chocolate is a verb

colors, flavors, whims and other growing things

Monthly Archives: June 2011


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scarf shopThe day was colder than we had anticipated, a sharp bite to the breeze that pushed down the cobbled alleyways. We fortified ourselves with bright shots of espresso and gazed at the lavish displays of cheeses, prosciutto and salami, postcards and purses, multi-hued pasta, majolica tiles and the 12th-century frescoes covering the walls and vaulted ceiling of a small church.

We were cold. The shop promised warmth. It was tiny — the size of a bathroom — its walls a dense tapestry of color. Scarves and shawls were stacked on shelves, draped over rods, dangling from the ceiling. They fluttered and billowed where they were clipped to the open doors, a vivid enticement. Paisleys and plaids, prints and brocades, solids and stripes, luxurious fringes.

We touched the fabrics, unfurled shawls, held them up in front of the tiny mirror. The shopkeeper, a man perhaps in his 40s, pulled more scarves from the shelves. This one, he would say, draping a gaudy brocade around his own shoulders. No, no, I would say, searching for a way to explain simple, no pattern, in my tourist Italian. Reaching behind him, he found another, an impossible raspberry color, and looped it around his neck. I shook my head, smiled.

One after the next, he wrapped himself in shawls, turning to show the back, running his fingers through the fringe. He seemed to want nothing more than this, happy to have a small audience. When at last I had found and paid for my green striped scarf and he had settled it around my neck and we turned at the doorway to say grazie, he was grinning broadly, still mantled in layers of lush color.
scarf shop photo



honeymoon 1946It wasn’t until sometime after my mom moved out of her house, when I began in earnest to sort through the remaining volume of cartons and files and scrapbooks, that I came to fully appreciate the celebratory trail that our small family had left. It stretched across the 50-plus years that my parents had been together and then beyond, into the six years my mom and I remained, without my dad. In all those years, perhaps not more than a dozen occasions were celebrated with store-bought cards, and while we scoffed at the “Hallmarketing” of the holidays, we nonetheless used those same events as excuses for own exchange.

The trail begins here, with my parents’ first Christmas card, December 1946, which also celebrates their marriage. The slightly caricatured features — my mom’s red hair, my dad’s bald pate and cleft chin — were already in evidence and would recur in Dorothy’s drawings and cards through the decades. Here she’s crowned with a bit of holly, while the ball and chain around his ankle is decorated for the season.

This practice, this habit, these illustrations of emotions too complex to say aloud were a legacy to me. They mark every page in the unwritten picture book of our family history; more than anything else, they are a testament to creativity.

spell check…

spell checkSpell-check examines my secret thoughts, revealing the words I meant to say, if I had thought of them, issuing its gentle hand-slap for the unfamiliar, the made-up word.

The garden is problematic: the foetida irises [fetid, footed, feted, fêted], the heuchera [euchre, heather, hitcher, euchres, hatchers], the hosta [host, hosts, hosted, hostel, hostage], the rhody [rowdy, rod, Rhode, rhodium, Rhoda], the waterings [watering, catering, wateriness], and, as if knowing the impossibility of it, weedless [wheedles, weed less, seedless, heedless, needless].

Names are baffling, geography too troublesome to list. Even poor Dumbo has not entered Microsoft English [Dumb, Dumber, Gumbo, Jumbo].

But it baffles me that I am not allowed to say that the dawn or the day or the sky is untextured [untutored, unretired, unmetered, unreturned, undeterred], salmony [salmon, salmons, simony], fallish [fallfish, tallish…fallfish? what the heck?], peaching [poaching, preaching, perching, leaching, peaking] or even pelleting [polluting, piloting, palliating, deleting, plating].

Nor may the neatnik [beatnik, beatniks] mention things unpurchased [uppercased], secrets outed [ousted, outer, pouted, routed, touted] or outted [ousted, putted, outer, outdid, butted], or whipped cream dolloped [dollied, dollop, lollopped, do loped, followed].

How can I describe the journey without lostness [lustiness, looseness, listens, lushness, loathness]? the trail without turds [turns, turfs, surds, curds, torts]?

I cannot. I choose to ignore the squiggly red underscore. Ahhhh [Hahn, Hash, Hath, Ashy, Achy].

trying to write…

practicing the MöbiusMy father believed in the value of practice — that a thing could be understood, mastered, seen, with sufficient study and repetition. In his workshop he made sketches in pencil and crayon, and sometimes puzzled out a complex form in pieces of scrap lumber before setting chisel to wood.

The Möbius band, with its exquisite simplicity, appealed to his aesthetic sensibilities and his engineer’s precision. It was a form he contemplated and returned to for years, practicing its infinite curve in paper, rubber, metal, plastic and wood.

The sculpture eventually emerged from the sketches: a small stack of Finnish birch plywood, given to him by a friend, was glued and clamped into a solid block, then carved and filed and sanded and sanded and sanded to a glossy twist of magic. In his sketchbook, the finished piece is recorded in his neat engineer’s handwriting with a date (1986) and number (451) and a pencil sketch with an erasure that shows he was still mastering the geometry of the thing.

As I write, my tapping fingers twist another scrap of fabric into a Möbius of words, practicing, trying to understand, looking for the form, the beauty, the truth hidden within memory and mind.

LRK - Möbius 1986
In the top image, the sculpture in progress is shown third down in the middle row. The finished piece is 8.5″ x 12″.

trying to write…

Sitting Room 1993 by DAKI struggle along the boundary between truth and respect, truth and disclosure, story and withholding. I want to understand the stories, tell the stories, but I don’t want to besmirch or mock or even pity…myself or her. I want to show — simply, without exclamation points.

Do I respect her? Maybe not. I think she was a tragic figure who struggled to find her way out of a trap she couldn’t see, but her efforts only tightened the trap. I respect her optimism, which prevailed right up to the end and which she couldn’t help. I respect her art-making, though it’s part of her tragedy that she never really found or accepted her own vision or voice. Through her art, she kept trying on new costumes, not recognizing her reflection, discarding them and trying again, over and over for decades. I respect her aesthetic, her taste, her cooking. Her smile. Her pleasure in laughter, even if it was at her own expense.

But I fault her, I know, for her bad decisions, her coyness, her cluelessness disguised as self-awareness, her narcissistic mothering.

So the challenge of respect is to show her, to show us, without flattening her into caricature, without inspiring or conveying derision, without smearing her with blame and yet without neutralizing the acuteness of the experience. There are those who loved her and I don’t want to change anyone’s mind.

I have only my own story to tell, though she appears, as she might have hoped, on almost every page.
Sitting Room by DAK from Moments, A Retrospective Exhibition, 1993, SITE, Los Angeles, California. Lamp shade, chair, table, shoes.

how to write a recipe, part 1…

fragments…Kendra ~ 3

ElectroluxBefore Hamill and Lila moved in, a young woman had lived upstairs from Kendra. They had never met. Sometimes Kendra followed the faint sound of her footsteps out the door, then watched from the window to catch a glimpse of her, but the neighbor would turn in the other direction, away from Kendra’s view, or be lost under the large hood of her pea coat. She was an outline, as incomplete as her initial — V. — and last name on the mailbox.

Kendra never heard voices, music or the sound of a telephone from the apartment upstairs. What she heard was the vacuum. Every single day. The vacuum would roar to life shortly after 9 a.m. and plow back and forth, back and forth, across the carpeting in the bedroom, then into the small living room, clattering off the carpet onto the wood floor and into the corners, then thump over the sill to circle and circle the kitchen and finally back across the apartment to the bathroom, where it would vibrate over the tiles and finally power down to silence.

At first Kendra had thought the woman must have spilled something — sugar, talcum powder — then she imagined a posse of shedding cats. But after two weeks, Kendra resigned herself to the compulsive roar of the woman’s cleaning and decided that the V in her name stood for Vacuum. Some Sundays, lingering in bed with her tea and books, Kendra would watch the ceiling and try to imagine her neighbor’s life: white chenille bedspread, closet shelf stacked with vacuum bags, pea coat on a hanger.

The daily vacuuming went on for what, eight years? Nine? Then one day it was absolutely quiet and the next day Hamill and Lila moved in. When Kendra hinted for details, the manager shrugged and looked away.

V was gone. Her noise in its surrounding silence, her invisibility, gone. Kendra realized she was sad, disappointed really. She saw now that she had held some curiosity about the monotone drone of the woman upstairs. That she had hoped someday they would meet and V would reveal the secret that drove her ritual. But that would never happen now and Kendra turned to examine the droning rituals of her own life, imagined what the young couple downstairs must infer about her from the sounds she made.

In her slippers, she did a little tap-dance in the kitchen and laughed aloud.
Electrolux promo


sedum and thyme ~ 21 June 2011
Northern latitude wobble and swing, earth twirls her celestial reel. Inflated days, luxuriant with light, will now begin their creep toward darkness, warming into summer and shortening, slowly at first, imperceptibly, then the long plunge toward dark December. But today, this solstice morning awakens with sun glossing the treetops, cirrus wisps, sparrow song and a lemony profusion of sedum.

A Bowl of Words…fragment

shoebox“Hi baby, how’s your foot?” Rosemary asked. Rich had tweaked his ankle six months earlier playing racquetball and while it had healed without a problem and he’d been back to the game for nearly five months, his mother couldn’t quite let it go.

“Mom…Step…Away…From…The…Shoebox,” he boomed in his most threatening tone. Rosemary’s legs jerked slightly beneath the box, as if it might blow up in her lap.


“Um, Mom, maybe you should just set the box aside and I’ll come have a look at it.”

“Sweetie, it’s just pictures.”

“No, Mom, it’s not just pictures; it’s teenage angst and it’s stuff a boy never, ever wants his mother to see or know.”

“But Richie, you’re not a boy any more. For heaven sakes, you’re practically middle aged.”

“I wouldn’t go there if I were you, Mom. If I’m middle aged, what does that make you?”

“Well, semi-ancient, but that’s common knowledge. I’ve been semi-ancient since my hair turned white when I was 25.”

“Don’t change the subject.”

“So who is this girl?”


“Laura’s looked in it.”

“Mom!” Laura wailed.

“He wants to talk to you,” Rosemary said, passing the cell phone to her daughter.

“Oh nice, really nice, LaLa,” Rich said.

“Nice yourself, Richard. Our mother just turned her children against one another and she’s sitting on the front step looking like the Cheshire cat in a blue work shirt.”

“When did you look in the box?” he asked.

“Oh baby, I looked in that damn box almost as often as you did.”


“You know, stacking it with the other shoe boxes was brilliant, for a 14-year-old, but none of your other dress shoes came in boxes covered with skulls and nuclear waste stickers.”

“That was pretty smart of me,” he conceded.

“Yeah,” Laura said.

“But why? What did you care?”

“Richie, you were so clueless. I wasn’t interested in your Baywatch babe — although I have to admit I tried out some of her hairstyles and bought a red bikini, though I never had the nerve to wear it. I had a huge crush on Brian…”

“Brian? My buddy, Brian?”

“Yes, your buddy Brian…”

“But, LaLa, he was a kid to you.”

“What’s a few years when a girl’s found the perfect specimen? Maybe you never noticed, but he was the perfect specimen.”

“Yeah, that, and he was gay.”

“But we didn’t know that, and truly, from my worldly 16-year-old’s perspective, nothing could have persuaded me that he was anything other than my future husband.”

“God, you must have been crushed when he came out.”

“Actually, by that time, I was over him and was starting to lust after men Dad’s age.”

“Oh ick.”

“Oh ick yourself, screwball, you’re the age Dad was and I doubt that you’d spurn the advances of a hot 18-year-old. Um, listen Richie, I don’t want to change the subject, but Mom is slavering over your shoebox.”

“Slavering? Where do you get these words?”

“What do you want us to do with the box?”

“I don’t know. I don’t care. I really don’t remember what’s in there. Is there anything she shouldn’t see?”

“You expect me to remember?” Laura asked.

“I guess it’s okay. She can look in it.”

“Just wait til she takes a notion to clean the garage…”


“Gotta go, baby. Talk soon.” She snapped the phone shut.

“You’ve got the green light, Mom. But if I were you, I’d do this on the dining room table, not out here. The last thing we want is for this stuff to get whisked away on a breeze. Do you have any lemonade?”


shoebox photo

Father’s Day…

LRK gleaningWhen he was in his 70s, and then for about the last ten years of his life, my father was a gleaner. Once a week, sometimes twice, he would drive north into Ventura County, to the day’s target field, and gather by hand the produce that had been missed by the mechanical reapers. For a couple of hours, just ahead of the waiting plows, a small group of gleaners would gather broccoli or beans, celery or cucumbers, corn or carrots, potatoes or onions. If the produce was less than perfect, no matter; it was fresh and would be distributed by Food Share to food banks throughout the region.

The volunteer gleaners were allowed to keep some of their pickings. On his way home, with bits of soil still clinging to his clothes, my father would distribute his harvest to a few relatives and friends: a bag of lettuce, a handful of limes, a leafy and fragrant bunch of celery.

He had always been a gleaner, my father, gathering knowledge in the far-flung fields of his interests, then sharing his wisdom, his creativity, his protective nurturing. As I think of him, often, and today, Father’s Day, it’s his generosity, his spirit of abundance, that warms my memory — his faith that there would always be more at the source, and his great pleasure in giving.

Thanks, Papa.

What to do

What to do

What to do, page 2

Where had my mother gone, leaving me at home, sick, with such explicit instructions so diligently outlined from her rules in my child’s hand? And that stern ‘Pull down shades at night’ echoing what I wrote just a few days ago.
Oh the spelling, the syntax, the simplicity…


Sequoia Apartments and Mario's La Fiesta, Telegraph and Haste, BerkeleyIt was a good building, solid and old, its front door on the side street, Haste, and the apartments sprawled over storefronts on Telegraph Avenue. For no particular reason, I was slightly afraid of the manager, who became my boss when I took a cleaning job for a reduction in my rent. I vacuumed the halls and buffed the wooden handrails with lemon-scented polish, applying it liberally in an attempt to reduce the pervasive odor of old shoes. When people moved, I scrubbed apartments.

Mine was a tiny studio at the end of a hall with windows facing onto Telegraph Avenue. Directly below, on the Ave, was a Mexican restaurant. The aroma of Mexican food filled the apartment day and night, soaking into the walls and furniture. It wasn’t a bad smell, better than old shoes, but it was intense and persistent, like having a large animal in the apartment. Even if I baked bread, or chocolate chip cookies, their fragrance would be overlaid with tortillas and beans.

The shape of the place was peculiar and it’s likely that it had been cleaved from what was once a much larger apartment. To get to the tiny bathroom, which had a window facing onto a light well, you walked through the little kitchen and two very small closets.

When the riot police and National Guard occupied the rooftops across the street during People’s Park, Telegraph Avenue seemed very narrow and I was practically eye to eye with them, their gas masks and weapons making them fearsome and otherworldly, though they probably weren’t much older than I was. For a while, the Mexican food smell was forgotten as the peppery tang of tear gas found its way through the closed windows…
photo by Avi Morgan

trying to write…

journalsBeginning with my grade-school diary, with its padded aqua cover and tiny key, I kept journals. I was my mother’s listener, the silent one, and found in my journals a listener of my own.

In the earliest books, my language was stilted, my handwriting changed from entry to entry and my days were measured by the people who had been in them. But gradually, the writing gained confidence and the words gushed down my arm onto the paper.

At a workshop in Italy a very few years ago, with decades of journals lining my shelves, Phyllis Theroux had this advice for journaling: look for the light. It was a revelation, as my books had always been a bleak, indulgent recording of the very darkest corners of my personal hell of the moment.

Returning home, I took on the task I had attempted before without success: purging my journals. Tossing myself into the murky flood of my handwritten books, their pages crinkled with the pen’s impression, I found pained bleating, repetitive moaning — the exhausting misery of someone I did not recognize as myself. Thousands and thousands of unilluminated words failing to capture beauty, ideas, inspirations or questions, spewing agony instead of ecstasy. My hand’s habit was darkness.

So I slogged my way through the pages, letting the rain of memory streak across me. Take away the moaning and little was left: a few pictures, some art notes and sketches, a lot of dreams, the rare morsel of insight or graceful turn of phrase. Those were preserved, transcribed; everything else went into the shredder, which I filled and emptied into the compost bin and filled again.

It had been good, perhaps, to have a place to vent, but that old angst would not help me or anyone else now. There was a sense of releasing an earlier version of myself, of trusting the person I had become, of turning over the soil to ready it for planting.

In morning’s light, I began to sow.


Horseshoe ~ before

Horseshoe ~ during

Horseshoe © j.i. kleinberg
Horseshoe © j.i. kleinberg 2011
second-hand shoe, thrift-store horses, fabric paint
created for the annual Stilettos on Parade at 12th Street Shoes, Bellingham, Washington
Postscript: Horseshoe tied for ‘People’s Choice’ award with Fairy by 2-year-old Kayleigh Finnegan.

in the dark…

vintage Econolite Mother Goose night lightMy father sat reading in his big chair in the living room, enveloped by the warm glow of the lamp, feet up on the ottoman, library books stacked at his side. I kissed him goodnight.

“Close your curtains,” my mother would say. “Be sure to close your curtains.” From the clumped gather of cotton fabric at the right side of the wide window, I drew the curtain across the lower rod to the center, peering over the top at what might be outside concealed by the darkness. Then the left side. Then the top, left side and right.

Turning off the glaring overhead light, I changed into my pajamas in the darkness, felt my way to the bed and crept under the covers. On the chest of drawers next to the bed was a nightlight — my “diddle” — with a top like a little circus tent and a celluloid barrel painted with a cat and a fiddle and a cow and a moon that would revolve with the heat of the bulb inside. I turned it on and waited for the monsters.

After a while, my mother would come into my room and inspect the curtains for gaps, casually rearranging the fabric where the gathered panels met — at the center, at the edges — as if this was a matter of design, aesthetics, beauty, rather than a mantra against unseen terror.

She kissed my cheek, pulled the little chain to extinguish the nightlight, and left the room, closing the door behind her.

Eyes wide, I stared at the perfectly-draped window, certain that I was visible to the grasping creatures outside. She had told me about them: kidnappers, men who would offer me candy, who would touch my body. I couldn’t be too careful. They were everywhere. Especially outside my bedroom window.

I listened for a telltale footfall on the long flight of wooden steps that led from the back patio to the porch outside my room. At every creak and scratch I stopped breathing. At every sigh of the settling floorboards I waited, willing myself invisible.

I pictured them: hunched and twisted, grotesque and gap-toothed, reaching and staring.

I dreamed of wolves…
vintage night light photo

what remains…

Mt. St. Helens from Johnston Ridge ObservatoryWhen Helen blew her top, I wasn’t running for my life, driving foot-to-the-floor against impossible odds, clinging to a tree blasted by the pumiced wind. I wasn’t buried, or even dusted, with ash. I stepped out the front door of my Seattle storefront studio and walked a half block to the freeway overpass where I could watch in awe and fascination the growing plume.

This weekend, visiting for the first time the scarred landscape of the mountain, my fascination is undiminished. She was no saint, this mountain. But then she wasn’t named for the cross-seeking, church-building, alms-giving mother of Constantine. George Vancouver named his ‘discovery’ for his friend, the diplomat Alleyne Fitzherbert, Baron St. Helens.

Standing a handful of miles from the crater some 31 years from her big blow — adjacent slopes re-greened with fast-growing firs, a foursome of elk dozing in the grass — one reaches for superlatives to describe the still-evident devastation and finds that they’ve all been used.

What’s left is the eye’s sweep across the impossible, the imagination’s replay of the inconceivable, and awe.
Jeff Hollett photo taken July 10, 2010


…such a Spring word, the ground disgorging green and more green, the air fat with moisture, the birds operatic in the lush flood of leaves. The credulous eye, the fecund hands, the tumescent heart.


She smoothed the front of the velvet shirt, letting her hands skim the silky nap down from her shoulders, over the round rise of her breasts, down to the turned hem at the hip. She remembered the chinchilla, a small, warm weight in her hand, with fur so exquisitely soft that it had no texture — the quintessence of softness. She thought of her grandmother’s mink coat, threadbare and finally deconstructing to its stitched panels, thrown over the big chair where she would sit reading for hours, petting the glossy tatters of fur.

Her hands were hungry, reawakening, longing for touch. Perhaps it started in the hands. Or perhaps it was just what she would allow, the defensive gates still drawn neatly across the doorway. The hand reaches out between the protective bars, vulnerable, empty, seeking.

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