47 – On A Day When

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On a day when I have just read a letter of despair from a friend and former colleague who is bankrupt from paying for her sister’s cancer treatment, I walk into my fancy Westside coffee place.  As I digest the words of a fellow writer, begging for an act of mercy to keep from becoming homeless, I wonder, what can I do?  Charity begins at home; my grandfather’s words echo in my head.  I could send her a few hundred bucks.  I’ve blown more at the outlet mall.

And now I’m in line ordering my hot Gibraltar and seeded baguette with raspberry jam.  In front of me in line, two boys.  Or men.  I cannot really tell their age but they are tall and blondish with designer clothes and expensive tennis shoes.  The one pulls a gold American Express card from his Goyard wallet and a third friend appears, adds a drink to his order.  They discuss their plans for the day: going into Beverly Hills, shopping at Gucci, lunch at a trendy restaurant.  A fourth one enters and tries to cut the line but the boy/man with the gold card points to me.  The barista thanks him for following the rules.

Something about them reminds me of the Trump boys.  Maybe it’s the audacity of the blondest one to sit on the stool I’ve clearly reserved with my laptop.  “Oh, sorry,” he says when I give him a look.  I am close to their mother’s age and white; they show me respect.  Their actual mothers may be closer to my friend’s age.  She is a 60-plus award-winning former news producer who cannot find a job in her chosen field, or any field.  She has no kids; just one-eyed cats she takes in because they are less adoptable.  And her sister’s two cats.  These man-boys most definitely come from households with purebred dogs.  Are they in college?  Out of college?  Do they have jobs?  Their allowance could probably support my single friend and her cats for a year.

Where do these privileged young males and my bankrupt Boomer friend intersect?  With me, of course.  I am the fulcrum today.

I imagine writing my friend a letter.  I am so sorry about the death of your sister.  I’m sorry that you got suckered by the health care system in this country, one where oncologists set their own prices for treatments that only delay the inevitable.  You should have used the money on a trip to Hawaii, so the two of you could enjoy her last days on earth together.  Because that story, where you pay retail for the latest rat poison to kill the bad cells in your sister’s body, that was only going to end one way.  Here are a few hundred dollars to ease the pain.  Of course, it’s only a temporary salve.  And I, like you, being of the belief that it is better to teach a man to fish than give him one stinky plate of Tilapia, feel powerless to truly help.  What can I possibly teach you?  You’ve been a writer longer than I have been out of braces. You pioneered sports writing for women.  You used to write stories beyond journalism, creative short stories.  God knows you are funny.  Would you try that again?  Do I have the right to share your plight and start a Go Fund Me or whatever those things are that raise money online from random strangers?

Here are some random strangers right in front of me.  I imagine asking the kid to add a pound of coffee beans to his gold card for my friend.  And while he’s at it, he can go on Amazon Fresh and send her some groceries.  My kids would do that much for someone in need.

I write my friend a letter.  It looks very little like the above.  I will send her money.  It’s easy to judge someone else’s situation.  Perhaps those man-boys are not as shallow as I think.  They haven’t even had the opportunity to become hedge fund managers or real estate developers yet.  They could be the next Warren Buffet.  I sure hope so.

                    

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48 – Scarred

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     Sometimes I imagine myself one of the heroes in “Jaws” on a rickety fishing boat in the middle of the Atlantic, sucking down cheap liquor and talking about all of my scars while waiting for the shark to attack.  Or a pirate in the Caribbean, arm in arm with my fellow shipmates, singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall and waxing poetic of how our scars came to be.  I’d fit right in.  I have plenty of scars.

The slash through my left eyebrow occurred when I fell out of bed and hit the sharp corner of a hotel nightstand.  I remember the clock radio with the numbers that turned like pages, the dark brown Formica of the nightstand, and blood gushing everywhere.  It is one of the few childhood memories where my mom and dad are together.  Each parent grabbed one of my hands and whisked me down the hallway in my nightgown, my bare feet not even touching the ground.  There were no stitches.  Someone taped my eyebrow together with a butterfly bandage and that was that.

At the tip of my chin are classic markers of a 1970s youth spent running around slippery cement swimming pools.  A more notable scar sits further back, under my jawbone.  A lump half the size of my head that doctors thought to be cancerous but ultimately turned out to be an abscess in my lymph node kept me out of school for six weeks.  By the time they decided to remove it, I had missed Long Division and Valentine’s Day.  I’ll never forget munching on the contraband McDonald’s cheeseburger my dad had snuck into the hospital, and my second grade teacher stopping by with a pile of Valentines from my classmates.  “You’ll never have a double chin,” my mother said, always looking for the silver lining.  She was right, sort of.  I will never have a double chin on my left side.

The majority of my scarring occurred during childhood, both the physical and emotional kinds.  And while both types fade over time, there’s no getting rid of either one completely.  When scars are no longer fresh, you think about them less and less until they’re just there, subtle reminders of accidents or acts of aggression or medical events (or vanity).  Emotional scars blend into the fabric of your personality, visible as a few snags on the surface but mostly camouflaged by the superego, unnoticeable to anyone except the closest of friends.  People tend to show me their scars, people in airports and bank lines, and at Bar Mitzvahs.  Either they’re prone to TMI or they recognize in me a kindred spirit.

My very first scar is the one that strangers notice most.  The thin “bracelet” on my right arm is the only evidence of a birthmark my parents had removed when I was just a year old.  I don’t remember the surgery, although I’ve seen the before and after photos.  Before, is a chubby baby with a wide grin and brown mark on her forearm, a drop of God’s chocolate ice cream cone.  After, is a hazy photo of a smiling toddler in a green hospital gown.  Nearly a half century later, the scar is faded but still visible.  My mom claims it looks like a tan line, but more than one person has asked if I tried to commit suicide.  Given that the scar is positioned almost halfway between my wrist and elbow, it doesn’t seem like the most efficient way to off one’s self.

My stomach is a constellation of scars, from childhood Chicken Pox to adult moles that were burned, frozen and sliced off by my dermatologist.  The worst by far is the one that looks like train tracks and sits just below my belly button.  I’ve thought about getting a tattoo with an arrow pointing to that scar with the words: “this is not from an appendectomy”, to avoid any confusion in the future.  I’d hate to show up at the ER with an appendicitis only to be misdiagnosed because they assume I’ve already had one.  Yep, it’s that ugly.  “You’re not planning to wear a bikini, anyway,” Dr. Gottlieb said as she cut a big chunk of flesh from my abdomen.  “Well, actually…” I do still wear a bikini, despite frequenting beaches with some of the flattest stomachs in the Western Hemisphere.  Even women whose bodies have been sculpted by personal trainers are not perfect.  We all have scars.

 

 

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49 – A Typical Tuesday

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8:31 Drop off Child 1 at school in West LA

8:47 Drop off dog at daycare in West LA

9:00 Get coffee and baguette in Brentwood; write until 10:30 am while intermittently listening to privileged Westside mom complain about how her kid is the only one who cries at pre-school drop-off.  She doesn’t know what to do; he has an acre of land and many animals at home and is great “dinner conversation” with adults but he isn’t “socialized” with other kids

10:45 Arrive home to Palisades.  Let in housekeeper who smells gas from the vintage stove I’ve paid to have refurbished and have used zero times since they delivered it last week; explain work housekeeper is to do; Call stove company

12:00 Go to Coffee Bean to do more writing but get called back home immediately for stove repairman

12:30-1:45 Watch and listen while he takes apart stovetop for third time and solves problem with a sewing needle I give him

1:45 Turn on computer to write and give up because I can’t focus with housekeeper vacuuming under my feet.  Watch Terence Crutcher video on Facebook and wonder if there’s hope for humanity.

2:30 Pick up title to car and lien release from business manager’s office in West LA so I can prove to the DMV that I do own my car and they can give me the registration renewal stickers that I’ve already paid for (Part 2 of my 2 ½ hour DMV experience from yesterday)

3:00 Pick up dog in West LA

3:25 Pick up Child 2 in Mar Vista

3:50 Pick up Child 1 in West LA

4:12 Pick up racket at house in Palisades

4:16 Drop off Child 2 at park in Palisades for tennis lesson

4:45 Burn frozen snack I made for myself to replace lunch; eat half because Child 1 takes the rest

5:15 Pick up Child 2 at park

5:30 Make this list as a way to explain to my family why I’m in a bad mood

5:54 Call School of Rock to confirm son’s lesson time

6:00 Realize I’ve burned frozen pizza for Child 2 and tell him to feed the dog

6:02 Snap at Child 1 who tries to hone in on the burnt pizza

6:15 Take Child 1 to School of Rock for 30-minute lesson

6:30 Squeeze in another errand due tomorrow

6:50 Pick up Child 1

7:15 Pick up to-go dinner at Wahoo’s

7:30 Pick up iced tea at Coffee Bean

7:45 Walk in door as husband arrives home wondering why we are eating out of paper bags again

8:00 Eat to-go burritos for family dinner

8:30-9:30 Watch something on TV with family

9:30-10:00 Lie with Child 2 until he falls asleep while beating the computer at advanced Scrabble.  Justify the game as vocabulary building

10:15 Entertain possibility of watching something with husband but he’s already in bed with his iPad

10:30 Begin illustrious writing career!

 

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Countdown to Fifty

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This is my Italian sports car.  This is my platinum pixie cut.  This is my facelift — specifically, the nose job, the brow lift.  This is my tattoo.  This is my LSD, my cocaine. This is me, jumping out of an airplane.  Scuba diving with the Cousteaus.  Driving a Jeep across the border into Mexico, my tanned arm dangling out the window, silver bangles jingling and a lit cigarette pinched between my fingers.  This is my free pass.  This is me, a five-foot-ten flat chested, small nosed blonde, a coat hanger for designer clothes, living in the West Village, partying at Studio 54.  This is my rage against all that is wrong, my complete psychotic break, my Thelma and Louise moment, driving off a cliff into infinity.  It’s my yoga, my meditation, my Nirvana.

This is me, in a million alternate universes, unencumbered by time, space, gender, marital status, parenthood, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, geography, morality, religion, the law, logic, sanity, and, most importantly, perfectionism.

What is this, exactly?

This is my writing.  And it is a verb.

Producing 50 pieces of writing in 50 days is my goal.  But it isn’t the finished prose or poetry that’s crucial to the challenge.  Those things are only bi-products of the action, just like a fit body is a bi-product of exercise and healthy eating.  My 50 pieces of writing are quite simply the evidence and accountability that I’m doing this.  This, being the action of writing.  Whether they are “good” is not relevant.  The latest research indicates that it takes 66 days on average to form a habit.  The writing is to become habit.  The work itself is the reward.

On the cusp of turning fifty years old, I am aware that if I do not do this single action of committing words to the page daily, I will die.  Sounds dramatic, right?  A little over the top?  Maybe.  But it’s also the truth.  In less than 50 days, I will reach the midpoint of my own story.  This is a time when, according to the rules of fiction, a major reversal takes place.  I (the main character) will be forced to look into a mirror, confront my flaws, and spin the story in a whole new direction.  The midpoint is a reflection of the climax, so if I have any shot at a happy ending, I must start now.

Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to simply bear witness and occasionally, if necessary, remind me to do my exercise.  66 days to form a habit, 10,000 hours to become an expert.  Ready, set, write!

 

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Movin’ On Up

I’ve had many addresses during my nearly five decades on planet earth, from a sorority house in Evanston to a couch in a shared New York one-bedroom, a hotel in Arlington, Virginia to a depressing stint in Charlotte, North Carolina.  But the only two places that have ever felt like home were my mom’s turn-of-the-century building in Chicago’s Lincoln Park and my grandparents’ 1920’s English Tudor in Canton, Ohio.  Most people see the Lincoln Park in me – the city girl who likes to be a part of the bustle, with easy access to cool restaurants, shops and diverse culture.  My lesser known alter ego enjoys the safety and familiarity of a small town with manicured lawns and a postman who knows your name.

Twenty years ago, I moved in with a Canadian guy who would eventually become my husband and we began our own residential journey in Los Angeles together, which included the purchase of our first house and, fifteen years later, what appears to be our last one.  I wasn’t quite prepared for the reactions from friends and acquaintances when we shared the news that we had put an offer on a property in Pacific Palisades.  Comments ranged from “it’s so far” to “it just doesn’t seem like you” to “movin’ on up, huh?”  Whatever words were actually said, there was a definite subtext of just who do you think you are?  from everyone except, of course, our friends who already live in the Palisades.

My defenses went up.  It’s a major fixer upper.  On a busy street.  It’s smaller than our old house.  I swear, I thought we’d end up in a modern spec house in Mar Vista. (Nobody would have had issues with that; everyone likes Mar Vista).  We’re only making necessary upgrades like heat, electric and plumbing… and floors, bathrooms, kitchen, front yard, back yard.  We got the last affordable house in the Palisades.

But you’re in the Palisades.

It isn’t like we didn’t look anywhere else.  We did.  For like, fifteen years.  Before purchasing our first home, we took a cursory glance at the Palisades.  It felt too suburban, too sleepy, too Desperate Housewives.  What I really wanted was to live in North Santa Monica, but everything we could afford there was a dump.  At the time we were in a swanky rental off Robertson, walking distance to Chaya Brasserie and The Ivy.  We settled on a newly remodeled Mediterranean in Rancho Park.  Everyone pointed out what a nice, safe neighborhood we chose to raise our family.  Sure, it was pretty and walkable, but there was still the exhaust of a major freeway separating me from the ocean.

We had two kids and turned the backyard into a gorgeous oasis, the site of many memorable barbecues and birthday parties.  It felt like home, but I still drove West every chance I got.  By the time we discovered affordable West-of-the-405 areas like Sunset Park, Mar Vista and Venice (imagine! Venice was once affordable), we had become pickier.  I wanted walkability, cool restaurants, a big back yard and the ocean.  He wanted an area without campers in the driveway and meth dealers in every alley.  I wanted the urban feel of Ocean Park; he wanted the Jacaranda-lined streets and classic street lamps of Cheviot Hills.  We widened our search to include every beachside community 20 minutes or less from our kids’ school.

There was a house in Mar Vista that we both loved, a 1936 two-story Spanish with a finished garage on a huge lot.  It was an even trade for our house, but we couldn’t buy without selling our house first.  Fast forward four years.  Mar Vista is blowing up, due to its proximity to Venice.  Venetians cannot even afford Venice.  Maybe it’s time to think outside the box.  We tour homes in Marina adjacent Westchester, where you can get a six bedroom, five bath new construction for less than a Venice bungalow.  We realize that we’re not that far outside the box.

We meet with a realtor we’ve known for years, stage our house and get an offer close to the asking price the week before Thanksgiving.    At the same time, we tour a fixer in the Palisades.  The house reminds us both of our grandparents.  It’s walking distance to the village.  You can feel the ocean breeze.  We write a letter to the adult children who grew up in the Palisades house, promising not to tear it down and make a McMansion.  They accept our offer while we’re on vacation in Europe and we wonder what we just got ourselves into.  We close escrow three days before Christmas.

On our first Saturday after moving in, my husband walks to the Starbucks where he reports seeing “lots of white people in exercise outfits.”  The prototype Westside housewife, suspiciously un-sweaty in her Lulu Lemon Athletica and running shoes, Goyard tote swinging from the crease in her arm, is a fixture of affluent communities from Brentwood to Beverly Hills, North of Montana to Westwood.  She’s not my people, but neither are the Silicon Beach hipsters with their ironic grey hair and carefully curated tats spilling out of Gjelina on Abbot Kinney.

Where are my “peeps”?  They’re in Hancock Park and Toluca Lake, Culver City and… San Francisco, Rome, Paris.  One friend, who recently moved to Paris from a giant property in Mar Vista, said the Palisades felt too “precious”.  But now there’s me in my paint-splashed denim overalls and well worn Blundstones, buying screwdrivers at Norris Hardware.  And there I am in my 6-months dirty Volvo in the Gelson’s parking lot.  Picking up fluff-and-fold at Royal Cleaners.  Having minestrone soup at Pinocchio.  My husband compares the Palisades to Bayside, the fictional beach town from The Hardy Boys.  There is no nightlife.  They roll up the sidewalks at 6pm.  That may change when the new development is finished, but I don’t foresee the area becoming Century City any time soon.  People in town know other people’s business.  It’s a lot more like Canton, Ohio than it is like Lincoln Park.

Week three and having no kitchen or laundry is starting to wear thin.  We may have watched a few too many episodes of HGTV’s Fixer Upper.  It’s easy to romanticize a house project before you are knee deep in it.  We are all four sharing one bathroom, the roof may have a leak, and the single pane windows in all of our bedrooms create the effect of free air conditioning on full blast every night.  And there are the cars zipping by at high speeds as I back out of my driveway.  We really need to put in a circular driveway and some lights.  And a fence.  And fix those fireplaces.  I used to have a gorgeous Carrera marble bathroom.  And a huge kitchen…

But now you live in the Palisades.

images-3Yes, we do.  And even in a fixer upper, it’s hard to imagine living any place more beautiful than a mountain above the Pacific Ocean in Southern California.

 

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https://www.pypo.com/perfectionist-no-more/

Check out PYPO!  And find out why I’m a recovering perfectionist.

XO LZ

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Java in La La Land

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Butt in chair. That’s really the only rule of writing. Beyond that, we all have our own quirks. If it were solely up to me, I’d write in five-star hotels, preferably with a view of the ocean. Think Casa del Mar in Santa Monica on a sunny day. But my muse doesn’t roll that way. She likes to get down and dirty, as long as the coffee is strong and the bathrooms are clean. Pleasing us both is a more difficult task than one might think, even in the dense javadom of West L.A.

Too Fancy

Lately, I’ve been writing at Caffe’ Luxxe (two f’s, two x’s) in the Brentwood Country Mart. Or, rather, I’ve been sipping their smooth, chocolatey Gibraltars and eating baguettes with raspberry jam while trying to write. My girl refuses to join me there. Maybe it’s the desperate housewives in their Lulu Lemon tanks and Goyard totes.   Or the the snippets of conversation… I’ve been on Xanax since 9-11I told him, he’s got to push himself now that he’s in sixth grade.  She has little patience for the worried well and their first world problems.  I’m more empathetic, but easily distracted.  The minute my fingers start typing, my brain loses focus.  I wonder, what’s up with those middle-aged men in head-to-toe spandex riding three thousand dollar racing bikes in the middle of the day?  They’re not nerdy enough to be television writers, but not hip enough to be film directors.  Agency chiefs with took a buyout?  I’ve got to get out before I create any  more backstory.

Too Dirty

Deus Ex Machina is a motorcycle accessories shop-slash-café at the Corner of Lincoln and Venice Boulevard. With its rustic wood tables, comfy couches, and dogs roaming around, it feels like sitting in your own garage, if the white noise in your garage were a blend of milk steaming and Spotify. The food is tasty, especially the thick toast and serve-yourself jam in flavors like Bourbon Peach and Jalapeno Blueberry. Their liberal canine policy edits out the jerky element; in fact, if you’re bothered by a strange dog licking your toes, this is perhaps not the best place for you. My muse loves it. She did some of her best work there this summer. There’s just one small issue: cleanliness. I actually believe you can’t maintain a healthy immune system without eating a little dirt. But the day I witnessed one of the baristas wipe up some dog vomit and then go immediately to the espresso machine without washing his hands, my inner germaphobe took pause. And I’m pretty sure there was rat poop on the table when I arrived one morning shortly after opening. Just sayin’.

Too Douchey

So I decide to return to my old stomping grounds on Abbot Kinney in Venice, Intelligentsia. With the summer tourist traffic thinned out, there’s virtually no line, and I’m looking forward to sitting down with a nice short-pour cappuccino. I’m hungry but not in the mood for anything sugary so the barista suggests the Spam and Kimchi croissant. “It’s really good. Especially with some Sriracha on top.” “Really?” I say. “Because that sounds disgusting.” I want to tell him that just because something is vintage and ironic and trendy, that doesn’t make it good. I want to dare him to spell sriracha. As if on cue, a guy covered in neck tattoos walks by.  My muse rolls her eyes as if to say “Told ya so.” Somehow, I’d forgotten how loud the music is and, frankly, how annoyingly hip the people are. No offense to my friends who were early adapters to the area. You moved in when the real estate was cheap. You dug the surfer-aging hippie-struggling artist-homeless veteran-smalltime drug dealer all living together in a kumbaya of ocean breeze. But with the advent of “Silicon Beach” driving prices up so that only chain stores can afford the rent, Abbot Kinney’s old charm is rapidly evaporating.

Just Right?

My final stop is the Venice Grind in Mar Vista, where all the people who cannot afford three million dollar bungalows still live. There are a few more businesses popping up on this stretch of Venice Boulevard, but still plenty of grit to satisfy my girl. A more mellow but still hip crowd populates the local businesses, the way Venice used to be twenty years ago. The neck tattoos feel more earned here, like they belong to a person who knows his way around a Fender, as opposed to the poseurs on Abbot Kinney who seem inked up for the occasion. One drawback to the Grind: the coffee is like Colon Blow. But they have normal food (bagels, croissants, cookies) and plenty of places to plug in your laptop. The music is soft and the guy behind the counter is nice. I think I’ll stay for a while.

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poem/2040

2040 

by LZ

 

The sun reboots over a slightly less polluted Pacific

than the one I first viewed

A grad student in a Green Wrangler on that rollercoaster incline

to a future long past, but ever present

Today it is fortified, the road, made stronger by steel rods and containing walls but lacking the charm

Where that old sign welcomed you to

Santa Monica.

 

I come from true North now,

Long ago traded the land of plastic faces and eternal sunshine, for a chilly bay of tech magnates and vineyard dwellers,

Millennials who ascended from their parents’ basements to microchip thrones

In a real city on a million hills overlooking the rock museum

We have that ocean here, too. With more ice cubes and fewer surfers

Sea spray and Chinatown

And farther still, over the bridge, the magnet for spiritual awakenings –

 

The New Age Bethlehem, that’s where I live.

Writing and wearing holey jeans and boots, and hopping into my Jeep-shaped Benz

A cool granny, a published author, a hippie with diamond rings

Most of the hair turned ash by time, the skin leathered by topless automobiles, smokes, sun.

A face, the foundation of which was built back in ’66, still standing with no major renovations.

 

The curtain of a smile rises each morning to greet the things that I love –

A man, a dog; they’re here.

The boys reside elsewhere, places I visit often but don’t call home.

Outliving me was the only deal breaker and the Universe has upheld its bargain so far

Others bowed out earlier, their presence catalogued by walk-of-fame footprints on my heart

Tiny fissures that exist because I indulged it, let it feel.

 

“Checking in, Ma’am?”  A simple question, and I only hesitate briefly,

for a memory montage of Chantilly lace, sandy toddler toes, and club sandwiches

I am just a guest; I don’t live here, even though in my mind it has always been mi Casa

A grand brick house by the sea where I vowed, vodka in hand, crisp Pratesi sheets on the bed,

To one day reside, a dowager with a view of the pier.

The timing was never right for us, Santa Monica.

But I’m thrilled you’re still here, neither demolished by progress nor tsunami

As permanent as you get in this world.

 

 

 

 

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Thought for the day

…nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films,
new films,music,books,paintings,photographs,poems,dreams,random conversations,architecture,bridges,street signs,trees,clouds,bodies of water,light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul…if you do this your work(and theft) will be authentic.Authenticity is invaulable; originality is non-existent…and don`t bother concealing your thievery-celebrate it if you like it…in any case,always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ” it`s not where you take things from- it`s where you take them to.

– Jim Jarmusch

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First Date

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On a day when my 12-year-old Gabriel* is texting with girls on his iPhone, I am reminded of the mushy cheeked boy who sat on my lap at The Wiggles concert, too shy to run up on stage with the other toddlers. Wasn’t that, like, five minutes ago? What happened to Woody and Buzz, Lego Batman and Harry Potter? When did those obsessions become replaced with group chats and late night Face-Timing?

I should have seen this coming last year when Gabriel started wearing all black. Every day. Specifically, a black motorcycle jacket and Greek fisherman’s cap he got as a souvenir at The Beatles’ Love show in Las Vegas. Then he and a bunch of other kids formed a band, with Gabe on lead guitar. A few girls joined as back-up singers and he made a point to complain about how annoying they were.

Fast forward to the first middle school dance. Gabriel can’t go because we’ll be out of town at his cousin’s Bar Mitzvah. He is seriously bummed. The night before we leave, there is an art gallery at school. A cute blonde who he swears is “just a friend” comes to see his exhibit and hangs around till the cheese and crackers are put away. They text the whole time we’re gone; when we get back she messages him, “we should hang out”.

We’ve already planned to see a movie together and I suggest that he invite her along. Next thing I know the girl’s dad, whom I’ve only met in passing, joins us. Afterward, I suggest that Gabriel and his friend have lunch by themselves at the food court while we shop. But the only plan her dad finds acceptable is to take him back to his house. Gabriel awkwardly hugs me goodbye. I can’t pretend he’s just on a play date; an invisible line has been crossed.  As we roam around the mall it feels weird not to have the fourth member of our team with us.

“Remember Teagan?” my husband Andrew says. Teagan was Gabriel’s first preschool crush. She was the kid who could never sit still during circle time, who needed a daily talking-to from the teachers. We had a birthday party where everyone came in costume. Gabriel was Batman. Teagan, with messy blonde hair and red lipstick, was the sexiest five-year-old Wonder Woman around. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Her mom was a tough talking muscular brunette with a white-blonde streak of hair who had built her big guns by working as a grip on Hollywood movie sets.

At least I still have one boy who hasn’t hit puberty.  I turn to my 9-year-old son, Sage.  “Do you think Gabe likes this girl as a girlfriend, or just a friend?”

“I’m not getting involved in that,” Sage says. A week later he’ll complain that his brother spends too much time on his phone talking to girls, but today he just wants to go home and ride his bike.

Back at the house, our Jack Russell terrier has gotten into some chocolate and is running around like he’s high on cocaine. I don’t have time to obsess over Gabe’s date because we have to go to the emergency vet.  When we’re back home, safe and sound, I hold Cowboy in my arms and remember what it’s like to have a baby that size. The worries were much simpler then, at least compared to the ones ahead: driving, alcohol, drugs, sex, heartbreak (and not necessarily in that order).

If the next twelve years go as quickly as the first, I want to maximize every second and so I decide to splurge on tickets to see Billy Joel. Gabriel doesn’t remember The Wiggles concert, but he’ll remember this one. It’s not exactly the hippest crowd at the Hollywood Bowl; there are lots of middle-aged men with paunches and Hawaiian shirts. But there’s something magical about our family of four communing with seventeen thousand strangers under a full moon. The boys know the words to every song; we’ve taught them well. Afterwards, we collect posters and overpriced t-shirts, and commence the 30-minute journey back to our car. Sage falls asleep the minute he hits the back seat but Gabriel replays the parts of the show he recorded on his iPhone all the way home. There will be many more concerts and many more girls, but for now we have this moment together.

 

 

* names have been changed to protect the privacy of minors

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Thought for the day

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Not A Face Person

Face People, you know who they are.   They’re the restaurant manager who comes over to tell you they’d be happy to replace the bloody rare ahi with another dish, but that’s the way the chef “recommends” it. They’re the hourly employee in relaxed fit jeans who greets you at The Gap with a “How’s it going?”, the guy who directs you to the back of the store when you ask an actual question like, “Do you have this shirt in a medium?” They’re the cashier at Whole Foods who, without looking away from her screen, asks “Did you find everything okay?” even though she really doesn’t give a shit if you did. She’s not paid enough. She just wants to get out of there to comb Tumblr and Buzzfeed from the dim light of her parents’ basement.

I am not a Face Person. If I were an actress, I’d take only character roles. I’d be the Wicked Witch, not Glinda, Bellatrix, not Hermione. In politics, I’d be Rahm Emanuel, not Obama; Hillary, not Bill (more on that another time). I’m the passionate doer with no time for public relations. I like the dirty work. In my teens and twenties, I slummed at face jobs. There was the summer I worked at the front desk of a big convention hotel, serving champagne to dilute the anger of customers waiting in long check-in lines. I interned for a screaming Hollywood producer. I was even a temp at the Disney legal department, the ultimate face job.

But even back then, Lizzie was inside me somewhere, screaming and flailing her arms, urging me to tell people what she really thought. Lizzie is my id, known well to close friends and family but unfamiliar to casual acquaintances. For convenience, I leave her at home when I go out into the world. Lizzie is the one who asks the poor guy at the Gap if he can turn down the blaring pop music long enough to answer a real question: Does he know that fast beat increases people’s heart rate, subliminally urging them to buy more? And does he care that everything there was made in a sweatshop? Answer: not for twelve bucks an hour, he doesn’t.

As my forties wane and this go-round on earth nears its halfway mark, I’ve been letting Lizzie out with more frequency. For one, I like her. And she’s nicer to me when I take her for regular walks in the fresh air. I no longer treat her like my weird distant cousin because I realize that she is my identical twin – same DNA, same upbringing, just different sides of the same coin. I’m a little more diplomatic, a little more polished, but neither of us are Face People. I confess that sometimes, I feel a twinge of jealousy for the people in the face jobs. It would nice to be revered. But if I were caught up in my own Face-ness, who would see past the glossy veneer to the ugly truth of situations? Who would pierce the veil of complacency and actually do something? Lizzie and I, we’re a good team.

 

 

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Passover-Easter Redux 2015

cropped-Photo-on-3-30-13-at-2.23-AM.jpgSpring Break is over. A big To Do List awaits. But first, a recap of our big weekend filled with God and sugar, birthdays and death, creativity and freedom, all wrapped around a full Libra moon. Passover comes first, with a beautiful Seder at the home of our friends, Lynn and Dennis. These people know how to throw a party. From their annual Super Bowl extravaganza with more than two hundred guests and a television in every room (including the loo) we know that a gathering in their home is always a rockin’ good time. What to expect from our first Passover? Thoughtful comments from the hosts and each of the guests as we go around the table and discuss the core Passover themes of slavery and freedom. Festive “plague” masks are passed out. Gabriel, nearly 13, puts on the black one and announces, “I am darkness”. Sage, 9, says that he still thinks there’s a lot of good in the world, even though some people believe the Holocaust never happened. Deep thoughts from the kids’ table.

Saturday I wake up late, a little hung over from the Passover wine. It is a somber day; after a brief call to wish my dad happy birthday, we get the news that the father of Andrew’s good friend has only hours to live. Life is short. I think about this as I head down the street to look at the ocean, do some writing, and figure out what I’m going to fill the Easter baskets with this year. After all my rants on GMOs and consuming too much sugar, I choose some expensive pure chocolate bunnies from Germany. Later, I’ll arrange them nicely in three baskets for each boy and the husband who was raised Jewish. The filling of the eggs is also my job. We stopped putting candy in them when we adopted Cowboy, our Jack Russell mix. Now we fill them with things that won’t cause a trip to the emergency vet: money, toys, gift certificates and, this year, corny Easter jokes. Who is the Easter Bunny’s favorite movie actor? Rabbit De Niro!   It’s 2am by the time I begin this process and must resist the temptation to add off-color jokes like, Why don’t rabbits make noise when they’re having sex? Because they have cotton balls…

When my husband wakes at 5:30am, he hides the eggs around the back yard. Everything you need to know about the boys’ personalities can be gleaned from the Easter egg hunt. Gabriel begins his slow and deliberate search by looking in all of the obscure, hard-to-reach places. He’s competitive but hates anything obvious. For him it’s about finding the eggs that nobody else sees. Sage dives right in and grabs as many of the ones right in front of him as possible. He’s a path-of-least-resistance guy. He’s also generous and non-competitive. Halfway through, when he sees that Gabriel has only a few eggs compared to his haul, he begins picking up eggs and putting them into his brother’s basket. I’m always worried about fairness. But the Universe has got my back. For the second year in a row, the boys end up with exactly the same amount of money.

My favorite part is getting gussied up for the big fancy Easter brunch. With our bellies full of crab Benedict, currant scones, fish and chips, seafood pasta, pistachio profiteroles, and iced tea with fresh mint and sugar cane, we take a walk. We revel in the simple pleasures of life – good friends, good food, and sunshine along the Pacific Ocean. Whatever else troubles us, life isn’t so bad. After a couple of stops at open houses, we head home to our imperfect house that doesn’t seem so bad. We get the kitchen workspace ready for egg dyeing. With Gabriel’s academic, extracurricular and social schedule, it has been a long time since we’ve done something creative together. But two hours of egg coloring proves that we haven’t lost our touch. Afterwards, I rustle up some dinner and we watch two episodes The Last Man on Earth before putting the kids to bed. It’s a school night and we are heading into the last couple months before summer, rested and ready.

 

 

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Birth Control

th-8It was easy to be frothy yesterday.  Yesterday was the start of a new month.  Friends on both coasts posted Facebook pictures of themselves and their kids frolicking on the beach.  It was even a holiday in Canada.  But today I’m finding it harder to lack profundity.  (case in point: my use of the word “profundity”).  Maybe it has something to do with an evening spent at my friend’s self-improvement seminar graduation, a three-hour hard sell akin to watching an infomercial that you can’t turn off.   Or having cereal for dinner,  then getting my ass kicked by advanced computer Scrabble.  Or maybe it was dreaming that I was back in Charlotte, North Carolina, the place where I spent the darkest three years of my life in the 1990s.  Definitely not the makings of a light and breezy mood!

But a promise is a promise.  So here’s a little something to smooth out your hump day.  A couple of haircuts ago, my boys switched from the Beverly Hills children’s hairdresser they’ve gone to since toddlerhood to a green-haired young woman covered in tattoos at a hip barbershop called Shorty’s in West Hollywood.  Last Saturday, while waiting to pay, my younger son, 8, noticed a giant glass jar of free condoms on the coffee table.

“Can I have one?” he said, reaching into the jar.

“No!” scolded my 12-year-old son.

“Why not?  What are they?” he said.

A guy waiting for a haircut smiled at me as my husband grabbed my son’s hand and whisked him out the door.

“What are they?” he repeated.

“You’ll find when you’re older,” my tween replied, plugging his ears to avoid hearing my explanation.

“Birth control,” I said, matter-of-factly.

“Really?” my 8-year-old said.

“Yep.”

He giggled and that was all.  Sometimes no further explanation is necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shallow Thoughts

Hello and welcome to July 2014, the end of June Gloom in Los Angeles and the beginning of the middle of summer.  When you’re a kid, summer means shedding the intense seriousness of the school year and diving in to pure fun.  Summer is playful, light, lazy.  And in that spirit, I will attempt to post more frothy and less profound thoughts.  I will not sweat over every single word.  Hell, I don’t even care if my posts have a beginning, middle and end.  I’m gonna write more and edit less.  I’ll resist the urge to dig deep into my psyche and just be shallow.  At least for July.

Let’s begin with The Job.

I’d give my right arm to be an author like Jeffrey Eugenides.  He has a well deserved Pulitzer for Middlesex, publishes every 9 years or so, and works at an Ivy League university as his day job.

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But what if I were more like chick lit author Sophie Kinsella?  That could be fun…

th-6The Look.

Most of the time, I feel like Mayim Bialik.  The glasses, the obsessive political correctness, the NOSE…

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But what if I allowed myself to channel Angie Everhart?  What if I ditched the loose Laura Ingalls Wilder sundresses for more figure hugging clothes.  Tight jeans don’t kill brain cells.  (I recently colored my hair auburn — it’s a start)

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The ride.

L.A. is all about your car, which is probably why I could never go the minivan route.  Still, I’ve been driving this mom-mobile for the past decade.  I love the Volvo’s safety factor, the 8 airbags, the schlep-ability.

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But what if I could drive my dream car?  How cool would it be to zip along Pacific Coast Highway with the top down, hyper pigmentation be damned?  This vehicle is part Mercedes luxury, part tough girl Jeep.  Now that’s my kinda hybrid.
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So there you have it.  A few random, shallow thoughts to commence July.  May it be a month of good hair, incomplete sentences, and lots of ellipses….

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