Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Two things that happen just before you step in dog doo.

Facebook ads are always flagging me down with: 'These four things happen right before a heart attack.' They are things you would not suspect like your eyebrows fall out. (That’s not really one of the things just in case you are having a heart attack.) It made me wonder about what other dire events in life give us warnings we might dismiss.

This one thing happens right before you step in dog doo.
You go for a walk while playing Words with Friends.

These things happen just before you become morbidly obese
You sit on the couch and play Words With Friends. A year passes.

These things happen right before you get fired.
You sit in your office and play Words With Friends. A year passes.

This one thing happens right before your septic tank goes bonkers.
That scene in The Conversation where stuff comes up in the motel room toilet that Gene Hackman was not expecting keeps interfering with Words with Friends.

This one thing happens just before you lock yourself out of your car.
You met Sharkey at the corner bar and he ordered you a Lazy Manhattan while you were playing Words with Friends.

Just to round out this mindless post, I have to mention the Mad Men marathon that takes place every Sunday morning .

If you are up at six a.m. because of a baby or a bad love affair or indigestion or the ole soul hole nagging about this and that, tune in to AMC where they have continuous re-runs of Mad Men until eight. Thank you AMC.

It’s not often I’m riveted. Riveted means: Hold (someone or something) fast so as to make them incapable of movement. Yeah, that’s it. So what is it about Don Draper? He’s not afraid of anyone. He says what he means He’s a bad boy that seems to have a noirness about him. Something bad happened to Don that left a hole in his heart or his head.

The dialogue is so...so ‘ole boy.’ At the end of a board meeting where the agency has just been bought, one of the men says: Now that we’ve stopped haggling over the dowry, it’s time to enter the tent and spend the night with the bride. This show makes me say okay to smoking, adultery, making fun of crippled veterans. I’m in a cult and nothing can convince me to leave. Here are a couple of comments made by viewers on the AMC website:

Joan is sexy and manipulative. I hate her and want to be her at the same time. I also like Joy, because she just wanted Don for sex.

When Betty had a one night stand at the bar while Don was watching the kids, I had a huge smile on my face.

Friday, February 24, 2012

I'm a sucker for things the way they are. Not!

Change One Thing is the name of a book you don’t have to read. The title tells you everything. Oh, you mean if I brush my teeth starting right to left instead of left to right, all the molecules in my makeup will shift and start a domino sequence and I’ll be a different person with different experiences and nothing will be the same in this dusty overheated house?

Yep. That’s pretty much it.

Hmmm. I could almost buy that idea because I believe in causality. If you do something different, your inner dopey baby sits up and fusses for a long time but finally it gives up and goes to sleep.

Here’s the thing about change: it’s subtle. You won’t notice anything unless you keep a detailed diary and track your behavior. One day, you are living a different life and it seems natural not some seismic restructuring like St. Paul on the way to Rome.

Does change automatically outpicture your wish list? If you’re like me you won’t remember what you wished for yesterday. It’s hard to decide what you want unless it’s specific like a better respiratory experience or a working light at the top of the basement stairs.

There was a line in a poem by Carl Sandberg that used to be my favorite. “I’m a sucker for things the way they are.” Now I know you have to fight thoughts like that. I’m not an ingénue anymore. The sentiment sounds ironic and fey but it’s time to park the irony at the door and look at your life circumstances with grown up convictions and grown up expectations.

Another snippet of poetry that stuck to me like a barnacle: “Like everyone else I am being tortured to death.” This thought might have some traction if we believe that life’s entire struggle for everyone is overcoming childhood.

Today, as I sit writing this post, I choose to believe that life, as a struggle is an irrelevant idea. “Struggle” is just another word. Start brushing your teeth from a different starting point and see if anything happens.

Hey, as I’m about to close I realize that one year ago I wouldn’t have parted with irony for all the happiness in the world.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Yesterday I was totally crazy

Yesterday I was totally crazy. I didn’t have one clear thought. I didn’t have a consecutive thought. I groped around my life as if I was wearing blackout glasses. At some point I found myself at the supermarket buying mayonnaise to liven up some dry chicken breasts. If you think about or look at mayonnaise for any length of time it is disgusting. Mayonnaise is basically oil that has been manipulated with raw egg yolks and some acidity. Ingredients that are incompatible are forced into compatibility by an emulsifier (in this case egg yolks.) Kim Kardashian’s marriage to the basketball player was a little like that. The emulsifier was money. What’s wrong with that?

At the supermarket, right in front (at the spot where big business and my subconscious say howdy) was a display of Purex “free and clear” laundry detergent. Dirty clothes were piling up at my house because I couldn’t find detergent that had not gone through the perfume factory at Procter and Gamble. The smell of fake “fresh spring rain” or fake “mountain air” makes me feel hopelessly poor. Poor as in no money or hope of ever getting any money. Poor as in I’ve sunk into a societal swamp.

Good old Waldbaums (even though comforting Ma Ida Waldbaum was long dead) was treating me to “free and clear” Purex laundry detergent for 1.99. I had never used Purex but I would wash my clothes in cough syrup if it was scent-free. Besides being scent free and practically cost free Purex was “new and improved” and “triple action.” I expected the washing machine to start bouncing across the floor but it remained still and there were definitely suds which is all the evidence I need.

When the laundry was done I made myself a chicken sandwich on twelve grain bread and put it on a plate that was hand washed because all the dishwasher soap was lemon-scented.

Today, I feel less crazy. The laundry is done and I managed to write this post.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

#SampleSunday: “Oh, bummer! The murderer? It was me all along.”

(This is an excerpt from my most recent novel: One Hundred Open Houses)

The apartment was a big studio with a step down living room. The kitchen and dining area were on the upper landing. I was thinking, why don’t I just buy this and be done with it but what gave me pause was the location. It wasn’t just about the apartment; it was about what happened when you stepped out the door. It was about being in the heart of a neighborhood that delighted your senses. It was about what they call psychic amenities. I can’t describe it completely, but there is a sense of well being, of feeling special and optimistic, that comes with a neighborhood. You feel it when you are near the center of the New York grid downtown. Sidewalk cafés may be filthy inside and bogus, too, but they give you a sense of drama. Walking on streets with no building higher than five floors fires your imagination about what is possible and romantic in this world. Townhouses with even the straggliest window box or the most tarnished brass knocker on the door, makes your heart sing. 233 West 20th was just too freaking far west. Seventh avenue just didn’t do it for me. It was a good buy, no doubt about it. But it was not the place that would fulfill what I needed.
Also, there were painful memories embedded in this part of New York for me. My marriage was coming apart when I had walked these streets. I had only agreed to look at the apartment because the agent had promised to show me how much value there was in the area. I was gloomy driving in that morning. Max had called the previous day to tell me his dad was in the hospital. I had tried to call him but there is no answer in his hospital room.
When I finally reach the ex, we have a surprising heart to heart during which we both admit, we can’t take in love. Here’s how we arrived at this strange confessional. They have not yet diagnosed his high fever, so I emphasize how much his children love him. He seems surprised and says, “You know how hard it is for me to accept love.”
“Get in line,” I say, just to be agreeable. I have no idea if I can accept love or not.
“I can’t accept it either.”
“You can’t?” He says astounded, as if he just met me. “Maybe that’s my fault.” I’m not sure it’s his fault but say nothing. And then, because I’m at work (although that has never stopped any indiscretion before) I say some other sappy things and try to close on a good note. He finishes off by declaring. “The day you drove off from this house for the last time, you said, ‘I still care for you.’”
I, who have a mind that retains everything have no recollection of such a leave taking and am astounded that he has tucked that scene away all these years when he forgets almost everything else. I might have said it. I’m crazily nice sometimes. I tend to want to finish off a scene in a memorable way.
Then he starts rhapsodizing about how great all the kids are and we are so lucky. Rather than nit pick, I agree. The truth? I’m embarrassed by this kind of confessional. I feel as if we’re trying to say something important to fulfill some psychological blueprint put out by Dr. Phil. If I never hear the word “closure” again it will be bliss. The whole concept is misguided because it would take years of hard work to get to a one-sentence wrap-up of where we went wrong.
Now here’s where I can document that there is something big missing from my make-up. I don’t see any point in talking about all this unless we are going to take it down to the last rung. And that last rung is really dangerous because it is the simple truth but sounds horrendously callous. Oh, by the way, I married the wrong person OR perhaps I’m not the marrying kind, so, no matter how much you can or can’t take in love, it wouldn’t have made any difference. OR, when I married you I was in a trance and then, it sort of seemed okay for a while, and then all those kids came and I was distracted. But now we’re done, you know what I mean? OR, don’t let’s forget all the hormones that kicked in during all those pregnancies and possibly distorted all emotions.
Do I care about you, do I not care about you, what does it matter? I live far away. Most days, I handle life on my own and you handle life on your own. We’re not each other’s problem anymore. Of course I said none of this. It wouldn’t be polite, to say the least, and would have caused resentment as the truth often does.
Some might see this as a cold, unfeeling analysis of our lives. But let me just remind you that we all want to hit it out of the ballpark. And how can we do that if we let all the misguided sentimental untruths keep us in perpetual dawdling. Many of my favorite lines come from “Gone With The Wind” and the adjective “mealy mouthed” uttered by Scarlett and the opinion “it ain’t fittin” uttered by Mammy, come to mind. I don’t want to be mealy mouthed when I explain my emotional life. It ain’t fittin’. I cry sometimes and I can even sob but usually it’s when I think how the boys will feel when I die. Maggie will be sad but it won’t crush her. As for my marriage? I don’t know what that was all about. I really don’t. And maybe I don’t need to know.
You have only to remember Willa Cather’s My Mortal Enemy. - where there’s a realization at the end of life that the person you’ve been living with is your mortal enemy. And suppose the person is you? Of course it’s you. Now that I think about it, it has to be you. That’s why you have to take care of these things while you still have a chance. You don’t want your dying words to be “Oh, bummer! The murderer? It was me all along.”

Sunday, February 12, 2012

John Q. Public never disappoints

(Readers weigh in on Yahoo News: “Biggest Winners in Grammy History”
Here are some comments left under the pre-Grammy story on Yahoo.)

Why does yahoo put up any dribble...total lack of research

Vince Gill - 20 Grammys and Led Zepplin - 0? Who is judging the Grammys, Roseanne Barr? Beyonce deserves 4 Grammys? Then Paul McCartney deserves 400 Grammys made out of solid diamonds.

More dust collectors.

Let us worship the ungodly child molester 4 ever.

By the looks of you I would trust my kids with Michael before you. Read the facts, you idiot.

The Grammys have become a vehicle that does nothing but “shine on” black people into thinking their (sic) getting a fair shake in the industry. Most of the awards go to blacks. That being said, why do we also need a “black music” awards show?

I love Beyonceeeeeee.

Beyonce? Please! Eric Clapton! Only 3 time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductee! A winner should be able to write their own material. Maybe (but not necessarily) play an instrument.

Off subject:
OBUMA (sic) HATES --check the TRUTH. How many children must DIE under this baffoon?(sic)

what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and in the end lose his very soul.

BLANKET? really?

milly vanilli won a freakin grammy, nuff said.

Sample Sunday: "A rack of white organza Armani trench coats."

(Chapter One of a new novella, Softgoods.)

It was early morning. No hint of the pretty June day the weatherman had promised. When they say gritty streets, they meant this one. It was a midtown side street in New York City’s garment district. Truck drivers maneuvered to connect with gates and loading docks to disgorge finished garments. The drivers were grubby and cranky.

A rack of Marc Jacobs Crayola yellow silk jersey tank tops with matching lace and taffeta skirts rolled down to a showroom floater piercing the dull surroundings with a tsunami of color. A rack of white organza Armani trench coats followed. A rack of lime classic Chanel suits with the skirts shorter than the previous season also followed. A trucker jockeyed a twenty-four foot truck into the last empty gate. The guard waved him away.

“This gate’s spoken for,” said the guard.
“Where am I supposed to dump?” asked the trucker. Dump is a harsh word for the wool and silk Karl Lagerfeld jackets.
“Not here. Move it.” There was a shotgun by his side and he made it visible.
“This for you,” said the trucker. He gave him the finger and then turned the finger sideways. “And this for your horse.” The trucker continued backing up to the gate but didn’t unload.

Fulgencio Coto, a driver for Witter Trucking had arrived ten minutes late. The spot he paid the guard to save was gone. He’d have to unload with hand-trucks. Shit! Fulgencio got out and went to chew out the guard. He was late because his pregnant wife was in labor and screaming that her water broke. Ay Dios mio, el agua, el agua! He had to take his kids to his mother’s house and put his wife in the hospital. He needed to finish up and get home.

It was after eight and the street was getting crowded. Elevator starters and janitors had arrived. Street people skulked toward Penn Station to sleep a few hours in the waiting room before the cops made them move along. In the seconds Fulgencio’s truck was out of view a well-dressed dandy, Zander, slid into the passenger seat. He had on a full rubber mask of Humphrey Bogart topped by a wide brimmed Panama hat. It was Casablanca on Thirty-first Street.

Fulgencio re-entered his cab. Distracted, he went to put it in gear. He saw his bizarre guest and the 45 nudging his right kidney and reacted with surprise and fear.
“Drive out through the Lincoln Tunnel. Look straight ahead,” said Zander.
Fulgencio turned to his passenger and got a smart crack to his head. “Okay, man, I don’t look.”

They drove through narrow cross-town streets, through the Tunnel, along the Jersey Palisades onto the New Jersey Turnpike. At an isolated spot along the marshlands, Zander put a hand on Fulgencio’s arm. “Pull over, hand me your wallet and get out.”

Fulgencio complied and stood frozen in place by the side of the road.
“You don’t move for six hours,” said Zander. He looked at his watch and then down at Fulgencio. “My mother told me the morning belongs to the angels. I don’t kill anybody before twelve o’clock.” He waved the wallet. “But I know where you live.”

After a mile of driving, Zander took off his hat and pulled off the mask to reveal an olive skinned man in his early thirties. He continued driving the Ryder 24 footer until he reached a stretch of the Washington Beltway. A sign said: WELCOME TO THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA. It was barely afternoon and he had already easily accomplished the day’s work. He had a truckload of high-end goodies and his willing accomplice would unload them to the eager soccer moms of the nation’s capital.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

21,000 downloads in 72 hours

Daughters was free for three days (Feb. 5 through Feb 7). It was downloaded over 20,000 times (Amazon’s reporting has been wonky since the end of Jan. so figures are approx.) On the 8th when the book was no longer free an avalanche of sales began around 6 p.m. The “sales” came with such rapidity they were recorded in batches of threes or fours even if I refreshed continuously. I kept slapping my cheeks in shocked amazement like the kid in “Home Alone.” The blizzard lasted about an hour and later I learned that these were “catch-up” numbers that had not registered because of malfunctions in Amazon’s servers. I suspect most of them were for unrecorded free downloads but I won’t know for sure until the monthly statement.

About 12 hours after the book went back to “paid,” it began selling briskly and I awoke on Feb. 10 to see it had cracked the Amazon 100 bestseller list at #88. The title climbed as high as #64 before starting back down. How did I feel? I kept blinking . When I stepped away from the computer, I realized I was dangerously overstimulated.

I don’t know how this title will perform going forward and I can’t even draw any conclusions about the experience or offer advice on how to replicate. Previous to the promotion, the title was selling 1-3 copies a day. Now it is selling a few hundred a day. The volume will taper off but even if only 10% of the people who downloaded the free copy read it, I will have gained 2000 new readers. There are people on the Kindleboards who know all about Amazon’s algorithms and how they impact certain titles. They talk about “also boughts” and how they impact a title. I suspect all of it helps but there is also a serendipity to events that is what people think of as luck.

I don’t believe in luck. I believe our subconscious has a worn and tattered handbook of our expectations and outpictures them for us from time to time. My handbook allows me to reinvent myself every few years and creates opportunities for me to do so. Ideas occur to me and I act on them. The actions aren’t systematic or strategized. I grope around in a grab bag of arbitrary choices. My handbook allows limited success and too often it takes me back to zero.

The way I outwit my handbook is with this blog. I have control of this blog. Yeah, right.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The cursing angels of good and evil

Can I go another few days without cleaning the bathroom?

Fucking no. Throw some fucking scratch-free Comet in the sink and rub it all around with a fucking cellular sponge. It's not that fucking hard.

Hold on. The dichloro dihydrate in the cleanser could fucking kill you. It probably is killing you slowly. Leave the fucking sink alone.

Can I leave the bed unmade today?

Make the fucking bed, already. It’s not that hard. What are you? Fucking Four?

It’s just another fucking day in a string of days that make up your inexorable life. The bed made or unmade makes no fucking difference.

Should I stop and help that old lady cross the street?

Fucking yes! If she got hit by a car, you’d feel guilty for the rest of your fucking life.

Let the old lady live out her fucking Karma. You think you’re god and can redirect fucking fate?

The store clerk gave me too much change.

March back and give the fucking money back.

What are you fucking kidding me? How many fucking soggy apples have you bought in that store? Did they ever show up at your house and say Mea Fucking Culpa, here are some good apples?

(If you don’t think this is funny and this post offends you, I fucking apologize)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Hitler Has A Baby

I get a subliminal twinge when a Kindle reader has left a review of one of my books. This is the perfect moment to utter Dorothy Parker’s famous words “What fresh hell is this?”

Reviews can range from “this book sucks” to “best book I’ve read this year.” New York Times Book Reviewers take note. Fancy references to Ford Maddox Ford or Virginia Woolf won’t get the point across like “this book sucks.” The bad reviews for Best Friends have to do with an ending that most readers hate and a misleading title. Readers want happy endings and they want all loose ends tied up. They also want the title to represent what’s inside. If the title is “Little House On The Prairie,” there better be a little house on the effing prairie and it better be a pivotal part of the plot.

I received a substantial advance for Best Friends when it was published by Delacorte/Dell and had one of the best editors in the business, Jackie Farber (of the cookware Farbers). No one said a word about the ending or the title. In those years, I was still genuflecting to the publishing gods and would have let them call it Hitler Has A Baby. (Btw, I was discussing the meaning of genuflecting with one of my children and he looked it up: ’to be servilely obedient.’ I guess I’m a genuflecter, he said. I’m a serial genuflecter,” I said.

The first hint of a new review is the number next to the title on my Kindle page is higher and my review average is either up or down. In the last few months, the reviews have been great. Reviews come in more frequently after a“free” promotion and thousands of downloads.

I took my Best Friends, ‘misunderstood and maligned’ dilemma to the best place for a Kindle author to get advice: The Writers’ Cafe on the Kindleboards. I asked the wise people there if I should change the ending and the title. Many howled: Absolutely not. If that’s the ending you wrote, stick with it. A couple of people had another idea: why not make it a marketing moment, i.e. “You clamored for a different ending and I listened. Choose your ending, readers.” I like this suggestion. Digital self-publishing is intimate and immediate. Readers can tell you what they think through reviews or your Author’s Page. Best Friends would not suffer from a different ending so why not let readers weigh in?

Here are some of the good reviews I’ve received for Daughters and Nothing to Lose.

Friday, February 3, 2012

"Is that Aunt Pittipat, I hear?"

The Pottery Barn catalog takes my senses apart puts each in a 600 thread count tub of fantastic bs and creates a swoon fest of images of how life could be if I hadn’t mindlessly filled my house with all the feng shui killer stuff I already live with.

The Pottery Barn catalog sinks a nostalgia chip in my right brain and turns me into a Manchurian Candidate zombie ready to kill in order to buy the Charlston Sofa that has a “soft inviting shape and six scatterback pillows.” Is that Aunt Pittipat I hear visiting from Atlanta? I want the Hamilton coffee table “expertly crafted from reclaimed pine.” Reclaimed pine! I’m a connoisseur, yippee!

I want the two arched windows in back of the sofa with the weathered full-length Celadon shutter doors and a Clemons bamboo window ledge mirror in between. Even more, I want the muted sunlight spilling in, creating a forever late-afternoon half-light over the candles on the coffee table and the books stacked next to them.

In my bathroom the Mason wood console crafted from reclaimed pine with pronounced grain and visible cracks and fissures and retrofitted to serve a new use holds my porcelain sink. See the four 500 thread count terry towels in rose, moss, pewter and pumpkin stacked in the galvanized metal floor storage trolley and the wicker basket with eight eternally unused loofahs. This is just like Shelley’s Ode To A Grecian Urn, isn’t it? Everything remains uncorrupted by time or use. This bathroom makes me want to cry with appreciation.

Oh, the bedroom. Simplicity and fine craftsmanship are the hallmarks of my Farmhouse Bed masterfully crafted to mimic and honor classic Shaker furniture. I’ve crowned my bed with a deep pillowed mattress dressed with the Morgan 400 thread count duvet cover and sham and the Morgan 400 thread count sheets with flat piping and a slim mitered border made by fine Italian hands and not slovenly American ones.

I have no closing remark for this post except that I am a “reclaimed” writer with visible cracks and retrofitted to serve a new use.