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.