Saturday, April 28, 2012

#SampleSunday Softgoods: All the pretty things women are dying to wear

(I have finally finished Softgoods and will be putting it up on the kindle in the next couple of weeks.
This is Chapter One. I may experiment by putting up a chapter every week before publication.)


In the retail world, some goods sold are considered hard (furniture, appliances, linens, etc.) and some are softgoods: among the latter are all of the fun and fabulous things that women are dying to wear to make them feel very good.


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 was 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. 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 the cab of his truck.  Distracted, he went to put it in gear.  He saw his bizarre guest and felt 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 cell phone 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 took a twenty out of the wallet and threw it to the ground.  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.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The sound of one's name is the sweetest? Not always.

When I write that my brain-o-meter dial is all the way to crazy, I get a lot of hits on my blog.  We like to hear about someone going crazy because most of us feel just a few steps outside of crazy town ourselves.  Yesterday I had one of those days.  My first mistake was going into a bank.  Two minutes in for a transaction with Ms. China Vargara and I felt as if someone had poured lead into my bloodstream and all the blood had gone to wait out the pandemonium in a cavity near my ears.  I think it was the contrast between the bright sunlight (outside) and the industrial light (inside.)

In order to let me withdraw a substantial sum Ms. Vargara, asked me where I lived and my birthdate.  I couldn’t remember either answer. All that blood near my ears had erased my memory.  Fortunately, I had my driver’s license and handed it to her.  Not two seconds after the transaction she said, “What else can I do for you, Consuelo.”  What!!!!!!!!!!? I don’t like the bank calling me by my first name. Hey, we haven’t been introduced.  This institution handles my money.  I want a little decorum.  I would never say, “Have you ever faced the barrel of a gun, China?”  The name tag has her full name for a reason.  China proceeds to tell me that if I get one of their credit cards they will give me $100. Somewhere in this organization there’s a training manager that is telling these front line people that they should call the customer by his/her first name and then try to sell them something.  The rationale must be that the sound of one’s name is the sweetest and when the bank says it, your dopey inner child thinks it is finally back in the arms of their long ago nanny.  You are going down a bad road, Capital One.

The bubble over my head with a crisp $100 dollar bill in it, takes some of my crankiness away. By the time we get to a desk to finish the credit card dance, I begin to quiz her in an aggressive way.  Is there an annual charge?  When do I get the hundred?  Do I have to do something else to get the hundred?  She gives me all the right answers and then hands me a bunch of pages with tiny print.  Uh oh.   Why all this material?  Am I going to find some bad stuff that you don’t want me to know? She reassures me again and then she says some magic words:  they don’t give the hundred dollar incentive to everyone. I’m old enough not to fall for this faux flattery but stupid enough to let it seep into my brain pan.

I leave the bank both disturbed and slightly satisfied.

St. Mildred's Academy For Girls

(This is a recycled post that was brought to the fore because Google showed this post to an innocent soul who searched for St. Mildred's Academy.  I wish I knew that person and we could chat about this school.  I had done the same thing last July. )

Today I looked up my old boarding school on Google to see if it was still in existence or whether I had imagined it. St. Mildred’s was in Laurel, Maryland, a town midway between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. It is where I learned to sing the Mass in Latin and to withstand horrendous bullying condoned by the evil Sister Francisca. I remember two happy moments in that school: winning the bingo game with the prize being several Hersey chocolate bars (maybe even a whole box) and being chosen as one of the girls to accompany Father Pete to a restaurant for a spaghetti dinner. The rest of my stay there was not joyful. The food was dreadful and we used to make a meal of mustard and bread when the main dish was inedible. We even made a song of the mustard and bread menu that is too long to go into. One night we were served tapioca pudding that several of us refused to eat and it ended in a standoff with Mother di Pazzi, the Mother Superior. That night, I gathered a posse of girls and convinced them to run away with me. We walked into the town of Laurel, borrowed bus fare from one of the older day students, (we banged on her front door) and took the bus to Baltimore. Our destination was a bar owned by the parents of a girl in the group. The minute we arrived, the bar owner (after a brief conversation with Mother diPazzi) put us on a return bus to the school. St. Mildred’s, like many boarding schools, was rife with crazy kids from wealthy dysfunctional families (myself included). During my stay, all of the children from the Embassy of the Dominican Republic were there and occasionally, I would go home with them to enjoy fantastic formal parties. Fortunately, my father owned a boutique department store that supplied me with long gowns. I cannot stress enough how incredible that seems to me now. Google is an insane miraculous tool that collapses time like it was nothing.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

One Hundred Open Houses FREE on Amazon

This is your chance to sample my writing for free. As I said before, this book is close to my heart because I wrote it when I was certain I couldn't write anymore. I pulled it out of my head in a trance that lasted several months. It has received wonderful reviews from women who, like the protagonist, are sometimes on the edge. Today and tomorrow, you can download it on Amazon for nothing, zero, nil, nada April 18 and April 19. Click on the title to the right of this post and you will be transported to the Amazon page.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Security questions, regrets and who the heck needs this? (redux)

(This is a recycled post written a year ago. Sometimes visitors to my blog will look up an old post and I get a chance to see it again. Sometimes, fool that I am, I like it so much I feel it deserves another view.)

Sometimes, I force myself to leave the house and visit one or the other of my children and use their computer to monitor a small investment account that I keep with a well-known brokerage house. When I log in, the system always asks me to answer one of the peculiar questions they have devised to keep the wrong people’s hands off of my money.

One of the questions is: In what city did you meet your husband? I have been divorced for over a decade and now I have to dredge up the city where we met and that also dredges up the circumstances and I have to re-live that drama and the fact that I allowed that marriage to fail and now live alone like a loser.

Another question they ask is in what city did your paternal grandmother live? Since I am of Palestinian descent, I have to go to Google so that I spell Ramallah correctly and then I have to dredge up how this city does not belong to the Palestinians any more and blah blah blah. (Ramallah, btw, was distinguished by the fact that it was settled in the early 1800’s by five brothers and everyone who lived there was related.)

Another question is: Who was your favorite childhood friend? I was raised in convent boarding schools where all the students, me included, were demented and came from dysfunctional homes. The friendships were bizarre and often exclusionary (as in being excluded and bullied). Then I have to remember that sometimes I took my turn at being the subject of bullying and then would stay in bed and pretend to be ill so I wouldn’t have to face the bullies. We slept in attic rooms in narrow cots that remind me of that wonderful movie with Michael Caine based on the novel, The Cider House Rules. One year when I didn’t attend boarding school, my favorite friend (like Charlie Brown) was a red-headed girl named Thomasina Thrasher. Hey, Thomasina, if you are out there and read this, please get in touch.

Another question the brokerage firm asks is in what city was your mother born? My mother, although of French descent, was born in San Salvador. Recently I’ve learned that it was not really San Salvador but a smaller village named Zacatecas. Then I have to remember that my mother and I were both born at home and it was up to our parents (I use the term loosely) to register our birth with the authorities and our parents were negligent and imprecise and in my mother’s case they got the name of the village wrong. In my case they got the date wrong. Then I remember how my mother and I traveled to the United States by bus through Texas and for the entire trip the only thing I ingested was Coca Cola, a drink that in those days was made with syrup and soda and still had cocaine in it. I arrived in the U.S. a mild dope addict.

These are all things that happened a long time ago so please don’t leave sympathetic messages. I am quite happy now except when I have to use a strange computer and TD Ameritrade asks me all those questions.

On the e-publishing front. I did something different with my latest offering “Thinner Thighs In Twenty Years,” a monologue I wrote in the early 2000’s and was performed at the Seattle Film Festival and at the Periwinkle Playhouse in Sanibel, Florida. I submitted TTITY to Kindle Singles. Kindle Singles is different from plain Kindle publishing. You have to submit and be accepted. My publishing buddy Sandra who has published over twenty excellent books and has earned my total respect says she never again wants to submit anything that has the chance of being turned down. I still enjoy being humiliated so I submitted Thinner Thighs. And, guess what? They took it and will launch it next week. Because of my inability to accept acceptance, I surmised that perhaps no one was submitting Kindle Singles and they were accepting anything that came their way. I’ll let you know what happens when you publish a Kindle Single.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

#SampleSunday: "I'm so worried and afraid."

(A sample from One Hundred Open Houses,the book that saved me from despair.)

“All my stocks have gone down. I’m so worried and afraid.“- Itzonlyphil

It’s been very windy for the last few days. When you are in wind, you can’t think of anything but the wind. I just read a book that frequently describes the outdoors. It describes the colors of morning and evening as they invade and enhance the rooms in a small apartment. It describes the blue of the sky reflected in a river. After reading all of this loving observation, I realize the only thing I notice is the wind. I don’t like wind and yet it’s the only thing I describe. I’m all closed up about the visuals. When I tell Maggie about this – that I don’t describe the outdoors, she says, “Good. People just want to know what happened.”
I have to park the car far away from the office because the “season” is almost here and the parking rules have changed. By the time I get inside, I’m relieved to be there and I’m happy to see Louise. Because the office is warm and I had a brisk walk to get there, sitting at my desk and opening my e-mail feels good.
On Channel Five, which I’ve started to watch in the early morning, they say we are addicted to e-mail and now that you can check it from your Blackberry or some other portable device, you can indulge this worthless addiction at every moment. Whenever I e-mail a high executive I notice they e-mail me right back. Please distract me from this humdrum existence that has no discernible meaning. Life can be humdrum unless you are trying to save yourself in a tsunami or have locked yourself out of the car and are trying to think of ways to get in. That distraction factor, however, is responsible for people losing a big chunk of their lives. You think – how did it get to be 2006, it was just 1998 a minute ago. Dr. Phil will beat you down on this issue and exhort you to shape up, get rid of the remote, get rid of the Blackberry and face your life. But let’s think about this a minute. Suppose there’s nothing much down in the sinkhole where you stuff all the things that made you what you are? And suppose even if you have the energy and the bucks to dig it up, you can’t do anything about it? You are always going to have that nervous laugh and the receding chin isn’t going anywhere either.

It is on mornings like this, when life seems pleasant, that you have to remember your goal and not just fall back and say, “oh, this is nice.” Everything – yes, everything, is conspiring to keep you in the status quo. The little dumb baby inside you is just wailing to hear the same story for the millionth time. And it is a dumb baby, trust me. You have to shake some sense into that baby and say, look, I’m sick of that story, so just shut up. You’re getting something else.
My line of credit came through from the South Fork Bank and I have the money all ready to go – it feels very responsible, although the whole premise of banking is nuts. I’ve left two messages with Kay Kimbel about 6-B but she has not returned the calls. When I call the general number of CityDwell, they tell me she does work there and checks her voice mail every few hours.
On the financial front, that stock that management wanted to steal from me keeps going up. I have no idea why. It trades on the pink sheets. No, I don’t know what that means although I have an idea that some stocks are thought to be “naughty” and not fiscally sound and they can’t trade on the regular markets although god knows a lot of really bad stuff goes on there, too.
I go to the New York Times Real Estate site and print out all of Sunday’s open houses. It’s late spring so there are lots of choices. After I have my little stash of goal candy to keep me on track, I return to work.
Two of the e-mails are from potential sponsors: the private banking division of a big financial institution and a new magazine that is going to be launched in the Fall. The new magazine is a lifestyle magazine. Who is reading all of these magazines? In this resort town, dozens of magazines are given away free. They are stacked on the street or in the supermarket. I don’t get it. Have you ever done anything a magazine has told you to do? I did once. A magazine gave me a picture-by-picture blueprint for making manicotti with home made wraps that now I know were crepes. I made that recipe at least a hundred times during twenty-three years of marriage. You’d think I would have remembered how to do it, but I dragged out that torn, stained page every time. Altogether, I cooked about 7000 evening meals. Probably more.
The private banking division wants to bring twenty of their best clients to the Festival and give them entrĂ©e into a situation that would not be available to them even though they have bucks coming out the wazoo. They don’t want the movies. The private banking clients can probably buy the freaking theater and see all the movies they want. What they are hoping to experience are the exclusive private parties with stars. The bank people want to say to their private clients – because you let us play with and often mismanage your millions, we will reward you with the opportunity to rub shoulders with movie stars. Is it any wonder celebrities are nuts. Look at what a commodity they are. I take the whole issue to Shana and she says to me: “Give them everything – a concierge, five star accommodations, private transportation and, if they want, a private screening with a party afterward. I have no idea where we are going to get a concierge (or even what that concierge will do) although on paper it looks like we know what we are doing.
I won’t tell the Bank that there is no guarantee that any star we invite will actually show up. Celebrities are notorious for not showing up. A lot of stars we invite get sick at the last minute – one died.
The magazine, thank god, is not a competitor of the pseudo porn magazine. It’s called Minimal. The basic premise is that you are better off if you can make do with a toothbrush and a bowl. All the other stuff is weighing you down. I used to like Real Simple until they began getting too cute on me. It’s okay if dental floss has an “aha” use for mending a button, but after a year of wracking their brains they are now saying you can use bubble wrap to protect your fruit from bruising – that’s when I lose interest. Now if they are willing to get “dark” I can give them “aha” uses a plenty. Scrub the kitchen floor with a bad carpenter, for example.
I call the marketing directors of the bank and the magazine and outline what I can offer them. I’ve become very good at this part of the process. I ask them to tell me their objective and then outline how we can fulfill it. Sometimes they ask for specific events and I say, ‘no, that’s not the target audience you are after.” When I say that to a sponsor I feel like a competent facile little marketing whiz. Who knew all this business know-was buried inside a whacky aging soccer mom?
I create two proposals, e-mail them and then answer the rest of the e-mails most of which are from other sponsors in various stages of the process.
I open the Yahoo home page for the first time that day and go to the message board of a stock I had chased and then abandoned because it ran away.
ItzOnlyPhil has posted this pathetic message. :
I think now is the time I should take my small loss because all these guys make a lot of sense. I was bamboozled. I should not have bought a stock that was going up – Jed says they sometimes go down – I should have listened to him. It has gone down…all my stocks have gone down. I’m so worried and afraid.
I hear you brother.
It’s Ben’s birthday today and at Mass I said his name. I said: for my son Ben who was born on this day. Ben’s going to come and visit on Saturday. This is how I usually get ready for my second child. I take a shower and blow-dry my hair. I put stuff under my eyes that takes away the puffiness and pulls the skin tight (I know! but more about that another time.) I definitely clean up the house. I put on a Louis Armstrong sings with Ella cd that he gave me two Christmases ago. I buy a big ham because twice he’s mentioned ham and I fed him something else. I try to get some good movies because we like to watch movies together. I pull all the weeds out of the rock bed he created where I needed better drainage to remind him how great the project came out. He’s going to want to climb up on the roof and clean out the problem gutter, but I’ll tie him up if I have to. I don’t care if the house falls down; I never again want him to climb up that steep slope.
My friend Ned – the Ned who is blindingly handsome - came to clean my gutters last Fall (not the scary gutter). He brought another handsome man with him and that was good because he was a surgeon and really knew how to clean out small spaces. I know this sounds preposterous but its true. One held the ladder and the other scooped matted wet leaves out of the gutters. I gave the surgeon an old sock and had the nerve to ask him to wipe out the last bits with it. When they finished, I cooked them omelets with pesto and goat cheese and we sat around.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Vote for my blog!

My nature is not to participate in popularity events however I am so proud that I was able to transfer the voting widget to my blog successfully that I am willing to have you use it. So - if you are so inclined, please vote for my blog. I have no idea where these votes are recorded or if the widget works but I got it here and that's good enough for me.

In case I haven't made it clear, I am grateful for each and every reader of my blog. I never expected to have a group of faithful followers but wishes do come true. I'm not just saying this so you will vote.

Friday, April 6, 2012

"These five foods will....."

I grit my teeth. According to my dentist, I grit my teeth all night. What’s that all about? Am I trying to open a tight-lidded jar of pickles every night? My dentist says gritting your teeth is like putting 20,000 lbs of pressure on your jaws. Really? It’s the same as if a cement truck with enough live cement to re-pave I-95 just landed on my sweet rounded jaw?

Why does everyone want to scare us? Every day, Facebook and Yahoo present health and nutrition news that will keep you sleepless (at least you won’t grit). I’ve read all of the “These five foods will.....” warning stories. Spoiler alert: the answer is always bananas, sugar, anything made of white flour, carrots and dried fruit. Bananas are apparently champions for promoting belly fat. If you have belly fat don’t even wear anything from Banana Republic. The Acai berry (a frequent visitor on my Yahoo page) sucks the fat right out of you while you watch Bravo. You are so full of energy you bounce around like a ping pong ball. Alas the berry is controlled by thugs that sell fake or diluted Acai. Resveratrol is the answer to everything and it’s in red wine. (Yipee!) Wild salmon and blueberries are also the answer to everything. Wild salmon, by the way, is $24 a pound and blueberries are $4 per 8 ozs.

I have a mouth guard for the gritting problem. When I remember to insert it I look like an extra from Planet of the Apes because it pushes the upper part of my mouth out. I think about all of this when I’m in the shower. Water promotes deep thinking. As little Edith Anne used to say “ and that’s the truth.”

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Earl of Picnic

There is a man with a newborn and a fourteen month old. I might as well say, there is a man who has not slept consecutively in quite a while. He says, “It’s no picnic.” I think, what if I gave him a picnic? Would it be the salve it’s cracked up to be?

I don’t remember when I was last at a picnic. I don’t remember having said, “Oh, that picnic was so much fun it’s the opposite of this crushing responsibility.” I don’t remember saying, “We’ve been so leaden with care, let’s plan a picnic.”

There is a Judy Garland movie called Meet Me In St. Louis. It is set in early 1900 when people travelled by trolley. There is even a song in the film that Judy sang: Clang, clang, clang went the trolley. Ding, ding, ding went the bell. Zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings. For the moment I saw him I fell. She didn’t literally fall down. She fell in love. Okay, in those days before texting and Angry Birds, and Pinterest, there was not much to do. I think of that as the time when picnics had their heyday.

When families needed adventure, they would abandon their dining room with all that mahogany sideboard stodginess and haul their food out of doors. They would drive an hour or two in their Model T’s. They would lay out their chicken and potato salad and apple pie and eat on the damp grounds of some vast outdoor space. Maybe like the Earl of Sandwich, the Earl of Picnic invented this activity when in a fit of pique (when was the last time you had a fit of pique?) he took his kidney pie out beyond the moat. I’m going to ask Eddy Izzard about this.

Despite their jolly press clippings, picnics are fraught with anxiety; flies and that old friend salmonella are the least of it. There are ants, spills, Uncle Herman stepping in the potato salad and finding a level few inches on which to place your drink. Whenever I want adventure, I eat a sandwich on my deck. I make a decent sandwich with good bread and carry it out to the deck, sit on a chair and eat slowly.

If you have to eat outside take your coffee out to the porch steps on a summer morning before everyone is up.