NOW THAT I AM 85: My Little Husband and the New Year’s Eve Happening

From the dining car window, we watch the snow falling outside. We celebrate every lurch as the train speeds along. We order the Thai-style sea bass and a nice Merlot.

In the past, every New Year’s Eve my little husband has looked around at whatever party we have been invited to, and he has whispered to me: “New Year’s Eve, a person should not sit in one place, waiting for a new year to happen.   A person should be always in motion, helping along the year to finish up, helping it to jump ahead to the next one.” Always, on New Year’s Eve, he is dissatisfied and a little bit cranky. Even the fireworks do not comfort him.

Finally, this year, we are on a moving train, moving forward. He insists we must both sit on the same side of the table, so we would both be going in the right direction.

The waiter brings the wine. “I will make a toast!” my little husband says, raising his glass.

I raise my glass also.

Now he stands up. “When we buy us a ticket to go on the Amtrak, with money we earned by the sweat of our pants, then the New Year is not just something that is happening to us! We are happening to it!”

We drink. Some passengers at nearby tables have heard him. They smile and also drink, whatever they have handy.

“I couldn’t have said it better,” I tell him.

“And when that clock strikes midnight, and we are hurtling along, is there ever going to be some kiss!

He can still make me blush. I even wish a little that midnight would come faster.

The train stops.

The loudspeaker: “Your attention, please. Due to a problem with a motor, we will be making an unscheduled stop at this station for…approximately two hours. Until approximately one a.m. Passengers may wish to visit the station in the meantime, where souvenirs are for sale. Your Amtrak staff apologizes for the inconvenience.”

Rarely have I seen my little husband so silent.

As if he has died.

After a very long time, he says: “The movie we saw, the George Clooney one, about Brother Where Are You? What was the thing that blind man rode on? Where you push up and down?”

“You mean the handcar?”

“I would like to locate a handcar. Which I remember now is also called a Kalamazoo.

It is also for going down into the mines. But we would just want to go along the track.”

He hurries to the other end of the car and accosts the waiter.

The waiter looks very surprised and shakes his head. My little husband appears to argue. The waiter looks more and more upset, and shakes his head more. He is, I believe, trying to control himself.

When my little husband comes back, he says “Let’s go on the platform.”

We get my coat and his jacket and we stand outside.   It is snowing harder.

“Maybe snowshoes,” he says.

“I don’t know how to do that,” I say.

“Skis? I know you went on that rope tow with me. Always you hung on good.”

“That was maybe sixty years ago,” I say. “More. I must tell you I could not ski any more, even if we had the skis.”

He sees two boys, maybe teenage, who are playing with their skateboards under the canopy, where the snow has been shoveled away.

“Boys!” he says. “Would you be interested in lending your skateboards?”

They give him blank looks. “All right then,” he says. “Would you be interested in selling them at a reasonable price?”

They turn away and go into the station.

My little husband picks up some snow. He pats and pats it until it is a good snowball. Then with an outraged cry, he hurls it at the train, where it smacks against a window and falls back down, breaking into a million snow-pieces on the platform.

I am only joking when I say “I guess all that is left is: we could hitch a ride.”

But he becomes more furious.

Hitch a ride?” he fumes. “Hitch a ride? A person who does such a thing is a beggar! A supplicant! Never will we be beggars!”

“But sometimes, you pray. Like, ‘Baruch atah adonai, etcetera.’ And sometimes in the etcetera are you not a supplicant?”

“Well, maybe a little,” he admits. “But mostly I am a person that is making praise.”

“So – let’s be both,” I say.

We stand by the road.

We point our respective thumbs in the direction we and the train were going.

My little husband waves his thumb back and forth, at first a little bit reluctantly, then with increasing vigor and increasing enthusiasm.

Pretty soon he starts to smile, and the smile gets bigger and bigger as the snowflakes settle on his nose, on his curly hair, on the shoulders of his old leather jacket.

He is his joyful self again, waving, waving, and I start to think that maybe he feels he is personally, with his very own thumb, bringing in the New Year.


NOW THAT I AM 85: Drawing On The Right Side of The Brain On The Bus

NOW THAT I AM 85: Drawing On The Right Side of The Brain On The Bus

This is a true story.  My “little husband” stories are not true.  They are made up.

If you do not like true stories, do not read any further.

A few years ago was the first time I read the book DRAWING ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BRAIN, by Betty Edwards.

I hope that if you have not read it, you will, because it helps everyone to draw things if they want to.

For instance, if you take a photo of a person’s face, and turn it upside down and then  commence to draw that face, you will see its features so much more clearly than if the photo were right-side up.

Why is this?  Apparently it is because when we see the face right-side up, we tend to draw it according to our preconceived ideas of what a face ought to look like.  After all, we have seen a thousand faces, and we should know!

But when we turn the picture upside down, we can see that the face, its contours, its lines and bulbations were previously unknown to us.  (“Bulbations” is a neologism I just made, but probably its meaning is obvious to you.)

Now we see that this person’s eyebrows are close together in the middle of the face.  Moving outward from there, they lift slightly about half an inch from their outer edges, and then hurtle back down.  The left concurrence of the lips curls upward, while the right is an abrupt straight line.  The nostrils are not as interestingly modeled as we had thought.  The upside-down trick yields many surprises!

Also, if you concentrate hard on the “negative space” around, say, a spoon or a seated squirrel, suddenly you will be able to really, really see the spoon or the squirrel!

What does Ms. Edwards mean by “negative space”?  Well, just put the silver spoon down on a dark surface, and focus intently on everything around the spoon that is NOT the spoon.  See the lines and curves that separate the spoon from the not-spoon.  It takes a while, but it can be done.  (If I have failed to make myself clear, read the book; it is in practically every library in the whole world because it is so popular.   Also, it has a lot of pictures.)

But here is the serious part, and a warning.  She says that when you see someone’s face – not quickly passing on the street, but on the bus or train where you can look for a while – if you concentrate hard on the “negative space” around that face, at some point the face will become beautiful.  Every single one, she says, will appear that way to you, no matter how ordinary or even ugly it may have seemed at first.

So I tried concentrating hard and often, and it was true!

Every single face.

But the warning is this:

(“This is too wonderful for me…”)

On one bus, one day, I was focusing on one randomly-chosen face.  The person may have been middle-aged, old, young, clean, dirty – I don’t remember.

All I know is that at some point that face began to radiate, in an incomprehensible, unearthly brightness, a beauty that was, quite truly, unbearable.


I have never ever dared to do this practice again.

I still ride the bus every day, though, and look, idly, at the faces.
(My next shlog is entitled: My Little Husband and the New Year’s Eve Happening)

NOW THAT I AM 85: My Little Husband Has Gone to See an Analyst

Now I hear him at the front door, scraping his boots on the boot-scraper.

“So how did it go?” I ask.

“Fantastic!” He hauls off his boots, pulls off his backpack, plunks himself down on the recliner, and up go his feet. “Look what I have received!”

From his backpack he pulls out magic markers of assorted bright hues. He holds them up, a cheerful rainbow of colors. “These are the twelve tools of recovery!”

“They are very nice. Will you go back now once a week, twice a week, what?”

“I don’t have to go back at all!” he says proudly. “I have only to use the twelve tools with perfect faithfulness, and I am victorious!”

“My goodness!” I marvel.

“And it is a good thing, because she costs five hundred dollars a session.”

“You found a lady analyst?” I ask. (I have sometimes harbored ambitions toward that profession myself, because I have noticed that ladies are good at these things.)

“Not just a lady!” he marvels. “She went even to Barnard! Now should we make our supper?”

I have a surprise for him. “Tonight I cooked the whole thing myself, in case you would be tired from being analyzed. It is a roasted chicken.”

“You got also some livers?”

“Of course.”

I remember the night it was decided he should see an analyst.

Harold and Rose were here for our weekly bridge. My little husband and Harold had one of their altercations.   Usually these end without violence, but this time my little husband overstepped the bounds and threw some strawberry meringue right in Harold’s face. He even refused to apologize.

“You need to see somebody,” Harold says.   He wipes the pink fluff off his chin and licks it off his fingers.   “You are a sick man, and a crazy one.”

Rose says: “An analyst. That is what he needs. The kind with a lot of degrees.”

They leave in a huff. We don’t even finish the bridge game.

My little husband and I sit quietly for a while.

He says softly, “Do you think they’re right? Am I a crazy person?”

“Well,” I say. “Maybe a little bit. But there is many kinds and also degrees of crazy, and I read a book that said….”

He interrupts. “Yes or no.”

“Well, since you put it that way…….”

Anyway, it is nice to have him home now, eating the roasted chicken and the livers.

I say “After the meal, shall we play some Parcheesi?”

“I gotta go out and do the twelve tools,” he says.

“All at once?”

“Why wait? First I got to write my name,” he says.

I give him a piece of paper, but he shakes his head. “On the tablecloth,” he says.

He writes only his first name, in green.   “I will use each time only my first name. Because, when it gets to the truck part, you have to consider the police.”

He inspects the name he has written on the tablecloth. “You see how small I wrote it? The analyst, she pointed this out to me. It looks all squooshy-up together. Like it couldn’t breathe good. “

“I think I remember that is the way you have always written it.”

“That is the whole point!” he fumes. “Never altering! Never growing to be something new and wonderful! Staying all tight and squooshed all these years!   And yet– I believe her statement:   ‘Change is hard, but a man can change.’”

“What next?” I ask.

“Step One: I have just done it!   Step Two is: I go outside and I write my name on a window in the back of the house. Then a window in front. I try to make the name a little bigger; more open. I cross the “T” with a kind of devil-may-care. Make the loop of the “G” more round. And how I write it, I become it!”

“Next,” he says, “I write my name on the neighbor’s window.   Our car.   Their car. Bigger every time!   More devilish the T!   More loose the loops!”

His gestures get bigger. His voice gets louder. He gets more and more excited.

“And finally I’m walking down the street, and I see a truck! A big, clean truck! And I write my name on the side of it! My big, big name!”

I see that he is already victorious. “And I am become a big, big person! So big he can always be nice!   I am going now.”

“I will go with you,” I volunteer. “Then if the police come, I can tell them there is something wrong with your brain and you have seen an analyst.”

“Come on, then!” he cries joyfully.

It is a wonderful evening of name-writing, and at the end of it, on a beautiful dark street with such lovely majestic trees, we find a truck, and he writes his name on the side of it, with the bright red marker. He writes his name in great big letters, each one a foot high.

A police car comes around the corner.

It has lights and loud sirens.

We run.

(My next shlog is entitled: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain on the Bus)

NOW THAT I AM 85: I Have an Imaginary Friend

NOW THAT I AM 85:  I Have an Imaginary Friend

I met her late at night, in a laundromat in Berkeley, California. I was alone in that laundromat, observing my sheets and towels go round and round in the “wash” cycle, when she walked in.

She looked rather like a 1900-vintage Parisian laundress in a Degas painting.

In one hand she carried a large pail. In the other, a big partly-used bar of some peculiar-smelling yellow laundry soap. Her head was wrapped in a white scarf.

When she spoke, softly, it was all in French. To my surprise, considering that I had had only two years of that language in high school, I understood every word.

Possibly you need some back story.

I had been reading biographies of the composer Erik Satie, and listening compulsively to Blood Sweat and Tears’ arrangements of his music. The biographies marveled at the juxtaposition of two facts: Monsieur Satie, on his daily 10K jaunts (walk/drink wine/compose/repeat) from Arceuil to Montmartre, was always immaculate, in his person and his clothing. Yet, upon his death (from the somewhat-predictable cirrhosis), his brother Conrad, with Darius Milhaud and a couple of others, entered his room and found utter squalor. The place had apparently not been cleaned for the entire twenty-seven years Satie lived there. How had he, each day, emerged so spotless?

Thus began biographic speculation about a mysterious laundress . And the question arose: had she done more than wash? The discussion always ended in a verdict of “Nonsense!” His only affair of the heart, they claimed, had been much earlier, with the painter/acrobat Suzanne Valadon, and he had thrown her out a second-story window to demonstrate his annoyance. She– simultaneously demonstrating her acrobat training– was unhurt.

The hurt was felt by my new friend, the laundress, who did not care to be dismissed as nonsense.

Apparently I am her only confidante. I have come to believe she wants me to tell you everything I know about her.

That Is why I am currently making a short film entitled “Hommage* to Erik Satie’s Laundress”. It is being produced by Jill Warner. The wonderful pianist Abe Fabella has already recorded the musical part of the soundtrack.

*My acquaintances point out that “Homage”, as they know it, is spelled with one “m”. But I feel that, out of respect for my new friend, I should spell it “Hommage,” the French way.

(In the meantime, my next shlog is entitled: “My Little Husband Has Gone to See an Analyst”)

NOW THAT I AM 85: I Wish I Had a Little Husband in the Bedroom Down the Hall – Part II

NOW THAT I AM 85: I Wish I Had a Little Husband in the Bedroom Down the Hall  –  Part II

My little husband hollers. “What? No advance notice? No time to prepare?”

“You did it before; you can do it again?”

He reminds me that at the time of the first flood, Shem and Ham and Japheth were still living at home.

“How can I alone, with such a blood pressure, build such an enormous boat?”

He sulks.

“I got it!” He jumps up and dances me about. “We don’t got to take the animals this time – only the DNA!   Already I know how to make so many creatures—every one a big success–I can make the rest when we get to that Mount-whatever-it-is! Let’s see,” he says. “It’s you, me, some sandwiches and the DNA. This boat could be (he measures his forearm to remind himself how long is a cubit) maybe seven cubits wide, twenty cubits long.”

I chop down some trees for him.

I watch admiringly as he constructs our new ark.

But soon, through the grey curtains of rain, I see animals of all sizes approaching my little husband. Their feet make squishy noises in the mud. They bark, peep, moo, bray, oink, squeak, roar – so many sounds!

He puts on his sea captain’s hat which he has kept on a hook since the first flood. He blows his bugle.

“Animals!” he announces. “I am sorry to tell you, this time we don’t need you.”

They look shocked. Unbelieving. They make small murmuring sounds of protest.

“You got to understand, we got dominion over you. That means we make all the rules. And this time we don’t need you. Good luck.”

The animals sit down quietly and watch us as we work.

Now the ark is finished, the sandwiches and DNA are stowed. The biggest animals are standing, up to their tails in the rising water. They are covered with little animals, who crawl on the big ones’ backs and shiver in the rain. Some are crying.

He starts to push off, but I remember something.

“You made a dove?” I ask. “You sure you know how to make a dove? Because last time, if we didn’t have a dove, where would we be now?”

“Well….” he says.

“Well….” he says again.

“Enough with the well, well,” I say.

The rain keeps falling.

“You sure you can make a dove?”


He has trouble looking at me.

“I tried,” he says. “Fifty times I tried to make a dove.”

He reaches down into the bottom of the boat and pulls out what looks like a string of sausages with feathers sticking out.

“Never could I get it right.”

“But how,” I ask, “will we ever find that mountain we got to in the first flood?”

He holds the feathery sausage-thing in his hands, and slowly turns it about and about.

He says, “What I think is that we won’t.   Without the dove to bring the branch, we will just go round and round, on all that water. We will row, row, row the boat, and never find that mountain.”

My little husband stands up as tall as he can.

“Animals!” he says. “I am sorry that I did not care to save you. And now I am sorry to say – I can’t. I don’t seem to have the smarts.”

He bows his head.

This seems to be some kind of signal to the animals, because they solemnly gather into a long, long line and enter the boat. They crowd in politely—no pushing—and stand on each other’s backs to make room for all.

“Why do they want to come?” my little husband asks. “We will all perish, anyway.”

“Maybe they just want to be with us,” I say. A nice lion rests his head on my lap, and a duck sits on my foot.

A tear rolls down my little husband’s cheek, and goes – ping!. We look down at the bottom of the boat, where the tear fell, where the feathered sausages were lying, and there is, instead, a beautiful dove. Alive.   Cooing softly.

“What a Creator!” my little husband marvels. “Look what a thing He can do!” He holds up the dove for all to see, and then he gives it to me. The animals all cheer loudly, in their many different voices.

I say: “It was a good idea you had, though. This is a very nice boat.”

My little husband picks up the oars. I hold up the dove as high as I can.

We begin our journey.

(My next shlog is entitled: “I Have an Imaginary Friend”)

NOW THAT I AM 85: I Wish I Had a Little Husband in the Bedroom Down the Hall

NOW THAT I AM 85: I Wish I Had a Little Husband in the Bedroom Down the Hall

This little husband would sit at a desk, curly-headed, eagerly upright, and surrounded by test tubes in racks.

He would invent things.

Every afternoon at four he would emerge from the downstairs bedroom and show me the latest product of his indefatigably fertile mind.

“Lookit vat I made!” he would crow. (I have looked up the verb “to crow” and see it means not only “to brag loudly and joyfully” but also to “make the shrill sound characteristic of a cock”. So I know this is the correct word. Also, you will see that I have given him a slight accent, which he retains from having grown up near Hester Street in lower Manhattan).

His offering of the day might be a colorful jar-lid-grabber, or possibly a lady’s chin-razor discreetly disguised as a powder-compact. Of course, at my age I no longer need any gifts, so after I have admired his offering to his satisfaction, he chucks it out the window. It lands, always, smack in the middle of the dumpster, which he leaves open for this very purpose.

I know that he shows off in this way to remind me of our courtship days, when he would take me to Coney Island every Sunday and, thanks to his uncanny accuracy, win a stuffed animal for me almost every time. Afterwards, we would share a chocolate-covered Halvah.

Today he comes out of the bedroom carrying a raccoon.

It is alive. He is carrying it by the tail, and it wiggles violently. Not, apparently, because it wants to bite him, but simply because it wants to get right-side-up.

I admire it.

He throws it out the window.

The dumpster quivers.

The next day he brings me a frog. The next, a small kangaroo. Each time, after he has presented his creation to me, he hurls it into the dumpster, satisfied that he can reproduce that particular creature again whenever he likes.

After many days, his crowing takes on an almost hysterical note. He brings me a lemur. “That’s 143 kinds of creatures already I know how make! Pretty soon I’ll be able to make everything that lives! Then He can retire!”

Now my little husband points upward, with a childlike assurance about who abides where.

Then three things happen in quick succession:

                    A huge, earth-shaking roar of thunder;
                    A downpour of rain that goes on and on;
                    An e-mail.

My little husband looks at the e-mail. He becomes furious. “Just three little words!” he sputters. “Here, I’ll print it out for you.”

The e-mail says: “I’m…. mad….again!”

The rain keeps falling.

(To be concluded in the next installment of my shlog)


My name is Helen Slayton-Hughes, and I am writing a SHLOG, entitled:


The first installments are ready and waiting to be “published”!

For months I have hesitated to publish them, in the midst of all the serious/dreadful/infuriating things happening in the world. But I don’t want to reach 86 (87? 88?) and find that I’m still hesitating – and for the same reason.

So what the heck – I start now


At first I thought I would write a BLOG, but that field is overcrowded. On the other hand, I do not know of anyone who is writing a SHLOG, unless her name happens to be Victoria Smith-Hanson, or Beccala Surrey-Hop. A SHLOG it is, then.

(Two people so far have suggested that the correct spelling should be SCHLOG, but I think this would require that my name be something like Slayton-Chrysanthemum-Hughes, or Slayton-Corncob-Hughes, which, as we know, it is not.)


Certainly NOT because the world needs it.

And not because it will be of practical benefit to anyone.

No—it is because I have lost my tribe.

I’m mostly an actor, and in recent years the TV show Parks and Recreation allowed me to recur as Ethel Beavers so many times that I began to think I lived in Pawnee. Now that Parks and Rec. has ended its run, I know, I accept, that Pawnee was an imaginary place, its people a beautiful dream of tribal connection.


Just as I was mourning this loss, I read a blog by a blogger –Aaron Baldasare by name – who counsels: “Find Your Tribe!” (How did he know?)

He says that when writing a blog (or in my case, a shlog) for optimum satisfaction you should not seek QUANTITY (half a million readers and the advertising revenue that accrues). Instead, seek QUALITY. Reach out to those five or six peculiar souls who will share your most esoteric enthusiasms. They will be your new tribe!

One of my enthusiasms is the composer Erik Satie. It is said that as he took his last breath, he whispered “Ah, the cows!”

Now I begin the search for those few readers who – if I should whisper, dying, “Ah, the cows!” –will know exactly what I mean.

The first installment of my SHLOG (out in a few days) is titled:

Now That I Am 85: I Wish I Had a Little Husband in the Bedroom Down the Hall.”