Open Door Policy

The most-often committed crimes are theft and burglary – in my town, my county, the country, and probably the world. Crimes of convenience.

When the night is cool – in the 50s, say – I leave my bedroom window open. I wake up nervous at being vulnerable, leaving myself exposed, inviting a burglar (bad enough) or worse. To the cats’ chagrin, sometimes I panic and slam the window shut.

Not a summer passes that I don’t discover I’ve left a window open while I’ve been out all day – and ye gods sometimes I’ve forgotten to close and lock an entire door.

Good thing the criminals of convenience haven’t met my thief of memory.

You know. Yet.

A box

I want to give you a box of dishes
to hurl them, smash them, break them
on the floor.
Saucers fly.
Teacups shatter.
Zorba the Greek’s got nothing on you.
Stomp the box to a yowling, howling pulp.

I want to give you a box of comfort
to curl inside – hiding, quiet
quiet except for the teardrops
that plink against the cardboard.
Cut air holes. Remember to breathe.
Anger sucks all the oxygen out of life.
Love doesn’t die.
Sometimes it just can’t grow.

I want to give you a box of boxes
to fill with what-ifs, to burn.
“I’m sorry for hurting you.”
You say. Or did she?
In your hands, a little box,
half-full of hard-won answers,
pokes you as you hug good-bye.

© Copyright 2012, Jane Harkins. All Rights Reserved.

Red Cross

Every 59 days I gird myself, head to the nearest drive, and give blood. All goes smoothly most of the time, but no matter what happens a technician is taught to exude confidence so the donor doesn’t leap off the table and run for the door, despite bribes of cookies and a juice box.

There will be pain, but seriously – no worse than picking a scab or stubbing one’s toe. Yes, this is the pep talk I give myself as I provide my medical and travel history, right before Wanda drills a hole in my finger.


“Okay. Let’s see those elbows. – Excellent. We won’t have any problem at all. – Squeeze your fist and hold. – Stick and sting – we’re in.” Wanda pauses to assess the flow. “Good – good – oh. Wait. It stopped. What happened?”

She pokes and prods, maintaining her game face. “Let me just…”

I flinch.

“…oh that must have hurt. I’m sorry. One more time. Okay?”

“Since I’m here….”

Jab jab jab prod jab. “Nope. Hmm. Carol?”

“You need some help?” the supervisor asks.

“Just a little.”

“Be right there,” Carol assures us.

“I’ll keep trying,” Wanda assures us.

All the other donors who started about the same time I did are headed to the snack bar. Carol joins us, sees my longing gaze. “Would you like some water?”

“Oh yes please.”

Carol gives Wanda this task while she attends to the recalcitrant needle. She pokes and jabs, presses on the vein, tugs on the tourniquet, gets nowhere. “Oh. I see. When she rocked, you rolled.”

Not the needle. Just a tricky vein.

“Would you like to try the other arm?”

I shrug. “Sure.” My enthusiasm has waned, but not my determination.

The blood that didn’t go in the bag runs down my elbow and pools on the table. “So now you want to bleed,” Carol says, cleaning me up.

A fresh kit, fresh swabs – again we start. Pop.

“You can tell that one went in,” Carol crows. “You nearly came off the table! And look – you’re flowing now!”

I drink my water in celebration and don’t watch as I fill the bag.

I listen to the instructions – “Don’t smoke, don’t lift weights, drink extra water, and don’t skip any meals.”

I head to the cookie basket ready to start on that last one, sporting my “I Gave Blood” stickers and several Band-Aids like badges.


© Copyright 2012, Jane Harkins. All Rights Reserved.

2220 Paris Time

It’s barely dusk, and it’s barely 10:20 p.m.

Tonight I can see the half moon through the open window and the reflection of the brilliantly lit Tower in the window itself, tilted open to let in cool air and the noisy city.

Today I bought a pair of shoes. I’m a sucker for a nice old man salesman or I probably wouldn’t have bought them. But I couldn’t resist.

The sitting area in his shop was the size of a suitcase, and it was filled with a counter stacked with shoeboxes barricading the cash register, four chairs for fitting – one of which was behind two more stacks of shoeboxes – and two other customers.

The salesman spoke no English, and I spoke no French, including body language. When he pointed to his cheek I didn’t understand that he would follow me and I would point to the shoes in the window that I wanted to try on. His shop partner translated the action, so off we went.

The old man nodded at my pointing finger, took my European foot size with the old-fashioned silver-and-black measuring device, and worked his way into the back, past towers more boxes, where he disappeared for many minutes. At last he returned with a box just for me. I took off my sandals and looked up to take the left shoe from him, but he reached past my hand, took my ankle, and guided my foot into the shoe.

Still bent over, he placed my foot on his thigh and proceeded to lace up the shoe.  I felt like a well-cared for little girl.

He repeated the process with the right shoe.

I grinned my Imagepleasure at this grandfatherly treatment, which I imagine he took for a sale. And really – I couldn’t say no.

Before he turned to ring me up, he asked me something in French. I’ve yet to advance past merci and bonjour and bonsoir – though tonight I was taught bonsoiré from a fruit vendor, whose smile lit his round, brown face as he held his arms out round and wide, to show me “all encompassing” – so I couldn’t answer the nice, grandfatherly man. Even though his partner translated for him, I still couldn’t answer the question, because I would swear he asked, “What is the population of Alaska?” – and at my puzzled look clarified with, “How many people are there in the world that eat bread?”

I paid the man and thanked him profusely before rejoining my travel mates on Rue Cler – my now- favorite market street.

I have new shoes that hurt my already sore feet – and an utterly delightful memory that warms my heart.


© Copyright 2012, Jane Harkins. All Rights Reserved.

To Know a Place

How can everything be a blur when we were moving at the speed of a walk? Miles and miles of walk.

At last we’re seated, in the cool dark of the Westin Hotel near the Place de la Concorde – not because we’re guests here but because of the Internet and the bathrooms, and because it’s cool and dark.

Aren’t big, faceless hotels nice? No one is asking us if we belong, if we’d like to move along.

What I’d like is a nap. I think their laissez-faire attitude might stop shy of a room.

Perhaps if we sit here long enough, my mind will slow and I will recall individual images:

The rows of concrete rosettes on the underside of the Arc de Triomphe, stretched over our heads, over the head of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Meeting the tiny dynamo of a woman on the Metro who has lived so many places that I’ve lived – South Florida, Michigan, Maryland – except I was born in Massachusetts and she was born in Brazil. She and her daughter waved goodbye and jumped off the subway at the Eiffel Tower stop.

The Eiffel Tower, around which the city turns, appearing unexpectedly around a building or over the treetops, Imageslowing me, the blur clearing. Colors quiet and become solid.

Near the foot of the Tower are cafés. I don’t know one from the next, but I’m drawn to the red awning and the wood chairs burnished shiny rich having been polished by the sliding on and off of so many derrieres.

The peach-strawberry smoothie at Haagen-Dazs along the Champs Elysées: cool and quenching – and only 7 euros!

Store upon store upon store of expensive everything. It’s fun to look in the window of Cartier. And funny that the giant clock hanging outside the Rolex store gives the wrong time.

The City of Light is known for being a walking town – as in to know the place by walking it, to be le flâneur. I fear if I travel any faster than a walk my head would never stop spinning and I would have seen all these fabulous sights for nothing. Nor would I appreciate so much at night settling into my room, with a view of the spindle that is the center to this whirling hub – Le Tour Eiffel – filling my view, bright on dark, until my eyes close, and I feel no more blur.


© Copyright 2012, Jane Harkins. All Rights Reserved.

In Paris with our Ps and Qs

It’s easy to forget things when you’re traveling. I forgot my toothbrush. And since my French consists of saying ‘Good day’ and ‘Thank you’ I haven’t figured out how to replace it yet.

Yes, Parisians can be haughty and cavalier to the point of being brusque. – It’s their city. Leave them be. – Most of the time they respond nicely to good manners. Greet the sales clerk as you walk in the store, the desk clerk at your hotel, your waiter.

Say, “Bonjour, madam” or “Bonjour, monsieur.” You’ll be rewarded with same – and sometimes much more. Most Parisians know at least a smattering of English. They’ll laugh at their own mistranslations and take yours in stride.

The street artist must be charming or he can’t sell you his work, but he’s like most artists: if you show your appreciation he’ll love you forever – or at least until the end of the sale.

French waiters are efficient and quick, which can be daunting when they’re in a hurry for you to decide and you can’t tell the difference between the Terrine de Saumon aux Epinards and the Aile de Raie aux Câpres. But oh when you land the waiter with charm and wit, such as we did.

ImageCute to the bone with a boyish grin, Jonathan corrected my French matter-of-factly and took our picture with “But of course –  it is my second job: photographer.”

Unlike most American restaurants where you’re handed  multiple receipts in the ubiquitous black holder without explanation, he handed each piece of paper to me separately: “This is your receipt. This copy is for you.” He paused. “This one is for me. May I have your autograph please?”

Merci,” I replied.

I think I’m afraid to say anything in French for fear the natives will begin speaking to me as if I actually understand them. It happens, but the notion is quickly dispelled with a smile and an awkward “Non. Just bonjour.” They usually smile back and nod, understandingly.

I know it’s easy to forget things when you travel, but with a word of thanks in another person’s language and a smile in my own, things, such as toothbrushes, are easily replaced…so long as I don’t forget my manners.


© Copyright 2012, Jane Harkins. All Rights Reserved.