READING THE RINGS
On the plane from Miami to Puerto Rico, Julia takes a small package from her purse. It’s wrapped tightly in the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times
Science Section, scotch-tape criss-crossing each of the corners. She scans the words--- something about how ducks imprint on their mothers--- and then peels
back the newsprint to uncover a black, leather-bound journal. Jake’s head has just fallen toward her, his long brown-grey hair shading his face from view. She
can hear his even, sleeping breath, and knows he won’t wake until the stewardess makes the landing announcement. She runs her fingers along the cover of the
book, traces her initials, JAL, and the number, 21. Twenty-one years. She remembers the first journal Jake gave her, also on a plane, and the thrill that had
gone though her. He remembered. She had opened it, handed him a pen and said, “Write down what you think it’ll be like there.” Jake groaned, No, No please,
he had said, but she was smiling— she loved this exercise and made her students do it all the time, whenever they were embarking on any new experience. She’
d ask them to imagine what the air would feel like, the people they would meet, the color of the sky. The students fought her, just like Jake, but she knew that
when they were deeper into it, whatever it was, they loved coming back and realizing how different their presumptions were from the reality.
That first journal was black leather, too, but not as fine as this, with it’s beautiful red stitching. Jake had given her back the pen that time. “You first,” he’d
said. “Okay.” She held the pen above the open page, and then wrote, in her tight little lefty’s script, Too many people close by. House small and dark. But
outside, no place to get out of the sun. Nervous to be with Jake for all that time. Will he get tired of me and want to leave early? What if we don’t know how to
work together, to make this vacation fun for both of us? What will it be like to have all that time on our hands, and no plans? She thought of tearing out the
page and stuffing it in her purse, but decided to leave it be.
“No peeking,” she’d said, turning the page and handing Jake the pen. He didn’t write anything for a long time. Then he picked up her hand, kissed each of her
fingers. Hot, sunny, perfect weather, he wrote. Gorgeous house. Plenty of privacy. Sex everywhere. Heaven.
She has them all, books 1 through 20, lined up on Woody’s curly maple sideboard in her dining room. Woody left her all the good furniture, the silver, the gold-
plated dinnerware. Julia has carted her grandmother’s possessions around the country, first to Buffalo, then a mirror or a table to one boarding school or
another, one teaching job or the next, until she finally settled at Simon’s Rock ten years ago. Each piece now has a home, and Julia never gets tired of any of
She moves the journals into the bedroom on the rare occasions when one of her colleagues or a student comes over for dinner or a conference. She realizes how
nutty this is— why doesn’t she just leave them in the bedroom and be done with it? But she loves the way the leather and the wood look together, soft and hard,
and when Jake comes to spend the night, she wants them visible, where he can pick one up at random. “Listen to this,” Jake will say. “'Rainy, humid,
unfriendly locals. Bad food.' You wrote that. Guess where we were going.” Julia tries not to look at the number on the front of the book, because that would be a
dead giveaway. Number 4— Hilton Head; Naples, Florida; Montreal. Number 19— Thailand; Paris; San Francisco. But she doesn’t need to see the number to
remember writing that entry. It was Book 2, and they were headed to San Juan, Puerto Rico. That turned out to be a glorious trip, a lazy, funny, sunny vacation
that made them fall in love with all of Puerto Rico. They have been back many times— to Vieques (Book 3), Culebra (Book 7), Rincon (Book 11), Vieques again
(Book 15), Humacao (Book 17).
Now, twenty years after they first discovered Puerto Rico’s charms, they are heading to Vieques again, to a beach house they have never seen, Las Piedras, The
House of Rocks. Julia takes out her pen and writes, Wonderful house. Great breezes. Big deck with lots of spaces to read or sleep. Morning shade. Evening star-
watching. Long lazy strolls on a beach that’s all but deserted. Locals on horseback smiling at us. Best of all, Jake within reach every minute of the day and the
Without even realizing it, Jake's optimism has worn off on her.
And then she turns to the last page and starts making little hash marks. She marks off four of them, frowns, and then adds two more. Six, she thinks, and
smiles. Six. And the vacation hasn’t really even started.
I love the beach house, Las Piedras, in Vieques, Puerto Rico, so much that I had to write a book that was set there! I will
be posting more and more of READING THE RINGS within the next few months.
|"Reading The Rings"
By, Martha Frankel
Martha frankel is the author of Hats & Eyeglasses (a Memoir) and Brazilian Sexy (How to Live a Gorgeous and Confident Life).
READING THE RINGS is her first foray into fiction
I grew up in a warm and loving family of die-hard gamblers, where my father's poker games and my mother's mah jongg blended with
big pots of delicious food and endless gossip and storytelling. As kids my sister, Helene, and my cousins and I bet on everything--which
of our Weight Watching mothers would lose the most every week, who could hold their breath longest underwater or eat the most
matzo, Maris versus Mantle. I went with my father and uncles to the track most Tuesdays, carrying the Daily Racing Form in my
bookbag, and when I was twelve and predicted a big race, they anointed me "The Grecian," in honor of oddsmaker Jimmy the Greek.
But by the time I turned eighteen, I convinced myself that the gambling gene had passed me by. I went off to the University of Miami,
looking to find a life that didn¹t include perusing the sports section and making bets on anything that caught my fancy.
I left college because my advisor told me that English majors had to go on to become English teachers. I didn't want to be a teacher. I
wanted to be a writer. Although I had never trusted anyone in authority, I did believe that idiot advisor.
So for years I wrote funny little newsletters for my friends, sent missives that had people howling, had pen-pals far and near.
And then I got lucky. I met editor Annie Flanders, who was just starting the original DETAILS Magazine. She either saw potential in me
or felt sorry for the miserable state of my life, I'll never be sure which. But she took me under her wing and had me start writing for the
magazine. Annie's only mandate was that you were passionate about what you wrote. I had passion in abundance.
I started as DETAILS book reviewer. I spent hours on my couch, reading literary memoirs and scary mysteries, short stories and deep
works of fiction. I went to sold-out readings and book signings, big book conventions and tiny underground poetry slams. I got to go to
The Miami Book Fair, where I met Jane Smiley, TC Boyle, Richard Ford, Ray Carver and other writers who were so inspiring to me. My
column, Book 'Em, was a complete joy to write each month.
I wrote the first Knifestyles of the Rich and Famous, a first-person, on-going column about plastic surgery for DETAILS. This was in the
mid-80's, when plastic surgery was still in the closet. I had my breasts made smaller (one of the highlights of my life), and met women
and men who had every single part of themselves transformed. These people told me their stories, both successes and failures.
Knifestyles was both uplifting (no pun intended) and very frightening-- when plastic surgery goes wrong, it goes horribly wrong.
Then I interviewed Aidan Quinn, my first "celebrity" interview. Aidan was so funny and charming, and we went on to become good
friends. I started doing more entertainment pieces. I did a cover story on Elizabeth Taylor and went to her house for a bar-b-que,
interviewed Nic Roeg, whose films (Don't Look Now, Performance, and Bad Timing) I so admired, and got a tour of the newly opened
Tribeca Film Center with a very chatty Robert De Niro....
Meet her at a bakery on a miserable morning of freezing rain and treacherous
roads in the Catskills, not far from Woodstock, and in five minutes you will
feel not only as if you have known Martha Frankel all your life, but as if you
still have one of her sweaters.
A Wing and a Prayer
She doesn't always play her cards right. But
entertainment journalist Martha Frankel,
who grew up watching middle-aged men in leisure suits
playing poker at her parents' table and scored her first kiss
at the racetrack, proves in her intimate, exuberant memoir,
Hats & Eyeglasses (Tarcher/Penguin), that even in the face
of a gambling addiction, frank self-appraisal and an armload
of hugs can sometimes win the day.