rules of democracy


IMG_1611 (2)


I have enjoyed many tour guides on this journey, all of whom have been extremely knowledgeable and entertaining. A compassionate and educated Turk, Greek nationalists with continental flair, Slavic historians who seem to have the very tough job of sorting through their complicated past, both ancient and recent. But my favorite guide, and we all have our favorites, was a young woman from Dubrovnik, who made the statement, “we have not yet figured out the rules of democracy, but we are learning.” This statement struck me. Did she mean the principles of democracy? Or was she referring to the rules of conduct, the behavior of those within a democracy? I suspect she meant the former, but all I could think of was how we play at being democratic as if it were a monopoly game, making up rules as we go, how self-interest is the overriding purpose of it all.

Consider the following points from What is Democracy, a lecture published by Stanford University from Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. The rules, the rules of conduct, that is, seem to be sadly forgotten, or at least ignored:

  • Every citizen must respect the rights of his or her fellow citizens, and their dignity as human beings.
  • No one should denounce a political opponent as evil and illegitimate, just because they have different views.
  • People should question the decisions of the government, but not reject the government’s authority.
  • Every group has the right to practice its culture and to have some control over its own affairs, but each group should accept that it is a part of a democratic state.
  • When you express your opinions, you should also listen to the views of other people, even people you disagree with. Everyone has a right to be heard.
  • Don’t be so convinced of the rightness of your views that you refuse to see any merit in another position. Consider different interests and points of view.
  • When you make demands, you should understand that in a democracy, it is impossible for everyone to achieve everything they want.
  • Democracy requires compromise. Groups with different interests and opinions must be willing to sit down with one another and negotiate.


Be civil, America. Especially during this upcoming election year. The world is watching, as it always does.



passengers and others aboard the viking star




People watching and imagining the lives of those people, their stories, their histories, is high entertainment. And within the confines of a cruise ship, within the duration of a cruise, one is afforded a million opportunities to observe and imagine. Why, the tv hit of many years, The Love Boat, only reinforces the notion that there is endless story telling aboard a ship. I have only spoken with a handful of people on my particular cruise, and I know very little about them—but I can imagine, and I share these snapshots that are part truth, part fiction.

The Waiter – He is Serbian, the most handsome man on a ship of handsome men. His body is slight, his manor is gentle. He is aware of his good looks, but doesn’t exploit them, tending to guests as a humble and grateful servant. Ours was not his first cruise, in fact, he told us he is a seasoned seaman, his earlier cruises filled with women, both fellow crew members and female guests that he loved in the narrow berth that was his bed, much to the consternation and jealousies of his cabin mates, I suspect. And he drank like a seasoned seaman, cheap vodka and wine, bought at port terminals, from tug boat handlers and dock workers. Long ago, there was a cabin girl that broke his heart. He wanted to marry her, to be done with his raucous life at sea, but it was not in the stars, he said, and continued working ships for that was all he knew, the ebb and flow of water symbolic of what was, and what was taken away.

The Amputee – He is an American guest, a man torn apart by a Gulf War bomb, rebuilt by doctors with prosthetic, but no cosmetic, skills. He appears to be painfully bitter and in pain, not the type of vet that gives inspirational speeches nor participates in amputee athletics. I suspect forgiveness was taken from him along with his leg, but what do I know about that kind of loss. His wife is also a hero, the cruise her attempt to soothe his tortured soul, her fatigue, the hope that geography will change something within, that geographic change allows us to step outside of ourselves.

The Fat Man and his Wife – They are everywhere. They struggle with steps, they struggle in narrow hallways and streets, they struggle with breathing. I am shocked by the extent of my prejudice, shocked as to how much I judge their dress, their conversations, their size. Grandchildren seem to be their only activity, and in my short time onboard, I’ve looked at too many pictures of smiling babies on bulbous bellies, and yet these large people seem happy, or at least, happy to have each other. I suspect that my aversion is in part fear that I could easily become just like them, sedentary and obese, unhealthy, the American that Europeans ridicule behind their backs. My hope is that the souvenir I take home is compassion, an understanding that we are all held captive by something within.


photo credit:


at sea




The life jacket doesn’t fit

and the straps intended to hold me fast

are long and worn and useless.

But I don’t seem to mind that I’m drowning

for I drown most every day and somehow

find my way back to the surface.

And really, it’s nice to slip into the deep and

hold my breath in anticipation of

something magnificent and lovely,

like the thought of you pulling me to shore,

saving me from things that don’t fit. – ph



photo credit:



the europeans, part 2




Much has happened in Europe since my post of November 5th, the Europeans. As you might imagine, my Belgium friend, the anti-immigrant, the anti-Muslim ex-pat has had more fuel added to his fire—and I was, sadly, more inclined to listen. While sadness is my overriding emotion regarding the Paris tragedy, anger is not far behind. Hate breeds hate.

When I began this post, I was sitting in London’s Heathrow Airport, waiting for my connection to Istanbul, to embark on a 10 day Mediterranean cruise. I am fortunate beyond my own belief. I will admit, while traveling through international airports, I looked at Middle Easterners with suspicion. I am ashamed, but not apologetic—in the wake of the Paris massacre, it was/is the global tenor. And while it’s important to paste something red, blue, and white on your facebook page—to express your sadness, your empathy, your loyalty to a nation and its people—it becomes increasingly easier, unfortunately, for many to distrust and dislike another nation and its inhabitants, to stereotype an entire mass of ordinary, or perhaps, extraordinary people. Again, hate breeds hate. My brief visit and limited knowledge of Turkey has been nothing short of enlightening and enchanting.

Be kind, be open to discussion and understanding, but be vigilant in the world we share with fanatics.


photo credit:


in flight, chapter 3, revisited

If you are new to this story series, please begin with chapter 1, in flight, chapter 1, revisited






John was not quite charming, but lean and firm and terribly sexy, all of which made up for any character flaws. Lydia drank a little too much, flirted more than was necessary, teasing not only John but the bartender and waiters as well. John had an irreverent sense of humor that Lydia understood and appreciated, and a quick eye that darted to her face should he be found staring at her breasts for too long. Lydia did not intentionally dress to provoke—provocation came naturally—as did this man’s unabashed desire. The evening traveled on—casual conversation, work questions and evasive answers, cocktails and more cocktails. The intimate dinner, wine and more wine, the quick touch, the shudder, the eyes that ask dinner is done, do we move on, the eyes that answer yes.

They went to John’s room as it was larger, lavish, as he was actually traveling on an expense account. They fumbled, they groped, they pulled at clothing till they stood almost naked before each other, only then coming up for air, allowing John to admire her firm, small breasts teasing behind a lacy bra and his stiff cock screaming to be set free.

“I want to make love in the chair,” Lesley half gasped, half spoke as his tongue circled her uncovered nipple. She pulled away from him and took his hand and moved him to the upholstered chair, moving the chair to a preferred position before she pulled his shorts from him. His cock pointed to her—yes, you, I want you—and Lesley fell to her knees and took him to her mouth as her treasure, her prize for her winning seductions. John gasped as she sucked him into her throat. She pulled from him again and he slowly moved into the chair as she took off her bra and panties to straddle him. Her knees were tucked in at his sides, his cock bobbed beneath her, his fingers pulled at her lips and pushed urgently inside her. She offered him her breast which he took like a babe, sucking too hard but not hard enough. She whispered, “I’m married,” and he moved his mouth to her other breast and answered, “I’m married, too.” She arched her back and turned her head to find herself and John in the mirror. She watched her hips rise and fall, she watched his head attached to her nipple move as her chest moved, she watched her mouth as it took on the shapes of ecstasy as he found her sensitive places, forbidden places. But then Lesley took his cock in, and John held her waist and moved her up and down on his shaft. She tried to keep watching in the mirror to see if any wetness would come to her eyes but their moves became frenzied and he was so hard and so good and she couldn’t find the mirror anymore, and she felt him in her stomach and felt the waves begin in her clenched feet and she heard them screaming, cursing, screaming. Oh my God, Lesley whispered to the redhead.


photo credit: pintrest


a work in progress, part 2






Car no. 3


Two cigarettes left. Fuck. They better move this traffic soon. How long have we been sitting here? This is ridiculous.

Brad smoked one cigarette down to nothing. What a shitty day, he thought, what a stupid shitty job. What a dick wad boss. Cigarettes encouraged cursing, the smoke setting off an alarm of expletives. Fuck, what do you do with the butt when you can’t toss it out the window ‘cause you’re stuck in traffic and people will look at you like you’re fucking scum and then you have to put it out in the car and then the car stinks and Carl will have a little fit. Fuck. Fuck Carl. I’ll be fucking banging on car windows for a smoke if we don’t move soon. Look at that ass over there, white shirt and tie, talking on the phone to some other dick wad about his fuck-up staff. Fuck him. Fuck his BMW, his Macy’s sale rack sunglasses. It’s too dark for sunglasses, what, he thinks he’s a fucking movie star? What a loser.

Brad had to get out of the car, he thought he might have been gasping for air, gasping for something. Better. That’s better. I do good work, that’s right, good work. Fuck, I’m a team player, right? Except when Melody is on my team, Jesus, I hate that little shit. Melody. What kind of fucking name is Melody? Suck up, slacker, I’m cleaning up her shit all the time. What is it about her? Why is she constantly under my skin? Hey, there’s a woman smoking over there, thank God. She’s a nice looking woman, hey, she’s smoking, that’s enough, right? Women, why am I thinking about women? I haven’t thought about women in years. Whatever. What the hell happened up there? And what is with all this buddy shit on the bridge? Am I the only person pissed off here? No, look at that dumb shit. He’s about to throw his phone into the river. Ha! Breath, Brad, breath, don’t fucking flip out in a rush hour traffic jam. Hey, think about the poor bastards that are waitin’ for an ambulance up there. Think you’re havin’ a bad day!

He went back in the car and smoked his last cigarette, the smoke finally smothering his tiraid. He would ask the woman for another if he needed it. He played with the radio, read his mail (3 mails from Melody, 2 of which he deleted without reading), sent Carl a text, played a counting game to guess how long it would take for traffic to start moving. He watched shadows and fog take over the forms on the bridge and realized he was crying, and quickly looked in all the mirrors to see if anyone had caught him in this moment. He looked for a text but there was none. He slapped his forehead on the steering wheel a couple of times and and left the car to go bum that cigarette.


photo credit: shutterstock


a work in progress, part 1


At the risk of confusing my readers (all 6 of you), I am posting another story, a work in progress that I hope to submit soon. I understand that with my posting of in flight  it may be confusing to jump between stories but that’s what it is for now. Story time it is, and essay and memoir must take a back seat during submission season. Enjoy.





crash 1


CAR no. 1


They weren’t even fighting when the crash happened. They were just driving along quietly, and boom, right onto the Jersey wall. Maggie couldn’t tell you what happened, but eyewitness accounts said they were switching lanes and hit the eighteen wheeler on their right, spun several times, ping-ponged off a few cars and landed on the wall.

“Are you okay in there? Are you okay? Help is coming.”

There was something on the radio, people talking, shouting, all of it just a jumble of sounds, background noise to the shaken but continuous hum of Maggie’s seemingly intact insides. The air bags had deflated, she turned her head for the first time.

“Jeffrey. Jeffrey, are you okay?”

“I’m here, Maggie. You okay?”

“I think so. Can you move?”

“Yes. Can you?”

She wiggled her finger and toes, she felt the stab in her chest for the first time.

“Yes, but my chest, my chest hurts, my ribs…”

Strangers, perfect strangers, helped them get out of the car and they sat on the highway. Who does that, thought Maggie, who helps people from wrecks, how do they do that, find the courage, I could never do that. Damnit, that hurts. Fuck. The truck driver was talking to Jeff, a woman was holding her hand and asking her questions, dark was creeping over the Route 50 bridge and bright, white headlights blinded her, making it impossible to look at the damage. Maggie never liked to look at the damage, even as she sat in the middle of it. I’m sitting on the highway, right in the middle of the highway. How crazy is that? She hurt, she wanted to cry but couldn’t. How long have I been sitting here? A minute, a month, an eternity, I don’t know, an eternity of not looking at the damage, an eternity of just sitting and hurting and wondering what happened. And then sirens, and red lights and blue lights and more people asking questions and Maggie looked at Jeff with an ache in her chest that she knew she required attention.


CAR no. 2


“Your brother is an asshole.”

“Yeah. Tell me something I don’t know.”

Charla lifted her head from her phone.

“How long have we been sitting here? Can you see anything?”

“We’ve only been here about five minutes, Charla, and no, I can’t see anything.”

“I wonder what happened. People are getting out of their cars. You want to get out, walk around?”


Charla returned to her texting. “Your stupid ass brother dumped Lisa. Do you believe that? Do you know what he said to her? He said she wasn’t a turn on, that she was a crappy lover, that she never got him hot. Do you believe that? Who the hell would say that to a woman? What is his problem? He is not that hot. He’ll never do better than Lisa. Jesus. What an ass.”

Michael watched her fingers moving furiously over the tiny keypad. His brother was an ass, but he was right, Lisa was a crappy lover. Michael knew this because he had a thing with Lisa one time, just once, one time after some football party when Charla was visiting her mother. Everybody was drunk, Lisa grabbed his crotch in the kitchen and that was that. She challenged him, he delivered, but yeah, she wasn’t a turn on, just horny. But he had to be careful about talking about Lisa. If Charla found out it would be the end of them, and Charla was a good lover, a great lover, and just thinking about Charla’s love making got him hot. He put the truck in park, pushed the seat back and unzipped his pants.

“Oh no, Michael. I’m not blowing you here, no way, uh-uh, not gonna happen.”

“Come on, baby. You’ve sucked me off in the truck before. While I was driving. We’re parked, look how high we’re siting. It’s okay, no one can see us. Come on, baby, you know you like it.”

“Not as much as you, baby. No way.”

And his long arm reached between her legs and he felt her spread just a little. He rubbed her mound through her jeans and reached for her zipper. She dropped the phone and spread a little more as his fingers searched for the lips of her pussy.

“You bastard,” she said and moved closer to him, letting him find his way to her entrance, moaning as he pushed a finger into her, pulling her closer.

He took his cock from his pants and watched it bob and tap the steering wheel. Charla pulled her jeans down to her ankles and turned her body so that she was half kneeling on wide, sofa seat of the truck, her bare ass slightly lifted as her head moved over his cock and she took him into her mouth. He sucked his finger, wetting it before pushing it straight into her ass, pushing her head further down his shaft with his other hand and holding it there as she struggled. He let her lift her head and breathe, but only for a moment. The sensation of his cock stroking the roof of her mouth ignited him, her compliance made him bigger and badder, the audience of unawares in neighboring cars added an extra kick and he knew he would release too soon. He grabbed a handful of her thick hair and pushed her head down on him again and held it there as his finger continued to probe inside her, and still holding her hair, began moving her head up and down his cock as she sucked him and wrapped her tongue around his sex. His cock reached for her throat and emptied into her belly. Oh, baby, he whispered over and over as he opened his eyes and looked for a hole in the steamy windshield to scan the parked cars on the bridge. Charla wiped her mouth on his pant leg, turned over and laid on her back, her head on his thigh, her knees up and panties down.

“How much longer do you think we’ll be stuck here,” she asked.

“I don’t know, baby.”

“Long enough for you to get me off?”

“Yes, baby, long enough,” and he moved his hand between her legs and watched her hips rise and fall.



photo credit:


the europeans




I had breakfast today with the lovely Lucy of London, that’s right, the Lucy of Letter to Lucy if you are a follower of this journal. She moved back to motherland England after having lived in the area for decades, and I had not seen her in over a year. I could talk about the instant reconnection that happens between good friends, the understanding, the disappointment, the loving and forgiving nature of friendship, but what was most profound about this too brief visit was the inspiration Lucy brought to the table. She was so happy, she was tender and tough. She was an honest and forthright advocate, she asked me what were my fears, and told me to fuck ’em. She sat before me as a shining example of follow through—of charting a course with a particular lifestyle in mind, and graciously welcoming those who cared to join in the journey. I was moved and a little bit dumbstruck by the magnitude of her words and her actions. All my love and thanks to you, Lucy.

And then on the way home from breakfast, I received a call from my other European, from Belgium, from my muse and dear friend and love, the inspiration behind the ex-pat character in Claire. He told me he had just returned home from the laundromat, having to do wash there as his equipment at home wasn’t large enough. I’ve known this man for many years, and never before has he had to go to the laundromat—I suspect, knowing that his home life is in turmoil, that he had to go to the laundromat for other reasons. Imagine a small, older man, sporting designer labels and a pocket scarf, boiling inside of his cashmere because he’s doing laundry next to muslims and blacks, both of whom he detests. And to further incite him, these intruders were pan handling while washing. He yelled and cursed at them, and once he had me on the phone, pounded me with his “knee-jerk socialist” speech which I have heard many times before. Please understand that I can’t begin to imagine the concerns of all Europeans over the refugee crisis, but this European is an extremist—the town crier/crazy person wailing that we’re all going to hell in a handbasket, OPEN YOUR FUCKING EYES AMERICA, THEY’RE COMING. He has been working for several years on a plan to move to Burma, to live with whack-ass monks and join in the killing of all muslims. On and on and on he goes.

I can’t accept, empathize with, or even discuss his point of view. What can I say? While many of his concerns are legitimate, his hate does not allow for rational talk. He offers no solution other than genocide. But an interesting side bar: when his business was up and running, when he had an income, his position was the same but his rantings were far less frequent, his dislike far less vehement, his choice of wine more important than any geographic fix. He is now poverty stricken, broke, busted, proud—and the world is a very different place when seen through the poverty lens.

I felt sorry for him. I felt stronger because I didn’t get into an argument with him but a little bit guilty for not being better informed about immigration. But most importantly, I continued to feel inspired, and put on my playlist to seal the positive energy inside.


photo credit:


in flight, chapter 2, revisited


If you are new to this story series, please begin with chapter 1, in flight, chapter 1, revisited






Lydia was not going to Atlanta for business. Lydia worked from home, selling retail ads for a Maryland newspaper, and while she occasionally visited her local customers and occasionally went into the office, there was no business to tend to in Atlanta. Her husband, Mark, was going away on business and when he did, Lydia liked to leave town as well, to try on a new city, she would tell him. She had been to Atlanta before but it had been some time since she last visited and there were a few sights in the city that intrigued her. When asked questions by fellow travelers as to where she was going or what she was going to do in her destination city, Lydia always told the “business” story—it was easy to recite and left everything to one’s imagination, including her own. Mark didn’t object to these trips—Lydia’s adventures intrigued him, her mind excited him, and he believed her when she told him he was her only man.

Lydia was staying at a midtown hotel that she liked very much—mostly because it was close to The High Museum of Art. Museums were places for Lydia to imagine, to wander into the lives of the one dimensional, to reinvent their pleasure, pain and beauty and make it her own. The High was home to a Joseph DeCamp painting that Lydia studied several times, The Blue Mandarin Coat. The painting was a portrait of a redhead, not a particularly beautiful woman, but a woman wearing a particularly beautiful coat. Her pose was impressive, confident, almost haughty, one hand on her hip, her head and neck turned to the side. But Lydia thought her eyes were the most compelling feature of the painting. The eyes were a beautiful blue, lined with the pink, pale skin of a redhead, eyes that looked like they were always wet, eyes that belied the confident pose. Perhaps the woman, the model, was just uncomfortable, too hot under that large coat which really is more of a robe, thought Lydia. Or maybe she has a sick child. Or maybe she had a fight with her husband about the nature of her relationship with Mr. DeCamp. Imagination was imperative when trying on something new.

The soft light and cool museum air held her for hours. She bought gifts there, lunched there, and hoped that the other diners would glance her way and find her mysterious. Lydia prickled at the heat outside of the museum doors, walking and sightseeing just a little more, posing a bit at large glass windows and doors, watching herself in the mirror as she slid into the bar stool at the hotel for some much needed liquid relief. The man from the plane took the stool next to her.

“Ah, we meet again,” he said. Again, the boyish smile.

Wow, another bad line. She sighed, smiled back, it was okay, I can do this, she thought. “I’m Lesley,” she said extending her hand.

“Lovely name,” he replied. “I’ve never known a Lesley. I’m John.” And he shook her hand and there was that shift again. And Lydia, aka Lesley, crossed her leg and settled back into the bar stool, striking another pose while catching the bartender’s eye and motioning for more confidence and ice.


artwork: Joseph DeCamp  The Blue Mandarin Coat


got to let you know




Come over here.

All you got is this moment
Twenty-first century’s yesterday.
You can care all you want
Everybody does, yeah, that’s okay.

So slide over here,
And give me a moment.
Your moves are so raw
I’ve got to let you know
I’ve got to let you know
You’re one of my kind.

I need you tonight.

Cause I’m not sleeping.
There’s something about you, boy
That makes me sweat.

How do you feel?
I’m lonely.
What do you think?
Can’t think at all.
What ya gonna do?
Gonna live my life.

So slide over here,
And give me a moment.
Your moves are so raw
I’ve got to let you know
I’ve got to let you know
You’re one of my kind.

lyrics: INXS (with edits)
art: Henry Weisburd