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.

 

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under LZ's Speakeasy: serving up 100 proof blogs

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.

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Top Shelf Blogs

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Top Shelf Blogs

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.

th-5

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…

th-3

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)

th-2

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.

th-1

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.
th

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….

1 Comment

Filed under Top Shelf Blogs

RIP Les Plesko

“Who is Les Plesko?” my son asked when he saw that I was crying.

“Mommy’s teacher,” my husband said.

“A man of few teeth,” I said. “And one sport coat, who chain-smoked and wrote on a real old fashioned typewriter.”

Eight years ago I walked into a Novel I class at UCLA Extension with a toddler and six-month old baby at home, desperate for something. I knew little of the instructor other than the fact that he was the published author of a semi-autobiographical book about a heroin addict on Venice Beach in the 1970s.

In the beginning, coming up with pages was like shitting coconuts and often I showed up with only one page. But after a while it got easier. Les’s number one rule of critiquing was “don’t dis” and in the supportive environment of his classroom, I felt safe to take creative risks. By the end of that first quarter, I was hooked. I signed up for Novel II, III, and IV, all taught by him. Why mess with success?

When I enrolled in Novel V, I had a solid first draft of my young adult novel. The level of writing in the class was professional and so, miraculously, was I. I decided to tackle the next few drafts on my own, to see if I could write this novel without supervision. I could, although never with as much joy and purpose as I did with Les. I do better with deadlines and he was the perfect teacher for me: old-timey, philosophical, soft-spoken, cool and always supportive.

From time to time I would run in to Les, at the beach in Santa Monica, or at Abbott’s Habit in Venice. I always thought that the Universe put him in my path for a reason: to nudge me a little, to remind me to keep writing. Today I’m mourning with each of the other writers whose work and lives were elevated by Les Plesko. Although my first novel did not get published, it came close. Maybe it will someday. But just in case, here’s what the dedication page will say: Thank you, Les.th-4

1 Comment

Filed under Top Shelf Blogs

Middle School

th-4

 

 

Middle School Orientation.  It’s 9am, my clothes are too tight, and I’m not ready for this.  I want more time to be the mother of a 5th grader who needs me and not a 6th grader who wants to get away from me.  At least that’s how the parents with older kids tell me it’s going to be.  “Get ready,” they warn.  “He won’t even want to look at you.”  Not my boy.  Not the one who still likes to snuggle with me in bed, who’s afraid of ghosts in the bathroom, who doesn’t want me to leave him alone, even for a short run to Starbucks.  What do they know?  But inside, there is doubt.

I should have sent him to sleep-away camp, I think to myself for the thousandth time as I watch the other kids filter in.  I should have given him that micro step toward independence so when this day came, it wouldn’t seem so huge to both of us.  But I was too afraid to let him go.  And so the summer was long and painful with small bursts of day camp but mostly stretches of too much time – time for my two boys to fight, time for my husband to worry about money, time for me to fear the place I now find myself in.  We needed a big distraction, but Las Vegas was as far as we had gotten, front row center at Cirque du Soleil’s “O”, the water show a brief reprieve from the Hades-like temperatures of Nevada in August.

Yes, it was a shitty summer but I’d do it all again to not be here, among the hundred or so parents learning about brain development in the adolescent while my son gets indoctrinated with the other kids.  “Think of us as Hogwarts,” one of the administrators says.  And by that he means, not a boarding school for young wizards, but a place where your child can get away and discover his own powers – without you.  A place where you can’t help him, or, as they seem to imply, hold him back.  I hate what they are saying.  I want more of my boy, not less.  We could save a lot of money by homeschooling.  For a second I convince myself that option isn’t completely nuts.

“Now close your eyes and imagine your own first day of middle school,” the counselor, who has now taken center stage, instructs us.  As a writer of young adult fiction, I don’t have to dig too deep.  I access middle school memories on a daily basis.  The first thing that comes to mind is a pair of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans I wore throughout seventh grade.  Specifically, kelly green velvet Gloria Vanderbilt jeans.  I received a lot of positive attention wearing those jeans.  Boys noticed me, girls wanted to be my friend.  When the other parents share their own mental snapshots of middle school, they say things like “Who will I sit with at lunch?”  or “Who will my friends be?” – vague generalities.  I don’t share my jeans memory, even though I know it will get a laugh.

We are then asked to break down into small groups, to talk about our children to the other parents.  We’re supposed to mingle with people we don’t know, and my husband frowns because he hates talking to strangers.  This part isn’t so bad for me.  One of my friends calls me over to her group and suggests that I go first.  My boy is easy to describe: he’s a gifted visual artist and musician, wildly creative.  He wears a lot of black.  Last year he wore a black leather jacket and John Lennon hat every day to school.  He isn’t afraid to be different.  I’m proud of that.  Most of the other parents give thoughtful descriptions of their kids.  One mother seems exasperated with her daughter and suggests she might be better off in boarding school.  As one who went to boarding school, I feel like telling her it’s not such a great idea.  But I keep my trap shut.

I need to get out of here.  And so, when we are given 15 minutes to go to the bathroom I escape to the Coffee Bean with my husband and another couple, feeling like a teenager who is breaking the rules.  I hope my son doesn’t enjoy this feeling as much as I do, although I suspect that he will.  Testing limits is one of the traits of adolescence, the counselor told us.  We walk back to school, iced tea in hand, via a short cut behind a strip club.  That’s right.  A strip club is located within walking distance of our school and three others.  I wonder when my son will notice the proximity of naked women.  Or has he already noticed?  When we return there are more speeches, but with less real information than I had hoped for.  The top three middle school administrators are all new, and so it feels a little bit like the blind leading the blind.  But they are earnest.

For the last part we gather in my son’s classroom to meet with his advisor.  It is small and claustrophobic.  We are asked to go around the room and list three adjectives to describe our kid.  My husband says two things and I say one.  The parents of a new boy use this opportunity to say six braggy things about their son.  I immediately feel an intense dislike for them.  When the teacher talks I am hanging on her every word, waiting for her to assure me that she will be the conduit between the warm womb of elementary school and the independence of high school.  She seems strict, like a person who doesn’t stand for any B.S.  She informs us of our duties as parents: make them go to bed by 9:30pm, make sure they come to school with enough food and water.  She will dispense hugs.  I feel slightly better, but I’m still not sold.  “Are you okay?” she says, calling me out in front of the class.  “You look sad.”  I quickly paste on a smile even though I feel like I’m throwing my boy to the wolves (which is a perfect metaphor since the school mascot is a wolf).  When we’re finally reunited with our son, I’m relieved to see that aliens have not taken over his body, that he’s the same boy I left three hours earlier.  I wonder if the day felt as long to him as it did to me.

The next morning is his first real day of school.  A coffee is scheduled for the parents, but I can’t find a parking spot so I drop him off and say that I’ll be right there.  Seven minutes later, I’m inside the building.  Parents and kids mill around; some girls hug their moms goodbye.  I spot my boy mingling with friends outside of his classroom.  He gives me a look like “What the hell are you doing here?” and I am crushed.  I slowly retreat upstairs, each step wrenching me away from him.  By the time I get to the parents coffee I am obviously a mess.  People understand.  It’s a tough transition.

We’ve survived the first two weeks.  The worst parts for him were being teased about his lunch, ironically by his best friends who accused him of eating GMO strawberries (I assured him that I only buy organic) and not being invited to the birthday party of a kid that he’s not really friends with.  Good things happened, too, compliments about his art and musical ability from his new teachers.  He now signs his homework with his first and middle name only, his “artist” signature.  He has yet to settle in to his signature look, his version of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans.  It’s still too hot outside for the black hat and leather jacket.  Instead he is focused on his hair, experimenting with different ways to comb and gel it, suggesting that it might look cool with a white streak in it.  “Maybe I’ll get one, too!” I say.  “Not a grey streak, a white streak,” he says.  And I suddenly feel old and uncool, like the mother of an adolescent.

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Top Shelf Blogs

Laughingly Ever After

 

th-17

My 10-year-old son was born the year that Austin Powers’ Goldmember came out.  He hasn’t seen the movie.  It’s a little risque’ for a fifth grader, or at least that’s what I thought until we watched James Bond in Goldfinger during Family Movie Night.  A couple days later, my son made a joke about Goldfinger at the dinner table that could have been written by Mike Myers.  I’d tell you what the joke was, but then I’d have to kill you.  Suffice to say that it was immature and completely inappropriate.   Soon, my younger boy joined in, repeating the off-color joke over and over, as seven-year-olds are prone to do.  I admit, I started laughing.  “Okay, that’s enough,” their dad said in his serious grown-up voice.  But then, he, too, succumbed to their lowbrow humor.  Such is a typical Tuesday night dinner at our house.

When my husband AO and I first met, he was a young writer on a hit NBC sitcom and I was halfway through a graduate program in film producing at USC.  He took me to the bar of a five-star hotel in Beverly Hills, and it was pretty much love at first date.  It wasn’t just his blue eyes and sandy colored hair that won my heart, or the fact that he ordered a grownup drink and listened intently to what I had to say, all the while staring at me like I was Gisele Bundchen. It was his self-deprecating sense of humor.  Afterwards, we went back to his place and looked at pictures of his Bar Mitzvah before tearing each other’s clothes off.  As the women in Woody Allen’s life will attest, there’s no greater turn-on than funny.

Our second date was decidedly less sexy.  I ended up with a horrible stomachache from the rich food at cute Italian bistro near my apartment in Santa Monica.  Afterwards, we stopped at the drug store for some Alka-Seltzer.  He stayed with me all night, even though it was clear there would be no hanky-panky.  I don’t remember our third date because by then I was basically living with him.  Or, at least my cat was.  I maintained the façade of my own apartment while we built a life together that included scheduled TV watching, combined laundry and weekend escapes to romantic spots along the coast.

Occasionally we’d make an appearance at a group dinner or house party.  But our friends were, for the most part, unattached, and there’s nothing more nauseating to single people than two googly-eyed lovebirds just back from their sixth spa weekend in Napa.  I was fine to ditch his buddies and remain in our love cocoon.  He wasn’t so crazy about my friends from grad school, many of which had taken jobs at studios or production companies.  Though still low on the Hollywood food chain, they carried themselves with a certain arrogance that was really annoying.  There was lots of name dropping.  AO would privately joke about it, which reminded me not to take myself too seriously.

After five years of living in sin, he popped the question with a big sparkly ring on April Fool’s Day. (Both the diamond and the proposal were real).  We considered saying a quickie “I do” in Las Vegas, but I couldn’t ditch the fantasy of a traditional wedding.  Bringing together our blended families was no small feat.  The night before our big fat Catholic-Jewish-Canadian-African-American-Italian wedding, my mom and I were obsessing over the seating arrangements like network executives planning the fall TV schedule.  My beloved walked in, tossed off a few one-liners and had us rolling on the floor.  Things could go wrong (and they did), but as long as we maintained our sense of humor, we’d be okay.

Comedy writing turned out to be pretty lucrative, until the Writers Guild went on strike, the economy tanked, and then, nobody in Hollywood was laughing.   My husband had written hundreds of episodes of successful sitcoms, but it was his other talents — self-discipline, perseverance, and industry savvy – that kept us afloat.  It also helped that he’s Canadian.  From Martin Short to Mike Myers to Seth Rogen, there’s lots of funny in the Canadian DNA.  AO created a sitcom about three overly close brothers and the woman who comes between them guest starring Canadians Eugene Levy and Pamela Anderson.**

Fast forward seventeen years and two kids in private school from that first date.  Late night cocktails at five-star hotels don’t happen as often.  Getaways are less spontaneous and more kid-friendly.  Being part of the saggy boobs and receding hairline generation is not as cool as when we were in our twenties, burning up all that disposable cash on the latest celebrity-owned bad restaurant.  And yet… I’m still laughing.  That’s partly because I have an appreciation for what seven and 10-year-old boys think is funny.  But mostly it’s because I had the wisdom to pick a guy who helps me find the humor in life every day, no matter how dark and dismal it may appear to be.

 

**  Shameless promotion.  Check out PACKAGE DEAL, on Canada’s City TV premiering June 25 with Harland Williams, Jay Malone, Randal Edwards, Julia Voth, and guest starring Eugene Levy and Pamela Anderson at www.citytv.com/vancouver/shows/package-deal.  You’ll laugh your ass off.

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Top Shelf Blogs

The Cult of Aloha

th-13Ahhh, Hawaii.  The sweet unpolluted air, the azure ocean, the dramatic volcanic mountains.  What’s not to love about the string of Islands in the Pacific that combines unspoiled natural beauty, five-star resorts and American hospitals — just in case?  As the last vestiges of the harsh Los Angeles winter bears down upon us, it is the knowledge that we will soon be in Hawaii that keeps my family going, especially my husband, AO.  The ukuleles start playing in his head right after the New Year and get progressively louder until his need for macadamia-covered chocolates and Kona coffee has been sated.

As a boy growing up in the dreary suburbs of Toronto he fantasized about being Magnum, P.I.  When the detective dream didn’t pan out, he headed to the next best place with sunshine, palm trees and red Ferraris: Hollywood.  That was twenty years ago and, as people who live in Florida know, when you live there, it isn’t always a vacation.  It could be the constant drone of LA.P.D. choppers hovering overhead, in search of some dangerous criminal, or the traffic that causes such severe road rage that people periodically shoot each other over being cut off on the freeway.  Those things tend to make a place less vacation-like.

In spite of all this, or perhaps because of it, my husband still feels entitled to good weather.  When it rains in LA, he is personally offended.  Accepting the fact that it isn’t 75 degrees and sunny every single day has been tough for him.  The sight of people walking around Santa Monica in lightweight down jackets and boots just doesn’t gel with the Baywatch in his mind.  Several years ago he made a pledge: if our holidays were to be spent with my relatives in frigid Chicago and his in snowy Canada, then, dammit, one week a year we deserve a warm, sunny beachfront vacation.

First came Mexico.  Cheap, hot and just south of the border, it seemed like the perfect destination.  We had some magical moments in Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo.  And then in Cabo San Lucas, we accidentally locked our toddler son in a rental car.  He was fine, even before the ambulance arrived.  Although he was a little freaked out by the throng of townspeople, local news media, and, finally, the locksmith (“cerrajero” en Espanol, in case you ever need one) surrounding the vehicle.  The incident wasn’t Mexico’s fault.  But the article in the paper the next day about the “Gringos” who carelessly left their child in the car while they went shopping left a bad taste in my mouth.  How dare they be allowed to publish such lies?  I could not return to a place that practiced yellow journalism, no matter how good the margaritas are.

Enter Hawaii.  At first our attitude was, how different from Mexico could it be?, which is kind of like comparing blush wine from a box to Schramsberg Brut Rose’.  Hawaii is simply spectacular.  And, unlike Mexico with its police force corrupted by South American drug lords, it’s relatively safe.  Part of what makes Hawaii great is the landscape but there’s also an intangible X-factor– the “Aloha” spirit that is as intrinsic to the islands as The Beach Boys are to Southern California.  No wonder Oprah chose Maui to build her vacation compound.  Full disclosure, it does rain in Hawaii, especially on the Island of Kauai.  We’re partial to the tiny slice of beachfront known as “the desert of Maui”.  There’s a similar sliver of year-round sun on the Big Island.  When you have one week per year, you don’t want to spend it inside at the aquarium, no matter how cool the jellyfish exhibit is.

I always know when it’s time for our yearly pilgrimage because my husband begins talking about it incessantly.  Anything can trigger a Hawaii reference.  When the puking stage of my little boy’s flu had passed and he moved on to the hacking cough and raw sore throat phase, my husband whispered, “At least he got it over with before Hawaii”.  Then he tried to cheer the little guy up by painting a picture of the beach, the ocean and the big mountain near our hotel.  He may have carried it a bit far; the next night we were all awoken with screams from a nightmare about a volcano that erupted and covered Mommy in hot molten lava.

I think I’m safe.  Part of what makes it a vacation is not venturing too far from our lounge chairs.  Even though I don’t talk about it as much as my husband, I’m looking forward to our return to paradise.  We’ve added a bonus stop in Oahu this year – with a visit to Pearl Harbor for me and a tour of the Magnum, P.I. locations for my hubby  (www.Magnum-Mania if you must know the exact location of Robin’s Nest).   Our flight leaves early, and he has already warned us that we must be packed a week ahead of time to avoid any last-minute delays.  The night before we leave, we’ll watch Aloha, Scooby Doo to get everyone “in the mood”.   The fantasy will be complete with a luau at the hotel where they film Hawaii Five-O.  We’re already playing the theme song.

1 Comment

Filed under Top Shelf Blogs

Make pie. Be kind.

Peggy Sue Got Married isn’t exactly a work of cinematic genius, but there’s a scene in that movie that always gets to me, no matter how many times I watch it. In the film, Peggy Sue (played by Kathleen Turner) is magically transported 25 years back in time to relive one pivotal week of her life in high school. When Turner first arrives in the past, she picks up the phone to find her grandmother on the line. “Grandma, is that you?” she says. In reality, her grandmother has been dead for many years. But thanks to movie magic, she gets to hear her grandmother’s voice again. She’s so overcome by emotion that she can’t even speak.

My own grandmother was someone I could call any time of day or night to share good news, tell a joke, or talk me through a crisis. I didn’t have to edit myself around her. She was always supportive and never judgmental. Grandma Margaret and I could talk politics and religion with the same ease that we discussed pie ingredients. We had a short-hand: “How much cinnamon?” I’d blurt. “Two tablespoons,” she’d say. “Let me know how it turns out.” Over the years, there were more urgent calls than I’d like to admit, often right before guests were about to walk through the door. Grandma’s calm reassurance averted countless culinary (and emotional) disasters.

The last time I saw Grandma was on her 90th birthday. We had signed her out of the nursing home and brought her to an Italian restaurant for veal scaloppini and a glass of scotch. “I can’t believe I’m 84 years old,” she kept saying. The first few times we corrected her. After that we just smiled. Then my mom, stepdad, cousin and I sang happy birthday and shared white cake that I had decorated with a crown of Hershey’s kisses, her favorite candy. It was an intimate gathering for such a big milestone but Grandma didn’t seem to care. Was she aware of the bigger party that we weren’t invited to? If so, she didn’t let on. This was Grandma’s special day, even if she was a little confused about how old she was turning.

After I said goodbye and took off for the long journey back to Los Angeles, I couldn’t help but feel a little melancholy about the sweet old lady with gray hair and brightly colored clothes that I had left behind. Who was she, and was the Grandma Margaret that I knew so well inside there somewhere? What happened to the woman who kept her hair brown with weekly visits to the salon, who always dressed in understated, neutral tones, the one who ran her own successful market research firm and still found time to make dinner every night? As the oldest grandchild, born when she was just 46 years old, I had the privilege of knowing Mary Margaret Rose in her prime. I watched as she conducted surveys from her dining room table. I met the other women who worked for her, who relied on my grandmother for both a paycheck and a shoulder to lean on. I saw how she helped elderly relatives who were sick or alone, how she selflessly cared for others as a member of her church and by volunteering for numerous charities. Eventually my grandmother was named Woman of the Year for her extensive charity work, but to me, she was that woman every year.

Her three children – my mother, uncle, and aunt – were 24, 20, and 10 when I was born. At times I felt like the fourth kid I spent so much time with her. Indeed for eleven years, I was the only grandchild and I basked in the special attention showered on me. She was there for all of the high notes and the low notes, too. At age eight when I needed surgery to remove an abscess in my lymph node Grandma was the one who flew to Chicago and slept on a cot in my hospital room. She would have flown to Zimbabwe for me. Nothing was ever too much for the people she loved.

She loved Joe Rose, first and foremost. Her passion for the Italian Catholic boy transcended the disapproval of her Irish and German Protestant family. She had eloped with him in 1940 and the two stayed happily married for 67 years. Nothing – not his overbearing Italian aunts, a four-year separation during WWII, financial struggles or health crises – would rattle their devotion. “I’m crazy about him,” she would say. From that crazy love came three very different kids, spread out over 14 years. Grandma wasn’t the same mother at 35 than she had been at 21, but she always tried to be fair. She gave equally to each kid at Christmas and never forgot a birthday. Every year, without fail, I opened my mailbox to find a birthday card addressed to #1. I looked forward to the boxes wrapped in plain brown paper, knowing that holiday themed cookies were inside.

The boxes stopped coming some time after Pop Pop passed away. I understood. She was too heartbroken to be bothered with cookies or cards. My grandparents had been madly in love, the ultimate team. For her, the loneliness must have been crushing. When it became clear that she couldn’t live alone, my aunt and uncle moved her into a nursing home, first in a private room with her own furniture and eventually in a shared room, separated from her roommate by a thin curtain. It was ironic that Grandma ended up in a place like that. She hated the very idea of nursing homes, so much so that she cared for both of my great-grandparents in her own house until they died. For all of her volunteerism, she truly believed that charity begins at home. When I spoke to her on the phone she reassured me that “this is the best place for me,” although I was never convinced. Even with her memory lapses, caused by dementia or the many strokes that had deprived her brain of oxygen, I couldn’t help feeling that she deserved better.

When I showed up at her funeral in July, nearly two years had passed since the last time I saw my grandmother in person. Given the three time zones and five-hour flight between my home in L.A. and hers in Canton, Ohio that may not seem like a big deal. It was to me. Distance was not the thing that had kept me away. Well into my forties with two kids of my own, I made a point of visiting my grandparents at least twice each year. The two year hiatus, I’m ashamed to say, was about self-preservation. The pain of knowing that my grandmother was slowly slipping away was made unbearable by the fact that the other members of my family – aunts, uncles and cousins — were already gone. Armed with slights both real and imagined, my favorite aunt had spearheaded the movement to blacklist my mother from the family and, by association, me.

The general mood among the mourners was almost jovial as they dabbed their eyes and said things like, “Grandma’s up there (in Heaven) baking pies and taking surveys now.” I stood alone in my grief, crying buckets throughout the wake and funeral. I wished that I could buy the version of the story that every one else seemed to believe, that after four years in limbo, Grandma was finally at peace, reunited with the love of her life. But I couldn’t help but think, you’ve got it all wrong. This isn’t the way she would have wanted us to turn out — a broken family, who no longer speak to one another with the exception of a few disparaging remarks, who de-friend each other on Facebook and hold yearly reunions excluding the others.

Grandma’s inability to hold a grudge, her open heart, her generosity of spirit were sorely needed that day. She never had an unkind word to say about anyone. “You’re grandmother’s a saint,” Pop Pop would say. He was right. She always took the high road. I tried to do the same by saying a civil goodbye to the aunt who had rebuffed me, and had my heart broken once more. Sometimes people don’t meet you halfway. Sometimes, despite a lifetime of shared memories, letting go is the only option. It wasn’t exactly the ending that Grandma would have liked. But each person is on her own evolutionary path; the only one you can control is your own. And so I will begin this next step by saying thank you, Grandma Margaret, for the millions of gifts that you gave to me. I will honor you by trying to emulate a woman who loved her husband with abandon, who put family above all else, a beautiful soul who made everyone’s life better by being in it, especially mine.

3 Comments

Filed under Top Shelf Blogs

Christmas in Canton

I don’t remember the Christmas of 1966; I was only six weeks old.  But I’ve heard the story of the blizzard that attacked Chicago as we were about to hit the road in our Volkswagen Beatle.  And how my mom handed me off to her brother, a 20-year-old college student who had never changed a diaper, just as he was boarding a flight for Canton, Ohio.  When my grandparents met Uncle David at the gate, it had been months since they’d seen their son.  But all they were interested in was the little pink bundle in his arms.  They took that bundle and kept it safe until my parents emerged from the VW in the wee hours, half-frozen from driving all night with a busted heater.

In a way, my grandparents kept me safe for the 41 Christmases that followed for no matter where I was in my life, everything was always okay at their house in Canton.  Their brown and white Tudor on 21st Street was a flipbook of happy holiday memories from the Christmas Eve birthday parties for Aunt Monica, just eleven years older than me, to the obscene gift exchange the next morning.  Each year on the 24th, friends and family would gather in the “finished” side of my grandparents’ basement to socialize, listen to records on the 1942 Wurlitzer, and eat.  Grandma put out stuffed celery, mixed nuts and pizzelles, anise flavored waffle cookies that she painstakingly made, two at a time, on a waffle iron stamped with the Rose family name.  Pop Pop stood behind the bar mixing Manhattans and telling dirty jokes to his buddy George Grywalski and a cast of supporting characters like the Lung brothers, and our vertically challenged cousin, Donnie Bell, who had shared a bed with my grandfather and Uncle Tony when they were poor Italian kids on the other side of town.  I, the precocious only grandchild from Chicago, was a featured attraction, regaling guests with stories of my travels around the country to hear my mom sing.

When I tired of the fawning and cheek pinching in the basement, I’d climb up the creaky stairs to ogle the mountain of gifts in the living room, many of which were for me.  Once when I was four years old, Santa made a surprise visit to the party.  As I leaned into his plump belly and told him what I wanted for Christmas, I had no idea he was really Pop Pop.  Then my dad, playing along with a Method actor’s conviction, yelled from the back porch to come quickly because Santa was leaving.  I ran out into the chilly night and looked up past the brick chimney to the sky where Daddy was pointing.   “Did you see it?  Did you see it?” he cried.  To this day, I will swear under oath that I saw the reindeer-driven sleigh getting smaller and smaller as it flew into the night.

By morning, a few special unwrapped gifts had appeared under the tree, lifelike baby dolls or a giant Barbie head with waxy yellow hair you could style – evidence that Santa Claus had come.  It took a while to distribute and open the other gifts, which always frustrated Pop Pop.  He sat there, stone-faced with a big plastic trash bag, collecting torn paper and ribbon as soon as it hit the floor.  Then he’d say something like, “There are people starving in Africa,” to make us feel sufficiently guilty about our excesses.  After a breakfast prepared by Grandma, I’d spend the rest of the day playing with my new toys and goofing around with Aunt Monica and Uncle David, who would take me down to the basement, turn off all the lights, and scare the bejesus out of me.  After eliciting a few blood-curdling screams, they’d bring me back upstairs until I pleaded, “Let’s go back down and do it again.”

By age eleven, I was done with Santa and no longer played with dolls but had something much better, a real live baby cousin.  I adored him.  As the only child of now divorced parents, the extended family that filled my grandparents’ house at Christmas became even more important.  I didn’t care that certain classmates spent winter break in the Caribbean or Mexico; I had Canton.  The affection with which I talked about the small town in Ohio made my friends wish they were spending Christmas there, too.  The constancy of our traditions filled me with joy.  I looked forward to Grandma’s pizzelles, my Great-Great Aunt Mary’s applesauce, the stockings filled with candy and gum and a check from my grandparents – always to be opened last.  More exciting than the check was the tin foil ball of dried apricots at the very bottom.  Apricots were gold in our family.

Little by little, things in Canton started to change.  Grandma installed wall-to-wall red shag carpet that made the house look like Christmas all year round.  The basement party got raucous with the addition of Monica ’s boyfriend and his twentysomething friends.  Great-Grandma Jessie passed away and Aunt Mary took over hosting Christmas night at her farm in Paris, Ohio.  I became a teenager.  My mom had a serious boyfriend, a fun German hotelier with a daughter my age.  When they married, she agreed to relocate from Chicago to northern Virginia but one thing was non-negotiable: Christmas in Canton.  And so my stepfather was welcomed into the fold.  And my stepsister.  And an Indian Sikh named Puri who worked for my stepdad.  They all celebrated Christmas in Canton, Ohio with us.  Even if we arrived past midnight, my Pop Pop and Grandma would be waiting up with a table full of food.

Then, in 1985, my grandparents decided to move.  They were in their sixties and didn’t want so much house to take care of.  I was a college student, a legal adult, but felt like a little girl.  All of my happy Christmas memories had taken place within the walls of that house.  When everything else around me was spinning out of control, it was my touchstone.  I was determined to hate their new place.  It was so… new.  But what the townhouse on Brookview lacked in charm, it made up for in convenience.  There was more space for visiting family.  The basement was fully finished, with a living room, bedroom and bath.  Soon, we began carving out new traditions.  Aunt Monica, married with two kids, took over hosting Christmas night with a party in her own basement.  When my Jewish Canadian boyfriend, AO, joined us for the first time, we sat around the table singing Christmas carols in order to live up to his ideal of an American Christmas on shows like “Happy Days”.  The following year, we upped the ante with a costumed singing contest.  AO and I performed as both Sonny and Cher and Ike and Tina Turner but it was my grandparents who stole the show pretending to be two drunks, singing “Show me the way to go home.”

As it turned out, it was the people, not the house that made Christmas.  No matter how late we arrived, Pop Pop and Grandma greeted us in the kitchen with homemade pizza, ham loaf and Chex mix.  They still had the pizzelles, and the apricots wrapped in tin foil at the bottom of our stockings.  They still had the magic.  AO and I celebrated both of our kids’ first Christmases in Canton.  We traveled from Los Angeles with an infant and toddler on two flights, across three time zones, and in treacherous snow storms.  He lugged the suitcases and huge car seats while I breastfed with dark circles under my eyes.  It was brutal.  Sentimentality trumped common sense because my husband, God bless him, knew how much it meant to me.  There could be no Christmas without Canton.  But, eventually, of course, there was.  The thing about getting older is, everybody else does, too.  Pop Pop passed away two months after turning 90 and Grandma went into a nursing home a year later.  I was fortunate enough to spend 41 Christmases with them.

My boys, now seven and ten, will grow up remembering Christmas in Chicago at a condo overlooking Lake Michigan and the Lincoln Park Zoo.  My mom, a professional event planner and former entertainer, does everything big.  Her tree is the most beautiful, her table the most luxurious.  And she’s a supreme gift giver.  According to my kids, Nanny Mary Ann owns the zoo, knows Santa personally and can make it snow.  My stepfather is a former chef, hotel executive and all-around creative genius.  He can whip up crab cakes with cucumber salad, paper-thin crepes and flambéed Cherries Jubilee without breaking a sweat.  Their holiday open house with waiters passing drinks on silver trays is a thousand light years from Pop Pop and Grandma’s annual party in the half-finished basement.  But my boys believe their grandparents are magical, which is as it should be.

Pop Pop and Grandma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Top Shelf Blogs

Dark Thoughts and Disaster Scenarios

I reside in Los Angeles, which, even in the winter, is one of the sunniest spots on earth.  But no matter how bright it is outside, it’s always dark inside my head.  And not just a little dark – we’re talking black skies with pounding rain, hail and lightning.  All inside my not-so-little noggin.  I’ll give you an example.  While visiting Vancouver, B.C. with my children recently, somebody suggested a day trip to Victoria Island.  It’s supposed to be a quaint, romantic locale, a perfect weekend getaway.  And the best part: it’s only an hour and a half by ferry.  Immediately, the images in my mind of cobblestone streets lined with charming cafes and pricey boutiques are replaced with a shot of the capsized ferry.  As the other passengers go down with the sinking vessel, I cut through the icy black waters of the Pacific with a ten and seven-year-old clinging to my back.  Eventually I’m pulled under by the weight of the children.  We all die of hypothermia.

Vancouver has lately been the trigger of many imagined disasters.  This week while visiting the suburban studio where my husband, AO, is producing a TV show, Seven and Ten went missing.  While AO and several crew members searched the massive soundstage, I went outside with the set decorator and looked for them.  Standing in the chilly darkness, I felt my fears taking over.  As I crept along the exterior wall of the converted office park I fully expected to find one of my children strangled or stabbed to death.  That special expat Thanksgiving dinner we had planned the next evening?  It would never be enjoyed.  We’d go through Christmases and graduations and the rest of our lives bereft.  If only I had kept better control of the boys…  FYI, the dark fantasy didn’t play out.  The kids are okay.  They shrugged when we found them on set forty minutes later, too transfixed by showbiz to care about the worry they had caused.

My own childhood was fertile ground for dark imaginings.  Being left alone in parked cars and hotel rooms, coming home to find that burglars had raided my piggy bank – these incidents allowed my worst fears to take root.  What’s strange is that over the past five years, my phobias have gotten worse, especially when it comes to enclosed spaces.  My train of thought in an elevator goes like this: I walk in and survey the people inside.  Are they friendly?  I sure hope so because we may have to spend the next few hours together.  Then I analyze the emergency panel.  Is there a phone or just a call button?  And how long will it take for help to arrive once the elevator breaks down?  A busy building in the middle of the week with a responsible doorman is a good bet.  A poorly attended building on a weekend is a recipe for disaster, which is exactly the situation I found myself in while visiting Vancouver in October.

I was stuck in the elevator of my husband’s apartment building by myself on a Sunday afternoon.  Electronic key fobs are necessary to access every part of this modern high-rise.  You cannot get to your floor or even out the door into the parking garage without scanning your key.  For some reason, the moment I got into the elevator and the doors closed, everything electric shut down.  I pushed the weak sounding alarm button and screamed “help”.  Nothing happened.  Eventually the doors opened on their own.  But by the time I had walked the twenty flights down to the lobby I was in full panic mode – crying, hyperventilating and dripping with sweat.  The doorman claimed that he didn’t hear any alarm.  He was actually rude and refused to help me access the parking garage via the stairs (because there was no way in hell I was getting back in that elevator) until my husband called and ordered him to do so.  For weeks afterwards, I tried to figure out the meaning behind the incident.  Should I feel strong for having survived one of my greatest fears, or guilty for somehow making it happen?  I can see Oprah and Wayne Dyer and Deepak Chopra wagging their fingers at me for forgetting the most basic of New Age tenets: your thoughts create your reality.

I’m envious of people who walk through life without a care in the world.  My younger son, Seven, is like that.  He literally skips through his day.  My older boy, Ten, is more like me – cautious and intense.  My husband has a healthy optimism about life.  He worries about stuff – money, health, losing his hair – but he’s basically a “blue sky” kind of guy.  AO has been the victim of a mugging at knifepoint, temporarily paralyzed from a crash that totaled his car, and lived through the 1994 Northridge earthquake.  And yet, he is able to find the humor in it all.  That’s probably the thing I find most attractive about him.  If you asked him what he’s thinking about at any given moment, he’ll say Hawaii – and not the tsunami that I’m always worried about.  He literally hears the ukuleles playing in his head.  When we’re together standing very, very close, I can almost hear them too.

1 Comment

Filed under Top Shelf Blogs

Lizzie Returns

It’s obvious who is going to have “the talk” with my two boys when the time comes, and it’s definitely not my husband.  He’s polite, mild-mannered, and, frankly, too squeamish to discuss anything that involves body parts.  You wouldn’t catch him, beer in hand, blurting out “Look at the rack on that chick” during a half-time show.  He’s far too classy for that.  I’m a little less classy.  I sometimes shout at the screen.  I don’t shout “Look at the package on that one,” but it may cross my mind.  Or, rather, it crosses Lizzie’s mind.  Lizzie is my unfiltered, un-PC, unabashed alter ego.

Lately I’ve noticed that Lizzie likes to show up in the car while I’m driving.  It must be all of those thoughts rattling around inside my head while sitting in horrible L.A. traffic.  A few weeks ago she paid me a visit on the drive home from school just as my older son had begun a Social Studies unit on the Presidential election.  My boys (call them Seven and Ten, because that’s how old they are) know that I’m a Democrat.  They also know that I’m not terribly fond of the Republican candidate.  I don’t like to say his name too much because I feel like it gives him power.  Kind of like the villain from Harry Potter, the one who shall not be named.

“Mommy, why do you hate Mitt Romney so much?” Seven says.

“I don’t hate him, it’s just…”

“He’s an asshole?” Ten says.

“No,” I say.  “And don’t use that word.”

“Are his kids assholes?” Seven says.

Lizzie smiles.  She finds the kids’ honesty refreshing.  But I’m worried we’re getting way off track.  This is an important conversation.  I need to explain my political perspective while we’re still in the car, while I have their undivided attention.  If only Seven and Ten were old enough to digest that Rolling Stone article on Bain Capital, they would understand.  But economics are too complicated.  So I decide to start with something simpler… like abortion.  Lizzie thinks this is an excellent idea.  An abortion is a medical procedure where a doctor takes away the seed that could turn into a baby when someone isn’t ready to become a parent.  Simple.  Factual.  Honest.  Lizzie gives me two thumbs up.

“But I want a baby,” Seven says.

“Of course you do.  But what if you’re too young to have a baby?  A teenager shouldn’t be a parent,” I say.  For example, “What if you were in high school and you got your girlfriend pregnant?”

“How would I do that?” Seven says innocently.

“Mommy!  If you tell him I’m going to kill you,” Ten says, slamming his feet into the back of my car seat.  Then, turning to his brother, “You’ll find out when you’re in fourth grade,” he says, putting an end to the conversation.

In my urgency to explain why the government has no business in my uterus, I had forgotten that the school gives “the talk” to fourth graders during health class.  So I’m off the hook.  If the boys need me to fill in any details, I can always hand them “Mommy Laid An Egg,” a great book about the birds and bees with fun cartoon illustrations by Babette Cole.  It makes a great bedtime story, especially when read by my visiting mother-in-law.  But something is still bothering me.   Other things are going to come up.  We don’t live in a bubble.  Even with supervision, the kids are exposed to all kinds of things on the Internet – like a naked Prince Harry covering his private parts during a game of strip poker in Las Vegas.  These things will have to be explained.  Fortunately, Lizzie is always there when I need her.

1 Comment

Filed under Top Shelf Blogs

Heeeeeere’s Lizzie

Calm, centered, diplomatic, sane — these are the things that I endeavor to be.  Having made my share of mistakes in the previous three decades, and with my mild-mannered Canadian husband as a role model, I try to act reasonably.  I really do.  But every once in a while, something gets stuck in my craw.  And that’s when Lizzie shows up.  Lizzie is my outrageously truthful, but not so politically correct, alter-ego.  She’s intense, passionate, and, brutally honest.  When confronted, Lizzie does not take the high road.  She tends to come out swinging.  Case in point:  The time in fifth grade when a girl called my mother a hooker.  As I have mentioned, my mother was a nightclub singer who had the tendency to dress a little sexier than the other moms.  By Kardashian standards, her wardrobe was practically nun-like.  Back then, however, her tight sweaters and gabardine slacks evoked lascivious stares from the dads at school and eye rolls from their less curvaceous wives.  My mom was a hottie.  But a prostitute?  Hardly.  I looked at the girl and said, “Excuse me?  Could you repeat that please?”  The girl repeated, your mom is a hooker.  Lizzie socked her in the face.

The first one to identify Lizzie was my fourth grade teacher at Francis W. Parker, the progressive private school I attended in Chicago.  This was the kind of place where teachers handed out lengthy psych reports in lieu of grades.  And I was ripe for analysis from the would-be Sigmund Freuds who taught there.  According to Mrs. Bailey, there were two Lauries.  Laurie #1 was a hard-working, creative, happy kid.  Laurie #2 (her name for Lizzie) was a little angry.  And a little rebellious.  She did not always follow the rules or play well with others, especially when she saw an injustice being done.  This made me somewhat of a social pariah in grade school, although I always managed to find one best friend who was equally unpopular.  Misery loves company.  I was happier in middle school.  Hormones were making even the most bland, vanilla girls say and do crazy things.  By comparison, Lizzie didn’t seem quite so outrageous.  In seventh grade I bonded with BR, a popular girl who took her A-list status with a grain of salt.  BR got a kick out of my outspoken evil twin, and we’re still tight to this day.  My closest friends are the ones who appreciate the bullshit-free relationship they have with Lizzie.

When my mom got remarried, we moved to Virginia where I attended Madeira, a traditional all-girls’ boarding school.  I was truly a fish out of water there, a liberal city girl from Chicago in a sea of Ronald Reagan conservatives.  I’ll never forget one classmate, a Southern belle from Georgia, trying to explain to me the difference between Northern and Southern blacks and how “your blacks are practically like white people”.  It was one of the few times Lizzie has been speechless.  I knew that if I was going to survive at Madeira, I had to find ways to channel Lizzie’s rage.  Debate forced Lizzie to organize her thoughts, and gave her legitimate grounds for an argument.  Theater, especially the meaty character roles, allowed her to completely step out of herself.  I tried diluting Lizzie with alcohol and drugs, but that didn’t always work.  An intense person on controlled substances doesn’t become easygoing; she’s just intensely wasted.

The healthiest outlet for Lizzie is writing.  Her rants always seem less crazy when filtered through my typing fingers onto the page.  Translating her emotions into coherent sentences is like the first stage that waste goes through at the water treatment plant before it becomes drinkable.  Lizzie’s message becomes less toxic simply by the act of writing it down.  To be fair, Lizzie isn’t all pit bull.  She’s got some golden retriever in there, too.  She is warm and fun and loyal to a fault.  She’s sentimental and loves a good cuddle.  But when someone disappoints her, watch out.  A tsunami of hurt, anger, and pain rises up that’s so powerful it could wipe out entire cities.  I’ve learned to stem the tide with yoga, acupuncture, therapy and the occasional stiff vodka.  Living in Southern California helps.  And, of course, writing.  Funny, vitriolic, sad, outrageous words on a page.  That’s the best way to keep Lizzie safe where she belongs.

 

 

5 Comments

Filed under Top Shelf Blogs

When Liza Met Bill

Whatever you want to say about Bill Clinton, he gives good speech.  The morning after listening to his endorsement of President Obama at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, I was still giddy with excitement.  Other women in my circle seconded that emotion.  “I could have listened to him for hours,” gushed one friend. “I mean he could just go on and on and on,” said another, making Clinton’s speech sound almost… orgasmic.  It reminded me of how inspired I was when I first became acquainted with Bill Clinton the candidate.

In December of 1990 I began a career in broadcast journalism at the NBC News Channel, the network affiliate feed service based in — of all places — Charlotte, North Carolina.  The “news chunk” as we affectionately called it, was NBC’s answer to CNN.  We brought in stories from around the world via satellite, re-packaged them, and aired them on our national overnight newscast, Nightside.  We even hired a Latin hunk to deliver the news.  The culture at the News Channel was, for the most part, young and un-jaded.  North Carolina was a right-to-work state (meaning no unions) so the pay was low.  For many of us, it was our first job out of college.  The few grizzled veterans who ran the place called us the “News Children”.  I cut my teeth on writing and editing stories about The Gulf War, the rape trial of William Kennedy Smith and the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (Remember Anita Hill, pubic hairs on Coke cans and “Long Dong Silver”?)  I learned that it’s impossible to be objective while watching my city burn during the Los Angeles race riots.

Two years later, at the ripe age of 26, I was one of the more senior Associate Producers at the News Channel.  I was promoted to running the overnight newscasts “live” from the booth, which meant coming to work at 10pm and drinking Bloody Mary’s to fall asleep each morning.  I watched the debates between President George H.W. Bush and the young Governor of Arkansas.  There was no doubt that Bill Clinton’s warm, folksy personality was winning over Bush’s stern humorless approach.  The TV loved Clinton and so, apparently, did the voting public.  When results came in over the AP wires that Clinton had won, I could barely contain my excitement.  Best of all, The News Channel was sending a group of producers, reporters, editors and satellite truck drivers to his Inauguration in January.  I scheduled a meeting with my boss and asked to be among them.  I was clearly qualified, and it was my turn at bat.  I had never requested an assignment before and didn’t try to hide the fact that this meant a lot to me.  She gave me her poker face and said she would think about it.  Then she sent a younger, less experienced (and higher paid) male to Washington instead.

I always sensed that my two immediate superiors, both women from the South, didn’t like me.  I was too much of a Yankee, and not enough an ass kisser.  Now I had concrete proof, but what could I do?  I couldn’t stand on the sidelines and watch a pivotal moment in history from my television set.  This was the first Democratic President to take office since I was in middle school.  So I did the only thing in my power – I called in sick and booked a train ticket to Washington, D.C.  I even used a made-up name, Liza Redd, in case anyone found the ticket stub.  Thanks to relatives in town with the Ohio delegation, Liza had a bed to sleep in, free dinners and copious amounts of booze every night.  When the big day came, she went to the Inauguration, not as a journalist but as a regular citizen.  And she listened outside on that cold January morning as Bill Clinton spoke of “pushing the spring”.  It made her think about how she had gotten there and what was really important to her.  For the past three years she had been imprisoned in a job that, while intellectually stimulating, gave her little joy.  She hated Charlotte.  Her social life sucked.  Most importantly, the creativity that once fed her soul was all but dead.  She vowed to take those words to heart from that moment forward.

I didn’t feel one ounce of guilt when I ran into my co-workers at the same hotel where my family was staying in D.C.  I took it as a sign.  They promised not to rat me out, but I knew that they would.  Back in Charlotte, I got a talking to from my boss about calling in sick before a weekend.  I considered telling her it was my evil twin, Liza, but instead responded with an empty apology and quit three weeks later.  By July of 1994 I would be in film school back in L.A., having narrowly escaped the Northridge Earthquake but in plenty of time for O.J. Simpson’s murder trial.   As I sat in my Santa Monica apartment listening to the report of O.J.’s acquittal, fearing for my safety in the event of a riot, I had zero regrets about leaving Charlotte.

Bill Clinton will always be my president.  No, I haven’t forgotten about Gennifer Flowers or Ms. Lewinsky, or the ridiculous Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, or the fact that universal health care was actually Hillary’s idea, before the Republicans quashed it.  It’s just that, whatever he did or did not do, President Clinton inspired me during a critical time in my life.  That pot smoking (but not inhaling)-saxophone playing-Walt Whitman loving-Fleetwood Mac grooving-Big Mac pounding-country boy-Rhodes Scholar will always represent hope for me.  After listening to Clinton’s speech last week in Charlotte I was reminded that, even now, especially now, I must keep pushing the spring.  I must use my God given talents to make the world a better place.  Oh, yeah, and I must vote for Obama.

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Top Shelf Blogs

Putting My Money Where My Heart Is

Turning down pleas from charities asking for money is easier in lean times.  You don’t refinance your mortgage to give thousands of dollars to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.  Saying no to volunteering, however, is much harder for me.  This year at my kids’ school alone, I was a room parent, art coordinator for the fall fundraiser, field trip driver, and co-chair of the spring social.  When another mom asked what my plans were for the summer, I joked that I was checking myself into rehab for over-volunteerism.  My husband is not amused.  If I weren’t so busy not getting paid, imagine how much writing I could do!

One of my favorite volunteer jobs combines my two loves – writing and connecting with people.  For the past decade I have been a Class Secretary for the all-girls’ boarding school in Virginia that I attended.  The job involves collecting the latest news from my former classmates and combining it into one article for the school publication twice yearly.  I enjoy hearing about their lives and observing how the collective voice of our class has aged through the years.  When my kids were little, it gave me an excuse to write on deadline.  It was my blog before there were blogs.  The alumnae office only tried to censor me once; not everyone gets my sense of humor, apparently.  I do not give the school any money.  I assume they appreciate my gift of time.

That’s why I got a little miffed when I received an email with a donation request from the alumnae relations office.  It wasn’t that they asked for money, it’s the way that they asked.  “As a Class Secretary, we always encourage our volunteers to make a gift to the Annual Fund.”  Anyone who went to this elite school, even someone who got a B in English like I did, can see that the introductory phrase does not agree with the subject of the sentence.  Now, this might seem a tad nit-picky.  My Italian grandfather, who had a habit of using double negatives and ending sentences with prepositions, was one of my favorite people.  I never, ever corrected his English.  But then, again, he never asked me for money.  I consider sending off a snarky email to alumnae relations.  What are they going to do, fire me?  Once I have calmed down I decide that the request was penned by some poor underpaid twenty-something just trying to hold on to her job.

Something is still bugging me, though, and I finally figure out what it is: I am being asked to endorse something I do not believe in.  I don’t care what the statistics say about all-girls’ schools — that they give young women more self-confidence to speak up in class and excel at math.  My own experience belies that.  I never had trouble speaking up (big shocker) and I still suck at math.  When I finally encountered males again in college, they were the only thing I could think about.  Forget all of the incredible extra-curriculars Northwestern University had to offer.  I was too busy with my anthropological studies on Fraternity Row.  Fellow Class of ’85ers have confessed to me that they felt imprisoned at our elite prep school and became “sexual predators” once they got to college.  Our school prepared us well academically, but failed us in every way for the social and emotional aspects of becoming women.

My former school has a huge endowment.  That place has been churning out well-read, ambitious, socially inept girls since 1906 and will continue to do so until long after I’m pushing up daisies (my grandfather’s expression).  Conversely, the school my children attend in Southern California is only forty years old, and still trying to build its financial base.  Their school places the same emphasis on life skills — cooperation, flexibility, integrity, common sense, and, yes, sense of humor — as it does on academic achievement.  My kids can’t wait to go to school each day.  I love what the school stands for, which includes, but is not limited to, the grammatically correct use of English.  And that is why they’re getting all of my money.

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Top Shelf Blogs