Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Reruns: Grand Central Christmas

A NOTE BEFORE READING: This is actually a rerun of a rerun, but if you've seen "the Grinch" or White Christmas more than a few times, you'll appreciate that sense of precedence that comes with holiday fare. This also will be my last post for 2011. ...When windstorms lead to power outages lead to fried motherboards and the unexpected purchase of a new computer, a girl can get a little stressed, so... I'm giving myself a break. I will, though, try to resume my enthusiastic blog-hopping in the days and weeks ahead. And, I'll be back with a fresh rerun and a new post early in the new year! Best wishes to all, and to all a good week.

(original post-date: December 23, 2009)

My verbal skills include the ability to take an acerbic path. That's not necessarily a gift. It just is. And it is, among other things, potentially misleading. Contradicting that caustic edge is another part of me -- the part that is moved to tears by a profound sense of what I can only describe as universality.

That connection.

That feeling.

That “brotherhood of man” thing.

Although I claim no religious affiliations, Christmas carols have always pushed that special button for me. I don’t care if it’s about some little town named Bethlehem, a drummer boy catching Mary’s eye, or whatever it was that came upon a midnight clear… if you put me in a room where a bunch of people are singing those songs, I guarantee you, I’ll start crying.

(I might even embarrass you.)

Back in my New York years, I worked for a time at the Ford Foundation, and so my commute to and from the office involved walking through Grand Central Station. One December evening, I was in the main concourse area when I heard some familiar songs, and so I was drawn to a circle of people. Among them was a man in his late twenties (I’m guessing), dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt. His guitar was strapped on, and his enthusiasm in leading the group of carolers was charmingly genuine. As for the group, it appeared to have a core: young people. Specifically, teens.

I’ll never know the actual story behind the gathering, but I made one up on the spot, and I’m sticking to it. Here’s what I think was happening at Grand Central that evening: teacher man, who had grown up in the 60’s and 70’s, had an altruistic heart (quite different from his peers, who were – at the time – all wearing yellow ties and working on Wall Street). He successfully recruited about a dozen of the ninth graders from his Connecticut classroom, and together, they rode the train into Manhattan earlier that afternoon. Then, just in time for the rush-hour madness, they formed their circle. For anyone who joined the circle, they had prepared – and happily distributed – sheets of lyrics.

They were armed and ready – to promote joy to the world in Grand Central Station.

When I first approached the circle, it was simply out of curiosity. Once I realized I could do some caroling on my way home from work, I was more than happy to join in. I accepted a copy of the stapled collection of lyrics (though I didn’t need them for the most part), and I participated with enthusiasm.

But as we were into the second verse of Angels We Have Heard On High, I realized I had to make an adjustment. I had to hold the stapled lyrics a little higher. I had to hide my face. I was hard-pressed, at that point, to hold back the tears, and while I’m not ashamed to cry at anything, I didn’t want to disturb someone else’s good time…

I should note, though, that part of what compelled that maneuver was the observations I already had made. Before allowing that lyric sheet to hide my emotion, I had looked around. I had taken in the faces and bodies who had joined this circle of impromptu carolers. There were homeless women (at the time, we called them “bag ladies”); there were businessmen and women executives; there were local service workers and tourists just passing through. There was teacher man and his students.

There was, from what I could tell, everyone.

Everyone – singing together in a circle.

Everyone – creating a sound of joy.

The beauty of the noise emanating from Grand Central’s main concourse was so powerful. The familiarity there was so universal.

In that moment, all else seemed secondary or obsolete.

I hid behind the lyric sheet.

I sang and I cried.

And when I’d had my fill, I left the circle and caught the shuttle to Times Square.

From there, I transferred to the Broadway Local and headed home.

Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


During my childhood, a common classroom or camp “party game” tested our skills in unscrambling words, often from a thematic list. And although I won these games more times than I didn't, my victory during the 6th grade solicited a tease from my teacher.

It was this time of year, and so we were challenged with word combinations such as:

elds (as in sled)

eawhrt (as in wreath)

rreeedin (as in reindeer)

and, … well, you get the rpeicut (picture).

Presenting me with my prize, my teacher exclaimed, “Rats?!”

I smiled sheepishly, not yet understanding her reference.

“Rats?!” she said again, her grin toothy.

I don’t remember what the original scramble had looked like, but what the teacher was really looking for was “star.”

Hell, even “arts” would have been more seasonally appropriate.

I don’t know, though, can’t rats be part of Christmas?

In the ensuing years, I’ve made a mental note whenever I’ve considered a word that – when scrambled – creates another word of related significance.

My list is admittedly short, and I present it to you now in hopes that you’ll add a few more:





Your turn…

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Reruns: "Get Glasses, Alice!"

(original post-date: December 15, 2010)

Back in the ‘80’s, when I lived in New York, there was a television commercial that came on quite frequently. The protagonist – a yuppy’ish, urban woman – kept running into things. And so her friends kept imploring, “Get glasses, Alice!”

Needless to say, the ad was for a glasses-making outfit.

It might have been LensCrafters. In fact, I think it was. (And who knew, by the way, that they’d make such bank – 25 or so years later – when a certain perky pitbull from Alaska took center stage at a certain convention, but… that’s another story.)

Lately, I’ve been remembering the ad. I’ve been hearing someone whisper into my ear: “Get glasses, Alice!”

I am desperately in need of a visit to the eye doctor. (So desperate in fact that my audio-hallucinations allow someone to call me “Alice.”)

But it’s not that I don’t already have glasses…

I have three pairs.

From front to back, they are: the reading and beading glasses, for those activities that take place about 9-12 inches from my eyes; the computer glasses (which I am wearing now) – recommended for a 17-inch or so distance; and the movie and driving glasses, which I’ve lately worn on occasion when watching TV in my living room.

So, yes, I have glasses, but it may be time to make the leap.

I love it that what were once “trifocals” are now called “progressives.” That is, dare I say, progressive.

And while I am also of that ilk (progressive, I mean), I dread the next step.

The last time I was at the eye doctor (which was more than a year ago), I asked if it were time to “go there.”

He didn’t think so. “As long as you go through part of your day without glasses, then it isn’t time.” Because, as he explained, once you wear progressives, you’re committed to wearing glasses. All the time.

So that’s my dilemma. When I’m not reading or beading; when I’m not at the computer; when I’m not driving or watching a movie… I am generally not wearing glasses. And so: I don’t think of myself as a person who wears glasses.

But then… there are times when I look very closely at a shelf in my bathroom.


Maybe I need bathroom glasses, I think.

Or, there are those occasions when I’m meeting with a new client for the first time, and because my purse isn’t all that big, I’ve not brought along the various glasses. The driving pair is in the car, but otherwise, I am free of corrective lenses… I ask my new client for a business card, and she hands it to me. I then look at it, and I hope that those blurry lines I am looking at include an email address and a telephone number.

Of course, if the meeting’s going particularly well (and they usually do), I can just make a joke as I stretch out my arm so as to view the card.

But… even that move is getting dicey. So I wonder… should I shop for a purse large enough to carry all my glasses or should I see if any stores sell arm extenders – in which case, I suppose, I’d still need a larger purse.

I guess the best next step is to schedule an appointment with my eye doctor…

Actually, I’d like to see him again.

We always enjoy talking about current events and so forth.

We respect each other’s views.

Which is to say, we share a vision.

Which is to say… he’s delightfully progressive.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Accolades ad Nauseum

Several years ago, my most tenured Los Angeles friend was questioned by her daughter, who was probably in the third grade at the time.

“Mom?” her daughter began, “Why don’t you put that sticker on your bumper? The one about my getting A’s in school?”

My friend was quick to respond.

“The car’s a lease,” she said. “I can’t.”

But even if my friend’s car had not been a lease, I know she would have resisted advertising her daughter’s academic achievement. And I don’t blame her. There are way too many accolades and rites of passage for kids these days, and bumper stickers are just the tip of the iceberg.

… I don’t have kids, but I also don’t live under a rock, and so I am aware of how things have developed over the years.

These days, kids seem to graduate from everything. Everything.

And those who participate in sports get trophies and certificates simply because they participated.

While it’s true that winning isn’t everything (after all, as the saying goes, it’s “how you play the game”), I don’t think losers should get trophies. Rather, they should be proud of their efforts, and they should be inspired to do better. They should be inspired so that, next time, maybe they will get a trophy.

… A year before my very first graduation (the one from prep school), I won the Intermediate Division of a horse show. My tangibles? A beautiful small sterling platter and a long, three-tiered ribbon. I was so proud of that win, and I loved holding that shiny platter and streaming ribbon as I rode out of the ring.

I wonder what that same event would look like today? Would everyone get a platter and long ribbon? Would I have no way to distinguish my achievement from that of the others who – on that particular day – simply had not performed as well as I had?

I don’t think I would enjoy that very much.

In fact, I believe it would probably squelch any desire I had to excel.

What’s the point of competition if no one really gets to feel as if they’ve won?

What’s the point of competition if it doesn’t inspire one to do better next time?

… I don’t know about what we’re teaching our kids. I don’t know if it’s a good idea for their little microcosm of society to provide them with tangible rewards for adequate performance. I don’t think a trophy is an appropriate accolade for simply showing up.

Given the current employment situation, the handwriting is on the wall. The adult world is becoming increasingly cut-throat, and it is unlikely that it will become less competitive in the years and decades ahead. Will your son expect that showing up is all he needs to do? Will your daughter expect a bonus simply because her colleague got one?

My Child is an Honor Roll Student at Wilson Middle School, the bumper sticker says.

Cool. And if your child earned that status, even better.

But I don’t think you should invest too much in bragging.

I’m guessing, too, that 20 years from now, you’ll not want to drive around with a bumper sticker that says, My Adult Child is Living in My Basement with All His Trophies.

If that happens, though? If your grown-up kid shows up with such a decal and suggests you put it on the car? Just do what my friend did. Tell him that the car’s a lease.

(And don’t worry if it’s a lie. There’s probably a certificate for that, too!)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Monday Reruns: Charisma 101

(original post-date: December 8, 2010)

I attended prep school for three years, starting as a sophomore. And within just a week or two of that boarding school experience, I was aware of a student in my class whose energy was engaging.

Julie, who hailed from Alabama, was loud and fun and inviting.

You wanted to be her friend.

I got to know her during that year, and although I don’t remember specific times together when we were sophomores, I know we had a lot of laughs. I remember, too, that I always felt special in her company.

During the summer before our junior year, Julie sent me a letter. (This was back in the days of the pony express.) Having ended the previous year without a roommate lined up, she realized she was in the random sampling. She didn’t want to be placed with just anyone, so she wondered if we could room together.

When I received that letter, I was beyond flattered.

To have this remarkable person want to share a room with me?

Of course!

So, Julie and I were roommates junior year. And we had a lot of good times. But there also were challenges. We were at such different stages of growth.

Senior year, Julie and I no longer roomed together, but we continued to bond. In fact, it was that year that we discovered a common repertoire … One day, we both happened to be sitting in “the Smoker” (i.e., the senior hall lounge with ashtrays), and we were watching the film version of Gyspy on television. Until that moment, neither of us knew that the other had grown up with the lyrics.

But once we learned of that common knowledge, I scored the vinyl from my parent’s collection (Funny Girl, too), and Julie and I sung along at the top of our lungs, absolutely annoying anyone within earshot.

Everything’s coming up roses…

Don’t rain on my parade…

Boy, did we belt!

I can’t recall how well we kept in touch after graduation. I do remember getting an invitation to her wedding breakfast. And a few years after that, there was the 10th year reunion in Virginia.

I enjoyed seeing Julie at the reunion, but I also appreciated that we were living in different worlds and that our paths may never again cross. She had married a doctor and settled in Mississippi, where she would ultimately fill her days raising a daughter and doing remarkable work on behalf of charities in her community.

I was still (at the time of our 10th reunion) living wildly in New York. Settling did not then seem an option for me. (In some ways, it still doesn’t.)

…Three weeks ago, I sent out one of my occasional email blasts. When I do this, it is to alert people to recent blog postings, and I send it to fairly much everyone in my email address book. Julie has always been included in that list, as has been Kate (my veni vidi vici buddy from our prep school Latin class).

Just a few hours after that recent blast, I got an email from Kate. She shared with me that my missive had made her nostalgic, and so she decided she’d like to touch base with Julie. (She, too, had neither seen nor spoken to Julie in ages.) Since Kate was at work and didn’t have her address book handy, she decided to do a quick Google search to see if she could get Julie’s phone number online.

But what she got was an obituary.

Julie died in October.

… Since learning the news of the brain tumor that was diagnosed 14 months before Julie’s death, many of us who went to school together have reached out to each other.

By phone. By email. By Facebook. Whatever works.

And through the internet, we have gained access to written memorials from people who knew her years after we did.

It has been heartening to absorb their testimonials, and to recognize – in this woman they describe – the girl we all knew.

… In the 25 years that have passed since I last saw or spoke to Julie, I’ve been blessed to know – and to become close to – a small handful of people who possess what I call charisma. And when I think of someone with charisma, I think of this: you just feel so damned special to be in their company.

There’s something about them…

Something they quietly pass along to you...

A gift of joy, laughter, wisdom.

A generosity of spirit.

A magnetic inclusiveness.

That was Julie.

My introduction to charisma.

I will always be touched by her life.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Doctors, Pharmaceuticals, and Why I'm Leery

A few weeks ago, I heard a television promo that was meant to be alarming. It was regarding the next “Dr.Oz” episode, and it featured a voice-over that could have brought a person out of a coma: THE INSOMNIA CRISIS, it began. And then: WHY DO WE HAVE IT?

(Loud promos, maybe? Just sayin’.)

Seriously, though, I could answer that “insomnia question,” and perhaps I will in another post. But right now, I want to talk about doctors.

I do not think that they are God.

Not even when they come with the name of OZ.

In fact, I think when a doctor’s name is “OZ,” it’s a little creepy.

In fact, I should tell you (and Oprah) that I avoid doctors whenever possible.

I also turn off the radio when there’s a story about some current epidemic and its manifestations.

I figure, if I don’t know the manifestations, then I won’t exhibit any.

I figure, I’m best off not harboring fear.

And in my opinion, doctors – and pharmaceuticals – primarily exist to fill us with fear.

…Okay, okay, I admit it. I have an issue with doctors (and pharmaceuticals).

Let me tell you why.

When I was a junior in prep school, my mother still took me to the man who had been my pediatrician. Nothing wrong with that scenario. It made sense to all of us.

Problem was, though, said pediatrician was weight-obsessed. He had charts on his walls, and he seemed to worship them.

At the time, I was probably about 15 pounds over what his chart recommended for someone my age and height. And, in his eyes, this made me “fat.”

Never mind the fact that I was built strong and could maneuver a 1200-pound horse over a course of 3-foot jumps. No… I was “fat.”

So, said doctor prescribed a pill – new on the market. It seemed a miracle drug.

Mom agreed to the prescription, and so off we went.

Off we went, into a semester when I would quickly drop a great deal of weight but not remember what I learned in class. Off we went, into a semester when this drug – this drug that was constructed to “tell my brain” that it wasn’t hungry – would prevent me from eating. Off we went, and several months later (after I’d stopped taking the drug), I developed unusually swollen ankles that caught the attention of a nurse on staff at my prep school.

And so off I went, to the prep school’s doctor…

The prep school’s doctor ran a few tests, and then, he called my mom.

When he made that call, he had probably assumed that she knew I’d been sent to him that day. (She didn’t.)

“We’ve ruled out heart failure!” he told her, over the phone.

“Great,” she said, completely at a loss. “On whom?”

The prep school doc filled her in, and once he had clarified to Mom that he’d run some tests on me, he also let her know that he wanted to put me in the hospital for a day or two. For more tests.

And so, to the hospital I went.

I was a senior at that point. I’d just turned 17.

I don’t remember the tests or the details.

I do, though, remember the bottom line.

Prep school doc found the test results inconclusive, and so – because he had to draw a conclusion, I suppose, he decided that I was “carrying around too much weight.”

And so he prescribed more diet pills…


Okay, my first point: doctors who are working with minors should NEVER be allowed to prescribe diet pills. Ever. Diet is behavior, which is therefore wed to psychology, and while psychotropic drugs have their place, individuals should always and first be encouraged and empowered to change their behavior without drugs. Moreover, a drug that instructs the brain to tell the body it isn't hungry is inherently disrespectful of that brain.

I think that’s what pisses me off most about the whole pharmaceutical franchise. It is the lack of respect. It is the drug companies saying, “You don’t have the capacity to change who you are, but WE do. We can change you! We can help you!”

Powerlessness is not a prescription I want to fill, thank you very much.

Okay, my second point: that drug that my pediatrician put me on when I was 16? That drug – that drug that was oh-so-new to the market – was Pondimin, which turned out to be the fatal half of Phen-Fen.

The fatal half.

I’m lucky to be alive.

I still have a photograph taken of me from the summer I stopped taking Pondimin. Never have I looked so swollen, from head to toe.

And I was only 16 at the time.

I’ll reiterate what I said before: doctors should not be permitted to give “diet drugs” to minors. Ever.

I know, I know, the obesity epidemic is intense these days among children and adolescents.

But still: it’s not about drugs. It’s about behavior and paying attention.

That is our charge.

Change our behavior and pay attention.

I’m not saying that all pharmaceuticals are bad and no one should take them. But: if it is in our power to make the changes that otherwise inspire a drug prescription, then we should.

And if we don’t?

Then incompetent doctors and profit-seeking pharmaceutical companies will continue to have all the power.

Haven't they had enough already?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday Reruns: Pat and Vanna: Saints in the Making?

(original post-date: December 1, 2010)

When I was at my mom’s in Virginia recently, we got into an evening routine. We’d have supper at about 6:30, and after a brief time of eating, followed by my cleaning up a bit, we’d settle back in front of the television, just in time for the game hour: Wheel of Fortune at 7:00 and Jeopardy thereafter.

While I’ll admit that this is not a routine I would get into here in L.A., I also am not averse to indulging. I particularly didn’t mind indulging in Wheel. I am a consummate “word person,” and I also am competitive. So I enjoyed racing my mother to the puzzle solutions. We didn’t keep score, but I’d guess that each of us beat out the other a handful of times.

And I must say, too, that while I was working to solve the puzzles, I took notice of something else. Maybe this is just a reflection of the current economy and the challenges I face on a monthly basis, but here’s what I’m thinking: Pat Sajak and Vanna White have got to be laughing all the way to the bank.

I mean, come on, think about it. They’ve both been at this for well over 20 years. Undoubtedly, they each get seven figures a year (and I’m guessing that, certainly for Pat, “1” is not the first number).

And what is it they do?

Pat introduces people. And, working with a bit of information on a notecard, he adds a few ad-libs. Then, during the course of the half-hour show, he throws in more ad-libs, such as:

“Oh, the wheel is really not working with you.”

“Don’t anyone breathe!”

“That was a tough break.”

“You want to try to solve?”

“Sorry, but you’re going to have to pass me that Wild Card, too.”

As for Vanna, boy, does she have a gig. Until the show has come to a close, she doesn’t even have to say anything! She just walks to the lit-up letter, and she touches it. (As if her touch, and only hers, will make the “M” appear.)

Now, I don’t mean to be putting down either of them. Personally, I find Pat charming. As for Vanna, I could never do what she does. (Unless they’d let me do it in clogs.)

So, here’s what I’m wondering: how did Pat and Vanna get to be so lucky? What did they do? Was it something in a past life? Have their spirits been around since time immemorial and did they just keep coming back and overcoming incredible odds. Did they suffer adversity in past lives, fighting off some horrible evil through truth and justice? Were they heroic figures who came to the rescue, saving entire communities from some threatening plague?

And if this is how far they’ve come, what’s next for them? Will their spirits return, or is a game-show gig the end of the line?

I don’t know.

Strange, the hands that get dealt.

… Back in the late 80’s, when my then-husband and I were living in Brooklyn, I was poking around my neighborhood Christmas bazaar, looking for potential stocking stuffers. I immediately glommed onto a cassette tape of Vanna Speaks, the letter-turner’s autobiography. (She was in her late 20’s at the time, and for some reason, she had been compelled to record a memoir.) I handed over the two or three dollars and knew I had a stocking stuffer.

On Christmas Eve, I decided the Vanna tape would go to my father, and the next morning, as we opened our stockings in Mom and Dad’s bedroom, he seemed quite amused by the novelty item (though he hadn’t a clue which Santa had delivered the amusement).

Later that day, after we had gathered around the tree and unwrapped presents, we had some unplanned time before the afternoon’s leg of lamb. Dad went upstairs and returned to the living room a few minutes later. He was carrying his portable cassette player.

He also brought with him the recorded Vanna memoir.

Silently, he placed the cassette player on the coffee table and loaded the tape. Then, as we all looked curiously at each other (but did not otherwise make a sound), he hit the Play button and took a seat.

Within minutes, we were listening to Vanna tell her own story.

Within minutes after that, we were all doubled over, laughing.

We decided the memoir should have a different title. And we came up with this: Who Gives A Shit?

… Okay, I’ll admit, that was really rude of us. We should not have laughed at Vanna. She’s had her life and she’s had her difficulties, and well, we just really shouldn’t laugh so hard.

But, boy, I sure would like to understand the karma of it all. I’d love to know why Vanna sits pretty on some serious bank while I wonder about next month’s bills.

Hmm… maybe we should have listened beyond Chapter One.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday Reruns: It's A Thursday in November - Enjoy it!

(original post-date: November 24, 2010)

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.

[2011 post-script: I'm taking a short holiday break from posting. Will return next week with a Monday rerun and a fresh post on Thursday. Happy Thanksgiving!]

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Lately, I’ve been feeling a lack of drive. I don’t want to write anything new. I don’t want to pull out the beads and make a necklace or bracelet. And beyond that… well, I sure as hell don’t want to clean the dust that’s gathered between the curtain folds.

I also don’t want to organize the mess inside those drawers in the desk.

…or those drawers in the kitchen.

…or that drawer in the bedside table.

I don’t want to! I just don't!

Were I thirty years younger, this situation would probably throw me into an existential crisis.

Were I thirty years younger, I’d think that I had no motivation whatsoever.

I’d view myself a loser with no future.

I’d see myself as lazy and useless.

I might even crawl into a hole for a while.

… Actually, crawling into a hole for a while doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, and maybe that’s what I’ve been doing. And maybe that’s okay. And maybe it’s okay because I know: I do have motivation. I am not a loser. … Nor am I lazy or useless.

Maybe I just need some downtime.

I am so glad I’m not in my 20’s anymore. I’ve had three decades since then to learn of my capacity to produce and create. I’ve had three decades to learn that life is a series of personal phases. I’ve learned that we should never judge ourselves by any one individual phase.

I’ve also learned that this perspective holds true for the world around us…

When my sister and her husband made the decision, in late 2008, to move from Scotland to Virginia and so to be closer to our mom, there were lures for them (or at least, for my sister) at the Virginia end. Primarily, there was the theatre community with which we had been raised. That community – The Oak Grove – was founded by an amazing couple named Fletcher and Margaret Collins. And “the Grove” – a summer theatre under the stars – had been a hub of creative and intellectual talent for decades.

When Martha and I were kids, we accompanied Mom and Dad to rehearsals and performances. One of our parents' earliest ventures as actors in the company was in Shaw’s You Never Can Tell. While watching rehearsals, Martha and I both developed instance crushes on Francis Collins, one of their fellow castmates. Then a goofy late teen with amazing musical talent, Francis – who is one of Fletch and Margaret’s sons – is now the head of the NIH.

And a decade later, the musical accompaniment at Grove cast parties was regularly provided by Robin and Linda Williams, who had recently settled into the Valley. If you listen regularly to A Prairie Home Companion, then you will have heard of them. Robin and Linda are old friends of Garrison Keillor and regularly perform with him.

So that was the Grove back in the day, and then there is the Grove now…

When Martha returned to Virginia in 2008, she’d no doubt sung the praises of the Grove to her British husband. And so, they anxiously approached the theatre’s upcoming summer season.

A few months later, Martha shared with me her extreme disappointment.

“It’s just not the same anymore!” she said, despondent.

My capacity to relate was remarkably fresh.

“I know,” I replied, answering from my quiet apartment.

Because of what I had been through in my L.A. building – because I had experienced the ultimate in love-between-neighbors and then had been left with a more typical renter’s scenario – I could empathize with her response to the Grove.

“It was an era,” I told her, thinking of both the Grove and my building. “What we experienced? Just an era. And it’s over.”

… Were I thirty years younger, I might not have seen it for that.

Were I thirty years younger, I might have seen the change as something that was wrong with me.

Were I thirty years younger, I might have felt that I needed to fix it in some way, and I would have wasted my time trying.

… We can’t change eras. They are environmental phenomena, and they happen whether we are there or not. As to phases (such as the one I am going through now), they are absolutely personal. But, like eras, they are also absolutely temporary.

Nothing lasts forever.

Neither the good nor the bad.

Neither the productive nor the non-.

Neither the group activity nor the solitude.

is temporary.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday Reruns: Acting Out

(original post-date: November 17, 2010)

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.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I *HEART* David Levinson!

Never heard of David Levinson?

Truth be told, until I read yesterday’s Op-Ed piece in the L.A. Times, I hadn’t heard of him either.

But what I learned from the by-line that accompanied his piece is this: He is the founder and executive director of Big Sunday, an annual weekend project that brings together more than 50,000 volunteers to work on 500 charitable projects.

Impressive? Absolutely. But, that’s not what’s driven me to write about him. Rather, I am in love with how he used the Op-Ed section of the Times to address the great economic dichotomy that is Los Angeles.

Levinson’s piece, which is a wildly humorous, open letter to Kim Kardashian, lauds her for her capacity to make serious profit from some very basic rites of passage -- e.g., having sex; getting married. He goes on to suggest that she parlay some of the profits from her divorce proceedings into philanthropic donations. He even suggests that she could up the ante by falling in love with the divorce lawyer and – if it is possible – steal him away from Jennifer Anniston!

Go, David Levinson! Dude, you have nailed L.A.

… More than 21 years ago, I moved from New York to Los Angeles with my then-husband. Leaving behind an administrative job at the Ford Foundation, I was focused on a goal: make it in television writing. I had scripts to back up my dream, and my tenacity was not to be messed with. It could happen.

Once Ben and I had “landed” (in our 15-foot rental truck), and once we’d forked over some money for our first pre-owned car, we did a lot of driving. A lot of driving.

I remember one area of Beverly Hills that we explored – it was a residential street, north of Sunset Boulevard. It was a street that followed a curve.

There was this house there – this house that began at the beginning of the curve.

And then, this house just fucking continued.

And even after the curve of the street landed into its ultimate horseshoe formation, the house was still there.

It was in that moment that we caught eye of the house’s entry point. Easily 15 feet tall and at least as wide, the double-doorway for this particular house was absolutely golden.


I don’t know if it was Ben or me, but one of us posed the question: How big does your fucking house have to be?

… While Ben and I continued our exploratory drives, I pursued the Hollywood television writing scene. I also looked into day jobs. Soon, I landed a gig at a local nonprofit. And within a few months of landing there, I was directing a mentoring program for locked-up youth.

And it filled my heart.

As I got to know the kids in the program, and as I learned more about their experiences in gang-infested neighborhoods, my response to the Los Angeles scene became more defined. There also was the New York perspective I brought to the equation (I'd lived there so long): In New York, we were all in each other’s faces. We would ALWAYS be in each other's faces.

Los Angeles – then and now – doesn’t force that face-to-face experience on people.

Los Angeles allows Kardashians and their like to live in their own worlds.

In the meantime, there’s the rest of L.A.

… Before Ben and I left for Los Angeles, and while I still was focused on my television-writing dream, I’d made a connection through a dear friend. Her cousin (whom we’ll call Joe Smith) had been successful and was well-entrenched in the Hollywood writing scene. Among other things, he was teaching a night course at UCLA. Thanks to my tenacious inquiries – and before I’d even left Brooklyn – Joe invited me to one of his lectures. And this invitation was particularly enticing. The guests that night were two guys whose names were well-known to me, as they had contributed regularly to M*A*S*H.

I attended the UCLA session, and after the guest lectures were over, I approached Joe and handed him a copy of my latest spec script – an offering for Designing Women. I then drove home, thinking I was quite lucky to have such a connection.

But those dreams of fame and fortune were too-soon replaced by my sense of responsibility. I became deeply involved in the nonprofit that had hired me on staff and ultimately put me in charge of the juvenile justice mentoring program. Soon, I was deeply involved with the program, its mentors, and through those mentors – THE KIDS. Phone calls were frequent, and I loved hearing from the awesome volunteers who made the program work. I loved the sense of camaraderie that was developing among us.

One day, while I was on the phone with one of the mentors, the receptionist chimed in, indicating that I had a call on Line 4. I quickly put the mentor on hold and switched lines. After my saying “Hello,” a secretary said to me, “Joe Smith is on the line to speak with you.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m in a conversation right now.”

… And it was in that split second that I chose sides.

It was in that split second that I assessed all I’d learned of Hollywood and all I’d seen of Los Angeles.

It was in that split second that I gave my heart and time to the people and causes who need some attention.

… Joe Smith will just have to wait.

I don’t need a big house with a golden door.

Maybe he does, but I don’t.

P.S. Here's a link to the awesome Op-Ed that inspired this post.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday Reruns: Red Flags at Work

(original post-date: November 10, 2010)

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.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

It's About Time

When I was in my late 20s, I read a novella by Jerzy Kosinski.

Steps, I think it was called.

And what’s interesting is that I don’t remember anything about the plot of that novella. Rather, I remember two very distinct anecdotes from Kosinski’s 4-5 page preface.

Anecdote One: Kosinski had planned a trip to L.A., where he would be staying with his friend, Roman Polanski. Something happened along the way – something about baggage. Lost in London maybe? I forget the details I read. Suffice it to say, though, the airline’s fuck-up was a gift, as it delayed Kosinski’s arrival. Had he landed in L.A. when he was supposed to, he would have been in Polanski’s home during the night of the Manson murders.

Timing is everything.

Anecdote Two: Kosinski sleeps between 4:00 and 8:00. That is his ritual.

Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking. Four hours sleep! That isn’t enough!

But before you get all concerned about what he was doing to his body, you need to remember, the four-hour span that exists between 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock occurs twice a day. And… they add up to eight full hours of sleep. Which was exactly what Kosinski pursued.

… When I read what I am calling “Anecdote Two,” I smiled broadly. Because, I totally relate. And I have related to that since I was a kid. I always feel tired around 4:00. Whether it's PM or AM, 4 o’clock is pretty much the time when I need to lie down for a while.

As a self-employed person, I realize that I’m lucky. I can answer to my body and soul’s unique circadian rhythms.

I also appreciate that other’s can’t.

Much of the world exists on a 9-to-5 schedule, and so most people must align with that clock, regardless of their own personal inclinations.

If you are doing that against your will, then I am sorry.

AND: if you are doing that against your will, then may I also encourage you to use this coming weekend to your advantage.

On Sunday, at 2:00 AM, we are supposed to set back our clocks, which means we get an "extra hour."

I’ve always been amused by this directive. Mainly because I think the timing is crazy, bogus, and driven by The Man.

But here’s the deal, people. Here’s what’s really happening: THIS WEEKEND, you are being given the gift of ONE HOUR.

And so, for God’s sake, if you don’t need that hour at 2 o’clock on Sunday morning, then save it!

Seriously. Use it when you need it!

As an example: do you have people coming over Sunday night for supper? Maybe due at 6:00?

Okay, then, save that hour! Save it ‘til 4:00 on Sunday afternoon. Turn back the clock then. Cool, right? Suddenly, the guests who are two hours away are actually three hours away!

The gift of time.

Seriously, don’t do it when The Man tells you to do it.

Take that hour when you need it.

Me? I always, always save that hour for Monday morning.


…Life is a gift.

A gift of time.

And once a year, we’re given an extra hour.

Personally? I don’t want to spend that hour sleeping.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday Reruns: The Morning After

(original post-date: November 3, 2010)

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.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Meet Me at Michelle's!

Dear Friends, Followers, and Passers-By,

I am very pleased today to be a guest at Michelle Fayard's blog. Michelle bills herself as a "pre-published author of edgy historical novels," and I will add that she is a generous presence in the blogosphere. She hosts fellow writers regularly and so provides a wonderful opportunity to build the dialogue with new friends and potential readers. I hope you will hop over to her site, where you will find Michelle's interview with me as well as the opportunity to win a copy of my novel, The Somebody Who.

See you there?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday Reruns: Approaching Los Angeles

(original post-date: October 27, 2010)

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’.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


That's what I got this week.


Zilch. Nothing. Nada.

Neither a story nor an opinion...

But since so many people enjoyed learning about my cat, Lotto, in last week's post (scroll down to "Welcome Home" if you missed it), I thought I'd share some pix.


Looking regal on the bedroom bench. This was taken probably within a month or two of his arrival at my door in April, 2009.

Taken around the same time. He thinks it's funny that I gave him his own phonebook.

Probably a year later. Note, though, his weight has remained within 8 ounces of 11 pounds the whole time. I'm not kidding. It's all about the fur.

It seems wrong to post photos of Lotto and not also include the more senior cat here at Chez Katie.

What follows is a pic I took not too long ago.

As you'll see, Lotto adores Vesta (just as I do). And what is really cool is that -- despite her having no teeth (now 15, she had severe gum issues at an early age) -- Vesta harks back to Hemingway heritage, which means she has extra toes. And therefore extra claws! And so, she generally wins their mock battles, which are so much fun to watch.

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday Reruns: My Literal Childhood: More Reflections

original post-date: October 20, 2010

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.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Welcome Home

More than two years ago, and just a day or two after he showed up at my door, I was curious about the breeding of the cat I would name Lotto.

I had a feeling he was a Maine Coon, and so I googled the name.

Within a hit, I saw a picture of a classic tabby Maine Coon.

Within a hit, I knew that was Lotto’s breed.

The description on fanciers dot com reinforced my conclusion: “Lynx-like tufting on the top of the ears...” (CHECK.) “The tail … at least as long as the torso.” (CHECK.) “ …most distinctive features … eyes … large, round, expressive…” (OH YEAH, BABY.)

Lotto’s personality emerged fairly quickly, and it followed the suggestions of those wise cat fanciers. Here’s more language I found on the site:

While Maine Coons are highly people-oriented cats, they are not overly-dependent. They do not constantly pester you for attention, but prefer to "hang out" with their owners, investigating whatever activity you're involved in and "helping" when they can. They are not, as a general rule, known as "lap cats" … Most Maine Coons will stay close by, probably occupying the chair next to yours instead.

Sure enough. To this day, Lotto hangs around me, and I love him for it. When I wash dishes at the sink, he sits on the counter and watches. When I work at my computer, he sits nearby, on his phone book. (Yes, Lotto has his own phone book. It’s the one I allow him to shred. It spares the others.) As for my lap, it took him about a year to consider its value as a resting place. I think that, because he saw Vesta sitting on it so often, he decided to give it a go. But, prior to that, his trespassings were clearly uncomfortable for him. He responded to my lap as if it were quicksand. He couldn’t wait to move on. To sit above me on the back of the couch. To watch over our world.

Yes, the fanciers have it right in most cases, but I’ve also realized – from reading the website’s descriptions – that Lotto is an exception.

According to the site’s language, Maine Coons “are not as vertically-oriented as some other breeds, preferring to chase objects on the ground and grasping them in their large paws.”

I beg to differ. Yes, Lotto’s paws are large, but the dude can catch, and he enjoys our games most when he’s positioned on the bed. From there, he’ll reach for the heavens.

In the bedroom, I stand in the open area and throw toys. From the bed, which is probably more than three feet off the ground, Lotto catches.

But I should be clear: I have not taught Lotto how to catch.

On the contrary, he has taught me how to throw.

… When I reviewed the website’s language on the Maine Coon’s growth potential, I was very impressed. It stated that most members of the breed “don't achieve their full size until they are three to five years old.” Although Lotto (now 3-and-a-half) has maintained his 11 pounds of body weight for a full two years, his coat has fooled me. Every month, something changes, and he looks bigger. Several weeks ago, when he was walking out of the room, I looked in amazement. “When the hell did you get jodhpurs?” I asked him.

But mostly, Lotto isn’t walking out of the room.

Mostly, Lotto is in the room with me.

… This past Monday night, I returned from 10 days on the East Coast, where I visited my mom, a few cousins, and some childhood friends.

I had a great time, but I also was happy to be home.

Happy to see my two cats.

And within an hour of my having parked my suitcase in the bedroom, Lotto joined me for a ritual he first introduced about a month into our cohabitation. Not two seconds after I sat on the toilet to pee, Lotto jumped in the tub and proceeded to pee over the drain.

It’s something we do together.

And it was totally his idea.

… There are all kinds of ways to make one feel welcomed home.

Lotto comes up with the best of them.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Monday Reruns: WORK, Dammit!

(original post-date: October 13, 2010)

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!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Help: Memories from my Upbringing in Virginia

The movie has been out for a while, so I suspect that if you had intended to see The Help, you have done so. I saw it the first weekend of its release, and I was very moved by it. Among other things, I appreciated its depiction of the variety of relationships between whites and blacks during that era. As some of those scenes conveyed, the racist laws and customs of that time were much more cruel and inhumane than many of the white individuals living within that societal culture. With that in mind, I want to share some memories from my childhood…

On many occasions, we’d go to Grandma’s for “Sunday Dinner.”

In our corner of the Shenandoah Valley and in the world my father’s family occupied, Sunday Dinner took place at 1:00 in the afternoon, and turkey was always the main course.

Gathered around Grandma’s dining table, which was dressed in the finest linen and appointed with the best sterling, we’d partake of the meal that was delivered, in courses, by Hurley, Grandma’s cook.

When something was needed between courses, Grandma would ring the silver bell that was just north of her teaspoon. In response to that ring, Hurley would enter the room to receive her request.

Hurley would serve us throughout the meal, and – as a child – I never had a sense of our family collectively hurting Hurley.

In fact, Hurley always felt like family.

… My grandfather, who died 6-7 years before these memories, had founded a prep school in the small Virginia town where we all lived. And that prep school revealed – through its staffing – some southern ways. I didn’t even notice those “ways” until I was 14, which is when I entered the school as a sophomore.

It was a boarding school and so – even though my parents were less than 10 miles away – I boarded there. And so, every morning, my wake-up call came from George.

Every morning, one hundred plus of us adolescent girls would zombie our way down to the dining hall.

Every morning, George was there to make us smile and laugh.

George was awesome.

Into my third and final year at Fairfax, I realized his magic: Within one week of a fall semester, he knew every new girl’s name. Every girl. And he loved the opportunities he had, as Head Waiter, to wake us out of our somnambulant states and get us smiling.

Yes, we were all white, he was black, and something in that picture was terribly wrong, BUT: George loved his job, and we loved George.

… I remember the end of junior year, when my dear friend Barb needed to find a place to store her large reclining chair so that she’d have it for her senior room. There was no logical place to leave it, so she lent it to George for the summer. When we returned for senior year, George told Barb how much he had enjoyed that chair. He loved sitting in the breezeway, just outside the kitchen. Rocking back and forth, enjoying the down time before the fall semester would begin.

Senior year, George spoke of that chair often. And in doing so, his sense of home was apparent.

… The school had been taking losses for years, and so, just at the beginning of the second semester of my senior year, the announcement was made. Fairfax would close with the Class of 1975.

As a member of that class, I felt like a “meanie.” (I remember sharing that very word with a riding instructor, as we were ambling our horses through the woods that were part of the school’s property.) I mean, I already was planning to leave, so what would I care? But… there were others. Underclassmen… Girls who expected to reach their senior years at Fairfax, just as I had.

I wasn’t particularly thinking of the faculty and staff, but they also were looking at an unknown future.

... Graduation came and went. Tears were shed. Then, each of us walked away with our memories and our yearbooks.

Along with just about everyone else, I had asked George to sign my yearbook. And, as he did with others, he proudly pulled out his stamp, drew ink from an ink pad, and squarely filled the space below his picture in the faculty/staff section.

“George E. Stewart,” his stamp said. “Head Waiter.” He also signed his name, just above the stamped section.

George smiled and chatted happily as he met our requests for his autograph.

I don’t know if anyone asked George what was next for him. I know I didn’t. And if others also didn’t, it’s probably because we were more worried about ourselves than we were about him. And that’s not about color, either. Adolescent girls are simply and always more worried about themselves than they are about anyone – or anything – else.

I wish, though, that I could turn back time and find out what George was thinking. I wish someone would have pursued his inner thoughts. But I guess no one did. And later, that summer, George put a bullet through his head.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Monday Reruns: Don't Pity My Wardrobe

(original post-date: October 6, 2010)

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!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

You and Me Both

Very early in my New York waitressing years, I was standing on the subway platform, waiting for the Broadway line to pick me up from the Fulton Street stop. I had just worked a Wall Street lunch shift, and I had made maybe $25. I was a year out of college and not particularly happy.

Although it wasn’t rush hour, I was waiting for the train at the very back end of the platform – all the more likely therefore to get a seat when the Local arrived.

But that location also was desolate, and because this was the early ‘80’s, that desolate status presented a risk.

A guy in dark glasses approached me, and he approached me close.

His face probably less than 12 inches from my own, he said (quietly), “When that train comes, I’m going to push you in the tracks.”

I didn’t take a moment, but simply responded. And I responded with absolute honesty: “Oh please don’t do that,” I said (also quietly and with no inflection). “I’ve had a very bad day.”

He smiled, touched me on the shoulder, and said, with an empathy that felt genuine, “You take care, now.”

And then he walked away.

… About eight years ago, an L.A. friend of mine, who is a communications professor and was teaching an online course, needed some teaching assistants. I was among the four she recruited. We T.A.’s didn’t have to read the material (unless we wanted to). We just had to have enough smarts to “get it,” and we needed to be able to grade papers.

It was a fascinating project, and from the students’ references to key passages from books on their syllabus, I realized that I had – intuitively – already been on top of some things in the communications department. Specifically: the results you want won’t come from blaming another party. They’ll come from connecting with that party.

As I reviewed the students’ papers, I remembered the guy on the subway platform. I also remembered two other moments from my early adulthood in New York.

Moment One: As per my being one of the many on-call waitresses of Manhattan’s premiere burger-slinging chain, I was working a cocktail shift in midtown. I remember running around, keeping track of my tables and their orders as best I could. I’d just collected on a check from two people who had had a few drinks. Next to their table, three younger people were thirty minutes or so into their happy hour. I brought the young group another round, and then I turned to bus the table that the couple had just abandoned.

I immediately noticed there was no money on the table. I had seen the tip a few moments ago, but now, it was gone.

I had little doubt that the younger trio, sitting within arm’s length of the abandoned table, had stolen the dollar-fifty. I also knew that confronting them with my suspicion wouldn’t pay. And so I began an improvisation.

“Damnit,” I said, as I picked up the dirty glasses of the departed couple.

“Damnit!” I said again, turning to look at the trio.

“You know,” I confided to them in a crestfallen tone. “I barely make ends meet. And the two people sitting here just left without tipping me! I don’t even know what to say. It’s just not fair.”

I shook my head as I wiped the top of the abandoned table. Then, I walked away slowly, dirty glasses in tow.

A few minutes later, I returned to the area of intrigue, where the trio’s energy was particularly happy.

“We found your tip!” they said, their enthusiastic kindness undoubtedly driven by guilt. “It was under the napkin container!”

“It was?” I said, playing along. “Oh wow, that’s such a relief. Thank you so much.”

I scooped up the money and walked away, allowing all of us to feel good about ourselves.

Moment Two: Around the same time, my roommate – who had better resources than I – had hired a team of guys to refloor the living room of our two-bedroom apartment. So, there they were during the day – the team of unknown guys. Working on our apartment while my roommate and I were off at our jobs.

I generally got home from my waitressing shift at about 4:00 in the afternoon, and as was my routine back then, changing my clothes was immediately followed by opening the top drawer of my dresser. That’s where I kept my pot.

But on one particular afternoon, there was no little baggie in the drawer.

And I knew.

I knew the guys who were dealing with the living room floor had found my stash and had taken it.

I also knew that accusing them would not result in anything helpful to me.

Within a few seconds of intuitive reasoning, I began my act.

“Damnit,” I said from my bedroom, loud enough for them to hear.

“Damnit,” I said again. “I’m such a ditz! Why do I always misplace my pot?

“I’m so pissed right now,” I added, even more loudly (and for effect). “All I want is a joint and I can’t find my pot! … I’m just such a loser.”

I then emerged from my bedroom, took the short walk down the hallway, and entered the living room.

“Guys?” I said, a slight whine in my voice, “Have any of you seen a bag of pot?”

They shrugged their shoulders as I stomped back to my bedroom, continuing to berate my “loser self.”

Just a minute or two later, a voice came from the living room.


“Yes?” I responded, curiously working my way down the hall.

“We found your pot.”

“Really?” I said, entering the living room.

“Yes,” the spokesman replied, “It was tucked behind these books in the bookshelf.”

I shook my head as if to acknowledge my own disoriented filing system. “So glad you found it,” I said, as he handed me the baggie. “I’m such a ditz!”


I’m a ditz.

I’m a ditz that knows she’s not the only one on the planet who’s having a bad day...

You and me both, kiddo.

You and me both.