Thursday, September 29, 2011

You and Me Both

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then he walked away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I knew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“We found your pot.”

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

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

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


I’m a ditz.

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

You and me both, kiddo.

You and me both.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Please Come Back Tomorrow...

Dear Friends, Followers, and Passers-by,

In an effort to space out my posts a bit, I've decided to move my weekly "fresh post" from Wednesdays to Thursdays (the Monday Reruns will stay where they are).

So, I hope you'll come back tomorrow, and in the meantime, if you haven't checked out the Monday Rerun from earlier this week, it's a quick read.

Thanks for stopping by!


Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday Reruns: Presidential Power... after the fact

(original post-date: September 29, 2010)

Last week, Bill Clinton was a guest on Letterman. And when I learned he was in the line-up, I anxiously tuned in.

It wasn’t that I was all excited about seeing the photos from Chelsea’s recent wedding. In fact, I had forgotten even that it happened. (Pardon my lack of school-girl glee.)

No. What I tuned in for was to witness the power – to witness what a man (I promise to edit that word if history ever requires it) can accomplish after he (ditto) has been President of the United States.

I was not disappointed. After proud papa Bill shared with Letterman’s audience two enlarged black-and-white photos from the recent nuptials, our former president described what he’s been up to (besides losing weight), and it seems he’s replaced the French fries in his diet with efforts that might be viewed as “no small potatoes.” (Okay, is that just the worst pun?) But seriously: through his Global Initiative, Clinton is doing amazing things – promoting innovation that has the capacity to make our world a more sustainable place. Through his Foundation, equally amazing projects are underway – for the betterment of humanity worldwide.

Clinton also has some very strong opinions about the nation’s economy and how to solve the unemployment problem. He seems to “get it” in a way that makes sense… in a way that could allow sense to be made.

But… oh yeah, there are people in the way. Elected people. You know the type. They have this knack for standing in the way of progress.

… Several weeks earlier, on yet another broadcast of Letterman, Brian Williams was the headlining guest. (And okay, is it just me, or is he, like, the perfect guy? Cute. Uber-intelligent. Funny as hell. Anyway…) Dave asked Williams about the current state of affairs, which – along with child-rearing – is the topic Letterman discusses with his guests most often these days.

In response to his host’s query, Williams referenced an article he had read that day (or maybe the day before) in a London newspaper. According to that article, Williams shared, Obama may be setting himself up as a one-term President. Williams didn’t editorialize on the article’s slant; he simply shared it.

And, I gotta tell you, hearing of that possibility got me hopeful.

But don’t get me wrong, either.

I am NOT anti-Obama. I think the man is awesome, and when he won in 2008, I felt the same sense of relief that others did. Finally, after eight years of grotesque tyranny, there was this sense that our nation would be restored to a time when individual needs would trump the needs of profit-seeking bullies like Halliburton. There was this sense that our country had collectively come out of a fog. That by voting for intelligence, grace, and compassion, we would be returned, collectively, to a more humanistic national attitude.

But: as the Tea Partiers and general spinelessness on the Hill have made clear, we are nowhere closer to humanism than we were during Bush II’s reign of terror.

Of course, we must acknowledge that the current cacophony didn’t start with that pathetic rancher-turned-baseball-owner-turned-now-do-you-like-me-Dad? president. For decades, the machine behind our nation’s political system has consistently revealed that our country (our alleged “democracy”) is run not by individuals, but by corporations. It’s a disgusting mess, that machine, and a person with a big heart and compassionate visions will likely always be lost within it.

That’s why a part of me likes the idea of Obama being a one-term President. I say, let him out of that trap. Free him to do some real good in this world.

Look at Jimmy Carter. My God, that humble man who had nothing up his sleeve when he entered the Oval Office was completely swallowed up in the pill that is Washington. He didn’t have a chance. But post-presidency? His legacy is mind-blowing. He is an amazing human being, and now in his mid-eighties, he appears to be unstoppable.

Presidential power seems to come from the title, not the term. And I like it that Obama will always have that title in front of his name.

He deserves it. He deserves to do as much as he can with it.

So whether or not Obama is re-elected in 2012, I have hope. Because I believe that this remarkable man – still so young – will spend the rest of his life delivering on the compassion and sense of justice that got him elected. He will never tire of striving for positive change.

And once he’s free of the politicking required inside the beltway, he will move mountains.

I’m not saying I hope it begins in 2013, but I truly cannot wait to witness Obama’s next chapter.

We need more ex-Presidents who genuinely care.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

4-3-2-1- ... STOP?

I think the last time I took a written driving test was in June of 1990, just a week or so after my then-husband and I had steered a 15-foot Ryder truck across the country. Having moved two cats and all our earthly possessions from one coast to the other, we’d begun the process of settling in. First, an apartment. Second, a used car (they were “used” back then; not “pre-owned.”) Then came the job searches and simultaneous to that, the commitment to residency through the acquisition of California drivers licenses.

I went through the process at the DMV, and it was unnerving for me to surrender my New York license. What if I failed the written test? Given the shortcomings of L.A. mass transit, it’s likely I would have had to camp out at the DMV for a few days.

But I passed, thank God, and the happy smile on that first CA license photo is an indication of my great relief.

I remember one of the questions on the test, and I remember it because I feared it was a “trick question.” I cannot share the exact language with you, but having just visited a website where current questions are publicized, I can at least cite the one that comes closest to that which I thought had stumped me. Here’s how it goes:

You drive defensively when you:

(a) Always put one car length between you and the car ahead.
(b) Look only at the car in front of you while driving.
(c) Keep your eyes moving to look for possible hazards.

The answer, of course, is (c), and although I chose the circa 1990 equivalent answer and I was therefore correct, I still felt doubtful. Perhaps I was envisioning one of those bobble-headed animals that used to be prominent on the back shelf of sedans. Their equally bobbly eyes – eyes that were definitely moving – hardly seemed capable of defensive action.

(Maybe I just read too much into words.)

Anyway, yes, that’s how I drive. I look ahead, and I look to the sides. I look ahead of ahead, and I look ahead of the sides.

… And about seven or eight years ago, an ostensibly helpful new tool was introduced at intersections, and it immediately started messing with my driving.

I’m talking about the crosswalk countdown. That indicator that tells pedestrians how many more seconds they’ve got before the light changes.

Because I keep my “eyes moving to look for possible hazards,” I quickly discovered that the crosswalk countdown IS a hazard. And so I have had to keep reminding myself: it’s not for me!

It’s for the walkers, not the drivers.

Still, though, when I approach an intersection, about four car lengths from the light, a “2” tempts me to slow down. (After all, TWO is quickly followed by ONE and then ZERO.) And because of this temptation, I have really come to resent those crosswalk lights. For, you see, as I also have come to learn, getting to zero is not the same as getting to yellow and red. Sometimes, getting to zero comes directly ahead of an entire new round of pedestrian approval beginning at, say, 14 seconds. (Which is to say, the light stays green for the drivers.)

… Several weeks ago, the Los Angeles City Council decided that it would no longer utilize cameras at intersections. I can’t recall when those cameras began showing up, but they had become rather plentiful. They had become a sort of reminder that you, the driver, are never safe from being caught for the slightest infraction.

(And for me – what with my eyes moving about as they do – the cameras rarely went unnoticed. I felt myself being watched, constantly. As if I were taking a 24/7 behind-the-wheel test.)

The Council’s decision was accompanied by news reports on our local NPR station that indicated the City simply could not afford to enforce those tickets that were issued as a result of cameras catching red-light-runners. Apparently, in fact, they never were able to afford enforcement, and anyone who had ever received such a citation in the mail could have disregarded it with no bad results. (I wonder if my friend, who paid her camera-issued ticket, who then took online driving school and went through all the other motions – to the tune of $700 or so – heard this news. I’m not telling her… Besides, I would have done the same thing.)

And here’s the interesting thing that has happened in the weeks since I learned of the City’s decision: I am less frequently influenced by the 4-3-2-1 of the pedestrian crosswalks. Sure, they still throw me off from time to time, but mostly, I’ve returned to trusting my instincts. I’ve returned to receiving my guidance from the venerable color code of green, yellow, and red.

I like it, I guess, that I no longer feel I’m being observed so consistently. Seriously, between those countdown crosswalks and the cameras at every corner, I was as good as the gal taking a typing test with the temp agent hovering behind her.

I hope never to make an automotive typo at some L.A. intersection. And I do all that I can to avoid such a circumstance.

I also know this: I do my best when I don’t feel that I’m being watched, judged, or timed.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday Reruns: It's All in the Practice

(original post-date: September 22, 2010)

I posted my very first blog on September 22, 2009, which makes today my “blogoversary.” And today, one year after entering the ‘sphere, I am more than pleasantly surprised. In addition to finding a community and being incredibly humbled by the writing of others, I’ve realized that there is tremendous personal value in this process.

I believe it has made me a better writer.

In his insightful book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell wrote of the often unplanned criteria that lead to success. Among that criteria? 10,000 hours of practice. (As he pointed out, it’s what the Beatles ultimately got from all the time they spent in Hamburg.)

I understand Gladwell’s point when I read my own work. Before publishing my novel, The Somebody Who, I must have read that manuscript 40 times. I edited and re-edited and then edited again. And I was quite sure, when I signed off on its “done-ness,” that it was as good as it could possibly be.

… Now, though? I see things (minor things/word things) I’d like to change.

Was it something I missed? Nope. It’s just something I’ve learned.

The same is true for my blog postings. When I read my earlier posts, I occasionally wince at a phrase I wrote. But I don’t wince because I missed an edit in the moment; I’ve simply become a finer technician.

I’m growing. I’m getting my practice. And I’m loving every minute of it.

I don’t have a timeclock by my side. For all I know, I hit the 10,000-hour mark a few years ago. (Or maybe it’s six years away.) Doesn’t matter, though. The more I write, the more I am able to write well. And I appreciate blogging because I no longer write in a vacuum. The words actually go out there. And somebody – often a few somebodies – actually read them.

Beginning this coming Monday (September 27th), I am introducing a new feature to my site: Monday Re-runs. I am doing this because, in addition to growing as a writer, I have learned something as a reader. From having followed the blogs of others, I’ve realized that – no matter how much I love a person’s voice, style, or content – I am unlikely to back up by more than a few posts. And so… I certainly don’t expect my new readers to back up too much.

My Monday re-runs will bring the backing-up to you.

(And I won’t edit them, either. Even though I know I’ll be tempted!)

I realize it isn’t Monday yet, but it’s still my blogoversary. And what better way to celebrate (i.e., reflect) than to repost the first essay of this experiment. It follows below. You may glean some negativity. Some ‘tude. And if you do, you’ll not be wrong. Perhaps I haven’t only grown as a writer during the past year. Perhaps I’ve also grown as a person. I’m cool with that.

Drinking the Virtual Kool-Aid
(originally posted, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009)

A few months ago, Kevin Spacey was a guest on Letterman. Several minutes into the dialogue, Dave asked the actor if he “did the twitter.”

From watching Letterman’s show fairly regularly, I have gleaned that Dave is adverse to online social networking, and while there’s curiosity behind his questioning, he’s not likely to change his attitude. Perhaps, when he asks a question about twittering, he’s looking for someone to explain – in terms he can genuinely understand – why everyone is so engaged in this new tweeting-and-following phenomenon. Perhaps he just likes to initiate a dialogue that will afford him several opportunities to look bemused and perplexed.

Spacey’s answer did, in fact, lead to some classic quipping from Letterman, and that amused me. But what stayed with me – and what has motivated me – was how the actor introduced his response. I am not claiming to quote him directly (though it’s possible I’ve remembered it verbatim); regardless, Spacey said this: “Yeah, I was resistant for a long time, but my business partner told me I had to, so I drank the Kool-Aid.”

…He drank the Kool-Aid.

What an interesting metaphor. Sadly, it began in 1978, when hundreds of people committed suicide together. And from that day in Jonestown, it has become the catch-phrase for buying into a perspective and agreeing to embark on the path of whatever individual(s) or dynamic(s) are leading that perspective. And you have to believe, when someone uses the metaphor, that there’s something rather negative underlying the choice of words. When someone says that they “drank the Kool-aid,” you can’t help but believe that they were led kicking and screaming to the trough.

But I am so grateful for Kevin Spacey’s use of the metaphor. I am grateful because I relate to it. I don’t want to participate in the world of online social networking. I find it inherently impersonal, often narcissistic, and completely overloaded.

On the other hand, I have to face the reality of today: people spend more time online than they do offline. They get their news, their views, and their “bemuse” from whatever they can type into their search engine. So…

I’m approaching the trough, and my intention is to return to it about once a week.

I don’t have a plan (and I’m not sure I’ll ever have one). I’m just going to write and share. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find folks who want to know about the other things I’ve written.

If you don’t know my work, something that relates remarkably to this premiere entry is my Amazon Short, “Too Many Machines.” For a mere forty-nine cents (yes, I spelled that out because it’s so damned quaint as prices go), you can download a copy of a Seussian poem that I wrote in 1987. Once you’ve read it, you’ll understand why I’ve resisted this marketing vehicle for such a long time.

Feel free to let me know what you think.

More to come,
Katie Gates

A little 9/22/10 PS: As some of you know, "Too Many Machines" is something you can read right here on my blog. Amazon Shorts became a thing-of-the-past earlier this calendar year, which is why I reposted the piece on this site.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

...As A Human Being

I heard myself saying it recently. I was referring to someone with whom I have been working. While there have been glitches in that process (and in some of his choices for the work I might do), I nevertheless shared, “I like him as a human being.”

Talk about a lame statement!

It's a common phrase, of course. We've all used it at one time or another, and so we know what we mean. But, standing back and looking at it...

Someone from another planet – someone, say, who is not accustomed to our way with words – might be tempted to ask some follow-up questions.

And the dialogue might go something like this:

Someone from Another Planet (hereafter, SFAP):: You like him as a human being, you say? Okay, let’s say he’s a cat. Would you like him then?

Me:: Actually, he’d make a great cat. He’s very tenacious. Just never gives up.

SFAP:: Interesting. And if he were a dog?

Me:: Oh, he’d suck as a dog. Sit? Heel? Ain't gonna happen!

SFAP:: Would you like him as a camel?

Me:: Hmm… Hard to say. I haven’t been around a lot of camels. I hear they’re nasty. I hear they spit.

SFAP:: Don’t cats spit?

Me:: Well, they hiss, yeah. But, only when it’s called for.

SFAP:: Hmm… What about a cockroach?

Me:: Well, again, I gotta go with the tenacity factor. Yeah, he’d rock as a cockroach. I wouldn’t like him, because I’ve never met a cockroach that I like, but … hmm, you raise a good point. Should I respect cockroaches for their tenacity?

SFAP:: It’s really up to you, of course.

Me:: Right.

SFAP:: Suppose he were a cow? Would you give up meat?

Me:: I really don’t like where these questions are going.

SFAP:: Forget that. I was getting off point. We’re talking about how you “like” him. Would you like him as a bird?

Me:: Yeah, I think he’d make a great bird. He’d probably fly higher than a lot of other birds, or at least, he’d try to.

SFAP:: Tenacity?

Me:: No. It’s more about ambition, really.

SFAP:: So do you think an ambitious bird is a good bird?

Me:: Hmm… Since you put it that way, maybe that’s not such a good fit.

SFAP:: What if he were a frog? Would you like him as a frog?

Me:: I think he’d be wasted as a frog.

SFAP:: So the frog has no use?

Me:: No. I mean, for other frogs, they’re fine. Oh, I’m confused. I mean, I like him as a human being! What’s wrong with that?

SFAP:: Then you don’t think he’s wasted as a human being.

Me:: No.

SFAP:: What more do you need to know, then?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday Reruns: A Tribute

(original post-date: September 8, 2010)


This coming Saturday is September 11th.

An "anniversary.”

Hmm... I take issue with that word: I think it is too often associated with something quite positive. When it marks the loss of one life? ...Okay, I suppose -- the day can be a celebration of that life. But when thousands have been killed? I'm just not sure that "anniversary" is the right word.

Regardless, it occurred to me – probably around ’07 or so – that I had spent several years going through the various stages of grief. It didn’t debilitate me. It didn’t prevent me from enjoying life and love. It just was.

Five days after that morning of standing before the television, in disbelief, I was able to get some thoughts down on paper. I’d like to share them with you today. Here's what I wrote, back in mid-September, 2001…

Since Tuesday

I'm starting to get used to the routine. I'm learning to expect that every day, something will make me cry. An image on the television, a paragraph in some newspaper story, a radio interview – there will be that instant when I am brought back fully into what happened, and my sense of sorrow and powerlessness will give way to sobs.

For some reason, though, the sobs go as quickly as they come. And when they have passed, I pick up where I had left off. I return to the newspaper or my coffee or the website work. I think again about that damn boutique owner whose check I can't deposit for fear that it might bounce. I think about those family issues that I thought, two months ago, I was done thinking about. I feed the cats; I avoid cleaning; I calculate the days until I really, truly have to do my laundry. I realize my fridge needs to be defrosted again. I plan to walk; I plan to read; I change the litterbox; I feed the cats (again).

And then it's time to cry. Again.

I've lived in Los Angeles for eleven years, but I lived in New York for fifteen. There is still the New Yorker in me. I guess she'll never go away. And even though I wasn't there this week (and I am selfishly relieved that I wasn't), I still feel such a strong connection that it's difficult to distance myself from the surreal pain and anguish that must be floating through that incredible city right now.

At Albertson's tonight, I picked up the People magazine that covered this week's tragedy. Generally, my picking up People at the grocery store has everything to do with how long the checkout line is and how slowly it is moving. Which is to say, I don't buy the magazine; I just borrow it. This issue was different. It was a sad souvenir, and I bought it. And when I got home, I tossed it on the kitchen table with no intention of reading it. I didn't want to. I had seen and heard enough. Besides, I had the website to work on. Besides...

Hours later, I opened the magazine, and I began to read stories that reiterated the news I had been watching and hearing about since Tuesday. I read every word about what happened in New York. I didn't read every word about the Pentagon tragedy. For some reason, it wasn't as newsworthy to me.

Growing up in Virginia, I was more exposed to D.C. than I was to New York, but D.C. never drew me in. I always felt it was too manipulated by its builders. It didn't really have an energy of its own -- only a purpose: to perform its duties as the nation's capital. A city with a job. How dull is that?

Then there was New York. Beckoning me with its diversity and spirit, and with its blessing that I might grow at my own pace, befriending – or not – anyone who stepped in my path. And I could live any way I wanted there – shyly or raucously (and I did both). The city would give me something beyond the space I needed; it would give me resilient perimeters.

I was able to grow and mature in New York because I always felt that, no matter what else was going on, the City was watching over me and would make sure I got home safely. It had power that way. And I can't help but believe that other New Yorkers felt the same. When such a formidable place is also so beautiful and so alive, you can't help but feel that it has the upper hand – that it has a connection to something bigger than yourself; that the City will make sure you get home okay...

And now there are rescue teams working around the clock, standing on several stories of rubble. Trying to believe, against all hope, that there's someone there. Someone still breathing, someone still believing that as long as New York is there, they'll get home okay.

But there's a part of New York that isn't there anymore. And that's what makes me cry.

Katie Gates

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

That Ol' Jack Magic - Unconditional Love in a Faulty Structure: Part Three

A Note Before Reading: This is the final installment of a three-part essay. To begin at the beginning, go here.


And so the beading continued. And as boutiques, galleries and museum stores began to take my memory wire bracelets on consignment, I expanded my horizons – creating earrings, necklaces, and clasp bracelets. I even gave in ultimately to the pressure of popular culture – I created a website.

It would be a while, though, before I would learn what the foray into jewelry design was about for me. And during that year (plus) of being immersed in glass beads – calmed by their colors, shapes and feel – I would learn what love and neighbors are about….

… Running downstairs and knocking on Tim’s door. I’ve got a date in ten minutes, but because I’ve just put lotion on my hands, I can’t maneuver the clasps on the bracelets I want to wear. Tim answers the door with a towel around his waist. He was just about to step into the shower – but, like the brother I never had, he answers the call. Fumbling (as guys do), he manages the clasps. He settles my nerves and wishes me “Godspeed” on my date. Were it not for the precariously draped towel, he would accompany that wish with a hug…

… Going to Debbi’s the morning after the big break-up conversation. Sitting on her couch and drinking coffee. “I’m so proud of you,” she says. “You didn’t drag it out.” Her tears for me, her tears for the process, allow me to cry, too…

… Calling Julie during one of those weeks in the middle. “I’m confused,” I say. “I need to talk this out.” Julie responds in a tone that goes with her cowboy curtains. “Come on down,” she says. By the time I get to her apartment, the bottle of Jack Daniels is on the table. Julie pours and listens. She asks the right questions. Her observations are so wise…


September 11, 2001. I have a dental appointment, and because it’s a morning appointment, I am running late. I almost don’t notice the flashing light on my answering machine, but when I do, I decide to play it – quickly, before dashing out.

“Katie, oh God, it’s Deb – Are you up? Oh my God – I thought of you ‘cause of New York – Oh my God – the Trade Center’s been hit. And the Pentagon. Oh my God. This is major.”


But, it doesn’t click.

I have no idea what she was talking about in the message that was recorded while I was in heavy R.E.M.

I continue out the door, figuring I’ll stop by her place on my way to the dentist.

The front door to her first-floor apartment is slightly ajar. I push it open. “Deb?” I call. No response. But her TV is on. I stand there in her living room, looking at a shot of downtown Manhattan in a cloud. I don’t even know what I’m looking at. I cannot possibly process this.

I wonder where Debbi is, and for some reason, I still think I’m going to the dentist’s office. I head to the carport in the back. She and neighbor Kate are just returning from Starbuck’s.

“Can I use your phone?” I ask Deb. (I don’t want to go back to my apartment. Having seen people, I suddenly realize I need them.)

“Of course,” Deb responds. “Did you see – ?”

We go back into her apartment, and I call my dentist’s office. No problem cancelling – they’re closing up anyway. I then call my friend, Sue, with whom I am supposed to meet later regarding the book we’re working on. When I tell her I’m not coming over, that I’m not going anywhere, she’s disappointed. “Turn on your TV,” I tell her. “You’ll understand.”

Dan arrives, he and Debbi having recently made amends. It’s so good to see him, to get a Dan hug.

By mid-day, we’re all gathered around Deb’s TV. Julie had insisted on going to work at the hotel, but Tim’s there, and Sara. Kate pops in and out. We’re just looking at the screen, trying to process the event.

Suddenly, in the spirit of Elizabeth, we decide to pool our resources for a pot-luck. We all grab whatever’s appropriate from our respective refrigerators, and soon, we have a meal, complete with wine and beer. And when we need more wine and beer (and God knows, we will), we run down to the corner.

Together, we get through the day.

Later that night, I go into Deb’s kitchen to do some dishes. I need to get away from the television. As I begin soaping plates and glasses, something inside me opens up and allows me to feel. I turn off the water and quietly take myself outside, through Deb’s kitchen door. I sit on the short wall that borders the driveway, and I let myself bawl like a fucking baby.

After a few minutes, Julie comes out to see if I’m okay. “I thought you’d be out here crying,” she says, as she gives me a hug.


I hope never again to experience the disorientation that was September 11th. But if I must, I hope I’m again surrounded by people I love. There is no other way to handle such a day.

But I’ve also learned from the neighbors who have become my friends that it’s not just a day like September 11th that one should have to handle alone. It’s any day. Because, on any day, your sense of balance might be thrown; your sense of the future might feel completely up for grabs; your sense of yourself might lose its context. And when that happens, it’s good to have people around you who never had to love you, but who chose to – over time.


Sometimes, when I’m in my apartment, I’ll hear my neighbors chatting outside, and I’ll decide to join them. Other times when I hear them, I’ll decide to stay in. This is the privacy I always craved; the privacy I once thought was synonymous with being an unfriendly neighbor. This is respect and unconditional love. We place no requirements on our friendships. We have no expectations. We just happen to be there for each other. And the reality of that, which is bigger than all of us, enables each of us to grow in amazing ways.


2011 Postscript: This essay reflects an era that’s come and gone. With the exception of Tim, all referenced neighbors have moved away (though Deb and Julie remain dear friends). Several years ago, Jack sold the building to Stanley (an angel of a landlord), and last year, Stanley sold the building to some Not-a-Person, LLC. And so my building has become typical. I am blessed, though, for having “lived here when.” Few people get such an enchanting experience of love, spirit, and spontaneity. I will always be grateful for the timing.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Monday Reruns: And the BON Goes To...

(original post-date: September 1, 2010)


We see a virtual ballroom in Hollywood. The crowd gathered and filling the seats is represented exclusively by little square-shaped icons. In some cases, a single face occupies the square. In other instances, it is a pair of faces representing two generations.

There’s also a tree (or the top of one).

A ladybug.

A bicycle.

The face of a dog.

THE ANNOUNCER calls out a name that not everyone hears (because, at the moment, not everyone is online). One of the squares appears shocked and surprised. Maybe even a little flustered.

Shaking her imagined forearms excitedly, she (the icon; the square) races to the stage. "Jeez!" she begins, clearly excited. "I didn’t even know my category was coming up, and here I am! Yeah, so, …uh, I wanna thank the academy. … my producers. … my agent. Oh wow… … Oh and yeah, Griffin! Vesta! Lotto! You cats at home… Go to bed already!"


What a crock of a fantasy.

Cats sleep 18 hours a day.

It is absurd to imagine any moment – no matter how lofty or ephemeral – that would justify telling cats to go to bed.

… I also belong to no academies.

I have no producers.

As for getting an agent? No one can say I haven’t tried.

But I still have something to thank: The First Amendment.

If you haven’t read it lately, you should.

But, if you haven’t read it lately, you also shouldn’t feel like a slacker.


Me? I just found it online (had to, since I mentioned it). And so – just now – I read it fully for the first time in God knows how long.

Not only did I read it, I copied it for all of us.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

So there you have it.

… I had a grievance for many years. (Actually, I wouldn’t normally call it a “grievance,” but I’m trying to do a segue here, so work with me.) I was despondent at times because, although I love to write, no one in the world of ten-percenters seemed to care.

I entered the blogosphere reluctantly, my grievance on my shoulder.

I have since discovered a peaceable assembly.

It is called Words of Wisdom (appropriately, WOW), and the website, which was launched by two wise women named Pam and Sandy, celebrates blogs of substance.

Today, I am WOW’s Blogger of Note (BON), and per the BON tradition, I will share with you links to three previous posts.

I hope you have the time to take a look. And if you don’t have the time now, I hope you’ll come back.

*Technology is a subject I cannot get away from, and that’s because it concerns me… The technology is developed, after all. Us? Not so much. Here’s a piece I wrote after watching footage of a community parade: The Subtext of Texting.

*Do you shop at Trader Joe’s? Click here.

*Alright then, Ikea?

I chose those three posts intuitively. Now, as I look at what I just typed, I fear you might think I’m all about shopping.

Don’t even go there.

There’s really not that much about shopping in those second two posts. They’re more about life… and the words that go into it.

I am grateful to the First Amendment for letting me share my life in words.

I am grateful to WOW for peaceable assembly.

2011 Postscript: The WOW site closed up shop sometime in the past year. It's too bad, as it was a great meeting place, and some of my favorite bloggers are those I first met among the WOW groupies.