Ben Sen's Blog

Politics, Culture and Religion Without Projections

Ben Sen

Ben Sen
New York, N.Y.,
December 31
I'd rather be judged on the basis of my posts than anything written in my bio. It's put down and gathered as a record of my experience and a response to what I see as the important issues in the world today. I don't pretend it's anything other than subjective. The purpose is to analyze, interpret, express opinions, challenge the status quo, open a few doors, and entertain. I heartily welcome ratings, comments and dialogue. That's what makes this media unique and valuable. It also keeps me honest and encouraged since I'm not getting paid. Take a risk and say something; it feels better. A "conversation" is essential for the growth of the individual and the collective. I have faith it extends beyond the confines of what is said here. "For it is necessary for awake people to be awake, or a breaking line may discourge us back to sleep, the signals we give--yes, no or maybe--should be clear: the darkness around us is deep." From A RITUAL TO READ TO EACH OTHER by William Stafford


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OCTOBER 16, 2011 5:28PM

Excerpt from My Novel: MAGGIE'S WAY

Rate: 11 Flag


     My father ran into a problem  His plan for his retirement years didn't work out.  He'd married a woman much younger, but she contracted breast cancer and died leaving him stranded.  We didn't go to the funeral; I didn't think he wanted us to attend.

    On her deathbed, his wife made arrangements for him to live with a friend of hers.  He probably should have been in a facility of some sort by this time, but the woman, Abagail, worked at such a place and said she could take better care of him if he came to live with her in return for his social security checks.

     I never visited, but one day she called and said, "Your father isn't doing well.  He has dementia.  Perhaps, you want to come visit while he still remembers who you are."

     Luckily, my son Michael was staying with me at the time and said he'd go.  We arrived in the early-afternoon.  It was a rundown neighborhood on the outskirts of Albany, N.Y.  The house was large and dilapidated.  Michael rang the bell.  Abagail was a middle-aged Caribbean woman with lovely coffee colored skin and sing-song accent.

     "It's so nice to meet you at last," she said.  "Please come in."

     It was ironic.  My father spent his life railing against people "of color" and yet that was who took care of him.  She ushered us into the living room.   A mangy dog came to greet us that only had three legs.  A bald toothless man sat on the couch with a deranged look holding a cat with only one eye.  Another cat hobbled across the floor dragging its hind limbs.

     "I collect stragglers," Abagail said cheerily.  "Done it all my life.  Don't be scared of Earl.  He won't hurt ya.  Come on back, your father's in his room."

     She led us down a long dark hallway, past a kitchen with a linoleum covered table and plenty of dishes in the sink.  "Al, there's somebody to see you.  Say hello."

     He was sitting on an old fashioned bed with the springs exposed watching a soap opera on a battered TV.  He was still large and imposing, but his skinny legs proturded from his shorts like knobby french fries.  "You remember Michael, your grandson?"

     "Oh yes, Michael, my boy!"  He rose to his feet and enveloped Michael in a bear hug.  "And Margaret--you remember your daughter don't you?"

     "Oh, yes, my little girl."  He chucked me on the chin and patted me on the head the way he did when I was a little girl.  I hated it.

     "How are you Al?"

     "I been better, but I been worse."

     There was a lopsided chest of drawers, cracked mirror, crooked blinds, and a window looking out on a courtyard with plenty of weeds growing between the cracks, and a crucifix high above the bed--probably where he couldn't get at it.

     "We thought you'd like a day out grampa," said Michael.  "Maybe we can go to Lake George and drive around--would you like that?"

     "Oh, that would be good."

     Abagail opened the bottom drawer and took out an old jacket.  The "Appleton Country Club" crest was fadded and freyed.  "Take this," she said.  "We don't want you to catch cold."

     He snatched it from her as he would a thief.  On the way out, I noted a thick metal bolt on the outside of the door.  Maybe she locked him in at night.  I wasn't asking any questions.

     On the trip, Michael asked:  "Are you eating good grandpa?"

     "Oh yes, lots of food--peanut butter and jelly--chicken soup--cranberries."

     "Do you get out much?  Stretch your legs?"

     "Yes.  I go to the store."

     "That looks like a pretty rough neighborhood.  Do you ever have any trouble?"

     "No.  I'm no trouble at all."

     After driving around the lake, Michael pulled into a small marina.  "Maybe you'd like to go on a boat, grandpa--when was the last time you did that?"

     "I don't remember."

      "I know how to drive.  My father taught me.  You remember my father--Andy--don't you?"

     "Yes, Margaret married Andy."

      Michael went to rent the boat.  He was so excited I couldn't say no.  I had absolutely nothing to say to Al during the interim.  He had a dreamy look in his eye as if he was trying to recall something but couldn't.  His skin was pale and parched.  Abagail must have prepared him for our visit; there were nicks and patches of dried blood on his neck and chin.

      We bought sandwiches and beer.  All Al had to do was sit back and enjoy the ride.  It was impressive how effortlessly Michael untied the boat and steered out the inlet into the open water.  The further we sped from shore the wider my father's eyes became.  At one time, his size and power terrified me.  Now, it was a relief to see him practically helpless.

     When we reached the center of the lake, surrounded by the heavily wooded hills, bouncing merrily on the waves, Michael cut the engine and we drifted.  "Do you want some beer gramps?"

      "Oh yes, I want beer."  He grasped the bottle and swilled it down in one gulp.  The foam spurted from his mouth and rolled down his chin.  Then Michael unwrapped a sandwich and gave it to him.  He stuffed it into his mouth as if he hadn't eaten for weeks.  I had the sense I was seeing him as he really was--and always had been--a man with no sense of civility or decorum--a beast barely held in check.

     I kept thinking:  this is my father.  This is who I come from.  Who does that make me?  No wonder my greatest wish has always been to have a "normal" life without knowing  what that was.

     When he was done, he stood at the railing and tried to take his penis out of his pants.  "Hey, gramps, what're doing?"

       "Takin' a piss."  But he didn't make it.  I looked the other way; he sat back down.  The front of his pants was wet--it was as if it never happened.  He smiled his benign, lifeless smile, enjoying it.

     With the last rays of the sun, we returned to the dock.  My father seemed dizzy as Michael led him to the car.  Upon reaching Abagail's, I let down my guard and reached my hand into the back seat to help him out.  He seized it, squeezed hard, and wouldn't let go.  It hurt so I squeezed back.  We were standing in the middle of the street in a test of wills to see who could squeeze the hardest.

      "Hey, hey, hey," Michael yelled.  "What's goin' on?"  He jumped in and pulled us apart.  "I don't believe it.  Grandpa you can't do this sort of thing.  It's not right."

     He looked at Michael and laughed.  I knew the laugh well.  "I'll take him back Mom," he said.  "Wait in the car."

     Even in his old age, he was ruled by hate.  It's what gave him the strength to go on living.

 (Comments and business inquiries welcomed)


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I like the french fries image and the final image of the two squeezing hands. Good narrative voice overall. Nice seeing your work after a while!
You've been a busy bee! Bravo! Congratulations!
That was so sad. My mom had dementia, and I found it a blessing that she got sweeter and sweeter the less she was able to filter her responses. I like the path this piece takes. We don't know what the issue is at first and there is only the hint of past cruelties, and plenty of reasons to pity him. Then he reveals himself, first his crudeness, then his meanness, in a very childish way, typical for someone with dementia but sort of giving us an idea of what he was like when he was younger. I thought that was well done. Michael seems intriguing. Whatever happened to Margaret, she managed to avoid passing it on. I really became interested in these characters as people.
I do feel like I am right in it and find myself wondering about these people and their lives. I thought for a moment when he cut the motor that something sinister might take place on the lake. At first my mind rushed to the elderly man being the victim, but as I read on through your excerpt, I found it could go easily the other way. Very interesting and thought provoking.
Is this the opening of the novel? If not, at what point does it appear in the overall story line? What you have does make me want to know more back story, and you reveal the characters well. I ask techinical questions for two reasons. I plan to use OS similarly soon, but I have been unsure about how and what to offer for feedback. I am shying away from comments on the content because it's too familiar, and I haven't gotten enough distance on similar family dynamics to be objective.
nice closing line...

This section comes very late. In the last of five parts and I've re-written it a bit here to make it accessable. It's my longest and most complete work to date--three years in the making. I've been through almost eight complete drafts, and some sections more.

I think you should welcome feedback. It's the only way we can grow, and receive the "objectivity" you desire and is so necessary, perhaps better than a "professional" reader since it opens us to more points of view.

Let me know when you put your material up. It's not "you" it's only what you've written.

And don't forget to "rate" if you like it. Feed the kitty.

P.S. I think the folks who just "read and run" are really missing the point of what this media is about, especially if they liked the piece and are being competitive.

If they don't like it, and are simply being discrete, that's another matter. It's the difference between being a banana and joining the bunch, or just being a banana.
Thanks jramelle and to all those who've taken the time to comment.

It renews my faith that this is not a wasted venture. I try my best to maintain this level of intensity throughout the book. The problem is whether I will find an editor who agrees and is willing to pay me somewhat commensurately with the effort.
I do like what you have written for several reveal the characters (jacket with country club logo, Abagail's boarders show us her nature, the squeeze competition); this story is obviously a woman's struggle to understand how her father influenced who she had become--and I write in that vein, so it's comfortable; and you seem to sum up the relationship--which was decades in the making--in a few paragraphs. I do agree with Marion Stein that this reads like an essay. I am currently reworking a first person memoir--which began as a series of essays--to third person, so I understand the dilemma. It's working better for me in third person, but since this is only an excerpt, it's difficult to know what will work best for your overall work.
Oops. I forgot to agree with Nikki Stern. I really like the last line.
Thanks Marion.

I appreciate you commented, but I'll stick with what I've got and the forum I'm in. Essays are not carried by character, dialogue, and poetic description.

You remind me of a lesson I learned long ago: sometimes writers are so wedded to their own style that other styles do not ring true to them. I'm not saying that is the case, but to call it an "essay," I don't think so. Maybe memoir, but an "essay?"

I'll see if anyone else agrees--right here on OS.
I wanted to know more

It felt very real. There was the action, but I got a sense that there was more to it so I wanted to read on.

Not one false note of dialogue.

ALL of it was visual. Except for the very first sentence, you didn't tell, you showed.

Well done sir!
really well done, very real
I liked this. Needed more description though. Not much more, just a little around the edges...
No, not an essay. A novel, as you intended. I'm a poet and essayist, not a novelist, so I'm pretty clear on the difference. But you already know that. I want to say how deeply I understand what it takes to make this thing called a book, and how this is indeed the harder part. We give birth to it, yet need to connect with others to give it a life. I do this; all writers do this. Your writing here shows an embrace of the concrete and consciousness. That's brave and beautiful in these days where plot flattens depth, and any interior-examination is labeled confessional. If I were still a college professor I would read this to my class then ask them to tell me about Margaret. Because of your writing, I bet they could make a good run at it. I wish you every good thing.