Wednesday, December 30, 2009

the usual new year's riff

What are you doing New Year's Eve?

In my experience, the population is divided on the subject of celebrating New Year’s Eve. The most vocal members have had their plans in place for at least a month in anticipation of hearty partying. For the rest of us, it’s something to get through as uneventfully as possible.

I fall into the latter group, which, I suspect, is a silent majority. However, my feelings about New Year’s Eve are strong. I dread it. I think I almost always have.

In childhood, it was the celebration I always missed. No matter how hard I tried, sleep overcame me before that ball dropped. The next morning, the house rarely failed to show evidence of some secret grown-up ritual I was certain was as magical as it was mysterious. Someday, I thought, I will be old enough to join in such fun.

As an adolescent, I spend the long nights in a number of strangers’ homes, tending to their offspring as they frolicked away the last of the year. It was such a bore. Regular television was preempted for the New Year’s specials. It seemed that everyone in the world was partying but me, or so I imagined. At least then I earned a nice bit of change for the empty hours.

As I grew older, New Year’s developed into a time of involuntary reflection. It is when the earth and everyone on it ages, including me. Each January 1, I feel as if I have aged at least a year, although my birthday is five months away.

It’s not that I never had a good New Year’s Eve. While my children were young, I experienced the night through their eyes. We would go out to see a movie together and then either go home or gather at a friend’s house.

As our collective youngsters fought the good fight to stay awake, the adults cooked marvelous treats. We were even known to fire-up the backyard grill and roast s’mores. We sang camp songs and downed hot chocolate. And if anyone remembered, we turned on the tube in time to catch the ball drop, gingerly stepped over the bodies of sleeping offspring to offer the traditional New Year’s kisses.It was heaven.

But all too soon, my kids were making their own plans for the evening. It seems that the celebration had now grown to include teenagers. Now, my job became one of worrying: Were they where they said they would be? Would they come home in one piece? The up side to having children is that concern for their well being often obscures concern about your own life. So, in a perverse sort of way, my New Year’s Eve dance card remained filled.

For some time now I have been left to my own devices. And I have tried just about everything I could think of to get the dark night behind me. Some years I would force myself to make elaborate plans to avoid ending up alone. This tended to drive my friends, usually a generous lot, and nuts. I’d start asking them in August what they were doing for the New Year. They would pat me on the head, laugh and dive back into the swimming pool.

So I tried ignoring it. It was just another night. Yeah, right. Let me tell so something. It doesn’t matter how many videos you rent or how early you hit the sack, the world will insist upon reminding you at midnight – with firecrackers, bells and whistles – that you are entering the New Year.Lately, I’ve been taking a more moderate approach. I try not to obsess until mid-December. Then I make casual overtures to a friend or two. If nothing turns up, I try to make my peace with the evening. I may decide to go to a movie. Perhaps I arm myself with a good book, some incredibly decadent food and new CDs. These days, I bet I can party harty on the internet. Betcha facebook will be rockin". Something tells me, I have a lot of company out there, eh?

This year, I'll be working New Year's Eve until 7 p.m. and the next day, so any kind of partying may be beyond me anyway.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day, 2009

Alone again, naturally.
That’s not as bad as it sounds, not now, even on this traditional family-centered day.
It’s not just that I’m used to it.
It’s that I live in the retail world, where “Christmas” is interminable and often insufferable.

Much of me just wants to veg the day away, especially since I need to be at work by 6 a.m. tomorrow.
My Christmas dinner is a prepared turkey feast from Whole Foods.
My desert of pumpkin cheesecake by way of the B&N café.
I even have one of those cheesy video’s of a Yule log to pop on the TV.
Yeah, I know. It sounds pathetic.
But in truth, what’s a lot worse is one of those pity holiday invites where you sit around amid other folk’s family and watch them open gifts. I’ve been there, trust me.
If I rally later this afternoon, I’ll hit the movies for a traditional Jewish Christmas day.
If not, I’ll curl up beside my “fire” with a book.

My life has always been filled with Christmas confusion.

As a child of the 1950s, growing in a secular Jewish family on Long Island, we got the season all wrong. In an effort to give us everything, my parents ending up leaving us wanting. Like many children, Jewish mainly in the cultural sense, I coveted Christmas, the trappings of which permeate our culture.

We lit the Hanukah candles, did the fried food and such, but “Santa” brought our presents on Christmas morning. The thing is, we weren’t allowed to have a Christmas tree. We didn’t have a fireplace, but I once actually hung one of my little white stretch socks from my bedpost. I don’t even think my parents noticed.

It’s no surprise that as soon as I was married—to an Italian—I got a tree. With no money for ornaments, it was decorated with Christmas cards. But the lights were the old fashioned kind that looked like candles. And the ornaments I later collected mimicked those trees of the olden-day movies of my youth.

When I split from my husband, I also chucked the artificial tree for the real thing.(Although, he took the Lionel trains with him.) Among my warmest memories are going with my son to a small farm in Farmingdale, N.J., to chooce our tree.

I enjoyed many a Christmas Day as my children grew. (Yes, we continued to light the candles & eat the latkes.) When they were tiny, I put the tree in the playpen. I loved wrapping the gifts, which I often did with home decorated newspaper. For me, it was all so fresh.

My friend Jean taught me how to bake cookies, and I had a collection of tins. I’m probably one of the few that included my grandma’s home-made mandelbread, though. I spent alot of time covered in flour.

My parents would arrive early, laden down with shopping bags full of gifts, and we all chilled out for the entire day. Our meal was another turkey feast with all the trimmings. Yes, there was tension and some sour years, but I choose not to go there. Not important.

When the kids grew and no longer came home for the holidays, it died a natural death. There are no grandchildren (as yet?) and each lives 4,000 miles away in opposite directions. So I’m on my own.

Which brings me back to this day, Christmas 2009, now almost half gone. By the time most of you read this, your Christmas will be but a memory. Hope it was warm and wonderful.

And that’s the way the Christmas cookie crumbles.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tiger’s tail: so many puns, so little time

OK folks, I know I’m a little late to the party. But my confession has been held up by negotiations. You know the drill by now: my agent is shopping my story around the media to get the best price before I can make a full confession. So I can just lay out the bones for now, so to speak.

Tiger and I crossed paths as I was leaving work. He was dashing out of a neighboring golf store having forgotten to pack his favorite golf socks. He was appearing at the nearby Bobby Jones golf course later that day.

What can I say? (that hasn’t already been said, and said, and said.) Our eyes met and it was instant chemistry. Yes, I know I’m 30 years his senior, but “soul mates” know no age barrier. The details of how we got it on etc. will be left for the aforementioned interview(s), but let me just say, ours was a deep relationship.

Tiger let me know right away how boring all those beautiful blond tight bodies (such as that of his elegant wife) can be, how he longed for the heavy loose flesh of a well-seasoned cougar. But ours was much more than a physical thang. We spent hours in philosophical discussions, interspersed with hours of tantric sex to which I introduced the dear boy.

In the end, though, I sent him on his way, concerned he was becoming too attached to me.

Ridiculous? Of course it is.

As much as I’ve tried to avoid it, though, the marathon of blond bimbos parading before us with hand outstretched, to confess (brag?) of their sexual encounters with Tiger turns my stomach. I am making no moral judgments here, you understand. But if you have an affair (By the way, these women were not “mistresses.”) with a married man, the very least you can do is keep your MOUTH SHUT. Shame on the so-called main stream media for paying these women to talk. YUK.

I am among the minority who believes Tiger Wood owed us his skill on the golf course. Period. Yes, I know he signed on to promote products and these folks certainly are within their rights to turn their collective backs on him. But the only children he is a role-model for are his own. And the only person he betrayed is his wife. If we insist on elevating sports figures to sainthood, because they can swing some variation of a stick, or jump high or throw long etc, then we deserve what we get.

Unlike Clinton and Stanford, Tiger wasn’t on the public payroll when he was getting it on.

So now Tiger will disappear for a while, and we will move on to tearing down the next idol. Then he will appear on Dancing With the Stars, and we will applaud his “smooth moves”...and the beat goes on.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

memories of Baby M redux

A front-page story in today’s New York Times updating the status of surrogate parenting in the U.S. again triggered a flood of images, so I am reposting this piece from last May. This post continues to generate far and away the most hits of any other. Surrogacy remains an unregulated minefield of heartache.

Twenty-two years ago, I was a fledging reporter with the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey when we were ground zero for the story of stories. I've always thought of it as the flip side to abortion. It was my immersion into pack journalism.

Melissa Stern is now 23 years old. Back then she was known only as Baby M, an infant at the center of a landmark custody battle revolving around surrogacy.

First a recap:

Mary Beth Whitehead of Brick Township, answered an ad in the APP to help infertile couples. Whitehead signed a $10,000 surrogacy contract with William and Elizabeth Stern of Tenafly, agreeing to be inseminated with his sperm and then give the baby up to the Sterns.

But Whitehead refused to turn over the child, whom she called Sarah, invoking a media circus worthy of a TV movie. Actually, I think it was made into one. The Brick police raided the home, returning the infant to the Sterns, whom they had named Melissa. Whitehead sued for custody.

Among all the ethical and cutting edge science questions, there was the “class” issue. Did the Sterns affluence, that of a biochemist and a pediatrician, give them undue advantage over Whitehead, a high school dropout married to a sanitation worker?

(an aside: Local newspaper reporters would chaff at calls the Whiteheads were “working class”. Her husband's salary of $35,000 was considerably more than any of us made at the time. So much for a college education.)

On March 31, 1987, Superior Court Judge Harvey Sorkow upheld the contract, terminating Whitehead’s parental rights and taking Elizabeth Stern to his chambers to adopt Melissa.

On that day, I joined the flood of media camped out on Whitehead’s lawn in the now familiar scene, awaiting that decision. I was petrified and overwhelmed, decidedly out of my league and eager to prove myself.

As the hometown paper, I felt special pressure. After all, her front lawn was less than 10 minutes from my own. I was on first name basis with many of those Brick cops she so detested. I knew my paper expected me to find some fresh angle to a story beaten to death, some way in through the barred door to the emotions inside.

I watched hot-shot broadcast media types so desperate they interviewed young children milling about on their bikes who parroting their parents’ words proclaimed: “a contact is a contract.”

Then the familiar “slap” of a newspaper hit the driveway, our newspaper.

The Press smartly paired me with one of out most talented and aggressive photographers who had been shadowing Whitehead for the length of the story. He immediately slapped the paper into my hands and shoved me toward the front door. I took a deep breath, swallowed and knocked. A beat later I was looking into an extraordinary pair of crystal blue eyes. She was indeed striking. Newspaper photos didn’t do her justice.

Mary Beth smiled and reached for the paper. She was gracious but unyielding. I failed in my mission to cross the threshold and the surging crowd behind me fell back, although Tom got off a few shots.

In the end, with a bit of insider info, I was able to slip away from the pack and interview the sister-in-law at her house several blocks away. It was a second hand story, but I was the only one with it, earning me a bylined story running along the bottom of the jump page. At least I didn’t shame myself.

Whitehead appealed by the way, and on Feb. 3, 1988, the New Jersey Supreme Court voided the contract and adoption, restoring Whitehead as Melissa’s mother with visitation rights. They ruled a fit mother cannot be forced to give away her baby. In this case, a contract was not a contract.

With medical advances, gestational carriers, who have no genetic relationship with the children they bear, have since replaced paid surrogates in most cases. But the shadow of Baby M lingers in New Jersey, barring such carriers from receiving more than medical and legal expenses; compelling them to give birth outside the state to collect a fee.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Wednesday was my half-birthday. NO, I’m not one of those boomers crazed by advancing age. However, it’s impossible for me not to notice that I am now closer to 63 than 62.

It’s just that Dec. 2 is my brother’s birthday. He was born exactly 2.5 years after me, under unusual circumstances. Neither of us was suppose to be born. Let me give you one piece of advice: If you can arrange it, don’t let your birth make medical history. Please, take my word for it. For now, let’s just leave it at that.

Back to my half-birthday. Actually, now that I think about it, my brother suffered through this concept also. My parents never let either of us have a birthday to ourselves. It definitely was a pebble in my shoe and certainly didn’t help our sibling relationship. Not too long ago, one of my mother’s best friends told me she never understood why my folks insisted on the practice.

So even though those days—and my parents--are long gone, the legacy remains. Without conscious effort, I can’t help knowing the exact day I am closer to my next birthday. When someone asks my age I start saying, “...I’m going on (insert next birthday age here). I’m always making myself older than I really am. I can’t seem to help myself.

My brother would have turned 60 years old on Wednesday--if he had lived. He orchestrated his exit from this plane of existence 21 years ago. But that, too, is a story for another time.

One thing’s for sure, I’ll never forget his birthday, no matter how long I live.

(I apologize for this brief entry, but I’ve been distracted by my daughter’s recent visit and radical changes in my work schedule. I’ll get back my rhythm in a bit.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

the cheese stands alone: year 13 repost

November 26

Today my mother died. Not TODAY, today, but on this date 13 years ago. My mind refuses to remember the exact date. Maybe that’s because it was “two days before Thanksgiving” and that’s one of those holidays that moves around. Also, I tend to confuse it with President Kennedy's death.

My body, however, always knows it’s coming. There is no way I can forget to remember. For a short time last week I panicked because I couldn’t find my dad’s old black Filofax (remember them?) in which I list such things. I was just about to call my Aunt Sally and shamefully ask, when I found it in one of my many shoeboxes of stuff.

The column I wrote after she passed, became one of my most requested and responded to. Years after I left the paper, I would run into people looking for a copy, or telling me how they had passed it along to their own daughters. In that spirit I offer it once again:

I have come down with a severe case of chronic terminal adulthood.

Two days before Thanksgiving, my mother died. With both my father and younger brother having preceded her, I have become the last standing member of the family in which I came of age. And frankly, this is one of those times when there is cold comfort in the knowledge that many others are being propelled through an identical emotional gauntlet.

So, I have become – in the words of self-help guru John Bradshaw – not only a “terminal adult,” but an “adult orphan.” To those who haven’t yet experienced the last of their parents’ passing, it may seem a bit self-indulgent to consider oneself an orphan when one is just shy of 50, but it really is an accurate description of what it’s like. There is something both scary and liberating about finding myself in this position. As Janis Joplin once sang: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Ain’t it the truth.

My father used to say that when he was a young man attending family functions, he was seated at a table near the door with his cousins. Then, one day he turned around and realized he was in the front of the room, with nowhere left to go and all eyes upon him.

In the month since my mother’s death, I have barely touched on the emotional work. With all the pressing, practical details, it’s almost easy to avoid the crushing realization that the parenthood fantasy is ended. Gone. There no longer exists in this world someone to whom I am all-important, someone to always be there, someone to willingly place his or her body between me and the grave.

Aside from terse financial realities, there is all that stuff. The stuff, not only of their lives, but also of mine. A melange of memories. Sorting through it bounces me back and forth in time – very unsettling.

The passing of seconds, hours and days are indistinguishable. I rise each morning and go about the rituals of life, but I am disconnected. The world spins freely without me. And that’s OK.

Oddly (or maybe not so oddly), the only place I approach wholeness is in the solitude of my mother’s house. It still looks, smells and feels as if she stepped out for a walk. I watch TV from her recliner, wade through a mass of papers on her desk and heat the last of her frozen homemade vegetable soup for dinner. Some nights, I even sleep in my parents’ bed.

For me, she will not really die until I dismantle her home, scattering her worldly goods. I begin, slowly and singularly, shaking off offers of help. I am not in a rush. In a weird way I savor the chores, perhaps as one last parting gift. I want to do it right – as if there is such a thing.

As many others of the Great Depression generation, she saved everything regardless of the logic. I found niches filled with folded paper bags of every description, a can of old twist ties, a collection of more take-out plastic food containers than a caterer would need, receipts more than a decade old, handbags with broken straps, an evening gown I wore at 17 to a cousin’s wedding – and so on.

I ask my children, extended family and her friends what they want. Their choices are surprising: a vase from my own childhood; a pair of wine goblets: a set of fruit knives, a tiny teddy bear. As for me, I can’t decide on what to sell, what to give away and what to keep. I am literally dizzy with indecision. What do I do with all those bowling trophies?

For the first week or so, the answering machine in the den hummed with innocent reminders of missed doctor’s appointments and confirmations of future appointments never to be kept.

The answering machine is quiet now; there is no blinking light announcing new messages. Well, almost no blinking light. I confess to dialing the number once or twice just to hear that familiar voice promising to return my call.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


It matters not that I have to work Tuesday and Wednesday, my Thanksgiving holiday started 27 minutes ago when I saw on fb that my daughter’s plane was leaving the gate at Heathrow. I shall be at the Tampa airport gate at 10:30 p.m. to greet her.

It’s been 14 months since I been close enough to hug my eldest child and only daughter, and I miss her muchly. She has made her home in London for almost a decade now, and our visits are few and far between.

Her brother just closed on his first home, having moved with his wife to Seattle from New York after being recruited by Microsoft. So I live roughly 4,000 miles from each of my offspring. It is even rarer for all of us to sit around a table. This will not be the year.

Yet, I am grateful. They are healthy, extremely talented people, leading sound productive lives. Not only are they my children, but I like and admire them—and would choose them as friends. Not too shabby.

A recent post referenced the defunct TV show Northern Exposure, and once again it flits across my mind. It was Shannon, my daughter, who turned me on to the quirky show, which became my all-time fave. Set in the fictional town of Cicely, in (pre-Palin) Alaska, it had a Thanksgiving episode in which the native folk celebrated by throwing tomatoes at it’s white residents.

All of that aside, Thanksgiving is just about my favorite holiday. The reason? Simple. It’s ALL about the food. Period. It doesn’t hurt that I love Turkey et al. (My son once made a complete Thanks dinner for my birthday party in June!) And I’m Jewish. Who else has a holiday around fried food (Hanukah)? Except for Yom Kipper, we never miss an excuse to chow down. We even snack at the cemetery.

I also have warm memories of family Thanksgiving as a child, which translated into holidays for my own kids. And this year, I get to spend the day with one of my own children. OK, so she says she may roast a chicken. That’s OK by me.

Happiest Thanksgiving to all...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

santa on a cycle

So I’m out doing errands late this ayem, in the left turn lane of the (first) supermarket of the day. I notice a motorcycle cop in the opposing lane, followed by Santa on a cycle. Then, I see hundreds upon hundreds—I kid you not—of Harleys coming at me. Each rider carrying a teddy bear of some kind, from tiny to life-size. There was honkin’ and waving as the swarm of cycles seemed endless. I honked and waved back, determined not to be put off by the delay.

I know the big bikes come our way each year this time, but for the life of me can’t remember when. Each year I am taken by surprise.

They are by and large a merry middle-aged and up bunch, likely lawyers, accountants and dentists out for a fling. Not a Marlon Brando in the crowd. Women are both passengers and riders these days.

It reminds me of an episode of Northern Exposure, when Ruth Ann (well up in her 70s) steals Chris’ bike and joins up with a few rough looking dudes for a ride through the Alaska countryside. Turns out, the men are as I describe above, on a short foray from their lives, and have to pull out datebooks to find time to get together again. An adult version of a “play date.”

Life. It happens to all. Yet we all need room for play, regardless of how long we’ve been here this go round. Thanks guys, for the reminder.

Monday, November 9, 2009

coeds & sex-toys & Duke—Oh my!

A campus religious leader is up in arms over a Duke University study involving coeds attending parties where sex toys are offered for sale—at a discount, no less.

Now, these are the stories that have me salivating for me ol’ newspaper column. You just can’t make these things up, folks. That the director of the Duke Catholic Center is upset about such a “study” rates a “DUH.” But if I were a parent of a student—or even a student—I’d be pissed off also. Not to mention ashamed of my alma mater.

This is DUKE UNIVERSITY, people, not Daisy Duke University. And all those associated with one of this country’s top schools deserve better, especially at today’s prices. Talk about a bogus use of university resources.

The study reportedly invites coeds over age 18 to parties with erotic toys, lingerie and games. The women complete surveys about their sexual attitudes before and after the parties and get product discounts. Does it occur to you, Dukesters, that the women are just interested in getting a good deal on the product? How valid would such a “survey” be?

A spokesman for Duke said the sex-toy party project went through the peer review process. Boy, how I’d like to have been a fly on the wall during those meetings. Really guys, what legitimate academic truth will result from a university run cut-rate sex-toy party? Perhaps some young woman will report a more receptive attitude toward Ben Wa balls or fur-lined handcuffs. And this proves what? Where is the legitimate scholarship here?

This is the generation that gave us “friends with benefits” and “rainbow parties” for those not much out of middle school. Unless these women are from some fundamentalist cult/religion, I can’t imagine they would find sex-toys anything but a wholesome diversion. Face it folks, this generation would agree that President Bill didn’t “have sex with that woman” because they don’t consider “oral” to be sex.

Don’t get me wrong, here. I’m all for open and frank sexuality. I came of age with the Pill and the pre-AIDS free love 1970s. I adore Dr. Ruth. Now there’s a person who added to the national sexual discourse. And she isn’t above marketing her own sex toys. But I digress.

I’m gonna let you in on a little (not so) secret from my past. Back in the day—pre internet et al--my brother ran several “adult bookstores”. And during a lean period of unemployment, I briefly worked for him. The stores were sealed boxed with no windows, not a real pleasant place to eat your lunch, I might add. And let me tell ya, there isn’t much I haven’t seen in the way of sex-toys. So I’m not offended by the subject matter, but by the fact that this project lacks redeeming academic value.

As for this old broad, my favorite sex-toys come permanently attached to a human being. No batteries required.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

playing with time

When I was not much more than a tot, my dad told me that story about one twin going off into space and returning years later, not having aged, facing an old twin—illustrating Einstein’s theory of relativity. Way cool thought I. And every since I’ve been fascinated by time travel.

I can’t resist books, TV shows, movies et al that make use of the device. From a Wrinkle in Time, Star Trek to Quantum Leap, I gladly accept the premise although the classic time paradoxes can give me headache. (Such is the case with the ultra-convoluted Lost, which I no longer watch.)

Now, I know that “time travel” is not possible according to scientists. And as enticing as the concept is, I’m not sure I’d opt to travel either way if given the choice. The past too sad (see Our Town), the future a mondo spoiler alert. OK, so it would be more than a little tempting to get in on the start of Microsoft, Apple, pantyhose (Peggy Sue Got Married) and bottled water. But then we come up against that “changing the past” thang.

However, we all do time travel, don’t we? Take today, the start of EST a 25-hour day in which we “fall back” into reliving an hour. Then there’s all that flying around the world in which we “gain” or “lose” time. But regardless of how much we humans play with time—we could crisscross the international date line every day—it will not halt our own personal march of time, unlike Einstein’s space voyage

Saturday, October 31, 2009

halloween cabin fever

Welcome to my own personal Halloween horror.
It’s being stuck at home alone for the week culminating in the ghoulish holiday.

I’ve been down with bronchitis. And though I am feeling better, my chest aches from hacking, (I can’t take cough meds.) leaving me too exhausted to do much of anything. And will all the flues and such, I’ve made it a point to keep my compromised immune system out of harm’s way.

I had planned on working today, as usual, in the kid’s department at BN. Even though the company had the official holiday celebration last Saturday, I was gonna dress up for story time. I was actually looking forward to it. However, it was not to be.

But this is not a day to be laying in front of the tellie. OK, so most holiday fare sucks, but for me—decidedly NOT a fan of horror flicks—it sucks dirty canal water. And switching to the shopping channels leads to a real life financial horror for this kid.

I could use some REAL chicken soup. I make a killer version. It’s a combo of my grams (Never use onions, it sours the soup.), an Italian neighbor from decades ago (Use chicken wings), and my fondness for dill. I won’t bore you with the whole recipe, suffice it to say the soup is rich, thick with slivers of meat and somewhat green.

Since I can’t be bothered to shop, let alone cook, I send out for chicken egg drop soup. It’s rich with eggy goodness. It will have to do. As I’m eating, something jiggles in the back of me brain—a memory—the recollection of making egg drop soup for my sick father as a kid. I used Lipton’s chicken soup as the base. I don’t even keep the stuff in my pantry these days. I consider myself lucky. Egg drop soup is one of the few Chinese dishes worth eating down here.

Oh for a good book.

Monday, October 26, 2009

calling toto

16,900,00 hits.
That’s what I got by googling “Balloon Boy”.
Then there’s the Halloween costume, tee shirt, the you tube spoof etc.
Add to that TV news and law enforcement pronouncements.

That’s a LOT of hot air—enough to carry the lad all the way to Oz and back.

And with all that hot air swirling around young Falcon Henne, (Not a bad choice of first names, eh?) I struggled with whether the world wide web needed my 2-cents. What the heck. Here goes.

The journalist in me squelched a flicker of incredulity when the “story” first broke. You see, it’s the 70th anniversary of the Wizard of Oz. My first thought was of a publicity stunt connected to that. I’m still amazed that no news outlet made that connection, especially when the hoax became obvious. Perhaps because there was no little dog along for the faux ride. Toto, we’re not in Colorado anymore.

Hey, if you recall, the “great and powerful wizard” was also a sham, a snake oil salesman carried to Oz by a runaway balloon, unable to get home. Having impressed the population by his stunning arrival, he sets himself up as a wizard, working puppets and effects from behind a curtain. Humm, now who in this scenario does that bring to mind?

Yet all this begs the question:
What’s worse than throwing up on national TV or having an unrepentant narcissistic creep for a father? (Poetic justice note: his publicity besotted father is being referred to as “Balloon Boy” dad.)

Answer: Having your life defined for you at age six. It’s being known henceforth, through one’s ENTIRE life, as BALLOON BOY. Regardless of how hard you work, how much you accomplish in this life you will never escape that moniker.

He could solve the Mideast mess, cure cancer or global warming singlehandedly and when he steps up to claim his Nobel Prize the headline will be: Balloon Boy Wins Nobel Prize.

Other less fortunate options:
Balloon Boy enters rehab—again.
Balloon Boy, where is he now?
Balloon Boy found dead at age (you fill in the blank).

I’m sure you get the drift.
The great and powerful Wizard has spoken.

Monday, October 19, 2009

moonshadow: novel excerpt

Now for a change of pace. Following is a brief except from my novel Moonshadow

Songs From the Wood

February 1975

My feet ached and my arm was beginning to stiffen from the weight of the heavy glass door. Every time I leaned into it, my bra strap slid off my shoulder, cutting into the top of my arm. My blouse tugged at the waistband of my pants. Less than four hours into my shift and already I was downright cranky.

Despite the bitter cold, the line waiting to get into the Back Bay Diner wrapped around the side of the building. With almost everyone having been ejected from a local bar at the 2 a.m. closing time, it wasn’t a particularly merry bunch either. They were cold, hungry and not in the mood to be put on hold. But they had little choice, as the Back Bay was one of the few eateries at the Jersey Shore open all night.

It was a normal Saturday night bar crowd for a mid-winter weekend. If it had been summer, the line would have snaked through the large parking lot swelled by Bennies, the locals’ name for summer-folk. Still, it was 2:45 a.m. and the crowd showed no signs of slacking off. They called me a hostess, although the duties on my 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift had more in common with that of a bouncer at a bar. I was the first woman to hold the job, and hold it I did.

The Back Bay was the nexus of the local Jersey Shore social scene, and with the drinking age at 18, the crowd was young and rowdy. The diner was a kind of a last chance saloon, with table-hopping in hopes of landing a bed partner as the rule. I often thought myself housemother to the world’s longest-running frat party. The place did have a few standards, though. Those who consistently dumped eggs on their waitress’ head, were particularly vulgar or refused to wear shoes would find themselves exiled. Since being banned from the joint put a fatal crimp in their social lives, I wielded more clout than my 5-foot 3-inch frame would suggest. Of course, this didn’t stop the line jumpers who were supposedly meeting people inside. By 3 a.m., playing the heavy got a bit old. I was glad I only had the role on weekends.

At 27, I had lived in Bay Harbor for seven years, having barely survived a brief marriage with one of its favorite sons. With Jeff gone, the kids and I lived in a converted summer bungalow within walking distance of the diner. I worked there on weekends, juggling college, kids and mountains of bills.

And so it was that night, business as usual. Then a young man in an olive green corduroy car coat, thick black hair falling across one brown eye, appeared at the door. As he pulled the glass door open, Susan, the formidable 6-foot tall red-haired cashier, drew her hand across her neck in an off-with-his-head motion, the signal that he was among the banned. I raised my arm to bar his entrance just as Susan realized she had mistaken him for one of his friends. He gazed down at me with disdain muttering “Yeah, right,” as he brushed past, a cigarette dangling out of the corner of his mouth like a character in an old World War II movie.

Obnoxious little punk, I thought. But I was shaken. In the few seconds his face paused inches from mine something happened. The oversized jacket and the mop of thick hair gave off a waif-like look that belied his arrogance. I wanted to grab his hair and throttle him. I wanted to grab his hair. It didn’t take me long to look forward to his coming in. He was always with his friends, of course, Frank, Marc or Warren. They would ask for the corner booth by the door, Don told me later, so he could watch me unobserved.

I did feel his eyes on me, however, the night Susan called the cops. It didn’t happen often because the management frowned on the practice and put a great deal of pressure on waitresses not to sign complaints against patrons, regardless of how drunk or obnoxious. But that night I had come to the aid of a green young waitress being hammered by four drunks in the corner booth across from Don and his friends.

“What’s the problem?” I asked the lead drunk.
“The fucking bitch messed up my order twice. I ordered over easy and these are hard as rocks.” He waved the plate under my nose. “She refuses to take them back again.”

I looked over at the waitress, who was shaking with anger and fighting back tears. I knew she hadn’t messed up the order, that he was too far gone to remember what he had said. I also knew she was afraid to take it back into the kitchen for a second time. Our head cook was a burly man with a foul temper who was not above throwing rejected plates of eggs at waitresses on just such occasions.

“Let me see what I can do.” As I reached for the plate, he made the mistake of grabbing my ass. That was enough for Susan.
Now, you don’t work at an all-night diner anywhere without getting to know local constabulary, so the sergeant and patrolman who answered the call were friends, especially Sgt. Robert Ryan who worked steady nights. He strutted over to the table, tapping his nine-man-flashlight—so named because he claimed he could take out nine men with its long, weighted handle—against the open palm of his left hand.

“You wanna tell me what’s going on,” he directed the biggest offender with a stern face. It wasn’t a question. “I understand you went beyond verbal abuse and got downright physical with this young lady.” He pointed the flashlight at me and shot me a dead serious look.

I stood off to the side and listened while the jerk rattled on, lying his guts out. But when he insisted I was flirting with him and welcomed the manhandling, I blew up.

“Donkey dust!” I screamed in his face before stomping off.
After seeing the men to their cars, Ryan came back into the diner and pulled me aside, placing one very large hand on each of my shoulders.

“Donkey dust! Donkey dust,” he exclaimed, waving his finger at me. “Here I am, trying to maintain a professional demeanor and your contribution is donkey dust! It’s a good thing you’re one of my favorite people or . . .” He made a fist and mockingly punched me in the face. We burst out laughing.

“So sorry, Bobby,” I gasped through my giggles. “I’ll do my best from now on to keep my colorful language to myself in these situations.”
As the name “Bobby” left my lips, I sensed Don’s eyes narrow. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him hunched over the table, drawing down hard on a cigarette. Nobody, but nobody, called Ryan “Bobby.”

One weeknight I was filling in for a waitress working the counter, when Don and Marc stumbled in. At 3 a.m., the diner was almost deserted. Surprised to see me, the two settled in at my counter. They were the only customers, so we chatted as they drank cups of coffee and munched on fries with gravy. We started to gossip about one of the older waitresses who always gave me a hard time. As she walked out of the kitchen, I leaned in close. By then I was looking for excuses to breathe his air.

“Now, don’t look, but . . .” I hadn’t so much as muttered the “but” when, in perfect unison, the pair turned smartly to look in the forbidden direction. I was simultaneously mortified and delighted.
Without realizing it, we started looking for ways to touch each other, going so far as to engage in an arm wrestling match at 4:30 a. m. one blustery morning during the lull between drunks and railroad men.
“I bet I could take ya,” I bragged, making a show of sizing him up. As a young girl I had taken down guys twice my size. It was something about the way I was built, leverage seemed to be on my side. And I had learned how to use their own arrogance against them.

“You gotta be joking, woman,” he shot back with a snort.
“Oh, yeah. Wanna feel my muscle?” I said, cocking my arm. He leaned over and gave the obligatory squeeze.
“Not bad . . . for a chick,” he conceded with a shrug. “How much are you willing to put up?” He leaned back in the booth and took a hit off his ever-present Marlboro. “How about . . .” he blew several smoke rings, “you cook me dinner?”
“You’re on. What do I get if I win?”
“I take you out for dinner, at a real restaurant, not here . . . Deal?”

We squared off in the corner booth. At first I could tell he was toying with me, letting his arm fall off to the side. But when he had some trouble bringing it back upright, he realized I wasn’t a pushover and he might really lose. The smile slid from his eyes and was replaced by concentration. I fought hard, I really did. He beat me, though, fair and square.

“So, when’s dinner?”
“You really serious?”
“You really want to come to dinner?”
“You can cook, can’t you?”
“Of course I can cook,” I snapped, hesitating for a beat. “I tell you what. Here’s my number. You call me and we’ll arrange a time.”

Although I thought he was merely showboating for his friends, I took a napkin from the holder, borrowed a pen from Susan and scribbled my number down. I can see his face to this day, as he reached over the table to take the paper from my hand. He was grinning.

ps: If you'd like a look at the rest, I have a few copies available at a greatly reduced price.

Monday, October 12, 2009

supermarketing and other quirks

Once again, I have put aside a “planned” post on the Duggar family for something more spontaneous.

On this, my day off, I was up and out earlier than usual to get a fasting blood test. I’m not one to put off breakfast any longer than necessary. No surprise there, eh? Afterwards I treated myself to a delicious low carb meal at Word of Mouth Limited, one of my favorite eateries, and headed out to St. Armand’s circle to see me ol’ bud Debby who owns Circle Books. I got there promptly at 9 a.m., only to discover the store doesn’t open until 10.

What to do?

Needing to pick up some groceries for the week, I decided to head out to the Long Boat Key Publix and then back to the store. It’s not my usual Publix, but I enjoy going to various supermarkets and noting how they vary, even in the same chain. At the high tone one on LBK I enjoy watching the women—many quite elderly—as they often dress quite smartly.

I confess. I am a supermarket voyeur. I look for reasons to go into a different market. When I first moved to Sarasota, I went out of my way to visit all the area markets, noting how the one in my lower income area had more Spanish foods, while the one on LBK stocked frozen Empire kosher chickens—for example. One particular Sweetbay market cooks my favorite whole turkey breast, which I buy and slice up for the week.

I like to take my time and walk down all the aisles, rooting out new and interesting items. I am not one to speed down the aisles tossing items into the cart. Recreational food shopping is among my joys. This has nothing to do with searching out the best prices. I am just as likely to stop at high-priced gourmet shop like Morton’s or stroll through Whole Foods. Often I buy little, but something about the abundance comforts me, calms me down.

Is that weird? OK, maybe it is. Get over it. We all have our quirks. Come to think of it, following are a few of the quirks I came across when I moved. I should add here that I took my driver’s test 45 years ago in New York State, when you took the exam on real roads and were given one chance to successfully parallel park in order to pass.

If you come to Florida:

--Forget all that stuff about driving on the right. Stay in the middle lane, otherwise you’ll get stuck in a ubiquitous right-hand only turn lane.

--Get used to “humping” down the road. We have speed humps instead of speed bumps.

--You know how we were taught to move into the intersection and wait for a chance to turn left. Forget about it. Around here, they wait behind the while line and think what we do is dangerous. That may be because the left-turn signal actually stays on for more than a millisecond and you have time to turn. Still, I find myself unable to hang back.

--Those diagonal white lines across roadways are not there as some pop-art to break up the monotony of the black top. They REALLY mean it here when they say you have to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. I know. It’s unbelievable. These people just step into the street without even looking. Who the hell do they think they are?

--And yes, the traffic lights really are long enough for those oldies to hobble all the way from one side of the road to the other. In fact, that’s why there are so many of us down here. We get old waiting for the light to change.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Free-range kids?

So here’s the question: Shouldn’t we allow children as much freedom as we do chickens?

That’s an affirmative, says Lenore Skenazy.

Back in 2008, she wrote a column in The New York Sun detailing how she let her 9-year-old son ride the New York City subway alone—that’s sans adult supervision, folks. Almost immediately thereafter she found herself on the morning shows labeled “America’s worst mom.”

The author of "Free-Range Kids" is in great company, it turns out, none other than PBS’s own Sesame Street, likely the premiere children’s TV show of all time. When the first--now 40-year-old--season of that acclaimed ground breaking series show came out on DVD in 2006, it sported this disclaimer: "early 'Sesame Street' episodes are meant for grown-ups and may not meet the needs of today's preschool child."


The DVD shows children scampering through large pipes, balancing on planks between picnic tables, romping through New York City streets. Mon dieu!

Skenazy takes on a number of modern myths, including the widely held assumption that our country is more dangerous than it was when today's parents were children.

The crime rate today is actually lower than it was in the '70s and '80s, the author says, noting that even the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children admits that "stranger danger" is overblown. We are all watching too many Law & Order episodes. Instead, children should be taught how to talk to strangers, they say, since they may need help if they're really in danger.

Not only are toys being recalled left and right, but so are some books. That’s right, people—books. I know this, ‘cause I work in the kids department of a bookstore, and last spring spent much of my time rounding up such stuff. Don’t ask me why. I wasn’t given a clue.

So instead of teaching our offspring how to deal with the world, we are trying—in vain—to child-proof it. Awful stuff can, and does, happen but we should prepare kids for what is more likely to happen—like being hit by a car.

The truth is we can’t protect our children from everything, all we can do is teach them as best we can, prepare them, allow them to develop confidence in their own judgment—and then get out of their way.

Yeah, I know. It sucks. But what can you do? It’s a parent’s lot. Think back on your own childhood. It’s likely you “went out to play” and arrived home in time to eat—no “play dates” and ultra-scheduled time. My own kids managed to grow up just fine without me hovering about. As a single mom. I couldn’t if I wanted to. I was too busy making sure they had a home to come back to.

My son was no more than 10 when he became fascinated with cycling and practicing to ride in the Tour de France. I found out years later that he would take off and ride until he got tired, then approach someone and inquire: “Excuse me, but what town is this?”

That’s just one of many things I’m glad I never knew at the time.

It’s no accident that in children’s literature--from fairy tales to Harry Potter--the parents are disposed of in some way before the first page. They have to be. Otherwise, they never would allow their children the freedom to have their adventure.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Think of this as a continuation of the previous post.

It’s Saturday morning. I climb into the front seat of our blue ’52 Oldsmobile with m daddy for the hour-long drive into Manhattan, my mom and brother left behind at home in Syosset, Long Island.

I wear my silver Capezio tap shoes. When I put them on, tie the ribbons into bows, my movements become audible, there for the world to hear. Tap shoes make you impossible to ignore. And I, too, adore being at the center of my world.

The Charlie Lowe Dance Studio is cold and bare, with wood floors scarred by years of metal-tipped tap shoes. The big windows and floor-to-ceiling mirrors bathe the large room in light, leaving no perches in which to hide, no background into which to fade. Music comes from a battered upright piano off to one side, with a real piano player playing real notes, unamplified, unfiltered and raw, like the dancing.

We take our places in rows facing a mirror. There is little clowning around. This is a hard-core, professional practice hall, serious stuff. I can hear the bark of the male instructor as he calls out the time step: “Hop, two taps change, brush out, stamp stamp,” again and again. I can dance it still; his voice, his cadence, echo in my body more than 50 years later.

I feel his look, that glare, as he turns to evaluate our form, motioning the best examples to the front to lead.

Several times a year, I perform in shows sponsored by Macy’s. I am given brassy tunes, such as “The Glory of Love” and “The Trolley Song,” somehow cute when performed by a second-or third-grader. Nothing fazes me. I relish being on stage, taking command of an audience. It’s easy, natural. I assume it as a birthright. So enamored am I with myself that the first time I hear Judy Garland, I accuse her of stealing my songs.

Performing is my passion. From the time I utter a coherent sentence, I insist I am going to be an actress. In the long, dark, narrow hallway of my Aunt Sally’s Brooklyn apartment, I gaze intently into a full-length mirror. No older than 5, I am singing with all my heart and soul, oblivious to family chuckling, rolling eyes or muttering about Sarah Bernhardt. I need no one to complete my performance. I enchant myself.

Fast-forward a few years. I commandeer the living room for acting out the scores to Broadway musicals, either alone or with my best friend, Carin. We leap and strut across tables and couches, emoting like crazy.

Fast-forward several decades. And I wonder. What happened – not to the cute, sweet, water-colored girl in fading snapshots – but to the tough, fearless creature willing to step into the world with only confidence as her shield? I miss her.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Just saw my most favorite TV commercial. It's from the large Florida supermarket chain Publix to support youth soccer.

An overwrought father is watching his very young (looks about 3 years old) son at his first match. He suffers as his son falls, reaches to pick up the ball and so on.

Finally he goes over to the boy, obviously intending to console him:
Boy: "Did you watch me?"
Father: "Are you OK?"

Boy runs off.
Close-up of father's face dissolving into a smile.

Ah, to find that child inside us all.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Peter, Paul and Mary no more...

Note to all you boomers out thar: It's official folks, the 60s be kaput.

The passing of Mary Travers puts the final nail in that otherwise very full coffin. And frankly, I’m getting’ mighty tired of saying farewell to the cherished.

The timing of the news really hit me, as I finish every Wednesday morning story time at BN by singing Puff the Magic Dragon with the bunch of parents and kids. (Many of the parents are so young they need the storybook to follow along with the words.)

By the time I got to see Peter, Paul & Mary perform live, she had fought back her leukemia with a bone marrow transplant and her signature blond tresses were short cropped. The group was at the auditorium in Ocean Grove, NJ, (which is like sitting inside a giant overturned boat.) singing to a sold-out crowd of aging hippies and their grandchildren. They didn’t so much “sing” as lead a sing-a-long. It was a warm and wonderful night. Comfortable.

And with their sweet harmonies, PP&M managed to be easy on the ear and the heart, even as their socially relevant lyrics hit their mark. I don’t know how I would have found Bob Dylan searing question, “How many times...” without them.

I admired their gentle constancy. They kept to their ideals, even when it was “unfashionable” to do so, although I never bought for a second the revisionist history the Puff wasn’t pot driven. It just didn’t matter.

Come to think of it, the impetus behind that question hasn’t changed, either, just the name of the war. The worst part of the 60s manages to live on—and continues bringing our young back in flag-draped boxes.

The answer, my friends, is (still) blowing in the wind.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Guiding Light fades to black

After 72 years and 15,672 episodes they are turning off the lights in the mythical town of Springfield (actually Pea Pack, NJ). I learned the last episode of the soap opera Guiding Light would air next Friday while watching CBS This Morning yesterday.

Since, like too much of its audience, I had both aged out of the advertiser’s target market and returned to the workplace, this wasn’t exactly a shock. I can’t recall when I’ve seen the an episode of the show, which began in 1937. That’s 10 years before I whaled my welcome to this world. That’s when TV was considered a passing fad. Both had remarkable staying power.

Ok, so this isn’t exactly an earth stopping event. Except it is, in a way. Because the news stopped time for me, throwing me back to my Long Island childhood. Yup, another one of those. It was one of my mom’s soaps (along with As the World Turns). I flashed on laying across my parent’s bed on those days when I was home from school with some ailment, and watching alongside my mom—all comfy. Back then, the shows lasted only 15 minutes.

So I guess it’s only natural that I fell into following the convoluted storylines. As the shows grew in length to 30 and then 60 minutes, they shifted the time so I watched after school—or so I recall.

Soaps became something of a fashion for a while, very hip. When I was in college, there was actually a course called “Psychology of the Soap Opera.” And students would gather to watch together.

Then my own daughter, now 40, took to Guiding Light. And it served as a touchstone for us both. At times, when we found it hard to share our own lives, we had common ground. I was so grateful for that. There was always those folks in Springfield. Any problem you could imagine, they had. And they survived—until now.

So although I no longer watched, I guess it gave me comfort to know the world of Springfield still turned. What to make of a world without the ultimate star-crossed soul mates Reva and Josh, without the unending diabolical plots of Allen Spaulding and the rest of the population. What indeed?

Of course, I will be working when the last show airs, so I’ll have to check it out on the web after the fact. And that, my friends, is how the world now turns.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Separation anxiety

I want to feel like I’m returning home.
Instead, I feel that I am leaving home.

Even after 8+ years, I can’t wrest my soul from the Jersey Shore. My separation anxiety, it seems, is geographical as well as human.

I am in “soak up” mode, sucking in the brine at the Spring Lake boardwalk, as if I could find a way to make it last all the way back to Sarasota. I linger outside of No Ordinary Joe’s in Red Bank until my coffee is cold, obsessively scanning the streetscape. I gaze out at the Navasink River and imagine myself on one of the sailboats floating by.

I admire those who boldly stride into the future.
My neck cranes toward the past.
I cling.

So I make lists of the good stuff : I have a job, a roof over my head, healthy children, good friends et al. I mutter thanks to the universe for the opportunity to be here again this summer.

And I don’t know what else to do but keep moving, dragging myself into the forward. Well, I do purchase a lottery ticket each week. The belief in magic dies hard.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Something funny happened on the way to the publisher...

I became a blogger.

So I’m pausing to pat myself on the back—a bit—for crossing the year-one blogging divide. Not a small feat, or so I’m told. According to a 2008 survey by Technorati, a search engine for blogs, only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs the company tracks had been updated in the past 120 days. That translates to 95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned.

I started this site last August 19, with a post about my daughter, without whose help I never would have made it off the ground.

I was not what you would call an enthusiastic blogger. Publishers and agents, who said they liked my second book, a few even loved it—yet they would not take it on. Since I no longer had my newspaper column , I was left without a “platform” they moaned, a demonstrable readership. (Even being called “early Nora Ephron didn’t help!)

Enter blogging. By casting my writing out onto the web, they opined, I would attract a following, create such a platform and thereby become publishable. That’s the theory, anyway. Reality, as always, tends to get in the way.

Richard Jalichandra, chief executive of Technorati, has reported that at any given time there are 7 million to 10 million active blogs on the Internet, but “it’s probably between 50,000 and 100,000 blogs that are generating most of the page views...There’s a joke within the blogging community that most blogs have an audience of one.”

Okay, so my audience exceeds that, but not by nearly as much as I had hoped. Like many folks of my generation, I find myself so overwhelmed by the marketing of this thing that it freezes me into inaction.

So until/unless I figure it out, I have come to terms with what is. I am determined to continue—even if I am an audience of one. It is, at a minimum, a date with myself, a date to show up on the page at least once a week, to continue and not get tossed away. This is no small thing in my life. I meet this commitment—others, not so much.

I’ve had three months of free time to work on my second “novel” and have done next to bupkis, nada. Whatever creative juices have been given over to me dried up. I am the Sahara of the literary world. Continuing here, on this site, is helping me make peace with that and move on.

Next week I will be back in my “real life”, back in Sarasota, back at work in B&N. This blog will continue and at some future time I hope to find my way back to that book or on to new ones.

Hope you stay tuned...and it wouldn't hurt if you would pass the word along to others. Thanks.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Curtains for Camelot

The curtain has fallen.
Cut the applause and standing ovations,
There are no more encores.
Time to dim the lights and leave the theater.
Camelot is done.

It matters little what the remaining Kennedys of the so-called younger generation do, with the death this week of their “Uncle Teddy” the “dream” has died. (Even if Caroline does resume some political quest.)

And even knowing the Kennedy “Camelot” was as mythical as the literary one, it still saddens me. At first, as I watched Edward Kennedy’s casket escorted from his boyhood home for the final time, I couldn’t put my finger on why that might be.

Then it hit me—my adolescents and young adulthood was bound up with that family, for good or ill.

I will admit that as a teenager I enthusiastically bought into whole bag, delighting in the contrast between JFK and Ike. I felt as if the world was opening up, just as I was approaching adulthood, possibilities unbounded. A series of well-aimed gunshots cut short the lives of JFK and RFK . Others, like the affable JFK Jr., were lost to their own fatal misjudgments. But there always seemed to be another Kennedy to step into the void and feed the myth. Until now.

The “dream” that died with Teddy was not the one of political dynasty, power or privilege. It was the dream of my—and my generation’s—youthful view of this country and what our lives might be. As much as we boomers hate to admit it, the torch REALLY has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born to a very different reality and impatient with the masses of us clogging the road to their new millennium.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

the puny penis defense

Now the world knows mondo rip-off artist Bernie Madoff’s “other secret” thanks to his self-proclaimed former mistress Sheryl Weinstein. Bernie, she says, is puny in the penis department. This I learned last night watching the “news.”

And as we women all know, size CAN matter, both for good or ill. That’s the hard truth of it. So suck it up, guys. If you doubt me, check out HBO’s “Hung, ” a kooky comedy about an over endowed divorced high school basketball coach who needs money after his house burns down an bills himself out as a “happiness consultant.”

So now pundits are pondering if his super fraudulent life was the result of his less than adequate genitalia. Bernie was simply “overcompensating.” Shit, he must have a penis the size of a Ken doll. Come to think of it, Ken was sans genitalia. Oh, well. At least Madoff had balls, eh? He never met a buck he couldn’t steal. He even took his honey for all she was worth, she claims.

So now it’s out. His penis made him do it.
Hey, they once laughed at the Twinkie defense.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

missing Woodstock

So I’m missing Woodstock—again.

Forty years ago, I was the same chronological age as many of those at the hallowed festival. But in reality I was much older. I spent the time almost unaware of the goings on. You see, I was already married with an 7 month-old daughter. My choices had already constricted my life to a tiny yellow five room ranch house in Point Pleasant, NJ.

My Aunt Sally, on the other hand, summering in a nearby bungalow colony, responded to pleas for food. I did have a tenuous connection.

But as years have melted into decades, the distinction has faded. The images of the place, masses of flesh, mud and drugs, mixed with music , joy and freedom have sunk into our very souls. All of us feel we were there. (Gone, by the way, are less savory images of drug overdoses, overflowing toilet facilities and the like.)

That’s how I feel now, watching the celebration’s 40th birthday. It does, however, remind me how much of my own “era” I observed rather than participated in—such as civil rights marches and sit-ins. My only sit-ins were in the pediatrician’s office.

That child, now a 40 year-old resident of London, was certainly worth it. I would make the choice again. I would, really. I've never much cared for crowds after all.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

32,850 sunsets

I don’t usually run other folks columns, especially pieces making the email rounds. You know, the words of wisdom you find forwarded to your email addy from friends. Maybe I’m feeling mellow and introspective on this summer Saturday, but this one hit home, so I’m posting it.

This was written by Regina Brett, now 90 years old, and appeared in the The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, evidently some time ago. I think when someone of intellect looks back to share his/her insights, it behooves us to at least pay attention. Some, like the ones on retirement and credit, I ignored at my own peril. Others, while seemingly simple, are really hard to do. I have my faves. Which are yours?

"To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life taught me,” says Brett. “It is the most-requested column I've ever written. My odometer rolled over to 90 in August, so here is the column once more:”

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
4. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch.
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.
8. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.
12. It's OK to let your children see you cry.
13. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.
15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks.
16. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.
17. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful..
18. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.
19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer.
21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.
23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.
24. The most important sex organ is the brain.
25. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.
26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words 'In five years, will this matter?'
27. Always choose life.
28. Forgive everyone everything.
29. What other people think of you is none of your business.
30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.
31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
32. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
33. Believe in miracles.
34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do.
35. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
36. Growing old beats the alternative--dying young.
37. Your children get only one childhood.
38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.
41. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
42. The best is yet to come.
43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
44. Yield.
45. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Julie & Julia & Me

Yeah, so I’m blogging about a film about a blogger. Sorta.

Julie & Julia is one delightful flick. Even being interrupted by a 45-minute evacuation from the theater didn’t hurt. (We were never told why the alarms went off.) The performance of Meryl Streep is everything you see in the trailers. It was just fun, so much fun I was sorry to see it end.

But along with my engagement in the dual storyline, (I’m not going into that here. It’s just a google away.) I found myself reacting strongly to the experience of nascent blogger Julie Powell working her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days—and that of nascent chief Child’s in France.

I could certainly identify with Julie’s concerns that she’s just sending her writing out into a literary version of lost in space. I still feel that way, even after almost a year. Is anybody out there? Does anybody give a damn?

I chuckled at her delight when her blog receives its first comment, only to find it’s from her mother—real close to home. And her excitement at getting 65 comments from “people I don’t know.” Here, I started slipping over into more dangerous territory—envy. Powell developed a real conversation with her “readers” who even sent her gifts through the mail.

My own stats, which are too easily checked, are silly low. Yet I am determined to continue. The climb up is incremental. Unlike Julie, I have no “gimmick.” That’s what the reviewers are calling her Julie/Julia project. However, I beg to differ.
What separates me from both Julie and Julia is passion, a focused passion. In both their cases it is food. Well, not just food. I am passionate about food, eating it that is. Their passion lay in the process, in the preparation of (and then the consuming of) said food.

Julie nurtures a love of cooking as a means of getting her through an otherwise drab existence (not unlike Child, by the way), before she starts her project. It’s not an artificial construct. Without that innate passion, neither of them would have soldered through to the end. Julie, her year of cooking dangerously, and Julia, fearlessly going where no American woman had gone before. Neither had a smooth ride, although both are blessed with amazingly supportive spouses.

The so-called “gimmick” of cooking her way through Child’s tome, is really what we journalists call a “hook.” It’s a means to draw people into the young woman’s life, as she struggles and juggles to navigate the year without losing her job, her husband or her sanity.

For Julia, her passions fall upon her rather late in life. She is still a virgin at 40 when she meets the man she marries—also a most passionate relationship, by the way. Her cooking career begins after as “something to doooooo.” Julia masters the cooking easily enough, but getting that now familiar opus published, while following her adored husband with his diminishing career around Europe almost proves her undoing.

What saves the film from ending up as a fairytale, is the reaction of then 90-year-old Julia Child to Julie’s blog—she is unimpressed, calling the young woman disrespectful and not serious. Thankfully for the upset young woman, this news comes to her after the project is complete and accolades pour in. Her husband rightly reminds her that it’s the “Julia in her head” that matters.

Since Nora Ephron combined a bio partly penned by Child and her grand nephew, along with Julie’s book on her project for the movie, we are left with the real sense, that if Child were still alive, this film would not have seen the light of day. And that would have been a shame.

Friday, July 31, 2009

shaken & stirred

The thing about Walter Cronkite’s passing is that it stirred memories of a time long gone and shaken loose others. I should have expected it. Yet, as is often the case, these things have a way of ambushing my emotions.

All the Cronkite memorials naturally keyed in on the Kennedy assassination, the days surrounding November 22, 1963. And the power of seeing those black & white images again, snapped me back in time, riveted.

But that passage of time also left layers of poignancy on the images, once so crisp and familiar. The solemn procession under the watchful gaze of the stately young widow, punctuated by a toddler’s salute, weigh on me differently now, now that they are all gone.

And my thoughts turn to Caroline, as they did on July 16, 1999, when that toddler, then 38 years old, old died along with his wife and sister-in-law in that plane crash. Because she is the lone survivor of the immediate family of her birth. And I know what that’s like.

Yes, it’s odd for me to identify with one so accomplished, so wealthy, with so much extended family and resources. And yet I do. Both of us outlived parents and a younger brother. That’s enough for me.

In my case, my brother was the first to leave, a suicide at age 39, ending a life of emotional pain. Neither of my parents really recovered from that.

No one knows why my 75 year-old father died after a routine operation removing age-old adhesions blocking his bowel. He came out of the operation, regained consciousness, even sat up, before his body started shutting down. An autopsy revealed nothing, nothing medical that is. I’ve always believed he, too, chose to go. My mother was battling lymphoma and I don’t think he wanted to wake up one day without her.

My mother, on the other hand, never forgave him for “leaving her,” and fought on for 15 months before joining her husband and son. Her heart just gave out.

I was never much of a “family” person. And in the 13 years since my mom’s death, have been shocked at the grief and deep aloneness—much greater than simple loneliness—that overcomes me at times such as these. I have lost my moorings.

From Walter Cronkite to Caroline Kennedy to me.

Memory isn’t linear and once awakened, we never can know where it will take us.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

the Viagra diaries

Economic hard times are leading to fewer hard-ons for some seniors.

New Jersey says senior citizens will have to pony up for their own Viagra starting next month. Another unforeseen consequence of this down economy.

The NJ Department of Health and Senior Services announced the change in letters sent to 76,000 people enrolled in its two low-cost prescription drug plans for senior citizens.

(In addition to impotency drugs, the state will no longer pay for so-called "cosmetic drugs" that treat obesity or skin conditions. Nor will it cover vitamins or cold medicines. But methinks these changes won’t cause much of a stink)

Geez. I guess this means the loss of a low-cost recreational option for many of these folks, at least—both men and their partners will be at a loss, so to speak.

There are likely health benefits to a continued full sex life, I wager, such as lower blood pressure and less depression. Hey, I wonder if the increase in antidepressives, or other meds, will cut into the dollars the state figures it will be saving.

Years ago, when erectile dysfunction made the TV commercials as “ED” by none other than former presidential contender Bob Dole, I wrote a column detailing how turned off I was by the whole turn of events.

Anyone who’s met me, even casually, can tell I’m about as far from a prude as one can get, yet I still can’t stomach those commercials for “when the time is right.” Especially that one for the herbal remedy featuring gawky “Bob” who prances around with a shit-eating grin, while swooning women wonder at his “new-found confidence.” There’s even one where a guy looks over at him longingly while holding a limp water hose. OY.
I’m also glad I don’t have to answer some youngster’s inquiry about “a four-hour erection” and the dangers of...

Listen, I’m as much of a fan of the end product as the next gal (or guy for that matter). Yet, I dunno. It just has no grace, no charm, no taste to have this pushed at me on the tellie. Yeah, I hear ya, there’s all that feminine hygiene stuff also, but that just doesn’t have the sleaze factor. Although, ads for the new KY-Intense, that promise a gigantic increase in that “special moment” for us woman falls into the same category. It may not require a prescription, but at $28 bucks for a small tube, it is pricey—too pricey for me, girlfriend. I’ll just work harder.

It almost makes me yearn for the good ol’ days, when bras where shown on forms instead of the real life “girls”.

Guess I’m really getting on--instead of getting it on--eh?

Monday, July 20, 2009


A front page article in the NYT the other day describing the new Obama administration’s policy of granting political asylum to abused foreign women, brought me back to a column I wrote way back in October of 1994. Unfortunately, it’s still relevant, so I thought I’d post it.

Survival is a victory for this woman

I switched on the TV while getting dressed and heard the familiar voice of Gloria Steinem.

My admiration for this woman has only grown as years go by. Not only does she display an incisive mind, but she continues to appear on the tube – having reached a certain age – without benefit of a smear of lipstick. I’ve always been a sucker for those with the courage of their convictions.

Anyway, she was taking about the new issue of Ms. Magazine and its extraordinary cover. Front and back, it portrays a Vietnam Memorial-type wall. On it are inscribed the names of women killed by domestic violence in the past four years.

As Steinem answered questions on the now ubiquitous subject, she concluded by saying that as grim as the statistics are, at least now the problem has a name. Twenty years ago, she added, it was just life.

Twenty years ago…….

Actually, it was about 27 years ago. I was pregnant with my daughter when we moved into the little five-room yellow ranch house in a small Ocean County town.

I was a few months past my 20th birthday. She was four years older and already had children. We became inseparable fairly quickly, which was rather odd. She was tall and preppie; I, short and ethnic. She was Junior League. I was La Leche League.

But something grew between us that has spanned almost 30 years, five children and two marriages, despite the fact we often went for years without much contact. In those days, we lived in each other’s houses. She taught me to bake cookies. I convinced her that sheets didn’t need ironing.

Neither her mother nor her husband had any use for me or my “bad influence.” Why she even breast-fed her last child. By age 30, she was restless, searching for something not to be found at home. I didn’t understand.

My own marriage was over. Regardless of what her family thought of my “loose” life-style, in reality, I was scared, lonely and bowing under the financial and emotional weight of supporting two children under 5 years old. So, I wasn’t about to encourage anyone to frivolously follow in my shaky footsteps.

Under my insistent questioning, she finally broke down and told me the truth.

The beatings had begun when she was pregnant with her first child. His need to control every aspect of their environment – from the finances to the temperature and lighting -- was obsessive. She never knew what would set him off. And when she tried to leave, he would physically bar the door and take her car keys.

She hid the evidence with grit and cosmetics, riddled with shame and guilt. After all, her handsome, athletic husband was a brilliant professional with an advanced degree. He made a fine living. It must be her fault. After all, that’ what he said. She was unstable and an incurable spendthrift, he insisted.

Our modest homes were no more than 10 feet apart yet, I never had a clue. My shock quickly turned to fury.

At 30, something snapped. She was unwilling to continue in a dark, cold world forever. So, she began carving out a life of her own. It was slow and not without cost.

She stayed for the kids, she said, and for the financial security. But she went back to school, got her own advanced degree and established a career, an independent life.

The physical beatings ended, but the verbal and fiscal abuse continued. The more independent she became, the more affairs he had. After each one ended, he bought her a wedding ring. She has an extensive collection.

The shell of a union officially died earlier this year. He found himself someone younger and more acquiescent. He has already remarried. After 30 years of marriage, she cherishes her solitude and independence. She no longer eats dinner in a dark house with a cold husband or stews about his gun collection. She has a regular companion butt marriage is no lure.

She is among the lucky ones. Her name does not appear on that Ms. Wall. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Monday, July 13, 2009

where the heart is...

Since my return up north for the summer, I have been considering the subject of “home.” What exactly is it? Where is it? Is it “where the hat is”? And if it is, as some say, it’s where the heart is, can the heart live in more than one place?

I’m not sure I know the answer, but I am sure that many folks surely have the same questions. Well, fairly sure. OK, so maybe I’m among the few who bother to think about these things. So sue me.

Regular readers of this space are aware I feel deep connections to several places separated by both time and space.

When I travel back to Syosset, Long Island, the Nassau County neighborhood where I came of age, there is indeed a sense of homecoming. It is a static homecoming, set in the 1950-60s and viewed through childhood eyes. My brain tends to screen out changes and emotions are stirred—egged on, I’m sure by the loss than comes as we age.

The pieces written on my time here in Rye, NY (see: what I did on my summer vacation, August 21, 2008 and return to Rye, June 11, 2009.) also touch on my youth, on the summers spent in the Catskills. Another visceral connection. A decided chunk of my heart is home amid the cool green mountains of New York.

Then there is the Jersey Shore, where I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life, where I raised my children, did my best work. I can get so gut wrenchingly homesick for the sights and smells of the place, it drives me nuts. But unless my children are with me for a “down the shore” foray, Point Pleasant, the actual town in which we lived holds little sway. I am somehow more connected to the neighboring town of Point Pleasant Beach, perhaps because it has both a real downtown and the boardwalk where much time was passed. And maybe it’s because my house of 40 years was stripped of its uniqueness by its new owners. I avoid going down that street now.

But this year, something weird hit me. I feel the most at home in a place I have never lived. How can that be? That place is Red Bank, where a best friend puts me up every summer. I walk downtown for coffee, which I drink outside at a café table. The view is identical to the photo on my home computer. From there, I easily travel to walk the Spring Lake or Point Beach boards and to visit others. And the hospital, a short walk from my friend’s home, has a dynamite view of the Navasink River from it’s café. Having lived across from the Manasquan River for decades, I love watching the action on a river.

Sadly, the one place I still do not feel at home is where I’ve lived for the past 7 plus years—Sarasota, Fl. I wish I could will myself to feel that sense of belonging that comes with being “at home.” In moving so far from all I know, alone, I acted against type, gambling it would shake up my moribund life for the better. The best I can say right now is that the jury is still out. I am better at hanging on to old connections that making new ones.

It surprises people—even those who know me fairly well—that my apparent extroverted nature is severely tempered by an introverted soul. I dislike parties, crowds and find it difficult to join things. When I first moved, I went to some social mixer-type things, simply looking for friends of either sex. I even went on one date. It was excruciatingly boring and painful.

The first two people I hit it off with, moved away. I do work with good folk and will return in the fall, once again, with determination to reach out some more, somehow. Yes, I’m well aware the fault is in me, not the place. I realized recently that I am much more comfortable as an observer, rather than a participant, so finding my way to journalism makes perfect sense.

I also tend have a tendency to blend into the lives of my friends instead of building my own—sounds a bit like a book concept. You know, a woman who lives her life by shuttling from one friend’s home to another, adopting and adapting to their lifestyles before moving on. Oh my, how hollow is that!

Whoa, this piece has taken an unsettlingly whiney turn. Enough of this.

Billy Joel, the voice of my Long Island youth has his own take on the subject as he sings:

Well I never had a place that I could call my very own.
That's all right, my love, 'cause you're my home...You're my castle, you're my cabin and my instant pleasure dome.I need you in my house 'cause you're my home.

A decidedly romantic, but methinks very dangerous concept of “home”.

Perhaps the simplest answer:
When someone asks “where are you from,” what’s your first response?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Death take a holiday

Enough already!

The month of June was over rife with celeb deaths, it seems to me. Yeah, I know, it’s probably not statistically aberrant. I mean, folks die all the time and under those well-known skins, celebs are just human. (I know, it comes as a shock.)

But the never ending list of famous endings still seems a bit much—like their expiration dates all came due. They were all ages, also. The exits ranged from the natural and odd, quick and drawn out, painful and seemingly peaceful, expected and shocking.

June. Of all months to have death busting out all over.

This is where the internet comes in handy, for a list of those who have moved on. I confess these are a few names in there I’ve never heard of. And I know I’m getting on in years, cause quite a few of these folks aren’t that old to me.

Deaths in my extended family bunched up in August. We always seems to be marking one anniversary or another. When my uncle died some years ago, my aunt noted it was on one of those anniversaries, to which a cousin quipped: “It’s hard to find an open date in August.” (And yes, we laughed.) We have a rough sense of humor in our family, what can I say?

And July continues the trend. As I write this actor Karl Malden, 97 has just died. And from what I read, Patrick Swayze and Walter Cronkite won’t be far behind.

Perhaps that bit about celebs dying in threes should be amended to dying in droves.

For the morbidly curious, here’s the list in chronological order

June 3
Chicago blues legend Koko Taylor dies at 80
David Carradine, Accidental Death at72
1950s-'60s tenor saxophonist Sam Butera dies 81

June 7
Singer-songwriter Kenny Rankin dies of lung cancer at 67

June 8
Actor Johnny Palermo dies in car accident at 27

June 10
Jack Nimitz, Sax Player, a Big Part of Jazz History, Dies 79
Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section Keyboardist Barry Beckett Dies 66
Ink Spots guitarist Huey Long dies at age 105 in Houston

June 14
Bob Bogle, Original Member of The Ventures dies at 75

June 23
Ed McMahon dies at 86

June 25
Farrah Fawcett dies of cancer at 62
Michael Jackson dies at 50
Sky Saxon - Band Member of The Seed dies 63

June 27
Gale Storm, singer, star of '50s hit TV series, dies 87

June 28
Infomercial Pitchman Billy Mays Dies at 50
Fred Travalena, impressionist and singer, dies 66

June 30
Harve Presnell, 'Fargo' Actor, dies at 75 from pancreatic cancer

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Jon & Kate plus 8 divorce lawyers ?

I confess.
I’ve watched Jon & Kate Plus 8, maybe half a dozen times—long before the present troubles. I was sucked in by the shear logistics of it all. And frankly marveled at her ability to keep on top of it.

But I found the so-called “reality show” uncomfortable viewing, even then. She was not a happy camper, or so it seemed. It wasn’t just that she continually told him what to do, but she was decidedly unpleasant about how she did it. She comes across as a bullying harpy. So it’s no surprise that a recent “poll” finds 61% of the country siding with him in the divorce action.

That’s not a bandwagon onto the which I will jump. Yes, she is easy to dislike, often roiling with anger and disapproval. But every coin needs a flip side to exist. And Jon is Kate’s. He is a whimpering mass of passive aggressive manipulation. And I know from first-hand experience, how such a person can subtly provoke one to rage. In my own youthful, brief marriage, I was more a Kate than a Jon.

Ironically, the photo always accompanying the story of the split comes from the episode where the kit’n caboodle flies to Hawaii and the couple renew their vows. Yes, I happened to catch that one. Leaves me wondering if that was the network’s idea or the couple grasping at straws—they didn’t have to pay for.

Although I read there is a prayer website dedicated to the couple, I also find the silence of the Christian community telling. Kate’s book publisher was a major evangelical house and the series drew heavily from that sector for its support. However, I’m not among those that believe that the evangelicals are any less likely than the rest of us to slow down to rubberneck at a roadside disaster.

Their network, TLC is banking on us to tune in for what I am afraid will be a media circus of a divorce—cause a reasoned, measured split won’t make for good ratings. They are so confident reports have them procuring a Trump Tower apartment (or its equivalent) for Jon so the pair can separate and continue filming.

I won’t be among those watching, though. Living through my own crumbling marriage and watching those of people close to me is fall apart is enough, thank you.

Somehow, I doubt the couple will provide a public service by showing us how this should be done. The two appear to agree on only one thing: The show must go on. Why? So the Gosselins can afford to divorce without sacrificing their bloated lifestyle? Give me a break.