Visit Me in California: Stories

Visit Me in California: Stories

by Cooley Windsor


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Deftly moving between the comic and the tragic, the sacred and the profane, this collection of short stories is populated by modern children, ancient poets, dying men, and your basic, mundane Greek gods. Windsor turns familiar stories from the Bible and from myth inside out, exploring the feelings of minor characters and looking at events from imaginative perspectives. His prose is rich with detail and emotion and he touches on themes of art and artifice, success and failure, family and its sacrifices, and expectations met or missed.

     In “The Last Israelite in the Red Sea,” a follower of Moses who dallies during their Exodus finds it more difficult to walk across the bottom of the temporarily displaced Red Sea without shoes. “Four of the Times My Sister Cried” follows a young narrator as his family rehearses for his mother’s death and then, as they must, lives without her. The wry “The Art of War” has characters from Homer to a courtesan talking shop about the battle of Troy from their perspectives. Set as a series of short pieces, “The Fleshly School of Poetry” tells of lessons learned and lessons taught. With its explorations of expectations, “Meet the Author” gives readers intimate portraits of various plans or coping mechanisms people put up when death draws close. “The End of the World” approaches the Rapture with a humorously practical spin: wouldn’t the angels need a plan to ensure that it goes smoothly?  “In Parting” explores some of the troubles with family, especially when a sister’s child turns out to be a marionette. The geographically explicit “Three Mediums in San Francisco” touches on frustrated and imagined eroticism. The collection ends with “The Hilton Epiphany,” a fitting closer in which divinity comes to an unlikely person in an unlikely place.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780810124967
Publisher: Northwestern University Press
Publication date: 08/28/2008
Edition description: 1
Pages: 130
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Cooley Windsor’s work has appeared in such journals as American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and Blink.  He is affiliated with the Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito and is an adjunct in the graduate writing program at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. He lives in San Francisco.

Read an Excerpt

Visit Me in California

By Cooley Windsor
Copyright © 2008

Cooley Windsor
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8101-2496-7


I wore the wrong shoes for this. The last days have been so exciting, though, it's hard to plan ahead. I saw Moses stand before Pharaoh and cast down his staff before the king of Egypt. The staff lay there, twiggy and plain, until the first ripple, forky tongue, and the power came upon it. The miracle. And Moses-he did not even look down to see if the snakeness had commenced, no sir, but looked straight ahead at Egypt, the courtiers, and wizards, and hangers-on. No doubt in him. None.

I was amazed. What wonders and times. I hurried to the forest and pretended I was Moses. I picked up sticks and threw them down and practiced not looking at them, and made believe I was making serpents. Then I climbed a tree nearby and pretended I was Moses's staff. I'd jump out of the tree, land on the path, fall down rigid, lay there and count to ten, then wiggle and be a snake. Then I'd eat up the snakes of the wizards. I'd bite them hard and swallow them whole. I represented the power of God. I liked that too.

I was being a staff one last time, my eyes closed, body straight and firm, all ready to pretend Moses's hand was upon me and the glory of God in me, and I flung myself out of the tree-but hit something hard on the way down. I opened my eyes, and lo and behold, Moses had been on his way home through the woods and I'd jumped on him and knocked him down. His eyes were surprised as mine and neither of us said a thing. I was embarrassed to death. I thought, Well maybe I should make a little joke and set us at our ease. So I hissed at Moses and stuck my tongue out like a snake. I don't think he got the joke. He looked scared. So I jumped up, salaamed, and ran off.

Then there were the terrible plagues. There were bugs, blood, and the barley was smitten. The angel of death came. Everyone was sore afraid. What would happen next, there was no telling.

Finally Egypt gave up and told us to leave. We all got sanctified, circumcised-them of us that weren't already-and received some farm animals. We were going to a good land named Milk and Honey where none of us had been before. We were all eager. It was everybody's first trip.

We collected the bones of Joseph and were off. We were guided by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. The terrain was wild. Some people began to lose their enthusiasm and there were rumors rife.

We were at Baalzephon encamped by the sea. The angel that was being the pillars swung around behind us so that if we got pursued nobody could see where we were at. That thrilled me. I went around behind the tents pretending I was an angel. I would shoot out clouds, first little ones, then big ones and thunderheads. I'd let little rays of light shine through the clouds because I always thought that looked so pretty when it really happened. It looked religious.

I'd make lightning and thunder. "Boom. Boom," I yelled. That was thunder. I'd wave my hands and that would be my rain. Then I'd go "whoosh" and be a tower of fire. I imagined all the tribes behind me, grateful I was helping. "Thank you, angel. Thanks so much," they would cry.

"Glad to help, folks," I'd say and burn all the brighter.

Then I'd imagine I was appearing in a personal vision to Moses. I'd sway my fluffy wings at him to impress him. He'd be awestruck at my angel glory and light. My halo would look like the sun and my voice would be beautiful and loud. I'd know what we'd need to do next. "Pray," I'd say. That's always good advice.

"Divine angel," Moses would say, "I respect you most and like you best. What should we do?"

"Go across the ocean," I'd say. I'd already figured out that was what we needed to do next.

"How?" Moses would say, looking at me with a mixture of worshipfulness and genuine fondness.

I'd hold out my angel hands so he could see them better, how gorgeous they were, and I'd say, "Build bridges and pontoons."

Moses would see I was right and knew best. He'd kneel and weep with gratitude. "You are the best of all God's creations," he would say.

"Thank you," I would say.

Then we would have a rapture. Just me and Moses. I'd tell him all about where we were going and how much God loved people, almost as much as God loved me, which was most. And I'd explain about my crown and how all the other angels had to do what I said but that I was kind and they all loved working for me. And I'd heal Moses when he was sick and he'd love me too. And when he needed things I would give them to him. I'd take care of us. There wouldn't be any problems and everyone would be happy. Moses would be my best friend.

Then, I thought, maybe a bear or a demon would come to get Moses. The demon would want to drag Moses away. I trembled with my blessed power and thought, Halt, devil. Halt. Take this, and I threw a rock.

Then I thought, Back into hell, devil, and I threw another rock.

Then I raced up to a huge bush and cried, "Behold the power of God almighty," and threw a big rock into the bush-and heard a scream from the other side. I dashed around and saw that Moses had been urinating on the other side of the bush and I'd hit him in the head with the rock. I looked at him. He looked at me and he ran off. I slunk back to my tent. Of all the people for it to have been.

The next day we heard that the Egyptians were coming, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen and his army, the mighty hosts of war, and captains over every one of them. "Oh no," all of us said. "We're goners!" we all hollered. "Making grassy bricks was better than this."

And Moses said, "God shall this day get us honor upon Pharaoh. Now shut up." Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the waters were caused to go back by a strong wind, and the sea was divided, even its waters separated as walls, that there might be the land for our feet, even of all the people of the nation, each one. "Will you look at that," we all said. So we trudged into the air ditch that ran through the sea and started walking to the other side.

I had trouble. I always have this problem in lines. I seem to end up behind a shy person who waits for everyone else to go first. There'll be the line, then there'll be a big space of five feet or so with nobody, then the guy in front of me, and then me. People are always taking cuts. You can't even tell I'm standing in line because of the loser I always end up back of. And that happened just as all twelve tribes were filing into the dry part of the ocean. Just the idea was so exciting I couldn't wait to hop in. And there I was blocked off from what I wanted most. I could have died. Just up and withered on the vine.

It took forever for me to get into the passage. There were people everywhere. The farm animals we had gotten were zipping by. It was a lot of noise. I finally wedged in but I was almost the last one and by then I was upset and tense. Sometimes people just make you nervous and this was one of those times. I was so edgy I couldn't even pay attention to where I was or how things looked. I just stomped around in the nasty mud and hoped the Egyptians would get that slowpoke that had been in front of me.

So I didn't notice much until I stepped on a tentacle of an octopus that was laying in the path. He was squishy and looked sad. "Hi, little fellow," I said. "You need to be back in the water." So I scooped him up and went over to tuck him into the sea when the strong wind sucked me right up out of my shoes and blew me into the wall of water.

I can't swim. I was plugged on the bottom of the ocean with an octopus grabbed hold of my face, no air, and I couldn't get out. Through the blurry pane of water like a window I watched the other Israelites cruise by me with their carts, new domestic animals, and loved ones. I'm going to drown, I thought. What an awful fate for a desert dweller.

I started kicking my legs and tried to float. At a scary height, maybe ten or twelve feet off the ground, I blew out the last of my air and bubbled the octopus away, then, desperate, I gave a sideways lunge. I splashed through the water wall and plummeted and hit the oozy path with a smack. I was afraid I'd broken my back but I could still move my toes so I decided I was okay. My shoulder hurt, though. I started looking for my shoes-they were my good ones-but I couldn't see them. Then I looked around and realized I was the only one left on the path.

You hear about miracles. God making light, the animals getting on the ark and getting saved, all kind of wonders. But I was kneeling in that pasty mud when it hit me. Behold. Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power; the floods stand upright as a heap, the wind at thy command builds a wall in the ocean.

I laid back in the mud and watched the ribbon of blue sky far away at the top of an emerald canyon. You didn't need to know much about green to realize that these colors would never show up again in the world. The ripple and swirl. My dad used to tell me he loved me deeper than the ocean but I'd never realized how much that meant. All the wonder struck me-the clear bright sky, the glittering gathered water, the angel on the other side to guide us on our way. My soul sang praise. I held my muddy arms up toward the sky and cried, "Glory. Glory." I began to dance in the slime and sing of the greatness of the Lord who had delivered up the people out of bondage who were free from the taskmasters of Egypt. "We are free," I yelled. "We are redeemed."

I worshipped. I sang hymns. I jumped and leaped up. I stepped on a nail that must have fallen out of one of the carts and was hidden in the mud and gashed my foot. "Damn," I whispered. You really need shoes to go around on the bottom of the sea. I figured I better go catch up with the others and started tiptoeing through the mire. It was rough going. I stepped on anemones, crabs, oysters, lobsters, every manner of malevolence in a shell. No wonder we don't eat those things, I thought, they're so nasty. I could see a shark trailing me on the other side of the water wall. I thought, we've only been free for a little bit and I'm already half dead. The rumble behind me got my attention. Egypt. Oh. There I was on the floor of the ocean, barefoot and filthy, and no one there except the hand of God, the army of the enemy, and me. I moved faster. My feet were getting chewed up. You know what? Even defended by miracles and God and the angels of God, there's still not much safety in the world.

"Be swift, O my feet," I sang as they padded over stickers and biters. I ran and ran. I could hear the lofty trumpets of Pharaoh sound their call to arms, six hundred chosen chariots, all the chariots of Egypt and of its king. Their hoots and calls of derision scared the fish.

I could finally see the other shore with all Israel standing on it. I whizzed at my top speed, all behind me the racket of armies and the secular powers and offices loud as thunder. I looked up ahead and saw Moses peering at me. Oh, I hoped, maybe he doesn't recognize me or maybe he's forgotten. "If I live," I vowed, "I will be a better person. I will amend my ways and be good."

I sallied forth toward the figure of God's prophet who stood on the beach before me with his staff raised and his eyes dark and full of authority. "Save me, God. Save me," I prayed as I scampered toward the end of the path, and with the clamor of mighty armies behind me, I dived out of the ocean and clutched the sand and safety of the shore.


Learning Our Lines: 1952

Mommy is dying. There is a lump growing inside her and it takes all the food. Mommy sleeps alone now and Grandmother sleeps on a cot next to Mommy's bed so she can hear if anything happens or she's needed. Daddy sleeps in my bed and I sleep with Sissy in her bed. Sissy says, "I don't want nobody else sleeping in my bed," but Grandmother tells her please not to talk. Sissy talks all the time.

In the mornings Daddy goes to work at the grocery store and Grandmother gives Mommy a bath. Grandmother puts baking soda in the tub so Mommy won't itch. She leaves the door cracked so she can hear Sissy and me or if any company comes. Then Grandmother dresses Mommy in a good dress and puts her on the couch for practice. Mommy lies there with her eyes closed and Grandmother tells her she was the best daughter in the world and how much she loves her. Then Sissy and I say how much we love her and then we begin. We practice things backward pretty much to how it will really be. We start by being the choir and sing some hymns. Then Grandmother welcomes Sissy and me like we're the congregation and she's the preacher. She cries out:

"And I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.'"

Grandmother throws her arms out over the couch and cries, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature," and Sissy cries, "Old things are passed away," and I cry, "Behold, all things are become new."

Then there's parts. Grandmother says, "I'll be Old Lady Whitaker," and then says, "Oh, you are such good children. Mind your poor daddy and be a comfort to him. I pray for you all every day," and we say, "Thank you, Miss Whitaker, God bless you."

I say, "I'll be Deacon Parker," so I say, "What a loss for us all. Everyone loved your mother so much. Our thoughts are with you. Please let us know if there's anything we can do for you folks."

Grandmother says, "Thank you so much. It's hard but we must bear up to the Lord's will," and Sissy says, "Thank you, Deacon Parker. God bless you."

Then Sissy says, "I'll be Mommy."

"Sissy!" grandmother snaps.

"Mommy's being Mommy," I say. Sissy makes me so mad. She can't do anything right.

Grandmother says, "I think that's enough parts," and that's the end of the funeral.

Next is preparation of the body. We fill Mommy's mouth with Q-tips. Grandmother whispers, "Be careful." Once one of the ends broke off and Mommy coughed and coughed before she could hawk up the safety swab.

Now we're to the beginning. To death. Grandmother gets out the box of birthday candles, pink and blue and white. She lights one with a match and tells Mommy to look at it. Mommy opens her eyes. Q-tips stick out her mouth. Grandmother holds the candle over Mommy for a minute and then blows out the candle. Smoke floats from the hot wick. Sissy is crying behind me and Grandmother covers her own face with her hand. My eyes fill with tears and everything is blurry. I can hardly see as Mommy lies on the couch, practicing how to die.

Getting Ready for Later: 1955

Each night at nine after Daddy closes the grocery store, Sissy and I enter through the loading-dock doors in the alley. We walk through the back stockroom and push through the swinging doors to the front part where the food is. Our thongs echo in the dark store, and Daddy calls to us as we pad past the pet supplies, the vegetable stall, and the dairy case. Against the closed venetian blinds there's the outline of the quiet cash registers. When we get to the butcher's counter, we stop and take all our clothes off. Daddy pulls out the big can of oleoresin from behind the compressor where he keeps it, and we smear ourselves with the thick orange wax. Daddy says, "I know what it's like in the world and it's hard to believe it's bad as it is. Everything you love can die and then you don't have anything of your own. All you can hope is that you'll be able to get away someplace safe where no one will know where you're at. That's what love does. It teaches you to be invisible." Then Daddy kisses our waxy faces and lifts us up and sets us in the meat case.


Excerpted from Visit Me in California by Cooley Windsor
Copyright © 2008 by Cooley Windsor. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

"The Last Israelite in the Red Sea"
"Four of the Times My Sister Cried"
"The Art of War"
"The Fleshly School of Poetry"
"Meet the Author"
"The End of the World"
"In Parting"
"Three Mediums in San Francisco"
"The Hilton Ephiphany"

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Visit Me in California 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
amf0001 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The best books give you a glimpse of a different perspective. I loved this collection of short (sometimes very short!) stories. I have 2 quibbles - one that the stories seemed to be grouped in two eras - the ancient world, and 20th century America, and I would have liked it if they had been grouped together rather than jumping back and forth. You get used to reading about ancient Greece, and then the next story is set in a supermarket, and then it's back to ancient Greece again. I would have liked all the ancient stories together. And secondly - the title is meaningless and misleading. I wish they had thought of a better one, because this one gives no indication what the book is about.But the stories are wonderful! If it's Homer lamenting that his blindness makes him unwelcome at court, and how the actors say his words better than he can, or the gay man who feels guilty about giving his friends ashes back to his mother (and gives such a wonderful description of the mother) the stories are rich with nuance and life, and an appreciation of the quirkiness that makes us human, whether today or 3,000 years ago, the fundamentals remain the same.I enjoyed all the stories and will remember many of them!
gkleinman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
To some Cooley Winder's stories will be 'just the ticket'. He's got a very specific style and wit which I can see could be appealing. But to me this book was like watching an episode of 'The Office' if you don't like the style of humor. Winder's stories are biblicaly obsessive, self deprecating and wacked. But I just didn't connect with them and found this short book a chore to get through. I much prefer The Cantor's Daughter: Stories by Scott Nadelson for real quality short stories and Oedipus Wrecked by Kevin Keck for wacked tales.