Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mom's Ex-Boyfriend

I should say it, right from the start: I’m taking liberties with the label.

They weren’t an “item,” as it were. Mom simply dated him. It was the late 40’s, and she was living in Manhattan. She was sharing an apartment with college friends, and because she had not yet met Dad, she was enjoying the company of a number of men. Back then, apparently, men and women dated a variety of others. They weren’t all focused on establishing exclusivity, so calling him her "ex-boyfriend" is stretching it a bit.

Still, though, they dated. And they dated enough for her to mention his name when she wrote in her journal during an oceanic voyage to Europe in 1948.

I once read that journal entry, where she compared him to a man on the ship. But aside from that, I don’t have too many details. I remember only Mom’s sharing with me that, at the time of their going out, he was at a loss for what to do with his life. Still in his early 20’s, he was considering becoming a rabbi. That, or maybe something else. He wasn’t sure.

He also told Mom a story once, and it was quite amusing. You see, when he was a child, he had surgery that resulted in his getting a glass eye, and perhaps because that acquisition began at such a young age, he ended up with more than one ocular back-up. And for some reason and at one point, he needed to use the eye that was kept at his mother’s in Ossining. So he let her know that he wished to retrieve it.

“Oh, no!” his mother responded. “That’s your Bar Mitzvah eye!”

...When Mom returned from her trip to Europe, Dad was waiting for her. And shortly after that reunion, they made plans to marry. They were living in Greenwich Village before and after their April 1950 wedding, and it was around that time that Mom ran into her “ex.”

He was in the neighborhood because he was taking classes at the New School. (Still unsure of his future; still trying to find himself.)

He also was strapped for cash.

When he asked Mom if he could borrow five dollars, she didn’t think twice. She went into her wallet, extracted the bill, and handed it to him.

And that was the last time my Mom saw Peter Falk.

She's always remembered him fondly.

July 2nd Postscript: I stand corrected. I'm not sure how the story became urban legend, but it did. I just spoke with my mother on the phone, and learned -- after 30 or so years of believing what I stated -- that I got the story wrong. Peter borrowed the $5 from her back when the two were dating. They were at a pizza place, and he was short on cash. A few days later, he dropped by the office where she worked, and he paid her back. Let the history books be written accordingly, and my apologies for getting it wrong!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday Reruns: Some Thoughts from North of Brazil

(Original post-date: June 23, 2010)

Several months ago, I had an appointment on the west side of Los Angeles. While I know that general area quite well, the address I had been given included the name of a street I’d never heard of. So: two hours or so prior to my appointment, I logged onto Mapquest. I typed in the address and immediately was presented with a small, neighborhood map. Within that map, a red star indicated my destination. Helpful, but… the map was still a little too small. I needed to see the names of some major thoroughfares. I needed a sense of orientation.

I chose the Zoom Out option.

I guess I was a bit overzealous when I clicked my mouse on a line closer to the (-) sign. The next map that appeared – the Zoom-Out map – included Brazil.

When I saw it, I laughed at the screen.

“Thanks, Mapquest,” I said. “That’s really helpful! So, the place I’m going is north of... Brazil.”

Ah yes, zooming in and out. What handy functions. For folks with fancy cameras and other image-capturing instruments, the opportunities to virtually move forward or step back are familiar. But for me, these are options I never consciously entertained. At least, not until I started using the internet and its maps.

More recently, I’ve come to appreciate the metaphoric value...

Zoom out: the BP spill in the Gulf
Zoom in: the kitty litter box in the middle hallway closet

Zoom out: the national unemployment statistics
Zoom in: my need for two or three more consulting clients

Zoom out: the situation in the Middle East
Zoom in: the gangbangers who keep tagging the cement wall at the corner intersection

Zoom out: the crisis on Wall Street
Zoom in: my bank account balance

There’s a lesson in the zoom option, I think. A lesson about perspective.

If you find yourself, as I do, listening to way too much NPR, then maybe you just need to turn it off for a bit. Clean out the kitty litter, take a walk around the neighborhood, balance your checkbook, and be glad you don’t have to worry about stepping on any landmines as you walk from your car to the grocery store.

If, on the other hand, you are engaged in too much self-involvement, then I suggest you get away from yourself and whatever concerns you might be entertaining about your latest pedicure. Turn on the real news. Read a reliable paper. Remember that the world outside of you is dealing with issues that may never, ever be resolved.

Thinking about this stuff leads my mind to the adage attributed to Dale Carnegie: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

In the case of that adage, I think of the lemons as the Zoom In; the lemonade, the Zoom Out.

A lovely thought, but Carnegie was living in a different time.

These days, I wonder if the sentiment he expressed is possible to achieve. Are there enough good lemons left?

I consider myself a decent person, and I am fortunate to know a lot of other good people. People who are kind and generous. People who were lucky to be born with a healthy intelligence. But does that make us lemons? I don’t know. It seems that without huge handfuls of cash or an abundance of tangible possessions, our status is inconsequential.

As for the existing lemonade, it is beyond toxic. There’s an oil slick covering its surface, and everything below it is about to go into some kind of foreclosure.

So I sit at my computer, mouse in hand, zooming in and out.

Hoping to find that happy place in the middle.

A happy place in the middle… somewhere between the dreams I’ve always entertained and the realities of the day.

Zoom in.

Zoom out.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Maybe Really Ready Damnit – My Experience Building an eBook

I cleared a major hurdle last week when I created a Kindle version of my novel. It’s something that had been on my to-do list for months. It’s also something I avoided because I knew that, at a certain point, I’d have to do some technological things I’ve never done before.

The whole process took about 40 hours, and that time might have been cut in half had I had a final copy of the manuscript in Word format. But, alas, I didn’t. You see, back in the summer of ’08, the last few rounds of editing were done during the time that the novel was with the PDF chick. Accordingly, the only final copy I had was in PDF. And so, beginning a few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure (not!) of copying the entire manuscript into a Word document, and then going through it, line by line, reformatting the text to ensure each paragraph filled the page from left to right. And offline, I had to keep a copy of the paperback open so I could capture the formatting of the dialogue correctly.

It goes without saying that it is impossible to catch every line break when doing this sort of exercise on a manuscript that represents a 332-page book. So, when I embarked on the final several steps Sunday before last, I knew that I still had quite a few hours ahead of me.

Make that 15 or so…

Consulting the Easy Instructions provided on the Amazon site, I saved my newly formatted manuscript as a Web, Filtered (HTML) document (but not before copying it, so as to still have access to the Word document). I believe I called this first HTML (and its corresponding Word doc) “MSS Sunday afternoon.”

Then, I downloaded the software (Mobio-something-or-other) that would take me on the next leg of my journey.

You need to know something about me: any time I am required to download a new software, I get very nervous. (Seriously; I physically shake.) I’m just not sure it will work, and I am convinced that when it doesn’t, my computer will blow up in my face, the world will stop spinning on its axis, and George W. Bush will be reinstated into the White House before the end of Obama’s first term. No, it’s not that I have a tremendous sense of power. Quite the contrary – it’s pure, unadulterated paranoia.

But, wonder of wonders, I was able to download and install the software without a glitch.

One small step for most people; one giant leap for me and my kind.

Then, I followed the instructions to “build my ebook.” And I gotta say, people, these really are easy instructions.

Once I’d done that, I then had to confront my download/install fears again – this time to enable access to the Kindle Previewer. I was not yet feeling entirely confident as I hit all the correct buttons (but at least I had stopped shaking).

With that step behind me, I was on to the next: retrieving the ebook so I could review it on the Previewer.

I hit the necessary buttons and voila, my novel appeared before my eyes as an ebook. Immediately, I realized I needed to lower the minimal content on the title page, so I made a note of that. Within several pages, though, I realized that note-taking was not the way to go. So, I retrieved the document entitled “MSS Sunday afternoon,” and I went back and forth between it and the version in the Previewer. I caught a few formatting issues as well as dozens of premature line endings that I’d missed the first time around. When I reached the final page, I thought I was good to go.

I closed the Previewer, returned to “MSS Sunday afternoon,” and I saved it, this time calling it, “MSS Ready Maybe.”

I then returned to Mobio-whatever, created a new ebook from this second version and uploaded it into the Previewer.

Damn! More issues I hadn’t overlooked!

So, I once again retrieved the document, but even as I did, I had a bad feeling… when I saved it as an HTML, I did so without also saving it as a Word document.

Sure enough: I could not make changes within the saved HTML document. I’d have to return to “MSS Sunday afternoon” (though it was about 9pm at this point) and find the newest issues as well as the dozens of old ones. But this time, I made a copy first. I called it “MSS Sunday Night.”

Back to the Mobio, I created a new ebook and returned to Kindle Previewer.

My eyes were starting to glaze over, but I was at least achieving some kind of rhythm.

A few hours later, I had a new version, in both Word and HTML. I called this one “MSS Ready Damnit.”

But it wasn’t. I’d have to wait until Monday to pick up where I’d left off. There was no trusting my brain-eye-hand coordination at this point. I was fried.

On Monday afternoon and evening, I went through two more reviews. I called the first of the two “Maybe Ready Now,” and I dubbed the second “Really Really Ready.”

And what that ultimate “really really ready” status meant was this: I’d have to hit the scariest buttons of all. The ones that put my novel out there to the Kindle-reading public.

The final steps were pretty simple in terms of key strokes. I had to register an account, name my price, etc. And when all was said and done, I hit that final button.

And I immediately freaked.

What if I hit the wrong button? What if I had sent “Ready Maybe” or “Ready Damnit” instead of “Really Really Ready?” Or what if I totally erred and just uploaded a grant proposal that I recently drafted for one of my clients? What if a nasty note sent to my landlord is now an ebook entitled The Somebody Who?

People with Kindles (I’m not one of them) will have to let me know. I imagine the reviews will be some indicator. I.e., if a review states that the grant request is valid, but the competition is too severe at this time given the Foundation’s limited resources, then I’ll know I hit the wrong button. Likewise, if someone, reviewing the ebook, lauds my use of expletives when describing a plumbing problem, then that also will indicate a user error on my part.

But I think it should be okay…

And, may I add, now that those hours are behind me, I think it’s quite remarkable what technology allows us to do. I also am grateful for the learning curve I recently scaled. In retrospect, it wasn’t such a bad process because I gained knowledge through my mistakes.

In fact, the next time I want to create a Kindle ebook, I may act downright cocky.

I might even do it with my eyes closed.

(God knows, they need the rest!)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday Reruns: And That Would Mean...?

(original post-date: June 16, 2010)

Old-fashioned gal that I am, I still keep a thick, tangible, small-fonted, page-infested dictionary within reach of my workstation. (Okay, maybe I’m not so old-fashioned. I didn’t call where I sit a “desk,” right?) I like going into the tome to double-check the meaning of a relatively abstruse word. Other times, I enjoy looking up a word I’ve taken for granted for most of my literate years.

Today, because of an issue I’d like to explore in this post, I looked up the word “word.”

According to my copy of the New Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus of the English Language, the primary definition of “word” is this: “a speech sound or combination of sounds having meaning and used as a basic unit of language and human communication” [then there are two vertical parallel lines followed by] “the written or printed symbol of one of these basic units of language.”

Nothing new there, right?

Okay, so against that definition, here’s a list that may be of interest.


See any words in there?

Neither do I.

And yet, those are some of the “words” I have had to “verify” lately when posting comments on blogs and making other online maneuvers that involve the use of my email address and various passwords.

Word Verification, they call it.

I don’t think so.

The administrators of cyberspace need to reconsider that phrase. If they want to keep “Word,” they should lose “Verification.” If they want to keep “Verification,” they need to come up with something other than “Word.” I mean, come on, who are we kidding here!

On the other hand, I’m always one to rise to a creative challenge, so I thought I’d come up with some definitions for these alleged “words.” Some possibilities:

hornu (n.): a prostitute-in-training
poolume (v.): (from the French; accent on the final e): to strut about as if one has the feathers of a peacock
malitza (adj.): simultaneously sick and adorable
reddedi (n.): a spiral-shaped pasta made from radishes (hence, the scarlet hue)
undeverr (n.): German lingerie
irlati (n.): short-temperedness resulting from the consumption of too much coffee
roudom (adj.): appearing to be random, but actually passive-aggressive
pedine (n.): the shine emanating from nail polish freshly applied to the toes
opsion (n.): a choice available only to the pretentious
derminte (n.): a skin condition generally caused by an overdose of Altoids
afretrim (n.): an over-the-counter weight-loss supplement whose common side effects include, but are not limited to, an inability to find one’s tweezers

I don’t know. Should we compose a new dictionary for modern times?

The list above is by no means exhaustive. Following are several more “words” I’ve had to verify lately. Please feel free to suggest some definitions for:

verspen….. agies….. amoli….. gloggist….. boopy….. culne….. peedio….. devokers….. plopread….. fulneu….. hewsent….. oraver….. elebod….. lessessi….. sylshimi….. eleaun….. entsmana….. cowsesse….. untous….. amideamp….. mytor….. nomaersl….. patoxe….. donsphe….. recophoa….. phedlge….. wanin….. phythe….. hanki….. fitypep….. hohotagg…..

Oh, and to be perfectly fair, I should confess that, recently, I did have to verify a word that was really a word. And here’s the best part. The word was: mistype.

I cannot begin to tell you how tempted I was…

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Fifty

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). Please note also, now that the Kindle copy is available, this is the final excerpt I will be sharing on this site.


MARILYN, AGE 11-14 is the first slip of paper she draws.

Evelyn chuckles as she retrieves the appropriate box, and she remembers the plan she neglected to carry out. At some point during Round One with the folded-up squares, she thought that before Round Two, she might go through the sheets of paper. Because, for some reason, it seemed that Marilyn had at least six or seven sheets for every one that was assigned to the rest of them. But, by the time Evelyn reached the point of returning all squares to the bowl, she had forgotten about her plan.

Settling into her chair, Evelyn opens the box and immediately sees the forest green sash. “Oh my God!” she exclaims, giggling, as she lifts the relic into the air. “I completely forgot about the Girl Scouts. Jeez, look at all these badges!”

Suddenly, Evelyn remembers that phase of Marilyn’s life. What a journey that was! Marilyn had been an amazingly competitive Junior Girl Scout. From the age of eight (when she was graduated, with honors, from Brownies) through the age of eleven, she was hell-bent on getting every badge available to pre-pubescent girlkind. If there had been a badge for aggressiveness, Evelyn believes, the Council probably would have bestowed it without Marilyn having to lift a finger.

Evelyn gazes at the badges, each so detailed and symbolic. And although the individual symbols are clear—a globe, a book, a tent, a flower—Evelyn cannot remember the specific tasks that earned Marilyn the right to wear each one on her sash.

Oh, Marilyn, Evelyn thinks, feeling a love for her daughter that she wishes she could deliver freely. Sure seems like you could have gotten a job back then!

Evelyn continues to study the sash. She begins to think about how she will include it on the quilt. And as she takes in the sash’s form and features, she recalls a project that Marilyn undertook, one that involved Davy, albeit reluctantly.

“Okay, Daddy,” Marilyn began, placing the old radio on the kitchen counter.

“What’s this?” Davy asked, looking first at Evelyn, who was putting together a salad for the family’s dinner.

“I’m working on a badge,” Marilyn replied, climbing onto the stool beside her father’s.

“A radio badge?” Davy asked, exchanging smiles with his wife.

“No,” said Marilyn, in a tone conveying that her patience might soon be tested. “I need to repair this.”

“What?” Davy asked.

“So I need to know how to begin,” Marilyn stated. “How would you begin?”

“I’d go to the store and get a new radio!” her father responded, with light sincerity.


“Sweetheart, I don’t know how to fix a radio. I’m an art professor. I bumble for a living.”

At the fridge, Evelyn successfully suppressed her giggles, which she might not have entertained had she seen the look on her daughter’s face. Marilyn did not like it that her father could not repair a broken radio. And she was clearly at an impasse.

“So what am I going to repair, Daddy?” Marilyn asked then, her tone verging on a whininess that would never elicit giggles from her mother.

“Well,” Davy said, “let’s see…Hmm…”

Her father’s apparent interest in her quandary shifted Marilyn’s posture. Watching him in his thoughtful state, she adapted a similar stance. She sat at the counter, chin in hand and looked around the room. Searched for something she might fix.

And Evelyn, standing at the counter, facing both of them, smiled as she waited for their next bit of dialogue. She knew, because she had seen it before, that one of them would come up with a solution. Davy had helped Marilyn through a lot of badges.

“Is there anything in the family room?” Marilyn asked.

“I don’t think so,” her father responded.

Mariyln resumed her pensive stance. “Hmm…The living room?” she suggested next.




“The garage?”

“Ah,” Davy said then, “the garage. You know those shelves where I keep all that paint and those other cans?”

“Yes, Daddy, I do!”

“Well, they’re awfully wobbly.”

“You’re right,” Marilyn responded, nodding. “They are!”

“So, what I’m thinking is, we’ll need to take everything off the shelves. Then, I think if we take them completely apart, we can get to the bottom of the problem.”

“Boy, Daddy, if we could get those shelves to stop wobbling!”

“That would be one hell of a repair job!”

“Daddy!” Marilyn exclaimed. “You said a bad word.”

“I did?” he replied, feigning shock. “Oh my, do you think I’ll get a cursing badge?”

“They don’t have cursing badges, Daddy! It’s not the
Boy Scouts!”

“Not the Boy Scouts,”
Evelyn remembers. “Not the Boy Scouts.” Every now and then, Marilyn showed a glimpse of humor—humor that was Davy’s hallmark; humor that came so easily to Patrick and Joy; humor that Adam always understood, even if he rarely was the originator.

“Not the Boy Scouts,” Marilyn had said.

Was that humor, though, or just a clear, inflexible perception of gender roles?

Interesting, Evelyn thinks now. Marilyn was probably born about thirty years too late.

And yet, now, Marilyn could earn a cursing badge. Easily. But, unfortunately for Marilyn, it is a sign of anger, not humor.

* * *

THIS IS THE FINAL EXCERPT ON THIS SITE. The complete novel is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle format. Kindle downloads are just $3.99.

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

It's Not Rocket Science... until it is

My disposition is such that I prefer getting along with others.

I’m not adversarial by nature.

I enjoy good working relationships, and I like for everyone involved to feel that they’re carrying their weight.

But I’m also impatient.

My verbal skills are equaled by my mathematical skills, and beyond that, I’m a mega-organizer. I don’t sweat the small stuff because I’ve got the small stuff under control.

So I sometimes have problems when other people sweat the small stuff.

Or, when they can’t figure out how to organize a project.

… It’s been more than a few years since I’ve held a staff job, but I recall a phrase I’d utter at times, while managing one of those jobs: It’s not rocket science!

Mind you, I’d never make this statement directly to a co-worker. Rather, I’d think it. I’d think it silently. I’d think it profoundly.

Perhaps I was being a little too inflexible. Too impatient.

(Perhaps there’s a reason I’m better off self-employed.)

… But then, there was that moment. That first movie I rented after leaving my husband and settling into the one-bedroom where I currently dwell.

Apollo 13.

I sat alone on my brand new, divorced-woman couch.

I hit the Play button.

I watched.

And about twenty minutes into the movie, I missed my husband.

Because, were he there, I would have turned to him, and I would have said, “What the fuck is going on?”

I’m not saying he could have answered that question, but at least he would have been there to be as dumbfounded as I was.

Because Apollo 13 was rocket science.

And that is something I will never understand.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Forty-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).


“Claudia!” Evelyn says, entering the kitchen to see how dinner preparations are coming along, “I’ve been making Thanksgiving plans.”

“What’s that?” asks Davy, looking up from The New Yorker.

“Thanksgiving,” Evelyn says. “We make turkey and enjoy our family and friends.”

“Okay,” he says. “I can do that.”

“And you will! And Claudia,” Evelyn says, leaning into the counter and smiling, “I was wondering if you and Gabriel would like to join us. Not to work, but to be our guests.”

“Oh,” says Claudia, genuinely taken aback and rather touched. “That’s very nice. I’ll ask Gabriel. I’ll let you know tomorrow.”

“Or you can let me know next week!” Evelyn says. “Just know that you’re invited.”

“Am I there, too?” Davy asks.

“Yes, Davy, I am also inviting you to Thanksgiving. Do you plan to attend?”

“I could try, I guess.”

“Good. Because I’m also planning to invite your friend Gus. Maybe you and he could do a little musical improv.”

“We could?”

“You might! Anyway, I’m going to call the piano tuner tomorrow and schedule an appointment. Just in case.”

“But I don’t have it,” Davy says.

“You don’t have what?”

“A piano.”

“We have one in the living room.”



Evelyn decides to empty the dishwasher before heading up to the Quilt Room. She is amazed by her energy. She feels light and focused, as if a three-year fog has lifted and her vision is clear.

She listens to the television with which Davy is sleeping. Sounds like a sit-com. Tame enough. But she knows that the line-up could change before she checks in on him again, so she goes into the family room and turns the volume down a bit.

In the dining room, she reaches for the one remaining bottle of wine. And when she has retrieved it, she realizes, much to her chagrin, that this is the cheap stuff Angie brought. “Oh well,” she says to the nondescript label, grabbing the corkscrew and relieved, in a way, that this bottle actually has a cork.

The sound of the pop is not exactly encouraging, and she sincerely hopes that she will not soon be tasting something that would make a semi-decent salad dressing. She pours a taste into her glass and then raises the glass to her lips.

“Hmm,” she says, after a moment. “That’s not as bad as I expected.”

She fills the glass and repairs to the second floor.

Before entering the Quilt Room, she goes into Adam’s room, crosses to the windows and opens one. She leaves the door to his room open so that the breeze will touch her back throughout the next few hours.

* * *

to be continued on June 18th.

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

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ode to Ailments

Back in the late 80s/early 90s, my then-husband and I had a few TV shows that we watched regularly. L.A. Law brought its fast-paced dialogue and array of characters to interesting story lines, while thirtysomething consistently presented its small cadre of Philadelphia yuppies, going through the motions of their quietly intense lives.

I liked both series for different reasons, though I think I was more entertained by the L.A. Law collection of personalities. Sure, I was intrigued by the thirtysomething crew, but I couldn’t exactly relate to their circumstances. And the earnestness they brought to everything they did (particularly in the scenes of domestic life) became tiring at times. Still, then-hubby and I kept watching.

There was a dialogue once between Hope (the ultimate earthy-crunchy mother) and her friend, Ellyn (who may still be looking for Mister Right). Hope was commenting on childbirth, and her statement was this, “The body does not remember pain.”

Although I’ve never given birth, and so I cannot claim to compare any discomfort I’ve experienced to whatever happens during that event, I have known pain. Stomach flu, food poisoning, and the kind of toothache that foretells a root canal leap to mind. Not fun. And I appreciate the fact that, once the malady has passed, the body cannot remember the pain.

But the flip side also is true. When one is ailing, the body cannot remember “well.” And if one is ailing – however mildly – for more than a few weeks, that amnesia can get under the skin and mess with one’s otherwise positive outlook on life.

I spent about six weeks, beginning in early April, with a plugged-up ear. Not painful; just disorienting. As that was clearing up – thanks to drops and visits to the doctor – I caught a head-cold. (It began the minute I returned the rental car I had used during the week of visiting Mom in Virginia.) After a few days of coughing and laying low, I began sneezing (you might have heard me). Apparently, a lot of people in the L.A. area are dealing with allergies these days.

The fog of those sinus issues has continued, and I’m damn tired of it. By my calculations, I’ve not remembered “well” for two months now.

I realize these are minor complaints in the great scheme of things. I know I sound whiney. But, until “well” becomes my normal again, I won’t be able to fake it. I’m pissed off, plain and simple.

… That reminds me of a phone conversation I had with my sister many years ago. I think I was still in college, in fact. She called to chat, and I happened to be sick. When I mentioned that I wasn’t feeling well, she immediately asked, “What are your symptoms?”

“Anger,” I replied, beginning the list that would include aches, chills, and other, more physical manifestations of that which had parlayed into a psychological inconvenience of equal proportions.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Monday Reruns: Reflections on a Prime-Time Addiction

(original post-date: June 2, 2010)

Several weeks ago, in my posting entitled Observations from the Niche-Free Zone, I confessed to being an American Idol watcher.

It’s true.

I love the show.

But, I also love my time, and so I am glad the show is over.

What I didn’t confess in that April 21st posting (and, frankly, the context didn’t call for it) is that I also have got caught up occasionally in Dancing with the Stars.

It’s true.

I can be drawn into that show, too.

But, I still love my time, and so it takes a certain amount of talent to draw me in completely.

This year, in DWTS, the talent was awesome when it came down to the bottom three.

And so I watched.

And so… my Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights were a bit “booked” in May.

But, am I wasting my time? I don’t think so. I get too much joy from what I am witnessing. And, in my opinion, joy should never be deemed a waste of time.

A couple years ago, when I was on the East Coast, I had dinner with a friend in the D.C. area. She told me of a man she worked with at the relatively conservative law firm that has employed her for decades. She recounted hushed conversations by the water cooler, her co-worker – this man, high up on the corporate food chain – wanting to sneak in some whispered dialogue about the previous night’s American Idol or Dancing with the Stars episode.

It’s sad to me that a person might feel at risk of being judged negatively simply because he or she enjoys this prime-time entertainment. One could do a lot worse…

When I posted the aforementioned Observations essay and therefore essentially “outed” myself as an Idol watcher, I also shared that there’s a character in my second (not yet published) novel who did a good job of explaining the desire to watch that show. Now that the season’s over, I feel like sharing her words.

So, I’ll set up the scene for you.

The Idol-watching character is Brittany. She’s a pierced, tattooed, heart-on-her-sleeve twenty-something who has endeared herself to Martin, the new neighbor in her Los Feliz apartment building. Martin – the protagonist of my novel – is going through a midlife crisis and has recently moved from the Valley Village house he shared with his soon-to-be-ex-wife. Unrelated to all of that, Martin has never watched Idol.

When Brittany mentions “AI” in conversation and Martin doesn’t make the connection, she teases him. In response, he shares that he has no interest in “reality shows.”

This is how Brittany reacts (bouncy from her Mountain Dew buzz):

It’s not a reality show. It’s a talent show. And it’s beautiful. I swear, I’m such a sap. By the final six or seven weeks, I can’t get through an episode without crying. I mean, God, Martin, it’s about dreams. It’s about risk-taking. It’s about taking a lot of shit, putting it on the line, competing with people who have become your newest friends, wanting to win and not wanting anyone else to lose. It’s amazing. It’s people younger than me being so incredibly fucking brave.

I hear you, Brittany, I hear you. Because, I’m also a sap.

Without fail, I cry through the final few weeks of that show.

But is that so surprising?

Absolutely not.

I invented Brittany. She is a part of me.

Just as Martin is.

Martin’s the part of me that thinks it’s all silly and a waste of time.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Forty-Eight

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’s afternoon in the study is relaxing and productive. She pays a few bills, re-organizes the cubbyholes in the rolltop desk, and begins to make a list for Thanksgiving. Much to her surprise, the list is indicating a party. A large party. A feast.

“Am I nuts?” she says to no one, tapping her pen between her upper and lower teeth and taking a look at the list.

Spontaneously, she reaches for the phone and speed dials #03.

“Judy!” Evelyn says, after her daughter-in-law, who is out of breath for some reason, says a quick “Hello.”

“Evelyn! How are you?”

“I’m great,” Evelyn replies, “and I’m thinking about Thanksgiving. Have you made plans?”

“God,” Judy says, “that’s what—two weeks from tomorrow? No, as a matter of fact, I hadn’t even thought about it.”

“Well, I’m thinking about having a gathering here. Interested?”

“What, and have no mess of my own to clean up?! That hardly sounds right!”

“I take that as a ‘yes.’”

“Absolutely. Listen, Ev—, I gotta run. Today has been crazed from the get-go.”

“I understand. We’ll talk later in the week.”

“You got it.”

After they both hang up, Evelyn finds “Patrick and fam” on the list. She writes a “5” in the column on the left and circles it.

Evelyn is about to make another call, but before she has a chance to hit the next speed-dial buttons, the handset rings.

“Hello?” she says.

“Evelyn! It’s Angie! So, so sorry I have been out of touch!”

Evelyn, not having considered that Angie had been out of touch, is at a loss for what to say. Fortunately, she doesn’t need to say anything just yet.

“Anyway, Ev, I was just looking at the calendar. How did it get to be the middle of November already? I just cannot keep up, you know?”

Whatever, Evelyn thinks.

“So, anyway, I was wondering what you folks are planning to do for Thanksgiving. I don’t suppose you’re staying in town, are you?”

What a ridiculous question, Evelyn thinks. Our two children who have families live in town. Davy has Alzheimer’s. Where might we go for the holiday? On a “cruise to nowhere?”

“Well, Angie,” says Evelyn, trying not to sound as disinterested as she actually feels, “I was just starting to make some calls, in fact. I think we’re going to do Thanksgiving here this year. Would you care to join us?”

“Oh, Ev, you are a life saver! I would love to join you! I have just been so—oh, hey, can you hang on a minute? I’ve got another call coming in.”

“Sure,” says Evelyn.

The limbo of “hold” is okay with Evelyn. And she frankly doesn’t care if Angie spends the rest of her afternoon on that other call. It’s her dime, after all.

But, having been so productive up to this point, Evelyn chooses not to waste these moments. She scans the list in front of her so as to enter a “1” beside Angie’s name. And then, having attempted that exercise, she smiles in bewilderment. As it turns out, she had neglected to include Angie’s name on the list.

“Interesting,” Evelyn says to her list, as she adds Angie’s name to the bottom and annotates it with a circled “1” in the left column.

“Interesting,” she says again, still on hold.

Evelyn waits another thirty seconds or so, and then she realizes that this is absurd. She should not be hanging on the phone like this. She should not be allowing someone to be so disrespectful. She holds out the phone so as to hit the button that will cut off this waste of her time. But just in that moment, she hears a voice. She brings the phone back to her ear.

“Evelyn!” Angie says, having returned to the line breathless. “I am so sorry.”

“It’s okay, Angie. Really. It’s okay. I, uh, need to go, though. So…we’ll see you in a few weeks?”

“I’m looking forward to it, Evelyn, I really am. And of course, I’ll give you a buzz a few days ahead to see what I can bring.”

“Sounds great,” says Evelyn. “Talk to you then.”

Evelyn hits the Off button and continues where she wished she could have gone. “Sure, Angie,” she says to the turned-off phone, “how about a case of that three-dollar wine?”

* * *

to be continued on June 11th.

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

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Few Thoughts on Last Month’s Top News Story

I feel fortunate to have attended a liberal arts college.

I also feel fortunate that, during those years, I wasn’t fixated on some specific future. Unlike the pre-meds and pre-laws who could rarely stray from their focused, discipline-specific requirements, I had the freedom of selecting courses for the most personal of reasons. And when I chose Introduction to Art History for one of my second-semester freshman year classes, I had such a reason: I wanted to understand why people liked to go to museums.

By the end of that semester, I had aced the Art History course, and I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a regular basis. I “got it,” and I also knew that I owed my parents an apology. So, that summer, when I was home in Virginia – regularly donning tacky polyester for my minimum wage cashier’s job at Hardee’s – I expressed my regrets to Mom and Dad. “I’m sorry,” I said to them, reflecting on the summer we’d gone to Europe, back when I was nine. “I’m sorry that, shortly after we entered the Louvre, I announced – in my headstrong way – I’ll just sit on this bench until you’re done.”

But that wasn’t the first time that I had behaved stubbornly, and it would not be the last.

… By my senior year of college, I’d declared my Poli-Sci major, and I had identified my particular interest in electoral politics. As I selected courses for the first semester of that year, I had some leeway, and I once again applied a personal reason as I selected a particular course.

The course was Introduction to International Politics, and the professor, whose last name began with a Z, was known as a force to be reckoned with. She also included, in the syllabus she distributed year after a year, the requirement that her students read The New York Times – front to back – every day. Having never been much of a newspaper reader, I needed that requirement. And it was for that reason, and that reason alone, that I signed up for the course.

Unfortunately, Professor Z was on sabbatical that year, and the mousy, young, untenured so-and-so who was hired to lead the course not only made no mention of our reading the Times, but she provided me with little incentive to meet any of the course’s requirements. I ultimately took advantage of the college’s rather lax rules on attendance.

Since I wasn’t going to class very often, I totally missed the announcement: we were to have some big Mock International Conference. We would be assigned countries to head and conflicts to confront. And because the instructor had distributed all our phone numbers a good week or so ahead of the gathering, we were empowered (or maybe encouraged) to conduct a lot of mock diplomacy prior to the actual three-hour faux event.

One night, in the suite I shared with five other students, the phone rang.

It was for me.

I sauntered down the hall and perched myself on the stool that was within reach of the wall phone and just outside the bathroom.

“Hello?” I said.

The guy at the other end immediately began talking about armies and factions and allies and enemies and treaties and… I was quick enough to realize he was from the International Politics class; my disinterest was profound.

So I just listened. And he talked and he talked.

And when he was finally done, I said, with little inflection, “You know, I really don’t care what you do with your troops or your forces. Just be sure to put those little soldiers back in the toy chest before you go to bed.”

And I hung up, thankful that college transcripts do not allow comments on whether one “works and plays well with others.”

… That course didn’t teach me to read The New York Times, but it did teach me this: I do not view myself (or most people) capable of understanding international politics adequately, and where wars or other forms of global conflict are concerned, I will never "get it."

But I also know that we need for people to get it.

… At the end of April, I was experiencing blogger burn-out, so I opted to run a four-part piece during the Wednesdays of May, when I would usually post something new. A week after that decision, I experienced another type of burn-out: NPR (which provides me with all the information I don’t read in The New York Times) was dwelling on the biggest story in ten years: Osama Bin Laden’s death. The accounts of what happened were reported, and when those accounts changed, they were reported again. The questions arose. The news was non-stop, and I got tired of hearing about it. Yes, I agree that it was a moment in history, but there is a whole lot of evil out there. One really bad guy being done away with is not going to make everything suddenly peaceful and right.

Two weeks later, I was visiting my Mom in Virginia, and the news had died down. Maybe because it had, a question popped into my head: if the exact same scenario had played out under Bush II’s watch, what would I believe?

Would I believe that he was really killed? Would I be pissed off about the fact that he was killed as opposed to being taken captive? Would I question the burial at sea? Would I wonder what really happened at that little compound where he had managed to live, undiscovered, for five or six years?

I’m grateful that what happened did not occur under Dubya’s watch, because – frankly – I wouldn’t want to dwell on those questions. But the fact that they came up for me, in that what if context, reminded me of the importance of trust. When it comes to the complexities of international politics, we must trust the “deciders.” If we don’t, it will be impossible not to entertain conspiracy theories and the like.