Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Nineteen

A NOTE BEFORE READING: I began sharing weekly excerpts from my novel, The Somebody Who, on June 26th. If you want to begin at the beginning, go here. If you want to read the book in its entirety, head over to Amazon and purchase a copy. (There’s a button on the left that will take you there).



For some reason, on Wednesday morning at 8:30, Evelyn bolts upright in bed. Not two seconds later, the phone rings.

She grabs the handset. “Hello!” she says with a sense of urgency that she doesn’t completely understand.



“Yes! Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Uh, yeah. I—uh—just woke up. And it’s eight-thirty. Are you okay?”

“Well, yes and no.”

“Okay,” Evelyn comments, changing her position as Davy’s still-sleeping body shifts in the bed beside her. “That’s like good news and bad news. What do you want to tell me first?”

“Well, the good news is I wasn’t here when it happened. The bad news is there was a fire in my apartment building last night.”

“Oh, God!” Evelyn responds, “That’s awful!”

“What? What? What?”

It is Davy, now taking his turn at bolting upright.

As Evelyn shushes him with her arm, “So did your apartment get damaged?”

“Well, yes and no.”

“The good news being?” Evelyn asks then, continuing to hold Davy’s curiosity at bay.

“Nothing of great value got damaged. The fire was in the apartment next door. So—there’s a common wall that’s kind of funky, and the place stinks.”

“Where are you now?”

“I’m looking at the funky wall, and I’m smelling some funky shit.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re okay,” Evelyn says, relieved by her daughter’s easy approach to what might put others over the edge. “And your place is salvageable?”

“Oh, sure. The super is here now. He’s great, and he’s got everything under control. It’s just gonna take a few days.”

“Well, tell me what you want us to do.” Evelyn says then, a bit amused by her choice of the plural pronoun.

“I’m wondering if I can come up there for a few nights,” Joy replies.

“Oh, my God! Are you kidding? You’d be welcome! Please!”

“You sure it’s okay?”

“Of course! I’m just surprised you don’t want to crash with one of your friends.”

“No, that wouldn’t be cool. None of my friends have a lot of space, and Chuck is way too stressed with school right now. I was lucky he could spend time with me last night.”

Evelyn makes a mental note to inquire about Chuck later. “And your job?” she asks her daughter next. “Are you going to take a few days off?”

“Oh. Well. I’m actually between jobs. The waitressing gig I got last month didn’t turn out.”

“I didn’t know you were waitressing again,” Evelyn says, amazed at how thoroughly awake she feels. “I thought you were at that small publishing house where—”

“Oh, right, the temp-to-perm thing. No, that didn’t work out either.”

Evelyn shakes her head at the daughter who cannot help but find work—and lots of it—constantly rolling over in an unending stream of possibilities. “And you’re okay with money?” she asks Joy. “You know, if you need any help—”

“I’m fine! Not to worry! Anyway, so if I could come up for a few days, that’d be great.”

“I agree. That would be great.”

“So, I don’t know. Figure I’ll head for Grand Central within the next hour or two. How ‘bout I call you from the train. I’ll probably get up there noonish or so. Can you pick me up?”

“Of course! Are you kidding? Joy, I’m sorry about what happened, but what a treat that you’re coming to see us!”

“It’ll be good. We’ll have fun. Anyway, I’ll call you in a few.”

And that was Joy, hitting the Off button on her cell phone before remembering to say “Goodbye”—a lack of formality that, on this morning, doesn’t bother Evelyn in the least.

“Davy!” she says, returning the handset to its cradle and then nudging her husband’s semi-sleeping shoulder, “Joy is coming to see us!”

Davy turns and looks at her. His expression is annoyed.

“Who’s Joy?” he asks.


Having arrived at the station a good fifteen minutes before Joy’s train was due, Evelyn is still strolling happily from one end of the platform to the other when the commuter line pulls in. She hugs herself and inhales the crisp fall air as the train screeches to its halt, and then, not knowing which door to watch, she simply looks anxiously maternal.

Joy is one of the first few passengers to emerge from a door near the front end of the train. And Evelyn, seeing her daughter, does something one would expect to witness in a young daughter seeing her mother. She claps her hands.

And Joy, seeing her mother, quickens her stride, her suitcase rolling behind her.

Evelyn admires the lightness of her daughter’s stance, the purity of her smile. In Joy, Evelyn sees no worries, and seeing that helps alleviate Evelyn’s worries.

“Mom! You look great!” Joy says, with genuine enthusiasm and love.

“I do?” is Evelyn’s spontaneous response.

“You do!” Joy says, linking her arm through Evelyn’s and looking her mother in the eye. “Of course you do!”

Evelyn looks down and smiles. Joy’s visit has already helped.

* * *

to be continued on November 6th .

In the meantime, if you want to read a short piece about the back story, click here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Approaching Los Angeles

This past Sunday, after a week in Virginia, I headed to Dulles to take an afternoon flight back to L.A. When my seating group was called to board the plane, I followed the pack down the walkway. Shortly, I was at Row 13, where I heaved my little wheeled carry-on into the overhead bin and settled into my window seat. There, I closed my eyes for most of the ten minutes that passed before take-off.

I wasn’t trying to sleep, however. In fact, I soon began eavesdropping on the conversation taking place in the row behind me.

That dialogue began when the guy assigned to the middle seat arrived. The two women who would ride on either side of him had already settled in, and the gal on the aisle was quite cheerful as she stood so he could claim his place.

When one of the women made a joke about the middle seat, he said “That’s what I get for making my reservations three days ago.”

His new companions then learned that he was traveling to L.A. for a conference – some kind of software thing (that’s when I tuned out for a bit). And when, a minute or two later, window-seat lady asked him where he was from, he said Harrisonburg, Virginia. That got me listening again, only because I, too, was raised in the Shenandoah Valley.

He shared that he was going to the West Coast for the first time, and he was staying with a friend in Burbank. He also was looking forward to doing some sight-seeing, though he expected he’d only have about two full days at the end of the week.

And that is when the advice began. That is also when I began to cringe occasionally. As it turned out, both of the women on either side of him live in L.A., and as it turns out, they both live on Los Angeles’ west side.

I silently concurred with window-seat woman when she discouraged him from trying to go to Long Beach. Not that Long Beach doesn’t have much to offer – it absolutely does. It’s just that getting there and back (from Burbank) could possibly take four hours on the freeway. (Not the best use of vacation time.)

Aisle-seat woman fully embraced her travel agent role as the flight moved west, and it really threw me when she suggested he spend time on Melrose.


A part of me wanted to unfasten my seat belt, pop up on my knees, and turn around so as to present my head and shoulders to the three of them.

Melrose?! I wanted to say. Are you kidding? That is SO twenty years ago!

Aisle-seat woman continued with her suggestions. West Hollywood is nice, she offered, and yes, he should see the Hollywood sites – the typical tourist attractions, such as Grauman’s Chinese, etc. – but, she cautioned, Hollywood is “very dirty” and “you probably don’t want to go east of there.”

What?! I wanted to say. Do you not know?

Seriously. “East of there” is where the action is. East of there is Los Feliz. And Silver Lake. East of there is where the cookie cutter gives way to eclectic. And if you think it’s only for the unwashed, don’t say that to (be-still-my-heart) Jon Hamm, who apparently lives in my ‘hood. Apparently, he’s been seen in the little one-of-a-kind restaurants. Word has it, too, that he likes the no-franchise coffee shops that offer hot beverages in common English sizes.

(I’m not suggesting the Harrisonburg guy would respond to the Jon Hamm reference, but come on, west side girls, get with the program!)

Okay, I’ll admit it – I’m not a big fan of L.A.’s west side. I’ve always found it much too monochromatic. In fact, if L.A. were only its west side, I’d have moved back east 16 years ago.

On the other hand, the west side girls were absolutely right in encouraging him to visit the beach communities. One of them even knew to recommend the ever-funky Venice boardwalk. Good for her.

But… could they tell him, as a sightseer, the absolute best way to get there? From Burbank? Unfortunately, they could not. In fact, I believe one of them recommended a route that included the 10 Freeway. So wrong!

Here’s the deal: if you’re ever in L.A., and you want to see the beach, pretend you’re staying with a friend in Burbank. Because no matter where you’re staying, it will behoove you to find the Ventura Freeway and head west.

From there, take the Topanga Canyon Boulevard exit, heading south. Then, prepare to be awed. You’ll climb a tall winding hill that affords breath-taking panoramic views of the Valley. Then, you’ll enter the canyon, which is phenomenally rustic. You will be taking in that rusticity (great word, huh?) for probably 12 or 13 miles, and you will be blown away by the intensity of and changes in the landscape. Then, just when you wonder what could possibly come next, you’ll follow a curve in the road, and at an elevation that’s maybe 1,000 feet above sea level, you will see the grand Pacific Ocean. Your response will be audible.

… I know, I know. I should have told him.

It’s just that I felt like he already had been overpowered by women who know what they know. I was afraid I’d scare him. I also was tired. I needed to get home to my wacky neighborhood – the “dirty” one, just east of Hollywood.

But… now you know.

So: if you ever fly to L.A., and you sit next to some gal from the west side, ask her if she’s done that drive. And if she hasn’t, tell her she should.

I’m just sayin’.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday Reruns: The Intuitive Jog in the Sidewalk

(original post date: October 20, 2009)

On a Saturday evening, back in the summer of ’02, I took a quick trip to the corner market with my friend and neighbor, Julie. The hot August day had cooled off, and the stoop in the courtyard was beckoning. To accompany the stoop, Julie and I had picked up some beer, and with our six in tow, we began to head back up the block.

This little part of Los Angeles is on the cusp of everything: Los Feliz, Hollywood, Thai Town, Little Armenia. Separating the corner market from the stoop are ten or so buildings that run the gamut. There's the large rental property that (at the time) had been abandoned since the Northridge earthquake. There's a beautiful, new complex that was built by a housing development corporation for low-income families. And there's a halfway house, which (at the time) was allowing a lot of rabbit copulation. (It seemed that every two months or so, a new generation of bunnies was hopping around the front yard.) Describing my block (even today) is difficult. Eclectic is too limiting a word, really.

There's also the sidewalk itself and the not-so-straight route it takes up the street. Tree roots have buckled the cement in several places – creating rises, angles, and tripping points. At a certain spot, about three or four buildings up from Hollywood Boulevard, the sidewalk takes a distinct jog to the left, and a rather large plant leans toward the street. The jog therefore creates a pedestrian’s blind spot.

That summer night in '02, Julie and I were at that blind spot, and so we were both surprised when we found ourselves face-to-face with a neighbor-friend. “Nick!*” Julie said, enthusiastically, when we saw him.

(I didn’t say anything, but something in my head spoke. Something in my head said, “Maybe it’s time for Nick.”)

He was on his way to the market, also in search of beer, and he invited us over to watch a movie he had rented, as well as a home movie he had shot with his teenage daughters earlier that day. We agreed to the plan, and once he had returned from his errand, we went over to his place – a small, cluttered, studio apartment in the building just north of ours.

We watched the first movie, which was feature length, and then we watched the home movie. Then, when Julie made indications that she would be heading back to her place, I decided to stay. What ensued was awkward (in my memory and in my opinion), but it was something Nick and I had to get out of the way. It also was worth it to experience that initial clumsiness. Because for the three years that followed, he and I enjoyed one of the best intimate relationships I have had in my life.

Had our relationship not unfolded, I might not have remembered hearing what I heard. I might not have remembered the "voice" that said, “Maybe it’s time for Nick.” I might not have come to view that particular location as The Intuitive Jog in the Sidewalk. But: I did hear that message. I heard it loud and clear. Its power fueled me with the audacity to remain in Nick's apartment after Julie headed home.

Was there something pre-destined about what happened that night? Nick had been a neighbor for several years. I always had felt an attraction to him. Until that night, though – until it was “time” for him – I didn’t know what to do about the attraction. Apparently, that night, I did the right thing. Anyway, it all worked out for as long as it could.

Fast Forward, April 2009: Having just returned from a week in Virginia, where I visited family and did a speaking gig regarding my first novel, I’m returning from a trip to the corner market. It’s Monday or Tuesday. I am passing the Intuitive Jog when I notice a beautiful cat crossing my path, heading from the street toward grass and shrubbery. I look to my right, and I see a few adults standing beside a double-parked car. Something in my head says: “Those people just dumped that cat.”

I turn from noticing them, and I gaze at the cat, who is looking at me. “You’re beautiful!” I say to the beast, admiring its tabby markings and large, engaging eyes. “You are so beautiful!”

A part of me wants to pick this cat up immediately and take it home, and I know that’s an odd reaction for me. I see beautiful cats all the time, but that doesn’t mean I want to bring them home. Besides, I have two beautiful cats at home.

I keep walking, and after I enter my apartment and greet the pre-existing feline conditions that grace my one-bedroom, the brief encounter is forgotten...

Thursday of that same week, I have to run a quick mid-day errand. I have to meet a client nearby and pick up some documents. We are both pressed for time, and because we are meeting in a rather low-income neighborhood (he has just done a workshop with an elementary school class), our rendezvous has all the markings of a shady deal. He barely slows his car, hands me the envelope and drives on. I then return to my car and drive back to my apartment, where I’ve got about ninety minutes to kill before I need to head out the door for my weekly gig in West Hollywood.

I climb the stairs to my apartment door, put the key in the lock, and look down. There’s a cat – a beautiful tabby cat – with its eyes wide and its arms stretched up, leaning against my door. He is indicating that he would like to come in.

I know cats. I’ve known them all my life. And one of the things I like about them is that they don’t do this sort of thing. They don’t implore. They don’t ask. They just expect. (And, generally, their expectations are met.) But this cat is asking for something (rather imploringly). It is asking to be allowed into my home.

I stop. I look at the cat. And then I say, “Hold on a minute. Don’t go away.”

I enter my apartment and shut the door on the big-eyed tabby. I scoop up girl-cat Vesta, who is napping in the living room. I put her in the bedroom, where boy-cat Griffin is already lounging on the bed. I then bring food dishes and one of the litter boxes into the room. “See you guys, later,” I say, as I pull my bedroom door shut.

I then return to the front door and open it. The big-eyed tabby cat is still there.

“Come on in,” I say.

The cat makes his entrance.

“So here’s the deal,” I tell him then. “I gotta leave in just over an hour. I’m going to keep the front door opened until then, and if you want to move on, you can. But: if you’re still here when I have to go, then this is where you’re going to be for this afternoon and evening.”

...The cat was still in my apartment when I left for my West Hollywood gig. The cat is still in my apartment today. I named him Lotto, and he’s my buddy.

The Intuitive Jog in the Sidewalk. Strange. Was that Lotto I saw that night? And was I correct in assuming that the people standing by that car had “dumped” him? Could be. If they paid more than $6.00 for their shower curtain, they probably weren’t pleased with what he can do to that particular part of bathroom décor. If their home was absent of people throughout the day, I don’t even want to think about what they returned to in the evening. Lotto needs a person to hang around. Lotto needs a person to taunt. Lotto needs, every now and then, to be told (kindly and lovingly), “Stop it, you brat!”

And maybe I needed a brat. (Vesta and Griffin are both 13.)

Here’s the other weird thing: before I left for my April trip to Virginia, I had begun a new novel. It takes place in my neighborhood and features a protagonist named Martin. In the first chapter, a tabby cat climbs in through Martin’s bedroom window (which is on a fire escape). Eventually, Martin accepts that he has been adopted, and he names the cat Dude. The part I can’t remember, though, is this: does Dude like tummy rubs because Lotto does or… vice versa? I can no longer recall the chronology.

I am sure, though, about the order of some other events. About 10 days into Lotto’s and my cohabitation, I was sitting at my work corner, reading the novel pages I had written the night before. “Something needs to happen,” I thought.

In response to this narrative need, I decided that, while Martin was on a business trip, I would have Dude fall out of Martin’s fifth-floor window. (When I lived in New York, my cat, Mort, fell out of my fourth-floor window, so I knew the drill.) I made a few notes on that score, and I put away my novel pages for the night.

The next morning, after I got up, I counted cats. Vesta: check. Griffin: check. Where’s Lotto? I looked everywhere, and then I applied some deductive reasoning. From observing his habits and interests, I had ascertained that (at the time) he liked to retreat occasionally behind the floor-length bedroom curtains. So I walked to the far side of the bedroom and pulled back the curtains. That’s when I noticed the window screen on the ground below.

Racing downstairs, I berated myself for coming up with that “fall out of the window” idea. Why did I think of that? Damnit! I walked around the building. I called his name (though, it’s a name I had only given him about three or four days before; how was he to know?)

No sign of the cat.

I came upstairs and felt despondent. I called my neighbor Debbi. “I thought he was happy here!” I told her voicemail. “Damn!”

I had brought the window screen back upstairs with me, and when I noticed that it wasn’t bent, I got more concerned. I wondered if maybe he had leaned into it, and that’s when the fall occurred. I knew, from a New York friend’s experience with a cat who had fallen a short distance, that sometimes short distances are more dangerous. With short falls, cats have less opportunity to make the aerodynamic corrections that allow them to land on their feet.

I went back outside.

This time, I looked more carefully under every shrub in the area. I checked to make sure none of the grates leading to the building’s bowels were accessible. I knew that if he were hurt, he would have crawled somewhere. He would have crawled somewhere possibly far from my grasp.

I was relieved to see that there was no way he could get underneath the building. Still, though, no sign of the cat.

I returned to my apartment, and as I prepared my first coffee of the day, I felt sad. At a loss, really. I mean, what would the sign say: “Found Cat Lost”? He wasn’t even mine. (Are cats ever “mine?” Or “yours?”)

I sighed and shrugged and thought, “Well, that was nice for a minute. Oh well.”

My coffee was ready, but I wasn’t. Not ready to give up, anyway. So I thought, “I’ll just go down to the stoop and drink it there. Maybe something will happen.”

I opened the door to my apartment, stepped out onto the small landing at the top of the stairs and looked down. Just then, coming around the corner, was that face. Beautiful tabby markings. Big eyes. Looking up in my direction.

“Get up here!” I said, with a certain degree of playful authority.

And he did.

He hasn’t left since.

I’ve begun some good relationships at The Intuitive Jog in the Sidewalk. With any luck, this one will last for more than three years…


*not his real name

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Eighteen

A NOTE BEFORE READING: I began sharing weekly excerpts from my novel, The Somebody Who, on June 26th. If you want to begin at the beginning, go here. If you want to read the book in its entirety, head over to Amazon and purchase a copy. (There’s a button on the left that will take you there).


Evelyn appreciates the irony when her first foray into the bowl of folded papers directs her to a box marked MARILYN, AGE 3-6. She feels validated in her decision to systematically random-select, and as she places the box in front of her and opens it, she is actually excited to see what will present itself from the years when Marilyn was so young.

Knowing she’s about to back up by nearly forty years, Evelyn extracts the item on the top of the stack. “Oh!” she sighs, speaking to no one, “I always loved this dress!”

Evelyn tilts her head and smiles as she dances the dress around in front of her. She studies the beautiful multi-colored smocking on the burgundy cotton background. She plays with the little puffy sleeves. She turns it around and looks at the big beautiful waistband bow that she tied so many times.

The bow that she tied so many times…

Remembering a particular morning, Evelyn slowly lowers the dress to her lap…

“And the bow has to be perfect!” Marilyn reminded her mother.

“But, honey,” Evelyn responded, shaking her head at her daughter’s sense of detail. “They aren’t going to take a picture of your back!”

“Everything has to be perfect! This is a very important day for me.”

Evelyn would get so amused by Marilyn back then. So amused by Marilyn’s sense of child-as-student responsibility. Even before she had Joy and Adam—when there was only Patrick to compare Marilyn to—Evelyn knew that Marilyn’s attention to teacher-parent directives was a bit unusual… and a little controlling. Invariably, Marilyn would not only bring home the “be sure your parents see this” announcement, but she also would insist that it be placed on the refrigerator and that any expired announcements be removed so as not to crowd the space. The refrigerator, essentially, was Marilyn’s bulletin board.

And so, for a full two weeks prior to this particular morning of tying Marilyn’s bow in the back of her dress, Evelyn was reminded that on October 15, 1969, the preschool class at Miss Emily’s Day School would be having a class picture taken.

“Okay,” Evelyn said, after poofing the bow as much as she could, “it’s perfect.”

“Just let me check in the mirror.
Don’t go away!”

Evelyn suppressed a short laugh as Marilyn ran out of the room and the telephone rang. Hoping that the bow would need no additional poofing, Evelyn reached for the wall phone.

“Hello?” she said cheerfully.

“Evelyn,” came a familiar, but somber voice, at the other end of the line. “It’s Bea. I have bad news.”

“Oh dear,” Evelyn replied, knowing immediately what her mother-in-law was about to tell her.

“She died last night.”

“Oh, Bea,” was all Evelyn could say, as she sank into a chair.

“She was in the hospital since last weekend,” Bea continued.

“I know. Davy spoke with Russ on Monday.”

“Is he there?”

“Davy? He’s upstairs. His first class isn’t until ten this morning. Let me get him—”

In that moment, Marilyn came running back into the kitchen.

“Marilyn, honey?” Evelyn then said, not covering the mouthpiece. “Can you go upstairs and get Daddy? Please, honey?”

Marilyn dashed out of the room, her assignment taking on an importance once given to her dress’s bow.

“Oh boy,” Evelyn then exhaled, speaking again to Bea. “Jeez!” she added, hard-pressed to fight back the tears.

“It’s very numbing,” Bea offered. “We aren’t supposed to outlive our children. And even though we’ve seen this coming for a few months, it’s just—well, like I said, very numbing.”

“So, are you—?” Evelyn then cut herself off. “God, Bea, I don’t even know what to ask.”

“Well, as I think you know, she wanted to be cremated. She didn’t say anything about her ashes, you know, being spread somewhere. She just wanted to be cremated. So, that’s what we’ll do. And we’ll talk to the people at the church about a memorial service. I feel like this weekend is too soon. Maybe sometime next week? Next weekend?”

Davy, still in his pajamas and robe, entered the kitchen then. And seeing Evelyn’s expression, his own became somber. As she handed him the telephone, she quietly said, “It’s your mom,” and then she bolted into the pantry bathroom, where she knew she could hide and cry for a few minutes before taking the kids to school.

Evelyn looks down at the small burgundy-colored dress, with the smocked front, the puffy sleeves, and the bow that had to be tied perfectly. And she misses the friend whose life was stolen by breast cancer. She misses the sister she acquired when she married into the Bennett clan. Just five years older than Evelyn, Davy’s sister Joy quickly became a best ally and confidante. And in that way, she became the ultimate sibling. Like Davy’s parents, his sister—the inimitable Joy—showed Evelyn what a family member could be.

* * *

to be continued on October 30th .

In the meantime, if you want to read a short piece about the back story, click here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Literal Childhood: More Reflections

In at least one previous post, I shared how, as a child, I had a tendency to interpret the meaning of things with a strong sense of the literal. I corrected my mother when she suggested that she might “tuck me in.” I assumed teachers were constantly bestowed with gifts by virtue of how many kids answered the roll call with “present.” I thought the phone’s busy signal indicated an inordinate amount of activity in the home being called…

Well, here’s another anecdote. It’s about the Beatles.

Back in the early- to mid-Sixties, our family had a few routines, and one of them occurred on Sunday nights. Martha and I would watch The Wonderful World of Disney as Mom and Dad would hang out in another part of the large basement room, preparing the main course of our Sunday night supper: square hamburgers (pre-made frozen patties) prepped in the electric frying pan and ultimately placed between two slices of white bread. Generally, dinner would be ready in time for The Ed Sullivan Show, which we would watch together, en famille.

The basement in question went through a nice metamorphosis during the summer of 1967, but before that, it was a little skanky. And on either side of the change were the insects and household creatures that are simply indigenous to where you live.

In our basement, the indigenous crop of insects included beetles, and although they showed up regularly, they never felt intrusive. A little less than an inch long and black in color, they always seemed innocent enough. (They certainly never seemed as gross as the cockroaches I would confront years later, when I lived in New York.) Beetles were simply part of rural life, and there was no denying our rural life: on the other side of the backyard’s barbed wire fence was a cow pasture (and the requisite cows).

So I guess it was late January, early February of 1964 when Mom started getting excited. She just couldn’t wait for the upcoming Ed Sullivan Show. “The Beatles!” she would say, enthusiastically. “The Beatles are going to be on Ed Sullivan!”

Just over six years old, I wasn’t up on current events, and because I never asked my mother to SPELL OUT her enthusiasm, I could only draw my own conclusions. So, for that week before the infamous debut of the Beatles in the states, I had a vision. I imagined these incredibly large bugs jumping through hula-hoops. I kid you not. And, by the way, if you were a kid my age watching Sullivan, you will have to admit that an act like that would not be out of the question. Sure, it might have made Topo Gigio and the venerable plate-spinners feel totally upstaged, but, come on, it could have happened!

Of course, and as we all know, it didn’t happen as I had imagined it. No insects jumping through hula-hoops that night, but rather a fabulous foursome of mop-headed boys, and among them, one who was (“sorry girls”) married.

Martha and I quickly identified our bachelors. For me, Paul. For my sister, George. And during the entire telecast, I don’t remember once looking back at the couch where Mom and Dad were sitting. I never once looked to see the joy that must undoubtedly have been spread across my Mom’s face. After all, she was the one who had been so excited about this event.

I do, though, remember so many instances, in the years thereafter, of jumping in the car when Mom would come to pick me up from school. Her smile broad, she’d share, “I just bought the latest Beatles album!”

I also remember working on a school report once. I was probably in 4th grade at the time. At that point, our family’s Beatles collection probably included no fewer than seven albums. As for my report? It was about friction, and a line therein contained the following phrase, “rubber souls help…”

My mother saw the line and was compelled to comment. “Look at that,” she said. “You’ve got two Beatle album titles in a row there!”

Of course, I could have corrected her in that moment. I could have pointed out to my mother that the album Rubber Soul is in the singular, not the plural. I think the thought even crossed my mind at the time. But I decided to dispense with any parsing. I clearly was growing into a different phase of my life.

Thanks to my mother and the band she introduced me to, I was beginning to view things a little less literally. And I would need that new mindset for the grey areas that lay ahead.

… In the liner notes of Flaming Pie, which – in my opinion – is the most Beatles-sounding of any album Paul McCartney has recorded since he became independent, there are comments from the artist regarding each song. I loved reading this note that Paul wrote about the song, The World Tonight: “The lyrics were just gathering thoughts. Like ‘I go back so far, I’m in front of me’ – I don’t know where that came from, but if I’d been writing with John he would have gone ‘OK, leave that one in; we don’t know what it means but we do know what it means.’”

I love that. We don’t but we do. It’s like spelling the name with a Bee or a Bea. Whatever is meant to take the stage will take the stage.

And history will unfold from there.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday Reruns: A Short Letter to the Moon

(original post date: October 11, 2009)

Dear Moon,

I heard the news last week on NPR. Curious to learn something about the existence of water within your sphere, NASA decided to hurl a rocket at you. I am so sorry. Please know that this was not my idea, and I would never, ever approve of such a thing.

I should probably tell you that science has never been a strong suit for me. I’d attribute that status to disinterest, but that’s not accurate really. Actually, what I feel for science is awe -- inexplicable, I-can’t-even-deal-with-it awe. I mean… is it just me, or isn’t it kind of amazing that we’re all living on this big round thing that’s spinning so fast we don’t fall off?

Anyway, Moon, I think it’s really wrong that NASA hurled that rocket at you. Sure, I know, meteors are slamming you a couple times a month (or so I heard on NPR), so what’s another blemish on your already cratered landscape?

For me, the problem is that it’s a man-made blemish. For me, NASA’s decision to hurl a rocket at you was tremendously disrespectful. So, if you start messing with the tides, I’ll totally get it.

Anyway, I’m sorry. (And, by the way, if you have water, hang onto it. We people on Earth are totally disrespectful of that, too.)

Your friend always,

Katie Gates

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Seventeen

A NOTE BEFORE READING: I began sharing weekly excerpts from my novel, The Somebody Who, on June 26th. If you want to begin at the beginning, go here. If you want to read the book in its entirety, head over to Amazon and purchase a copy. (There’s a button on the left that will take you there).


When the waitress delivers the check, fifteen minutes later, the conversation between Evelyn and her son is nowhere closer to being deep or profound. And Evelyn no longer cares. Patrick is Patrick. And she is glad to have had lunch with him.

He quickly grabs the check and pulls his wallet out of his back pocket.

“Honey!” Evelyn protests. “I’m the one who made this date. Let me pay!”

“It’s on me. Don’t worry about it.”

Patrick leaves a twenty and five ones with the check.

“Let’s go,” he says, standing. “I got a root canal upstairs.”

Though she’s not yet ready to end the meal, Evelyn doesn’t protest. She grabs her jacket and purse, and they leave the café together.

“So, is your practice going well?” Evelyn asks her son, walking with him to the elevator banks.

“I guess,” he replies, sounding unconvinced. “I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like I’m losing my touch.”

An elevator dings. Going up?

“But, Patrick!” (Evelyn hates ending the lack of conversation on this note.) “What do you mean?” she asks.

Patrick enters the elevator, pushes the “4” button, and stands facing Evelyn. “I miss Dad,” he says.

“I do, too,” Evelyn says, as the doors close between them.


That night, when Evelyn enters Patrick’s former bedroom, she brings with her an armload of project-specific materials—a cushion for the wooden chair, a bowl, a pen, and a pad of paper.

Once she has settled herself into the now-cushioned chair, she picks up the pad of paper, tears off a sheet and rips it, quite methodically, into relatively small squares. Then, one square at a time, she begins writing down the box titles. Evelyn’s exercise is a result of a decision she made that day while grocery shopping. She decided that she couldn’t possibly confront this quilting project unless she had a random approach to the boxes. And so what she will do from this night forward is simply draw from the bowl of folded-up pieces of paper. One at a time. If it says ADAM, AGE 3-6, then that is the box she will open. If it says JOY, AGE 11-14, then that will be the box. Once she has gone through all the squares, she will return them all to the bowl and begin the process again. She figures she will have to go through the bowl at least four times, and she is okay with that. She likes this project. It feels simultaneously relaxing and productive.

As Evelyn sits there, recording box titles onto small squares of paper, she is reminded of their family’s nights of playing charades. And she remembers a particular night that makes her smile. Davy, having been teamed-up with Joy and Patrick, drew from the titles and phrases that she, Marilyn, and Adam had come up with. When he opened the folded-up paper, he saw the name of a song, and so he presented to his teammates the appropriate charades mime—the microphone-in-hand, mouth-opened-to-sing sign that says “this is a song.”

Immediately, Patrick yelled out: What Kind of Fool Am I?

They all laughed hysterically.

Because that was twenty years ago.

* * *

to be continued on October 23rd.

In the meantime, if you want to read a short piece about the back story, click here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

WORK, Dammit!

Several months ago, through the disputable wonder that is Facebook, I reconnected with an old friend. And the timing was fortuitous. As it happened, she was only weeks away from traveling to the L.A. area to see her Dad. So, we made plans to get together.

On the day of our scheduled reunion, I found myself cleaning my apartment in anticipation of catching up with someone I hadn’t seen in 30 years. While reloading the Swiffer Duster, I thought about priming the CD player for a song that was part of our adolescent experience back in the mid-70s. But then I got sidetracked by the vacuum cleaner…

Later, after her arrival – which found us jumping up and down outside my apartment building as we squealed and hugged and squealed some more – we were settled on my living room couch in rapid-fire catch-up mode. On the one hand, it seemed as if we had been talking together only yesterday. On the other hand, we each had three decades worth of personal history to share.

At a certain point, I remembered the idea of providing a soundtrack from our youth.

“Hold on!” I said, interrupting our conversation. “I gotta find a CD.”

I then ran to my bedroom to retrieve the disc, and I quickly returned to set it up in the living room player.

My sound system, though, would not be cooperative. Sure, it would make busy moves, and it would click to convey that busy-ness, but no song was delivered as a result of its efforts.

I tried a few maneuvers that, in the past, had helped to kick the CD player into submission.

And then… I simply took a few steps back, looked at the machine intently, and yelled, “WORK, Dammit!”

Immediately, we heard the tender opening notes of Harry Chapin’s Taxi.

“I’ve got it on voice command,” I told my friend, smiling smartly.

If only.

(Voice command, my ass.)

The fact of the matter is this: I have a love/hate relationship with anything that involves a cord.

The love comes from what I get from the technology: music; netflix; the opportunity to share my writing in cyberspace; quick communication with my clients; and so on. The hate comes from the possibility that, at any moment, something could go wrong with that technology, and I feel completely powerless in those moments of malfunction.

More than two weeks ago, I bought an external hard drive, and then… I let it sit on the table for 10 days. I dreaded opening the box and going through the procedure of setting it up. Why? Because I might confront a problem.

(I’m still hoping to meet and fall in love with an IT Guy, but until that happens, I’m screwed.)

Finally, the other night, I got bold and took on the project of setting up the external hard drive. And as I was going through the install procedure (and, for the most part, it wasn’t difficult), I had an AHA! moment regarding technology and me. It is this: I don’t CARE how it works! Technology is simply not something I want to LEARN.

And that is very much the problem.

I am absolutely learning-oriented, and technology flies directly into the face of my modus operandi.

If I don’t care, then I’m not interested.

And if there is not a learning opportunity (that I care about – from my gut), then I’m definitely not going to stick around for all the hairy details.


End of discussion.

I don’t care what’s making the damn computer and all its software work. I don’t care if it’s a microchip or a fucking hamster on a treadmill. I don’t know megas from gigas, and I don’t even want to hear about them. You can just take that chatter to another Gates.

And speaking of names… the other night, after I plugged in the external hard drive and had moved on to the screen that allowed me to backup (but not to the 60s, unfortunately), the window indicated that the computer from which the hard drive was retrieving files was KATIENEW.

Seeing that title really jarred me for a minute. I swear, I have no idea where it got my name. (I know I didn’t introduce myself!)

But… maybe I shouldn’t complain.

It could have said KATIEOLD.

... I recently was sent an hysterical YouTube video that speaks to my frame of mind. It's about a Medieval Helpdesk, and the subtitles are therefore in English.

I just tried to load the YouTube here, and I am growing increasingly impatient. So, here's the link:

... I'm over it. I'm just.. over it!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday Reruns: Let's Talk About Cilantro

(original postdate: October 9, 2009)

For years, I was paranoid. Extremely paranoid.

I’d take a bite of the gourmet concoction that was a feature of the Ford Foundation’s employee salad bar, and that would be the end of that course. (I actually would become frightened by what I had just tasted.)

I’d dip a tortilla chip into some guacamole (after my then-husband and I had moved to California), and I’d think, “okay, I really, seriously don’t like avocado.”

I’d spit a full forkful of an Indian dish into a napkin, knowing there was no way it could go further in the other direction…

And then one day, in the early ‘90’s, at the first of several L.A. nonprofits that would welcome me to their staff, I walked into the employees’ kitchen …

Joie was in there, chopping a large bushel of something green. I took a whiff, and I immediately exclaimed, “That’s what I hate! What is that?”

“Cilantro,” she replied.

What a relief to know that this green thing had a name and that it actually was a “food product” that people really liked. For years, I was convinced that some weird underground of disconnected evil types was just hell-bent on poisoning me!

Taste is a strange thing (and I’m talking only about food at the moment). Regarding cilantro, I was relieved to learn– through a dialogue I recently heard on public radio – that there’s actually a gene that makes one extremely averse to the herb.

It’s good to have that excuse.

Regarding my other food aversions, I can’t really claim some genetic predisposition.

I recently participated in a wonderful meal event that was inspired by the movie, Julie & Julia. My friend, Maria, found a bunch of Julia Child recipes, gave us all shopping lists, and invited us over to begin the cooking at 3:00 in the afternoon. It was better than Thanksgiving. It was awesome. Those of us who contributed to the prep (i.e., the women) made things we had never made before. (We became chefs!)

I also appreciated that, during the planning, Maria had conveyed to others my aversion to mushrooms.

Her comment, apparently, had stayed in some memories. At a certain point, during the hours of prep, one of the Julie/Julia’s was slicing vegetables.

“Katie,” she asked, “do you do mushrooms?”

“Oh my,” I laughed. “Not in thirty years!”

(One of the husbands, who was washing some of the meal-prep dishes, chuckled then.)

I closed the fridge and explained myself. “It’s not an allergy,” I said. “It’s just… I don’t know. It’s like, one time, in the restaurant where I used to work – in midtown Manhattan – a tourist couple was in one of my booths. From Europe, probably. Anyway, they weren’t fluent in English. So when the man pointed to the menu – to the listing for Spinach and Mushroom Quiche – and he asked, ‘Vat eez mushroom?’, I swear for the life of me, all I could think was, It’s a fungus that grows in cowshit.




Hands down, given the choice, I’d rather have that fungus that grows in cowshit than that poison they call cilantro!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Sixteen

A NOTE BEFORE READING: I began sharing weekly excerpts from my novel, The Somebody Who, on June 26th. If you want to begin at the beginning, go here. If you want to read the book in its entirety, head over to Amazon and purchase a copy. (There’s a button on the left that will take you there).



Evelyn, fully dressed for public viewing, enters the kitchen at 11:00 the following morning.

“Well, good morning!” Claudia says, clearly surprised by Evelyn’s attire. “Got a hot date or something?”

“What is it with you and my alleged ‘hot dates?’”

“You’re all dressed up! And you haven’t even had a cup of coffee yet.”

“Go figure,” Evelyn replies easily, as she makes a beeline for the coffeemaker and fills the largest mug known to the Eastern seaboard.

“So how was our concoction?” Claudia asks, amused by Evelyn’s mood.

“Our what?”

“That fabulous casserole we made yesterday? Was it good?”

“Oh my God!” Evelyn exclaims. “I’m glad you mentioned that—it was delicious! And, there’s leftovers, so please, you and Davy have that for lunch.”

“You’re not joining us?”

“No,” Evelyn says, smiling. “I’m meeting Patrick. I have a twelve-thirty appointment.”

“What, you have a toothache?”

“No!” Evelyn says emphatically, amused by Claudia’s playfulness.

“A heartache?”

Evelyn’s expression quickly changes from the look one might see in a peer to the glance one receives from an employer, and Claudia knows to shut up. But Evelyn isn’t mad at Claudia, and Claudia knows that, too. The dialogue, as it was playing out, has simply come to an end. And so they both move on.

“So,” Evelyn offers. “I might as well go to the grocery store while I’m out. Do we have a list?”

Claudia responds by retrieving the notes she has recorded on a pad on the refrigerator door. She hands them to Evelyn.

“Great,” Evelyn says, perusing the list. “Looks good. I won’t be leaving for an hour. Let me know if there’s anything else.”

Evelyn then heads for the family room to read the Times, and Claudia continues cleaning the kitchen and planning the rest of her day.


Evelyn arrives at Oak Central Café, the medical building’s lobby-level coffee shop, several minutes before 12:30. And as she waits for a hostess, she takes in the surroundings. She studies the parties at the tables and booths. She watches their conversations (or lack thereof). One woman is speaking with such passion, Evelyn wonders about the content. Is she extremely happy? Ridiculously angry? And what about that piece of chicken at the end of her fork? Will it ever make it to her mouth? Or will it fly across the room, bringing some sort of finality to her visceral monologue?

When something touches Evelyn’s shoulder, it makes her jump. And when she recovers herself and turns around, she sees her son Patrick. “Patrick!” she exclaims, embracing him. “Sorry to jump! I thought you might be a piece of chicken!”

Unprepared for her salutation, Patrick suggests they get a table.


“So, Mom? What’s up?” Patrick asks, several minutes after the waitress has taken their order.

“Nothing particular. I just wanted to see you.”

“Well,” Patrick responds, opening his arms slightly, “here I am!”

“You look good.”

“Thanks, I guess.” Patrick then takes the straw in his iced tea and begins to stir the beverage.

“It was good to see Judy on Sunday!” Evelyn throws in, hoping to elicit some life from her son.

“Oh, yeah. Yeah. She said she had a good time, too.”

“And, I heard Zoe lost a tooth!”

“Yes, well, they’re supposed to do that—at that age, of course.”

“I had a good time talking with her on the phone. She’s such a darling.”

“She is. She is a darling.”

“Tuna melt?” the waitress interjects.

“That’s me,” says Patrick.

“And you’re—”

“The Cobb Salad,” Evelyn nods, accepting the bowl and hoping that her completion of the sentence is not a foreboding of her epitaph. (Evelyn: she was the Cobb Salad.)

“Thank you,” Evelyn says to the waitress.

As Evelyn begins to stab at her salad, she feels the familiar silence that always seems to enshroud her moments alone with Patrick. She wishes she had come to this lunch with a dialogue plan, but when has she ever had one of those? She takes a bite of salad, tastes the delicious blend of turkey, bacon, and avocado, and she looks across the table at her son. From what she can tell, his current train of thought exists on a long string of cheese—a long string of cheese that traverses a space between his sandwich and his mouth.

She doesn’t want to interrupt that train, but for them to sit here together, simply eating, would be absurd. For God’s sake! Evelyn thinks. Patrick doesn’t have Alzheimer’s!

“So tell me about San Francisco,” she says.

“It’s nice,” Patrick responds, nodding. Then, after a long sip of his iced tea, “I’d never been there before.”

“Judy said you might go out there next summer—the whole family.”

“Possibly,” Patrick says, involving his finger in the tuna melt cheese negotiation process. “I mean, if it’s doable. We’ll see.”

Evelyn thinks about his options—about his having options—and she envies him.

“You want some fries?”

“You probably noticed my covetous glances,” Evelyn says, playfully.

“Help yourself!”

Evelyn reaches across to Patrick’s plate, picks up a fry and dips it lightly in the ketchup pool he established a few minutes ago. “That’s the thing about fries,” she says then. “If they’re not in front of me, I don’t even think about them.”

“I had some friends in college who claimed to have the same attitude about cocaine.”


“I understand. It brought out the scolding tone in me, too,” he says, with a glibness that is sincere.

Evelyn smiles and shakes her head as she returns from the culinary decadence of fries to the different but equal delight of her Cobb. And as she assembles another forkful of wondrous salad ingredients, she realizes that planning a dialogue with Patrick would probably never work anyway.

* * *

to be continued on October 16th.

In the meantime, if you want to read a short piece about the back story, click here.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Don’t Pity My Wardrobe

Yesterday, one half of my “good” pair of flip-flops broke in an irreparable way, and this incident came on the heels of a broken sandal occurrence as I was rushing to my car on Sunday (late for lunch). I realize that for many women, the opportunity to replace a few pairs of shoes is exciting. In fact, many women would probably take this opportunity and parlay it into a spree in which they come home with more than a few new pairs of footwear.

Not me.

I consider it an inconvenience. I really don’t want to have to buy any new shoes. But: I need the basic starter set, and so I’ll have to make a trip to the cheap shoe warehouse in the next couple of days. Oh well. At least the discount warehouse is in my ‘hood…

No denying it: I am the antithesis of Imelda Marcos.

But it doesn’t stop there. I’m not really much of a clothes horse, either. I can “fix up nice” when doing so is required, but comfort is my preference. I also don’t set aside funds for clothes. It just never occurs to me.

Besides, you don’t have to pay top dollar if you’re willing to go with pre-owned.

Four or five years ago, after a dental appointment, I approached the receptionist’s desk to get the financial verdict. Kim, who was ringing up my sale (as it were) immediately complimented the shirt I was wearing. She clearly liked the design, and she noted particularly that it was somewhat unusual – or at least hard to come by.

“You don’t see that a lot,” she said. “… the short sleeves with the v-neck and the collar.”

I smiled in response to her comment. “Yeah,” I said, enthusiastically. “Isn’t this a nice shirt? I think I got it on the dollar rack at the thrift store.”


Oh dear…

The look on Kim’s face…

Not at all what I was expecting.

There was sadness in that look.


I mean, I think in that moment, she felt really sorry for me.

Poor girl, her look said, poor girl having to buy her clothes at the thrift store.

And here's my take on that whole transaction: Poor Kim.

Because what she didn't get was this: when I shared where I got my shirt? I wasn't looking to elicit pity. I was bragging!

Seriously. I think it’s great that I can pay a dollar for a shirt that elicits compliments.

…Reminds me of an evening in New York, many moons ago. I was walking to the workshop of the theatre group I had joined, and I was wearing an extremely faux fake leopard-skin jacket. (That’s right, I typed “faux fake.” I would have typed “fake fake” but Microsoft doesn’t like it when I do things like that.) Anyway, I loved this jacket. It made absolutely no attempt to look like the real thing. It just looked very hip, particularly in Manhattan in the 80s.

I had bought it for seven dollars at a thrift shop in Virginia, and it was actually two jackets in one, the reverse side being sheepskin (and every bit as fake as the leopard side). But although it was ostensibly reversible, there was no experiencing the sheepskin look. No way, with that thick fabric. Reversing the sleeves would have taken a team of Olympic medalists from the tug-o-war games. Doesn’t matter, though -- the leopard-skin side was the one to wear.

The jacket had a nice cut, too. It was relatively long, with a straight line. And the shoulders appeared padded (though that was probably just a result of the thick fabric). The sleeves were long enough to be cuffed, thereby featuring about five inches of fake sheepskin at the end of each leopard-skinned arm. I always felt like Veronica Lodge when I wore that jacket. (She’s the one in the Archie comics, in case I just went over your head.)

So back to that night I’m remembering. I’m on West 50-something, near Eighth or Ninth Avenue, and this was when the area was called Hell’s Kitchen. (I don’t know what its name is now, but I’m guessing all the kitchens are well-appointed and probably worth six figures.) Anyway, I’m walking on the sidewalk, and I pass a young man who’s standing closer to the parked cars.

He looks me over. He nods. “Twenty dollars,” he says, attempting a seductive tone.

Dude! I wanna say, the jacket was only seven!

But I’m glad I didn’t respond as such.

Like the gal at my dentist’s office, he might have felt sorry for me.

And when I’m feeling like Veronica Lodge, well… I just don’t need anyone’s pity!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Monday Reruns: Groucho, Gandhi, and Me: an October 2nd Story

(original post-date: October 2, 2009)

I’m not a group person. Or, more accurately, I’m not terribly motivated within a group setting. (The virtually badgeless girl scout sash I sported in the fourth grade exists as proof.) So when my friend, Diane, asked if I would be interested in joining a theatre group, I didn’t jump at the opportunity.

It was the mid-80’s. It was New York. Diane, whom I had known since our prep school days in Virginia, was pursuing an acting career, and she was in the theatre group for that very reason. Comprising actors, actresses, directors, and writers, the collective was dedicated to staging original work. And they were always looking for writers. Diane hoped I’d bring my pen to the table.

I suppose there was a lull in the telephone dialogue (while I was trying to motivate myself to become something that I’m not). Diane jumped into that lull. “Katie,” she said, “all the men are straight.”

“When’s the next meeting?” I replied.

The thing is, I have always been attracted to right-brain men, and in New York, the idea of a theatre group filled with straight men was something I just couldn’t resist. So what if I wasn’t a “group person?” I was in my late 20’s, and finding a man was at the top of my agenda.

It took only a few weekly workshops (and the ever-popular post-workshop pitchers of beers) for me to befriend a fellow writer. Like me, Josh* was doing everything he could to get published or produced. We bonded over the struggle. We also were attracted to one another. And so one night, we left the post-workshop soiree together, and we rode the subway up to my apartment on 110th Street.

Shortly after we entered my large room, I filled in the awkward sense of what’s next? by picking up an item that had been in my Christmas stocking just two months earlier. It was one of those little desktop calendars that used to be popular: 4” by 4”; tear off the day and move on. This particular calendar was dedicated to Libras, and so each page featured that day’s horoscope. Each of the pages also included a list of three famous people born on that day. (So, in a sense, it was not an exclusively Libran accessory.)

Given that Josh and I were both writers, I was using words-on-paper to make the first move. (We needed to get the foreplay going, after all.) I flipped the pages of the calendar so as to reveal the three people born on my day (October 2nd). With pride, I showed him my list: Groucho Marx, Mahatma Gandhi, and… okay, Rex Reed. (The third name would be different today, no doubt. Kelly Ripa? Sting?)

Josh was clearly impressed, and he also felt challenged. When he held out his hand, I knew he wanted me to pass over the calendar. I did so, and he quickly found his birthday (May 10th). Together, we looked at the list. Silence. Who are these people? Truly, the list might as well have said John Doe, John Doe, and John Doe. (Had Rex Reed been born on May 10th, he would have held the number one spot.)

Josh – my fellow writer; my comrade in the struggle to be published or produced – was clearly disappointed. But he had the presence of mind to buy a little time...

He looked at his list in consternation...

He flipped back to October 2nd and looked again at my list...

He nodded (again) to convey respect...

He then returned to his list.

Then, he looked at me. “You’re gonna have to work a lot harder than I am,” he said.

*not his real name; he probably wouldn’t care, but since I haven’t been in touch with him…

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Fifteen

A NOTE BEFORE READING: I began sharing weekly excerpts from my novel, The Somebody Who, on June 26th. If you want to begin at the beginning, go here. If you want to read the book in its entirety, head over to Amazon and purchase a copy. (There’s a button on the left that will take you there).


When Evelyn enters Patrick’s former bedroom a few hours later, she has the hint of an agenda. And while she has yet to study the quilting book, she figures it is a bit early for that step. She doesn’t need to read a book to know that quilts—the ones she’s seen, anyway—are made up of pieces of fabric that are all the same size. (As her grandchildren would say, “DUH!”)

She already knows she will go with squares, as she is least likely to make mistakes that way. And she figures each square will be about one foot by one foot (smaller, when the stuffing and sewing processes are complete). So, between now and the time when she’s actually looked at the book and has the best possible sense of the piecing-together process, all she really needs to do is select squares.

Which means, for the moment, she must select a child.

She already knows she will include a square from Marilyn’s blue and white liberty print dress, and she doesn’t need to retrieve that tonight. And while she also knows there will be many more Marilyn clothes contributing to the quilt, she doesn’t feel like opening a Marilyn box. It’s never just a box with Marilyn, Evelyn muses. More like opening a can of worms.

Evelyn wishes immediately that she hadn’t had that thought, and she is relieved that she had it alone.

Because Patrick was born first, she decides to start there. She chooses a box marked PATRICK, AGE 11-14 and returns to the wooden chair. She sits back for a moment, enjoys a sip of wine. Then, placing her glass on the table, she leans over to open the box. Here we go, Patrick, Evelyn thinks. Let’s re-live the Seventies, shall we?

Anticipating boy’s clothing, Evelyn does not expect to see any particularly swirly prints, and when she glances at the entry at the top of the box’s contents, she does a double-take. She wonders if she might have erred in her “filing” process. But then, it comes back to her. The era of Saturday Night Fever and disco, when boys wore polyester prints. Not a tasteful time for fashion.

And as she unfolds and holds before her the lime, navy, and brown long-sleeved “dress shirt” that she probably thought was nice-looking at the time, she remembers the night of the big junior high dance.

“Davy, you have got to talk to Patrick!” Evelyn whispered firmly to her husband, while helping Adam off his booster seat and wiping her younger son’s mouth. “He thinks he’s going to some party after the dance, and I don’t want him to!”

“Where is the party?”

“Some kid’s house.”

“Well,” Davy asked, in an even tone, “does the kid have parents? Won’t they be there?”

“Mommie,” Adam whined, tugging at her skirt, “ I gotta go potty – ”

“Okay, sweetheart. Let’s go.”

Evelyn took Adam to the bathroom off the pantry, and while monitoring her younger son’s progress at the toilet, she kept one ear to the kitchen. As timing would have it, Patrick’s entrance occurred on the heels of her exit.

“You look dashing, son,” Davy enthused. “All ready to sweep the gals off their feet?”

“Sure,” replied Patrick, a gawky but remarkably confident ninth-grader. “Check out this dance move.”

Evelyn heard a bit of foot-sliding, followed by her husband’s capacity for fatherly love. “Very impressive!” said Davy. “ No one can say you have two left feet when they’re both clearly doing the right thing!”

“Oh, Dad, that’s rich! Anything else from your vaudeville act?”

“Nope. That’s all I got.” Davy then paused for a moment, but didn’t change his light tone. “So, what’s the plan tonight? A friend picking you up?”

“Darryl’s brother. They should get here any minute. Then, we head to the dance and—”

“Is Darryl’s brother picking you up after the dance?”

“Not sure. I think he has a party to go to, and as a matter of fact—I, uh, was telling Mom earlier, me and Darryl have been invited to a party as well.”

“Darryl and I,” Evelyn interjected, having returned with Adam to the kitchen.

“Oh, cool, Mom. You going, too?”

Evelyn’s countenance told Patrick that she didn’t appreciate his facetiousness. Then, she turned to her husband. “Davy: are we going to let him go to this party we don’t know anything about?”

“Well, what do we need to know? Where is it? Whose house?”

“Over at Hathaway. Jim Woodsley’s house.”

“Will his parents be there?”

“Yes. I mean, I think so, anyway. The party’s in the basement. They have a really cool basement. Pool table. Ping pong. Anyway, it’s nothing to worry about. We’ll just hang out for a while and then we’ll come home.”

“How?” Evelyn jumped in, taking over the questioning. “How are you going to get home?”

“I don’t know.” Patrick answered, not sounding at all defensive. “There’ll be some older kids there. You know, kids who drive. We’ll get a ride! Don’t worry!”

Evelyn then directed a look at Davy, a look that begged him to take the reins. Make some firm statements. Set some rules. Take charge!

“Okay, Patrick,” Davy began. “Here’s the deal. You are to call us when you get to the party, and you can stay until midnight. And when you are ready to come home, if you need a ride, then call us again. Do not, under any circumstances, ride with a driver who has been drinking or doing drugs. Do you understand?”

“Right,” Patrick responded, rolling his eyes. “Or I’ll turn into a pumpkin.”

“Patrick!” Evelyn exclaimed, clearly upset. “This is not a matter that calls for sarcasm!”

“Okay, Mom, okay. Jeez! You’d think I was going to some commune for the weekend or something. It’s just a stupid party.”

“It is what it is,” Davy said, essentially to both of them. Then, directing a comment specifically to his son: “ Just don’t do anything stupid at or after the party. And be home no later than twelve-fifteen. Okay?”

The sound of a honking horn answered Davy’s final question and provided Patrick with a quick exit.

“Have fun, son!” Davy called to the back of Patrick’s fashionable polyester shirt. He then turned and looked at Evelyn, and reading the concern she couldn’t hide, he offered his belief in as few words possible: “Honey, he’ll be okay. He’s a good boy.”

Examining the polyester shirt and studying its backside for the perfectly composed square foot, Evelyn realizes how correct Davy had been. Patrick was a “good boy.” He had his share of difficulties and challenges, and probably, Evelyn guesses, he still does. But getting into trouble never seemed to be of interest to him. In retrospect, Evelyn realizes that Patrick was always a bit of a nerd. But because he was so confident, she never noticed it. And what she understands now is that the confidence he displayed came from his father. Davy had confidence in Patrick, and so Patrick had confidence in himself.

* * *

to be continued on October 9th.

In the meantime, if you want to read a short piece about the back story, click here.