Saturday, December 31, 2011

"Appy cucking."

I like watching Jacques Pepin on PBS. I like the way he talks in a reassuring country Frenchy way. I like the way he signs off: “Happy Cooking” with no special inflection. “Appy cucking “ I like the reruns of old episodes of Jacques cooking while Julia Child, who was in her nineties, makes little moaning sounds in appreciation. She digs into the food and starts eating it as if they were alone. I love their familiarity - two distinguished veterans no longer caring how they appear to the audience but appearing perfect.

Today Jacques made Braised Sweetbreads and Tongue with Lentils. In the early preparation of the sweetbreads he identified one piece as the pancreas. He instructed that sweetbreads had to be blanched before the real cooking began. The wrinkled pale pieces of organs looked like the stuff Dr. Oz dangles when he wants us to change our diets and get more exercise. When Jacques prepared the tongue, he had to peel off the tough brown outer skin before the “tender inner part” was revealed.

Despite my respect, loyalty and affection for Jacques and the clever garnishes and soft lighting, these two dishes were revolting.

Friday, December 30, 2011

small talk for dummies (txs to NCB)

Small talk is a necessary part of life. It’s a price we pay for civilized human interaction with an emphasis on “civil.” Small talk is dumb, boring, excruciating, insincere, banal and crucial unless you want people to point and say: There goes that hermetically sealed, introverted scary person who never gives you the “time of day” (which isn’t bad either.)

Speaking of “giving you the time of day” this phrase used to denote the least speck of civility one could expect from his fellow man.

“All right, you annoying dunce, it’s twelve-thirty five.”
“Thank you. You’ve achieved the threshold of civility.”

Small talk has strict rules. If you are careless and break them, you go to “small talk” purgatory- a place where the conversation spins out of control and you are suddenly talking about your childhood tonsillectomy or your Uncle Fred’s arrest or your persistent rash. It will take an earthquake, or a twister or some other dramatic disaster to pluck you from the senseless pile-up of words exchanged.

Here are some useful hand gestures to put in your small talk arsenal that bypass talking but do the job when you see an acquaintance at the supermarket, post office, your front steps, elevator, cocktail party (if you still go to cocktail parties you deserve to be in small talk hell.)

The military salute and release. (from a few feet away.) Hey, captain. You’re the man (but I will be on my way.) Women can do this, too. It will confuse the other person but won’t insult them.

Right palm out, shoulder height:: new way of saying hi and bye at once. I’m acknowledging that I recognize you but don’t come any closer.

Tap your watch:: I’m running late. Got to pick up the kids. (mouthed from across the room) Use this even if you don’t have kids. Nobody can stand the image of two toddlers waiting by the side of the road.

Tap your head: This can mean a bunch of things. I’m a loony and can do what I want. I’m losing it and left the oven on and have to rush home. You probably are losing it so this can fall into the “truth” barrel.

Tap your throat: Implies laryngitis or worse.

Palms up and at an angle, shoulder height, wry smile, eyebrows up: “What are you going to do? That’s life.” This is a great gesture, appropriate to almost any news. It’s friendly, empathetic and you can just walk away. Remember, no words. Pat the person on the shoulder on your way out.

Thumbs up: Everything is coming up roses for me and that’s all you need to know at this time.

Wiggling fingers wave: Dangerous. A wave could result in at least 15 minutes of your life that you will never get back.

When all else fails, we have “Same old, same old.” This means: Relax. I’m still at the same dull job at the same old salary with the same old wife/husband and the same old kids and the same old car. Even if this isn’t true, it will set you free to skip down the road. Don’t succumb to false pride and disclose any personal triumphs unless you want to dive into a swamp and get stuck in banality hell.

“That’s great news.”
“Yes, it is.”
“You must be so happy.”
“I am.”
“Your wife must be happy, too.”
“She is. Very happy.”
“And your mother and father?”
“They’re happy, too.”
“How are we going to end this conversation?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think we’ll be here forever?”
“Yes we will.”

The conversational death match. There’s a person who wants to continue and one who wants to get away. The small talk bombardier (picture a kamikaze pilot) will fire away until he hits. "Wait'll you hear this!" is their battle cry. You’re a grown up. Don’t falter.

How’s everything?
Fine.
And the kids?
Fine.
How’s that closet system working out?
Fine
How’s your back?”
It’s..... fiiinnne. (whew, close.)
Wait'll you hear this.
I really have to run.
John's septic tank backed up. You know John, his father-in-law owns the deli.
No.
He had the cesspool guys there three times and they couldn't find the problem.
(What fresh hell is this? I'm mortally wounded. I've got a septic tank. He got me.) "What was the problem?"
"Wait'll you hear this."


If you’re like me, you have a crazy gene that makes you try to bond with an obnoxious boss or co-worker every so often through small talk.

“Awfully cold today.”
“It’s February in New York. What do you expect?”
(F you, creep. I’m going inside.)

Sometimes no matter how well you small talk, some insufferable French person will insert an opinion and ruin everything.
Why don’t you do ziss?
Why don’t you do ziss?

I used to have an au pair helper who was dumb (as in mute). I was thrilled anticipating a small talk free zone. She would do her work. I would do my work. A shared smile would assure us that all was well. Wrong! She had a tablet to write her thoughts. Spoken small talk is irritating; written small talk is true torture. I like your dress. Thank you. Where did you get it? Gap. Do you mind if I get one just like it? No. I used to have a dress like that but my sister ruined it in the wash. That’s too bad. Do you have a sister? No. What do you want me to do next? Just shoot me.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

One of the happiest years of my life!

Here it is the year’s end. Thank you to everyone who bought my books, read my blog or reviewed my books during the past year. Some of the reviews were angry but they did not make me angry. Many readers were disappointed about one thing or another in Best Friends and could not forgive me. One woman, a reviewer on Goodreads. liked the book so much she made a list of quotable lines that I found astonishing. The reviews for Daughters and Nothing To Lose were thoughtful and favorable and made me happy because I knew I had provided the readers with a book they loved.

Two marketing ideas that brought a tsunami of downloads and increased sales were the “make it free” maneuver and the Kindle Single Program. I did a post on the “free maneuver” in November if you care to try it. Being accepted in the Kindle Singles Program definitely boosted my presence on Amazon and brought increased sales. My appearance in Fast Company Magazine where they identified me as one of the new “kings of content” was a non-event as far as sales or recognition.

Amazon is making many changes in the Kindle Publishing Program and also getting into the traditional publishing business with several imprints for different genres. The good old days of independent publishing for the Kindle are gone and competition is already stronger.

There are two areas that please me immensely. I am surprised and very satisfied that my blog is read and sometimes enjoyed by others. Blogging is the best present I’ve ever received. The other satisfaction has to do with my title, One Hundred Open Houses. I wrote this book at a time when I didn’t think I could write anymore. While the book doesn’t sell as well as Best Friends or Nothing To Lose, the readers are passionate in their enjoyment of it.

I love hearing from readers so feel free to leave comments or e-mail me. The very best comment I received said: “Is it rude of me to ask you to write faster?” To answer: I have two books at the half-way mark and will publish in 2012.

I can assess 2011 as one of the happiest years of my life full of sustainable purposeful activity that makes me feel useful. Happy New Year everybody!

Monday, December 19, 2011

“Pop, I know he’s an awful schmo but I love him.” Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation.

The other day I was hating the bank but today I was in love with the bank. It seemed more like the bank of yore we used to trust as a competent institution. I met a teller named Elisa today. The sign in front of her window said, “Ask Courtney how you can quadruple your rewards.” So while I was waiting for my cash, I said, “Courtney, How can I quadruple my rewards?”
“I’m not Courtney,” she said, “I work here part time on Saturdays. My regular branch is in Amagansett.” Then she told me how to quadruple my rewards but after explaining it all, we decided I was better off staying with what I had.
“The sign should have your name on it. You explained everything in a couple of minutes and sized up my situation.” This hasn’t always been the case with my bank. Last summer I saw a sign in the bank window that said: "Get five times the national interest rate." Oh, boy, five times the national interest rate. I’ve got a bunch of dollars just sitting there and they could be making me some serious cash.
When I went in to inquire about this offer no one could figure out what the offer meant including the manager of the branch. I told this to Elise. “They were clueless,” I said, “but I let it go. I’m often clueless, myself.” “I doubt that,” said Elise. “I was just clueless a few minutes ago at the supermarket,” I insisted. “I don’t think you could ever be clueless,” said Elise and I left it at that.

Five times the national interest rate it turned out was 0 .80%. How did we come to this? In the old America, interest and dividends used to be touted as a reliable way to build your nest egg. They would show you how $20. if left alone in a savings account for about eighty years would grow to $1,000,000 thanks to the miracle of compounded interest. I liked everything about the “old America.” I miss Jimmy Stewart. I wish Jimmy Stewart was running for president. I recently saw him in a film called “Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation.” Roger and Peggy Hobbs, nice plain names. His children called Mr. Hobbs “Pop.” On one occasion, his daughter says about her fiancée “Pop, I know he’s an awful schmo but I love him and that’s all that matters.” If any of my children said that about their spouses, I would fall down with apprehension but Mr. Hobbs just hugged his daughter in understanding. He liked the schmo, too. It was the same with Spencer Tracy in “Father Of The Bride.” He thought his future son-in-law was a schmo, too, but tolerated him. I miss all that.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

#SampleSunday: "It looked like it hurt when she widened her mouth to make vowel sounds."

(This is chapter 2 from a new novel-in-progress titled “Tough As Nails.” I had hoped to have this book finished by year’s end but it’s not going to happen. Sometimes when I read what I have written I fall in love with the voice. I need to finish this novel in order to feel good about myself in 2012.)

My first client, Charlene Gibbons, was a pretty woman with stunning red hair that made you want to look at her. Imagine a sculpted, fragile face with tough eyes - everyone else in the room blended into the woodwork. Charlene, who lived across the street and four houses over, had done all right for herself - two eight cylinder cars, professional lawn care.
Three weeks after my arrival, she gave a welcome tea and served a sheet cake iced with blue roses. When I caught sight of all those safely married suburban women waiting to meet me, I put a lock on anything resembling my true self. “If you’re smart,” Charlene whispered, “you’ll use the occasion to establish your credentials with these vultures.” Besides money, Charlene had a take-charge quotient. In a women’s commune, hers would be the menstrual cycle to follow.
After the second cup of coffee, I mentioned my profession. “What do you mean?” asked Janine Tobias. She was a patrician looking blonde, the kind that wears a barrette in her hair until she’s about eighty. “You spy on cheating husbands?”
“That’s one aspect of it,” I hedged. I could see them trying to decide whether I was weird or interesting when Charlene broke the tie. “This is great,” she said. “I want to hire you to find out who poisoned my dog.”
Selma McNeil, a buxom brunette saved from beauty by a too round nose, said, “Charlene, Tiffany was hit by a car.”
“She was poisoned first,” muttered Charlene.
I thought that would be the end of it but the next morning, I was putting Retin-A under my eyes when the doorbell rang. Charlene was at my door. It was only eleven but she had on high heels and a dress I would have saved for a wedding. She strode into the room as if she’d been there many times. “Tiffany was hit by a car because she was fed something that made her go nuts,” she said. “I need to know who poisoned her.”
Charlene sat down on my down-filled couch and rewarded me with an appreciative nod. I pulled up a chair. My instinct was to chat about the neighborhood but by some miracle, I had the sense to squelch anything personal and stick to business. “Was your dog a nuisance? Dig up yards? That sort of thing?”
Charlene’s face, so angular and tight it looked like it hurt when she widened her mouth to make vowel sounds, stretched in amazement at my stupidity. “Tiffany was an expensive pedigreed dog. I never let her out free.”
“Do you know why anyone would want to harm your dog?”
“The women in this neighborhood are jealous. Charlie’s in a cash business and makes money to burn which kills a lot of people. I can drop big bucks without thinking and the women hate me for it. Not to my face of course.”
There was no rancor in her voice. She was just letting me in on some facts of life. The idea that someone else makes gobs of money easily while they struggle sends some people through the roof. Someone as rough around the edges as Charlie Gibbons would piss people off if he flaunted his wealth. “But why take it out on the dog?” I asked. “That seems needlessly cruel.” That last statement was misleading. I’m ashamed to say I’m indifferent to most animals. We had a cat, Fred, that I fed grudgingly and I always bought the cheap birdseed with like three sunflower seeds per pound of gravel that the birds refused to eat.
“You tell me,” said Charlene reasonably. “How much do you charge?” She was already expanding one of those Gucci drawstring pouch bags.
I had never said my fee out loud so it took some control. “Fifty an hour plus expenses. Fifteen percent more for weekend surveillance.
She looked disappointed, then suspicious. “You new at this?” I shook my head. “You don’t charge enough. It’s a dead giveaway. It’s okay with me. You’re the earnest type which means you’ll work hard. And you live in the neighborhood. She paused. “Charge seventy-five. My allergist charges ninety for a two-minute shot. Don’t sell yourself short. You’re going to need the money to fix up this house.”
I wasn’t offended. I was thinking about the allergy shots. I guess that’s the price she paid for that gorgeous red hair. “Thanks for your confidence Charlene, but fifty will do it.”
She shrugged. “I’m not a fool,” she said. “If you’re going to work for me, you have to be one hundred percent on my side. I’m your client and that’s sacred. I looked into her eyes and was surprised by how much intelligence showed through the toughness.
“I know that, Charlene, but I don’t mind you spelling it out.” I found her statement too dramatic for the crime at hand and that should have tipped me off that there was more to this than a dead dog. Her conversation was studded with violent imagery: “money to burn,” “kills a lot of people,” “dead giveaway.” Otherwise, she appeared to be up front. She said what was on her mind and most of it made sense. The people I had lived among for twenty years, just ten miles north, never said what was on their mind. It was culture reversal. Here, in Roxbury Commons, people talked openly about money. They talked about the housewives on reality shows as if they were best friends. In this neighborhood, I could be dull and slow. No one even wanted snappy talk.
Charlene extricated five one hundred dollar bills from a slim alligator wallet, a material I thought had been outlawed. I would have bet she had a mink or two in cold storage. “Here’s something on account. Tell me when you use it up.” She snapped the drawstrings of her handbag as if it were a dog she wanted to behave. “You’ll probably want to know whom I suspect.” Someone had taught Charlene English usage.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wendy

When Steve Jobs died in his fifties, it made me think of Wendy Wasserstein, the playwright, who also died in her fifties. I started reading both biographies that had just been published.

When Wendy died it was like What? No! It was in January, 2006. She died in the bleak dead of winter. They never say the “dead” of summer. A lot of people I know have died in winter. It’s as if they think I’m going to die anyway why go through another freeze ass winter. At the time I was so against Wendy’s death I read everything thinking I would ultimately find her still alive. The internet is macabre about death. There’s the Blog of Death where they catalogue obituaries. There’s “Dead or Alive” and if the subject is gone, the page just reads: Dead. There’s a skull in the corner. Or it screams Alive! with a smiley face. Most accounts on Wendy said simply “…dead at 55.” Gawker.com added …”died this morning of cancer. She was 55.” Lots of people posted comments on Gawker including Firebrand who had a beef with the idea that 55 was a ”tragically young age” since Pfc Brian J. Schoff had died on the same day in Iraq at the age of 22. The Daily News had a lot of the soft news on Wendy including her will and a round-up story on the special challenges of single moms finding a guardian for their child. It mentioned that Wendy’s billionaire brother, Bruce, was raising Lucy after “dismissing the girl’s live-in nanny.” This was the same Bruce who would go on to divorce his third wife and marry his fourth and would now spring his orphaned niece on their new household. For all I know, Lucy Jane captured everyone’s heart but something tells me this household was not a warm fuzzy place. Fast forward three years later. Bruce dies mysteriously and Lucy Jane is once again in need of a new household.

I wasn’t a fan of Wendy’s plays although I liked her non-fiction articles and I particularly liked her New Yorker piece on the heart wrenching birth of Lucy Jane, her in-vitro created child.
Here’s this Pulitzer Prize winning playwright who decides to inject herself with a fertilized egg at age forty-eight. Who was the father? No one knows. The baby is born premature and barely survives. The mother names her Lucy Jane, a fanciful name but just right for a single famous mother named Wendy. When Lucy is seven her mother, who has been in decline since the birth, dies. Uncle Bruce who, among other things, has commandeered the venerable firm of Lazard Freres and sent all it’s old world founders into near cardiac arrest by getting rid of all things Frenchy and Roccoco and taking the very private firm public, adopts his sister’s child.
Fast forward three years and Bruce dies mysteriously. I say mysteriously because one of the common traits of the Wasserstein family was to withhold important information and to this day the cause of Bruce’s death, the name of Lucy’s father, where Bruce is buried and a myriad other details of the Wasserstein family are not known. By the time he died, Bruce had already fathered another extra-marital child and also divorced wife number three and married number four. Hey, where does that leave Lucy Jane? Lucy is being raised by Bruce’s third wife and enjoys the company of her two boy cousins in what appears to be a stable and happy household.

I ask myself, why are you so obsessed with Wendy Wasserstein especially since you don’t particularly admire her skill as a playwright or the importance of the central themes of her plays? I am obsessed with Wendy because she was someone with limited creative skills who willed herself a place of huge importance in a creative field and worked hard to stay at the white hot center of the action and remain relevant for more than thirty years. Wendy had to work against an overbearing, almost cruel mother who didn’t clap for Wendy even when she won the Pulitzer. Lola Wasserstein might have been the first Tiger Mother, relentless in her demands of excellence and overachievement from her brood. Wendy also had to work against her obesity and lack of fashion grace.

Like Steve Jobs with his no bathing, no shoes fetish, she often appeared at rehearsal or meetings in her nightgown, hair disheveled. Wendy was certain (and her experience confirmed it) she could “will” anything into existence. She tried several times to convince talented gay colleagues to marry her and father her children. One of them may be Lucy’s father. No one knows.

All of the children in the Wasserstein family were very successful. Lola extracted all of the fame and fortune she could have hoped for out of her brood. The lone disappointment was a first-born son that was “challenged.” Lola put him away early on and never brought his name up again until Wendy accidentally discovered him at one of her public appearances. The tragic outcome is that all of the cast members in the original Family Wasserstein have died, many prematurely. The sole survivor is Georgette who runs an inn in Vermont.

I’m rooting for Lucy Jane.

"Did we solve your problem?" Yes? No?

Yesterday I felt crazy. I felt I had mentally gone off a cliff and there was no way of climbing back up. It started out with trying to explain a problem on my Author’s Page to Amazon. Their response was so inappropriate that where the e-mail message asked “Did we solve your problem?,” I wanted to hit the “no” prompt with a sledgehammer. When they sweetly allowed me to re-state the problem, everything I wrote sounded crazy and needlessly complicated.

I thought, Ooooh they’re never going to understand this in Calcutta. What’s more they’re going to think I’m a big whiny baby for wanting my book cover re-instated when they have starving children living in metal shacks. They will purposely write back a bizarre unrelated message to teach me Zen patience and acceptance and ask again hopefully, “Did we solve your problem?” meaning “Have we taught you the meaning of life and living in the now instead of grasping greedily for nonsense outcomes that will not translate into happiness?”

I felt crazy for another reason. I bought something on Amazon on a gift card and when the order went through, they asked “Do you want to apply the balance in your account to this order?” This message didn’t make sense unless Amazon was trying to prey on my dim wittedness and get me to pay twice. When I clicked on the help button and talked to a very nice person, I felt crazy asking her “Why is that message there? Why would I want to pay more money for the same item?”

I felt crazy for another reason. The prescription eye drops I put in my eyes every day usually sting like crazy but the new batch doesn’t sting at all. How was I going to tell that to the pharmacist? It sounded crazy. “Hello, my eye drops don’t sting do you thing big Pharma has bungled the formula and now I am going to go blind? There’s no good way of saying that.

Talking to the phone company used to be a reliable way of feeling not only crazy but in need of anger management. One of my children had a telephone problem for two years that the phone company refused to acknowledge. She would lose phone service every time it rained. Try telling that to the repair dept. For two years she pleaded with Verizon to fix the problem. She would go through the menu and they would ask her to “speak” her problem. “Did I hear you say you want to order the premium package?” was Verizon’s response.

Today, I am only engaging in activities that I can control. I’m writing my blog and sending out Christmas checks.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

SampleSunday The Hummus Queen.

(One Hundred Open Houses was a book I wrote when I was sure I would never write again. I couldn't make my mind settle down. I couldn't make my body settle down. Both of these are necessary to write a full length novel. My agent, Charlotte Sheedy got me to write this book over lunch in a pleasant restaurant in Sag Harbor, New York. We had started out at a different restaurant but she couldn't find anything she liked on the menu so we moved across the street to another restaurant. She mentioned a book that was currently popular. You could do a book like that,she said. I was sure I couldn't. Of course, you could, she insisted. Bolstered by several gulps of Merlot, I agreed to begin. For the next several months I pulled this book out of me inch by inch. I was jumpy, the book was jumpy. I wasn't used to sitting still. I wasn't used to thinking things through and being honest. I have no reliable memory of how the book progressed from chapter to chapter. When I had only a few pages left, I was finally able to write smoothly and quickly. One day the book was done. When I read it through I fell madly in love with what I had written.)

My job started out as a place to volunteer and grew into serious work. I was thrilled to have a place to go every day in my new town and it was a step up from making hummus and baba ghanoush for the gourmet market down the street although I was thrilled to get that job at first because, in a way, it was my own business. I was a divorced woman in a new community. I sometimes went to the bank just for a little conversation with the teller. I wanted to ask the teller if she had ever been held up but that would have set off all sorts of alarms.
The man who owned the gourmet market made me do a taste run and then said he would carry everything I made. I hand printed the ingredients on all the labels and weighed everything on a postal scale. If I needed a pound of anything I had to weigh it in two containers. Everything sold out every week and there was a standing order for three pounds of the baba ghanoush and three pounds of tabouleh from a rich Turkish lawyer. The man who owned the market used to call out when he saw me. “Look, here comes the Hummus Queen.”
I was so happy to be connected to something; I never stopped to do the math to see why The Hummus Queen had so little money trickling in. The film festival job that tore me away was attached to a real paycheck, a commodity I was almost losing with the baba ghanoush. Instead of weighing trendy dips, I have to raise money with rash promises of a life-changing experience for corporations that would do better to put that fifty thousand dollars into a really great gym for their employees and get some word-of-mouth good will.
It’s Tuesday morning and we are all stuffed into the back office (Jelly Castro’s office). Shana Greene, our boss, has called a “Who Moved My Cheese” meeting to clear the air.
Jelly, who programs the films, is thirty-ish, tall and soft-spoken. It’s hard to believe he used to be a cross-dressing performer.
“I didn’t read the book. What does ‘who moved my cheese’ mean?” I ask
“It’s a way to help people through change,” says Louise. Louise is a classic small framed outsourced blonde who used to work for a Fortune 500 company. She uses her Fortune 500 expertise in this operation.
“Let’s go around the room and say how we feel.” says Shana.
I will not be saying how I feel. Its nuts to say how you really feel to anyone unless it’s a medical situation. If anyone’s like me, they feel a different way every five minutes. I think Shana has a spending disorder and makes dangerous decisions, but my fickle heart falls for her on some days. . When she’s friendly and jovial and especially when she admits to being afraid, I’m crazily nice to her. We go around and everyone says something. Shana and Jelly hug and the meeting is over.
It’s only ten o’clock and Louise and I are supposed to show up at a Home and Garden Show in the city that has given us a free booth and try to sell memberships and passes to the Festival. Shana asks me to drive her to her car in the long-term lot before I leave and as we’re walking she stops and looks at me. “We are not anywhere near our budget goal. You have to bring in at least three hundred thousand dollars in the next six weeks.” I would never have predicted that anyone would ever say those words to me.
“It’s still early,” I say. “Remember last year all the sponsorships came in June and July.”
When I’m on the highway, driving alone, I think ‘How do I look in this car? How does my face look?’ I probably look like a person caught in a freeze frame. I’ve been at this job for about six years and I’m afraid to leave it. I want to be tethered, as if I’m swimming off a boat but still holding on to a line.
I’m glad to be going into the city because ever since I fell into 9-G accidentally, I want to have that feeling again. It makes me think of the main character in John Cheever’s short story, The Swimmer, who is trying to figure out his suburban life by swimming home through all of the neighbors’ pools and stopping to see what’s going on in each house. Early this morning, I went to a website to see if there were Open Houses on a weekday. Tuesday, it turns out is the night when realtors have evening visitation for people who aren’t around on Sundays. One of the listings is in a building called The Jardinium on East 40th Street, an area of the city known as Murray Hill or Kips Bay or Turtle Bay.
I have noticed that there is a trend among developers to attach names to new buildings that end in “um.” There’s a building in Miami called the Continuum. I guess it’s where you continuum your life after you vacate the Park Millennium in New York. The Park Millennium is where Ian and Alicia Stone, who look to be barely out of their twenties in the New York Times photograph, just bought six contiguous apartments. He’s a venture capitalist in case you want to know what business you need to be in to amass the kind of money it takes to say, “I’ll take all six.”
In the “um” buildings, they decorate the model apartment with that ultra modern, metal-legged smooth leather furniture by RolfBenz or Rochebobois. The kitchens are all SieMatic – no protrusions, no countertop appliances, no knobs on the drawers. This is the kind of ‘shock and awe’ silence decorating that makes you want to sneak to IKEA to touch a little bit of wood. I wonder what the big deal is with Sub-Zero? Is it just that it’s below Zero?
It took some doing to find the Home and Garden site. When I arrive at our booth in the warehouse space, on the very far West Side, Louise is talking to the only person who has bought a membership, a balding man wearing a white dress shirt. “What do I get?” the new member wants to know. “I want to go to parties with movie stars.”
After three hours of no activity except cruising the other booths for free stuff, Louise and I pack it up. I head for the Open House and experience an onset of anticipation that is close to excitement. I don’t know what I’m going to find at the Jardinium or how it will add goodness to my life – but that’s just it – I have no thoughts. I have reverted to mindless anticipatory glee, the way a pet must feel when it approaches a full dinner bowl after waiting all day for his master.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Barley, Betheny & Jason, Happiest Jobs, Compliments (redux)

(I wrote this blog in March and thought it would be interesting to see if it still holds my interest in December. Present day comments in italics)

Barley:
I made barley yesterday. Barley was unknown to me and to anybody I know as a stand-alone food. The closest we came to knowing barley was in some soups from Progresso. I bought a package labeled “pearled barley,” put the contents in a pot with water to cover and let it simmer. When the water was completely absorbed, I added the juice of two lemons. (Lemon juice is my go-to cooking accessory.) The result was unremitting good tasting stuff. It was chewy and tart. Lemon infused barley can become addictive, as in you can’t stop eating it. Barley is like Cinderella. You have to dress it up to make it stand out. It absorbs whatever flavor you put into it. I choose lemon. Adding raisins would also be good. When you see barley in the deli counter it is often paired with cranberries. Don’t ever buy deli barley. Make your own.
(This barley editorial took the barley love out of me. Haven't eaten it since.)

Betheny & Jason
Last night, at a dinner party with really smart , well-bred people, (nobody says well-bred anymore) I started blabbing about the reality show Bethany Ever After. I used to like Bethany when she was on The Real Housewives of New York City. She was the nearest to sane (yes, including Alex who finally came undone) The craziest one is, hands down, Kelly, who is dangerously insane. Anyway, Bethe ny, who had happily alienated all the other women got her own show last fall. Because she often goes to the hidden truth of a situation (she once told her male assistant to pack some of her underwear for a trip and when he hesitated she said, “They’re clean. It’s not as if my vagina was still in them.”) I like to watch Bethany. THEN SOMETHING AWFUL HAPPENED. This very hip, kind of whiny girl with a dark parental past who goes to the best shrink MARRIED (shriek) JASON. Everything Jason says is cool-like as in leather-like or “I can’t believe it’s not butter.” In other words he is trying. I don’t mind people who try (I try) but I very much mind people who are trying but don’t know it and keep on going and think they are the real deal and get all excited and happy and think they are a big hit.
(I learned to spell Betheny, Alex and Kelly were dumped from the show, still feel the same about Jason.)

Jobs that bring happiness:
Like some people I get most of my news from the Yahoo home page. A few days ago Yahoo identified the five top jobs that bring happiness.
1) Biotechnology worker
2) Customer service
3) Education
4) Admin-Clerical
5) Purchasing Agent

The people who troll the internet and comment had things to say about this list.
Customer service # 2 ????? Yeah, right....nothing like taking abuse from pissed off customers all day long for $9.00 an hour.
Customer service? Who the hell put this list together? Leave it to Yahoo for another stupid list of bullsh*t!
Then there were the zen commenters who were in their own serene world
Love is an acquired phenomenum.
The funniest people I know are homeless, they laugh all the way back to the bridge. And lovable. It’s like a Christmas card.
The job that brought the least happiness? Legal work.
(For myself,this has been one of the happiest years of my life. I love blogging, I love selling e-books, I love the serendipity of life and I love my grandchildren.)

Compliments
Why do I feel uncomfortable when someone is nice to me? It’s like wearing the worst itchy sweater in a hot room. Just received this fabulous review for Daughters and instead of feeling overjoyed, I felt uncomfortable. Somebody slap me.
(Not much has changed but there's something to add. One of my books gets really nasty reviews only on Amazon U.S.: "This book sucks," "Worst book ever," "Good book, dumb ending," My favorite of these says,"the dumb thing fell off a cliff and I couldn't get it back." This book is also my best selling book - even in slow months, it sells 60 or more ebooks a day.

Business
My internet business is chugging along. In March, my sales rose to 250 books, more than twice what I did in February. Part of it is due to pricing. I tried the 99 cent experiment with “Best Friends” and sold 140 books. I’m getting to be pretty good at marketing.
(In April Amazon accepted my Kindle Single, Thinner Thighs In Thirty Years, and my sales jumped dramatically on all the titles. Since then monthly sales have not dropped below 500. In November with the success of putting Best Friends up for "free" sales for that title alone have topped 1,000. I don't know if this trend will continue but again, I love the serendipity.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Nothing To Lose is Free this week. Nada, Nil. No money, no greenbacks, not one red cent

(set up: At the worst possible time in her life, April has to deal with a blind date sent by a friend who is riding high on the upwardly mobile elevator)
One night in late summer, the telephone rang and a voice April had never heard, high but self-assured, asked if she was April Taylor.
“Speaking.”
“My name is Bob Waller.” There was a moment of silence. “I’m calling at Sylvie’s suggestion. I’m recently separated and she said you were in the same boat.” Again a long silence that she didn’t feel obligated to fill. “Hello…are you there?”
“Yes.” Another silence.
“Well, are you?”
“Am I what?”
“In the same boat?”
She had a vivid picture of herself and Bob Waller in a flimsy rowboat, in the middle of the ocean, wearing business clothes. Yet she felt no responsibility to be friendly and helpful. Sylvie had no idea how fat she’d become. This man would show up at her door and faint. What could she tell him: I’m very fat, can you take it? “I guess,” she finally answered Bob Waller.
“I have a little boy who spends the weekends with me. How about you?”
“How about me what?”
“Do you have children?” He asked hopefully. He would be disappointed if she were any less emotionally stranded than he.
“No.”
This made him thoughtful and silent. So what? He was the one who wanted to row out of the harbor of loneliness into the port of togetherness. She considered offering him this metaphor but decided against it because she could feel herself seething with anger. Why? What did she have against this stranger?
“Well…uh, I was wondering if maybe we could go out or something.” Her slow, dim-witted delivery had appealed to him. She could hear the eagerness in his voice.
“I don’t know.” She wound the telephone cord around her wrist.
“I know it’ll be awkward, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”
You don’t have to start with me. “How long have you been separated?”
“Three months.”
“That recent?” It was just something to say but he took it as a criticism.
“You think that’s too recent? It seems kind of long to me. How long have you been separated?”
“I’m divorced. I’ve been divorced for seven months but I haven’t been living with my husband for a year.”
Long silence. “Well, what do you think? You think we can go out and see what turns up? Come on, it’ll be good for you. I know it’ll be good for me.”
“I’m not in such great shape.”
“Who is?”
“It’s been a long time. Don’t expect much.”
“I won’t.”
“I mean really don’t expect much. Dating is the last thing on my mind….Look, if you just want someone to talk to, we can talk on the phone.”
“Stop worrying. It’ll be all right. We’re two adults, two battered souls. We know what the score is.”
For a moment she wanted to accept. He was patient and kind. “All right.”
“Sylvie said you were a lot of fun.” He waited for her to confirm this. “Are you a lot of fun?”
“Oh, sure. A laugh a minute.”
“ So how about tomorrow night?”
“Okay.”
She gave him the address and hung up. Right away she was sorry she’d said yes. Which one did she hate more, Sylvie or Bob Waller? Why did Sylvie still consider her a friend? They hadn’t seen each other for almost two years. Sylvie, with all her reversible clothes from Talbot’s, was a stranger. Now she was going out with a stranger, as a favor to another stranger. He would fall down the stairs and kill himself when he saw her. It would serve them both right.
After the call, she was starving. She opened a can of Old El Paso tamales. She was crazy for the taste of corn. Doritos, Fritos, all those corn-y snacks were high on her list. The tamales were standing erect in their cornhusk envelopes, five stiff soldiers. She fished one out, shook off the sauce and ate it in two bites. Bits of reddish fat clung to her fingers and she decided to heat the rest. When she finished the tamales, she wished there were more and debated whether it was worth going out to get another couple of cans. No. Her ribs hurt, something new that had cropped up. There was a bursting, wrenching pain that began when she sat on a soft chair or slept on her side. She got up to bind herself with a scarf and stubbed her toe. She cursed, brushed her teeth twice to get rid of the sauce taste that clung to her mouth and went to bed.
That night she dreamt she had a new apartment in an Art Deco building. She kept finding new hidden spaces that she hadn’t been aware of before. The apartment was empty and she was anticipating the fun of furnishing it from scratch when she noticed a huge, old couch, hogging almost all the space.

Either out of nervousness or momentary blindness, or because he was still in shock from having his wife walk out on him, Bob Waller didn’t show by word or expression that there was anything unusual in his blind date. She wore a silk shirtwaist in size 20 with a self-sash that she considered leaving off. It was colored in what the fashion world called ice cream stripes. At the last minute she added hoop earrings. She had blow-dried her hair into a careless, no-part disarray of waves and curls. Her green eyes looked restless and feverish because of a light tan acquired on the previous weekend. If you didn’t stray below the neck, she looked pretty.
He appeared to have planned and timed the evening and picked her up at 7:00 for a 7:30 dinner reservation at a restaurant on the West Side. As they walked along 34th street looking for a cab, she realized he was trying to look at her when he thought she wasn’t looking at him. But that was crazy. She was an expert in pretending not to be looking when she knew people were looking at her.
She found Bob Waller handsome in a babyish way, with round cheeks, round eyes and a heavy, labored gait that didn’t go with his slim, tall body. She said as little as possible, waiting for the more relaxed atmosphere of a dimly lit restaurant to get acquainted.
The Café Lyon was small and narrow and cozy, accommodating about twenty tables. “They serve everything on one plate here. Very unpretentious,” he said with the proprietary air of a longtime customer. “The food’s terrific. I always drink the house wine. It’s Sebastiani. See that woman, she’s the manager. The French make good businesswomen. Tough as nails, but very proud. They use the best ingredients and if you complain they get annoyed.
“How do you know? Did you complain?”
“Me? No, I love everything. There was a man who sent back a lamb chop because it was too pink and she had a fit. He said he had asked for it medium and she said that was medium, and in any case, the meat was choice and the chop would be ruined if it was put back in the fire. It would be dry and tasteless. Then she said a lot of other angry things in French to the waiter.”
“What happened to the idea that the customer is always right?”
“Oh, she was right. Don’t you think?”
“No. The man should have walked out. And maybe tossed the lamp chop around a little.”
He was disappointed and she saw him reassessing the evening. Might she throw something around? She made a conciliatory gesture. “Why don’t you tell me about your marriage?” After all, he was spending good money to take her to dinner.
He perked up at once and motioned the waiter and asked for some white wine while they decided what to order. “Is white all right?”
“Fine.”
As the waiter was leaving, he changed his mind. “Uh…make that a vodka gimlet.” The waiter looked questioningly to April.
“I’ll stick with the wine,” she said.
“My wife was a very pretty woman, he said by way of a preamble. “She was the sort of person who had to always be going someplace where she could put her prettiness to work. You know what I mean?” April did and nodded. He had described his wife very concisely. “Well, after a while, a marriage settles in. You can’t always be going places. Anyway, she became restless. Very restless. She used to tap her fingernails on any surface. Tap, tap, tap, while she was waiting for the bacon to cook for my son and me or while she was waiting to add the softener to the wash cycle. Tap, tap, tap. She was very edgy, but I never dreamed she would leave. She walked out…just like Joanna Kramer.”
“Joanna Kramer?”
“Yes. Ted Kramer’s wife. You know the movie Kramer vs. Kramer? Well, it was just like that with me. I could be Ted Kramer except that my wife took the kid with her. Also, I’m not in advertising. Also, I’m not the Class A jerk that Ted Kramer was. I didn’t neglect my wife or work long hours, but it was the same basic situation. I married a girl who was too pretty for me and she got restless. There was no place for her to put her prettiness to work and she was afraid it would all be gone and she’d have nothing to show for it.”
April was surprised at her lack of sympathy. “What was your wife’s name?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Why do you ask everything in that suspicious tone of voice? It’s not information I can sell or anything like that. I just want to picture the woman you’re talking about. This callous, adventurous woman. Is it Ramona Waller? Or Elizabeth Waller or Cynthia? It helps to know.” Actually, she thought Mrs. Waller was smart and brave.
“Samantha.”
“Ooooo, Samantha.” She bobbed her head up and down as if she now understood everything. “There were a few years where everyone was naming their girls Samantha after Katherine Hepburn’s role in some movie. Her parents must have been high-class.” Why had she said that? She really didn’t think that.
“Yes. Yes, they were.” He was appreciative of her deductive powers.
“But how can you compare your life to a movie? Kramer vs. Kramer was full of shit. Just good old Hollywood craperoo.” She knew that was not herself talking. It was Don. She was talking and behaving like Don.
“Why do you say that?” He was startled by her language.
“Why do I say that? Because there’s no way Dustin Hoffman could have a kid that looked like the kid in the movie. Even with a mother like Meryl Streep. And, for another thing, he was too frenetic. The first fifteen minutes of that movie, where he tries to make French toast and does everything wrong…how could you believe anything after that? I was glad she left him.”
Bob Waller looked at her in a funny way. As if she might be glad his wife had left him, too. As if he were taking out the enemy instead of someone who could offer him succor. Fortunately, the waiter showed up and they ordered the food.
“My quarrel with Ted Kramer was that he treated Joanna like a piece of furniture. He marries this gorgeous superior person and then expects her to be satisfied to wash his socks.”
“That’s not too hard to understand,” said April. “My husband thought I was born to wash his socks, and you know what? I did, too. My husband was perfect. A perfect person.” Right after she said that, she realized for the first time that Harald was not perfect. That she might not even choose him again even if she could. This sudden reversal so engaged her, she wanted to stop talking and think about it. Bob Waller looked bored. He didn’t want to hear about her marriage.
“Look,” he said, pointing to the end of the bar where the lady manager was sitting on a stool, “that man. I think he’s her boyfriend. When he shows up, she shuts up.” The man was leafing through the receipts in a surly way.
“Maybe he’s the manager.”
“No. He might own it, but she runs the show.”
There was nothing for her to say. He seemed to get a second wind and told her about his childhood. He had been an altar boy at St. Thomas the Apostle Church. He was originally from Boston. Boylston Street. Georgetown University was his college. Then, he, too, was at the end of his vivaciousness and looked nervously around the small room. Their food came and they ate it. April said it was delicious. She was tired of acting like Don.
“Where do you work?” she asked. A guarded look came over his face, as if she was going to show up at his office and call him sweetie. It was true. When you were fat, people expected underhanded behavior. If you were capable of being fat, you were capable of anything.
Her feet were beginning to tingle, as were parts of her thighs. Of late, she had been losing sensation in different parts of her body, as if sections were going to sleep or the blood supply couldn’t penetrate all the fat. When she thought her circulation was about to give up, she became alarmed. She bought a detailed body atlas put out by Hammond, the map people, so she could see how it all worked. She often studied it, tracing her own blood out of the heart, into the lungs, back to the heart, out the arteries, to the capillaries where the nutrients were extracted, drained by the veins and then, the used, tired blood going back to the heart to be replenished again. It was the used, tired blood part that got her. Was it too used and too tired to take the journey again?
The ice cream had separated in her dish. Bob Waller looked tired. Little beads of perspiration had formed on his upper lip. There was a pointlessness to the evening that gave her a headache. She felt more sorry for him than for herself. Did he know as an altar boy in Boston that his life would take such a turn? As he was learning his ethics from the Jesuits, did he suspect he would have to cope with the faithless Samantha and then attempt to lift the leaden stone of rejection off his chest by calling a faceless stranger connected to him by the fragile thread of coincidence and Sylvie Straight, nee Beck? Sylvie, who now wore wraparound skirts and short-sleeve cotton lisle shirts with repeating patterns of strawberries or smiling frogs, who had been elected treasurer of the Episcopal Women of Ardsley, New York. Oy vey.
She decided to go to the bathroom. It would give her legs and feet something to do. It would give Bob Waller some privacy to fall apart and it would give her a chance to pee, which she badly needed to do.
The bathroom was small and not altogether clean The door had a hook latch that rattled when anyone walked by. She looked for a place to hang her pocketbook and finally placed it in the sink. She sat down on the toilet. Immediately there was a loud snapping sound. My god, what was that? The seat had broken. She jumped, startled and the sudden release of pressure on the seat made the two pieces come together again catching the flesh of her under thigh. Now the pieces seemed cemented together with the glue of her blood and skin. Some blood began to collect on the dirty white tile floor. She let out a cry of pain and fear.

The Steve and Mona Story Stalker

I’m reading two biographies of famous contemporary achievers who died in their fifties at the height of their creative powers. Both had turbulent lives with more than the normal crazy-difficult family episodes to digest. They both thought it was okay to be physically dirty. What do I mean? Steve Jobs thought it was okay not to bathe, to arrive for business meetings with filthy bare feet and in case no one noticed, to put his feet on the CEO’s desk. Wendy Wasserstein (the playwright) thought it was all right to show up for rehearsals and collaborative meetings in her nightgown, hair uncombed.

Pairing these unequal contributors to humanity (Jobs’ contribution was big and widespread, Wendy’s was less big and localized) is whimsical. I am crazy interested in both of them for different reasons. This blog will be devoted to Jobs and I’ll write about Wendy soon.

I became interested in Steve Jobs about ten years ago when I first read Mona Simpson’s book “Anywhere But Here.” I read it twice. I liked the voice of the protagonist. It is the best depiction of the tangled relationships between mothers and daughters I had ever read. By chance I learned that she was the full sibling of Steve Jobs and that they had “found” each other and become friends. Like a crazy groupie, I Googled and Googled the pair until I had unearthed every last tidbit of their lives. If I had been more tech savvy, I would have started a Steve and Mona fan page. When her brother died, Mona rewarded me with a novelistic eulogy that could satisfy any stalker. I've memorized parts of it.

“I’d been waiting for a man to love, who could love me. For decades, I’d thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother. By then, I lived in New York, where I was trying to write my first novel. I had a job at a small magazine in an office the size of a closet, with three other aspiring writers. When one day a lawyer called me — me, the middle-class girl from California who hassled the boss to buy us health insurance — and said his client was rich and famous and was my long-lost brother, the young editors went wild. This was 1985 and we worked at a cutting-edge literary magazine, but I’d fallen into the plot of a Dickens novel and really, we all loved those best. The lawyer refused to tell me my brother’s name and my colleagues started a betting pool. The leading candidate: John Travolta.”

Walter Isaacson, Jobs' biographer fed my sick interest by relating the following: “Jobs enlisted the help of his biological sister Mona Simpson - whom he had tracked down - to help find his biological father. It’s important to note here that Jandali abandoned Mona when she was 4 so that he could go run a refinery in Syria.
So Simpson was able to finally track down Jandali who at the time was running a restaurant in Sacramento. But Jobs didn’t want to accompany her to the restaurant to meet his biological father.
In a taped interview with Walter Isaacson, Jobs explains:

When I was looking for my biological mother, obviously, you know, I was looking for my biological father at the same time, and I learned a little bit about him and I didn’t like what I learned. I asked her to not tell him that we ever met…not tell him anything about me.

So Simpson trekked up to Sacramento alone to meet her biological father.
During the course of that encounter, Jandali boasted that he used to run one of the more popular restaurants in Silicon Valley, noting that even Steve Jobs used to eat there. But Jobs’ sister bit her tongue and didn’t say “Steve Jobs is your son.” She just looked shocked as Jandali explained, “Yeah, he was a great tipper.”

Mona’s first book “Anywhere But Here” is about her mother. Her second book (I found it unreadable) was about her father. Her third novel, A Regular Guy and next on my reading list is about her brother. I hope her fourth book is about Mona. I want to know everything there is to know about Mona.
You’ve read reams and reams about Steve Jobs, the genius, the visionary, the man who knew what we needed without asking. The side story of his mommy-daddy-sister issues, a plot so preposterous it could be a full season on “One Life to Live,” continues to keep me riveted.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

SampleSunday: One Hundred Open Houses: "Whatever you have done, just let it go."

Given my present thought process, something really strange happened in church on Sunday. Father O’Connell is on vacation and this other priest said mass. He was old and we could hardly hear him.
We were prepared to just sit through it, the way we did when we had a substitute teacher. Almost in a whisper, he began talking about reconciliation – that’s what they call confession now. He said, “Whatever you have done, let it go. You aren’t children anymore with a laundry list of sins to confess – I hit my brother, I told a lie, I stole some candy - in order to be okay with God. Just get rid of everything. Let it go and you will be closer to Jesus. If you’ve had an abortion, if you’ve been abusive to your family – let it go. Let it all go. It’s all right. One of you,“ he emphasized, “sitting here today, will be transformed.”
The entire congregation remained still. Dumbstruck. We weren’t prepared to actually hear something we could use never mind being transformed. After church, I saw this young handsome man – not your typical devoted Catholic - go up to the priest and say – “I’m not from this parish but that is the best homily I have ever heard.” There was a long line of people and they were all saying much the same thing. They had been longing to find a way to get rid of all the things they were ashamed of doing and this brilliant old priest had told them it was okay to let it all go. He was telling us that he was certain – without a doubt – that this was not only okay, but also necessary.
After mass, I did something I seldom do - something all of us seldom do – I sat in the living room. I sat on the couch I had bought at the Bloomingdale’s outlet store. There was nothing to do in the living room except look around. You couldn’t cook there or eat or watch television. The living room, I have to tell you, is a useless room that we have been told is necessary. I felt as if I was visiting and all the stuff in there was new to me. After the “letting go” talk, if you take it seriously, you have a lot of space in your head to think about other things.
It had resulted in putting me in a strange state of lethargy. I felt all dry and papery. I was made of parchment paper. I kept thinking that contrary to my current fervor for staying alive, there might be something to dying. No more humidifying and dehumidifying. No more coughing at night or worrying about anything. If nothing else, the weight issue would be moot.
When you send the e-mail down to your psyche saying, “hey, it’s time to open up, we want some life changing moves up here,” it reacts. I had stated a purpose and begun a plan and although it wasn’t frontal lobotomy or entering a non-speaking religious order, it was change and there’s nothing like change to make the psyche squeeze out a miserly bit of self-revelation.
What was revealed to me on that chilly for June Sunday morning was that no matter what I did or where I lived or if I chose to pitch a tent in the Mojave dessert there was a fist sized hunk of worry smack in the center of my chest and if I didn’t address it, I was not going to really move.
There was no media noise so I was aware of the silence in the house. In my Sunday morning clarity, I knew that it was a hunk of heaviness that had been sitting in my chest for a very long time. I went into my default site of things to worry about, the kids’ safety, my health, mental illness and plumbing problems in a town where plumbers are rock stars. If you’re not going to follow the blueprint for the American Dream, you have to fight hard not to think ill of yourself.
This wasn’t about the kids or the house. This hard impenetrable thing was a hunk of worry about me, Rebecca, and what had happened to her. I bypassed my instinct to find some quick answer and thought about what my life was like from moment to moment. What I said to certain people and what I said to others. Was I authentic with anyone? Did I have enough friends? What mattered to me? Did anyone really love me? Was there anyone who couldn’t live without me? Do you even want someone who can’t live without you? No, you don’t! I’ll give you a profile of that man without even meeting him. Needy, needy, needy. And possibly in need of long-term therapy. You want someone who can live without you but would like to spend some time with you.
I had an m.o. As long as I could find the irony in everything that happened, I could make a case for an existence that resided on the sidelines while everyone else was actually living. Being ironic was no substitute for living but so help me I thought it was. Louise was living all of the time. She knew at least a dozen couples that she and her husband saw on a regular un-ironic basis. She had friends she had known for forty years. She played tennis with her friends and went to baby showers. She had a sequential life. She definitely did not start over every morning.
I thought about my premise that a move outside my comfort zone would jump-start a new life, a new routine, new connections and a new me. I was definitely ready to re-define myself. As what? A spunky middle-aged woman? This British guy had been on Oprah and he wrote a book on happiness and he said you would never be happy if you had a destination addiction. Why anyone would listen to a Brit talk on the psychology of happiness is beyond me. But I did take a little interest in his “destination addiction” theory. He was saying that as long as you thought that your happiness depended on something that was going to happen in the future, you were a dead duck. Or an unhappy duck. What I got from that Brit was that if I thought I was going to jump start my stalled writing career by moving to a monastic cell in New York City, I was stupid, stupid, stupid. And misguided. And delusional. I had to start being happy right here in Huffy The House. And while moving was a good idea, I would already be the committed reclaimed writer when I arrived.
So there was no avoiding it then. I had to begin thinking of the story I wanted to tell. What story was I just bursting to tell? No writer is bursting to write anything. Most are bursting to keep from writing. Writing is incredibly hard and beside it everything else appears incredibly easy. But this particular moment, I kept still and continued thinking until I had an “aha” moment that sounded so simple, I didn’t trust it but since I had nothing else, I went with it. Maybe the story was me! The routines, the bad habits, the small pleasures, the calls to the utility companies, the yanking of weeds, the phantom tandem life that I was going to live one day. Not this life but something better. Maybe this was the better life – maybe what I was writing down in my journal would make a fabulous story. Maybe my life was the story of the century. Every single day of it – Louise and Shana and the rep for the Dubai place and Itzonlyphil were what was in my life and if I shaped what I was writing in my journal into the odyssey it had become, I could make sense of it for myself and maybe for others, too. Maybe what was in my head was not the jumbled thoughts of a textbook AADD but LIFE.
I had just read an article in the New Yorker about the dictionary of mental disorders (I’m thinking someone is sitting around saying: there’s stealing and let’s call that kleptomania and there’s unsubstantiated euphoria and let’s call that manic behavior) There was a phrase in the article that I liked. It said someone had an unruly inner life. That’s what I had to document! My unruly inner life. I would shape what I had been writing in the journal into a book.
It was Sunday morning and my instinct was to turn on the television and watch Meet The Press. Anything not to test my new theory that, at best, seemed weak. I went to the computer instead. I wrote the date and Chapter One – 9-G I wasn’t looking for an apartment…
I started and before I knew it, Meet The Press was over and so were the McLaughlin Report and even Lydia’s Family Table. I had just plunged into the story in an unruly way. I introduced the old priest and what he told us and Ms. DuBois at the bank and KooKoofor$ and also Ben and Harry and even my mother and my fear of the voodoo she might be doing on my life. When I was done for the day I felt spaced out the way you do when you spend a day at the beach and the bright sun glinting off the water makes you feel surreal. And the salt air makes the indoors feel too quiet and unfamiliar. And your eyes can’t adjust. I turned off the computer and had a cup of coffee. There was no milk so I put some Turkey Hill vanilla Ice Cream in it. I drank it slowly, in the living room. Just me sitting there.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Real estate is the new Hollywood

The New York Times has an entire magazine devoted to real estate. It’s called Key and on one of the early covers was a stylized picture of a key with red lines radiating from it that looked like the vein and capillary system inside your body. That’s about right. Real Estate has become the substance of our dream life.

When I read Key magazine, I feel as if all the information has segregated me and shut me out. One of the articles tells you how much house one and a half million dollars can buy today. If you want to move to Szigetkoz, Hungary (no, I didn’t misspell it) you get a 30-acre, ten-bedroom castle. In New York City, you get a one-bedroom apartment with lava-stone kitchen countertops and the noise of the West Side Highway at your doorstep.

The best real estate news is not about absurdly low mortgage rates, it is the public gossip about who bought what. It doesn’t even have to be gossip about rich people. ‘The Hunt’ in the Sunday New York Times tracks the search by ordinary citizens who need to find four big rooms to rent for under twelve hundred dollars a month and everything they see is one and a half rooms for thirty-five hundred. There was this woman and her mother who wanted a one-bedroom close to the daughter’s work. Brokers took their fee but never delivered and didn’t return phone calls. I always think, maybe Oprah will read this and send them some money. The women finally ended up living in one place and breaking the lease and then living in another place for about twice what they could afford. The sad thing about this story is not the strained finances, it’s the set-up: a woman and her adult daughter, forced together, trying to make life work

These stories have the same two or three general plot lines, and one motivating factor. If you are hunting for a new place to live, you are also hunting for a new life. A newly married human resources executive wanted to buy a larger apartment but only if it had value and she could repeat the appreciation of her one-bedroom in Long Island City. After months of searching in Brooklyn and Queens, she and her new husband capitulated to - The Bronx! Ooooh, the Bronx. I’m scared for them. He’s from Norway and has no prejudice about the location or the drive-by shootings. The Bronx, we learn, has some wide thoroughfares (the Grand Concourse) and cheap multi-room apartments where a lot of famous people grew up. I once dated a boy from the Bronx. His name was Spencer and I met him at a summer job in the Catskills. I probably would have married Spencer if I had been Jewish and his parents hadn’t hired a hit man to off me.

Frequently, married doctors with foreign hyphenated names pop up in The Hunt. They usually settle for the outer boroughs - Kew Gardens, Astoria or Jackson Heights. At the top of their wish list is a place to park or an extra room for their hobbies although I don’t know when they have time for hobbies with tiny children and long clinic hours, etc. The foreign doctors are happy with good space, good schools, convenient food shopping and washer/dryer close by as opposed to the glam location value of Manhattan. The defining factor of “The Hunt” is that all of the stories end in success. Nobody leaves town, depressed and beaten.

Whoever invented the "Open House" maneuver, is my hero. I love Open Houses so much I wrote an entire book about them.

Once I was at an open house in the Flatiron district. It was a one bedroom overlooking the big clock at Met Life. The apartment had a mirror tile wall and swooping metallic lamps and glass tables and really no place you could sit and not be gouged by the unyielding materials. It was brittle in the way Bette Davis could be brittle. This man looked around and said, “If this apartment were a relationship, my verdict is, okay to date but would never marry.” When I think about that I’m wondering why I married my house.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Giving it away - a marketing experiment.


I used a marketing trick that had such amazing results I have to share.
I let a book go “free” on Amazon. This is harder than it sounds because Amazon won’t let you place a price of less than 0.99 for an e-book. The route to “riding the free-way” as Dee Dee Scott puts it, is by going free on Smashwords (the distributor that sells our books to all the other e-reader outlets) and have it filter through. Once the book appears free on Barnes & Noble and Kobo, Amazon will price match.

A week ago Sunday, I made Best Friends free on Smashwords. By Tuesday night the Amazon bots had noticed and it went free on Amazon. The first 12 hours I had 2,000 downloads. In 24 hours I had 5,000 downloads and hit #8 on the Free 100 list, #1 on the Free Suspense list and #3 on the Free Contemporary Romance list. The deluge of downloads continued for an entire week reaching over 30,000 by Wednesday morning.

The trick to the “free” ride is to un-free the book on Smashwords early on so that Amazon will restore the price after a week (or however long you wish). I un-freed Best Friends the day after Amazon picked it up and as the action filtered through to the various retailers, Amazon finally put the book back into un-free mode.

I thought that would be the end of the experiment. 30,000 exposures was pretty good advertising and sure to get me a few new readers who would buy my other titles. The loss of income was minimal because I was only making .35 cents per book and wasn’t selling that many. But here comes the good part: After the “free” ride ended, the book continued to sell briskly and ended up #2 on the Movers & Shakers list and went as high as #194 on the Kindle 100 in one day.

• #199 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
• #15 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Romance > Contemporary
• #19 in Books > Romance > Contemporary
• #29 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Mystery & Thrillers > Thrillers > Suspense

How long will this last? Probably not that long. I’ve noticed that rankings change dramatically both up and down. However, the “free” experiment was a success. Considering how scattershot I am about my marketing, I’m lucky I hit on the “free way”

To those who don’t care a whit about my e business, I’m reading the biography of Steve Jobs and will do a book report in the next blog.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hi, I'm Huffy The House

I don’t know why but I never matured. I’m still a big fat baby and I react with big fat baby emotions. I don’t like to talk on the phone even when it’s somebody good. I leave the phone dangling sometimes without saying goodbye like a two year old. I still lick food when it’s dripping on the side of a dish or doing other things. When one of my children disciplines one of my grandchildren, I want to punch them and leave with their child even though the wee one was about to set the house on fire.

Once I rented a small cottage to a young man who came into my house and then into my bedroom at one in the morning and asked me to pray with him and I asked him what prayers he knew. When we finished I told him to go back to the cottage. Instead of calling the police, I went to sleep. (To my credit, in the morning, I made him leave.)

I still eat standing up. I don’t clean the house but sometimes I will manually pick the leaves off my front yard and then clip the edges with small scissors. I'm told I go off topic in most conversations. I’d rather not listen to anyone else talk. I don’t want to know another person’s point of view. If someone saw a good show or a good movie or read a good book, I don’t want them to describe it to me. I don’t like advice. I hate advice. The other day this nice doctor told me what to eat and I almost told him to shut up. Sometimes I think I’m by myself when I’m with someone. Sometimes when I’m driving I think, “Is this driving or am I doing something else that I think is driving?” I never balance my bank account and never know how much money I have in the bank. I stand on the ladder where it says “never stand here.”

I don’t dress like a grown up. The last time I looked put together with pantyhose, closed toe pumps and a bra, etc. was when I wanted a zoning favor from a bunch of pale Episcopalians. I looked pretty good even though the skirt was unbuttoned because I was five months pregnant and they gave me the variance. I dream about looking like that again but that’s immature, too. I should not be dreaming about things like that. Getting back to the bra, today I noticed on CNBC that Maidenform stock was way down because of earnings. We know that means women aren’t wearing enough underwear. I know I don’t wear enough bras and slips and half-slips and camisoles Where did they go?

The only time I felt mature (to me this is feeling like a school teacher who wears lace up shoes or maybe like Carley Fiorina who was once the CEO of Hewlett Packard. Also immature.) was when I took the kids to the orthodontist. There was something about driving, stern faced, to Dr. Norman’s office that made me feel officious - hey I’m taking the children to get their teeth straightened. Only a grown up would do that. I would have felt the same if I took them to Saks or Lord and Taylor every spring to get those double breasted light blue wool coats with the half belt in the back like Jackie used to buy for John John.

When the kids were little and I was at my least mature, I would affect being British and say “mind your head” instead of “hey, don’t hit your head” I was enamored of those diplomatic letters where they sign off as “Your Devoted Servant” when they really want to say, “I wish I had been assigned to Bermuda instead of this sucky place.”

Where my lack of maturity has been most evident is in my life choices. Like the baby that I am, I let choices pick me. I let a house choose me that looks like the place where Hansel and Gretel were incarcerated. It looks like it will start wiggling and talking any time: Hi, I’m Huffy The House. If I initiate anything that moves me along in my life’s journey, I dream walk through it and have no memory of a moment of decision.

My immaturity allows me to engage with my grandchildren with total commitment: When one of them says, “Play with me.” I say, “Ok. You be Thomas and I’ll be Toby.” If you don’t know what that means, be glad.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tabouli smackdown

There have been two great Middle Eastern restaurants in my family both in Washington, D.C. and both run by my favorite Uncle Charlie. Everyone in that huge family was a great cook, even the men. I am not talented in that department but I did learn to make, better than average hummus, baba ghanoush and tabouli that kicks you know what.

Good tabouli is almost impossible to buy although the gross, soggy almost fermented kind sold in plastic cups is easily had.

Fresh ingredients are important for good tabouli but technique is crucial.

What you will need:
A big bunch of fresh perky curly parsley
4 thin kirby cucumbers
four or five firm plum tomatoes
3/4 cup of medium coarse bulgur wheat.
half a bunch of scallions (optional)

If you’ve seen recipes on the internet, a word of caution.
Does my list include mint? NO! So don’t put mint in it. Ever!
Does this recipe talk about regular onions? NO. So don’t put regular onions in it.
I’ve even seen soy sauce in an internet recipe. This would destroy the tabouli; it’s the opposite of the crisp, tangy, chewy, mélange that we are trying to achieve. My Aunt Mary (the best cook in the world) who would feed anyone who wandered into her house, would be disappointed.

Dressing:
Juice of one and a half lemons
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
Salt
(no pepper, no garlic, no additional herbs.)
Let me say this again: lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and salt.

The technique needed with all of the vegetables is to dice them by hand into infinitesimally small pieces. You can’t use machines for this because you will get watery mush instead of recognizable tiny cubes. The parsley is the only ingredient that can be processed in a machine and the only machine that has worked to my satisfaction is the Oskar. Unfortunately, they don’t make the Oskar anymore, possibly because it is a great little workhorse. Whenever something is good, they stop making it. St. Ives stopped making cucumber elastin. (it really tightened your skin), Kiehl’s stopped making their great A and D cream and Sunbeam stopped making the Oskar. My friend Naomi wrote a prize-winning poem about this. It’s called “The Item You Ordered Is No Longer Being Produced.” It’s one of my favorite poems.

The secret at the core of great tabouli is to have all of the ingredients as fresh as possible and more important as dry as possible. If the parsley has been washed put it through a spinner before chopping. For the tomatoes, scoop out the watery part. I choose Kirby cucumbers because their seeds are tiny and their cores have less gelatinous flesh. Remember, we are going for dry.

Place the bulgur wheat in a bowl and cover with tap water. Let stand for about an hour, drain the water. Take small portions of the wheat into the palm of your hand and squeeze the remaining water out then place it in a bowl. Do this until all of the wheat has been “wrung” out. Add the minced parsley, the cubed tomatoes and cucumbers and (optional) add a few stalks of minced scallions (use both the bulb and the green) Mix gently.

The wheat will continue to expand siphoning off any liquid from the vegetables. Because the tabouli is dry, you can store part of it in an airtight plastic container for up to four days.

The dressing: Do not be tempted to put anything but lemon, olive oil and salt in your dressing. The reason we wrung out that wheat and dried the vegetables was so they could soak up the lemon and oil and salt which creates an incredibly fresh tangy taste. The wheat especially will continue to expand getting fatter with the lemon and oil. The vegetables will also rehydrate and glisten with the dressing.

This tabouli is addictively good but it is also good for you. If you pair it with a few home made grape leaves or a sandwich of baba ghanoush in fresh hot artisan pita bread Yum.
**I’ve seen recipes that call for putting fine bulgur and soaking in boiling water. You want medium coarse so it soaks up more dressing. If you use boiling water, the wheat will expand too much and again, won’t siphon off some of the moisture of the veggies and the dressing.

I hope you like this.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

“It’s your thyroid” and other important phrases.

The three most palliative (look it up) words in the English language: "It’s your thyroid.” When the doctor says this, jump for joy. First, you’re going to stop feeling tired, second you’re going to want to do things, third you’re going to want to fix things that are wrong with your house, fourth you’re going to (dare I say it?) lose weight.

The 5 most chilling words in the English language: “Let’s have a little talk.” It’s the adjective in that sentence that sends the chill factor into Antarctica. “Let’s have a talk,” means a warning as in, “I’ve noticed such and such is not going smoothly, what can we do to turn that around?” Add the word ‘little’ and talking time is over. You are out.

The six most - “Aw, no. I’m not the right person for this” words are “I’ve never told this to anyone.” If you don’t want this to happen, stop being nice. Niceness invites the crazy secret holders to target you. If you are already a victim do not let the conversation proceed. Say something definitive like “Aw gosh, I have internal bleeding, I’ve got to get it checked out immediately.”

“Are you sitting down?” or “I have big news.” imply success and are good unless you are human and hate to see your friends and dear ones surpass your achievements.

“While you were away your cat died.” This is never good not only because your cat died but because this is a well known opening salvo for sequentially-delivered even worse news. The house sitter begins with ‘your cat died’ to get you prepared and then they segue into worse news, i.e. ‘and your house burned down.’

The ne plus ultra of language: “You have a famous, wealthy relative who wants to get in touch with you.” Those are the words a lawyer spoke to then struggling writer Mona Simpson when she was about to meet a lost brother named Steve Jobs.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

72 days is plenty of time to be married

This is a nonsense post on some of the crazy news stories from my favorite news provider: Yahoo.

1. Kim Kardashian is divorcing her husband of 72 days citing irreconcilable differences. I’m thrilled for them. The irreconcilable difference in height kept me up at night. Remember that little dustup when People chose not to include the groom in the wedding cover photo - he was too tall to fit in the same frame. I’m a short woman and I know all about trying to hold a conversation never mind kiss a man who is a foot and a half taller. It’s called craner’s remorse. You can’t crane 24/7 and not get a little annoyed. Eva Longoria/Tony Parker (similar situation). Jessica Simpson/Tony Romo (the same). Besides giving Kim a colossal neck knot Kris was permanently churlish (a word not used nearly often enough).
Was the marriage too short? Tosh bosh. Kim got a couple of epi$odes for the reality show out of her drive-by marriage and a bundle of magazine money for exclusive wedding photos. There was little else to sell short of getting pregnant. Besides, Kim pumped $10 million dollars into the economy and created a busload of jobs. Maybe President Obama doesn't like his girls watching the Kardashians but Kim knows how to generate some bucks.

2. Mother jailed, loses custody of her daughter over stolen sandwiches. I’m always interested when the government takes children from their parents. If the parenting police had been around when I was a young mother, they would have taken my children on a regular basis. In this case a mother, Nicole, was 30 weeks pregnant and feeling faint while at the supermarket. She took a sandwich and ate it as she shopped for her groceries. When she arrived at the cashier, she paid for $50. worth of groceries but forgot to include the sandwich. The police met her at the door.

I’ve been around a lot of pregnant women in the last few years and I can tell you when they get hungry, it’s like having a bear loose in a residential neighborhood. Didn’t anyone tell Safeway that “it takes a village” to raise a child. Safeway is part of Nicole’s village. The least they could do is give the mother a sandwich. Instead they sent her to jail. Besides, who hasn’t eaten a grape or two while cruising the produce aisle?

3. Drunk, naked driver smashes 12 cars in Moscow.
If we didn’t think there was a little craziness afoot in Russia from watching Putin go topless, this story will seal the deal. I love it when people act as crazy as possible. First, this man, the perpetrator, came from Moldova - a landlocked state between Romania and Ukraine. Second, he was in distress over an unhappy relationship. Translated this means he lived in a sucky place and his girlfriend had dumped him. So he got drunk and ignored a no left turn sign (who hasn’t done that?) This act provoked a police chase. The drunk, jilted, sucky hometown lover decided he was already in trouble why not have the best time. He continued speeding away from the po po smashing several cars en route and shedding his clothes as he went. “Don’t cover me,” he shouted when the police tried to put clothes on him for the television cameras.

That’s the best of the Yahoo news folks, see you later.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

#SampleSunday: Ch.4 Tough As Nails: "There R 3 possibilities; Suicide, Suicide and Suicide.

(this is an excerpt from my "woman sleuth" novel in progress if it makes u want to read more, let me know.)

After Charlie Gibbons death, my resolve to sleep without all-night radio went out the window. Charlie died of “unnatural” causes which called for an autopsy. You can bet they weren’t as tidy as Martha Stewart deboning a Thanksgiving turkey. Lying in a refrigerated box with a name tag attached to your toe is bad, but lying there with your innards in grave disarray, is gruesome.
All-night shrink Joy Brown’s callers were a welcome distraction. The first night, a caller said, “I left my husband five years ago but I can’t stop thinking about a packet of photographs I left in a drawer of the house. I want them back. I’m obsessed with it.” That sounded like the kind of senseless detail that would derail me for five years.
The answer was so obvious - call your ex and ask for them. The woman had remarried, had children but every day she was tormented by the photos and the simple act of asking her ex for them was beyond her. I plotted ways of retrieving the photos that was irrational but infinitely better than scaring myself with autopsy stills.
If I was having disturbing thoughts, I could bet Charlene was distraught. I didn’t want to intrude on her grief but it seemed sensible to put any investigation of Tiffany’s demise on hold.
The tragedy had the unexpected effect of improving my standing in the neighborhood. Given my new profession, women I barely knew called to re-hash Charlie’s death and its aftermath thinking I could shed some light on the police report. The comments ran to “ thank God, Charlene is well provided for ” “thank God there were no children.”
Women say “thank God, “ or “oh, my God,” to everything. The washing machine overflowed. “Oh, my god.” Ethel Merman died. “Oh, my God.” As for the Roxbury Commoners, few had any thought of the deceased. It was all about Charlene who, as everyone was thinking, had been left a very, very rich woman. Figures of several million were thrown around.
The official line, that no one dared cross, was that the death was accidental. Even a hint of something more sinister made Charlene ballistic and no one wanted to antagonize the millionairess. Charlie, Charlene had said, often rested in the car a few minutes after the stressful rush hour drive home. Apparently that day he had dozed off and neglected to turn off the motor. Freaky but true.
Teneca, in a rare mood of sharing had said, “Yeah? How come he didn’t forget to close the garage door? There are three possibilities as to what happened: suicide, suicide, and suicide.” No law said the widow couldn’t believe it was accidental but on the record, it was suicide.
My own insights supported neither theory but to express them was to risk being thought crazy or worse. There were details that didn’t make sense. A self-made man rooted in strict Catholic conservatism wouldn’t choose brand new Ferregamo tasseled loafers for his suicide outfit. Charlie would have opted for black brogues or wing tips as better suited to the occasion. Charlie Gibbons still wore a hat and vest; jaunty tasseled loafers were an act of rebellion against his own somber nature. A declaration that he was seeing the future as more fun than the past.
Four days after they buried Charlie, I met the maid Rosalia in the supermarket and she related information that complicated my puzzlement one hundred fold. The millionairess widow, it turned out, was four months pregnant. By some peculiar extra sense that is probably invaluable for this job, I knew that Charlie Gibbons was not the father.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I was Like Peggy on Mad Men

There was a time in my twenties when I was at a loss. I didn’t have a regular job. I didn’t have a regular life plan. If I had rolled my future out on I-95 it would have had no milestones or events to mark. I had trashed a very good career in copywriting by quitting to be a “writer”. Nine months later, I hadn’t written one word. There was a stillness around me that was scary. The phone didn’t ring and no one came to visit.

In desperation I became a Kelly girl. Each day when I arrived at the office where I was a temporary worker I said, “Good morning, I’m your Kelly girl.” I worked for a company that imported and sold mica. It was a small office and the man that sat next to me, a former actor, had been in a mental institution and kept asking if he was acting normal. Instead of saying good morning, he’s say “I can tell by your face that act two needs a re-write.”
I temped for Estee Lauder and met Estee who was okay. She sent me to Saks Fifth Avenue to pick up some stuff she had bought. Nobody liked me there because I dressed like the Greenwich Village bohemian I was.

Eventually, I came to my senses and wanted back into the ad world. Originally, like Peggy in Mad Men, I was plucked from the secretarial pool to write ad copy. Unlike Peggy, I didn’t have a baby out of wedlock and space out about it.
My accounts were Ronzoni spaghetti, Barney’s Boystown (Barney’s was not born a great fashion mecca. It started out as a dorky boy’s store where “husky” lads could get pants that fit.) and the Bavarian Motor Works (known today as Beemerland.)

Re-entry into Mad Ave. was difficult. The only job I could get was writing copy for the Macy Corp. chain in New Jersey known as Bambergers. I worked at the flagship store in Newark and commuted in reverse taking the Path train from Christopher Street to Newark, a crime-ridden city. The reason I’m writing this blog is because even though I wrote about electroplated charms, flame retardant plush nylon carpeting, budget coats made with re-processed wool and risked a drive-by shooting walking to and from the train station, those were some of the happiest days of my life. Here are the ingredients that made my days so happy.

1. The artists and writers were a merry band of workers - funny, accepting, ambitious and talented. We laughed at our predicament, our reverse commute, and the crappy merchandise.
2. The daily ad schedule was grueling but we were learning how to write efficiently, persuasively and everything we wrote was published.
3. We took long, raucous lunch hours during which we drank vodka gimlets or had shots of Bell’s Twelve in the middle of the day and seemingly without impairment.
4. Newark wasn’t Paris. We were not Fitzgeralds or Hemingways. But we felt the same giddy excitement of expatriots re-inventing ourselves in a strange land.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

SampleSunday: "We must have a bath."

(This scene takes place close to the beginning of Daughters. Miriam, who has been mute by choice, leaves her village to attend a fancy speech school.)

Miriam and Mustafa left for the school early one morning down the el-Tirah road going past the fine orderly vineyards that grew the best grapes in Judea. The road curved down and they could see that the cement in the paved roofs had cracked from the summer heat. There would be leaks with the first showers of fall.
Nabiha tucked a bag of sweets into Miriam’s pocket. “Eat them on the way, habiby,” she said and began to cry. Jamilla embraced Miriam briefly but was distracted by keeping the twins, George and Salim, from straying down the road.
The trip to Sarona took two days. Miriam, looking pale, began to lag toward dusk and Mustafa carried her to a hostel in Ludd where they spent the night. In the morning, their breakfast was goats’ milk cheese, bread with oil and thyme and tea. They took additional food for the road. Every so often they would stop, moved by the sights of the pomegranate and mulberry orchards and the palm trees which Miriam had never seen. They passed the ruins of soap factories now in decay.
They were used to walking barefoot and saved the sandals for the villages. The difficulty came with the dust. The pulverized limestone that leeched out of the striated buttes invaded their noses, eyes and mouths and Miriam had difficulty swallowing. She stopped frequently and Mustafa looked back to keep her in sight.
As they got nearer to the sea, the temperature increased but remained dry. They came to the first station of the new railroad from Jaffa to Jerusalem. The locomotive rumbled by, halted, discharged a passenger and went again. Mustafa was delighted. He took a small leap into the air and they waited until it was out of sight before continuing to Sarona.
The school was unmistakable. The area was landscaped with orderly rows of palm trees and formal approaches to the main building that was made of smooth flush stone with double-height arched windows. A gardener stared at them disdainfully. “Mughbari?” he asked, taking them for itinerant Muslims working their way through the villages on the pilgrimage to Mecca. Miriam shook her head. “This is a school for Muslims,” he informed them. “Rich Muslim girls.” Miriam ignored him and looked at her father who was filthy with dust. She tucked her hair behind her kerchief and put on a colorful vest from her sack.
The inside of the building was a revelation. The floors were made of polished wood. Wood! There were divans against the walls for sitting.
Miss Clay, the headmistress, was taller than her father. “Ma’salamy,” she said. Mustafa didn’t answer and Miriam pointed to the inside of her mouth. “No speak.” Her voice surprised the teacher and to make matters worse, Mustafa began gesticulating. Miriam reddened but then she saw Miss Clay moving her hands in the same way. Mustafa smiled and seemed satisfied to leave his daughter. When he walked away, Miriam cried into her scarf and ran after him. He made a little maneuver of leaving and then returning to let her know he would be back to visit and she went inside.
“First,” said Miss Clay, ignoring the tears, “we must have a bath.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I want to kill the kitchen!

I read on Yahoo that the home of 2015 probably won’t have a living room. Builders expect the living room to merge with other spaces or vanish completely. I’ve written countless times that the living room is a useless place we’ve been told is necessary. My living room starts at the front door, it’s hard to miss but I hardly use it except as a corridor to the kitchen, the bathroom and the bedroom.
Here’s a recent conversation I had with the living room.
“What are you doing in here? Is the pastor coming over?”
“I don’t have a pastor. I feel I should use you more."
“Why? There’s nothing to do in here. No media. No computer. You don’t even know me that well. You never really look at me.”
“I look at you.”
“You look ahead when you walk through me.”
“Do you think you have any purpose?”
“Years ago they called me ‘the parlor’ and people ‘paid calls’ and sat here and had tea. It was a little phony but everyone was polite. Today everybody goes right to the ‘oink, oink’ kitchen. That hog, has taken over everything. It doesn’t have a door anymore. It’s creeping into the whole house. It is the whole house! Soon the word ‘house’ will die out. You’ll buy a kitchen.”
“How did that happen?”
“Good p.r. The kitchen was sold as a touchy-feely cozy place that you could visit in your pajamas. Ooooh the kitchen inspires confidences. Blah, blah, blah. Everybody was sucked in. Oooh this is my safe place. Is marble cozy? Is Sub-Zero cozy? Is stainless steel cozy? Exactly. The devil wears Bosch.”
“But the kitchen is necessary.”
"Really? Does anyone cook anymore? Uncle Ben makes perfect rice in a bag. Store-made rotisserie chickens are reliably tasty. Salad comes washed and cut up in a container. No waste. No dirty pans.”
“You think we’ve been duped.”
“Like lambs to the slaughter. I want to kill the kitchen. I've made a song about it to the tune of Imagine.
Imagine there’s no kitchen,
It’s easy if you try
No hellish food to tempt us
The fridge has gone bye bye
Imagine all the women
Living slim and free...
Imagine there’s no butter
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to fry or whisk up
And no pesto too
Imagine all the women
Living life in peace
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope all fat girls will join me
Let’s kill the kitchen. Bang, bang. Done!

“So living room, I guess this is good bye.”
“What are you going to do with my space?”
“Probably open it up and expand the kitchen.”
“Why did I even bother? Yeah okay goodbye. Whatever.”

Sunday, October 16, 2011

SampleSunday: Pissaro P*ssed On Peru

(This is an excerpt from my newest book: One Hundred Open Houses. I don't know why this book doesn't sell better. Maybe it's the cover or the blurb. When someone finally reads it, they go crazy with praise. I read parts of it over and over. When I sell a copy, I almost cry with happiness.)

After meandering through three expensive apartments at 17 West 16th street (real homes with foyers and dining rooms and something called a logia – a wide useless hall to me), I decided to go home. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was doubtful I would find the holy grail, aka the perfect apartment, today Even though my head was beginning to hurt, I was also happy that I could not eat for another two and a half hours on the drive home which meant that I had a calorie deficit for the day. If life was reasonable, I might drop a few ounces. There was a heart healthy cooked meal waiting in my refrigerator and it beckoned me home like a candle in the window.
The day before, I had made a meatloaf out of ground turkey combined with half a jar of Classico basil and garlic sauce, an egg and some Arnold’s croutons. Whatever genius person at Shady Brook Farms came in one Monday morning in 2001 and said: “Look at all these turkeys left over from Thanksgiving, why don’t we grind them up and sell them as ‘ground turkey’,” my hat’s off to him/her. Ground turkey never tastes gamy, it’s vacuum packed, it keeps for a day or two without turning brown and it makes the best meatballs and meatloaf.
I debated whether to warm up a slice of the loaf in some butter or just eat it cold slathered with ketchup. In some manic reversal of my usual post divorce rule –no serious cooking - I had also made barley (a grain unknown to me except through canned soup) substituting lemon juice for half of the water required. The result was unremitting good tasting stuff. I was ready to sit down with my warm meatloaf slice, brown and crusty from the butter dip it had just received in the frying pan, the lemon infused barley, a couple of slices of fresh tomato and a glass of Walnut Creek Chilean merlot when the phone rang.
It was my ex sounding really upset. He had received an e-mail from one of our sons telling him that a trip to Peru had resulted in a spiritual awakening and he was going to remain there for the rest of his life living among the animals. The e-mail was accompanied by a photo of our boy, meditating between two llamas. The llamas had their legs tucked under them and appeared to be meditating, too. When I checked my e-mail and saw the picture, I realized for the first time that I didn’t know this boy at all. In a million years I would not have guessed that he had a spiritual side and that it would kick in in Peru. Why was he even in Peru? And were llamas so passive they would sit like that for a portrait?
“Pisssaro Pissed on Peru.” That’s how I had helped the kids memorize the explorers and that’s what Benjamin said to me when I called to ask him, “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Mom, I can’t believe you and Dad thought I was serious,” he said. “It was a joke.”
I love this boy. I love all the children at different times but not all at the same time.
I don’t know why. I know how it’s supposed to work but I also know how it really is.
When I got into the tangled bed I had left unmade that morning I couldn’t find the top sheet but I let it go. I decided to mentally rehearse inhabiting my new life. How would I wake up? What would the bed be like? How would the light play in the room? What furniture would surround me? What would the temperature be in the room? What would be my state of mind? What would I do first thing on awakening? I knew I had to live in my new environment mentally in order to let go of my present house. At first, it was hard to imagine a different bed and it was next to impossible to really feel the newness of waking up in a totally unknown room. Then I got the hang of it and I felt a faint breeze from a nearby window and wafting in was the scent of early morning freshness with just a hint of fermenting garbage. When I looked down, I saw a shaft of light streaking across narrow floorboards the color of weak oolong tea. As I drifted off to sleep, I decided brown was my favorite color.
The phone rang twice but I didn’t answer. Once I knew Benjamin was safe I didn’t want to talk anymore.