Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Xmas 2013

How was my Christmas Day?
Thanks for asking.
I rise with alarm, make tentative love (Back ache. Try to remember I can't shovel snow like I could even last year.)
Dress. Two strings of beads, one green, one red, for the day.
A sudden hug causes accidental tip-over in kitchen. Slam into stove, moisten pants, but Jack & I both okay.
Breakfast as usual. Fresh strawberries, blueberries, banana slices, assorted nuts slathered with Greek yogurt. Slice of Ezekiel bread toasted with peanut butter. Coffee with heated milk.
Read OMAHA WORLD-HERALD. Only two comic strips, Doonesbury and Get Fuzzy, have no Xmas theme.
Exercise to Mannheim Steamroller's Xmas carols.
Find an area rug to replace the skimpy towel on the front porch, a Xmas present for Jack's two feral black cats that eat and drink there. Don't tell. He's breaking the law.
Fill bird feeders.
Sandwich for lunch. Fresh organic grapes and cherries.
Listen to Jack sing "Deck the Halls with Moe and Curly" and recite "'Twas the Night before Solstice," his parodies.
Want to walk outside but it's gray and windy. Postpone working out on the treadmill. After all, it's a holiday.
Work on Hoffa book. Doing research on Josephine Poszywak who married Hoffa, a clear case of opposites attract.
Salad for supper. And ice cream, a splurge.
Read Colin Wilson's THE CRAFT OF THE NOVEL, to Jack. We talk, and laugh about PAMELA. What a break through!
Do dishes. Put pills in little boxes for next week.
Read two more "father" poems from Sharon Olds's STRIKE SPARKS. She's terrific. I've never been so moved by death-of-a-parent poetry since Allen Ginsberg's "Kaddish" blew me away.
Collected my good night hug and went to bed.

That's how my Christmas Day was. How was yours?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Engaging Answers

Where were you when President Kennedy was killed?
Here's some engaging answers written by compeers.

Country school with no tv. The neighbor called to say what happened.

LaRayne Meyer Topp
Nebraska Writers' Guild

I was in my 1st grade room when the principal announced it over the loud speaker. We cried.

Nancy Nielsen
Nebraska Writers' Guild

I was on a bus going to Kansas City when in Topeka a young man came running up and started pounding on the door. The bus driver wouldn't open the door but finally the boy yelled the news loud enough for us to hear. Someone then pulled out a small transistor radio and we all listened the rest of the way.

Charlene Neely
Nebraska Writers' Guild

My class had just returned from lunch. The principal abruptly put a radio station on the intercom, saying, "The President has just been shot." We never changed classes the rest of the afternoon. We sat and listened to impossible news. Impossible? We were studying "Macbeth." Students had said things like, "Nobody kills kings." They never said that again.


David Prinz Hufford
(find David's poetry on Barnes & Noble or Amazon)

I was sitting in my living room in California watching a rerun of "I Love Lucy". I had a three year old at my feet and I was feeding my five month old. The Lucy episode was of a gutted television set with Lucy crouched inside it. She said, "We interrupt this program to bring you a special report" Almost immediately the television flashed Walter Cronkite with the same message. I had to take a double-take to understand it was real. I was a basket case the rest of the day. Bawled my eyes out.

Frieda Dryden
Author of:
Leonard's Wife, Misty's Child
Evil Seed, Trailer Trash

 I was a Freshman at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, just leaving my final class of the day, American History, when I heard people saying, "the President's been shot."

"That just can't be," I thought, but more and more people were saying it was true, so I rushed toward the dorm, to get to a television, fearful, needing to find out what was going on.

I'll always have the shock of hearing of Kennedy's assassination accompanied with hearing  bells, the library bell ringing overhead signaling time for the next class to begin.


Kay Golden

This is Ralph's memory of meeting JFK June 1963 in England:

Transcending all though is my own memory from June, 63 of the few moments experience of the dazzling smile, the sheer personal up close aura, the firm handshake and the quick exchange of a few sentences of wit and wisdom with the man himself.

Kennedy had taken time out from his visit to Eire to visit the Chatsworth Estate in Derbyshire, home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire to whom he was related by the marriage of his sister Kathleen. She died here in an air crash either late in WW2 or just after, and her grave is in the churchyard of Edensor, a village on the estate.

All local press in the region were told at fairly short notice, which included the group I was training with, Formans, whose main titles were The Nottingham Evening Post and the morning Guardian Journal. Nottinghamshire is the next county east of Derbyshire.

The photographer whose bags I carried hauled me out of the darkroom saying: "This is your chance to see President Kennedy!"

We sped along as he explained why and joined about 40 others in a press pound a few yards away from the church gate.

There was soon a whump-whump of helicopter rotors and two landed a short distance away.

A small knot of men, some uniformed, others in "plainclothes" suits formed from the machines, then more than five detached and walked towards the church and us.

One lone figure clearly gestured the rest should wait and became quickly recognizable as JFK.

He walked to the church gate and went inside. Emerging awhile later he paused for us at the gate then headed our way, waving the obvious Secret Service men to stay put.

Reaching us he said something like "Hi, thanks for coming along, gentlemen." 

He then looked at me, put his hand forward and said; "You look very young to be involved in all this."

From somewhere inside I found a calm voice pitch, shook the hand and said; "I'm learning about it, sir. I've heard a lot of people say you look very young to be in your job too!"

The eyes flashed and he laughed and replied, "It's never to soon to be a journalist! Good luck it's an honourable profession. Maybe I'll be doing it again if I don't get reelected next year!

With that he stepped back, posed briefly again and walked back to the other men.

Ralph Stephenson
(his photos can be seen on

Friday, November 22, 2013

Nov. 22

Where were you  today, Nov. 22, in 1963, when JFK was assassinated?

I perched on a stool at a curved wooden bar in a dark New York City tavern. My long-legged boss, Patricia "Pat" Chapman and I were running late, so we ordered beers and sandwiches. Our beers slid into place.
A blaring TV hanging above us featured "As the World Turns." Pat and I groaned at the low-class fare, then laughed. 
Our sandwiches came. We munched down.
Above us, Thanksgiving provided a crisis for the TV soap.  "Nancy" tried to bring "Grandpa" up to date when a CBS News Bulletin broke through. Walter Cronkite's voice said, "Three shots fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in Dallas." My head snapped up. "Seriously wounded." I struggled to believe this.
Pat stood and fumbled with her purse. "Come on," she said. 
Cronkite's voice continued: "Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy. She called, 'Oh, no.' The motorcade sped on." I wanted to howl in protest, but I had no time. Pat slapped cash down. "Let's move it!" Our lunch stayed on the counter.
We ran and jogged back to the office, Home Furnishings Daily (HFD), our handbags slapping our thighs. By the time we arrived,"seriously wounded" has changed to "dead." I felt glazed.
At HFD, sister paper to the famous Women's Wear Daily, I worked as a market reporter. Our trade paper appealed to buyers and makers of home furnishing products. 
Gender lines divided the paper. Men wrote the page-one stories that dealt with important products that women couldn't understand. Washing machines, for instance. Pat and I wrote inside stories for less significant items like wall decor and bone china.  
At her office desk, Pat divvied up the work. We turned to our phones. I called manufacturers and importers of dinnerware, asking each the same thing: "How will the president's death affect your business?" I found the question difficult to ask but jotting down answers proved even harder. 
Our routine reporting seemed distasteful. Kennedy, to me, had been larger than life, so asking how his death might affect business seemed crass and disrespectful. My body didn't stiffen, but inside, something congealed. 
That night, my husband, Tom Henshaw, a feature writer for Associated Press, called from the office. "We're putting together a book about Kennedy, all stops pulled. We want to be the first out with a hardcover book, but we need copy editors. Can you come down?"
So I put my feelings on hold and worked around the clock with the AP guys to produce The Torch is Passed. Heady with our achievement, whatever I might have felt about Kennedy's assassination disappeared.
Until now. Until I saw, on YouTube, in black-and-white the familiar face of CBS anchor Walter Cronkite detailing Kennedy's death. Then, I broke down. I sobbed, moaned, and keened for the young president that I had loved and lost to an assassin's bullet. For the smashing of his Camelot. For weeks and months that could have been.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Please give me some feedback on this scene from a long short story of mine called "Dorothy Parker's Writing Case." I can't decided whether the scene is anti-homosexual and should be dropped from the story. Or if it's more human than that and I should keep it.
Let me know what you think.

Robert's Viewing

 At the time set for the funeral home viewing, I noticed Mr. Martinez, the director, pacing under the St. Agnes canopy, so I knew something was up. He spotted me and rushed over, a fresh pink carnation wobbling in his buttonhole. "Dr. Zimmer, I want to warn you, things are a leetle beet unusual."
"Some kind of problem?"
"No, no. Just be prepared."
Mr. Martinez escorted me to the viewing room and gestured at the buzzing crowd inside. Wow! Guido, my dead brother's lover, must have rung up every number in Robby's address book.
I edged into a room full of cross dressers. I tried not to gawk, but I couldn't help staring at one she-male. She wore a see-through black blouse with a standup collar. Huge chunks of fake amethyst hung around her neck and from her earlobes. Arrows ran up her patterned thigh-high hose; her short black skirt exposed a glimpse of her buttocks. What a pavement princess!
Scanning for Guido, I followed the princess as she sashayed on six-inch heels toward Robby's casket. When we neared the polished wooden box, I held back. I saw that my little brother wasn't inside; some woman was. The Georgia peach ruffles of her ball gown overflowed the coffin's edges.
I turned to leave and bumped into a she-male in a white floor-length gossamer gown. It glittered like a waterfall. Inside stood Guido. I barely recognized him in his shoulder length blonde hair, a gardenia clipped to one side. 
"Trying to pass for a fairy godmother?" 
"Make a wish?" Guido brandished a silver wand. I pushed it away.
"We're in the wrong room," I told him.
He grinned, grabbed my arm, and marched me to the coffin. "You didn't recognize your own brother!"
I peered into the casket. When I saw Robby's face above a Georgia peach bodice smothered with rhinestones, I yelped and clutched my heart. My defibrillator kicked in, a painful jolt in my chest. I grabbed the coffin's rim, hoping not to faint, and sat gratefully in a folding chair someone opened. Around me, voices rose and fell like the chattering of a flock of sparrows.
I knew Robby was gay, but a transvestite? That made him seem like a changeling. Or maybe that fairy streak ran through his veins as he clomped in Mom's shoes, pulled her dresses over his head.
"Oh, Guido! You scared me," the princess said. "I thought you were Robert sprung up from the dead. Where are your roller skates?"
"I don't fit into his shoes, they're way too big for me."
"I know what you mean." The princess leaned over the casket. "Why, this doesn't look like her!" 
She dipped into her Coach bag, plucked a make-up kit, and dumped its contents on the casket's glossy lid. She opened a lipstick and spun out its color. When she leaned over Robby and touched his face, she jumped. "Oh my God, you're cold!"
I chuckled. What did she expect? "Mr. Martinez just took him off ice." 
The princess glanced at me. I cringed as she leaned down to redden Robby's lips.
"Oh, honey," the princess said to Robby, "what have they done to your hair?"
"Don't blame me! I brought a wig, but that old body snatcher wouldn't use it." Guido giggled. "I gave him Robert's dainties, too, but he said he wouldn't need no underwear."
I felt recovered enough to stand. Robby's blood red lips glowed. As for his hair, the undertaker had combed it forward to disguise his bald spot. Nothing wrong with that.
Then a skinny man dressed as a French maid, scurried up shaking her feather duster. She peered into the coffin. "Where's his wig?"
"We'll just have to make do." The princess pawed through her purse, then pouted. "I don't have any hair spray."
The maid cried to the crowd, "Oh my God, we ain't got any hair spray! Which of you bitches has got hair spray?"
A dozen cross-dressers rummaged noisily. Then a she-male in a black leather corset dress pulled a can from her purse and strutted to the coffin. The princess combed Robby's hair and sprayed it. 
I feel nauseous, no doubt from the shock of my defibrillator going off, so I moved away, eager to stop watching those she-males glam up Robby like a carnival doll.  
Guido, standing by the casket, called, "Where's the florals?" 
The transvestites quieted. None remembered flowers, but Guido waved his wand and Robby's friends, moving like a school of fish, left to shop. 
Alone, I sat next to a plain wooden lectern, hoping eulogies would start soon. I longed to say my piece and go home. 
Soon Robby's friends, covered with florals, poured into the room. The French maid, a red rose wreath circling one arm, cried, "We cleaned them out!" 
Like a schoolmarm, Guido used his wand to orchestrate the placement of each basket, spray, wreath, and bouquet. The room became a riot of color with fiery spears of red and orange gladioli, heart-shaped wreaths of red and pink roses, white calla lilies, bold yellow chrysanthemums, orange birds of paradise, and arrangements in peach, pink, crème, and lavender.
How had Robby merited this? How had he touched these lives to receive a viewing so exuberant, so full of love? 
In a flash, I envisioned my own demise, in an empty room, devoid of eulogies and florals. I shook my nasty thought away, and watched a short, heavyset nurse plug in a boom box. 
Some of Robby's friends sang and danced their good wishes to his corpse, while others fought about music. They booed "Killing Me Softly"—"who wants to be killed, any old way"—in favor of "Sugar Daddy" and "Two to Tango." 
Watching dancers twirl reminded me of a costume ball Dorothy Parker attended. She'd sat in the balcony watching hordes of young men dressed to the nines as young women. Finally, unable to bear it, she shouted, "Come on up, anybody. I'm a man."
At last, Mr. Martinez slipped through a side door and launched the eulogies with a canned accolade. Guido broke down while giving his. This crowd tied my tongue, but I resolved to speak honorably.
"This is a sad day," I said. "Robert's death was so sudden. When I heard the news, I could not believe it. My little brother was too young to die. However, I'm not here to grieve his life but to celebrate it.
"You probably know that Robert was quite a character. Oh, he had a serious side, but he did know how to joke. I'm grateful for the special moments he left me, and probably you. I'm sure he will live on in our hearts and minds." 
To my surprise, my voice caught when I turned toward the coffin and said, "Robert, you are gone too soon, and you will be missed."
A hefty fellow in a swashbuckler's hat spoke next. The hat, trimmed in black lace and red satin bows, featured a towering ostrich feather which bobbed when the speaker moved. I found him hard to understand. He spoke about a Skatin' Kate, someone I didn't know.
"Remember that gorgeous white gown," he said. "Three-quarters length, of course, to highlight her calf-high roller rink skates. White leather."
Cheers and whistles erupted.
"Liked to skate in the Village," the swashbuckler continued, "particularly Christopher Street. It was her stage. 
"She'd twirl down the street, looking for a button-down square. Did she know how to pick 'em! She'd spot one, swoop down on him, tap his head with her wand, and cry, 'Abracadabra! You're a fairy.'"
The crowd roared with laughter.
Then the swashbuckler turned to me and shook his finger. "You should carve 'Skatin' Kate' on his tombstone, sir. I mean it! Hundreds of people know him that way."
Good God, was he talking about Robby? 
Guido wept again. Huge sobs exploded and tears rushed down his cheeks. That broke up the eulogies. The French maid slung her arm around Guido's shoulder, and they walked toward the door as Robby's other friends streamed out into the sunlight.
I couldn't move. I was reeling. I stayed until Mr. Martinez and I were the only people left.
Then I watched him lean over the rental casket, inspect the polished finish where the princess dumped cosmetics.  "Look at that!" I thought. "Figuring how much he can charge for scratches. Guess my little brother is going to stick me with one more bill before he goes." 
When I left, I saw Guido under the canopy talking with friends. I approached, and silence dropped. Compelled to speak, I said, "Guido, you know, when I told you to pick out clothes for Robby, I thought you'd choose a suit."
"For Robert?" he said. That broke the ice. 
"For his job interview," the swashbuckler said.
"More likely for his court date," the maid replied.
From the edge of the circle, someone called, "Initiate him, Guido!"
Other voices joined: "Go ahead, Guido." "Give him one for Skatin' Kate."
Guido did. He faced me, lifted that damn wand, tapped me on the head and cried, "Abracadabra! You're a fairy."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Big Grattan Shootout

My new book, THIEVES, RASCALS & SORE LOSERS, looks at some of the Dirtiest Deals in early Nebraska history. To my mind, the Grattan Shootout, a Great Plains fiasco, was even dirtier. But it didn't happen in Nebraska, so it's not in my book. Instead, I offer it to you here.

The Big Grattan Shootout

Soldiers at Fort Laramie, located on a bluff overlooking two rivers, kept tabs on the tens of thousands of people then using the Oregon Trail each year. It also watched over neighboring Sioux tribes. The old adobe brick fort, once a trading post for buffalo robes but now owned by the army, became a primary stop for travelers. 
The fort had been peaceful since 1851 when Congress appropriated $100,000 for a council or "Big Talk." Some 10,000 Indians showed up, the largest group ever gathered on the high plains. Whole villages of Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Crow, Shoshoni, and various Sioux tribes arrived with elders, kids, women, and an astonishing number of dogs and ponies. Their men parleyed with the 300 Americans: government officials, soldiers, missionaries, and frontiersmen. 
An amazing treaty resulted. The tribes agreed not to fight with one another, to live where the American officials told them, and not to molest wagon trains winding up nearby Oregon and Mormon trails. The Americans, in turn, promised to give tribes $50,000 worth of supplies, including guns and ammunition. This they would do each year for fifty years, a number the Senate slashed to ten.  
Three years after the treaty, on August 18, 1854, some 600 native lodges dotted the North Platte valley ten miles east of Fort Laramie. About 4,000 Sioux camped there. They'd come, as they had each year since the "Big Talk," to collect their U.S. supplies. The various Sioux tribes included Conquering Bear's Brulé Sioux camp with 1,200 warriors. 
As the tribes waited, a lame cow from a passing Mormon wagon train ambled into Conquering Bear's village. Its owner followed, saw hundreds of Sioux, and withdrew. 
When High Forehead, a visiting Sioux, saw the Mormon leave, he figured the cow had been abandoned. So he killed it. His family and friends helped him eat it. 
The Mormon went to Fort Laramie and reported the "theft" to the commanding officer, Captain Hugh B. Fleming. He summoned Conquering Bear, who offered to make amends.
"I can't replace his cow," he told Fleming. "My people prefer to eat buffalo, so we keep no cows. But I have a herd of sixty horses, and he may have the best pony out of my herd."
Ponies provided substantial wealth to the Sioux, so this proposal seemed generous. However, Conquering Bear didn't trust the translation of the fort interpreter, Lucien Auguste. Auguste spoke broken Dakota Sioux, not the Lakota Sioux spoken by the Brulé, Oglala, and Minneconjou bands in Conquering Bear's camp. Besides, the man seemed belligerent.
So did Captain Fleming. He refused the offer. "Bring High Forehead to the fort," he ordered Conquering Bear.
"I can't do that," the chief said. "High Forehead doesn't belong to my people. He belongs to the Minneconjou, and is a guest in my village. I can't make my guest come to the fort."
Fleming smarted. This redskin defying him? He'd be dashed if he'd let an old Injun call the shots! The treaty be damned! He'd see to High Forehead's arrest himself.
The captain chose hot-tempered, rash Brevet 2nd Lieutenant John L. Grattan, in his early twenties and fresh out of West Point, to arrest High Forehead. Moreover, Fleming gave broad powers to young Grattan, a well-known "headstrong package of inexperience." 
"With thirty men," the young man said, "I can crush all the Indians on the Great Plains."
The next afternoon, Grattan left with twenty-nine soldiers, a wagon, two twelve-pound howitzers or cannons, and the fort's half-breed interpreter, Auguste. On the ten-mile excursion to the Sioux camp, they stopped at nearby trading posts. The interpreter got soused, hollered threats at loitering natives, and ignored Grattan's attempts to quiet him. 
Auguste continued to shout obscenities as the soldiers advanced on the Sioux village of eighty Brulé and twenty Minneconjou tipis. He rode his horse up and down at a full gallop, as though he readied himself for combat. The Sioux knew a threat when they saw one.
When the soldiers entered the camp, Auguste called the Sioux warriors "women." A dismayed Conquering Bear urged Grattan to use the Brulé's translator. 
Instead the soldiers marched to High Forehead's lodge where the cow-eater stood in plain sight. Grattan ordered him to surrender, but he refused. He said he'd die first.  
Troubled, Conquering Bear and other chiefs offered more ponies and still more, until the Mormon could have his pick of five ponies from five different Brulé herds. The chiefs begged Grattan to wait for the Indian agent to arrive, but the hothead refused.
Outraged Sioux encircled the lieutenant and his soldiers. Women and children fled toward the river. A soldier fired. An Indian fell, but Conquering Bear cautioned warriors not to shoot back. 
"Fire the howitzer!" Grattan said. It missed the village, but mortally wounded Conquering Bear. When he slumped to the ground, High Forehead killed Grattan and the Sioux camp went wild.
The soldiers retreated, fighting a running battle, but before they could escape, they were dead except for one who made his way to the fort. Once there, he could say nothing. His tongue had been cut out. Auguste, the interpreter, perhaps?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Do men have areolas?

You know, those colored rings around the nipples.

Well, if you can't tell from casual observation, go on the Internet and find the answer: "Yes."

Men have areloas and they have nipples and they display them at will, so why don't they get arrested in Lincoln, Nebraska, the way women do? Women who show a nipple or an areola, that is.

Am I kidding? I wish I were. 

The newspaper saw this as a joke: "Nubile Nebraska Nudie Nabbed."

Police Chief Tom Casady did not. He ticketed women for violating the city's public nudity ordinance. He put it this way: "It's unlawful to be naked in public in Lincoln." 

Unless you're a man, he should have added.

The city ordinances call the sight of a female breast or nipple "an offense against public decency." Along with gambling, marijuana, toxic compounds, paraphernalia, spitting on someone, urinating or defecating in public.

Lincoln officials define "nudity," in part, as "the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering on any part of the areola and nipple." Unless the woman is nursing. How lactation reduces the impact of the indecent sight of a lewd nude female nipple is beyond me.

I see it this way: if Lincoln's going to insist on nipple cover-ups for women, the city should require boobie tassels for men, too. Plus fully opaque covering of the carnal male areola, be it small, big, puffy or flat. 

This brouhaha in Lincoln reminds me of a similar case in Hays, Kansas, in the 1990s. I wrote this poem, "The Provocateur," about that Hays law.


by Marilyn June Coffey

Here I live
in a town whose city dads decreed
a bare body, glimpsed though a window
against the law

Here they punish not he who glimpses
but she who bares the body
except in those rare cases
when baring a body in one's own home
might be justified:

say a matron rises naked
unexpectedly from bed
to dash to the phone
receive the news her pere
at 93 has 'passed away' 
as we put it out here

say her bare body
is momentarily glimpsed
that's not illegal

as long as it's not 'provocative'
explained the fathers

changing my definition of the term
from a woman spraddle-legged
on her porch swing, baring
'beaver' as we call it
or leaning out an open window
bare breasts supported by the sill
crooking a finger: 'psssst!'

to myself, 
trekking naked to the frig at 3 a.m.
suddenly again, after all these years
to him who glimpses me bare
momentarily illuminated
by my night light.

I recall with longing my early naked 
childhood freedom so soon gone
remember my adolescent gazing
at National Geographic spreads
where nubile girls grind grain in public
pert nipples pointing horizonward
where mothers nurse unabashedly
& grand dames swing their dual sacks
hung flat as empty pillow cases 
How I marveled at a life with no 'hurry up
get dressed, Daddy's coming up the walk'
Papa presumably unable to control himself
so I must do it for him.

Can't help but wonder
watching my male neighbor
catch the morning breeze 
on his bare torso
as he mows the lawn
can't help but wonder if
after next Friday when I rise
one-breasted from the surgeon's saw
the other but a tuck & scar
can't help but wonder if our 
city fathers will find it 
should I then strip to my waist
mow my lawn.

Published in The Breast, Global Press, City College of New York, October 1995.