Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Reruns: All We Are Saying...

(original post-date: February 23, 2011)

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

That was my interest in the rerun… Paul McCartney.

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

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

Oh, Paul.

If only I had known.

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

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

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

Give peace a chance.

There was something very touching and special about the experience.

And so goddamn innocent.

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

Give peace a chance.

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

Which leads to my dictionary…

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

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

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

I thought that maybe I was missing something…

Maybe I needed to revisit the definition of peace…

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

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

I understood it all along.

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

It’s innocent.

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

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

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

And peace will never serve those people.

I wish it were different.

I truly do.

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

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

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mort: I Know You're Out There Somewhere – Part I

A NOTE BEFORE READING: Today’s post and the three Thursday posts that will follow come from a memoir project: five Catalysts and five Constants. The project’s essays are all quite a bit longer than my usual posts, so I am going to share this one in four installments.

Between our junior and senior years of college, my friend Robin and I discovered the bench. It was in a great locale. Private – but in the middle of everything. Safe – but within steps of danger. Kind of like each of us.

The bench was on the Upper West Side. Close to school, close to where we each lived. It was on the relatively wide median of “land” that separated the northbound Broadway traffic from that heading south. The cross-street was 113th, which made it conveniently close to the Yum-Yum ice cream shop, where we each had zeroed in on our favorite frozen treats.

We would end up on that bench many a night that summer, enjoying the late, late night air, enjoying our Yum-Yum purchases, anxious to talk further about the subject that was foremost on our minds: Boys. (Guys.) ( Men.)

Robin always seemed so much more versed in this arena. She definitely had more experience. And she appeared, to me, to have more confidence, too. She dressed sexily – in mini-skirts and heels. She spent time on her hair. And she seemed to flirt with ease. I, on the other hand, always was more the comfort-seeker when it came to such matters. My clothes generally flow. My shoes rarely change my height much. If I can't “do” my hair in two minutes, then it's the wrong style for me. And while I enjoy titillating conversation, I enjoy it most with people I know – well.

Regardless of those differences, Robin and I had become close. We would grow along together for several years. And for several summers, we would return to the bench. We would eat our frozen treats and explore the mysteries of life – which were, particularly in those years, all about our lives.


During the summer of 1981, I was job-hopping as a waitress, trying to find a restaurant where I could hang my apron and then focus on other, more creative things. Robin, who also had donned an apron recently, was taking a break from that aerobic career to attend journalism school. Doug was living with her then, which added a new topic to our girl talk.

One night on the bench, we heard a mournful sound. It was coming from the sidewalk across the street. We looked east to trace its source and saw a grey tabby cat begin to head toward us. Sauntering as he bellowed, he safely made his way across the three lanes of northbound traffic. And although we had cheered him on, he didn't immediately jump into either of our outstretched sets of arms. Rather, he made a bee-line for the shrubbery that was behind the bench. (He was a cat, after all.)

Was he afraid or just being shy? Regardless, there was no way we would leave him in the traffic's median. There was no way we would leave him to tempt the fate of another three lanes of Broadway. He had made it thus far, so the least we could do was make sure we got him to safety. Surely, the person who had put the flea collar around his neck would appreciate our efforts.

Yes, this cat was wearing a flea collar, which – in Robin's and my vernacular – meant one thing: he was not available (as it were). He was going to be a “one-night stand.” The question then became: which one of us was going to take him home?

Robin and I each already had a single cat at home. But, in addition to that, Robin had her boyfriend, Doug, and they had their boa constrictor, whom they cleverly called “Snakey.” She knew it would be dicey to walk home with this new rescued cat. And while I wasn't particularly looking to provide refuge for a second cat (I knew that the cleverly-named Kitty, with her Siamese roots, had no desire to share me), I figured I could at least give this wanderer a place for the night. I'd post signs the next day. Surely, the person who put the flea collar around his neck would be looking for him...

And so, in a rare instance in Robin's and my friendship, I was the one who took the guy home. And, in a rare instance in my life generally, it turned into a long-term relationship. I guess whoever put on that flea collar simply didn't care. If they had, they would have looked for the signs – the ones I posted the next day, all over the neighborhood surrounding 113th Street and Broadway.


I must admit, though, it also took me a while to see the signs. It took me a while to accept that this cat was mine. For the longest time, I was hesitant even to name him. But, one day – three or four weeks into our relationship – he weaved his way into the kitchen on 108th Street, and I heard myself say, “Hello, Mort.”

I didn't know where the name had come from, but it seemed right. And it stuck. Later, I would notice the tag in my black wrap-around waitressing skirt. The tag showed a jungle cat in full-leap mode. The tag said “Mr. Mort.”

So, I had named him, but still, was he mine?

Mort would leave the apartment often, exiting by way of my bedroom window, which happened to lead to the fire escape. Sometimes, he would be gone for a few days, and I would just assume that he had gone home.

One evening, after he had been gone for a particularly long stretch, the building's night doorman appeared at my apartment door. He was holding a very dirty Mort. “Is this your cat?” he said.

“Well... I guess.”

I brought him inside and gave him a jump start on the bath that he would ultimately self-administer.


Another time, I came home in the late afternoon, returning from my waitressing shift. My roommate was sitting in the living room, and she looked less than pleased. “There's a dead pigeon on your bed,” she announced.

I didn't feel immediately concerned. I had grown up with cats who were outdoors a lot and whose access included the cow pasture that was adjacent to our house in Virginia. I'd thought I'd seen it all.

But I'd never seen a dead pigeon on my bed.

Fortunately, it wasn't a bloody mess, but oh, what plumage! There were feathers everywhere. I hadn't planned on doing laundry that night, but suddenly, that was at the top of my agenda.

Oh, and I had to scold Mort. I looked at him, shook my finger and firmly said, “Bad!”

( But through my eyes, I probably couldn't hide the other thing I wanted to say. It was, “Thank you. I love you, too.”)

What was left of the main part of the pigeon was smack dab in the upper middle part of my bed – where the bed's heart would be, if it had one. I knew Mort had brought the pigeon to me as a token of his affection. Not only was I touched by the gesture, but I also was quite proud of my little hunter. He had captured a large bird, actually killed it, and then negotiated its carcass through the steel labyrinth that had become his playground. You just can't help but be impressed.

Shortly thereafter, I bought a screen for the window, but Mort still found a way out. He'd bend the screen's corner and slide right through. He'd then go off on his excursions, accessing the roof as well as the other fire escapes that were installed strategically around the 8-story building and within its airshafts.

And over the course of the next several months, he would bring home two more pigeons. Maybe, though, he had heard some of my scolding, as I noted how the trail of feathers carefully circumvented my bed. Cleaning up those second two wasn't such a big deal, and luckily, I made the discoveries before my roommate came home. We never told her about those pigeons.

to be continued on March 1st.

Monday, February 20, 2012

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

(original post-date: February 16, 2011)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Bieber.

Oh my.

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

The dude is fucking awesome, okay?

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

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

Ah, see… there… I’m dating myself.

Justin Bieber was undoubtedly born after the last Breck girl.

And it doesn’t matter.

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

And this fever ain’t no hot flash.

I’m just making an observation.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Do-It-Yourself Girl

In the preamble to my final 2011 post, I alluded to my having had to buy a new computer.

That purchase followed windstorms that begat power outages that begat my realization that a strong surge protector should not be underestimated…

Yes, I now have a new surge protector.

As for my new computer? Once I set it up on Sunday, December 4th, I stood back. What’s wrong with this picture? I asked myself.

… You should probably know, before I continue, that my computer (and therefore my office) is in my kitchen. I live in a one-bedroom apartment, you see. And so I am sure you’ll agree that any other options for the computer simply aren’t palatable.

Bedroom? Absolutely not.

Bathroom? ... Hello? Health Department?

Living room? Then what is living…

Yeah, so anyway, the workstation is in the kitchen where, luck of the layout, there’s a nice corner that accommodates space.

... I was looking at that space shortly after I set up the windstorm/power outage-inspired new computer. And I noted, with my new Microsoft Word 7 eyes, that the corner needed to be refurbished in a big way.

See, I had this workstation whose name was Jan. (You might know him. He comes from Ikea.) And Jan was cool for the simplest of functions. He had the top shelf, for the monitor. And he had the pull-out tray, for the keyboard. His lovely blond wood (a color you might expect from a workstation named “Jan”) also was featured in the shelf well below that keyboard tray. Other than that, there were the two upside-down-U-shaped black metal brackets that kept all his parts together.

Jan was never exactly flush with the wall. I suppose he could have been, but – in placing my office in my kitchen – I somehow had a need for the more open feeling that comes when one is not at right angles with a wall. And because Jan was not flush with the wall, there was this triangle of space behind him. A triangle designed to tempt cats.

Okay, I know what you’re saying: ”What doesn’t tempt a cat?”

Good point. You can rest your case now. (But please don’t smirk. It isn’t polite. Besides, it makes you look needy.)

Bottom line is, my entire work area was a study in cat-proofing. And it was ugly that way.

So, when I looked at that corner – just after setting up my new computer – and I realized it needed to be renovated, I immediately recalled the corner desk/computer stand that I’d seen at Staples during the 90 minutes or so I spent there while the tech guys were making sure that the life inside my old hard drive was fully captured in the new.

And so… on the second Saturday evening in December, I stopped at a Staples that was on my way home from other errands (i.e., not my usual Staples), and I purchased the corner desk.

The guy who helped me finalize my decision indicated that they could have it assembled and delivered by Monday. But I didn’t want to wait.

“I can do it myself,” I suggested. “I mean, how hard can it be?”

He mentioned the need for an Allen Wrench and a Phillips head screwdriver.

No sweat, I thought. I’ve got a drawer full of Allen Wrenches, thanks to the Ikea furniture I’ve assembled over the years. I also have at least three Phillips heads.

(And, by the way, won’t it be nice some day if tools – like hurricanes – are allowed to be named after women? But I digress…)

Yeah, so back at Staples: I bought the corner piece as well as a rolling two-shelf cart in the same cherry stain.

The sales associate loaded the boxes of the to-be-assembled furniture into the back seat of my Corolla, and off I went – my Saturday night agenda crystal clear.

As I was driving home, I sent all my hope to the possibility that either my neighbor across the hall or my friend downstairs would be home. Because, without a man to carry those boxes up the stairs, there would be no furniture-assembly activities in my immediate future.

(This dilemma reminded me of when I had first moved to the building. I had just left my marriage and so I was appointing my new place slowly. Invariably, I’d come home with a piece of furniture tied to the top of my car. And pulling into my space in the carport, I’d immediately remember: “Oh, shit. I don’t have a husband to carry this upstairs.”)

Fortunately, my cross-the-hall angel-neighbor was home, and he was happy to apply his Adonis physique to the task at hand.

Once the two boxes were in my living room, leaning against the couch, I proceeded with the preliminaries: clear out the kitchen; vacuum and wash the floor; and then – carry the corner desk box into the now empty space.

At this point, I uncorked the Kendall Jackson cabernet.

I was feeling relaxed and ambitious at once. Oh, how I love a project!

Okay, I should probably tell you right now that a little red flag got flown as I was bringing the large rectangular box into the kitchen. That red flag? A tiny piece of hardware, hopping out of the box.

It was at that point that I realized how shoddily the box was taped together. It was at that point that I realized that this box had already been opened. A piece already built and then dismantled perhaps?

I didn’t want to know about it.

Because – not only do I love a project, but: when I decide to pursue a project, I cannot be stopped.

Sipping the Kendall Jackson, I shoo’ed away any concerns that were floating through my head.

I emptied the box (as someone had apparently done previously), and I leaned all the large pieces against the walls of my kitchen.

I then opened the hardware bag, and I let the various screws and things go where they might on the tray table I’d set up for that very purpose.

I didn’t have the patience to count hardware and compare those totals to what the instruction manual told me to expect. I mean, seriously, who has time for that shit?

I did, though, take a quick inventory of the large pieces (that is, the pieces that would actually create the desk).

I forget what letter of the alphabet was assigned to the piece that was clearly missing, but when I noticed its absence, I immediately flipped through the instruction manual to glean its function.

Hmm… seems the missing piece, which appeared to have all the depth of a piece of cardboard, was meant to live under the keyboard tray. But, was it necessary? I decided it wasn’t. I also decided that, if I discovered it was necessary, I would find something in my apartment that was otherwise unneeded and could take its place.

And so I proceeded.

I got through the first few steps without a hitch.

Then, I got to the part that required particular screws that had come with the kit.

These are not screws that one generally has in her otherwise-impressive screw collection.

These are screws that play a dual role. First, they are burrowed into the hole they are assigned to. Later, their tops meet a pre-drilled tunnel in another piece of the furniture, and a whole other piece of hardware must be placed in that tunnel. Then, the pieces are blended together with a quick twist of the Phillips head.

I know, I know, I’m probably losing you. I should have left it at the fact that these are unusual screws.

Anyway, when I did the count of these unique little pieces of allegedly included hardware, I realized that I was missing one.

One screw I couldn’t substitute. (In spite of my vast collection.)

Acknowledging an unforeseen dilemma, I revisited the design plan, and based on how the desk would ultimately stand, I decided which of the eight needed screws could be omitted.

After that step, I moved on, and as I did, I discovered how many “regular” screws were missing from the hardware bag.

But, as mentioned, I’ve got quite a collection, so I was able to choose from that collection strategically and according to my interpretation of the design. I was able to determine which of these misfit screws would not be within view – ever.

… I have never needed so many hours to assemble a piece of furniture.

I have never been so frustrated by a process.

But, I did it, and I love the result.

...As I have for several years now, I do all my typing in the corner of my kitchen.

But now, it’s a clean corner.

It’s organized and without clutter.

I like it.

And I like remembering the chutzpah I brought to the current design.

(Though, admittedly, I have a few loose screws.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday Reruns: Greed is Not Good

(original post-date: February 9, 2011)

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

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

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

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

I feel no draw to money.

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

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

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

Now, to Anne’s husband’s story…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See? There’s that “norm” again.

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

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

Greed doesn’t care who gets hurt.

Greed is narcissistic.

Greed is NOT good.

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

I doubt it.

Because the pharmaceutical companies are right there among the greedy.

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

They’re missing the magic and grace of life.

They’re missing my normal.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cruel Pavement

I’m not saying I’m a trendy gal or anything, but on that same morning, the L.A. Times ran a piece about the city’s sidewalks being in disrepair.

That same afternoon, I walked the half mile to Vermont Avenue, where I mailed some bills from the post office. Then, I walked down to the bank, where I deposited some checks.

After that, the tasks were checked off, and the return trip was up for grabs.

I opted for the more commercially-active, east side of the avenue. Even stopped in a few shops, albeit briefly.

But as I neared the more familiar venues – the Los Feliz 3 Cinema marquee now readable – there became an immediate change in the day’s agenda. Suddenly, I was airborne, and then I was looking at some sidewalk, heading toward me.

My reflexive capabilities – apparently having ruled out help from my hands or my knees – delivered a good message to my head. As in, “TURN IT!”

And so, although I landed on my face, I didn’t hurt my nose or my teeth.

… Reflecting on what happened next, I am reminded of a scene involving a toddler. Even those of us who are child-free know this scene and can imagine it clearly… Okay, so there’s this little kid playing on some swings or a slide or something. Kid falls. Kid is fine UNTIL a bunch of adults come running over to see if s/he is okay. It is at that point (and because of that point) that the kid bursts into tears and then cries uncontrollably.


So anyway, I have just landed, left cheek first, on the sidewalk on Vermont Avenue. In front of Skylight Bookstore.

I know that my situation isn’t good, and I hope that it isn’t really bad.

I wait several seconds, and then I raise my torso and turn so that I am sitting on the sidewalk.

Just at that moment, a woman quickly emerges from the bookstore.

“Oh My God! Don’t move! Oh My God! You’ve split your lip!”

Someone hands me a napkin or a tissue or something.

I dab my lip and come up almost blank. There’s a small, pink stain on the napkin or tissue or something. I feel short-changed (in a good way). I mean, surely a split lip would produce something more alarming, like… I don’t know, some seriously red blood, maybe?

I am at a loss and completely vulnerable. There are so many strangers looking at me, and each one of them knows what my face looks like in that moment.

I do not.

But I’ve been told that I have a split lip and that I shouldn’t move.

But I also am me.

(Me, with my chapped lips…)

And sitting on the sidewalk is just not working out.

I reach for a hand from someone nearby, and I slowly and cautiously rise to my feet.

But it takes me a while longer to walk away from the scene.

I had hit my head, and I know that a hit to the head can lead to a brain injury, and when that is the case, the manifestations can kick in whenever.

I had hit my head, and I’m hoping I didn’t also injure my brain.

I had hit my head, and I need to walk a half mile to get home.

When the worried woman continued speaking with me (after I stood up), one of the questions she’d asked was, “Is there someone you can call?”

“No,” I had said. (An answer that seemed honest in the moment. An answer that would continue to haunt me.)

I had hit my head, and I needed to walk a half mile to get home.

…A few days have passed since my confrontation with the uneven sidewalk, and mostly, I am grateful. Grateful that my hands had not been the first to respond, as that might have resulted in a broken wrist (or two).

Same deal with my knees. I need them.

My face? Whatever.

I don’t type with it.

I don’t wash dishes with it.

I don’t use it to drive.

And, since the day of the unfortunate trip, I’ve also been grateful that I’ve not had to look at my face. At least, I’ve not been confronted by it, as others have been.

For those others, the view is painful.

For me, the view is of them.

…One of my clients runs a domestic violence agency, and when I shared my tale with her and told her of the purple circle under my left eye and the bruise at my chin, she sent a reply email suggesting that people will think that I have been beaten.

And based on my experiences thus far, I think she might be right.

The other night, as I waited my turn at the grocery store, I stood proud and tall. I also was smiling because – quite frankly – I was in a good mood. But the checker, apparently having caught a passing glance at my bruises, could not accept my posture or positive energy. He couldn’t even make eye contact with me.

In fact, he worked very hard at not making eye contact with me.

Yes, my client had been right.

And so had I when I responded to her email with this: “People will make up their own stories.”

What story would you write if you saw a woman with bruises on her face? And would that story be different if the woman bruised was standing tall and smiling?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Monday Reruns: My Paul Newman Story

(original post-date: February 2, 2011)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Newman’s eyes…

The color of Equal packets…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To which he said: “Huh?”

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Nature vs. Grace

I recently visited my Netflix Queue to see what I might expect in the weeks ahead.

What I saw was a list with all of three titles, none of which was particularly compelling.

I’m sure that the reality of that short, unexciting roster says all kinds of things about my mood lately.

And right now, I don’t want to explore the possible implications.

But I will confess to a distinct lack of enthusiasm. And I also will assure you that I immediately went about fixing the length of said queue.

I added more titles, and as I did, I selected Tree of Life, which recently got an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

… Actually, I didn’t just add it.

I put it at the top.

And so it arrived.

And so I watched it last night.

Oh my…

I can’t recall the last time I saw a movie that was quite so “trippy.” (I’m guessing Terrence Malick is a fan of recreational drugs.)

What I loved more than anything, though, was how the visual poetry of Tree of Life was set up.

As early as possible, I got the message. We have two choices: “nature” or “grace.” And those of us who pick grace might never be thanked for it.

Having not before considered these two as ultimate options (that also are in conflict with each other), I was immediately drawn in. And during a long montage that revealed what we call “nature,” I was reminded of its qualities.

Nature is intense, cruel, and explosive.

Think earthquakes.

Think tornadoes.

Think volcanoes.

That is nature.

And therefore, if you accept Malick’s thesis as to the other choice, grace must be calm, kind, and gentle.

I think that’s about right.

I didn’t look at the clock while it was happening, but the montage I mentioned just a moment ago went on for quite some time. And while it was mostly a long, long series of shots that revealed nature in all its intense and explosive cruelty, there also were moments of grace. Many moments of grace.

But the message was not about grace. The message was about nature.

And that got me thinking about a phrase we use: “It’s just human nature.”

And so, with a newfound appreciation for the meaning of “nature,” I revisited that phrase.

It’s just human nature, perhaps, to be intense, cruel, and explosive.

It’s a survival impulse. And because nature is, above all, so powerful, it’s human nature to take actions that are based on a desire for power. (A desire, perhaps, that comes from fear of a greater power.)

Unless… you recognize that grace is another option.

To be graceful is to take a risk. Your calm, kind, and gentle manner – grace in action – is unlikely to be rewarded. That manner will not pay the rent or provide you with acquaintances who can get you ahead in this world.

Being graceful goes against nature.

But maybe, that's why we NEED it?

…And then there’s the mention of God.

Oh yes, God figures into Tree of Life.

And from what the story told me, the purpose of God is to help both sides explain their situation.

That’s why we need to believe in God.

What else can possibly explain (or excuse) this conundrum?

What else can explain pitting us against each other century after century?

… Each other.

The ones who follow nature and those who believe in grace.