Thursday, March 31, 2011

Barley, Bethany and Jason, Happiest jobs, Compliments

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.

Bethany & Jason
Las 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, Bethany, 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.

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.

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.

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.  

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sample Sunday excerpt from Nothing To Lose

(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.
“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.
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?”
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?”
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.
“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.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sample Sunday excerpt from Best Friends (For March 0.99)

(Set up:  The public saw a privileged woman who lived a charmed, moneyed life.  The reality:  her husband was losing touch with reality, her days were filled with dutiful work that had no meaning and the love of her life was about to reappear much too late.)

It was not the main ballroom of the Waldorf, but the smaller one that was the familiar arena where old money did its social work.  Natalie had sat there many evenings wishing to be elsewhere then finally succumbing to the stupor and daydreaming through the speeches.
Her mother had sat away her young matronhood in this very room and likely as not, her own daughter if she had one, would do the same.  She squirmed into the hard banquet chair and wondered if the pain in the small of her back was caused by the poor contours of the chair or . . . She would think about that later.
Alden, seated like exotic bait at the ten thousand-dollar-a-plate table, was far away from her.  It mystified her that people were willing to pay such money simply to be near him.  It mystified her even more that she had been placed at the two-thousand-dollar table with Cora.  “Who do you suppose paid so much to sit with us?” she asked Cora who was seated four chairs away from her at the large, round table.
“I wouldn’t doubt the men would pay that and more to sit with you but I think they got a celebrity to titillate the ladies.  Leticia says the table was oversubscribed.”
Natalie shrugged and sipped her wine.  The table was filling up with familiar couples that made the society columns in the New York papers.  Natalie nodded pleasantly but the women, who knew each other well, fell into private conversation.
Her back kept hurting. Ting.  Ting.  Ting.  She thought of the other time, when she had found out she was pregnant with Jeremy in London.  It had not concerned her half so much as this pregnancy.  She could no longer predict what Alden would say about anything.  He slipped in and out of her life like a shadow and said little.
One day she came into his dressing room and found him sitting in the dim light with one shoe on, one off.
“Is something wrong?” she asked softly.
He passed his hand over his eyes as if clearing the things he was looking at and faced her with an openness that surprised and frightened her.  “I must concur with John Jacob Astor,” he said thoughtfully, “that money has never brought me anything but a dull anxiety.”
She sat down next to him and took his hand in hers.  It seemed much lighter than she had imagined and she got a mental image of his bones being hollow.  “Would you like to go away?  Shall we spend some time away from here?”
“Oh, no.”  He pulled his hand away.  “I couldn’t do that.  I’m just getting it under control.  The whole thing is coming under control.”
“What, Alden?  What have you got under control?”
He looked at her but the veil was back.  “My condition . . . my condition with my legs.”
“Of course.”  She sounded bright and hopeful.  “I’m so glad to hear it.”
Tonight, thinking of the long evening before them, she had been anxious for him.  “Are you sure you want to go tonight?  Are you up to spending all those hours sitting still?”
“We must go,” he said.  “We must help Bill Haas.  I knew his uncle.  His uncle saved me from drowning.”
She found it hard to imagine that his life had ever been so tractable.  That he had been a boy.  And had nearly drowned.  And had been saved from drowning by Bill Haas’ uncle.
One of the men at the table had asked Natalie to dance.  Peter Duchin’s band was playing The Way We Were and the man was humming in her ear, which was irritating.  When they returned to the table, there was a new arrival.  Rudy Sorbentino was seated directly across from her.  He was the opposite of the soft-haired, even-featured men around him and seemed to occupy more space than the others.  He caught the look of distaste on her face and smiled knowingly as if he had planned on being disliked and enjoyed it.
Natalie looked away.  She didn’t see him often because he conducted his business from hotel rooms and restaurants.  He liked people to come to him and they did.  Technically he was her boss.  She had a title – public relations coordinator – and her name on the letterhead.  For this she received a nominal salary that made her an employee.  “Take the title and the money,” Cora had insisted.  “One never knows when one will need a résumé and something to put on it.  Besides, what is PR but speaking well of people and you can do that better than anyone.”
The seat next to her at the table was still empty so she had nowhere to look but to the small stage and was relieved to see someone approach the microphone and ask for silence.  The waiters began to serve and, as Cora had predicted, it was peas, mashed potatoes and two slices of gray-brown beef.  She felt the queasiness return and left the food untouched.
Sorbentino was still staring at her and she turned steadfastly to the speaker, Senator Fitler, who was discussing the problems of the inner cities.  It sounded poetic, “the inner cities.”  Too poetic for what it really meant – a pocket of deprivation and unrest, alien to the surrounding calm.  She had an inner city herself in the center of her heart where she had locked away all her feelings.  Natalie’s Inner City, population: 1.  Pregnancy made her feel more alive and radiant than ever.  All those hormones galloping through.  She toyed with her bracelet and tried not to look at Sorbentino.  He was all wrong, yet it was not unpleasant to be looked at so longingly by a man.  The men she knew were so bloodless.  Perhaps she was bloodless, too, except now.  Pregnancy had fired her up.
There was a sound of a chair pulled back and she realized without looking that her dinner partner had finally arrived.  She would have to make small talk and try for pleasantries.  After all, he had paid plenty to sit with her.  In a few minutes she would speak to him.  She was just so tired of doing her duty.  She didn’t realize he was touching her arm right away.  It was so unexpected.  Reluctantly she turned and found herself staring at Sam Johnson.
He leaned close to her.  “Are you going to eat those peas?”

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sample Sunday: The World According to Spellcheck

(This is an excerpt from the opening story in my Short Story Collection: Spellcheck Nation - the protagonist is using the random output that Spellcheck gives for non traditional words to chart her life.)

Confident of its power and accuracy, I turned my office situation over to Spellchecker so I could have an edge. I have never been good at office politics. There are people who when they get a job, hire a strategist to help them navigate the existing employee hierarchy and restructure it for their advantage. Before this job, I was fired because the “strategist” (whose written report I found) told my new boss to get rid of anyone who was adept and confident or a loner and bring in really addled workers who were too busy swooning over soap opera stars and rehashing Temptation Island episodes to strategize. She advised the boss to sprinkle in a few employees who still needed a “note in their lunchbox” i.e. the needy and immature. I was so taken with that analogy I began to like the strategist even though she had cost me my job.
Spellchecker would help me strategize in my own situation. I took all the people in my division and entered their names and kept a list of their Spellchecker personalities. We had a Barbra and due to the deficit spelling without middle a, she was a barber, a barbarian, a bra and a bramble. It all made sense. She ate with her mouth open like a barbarian and she shaved ten to twenty minutes off her work time by arriving late and leaving early. She was christened “the bra” because of her breasts and she was thorny on issues of responsibility. Barbra was definitely and completely her spellchecker self. Lorrie was a liar, a casual liar: a person who lies for no personal gain. Lorrie was also a lorry, a conveyance – and she was. She ran the shipping department and ran it well. Cindy was definitely candy (eye candy) and a cinder (flighty as an ash) and candid like a child. She would say archly, “I’m going to the ladies room to see if I’ve got the curse.” She was always waiting for her period to appear and save her yet again from an accidental pregnancy. Camilla was camel-like, loping and hunched over. Darryl was dark and drawled. Marian was marooned, deserted with two kids by an errant husband who had been a Marine. Simon was simian, with long monkey arms. And Cybil was like a cymbal, she reverberated by repeating the last word of everything anyone said. If she asked you to lunch and you said, I brought my lunch and ate it already. She would echo “already.” And if you said, the report is on my desk. She would echo, “desk.” Ali ailed, a hypochondriac. Nina was terminally inane. She would read the sodium contents of a rice cake and feel betrayed: “ Oh, that’s like so much for a thing to have.” Daria was definitely derailed by a serious case of BDD, body dismorphic disorder – a grim fixation on some flaw about one’s appearance. She also had RMG, route morning grumpiness but that was outside of her spellcheck personality and possibly just a by-product of her BDD.
I was delighted and a little obsessed by my new best friend. It occurred to me that I could refine the personality profiles by also spell checking the legal surname. I entered my own name, one I considered homogenous and a snap to spell. Spellchecker had other ideas. When I typed in Wily it brought up wily. It was so obvious, why had I never seen it? The name was advantageous alphabetically keeping me safely off committees, juries, campaign voter registration calls, etc all filled early and amply by the Andersons and Browns. Now, in just seconds this lifeless name was turned into a Machiavellian bundle of cunningness. Wiliness, in my mind, was a fairytale trait and only came to mind when I thought of that fable about the fox tricking the crow out of the cheese or maybe it was grapes. But as soon as Spellchecker declared me wily, I took on the attribute. It was better than liposuction; it was a personality makeover that promised a life change. I was itchy to exercise my sly and wily birthright and almost immediately an opportunity presented itself.
My company was having a convention and they had chosen three candidates, myself (to pretend they were age blind) and two others, to give a speech on how the business community had improved for women. Agatha (agitate, avatar) had said that it was all so much bullshit. That the company didn’t give a rat’s ass about the progress women had made in the workplace. That all they wanted was to pay as little as possible and excess us when we hit 50. The convention was just an excuse for middle management men to get drunk and get laid and they were only including the feminism segment to deflect bad publicity over a harassment suit brought by one of the secretaries.
I couldn’t believe how much I wanted to be chosen and give that speech. I knew that I would be good at it and also carve out a persona within the company that would get me noticed. When the final choice was made, (surprise, it wasn’t me) the candidate had to bow out due to appendicitis and the second choice (surprise, not me) took her place. I ignored the defeat and wrote a speech that I considered honest and engaging. Each night I honed my delivery in front of a mirror. I even envisioned the laughter and approbation in the auditorium and the company president, a man I had only seen on the business channel explaining to Mark Haines why his company had not met the “whisper number” for the third quarter. In my imagination, after my speech, the CEO rose from his seat behind the dais and gave me a big hug and kiss. Mind you I didn’t really want all this. By this time, I was planning to leave the job which was dull and confining as soon as I had put in enough time to build a compelling resume. My resume at the moment was slight. What could I say? I was married twenty years and cooked seven thousand evening meals? And after all that work, the marriage didn’t work out. If Spellchecker thought I was wily then I had been squelching my wiliness and squandering my potential. I was no better than Cain who sold his birthright for a bowl of porridge (a bible story, I considered carelessly plotted.) If I practiced my wiliness I would have a new key to my personality; stretch and exercise the authentic self that Gary Sukov (succor, solo, sulked and sucked) was always promoting as ideal. I would be more comfortable in my skin.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Just tell me what you want

When I was a few years out of college and already living in New York, I went to a series of lectures given by a man named Neville, an Englishman from Barbados who told us simply and with total conviction that if you wanted something all you had to do to get it was to enact an imaginary scene that implied you already had the thing you wanted.  Today, there are a slew of glitzy, mass marketed books with a similar message and one of them, “The Secret,” was a huge best seller.
Neville’s lectures were nothing like these books.  We were a small group and could study his face as he spoke to us.  He would say:  I’ll tell you how to get things, that’s simple.  You are at the stage where that sounds exciting but there is something vastly more exciting. He would then relate mystical experiences that he had lived.  You could see by the fervor for these spiritual transcendences that he only tolerated our pathetic wishes to get a new car or a good boyfriend, etc. as a dull and repetitive gateway to reach us in a deeper way.  The students weren’t as evolved as Neville and lapped up the simple tutorial for getting stuff.
It’s shocking that these many years later, I realize that my main operating philosophy through life has been those simple lessons I learned from Neville. I'm not a stupid, gullible person yet  I’ve never wavered from the idea that almost anything you could want is available if you want it with a burning desire and follow Neville's simple steps:
1.  Identify what you want.  (this is not as easy as it sounds)
2. Be sure you have a burning desire for the object or event.  The reason you need a burning desire has to do with “sticking with the project.” When you want something with a burning desire you don’t dance away and forget it after a couple of days.
3. Create a little scene that you can enact in your head.  Neville used to say: you have to be the director, the author and the producer.  This scene can be a conversation with someone that implies you have achieved your desired outcome.  It is very beneficial to take a walk and have this imaginary conversation as you walk.  You will become “lost” in it.  If you are devoted to the practice, this “conversation” or something very close to it will be outpictured in your life within a reasonable amount of time.
4.  Don’t talk to anyone about what you are doing.  Just do it and keep quiet.
5.  Don’t be impatient.  Impatience implies you don’t really believe you have already achieved what you want to achieve.
6. Don’t speak negatively about your situation.  This is a good rule even if you don’t follow Neville.
7. Be calm about this process.  Don’t treat it as magic or supernatural.  Treat it as a simple exercise devised by the ingenious development team of the Universe to help us along in life.

It’s natural for those reading to ask if I have used this technique successfully.
Three distinct times in my life I have used it with dramatic results. Once in love and twice in career outcomes.   More about this in another blog.  I’d like to elaborate on this technique and examine the times we use this power unintentionally to outpicture long held beliefs that we've never challenged.

If you found this blog useful and wish to hear more about this subject leave a short comment.  I have lots more to say but refrain from foisting it on you if there is no interest.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

I had been in her house less than five minutes and she had said "hell' twice.

(This Sample Sunday excerpt is from a novel-in-progress as yet untitled)
When Janine Tobias opened her door, I could tell I wasn't going to interest her one bit.  Janine only responded to her ilk: high maintenance people.  She barely said hello.
We left a highly polished (dangerous) foyer of Mexican tile and went up a few steps to a living room that was bare except for a flashy sectional sofa and a flat plasma television on the wall.  The adjacent dining room had a card table with four metal fold up chairs.
"I know what you're thinking," said Janine.
In a million years she couldn't have known what I was thinking. Having caught a look at myself in the hall mirror, I was thinking that I was definitely going to have my eyes done.  Peter, who cuts my hair, always pulls up on the side of my eyes and says: you're a quarter of an inch away from having a new lease on life.  What does that mean?  Are we all just renters in this vale of tears?
"You're wondering why my house isn't furnished," Janine said, exposing the supposed contents of my mind.  "John and I have very definite opinions about decor and he hasn't had the time to go shopping with me."
"I like the look of empty space," I said truthfully
"You don't have to be polite," she said dully.  "This place looks like hell."
If I didn't have to be polite, I could tell you right now that you have the kind of coloring that makes the skin fall apart at forty and you'd better take some charm lessons because petulance can only be tolerated when accompanied by spectacular good looks. "I'm not being polite," I said. 
She led the way to a clinically clean kitchen and offered to make me a cup of instant coffee.  I accepted and that annoyed her further.  Having put on business clothes and make-up, I wanted to get something out of the visit before she made up some lame excuse to get me out of there.  When she put the water to boil and her back was to me, I said, "Did you poison Charlene Gibbons' dog?"
She whirled around with such vehemence, her sweater brushed the stove and I worried it had caught fire.  "What the hell is that supposed to mean." I had been in her house less than five minutes and she had said "hell' twice.  "I wanted to know if you poisoned Tiffany.  I think you signed your sweater on the range."  She looked down and reacted to the brownish swath etched into her pullover. 
She held her temples with index fingers for the next remark.  "You're not going to get far in this neighborhood with an attitude like that.  In the first place, the dog was hit by a car. And why would I want to poison that high strung pretentious mutt?"
"I wouldn't know why but Charlene has hired me to find out."
"She told you I was involved?"
"Nothing of the sort.  She thinks the dog was poisoned before it was hit by the car and she wants me to investigate."
"Then why come here?"
"This is a small community and the women socialize.  I thought you might know of someone who has some resentment against Charlene.  She implied that some of the women feel envious of the healthy income she enjoys."
Janine turned off the burner and faced me with a look so murderous, I recoiled. 
"I've never heard such horsecrap in my life.  Charlie Gibbons is an illiterate moron who makes money in ways that would interest the police.  Charlene decorates her house by the pound.  My mother would have called the Gibbons white trash.  The sorriest day of my life is the day we bought this house.  Roxbury Commons. Huh.  They got that right.  The most common scum in the world come here to roost.  This is not the life I planned for myself, believe me.  The day I'm envious of that twit Charlene is the day they sell confetti at funerals."
I was pleasantly surprised by the metaphor.  I would have expected her to say something like ' the day Martha Stewart serves Kool Aid and baloney.’  "Why not move?"
She looked at me with pity.  "Please.  As if we could.  We bought at the top of the market and we've already taken a home equity loan.  We couldn't recoup what we still owe on the mortgage."
"What did you pay?"
"Four seventy-eight."  I tried not to react.  I had paid less than half that although my house was small and not new. 
"What did you pay?"
"Four." I lied.  If I had told her what I really paid, two eighty six, she might have hit me. 
She looked so woeful and defeated, I felt sorry for her.  Janine had not bargained for this when she was queen of the lunch table at Port Washington High School.  She wasn't equipped to deal with disappointment but I knew if I offered sympathy, she'd be insulted. With all her problems, she considered herself way better off than me.  What was it, I wondered?  My outfit?  Body landuage?  The ten extra pounds?  Weight is destiny and anyone who tells you it isn't, is lying.
"See?  Prices are going down already." Her voice was high with urgency.
I pressed my advantage while she was pissed off.  People spill their guts when they're angry.  "What sort of life did you plan for yourself?"
"Way more upscale than this.  I was brought up with real money.  And class.  We lived in Locust Valley.  I went to Dennison." 
I sucked my breath in acknowledgement of her attendance at Dennison, whatever it was.  Then, I changed the subject. "Charlie Gibbons doesn't own a tool and die company in Islandia?" I asked innocently.
"He does but the kind of money those two dribble away has got to be under the table cash.  There must be something else going on."  She moved the pot of water to the back of the stove. "I don't have time for coffee.  I've got work to do."
"You work at home?"
"You work outside?"
"You planned to rearrange the living room?"
She went and stood by the door. "I'm not in a sociable mood."
"I understand," I said and retraced my steps to the entrance.
I wasn't going to waste my outfit and make-up.  When I left Janine's I walked to my office in the village.  This may sound childish but I like Gus to see me in business attire. It had taken a real leap of faith for him to rent me the space.  Gus' work of auto restoration is grueling and  demanding.  The results have to be perfect and there's no bs factor.  He was a good role model and I wanted him to think well of me.  

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ten habits of highly ineffective people

Offer to help people.
Answer “world peace” when asked if you could have any wish fulfilled.
Talk about yourself.
Tell people things you saw on tv
Say yes to volunteer outreach
Say yes to anything
Think about food a lot
Obsess over spices
Look up old boyfriends on google
Look up old boyfriends on “Dead or Alive”
Give advice to people

Yes, I know there are 11 things.  So what.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


In the late 70’s, I had the dizzying experience of being an overnight success.  I had been submitting op-ed pieces to The New York Times for several months.  The fifth piece, titled, Blondie, Dagwood, Maggie, Jiggs and Us, was sent out with the sedate expectation that it would receive the usual:  “Thank you for sending but the large number of submissions makes this ...etc”.  Charlotte Curtis was the editor of the Op-Ed page in those years and she ran a lively forum full of political opinion but also unexpected personal pieces.  An exchange of letters between Erica Jong and Henry Miller appeared around that time.
A couple of days after I mailed off my piece, I was at the Roosevelt Field Shopping Mall trying to find a parsons table to fit the end of our sofa.  Our babysitter, Tara was staying with my three children who were all under seven.  Macy’s strapped the table to the roof of my car, feet up and I drove the car into the open garage and sheared off all the legs. I could not accept what I had done and tried every which way to make that table right.   It wasn’t until the kids were asleep and the kitchen cleaned up that I saw the note written on the back of the phone bill.  Mr. Goldberg called, NY Times.  I woke up the oldest boy.  Did the New York Times call Mommy? “Yes.  I told them to take your writing.  I said you wanted them to.” 
The morning it appeared, my byline was between C .L. Sulzberger and Russell Baker.
Not quite overnight because it was a Saturday, I received several offers to turn the piece into a book.  I signed with Simon and Schuster with the famed Michael Korda, nephew of the celebrated director Alexander Korda, as my editor.  Four books followed including a hefty historical novel set in turn of the century Jerusalem and loosely based on the lives of my Palestinian paternal grandparents.  The book received great reviews and was translated into several languages but the appetite for books about Palestinians at that time was not robust.
Nicholas Callaway who is starting up the Callaway Digital Studio to create thousands of apps for the iPad  says that  “all content is being re-imagined for the entirely new platform that the iPad brings.”  I like that.
Technology has allowed me to re-imagine a new life for books that I hardly looked at or thought of in many years.  New readers leave beautiful reviews on the Amazon page.  I have six offerings on Amazon and my sales have increased each month.  One of the most gratifying events has been the reviews left for my e-book original, One Hundred Open Houses.  The intensity of feeling behind the reviews has made me understand my own book.
Without the sledgehammer of traditional publishing to leach all the ambition out of me, I have the psychic energy to continue writing.  If that sounds harsh, let me just give you a short tutorial on traditional publishing.
            The book is sold (happy ten minutes), it takes a year to “produce,” it is presented by your editor at a sales conference, the salesmen (yes, the salesmen) decide the print run, if the print run is 10,000 or less your book is dead on arrival.
You get great reviews and erroneously think: “oh, this will help.” The book is on the shelf of Barnes and Noble for a week.  The book is done. Two years of your life have passed.  You go on Prozac for a few months to regain your self-esteem and the will to continue writing.
There’s one other outcome of this new turn in my life that has brought unexpected happiness.  I’ve helped a friend to re-issue some of her books and I see how happy it makes her.  The idea that I would ever be savvy enough at all this to help anyone else is an event that makes me believe in that sappy self-help phrase: anything is possible.