Friday, March 31, 2006

Truth Is (Sometimes) Funnier Than Fiction Friday

I’m posting this today because frankly I was too lazy to find an appropriate excerpt and because sometimes truth is (sometimes) funnier than fiction.

This story, posted with my father’s permission, is further proof that I’m not adopted.

But you need to know a little about my father first. And my family, in that if you are unlucky enough to do something embarrassing, and brave (or stupid) enough to share what happened, you will be teased about it from now until the end of time. Anyway. My father has a habit of leaving things on top of his car and driving away, causing said item to go bouncing along the road after him. Coffee cups, books, and once, famously, his briefcase, which emerged dented slightly from the car that ran it over but with the contents mostly intact. And probably other things that he was too embarrassed to tell anyone about.

Over the years I, like many commuters, had developed the habit of putting things on top of my car (since I often had so many things to put in the car, some had to wait their turn, and the handiest staging area was the roof). Usually the last thing to go was my coffee. I probably had the only car with coffee rings on the roof. But, thinking of Dad, I always grabbed the coffee and checked the roof before taking off. I made doubly sure to check that I had all my possessions inside if I was traveling with another family member.

Now, with my current condition, I need both hands to get in and out of my car, so I’m extra-vigilant about any coffee cups, water bottles, etc. that I might have left up there. The drill is: put the bottle on the roof just behind the antenna, get the body in the car, grab the bottle and go.

Yesterday, I went northward to Catskill to get my monthly massage. Catskill is basically a small city with two main drags intersecting at its center. The massage therapist is a little outside of town, but the Thai place (you might have noted what I said about Thai food in the “50 things you might not have known about me” blog entry) is located right about city center. Freshly stretched and relaxed, I drove into town, ordered the food, and had about fifteen minutes to kill, but it was a beautiful afternoon, I felt great, and there are a few fun stores on that block to poke around in. But first, I remembered that I was supposed to drink as much water as I could after a massage. The deli next door didn’t have any bottled water, so I got seltzer instead (cranberry with lime, which is really good, and hard to find, and I was doubly impressed when the knot of teenagers who were at the counter buying their gum and Slim Jims and Fritos let me go ahead of them). Then I took a little stroll, enjoying the warm spring air and sun and the nice qualities it brings out in people. When I came back and got the food, I still had about half a bottle of seltzer left. I put the takeout in the trunk and the bottle on the roof of the car.

When I started pulling out of my parking space, I heard a big clunk. Oh, crap, I thought. I was driving my mother’s car and hoped to hell nothing had happened to it. I was even afraid of getting it dirty. I looked behind me and saw nothing. Then I pulled into traffic and heard the clunk again. My stomach clutched. But in the side view mirror I saw the bottle of seltzer rolling away, then a few cars kicking it around. I hauled my car into the next space I saw so I could retrieve the bottle. But the traffic was so heavy it didn’t look safe. Next thing I saw was the big tire of a Pepsi truck smashing my bottle flat, crunching the plastic into bitty pieces. Splashing seltzer all over my car.

Damn, I thought, as I surveyed to wreckage the truck left in its wake. And I’d really been enjoying that seltzer, too. And in a way, since all those guys had let me go ahead of them, it had also reaffirmed my faith in humanity.

Well, at least the spray wouldn’t leave a stain on the car. Although I should have used it to clean the coffee rings off the roof.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Opus the Spy

Frustrated by this area’s paucity of jobs that: 1. I’m qualified for, and 2. pay enough to justify putting on makeup and real shoes, I made an appointment with the career counselor at Unemployment to see if he could suggest a redirection. As a start, he asked that I do what’s called a “Strong Interest Inventory Profile.”

I submitted the profile last week. It was kind of fun. The computer lead me through an inventory of skills, interests, activities, etc., to determine what interest areas and occupations might be the best “fit” for me. I was instructed not to think if I can do these things or not, just what might appeal to me.

After I’d gone through all the items, I decided I either wanted to be a secret service agent, or a spy.

Once my father reminded me that as a secret service agent I might have to take a bullet for someone like Bush, I demurred. But I think I’d make a great spy. Husband agrees. I’m forever sneaking up on him (He claims; but I just walk quietly and don’t make a lot of noise, like he does), I’m persistent as hell, and I can step into a room and know exactly what’s been changed, even in a frat-house bomb like our kitchen.

“You had spaghetti for dinner last night,” I once told husband one morning. (He’s a night owl and often makes dinner long after I’ve gone to bed.)

“Yeah?” he said. “How do you know that?”

I do the mental eye-roll. Please. He actually thinks he can fool me. “There’s a strand of uncooked spaghetti on the stove and the colander’s in the dish drainer.”

He raises his eyebrows. “Guess I could never have an affair, huh?”

But then again, I doubt that spy-dom is as romantic as the media fantasies would have it. There’s probably a lot of paperwork, a lot of sitting around in cars waiting for people that might never show up. Maybe I’d learn stuff that would turn my stomach sour on the whole human race. I’m having a hard enough time summoning up what little positive energy I do have without my job threatening to squash it all the time.

Today I went to learn the results of my profile.

“Tell me I’m meant to be a rodeo clown,” I ask the counselor.

He smiles. Thank God, I think I’ve found the only person in the Department of Labor who appreciates my sense of humor. Maybe I’ll have the affair (just kidding, guys. JUST KIDDING).

“Actually, it lines up pretty predictably based on what you told me about yourself last week.”

I was a little disappointed to be called predictable, but vindicated that what I chose to do with my life to date has not been so totally out of line with who I am.

Here are the results:

My Highest Themes:
Artistic, Investigative, Social (in that order of popularity)

My Top Five Interest Areas:
1. Writing and Mass Communication
2. Performing Arts
3. Visual Arts and Design
4. Marketing and Advertising
5. Science

My Top Ten Strong Occupations:

1. Technical Writer
2. Editor
3. Art Teacher
4. Architect
5. Graphic Designer
6. Librarian
7. Photographer
8. Translator
9. Network Administrator
10. English Teacher

Not too bad, I thought. Architect is probably out, for all the years of expensive schooling it would require. My translation skills would probably do little more than foment a diplomatic war between the US and France. And Network Administrator? How the hell did that get in there?

Then he showed me directories with lots of formulas with circles and arrows and paragraphs on the back of each one to let you know what kind of credentials, training and abilities each profession requires, so you can decide if you want to go in that direction.

For now, I’m going to let it all settle and see how I feel.

Or just wait until the next rodeo comes to town.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I, Robot?

I just got home from being re-Gumby-fied at the physical therapist’s (I can now reach halfway down my shins!). The weather is beautiful, and I took myself out for a big greasy lunch in Rhinebeck, so maybe it’s the extra endorphins flowing through my brain, but I’m feeling pretty good right now. Which is a rare elixir I want to bottle up and save for those days when I’m sucking down Motrin and pressing my nose up to the sliding glass door like a dog.

And although cholesterol and spring fever were clouding my head, over at, where I’ve put up my cyber-shingle as a freelance writer (Opus Writes), I was not imagining this: an alert popped up that someone is asking for bids to write a romantic short story. Money to write fiction? Hot damn! During our writing group’s rambling sessions, this was a lifestyle we’d only dreamed of. Shrugging off our day jobs and getting paid to write fiction.

Of course I’d hoped to get paid for the writing first and then quit – gloriously, of course, and with a three-book deal to back me up…but life never does work out as you planned.

Anyway, I put in a bid. It’s my first and I hope I didn’t blow it. I’ll keep you posted.

The web site seems like a pretty cool idea. For a small fee either by the month or for the year, you can set up a profile, list your qualifications and skills, post your portfolio, then either cruise for projects that match your categories, or wait for alerts to come in via e-mail that match the kinds of things you write. Already I’ve nixed one project. Someone wanted three 150-175 page Word documents proofread, font-checked and indexed, all in one week for $300. Didn’t seem like something I could tackle in that time frame.

While the whole idea is pretty cool, this subject must be stuck in my craw this week, but it got me thinking yet again about how all this cyber-living is changing our lives.

Maybe about a year and a half ago, when I still had a full-time job, one day I buzzed through most of my morning without actually picking up a pen. I’d written that morning’s novel pages on the computer before leaving for work. Jotted down a grocery list on the Palm with a stylus while sitting in the car waiting for a train to pass. At work, voice mail messages were typed into the Palm software, priorities checked off on the electronic to-do list, e-mail messages were written and sent, spec sheets were commented upon as PDF files with sticky notes and e-mailed to the appropriate product engineer. And as I reached for my Pilot VBall to sign a birthday card for a co-worker (trivia note for my future fan club: this is the only pen Opus will write with), it just floored me that it was the first time I’d touched it all day.

Yesterday I had a similar feeling. While I did write in my journal with a pen, I then did a morning’s worth of work-type tasks: e-mailed some press releases I’d just drafted for my former boss, posted a few more writing samples to, e-mailed a few resumes for opportunities that looked interesting…and didn’t realize until Husband woke up around 11:30 and stumbled into my writing room that he was the first human contact, in person or even on the phone, that I’d had all day.

It gave me the creeps. (and no, it wasn’t from Husband’s morning stubble) It made me want to strive to go anywhere, do anything…as long as I could see and hear people. Even if I didn’t talk to them. Just to see them. I went for a walk down a busy street. I went grocery shopping. I probably could have even gone to Wal-Mart, but common sense stopped me before I made that mistake.

In the early days of dot-coms and PayPal, pundits speculated that brick-and-mortar shopping was doomed. But I don’t think so. However technologically advanced we get, (it’s still pretty cool when the UPS man drives up with that box with the Amazon smile) but we are still human animals who crave the contact of other human animals. And I don’t know about you all, but I’m a tactile human animal and there are some things I can’t imagine buying on the web. I need to touch them, see them in person, see how the store is laid out. Books, OK. Bedding, clothes (unless I know the vendor), ladies’ unmentionables, forget about it.

I want to call customer service and get a live voice on the phone.

I want to give my money to a bank teller and get a smile in return.

I want some things to stay the same.

I’m only human, after all.

And if none of this makes sense today, I can blame it on spring fever. Or the grilled cheese with bacon.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Interpersonal Internet

I was polled last night (and boy, was that wait, that was a dream I had last night...) by someone from USC doing a study to determine the extent of which internet usage has been changing peoples' lives.

Normally I don't participate in telephone polls - we hardly ever get any of those calls, for one, and for two, they take too much time and I have better things to do, like watch American Idol or clean out the lint trap in the dryer.

But this one sounded legit, and interesting. He bombarded me with questions about e-mail usage, time spent on the web, what I use the web for, if it has changed the amount of time I spend on other activities, etc.

Two items in particular intrigued me. The first was if I though that cell phones, pagers, BlackBerries and the like have improved or been a detriment to society. I had a speech at the tip of my tongue, as this is a pet debate subject of mine, but unfortunately all he was desired was empirical data: improved, a detriment, or neither. The truest answer I could give him was "neither." Because I feel that both of the other alternatives are true at the same time. While improving some kinds of communication - more people can work away from their offices, allowing greater flexibility, easier travel and telecommuting, which saves energy and gives working parents a break, (in fact I typed the first draft of this on my Palm Pilot via a wireless keyboard, so I could write in the kitchen and keep a watch on the coconut macaroons I had in the oven.) Cell phones are handy in emergencies and give peace of mind to people with children, ailing family members, traveling spouses, etc. There have been many times (particularly over the past year) when a cell phone could have saved time and worry for me and my husband. We even had one for a short time, unfortunately (or fortunately) not long enough for it to become a habit before it met its watery demise in our flooded basement.

On the other hand, I regret the loss of a certain pace of life they have made obsolete. I could pluck so many instances of rude cell phone behavior out of my memory I could fill a month's worth of blog entries. There was the woman on the train having a very loud conversation with someone about a mutual friend's recent birth experience, including details that nobody should ever have to hear about on the Hudson Line, or, come to think of it, ever. Worse, she kept losing her connection, calling information to get the number (hadn’t figured out the “redial” function yet, apparently), and then shouting the same details again, because the other party hadn't heard them the first time. Or the second. In fact, I don't think there was a person in Westchester County who didn't know how many stitches this poor woman needed for her episiotomy.

Then there was the bat mitzvah of my husband's cousin's daughter, where a man helped us silence some rude kids who were talking loudly in the back of the room during the service, but when his cell phone rang, he took the call. Cell phones and the other devices have intruded into leisure time so insidiously that some of us don't remember what life used to be like and how we ever got along without them. I remember glorious long jogs on country roads, free of telephones, free from the yoke of responsibility, reveling in the fact that nobody in the world even knew where I was. Not anymore. I see so many joggers with cells attached that I wonder: are we ever truly free? Have we lost our privacy? Silence? Time for contemplation? The invisible barrier between work life and family life? I hope not. I hope it's merely overexcited by potential at the moment, and that eventually the pendulum will swing back again. Not into Luddite-ville, because as the cliché goes, you can't put the genie back in the bottle, but into some happy compromise. Where cell phones stay in the car when you go to the beach. Where BlackBerries and pagers are turned off during meal times. Where you can go to a play or concert or movie and some pre-recorded announcement doesn't have to remind people to switch their phones to vibrate, if you must have it on at all.

Remember when we didn’t have to remind people to be considerate to each other? Anyone?

It's a dream, but a small one.

The other item in the poll that intrigued me was a section on how the internet and e-mail have effected how you communicate with friends and family. It disturbed me when I answered that e-mail has allowed me to communicate more frequently with my family. When did this faceless medium become a replacement for face-to-face? The ease, I get. Easier to type some keystrokes than to play phone tag with someone's answering machine, or to turn off American Idol to have an actual conversation, or to try to align everyone's schedules like an astronomical chart in order to find the two-hour slot on that Sunday in June when everyone can get together.

And I noticed, as I answered more questions, that I rarely, if ever, e-mail my neighbors. If I want to talk with one of them, I call, or walk (which I will again when I get strong enough to tackle the hills up here in the Highland Alps) or drive over to their houses. But what I truly found disturbing when he asked the number of people I regularly e-mail whom I've never met face-to-face. (You know who you are, and you still owe me lunch ;)) I was once involved with an entire writing group - we'd share our creative endeavors, the most tender shoots of our psyches, but we barely knew more than each other's screen names. It's kind of strange, when you get down to it. But intriguing. Not in a "You've Got Mail" sort of way (what a waste of Tom Hanks) but in a human way. The better part of human communication is non-verbal. How do you get around that in writing? Letter-writing is a different animal. Personality comes from the paper, the handwriting, the human effort that went into the communication. A bunch of keystrokes is a poor, but unfortunately common, substitution. Still, it’s allowed me to communicate with more people more frequently and frankly, saved a portion of my sanity during this long illness.

So. Enough impersonal keystrokes from me. How do you feel about this? What has the internet done, good and bad, for you?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Fifty things you might not have known about me...and might not want to

With Supergirlfriend's permission (since she did this with her usual grace and aplomb on her blog (, I'm playing with this here. Fiction Friday will return next week.

1. I really, really, really hate lima beans.
2. I lettered in chess in high school. Got a patch for my jacket and everything.
3. I’ve read Jackie Collins in French. Somehow it makes it almost feel like literature.
4. My favorite month is October.
5. My least favorite month is February, followed closely by November.
6. My favorite seasons are January Thaw and Indian Summer.
7. With the best of intentions, I buy a lot of produce and then forget about it until it becomes gazpacho in the refrigerator.
8. I hate shoe shopping.
9. The first album I ever bought with my own money was Carol King’s “Tapestry.” Then I discovered Mick Jagger and all hope was lost.
10. I love Doris Day movies.
11. Even though my father used to bribe me with quarters to go into the pool head first, I still don’t know how to dive.
12. I once hitchhiked from Boston to Black River, New York and spent the night in the woods near the Albany Thruway exit. Kids, don’t try this at home.
13. When I was twelve, I wanted to play second base for the New York Mets.
14. I actually thought I had a shot at it.
15. I never saw “Roots.”
16. I hated the “Lord of the Rings” movies. Ditto “The English Patient.”
17. I was once in a photo in a magazine ad. It was for cable network in Boston that advertised events going on in the city (so you didn’t have to stay home and watch cable). I supposed to look like I was playing the violin, even though I’d never touched one before. It was an outdoor shoot, at night outside Faneuil Hall, and it was five degrees. Since I worked for the agency, I got paid a dollar. And didn’t get to keep the violin.
18. My favorite color is purple. With teal a close second.
19. I think garlic powder and canned cranberry sauce are for Philistines.
20. When I was in seventh grade, my best friend Amy Ziffer thought she was a witch. She had a crush on a guy and asked me to get a lock of his hair for a love potion. I actually had scissors in my pocket and was standing behind him at his locker when I realized that this was totally ridiculous and chickened out.
21. I come from a long line of little Jewish women who used to cook with Crisco and swim with their heads above water like swans so they wouldn’t ruin their hairdos.
22. My great-great grandfather was a red-headed rabbi who had to get permission from the Czar to travel across Russia. I have a copy of the documentation.
23. The first thing I ever bought with money I earned myself was a tartan-plaid wool skirt from Dress Barn. It had fringe on the edges and a brass pin holding it together. I had it for years, until a well-meaning college boyfriend put it in the dryer.
24. I read “Bridges of Madison County” without throwing up, although I wanted to.
25. I would have made a terrible ballerina.
26. I collect Barbie dolls. My favorite, given to me for my fortieth birthday by my stepmother, is “Redneck Barbie.” She has black roots and Daisy Duke shorts and a cigarette glued to her mouth.
27. I once roomed with two gay men. One of them liked to wear my clothes.
28. For our honeymoon trip, husband and I went to Florida to see a space shuttle launch. At three minutes to go, it was scrubbed.
29. I know more about metal halide lamps, magnetic ballasts, zebra mussels and municipal water-intake valves than any writer ever needs to know.
30. I hate gardening. I hate bugs and don’t like to get dirty.
31. Frank Langella was my first on-screen love. Followed by Harrison Ford.
32. When “Gilmore Girls” gets cancelled, I’ll probably cry.
33. I’m a sucker for red roses and tulips.
34. My first car was a used Toyota Camry I bought from a dealer when I was 25. The heat didn’t work. They refused to take responsibility for it, so I got the NY Department of Consumer Affairs and Regional Toyota on their asses and they fixed it for free and were really nice to me after that.
35. Summer to me will always be yellow and purple loostrife and grasshoppers and the sound of someone mowing their lawn in the distance. It will smell like Coppertone and Yoo-Hoo from when Deanne Prusak and I used to lay out at the pool at Hopewell Gardens. Except she was olive-skinned and tanned, and I…wasn’t. And didn’t.
36. Somewhere at the bottom of Sylvan Lake in New York there are three child-sized peridot birthstone rings.
37. I know how to change my own oil but see part 2 of #30, above.
38. I lived in Boston for five years but only saw historic landmarks when people came to visit.
39. At 23 or so, while wearing the teeniest bikini you could imagine and still be legal, I ran into my sleazy boss on Nantasket Beach. The following Monday he kept staring at me like I was fresh meat in the Combat Zone.
40. I was valedictorian of my high school class and my best friend was salutatorian. And it didn’t make one lick of difference to either of our lives.
41. My favorite ice cream is Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. Followed by Heath Bar Crunch. And then a flavor called “Cherry Orchard” which Friendly’s doesn’t seem to make anymore, the bastards.
42. I never smoked a cigarette or had any desire to try. (tobacco, anyway)
43. I’ll drive an hour out of my way for Thai food. The spicier the better. With a cold Singh Ha on the side.
44. I could never do a cartwheel.
45. Offer me a selection of the finest wines in the world, and I’ll take a beer. Out of the bottle. If all you have is Bud, then I’ll take water.
46. I saw “Keeping the Faith” about two dozen times, mostly for the scene where Ben Stiller kisses Jenna Elfman.
47. When I was sixteen, and in front of my father, Harry Chapin kissed me on the mouth when I came up for an autograph after one of his concerts.
48. I was a bridesmaid at a lesbian wedding in Boston. Bride and bride wore matching motorcycle jackets, exchanged rings, and then we had dinner.
49. I wore my hair in cornrows for about a week during college, until some black girls shamed me out of it.
50. I went square dancing because my first boyfriend really liked it. If you tell anyone else, I’ll have to kill you. No, I did not wear gingham and bows, but he had a really embarrassing shirt.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

If the good Goddess intended me to be Gumby, she would have given me an orange pony

It’s never good when I’m lying on the physical therapist’s spine table and see him coming at me with a twinkle in his eye and a frightening piece of hardware that looks like a wheel attached to a crowbar. I know that I’ve got some, well, unique things going on in my muscles and spinal structure and other body workers have gotten varying results through unusual means, but Christ.

“Should I be nervous?” I say.

He smiles. “Just turn onto your side.”

He jabs said piece of hardware into the side of the table and said table gains the ability to pivot like one of those adjustable triangles I used back in the days when I used to bend over drafting tables and probably developed at least some of the spinal deterioration that led our paths to cross. (“It’s a temporary condition,” he often jokes, when someone about my age comes in with a back problem. “It’s called ‘40s’”)

Meanwhile, as I’m thinking up rude jokes about hardware that I would never, ever say in front of him, he brings both ends of the table together so I end up in an exaggerated fetal curl and all the stuff that’s holding my upper and middle back together feels like it’s going to tear like a hunk of overstretched Silly Putty. “Hey, watch it!” I say. “Those muscles haven’t stretched for over a year.”

“Come on,” he says. “I’ve done this to you before.”

“Tom. If you had done this to me before, I’m sure I would have remembered.”

He of course employs what he calls the “best trait in a physical therapist” which is the ability to ignore the bitching and whining of his patients while he twists them up like pretzels.

Then he eases off and stabilizes the table. “I’m not letting you leave until we get 100% range of motion.”

Easy for him to say. Tomorrow’s his day off. He won’t be around when my fibromyalgic muscles decide that they don’t like the lengths to which they’ve been taken and snap back to their original tautness. I mention this to him every time he stretches me and while he’s a good listener about other things, this bit of information he never seems to believe.

“Then you might as well have my mail delivered here and set up my computer in the corner.”

He doesn’t respond.

“Just for one day,” I say. “For one day I wish we could trade bodies. Let’s make it tomorrow.”

“Can’t,” he grins. “I’m going golfing.” He didn’t actually say this. If he had the ability to hear the bitching and whining of his patients, then this is what he might have said.

Instead he says, “Get onto your hands and knees.”

Said in a different context, and if I were healthier, I might have been intrigued. But this doesn’t sound good either. Again, rude jokes are going through my head faster than I can process them.

“I want you to sit back on your heels,” he says.

“I want to look like Halle Berry, but that’s not going to happen, either.” I didn’t actually say this, either. But if I wasn’t so busy thinking up rude jokes I might have.

I try. I try so hard. I drop my head down like he’d instructed and sit backward and, Christ. It doesn’t hurt, but it just doesn’t want to go. Even after twenty minutes of heat packs, electrical stimulation and ultrasound, it doesn’t want to go. I take a straw poll and all of my body parts want to be in a lounge chair in the Bahamas sipping a margarita.

He goes to check on another victim – I mean, patient. “Keep at it,” he calls to me as he’s walking away. “Or else I’ll come sit on your back.”

This I didn’t want to even think about, thought I doubt he’d ever do it. He’s six-foot-forever and solid.

“I don’t like you anymore, “ I say, and I can hear him laugh. I try again. A little closer this time. Each time a little closer. Then I reach my ending point. It’s where the muscles entering my kneecap scream “ENOUGH.”

He returns to my cubicle and raises his eyebrows at me, now flat on my back. “What, giving up already?”

I’ve been going to this guy for a year. I have no problem being called a wimp. I try to do what he asks, because he knows his stuff, and eventually, what he does helps me, but when my body says stop I stop. If he teases me, then I just ignore him.

“Enough,” I say.

“Then do your stretches.”

The bread-and-butter stretch in my program is what he calls the side-to-side, where you’re on your back, with your knees bent, and with feet and knees together, move your knees from side to side. It’s supposed to correct any misalignments in your spine and stretch your back muscles. When I first started I could only move my knees between 11:00 and 1:00. He’d wanted me to get to 10:00 and 2:00, and that’s where I’ve been for months, less when something in my back is stuck. Now he seems to want more. He watches me for a while, shaking his head with amusement, then, apparently unsatisfied with my timid attempts to go farther, puts out a hand so far from where I think I can move my knees it might as well be on Pluto.

Eventually I touched it with my knee.

“There you go,” he says. “Keep doing it.”

I’m doing it. I’m going to be sore as hell tomorrow, but I’m doing it. My knees are almost resting flat against the table – well, if the table were wider. I feel something in my upper lumbar snap – don’t worry, this is a good kind of snap, a misalignment that both he and my chiropractor haven’t been able to fix for a while. Christ. I’m moving. I’m moving. I’m almost…Gumby.

I’m released. I’ve done it. He high-fives me and tells me to walk on the treadmill

I walk. I feel taller. I feel…strange.

He’d gone to check on something in his office, then after a few minutes, comes back in. “So how do you feel?” he asks.

“I don’t know yet,” I say. “My body’s still in shock.”

“No, no. You’re supposed to say, ‘Tom, I’ve never felt so good.”

And in a different context…oh, stop it. I smile into the mirror. “Tom, I never felt so good.”

I might have a different answer tomorrow. But for now, this is enough.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

I did not say "eek!"

Yet another rodent decided that our home is cozier than anything he or she could procure in our neighbor’s houses or in the copious grass and forest lands that surround us. I found this out while I was doing dishes the other day. In my peripheral vision, I saw a tiny black shape zoom across the floor inches from my bare toes and disappear underneath the cabinets.

All right, I let out a sound. Loud enough to bring husband away from the television.

“What?” he said.

“Mouse. Damn it.”

He grins. “You said ‘eek.’”

“I did not.”

“Yes, you did. You sounded like one of those ladies in a Tom and Jerry cartoon.”

“Did not.”

“Did too.”

“Just set the damned trap, OK?”

And Mr. or Ms. Mouse was in it the next afternoon.

Husband discovers this and holds it up to my face. I do not want a Have-A-Heart trap filled with frightened mouse and his or her excrement so close to my sensory organs. “Get that away from me.”

He does that grinning thing away. Little bastard. “Look how tiny he is.”

“I see that.”

“This tiny little thing made you say ‘eek!’”

“Just take care of it, OK?”

“Taking care of it” does not mean anything Sopranos-related in this household. We drive the mouse to a secret undisclosed location at least a mile from the house, and not near any other houses (because that would be unneighborly) and set it free.

“It’s too cold out,” he says.

“Whatdya mean, ‘too cold?’ We have this conversation every year. He’s got fur. He can burrow. How do you think they survive the winter?”

“By coming into our house,” he says.

I have visions of last winter, and the seven winters before that, when he envisioned setting up a terrarium for all wayward mice, and keeping it in the laundry room until Spring. I love my husband for his soft, kind heart, but-- “We’re not keeping him,” I say firmly.

“Because of the mouse poop.”

“Something like that,” I say.

He sighs, and speculates how he can get the little guy into the “holding pen” we had from our former hamster: a plastic tub about as big as a shoebox, where you put the little critter to keep him out of trouble while you clean the Habitrail. “But last time I tried that, he got out.”

“So just leave him in the trap.”

He looks at me like I’m Cruela DeVil. “Without any food or water?”

I sigh. “Fine. Whatever.” I know I’ve lost this one. Let him do what he wants. If the mouse gets out, then he can clean all the poop out from behind everything on the kitchen counters. Again.

Last night, as I’m getting into bed, he comes in, looking all proud of himself. “I did it. I made a kind of tunnel with a Zip-lock bag and shuttled him right into the box.”

And in the morning, I saw it. The box, covered with a towel to keep him extra-toasty, with half a Dixie cup filled with water. And the black back of what I can only assume was our freeloader, burrowed into the wood shavings.

When he wakes up, he comes into my writing room, grinning that grin again. “You saw the mouse?”

“I saw the mouse.”

The grin turns more smug. “Did you see how small he is?”

I don’t turn away from the screen. “I saw how small he is.”

He picks up the pen that’s sitting on my computer table. “He’s only half the size of this pen, all stretched out, and you said, ‘Eek!’”

“Enough with the eek. You’re getting him out of here today, right?”

“Yeah, sure. I just didn’t want to do it last night because I didn’t want to wake you up by opening the garage door.

Yeah. Right. And as he left the room in search of coffee (and probably to stare at his friend), I smiled.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A message from the President

We interrupt tonight’s airing of “American Idol” to bring you an important message from the Oval Office. Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.

Bush, in a sincere blue tie, focuses seriously into the camera: My fellow Americans. I’m sure by now you’ve heard about the launch of Operation Swarmer over Iraq. I just wanted to take this opportunity to clear up any dis-I mean misinformation you might have heard from the media.

There is a terrible insurgency problem going on in Iraq right now. Anyone who lives there could tell ya. The littlest child who’s had to run away from one of them stingers could tell ya. And I’m afraid that’s that there Af-ri-can-ized Honey Bee.

Yep, that there critter has been a terrible scourge, ever since the previous administration deregulated border control, well, it’s just been comin’ farther and farther north every year. They’re all over the ranch down there in Crawford. Me and Laura, ain’t a day goes by when you don’t see cattle stung or sometimes even a great big swarm of ‘em comin’ over the horizon, from Mexico way. You don’t want to see what comes next when you meet up with the business end of one of those babies. (Gives camera weak smile)

(Looking serious and sincere again) And now I’m afraid, well, we had our best fact-checkers from the FBI on the case, you know the guys, and as far as our intelligence tells us, a bunch of ‘em musta snuck aboard one of our fine military aircraft comin’ out of one of our southern bases – wouldn’t be at liberty to tell you which one. Or one of them terrorists launched a colony of them. Never can tell with those characters.

Either way, we simply can’t sit back and do nothing while our new friends and fellow Democratic citizens battle this scourge on their own. (Presses fist into desk) And that is why we had to launch those giant aerosols over Iraq. Why, those little bitty cans, they don’t do squat. Oh, maybe they’ll give you some personal protection or maybe keep ‘em out of your houseplants but for the real mother of all swarmers, we needed the big giant economy-size aerosols. So we blow a little more out of the ozone layer over the Middle East. (snickers) Them people are used to the sun, ain’t they? I’d consider it a fair trade off if one less Iraqi child sleeps a little bit better at night knowing that swarms of ---

(Howard Dean bursts through the hidden door into the oval office, looking pissed)

Bush: Hey, Howard, how’d you get out of…I mean what a nice surprise…

Dean: It’s air assault, you tumbleweed pissant. Air Assault. Not aerosols. Christ, I can’t believe we lost to you twice.

Bush: Huh?

Dean: Air Assault. Over Iraq. Operation Swarmer. Not honeybees. Stinger missiles. Because you can’t admit that we’re in a quagmire down there, we’re putting Americans in….

Bush: Air Assault?

Dean, letting out his breath: Yes. Not swarms of bees. For Christ’s sake…

Bush, looking sheepishly into camera: Well. That’s certainly a horse of a different stripe. Tell ya what. I’ll get my intelligence people on that and get back to ya’ll. Meanwhile, get back to enjoying American Idol. (Leans back) I know I’ll be votin’ for that little African American lady with the big voice. Good night now.

Dean, under his breath, as the camera starts to fade out (visible twitch begins under left eye): Voting…voting…voting…

Bush, putting a hand on Dean’s arm: You still takin’ that Zoloft, Howard? How ‘bout you come down to Crawford for a spell. Nice and relaxing down there. I’ll let you wear my bee suit…

Friday, March 17, 2006

Fiction Friday

(Note from Opus: I’m running this excerpt because it’s one of my favorites, and because it’s almost Spring. A little background for those of you who haven’t read the manuscript: Frankie’s Hollywood life has collapsed, and now due to a mudslide, her house has collapsed too. Before the timbers even settle, she gets into the only possession she has left – a cherry-red Corvette convertible- and heads east to her family’s B&B in Woodstock for some R&R and TLC. But it dawns on her somewhere in Texas that she might not be welcome. Her sister Jude has moved into the B&B to take care of their ailing mother, and thinks she needs to be placed in a nursing home. Frankie has been ignoring Jude’s phone messages for weeks.)


When I finally pulled into the B&B’s gravel parking lot, there was no room at the inn. The lot overflowed with old Volvos and such with bumper stickers like “Free Tibet” and “My Other Car is a Broom.” I had to work the ‘Vette into a muddy patch of grass between an old maple tree and the Hoffman’s fence. I almost left, to hang out in town for a few hours until Jude’s aging hippie friends had skedaddled. But I was exhausted and road-ugly and didn’t want to explain to anyone who might still recognize me what I was doing here and how had I escaped from that mudslide?

So I snuck in. Not hard, I’d done it so many times as a teen. I knew how to open the door with nary a squeak, how to slip unnoticed up the two flights of stairs to my room.

But this was no longer my parent’s bed and breakfast. I didn’t remember the smell of incense from any of the nice Jewish families we boarded in the 70s. Or the sound of New Age music, like whales calving in a sea of oil. Then I spotted Jude. She was in my mother’s living room, sitting on the floor in a circle with a dozen or so other fiftyish women, wearing nothing but flower garlands and beatific smiles.


There’s an unwritten law in Hollywood that if your flesh is less than perfect, you’re supposed to keep it to yourself. No thong bikinis, no plunge-to-Tijuana, and no sitting around my mother’s living room naked with a dozen of your closest friends gloriously doing the same.

After so many years of exposure to nothing but firm flesh or surgical approximations thereof, I wasn’t prepared to see so much of the natural aging process at work. Especially not at ten AM on a Saturday morning, after I’d driven two thousand miles and had several sleep-deprived nights without a single alcoholic beverage to alter my reality.

Besides the incense and whale tunes and naked women (some diving for cover at my entrance), it was still my mother’s living room. Lace doilies on the arms of pea green velour sofas. Fussy lamps and uncomfortable ladder-backed chairs festooned with the same hand-needlepointed pillows she’d had since our split-level in North Babylon.

Although it had all been pushed aside to accommodate Jude’s tribe of middle-aged wood nymphs.

My mother would have plotzed. Put some clothes on, for God’s sake, you’ll all catch your deaths!

Often morphing into Sylvia Goldberg under duress, I might have done the same, but several factors stopped me. One, I was an uninvited intruder upon this unusual bit of New Age self-expression and had no right to claim indignation; two, I was damned tired; and three, Jude beat me to the punch with a single withering look. A look burned upon my retinas as a toddler when I’d toddled into rooms I wasn’t welcome in and caught her in a variety of compromising positions. A look that clearly said, “tell anyone about this at your own peril.”

“I’m sorry for the interruption,” she told her minyan in a lilting tone while untangling herself from the floor. “This is a safe place. Focus on your breathing. Bathe in the life force.”

Meanwhile I hid in the kitchen, where I hoped Jude had some coffee. Although with her rapidly evolving political stances, what she had in the cupboards was anybody’s guess.

Jude burst in, tightening the belt of an unbleached cotton robe. Her large, soft body had grown even more Rubenesque since my last visit; had to be riding the scales at somewhere close to Einstein’s IQ. She looked like she couldn’t decide if she wanted to hug me or slap me. She settled on neither. Just stared, stared, stared, with those deep-set judging eyes.

“You look terrible.” She pushed back a cascade of salt-and-pepper curls. “Are you in trouble?”

I smiled sweetly. “No. Just thought I’d dress up like Martha Stewart and drop in for a visit.”

She gave me a look that knew better. Our visits were carefully orchestrated diplomatic events, often initiated by my nephew. The UN had an easier time getting people to the table.

I relented. “OK. A little trouble. But nothing major. I didn’t kill anyone. I just need a place to stay a while and regroup. And, you know. See Mom, of course.”

“Of course.” She nodded, brows still furrowed with suspicion. “All right. We’ll talk. But this is really not a good time.”

She leaned toward the living room. “Deep breaths. Feel the warmth of the sun penetrating your skin like Goddess Earth.”

I cocked my head at her. She nodded, waving a hand. “We’re welcoming the vernal equinox and the renewal of the earth. It’s a goddess ritual weekend.” As nonchalantly as Mom would have said, “just me and the neighbor ladies exchanging recipes.”

Although I doubted that Sylvia Goldberg ever had a coffee klatch with the local women in the nude, doing deep breathing exercises and letting the sun warm their tired old bones. But what did I know back then? I was in school six hours a day. All I saw was a proficient but slightly tired and menopausal Jewish mother at the stove, in her garden, behind the sewing machine. Pushing up her reading glasses and yelling at my father. But it was Woodstock in the 1970s. She could have been selling pot out the back door for pin money for all I knew.

“Basically it’s friends letting me practice on them.” Jude switched to a buddy-buddy tone. “After this, we’re hitting the sweat lodge. You’re welcome to join us. You look like you could use it.”

I didn’t care for sweating with strangers, especially not in the hut Ethan told me that Jude had set up in our tick-and pricker-infested woods. “I think I just need some sleep.”

“Take Sylvia’s room,” she said. “It’s the only one vacant.”

Vacant. “You already moved her.”

Jude blinked at me like I’d just teleported in from Mars with a brand new invention called the wheel. “Yes, Frankie. I already moved her. You apparently didn’t think it was important enough to get involved in choices we should have both been making about our mother’s health. If you had seen her, if you had any inkling of what Ethan and I have been going through, you would have known I had no other alternative.”

Vacant. I knew that. Jude told me. On the answering machine. I hadn’t called her back. I hadn’t wanted to know.

“We can talk about this later,” Jude said.

Vacant. My mother in a nursing home. It weighed upon me like a tribe of fat naked women. Smothered me.

“Honestly I didn’t know what to think when you stopped answering your messages. I’m relieved to see you, at least. I was worried that you’d dropped off the face of the earth.”

And then she returned to her charges, shedding her robe as she walked. Huge dimpled rump welcoming the return of spring.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A reason to like St. Patrick's Day again!

Twenty-five years ago this St. Patrick’s Day, while jogging on the Syracuse University campus, I got hit by a car.

It was all my journalism professor’s fault. Because his first assignment to us, the semester previous, was to write our own obituary. I thought it was an immensely stupid assignment, so I wrote something that required as little thought and seemed as plausible as any other cause of death: that I met my demise at the hand of a reckless driver while I was jogging.

“Be careful what you ask for” didn’t occur to me at the time. Hell, I was nineteen and immortal. I just wanted to get the stupid thing done. It was dumb enough that the requirement for the course was to type 35 words per minute on a manual typewriter without having to do a lame exercise like this. I was a journalist! I wanted to go outside and interview someone! Not sit “home” in my ugly airless dorm room speculating on the manner of my death.

I wasn’t thinking about this at all that chilly St. Patty’s morn. I had a break between classes. A light snow was falling, I pulled on my sweats, laced up my brand-new Nike trainers, gray with blue accents, grabbed my keys and ID card and head out the door. And it was a lovely jog – down the street to the Sadler and Lawrinson dorms, around the curve of the Carrier Dome (the concrete barely dry back then), up the hill and on toward Comstock Avenue, the long, fairly flat road that heads out to Manley Field House. My usual route was a three miles – one and a half out, one and a half back. The halfway point was a loop around the cemetery opposite the field house, then home.

I’d almost made it back. I turned from Comstock onto Euclid (where now there sits a guard house, so no rapists or car bombs or similar will make it onto campus proper, at least by car) and started the curve around the retaining wall below The Mount. From there I’d go around the Women’s Gym and back down the hill. The sidewalk was icy, so I stuck as close as I could to the edge of the road.

Going around the curve, I met the car coming the other way. It was a big car, a big old shark of a car like something from the early 60s. Coming too fast. Then it went into a skid. The next thing I knew my knee smashed through the headlight, I did a probably very ungraceful forward-roll over the opposite fender and ended up flat on my back on the ground.

Several people were standing around me. Including the driver. He looked terrified.

He kept offering to take me to the hospital. Then, when the situation seemed in hand, everyone else scattered, and he offered me other things. Tickets to the basketball game. Any seat I wanted. He could do it; he was the team’s equipment manager.

I could smell the alcohol on his breath. At least that’s how I remembered it. I also remembered at some point he was mad at me for taking out his headlight with my kneecap. I think that was before he realized the potential trouble he was in.

I wanted nothing to do with him. No way was I getting in his car. I wanted an ambulance, which came and loaded me aboard.

All that was found, after the ER doctors had cut away my sweatpants and gave me a tetanus shot, was a sprain to the knee that had made contact. Something on the car had torn the nylon upper of one of my running shoes, which pissed me off because I’d barely broken them in, but I was lucky. If I hadn’t been all warmed up from my jog, if I’d been farther out into the road, the injuries might have been worse.

I got a brace, which all my roommates signed, and had to use crutches (picture that on a hilly campus in still-icy March in Syracuse before the ADA laws.). Turned out to be a good way to meet guys. At least once a day, someone offered to carry my backpack and walk me to wherever I was going.

But still, I could have done without the injury.

This year, however, I have reason to like the holiday again. My nephew, along with his school’s marching band, will be participating in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan. So anyone with a TV within broadcasting range – check out the Kingston High School Marching Band. They’re pretty cool.

So is having a good memory to wipe away the bad ones.

Go Kingston! I hope to God it doesn’t snow.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Of all the gin joints...

In the early 90s, I wrote a novel about two childhood friends from a small Adirondack town who go their separate ways into adulthood. The wilder of the two, Darcy Gill, had run off at a tender age with her white leather cowboy boots and miniskirt and boyfriend to seek her fame and fortune. But when it all goes to hell, she eventually winds up in Boston, where her more level-headed and practical friend Abby now lives a boring life as an accountant in a decaying marriage with her soon-to-be-philandering husband. Darcy is pregnant and broke and the white boots have seen better days and she hopes Abby will help her. It could have made a decent novel but I didn’t know how to handle it then, so I stuck it in the closet and never went back to finish it.

It’s Darcy I keep thinking about. Especially every Christmas, when I get that inevitable card from Mrs. Robert Oppenheimer and family, postmarked somewhere in southern Maryland. It’s one of those very religious cards (not that I’m knocking “very religious,” but it’s part of the story so I hope you’ll just go with me on this one) with the glitter and the angel’s wings and the delicate script inside about Our Blessed Lord. Inside is the inevitable letter. I found it when I was cleaning the other day. “Dearest Friends and Family...” it begins. She talks about how God has blessed her and her two sons and her new husband, etc., etc. etc. Not that I’m knocking letters like that. All right. I am. Just a little.

But this is because Mrs. Robert Oppenheimer used to be Darcy.

I rarely craft a character based wholly on someone I’ve met; usually it’s an amalgam of some kind or wholly from my imagination, plus some pieces of me. I’d written Darcy the same way. I’d written three quarters of the first draft before I ran into her in person.

I’d just registered for room and board at my very first writer’s conference and was walking back out to the parking lot to get my things. A maroon van takes a too-wide turn into the spot next to my car and screeches to a halt.

On the back of the van is a bumper sticker: “I’ve got PMS and a gun, now what was your problem again?”

Out pops a little bitty bit of a thing, in cutoff shorts and a tank top, with a muss of brown hair and a determination in her eyes that makes me take a step backward. She sees me. “Where do you go pee around here?” she says. “Jesus, I been drivin’ straight through from Maryland. This here’s my boyfriend Louie’s van and he told me not to stop for nothing. He even got one me of them pee-can things but it’s full.”

I point her and her pee-can thing toward the administration building.

Meanwhile I carry my various bags to my room. I was a scholarship student that year. Which had nothing to do with writing skills, it just meant you didn’t have enough money for tuition and begged the conference organizers for a chance to go at a discount. Not only did that mean I had to do some work for the conference, but it meant I had to share a room. I had enough roommates from hell in my life to be a little nervous, but heck, it was only a week, and if she was truly awful, at least it would give me something good to write about.

The little bitty bit of a thing with PMS and a gun walks into my room with a beaming smile and twinkling eyes. “Hey, I’m Shelby.”

I pictured her in white leather cowboy boots. I saw her in my novel. I’d been seeing her in my novel for the last I don’t remember how many months. “You’re Darcy,” I said.

I explained what I meant, and boy, was she psyched. “Always wanted to be in a book,” she said. “Heck, if I can’t write one, I should at least be in one.”

Over the week I learned how exactly Darcy-like she was. Except for the hair color (Darcy was a blonde), she was a damned good ringer. She was originally from Louisville, which explained the accent. That’s where Darcy had run away to. But Shelby had run the other way, at thirteen, stayed with relatives, and worked a number of jobs, including a stint at a massage parlor that catered to a few congressmen. She wouldn’t name names, but told me that she was quite popular. She was then, like me, around thirty, but still a wild woman, telling me more than I needed to know about her bald-headed sugar daddy boyfriend Louie. She got me to loosen up some. By the end of the week I was an honorary wild-woman, dancing and drumming and howling at the moon.

We kept in touch. I loved her letters, I laughed until I could have used her pee-can. She asked about Darcy, wrote about the wild stuff she was doing, about her two boys (she’d married very young and divorced), about Louie.

Then Christmas came, and with it, the letter. “Dearest friends and family…” I read it, aghast. Perhaps she’d cleaned it up a bit, given dearest family and friends the edited version of her life, but to me this seemed like an entirely different person. The original bits of Darcy (I mean Shelby, I mean…) winked through occasionally, but on the whole, this was formal, stilted, like a beginning stab at a theme paper.

Then her letters resumed, same as they were before. She told me she wouldn’t be back at the conference the next year. Too much work, and she wasn’t writing her poetry any more, she was painting, so what was the point? But we still wrote, and eventually the letters petered off into the Christmas list void.

Then one Christmas I got a card with a return address I didn’t recognize. “Who the heck is Mrs. Robert Oppenheimer?” I asked husband. I opened it, and found the type of card and letter I described above. It was more religion than I’d ever heard out of her, and more than I’d ever imagined she had in her life. Like she’d found God along with her new husband and the Shelby I’d met had been swallowed up into this new life. In with the card was a beatific wedding photo, Shelby looking pure as the proverbial snow in her white gown, her stately new (and much older) husband Robert, and her two “boys,” now almost men.

I still get those cards. But I’ve been wondering. if Darcy could turn into Abby, maybe Abby could turn into Darcy. That there could be a tiny hellion in white leather cowboy boots somewhere in my soul.

It’s fun to think about.

And during those intervening years, whenever I went to a writer’s conference, I’d get a double room, hoping that maybe lighting might strike twice, that I might meet another one of my characters. I’d sure love to share a room with Frankie Goldberg.

But it never happened.

Eventually, I started getting single rooms. I got tired of waiting.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

My point...and I do have one...

Was feeling kind of funky yesterday, with the impending rain and a lot of extra achy stuff and vacillating hormones, so I channeled the spirit of my Grandpa Dave (nothing stopped this guy; he’s several blog entries in himself), took a couple of Motrin, did a little self-hypnosis and husband and I went out shopping. We were out of many of my hamster-food staples, plus I wanted to hit the cheapo DVD racks at Best Buy, to find something laugh-my-ass-off funny. Also we we’d agreed to check out TiVo, as I went through a cost-benefit analysis with husband (which amounted to the currently advertised rebate off the box and the monthly service fee versus his time and frustration spent hunting for the tape he thought he put “Boston Legal” on and my time and frustration waiting for him to find it and listening to the swearing and watching the steam come out his ears and the vein bulge on his forehead while he looked). Which amounted to a mutual decision that it was worth checking out. Ditto, we did the same process for at least pricing a second computer. If both of us continue in the trend I’m seeing and both start doing more work at home, both needing computers and internet connections, then by my cost-benefit analysis, a second workstation would be cheaper than a divorce. Or a good lawyer when I strangle him.

I don’t know what it is about Best Buy, but something happens to men the second they walk through the door. Can’t be that friendly greeter (they always have an average-guy type at each entrance, who was probably chosen by some demographic focus group to appeal to the average-guy gene in anyone of the male gender, be he more William F. Buckley or Busby Berkely, so he’ll want to buy all kind of electronic toys), so I’m guessing it’s the magnetic field. They’ve programmed a special type of proprietary particle energy so that it harmonizes with the Y chromosome and attracts all men directly to the big screen TVs. I’m sure that if I look hard enough I’ll find the patent application on Google.

Really. Every time we go in I have to steer him away. And it’s not just me. I’ve seen other couples, the woman’s arm casually looping itself through her mate’s, herding him toward other parts of the store. “No, honey, we can’t spend four thousand dollars on a plasma TV as big as the side of a panel truck. Remember? We came here to get a new battery for our cell phone.” Or price iPods for little Johnny’s birthday. Or whatever.

So we find the TiVo, and husband begins the ritual male electronic-shopping dance. First circle around the product. Place finger against cheek in thinking pose. Read the big print on the box (only squids read small print, or installation instructions). At some point, an average guy in a blue shirt will approach. Husband looks skittish, like he’d been caught knitting.

AG: “Can I help you?”
Husband: “Yeah. Uh…” He lowers his voice. “How does this work?”
AG: “You got a high-speed phone connection?”
Husband: “Uh…I need one?”
AG: (shrugs like we’ve just rolled in on some manure truck from Kansas) “Well, just a regular phone will work.”
Wife: “We have one of those.”
Husband shoots wife dirty look.
Husband: “So I heard if you buy lifetime service it’s only $300? Plus the box? Minus the rebate?”
AG (pauses): “Well. That service fee is only for the life of the box.”
Husband (shooting wife dirty looks so she won’t even think about making any potentially emasculating comments) “So how long do they last?”
AG: “Can’t say. Could be four, five years. Could get a bum box and last a year and a half.”
Wife: “How long is the rebate going to last?” Because the thing about being together for so long is that because of this new, potentially costly variable, I know that husband will want to think the whole concept through for, say, about a week. I also know that he has been programmed by his father and all generations of men in his lineage preceding him to now go to every electronics store within a fifty-mile radius to try to find a better deal.
AG: “The special ends today.” Before either of us can react he adds, “But it goes on special like, every few weeks, so keep checking it out.”

And so, after putting this on hold and glossing through the computers, we went shopping for DVDs. I know, this is stupid, but “The Wedding Singer” is one of my guilty pleasures, but it was only ten bucks, so I picked it up. I’m a little nostalgic for the eighties. I “came of age” as they say, in the seventies, but that was such a confused, stupid era that I’ve disowned all the fads and frou-frou from those times. Come on. Billy Beer? Pet rocks? Disco? Get real. The eighties could be just as ridiculous, but at least there was something with a little meat going on. A little style. Joe Jackson. English Power Pop. Flashdance clothes. Reagan kind of sucked but at least we were having fun with our culture. And I can’t even look at Jon Lovitz without smiling. But maybe I liked the eighties a little too much. What I found scary a couple of Halloweens ago was not a ghoul or goblin but putting together my costume. I went as Madonna in her “Like a Virgin” era and every bit of that costume came from my own closet. The dress was the one I wore to my tenth college reunion, when puffy skirts with lace crinolines were back in. The denim jacket – well, who didn’t have one of those? The lace gloves were part of a gag gift from my bridal shower. The fishnets were actually from the early nineties, when all the pantyhose had some texture or pattern or something crawling up your calf, the feminizing reaction to all those masculine suits with the shoulder pads. The boots were the ones I wore to work every other day – black lace-up anklets with a chunky heel.

Only one of my neighbors knew who I was playing. I didn’t think I was being as esoteric as, say, the year I went as the movie “Romancing the Stone,” dressed as a Mick Jagger groupie, or the time I ratted out my hair and grabbed an empty whisky bottle and went as Janis Joplin.

Sometimes I just think too much.

Meanwhile we’ve purchased groceries, stopped off to pick up take-out for dinner, and we’re home, and husband re-commences his search for “Boston Legal.” And I make my own cost-benefit analysis. I go off to do something else.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

In search of my next act....

(Note from Opus. Oops, forgot Fiction Friday again. Well, this time, perhaps you can write your own. Start with today's confounding Yogi teabag message: "We can learn from a tree how to exist in ecstasy." You've got ten minutes. Go.)


I’ve been enjoying reading many of your various blog entries where you bitch about life in your respective workplaces. I could have used an outlet like that a few years ago.

I’d vent about the endless meetings in the airless room with the hard wooden designer chairs where nothing was decided. Deadlines set that everyone but my department ignored. Impossible goals painted in glorious PowerPoint flow charts by our exuberant CEO. Projects piled up so high that literally the backup paperwork reached the hem of my skirt.

I would tell you about the screaming diva who called in “sick” for a week and held a major project and the workflow of two entire departments hostage until she got her promotion and her due. I would tell you about our customers from hell and their ludicrous demands, and how we were expected to deliver the impossible with a smile.

I would tell you about the day of the February bloodletting, when half a dozen or so people were let go, two of which were good friends, and as I was trying to get the hell out of the there and drive away faster than the tears could fall, I noticed the gray, bulging sky and the coven of black crows lined up on the roof of the building waiting for the carrion to cool.

I would tell you about the butterflies on my stomach on the eve of each performance evaluation. But each would net me glowing reviews: for my “no problem” attitude, for my willingness to help anyone who asked at the drop of an e-mail, how I took on extra work cheerfully, without complaint, and on deadline, even when it meant delaying a scheduled vacation so that the yearly trade show, God forbid, would not go forward without their usual whiz-bang sales presentation. This praise earned me my value as the “go-to” girl. Gave me what I thought, for a while, was my worth. I wish I could tell you they earned me more. Wish that each of these twice-yearly evaluations with the high scores and the happy comments in my boss’s loopy purple handwriting would have netted me more than a stack of paperwork in a box I’ve yet to unpack. A promotion, a fat raise, a parking space, an assistant…no. My boss shone a flashlight to the handwriting on the wall once when she took me aside and said basically that if I was content doing what I was doing for the rest of my career, my job was secure. But even the most stellar performance evaluation only meant that the company was growing more and more appreciative…and that’s all.

But I stayed, and kept smiling, and kept saying “no problem,” and kept putting in my 9-5, although in my case it was more like 8:30 to 5:30, 6:00, 6:30…and anyone who has been reading this blog with any regularity knows what happened next.

Even bolstered up by these reviews, I’d never been one to define myself by a job. I’ve been “let go,” “laid off,” “surplused,” or plain old “fired” (depending on the management lexicon of the era) four times in my career. Each time there are people quick to say, “don’t forget that you are not your job.”

And I know I’m not. I’ve done various things for various companies in various capacities, picked up a lot of life experience and some nifty skills and a whole lot of writing material along the way, but what I did never truly defined me as a person. Maybe the “go-to” girl was what I did during the day, but it wasn’t ME.

I am, was, will always be, first and foremost, a writer. Even when I didn’t know I wanted to be one, I would write. (Ask my mother. As a child I wrote on the sheets with crayons.) I collected experiences, personalities, those little human frailties and idiosyncrasies which make us all so endearing and frustrating at the same time. Whether I get published or not, whether I suck or not, this is what I am, and no one, not a cranky agent or a career counselor or my next job or a performance review or an injury or a disease or two can take that away from me. If I lost my eyesight and the use of my hands (which happened once—the hands, not the eyesight), I’ll still find a way. And whatever happens tomorrow, I’ll still find a way.

And hopefully I’ll still be joining you at the cyber water-cooler, complaining about the isolation and characters that won’t comply and the mounting rejection slips, but I’ll be there – with my cup of tea, and a joke, and a wry comment or two on the state of the world.

I’m looking forward to it.

And in my next job – when and if I find it – the “go-to” girl might just become the “go-to-someone-else-I’m-busy-girl.” And I’m REALLY looking forward to that.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

On the cultivation of an elegant vice

It’s just getting too healthy around here. With all this early to bed and early to rise, the oatmeal and the flax seed and the lack of caffeine and Diet Pepsi, I’m starting to feel, except for the use of mechanical devices, rather monastic.

At nearly 45, I’m supposed to have these adolescent flings with societally-snubbing behavior behind me. But a little voice keeps wheedling at me that I have to do something, if not drastic, at least a little shocking.

Therefore it’s time to develop an elegant vice. Which is perfectly proper for ladies of a certain age. Hey, if guys can have midlife crises and buy a red sports car and Speedos, then I can do the equivalent.

Except it would have to be something far more tasteful and less cliché. So no facelifts for me. No Madame Bovary with the groundskeeper.

I could be like those dance hall madams and keep a flask in my garter. Except I don’t wear garters and I’m on too much medication to drink.

Or take snuff and spit, but that sounds really disgusting.

Sky-high stilettos? Out of the question.

Body piercing? One of those little eyebrow rings, perhaps. Those are kind of cute. But I doubt husband will let me back into the house if I come home with one of those. Any others I’m hinky about since I have so many allergies. It would figure that I’d get some kind of exotic infection that will send my doctor to his books or call in his colleagues not for a consultation but for sheer entertainment’s worth. That’s never good.

Ditto breast enhancement.

I know some of you are voting for the blue hair, but don’t hold your breath.

That’s why I’ve settled upon a tattoo to commemorate my birthday. At first I thought, oh, that sounds so permanent, but so are the pierced ears I’ve had since I was four. It could be small and elegant, strategically placed. Future potential employers would never know.

Unless you decide to tell them.

I’m pretty sure I know what I want and where I’ll have it (at a little shop in town), but design suggestions will be entertained.

No clichés, please.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

One more trip around the sun

Today is an anniversary of sorts. It’s the day I decided that my back injury was serious enough to take me out of work. I’d actually sprained my lumbar spine the month before, picking up my just-repaired G4 and hauling it up the stairs, but stubborn as I was, I thought I could have a few visits to the chiropractor and continue to work through it. I’d done it before. A couple of frozen shoulders, a sore tailbone – just got a few snaps and kept on going.

And I was actually starting to feel better. But a month later, I drove my husband’s Jeep (my car wouldn’t start) to meet my father and nephews for dinner at a Mexican restaurant. It’s odd how crystalline every moment of that Wednesday night has become in my mind – the dishes we ordered, the jokes my nephews told, and as we were parting ways in the parking lot, hunting for the car key in my purse. I was having a little trouble with the key. Finding it, for one, because not only was it different from my own, but husband had just had a new key made and I told my father that earlier in the day I’d had problems finagling it in just right.

But I did it, and waved toward my father’s headlights, to signal that I got the key in the ignition and I was OK to drive home. The road was bumpy – the back roads here are continually under construction, it seems.

When I pulled into the garage, opened the driver’s door and put my right foot down, a rocket of pain shot from my lower back down into my foot. I might never know exactly what did it. Hitting all the potholes, the position of my leg reaching too far for the pedals, or just timing. 60% of people, I’ve heard, walk around with herniated disks and never feel any pain. Two of mine had just woken up and said “hello.”

I took the rest of the week off but the pain didn’t improve. Monday morning, good little work addict that I was, I was dressed and ready to go in. But my car battery had died again. I should have taken that as a sign, but no, I asked husband to drive me in. I lasted the morning, tanked up on Advil. The second day I drove myself. It was only a seventeen-minute commute, but I had to stop mid-way to rest, as the pain was intense enough to bring tears to my eyes. This is never a sign of anything good. But still, I tried. I had a deadline, a boss who was in Germany intervening in a press run that was going badly, and she needed me there to navigate files back and forth via FTP and e-mail. The third day, a snowy morning, I only stayed at work long enough to arrange for an x-ray, show my boss’s assistant where everything important was, and then I drove home, defeated.

It’s not exactly where everything started, but it’s where the camel of my life had taken the last straw and, in slow-motion, his legs splayed out from under him like twigs on ice.

It was the start of endless paperwork that made me sick, of endless prescriptions that made me sicker. Endless co-payments. And endless ice-packs, the only thing that brought me consistent relief.

And this was only the beginning of a seemingly endless spiral of defeats, discouragement and depression.

But it also brought some brilliance into my life. It brought me the realization that my stressful job was slowly killing me. It brought me closer to my husband and my family. It brought me a talented neurosurgeon. Who advocated like a bulldog to get me immediately onto the schedule of one of the best physical therapists and human beings I’ve ever met. To paraphrase an acquaintance’s poem, “the thing about spines is that they are attached to people.” Tom knows this so well. And when anything came up that he couldn’t help me with, he had a fat Rolodex and could point me in the right direction.

A year out, some things are better. The herniations have, as the doctors say, “resolved.” I can walk, drive, sit at the computer and write. The victories came slow but sure – the first time I got behind the wheel, the first time I visited a friend’s house and sat at her dining room table, the first time I went out to a restaurant, the first time I picked something up off the floor.

There are still some things I’m not ready to do yet, and I’m still learning. I will always be learning. The fibro is still a bear at times, I have my bad days. I have setbacks, when I overreach my limits and need yet another round of ice packs, yet another trip to the physical therapist. Sometimes, like now, they come in disheartening bunches. But as Tom gently reminds me, “you’ve been here before and you got out of it, and you’ll get out of this one.”

And I’ll get out of this one.

But hopefully I’m learning how to fall with grace and humor and style. To take a deep breath, evaluate the damage, dust the dirt off my ass and keep on going.

Monday, March 06, 2006

You're it!

Maybe I’m a little behind on the news, but what’s all this bullshit about tag being outlawed on school playgrounds?

OK, banning dodge ball, I understand. A dead-on hit with one of those things really smarts. Especially when you’re the little fat kid and the favorite target of every lunkhead in the school. I think I still have a few bruises from those days. But if I was in any way instrumental toward helping them work out their hostility issues early so they wouldn’t grow up to become lawyers or people who abuse their spouses or walk into malls and start spraying shoppers with bullets, then I guess I could call it taking one for the team.

I just wish I didn’t have to take so many.

Even hide-and-seek I could see putting the kibosh on. There’s nothing worse than finding a good hiding place and then no one bothers to come look for you, not even your older brother, and you’re there for hours and you have to pee and it’s getting dark and you’re hungry and your left foot has fallen asleep and strange sounds are coming from the forest and you don’t want to come out because you think you can hear Carrie Andress out there breathing, waiting to beat you up.

Well, maybe a good hit with a dodge ball could be worse.

Jump rope. There’s something that should also be considered for the verboten list. Ever watch a little fat girl jumping rope? She has to beg and whine until the popular girls let her jump in, and then, something mysterious happens to the ropes, instead of going round and round at a nice, low, jumpable rotation, they suddenly get higher and she tries anyway and ends up flat on her asphalt, with skinned knees, as the girls run away laughing and the teacher calls everyone back in.

Yeah. Maybe we should consider banning that, too. Of course if I had anything to do with young girls bonding and forming close friendships that would sustain them through the difficult times in their lives, instead of becoming scary loners like Squeaky Fromme, then maybe that was a good thing. I think my citation must have gotten lost in the mail.

But tag? Is there a playground game less innocuous? OK, when your brothers’ friends lurch up to you, grinning demonically, and punch you on the arm had enough to propel you backward, then declare you “it,” maybe that’s a good enough reason to at least put some restrictions on the game. Then again, common wisdom of that era used to say that if a boy hits you, it means that he really likes you. So maybe I was, once more, performing a public service. I was giving him a safe outlet to explore his confused pre-adolescent feelings so as he matures, he can learn to treat women better. Perhaps I wasn’t home when Gloria Steinham called.

Maybe we should ban recess altogether. Nobody gets hurt, nobody gets sued, nobody will need years of therapy when they grow up.

But then again, maybe some good old healthy American-style schoolyard bullying could serve you well later in life. Childhood trauma has been responsible for some of our best novels. The material it yields is almost as good as growing up Catholic. It turns you into a fighter. But I’m still waiting for my combat pay. And my body armor.

Maybe that got lost in the mail, too.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Are you there, God? It's me, Opus.

In the past year, as most of my medical conditions seem not to like caffeine, I switched my hot beverage of choice from coffee to herbal tea. It’s been tough going; occasionally I’d break down and get a decaf latte from Starbucks (still 13% caffeine, mind you, and I vibrate all the way home). But for a confirmed coffee snob who used to only purchase whole beans from local roasters, but only if the roast was fresh and the source known, this denial has been especially difficult. I pass the pot of coffee my husband makes for himself every morning and whimper. I stare longingly at the travel hot-cups of strangers, fantasizing about what they’re drinking. I keep my eyes straight ahead when I pass a Dunkin’ Donuts. So naturally I wouldn’t be satisfied with just any old garden-variety Lipton-In-The-Box tea. I drink the exotic kind with the Zen messages on the tags.

Some of these messages are befuddling, some downright ludicrous. Some, like the one I got the other day, “May you have faith in your worth and act with wisdom,” could catch me in a weak moment and make me cry.

When I opened this morning’s packet of Peach Detox, I’d just about had it.

“Your body is the temple of God.”

I felt like God and I needed to have a little chat.

“OK, God (if that is in fact your real name). About this temple business.

“You have no idea what it’s been like around here. Sure, you build all these temples, and then you walk away, because you’re too important to have anything to do with them after that. Big man. Big temple-building man. Hey, did you ever hear of a level, God? Even your son, that long-haired kid with the sandals, knew how to use a level, for Christ’s sake. I put down a marble, and in the time it takes to say “matzoh brei,” it rolls clear to the other side of the building. The whole place is crooked. OK, maybe the foundation isn’t bad – I had an inspector come in, you’ll be getting the bill – but you haven’t been around here in a while, you don’t know how expensive and difficult the upkeep on a nice temple has become, let alone one without a single right angle in the place. With the cracks in the walls and the floorboards buckling and the weatherstripping that keeps popping out?

“And I’m getting a little tired of being the only one doing the work around here. I do the dusting, the sweeping, the mopping. I vacuum the spider webs out from the stained-glass windows. Every single Sunday, I’m cleaning the prayer books, I’m polishing the Torah cabinet with the kosher Murphy’s oil soap, not to mention the pews, the door to the rabbi’s study. I iron his tallis, and you know what a mess he leaves that in at the end of a Sabbath, all puddled up on the floor. Not to mention collecting the yarmulkes left everywhere and the one I found in the ladies’ room, you don’t want to know about. And every week it’s the same thing. No matter what I do, no matter how nice I keep the place, I even stripped and refinished the floors, covered the seats in velvet, but nothing helps. “The next week? It all looks like hell again. I might as well invite some Romans in and have them burn the place to the ground. Look, you’re the one who built this temple, how about it? If there isn’t enough in the budget to jack the thing off the foundation and level it out, at least let me hire some college kid to come in and help with the heavy lifting so I can have a little rest once in a while, maybe a little Mai-Tai, a week in the Bahamas? And a nice, hard-working kid, not like that last one, that Titus kid, with the zip, zip, zip and where’s my check and out the door. I didn’t like the look in his eye. No. I want a craftsman. I want someone who cares.

“After all, it’s a temple, for God’s sake.”

Friday, March 03, 2006

Fiction Friday

It's back...for all one of you who have been asking. ;) This is from "The C Word," in progress...


The television in the living room, Liza notices, is tuned to the show Estelle’s son Charlie used to produce, the two women who only seem to talk about sex and shopping, before he moved on to the one with the four women who only seem to talk about sex and shopping. One of the women, a loud brunette with too much lipstick, is asking which Prada bag goes with her shoes. It seems like such an irrelevant waste of electricity that Liza announces she’s going to go start the soup.

Estelle looks up from her knitting. She’s been at this project it seems every waking minute for the last three days but she won’t announce what she’s making. All Liza knows is that it’s very large, and very yellow, and it keeps her from wanting to smoke. “What kind of soup?” Estelle asks.

“Lentil,” Liza says. Iron to build Estelle’s blood. Fiber to cleanse her colon. And, mostly, because there’s not much else in the house. Between her nutrition classes and her freelancing and hunting down the elements of the perfect cancer-killing diet, she’s neglected to keep up with their customary level of what Adam calls “normal food.” Which, if left to Adam’s choice, would consist of white bread, American cheese, hamburger meat and Doritos.

“What are you serving it with?”

Liza stops, puzzled, mid-way across the kitchen, holding a bag of kale and an onion in the other. “A ladle?”

Estelle huffs out a breath as if seeming to think, “who is this imbecile who married my son?” “I meant dinner. The main course. What are you serving it with?”

“Well, this sort of will be the main course. It’s a meal, with salad and bread. The soup has kale, and sweet potatoes.” More antioxidants. “It’s filling.”

Liza gets a skeptical grunt. The needles click.

“Adam likes it,” Liza says.

The needles click.

With a sigh, Liza returns to her task, chopping onions and garlic. The rhythm calms her, as does the satisfaction of seeing results. Soup, she can control. She can chop the onions as fine or course as she desires. Add celery or not, add potatoes or not, pour in a little wine or not.

A puddle of olive oil shimmers at the bottom of the pot. From the living room, the two women debate the merits of pointy toes versus round as seriously as if they were members of the UN Security Council. She’s disappointed all over again at Charlie. He knew back in college that he wanted to work in television, but he wanted to do something relevant. Bring important issues to the fore. Ferret out the truth, make poetry out of the struggles of the common man. She doubts that when they were sitting in Professor McClure’s Media and Society class that he was thinking that one day he hoped he would bring to the daytime homebound of America a lipstick that wouldn’t stain your coffee mug.

A voice rises over the television.

Liza comes around the corner, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. “Did you say something, Estelle?”

“I said, we’ll have chicken soup. Not tonight. Just some night when I’m here. I’ll show you. Adam likes that, too.”


Once again Estelle leaves Adam with Mrs. Steiner. It’s been so often that Estelle is afraid that Adam will start calling her Mommy. In a silent prayer she asks her child to forgive her, forgive her absences, forgive her distraction. She made a promise to herself to always be there when he came home from school.

But this afternoon she’s making soup in her parents’ kitchen. On the way she gets a nice chicken from the butcher on the corner, who winks at her and asks when the baby’s coming and gives her a little extra. He knows the family. Everybody knows the family. She stops at the greengrocer and buys a little celery, a little carrot, a little parsnip, a little onion. As Mr. Silverman is weighing out her produce, Charlie wakes and stretches, kicking her low and to the right. She braces a hand against him, and all the women in the shop smile with that knowing smile. Charlie had been giving her trouble all week, twisting this way and that. In bed she sees a foot, an elbow, a knee. The women on her mother’s block all have their theories, what it means when a baby gives you heartburn, when he kicks, when certain foods make him act up or calm down. But later, as she’s skimming fat off the top of the water, as she’s tapping the spoon into the coffee can beside the stove, as the steam curls the hair around her face, Charlie stops fussing. The ladies find something prophetic about that, too.

He likes when Estelle cooks.

It’s not every food. Pot roast made him cranky. Made him press some knobby appendage up into her diaphragm in protest. He liked the lighter things. Soups. Breakfast. He loved breakfast. Eddie was gone too fast in the morning for breakfast, liked to sleep as late as possible, so she’d make for herself and Adam. Eggs, pancakes, French Toast.

Pearl, Eddie’s mother, said she was spoiling her older son. “You’re going to give some poor woman a headache, he’ll always expect the royal treatment.”

But Estelle didn’t care. The only happiness, the only comfort she’s had since her mother got sick has been in the company of her Adam. Eddie ate her meals and ran. Her mother’s appetite has been hit or miss. Her father picked distractedly, Estelle had to remind herself to eat for Charlie.

Adam ate enthusiastically, anything she put in front of him, and it was a pleasure to behold.

When she was pregnant with him, he didn’t show a preference like Charlie. Or she’d been so overwhelmed by the mere fact that she was having a baby that she’d failed to notice these little nuances.

Charlie likes her soup.

Her father comes into the kitchen. Mom wants a glass of water. “You’re making her hungry, she keeps asking when it’s going to be done,” he says, and kisses his daughter’s cheek. Then he makes some weak protest about Estelle being on her feet, but she says she doesn’t mind. She doesn’t mind at all.


Adam holds the basket for Liza. “Mom said not to forget the parsnips.” He looks lost and frustrated and keeps checking his watch. He’s got a conference call with Eugene, Oregon at five. Also, he hates this store because they don’t sell Doritos and white bread, but the result will be his mother’s chicken soup, so he’s trying to be patient. Not hard enough, in Liza’s opinion.
“I don’t even know what a parsnip is let alone where to find one.”

He’d lived with Estelle Trager for how many years, eating her chicken soup, and he doesn’t know what a parsnip looks like? But then again, he didn’t spend too much time in the kitchen. When she met Adam, he was living on pizza, beer, chicken wings and care packages from his mother. “It’s like a big white carrot. It’s probably near the radishes.” As he goes off to root among the roots, Liza mentally calculates what she’ll need to buy next. More garlic and onions and sweet potatoes. Fresh cranberries for vitamin C and phytochemicals, she’ll make sauce and cut down the sugar.

Pleased with himself, Adam comes back holding a chunk of horseradish in a plastic bag.

“Close,” Liza says.

His expression falls. They hunt about some more and finally find them next to the cilantro. “Why don’t they label things in this store?” Adam says. “For the prices they charge, they could make some freaking signs.”

“They have signs,” Liza says. “They’re just really, really small. And, apparently,” she points out the one that reads ‘parsnips,’ “invisible to the male eye.”

“Funny,” he says, and watches her hands as she deftly snaps a plastic bag from the roll and works it open. “Please tell me you’re not going to do something like make the matzoh balls with whole wheat flour and bird seed.”

He looks truly worried that this will be his fate. But she’d learned her lesson with the grilled cheese sandwiches. Her free-spirited parents had shucked the conventions of their youth, but through Charlie, and then Adam, Liza had learned something about tradition. That sometimes it trumps common sense. She lets out her breath. “I guess the occasional glob of white flour isn’t going to hurt. Much.”

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Written on the body

In an attempt to gain some kind of control over my fibromyalgia, I’ve been learning self-hypnosis, through a series of tutorials on a CD. Part of each script emphasizes that everything your body and mind experiences becomes part of your memory, everything you learn, passively or actively, becomes part of your body.

I imagined that the teacher intended this piece of wisdom to refer to the information on his CD. But then, by extrapolation, has everything I’ve experienced, everything I’ve heard and read and seen, everything I’ve done and had done to me, does that then also become part of my body? The amused smile on the handsome young waiter’s face in St. Jean de Beaulivieux, as l’auteur Americaine ordered cup after cup of café decaffeiné, does that live on, ten years after my trip to France? Is Humbert Humbert scuttling around inside somewhere, stalking nymphets? (And I’ve read Lolita three or four times) Is Hannibal Lecter there? Mary Poppins? The elementary school bully who beat me up on the playground? 9/11? Bad boyfriends? The mean kindergarten teacher who threw me out of class for coloring outside the lines?

Perhaps it is true. My former boss, during a stressful time we’d been going through at work, when the COO of the company, who’d been nickel and dime-ing her and micromanaging her as she was attempting to make an enormous project see the light of day, and generally making her life a living hell, told me that the evening prior, she’d been lying on the chiropractor’s table with a particularly large knot in her back. “He’s inside you,” the chiropractor said, which gave my boss the chills on several levels.

Pretty damned scary thought, if we’re carrying all these people and experiences around inside us, especially since I’m not that big or nearly that strong.

And if it’s true, is there any way to exorcise some of them out? The handsome waiter, I’d keep. The look on my husband’s face, when we met, also a keeper. Basically the whole of our lives together, minus some sticky places, but oh, hell, even those bonded us more strongly together, so I’d keep them, too. Definitely I’d want to lose the hours I blew on several notably bad movies (and I want my money back, too). I’ll keep the first time I saw each of my nieces and nephews. Many more experiences too plentiful to list.

But can’t I get some of the bad things out? The pain of losing those I’ve loved? The horrid boyfriends from my misspent youth? The days when I had to choose between a cup of coffee and the subway ride to work? The ending of “The Horse Whisperer?” (the novel, not the movie)

And if people can learn to channel their energy so they can walk through hot coals without as much as a mark, if there are documented cases of spontaneous healing, can’t I learn to direct the cellular memories of the bad things, say, toward whatever part of my body makes fingernails and toenails and simply grow them out of my body? Paint them purple, then cut them off and discard them?

I only wish.

I’ve been trying over the last year to simply write them out of my body. This helps some. But still, since I haven’t yet found the CD that promises that I can learn how to free myself of nasty experiences wholesale, when I write I have to relive all the pain, the shame, the sorrow. That brilliant sprite of a writer, Brenda Ueland, said, “to write is to taste life twice.” I think she had more pleasant memories in mind. For these things, I want to spit them out and rinse my mouth with bleach.

But for now, until I find that magical tutorial or learn to walk across hot coals, it’s my only solution, my therapy, my salvation.

Hey, if I can learn how to hypnotize myself, maybe I can give myself the suggestion to gather up the bad things and send them out of my body. If you ever see me with purple toenails, then you’ll know I was able to do it.