Thursday, August 19, 2010

catch the finger

My dad's game of "catch the finger" goes international. (NO, not that finger!)

Doing my laps this morning, I paused to exchange greetings with a visiting toddler. The youngster in question--glad in a big hat and dark glasses to protect him from the summer Sarasota sun--was in his mother's arms. They are the daughter and grandson of one of my condo mates, who is French.

I'm not sure how much English either understood, but it's a moot point. Without thinking, I slipped into my usual behavior at these moments. I extended my index finger in front of the child's face. He reached to grab it--almost every child does--I folded my finger, foiling the attempt. He laughed and tried again, and again and again--as I repeated the action. A child a bit older would have started moving his hand closer and closer, until I couldn't pull the finger away.

Anyone with a child who knows me, knows the game. At first, I did it mindlessly. But after my Dad died, I started wondering how it got started. I'm sure it was "invented" in a moment of desperation, to amuse me and my brother. I honestly can't recall a time before I played it myself.

A second game involving only one's hands that he often used--as do I-- is "walking fingers", a self-explanatory game with the fingers walking toward the then onto a child, if he/she is willing.

I still miss my Dad. But at times like these I realize that he does live on in me--and in many children he's never met.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

pledge week

To continue with the subject of pleading for money...

I confess to being one of a handful of folks who look forward to—yes, adore—pbs station pledge weeks.

It’s not that I enjoy the begging for cash part. But the smarty-pants program directors husband the best of the best to coax said cash out of our hands.

Wayne Dyer, Daniel Amen, Christiane Northrup, John Denver, Peter Paul and Mary, South Pacific, along with some new folks. Songs of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, (The sound track of our collective lives )... “Visions of southern Italy” ...and the list goes on.

I can’t get enough of these shows and I watch them over and over, every chance I get in the allotted time period, using the pledge breaks to toggle between pbs stations to catch what’s on there.

I am greedy, storing up the images until the next time. Sometimes, I even pledge...

Friday, August 6, 2010

Hungry. Homeless. God Bless.

On my way home from work, stopped at a light. Out of the corner of my eye I spy I youngish woman with mousy blond hair.

She stands perfectly still, staring straight ahead in 95 degree heat. She holds a sign chest high: Homeless. Hungry. God Bless.

Thoughts of my impending Chinese take-out start to make me queasy

It's a long light. She does not move, doesn't even blink. She makes no eye contact. Her quiet dignity touches me. I don't even care if its true.

I pull out the only cash I have--$1--roll down my window & reach out--
apologizing it isn't more. She smiles, thanks me, takes a step forward & renews her stance.

And I head for the Chinese restaurant.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


With the flaps over the Arizona immigration law and the building of a mosque at Ground Zero, I’ve once again been considering “the other.” By that I mean the tendency of us human animals to cull out “those people” from the herd.

Once done, we imbue those “others” with unfavorable qualities, e.g : lazy, greedy, opportunistic, fanatic. “They” are the enemy, dangerous, the source of our problems—whatever they are at that moment in time. They are out to take our jobs, our resources, corrupt our youth or terrorize us.

Illegal aliens. Muslims. Gays. Whoever.

It’s a subject I have long considered. I recall sitting in high school history class marveling at my good fortune—being both female and Jewish--at being born in the mid 20th century America.

Yet, I was still never far from the definition of “outsider.”

I was a hs junior when Kennedy was assassinated. I returned home from school to a call from my mother. I’ll never forget the first thing she said: “Thank God he (Oswald) wasn’t Jewish.”

Regardless, she was not immune from turning on “others.”

Fast forward a decade. She and I are arguing about the then California uproar over illegal immigrant mothers “ abusing” our healthcare system. My mother, first generation born in this country, ranted on about these Mexican women crossing the border to give birth on our soil. So what, I retorted, they are risking their lives so their children can have a chance at the American Dream. (Sound familiar? I read now some law makers want to change this. )

Ok, so here’s the rub. I found out not long ago, that I, too, am descended from an illegal alien. It seems that when my paternal grandfather came over from eastern Europe he couldn’t enter legally. So like many other Jews at that time, he went to Canada and crossed the border in the Chicago area before making his way to New York.

So he wasn’t a wetback—he was a coldback.

We have met the “other” and he/she is US!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

writers write

Decades ago, my young daughter reproached me with those words: writers write. It has haunted me lately because I haven’t been—writing, that is.

I could blame the extremely thick Florida heat.
I could say I am distracted and out of sorts since giving up sugar about 6 weeks ago.
I could curse the atmosphere at my day job.
I could bemoan being homesick for the Jersey Shore—the real one, not the TV variety.
I could complain about my shifting work schedule.
I could whine about being empty, with naught to say.

While all this may be true, it matters not.
My daughter is correct: writers write.
All else is irrelevant.

There are few things more miserable to be near than a “non-writing” writer. So I find myself avoiding people when not at work, trying in vain to pressure myself to produce.

As for what I’m doing here, writing about how I’m not writing, it’s akin to those Seinfeld shows where they jabbered on about “nothing.” Big yuk.

I guess I’m just trying to prime the pump, move my fingers across the keys in the hope that something will catch. It’s a bit like going through the motions of exercise, meditation et al...sort of the ol’ “fake it until you make it.”

Writers write. Writers write. Writers write...

Monday, July 5, 2010

attack of the techno devil

Looking back, it started about a month ago, with a noisy, but innocuous seeming microwave problem. It made a loud noise which continued even after it shut off. After a few moments of panic, I discovered the motor running the turntable seemed to be running on. I wound a metal flap to access it and now shut it down manually after its use.

Then I awoke from a couch nap just before the holiday weekend to find no picture on my flat screen TV, which couldn't be more than 2 years old. So I shut off the power to reboot and was rewarded with a series of well-spaced colored lines. To this date it remains, with me watching on my old not-so-flat, not-so hi-def bedroom TV.

And today, it's my laptop. (I'm writing this on my Dell net book). I started getting weird virus messages--even tho I have so-called virus protection. And before you know it, I couldn't connect to the net. Since the net book and my nook connected fine, I knew it was the computer. Now, I can connect to certain site, the machine shows I have an "excellent connection" however, most other sites refuse to connect and when I run the diagnostic--get this--it won't work because there is no connection and THEN Verizon directs me to and ON-LINE SITE to correct the problem. Since this is a holiday, I can't get a hold of a human, of course.

Since I have an old TV and this tiny computer I'm gettin' by. And through all this, it's hard to get too upset. In fact, I awoke this morning to a sound that made me more than smile--I let out a breath I wasn't aware I was holding.

Abbie, my calico cat/companion of 17 years, appeared whining at my door. She had been AWOL for 2 nights, the longest ever. I was hoping it was a combo of the driving rain and fireworks that sent her into hiding, but some part of me feared she was hit by a car or fodder for some gater.

Her arrival put things in perspective.

ps: Did I forget to mention my toilet--recently repaired--has started leaking from the bottom again. A story for another day...

AND the tub drain is still running slow even tho I fed it liquid plumber........................................

Thursday, June 10, 2010

birthday wisdom

As of last week, I have officially aged another year. I find myself in one of those reflective moods that affects us as the years pile up. In taking stock, I have given considerable thought to those old saws and whether or not I’ve found any truth there. So, here goes.

• You’re not getting older, you’re getting better. Maybe a bit wiser, but not better. My back hurts, my teeth are wearing thin while the rest of me is thickening. Youth is most certainly wasted on the young.

• The best things in life are free. Nothing in this life is free. And the best are the most dear. Nonmaterial things such as love, trust, family, fitness—you name it—all require a significant investment of self. And that can be not only personally expensive and time consuming, but painful. Oh well, no pain, no gain.

• A stitch in time saves nine. I have repeatedly ignored this one to my detriment. I can’t seem to get it through my thick skull that things break down, wear out and need maintenance. I expect them to go on forever and continue to be surprised when anything fails, be it my car, my toaster oven or my body.

• You are what you eat. If this were true, I’d be a lot sweeter and quite a bit richer.

• If you’re happy, your children will be happy. Many of us, myself included, raising a family in the 1970s swallowed this one, I’m sorry to say. And our children paid the price. The needs of adults and children are often not in harmony. Being the adult means taking care of the kids first. And that can mean postponing careers and making peace with a marriage that has fallen far short of expectations.

• All you need is love. See above.

• Children should be seen and not heard. Actually, it’s the grown-ups who should be seen more and heard less.

• It’s just as easy to marry a rich man as a poor man. Sure it is, if your bust size is at least twice your age.

• Better safe than sorry: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Well, that all depends on the type of bird in your hand, the kind of birds in the bush, how far away the bush is and the length of your reach. Sometimes it pays to go out on that limb.

• Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Most of us play it too safe all our lives, for which many of us are sorry later on. I, for one, have come to regret the chances I let pass by rather than the ones I took.

• You can’t judge a book by its cover. True. Remember Ted Bundy?

• If you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas. Also, true.

• Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses. Don’t make me laugh.

• Take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves. Yeah, right.

• A fool and her money are soon parted. I’m the poster-girl for this one.

• The meek shall inherit the earth. No way. As a character in the musical “Camelot” sings: “It’s not the earth the meek inherit, it’s the dirt.”

• A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Ignore this at your own peril. I have. There is just no way around this one. And I’ve tried. Nike puts it best: Just do it.

• Ninety percent of life is just showing up. Woody Allen was on to something here. Of course, it’s the remaining 10 percent that separate the haves from the have-nots, the doers from the did-nots, the Woody Allens from the rest of us.

• Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you. This makes more sense and becomes easier the older you get. I’m not sure why. Maybe it has something to do with where we begin. As babies, children, adolescents and even young adults, we assume we are the center of the universe. Perhaps as we mature, we move off center a bit. Suddenly, letting someone into your driving lane or cleaning up after yourself is not such a big deal. Besides, it feels good.

The best is yet to come. Maybe, maybe not. But whatever good comes, I’ll appreciate it.

As my mom always said: “Tomorrow is another day.”

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Story time + nursing =...

Another adventure in bookselling.

So it’s Saturday morning, and parents with kids are gathering for story time in the children’s department. I notice an attractive new couple with an infant and a toddler among the small crowd lining the stage. As I put stuff together to get started, I notice she is breastfeeding her daughter.

Now, this is not unusual. As those who know me or are regular readers of this space, are aware, I am a great proponent of the practice. I go out of my way to make sure my kid’s department is hospitable to moms looking for a place to feed their young.

Most go about nursing with a degree of modesty. Not this young mother, however. Her babe chowed down with gusto, her mom’s breast bare. And when the child was done, mom made no attempt to shield her nipple from public view. It wasn’t as if she was flouting it or anything. It was as if she—and her husband--didn’t notice. She suited up for story time, but later I saw her walking around the department, again seemingly without a clue.

I confess to almost laughing out loud. The sight of a totally bared breast in public didn’t so much shock, as surprise me. And the total comfort of this young mom astounded me. This is Florida, you understand, not New Jersey, where breastfeeding is protected by law.

Back in the early 1970s, when those of us in the La Leche league were rare indeed, I was considered a fanatic for not only breastfeeding, but for continuing until my children were each about a year old—almost unheard of in this country back then. Frankly, I was mad with happiness to find a use for the pair I’d been lugging around since the age of 11.

Mother-nature made has come back in vogue in years since, as science has discovered it’s advantages for both mother and child. Regardless, we in the USA have an uneasy relationship with public breastfeeding, with many viewing women’s mammary glands primarily as sex organs.

I refused to rush off and hide to feed my own children when at home, forcing even my own father to deal with his own issues. I also nursed in public, using clothing to maintain decorum.

What really pleased me was that I heard no obvious snickering or signs of discomfort from those at my story time, which included men and women of varying ages. No one complained to me or to the store’s management.

Rock on, mom!

Monday, May 24, 2010


That’s SICK. In capital letters.
A true 4-letter word.

I am finally up after 10 days of being so wretchedly ill that for the first time since this blog started, I failed to post in a timely manner. And for that, I apologize.

But this time, there was no choice. For days, I lay on the couch, coughing up stuff that made me gag.

The milk in the fridge soured, the food ran out, the garbage overflowed. I didn’t much care. I lived on green tea with honey and some protein shakes I happened to still have.

Me, who never loses an ounce when sick, dropped 7 pounds in a week. Sure, that would be a little good news, as I certainly could stand to drop even more—but I know it will hop back on these ol’ bones as soon as my appetite returns with a roar.

I was finally forced to venture out the day the cat food ran dry.

The weird part of this was that I lost my voice—and I mean TOTALLY. I couldn’t even call in sick and had to drag myself in one day to let them know I couldn’t work.

Yes, yes, I know it’s kinda funny for someone who talks as much as me to be silenced. But the truth is, it was incredible frightening. It lasted for almost 5 days, before I could croak out sounds. I felt completely isolated without use of the telephone and once found myself wondering if one could text 911—that is, if I could figure out HOW to text.

Yes, I fleetingly thought of reaching out for help via email. But I have no family here and just about everyone else is busy working etc. Also, I didn’t want to expose anyone to whatever was bouncing around my innards.

Each night, I was sure I’d feel better the next day, if I could just hang on. But I didn’t. I finally filled a prescription for antibiotics and now feel almost human. Either the virus had run it’s course or the drugs quashed the evil bacteria. I’ll never know which.

And at this moment, I don’t much care.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

lessons of motherhood

I received my first Mother’s Day card in a good many years this week, thanks to my son’s new wife. My off-spring, you see, do not believe in celebrating a day “invented by greeting card companies.”

I have made an uneasy peace with it. I know how they feel about me. Besides, I’ve never much hankered for that which is not freely given. In that spirit, I hereby take note of a few things my children have taught me.

CREATIVITY: I mean this in the most basic sense, as in: I can really build another human being; I can produce milk that will keep that child alive and well. It’s one thing to be told all your life that women in general can do these things. It’s quite different thing, however, to actually do it.

VULNERABILITY: With the birth of my daughter more than four decades ago, I learned the true meaning of vulnerability – not hers, mine. I specifically remember the moment when I realized that any individual having control of that little bundle had me at his or her complete mercy; that there was NOTHING I would not do to keep her safe.

PARENTAL MATH: Children are originals, not reproductions. Regardless of how much they may resemble their parents, children are more than the sum of their genes.

RESILIENCY: My son is the true teacher here. Since he was a lad, he’s been impossible to permanently flatten. While it’s true that many of his troubles are of his own creation, so are his solutions. If faced with a wall too steep to climb, he will reassess and change direction; whatever it takes to get around it, under it or through it. He seems to know where he wants to go and willingly engages “creative” detours en route. I confess to a silent admiration for his ability to bob and weave through life.

ASSUMPTIONS: Don’t rest on them and life will be a lot more fun. Why can’t you eat ice cream for breakfast? Why not get dressed for school before you go to sleep? Who says underwear must be folded before it’s put away? Where is it written that hair must be the same length on both sides or a pair of earrings identical? Look for reasons to say yes. What can it hurt?

LABELS: They don’t mean squat. This I learned from my daughter, the thrift-store shopper. Forget sizes and categories. One person’s bedroom slippers are another’s party shoes. The odd thing is, once you start thinking this way, it tends to spill over into the rest of your life.

TRUST: And I don’t mean in “experts.” Because it was so important to me, I managed to shake off all those older and wiser souls who advised me that I couldn’t totally nurse for six months, care for two children while working and going to school etc., etc.

I will never forget the dingbat psychologist who insisted my grade school-age son was a potential serial killer because he drew human figures without necks. Since I knew that this was simply his chosen style of cartooning, I was in no danger of confusing and offbeat sense of humor with the profile of a young Ted Bundy. (Can you imagine what some art teacher might have said to Gary Larson’s folks?)

NORMAL IS AS NORMAL DOES: I have little idea what “normal” behavior is and neither does anyone else. I don’t care what degrees the person holds. Go with your gut. If you sense something is wrong with your child, don’t’ let anyone dissuade you. But the reverse also holds true. And if your kid crosses an authority figure, find out what really happened before you do anything rash.

BE A GROWN-UP: This is the biggie. I am all of 21 years older than my daughter and 23 years older than my son. If I had not had them, I fear I would have remained eternally in the “what’s-in-it-for-me” stage of human development, never suspecting that I have a considerable amount to offer. That’s no small insight.

All in all, I would say motherhood has given me more than it took. Thanks to my children, I know myself.

A happy greeting-card-holiday to all...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

times square terror

This is gonna sound weird, even for me.

But as I sit, sipping coffee from my ‘I (heart) NY” mug, watching the scene in Times Square unfold early Sunday, the story is fresh, the smoking car—as it were—recently towed.

The CNN reporter is doing a stand-up in the most famous spot in America’s most famous city.

And all I could do is peer behind the reporter to take in Times Square as folks go about their business, wishing like hell I was there.

Yup, even a car bomb couldn’t scare me off.

New York, New York, a helluva target.

With “apologies” to Sarah Palin, it’s where the heart of “Real America” beats.

It was also such a helluva New Yorkish story. Where else could a STREET VENDOR sporting an “I Love New York” t-shirt, flag down a MOUNTED POLICE OFFICER to report a suspiciously smokin’ SUV? The only thing missing was the cop chowin’ down on a bagel with a smear as he bends down to catch what the vendor was saying.

Where else would it take only 53 hours to pinpoint a suspect and flag down a jet about to take flight to Dubai to take him into custody? So CSI New York.

Call it: The miracle on the tarmac.

I caught Police Commiss Ray Kelly on Charlie Rose right after that and was only mildly surprised to learn that police had foiled seven such car bombs since Sept. 11.

And New Yorkers go about the business of being New Yorkers.

New York, New York.
It’s a helluva town.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

the doomsday network

Forget Revelations, Stephen King novels and chainsaw massacre flicks. The Weather Channel is where the scary stuff lives and breathes.

From blizzards to floods, tornadoes to hurricanes, not to mention earthquakes present and future, they specialize in “end of the world” scenarios complete with state of the art graphics.

I guess that’s what happens when you have an all-weather-all-the-time channel. I hate to say this, but these unending misfortunes of Mother Nature are Mother’s Milk to these folks. At times, I swear, they hardly seem able to suppress their enjoyment.

They could hardly contain their glee in reporting on the “global gridlock” resulting from the recent volcanic eruptions.

Just the other day, a female anchor interviewing a “storm chaser” of a violent mile-wide tornado, actually opined it must be really hard give up chasing the storm and start helping people caught in its wake. To his credit, he shot her down.

Not content to report and forecast weather—which can be unsettling enough—they keep inventing new forms of speculation and retelling old weather related horror tales.

Oh, I forgot, there is also the effects of global warming in which to wallow.

I have to monitor weather channel viewing. I can’t allow myself to get drawn in to watching more than my local forecast. It’s just too dangerous to my tender psyche.

Moving to Sarasota, the lightening capital of the world, hasn’t helped. I live alone with my cat in a 1970s condo made of wood—like the Little Pig’s house made of sticks. A loud metal roof adds to my feeling of vulnerability. When the tropical rains hit, it drowns out even the loudest setting on the TV or stereo.

Once upon a time, I actually enjoyed electrical storms, finding then incredibly erotic. No more. The start of hurricane season literally makes me sick to my stomach.

Ok. I admit it. I’ve become a weather weenie.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

a kid at work

Would everyone please take a seat and settle down?
Thank you.

The subject for this week’s discussion is kids at work, a situation that many of us have, or will have, to face, prompted by this week’s Take Your Kid to Work Day.

This may seem an odd subject of concern for someone my age, but life can play tricks on you. Some years ago, a date with my favorite 3-year-old collided head-on with a work deadline. Forced into the workplace for a stressful few hours, I had little choice but to take the tyke along.

Having left behind my full-time duties at the newspaper, my “day job” took me to a conservative law firm several days a week. Unlike the open informality of a newsroom, this was a true corporate atmosphere. There was no dress-down day. (However, there were free bagels on Fridays.)

How, I mused, was I going to pull this off?

First the preparation. The night before, I picked up two new animated videos, an “Aladdin” coloring book and a “Lion King” book of stickers. That morning, I packed a bottle of his favorite apple juice, a plastic bag with his choice of dry cereal, a few chosen toys and a complete change of clothes – just in case.

As we got him dressed, I talked up the place, explaining what an adventure it would be (OK, so I stretched things a bit), how we would ride an elevator to the top floor and so on. I went so far
as to promise all kinds of special treats afterward if he was a good boy.

On the way over, he chattered endlessly about the “elebator,” likening it to a Ferris wheel ride. We got off to a fine start; he was impressed the parking garage: “It’s sooo dark.” He pressed the “elebator” button and watched the floor numbers come and
go with open fascination.

I must tell you that in my (very biased) opinion, this is one extremely adorable, outgoing and quick youngster who is used to a warm reception whenever he ventures out into the adult world. My office was no exception. Faces lighted up when we walked by, and necks craned around corners at the sound of his voice. Unfortunately, he was in his unsociable mode and “harrumphed” at those who tried to engage him in conversation. Eventually, he
did willingly march off with a smiling staffer who
offered him Tootsie Pop.

The main problem was keeping him in my small, windowless office. I closed the door, set up the video, etc. After about 15 minutes, he declared: “let’s get outta here.” Not a bad suggestion; unfortunately, not a practical one. When I explained I had more work to do, he demanded more rides on the “elebator.”

Between elevator rides, he sat on my lap munching Fruit Loops as the “Land Before Time IV” played on. All the while, I answered the phone, studied photo contact sheets with a magnifying glass and managed to punch out a Simba sticker or two.

Then came his discovery of my laptop, which I had naively switched on. As computer literate as they come, my little pal focused on the machine. He attempted to negotiate the touchpoint in the middle of the keyboard, which takes much more finesse than the mouse with which he’s adept. But he managed quite well within 10 minutes.

Considering all the extra effort and distraction, I still believe kids can be an addition to almost any workplace. It isn’t the children per se, but the lack of facilities that get in the way. I wish kids could
be more integrated into the workplace without the expense of formal on-site day care, perhaps with a friendly room close by – like on each floor.

Children add humanity and perspective to life, cutting adults and their pretensions down to size. Who else could abruptly put an end to a terse conference by announcing with some urgency: “I hafta go potty!”

Sunday, April 18, 2010

a love story

Turn on the tellie these days and it’s awash in ads for one antidepressant or another. Twenty years ago, depression was still closeted, rarely discussed.

This, my first award-winning piece, came about after a casual comment to a colleague writing a feature on the new “miracle drug” Prozac. I told her I would do a first person side-bar detailing my experiences with the drug.

When the story ran, my world cracked open. I was totally unprepared for its effect, among my colleagues, the public at large and my own parents. It had only taken 20 minutes for the words to pop up on the computer screen. But in truth, it had taken three decades to write.

When I called my parents to suggest they pick up a copy of the paper, I had no idea my shocked mother would read it while waiting to pick up an order of Chinese food

A door opens to a world of glorious color

This is a love story.

Not between me and a drug, but between me and my life – a late-blooming love story at that. One that began the last day in May, a few days shy of my 43rd birthday.

Let me back up just a bit to a year ago last St. Patrick’s Day. On that day, my younger brother died, having swallowed more than 400 assorted pills. His act ended more than 20 years of depression and substance abuse that only the ultimate act of self-destruction could penetrate.

He was never to reach 40 years, and I had begun to despair of seeing the other side of 50. I was tired – plumb worn out – from the constant fight just to remain vertical through an ordinary day. Sometimes, I didn’t make it out of bed. And often when I did, it didn’t seem worth effort.

Since early adolescence, I have lived in a world whose colors slid from ash gray to soot black – a world of chronic depression.

For those of you who naturally live a more colorful existence, I will try to communicate what it’s like to live a constricted world: Image a dark, dank day – not a refreshing spring rain – but a day in which the rain never quite stops. Now imagine years flowing in decades of such days.

I don’t know what day my depression started, but I can tell you the day it ended – June 19. It was a Tuesday, exactly 20 days after I began swallowing a yellow-and-blue-green Prozac capsule every morning. It literally was like a switch being flipped in my brain. The lights went on, and stayed on.

The decision to give the controversial drug a try was mine, much to the surprise of my psychologist/mentor of 20-plus years. With my brother’s history of drug addiction, the psychologist knew my fear of medications and had long given up suggesting that I might find relief in them.

With his help, I survived a failed marriage, graduated from college with a degree in psychology while raising two children on welfare and part-time work. Even without the constant weight of depression, it would have been tough. But the overload of responsibility also served to keep the darkness at bay.

Work served the same purpose. If there is one thing that can be said about working for a daily newspaper it’s that it absorbs you. It will take every effort and every second you will give – and never be sated.

My world held no joy, no music and precious little passion. All my energy was being used to hold my head above a sea of depression. I was treading, just treading my life away.

My brother’s suicide and my own impending middle age put and end to that. I was running out of time and couldn’t seem to push myself past functional on any sustained basis. I tried everything from exercise, to subliminal and hypnosis tapes. Nothing lasted.

Then I heard about Prozac, a new drug, totally different from any other anti-depressant on the market. I read everything I could and watched all the talk shows, considering the pros and cons.

When I found out that a first cousin was suffering through a debilitating episode of clinical depression. I decided it was a family illness, and thought I’d give Prozac a try.

My internist prescribed the “marvelous drug,” as he called it, on a trial basis to see if I could tolerate the initial side effects, which can be frightening. He cautioned me it might take 21 days to kick in and to be patient.

The first week was not pleasant.

I was restless and suffered digestive upsets. It caused sleep problems and anxiety, especially in the beginning. Since I refuse to take any of the habit-forming tranquilizers, like Valium or Xanax, I talked myself through the anxiety, telling myself over and over it wasn’t me, it was the Prozac.

I soon discovered that any activity, even something simple as getting out of bed – banished the anxiety. Almost from Day One, I felt an infusion of energy, a zest.
By the start of the third week, the undesirable side effects began to fade. I felt different somehow, but not necessarily better – until I woke up that Tuesday in June.

If I were Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, it would have been the moment when the door swings open revealing a world of glorious color and infinite possibilities – a world I never knew existed.

Without the need to bathe my depression in chocolate, I have lost about 20 pounds. Without the extra physical and mental weight, I have physical and emotional energy left over for work and family. Without the need to guard my emotions against depression, I even experience occasional joy.

But even Oz had its wicked witch, and Prozac does not ward off all ills like Dorothy’s ruby slippers. Objectively, my life has not changed. I still deal with all my other psychological issues of self-esteem, success, intimacy and the like. I didn’t get rich or win the Pulitzer Prize. Nor am I a size 8. I still get impatient, angry, stressed-out, lonely and sad.

And while my life has not changed, my perception of my life has. It’s really amazing how manageable problems seem when you stand upright and look them in the eyes.

I am not a new person. In fact, my daughter thinks I’m more like the real me. Now when I’m down, I generally can point to a reason. And it lasts at the most a few days – not a few years. Blue is a color, not a lifestyle.

Prozac didn’t change my life; it introduced me to life. I’ll take it from here.

And so I have...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

chasing the moon

I just finished The Girl Who Chased the Moon, the latest novel by Sarah Addison Allen. It took me all of one day. Darn it. Her books slide down so smooth you hardly notice. I wanted this one to last longer.

I really needed one of her books. I’ve been on a reading jag lately, finishing up a book every few days. And as good as much of the writing has been, they haven’t been very nourishing or uplifting.

I like my literature to be better than real life.

I’ve been in love with Allen’s work since her first, Garden Spells, was chosen by Barnes & Noble. I snapped up her second, The Sugar Queen, as soon as it hit the shelves.

She is my favorite kind of novelist—a total original—who surprises and delights. I can’t get over how her mind works.

The stories are all set in imaginary small town South, peopled with quirky characters.
Oh, then there’s the magic. Not your ordinary magic, mind ya. And not too much of it. It dances around the edges. Her characters take to it naturally—natural magic? Does that make any sense? It sort of reminds me of a warmed-up version of the old TV series Northern Exposure, an all time fave.

Two examples from her latest which won’t ruin anything: bedroom wallpaper that changes patterns according to the occupant’s mood; and a sugarholic that can not only “sense” but “see” cakes being baked from afar in the form of sparks in the wind.

It’s not that her works are devoid of tragedy. But they are never allowed to overpower the plot or the book’s inhabitants. What can I say? I like a happy ending.

I repeat: I like my literature better than real life.

Then there’s her impeccable sense of place. She breathes life into those Southern towns, as only a native can. She does for her mythical South what Harlan Coben does for the real New Jersey. And I’ve already read his latest.

Now what the heck am I gonna do?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

eye of the beholder

The United States officially commemorates the Holocaust during the Days of Remembrance, marking the anniversary of the Warsow Ghetto uprising.


I wrote the following column some years ago, just after the film ''Schindler’s List' first ran on television to criticism from then Republican Congressman, now Senator Tom Coburn, a medical doctor and ordained Southern Baptist deacon f
rom Oklahoma. I feel it remains relevant:

Filth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. What a person views as lewd defines that individual’s value system.

That said, Oklahoma Rep. Tom Coburn is one twisted mister.

Imagine watching Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning “Schindler’s List” and seeing only violence, nudity and sex. Then lambasting NBC for airing the film and “polluting the minds of our children.” The story of Oskar Schindler, the Czech-born Nazi war profiteer who saved more than a thousand Polish Jews from the death camps, is such an important work its airing needs no defense.

It has been written that 6 million Jews did not die in the Holocaust. One Jew was killed. Then another Jew was killed, the another – 6 million times. That’s what Spielberg illustrates by exposing the terror in such arbitrary and casual murders.

As for the “full frontal nudity,” no man, woman or child was herded into a gas chamber clothed. Prisoners were not paraded before Nazi doctors in their undies. To find something remotely sexual here is perverse. Not to show it would have been the obscenity.

Our children are not hard-wired to TV sets. All it takes to protect the very young is to change the channel or shut off the set. Yes, some older children will be shocked and a bit traumatized. And that’s OK.

In early adolescence, I went with some friends to see “Judgment at Nuremberg,” the first big Hollywood production about the Holocaust and its aftermath. I smugly assumed I understood the reality of the time. After all, I even had a role in my school’s production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” So, I sat in the dark theater surrounded by friends, enjoying the courtroom drama and the first-rate performances of Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland and the like.

Without warning, the film cut to the now familiar newsreel footage: piles of rotting corpses, stacks of clothing and shoes, mounds of hair and teeth, the often nude, emaciated waking corpses of those “liberated” from the camps and the tear-stained faces of their young GI liberators.

I froze, unable to take my eyes off the screen. It was hard to breathe. I wanted to run, to scream. But I couldn’t move, make a sound or even shed a tear. The Holocaust was no longer in the third person, a tragic historical episode to be studied in school. It was no longer about them. It was about us. It was about me.

To this indulged postwar American Jewish teen, as assimilated as they come, Holocaust stories had been just that – appalling tales to which I had only a distant, incidental connection. Eastern Europe was the place from which my grandparents came, nothing more.

It finally reached me, that for an accident of time and place, those would have been my father’s shoes, my mother’s hair, my brother’s teeth. I would likely lie amid that pile of rotting flesh. The Nazis wouldn’t have cared if I observed the Sabbath, ate pork or went to temple. The fact that I was born to Jewish parents was enough.

Decades later, as a reporter on the Lakewood, NJ beat, it was my job to cover annual Holocaust memorial services. Each ceremony heightened the connection. I had my own children by then and realized they, too, would not have been spared because only one of their parents was Jewish.

What I took away from “Schindler’s List” had nothing to do with sex or violence. It was a recognition of the complex nature of goodness. Many of us assume that in order to make a difference we have to be some kind of Mother Teresa. But Oskar Schindler was a selfish, greedy manipulator. It was these very traits that put him in the position and provided the wealth to save 1,100 Jews and, indirectly, their 6,000 descendants.

Salvation can be found in the most unlikely places, even amid nudity, violence and sex.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

full disclosure: Springsteen post

In the previous post I neglected to add that I was once named in a divorce suit. It was some years ago and involved my best friend and her husband.

No, it’s not what you think.

HE named me as some kind of undue influence on her. The abusive worm just couldn’t believe she acted to end their 30 year marriage of her own accord. He never forgave me for convincing her, back in the early days, that pjs and sheets didn’t require ironing, I suppose.

Oh, and did I also forget to mention the threesomes she and I turned aside. In his mind, the only reason to do so was that we were into each other. One night, he showed up at my door, expecting to find us rolling in the sheets. She wasn’t even there.

So naturally, he thought the two of us should do the nasty. And he just didn’t get that I wouldn’t bed my best friend’s husband.

‘nuf said.

Springsteen & Tiger & babes, my my!

I am a Springsteen fan.

Decades of living at the Jersey Shore, working for the Asbury Park Press and returning each summer to Red Bank will do that to ya. So I am saddened to see him make the tabloids again for being named in the divorce of a West Long Branch couple.

Court documents in the divorce of Ann and Arthur Kelly cite an alleged inappropriate relationship between Springsteen and Ann Kelly as contributing to the break-up, according to the New York Post.

Both Springsteen and the wife have denied having a sexual relationship. And you know what? I don’t give a rat’s ass one way or the other. It’s a private matter that should have stayed within the families.

I can understand how an “aggrieved” husband would be hurt and angered believing his other half stepped out on their vows. But I’ll never understand what would possess anyone to make such charges public pickings for the media circus. If you don’t care about your spouse any longer, what about your kids?

The Post cites court filings by Arthur Kelly alleging the relationship began with a chance meeting at Red Bank's Atlantic Club in 2005. Ok, I used to work out there during that time and I never noticed anything. Then again, I never ran into Bruce while swimming or taking Pilates.

Arthur Kelly filed for divorce last March and the case is likely to be settled this week, according to the Post. As part of that settlement, the Post claims, he dropped the adultery charge and both parties agreed not to chat up the media. Ann Kelly earlier tried and failed to get the proceedings closed to the public. Perhaps Arthur Kelly calmed down—or got the leverage he was after.

As for Tiger and his endless rounds of mea culpa press conferences, can someone tell him to just shut-up already? It’s just more evidence of the inflated ego that got him into this mess for him to think anyone out there cares...Be quiet and stroke the little white ball. That’s what you do best.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

passover pain

I thought my 100th post would be something special. Instead, here it is, a brief riff on an aching heart tilting toward pain.

The weather up north is rotten, I hear. The weather here couldn’t be more perfect. Blue skies, a cool breeze, even a day off. Over at Ed Smith stadium, close enough for me to walk to, folks are gathering to watch the Orioles play the Red Socks. A festival atmosphere abounds as I drive passed to Publix. It could be my very own Yankees and I’d still remain untouched.

I pick up a few things at the store, lingering a bit at the Passover table with its giant boxes of matzos et al. I throw a container of Streits chocolate non pareils into my bag—a favorite of my moms.

Yesterday, I stopped at Whole Foods and spurlged on a serving of prepared brisket for dinner.

The cashier wishes me “happy Easter.” I flinch inside, although I am certainly not an observant Jew.

I am not happy. Tears cascade down my cheeks on the short ride home.

I miss my family. The large extended family that was and the little which remains, scattered much like the Jews of old. The pull of ritual is embedded in my DNA. The sights, the smells, the sounds of Passover Seders past are extremely sharp this year. They do not fade with time.

It’s that simple.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

adventures in bookselling—sex


Seriously, though. Among the store sections that most of us HATE to straighten is the SEXUALITY section. It’s located—either by accident or design—on the far side rear of the store. Walk back there at any time and you’re likely to find bunch of crusty ol’ guys or giggling young would-be studs—depending on the time/day of the week.

For some reason I can’t fathom, the Kama Sutra comes wrapped in glossy, bright red paper, which naturally gets pulled off by those I search of, shall we say, enlightenment of the sexual nature. OK, so maybe pulling off a wrapper is no big thing, But why CONTINUE to take them off? It’s all the same book, folks.

(An aside: as a young child my mother would often return from shopping with a box wrapped in blue and white striped paper. When I inquired as to what it was, she replied “napkins.” For years, I wondered why our paper table napkins came gift wrapped. Only to discover in my early teens that Modess wrapped their sanitary napkins in that paper for discretion, I assume. Like anybody who knew what a sanity napkin was, wouldn’t recognize the paper, eh? Let’s hear it for the 1950s.)

Back to the 21rst century, people.

So the other day I’m heading to the head and glance down at an attractive, obviously enamored young couple, laying all over each other in one of our large armchair. As I’ve said before, many of our “customers” confuse our store with their living rooms.

I can’t help but notice the book splayed in front of the them—which they are studying—displays an intimate coupling I’ve never been limber enough to attempt, even in my youth.

“Hey guys,” I say softly, bending over. They look up, the girl turning scarlet. “No worries about me,” I add. “But the way you are sitting, anyone heading to the restroom will get a full view. You may want to switch to the chair on the other side of the table."

When I come out of the restroom, they smile and wave from the other seat.

Now for something completely different. A small case of sexual confusion.

A colleague adopted a tiny kitten a short time ago, which he named Bea Arthur. He would often regale us with tales of the trials of bringing up a toddler cat.

Last week I saw him sitting in the break room and inquired as to what Bear Arthur was up to. He grimaced a bit before explaining he had noticed during one of his daily bathing (Yes, his pet was bathed daily.) , something odd. Upon further examination, Bea turned out to be Bentley.

Who knew?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

grief in the time of facebook

This is not suppose to happen, at least not to someone I know. It’s something I hear Nancy Grace screeching about.

This is a television episode, one of those ubiquitous crime series, like the now defunct Without a Trace.

But it is real, and it is close. As close as my F
acebook page.

Last week, a posting from my dear friend Carol in Point Pleasant, NJ, simply stating that her nephew Martin Molinski, 26, living and working in Bermuda, had apparently gone for a swim in 60-degree surf before work—and disappeared leaving only his clothing on the beach.

Less than 2 hours later, her daughter had the Find Martin Molinski ASAP page up on fb. Not only did family and friends chime in, but the lead detective and island residents did also. The local paper posted the link on its front page.

The search lasted four days.

The body of the young man washed ashore on Sunday, and the fb page morphed into a memorial site, with stories and photos.

Overwhelmed with the need to hear my friend’s voice, I called, noting her phone must be ringing off the hook.

“Not really,” she replied. “Facebook took care of that.”

So it did. Facebook allowed her family, strewn over multiple continents, to come together in a comprehensive way, to grieve together virtually, in a manner they would never have been able to do without the much maligned social networking site.

THIS is what I love about fb. You don’t have to be Michael Jackson. Anyone can create community. Yes, a lot of it is silly and time wasting. I just ignore it.

In this electronic age, age-old rituals need not be forsaken due to time and distance. This is no small thing. Maybe it’s the Jew in me, but ritual exists for a reason. It connects, it amplifies joy, it gets us through the unfathomable—until we find the strength inside to go on.

This young man--a master carpenter taking time from his craft to figure out his future—was waylaid by death. I don’t pretend to know why.

I am grateful, however, my friend has her fb family at this time.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

singing american pie

I break into song at the slightest provocation.
OK, so oftentimes with no provocation.

When I was growing up, we just sang with gusto around house, in the car, wherever. I thought everyone did. Needless to say, I soon learned otherwise.

When my children were young, it humiliated them. As they grew, they responded with snide remarks, sneers and the reaching over to increase the volume of the car radio. Even as adults, that hasn’t changed.

What has changed is me. I no longer care. As I’ve gotten older, the opinion of others, including me darlin’ offspring, matter less...and less. I’ve now reached an age where Simon Cowell could be sitting before me, rolling his eyes and I doubt it would touch me.

I will add here that I have a pleasant enough alto voice. Think Karen Carpenter, with dashes of Ethel Merman and a sprinkle of Judy Garland. People—not related to me—have commented favorably.

This is a good, as I often handle story time duties in my bookstore kids department. And I sing. I find it easier to keep the kids’—and their parents’—attention. And I freely confess I enjoy it. The tunes are simple. The standard children stuff to which I add Puff the Magic Dragon and the Marvelous Toy, all books. I often require participation and receive it. Occasionally, I indulge my yen to play Adeline in Guys & Dolls by including Bushel and a Peck which is also now a children’s book.

Back to Don McLean’s American Pie, a VERY long narrative tune from back in the day, written as an ode –“The day the music died”-- commemorating the death of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper in that famous Feb. 3, 1959 plane crash.

When it comes on the car radio oldies station, I naturally sing along. If I get to where I’m going, I just keep sitting there, singing, until its done. (The same is true at traffic lights, by the way.) In the spirit of full disclosure, I add that I don’t just sit there, I emote.

Yupper, that’s me.
I’m that crazy lady sitting in her car singing out loud—and strong.

So sue me.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

more adventures in bookselling

In the spirit of my previous post, I continue with the latest list of quirky bookselling experiences.

I recently went to customer service to relieve a young bookseller for her 15-minute break. She was on the phone with a customer and online, frantically scrolling up and down on Ticketmaster.

“I’m sorry, I can’t find a phone number,” she kept repeating to the woman, who apparently refused to accept the fact that she would have to call information herself. At least I was there to witness that the bookseller wasn’t online purchasing concert tickets, should she have been questioned.

None of us is immune from these over reaching customer demands. Our store manager told me of a phone call in which a customer refused to be convinced she could not print out her airline boarding passes in the store after accessing them on our free wifi because THERE IS NO PRINTER.

I was on the phone with an elderly man the other day who wanted to order a book sent to his house, but did not want to give me his credit info on the phone, as required.

“I would go to Amazon,” he said, “but there’s none near me.”

While working café register for breaks, I asked a customer what she would like.

“I’ll have a large tai chi.”

With a smile, I suggested a large chai tea instead. She burst out laughing,

Back in my kids department one hectic Saturday, the Thomas Train Table was crowded with tots of varying ages jostling each other. A burly woman yelled across at me, waving closed Thomas cars packages.

“Do you have a scissors to open these?”

“No, ma’am I’m not allowed a scissors in this department, nor am I permitted to open up items until they are purchased. I’m sure they will be glad to open them at the cash register.”

As half a dozen stunned parents watched, she ripped open the packages so her children could play with them at the train table, since she “forgot to bring in her own.”

When she complained about me to a manager, the other customers leapt to my defense.

Oh, then there was the fellow who called asking if anyone had seen his dentures.

Who says life among the books is dull?

To be continued...

Sunday, February 28, 2010

adventures in bookselling, part 2

This is my continuing commentary on the sometimes quirky experiences that are part and parcel of spending one’s working life as a bookseller for a large chain.

When the weather is cold and rainy in Florida, as it was yesterday, the store tends to be extremely crowded. When it is a Saturday, the kids department—my department—is a zoo.

In addition to the actual shoppers with kids, kids off from school, non-custodial parents in search of a free time waster, there are those who treat the section as in indoor playground. People who haven’t a clue as to appropriate behavior in a bookstore, or the difference between such a store and a library.

So I was coming to the close of a particularly stressful day, counting the minutes until the end of my shift, when a burly, boisterous young boy and his mom came in. The lad, who turned out to be an extremely large 5-year old, demanded in a booming voice that I show him the “romance books.”

“Is there any particular author you have in mind?” I replied, with a glance at his mom, both of us suppressing a smile.

“NO, I just want the falling in love books.”

I look up at his mom, commenting he is certainly an evolved young man. She laughs.

She explains his sister reads to him and he has heard of the Twilight books, knows teenage girls like those books, and he likes teenage girls.

The youngster loudly rejects my suggestions of books like Cinderella, as “baby books.” I usher him over to the classics section, where we have abridged versions for younger children. I try Little Women, (It has four GOOD LOOKING teenage girls, says his mom.) No go. The same with Anne of Green Gables.

Then he spots his choice: Dracula. Very discerning. The original vampire story which some scholars do consider a love story, certainly a precursor to the Twilight saga.

He leaves happy, as do I.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

white out

Into each life some snow must fall — and fall, and fall. As I write this, the Great Blizzard(s) of 2010 are hopefully winding down.

Sitting here in Sarasota, I can afford to be a bit smug. Yet I resist, as I know in too short a time we will be on the flip side and in the midst of Hurricane Season. But I haven’t lived in the Sunshine State long enough for my snowstorm memories to have faded.

I recall the first great snowfall in a year, the joy, the beauty, the incredible crystalline stillness. And I also remember how it grows old, grey and crusty, the treachery overtaking any beauty, especially for commuters and travelers.

I suspect that’s where most of my northern friends now sit, looking our their windows yearning for something green, a sign of spring.

Whenever storms of these magnitude hit, comparison to previous storms is inevitable. For every generation, however, there is a "storm of the century," the one about which they tell their children.

When the Great Blizzard of ’96 hit, my biggest problem was running out of cat food. Unlike my fellow journalists, I didn’t have to find my way in to the news­room, regardless of weather conditions. Such were the perks of no longer drawing a full-time salary from a daily news organization.

I was also among those fortunate folks who have a solid roof over their heads, a working furnace and ade­quate food, so I spent the my days reflecting on the weather and keeping in touch by phone with friends and family.

While many of those snowbound with small children were pulling out their hair, yearning for peace and quiet, those alone often found them­selves cleaning out closets and polishing sil­ver to stay sane. I thank my lucky stars that I had reinstalled cable. Two solid days of public tele­vision would have surely resulted in a raging case of cabin fever.

For my parents, it was the Blizzard of '47.

Now, 1947 was a particularly good year for me. I was born. Being only six months old when Brooklyn was snowed under, I can't claim to remember the event firsthand. But there are reams of black and white snapshots of me, looking like an overstuffed doll, being pulled through the drifts in front of my grand­parents' house on an old-fashioned wooden sled. I must say, it looked like I was enjoying myself.

Growing up on the north shore of Long Is­land, I recall many a snowstorm bringing things to a halt. Like most kids, I looked for­ward to the days off from school, then got dressed in layers of clothing and plowed through the snow. I can still feel drifts so deep that we sank in up to our waists and had to be rescued by a friend or parent.

For me, however, the storm of the century was the Blizzard of '61.

It was the first time I recall hearing the words "snow emergency." New York City was locked down tight for days, keeping my dad home also. My aunt, uncle and two young cousins were stranded at our Nassau County home. The roads were impassable for so long that my dad and uncle took sleds and hiked several miles to a shopping center, only to find little food left on the shelves.

Us kids had a ball. The Long Is­land Expressway was still under construction and not yet open to traffic. We put it to fine use, sledding down the embankments onto the snow-covered roadway. What a sight. No­body has ever had such a good time on that roadway since, I wager.

We went back to school before the city roads were completely opened, so one of my cousins was allowed to accompany my youn­ger brother to school. Somehow, I can't imagine a public school being that accommo­dating today.

Hey, I don't mean to wax too nostalgic over this. Time and childhood have a way of softening the focus of events. The edges blur into a pleasing shape. As we grow, though, we learn that these spontaneous holidays can be terribly costly. Aside from the loss to business and property, there are always those whose lives are at risk.

For instance, my Aunt Sally will never for­get that 1961 blizzard, either. Regardless of snow emergency rules, she drove into New York City with her 5-year-old son, Neal. She had little choice. My young cousin, in the throes of a losing bout with cancer, needed chemotherapy.

Of course, that's one part of the story my memory tends to leave behind.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

outsourcing docs—quick take

These days, it seems the best chance you have of seeing an American medical doctor is on TV—especially in hospitals. From Grey’s Anatomy to reruns of ER and Chicago Hope, the English spoken by the staff is clear. That’s because it’s American TV and the ability to communicate with the viewer is paramount.

I submit the same is true in “real life.” So I was glad to read in the NYT the other day that two dozen medical schools are set to open right here. I write this with the knowledge I may get pegged as some kind of xenophobe.

These new schools are seeking to correct an imbalance in American medicine that has been growing for a quarter century. Many otherwise qualified students give up or attend offshore medical schools after being squeezed out of domestic schools. Meanwhile, American hospitals have turned to foreign-trained and foreign-born physicians to fill medical residencies.

I confess this is a problem for me, especially as I age. I just can’t understand what they are saying half the time. And when it comes to medical issues, catching every other word just doesn’t cut it, regardless of how qualified these folks are. Sorry.

It’s bad enough trying to decipher the foreign techs trying to patch up my aging laptop. But when it comes to my aging body, I just don’t want to have to work so damn hard. In a medical setting, I am either already sick or anxious about some sort of test and I’d appreciate a less stressful environment.

It’s stressful enough knowing the bill will be in the mail soon enough.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"My Way Killings"? NO WAY!

Say it ain’t so.

Philippine authorities do not know exactly how many people have been killed for crooning “My Way” in that country’s karaoke bars over the years. But the news media recorded at least half a dozen victims in the past decade.

It’s been dubbed the “My Way Killings.” Even those Philippinos who admit to loving the song have stopped singing it, even at private parties. The song has also been removed from many playlists.

That’s what you get in the karaoke-obsessed Philippines for daring to follow Frank Sinatra, I guess.

Some folks blame the “arrogance” of the lyrics. Written for Sinatra by Paul Anka as an unapologetic summing up of Sinatra’s career, the words include those of a tough guy who “when there was doubt,” simply “ate it up and spit it out.” It must be noted here that Elvis included the song in his concerts. Well, it fits, eh?

My good buddy Jim, Sinatra buff extraordinaire, might well agree. It’s the only one of the Chairman’s songs I ever heard him deride.

I, however, disagree. I love the song—and the lyrics. To me, it bespeaks endurance and perseverance, sort of a musical version of the poem Invictus. It tells the story of a person facing the end of full life without regret, despite mistakes. It’s the way I’d like to go out.

Invictus, Latin for "unconquered", gave it’s name to the title of a recent movie about Nelson Mandela, directed by Clint Eastwood. But that’s not why it springs to mind.

It was my father’s favorite poem, which I read during my eulogy at his funeral some 14 years ago. Last week would have been his 89th birthday and this Thursday is the anniversary of his death, so he is on my mind more than usual.

Below is the poem followed by the lyrics—you decide.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

My Way lyrics
And now the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend I'll say it clear
I'll state my case of which I'm certain

I've lived a life that's full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

Regrets I've had a few
But then again too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption

I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

Yes there were times I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out, I faced it all
And I stood tall and did it my way

I've loved, I've laughed and cried
I've had my fill, my share of losing
And now as tears subside
I find it all so amusing

To think I did all that
And may I say not in a shy way
Oh no, oh no, not me
I did it my way

For what is a man what has he got
If not himself then he has not
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way

Yes it was my way

As for me, I find the last line of each is not a bad exit line.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Haiti’s children: quick take

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — “God wanted us to come here to help children, we are convinced of that,” Laura Silsby, one of 10 Americans accused of trafficking Haitian children, said Monday through the bars of a jail cell here. “Our hearts were in the right place.” ...New York Times

Uh, maybe their hearts were in the right place, but their bodies were also rightly behind bars.

I cannot imagine the devastation in that wretchedly poor country.

But heaven protect us from those taking it upon themselves to do “God’s Will.” I posit that those on the “God and Country” side often do as much damage as those purveyors of evil who use any excuse to scoop up vulnerable youngsters.

The Americans, most of whom are affiliated with two Baptist churches in Idaho, said they were trying to rescue orphans and take them to an orphanage they were setting up in the Dominican Republic. Questions were raised about whether all of the children were indeed orphans.

This has a sickly familiar feel.

“Poor” countries—and even “poor” people—often have their children taken from them, for “their own good.” OK, so Madonna does come to mind.

To give a orphan a fighting chance can be a noble and rewarding deed. To steal other peoples’ offspring because YOU think you can give the child what the (otherwise fit) parents cannot is rephrehensible—unless, of couse, you can show me the burning bush.

Haiti’s people have lost their past and much of their present—let’s not let their future be stolen

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Edwards & Young: perfect together

I have not yet read Andrew Young’s recently released book, The Politician. But I’ve heard and seen enough in the media to have some thoughts.

First, a confession.

I liked John Edwards. I would likely have voted for him for president if given the chance. I also liked John Kennedy. I would have voted for him if I had been old enough. (Let’s not even talk about Bill Clinton.)

My ability to vote should be revoked, as I obviously have NO ability to judge male character.

That said, let’s consider John Edwards’ rotten luck.

He screwed around on his wife. Nothing new there. With such notable exceptions as “catch me if you can” Gary Hart and “cash up front” Elliot Spitzer, numerous politicians have survived this “flaw.” But Edwards’ wife was battling breast cancer. Major bad.

Then he knocks up this other woman, right in the middle of his second presidential bid. Major bad timing.

His luck turns, or seems to, in the person of his “devoted aide” Andrew Young, who throws--not only himself but his whole family--on the sword to protect Edwards and save the campaign. He claims the love child as his own and enters into a bizarre period of hiding out (with preggers+wife & kids) in a series of posh “safe houses.”

As we all know, this has been unraveling without end—until Young’s tell-all memoir. With its publication, we are treated to details, including videos of the Youngs and pregnant mistress in hiding, and Edwards’ interviews in which he shows off an ease of deception equal to that of “I did not have sex with that woman” Bill Clinton.

Edwards deservedly comes across as a major scumbag. Young, on the other hand, paints himself as a victim, an idealistic young man deceived by a man he served.

Well, exuuuuuuuuuse me! How can I put this politely? DONKEY DUST.

While I don’t doubt Andrew Young started out supporting a man he believed would make a good president, when push came to shove, he caved. The best that can be said of him is that he became an enabler. The worst, was that in participating in the cover-up, he was also furthering his own ambition.

I’m sorry. I have no sympathy for either of them. Neither showed regard for their families or for any reasonable standard of behavior.
And now Young will be rewarded with a best-selling book. Who knows, maybe he’ll even run for president one day.

Would you trust him

Saturday, January 23, 2010

millennium mo: a flashback

It was Dec. 31rst 1999, millennium madness, Y2k run amuck. The world was suppose to come to a crashing halt at the stroke of 2000. Remember?

A close friend recently emailed me of catching up on this blog after being sidelined by a computer viral attack. She reminded me of that special New Year’s night we spent together, a long decade past.

My good buddy Barbara and I chose to celebrate in a bowling alley parking lot on Rt. 88 in Point Pleasant, NJ, counting down to the “end of time” with Mo The Millennium Mossbunker, a 10-foot wooden replica of an Atlantic bait fish, covered with 1,500 Mylar scales.

The big ball-drop at Times Square had nothing on us when Mo was lowered down a 40-foot scaffold outside the bowling alley, after being taken a mile out to sea aboard a fishing boat, returned to land and paraded through the streets. Word of the “dropping of the fish” spread ‘cross the pond to my daughter living in London.

"We fully expect this to be the epicenter of the millennium," Mo's creator, Gene Bissey was quoted as saying. OK, so not exactly the epicenter, but Bissey, a local artist and entrepreneur was a character with an imaginative flare for the quirky. Unfortunately, he died several years ago. But that don’t mean he be forgot.

He left the Jersey Shore, and the town of Point Pleasant Beach with the annual “Hey Rube Get a Tube Race,” which is now ends each summer season. Bissey came up with the idea for the tube race 41 years ago, some say, after a night out tilting a few with friends.

It started out as a few rowdy guys peddling backwards across the inlet, I believe, and was later moved to the ocean. It grew in size and lore and in later years was later taken over by the Lions' club as a fundraiser. Beer mugs remain a big seller.

Always the showman, I seem to recall that when women demanded to be included, Bissey suggested they swim topless, like the men.

His mind seemed to overflow with the playful and the absurd, not all of which were a success. If I remember correctly, he once proposed a flour war to be held Gull Island, a small uninhabited hunk off Point Beach. But the war was truncated when one of the teams secreted themselves on the island the night before and ambushed the other. At least that’s what I recollect.

Bissey was a rare and wild duck, the likes of which are missed at the Shore, especially in these oh-so-serious times.

Here in Sarasota they drop a Pineapple to ring in the New Year.


Sunday, January 17, 2010


For the past week or so I’ve been finding dimes—in the most unexpected places. By this, I mean, not on the floor beside a vending machine for example. There I am, cleaning and straightening books in the nature section of my kids department, and there on the shelf will be a shiny 10-cent piece, winking at me.

The other day, working the cashwrap, I pointed out to a customer that he had left a dime behind on the counter. “Oh, that’s not mine,” he says.

And the list goes on...

A while back I wrote a piece on finding pennies—which also continues, by the way—and what it means to me. In light of this latest development and for the benefit of new readers, I repost that piece below.

pennies from heaven

Pennies make me smile.

No, I’m not one of those people with jars and dishes of pennies stashed around the house.

It’s that pennies like me. Really.

I go through periods in my life when they show up, unannounced.

I don’t go looking for my copper friends, you understand. I don’t stare at the ground, shake pants or empty junk drawers.They just appear. In some of the strangest places.

And literally out of thin air.I walk by the kitchen counter, nothing there.I walk back a few minutes later, and there it is, in plain view, winkin’ at me. I move a jar of cream on a bathroom tray and a Canadian penny shows its face.

And I smile. Every time.

Because they are a reminder of abundance.

But also, I know that money is on its way. It happens every time.I don’t know how, when or how much. But ALWAYS some unexpected cash comes my way. Without fail.

And I am grateful for whatever it turns out to be.It may be a long forgotten rebate check, a gift, a miniscule royalty payment. Recently, I learned I was entitled to a small annuity from my time at the Asbury Park Press along with a cash payment.

Of course, I wouldn’t mind a life-changing extraordinary infusion of green, like a big time lottery win.I allow myself one a week ticket in each of the two Florida games.This permits me to indulge in my favorite game: Fantasy Philanthropy.(Full disclosure-a colleague came up with the name.)

When the jackpot is obscenely huge, I imagine myself the holder of the only winning ticket, then estimate the net amount, say $100 million.Then the fun begins.

I imagine all those I’d like to help and look for unusual ways to do so: paying off various debts, mortgages, setting up trusts to pay real estate taxes, health care, college.

My latest twist is a foundation called Second Acts for those starting over in life. I figure my journalism friends could make use of this, for sure.I also like the idea of paying off all debt for someone, like a Clean start foundation. Spending big money is big fun. And surprising, a lot of work.

But when I can’t sleep or am stuck in line or whatever, I occupy my mind with thoughts of creative giving, each tailored to a particular person’s personality.

Hey, it’s much more fun than fretting over my own economic woes.And when the time comes, I’ll be ready.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

whose child is it, anyway?

For thousands of years, we Jews had the answer. Since motherhood could not be disputed, the child always took the religion of the mother.

With advances in fertilization techniques, such distinctions have long since become moot. And I find myself, once again, considering the legal and emotional intricacies of surrogacy. (Regular readers of this space will recall my involvement with the Baby M case as a fledging Asbury Park Press reporter. For background just click on the December blog archive.)

And once again, it’s a New Jersey case that brings it to the forefront. Several weeks ago, a state judge gave a gestational surrogate of twin girls the right to seek primary custody. He ruled her the children’s legal mother, although there is no genetic connection. Experts hold that if this ruling stands it could expand the rights of gestational surrogates by making it indistinguishable from traditional surrogacy.

In 2006, Angelia G. Robinson, had the girls for her brother and his male spouse The embryos were created from anonymous donor eggs and fertilized with sperm from the spouse. The girls and went to live with the male couple in Jersey City. But in March 2007 Ms. Robinson filed a lawsuit seeking custody, alleging that she had been coerced into the arrangement.

Judge Francis B. Schultz relied heavily on the precedent established by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1988 in the case of Baby M. In that case, Mary Beth Whitehead, carried her own genetic child for another couple after artificial insemination with the man’s sperm. After Ms. Whitehead decided she wanted to keep the baby, the court ruled a fit mother’s maternal rights could not be terminated against her will. Judge Schultz ruled the lack of a genetic link irrelevant.

The lawyer for Sean and Donald Hollingsworth, said the case was of importance to gay men and lesbians because of their reliance on reproductive technology to have children. It illustrates the legal complexities of gestational surrogacy, in which a woman carries unrelated embryos created in a Petri dish. Although a gestational surrogate in Michigan recently got custody of twins she carried, courts in other states have upheld the rights of people who contracted with gestational surrogates.

I find myself deeply ambivalent on the subject.

The NJ lawyer in this recent case also represented Whitehead, and is among those who consider surrogacy exploitation of women, where those who can afford it take advantage of their less affluent sisters. I’m not sure I agree. Yes, there are women who have children with ease. And I can see little wrong with them using their abilities. I don’t even think it’s wrong for them to make some money at it. It can be the ultimate win-win.

I can also feel for those who find it impossible to part with children they have sheltered inside their bodies, who have shared their blood and been soothed by their heartbeat—whether or not they share DNA.

The problem lies in not being sure in which camp a potential surrogate falls. Even she may not know. When I was in my 30s, a couple, a friend of a friend I barely knew, asked me to carry their child. It was extremely flattering, although I never gave it serious consideration.

I was one of those women who gave birth with ease, at 21 and 23. I enjoyed my pregnancies and intended to have more children, but my marriage ended soon after and it never happened. But I knew deep inside that I could never voluntarily part with a child of my body.

We all know people who have adopted. These children are loved no less for the lack of a genetic connection. How can those who emerge from our body have less of bond? It matters not if they begin their journey in a Petri dish or a night of passion.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

new year, old me

So here sit I, mere days into this new decade. And with all the hype notwithstanding—it’s NOT: a “new” me. In fact, I’m more like the “old,” OK, let’s make that “original” me.

Last week, I chucked decades of red hair to return to a version of my chestnut brown. I’m still not sure what prompted the action. My daughter was visiting from London, and I was watching the brunette Barefoot Contessa on the food network. And suddenly, I wanted brown hair again. What can I say? I just didn’t feel like a redhead anymore.

I guess it’s possible that even such a superficial change could signal that deep down, I’m coming to terms with who I really am. Hey, you never know. It could be. That’s not to say I don’t desire changes, have ambition, even still some high-flying dreams, ‘cause I do. I’m not even gonna bore you by listing them. Most are the same we all share and have for years.

All I’m saying is that if my 62.5 years on this earth have taught me anything, it’s that we can control only a small fraction of the circumstances of our lives. And wasting our time and energy fighting that only prevents us from enjoying what we do have. Who knows, even brown hair may end up being too high maintenance, with all the “new me” grays underneath.

So I’m making the same determination this year as last: to find a way to be happy wherever I be. I don’t want to put it off until I: loss weight, finish the novel, find a love, have a grandchild etc. etc. This is deceptively simple—not easy in the least, I know.

I think most of us have it backwards, anyway. The inside changes really do have come first. Or perhaps from the top down, eh?