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.”