Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday Reruns: Sciatic Vocabulary

(original post-date: February 24, 2010)

A NOTE BEFORE READING: If you find certain four-letter words (specifically, the ones that begin with “f” and “s”) offensive, then take a break from my blog and come back next week. Otherwise…

A few years ago in January, I woke up on a Sunday morning with fun plans for the day. But in less than a minute, I realized the hours ahead would not be quite as entertaining as I had anticipated. I couldn’t move. Or rather, I couldn’t get out of bed without using my arms to mobilize my right leg and hip. Something was very wrong, and the pain was unfamiliar.

Once I had made it to my feet, I inched my way into the kitchen and prepared some coffee. And once my cup was prepped, I did what I always do when I don’t feel well. I called my mom.

I realize that might sound childish coming from a woman my age, but the fact is, I have always been relatively adult, and so I deprived my mother of ministering to a certain amount of child-like behavior back when my height would have made it appropriate. I think she likes it when I call her with complaints of a stomach ache or whatever. And in this instance, although I couldn’t describe my ailment precisely, I had a strong need to whine to her and hear her voice.

I should mention, before I revisit the conversation itself, that my mother rarely cusses, and she has never, to my knowledge, dropped the “f-bomb.” She’s heard it, of course. From me. From my sister. Even from our late Dad (who felt particularly comfortable using the word once my sister and I had set a precedent). So I don’t mean to imply that Mom lives in a bubble. In fact, she is the very person who shared with me this little piece of etymology: did you know that the “f-bomb” is actually an acronym used by law enforcement in the UK? It represents for unlawful carnal knowledge.


So that’s my mom. A font of information and a woman who stands by her scruples.

I was pacing in my living room when I called her that January morning. After the difficulty getting out of bed, I knew that sitting down would probably be an unwise idea. Particularly as it would need to be followed, at some point, by standing up.

“Mom,” I said, genuine concern in my voice. “Something is wrong. I don’t know what it is.”

She asked some logical follow-up questions, and as I paced, I frequently felt extremely sharp pains.

“Fuck!” I blurted out, after one especially sharp jolt.

“Shit!” after another.

I continued to try to describe what I was feeling --

“Fuck! Shit!”

-- and how I didn’t recall doing anything particular to cause it.

“Fuck!” (the pain jolts kept coming…)

I shared that I’d been exercising quite consistently in the past month --


-- so having some sort of sudden physical problem like this --


-- just didn’t make sense.

There was a pause in my tirade, and my mother waited a moment. Then, she asked the irresistible question.

“Are you sure it’s not Turrets?”

POSTSCRIPT: As you might have gathered from the title of this piece, my ailment turned out to be sciatica. Avoid it if you can! (It’ll fuck with you.)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Thirty-Four

A NOTE BEFORE READING: I began sharing weekly excerpts from my novel, The Somebody Who, on June 26, 2010. If you want to begin at the beginning, go here. If you want to read the book in its entirety, head over to Amazon and purchase a copy. (There’s a button on the left that will take you there).


When the telephone rings late that afternoon, Evelyn and Davy are both napping in the family room. Not wanting The Krosk to answer it, Evelyn reaches for the handset immediately, after the first ring awakens her.

“Hello?” she says quietly.

“I’m really worried about Sara,” is Marilyn’s salutation.

“Hi Marilyn. What’s going on?”

“She was out four times this past week. She bolts out of here after dinner and doesn’t come home until midnight.”

“On school nights?” Evelyn asks.

“Well, two of them were school nights.”

“Is she getting her homework done?”

“She says she is.”

“Then she probably is,” comments Evelyn. “How have her grades been so far this year?”

“Pretty good. B’s, mostly.”

Evelyn, who always sensed that Sara was quite smart, believes Sara could be getting A’s mostly, but she doesn’t feel it is her business to make that comment. She also wonders if “B’s mostly” means that the rest are C’s. Otherwise, wouldn’t Marilyn have said “A’s and B’s”?

“Do you know what she’s doing when she’s out?” Evelyn asks. “Who she’s out with?”

“Hanging out at Brenda’s. There’s a small group of them. They play music.”

“That sounds tame,” Evelyn responds, envisioning a record player, spinning 45s.

“Yeah, well, Brenda has a lot of equipment, I guess, and Sara apparently is pretty good on keyboards.”

“Oh,” Evelyn says, amused and confused by her daughter’s absurdly displaced disapproval, “so they’re making music.”

“I’m just worried, though,” Marilyn states. “You know, they never did solve those murder cases.”

Evelyn shakes her head. If I can ever predict what Marilyn will say next, she thinks, please lock me up and throw away the key!

“They were teenage girls, you know; the ones who were murdered,” Marilyn continues. “At least three of them. All in Westchester.”

“I remember. Did they have instruments?”


“I’m sorry. A little black humor.”

“That isn’t funny! I am very upset! My daughter is out four nights a week!” Marilyn’s tone is now bordering on hysteria. Evelyn can sense that her daughter’s eyes are tearing up, that if the conversation is not reversed somehow, Marilyn will begin to cry, and once she begins crying, she will move on to other topics that upset her—Barry; the fact that they don’t own a house; the fact that she doesn’t think she can find a job.

“Marilyn,” Evelyn says, as calmly as possible. “Why don’t you ask Sara if you can join her some night? Tell her you’d like to hear the girls play.”

“I am sure she doesn’t want me there.”

“Could they practice at your house one night a week?” Evelyn suggests.

“Our house is hardly big enough for a band studio. Besides, I doubt if they would want to lug everything over here.

“And,” Marilyn adds, “I don’t think Barry would appreciate the disruption.”

Evelyn is always amazed at the number of reasons Marilyn can come up with to not do something.

“I just get worried, you know,” Marilyn says then, her voice faltering. “I think about those murders, and I just get worried.”

“Marilyn, sweetheart, I appreciate a mother’s worry,” Evelyn says. “I think, though, that you’re making unrealistic connections, and you are only hurting yourself by doing so. It sounds to me like Sara is doing fine. She’s expending her sixteen-year-old energy in a productive, creative way with productive, creative friends. She’s not a mallrat. She’s not drinking or doing drugs. She’s just being a teenager.”

Evelyn waits for Marilyn’s response, and when it is not forthcoming, she realizes that she’s being asked—silently, passively—to keep talking.

But I don’t want to keep talking! she thinks, amazed by her daughter’s ability to steal her energy without even being in the room.

“Marilyn,” Evelyn says finally, “I don’t know what else to tell you. All I can say is, I think it’s okay.”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Well. I should probably go. I should probably get dinner started.”

“Is Sara there now?”

“She’s upstairs doing her homework.”

Evelyn shakes her head and rolls her eyes. What a delinquent! she thinks. Upstairs doing her homework!

“Anyway,” Marilyn says. “Thanks for listening.”

“Anytime, dear. Have a good night.”

“You, too.”

Evelyn returns the handset to its cradle and looks over at her sleeping husband. “Next time, Davy, I want you to talk to her!”

Davy doesn’t stir.

* * *

to be continued on March 5th .

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

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

All We Are Saying...

This past Saturday, I turned on the TV for a rerun of Saturday Night Live. The broadcast first aired before the holidays, and Paul McCartney was the musical guest.

That was my interest in the rerun… Paul McCartney.

And so I busied myself while the show was on, waiting for his appearances.

As for those moments in time, he was awesome. No, he doesn’t quite have the voice he once had, but it’s in damn fine shape. And he will always remain not only the prettiest Beatle, but quite possibly the prettiest rock star to emerge from that era.

Oh, Paul.

If only I had known.

If only I had known that I was not too young for you…

During the SNL broadcast, he did four sets, the third of which began with A Day in the Life. It was beautifully performed. And, after some instrumental riffing, Paul parlayed that haunting ballad from the Sgt. Pepper album into an audience participation event of Give Peace a Chance.

Initially, Paul and his band sang the lyrics, but ultimately, the audience was given the responsibility of owning the chant.

Give peace a chance.

There was something very touching and special about the experience.

And so goddamn innocent.

It stopped me in my tracks, and it made me think about the basic good in Lennon’s plea.

Give peace a chance.

With everything that is happening in the Middle East – and with our own country’s uprisings in the Midwest – I’m wondering these days about the chance of peace.

Which leads to my dictionary…

This time, I’m grabbing the off-line tome.

…No surprises, actually. Per Webster’s, the definition of peace (n.) is “the condition that exists when nations or other groups are not fighting.”

I realize it may seem odd that I felt compelled to find and share a definition, but when I came away from that SNL rerun – when I had witnessed an audience sharing the lyrics of Give Peace a Chance ­– I don’t know, I just thought that maybe peace could be given a chance.

I thought that maybe I was missing something…

Maybe I needed to revisit the definition of peace…

I mean, if these audience members could sing with such conviction...

But, no… I do understand the definition of peace.

I understood it all along.

And so I return to what I said a moment ago.

It’s innocent.

According to Webster’s, innocent (n.) means “free from guilt.”

It’s understandable that one who is free from guilt might believe that peace is possible.

But… the world is run (mostly) by those who are not innocent.

And peace will never serve those people.

I wish it were different.

I truly do.

… I also wish that I were married to Paul McCartney.

Cause if I were? No lie, I’d buy peace for all of us and then we’d have a big party!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday Reruns: The Frog In His Salad

(original post-date: February 17, 2010)

Life puts us where we’re supposed to be, and when I decided – after four years in the Ivy League – to get a job as a waitress, life put me at a burger-slinging place in the Fashion District of Manhattan.

The burger-slinging place, in turn, handed me a “trainer:” Don.

One of the funniest, warmest individuals I had met and will meet, Don remains a friend today. (He also still happens to wait on tables in New York.)

We worked together at that burger-slinging place for probably less than a year. Then, we moved on. To different restaurants.

About two years (and more than a few restaurants) later, I was working at a glorified coffee shop on the Upper East Side. It was classic. Most of my fellow waitresses were older women who brought to mind the characters from the movie, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. These waitresses didn’t wear hairnets, but they might have. They had painted-on eyebrows and tri-state accents. They were the real deal.

As were our costumes: our black polyester v-neck jumpers were knee-length. We wore them over cotton shirts in various pastel hues. White neckties completed the ensemble.

Besides age, the primary difference between the other waitri and me was our choice in leg- and footwear. My older colleagues wore support hose and equally supportive shoes. I flaunted bare legs (which were always tanned, thanks to my weekend excursions to Jones Beach), and the black Minnie Mouse shoes that I found at the Eastern import shop were, if I recall, a Chinese size 45.

I was definitely the babe in the mix, but in that place, my status bore no benefits.

It was grueling work, delivering the goods to the tables. And it was particularly grueling on weekends, when customers would order fresh-squeezed orange juice. Sure, it was cool that they could order it, but the squeezing process took a great deal of time, and the waitresses most often had to do that work. If one table ordered four large OJs, I’d be on a ten-minute delay from that point forward. I knew I could kiss all tips good-bye.

There was also the issue of the owner, a man named Irving. He was undoubtedly very wealthy, and he spent barely a moment in his restaurant, but when he did, oh my God, those older waitri would get quite nervous. And they would parlay that nervousness into snippy remarks.

“Irving’s here checking out his precious orange juice machine,” Ingrid said one day, her painted eyebrows rising above the top frame of her glasses as she did the math on a guest check, a half-cigarette hanging out of her mouth.

Ingrid was the most Diane Ladd of the older waitress group, and on the day of Irving’s visit, she had been assigned a somewhat extended shift so as to catch some of the post-lunch spillover. The rest of the gals had left. Only she and I were “on the floor.”

Those who have worked in restaurants and have done the shifts-in-between know that it can get pretty dicey. You’ve got an entire restaurant that will probably remain fairly empty. On the other hand, it could fill up, and it could do so all at once. You don’t want that to happen.

It was relatively quiet when Don walked in. My dear friend. The witty man who had “trained” me as a waitress…

He took one of the deuces close to the soda fountain and we chatted for a bit. Then, he ordered his iced tea and chef’s salad and I proceeded to fill his order. I gave the check with my chef’s salad scribblings to Bill, who was accessible through the half window between the restaurant and the kitchen area. Then, I made the iced tea, delivered it to Don, and approached a couple who had just taken a table in the other section of the restaurant.

At the time, Ingrid was wrapping up her remaining tables. Anyone who entered the restaurant from this point on would be my responsibility. And – as fate would have it – more people showed up. Of course they did! Of course they showed up on the one afternoon when I actually had a friend there. When I would have gladly spent that time shooting the breeze with Don.

Within five minutes, I was running around like a crazy woman. Taking orders. Delivering beverages. Delivering Don’s chef’s salad. Delivering more beverages. More food orders.


Moving as quickly as possible in my Minnie Mouse shoes, I was surprised by Don’s insistent “come here” finger gesture. He kept trying to wave me over to his table, and I kept delaying my response to him as I attended to all the other customers. Don’s persistence surprised and confused me. Surely he saw (and could relate to) what I was going through! I had a restaurant full of customers, and I was the only waitress!

Finally, there was a moment to breathe. So I approached Don and his chef’s salad.

He let me exhale, and then he looked up at me with a mock scolding expression on his face.

“Miss!” he said, in a tone that reminded me of Charles Nelson Reilly. He pointed into the glass bowl I had delivered five or ten minutes ago. “There’s a frog in my salad.”

When I saw the frog – the plastic, one-inch-by-two-inch frog that Don had brought with him and placed in his salad – I doubled over laughing. And, because I was relatively caught up in that moment, I needed to share the comic relief.

“Oh my!” I said, scooping up the bowl. “This is unacceptable!”

As I headed back to the window where Bill, the afternoon cook, was keeping up as best he could, I passed Ingrid. She saw the frog in passing (and from a slight distance), and she blurted out (rather loudly), “Oh my God!”

I proceeded to the window, where I placed the bowl on the pass-through shelf.

“Bill,” I said, in a tone that was obviously facetious. “Look at what showed up in this man’s salad! You gotta pay better attention!”

Bill, who needed to double over laughing as desperately as I had, proceeded to do just that.

So it was all fun and games so far, but when I turned around, still holding the large glass bowl with the frog in it, I confronted something not so funny.

It was Irving. (Still there. Still monitoring his precious fresh orange juice squeezer.)

It was Irving, upset.

He had heard Ingrid’s outburst, and he was challenging her.

“Who said ‘Oh my God!’” he asked, in a low, but very firm, tone of voice. “Did you say “Oh my God!’?”

“I didn’t say ‘Oh my God!’.” Ingrid lied, speaking quietly.

En route to Don’s table, I had no choice but to pass closely to the Irving/Ingrid confrontation, so I quickly hid the frog-infested salad behind my polyester jumper.

Irving continued obsessively. “I heard someone say ‘Oh my God!’,” he repeated, using a stage whisper. “I heard it! And that’s not right. Our customers should not hear that! Our customers should not hear anyone saying “Oh my God!’”

“I didn’t say anything,” Ingrid lied again.

…I couldn’t take the futile battle anymore.

“But look at this man’s salad!” I squealed, moving the bowl from its hiding place and extending it in Irving’s direction.

“JESUS CHRIST!” Irving responded (loud enough for everyone to hear).

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Thirty-Three

A NOTE BEFORE READING: I began sharing weekly excerpts from my novel, The Somebody Who, on June 26, 2010. 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).


“Wow, so you were the ‘real Mom’ type,” Ashley comments, having learned (because she asked) that Evelyn had never had a job or career, but rather had put all her energy into raising the kids, volunteering at their schools and in the community, and keeping the house in order.

“I don’t know about that title,” Evelyn offers. “Real Mom. I’m not sure if my kids would agree.”

“And how are your kids? Do you have grandchildren?”

“Five grandchildren from two of my children. Patrick and his wife have three—”

“Oh, God! Patrick!” Ashley blurts out. “Sorry to interrupt,” she adds quickly, “I think I met him. How old is he?”

“He turned forty-four this year.”

“Right,” Ashley says, entertaining the smile that comes with reminiscence. “I remember meeting him once. And I developed an instant crush.”

“Really?” asks Evelyn, simultaneously amused and intrigued.

“I’m sure it was some sort of transference. I mean, first I had a crush on Dr. Bennett, and of course, I wasn’t the only girl in that school who did…

“I’m sorry,” Ashley says then. “Is this inappropriate?”

“No!” Evelyn answers, touched by her guest’s ability to disclose personal information in such a considerate manner.

“Anyway,” Ashley says, shaking her head, “it was an interesting crush.”

“The one on my husband or the one on my son?”

“The one on Dr. Bennett,” Ashley answers, not knowing, at this point, that she could be referring to either one of them. “It was weird: I was completely in touch with the fact that I had a crush on him. And I was okay with that. But, the part I could never figure out was, did I want him to be my husband or did I want him to be my father?”

As Evelyn smiles at her guest, she feels a strange sense of subconscious progress, as if she and Ashley are sitting through a spontaneous therapy session, each playing dual roles. She also appreciates that Ashley has no need to fill every silence with chatter.

Their shared peace is interrupted by the opening of the sliding glass door, through which Davy and The Krosk are entering the kitchen, the calisthenics session apparently having come to an end. Although it is Mrs. Krosky’s intention to march Davy upstairs immediately, so that he might shower and change into whatever tee shirt he will be sporting for the rest of the day, the drawings on the counter distract him. And Evelyn and Ashley both watch, from their seats in the family room, as Davy studies the art to which he once signed his name.

“Oh, my,” they hear him say. “These are really something. These are—”

“Come along, Mr. Bennett,” The Krosk says.

“No,” he says quietly, waving her off in a nonthreatening manner. “No, I am here.”

“Mr. Bennett!” The Krosk says, more firmly. “You must take your shower now, Mr. Bennett!”

“It’s Dr. Bennett,” Ashley interjects quietly, rising from her chair and entering the kitchen. “It’s Doctor Bennett,” she repeats to Mrs. Krosky, not raising her voice, but clearly capable of matching and besting The Krosk’s stubborn ways. “And he drew these amazing pieces. So I think that if he wants to look at his work, he should have the right to do that.”

The Krosk knows better than to turn to Evelyn for support. Instead, she retreats to another part of the house, where she might find a bed to make or some rug that needs to be vacuumed.

And Evelyn stays put in the family room. From her chair, she can see the backs of two artists—her husband and the woman who once had a crush on him. And she can see, without having access to their faces, that they are currently celebrating an appreciation they share. They are celebrating their common appreciation for detail.

* * *

to be continued on February 26th .

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

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bieber Fever (or maybe it's just another hot flash)

For me, the Grammy Awards are not as important as the Oscars.

Which is to say, I don’t set aside the day as a time for ritual. For the Oscars, there is always a gathering at my place, and the menu always circles around my famous and mysterious cold sesame noodles. While indulging in the culinary offerings, we watch the show with respect. We are quiet for much of the ceremony, and when we are not quiet, we are exchanging witty observations.

Combining reverence with acerbic commentary, the Oscars are an event here at Katie’s place.

The Grammys, though? Not an event. In fact, each year, as the day arrives and I anticipate watching them, I am hard-pressed to justify my interest. I have to come up with something to do while the show is on. I can’t simply sit there, taking in the broadcast. And yet, I am drawn to the annual ceremony.

So this past Sunday evening, just before the Grammys were scheduled to begin, I pulled out the card table and set it up in front of the television. And as the broadcast progressed, I used that table as my work station – going through all my current client files, culling outdated documents, and finding their destinations in the archive folders. The exercise was relatively mindless, and so it allowed me to stop when the entertainment on the screen called for stopping.

What’s cool about the Grammys is that, as an awards show, it is more about performance than it is about trophies and speeches. I don’t think it was always this way, but in the past several years, the awards telecast has become – more than anything – a phenomenally eclectic concert. And so, there were many moments when I stopped the busy work I was doing and simply took in what was emanating from my television…

Lady Gaga, a remarkable performance artist who clearly knows about marketing (and I’m not talking about the meat market, though a case could be made…); Mick Jagger, who – at WHAT AGE? – can command a stage without props or pyrotechnics; Arcade Fire, who seemingly came out of nowhere to win (deservedly) Album of the Year; Barbra Streisand, who ended her performance of Evergreen with a facial expression that revealed the fear she’d brought with her to the stage; and Justin Bieber…

Justin Bieber.

Oh my.

I realize this kid from Canada has received more than his share of press lately, and he sure as hell doesn’t need for me to chime in, but sorry, I can’t help but share a few words.

The dude is fucking awesome, okay?

I realize that modifier (i.e., the f-word, above) is too old for his boyish good looks, but please?! OMG, the way he performs, the tone of his voice, his dance moves, his command of the stage… Frankly, I’m rather blown away.

There’s also the hair, of course. (Could he be the next Breck girl?)

Ah, see… there… I’m dating myself.

Justin Bieber was undoubtedly born after the last Breck girl.

And it doesn’t matter.

Although the kid could have a career in shampoo commercials, he will not need to take that route. He is uber-talented. He is… remarkable.

And this fever ain’t no hot flash.

I’m just making an observation.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Monday Reruns: Shopping at Ikea: What's In a Name?

(original post-date: February 10, 2010)

Having a close, personal relationship with words serves me well. It enables me to experience joy whenever I create a new sentence. It permits me to add clever comments to conversations. It gives me a niche where I rest comfortably, appreciative of my avocation.

About a year ago, though, I realized that there’s a time and place when one must abandon her verbal relationships and just shop smartly. For me, the moment occurred at Ikea.

At the time, I was in the market for a coffee table. Not because I was craving one particularly. Rather, the piece of furniture that had been performing that function for several years had become worn. You see, my previous mid-living room surface space was never, in fact, a coffee table. It was, instead, a wicker ottoman that I had purchased at Pier One along with its matching chair. Although the chair had held up relatively well, the ottoman had not. It was much too busy being a “project” for the cats. And when I could see through the sides of the squat, textured rectangle, I knew the cats had completed their project. I also knew it was time to move the piece to the curb and replace it with something less tempting to feline trouble-makers.

Before going to Ikea, I went online to peruse their coffee table options. My friend and neighbor, Debbi, who is my go-to girl when it comes to interior design, perused the website with me. She immediately zeroed in on a coffee table that was light in color, had simple lines, and would therefore blend in well with the other pieces in my living room. Beyond that, it was dirt cheap. But I immediately protested when I saw what Ikea had named this table: “Lack.”

“I can’t buy a piece of furniture named ‘Lack’!” I told Debbi.

My veto power having been enforced, we continued to peruse the pages of coffee table options. We found two or three pieces that also would work well in my living room, and although their prices were quite a bit higher than the one assigned to “Lack,” these tables, at least, did not have loser names.

… So with my pre-shopping research behind me, I headed up to Burbank.

I saw the tables in person. I studied them. I circled around them. And once I had given the matter twenty minutes or so of observation and thought, the choice was clear.


(What can I say? Deb was right.)

I recorded the information I would need in order to retrieve my new table from the shelves of inventory, and I headed down to the ground floor, where customers are lured through a maze of goodies that are so small and so inexpensive, one needs a tremendous amount of willpower to resist impulse-shopping.

I didn’t succumb to any unexpected lures, I am proud to say, but I did purposefully spend some time in the lighting section. I already had planned to look at the offerings there, as I needed to replace the floor lamp in my living room.

I should mention, at this point, that much of my living room is all about mobility. With the exception of the furniture pieces that are flush with the wall, I like to be able to move things around. Furniture mobility serves art-making, exercising, and cleaning. So… when I saw a ceiling-directed lamp that featured a junior lamp, which could be moved from its parent and turned about any which way, I was impressed. When I saw that it was only ten dollars, I was even more impressed. Sure, I’d assemble it! What the hell!

It’s name? FINAL.


Before leaving the impulse floor, I stopped by the shelves of lightbulbs and collected enough boxes to ensure that my new lamp duo would remain illuminated for years to come.

Then, I headed to check-out.

My prize purchases of the day – “Lack” and “Final” – may have come with negative, downer names, but the bottom line was a source of joy. I had spent less than sixty dollars.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Thirty-Two

A NOTE BEFORE READING: I began sharing weekly excerpts from my novel, The Somebody Who, on June 26, 2010. 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).



“Mrs. Bennett! Mrs. Bennett!”

Evelyn, just emerging from REM, cannot place the Eastern European accent. She fights to roll over, to cover her head with the pillow.


What?” Evelyn whines, childlike, having recognized the voice of The Krosk.

“You have a visitor!”

“Oh!” Evelyn reacts, bolting upright and relieved that The Krosk, having delivered the news, has also taken her leave.

“Oh, shit!” Evelyn says, fumbling for her slippers and robe. “Oh, shit!

She opens the bedroom door and calls down the hall. “Mrs. Krosky! Will you please offer Ashley some coffee?”

She doesn’t wait for a response. She knows there will be none.

She has been judged. She is judged.

And she will never, ever, score a perfect ten.


Evelyn enters the kitchen ten minutes later, and she is immediately touched by the kind smile that Ashley maintains as she follows Davy’s finger across the opened page of The New Yorker.

“Ashley!” Evelyn says to her guest.

“Mrs. Bennett,” Ashley responds, extending her hand.

“Please. Call me Evelyn.”

“Good morning!” Davy interjects, as Ashley and Evelyn shake hands.

“Good morning, sweetheart,” Evelyn says to Davy. Then, returning her attention to Ashley, “I am so sorry to have kept you waiting. I guess I was having a remarkably good night’s sleep.”

“Then I am sorry to have interrupted it,” Ashley replies easily, as Evelyn pours herself a cup of coffee and tops off Ashley’s mug.

“Thank you,” says Ashley. “Your home is beautiful. Have you lived here long?”

“Thirty-five years,” replies Evelyn.

“That’s not right,” says Davy. “No, I don’t think so.”

Ashley smiles at her former professor and then exchanges a playful expression with Evelyn. “Thirty-six, maybe?” Ashley asks.

“I don’t think so,” Davy says.

Mrs. Krosky’s entrance changes the room’s energy quite dramatically, reminding Evelyn why she had chosen to oversleep. “Mr. Bennett,” The Krosk says authoritatively, “Let’s go. Time to change for exercise.”

As Davy responds without protest, dismounting the stool and following his caregiver out of the kitchen, Ashley watches, and her facial expression grows increasingly pained.

She snaps herself back and looks at Evelyn. “It’s just not fair,” Ashley says.

“No,” Evelyn agrees. “It isn’t.”


“These are even more beautiful than I remember them,” Ashley comments, regarding the pen-and-ink drawings that Evelyn has spread out on the kitchen counter. “His attention to detail was always so inspiring.”

“What type of art do you do?” Evelyn asks Ashley, genuinely enjoying the serene confidence that Ashley not only holds, but shares.

“Photorealism,” Ashley responds, still studying the first of the four drawings. “Portraits. Landscapes.” She looks up to make eye contact with Evelyn. “I work in oils mostly,” she says, smiling.

Ashley then returns her gaze to the drawing in front of her. She studies it for a moment, then quickly brings herself back to the present, makes eye contact with Evelyn again. “I am so sorry!” she says. “Obviously, I could stare at these for a while. But—I can do that at home!”

“Well, you certainly don’t need to rush off. You’re not keeping me from anything.”

“Oh, no, I didn’t mean it that way. It’s just that I can get so entranced. And I doubt if you want to spend your Sunday watching someone becoming entranced in your kitchen.”

“You’d be surprised how many hours Davy can sit in here appearing to read The New Yorker.” Evelyn replies, not sounding at all bitter. “Would you like to sit in the other room for a while?”

“Sure,” says Ashley, smiling.

* * *

to be continued on February 19th .

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

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Greed is Not Good

I recently had lunch with a delightful friend who we’ll call Anne, and – as usual – our conversation traveled all over the map. We meet for lunch about once every six weeks or so, and invariably, just around the time we are settling the check, one of us will look at her watch and say, “My God, would you look at the time?”

But before we got to that pre-parting rhetorical question, Anne had shared with me the details of her husband’s recent experience as a forward-thinking landscape architect who, in my opinion, is probably a genius.

I’ll get to that in a minute (his experience, I mean).

First, though – since this post is essentially about money – I should share the context of my perspective.

I feel no draw to money.

I am not driven by it. I don’t crave it. I don’t make decisions based on it. And I just think it’s grossly overrated.

Which brings me to my own personal definition: Money is something other people need for me to have.

I’m not recommending this definition on anyone, and frankly, there are months when my relationship with money puts me in the “fear place” for a few too many days, but… read it and weep, that’s just me.

Now, to Anne’s husband’s story…

I’m going to give the cliff notes here, because whenever terms like “venture capitalists” or “stock options” are introduced into a story, I pretty much start hearing Charlie Brown’s teacher talking. (As in, “WAH. WAH. WAH?”) But I got the gist of the story, and the gist is this:

Anne’s husband created a company, and within that company, he combined his skills as a landscape architect with his appreciation for our planet’s precarious balance. His passions led to patents, and as his creations generated income, he grew a staff. A staff that he respected and hoped would feel nurtured.

Anne’s husband wisely knew that he did not want to be CEO of said company, so a CEO was hired.

As venture capitalists came forth, the CEO recommended that insiders reduce their stock values. And Anne’s husband’s stock values always got reduced the most.

The longer the CEO was there, the more he had his way, and the less the company resembled the vision of Anne’s husband. Ultimately, Anne’s husband realized that the change was irreversible, and – to keep from becoming physically knotted into perpetuity – he moved on (still holding stocks).

Recently, the company that Anne’s husband created was sold, and Anne’s husband received his cut, as per his reduced stock values. His cut was impressive, but it was about one-tenth of what he should have received. To this day, he can drive through neighborhoods, pointing out the environmentally positive impact of his inventions. But his cut… not so big.

And that’s the story (or at least, that’s the story I came away with).

I also came away from this story with a question: should GREED be classified as a mental illness?

In anticipation of exploring this theory, I did some googling, and here’s what The Free Dictionary provides for the definition of mental illness: Any of various conditions characterized by impairment of an individual's normal cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning, and caused by social, psychological, biochemical, genetic, or other factors, such as infection or head trauma.

For me, the key word there is “normal,” so let’s run with that for a moment…

I love it, The Free Dictionary includes, as the first definition of “normal” (as a noun): Something normal …HAH! (Thanks for the clarification there!)

Okay, so let’s back up to the definitions of “normal” as an adjective, since that’s the appropriate context. Definition #1: Conforming with, adhering to, or constituting a norm, standard, pattern, level, or type; typical

See? There’s that “norm” again.

This brings me to the conclusion that no one actually knows what is “normal” (and, frankly, that works for me), but I still think that greed is a mental illness.

Greed is anti-social, obsessive, and self-serving.

Greed doesn’t care who gets hurt.

Greed is narcissistic.

Greed is NOT good.

Hmm… with all the pharmaceuticals out there, available to offset this or that mental malady, do you think they’ll develop one to cure (or at least reduce the manifestations of) greed?

I doubt it.

Because the pharmaceutical companies are right there among the greedy.

I’m so glad I don’t care about money, and I truly pity the folks who put it at the top of their lists.

They’re missing the magic and grace of life.

They’re missing my normal.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Monday Reruns: City Mouse; Country Mouse

(original post-date: February 3, 2010)

In the fall of 1983, I had a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. I jetted from New York to London, where I would meet my sister, Martha, who was flying in from the D.C. area. From London, Martha and I – two 20-something sisters – would begin a ten-day experience together in England.

Because Martha had spent her junior year in Bath (and because she makes most anglophiles appear to be relatively indifferent to the U.K.), she did all the planning. Accordingly: We would spend the first two days in London. We would then take the train to Bath. After two nights there, we’d travel further into the country’s southwestern region. And after two nights in Devon, we would return to London for the final three days of our adventure.

The first 48 hours in London entailed sightseeing in a jetlag blur. We took in as much as we could. As for the train to Bath? Relaxing and easy. When we approached a particular town, I remember getting excited about the architecture and the way the old buildings lined up on series of hills.

“Look at that!” I said excitedly, directing Martha’s glance to the train’s window.

“That’s Bath,” she said, smiling.

It was fun to traipse around the university town where my sister had lived for two semesters. We did a great deal of walking, and at one point, we happened into a Chemist’s. (Note, that’s the English equivalent of a pharmacy/drug store.)

Within the Chemist’s was a little machine, designed to allow patrons to check their pulse. And for whatever spontaneous reason, I placed my hand on the gadget and positioned the tip of my index finger so as to get a reading.

The machine replied with a rather alarming, fast-paced “d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-!!!”

Oh my.

I removed my hand, and my sister took her turn.

This time, the machine was less concerned. “Du. Du. Du. Du. Du. ” (it said.)


Several days later, our Devon experience behind us, we were back in London. Walking about, we came upon a Chemist’s, and perhaps because we were needing a sundry or some postcards, we walked in.

Within a few moments, we spied one of those pulse machines. This time, my sister went first.

Her index finger primed in the correct position, the machine responded: “d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-!!!”

Oh my.

Then, I took my turn: “Du. Du. Du. Du. Du. ”

So, here’s my theory:

We seek environments that provide balance.

My sister possesses hyper energy. She is a classic extrovert, and when she is in the room, there is no denying her presence. I, on the other hand, have a rather laid-back social energy. As an introvert, I often prefer blending in with the wallpaper.

My sister’s energy needs a quiet environment. Something to meet her halfway. And for that reason, her pulse was mellow in Bath.

I also need to be met halfway. I need the excitement and fast pace of an urban environment. For that reason, my pulse was mellow in London.

City mouse and country mouse.

Our choices do not reflect absolute preferences. Frankly, a part of me (frankly, a big part of me) would love nothing more than to wake up from a good night’s sleep, step outside my back door, and say “good morning” to a cow. Similarly, I bet my sister would love to have the access I have to large art museums, a local philharmonic, and thousands of restaurants representing every cuisine imaginable.

We have chosen our locations not because we need their cows or their cuisines. We need their energy.

We need their energy in order to balance our own.

2011 postscript: Happy Birthday to the country mouse, mellow in rural Scotland...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Thirty-One

A NOTE BEFORE READING: I began sharing weekly excerpts from my novel, The Somebody Who, on June 26, 2010. If you want to begin at the beginning, go here. If you want to read the book in its entirety, head over to Amazon and purchase a copy. (There’s a button on the left that will take you there).


Evelyn scoops up a nice helping of casserole and takes her plate into the family room. Because Davy is asleep, she turns off the television. Quiet is what she wants right now.


She takes a bite of the concoction—a combination of the steak and potatoes from Friday night, the green beans that were part of Thursday night, sliced onion, grated carrots, paprika...

“Yum!” she says aloud.

“I think I should, too!”

It is Davy, and when Evelyn looks over at him, groggily waking from his nth nap of the day, she realizes that he is probably famished.

“Sweetheart!” she says, “would you like some casserole?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’ll know in a minute.”

Evelyn puts her plate down on the coffee table in front of her chair and goes into the kitchen to make up a casserole plate for Davy. She also gets him a glass of ice water.

When she returns to the family room, Davy is voraciously eating from the plate that she left behind.

“This is very good!” he says, drippings already on his tee shirt.

Evelyn puts his water glass on the table beside him and returns to her chair. She begins to eat from the plate she had prepared for him.

“What happened?” Davy asks, pointing to the television. “I mean, what’s?”

“I needed to turn it off, honey. Do you mind?”

“It’s what you have,” he says, matter-of-factly.

They continue to eat together, Davy clearly hungry and likely to want seconds.

He takes a long drink from his ice water, without having to ask first if that’s what he should do.

Evelyn looks at him. And loves him. And wants to ask him so many questions.

She decides to go for it. She waits for him to look up and meet her gaze.

“How did you do it?” she asks, with incredulous love and respect.

“I’m doing it now,” says Davy, as if it were obvious.

“I mean, you were always so good at picking friends,” Evelyn states. “You were always so good at figuring people out.”

Davy nods.

“I just wish I knew what you knew.”

“Well,” Davy says then, chasing a potato morsel on his plate. “I don’t anymore.”


Entering the project room later that night, Evelyn notices a box within the second row stack that was revealed the previous night. It is a box that isn’t labeled. For no apparent reason, she decides that this box—this unlabeled box that she had not previously noticed—is the box she should open tonight. As she approaches it, it occurs to her that it probably contains old Evelyn and Davy clothes. She remembers that she never viewed the two of them as part of the “legacy,” and so she didn’t feel compelled to label any boxes that might contain their old clothes.

She carries the unlabeled box back to her chair. Prepared to re-examine the concept of legacy, she takes a deep breath before opening the carton.

On the top of the neatly folded pile is a rather large, dark dress. She holds it up in front of her. Then closes her eyes.

“Honey,” Evelyn asked, sounding unbelievably tired for a woman under thirty. “Can you do the buttons in the back?”

“Sure, sure,” Davy replied, fumbling his way through the task, while Evelyn patted her tummy and hated that she had had to buy a black maternity dress.

“All done,” said Davy, his voice somehow somber and supportive at the same time.

“And where’s the babysitter?” Evelyn asked then, anxiousness fighting with her exhaustion. “We’ve got to get going!”

“I’m sure she’ll be here any minute, sweetheart. We have time. We have time.”

Evelyn caresses the folds in the black dress, traces them. And she remembers how she felt leaving Patrick, not yet two, with the babysitter. It wasn’t the first time they had left him with Beth, and Beth was the best, as babysitters went. But, what if something happened? Anything could happen!

At the church, Davy held his wife, allowed her to fold into his fortifying embrace. She wept through the eulogies read by her older brothers—first Frank, then Jonathan. And she wept with her younger brother Wesley, when he—very courageously—gave a eulogy as well.

She watched the backs of her parents, and watching their body language made her want to cry more. Her father sat as erect as possible, for some reason determined to convey pride. But, for what? And her mother, whose left shoulder remained a full six inches from her father’s right, was never able to raise her head.

Brad, their baby, was gone—an American flag draped on his coffin because he had served his country…

The gathering at the old house in Morristown provided Evelyn with little comfort. Her mother, apparently, had retreated upstairs. And Evelyn knew better than to pursue her, to try, against all odds, to give her comfort. That would only lead to scolding and possibly a broken memento or two.

And as she observed her father, working the crowd, she was nonplussed. Was this the time to talk about Frank’s successes as a top Washington, D.C. prosecutor? Did Jonathan’s “killings” in the Los Angeles real estate market really matter?

Davy must have been in the bathroom when Evelyn sank into a chair by the buffet table. She was feeling so queasy. She hated being pregnant at the moment.

“Evie, you okay?” came the kind voice of her brother, Wesley.

“Just tired,” she replied, looking up at him. “How are you doing?”

“The sooner I get out of Oz altogether, the safer I’ll sleep, my dear.”

His statement made her smile. “Thank you,” Evelyn said, squeezing her brother’s hand. “Thank you.”

* * *

to be continued on February 12th .

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

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Paul Newman Story

Last week, when I visited my mom’s-age-friend, Sue, she mentioned that she had recently “read” (which is the verb she uses for listening to an audio-book) a Paul Newman biography.

“Oh?” I said. “Did it mention that I had waited on him?”

“Of course!” she replied. “There was a whole chapter devoted to that!”

We love bullshitting like this, Sue and I. It’s part of what makes us such dynamic conversationalists.

Sue then mentioned how she had never found Paul Newman particularly handsome…

Which gave me the opportunity to hold my hands about five feet apart – the distance I once had from that face of his.

“Oh no,” I said, my homework having been done, “he was… handsome.

Here’s the story that didn’t make his biography…

I was waitressing at an eatery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Not a fancy place, but a place that wanted to be fancier than it was.

(It was really nothing more than a glorified coffee shop.)

I’d been there a while and I was ready to move on, but I also was intrigued with the clientele. I remember working a morning shift when one of the more European waiters on staff tended to a couple who seemed to be just waking up. He was nonplussed as he served coffee to Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton…

I admired my fellow waitperson’s cool as he fulfilled their breakfast orders.

There were other celebs who came into the place, too (I can’t even remember who), and I remember thinking – during my gotta-get-outta-here antsy phase – that maybe I’d stick around a bit longer. Long enough, anyway, to serve a celebrity.

And while I waited for that pivotal moment, I came up with a “line” – a really cool line that I thought I’d be able to deliver when the time came. My plan was to use the line at the end of the celebrity-serving meal, in the moment when I put the check down.

… And just a few weeks later, Paul showed up.

The manager put him in Ingrid’s station, and she seemed to handle the event quite well. The rest of us, of course, took as many opportunities as we could to pass by the booth where he and his guest were sitting. We couldn’t help but want to absorb his glow.

The very next day, he showed up again, and after he was seated, the manager passed through an area near the kitchen. Neither breaking stride nor inflecting, he said, “You got him today, Katie.”

With as much composure as I could assume in that moment of great surprise, I walked toward the booth that contained Paul Newman and his guest.

I must have been shaking both visibly and audibly as I proceeded to take their order. And I’m sure there was a certain amount of dreamy shock in my countenance as I looked into those eyes.

Paul Newman’s eyes…

The color of Equal packets…

“I’ll start with the borscht,” he said, with a dimpled grin.

And then, he and his guest (whom I only remember as not being Robert Redford) added to their order…

Two minutes later, I had returned to their booth with the bowl of borscht, only to discover that Paul had not seen it on the menu and had ordered it as a joke. I offered to take it back, but he said it was okay. I insisted, and I pulled the bowl away (remarkably not sloshing any of the purple liquid onto his slacks).

“Good,” he said, relieved of the inadvertently ordered appetizer. “I hate borscht.”

We got through the meal, but I never felt comfortable. I never acquired the cool that I once thought I’d be able to bring to a celebrity table. In fact, I was rather spastic throughout the process -- or at least, that's how I felt.

Still, though, I had that “line,” and I was determined to use it. So… when I put the check down in front of Paul, I said this:

“I bet you can’t wait to go home and tell all your friends that Katie Gates waited on you!”

To which he said: “Huh?”

In Paul’s defense, I must confess that the aforementioned lack of composure on my part had a major impact on my delivery of said line. I’m guessing that what he heard, at a chipmunk’s register, was something like this:


And even when I repeated it (which I did, after his “Huh?”), I’m sure it didn’t become any more coherent.

So I don’t blame him for not understanding me. Hell, even if I had been able to form the words more clearly, there probably still would have been some confusion. I mean, could he really have connected such a confident line to the young woman before him who appeared to be so dramatically off her meds?

Fortunately, the attempt at dialogue ended when he stood up and ambled to the cashier.

He then left the restaurant, untied his horse, and rode into the sunset, where he would continue to live out his biography...

(Okay, I made up the part about the horse.)