Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday Reruns: The Bully Pulpit

(original post-date: December 2, 2009)

When I hear or see the phrase, “the bully pulpit,” the wordsmith in me cannot help but do a word scramble. And the result of that is pitbull.

(But I don't also think of lipstick, a la Mizz Palin.)

The country I call home – the “good ol’ USA” – seems always to have had the best possible billing on the world’s bully pulpit, and while I question our authority and stellar positioning, I must confess that I am grateful for the passage of time…

It wasn’t even two years ago, I guess, when the news was all about water-boarding. I was listening to NPR one day, and the story included a sound byte from our then-President. I can’t claim to quote him verbatim, but his comment went something like this: “In our country,” our then-President said, “we do not torture people.”

I leapt from the couch.

I ran toward my stereo.

I spoke into the base of the sound system that was providing radio frequency.


Because he was (simply by speaking). Because he did (simply by assuming such an important role). Because he could…

Every time that entitled son-of-a-bitch opened his mouth, I felt tortured.

Not so with Obama.

I appreciate the fact that the man thinks. I appreciate that he cares and is willing to take the time to explain. I appreciate that he has more “on his plate” than any predecessor in the Oval Office.

But, no matter my opinion of the person standing at the world’s premier bully pulpit, I remain confused. I will probably never understand international politics and the thought processes that allow it to unfold as it does. I will probably never understand why “we” think that sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan will get the job done.

And what is “the job,” anyway? It’s about al Qaeda, right? And the Taliban? I don’t know, but unless I’ve missed something, that group doesn’t exactly exist in ground-war circuits. That group is about belief systems. They are about psychology. And that’s a totally different kind of war.

According to what I know of the 9-11 attacks, these people want to die. The process takes them that much closer to their purpose.

So, have we asked our troops about their philosophies? Do they want to die? And if they do, do they know what they’re dying for?

It’s a shame that our country became so powerful so quickly. At first blush, we were the spoiled teenager. You know the one – who, on the same day, gets both a driver’s license and a brand new car. We’ve been speeding about quite cleverly since then, amassing riches (and more recently, debt). It seems, though, that we’ve yet to stand back and take stock of our own worthiness.

Our own worthiness… a broken public education system, marked by increasing illiteracy; hunger and homelessness on the rise; growing rates of unemployment; home foreclosures left and right; millions without affordable healthcare coverage; collectively dismal credit ratings reflecting lives outspent…

Who are we to show some other country how to behave? And, if Bin Laden and his band of merry men are really what we’re looking for, does it have to take 30,000 troops to bring them to their knees?

America – once the unrestricted adolescent – is now closer to thirtysomething.

Sure, we might have traded in that first car (a few times), and we may now be driving a hybrid, but… do we know where we're going?

On-star, are you with us?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Twenty-three

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).


“My God, those our huge!” Evelyn exclaims, studying the line-up of five pumpkins that Joy has placed on the kitchen counter.

“Aren’t they great?” Joy enthuses in response. “I was surprised the lot had so many good ones left.”

“Can I reimburse you?” Evelyn asks, already heading for her purse.

“Nah. I stole ‘em.”

“You what?” asks Davy of his daughter.

“I’m just kidding, Dad. You know you taught me better than that.”

“Well, of course,” Davy says, nodding. “So… what do we do—what is the next thing?”

“We’re going to carve them after lunch!”

“Are we? Are we what?”

“We’re going to carve them!”

“But I don’t know—I don’t know …”

“It’ll be okay, Dad. I’m actually kind of curious to see what you’ll come up with.”

Evelyn, having crossed the room and therefore standing somewhat outside of the dialogue between father and daughter, is touched and amused by what she is witnessing. Joy is treating her Dad as she always had. And Davy seems to be warming up to this person he thinks he doesn’t know.


After finishing her sandwich and taking her plate to the sink, Joy looks at her mother with a mischievous glance. “Okay, so now, I have to show you the other thing I bought while I was out.”

Evelyn, still savoring the last few bites of chicken salad on rye, nods her head in a way that says bring it on.

Joy dashes off to the family room and returns with a shopping bag. She places the bag on the stool next to Evelyn and trills “Ta-da!” as she extracts a Halloween costume.

“Superman?” Evelyn asks, not yet following her daughter’s course of thought.

“It’s for Dad,” Joy explains. “I thought he could wear it Saturday night while handing out candy.”

“Ooh, I’m not sure about giving your Dad that assignment. He might scare the kids.”

“Not if he’s dressed like Superman!”


Evelyn stands at the kitchen window, watching Joy and Davy as they begin to carve pumpkins on the backyard patio’s table.

“I’m proud of Joy,” Claudia says, having approached Evelyn’s side and briefly observing the activities on the other side of the window.

“So am I, for all kinds of reasons. But tell me your reasons.”

“She trusts him with a knife,” Claudia replies, shrugging.

“Davy’s an artist. For him, that’s a tool; not a weapon.”

“I don’t think Marilyn would give him a knife,” Claudia states, immediately sorry that she let out this comment.

“Well,” Evelyn responds, herself shrugging, “that would be Marilyn’s loss.”

Evelyn returns to observing the creation of jack-o-lanterns, as Claudia, relieved by her employer’s cool response, resumes her search for the best pumpkin pie recipe in Evelyn’s collection of cookbooks.


When Evelyn steps outside later that night, she studies the line-up of jack-o-lanterns, and doing so reaffirms her belief that Davy is still present in some way.

Earlier that evening, she had been on the receiving end of a presentation of Davy’s and Joy’s carved creations. And she was too busy absorbing her daughter’s helpful love to study the two jack-o-lanterns that Davy had carved.

Now, she looks at those two. And she turns them ninety degrees to the right so that the porch light will illuminate them.

“Oh my God,” she says. And tears well up in her eyes. Because what she sees in front of her are two familiar faces. One is she. The other is Joy.

* * *

to be continued on December 4th .

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It’s a Thursday in November – Enjoy It!

Last night, I spoke on the phone with a dear friend of mine who keeps following me around the country.

That’s a joke, by the way… the reference to being followed. It just happens our paths have crossed in three states. Diane and I knew each other at prep school in Virginia (when she and my sister were good friends). Our lives intersected again in New York. And in 1998, eight years after I had made the cross-country trip with my then-husband, Diane moved to L.A. If she weren’t an actress, I might feel as if I were being stalked, but I know better than that. Anyway…

When we spoke on the phone last night, Diane talked about her decision to spend Thanksgiving alone, and she also shared how a former co-worker had responded to her plans. He was aghast, apparently. He couldn’t believe she was planning to spend Thanksgiving alone.

And what that tells me is that this friend of hers would feel like a loser if he spent Thanksgiving alone.

It’s interesting how people respond to the days when society and tradition tell us we should be with others.

I shared with Diane a story I’m sure I had already shared with her. But, I haven’t shared it with you, so here goes:

When I was living in New York, I enjoyed a variety of Thanksgivings. And one year, I decided not to make any plans. When I woke up that morning, I recognized the day as time off. And quite spontaneously, I got into major cleaning mode.

I scrubbed this, dusted that, and vacuumed all over the place. And between those chores, I dealt with loads (and I mean, loads!) of laundry.

My apartment was on the 4th floor, while the laundry room, which had all of two machines, was in the basement. So I was in the elevator quite a lot that day.

The rides amused me. Every time I went down or came back up, I shared the small moving cubicle with several others, and I didn’t glean a good mood from any of them. Whether they were coming or going, their energies seemed the same: what a hassle; what an obligation; why are you wearing that; I hated sitting next to so-and-so; it’s your fault we were late; why did you say that to my uncle; I know I’ve forgotten something; we should have gone to a movie; I bet we won’t get a cab; I ate too much …

And there I was, in the middle of it all. Whether I was carrying a dirty load to the basement or a clean load back up to the 4th floor, I kept getting the same impression: Of all the people in this elevator, I am having the best day!

Have a good Thanksgiving… whatever your plans.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday Reruns: In Gratitude

(original post-date: November 24, 2009)

It’s the day before Thanksgiving, and I know I have much to be grateful for. Minor difficulties crop up constantly, but that’s to be expected. I try not to dwell on the small hurdles. And while I also try not to give too much weight to those moments that seem magical, there they are nevertheless. They consistently tell me that I’m doing the right thing – that if I can give thanks for nothing else, I can appreciate the path I’ve walked and the road ahead.

The essay that follows fell onto my keyboard in March of 2002. Which is to say, this piece of writing is older than the keyboard I am currently using. But it remains one of my favorite tales of faith and of fate. I share it now in the spirit of Thanksgiving…

Life’s Magic

The other night, I was in one of those moods. So I opened the hall closet, and I scanned the possibilities: a stack of journals dating back to 1972; scripts from sit-coms, plays, and movies; starts of novels; short stories and essays; loose-leaf journal entries; just plain chrons…

I decided to pull down from the shelf a small, unlabeled box. I didn’t know what was in it, but I knew I’d find a treasure or two. Once I opened it, I saw the little composition books that I filled when I was probably 26 and 27.

At the time, I was reading voraciously. And although I didn’t realize it then, the authors I had been drawn to – Henry Miller, Hermann Hesse, Richard Adams – wrote from a metaphysical perspective.

I was so moved by what they wrote that I always had a pen handy when I was reading. I would use the pen to star paragraphs, to draw lines in the margin, to provide some reminder to myself: Return Here.

After reading the first two or three of these novels, I decided to take it a step further. And so, in little composition books, I began recording the lines and paragraphs that were particularly resonant. It was a relaxing, meditative task, sitting there on my couch/perch, holding the fountain pen that had become my lucky charm. I think, too, that I thought the task would serve me ultimately. I believed that if these writers’ magical words traveled through my magical pen, I would elevate my ability to write. I would absorb not only their wisdom, but also their eloquence.


And so the other night, I came upon the little composition books. I opened one, and I began to read. This particular book began with passages I had copied from Hermann Hesse’s Magister Ludi.

Even after reading most of the passages – and I must have copied 50 or so of them – I couldn’t completely recall the book. I did remember that it was obtuse; certainly heavier than Richard Adams, and not nearly as prurient as Henry Miller. And I kind of got a recollective sense of the plot – a boy goes to an other-world prep school, where he learns wisdom, where he learns the meaning of life and what matters.

As I read the passages that I had rewritten in my own pen, I came across a reference to the Glass Bead Game, but that first appearance didn’t strike me. I simply remembered that such was the name of the game that was played – and mastered – by disciples of the Magister Ludi school.

I kept reading.

As I continued and nearly reached the end of this group of entries, the phrase appeared again, this time as the title of a poem: “The Glass Bead Game.”

This time, it stood out.

GLASS BEADS. God, I know what they are! Glass beads. They had entered my life a few years back. They became part of my life – toward what end, I could not know.

With unexpected intrigue, I read “The Glass Bead Game” – the Hesse poem that I had recorded nearly 20 years before:

“We re-enact with reverent attention
The universal chord, the master’s harmony,
Evoking in unsullied communion
Minds and times of highest sanctity.

We draw upon the iconography
Whose mystery is able to contain
The boundlessness, the storm of all existence
Give chaos form, and hold our lives in rein.

The pattern sings like crystal constellations,
And when we tell our beads, we serve the whole,
And cannot be dislodged or misdirected,
Held in the orbit of the Cosmic Soul.”


I could not have known, when I held my magical pen and recorded those magical words, that nearly two decades later, I would play my own glass bead game. I could not have known then how profound Hesse was.

When I first embarked on what I have come to call “the unbearable lightness of beading,” I knew full well that it was meditative. I knew it was settling. And I knew, even though my bank account would dispute it, that it was moving me forward. I couldn’t prove it with facts; I could only feel it in my soul.

And now, I am realizing it. The beads were not about making jewelry or launching a website or becoming some sort of designer. The beads were about getting back to me and my destiny. The beads were about welcoming my right brain back into the world that is my Self; allowing the artist in me to have her space.

The right brain is back now, and she is not fighting with the left. There is balance between the two. Balance that allows me to do what I do well – for myself and for others. Balance that allows me to absorb the magic of life and the blessings I have been given. Balance that allows me to learn constantly and to recognize those moments and those people that make the learning happen.

The glass bead game… at the moment, I feel that I’ve won.

But, I am a process person.

And so I know, this game ain’t over yet.


Postscript: for an abridged look at my experience with the “unbearable lightness of beading,” please visit my etsy shop.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Twenty-Two

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).



The note on the kitchen counter is the first thing Evelyn notices, and because the house feels remarkably still, she fears the missive will tell her of Joy’s decision to head back to Brooklyn that morning. She approaches the note slowly and with a sad feeling of dread, but her mood quickly changes as she reads the lines. And she smiles at the cheerful, easy handwriting.

Good Morning, Mom!
Dad said I could borrow the car (ha-ha).
Anyway, I’ve taken it to the pumpkin
patch and will return soon (it’s 9:00 now).
Love, Joy

“The pumpkin patch?” Evelyn says aloud, feeling confused.

“Halloween, Evelyn,” Claudia replies, her quiet re-entry into the kitchen taking Evelyn by surprise.

“Already?” Evelyn asks, looking toward the desk area and the wall calendar.

“Saturday night.”

“Oh, well,” Evelyn sighs, heading for the coffeemaker and preparing her first cup of the day. “That totally snuck up on me.”

“Good thing Joy came to visit, huh? Otherwise, you would have had egg all over your house this weekend.”

“No kidding. Of course, they’ve had the candy in the stores since Labor Day, so I should have seen it coming.”

Evelyn leans against the counter. She is in a relaxed mood, happy that Joy is visiting and hoping her daughter’s apartment will never be ready for her return.

“Davy in there?” Evelyn asks Claudia, gesturing toward the family room.

“Where else?”

“Sleeping with the television,” Evelyn says. She then shakes her head and strolls out of the kitchen.


Sitting on the front steps of the house, a light jacket draped over her shoulders, Evelyn takes in the view of the street that has been home for thirty-five years. She remembers when the trees in the Fosters’ yard across the way were saplings. Now, they tower above the house and create a protective shade.

She didn’t know the Fosters when they lost their son to that drunk driver. It happened a month after she and Davy—then with only three children—had moved in. And she didn’t even learn details of the tragedy until a year or so later, when the Fosters, emerging from their private hell, became a friendlier type of neighbor. Evelyn was pregnant with Adam then, and her neighbors’ tale of losing their son made the pregnancy more difficult. She didn’t want to bring another child into the world if it meant losing him to some stranger’s dangerous path.

Perhaps it was that fear that created Evelyn’s reticence around the Fosters. Perhaps her hormonal state, compromised at the time by hearing a painful, first-hand account of a parent’s ultimate lack of control, is what prevented her from becoming close friends with Valerie and Don Foster.

Perhaps that experience also is the reason Evelyn is sitting on the front steps now, waiting for Joy to return safely from the pumpkin patch.

She sips her coffee and listens for the next car.


“I’m not sure what to do.”

It is Davy, standing behind Evelyn in the opened front door.

She turns around and looks up at him. “You could sit here with me,” she says.

“But can I do it?”


“But what if it—you know…”

“I think it’ll be fine, sweetie. Just come sit down,” she says, patting the front porch surface to her left.

Davy sits.

“This is very nice,” he says.

“It’s always been very nice out here,” Evelyn replies. “Especially this time of year.”

“Yes. Yes it is.”

When the sound of a horn honking peals through the air a few moments later, the expressions on Evelyn’s and Davy’s faces are altogether different. Seeing Joy pulling the family sedan into the driveway, Evelyn looks relieved, then overjoyed. She waves enthusiastically.

“What’s that?” is Davy’s less enthusiastic, somewhat irritated response, as the car disappears into the garage.

“Joy,” Evelyn tells her husband. “She bought pumpkins!”

“Pumpkins?” he asks. He then begins to laugh. “Well, that’s just silly.”

“Come on!” Evelyn says then, jumping up. “Let’s meet her in the kitchen!” And Evelyn then re-enters the house, confident that Davy will follow her through the front hallway, if only to understand the purpose of their leaving the porch.

* * *

to be continued on November 27th .

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Acting Out

For a few consecutive years, beginning in early 2002, my neighbors and I had a routine. It took place on the stoop in the courtyard of our apartment building. It involved Heinekens and raucous laughter. And it would go on and on, into the wee small hours. My then-boyfriend was part of the mix, and he’d occasionally add his guitar to the scene. So there would be strumming and… singing.

Often until two in the morning.

We didn’t care that we were loud. We were in our own world. And so, we only smiled and shrugged when we were scolded by those older, quieter neighbors whom we had woken. (Okay, we also said “sorry,” but doing so never prevented a repeat performance.)

It took me two or three years to step away from that self-involved behavior. It took me that long to realize how it had come on the heels of 9/11. It took me some perspective to believe that we were simply acting out.

I remember a thought that would occur to me during those years: I miss my country.

And by that, I meant that I missed the country I thought I knew.

… When I was in the first grade, we were let out of school early one day. And the mood was somber.

It was November 22, 1963.

I remember walking down the blacktop toward the parking lot. I remember embracing that sense of somberness, but not really knowing why. I remember hearing one third grader whisper to her peer: “Don’t tell the first graders,” she said. “They won’t understand.”

I resented condescension even before I knew the word, and so what I overheard that day will always stay with me. I’d also love to track down that third grader. I’m guessing she’s now 55.

So tell me, whoever you are at 55: how do you explain the Kennedy assassination? (From what I overheard that fateful day, you understood.)

… Last weekend, I took myself to the movies, but not because I’m a great date. I just felt like getting out, and I’d been intrigued to see Inside Job, the documentary about what led to the financial crisis of 2008.

So I took advantage of my local theatre’s still-reasonable matinee price and I forked over $6.50 for my ticket.

As I took in the film’s message, I can’t say that I was shocked. Rather, I was informed.

(And frankly, nothing shocks me anymore. I’ve done my “acting out,” thank you very much, and I’ve come to accept that we are all totally screwed.)

Watching the movie, though, I came to understand a bit more about the “derivatives” that NPR has talked about for the past year. And I saw how those bundled packages helped to create the mess that’s led to so many foreclosures. I also got a sense of how “credit default swaps” contributed to the meltdown.

As to what really brought on the meltdown? Well, it isn’t news that the groundwork was laid by Reagan, when he green-lighted deregulation. The first Bush kept it going, and Clinton was right there, too, cheering on the banks as they successfully lobbied against any suggestions for oversight. During those years, the game sort of worked. There were some minor financial crises, but we bounced back until…

It all began to really come apart after 2001, and here’s my theory: The banks were acting out. Located on Wall Street, where they lost their people and their towers, they just freaked. They didn’t know what hit them, but they realized their world was not the same. It would have to be every man for himself. And so, because it was their modus operandi to pursue the almighty dollar, they began to pursue it with a vengeance and with no regard for who might get hurt (or lose a job, or lose a home) in the process.

They didn’t care. They had watched colleagues leap to their deaths from fiery buildings, and they just didn’t care.

Acting out.

… Today, the same people who were there for the meltdown – and who let it happen ­– are still in charge of our government’s financial dealings. The Treasury Department and Obama’s circle of economic advisors are filled with guys (and a few women) who were once the “deciders” at such failures as Goldman Sachs and AIG. They were there when Bush II was our pitiable president, and they are still there. According to Inside Job, they’ve been kept on because it’s “too complicated.”

It’s too complicated, they say.

I feel like that first grader again, with the third grader whispering, “they won’t understand.”

Screw you, third grader!

I don’t believe it’s too complicated. It’s simply too inbred.

And until we start over with completely new leadership (something I hoped for, when I voted for Obama), we will continue to be treated like first graders.

I didn’t like it when I was six, and I don’t like it now.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Reruns: Laughing at OCD

(original post-date: November 18, 2009)

I appreciate that, for some people, obsessive compulsive disorder is no laughing matter. In one manifestation of OCD, an afflicted individual must constantly stop his car, get out of it, and check to make sure he didn’t just run over some formerly living thing. In another, the disordered person is compelled to wash her hands so frequently that the skin becomes raw and is rid of its capacity to stave off bad bacteria.

I feel for these people. I really do. A brain disorder can disrupt personal freedom in a big way. It can become the monster in the room that breaks deals and thwarts growth.

My manifestation of OCD, however, is downright comical, and my former husband (whom we’ll call Ben) knew how to make us both laugh at it. Once, when we were shopping at Ralphs together, I tossed a box of tampons in our cart. “Did you check the date?” he asked, with deadpan delivery.

An hour or so later, after we had returned home and put away the groceries, I went into the living room. Ben stayed behind in the kitchen to make a sandwich. We had just bought peanut butter, jelly, and bread, so how could he resist?

After a few minutes, Ben entered the living room. He was carrying the jar of peanut butter and wearing an expressionless face. He approached the couch, where I was sitting. And as he slowly opened the jar, he asked, with feigned concern, “Do you think this is okay?”

He then held out the opened jar. Written into the smooth top of the fresh peanut butter was the word, “DIE.”

Quite a card, that ex-husband o’ mine. With the tine of a fork, he could make me laugh at myself.

These days, I share OCD laughs with my neighbor and friend, Neil*. We are afflicted by similar manifestations of the disorder. Which is to say, we both tend to check things multiple times (particularly things that might catch on fire). And we share the concern that otherwise edible foods and beverages might be tainted.

One afternoon a few years ago, I was returning home, and Neil heard me approach the courtyard we share. Before I’d had a chance to head upstairs to my apartment, he flung open his door across the way. He had that deer-in-headlights look – clearly upset about something.

He then explained that his cat had just walked across his desk, and when she did so, her tail brushed against his teeth. He wondered if…

Neil didn’t need to explain. Adapting a comforting tone, I said, “I’ve got some Listerine upstairs. Do you wanna come up and have a quick gargle?”

He thought that was a good idea, and so we headed up my stairs together.

Once we were in the kitchen, I pulled a small glass out of the cabinet and filled it with about a quarter-inch of Listerine. I handed it to him. Then, like two athletes in some relay event, we crossed paths. He headed to the sink as I went in the other direction.

But my eyes widened in a big way when he reached for the cold-water knob and began, “I’ll just dilute—”

“Not THAT water!” I screamed, interrupting him.

With no further ado, we both doubled over laughing.

Neil’s concern for what his cat’s tail might have left on his teeth was trumped in that moment by my fear of unfiltered L.A. water.

Crazy advises crazy. Nuts is there to provide solace to nuts. Our fears are absurd, and we both know it. But they’re our fears. Our often humorous fears. We own them, and we’re there for each other.

We’re there to laugh together at the people we just can’t help but be.


*not his real name

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Twenty-One

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).


“Aw, my room,” Joy says nostalgically, as she wheels her suitcase into her former bedroom and Evelyn follows.

“Pretty much as you left it,” Evelyn offers.

“No kidding,” Joy replies, adopting a teasing tone.

“What’s that about? Why isn’t this some archival library, like the others?”

“It’s birth order, sweetheart,” her mother explains. “As it turned out, I only needed two storage rooms, and so you and Adam have been spared.”

“Hmm,” Joy says, clearly tired, clearly fading, “birth order.”

Evelyn helps her lift her rolling suitcase onto the table along the wall. She senses Joy’s exhaustion and also envies it. She wonders if this is a moment when she might be overstepping her bounds.

“Is there anything you need, Joy?”

“No. Um, unless you’ve moved the bathroom. There are towels in there?”

“We put in a fresh set today. They’re the only ones in there.”

“And, um,” Joy’s sense of this being an awkward moment reaches Evelyn. “I have an alarm clock. So?”

“You don’t want me to tuck you in?” Evelyn asks, hoping her facetiousness is clear.


“Do you remember what you used to say, Joy, when I asked if I could tuck you in?”

Joy laughs. “How could I not?” She shakes her head, embarrassed, while pulling clothes out of her suitcase and putting them in available bureau drawers. “I used to say, ‘Mother, you don’t tuck me in; you tuck the sheets in.’”

“Right!” Evelyn agrees, clapping her hands as she had at the train station.

Now retrieving a pair of shoes from the bottom of her suitcase and placing them near the closet, Joy asks, “What kept you from slapping my smart-ass self?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, how cocky!” Then, Joy repeats the line, with a childish smart-aleck tone: “You don’t tuck me in; you tuck the sheets in.”

“Joy,” her mother replies, lovingly, “you weren’t being a smart-ass.”

Evelyn then kisses her daughter’s forehead and looks her in the eye: “You were being logical.”


An hour later, Evelyn retrieves Davy from the family room. With no protest on his part, she is able to lead him upstairs, help him into his pajamas, and direct him to his side of their bed. Once that is accomplished, she checks in on Joy. Her daughter—so perfectly independent now at the tender age of thirty-seven—is indeed fast asleep.

Evelyn does not waste time envying either of them. They can sleep; she can’t; that’s life.

But life also exists inside of Patrick’s former bedroom.

At least, that’s where much of Evelyn’s life seems to exist now.


ADAM, AGE 7-10 is the direction she receives from the first folded-up square she pulls from the bowl.

Adam, Evelyn thinks, retrieving the corresponding box. Adam! Whatever will I find in here?

What Evelyn might have been thinking, while retrieving the box, is dramatically different from what she comes upon once she opens it.

She pulls out a knit top. Totally generic. Casts it aside.

Another knit top. A different shade of pale blue, but still pale; still blue. Casts it aside.

As she continues foraging, she is more completely dumb-founded by her pack-rat self than she has been up to this point. These clothes are not special! she thinks. What the hell was I thinking?!?

Then. Suddenly. Buried beneath the dullness, Evelyn sees something that makes her sigh and smile. A soft pink ruffled shirt, specifically made to exist within the tuxedo jacket that is folded beneath it. Each, for some reason, designed to fit the body of an eight-year-old boy.

“Ladies and Gentlemen!” Adam spoke authoritatively, having gathered his family in the backyard, against the protests of some.

“Welcome! Welcome! And I am so glad you all could come tonight!”

“What choice did we have?” Evelyn heard Patrick say to Marilyn.

“Tonight, I am proud to share with you the amazing world of…” (and then he swirled his hands about in a tantalizing fashion) “…Adamagic.”

“OOOOHHHH!” Davy chanted, inspiring his wife and children to join in.

“OOOOHHHH!” the family chanted.

“Thank you very much,” said the young magician, clearly encouraged by the response.

“Tonight,” Adam continued, “you will witness the unfalmable…”

“Unfalmable!” Davy repeated, raising an arm of solidarity and causing the entire family to chant: “OOOOHHHH!”

“Tonight,” Adam said, beginning to show signs of selfconsciousness, “you will witness magic as you’ve never witnessed it before. May I have a volunteer, please?”

For a moment, there was quiet in the crowd—quiet that made Evelyn uncomfortable. She certainly didn’t want to volunteer herself, but she hated the thought that her baby would have no takers.

And Adam, ever the showman, recognized that quiet, too. “Any takers?” he repeated, his voice cracking a bit as he tried desperately to retain some sense of authority.

“At your service, Adamagic!” Davy exclaimed with enthusiasm, standing to the family’s now common “OOOOHHHH!”

“Very good, then,” Adam said, regaining his confidence. “Thank you, sir. If you will step forward.”

Adam then waved his arm dramatically, leading his father onto the “stage.”

Evelyn’s recollection of the ensuing program is that it did not go well for Adam-as-magician. His card tricks failed miserably. And, to make matters worse, they failed repeatedly.

But, as Evelyn recalls now, that failure did nothing to undermine Adam’s conviction. Because Davy—who remained the guinea pig throughout the repertoire—miraculously made every mistake look like it was his fault. It wasn’t Adam who failed to produce magic. It was Davy.

How did he do that? Evelyn now thinks. How did Davy produce magic by being party to the failure of magic?

How did he DO that?!?

Having tossed aside all other contents of the ADAM, AGE 7-10 box, Evelyn looks at the two pieces in front of her: the soft pink ruffled shirt and the tuxedo jacket.

Perfect, she thinks, envisioning the quilt. These two will go together… as an ensemble… in the same square.

* * *

to be continued on November 20th .

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Red Flags at Work

It is perhaps an understatement to say that I have always approached employment with a certain amount of fluidity. The fact of the matter is, I have never really worried about it. Within that context, I’ve had two primary “careers.” The first was in the restaurant world of New York City, and the second has been in the nonprofit sector, beginning in New York, at the Ford Foundation. The nonprofit work has lasted quite long – it’s now been 23 years. Ironically, had I not been sent to Ford as a temp, I may never have discovered the sector.

Regardless of my good fortune in that assignment, I’ve always contended: you don’t necessarily need to know what you want to do for a living; just be really clear about what you don’t want to do. And be prepared to run like hell when things don’t work out.

I’ve run like hell on many occasions. And regarding a few of them, I distinctly remember the red flag that pushed me into a new job…

One of my two dozen waitressing gigs was at a Hungarian restaurant on Manhattan’s upper west side. It was more lucrative than anything I could have imagined then, but that income came at a price. The work was nonstop, Mondays through Saturdays. I amassed a weekly average of $350 (in the early 80’s, mind you!), and I didn’t reach that total because I was serving high-end entrees to parties of well-dressed theatre-patrons; rather, I was running my ass off, collecting $2.00 tips here and $3.00 tips there. Do the math.

There were three of us “on the floor” at that restaurant: the two Hungarian waiters and me (me: the native-born; born, for that matter, in Connecticut and to a pair of WASPs). The kitchen was run by guys from the Dominican Republic, and the owner and owneress were Hungarian. As you can imagine, I learned several Spanish and Hungarian phrases while working there. And as you also might imagine (particularly if you are familiar with restaurants as a workplace), most of what I learned contained words that children should not hear.

One morning, about eight or so months into my Hungarian stint, I woke up with one phrase in my head: bazd meg. This, my friends, means “fuck it.” In a language I do not speak.

Red flag: if you wake up in the morning thinking “fuck it,” you are in a bad psychic place. If you wake up thinking “fuck it” in a language you do not speak, consider a job change. Seriously.

…Years later, after I had moved to L.A., I accepted a mid-management position at an area nonprofit. Having done some consulting with them, I thought it’d be a good fit. It wasn’t. I was becoming increasingly unhappy with the administrative details of my responsibilities, and the bureaucracies of the organization disturbed me particularly. I think I had to fill out about three forms to request a legal pad, and six weeks later, I remained without one.

At the same time, this organization’s mission statement included the following phrase: “the elimination of racism.” I became bitter as I watched what was going on around me. All I could think was this: if it takes six weeks to get a legal pad, then good luck with racism!

One day, as I was driving to work, I took a quick glance at my speedometer. I was going eight miles per hour.

Red flag: if you are holding up traffic while driving to your job, it is not the right job for you. Make a u-turn and find another gig. It beats being rear-ended.

About a half-dozen years after that slow drive to resignation, I was once again settling into a new staff job. This time, I had gone through an arduous interview/writing sample process as I vied to become a certain nonprofit organization’s first-ever development director. I landed the job and a nicely competitive salary.

But the challenges became apparent early on. The executive director, who was a lovely person and passionate professional, had some issues with delegation. Issues? Okay, I’m being kind.

As an example: one day, she said to me, “Send an email to the program officer at XYZ. In the subject line, write ‘introducing myself,’ and then tell her who you are and let her know…”

And on it went. I was being told how to write an email. I was being dictated the entire contents of that email!

A week or so later, the executive director was away on business, leaving me to put together the type of funder report I had been responsible for five years earlier, when I was the next-to-the-lowest paid person in a development staff of six. Which is to say, it was an assignment I could have done with my eyes closed.

I put all the documents together and then set out to write the cover letter.

I began by typing, “Dear.”

Just then, the cartoon paper clip appeared on my screen.

“Looks like you’re writing a letter!” its balloon said. “Can I help?”

I practically leapt from my chair and stared down the paper clip. Then, using my outside voice, I screamed, “I KNOW HOW TO WRITE A FUCKING LETTER!”

Red flag: if you are audibly yelling at Microsoft icons, you are wasting your time. And if that yelling has been incited by the micro-managing behaviors of powers-that-be, your time is being wasted. Move on.

And that was the last staff job I ever held.

Go figure.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday Reruns: My Lee Marvin Story

(original post-date: November 3, 2009)

Imagine a world where you can’t rent movies or look up some info online. In 1979, that was the world I was living in. And that’s where my tale begins…

It was early December in NYC. Which means it was that crisp, holiday time, and everyone was in a festive mood. My good friend, John, had some out-of-town guests, and because I was living in a rather spacious apartment, we volunteered my living room for the three guys’ crash pad.

After a day-and-a-half of running around town, we spent Sunday evening in. Just hanging around the living room, talking about whatever. The conversation turned to favorite movies, and John’s brother, Tom, mentioned that his was Cat Ballou. As we began to riff on the movie, we remembered that Lee Marvin played two roles: the drunk (Kid Shelleen), and… what was the name of the other character? He had a silver nose, and he was a bad guy! What was his name?

We couldn’t think of it, and so we moved on. But, for John and me, moving on was only temporary. For months after the three houseguests returned to Michigan, John and I continued to obsess over the unanswered trivia question. We’d quiz people at parties we’d attend. And, week after week, I’d peruse the TV listings in the paper to see if Cat Ballou might be that night’s late, late movie on network television.

I’d also check the movie listings in the Times and The New Yorker. There were lots of revival theatres back then, and it would have been fun to see the old western on the big screen. But… it never showed up.

Why were we so obsessed with getting the answer to this question?

Time passed… and the following July, I had tickets to see a production of Camelot at Lincoln Center. Richard Burton reprising his role, and Christine Ebersol playing Guenevere. I met my friend, Audrey, at the box office, where we picked up our tickets. Then, we entered the large lobby. We had a little time to mill about before heading up to our cheap seats, and as we both took in the array of people, I noticed a large man, about ten feet away.

“Look!” I said to Audrey. “Lee Marvin!”

Then, it dawned on me: He’ll know!

Without thinking twice about it, I raced over to him. And then, in a truly childlike move, I tugged ever so gently on the sleeve of his camel-colored jacket. “Mr. Marvin?” I said, my voice easily three octaves higher than it usually is. “Mr. Marvin?”

He looked down at me (not in a classist way; rather, in the way of someone who is just that much taller).

“Yes?” he said, his voice large, the word seeming to have so many more than three letters.

I was stunned, and I must have looked incredibly frightened.

“Yes?” he reiterated, his presence so far above me that his words echoed as God’s might.

(I was temporarily frozen by the reality of the moment: Lee Marvin was waiting for me to say something!)

“Um, yes, Mr. Marvin,” I began, sounding like a chipmunk on amphetamines, “Um, anyway, these friends of mine and I have been obsessed for a while with a trivia question, and…”

“Yes?” he asked again, still looking down upon me (not unkindly) and filling the time while I took a breath.

“And so we’re just wondering, Mr. Marvin, in Cat Ballou, what’s the name of that guy you played – not Kid Shelleen, we know about him, but the other guy… the guy with the silver nose?”

“Tim Strawn,” he said.

“Tim Strawn?” I repeated, my voice still sounding like I’d just inhaled a boatload of helium.

“Tim Strawn,” he confirmed, maintaining his solid standing and deep vocal register.

“Thank you,” I squeaked.

And as I scurried away, all I could think was, “I can’t wait to tell John!”

I got the answer! I got it from the man himself!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Twenty

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).


“So Claudia and I talked this morning about dinner tonight,” Evelyn shares, while driving Joy home. “I’m assuming you’re still a vegetarian?”

“Well,” Joy squirms a little bit, but more from a feeling of inconvenience than of guilt. “Actually. No.”


“What can I say? I met a cheeseburger six months ago, and—”

“You took him home?”

“Oh. Oh, no,” Joy responds, waving off the concept as if it were trite. “We just did it right there in the restaurant.”

Evelyn laughs and smiles. “Should you be telling this to your mother?”

“I think you can handle it,” Joy says, her dimples as deep as ever.

“Okay,” Evelyn says, reaching an intersection near their home and waiting for a pair of rollerbladers to skate past the car. “I am not disappointed.” Then, looking at Joy, “I will never be disappointed. But: would you object to a vegetarian meal tonight?”

Joy looks at her mother for a moment and reveals the teasing temperament that defines her approach to life. “As long as they’re not the same vegetables I was involved with before.”

Her access into the intersection clear, Evelyn hits the gas. “I think we’re safe,” she says to Joy.


Evelyn, Davy, and Joy share a dinner of vegetarian lasagna, salad, and garlic bread. And they wrap up the meal just as Claudia is leaving to go home.

Evelyn is surprised by the appetite she brought to the meal, so rarely does she eat this early. But she also realizes that the day began much earlier than usual. God, she thinks, as Joy graciously walks Claudia to the door, maybe tonight I’ll be able to sleep!

When Joy returns to the dining room, Davy looks at her quizzically. “Who are you?”

“I’m Joy, Dad,” she says, the slightest bit of unease showing through her smile. “I’m your daughter. We just had dinner together.”

“I don’t know you!” he replies angrily.

Davy then gets up from his chair and states, with the emphasis Evelyn knows is hyper-compensatory, “I’m going in there!”

As Davy heads for the door that leads to the kitchen, and ultimately, to the family room, Evelyn calls out from her chair, “Are you going to watch TV?”

“I’m just! I’m just! I’m going. I’m going to do,” Davy calls from the kitchen.

“He’ll be fine,” Evelyn says to her daughter. “He’s just…going to do.”

“Going to do,” Joy echoes, her dimples a bit crimped.


When Evelyn returns from settling Davy into the family room, Joy is sitting at the dining room table, looking stunned but not defeated.

“Let’s go in the study,” Evelyn suggests, retrieving her glass from her place at the table. “C’mon!” she says then, using the tone one would for a puppy.

And the tone, which helps Joy lighten up, leads her to the study, where Evelyn turns on a few lamps, sits in one of the leather chairs, and sets a relaxing precedent.

Joy, not ready to sit just yet, walks around the room. She looks at the bookcases as if she has never seen them before. She takes in the art on the wall. She circles about, caressing her wineglass and breathing deeply.

“Okay,” Joy finally says, exhaling audibly. “Okay,” she says again, descending into a corner of the leather couch and looking directly at her mother. “That was intense.”

Evelyn nods slowly, her expression somehow conveying love, sadness, and resignation all at once.

“But I really admire,” Joy begins, somewhat haltingly, “the way you communicate with him. In a way, you treat him as if nothing were different.”

“Mmm,” Evelyn says, nodding again, not knowing how to respond.

“And since we don’t know what’s different for him,” Joy continues, “I mean, we don’t really know, maybe that’s best.”

Evelyn looks at her daughter—appreciative of her presence, appreciative of her exploring mind.

“God!” Joy then exclaims. “Claudia told me earlier about his sax performance the other day!”

Evelyn nods, squinting through her emotions and so very glad that a family member is there to share some of them.

“I mean,” Joy goes on, “what’s that about? He hasn’t lost it all! Has he just lost his ability to communicate what he knows?”

“That’s the mystery,” Evelyn tells her daughter. “That’s the mystery. You know, a year or so ago, when I realized he was napping a lot, I worried about that. I thought he shouldn’t be sleeping so much. But then, I wondered about his dreams. We can fly in our dreams, right? We can do things we can’t do when we’re awake. So maybe, in his dreams, your father can have conversations! Maybe he can hold his own, you know?

“And,” Evelyn adds then, “if that’s the case, I say ‘let him sleep’.”

* * *

to be continued on November 13th .

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

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Morning After

In the interest of full disclosure, I will confess that I am not writing this on Wednesday morning. Rather, it’s Tuesday night, and I’ve got the TV on in the other room. I’m listening with my left ear as I type with both hands. My mind is taking things in as I put things out. Call me versatile.

As with most years, I have been intrigued by the campaigns and rallies that have led up to this day of voting. In college, I majored in Poli-Sci, and electoral politics always held my interest most. Electoral politics reflect a combination of so many things: the personalities of elected officials and those who would like to hold office; the mood of the nation; the mood of individual groups within the nation; the economy; the income classes; the tragic tenacity of racism; what’s happening around the world; hopes and dreams; frustrations and difficulties.

This electoral season has been phenomenal on all those fronts. And what is abundantly clear is that a whole lot of people are pissed off. I’ve been sharing a quip for a few months now: if we Californians reinstate “Governor Moonbeam” as our chief executive, and if we simultaneously legalize marijuana, then make your moving plans. Please join me on the West Coast as we await the apocalypse.

That’s a joke, but the sentiment underlying it is not. Our country is having a serious meltdown. It actually might be a good idea for us to gather together around a fire, load up a very large bong, and sing Kumbaya for a while.

What concerns me most about the current angst is that it seems people are putting all the blame on the present. And, in my opinion, that is a huge mistake.

A lot of what is messed up today goes back to Reagan and deregulation. There also are the travesties of the first eight years of the current century…

I was on Amazon the other day, and I noticed their large advertisement for a book that will be released on November 9th. George W. Bush’s Decision Points.

I immediately questioned the title. Shouldn’t it be called Decidering Points?

As I thought about it, I realized there are many possibilities for the title of Dubya’s memoir…

How about Moments When Dick Cheney Told Me What to Do… ?

No? Okay then, here’s another option: How I Came to Support Halliburton While Hopin’ to Please Ol’ Pappy.

What do you mean you don’t like that one?

Too wordy, you say?

Alright then, how about My Delusion Continues.

Yeah, I agree, that might give him too much credit for introspection.

Of course, something extremely direct might be refreshing. Like… Check Out All These Ways I Fucked Up!

And here’s one that’s sort of obtuse: A Spine is a Terrible Thing to Waste.

(By which I’m speaking from the perspective of a librarian, not an anatomist.)

Update from my left ear: the news station I am listening to has projected Jerry Brown for governor.

Can you imagine spending $141 million in pursuit of a job and NOT getting it?

If tonight’s projections hold true tomorrow, then that’s what Meg Whitman did.

Everybody should be angry about that waste of too-much-money.

And if you think about it... and if you do so without partisan prejudice or any other ‘ism’s that might influence your perspective, you will realize that you cannot logically blame the obscene scenario of Whitman’s campaign on the Obama administration.

You just can’t.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Monday Reruns: What Are You Waiting For? (Some Thoughts on Life Expectancy)

(original post date: October 27, 2009)

Last Spring, I participated in a few sessions of a women’s networking group. I was looking for ways to promote my novel, The Somebody Who, and I thought these monthly gatherings might be helpful. At the third of the three consecutive meetings I attended, I grabbed a chair that was next to a woman who was new to the group (or, at least, new to me). She was raving about something she had heard that day. She was excited because she had learned that some authority somewhere had suggested that life expectancy could be 140.

When I rolled my eyes, I must have done so audibly. When she turned to me, I apologized. “Sorry,” I said, holding up my novel. “But I’m here promoting a story about dementia. I just can’t get excited about that news.”

But she was. She really was excited by the prospect of living to be 140. And I just don’t get that.

You want to live to be 140? What? You want to take up space and resources that other, younger people need? Are you kidding? How do you envision all those extra years? You think you’re gonna have some good times? You think that, as you near the end, you’re gonna still have it together? Hell, I could be wrong; maybe you will live to be 140. Maybe, in fact, you’ll be in such good shape that you'll be able to comfort that daughter of yours. You know the one I’m talking about … think ahead: your little girl is 115, and she’s going through a rough time. But the two of you are close (who wouldn’t be after more than a century of bonding?), and so she’ll appreciate your words of motherly wisdom. She’ll appreciate your telling her, “Hang in there, honey. And don’t worry. It’ll all get better soon. The 120’s? Those are the best!

… A part of me feels that if you don’t do the first 70 right, you don’t get another 70. You just don’t. (And, if you do do the first 70 right, you don’t need another 70. Follow me?)

I know I’m weirdly cavalier about the whole lifespan thing. I remember, three or four years ago, when I was getting ready to go back to Virginia to see my folks, a friend here in L.A. said, “Remember, Katie, this might be the last time you see your Dad.”

“That’s true for all of us,” I replied. “Every time we see each other. That might be the last time.”

Case in point:

In early March of '08 (a few weeks before my Dad died), I was running an errand in the Valley. I parked my car on Ventura Boulevard, and when I went to the meter, I realized I didn’t have enough change in my wallet. I had to head back to the driver’s side of my Corolla so I could get some quarters out of the compartment just left of the steering wheel. I took a broad step off the sidewalk, and when I took the next broad step, a piece of raised pavement threw me off in a big way. I tripped, but I didn’t fall. And after I didn’t fall, I took notice of the SUV that would have flattened my head if I had fallen. Standing there, tripped but not fallen (still alive), only one thought crossed my mind: “That’s what I’m talking about, people! That’s what I’m talking about.”

Don’t wait for your 120’s for everything to fall into place. There are too many SUVs out there.