Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Forty-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,” Joy says quietly, her leather jacket slung over her arm as she gazes with admiration at her Dad’s pen-and-ink drawings, “they spared no expense on these mattes and frames. These look fantastic, don’t they?”

“They really do,” Evelyn says, admiring her husband in a new light. “Ooh, and look!” she adds, noticing the bid card. “Some people have already bid!”

Joy leans in to read the names. “Hmm… ‘Ed Thomas’—a man with two first names—Six hundred dollars.”

“Six hundred dollars?” Evelyn asks, incredulously.

“That’s the minimum,” Joy states, “…and… let’s see here…” Joy squints to read the second entry. “Weighing in at six-fifty is: Yay! Gus Michaels!”

“Aw, Gus. So he’s here!” Evelyn says, excitedly, looking over her shoulder to the packed room. “I hope he wins it.”

“Well, he’s got some competition. Mister Two-First- Names returned with a seven hundred dollar bid.”

“Mmm,” says Evelyn, a tinge of sadness in her utterance.

“I know,” Joy offers then, tracking her mother’s thoughts. “It’d be nice if Dad could hear about this and understand it. But, you’ll tell him when you get home, and maybe he will know what you’re talking about.”

“Only he knows what he knows,” Evelyn replies.


As Evelyn and Joy stroll away from the bar with their second round of merlots, something causes Evelyn to slow her pace and look to her left. And immediately, not six feet away, is the smiling face of Gus Michaels.

“Oh my God!” Evelyn cries, and she and Gus walk into a warm embrace.

“Evelyn!” Gus says, pulling out of their embrace and stepping back to absorb her presence fully. “You look unbelievably beautiful and the same. Is there some portrait in your attic that looks like a woman who’s aged?”

“Oh, Gus,” Evelyn says, rolling her eyes as she takes in the welcome compliment.

“Evelyn,” Gus says then, “this is my partner, Ben Franklin.”

“Ben Franklin?” Evelyn confirms.

“I’m worth at least a hundred dollars,” Ben replies, a comment he probably makes several times a week.

“Nice to meet you,” Evelyn says, shaking his hand. “And my date—” Evelyn says, turning around and wondering where Joy went, “is… somewhere.”

“Davy?” Gus asks.

“Oh, no, I couldn’t bring him. He just can’t go out anymore.”

“I’m so sorry, Ev.”

“Well,” Evelyn says, scoping the room again for Joy and then returning her attention to Gus, “It is what it is.”

“I just can’t imagine Davy not being Davy, you know?”

“I know,” Evelyn responds, “but that’s what happens…Are you familiar with—? I mean, have you known anyone?”

“No one in my family, fortunately, but Ben’s aunt—” Gus answers.

“Oh, Ben, I’m so sorry. Were you close to her?”

“Very much so. She pretty much accepted me before my parents did. You know, for being gay and all.”

Gay and all, Evelyn thinks, already enjoying Ben’s personality and believing that for Ben, gay is all.

“So you were quite close?” Evelyn asks Ben.

“Incredibly close.”

“Is she still alive?”

“She’s in a facility in Connecticut now. It just got to be too much for my uncle.”

“Is it better for him now?”

“Not really,” Ben replies. “He’ll just never get his old life back, you know? Cecilia was the social butterfly. She really brought their lives to life. Uncle Gary just never really had those tools, you know?”

“I do,” says Evelyn, understanding Ben’s comments more than she cares to share at the moment.

“Here I am,” says Joy, having returned to her mother’s side and knowing that Evelyn was probably looking for her.

“Your date?” asks Gus. “If this is one of your daughters, I’m going to start feeling incredibly old.”

“You’re old, Gus,” Evelyn replies, smiling. “And this is Joy. You remember Joy?"

“I remember a darling little girl with a free spirit and a great sense of humor.”

“Then you do remember me!” Joy says, shaking his hand. “It’s good to see you, Gus. I remember you, too!”

“And, Joy,” Gus says, “this is my partner, Ben.”

“I was once a darling little girl,” Ben says, playfully.

“I’m surprised we were never penpals,” Joy responds, shaking Ben’s hand.

“Never too late to start, honey,” Ben says. “And, by the way, I love your dress! Is that vintage?”

“Well, I guess now we all get to feel old,” Joy replies. “Because it is vintage and I am the original owner!”

“Well, Missie,” says Ben, truly impressed, “you have really taken good care of that classy number.”

“The compliments go to Mom,” Joy states, nodding in Evelyn’s direction. “She took care of it.”

“Good job, Mom!” Ben says, holding up his empty hand, as if there were a drink in it and he were proposing a toast.

Then, looking at his partner, Ben says, “Gus? What’s wrong with this picture?”

“To the bar!” Gus says, in answer to Ben’s query.

“We’ll see you at the table!” Evelyn calls out to Gus and Ben as they make their way through the crowded room.

“Maybe we should sign in,” she then says to Joy. “We don’t even know what table I’m talking about yet!”

* * *

to be continued on May 7th.

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Too Old to Move

I cannot imagine leaving Los Angeles.

And not because I love it, which I do.

It’s just that, the older you get, the more difficult it is to make friends.

Remember how easy it was back in childhood? All you needed was a common age, and the deal was sealed.

Are you six? Me too! Let’s go play!

Can you imagine doing that at an adult age?

Hi! Are you fifty-three? Me too! Let’s have lunch!

Ain’t gonna happen.

When my then-husband and I moved to L.A., back in May 1990, it never occurred to me that I was leaving behind some well-established friendships and that I would have to start all over again. Sure, I had a few people out here who I knew, and among them were two I knew quite well, but… that’s barely a starter set.

Looking back at several of my early L.A. friends – people I thought I’d be close to for a long time – I realize that I was going through a process, and I would have to get to the end of that process before I would find the folks who were likely to last.

I remember a co-worker at my first staff job out here. We’ll call her Sheila. I’d been at the nonprofit organization for about a year before she got a position there. Our then-friendship is such ancient history at this point that I cannot explain the “attraction,” but I do remember always feeling as if she and I were both Hayley Mills, playing some equally misbehaving girls in a prep school movie…

I grew out of Sheila before I left the place where we both worked, and a few years later, I was at another nonprofit.

There, I became friends with two women, both of whom were a bit younger than I. We’ll call them Dee and Dora. I bonded with both of them, and we genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. Again, I felt I had embarked on some friendships that would last. But they didn’t pan out as I had expected, and in retrospect, my memory of the times I spent with each or both of them centered around a certain amount of righteousness. A desire to be correct.


With Sheila, I was reliving my adolescence.

With Dee and Dora, I was reliving my twenties.

I was 32 when I arrived in Los Angeles, and I was too new to that decade to know what it meant.

Where friendships were concerned, I had to back up.

I had to start over.

I had to relive a few stages of interactive behavior before I would find the comfort of my present. I had to work through a new growth so that I could reach the moment when I began to know who I was and how I needed to be treated.

That moment began in my mid-40s.

In terms of friendships, I’ve been in the comfort zone ever since.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Reruns: Observations from the Niche-Free Zone

(original post-date: April 21, 2010)

Back in the mid-‘90s, when the Internet was in its infancy, I got a call from someone representing the Barnard Alumnae Association. He was calling regarding a directory they were putting together. He was seeking information for my entry in said tome.

Yes, I said it: tome.

You see, this was to be an actual book with actual pages. Something alums would order so that they could access information regarding women, like themselves, who had experienced higher education at the venerable college that attracts tough, independent New York types and is affiliated with Columbia University.

After answering the man’s questions as to “what I do,” he said something that filled me with pride: “You don’t really fall into any category.”

My response? “And if I ever do, please shoot me.”

It will seem unrelated for me to suddenly bring up American Idol, but I’m kind of entitled, what with my no-category status. Besides, there actually is a reason to bring it up. I first should confess that, yes, I’m one of the hooked masses. I love American Idol for all kinds of reasons, and I’d detail them here, but a character in my second novel (not yet published) already has done so, and I really want you to hear it from her mouth. Regardless, something I’ve noticed this season is the judges’ desperately wanting to home in on a contestant’s niche. Is she country? Is he blues? Should she go the pop route?

Recently, Siobhan Magnus (the refreshingly quirky glass blower from Cape Cod who can somehow scream without being “pitchy”) defended herself against the judges’ comments as to “who she is.” I can’t quote her verbatim (and I’m too lazy in the moment to Google it), but essentially, she conveyed that she wasn’t interested in being pigeon-holed.

Good for Siobhan!

I get it that there are reasons to claim a niche. If you focus on one thing, you will likely devote all your energy to it, and you will therefore improve within it and have a better chance for success. Undoubtedly, had I claimed a niche by now, I wouldn’t be constantly wondering if I’ll make ends meet on a month-to-month basis.

But, if I were stuck in one place, I’d also not discover new places.

I love my nonprofit work, which I “happened into” back in 1987. I had grown tired of waitressing by then, and so I began temping. When an assignment landed me at the Ford Foundation, I gained a new perspective on “office world.” Who knew there were kind, altruistic people doing the nine-to-five grind? (I didn’t.) Now, after many nonprofit staff positions and loads of amazing, Kodak-moment experiences, I do fundraising and program development work on a consulting basis. My clients are awesome, and what they do for folks in Los Angeles is life-changing.

I love my fine art work, which began when I “happened into” a bead store. For almost 10 years now, I’ve been seduced by what I call the unbearable lightness of beading. I’ve made jewelry, mobiles, and wall hangings. And without beads, I’ve made original greeting cards using recycled materials. Most recently, I’ve opened a shop on This means I’m in the process of moving my independent website inventory to a more well-traveled location. Sure, I’m competing with about 50,000 other jewelry designers, but I love my work, and so I believe in it.

I love my creative writing. In fact, I love nothing more than making sentences. I am even happy with that one. And this one. And the next one.

So what “do I do?” the Alumnae Association wants to know.

I look for joy. And when I find it, I look for more.

Funny that these musings reference Barnard. I remember, when I first arrived there (me, a 17-year-old from rural Virginia), I was so struck by my classmates and what I heard during informal freshman orientation conversations. The most common answers to peer-posed questions were two-syllable hyphenates: pre-med; pre-law; pre-med; pre-law; pre-med; pre-law… I was shocked, but I never felt pressured. Even then, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from the mouths of babes. These 17- and 18-year olds had their whole lives figured out.

I hope it’s gone well for them. I hope they like their niches.

As for me, I’ll keep confusing the judges. And although I may scream at times, I’ll try never to sound pitchy (or… something that rhymes with that).

Please visit my etsy shop at . And tell your friends.

If you haven’t done so already, pick up a copy of my novel at Amazon. Just do a search for The Somebody Who. You’ll see it.

Know any nonprofits who need help with their fundraising? Send them my way.

I’m here.

I’m the one without a niche.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Forty-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).


“Hey, check it out!” Joy says, rubbing leather sleeves with her mother once they have pulled out of their enthusiastic hug. “Looks like we’re in the same gang!”

“Do you think people will suspect we planned it?”

“Do I care?”

“Oh, Joy!” Evelyn says, putting an arm around her daughter and pulling her into a sidelong hug as they walk hurriedly through the pedestrian traffic. “I’m so glad we’re doing this.”


An uptown local is just pulling in as they arrive on the crowded Lex line platform, and Evelyn, having not played the Manhattan rush-hour subway game in more years than she can remember, spontaneously grabs Joy’s hand. Joy, understanding her mother’s situation, guides them onto the
packed train. They find a place near a vertical pole and claim their connection to balance before the subway doors close.

Once the train begins to make its way to 51st Street, where they will be deboarding, Joy leans into her mother. “Did you see what I’m wearing?” she asks, as she mimics a flasher’s move by using one pocketed fist to open her jacket a bit.

“The dress!” Evelyn enthuses, recognizing the navy fabric. “Won’t you be cold, though?”

“Why do you think I wore a jacket, Ma?” Joy teases girlishly, making Evelyn feel like a girl, too.


Although they are relatively on-time for the Elder Haven event, the Waldorf’s Empire Room is already buzzing when they make their entrance. Evelyn immediately relaxes a bit when she realizes she is dressed quite suitably for the occasion. And when she sees the no-host bar in the near corner, she relaxes a bit more.

“Race you to the wine,” Joy says playfully, reading her mother’s mind.

As they saunter toward the bar, Evelyn hears her name called out. She and Joy turn simultaneously.

“Ashley! Hello!” Evelyn exclaims, smiling as she hugs her new friend.

“I’m so glad you could make it, Evelyn. Did you see the display of Dr. Bennett’s art?”

“Not yet. We just got here. And Ashley, this is my daughter, Joy.”

“Hi, Joy. So nice to meet you,” Ashley says, as she shakes Joy’s hand. “Your mom told me about you. You’re in Fort Greene, right?”

“Yes! I’m on Clinton, just off DeKalb.”

“What a great area. Have you been there long?”

“Going on eleven years,” Joy responds, causing Evelyn to shudder at the passage of time.

“Wow! Good for you! So, I bet your rent is almost reasonable.”

“I am the envy of several neighbors,” Joy says, smiling.

“Excuse me, Ashley,” an older woman interjects. “We have a question at the sign-in table.”

“I’ll be right there,” Ashley says, agreeably.

She then turns back to Evelyn and Joy. “Work time.”

“Are we supposed to sign in?” Evelyn asks.

“Whenever you get a chance,” Ashley responds. “Just to get your table number. Oh! And, I put you at a table with Gus and Ben!”

Off Evelyn’s confused look, Ashley adds, “Gus Michaels!”

“They’re coming?” Evelyn asks, excitedly.

“They’re supposed to!

“Anyway,” Ashley then turns to Joy, “really nice to meet you. And, if you ever want to meet for dinner, I’m in your neighborhood a lot. I’m taking a class at Pratt.”

“That’d be great,” Joy replies, genuinely pleased with the prospect. “I’ll get your number from my mom.”

“Great. Well,” Ashley says then, as she begins to hurry off, “have a wonderful time tonight! And be sure to look at the auction display!”

“I like her vibe,” Joy says to her mother, after Ashley has disappeared into the crowd.

* * *

to be continued on April 30th.

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

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

It's All in the Reading

Several years ago, I entered a small jewelry store in my neighborhood. The establishment harked back to another time and was probably passed on from one generation to the next. I had gone there to see if the proprietor might be able to repair an antique travel alarm clock that I had purchased at a flea market. The clock had worked quite well for a while, but then it decided to rebel.

While the store owner examined the timepiece, my eyes scanned her small shop, and one of the first things I noticed was a sign: Watch Batteries Repaired While You Wait.

I guess I’m verb-oriented, because my interpretation of that sign was this: If I wanted to, I could watch the proprietor repair batteries while I waited!

(Can you imagine a more entertaining afternoon?)

Interpretation is so subjective.

I have another story on this score, and this one comes from my years in New York. I had been browsing at the Coliseum bookstore, which used to be among the retail features of Columbus Circle. It was probably November or so, because I had stocking stuffers in mind. I quickly noticed a title that would have been appropriate for any member of my family. The title implied a deep devotion (if not outright addiction) to cats.

As I studied the cover illustration, however, I felt confused. There was an elderly person lying in what appeared to be a hospital bed, and surrounding that bed were several people. Those in plain clothes were undoubtedly family.

There also was a nurse and a priest.

But where was the cat?

I looked at how the bedsheets and blanket were arranged over the person lying there. I looked for a lump, figuring the cat must be under the covers.

Then, I returned to the title of the book, and I realized it was Catholics.

(Which explains the priest, of course.)

… There also was a time in between those two incidents – after New York and before I moved to my current neighborhood. I was married to a man whom I’ve previously mentioned in this blog, and since I called him Ben in an earlier essay, we’ll just stick with that…

Anyway, Ben loved to visit a part of California that is about four hours north of Los Angeles, just at the foot of Mount Whitney. There are rock formations there that are awesome, and the landscape is generally, well… what can I say, the dude’s a photographer, and there was no end to the possibilities. So we made the trip together a few times. He’d spend the weekend shooting pictures, and I’d sit by the pool, reading and taking in the remarkable air. Then, we’d meet for dinner and enjoy the quiet, rustic atmosphere of this extremely small town in the middle of nothing but almighty geography.

Once, while doing the drive (which would often begin at the end of a work-week and end close to midnight), we found ourselves behind a particular car, and because we were on a two-lane highway at that point, we remained behind that car for more than a few miles.

And this placement led to some improvisation.

For, you see, the license plate that we were trailing said this: OH BOB

I think Ben started the spontaneous game…

In the tone of a woman who is beyond impressed with a certain individual’s manhood, he exclaimed, “Ohhh Bob!”

I replied, using the clenched-teeth delivery of a wife who has once again found a non-dishwasher safe utensil in that very appliance. “Oh Bob.”

Ben took his turn, imitating a woman who was probably waving flirtatiously from across the room, “Oh, Bo-obb!

My next entry was scolding, the type of admonition one might use when embarrassed by the inappropriateness of her partner: “Oh, BOB!

Ben was still in another world. Possibly post-coital. His character sounded quite breathless and was undoubtedly reaching for a cigarette when she sighed, “Oh… Bob…”

When I responded, I sounded more like some 1950’s housewife who’s standing at the bottom of a suburban staircase, her arms folded at her chest. “Oh Bo-obb,” my character chanted, not at all pleased.

I don’t know how many more rounds we went, but it was good to get these feelings out of our systems.

It also was good to reach the changing lane so that we could move on to the next improvisation.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday Reruns: Confessions of a Non-Stalker

(original post date: April 14, 2010)

Back in the 60's (or maybe it was the 70's), a couple who are among my mom’s and my late dad’s contemporaries traveled from Virginia for their annual experience in New York. One night, they went to a Broadway show. The wife noticed a man sitting in front of them (or perhaps in their row), and this is what she said to him: “I know you’re someone famous, but I don’t know who you are.”

“My kids don’t think I’m famous,” he replied, kindly.

The man, not famous to his children, was Sidney Poitier.

I share this little anecdote because I just had to do some Googling. I wanted to make sure I got the actor’s name right.

Not Sidney Poitier's name. I know who he is, but rather, I wanted to check on the name of the actor I'm about to talk about.

It's Edward Burns.

Edward Burns has been around since the mid-90’s. In 1995, he made the scene with his indie film, The Brothers McMullen. He wrote it, directed it, and starred in it. A guy from Long Island, he had a tri-state tale to tell, and he told it well. He’s been busy ever since.

And one night, about ten years ago, he went to the movies.

So did I.

I had driven over to the Laemmle 5 on Sunset. Don’t remember what I saw. When I left the theatre, I entered the elevator to return to the underground parking structure that was designed by sadists. (Sidebar: is it any wonder there is now a Trader Joe’s within that complex? But I digress…)

Edward Burns joined me on the elevator, pressed the button for his parking level, and together, we rode down to the lower levels, each of us looking somewhere else.

About twenty minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot of the Mayfair at Franklin and Bronson, as I had decided to pick up a few groceries on the way home. It must have been winter (if L.A. can be said to have one), as I recall I was wearing my royal blue, sort of all-weather jacket – a noticeable color among the more common, muted shades of winterizing Angelenos.

When I had filled my basket and approached check-out, I saw that my elevator mate was waiting in the most available, fastest-moving line. Yup. Edward Burns. Seven or eight zip codes ago, we were sharing an elevator. Now, we were both at Mayfair.

Self-conscious in my royal blue outerwear, I chose another check-out line.

The non-stalker line.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Forty-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).




Realizing that she will need to be out the door in twenty minutes, Evelyn is glad she spent so much of Sunday obsessing about what she would wear. And as she takes one last look in the mirror before going into the bathroom to throw on a minimal amount of make-up, she is pleased with the decisions she made two days ago. The tweed skirt looks good with the ivory-colored blouse. The slim, heeled boots are a nice, self-assured touch, and her leather jacket will top it all off in a sophisticated, but not matronly, way.

She is pleased.

But, also, for some reason, she is nervous.

She goes into the bathroom and reaches for her mascara on the tray beside her sink. Several strokes of the wand later, she takes a look at herself and decides to see if her container of brown eye shadow, which is probably considered ”vintage” at this point, has not been sealed shut by the passage of time.

It opens easily. There appears to be no mold on its surface. And although she realizes it’s probably not the smartest idea to apply such an old cosmetic to her eyelids, she does so anyway.

And she is pleased with the result.

Next, she opens her lipstick tube, and after she has painted her lips, she applies a tiny dab to each cheek. She rubs the dabs in. A nice touch. A nice trick.

Then, standing back for a final look, she uses her fingers to comb back her bangs so that some, but not all, drop into the forehead that she’s always thought was just a little too large. The manipulation works. She cocks her head as she smiles at herself. Despite her slight case of nerves, she feels remarkably good.


“Evelyn!” Claudia says, her broad smile and dancing eyes a sign of sincere approval. “You look beautiful!”

“Oh my!” says Davy, looking up from The New Yorker. “Are we going somewhere?”

“You’re not leaving me here alone!” Claudia says to him, as Evelyn crosses behind Davy’s stool to get her car keys off the wall rack.

“But what are we doing?” he asks either one of them.

“We’re going to have dinner,” Claudia responds, “and then, we’re going to play poker. I’m taking you to the bank tonight, Davy!”

“The bank? But I don’t know how!”

“Exactly!” says Claudia, laughing as she finishes cutting tomatoes for the salad.

“Well,” says Evelyn. “This is it! My big night out!

“And thank you again Claudia,” Evelyn adds, kindly. “I appreciate your staying the night tonight.”

“When else do I get to play poker?” Claudia replies, shrugging with the knife in one hand and half a tomato in the other.

“Well, don’t take him for too much,” Evelyn says, leaving a lipstick kiss on Davy’s forehead.

“I promise. Just a few of his tee shirts. That’s all I really want.”

“Goodnight!” Evelyn says in a sing-song tone, shaking her head and feeling light and amused as she heads for the garage by way of the utility room.


Evelyn enjoys the train ride into the City, and she is thankful for the arrangements that she and Joy made. It’ll be good not to worry about parking in Manhattan and then making that long drive home at the end of the night. And she can’t wait to see Joy, standing on the platform at Grand Central.

Instinctively, Evelyn shifts her glance to look out the train window. But because it is dark out, that gesture only presents her with a mirrored view of the other passengers in the train. She notices a man, well-dressed for business. He is sitting about six rows in front of her, in a seat that faces the train’s center aisle. He looks very tired, maybe even a bit tense. And his image brings her father to mind…

All those years of commuting from New Jersey into Manhattan. What did he think about on that packed train? Was he happy to be getting away from the wife who was slowly and methodically going mad? Did he ever think about his kids? Or, was he just anticipating the day ahead on Second Avenue—the accounts he had to manage, the clients he had to please.

Evelyn looks again at the reflection of the man six rows in front of her. She sees his wedding band, but it tells her nothing. She wonders if this man is going into town to rendezvous with his lover—a secretary, perhaps, or maybe his “devil wears Prada” boss.

She hopes that the man on the train is not doing his loved ones any irrevocable damage.

* * *

to be continued on April 23rd.

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

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Time with the Fishers

I was late to the Netflix party.

One explanation, I suppose, is that I don’t feel compelled to rent movies that often. Also, I guess I wanted to support those stores that exist in real space and time and actually employ people who live in my ‘hood.

Less than a year ago, though, I decided to sign on and start designing my own queue, and maybe it was an incident a few months before that that helped incite the change… A friend and then-neighbor had raved about The Hangover. She’d seen it three times, in fact, and she told me she “pissed her pants” laughing. So, one afternoon, when a good pants-pissing comedy seemed in order, I rented the film.

And I watched it.

And I barely cracked a smile.

(Not my genre, I guess.)

The next day, I had to return it. And even though it was raining (which, in L.A., is often the top news story), I braved the inclement weather to return the stupid movie to the rental place. I also braved the rental place’s horrible parking lot, which was cleverly designed to facilitate fender benders.

By the time I got home (safely), I resented my otherwise dear neighbor-friend who had made the recommendation. It even occurred to my facetious mind that I should have asked her to return the stupid movie.

… When I received my first Netflix disc (which would have been a movie, though I don’t remember which one), my innate sense of rebellion came to the fore. I looked at the red envelope, and I thought, “I don’t have to watch this. You can’t make me watch this.”

Bizarre, I’ll admit.

After all, I was the one who had ordered it, for God’s sake.

But I hate being told what to do (even by me).

Or maybe I just hate being told when to do.

… After a few months on Netflix, and on the recommendation of a friend, I ordered Season One, Disc One of Six Feet Under. I found the first few episodes intriguing (if for no other reason than the eye candy of Peter Krause).

I also had lined up the series' subsequent discs on my queue, though they were separated by various other titles.

… Within a few weeks, when I was well into the second season of Six Feet Under, I realized that I could no longer take the interruptions from competing stories. I grabbed my mouse and made the big leap: Top of the Queue. Yup, the whole series. One disc after the other until the very end.

And having just completed the series the other night, I am here to say that Netflix rocks.

I cannot imagine having spent five years watching Six Feet Under. No more than I could imagine spending five years reading a great novel.

And Six Feet Under has all the trappings of a great novel: well-developed characters with distinct voices; interwoven plotlines that reveal the strengths and weaknesses of each of those characters; a balance of suspense, drama, and humor; and the interplay of day-to-day living with other-worldly occurrences.

Combine that with the trappings of a wonderful movie – talented actors; flawless direction; strong atmospheric details – and the ride goes to a new level of involvement.

A brilliant television series watched in as few sittings as possible is like a book-on-tape with moving pictures.

… When I lived in New York, a roommate once said to me, “I always know when you’re about to finish reading a novel, because you close your door.”

True. Because: if it’s the kind of novel I love, I usually cry at the end. (In fact, if I come to the end of a novel and I don’t cry, I feel a little short-changed.)

The other night, watching the final episode of Six Feet Under gave me all the emotional joy of a novel’s end. There remained conflict in the first half or so of the two-hour episode, but it worked its way beautifully to closure and resolution.

I had to hit the Pause button several times to wipe the salt stains off my glasses. And the next day, when I remembered specific scenes in the series finale, my eyes got wet again. The Fisher family had been a part of my life for several engaging weeks.

It’s funny, too; generally when I’ve finished watching a disc, I return it immediately to its red envelope and place it in the outgoing mail. But, I let that last episode sit on the sideboard for a few days. I didn’t want to part with it. I didn’t want to face the fact that the journey had come to an end.

I have a feeling I’ll be making my way over to Amazon one of these days, and I’ll purchase the full series. I can envision it up there on the bookshelf, between and among some of those novels that I know I’ll read again.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday Reruns: How I Got Out of Jury Duty ... without even trying

(original post-date: April 7, 2010)

As a self-employed person, I’ve bristled whenever I’ve received a jury duty notice. I would like to perform my civic duty, but the financial ramifications prevent me from getting enthusiastic about it. Two weeks with no billables is simply not affordable. A lengthy trial would bankrupt me. So for years, I submitted my excuses, and they were accepted.

When I received a summons in November of 2002, however, I had a different response. I was coming out of some extremely lucrative consulting months, and I knew that if I could ever manage the financial constraints of jury duty, this was the time. So I showed up on that designated Monday morning.

Within a few hours, I was called into a courtroom. Along with 12 other “auditioners,” I was placed in the almighty wooden box, and I listened to the judge’s brief description of the case: a young man had made an extremely threatening telephone call and so he was being prosecuted.

The prosecuting attorney sat at her place, tightly dressed in a power suit. At the other table, the defendant sat alone. He wore dark cargo pants, and his white shirt -- partially unbuttoned -- was in desperate need of an iron. As the judge explained, the young man who had made the phone call had been offered a defense attorney but: he had chosen to represent himself.

My eyes grew wide as these details were revealed. After years of avoiding jury duty, I was stoked. I couldn’t wait to participate in this trial. It would provide some fascinating insights into human nature, and as a creative writer, I crave any opportunity to study character.

The next step in the process began with the judge assigning numbers. Among the prospective jurors, I was “number eleven.” The judge then described basic aspects of the legal system and followed that with general questions that would elicit the raising of hands from “we, the would-be jury.” He also directed specific questions to individuals in the box.

It had been a while since I had engaged in something this close to a classroom experience, and I took great pride when I answered a question correctly. I also paid close attention to my fellow auditioners… their stories, their perspectives, and their answers to the judge’s questions.

I was fully engaged.

This initial process went on for well over an hour. Then, we were given a break.

After ten or fifteen minutes, we were called back into the courtroom. The other prospective jurors and I returned to our assigned seats. The prosecutor and the self-representing defendant returned to their opposing posts. And once the room had settled, the judge let us know that, per the system, each side had the right to dismiss any prospective juror without an explanation. The judge also stated that if anyone were dismissed, they should not take it personally.

He then turned his head to make eye contact with the prosecutor.

“Is there any juror you would like to dismiss at this time?” he asked.

“Number eleven,” she said.

“Yeah,” the self-representing defendant echoed. “Number eleven.”

I left the courtroom in disbelief. After all the years of wanting to get out of jury duty, I had changed my tune. Not only had I accepted the summons, I couldn’t wait to get started. But… it was not to be.

It took me a day or two to realize what probably happened. But I think I know what I did in that jury box. It’s about my face. And actually, it’s a bit remarkable that I figured this out. After all, if you combine me with all the people with whom I’ve had contact, I’m the one who’s seen my face in action the least. Still, though, I think I know what happened. Through my facial expressions, I indicated that I was thinking. Constantly. And through the nods I inadvertently shared while others expressed their experiences, I indicated that I had feelings and opinions.

It’s too bad the prosecutor and her opponent chose to interpret my expressiveness as they did. Because, yes, I do have feelings and opinions. But I also am capable of being unbiased.

I’ll never know how I might have viewed that case. I never got a chance to hear the facts.

And, since that November eight years ago, I’ve never received another jury summons.

I don’t believe one can get dismissed from service by “trying,” so I’m not recommending anything here.

Just sharing what happened.

Just sharing my unbiased opinion of what happened.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Forty

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).


Judy’s suggestion, that a woman whose husband has Alzheimer’s might simply start dating again, preoccupied Evelyn for the rest of the day. And it is still on her mind when she enters the Quilt Room. Hopefully, the night’s first draw will provide her with a distraction from these thoughts.

JOY AGE 3-6 is the first paper Evelyn unfolds. She smiles as she approaches the box marked accordingly. She hopes that Joy’s energy, which filled her heart so thoroughly just a few days ago, will return to the room in the next few minutes.

“How perfect!” Evelyn exclaims to no one, as she holds up the small tee shirt that Joy had painted. “This will be beautiful in the quilt!”

Evelyn grins broadly as she looks at the figures—some so primitive; all so abstract. There is a house—theirs, apparently. And a family—also theirs (apparently). And a dog? They never had a dog. Perhaps Joy felt that was an essential part of the nuclear family.

But what Evelyn loves more than anything are the abstract splashes of paint that surround the more obvious images. There is a flow to those splashes. A purpose. An energy. And she remembers Joy bringing that energy back with her every afternoon when she returned from day camp. There was something about her tales back then. They were the days before she started speech therapy, and her speech was charming.

“Today!” she said, her feet dangling happily as she occupied a stool right next to her father’s in the kitchen. “We rode hortheth!”

“You rode hortheth?” Davy replied, imitating, but not mocking, his five-year-old daughter’s lisp.

“Yeth! And they were amathing! I rode one called Thilver. A white horth!”

“And did Silver behave?” Evelyn interjected at that moment, giving Davy the eye as she refused to play the lisp game.

“Oh, yeth!” replied Joy. “He wath tho gentle.”

“And what else did you do today?” Evelyn asked, smiling at the angel before her.

“Well, we rode in the morning, and that wath great, and then, in the afternoon, we painted tee thirth. Wanna thee?”

“I wanna thee!” Davy replied, nodding enthusiastically while waving off his wife’s scolding glances.

Evelyn looks again at the “tee thirt” in her lap. Joy’s enthusiasm and forward momentum began at an early age. The colors and swirls show it. No lisp, no hurdle, would stop her from moving ahead.

While Marilyn spent so many years vying for their father’s attention, Joy seemed to have spent those same years on her own “magnifithent” path, ensuring that her father’s attention would never make or break her.

Evelyn realizes, looking at the tee shirt, that she envies Joy in some way. Their second daughter had, for whatever reason, gotten the best. She’d inherited Davy’s fabulous spirit without feeling beholden to it. She owned it, and it traveled with her.

* * *

to be continued on April 16th .

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

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Moments of Sheer Flippancy

It’s probably been close to four decades since I’ve sought out bubble gum, and I don’t even know if Bazooka Gum exists anymore. But, when I was a kid, it was a go-to purchase at those small, family-owned shops that existed in a simpler economy. For a penny, a kid could purchase a piece. (And after spending a nickel on a Coke, a penny was quite the extravagance.)

The two-layer unwrapping process led to the pink pillow of sugar (ostensibly divisible by two, but did anyone ever share a piece?). And inside the outer wrapper was the infamous Bazooka Joe comic, complete with a “fortune” that was written in extremely small print just below the final frame of the illustrated cartoon story.

Just as I’ve continued, in my adulthood, to pay attention to the brief and random forebodings that come at the end of a Chinese meal, I used to give my Bazooka Joe fortune a few moments of my time.

Back then and to this day, I never let the words guide my life (or play with my hopes and wishes), but I always respect them for their potential to make me think.

Sometimes a “fortune” provides a good impetus for reflection.

Sometimes a “fortune” provides wisdom that one cannot grasp when going through the day-to-day movements of life.

Other times, it is way beyond random.

There is a Bazooka Joe “fortune” that I will always remember.

It said: You will never become a giant shoelace.

It may be a reflection of my self-esteem back then, but becoming a giant shoelace was something I never worried about. I don’t know; call me confident. Maybe, too, because there were no role models…

So while I did not relate the fortune to my own personal fantasies, I nevertheless gleaned some wisdom from it. I learned that adults with jobs (e.g., the Bazooka Joe fortune-writer) can get bored in those jobs, and those moments of boredom can lead to flippancy.

…Once I entered my adulthood, I found employment in a variety of areas (none requiring the skills and strengths of a giant shoelace). And to this day, the longest job I’ve ever kept was at a burger-slinging joint in central Manhattan. My primary shift was the lunch rush, and I loved the work. It was no frills and totally aerobic. I took my earnings home with me everyday. My tips paid the rent and gave me enough left over for some kind of night-life. Better yet, there were no office politics.

We were a weird work family who got along well and probably would never have met had we not all landed at that particular joint. The waitresses – eight of us – found our gender balance in a variety of bartenders and an all-male kitchen staff. There often was a party atmosphere permeating the place. Flirtation and flippancy were the norm.

And every twelve weeks or so, our Mama Manager would let us girls know that, before we’d left for that day, we’d need to “do” ten menus.

“Do” ten menus. Here’s what that meant: the restaurant was part of a big citywide chain, and – wise to printing deals – had stocks and stocks of pre-printed menus. They saved money by ordering menus in mega-bulk, and they didn’t sweat price changes. Why? Because their menus didn’t even bother to list prices.

Accordingly, an untouched menu would include line items that looked something like this:

Cheddar Burger ______

So: it was the job of us waitri – on a regular basis – to sit around (before we’d left for the day) and replace dog-eared or out-priced menus with fresher, cleaner, up-to-date versions.

… And so we sat, that one afternoon, the eight of us gathered around two checkerboard squares. We’d begun sipping our complimentary bar beverages (the management was lax on that score), and we were in a fine mood. The cheddar burger had been raised to $3.50. The bacon-cheese was a whopping $3.95. We soon gathered a rhythm as we each filled out our requisite ten menus. And each of us, too, found blank spaces within those menus – spaces where we were expected to add listings for the dishes that hadn’t made the print-run.

There were Chicken Nuggets.

And I believe a Fried Shrimp dish was the other hand-written feature.

… As I sat there, enjoying my Bloody Mary, filling out prices and spaces, I also had a moment of silent camaraderie with the fortune-teller back at Bazooka.

Which is to say, even after I’d written in the Chicken Nuggets and the Fried Shrimp, there was still some empty space on the menu in front of me.

A canvas, if you will.

And so, I entered in a nonexistent menu item:

“Pheasant Under Glass w/FRIES…. $25.99”

For all my ensuing days there, I never heard word-one about that entry. And only once, while taking an order, I saw that a customer in my station had that menu.

(I felt a little anxious before he ordered.)

Fortunately, he went for the Cheddar cheeseburger.

(Perhaps he was on a budget.)

… I’m glad I never got into any trouble for my moment of flippancy. It would have sucked to have been fired from that place.

Sure, maybe I was a little bored at times, but I wasn’t ready to open the next chapter on my “career path.”

I mean, where would I have gone?

I didn’t have much of a plan, you see. I knew one thing and one thing only: I would never become a giant shoelace.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Monday Reruns: Quite Possibly the Youngest Soul on the Planet

(original post date: March 31, 2010)

He so easily could have been a brat.

The fifth child in a Virginia family, he was born to three older sisters and an older brother. And because the family was so very Virginian, the girls ruled.

They ruled.

Oh my gracious, how they loved their “Bob-o-link!”

Were he alive today, my dad would grimace, scoldingly, at the nickname. (He also probably would curse.)

Were he alive today, that scolding grimace (and accompanying four-letter word) would probably be the only time you’d recognize something other than childlike wonder emanating from his face.

My dad died two years ago yesterday, and in writing this, I’m not seeking either to expel personal emotions or to solicit condolences.

I’m just writing to honor his life.

I also should say that I was relieved when he died.

I was relieved because, for the last few years of his life, he was very frail. His needs were taxing my mom. He needed to die.

As for the years that came ahead of those? I have one vision: Dad, with eyebrows raised and a jaw dropped just enough to create an “O” with his mouth.

My vision is Dad, amazed.

I’m not kidding.

Robbins (“Bob-o-link”) Gates was born – and probably died – amazed.

I remember one time when he and Mom visited me in New York. We were having dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue , and my parents were expressing curiosity following some bad vibes that had just occurred with friends of theirs – friends with whom they’d shared a rented house on Cape Cod.

I had been in that house for one week of the two-week rental. I knew the players. And so, after listening to Mom and Dad’s description of events, I shared my perspective.

Eyebrows raised, mouth slightly opened, my dad looked across the table at me.

“How did you get to be so wise?” he asked.

I smiled, shrugged, and offered that I had simply observed.

I don’t know that I got my wisdom from Dad, but I know I got some serious DNA. My soul may be older than his, but I think a part of me still inherited that beautiful wonder.

It is because of Dad that I want to learn.

It is because of Dad that I am never sure.

It is because of Dad that I feel the world is my oyster.

I may have been born old, but because of Dad, I get to feel young.

So, Dad?

Wherever you are.

Keep being amazed.

It is your sense of wonder that keeps us all going, and we need that.


POSTSCRIPT: Gratitude to my sister, Martha, for providing the first line.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Thirty-Nine

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).


The waitress having cleared their plates, Evelyn and Judy are not yet ready to settle the bill and move on. The conversation has turned to lighter topics—the grandchildren (Judy’s and Patrick’s children). Their feats and challenges.

Evelyn loves hearing about Gretchen, Ricky, and Zoe. The stories are never couched in drama. Judy knows her kids are normal and that they are leading normal kids’ lives.

And when Judy has finished telling all the grandkid stories, she begins to tell Evelyn about her latest adventures selling real estate. The closing that she predicted the week before came to be. She expects a big check in the mail. And now, she’s the regular sitter at a Sunday “Open House.”

“Oh my God, Evelyn!” Judy blurts out, essentially interrupting herself. “I almost forgot! I overheard a really interesting conversation yesterday.”


“Yes. And let me paint the picture for you.”

“Please!” Evelyn says, already intrigued.

“Okay. So. I’m sitting in this mansion on Cedar Street,” Judy begins. “I mean, if I even get a piece of this deal, I don’t even want to think about it. Anyway, it’s an Open House, so, you know, people are coming and going all day. I’ve got the sign-up sheet on the dining room table. I’m there to answer questions. But, you know, most of the people who come through aren’t interested in buying. They’re just spending a Sunday walking through mansions. It’s free, you know?”

“People do that?”

“Oh, sure. All the time,” Judy says.

“Anyway,” she continues, “these two women—about your age—end up standing in the dining room, chatting, for forty-five minutes, easily.”

“Wait,” Evelyn says. “They’re standing in an Open House, among strangers, catching up?”

“I’m telling you, it happens all the time. So, anyway, these two women, I quickly learned, are Marge and Jane.”

“Did they introduce themselves?”

“Oh, God, no. They might have had to sign in if they’d done that. They’re just standing there, and I’m just listening.”

Evelyn shakes her head and wonders if the spinning in Miss Manners’ grave will ever register on some seismologist’s graph.

“Anyway,” Judy continues, “after a while, Marge says to Jane (quite enthusiastically, I might add) ‘Betty has started dating!’ ‘Betty?’ Jane says, ‘Do you mean Bill died?’ ‘No,’ Marge says. ‘Betty just felt she needed to start dating again.’”

“I’m lost,” Evelyn says, loving but also overwhelmed by her daughter-in-law’s energy. “Who’s Betty?”

“Betty is their friend.”

“Marge and Jane’s friend.”


“Okay,” Evelyn says, catching up. “And Bill?”

“Bill is Betty’s husband.”


“And! Bill has Alzheimer’s.”

“Okay,” Evelyn says, still wondering where this is going.

“So, Betty has started dating.”

“Ohh,” Evelyn says. “Okay. I get it. Well—good for Betty!”

“An interesting scenario, I thought,” says Judy.

“Mmm,” Evelyn agrees. “Interesting.”

* * *

to be continued on April 9th . In the meantime, if you want to read a short piece about the back story, click here.