The phone rings. It’s 2 A.M.
It’s the answering service.
A woman is on the line.
She left him three months ago.
Now he calls her all the time.
Tells her what she has to do.
One day she brought him their son
straight from the playground.
He complained the boy was dirty.
Told the mediator she was
not taking care of him.
He doesn’t want to pay. He curses.
He promises she cannot win this.
What can she do?

The phone rings. It’s 10 P.M.
It’s the answering service.
A woman is on the line.
She saw him again outside,
looking in the window.
She called the cops. She has an order.
The doors all locked. They did not come.
Her friends won’t visit. They’re afraid.
She won’t leave. It’s her fucking house!
The cops arrived two hours later.
They were sorry. Someone died.
She showed them her longest scars and
she played them some messages.
She won’t go to court again.
The judge got angry. She has no more
money for a lawyer.
What can she do?
Can I help her?

The phone rings. It’s 3 A.M.
It’s the answering service.
An emergency room call.
I meet my partner. She looks beat,
all gray, and blinking like a frog.
We go to meet our latest victim.
She is fat. Her face is wet.
She tells the cops she was asleep.
The window crashed and he was on her.
She tried to fight. He hit her hard.
The sun is rising on her cheek.
I hold her hand, then my partner’s
as they cry. I try not to.

The phone rings. It’s 2 A.M.
It’s the answering service.
Someone at the sheriff’s office.
I meet my partner. She looks angry.
She has heard part of the story.
I hear, she met him in Mobile.
He was handsome, nice clothes, suit.
He had money, took her dancing.
Didn’t even try to kiss her.
She was nineteen. Three weeks later
he sent her an airplane ticket.
Married her.
Didn’t beat her for a month.
Then, she didn’t fold the clothes right,
supper late, one night she went out,
didn’t answer when he called.
He looked at the phone bill. Who’s that?
Some old Alabama boyfriend?
Don’t make calls when I’m not here!
That night he hit her, broke her cheek, then
took her to the hospital and
went out drinking, told her she should
take a cab home.

The phone rings. It’s 4 A.M.
It’s the answering service.
She is at the hospital.
I meet my partner. The room’s full
of doctors, cops, and mostly nurses
because she’s one of them and they
all love her.
Second marriage, nine months old.
Threatened her before. This is
the first time he has ever hit her.
It will be the last.
Her face is purple.
She won’t have to go to court.
The cops have everything. They have him.
She never wants to see him again.

The phone rings. It’s 3 P.M.
It’s the office.
The victim that we saw last week
went home. She’s dead.
The funeral is tomorrow.

The phone rings.

I wrote this poem as a result of my experiences for 19 years as a volunteer for the Ulster County Crime Victims Assistance Program. While the program helps victims of all kinds of crime, the volunteers respond to a hot line which serves victims of rape and domestic violence. Every two months, two volunteers go on call during the hours when the office isn’t open, 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. and all weekend. We went mostly to hospitals and police stations.

The hospital calls often occurred when rape victims were brought to the S.A.N.E. (Sexual Assault Nurse Examination) Unit. The S.A.N.E. procedures were originated by a group of hospital nurses in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1991. At that time, the District Attorney of Ulster County was a man named Frank Kavanaugh. He read about S.A.N.E. in a law enforcement magazine and decided that Ulster County had to have that program as soon as possible. Nurses from Ulster County went to Tulsa for training, and the Ulster County program began soon afterwards, the second one on the U.S. The program is now very widespread and provides humane treatment for rape victims along with useful evidence for prosecutions.

Since very strict confidentiality prevails in the CVAP, I’ve never shared any of my experiences as a volunteer without thoroughly disguising any potentially identifying details. That is true of the poem, which changes some details and uses composite characters. But it’s as true to my experience as I could make it.

I wrote the poem in 2008 at the beginning of a poetry workshop run by Sharon Olds at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck. It was a response to a writing prompt Olds gave, and I was thinking only of that, and of my experiences, when I wrote it. We all read our poems after a lunch break, and it was only then that I realized that the other nine people in the workshop, all women, were hanging on my words to find out who I was. I felt a perceptible relaxation go around the room as I read, and we all got along fine after that.

            The recent stories concerning the IPO of Facebook, in which huge amounts of money were lost very quickly, reminded me vividly of my own experience with an Internet start-up company. It took place well over a decade ago, but the results seem to me very similar. Arthur Brisbane, the “Public Editor” (formerly ombudsman) for the New York Times, wrote an article for the June 3 issue explaining that the Times had done a pretty good job of setting out the real situation with the Facebook IPO but that it could have done better for its readers who aren’t already financial experts. I coulda told ‘em.From 1980 until 1991, I worked as a DJ for WDST, in Woodstock, which was at the time a wonderful radio station appealing to many interests and vividly reflecting the character of its home town. I’ve written about this experience already in this series. When I left WDST, it was because my Sunday afternoon program was being eliminated and I knew that was the time when I reached the most people. (In 1987, an Arbitron survey revealed that my classical music program was reaching more listeners than the programs of any other Ulster County radio station, an unusual success.)

More than five years after I left WDST, I got a call from the program director, Richard Fusco. He was someone I had worked with, and while we weren’t exactly best buddies—he was the guy who yelled at me for playing music by Steve Reich, a few years before the owner asked me to interview Reich—I was willing to talk to him.

Richard outlined for me a grand project that the owner and staff of WDST were about to start. It was to be called Radio Woodstock, and it was going to be an Internet project with several simultaneous streams of programming coming from Woodstock and promoted to the outside world. Among the people he mentioned as having agreed to become part of the project were Richie Havens, one of the best-known musicians ever to live in Woodstock, and Randall Craig Fleischer, then and still music director of the Hudson Valley Philharmonic. I was particularly impressed that Fleisher had agreed to work for them, since I have great respect for the guy. He’s a superb musician.

I had a few questions, mostly about the hours and working conditions. Then I asked what the job was going to pay. “Not very much at first,” Richard told me, “but people who start out with Radio Woodstock are going to have a stake in it and eventually they will make a lot of money.”

“That’s interesting,” I replied, “but where is the money going to come from?”

Richard told me that several large music industry companies had already committed to investing millions of dollars in Radio Woodstock to get it off the ground. I said I was impressed, but I still didn’t understand where the revenue stream was going to come from. “You can’t run advertising as part of the programming,” I said. “There are already so many Internet radio stations that as soon as ads come on people will switch to something else.”

Richard agreed. “We’ll run banner ads on the site,” he told me. That won’t raise very much, I said. He agreed with that, too, but said it was a start. “We’ll also sell the music we play,” he said. “People will be able to order CDs right on the website.” That sounded like a trivial source of income as well. When I asked where else the money was going to come from, Richard hesitated and couldn’t come up with a convincing answer.

For that reason, I decided not to get involved in Radio Woodstock. I just couldn’t understand where the money to support it was going to come from. I guess nobody else did, either. Radio Woodstock ran through most of the millions of dollars in three years, and then had to shut down most of its operations. Nobody got rich. (It still runs three audio streams, one of which is the current WDST broadcast.)

When I think back on this whole episode, I think it reflects a great deal about the difficulties of making money on Internet enterprises that don’t offer physical goods for sale. Amazon makes a fortune, but Facebook, despite its billion users, seems to be struggling. (I believe Facebook makes most of its income peddling its users’ information to advertisers, which is why I don’t use it.)

In fact, it seems to me that Radio Woodstock was a perfect set-up for a scam like the one in Mel Brooks’s “The Producers.” Get a lot of investment, use only some of it, and then tell all the investors that all the money has been lost. Perhaps that was the story of Radio Woodstock. But, being an honest person myself, I prefer to believe that the money was lost through honest stupidity.

    My former girlfriend, the late Anne Dinger, was a superb cook. I used to embarrass her by calling her the best cook I’d ever eaten. She gave me one piece of bad cooking advice, though, which led to my discovery of Lodge Logic.

Anne was fond of cast iron cookware, for good reasons. So am I, now that I’ve had the experience. Anne taught me to use a cast iron skillet, and she told me that it had to be protected from rust. But her preferred method of drying her skillet was wiping it down and then putting it on the stove on high heat until any remaining water had evaporated.

One sad day, about a year ago, I used this method, as I had for years. But then I left the house on an errand and forgot to turn off the heat. By the time I got back, the skillet had oxidized beyond repair. I’m lucky I didn’t burn the house down.

I’ve seen old cast iron cookware at yard sales and flea markets many times, but usually at high prices and often in rather rusty condition. Just for the hell of it, I decided to try my usual last resort for specialty items and checked out Amazon. Sure enough, they had a 12″ cast iron skillet made by a company called Lodge Logic, offered at only $20.97. Because I’m an Amazon Prime subscriber, I didn’t even have to pay for shipping.

That’s a good thing because, when the thing arrived, it weighed eight pounds! It was thicker and heavier than the old one I had ruined. And, to my surprise, it wasn’t made in China. It was made in the U.S.!

I’ve now been using this skillet for about six months. There’s one thing about it I don’t love. It’s heavy! My right shoulder isn’t 100%, so sometimes I have to pick the thing up left-handed. And when it’s very hot, even with two hot pads it’s difficult to manipulate. If I want to pour some liquid out of it, I have a really hard time. This weight, though, is part of the skillet’s quality, so I really can’t complain about it.

In every other respect, though, it’s a dream to use. Its surface is mottled, rather than smooth like my old skillet, which results in much less sticking to it. Anything that does stick is easily scrubbed off. It cooks very, very well, thoroughly and quickly. I’ve become rather fond of a brand of frozen fish burgers (Seafood Doctor swai burgers) and another of turkey burgers (Bubba), and I make them rather often for dinner. They cook more thoroughly on the Lodge skillet than they did on my antique, and in a bit less time.

Anne to the contrary, Lodge’s instructions say that the pan should be cleaned without soap, using a stiff brush (I use a copper scrubber), then dried and re-oiled. Emeril’s cooking oil spray works great, although–regrettable waste–I rub it down with a paper towel. Just one.

I was so curious about this company that I looked it up. Lodge Cast Iron is located in the small town of South Pittsburg, Tennessee, where it has been making cookware since 1896. Although the company imports enamel coated cast iron cookware from China, it makes everything else at its factory in South Pittsburg. The company even boasts about, and details, its ecological responsibility.

Recently, while visiting my house on Cape Cod, I discovered that a small non-stick frying pan had been worn bald by summer tenants. I decided to replace it with an iron pan. I went to the Cape Cod Flea Market in Wellfleet and found someone who sold antique iron cookware, and I bought a small pan from him although it needed some rehabilitation. Later the same day I was at my favorite local hardware store, Conwell Hardware in Provincetown, and I found the same size brand new Lodge pan, at the same price I’d paid for the antique. Someday I’ll do the work the old pan needs, but for that moment I thought wotthehell and I bought the Lodge pan. It’s probably better.