Amy Barlow Liberatore… stories of lost years, wild times, mental variety, faith, and lots of jazz

Author Archives: Sharp Little Pencil

No, this isn’t about my first marriage – it’s much, much more personal.

Ron Johnson, the senator from my adopted home state of Wisconsin, seems poised to retain his seat. There is not enough space in the blogosphere to convey my distaste for him, for his politics, for his everything. “Personal” doesn’t begin to touch how many ways he offends me – LGBT issues, especially Trans protections; freedom of my and everyone else’s uterus to belong to the owner of said uterus; immigration; racial, social, and economic justice; Native American issues; and just being the white, straight, cisgender, cluelessly entitled rich man his is. (If you think of any more, kindly leave them in the comments.)

The worst thing to happen in WI – aside from Scott Walker (former governor) and Joe McCarthy (architect of HUAC and famous conspiracy theorist – back before the term had been coined). No one has given me more cause to shout at my TV since T*rump was in office.

Good news: the aforementioned former president (and fetid toad) seems to have lost momentum. A spark of hope in an otherwise rather dim sky. I know that retaining a 50/50 Senate should feel like a win, and I can work with the result. But Herschel Walker? Really? Like “my eyes cannot roll back far enough in my HEAD really?” Honestly.

As Luka is wont to say, “I can’t even.” Luka has more colorful words, but I will stick with the non-sweary terms. My kid has never missed a vote, and they are 34 now. I have always been ridiculously proud of them. But their understanding of the democratic process is truly on the Top Ten Reasons Luka Rocks.

There will be time enough to rant. Let’s end on the My Kid Rocks part. Amen.

WARNING: If you don’t know where babies come from/if you don’t want to read the “F” word or any derivations of same, as they said in The Wizard of Oz, “I’d turn back now if I were you.”

Here is how I found out about human reproduction. When I was about 12, my mom said to me, “We need to have a talk. Let me get my appointment book.”

The formality was very much in keeping with my relationship with Mom, who was horrified at any talk about the human body. Not just sex. Anything. Except for her teenaged bout of appendicitis – she could go on for hours describing the torture, ending with the horrid incision. Why the beauty of human reproduction was not in her vernacular, but lurid descriptions of surgery and bile and barfing were, I will never know.

Like so many of my generation, practically everything I learned about sex was anecdotal. One of my friends whispered to me, “Did you hear about the boy and girl who died fucking? When her parents found them, they were still stuck together.” I didn’t want to admit I didn’t know what she was talking about. Compounding that was the fact that I thought she said they “died fucky,” and I didn’t know what that adjective meant, so I just nodded and wondered whether I could ask my sister.

Now if I never told you before, Mom was an alcoholic. Her family were shanty Irish for generations, all heavy smokers and drinker. Mom said they were “pigs in the parlor poor, but we didn’t have pigs and couldn’t afford a parlor.” Needless to say, about an hour before we were supposed “our appointment,” she started to fortify herself, but good. I spotted her little crystal punch glass in the fridge, back around the corner behind the milk. My sister and I always kept an eye peeled for that, so we could gauge how well dinner and everything after that would go.

She ducked in the fridge four times, went through four punch glasses of sherry. Then she shooed my dad out to play golf and made sure my sisters were elsewhere. We sat down at the kitchen table. She had poured a little something in her coffee, too… and away we went.

Paper and pen. She drew an approximate representation of a vaginal canal, a uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. “Now this, this here…” she stabbed the page at the ovaries, “is where the eggs are. One pops out every month, and it trrrravvvvellls…” (pen traces the tubes) “down to here. This is where the babies are made. And when you are with your husband, well, um…” (sip) “the egg gets fertilized and grows into a baby. Then,” (she drew a big X at the bottom of the vaginal canal) “it comes out here. And then you have a baby.”

“But first, you have to have your period. Someday soon, you’ll get a little stomach ache, and there’ll be some blood on your underpants. So you have to put on a belt and a sanitary napkin to make sure you don’t bleed through your clothes.” (sip) (burp) “So let’s get the pads.”

I tried to make sense of what she was telling me. There’s gonna be blood coming from my stomach ache? Was the blood gonna run out of my stomach? Is my belly button going to bleed? Then why do I put stuff in my undies? Why not my belly button? So many questions. And who puts a napkin in their underpants?

We wandered up the hall (she was bumping into walls by this time), into the bathroom. She pointed to a mysterious box that was always in place, but my oldest sister said I wasn’t supposed to touch it. And a little elastic thingie with clasps on it. Mom trussed me up with the belt and two ends of the napkin stuck into the garters and marched me down the hall, the pad so bulky I walked like a duck. This woman business was gonna be bad, I knew it.

NOTE: No minipads in those days. Oh, and no pantyhose, just a garter belt and stockings. Everything was analog.

We sat back down at the kitchen table. She was leaning on her elbows. I was sitting on top of a mountain of cotton, sure she had it all wrong.

Class dismissed. She toddled into the living room to resume her other habit, smoking Bel Airs. As for the egg being fertilized, it could have involved peat moss, I had no idea. And where on earth did that baby come out? The pee place or the poop place?

Next time, we will talk about how I learned about menopause. Class dismissed.

© 2022 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil, Beehat Baby Publishing

I’m 19
I’m on the way to a singing engagement
(because all teenagers do that)
I’m driving my first car
a ’62 Volvo sedan, standard shift
Her name was Marie Dressler
“Big, white, built like a truck, but a lot of class”

I’m pulled up to a stop light
One glance in the rearview says
somebody doesn’t see the stop light
and is barreling toward me fastfastfast

Instinct kicks in
I hit the clutch
Pull my foot off the brake and brace myself
SLAMCRASHCRUNCH AND riiiiip (this last, my seat running back in its track)

I pry open the door
I run back to the other car
I have, in a matter of seconds, prepared a diatribe
for which no amount of punctuation will do
but it begins with “WHAT THE F&%$!!*&???”

The driver rolls down the window of her
equally solid ’69 Buick sedan
and before I can get a word out, says sweetly
“I’m Sister Mary Elizabeth from St. Joseph’s Hospital”

Even though I am not Catholic
and still pretty steamed
I say, “Oh, Sister, are you all right?”
because my best friend is Catholic
(He was later a priest but is now retired and agnostic
Perhaps The Church didn’t celebrate PRIDE properly)

Sister whimpers, “I’m all right…
but my mother cut her lip”
Her mother. A NUN’S MOTHER
in the passenger seat
bleeding from the mouth but assuring me that
“I’m all right, dear”
in the tone of that mother in the how-many-moms flashbulb joke:
“That’s OK, honey, I’ll just sit in the dark”

I close the door
on her rosary beads

And now the full weight of consequence is clear
my first lay was a priest… yup
If that affair hadn’t condemned me to Hell
(and the requisite accordion – Gary Larson warned us about that)
this surely would

And then I hear my mom’s advice
her voice honeyed and in the key of Ab
“Never put your mascara on before you get to the venue.
You never know when something will make you cry before you get there.”

Marie Dressler was totaled
I was in shock, but was later told that
I got to the gig in a police car
and played piano and sang full voice
for four hours straight without a break

The nun never even got a ticket but

The Catholic Church shelled out $600 (twice what I paid for the car)
That money bought me a ticket to LA
and three months’ rent, into what would be
fun, music, and a whole lot of hurt

But that’s a story for another day

© 2022 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Beehat Baby Words & Music

True story, like all the best ones. It’s a wonder I ever made it out of my teens. The gig was quite successful, the tip jar was filled to overflowing. I sang a bunch of requests I really didn’t think I knew, but I must have heard them in an elevator. I even sang “Feelings,” the song I despise more than most. Also “Piano Man,” which is another song I despise more than most. Ah, life!

I read with horror the comments of (my) WI Sen. Ron Johnson, who endorses mouthwash to prevent Covid, lies about Dr. Fauci and medicine in general, and thinks taking horse de-wormer is acceptable medical treatment. I can’t believe anyone would avoid taking a vaccine because of a doofus like him, but then a thought occurred.

Perhaps the Trump faithful are letting Covid drag on, sowing doubt about Dr. Fauci, so we will become more and more hopeless. Drained. Depressed and isolated. I spoke with a member of our church about “sadness fatigue,” the endless parade of disaster on the news. So much is unavoidable, but there is a whole lot about our country that can be set right, if only we have the collective energy.

But what if the Ron Johnsons of the country are spreading disinformation and causing more chaos as a means to an end?

The scenario: Get folks to mistrust science and “the government,” or as the Qists think of it, the baby-eating megamonsters… keep them stirred up as a distraction. Then, they can, I don’t know, run knuckleheads in elections from the school boards to state office (while also putting their minions on election boards). From Charlottesville to January 6 and beyond, from George Floyd to countless Black men since… and all the trans women of color? No one cares about them (just Caitlyn Jenner, because according to someone I overheard) “Bruce is a Republican.” Ugh ugh ugh

Maybe I’m cynical (“No, really?” someone in the back row snorted), but the more I look at the Ivermectin Idiots and the more I listen to people wax effusive over Ron DeSantis and DJT (who wouldn’t spit on them if they were on fire), the more I realize this situation is, to paraphrase, “One third of the country wanting to destroy another third of the county, while that final third just watches.”

So which third will I be in? Which third will write history?

Which third will you be?

In space, he found a mission, that is,

he found a mission in space

Founded a mission to fit Kirk tight into a tuna can

where he must have found it hard to have found air

drawing what air he could by sucking hard

and hoping nobody got a picture of that mess

Meanwhile, man is murdering the beaches

Squeezing atmosphere ever tighter

Drawing the last blasts of dino poop, sloppy and speedy

to make ever more fuel for Cowboy Jeff Bejezzus to

pop his cork (and champagne) and do the victory dance that

all flabbyass spoiled nimrods perform

when they think they’ve done it just right

(Look, Ma, no hands)


© 2021 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For The Sunday Whirl, I think I used just about all the words provided. (Look, Ma, no hands)

He sits in comfort, here in the crammed confines
of the sweaty summer subway
As they say in Brooklyn, “It ain’t the heat, it’s the humanity.”
The ticket is a token, but the price is man-spreading white guys
in fine shoes, slick hair, and no car
So lame, these day-trading types
Maybe if he were eight months pregnant (as I am),
he would understand the pull of gravity, that need for a relatively clean bathroom… relatively soon
But he occupies the space of two people
Until I whisper, “Give me your seat, or I swear I will
pee on your shoes so hard the tassels will shrink”
Thus, my discomfort is avenged

© 2021 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For The Sunday Whirl, and damn! I used almost all the words! It feels like winning.

And thanks to my Luka for their contribution, by way of residence in my womb at that moment

Back in my Buffalo days, sitting on our generous front porch (rather, our landlord’s, but still), we had a view of the whole neighborhood on Ardmore Place. Everything. And every house had a front porch, which was ideal for getting to know people when you’re new to the neighborhood. We had neighbors from every walk of life. Black, brown, white, gay, straight, what I now understand as gender-fluid and queer (that took some learning, and thanks, Luka). No one minded that we were one of “those white families,” in part because I went to each house and introduced myself and talked about my family. My kid’s school had students from more than 20 countries; dialects spoken, 50 or so.

Most folks would call our street a “melting pot,” but hell no, no one was melting into anyone else. This was something better: community within our unique ways of being, of worshiping, of loving, of speaking. People mostly had some grasp of English, but the grandmothers and elders were exempt. This could cause a problem for some of the students, because they might have to take their abuelita to the clinic and serve as her translator, get her scripts filled, etc.

My best friend in our neighborhood was Muna Abdallah, whose kids were Luka’s age. Her son Ramee dragged me down to their house on my first day after the move, “Come have coffee with my mom. She makes the best!” From that first cup of what would best be described as high-octane deep-rich-fullness that poured like molasses and had little crunchy bits in the bottom of the cup, we were fast friends. More on how that grew later on. Let’s just say we moved to Buffalo to live in a heavily Arabic community in August 2001. So yeah, a lot more to say about Muna and co.

There was a house on the corner adjacent to Muna’s house that was a rental. It tended to change hands frequently, in part because it was an absentee landlord who probably tossed people the minute they were late with the rent. They were part of the story of The Noisy Neighbor and the Quiet Neighbor.

The new tenants blasted their music. I mean, blasted, like concert-grade-speakers-in-the-back-yard loud. It didn’t help that their yard was directly across the street from a brick high school, so the sound bounced all over the neighborhood. A couple of neighbors complained to me, because they knew how much we all loved that front porch, sitting, whiling away the early evening hours. And perhaps because I was The White Lady, they kind of figured that I would understand their complaints. (Don’t get me wrong, I was livid that one occupant could wreak havoc on the whole street, but it is more complicated than “Amy wants to work her crossword in peace.”)

I asked them plainly if they had spoken to said neighbor. They blanched. And they expected me to do it, because I was a community organizer by profession and, after all, The White Lady. They figured I had magical powers. (Now, I know that is partly true, but it wasn’t magic. It was my complexion, my melanin-challenged face, that was the source of my power.) I had not introduced myself to the new neighbors when they moved in, either. Looking back, that would have been a good start, but during the move, they swore at their kids a lot, and it turned me off from the get-go.

The next day was Saturday, and they were full-tilt by 11 am, so loud that, when I tried to talk to my sister on the phone, there was way to hear her. So I walked down the block to see if I could manage a compromise.

The family had two tables outside. And I have to tell you, this old musician found they had a professional-grade sound setup. But it was so loud I was wincing. So I waved and smiled and motioned that I wanted to say hello and could they please turn it down a second so we could speak? They turned it down to a dull roar, didn’t smile, knew I was probably there to ask them to turn it down more. And without a word, the man leaned over and (quite theatrically) turned the knob up to even louder than it was before.

So here is one thing I got out of it. The noisy neighbor disturbs the quiet neighbor with their noise. But the quiet neighbor’s quiet never disturbs the noisy neighbor because THE NOISY NEIGHBOR CAN’T HEEEEEARRRR the quiet’s neighbor’s quietude.

The end.

Many thanks to Roger O. Green for his post about neighbors and their complaints/theatrics. In fact, scroll through his blog. You can tell by the variety of topics and links that he is a former librarian! And his taste in music is impeccable.

Thank you for the visit, it really was sublime
To catch up on the news after all this time
I packed in such a hurry, some things got left behind
So if you wouldn’t mind…

My toothbrush and my dental floss, I left them on the sink
And a lone Peruvian earring, in the living room, I think
Some pictures of my daughter on the table by the door
And my lingerie we left scattered on the floor
It’s really quite the laundry list, but there’s one more thing I missed:

Bring back my heart, return it to me, at the first convenient opportunity
It was left there on the shelf and I had planned to keep it to myself
I didn’t leave it in the bedroom, I’m not blasé
That’s not the place where hearts are given away
Perhaps it was the restaurant, where you took my hand
And told me life had not worked out exactly as you planned

You asked me whether I had hopes to share my life again
And I told you God had plans for me but wouldn’t tell me when
My heart was mine alone, and until we kissed, I thought it had turned to stone

Bring back my heart, we’ll see what’s in store
Make my office gossip when you show up at the door
Bring back my heart, but until you do
I know it’s safe with you

So put it in your pocket, keep it close
Hold it with the treasures you love most
And when you return it, here is what I’ll do:
I will scent it with roses, wrap it in lace
Lay it in the lining of a golden case
And I will give it right back to you

© 1996 Amy Barlow/Beehat Baby Publishing

Many, many years ago, before I knew what the real thing was, I wrote this during a long drive home. Just me, a thermos of coffee, a steno pad, and a Ticonderoga #2. I would pull over, scribble a bit, hum some, and eventually, this song was an actual THING.

Many thanks to my friend Jon Randel for producing this song during a visit to the Upper West Side all those years ago.

Wasn’t until years later that I found out I didn’t have to give up my heart, or any piece of myself, to be loved. And yet, this song lingers. I hope you find your love. And if you have it, I hope you give it attention daily. Amy

One by one we gather, every Sunday morn
Some have come into this place from the day that they were born
Some awakened lately to the glory of his name
Each has equal favor, ‘cause he loves us all the same

It’s the work of many hands, it’s the sound of many voices
It’s the love of many hearts that make a church

Creating, crafting, singing, or speaking from the heart
Each of us has special gifts that make us who we are
We know that our talents were given from above
The Holy Spirit gives the gift, and we pass it on with love

It’s the work of many hands, it’s the sound of many voices
It’s the love of many hearts that make a church

Someone said the Christian path is narrow and long
On the wider avenues, there’s so much to be done
So feed the hungry, find the friendless, let your spirit soar
You never know when Jesus Christ is walking through the door

It’s the work of many hands, it’s the sound of many voices
It’s the love of many hearts that make a church

© 1997 Amy Barlow, Beehat Baby Publishing

Shout out to Rev. Cliff Aerie of The Oikos Ensemble, who was my pastor at First Congregational Church in Binghamton, NY years ago. Not only did he encourage my songwriting ministry (he produced this track), but he married Lex and me in 1998.

Stay safe and stay blessed, my people. Love, Amy

It’s not my fault, I’m not to blame for our stolen kisses and whispered voices
I tried my best, and it’s a shame you couldn’t stay away despite my fashion choices

I didn’t shave my legs, or touch up my roots
I didn’t put on makeup, and even wore my hiking boots
But you see what you want to see, and say what I need to hear
And in your eyes I’ve always felt beautiful and dear
But you came here with your girlfriend, so in my own defense, I’ll say
I didn’t plan on loving you today

I broke out just in time to look my worst for you
It’s guaranteed my kneesocks spoiled the southern view
You see me with your heart, I know, the way I’ve always been
And in your eyes, it’s long ago – and I’m young and sweet again
I knew you both would be here, but I stopped by anyway
I didn’t plan on loving you today

Why can’t you behave – and why do you insist
On turning back the pages to a time when we first kissed
You couldn’t have me then, and I can’t have you now
This is not for keeps, my friend, but I love you anyhow

So maybe we can meet when we both need to smile
For though we live in different worlds, we share a common style
Fate was always strong enough to sabotage my plans
And though I love you endlessly… the rules of love demand
That I didn’t style my hair
And I wore mismatching underwear

I didn’t plan on loving you today
But you loved me anyway

© 1997 Amy Barlow/Beehat Baby Publishing