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Smile, And Keep At It

Friday, December 30th, 2011

New Years Eve Eve Word Cloud

It may just be me, but I find myself oddly fascinated and thoroughly entertained by some of the spam I get on this blog – daily.  To date, my spam filter has trapped 8,655 of these little ditties.  I’m not sure how they get generated, if its by people or a some kind of computer generated language.  When I first started reading them I thought, “they like me, they really like me,” but then the fog of glory lifted and I noticed that none of the complimentary comments ever actually referenced anything I had said in my post.  While they’re flattering, they’re totally non specific.

Perhaps you’ll find this sampling of spam comments I receive as odd and amusing as I do:

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Crazy stuff.  What a weird world we live in!

As the 2011 comes to an end, I want to wish all of my friends a big Happy! New! Year!!!

Enjoy your week—as will I, and I’ll post again next Friday.


Tonga For Christmas

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

Tonga For Christmas 

A Short Fiction

So this is how I ended up in Tonga last year for Christmas.

You see, I was married to this guy for like five years, Charlie.  Charlie was all right but it wasn’t like I was in love with him or anything.  I’m mean it’s not like he was the love of my life, not that I’d know what that is.  I’ve never had a love of my life, I don’t think.  Either that, or love is way over-hyped, making me expect something that just doesn’t exist.  How can it be that some people feel all that birds singin’ stuff, fly me to the moon, rock my world, really?

It’s true that Charlie knocked me off my feet when we first met, but I don’t think what happened is what they’re talkin’ about when it comes to love.  I was out front watering my lawn one day, standing on the sidewalk since I didn’t want to get my shoes all wet.  My neighbor on the corner keeps his hedges real high so that he doesn’t have to look out to the street or sidewalk, since he hates everybody.  Because of the leafy green ramparts, it wasn’t until the last minute that I caught from the corner of my eye a flash of movement coming my way.  I’m 5’1” and weigh 105 lbs.  The rapidly approaching mass was over a foot taller and easily twice as heavy.  It was almost as if he was pushing a wall of air, tsunami like, to where I felt him bearing down on me before I actually saw him.

Snapped from the mind-wandering task of watering the yard, deer in the headlights, I looked up and froze.  Heading straight for me were a glistening, sweat-soaked jogger and his panting, black Labrador.  There was a chain leash, a metal umbilical cord, connecting beast to owner that threatened to scythe me in two.  Intent on holding his stride, at the last possible second, the owner jerked the chain and the dog veered around me, almost.  Its paws were the size of horse’s hooves, and damned if that four-legged, black devil didn’t glance against my knees and send me for a loop.  With no time to consider how I might break the fall, my face found the pavement first.  Boom, I hit with such force I thought I had broken my jaw. 

Charlie never would have even turned around except that while I was flying through the air my hose got out of control and doused him real good up and down his back with water.  He was shouting a profanity when he did a 180 and finally caught sight of me splayed out on the ground.  I reached up to my chin and felt warm blood pumping through my fingers, but it was the crunch of my glasses under Charlie’s Shaquille O’Neal feet that really killed me.  I’m blind without my glasses.  I didn’t have to be Dr. Miranda Bailey to know I was going to need a doctor, stitches, pain pills and antibiotics as quickly as possible.  I needed to get to a hospital, but if I couldn’t see, I couldn’t drive. 

“Oh man!  Are you alright?”   

“Ah, I don’t think so,” I mumbled, not wanting to move my jaw, but also trying to turn my head away from the dog that was eager to lap at me and my bloodied face.  I needed to gather my thoughts, which seemed to be cast across the grass like the thousand droplets of water shimmering in the sunlight.  What was I going to do?  Before I could sit up, I asked him if he’d turn off the water faucet; a puddle was forming around me, and my clothes were getting soaked through.  When he came back, I looked up at him, and from the ground, he was gigantic.  “I need a doctor.  I can’t see now that my glasses are crushed.”

Only then did he notice the wrecked lenses and smashed frame.

“Oh man!  Did I do that?”

“I need to get to the hospital.  Can you drive me?” I said, feeling faint.

“Ah, sure.  But it’s gonna take me a while to get my car.  I live over near Serena Park.”

“My Car,” I said trying to use my mouth as little as possible.

“Oh.  O.K.  Sure.  I guess I could do that.  Can Bubba ride in your car?  I can’t go if my dog can’t go.”

I nodded.  “My keys.  Purse in kitchen.  Grab towel,” I said through clinched teeth.

Under normal circumstances I never would have let a complete stranger into my house, alone, with my purse.  I had to trust that the worst of my day was over.  I had to trust that he wasn’t going to rob me on top of everything else he had already done.

 My fears were allayed when he returned without hesitation, but then I became concerned over what I must look like because the sight of me so visibly shook him.  He was surprisingly gentle getting me into the car, but once I was buckled in, he drove like a maniac, again scaring me half to death.  I didn’t dare pull the towel from my throbbing chin for fear that the sight of so much blood would turn my already nauseated stomach.  I suspected that getting vomit into my wound would not be a good idea.  I also didn’t have the nerve to pull down the visor to examine my face in the passenger side mirror.

The hospital Emergency Care Center was packed.  I had to wait in a line ten people deep to be looked at and checked-in.  I wasn’t given a number because they don’t do first come first serve, it’s by severity of malady, and on a scale of one to ten, ten being life threatening, I was probable about a five.  Thirty minutes into my wait, I asked the admittance nurse to call my mother.  I didn’t want to do that, but Charlie was getting real irritated because it was taking forever.  I tried to get comfortable, but that was impossible.  I sat hunched over in a chair, holding myself against the pain that was now radiating from my nose, cheekbone and forehead.  The triage nurse was kind enough to give me some ice, but there were at least twenty people moaning and looking miserable already waiting ahead of me.  Charlie was pacing the floor like a caged Bengal tiger.  He kept going outside to check on Bubba, and I half wondered if he might just drive off and leave me to fend for myself.  He had to get home he said; it was poker night.  When I told him he could take my car as soon as my mom arrived, he huffed and wanted to know, “How long is that gonna take?” 

I didn’t have it in me, in that moment, to go into detail about my mother.  I could only say that she would show up as soon as she could.  Every time the loud speaker summoned a new patient to the doorway into the medical inner sanctum, Charlie would sigh loudly, exasperated that it wasn’t me they were asking for.  Without my glasses, the waiting crowd was a blur.  I could hear an elderly man doing his best to cough up his phlegmatic lungs, and there was an inconsolable toddler wailing in her mother’s arms.  At one point, a little boy appeared in front of me and asked if I had been in a car accident.  He was sweet and chatty, and needed to tell me all about the car accident he once was in.  Finally, his dad called from across the room, “Joey!  Get over here.”

I had no way of knowing what would happen first; either I’d get ushered into one of the sterile medical rooms beyond that extra wide admittance door, or my mother would show up.  An hour had passed when Mumzie showed up.  Charlie was very nearly apoplectic by then, but as soon as he laid eyes on my mom, his mood shifted dramatically, and he became Mr. Concerned Citizen.  I think her Mink coat and Louis Vuitton bag had something to do with it. 

I’ve never known Mumzie to simply enter a room; she makes grand entrances, and that day was no different.  She looked at the pathetic crowd in the waiting room and like a silent film star she struck a dramatic pose as if to brace against a great shock.  She did nothing to hide the expression of horror on her face.  With a barely audible voice I called to her and raised my hand, but I was stiff and sore and my gesture was too feeble to get her attention.  She approached the receiving nurse and demanded, “Where’s my daughter.”

“Excuse me,” the nurse replied, clearly unimpressed by my mother’s haughtiness.

“My daughter.  You called me and said my daughter was here.  Where is she?”

This was not going over well with the lady at the desk.  “Who called you?  I didn’t call you.  What’s your daughter’s name, ma’am?”

Needless to say, the entire waiting room ceased whizzing, bawling, studying magazines and cell phones to take in the bizarre character that had entered the scene.

I shook my head and elbowed Charlie, “Go get her, would you please?”

“That’s your mother?” Charlie asked incredulously.

“Yes.  Get her before she gets us all kicked out of here.  Please.”

He popped up and was delighted to have a legitimate excuse to engage her. 

I watched as he introduced himself and extended his hand for a shake.  But she would have nothing of his hand and pulled back to scoff at the cheeky, gloss-jersey clad jogger.  He pointed my way, and again I raised my hand.  She pulled away from Charlie’s guiding motion and marched straight to me.

“For the love of God, what in the world have you done to yourself now?”

“Mumz, sit down.  You’re making a scene.”

“Ha!  I’m making a scene?  Do you know what you look like?  I’ve got Frankenstein telling me that I’m making a scene.  Ha!”

“Mom,” I entreated.  “Mom, this is Charlie.  His dog accidentally ran into me, and I fell.”

“A dog!  Whose dog?  Any dog that could do a thing like this needs to be put down.”

“Mom, listen, Charlie was nice enough to drive me here, but he’s got to get home, and we used my car.  I need you to wait for me and give me a ride home after I’ve seen a doctor and a pharmacist.

“Well, what are you waiting for, then.  See a doctor already.”

“I’m sure they’re going to call my name any minute.”

And as if on cue, my name was called.  Charlie said he’d bring my car back the next morning, and my mother said she needed a cigarette and would be waiting for me in “the Caddy,” her Cadillac. 

So a long story made short, Charlie came around the next day, and the next day, and the next, and again and again.  He was full of compliments and asked lots of questions about my mother.  He wanted to know all about the business my father had been in before he died.  Charlie brought flowers and candy and was constantly complimenting me on my improved complexion.  He was relentless in his pursuit, and I mistakenly thought he had done that falling in love thing.  With every visit his ardor seemed to increase.  By that summer he had me convinced that we should go to Reno and get married. 

I know.  I was a fool.  No sooner had we said, “I do,” and signed the papers before Charlie fell out of whatever infatuation he had been in.  He spent our wedding night gambling and drinking.  I was bored at the Poker table, so I went to our room, expecting that he would follow me very soon.  When I woke up the next morning he was nowhere in sight.  I ordered room service and ate breakfast, and still there was no Charlie.  I found him looking like a wild man inside one of the dark nightclubs that ringed the casino floor.  He was half passed out, but with help from one of the bouncers, we were able to get him to my car.  Four hours later when we pulled into my driveway, he was still snoring like a chainsaw stuck in mud.  I left him in the car and figured when he came to he’d be able to figure out where he was and come inside.                    

In terms of husbands, on a scale of one to ten, I’d give old Charlie a four.  I could’ve done worse.  He never hit me.  Most of the time he had a job.  He’d shower every day, and whenever I got sick he’d stay away so as not to bother me.  But after five years, I’d had all of the gambling and drunkenness that I could handle.  He’d go off for days at a time, and I’d not hear a word from him until he’d drag his sorry, pitiful self through the front door.  The last straw was when he came home with crabs, not dinner crabs, but crabs-crabs…STD crabs in his mustache.

Christmas was coming and although I didn’t love Charlie, I was feeling lonely.  Sometimes when I’m feeling lonely I go to the grocery store.  If you hang around the aisles long enough pretending to shop, someone is bound to come along who talks to anyone who will listen.

I was in the coffee aisle when a big white lady wearing a Hawaiian Muumuu passed me and stopped very nearby. 

“Ovaltine, Ovaltine.  Where are you Ovaltine?” she was saying to herself, out loud.  “Now where are you?  You were just right here last time I bought you.”

I didn’t say anything at first, but I was sure she’d keep fishing for conversation, and it came.

“Excuse me, do you see Ovaltine on any of these shelves?”

“Ovaltine?  Do they still make that?”

She thought that was funny.

“You bet they do.  They better.”

“Ovaltine, huh?  Secret decoder ring Ovaltine?”

“Oh my God!  Yes!” 

“What do you do with Ovaltine?  Isn’t it a kid’s drink?”

“Oh, I buy half a dozen of them and take them with me when I go to Tonga.”

“Tonga!” I exclaimed.  Where is Tonga?”

“Oh Honey.  Tonga’s great.  If you’ve never been to Tonga, you’ve got to go sometime.”

“Where is it?  What’s so great about it?”

“I’ve been going to Tonga every Christmas for thirty years.  You can’t beat it.  It takes

a day and a half to get there, but once you’re there you forget about all the travel time.  It’s paradise, is all I can say, simply paradise.”

“Really?  Tell me more.”

“Well if you’re so curious, why don’t you come with me?  My sister was going to go, but she’s been too sick with rickets to travel.  I’ve got an extra ticket, and the lodging is all paid for.  And you know what’s so great about Tonga?  They love their women!  The men don’t let the women do any work because they think hard work makes women look ugly.  Ain’t that a kick?”  Then she closed her eyes and swayed her rather rotund body as if it were floating on a tropical breeze.  “Oh! And Midnight Mass will blow your mind.  They hold the service on the beach with hundreds of coconut shell candles lining the silky, sandy path.  Nobody wears shoes, and most of the men, women, and children are in their finest traditional costume.  You just have to see it.  In Tonga, the people celebrate Christmas by giving the gift of their talents, there’s almost nothing about giving presents.  Thank you Jesus!  It doesn’t matter if you’re Christian or not, the service and the people are wonderful.  Come!  You won’t regret it.”

“You know what?” I said to her.  “I’m sold.  When do we leave?”

I called my boss and told him that I was finally going to claim some of my vacation time, and I’d be back to work at the end of January. 

Three days later Emma Jean and I landed in the capital city of Tongatapu.

This year Emma Jean and I left a week earlier and plan to stay one week longer.  Mumzie had a stroke and died two months ago.  Old Charlie didn’t get any of the three million Mumzie left to me.  I’m so happy.  I’ve never been this happy in my life.  You know?  Maybe I am in love.       

Hey everybody, I wish you all the goodness of the season.  Have a great week and I’ll post again next Friday.

100 Feels Good

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Can I hear an Amen!?  Today marks the day of my 100th blog post.  I’ve been posting every Friday since January 2010.  I’ve only missed two Fridays, and that was because I was out of digital range, vacationing in the Sierras one year, and the mighty Redwoods of Northern California the other.  I’m so proud to be here.  I almost parked this self-imposed commitment to write blog posts every Friday a couple of times, but I didn’t.  I kept at it, so here’s to commitments!

To celebrate, I spent last evening in San Francisco with an exciting group of writers at the InsideStorytime event at Cafe Royal.  James Warner is a brilliant writer who, since 2006, has been the mastermind and host of this monthly assemblage of literary talent.  If you have a couple of minutes to sidetrack off this post, James’ remake of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief into Kublai Khans five stages of grief is erudite and wickedly amusing.

This month’s theme for InsideStorytime was “Gods and Dogs,” and there were five performing authors who read from their personal works.  The first presenter was Olga Zilberbourg.  I’ll try not to repeat that the authors and the crowd, by and large, were much younger than I am, but I couldn’t help but notice that fact.  Ms Zilberbourg has a delicate voice and speaks with a musical and charming Russian accent.  She read from one of her many published works of fiction.  The piece was titled, “A Dark and Empty Corner,” and the first few words are, “God was present that Thursday night…”.  It was a budding relationship story, rich with new-love awkwardness between two characters, Winston and Peggy.

Next up was a strikingly beautiful young woman who, in Sonoma, would have appeared to be in costume; however, in San Francisco, she seemed perfectly at ease in her 1940′s-50′s attire: fur pillbox hat over wildly curly, flaming red hair, a shapely gray wool dress with a large rhinestone broach at her shoulder, net stockings and knee high black boots.  Alia Voltz read “Vacajun,” a Louisiana, back bayou story where a young man and woman from, heaven forbid, San Francisco get somewhat lost and are pulled over by a patrol officer.  As she read from her many pages, the finished ones she casually discarded to the stage floor, a nice theatrical touch.  In keeping with the theme of the night, when her tale was told and all of the character’s misunderstandings had been ironed out, I had a visceral “Thank God” sigh for their narrow escape from real and perceived danger.

Gary Turchin followed Alia.  Gary is my new hero.  He read from his hardcover, self-illustrated children’s book, If I Were You.  By all appearances, it looks like a book for kids, and it is, but it’s also very much for the child within us all.  Have you ever encountered a little one that is laughing uproariously?  Well Gary Turchin’s If I Were You captures every bit of that child-filled joyous abandon.  It’s a book that celebrates quirkiness and non-convention; it’s toddler Gary speaking to adult Gary.  Little Gary would wear his clothes backwards, just to cover his bases and never be going the “wrong” way.  He’d fight for Dandelions and the equal rights of weeds.  He’d find his favorite spot and ask what the spot had to say to him.  It’s just delightful.

Following his reading was intermission.  I bought a copy of If I Were You and asked Gary if he’d sign it.  I told him that it was a gift to myself, that it’s the kind of book I wish had been given to me as a child, so I was making up for those lost opportunities.  He was touched by what I had to say about my not reading as a child and then going on to become a writer.  He signed my copy of his book, “Terry Sue, The writer in me honors the writer in you.  Create with Joy!  Always, Gary Turchin.”  He’s my new hero because of his generous spirit and authentic desire to give of himself through words and images.  During our conversation, he cautioned me against referring to my writing as a “public hobby.”  He pointed out that writing is a passion, not a hobby, and he’s right.  This isn’t building model airplanes or collecting stamps.  Thinking deeply and coming up with ways to express my thoughts is entirely too personal and challenging to be referred to as a hobby.  Only passion can account for the willingness it takes to persevere in this world of written words.

Following the intermission were Sarah Ladipo-Manyika and Peter Orner.  When Ms Ladipo-Manyika arrived at Cafe Royal, it was as if a spotlight suddenly flicked on and followed her around the room.  She radiated a most compelling, casual elegance.  Without knowing her, I was certain by her bearing that she would be one of the evening’s presenters, and sure enough.  Through James Warner’s introduction I learned that she was raised in Nigeria, held a Ph.D from U.C. Berkeley, and is a lit teacher at S.F. State.  Her short story began, “This house is protected by God.”  I thoroughly enjoyed the pacing and concluding twist in her short fiction.

And Peter Orner, he read an excerpt from his newly released novel, Love and Shame and Love.  The passage he read involved a young man who was brought before a Jewish Judge in Chicago for some private council and dispensing of Chicago style life’s lessons.  Orner, aside from being an accomplished and well-lauded author, holds a law degree.  His legal acumen and knowledge of Moses in the bible made the passage he read creep under my skin and impart a lasting impression.

During the hour-long drive home I savored the events of the evening.  I re-introduced myself to Caitlin Myer, a maven of the S.F. lit scene.  She invited me to join her table, around which gathered a couple Facebook friends, Matthew James Decoster and Andy Dugas.  Andy made a point of telling me about a writers’ conference that he highly recommends.  The Squaw Valley Writers Conference is held in the summer and is a full week of intensive workshops, lectures, critiques, and individual manuscript analysis.  It sounds like a great experience, and I’m going to give some serious thought to going.  Conferences are a way for me to educate myself without having to go back to college.  Plus they build my writing community, and I love that.

Here are some pictures from InsideStorytime at Cafe Royal:

Two cute audience members. Hat makers by trade from Paul's Hat Works


Authors Matthew James Decoster and Caitlin Myer


The scene at Cafe Royal during intermission


Funding the event was a bit on the, shall we say, casual side.

Happy 100th to me, happy reading and writing to you, have a great week, and I’ll post again next Friday.

In Over My Head…Again

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Last Monday was the monthly meeting of Left Coast Writers at Book Passage bookstore in Corte Madera, CA.  The guest speaker was a social media strategist and the CEO of Uhuru Network, Peter Lang.  While he was giving his talk, I realized how lame I am at all of this Internet outreach stuff.  Most of what he was talking about made no sense to me, but many folks in the audience were tracking and absorbing all of his ideas.  I was lost, and my notes were of little help the next day.

What I did grasp was his point about writers supporting writers.  Several times during the evening he had us trained to reply, “go to other writers’ blogs and post comments.”  I’m not much of a fan of the call-and-response method for engaging audiences, but I have to admit, it did stick.  For the past couple of days I’ve been trying to eek out some time to visit blog sites that my fellow Left Coast Writers have created and then say something on them.  For me, it’s taking time.  I wish I read faster and was a little wittier or insightful with my feedback.  I’m working on it.  In the meantime, I’ve picked up a few new “Facebook Friends” just because I’ve reached out to bloggers.

Peter Lang, as a social media strategist, had plenty to say about increasing the flow of visitors to any portal: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogging, etc.  And he emphasized the need to do this as “a professional,” meaning do it to get paid.  I found myself feeling embarrassed by the fact that I’ve been blogging and facebooking for over a year now, and it never occurred to me to set money making as the goal.  What kind of self-respecting writer am I that I just give away my “content?”  I’m not even sure what that means, but I was too unsure of myself to raise my hand and ask for a little clarity.  I was unwilling to unveil the fact that I’m seriously out of the social media loop.  I was developing a headache, and the suggestions for generating “unique visitors,” “revenue streams,” and “watermarking” all of my posted photos was tightening the screws at my temples.

I’m not ready to go prime time.  Employing numbers crunchers, whether they are paid human advisers such as the people over at Uhuru or free downloadable software such as Google Analytics, kinda takes the fun out of public outreach.  Analyzing data about who is following Pearls My Mother Wore, or me, would be about as interesting to me as reading Denmark’s tax laws.  I get it that some folks thrive on that stuff, all those juicy statistics, but I get queasy just thinking about it.  Sure, I want people to visit the Pearls My Mother Wore website, but if I got all hung up on how many came to the site and how many clicked on one of its links, two of its links, all of its links, I think I’d go cuckoo.  My ego, quite honestly, couldn’t handle it.  If the numbers were high, I’d get all full of myself.  If the numbers were low, I’d get in a funk.  Actually, I’m sure my numbers are low, but I’m O.K. with that because I’m not hustling to pick them up; I just let them be what they are.  If I was aggressively pursuing followers, and then failed to accumulate them, then I’d feel like a total loser.  Peter Lang suggested a goal of one thousand “evangelical followers” (i.e. fanatics.)  I don’t know, I’m getting that queasy feeling again.  I know my attitude is not a good one if I ever wish to make it on the New York Times bestseller list, but for right now, I’m still in the amateur leagues.  Oh well.  Defeatist?  No.  Realistic?  Yes.

All I know is that I enjoy writing, and I enjoy knowing that people are reading what I have to say and thinking about it.  This is something I do more as a hobby than a business.  It’s a public hobby, but it’s still what I do for fun.  I’m so pressure adverse, this too I know about myself.  There’s a lot of pressure in staying on top of all the statistics.  I also feel pressure when I’m trying to ingratiate myself for the purpose of bulking up the number of hits to my website or “Friends” on my Facebook page or “Likes” on the Pearls My Mother Wore page.  I didn’t get into writing to become a politician.  If I think of something to say via the Internet, then I want it always to be sincere.  I guess I’m not much of a salesperson; quotas seriously bug me.  O.K., ’nuff said.

How about the holidays?  How’s everybody doing with the season?

Christmas in a box...make that boxes

Getting nine boxes down from the attic is as far as I’ve gotten with decorating the house.  Hopefully, by next Friday, I’ll have the contents of these numerous bins sprinkled around, bringing bright colors and good cheer to the long nights of winter.  I’m counting the days until we reach the solstice.  I can’t wait.

Have a good week, and I’ll post again next Friday.


Stories Everywhere

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

I was working with a kid this week, helping him with his homework.  He had to write a short story.  Within five minutes he had it done, a story about a cat and dog at Christmas.  As he spun the tale, all I could think was that I needed to get over myself and start doing some creative writing of my own.

I went home and started this, something I’ve been thinking about for months.  It’s fiction.

Mr. Shay

            I drove past Carl Shay today.  He was walking on the other side of the street and didn’t notice that I was watching him.  His barbershop clipper cut was way too short, and that made me sad.  Shorn like a soldier on the first day of boot camp, Mr. Shay had all of the stubble with none of that warrior pride.  I used to call him the silver fox, but today he just looked old.  I bet he didn’t pay more than five dollars for that buzz.  A walking tragedy, that’s what it was, a real shame. 

Mr. Shay use to pay me sixty bucks for my haircuts.  He was my most regular customer for over ten years.  He’d come in every three weeks, like clockwork.  His wife got him to start seeing me.  She was real regular too, but not as frequent as he was.  I’d see her about ever six week.  She’d use her French and tell me she wanted to look, “soignée.”  She told me it meant elegant.  Catherine Deneuve she was not, but pretty nonetheless, petite, blonde, and quick to smile.  Actually, she wasn’t a natural blonde; I gave her heavy highlights to hide gray roots.  She’d bounce in before her tennis lessons wearing one of those cute white skirt/shorts that they wear.  Spotless and layered with gold and diamond jewelry, I got the feeling she wasn’t all that serious of an athlete.  For a society lady, she was nice, kind of picky, but not too bad.  Mr. Shay was fussy at first, but after a while he stopped examining his haircuts with such close scrutiny and just sat there reading his Wall Street Journal.

It’s been over two years since I last saw Mr. Shay and Jenny, his wife.  They practically skipped out of town in the dead of night.  Customers who knew they were my clients would ask if I’d seen them or what had happened, and I’d repeat the story they gave me.  They told me that they were going to visit their daughter in Florida, an attorney in Boca Raton, but I knew that wasn’t the whole of it.  They owed me hundreds of dollars worth of unpaid hair services, and if they were that in debt to me, there must have been a string of folks holding their past due accounts.  They weren’t just “visiting” their daughter; I suspect they were well on their way to being homeless.  Riches to rags, it was a longtime falling, but, year after year, they just kept going down.

Jenny’s checks were the first to start bouncing.  When I called her to report the initial incident, she chuckled her way through an explanation that included the fact that Carl handled all of their money.  As if delivering the punch line of a funny joke, she said that the only thing she knew about their checking account was how to write checks, but she wasn’t joking.  That was the beginning of her saying that he’d take care of it, and then he’d say she was supposed to handle it.

They were still coming in regular as you please, as if there was no problem with their cash flow, but almost every other check they wrote to me came back marked “Non-sufficient funds.”  At first they acted outraged by the bank’s ineptitude; it was all a misunderstanding with the bank.  Then they started paying for their services with credit cards, but when those maxed-out, they went back to writing checks.  With much chagrin, they’d ask me to hold them until they were sure to clear.  I played along with their song and dance, tag-team routine for, I’d say, five years.  They were good customers; I always got paid…eventually.

Over the years, the financial strain on Mr. Shay was far more apparent on him then it was on his wife.  I worried that he would drop dead of a heart attack under the pressure.  She refused to give up her art studio or her gym membership.  He had to keep getting his regular haircuts because he had to uphold a certain pretense of success in order to stay in the high-stakes business dealings that he was involved with.  I never knew exactly what he did, but he’d occasionally fly to Brazil, South Korea, and South Africa for meetings.  It sounded like he negotiated big, moneymaking deals, but again and again he wasn’t getting paid.  His accounts were stringing him along, so he had to string me along.  Mr. Shay really should have been retired, but he couldn’t quit because so many lucrative transactions were still on the table.  We all thought that surely, soon, these business partners would finally pay up, and we’d all get a payday, me in the hundreds, Mr. Shay in the millions.

That day never came.  I kept tolerating late payments and expecting his ship to come in.  Meanwhile I began to notice that the stiff collars of his Brooks Brothers shirts were becoming frayed.  His cashmere pullovers where threadbare at the elbows.  His pressed khaki pants flapped in the wind as he walked, and his bony knees revealed themselves only when he’d sat cross-legged.  His normally thick head of hair was thinning.  The laugh lines at his temples were crosshatched by even deeper wrinkles caused by endless worry and fatigue.  I heard about the couple selling their house and becoming renters.  I heard about selling one of their two cars.  I remember the day Jenny announced with a combination of amusement and shame that she had discover “the dark side,” thrift stores.  The last couple of holiday seasons, they were serving food at the local community center.  It was so much nicer to serve than to be served.

Shortly before I stopped seeing Mr. And Mrs. Shay, he gravely asked a favor of me.  He asked if he could borrow a couple hundred dollars because he absolutely had to fly to Los Angeles to collect on a minor account.  He promised that he would return the loan as soon as he got back because, this time, he was sure to be paid.  He was sick to have to ask, and in fact, tears were in his eyes.  I couldn’t imagine how tapped-out that gentleman had to be if he was asking his hairdresser for money.  Handing him the loan, I became truly frightened for the first time.  When he didn’t contact me by the end of that week, I wondered what was going on.  I questioned whether any of his business dealings were real.  I thought about Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman and David Mamet’s film Glengarry Glen Ross, both depicting men who lost sight of reality while in pursuit of financial and professional gains.  I wasn’t dealing with a casino gambler, but I may have loaned money to a man who was hooked on business gambits that never paid off.  I couldn’t loan him any more money.  I didn’t mind fronting him for hairdressing services, but handing over cash was never going to happen again.  His dreams had drained their bank account, I couldn’t let them drain my own.

And then they left town.  They said it was only going to be for a month.  It wasn’t a month, two months, or six months.  It was two years.

For a brief moment this morning when I laid eyes on my debtor, I optimistically thought that he’d come back to make things right.  Watching him for the few seconds as traffic moved, I could see he was in no shape to pay off his debts.  I could have pulled over and talked to him, but I didn’t.  I knew him to stride across a room; what I saw was a man shuffling, his barber clipped head bowed, his eyes cast to the ground.  It was a tragedy, a crying shame.

I hope his ship comes in.      

So that was satisfying to get written.  I hope you enjoyed it.

Earlier in the week I was hiking with my husband.  We stopped for a moment and discover something we otherwise never would have seen.  Isn’t it fantastic that somebody took the effort to make another person smile.  This is so silly.  I love it.

Have a great week, and I’ll post again next Friday.


Full Of It

Friday, November 25th, 2011

Whoa, the day almost slipped by without me getting a blog post in.  Big thanks to my friend BJ for jogging my brain.  Today’s post is full of recommendations.

Sweetie Pies Bakery 520 Main St. Napa, CA

If you like flour, butter, and sugar stirred into divine pastry, cake, and cookie creations, then you must go to Sweetie Pies in Napa, Ca.  They’re located at 520 Main St., and they produce the finest baked goods I have ever tasted.  My contribution to the Thanksgiving feast was three pies from Sweetie Pies: Pumpkin, Apple, and Pecan, and they totally rocked the house.  If you live far enough away from Napa that it might take, say, an hour to drive there, then you must give it a go.  You will be glad you did.



Oxbow public Market 644 First St. Napa, CA

While you’re there, remember to visit Napa’s version of San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza – The Oxbow Public Market.  I actually haven’t been there yet, but every foodie I talk to about Sweetie Pies tells me I’ve got to get to the Oxbow.  I hear they have a bakery that specializes in English Muffins!  That would be a first for me – to find fresh baked English Muffins.  I have no doubt that a vendor in the market will be carrying every kind or butter there is: fresh butter, French butter, Irish butter, etc.  And jams?  I’m sure they will be there in every mouthwatering variety imaginable.  Yum! Yum!




Gott's Roadside Burgers, Napa, CA

And if those two recommendations aren’t enough to get you driving up this way, then perhaps burgers at Gott’s Roadside  will juice up your taste buds and seal the deal.  Gott’s knows what it’s doing when it comes to drip down your wrist burgers.  Sinful!  Yes.  Delicious? Absolutely!  Not only that, but they’re right next door to the Oxbow.  Oh, did I mention to come hungry?



The Good Daughter by Jasmin Darznik

O.K.  So you return home with bags full of delectable goodies from Napa.  Now here’s a suggestion about how to enjoy them: with a cup of great tea or coffee and a good book.  This week I read The Good Daughter by Jasmin Darznik.  Jasmin was in the first writing class that I took at Book Passage.  As I remember, she was debating as to whether or not to finish her doctoral thesis at Princeton, or write this memoir.  It’s been a few years, but today she’s done both.  She also holds a law degree, and I don’t think she’s even celebrated her fortieth birthday yet.  Super accomplished woman and a beautiful story-teller.  Because I like to post book reviews on Amazon, here is what I had to say about The Good Daughter:

If it weren’t for the fact that I’m reserving my five-star vote for absolute perfection, I’d give The Good Daughter five stars.  This memoir is superbly crafted and exquisitely captures the inextricable threads that link mothers to their daughters.  Like the variety of flowering vines that entwine themselves along her mother’s modest garden wall, Pagol, Kobra, Lily, Sara, and Jasmin are also interlaced.  Their personal histories, told with measured restraint, reveal a lineage of brave, intelligent women, their fortunes and their crushing misfortunes. 

Iranian culture and history provide fascinating context for this unique memoir, but it was the mother piece that kept me up late into the night reading.  Jasmin Darznik, almost as if by slight of hand, captures the fact that a mother’s influence in her daughter’s life has little to do with proximity.  Near or far, known or unknown, mother is part of who we are.  The more we understand her, the more we understand ourselves. 

The title, The Good Daughter, caused me to question what such a phrase could mean.  Is there a good mother, a good man, a good life, good food, good fashions, etc.?  Define “Good.”  It quickly became complicated, and thereby worth pursuing.  I’ve decided this multi-generational account is too dynamic for the title to be anything less than a thought-provoking kōan.  It pushed me to think beyond notions of good or the implied opposite, bad.  I wanted to read about these people to discover what existed between the two ends, and Darznik delivered.  Page after page builds texture and nuance into a personal narrative that claims truth over appearance, fact over falsity.  The author held my attention by deftly weaving universal themes of family, friends, rituals, dignity, wisdom, sorrow, joy, ambition, failure, love, and loss into a personal story of discovery—discovery of self, discovery of family, discovery of motivations as well as limitations.  I’m grateful to Darznik for giving so generously of her experience.  A terrific read that goes beyond simple story telling to get to the endlessly powerful influence of natal legacy. 

If any of you end up reading The Good Daughter, please let me know what you thought.

I hope you all had a pleasant Thanksgiving day?  I’m pleased to report that this year’s day of gratitude went off without a single glitch.  Lutrell and I enjoyed a fabulous walk in the misty rain yesterday.  The air was so still that the mist hung in it almost like snowflakes, truly enchanting.  And then today, we did one of my favorite mountain bike rides – up to the top of Mt. Tamalpais.  It was cold and cloudy, but we certainly were not alone.  The fire-road path was full of hikers and mountain bikers.  That’s because the place is amazing!  And that would be my last recommendation for the day, find a way to hike part or all of The Railroad Grade trail on Mt. Tamalpais.  Whether you drive to the top and walk down, or start from the bottom at the parking area at “Blithdale Park,” or begin in the middle of the mountain where Fern Canyon Rd. meets the fire-road, the trail and West Point Inn as a destination are Bay Area gems.

I hope your week is a good one, and I’ll look forward to posting again next Friday.

West Point Inn, almost to the top of Mt. Tamalpais

Gratitude List

Friday, November 18th, 2011

With Thanksgiving less than a week away, I’m giving some extra thought to my reasons for gratitude.  In list form, it’s embarrassingly long.  I have a great life.  I don’t ever forget it, and I don’t ever take it for granted.  I think one of the gifts of a … sub-par childhood, is that when life gets good, you really know it.  Even on my darkest days, days when I’m sad, lonely, confused, irritated, judgmental, angry, and/or afraid, there’s always a part of me that’s kickin’ up my heals in the happy dance.  My joy comes from the fact that I never feel trapped anymore.  I don’t get stuck chewing on some dried-up old resentment bone.  Not for very long, at least.  I know who I am, and I’m not ashamed to be kind to myself.   I love being over 50 because at this age I have perspective.  Perspective is the best, and the older I get, the broader and more compassionate my perspective becomes.

Yesterday, three students, during different study periods, thanked me effusively for the schoolwork we did together.  I ate it up.  As a volunteer, that’s my pay, and today, I was overpaid.

Tuesday, I took a walk up in the hills above Glen Ellen.  My cell phone takes lousy pictures, but I couldn’t resist trying to capture the spectacular fall colors in the valley below.  I wish you could have been there.

Glen Ellen - November 2011

Have a Happy Thanksgiving; have a good week, and I’ll post again next Friday.

Yas Marina

Friday, November 11th, 2011

F1 at Yaz Marina Circuit - United Arab Emirates

Look out Monaco Grand Prix, the Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates with its spectacular Yas Marina Hotel just may outpace you in terms of lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous.  This weekend, Abu Dhabi hosts their third Formula One auto racing event, and it’s sure not to disappoint.  Today, these cars which are the pentacle of motorsports technology will practice, tomorrow they will qualify for grid positions, and Sunday they will race.  One aspect that makes this race unique is that it begins at sunset and runs under state-of-the-art lighting into the night.  The effect is stunning as the race cars hum along looking more like liquid than a solid.  Another dazzling feature is that the track circuit literally runs through the middle of this amazing, five star, Yas Hotel.  The building is shrouded in a network of lights that slowly shift colors: satire blue, magenta, gold.

We Tivo the sessions off Speed Channel.  If you can find coverage in your area, I recommend checking it out, especially on Sunday.





Now for a joke.  I hope nobody finds this offensive, but like all good jokes, somebody probably will.

Three men go to the Middle East on a business trip, an Irishman, a Scotsman, and an American.  Their meeting is such a success that afterwards the three go out and get drunk to celebrate.  Staggering back to their hotel at the end of the night, the Irishman stops at a bush to relieve himself.  The other two follow his lead.  Before they can finish, they’re surrounded by the local police, handcuffed, and taken to jail.  The next morning, the befuddled businessmen are presented to the local magistrate, a formidable man with fierce eyes.

The magistrate addresses the Irishman first.  “Irishman.  You have defiled my country and for that you will get ten lashes.”  To the Scott he said, “Scotsman, you have defiled my country and for that you will get ten lashes, but I like your accent, so I grant you one wish.  What do you wish for?”

“Ye a kind man sir.  I’d fancy a downy pillow for me back, if it be possible.”

Last came the American.  “American,” the magistrate said with a stern voice.  “American, you have defiled my country and for that you shall receive ten lashings.”  But then he cocked his head, pursed his lips, and struggled to subdue a smile.  “American, you will get your lashings, but you know, I like you Americans.  You’re brave, funny, and clever.  Because I like you, I’ll grant you two wishes.  What will they be?”

The American thought for a minute and then asked for his first wish.  “Sir, I’m sorry for what I’ve done, and I’d like you to whip me one-hundred times.”

“Oh!  You Americans are crazy, but you are also strong.  I like that.  What is your second wish?”

“Put the Irishman on my back first.”

Have a great week, and I’ll post again next Friday.

Hey Pumpkin Heads

Friday, November 4th, 2011

By Day

By Night

Halloween in my neighborhood is fun.  We live in a suburban area where the streets are well lit and the homes are close together.  That’s an ideal combination when you’re trying to collect lots of candy.  Every year my husband and I exercise our creative muscles and carve pumpkins, and we decorate the front of our house with skull lights, a hanging skeleton, and a string of Casper-the-friendly-ghost style lights.  Many of our neighbors do at least that much, but a few go all out.  One family builds and entire haunted house in their front yard, and we can hear kids squealing from inside it all night long.

For our efforts, we were treated to over 130 trick-or-treaters.  The costumes, for the most part, were terrific.  The kids all appeared to be having a ball, and why wouldn’t they be?  The weather was a balmy 60 degrees, the best I can remember in years.

Fairly early on, I noticed something that I hadn’t paid much attention to before, or even noticed.  This year, there were probably a dozen or so adults holding out bags along with the children.  In the past, I might see a couple of adults collecting for infants that they wheeled to the door in strollers.  It always rubs me the wrong way, but I’m not about to get into a heavy adult confrontation while a posse of 3-5 foot high, jubilant princesses, super heroes, grim reapers, and Draculas are squirming about.

When I was at work talking about this observation, my friend said, “Oh sure.  They do it for the money.”  She had to explain to me that now that dentists are giving cash for candy, adults are collecting as many pounds as they can.  My friend advised me to buy the cheapest candy that I could find, because it would all be going to the dentist dump anyway.  When I passed this new found wisdom onto someone else, she too seemed to be aware of the scam.  She said what she does is keep a roll of stickers for those grown-ups.  She passes them out with extra enthusiasm for the baby’s pleasure, while the adult’s smile thinly veils a sneer.

So my question is, is this wrong, or is this desperate?  Either way, it’s pathetic.

With a slight tweak in my thinking, this is all tying into the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon that’s sweeping our nation.  Poor is a bitch.  I grew up Welfare poor, yet compared to today’s poor, I’d be considered well off.  All the safety nets that got me through are gone.  I received free lunch tickets for meals at school, and they were full dinner type meals: meat loaf, sliced turkey, ham, real vegetables, a roll, and a dessert.  Whole milk was the only choice to drink.  The classrooms had all the supplies: books, pens, pencils, crayons, erasers, rulers, flash cards, etc.  The school bus was free.  The government gave my mother enough money to feed us, pay the rent, and heat the house.  I wore second-hand clothes, but I had a different outfit for every day of the week.  All but $50 of my beauty college education was free.  It was when I had just fifty hours of training to go that Proposition 13 passed into law, and funding for social programs began to disappear.  I was billed one dollar for each of the remaining adult-ed hours I needed to complete my cosmetology program.  I’m forever thankful that I wasn’t born later than I was.  I was fortunate…in a kid on Welfare sort of way.

Prop 13 passed in 1978.  Deregulation of the airline industry occurred that same year.  It seems to me that the spark that grew into the current economic conflagration can be traced to back then.  The who, when, and how we got to where we are today is significant because it didn’t happen over night, and it didn’t happen over one or two presidencies.  It’s taken decades for the middle class to be squeezed to the breaking point.

I wish I could magically transform the Wall Street 1% into the head of  a woman who feels the need to hawk Halloween candy just to get a few bucks.  I don’t need the mega-rich to walk a day in the woman’s shoes; I want them to spend 24 hours in her head.  We’d surly see change then.

Have a great week, and I’ll post again next Friday.

William Faulkner

Friday, October 28th, 2011

I’ve picked up another classic in literature — As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.  I’ve attempted to read it at least three times before and never gotten very far, a page or two.  With this attempt, I’m about half-way through, and I believe I’ve finally got the hang of it, but it’s tough.  Several aspects of the novel are giving me trouble.  Stream of consciousness narratives are always hard for me to follow, but in this one, we get the internal thoughts of over a dozen characters, and I can hardly keep them straight.  The other hurdle I’m trying to clear is the language; it’s pre-automobile era, poor, southern folk, and some sentences I have to read over and over to make out what’s being said or thought.  Then, probably the most challenging is that while the title may be referring to Addie Bundren, the mother character who dies, to my mind it refers to every character in the story.  These zombie-like folk move through the action deadened not by grief over Addie’s passing but by grief over their own grossly unfulfilled, tragic and depressing lives.

O.K. so have I convinced you that I’m a glutton for punishment?  Are you wondering why I’d want to continue?  I’m wrestling  with this novel because it’s been deemed one of the most important works of literature from the 20th century.  I trust that scholars, authors, judges, and readers that have studied it before me know what they’re talking about.  I want to understand what they understand.

Somewhere in this tale of misery and defeat lies a truth about survival, and that interests me.  I suspect it’s no mistake that the first chapter begins with two brothers on a path “worn smooth by feet”.  I’m reminded that life is about the journey, not the destination.  Unfortunately for the characters in As I Lay Dying they never got that message.  I think I know these folk; their the ones that believe life begins when you die.  Their my ancestors, and their my shadow.  This is what I push against in order to seize the moment, jump for joy, hold my head up, smile at a stranger, love truly, and blush when complimented.  There’s dark and there’s light.  Faulkner has put language to the dark, and for that, I’m in awe.  Marshaling his talent to depict such human suffering, and then being recognized by the literary establishment as Pulitzer and Nobel prize worthy, tells me that Faulkner has tapped into something fundamentally human and worth the effort, if not to understand, at least to appreciate.  Which I do.

Until next time, have a good week, and I’ll post again next Friday.