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.