzzled at his red hand. I turned to my friend beside me, and promptly dipped his hand in the green paint, starting to draw grass on the page. The teacher scolded me, and reminded me to use my own fingers, not someone else’s. After that first setback, I began to gingerly dip my fingers into the cool paint. I pressed my finger to the page and examined the image that it made, with all of the lines of my fingerprint spilling across the paper in green. I ended up not creating the life-like masterpiece that I had envisioned, but instead, a bright outside scene with the thick lines created by my pudgy hands. I learned even more about the arts in the second grade. My teacher was a fanatic exballet dancer, and the class could see her enthusiasm when she talked about the arts. Each week, we learned about a new artist, and looked at pictures of his/her work. Among our studies included old masters like Da Vinci, as well as radical newer artists like Georgia O’Keefe, although we didn’t quite go into the specifics on what her work represented. The most memorable artists I remember learning about were Henri Matisse, as well as Pablo Picasso, both of whom created images that I had never seen anything like. I had never heard of an artists departing from reality, but instead painting what they saw in the world, showing an interpretation of reality, rather than a copy. I soon realized the talent in showing things that were new, different, and creative. Art history was probably one of my favorite parts of the whole second grade curriculum. My teacher was also very enthusiastic about teaching us about dance. She arrived to school one day carrying a box full of things she had yet to show us. Finally, when it came time, she taught us all about ballet, and the discipline and practice that it required. This was the full extent of anything that I ever learned about dance, but it was a lot for a second grader. She passed around her old, beaten up ballet shoes, and explained to us what a dancer would have to do in them. I was shocked to hear that someone could stand on the tip of their toes, with no other padding but a bit of cotton, and proceed to move, gracefully. She advised us not to try it without taking a few years of ballet class first. She also showed us old, black and white photos of the Royal Ballet. Her enthusiasm reached a peak when she told us about the prestigious ballet companies that dancers trained years and years to be a part of. Was teaching just a second choice for her? Music was an art form that I became most interested in. Preschool sing alongs were the beginning of it all, when a lady would come in with a keyboard and play tunes as we sang along. The singing part wasn’t enjoyable, but I like the melodies. My dad bought a keyboard

for the family to share, and I took an immediate liking to it. I spent lots of time pouring over it, trying to invent many new tunes. Both of my sisters played instruments, and I wanted badly to find my own to learn about. It was then that my mother decided to enroll me in piano lessons, so that I could learn an instrument of my own.

thank you. I’d like to thank all of my teachers in Literary Arts, Ms. Cregan, Ms. Kovacic, Ms. McGranaghan, Mr. Oresick, and Mr. Arp for bearing with me through high school (especially ninth and tenth grade), for pushing me, and for teaching me to appreciate and love writing,

Baby Steps  

The collected works of Louis Liss

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