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?
And the kids?
How’s that closet system working out?
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.
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


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.” 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)

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.)

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.

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.
“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.

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.