Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hey! I AM Spartacus, JACKASS!

I don't always have so-called "normal" reactions to topical events.  Consider this my attempt at full disclosure while reading this piece.

Jamey Rodemeyer committed suicide recently.  The exact date doesn't matter - certainly not to his parents - but the fact that he was 14 years old does.  It matters a lot.

I remember 14.  I was a freshman at St. Francis Prep. High School when I was 14 and I faced that new experience with an daunting amount of fear and trepidation but not because of bullying.  I had just spent eight of the most miserable academic years on the planet in a catholic elementary school.  The institution I attended would have made Torquemada proud.  Things were so bad - for me...I can't really speak for anyone else - that I told my parents, later in life, that had St. Francis been more of the same, I would have dropped out at sixteen.  St. Francis was not more of the same.  It was a gem and I acquired my love of learning within its walls.  I am proud to say that love continues to this day.

That is not to say that I fit in at St. Francis.  I was probably bullied but being the odd duck that I am, I didn't notice and, if I did, I didn't care.  I did the usual high school things.  I tried out for the football team and ended up the water boy.  I segued to track - where no one got cut - even though I wasn't fast.  My nickname was "Physique" which meant I didn't have a single muscle worth mentioning.  The only medal I received was from the end of year meet.  Everyone got a medal.  From there I moved to the Science Club and the Drama Society and the School Paper.  I was a geek.  Still am...but I went to dances and wore the school beenie at football games and attended all the sport rallies "in the alley" (we were an urban school) and had a genuinely good time.  Good enough that I would do it again.

That is not to say that I didn't notice other people who didn't quite fit in.  Some of those guys (it was an all boy school) were unhappy.  Most, I realize now, were gay or gave the appearance that they might be gay.  They went through their day scared; the fear wasn't always noticable but it did percolate to the surface often enough to be obvious.  One guy routinely flinched if you went to touch him even if just to shake his hand.  I never occured to me that he was in pain almost everyday.  14 year olds shouldn't notice those things.  It's part of the innocence of youth and it shouldn't race out the door too quickly or too early.  Sadly, today, loss of innocence is an olympic event.

Some years later, I met several openly gay men - some from work, some from the theatre - and one of them became a good and steady friend.  He was, in the mid-eighties, just beginning to find his voice as an advocate for gay rights.  He wrote letters and complained vehemently about discrimination and celebrated joyously when the City of New York passed a gay rights bill.  We went to gay bars together - I think he wanted to see if I would be shocked - and attended at least one gay play.  I was never uncomfortable.  I didn't waste time thinking about being straight in a bar or a theater peopled with gay men.  I am proud of the fact that I have always been content in my own skin and have rarely lost sleep over what other people think of me.  The downside is that you don't always notice all the crap that bothers, frustrates, damages and sometimes kills other people.  It's not water off a ducks back.  And it shouldn't be.

Another thing I don't understand is why...why, why, why!...human beings find it necessary to draw distinction between each other and, even worse, waste all that time deciding which distinctions are worthy of praise and which are deserving of ridicule.  I find the whole thing stupid and I've never been good with stupidity.

In the movie Spartacus the Romans demand that the slaves surrended Spartacus.  "Who is Spartacus?"  The slaves respond, to a man, "I am Spartacus...I am Spartacus".  All of which brings me back to the title of this piece and Jamey Rodemeyer.  His blogs (the excerpts published in the news articles at least) say a lot of things.  Some of them scream to the pain he was feeling and some scream to the universe.  "Is anyone out there?"  Jamey Rodemeyer felt isolated.  I do not know if it would have helped but if someone...anyone... had stood up and shouted, "I AM SPARTACUS" maybe there would have been something more than an echo in the void.  Maybe then, someone else would think to join the chorus and maybe that is all that is needed.  In the face of bigotry and fear and abject stupidity, three simple words:


Think about it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On the Eve of Execution


When the old junk man Death                                                  
Comes to gather up our bones
And toss them into the sack of oblivion
I wonder if he will find
The corpse of a white multi-milionaire
Worth more pennies of Eternity
Than the black torso of
A Negro cotton-picker.
                        - Langston Hughes

A quiet message to the Governor
of the State of Georgia...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Writing IS Work DAMMIT!

Nothing irks me more (except maybe Tea Party rhetoric, that nagging, insipid voice on my GPS and the work "irk") than people who don't consider writing work.   For the record, it is not a fad, a hobby, a distraction or a pick-up line. ("It's true.  I'm working on that new Johnny Depp movie.  Of course I know the title but I can't tell you.  Very hush-hush...")  At the end of the day, future doctors and lawyers have a better shot at nailing the prom queen than writers ever will...even if we can make it sound better - and probably last longer - on paper.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word "Work" means:

The result of the action or operation of some person or thing; ‘effect, consequence of agency’ (Johnson); (one's) ‘doing’; the device or invention of some one.

I like the "device or invention of some one" part but I had to look all the way down the page to find it.  This particular definition of the word was several notations below one or two sports references.  In truth, the act of writing takes time...

 (I sit at my desk every morning)

...effort, talent and determination...

(it is a lot easier to get up and turn on old episodes of "Law and Order" than it is sitting at desk scribbling feverishly in composition notebooks. I still use those marble, bespeckled books that were part of Catholic School ethos.) takes accounting...

(I know exactly how many words I write at the end of a work day.)

...uses resources and materials...

(beer, wine, coffee)

and produces a product.

(which, actually is why we do it.  There is nothing better than inscribing that last word on that last page and revelling in having nailed it.)

This Little Piggy Belongs to the Devil is my first novel.  It is a thriller told in the first person and the writing quite literally kept me sane.  That may very well be a story for another day but, in keeping with the sentiment of this blog, the work required to magically transform 56,722 words into a book is an all-consuming effort.  In the movies "the book may sell itself" but on this planet it is easier to sell a Ronco Pocket Fisherman (buy one get the second for $19.95) on a three in the morning infomercial than it is moving a book. 

Why do I do it?  This Little Piggy... deserves it.  And, I love the work!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Why the Hell Would I Self-Publish!

I am a neophyte when it comes to self-publishing.  As I type this I am slowly preparing to self-publish my first novel, a thriller entitled This Little Piggy Belongs to the Devil.  I have to admit, when I took a break from This Little Piggy in February (when I completed the third draft) I expected to take a more conventional approach.  Going it alone, being the one person responsible for every aspect of the life of my book, terrified me.  A lot of research and a conversation with someone I consider the most level headed sibling on the planet helped assuage those multiple xanax moments.  The final decider ( I'm pretty sure I got there on my own but lets blame the literary agent) came when I opened one particular SASE, unfolded my query letter and watched a crudely cut, one inch strip of paper flutter to the table.  On it was inscribed one sentence ("Does not meet our list requirements.") followed by the agency name.  I remembered this agency.  They demanded a complex set of submission requirements (14 pt. type, self-sealing return envelopes, etcetera) and I complied with all of them.  That ragged piece of paper staring up at me from the dining room table irked me.  I'd spent a lot of time on that query letter (and a lot more time on the novel!) and I didn't even rate a whole letter response.  On two previous occasions, I received rejections printed on the back of business cards.  While that might have been just as insulting, at least I had something to pass around at the bar.  It was good for a few laughs.

There are a number of really good reasons to self-publish.  We are no longer in the day of vanity presses and the negative connotations ascribed to them.  Computer technology has opened a wealth of opportunity for the publishing industry.  I've read, in other blogs, that Literary Agents (some, anyway) have taken to publishing their clients' books (some of them, anyway) on their own.  The proliferation of ebook readers (Kindle, Nook...) have made acquiring books and libraries cheap, easy and instantaneous.  That same technology allows publishers and self-publishers to produce quality product cheaply and quickly.  I had to ask, why shouldn't writers get in on the ground floor.  My answer?  This Little Piggy... will be available to the public in November as an ebook and as a print-on-demand (POD) paperback.  The distribution network will place it on (and other vitual stores), some physical bookstores and libraries throughout the country.

Maybe the best reason, however,  arrived by .pdf late last night.  I recieved the mock up of the first chapter.  Let me tell you, seeing that title page (with my name underneath) and the copyright page (with my name) and my words formatted to a 5.25 by 8 inch trim size provided some serious juice for the ego.  Some years ago, I directed one of my plays (Ice Age) at a small theater in NYC.  The actors were perfect but the technical side lagged way behind.  My scenic director, who had been paid in advance, kept saying not to worry but I wasn't seeing a set.  On the evening of the technical rehearsal, I arrived at the theater with a bag of tools and a plan to stay on that stage until the job was done.  When I opened the stage door, I was greeted by the most cacaphonous scene imaginable.  Wires were strewn everywhere.  Lights were being rehung.  Sound levels were being adjusted.  Actors, already in make-up, were doing vocal exercises and my scenic designer was on his knees adding gold gilt to a fireplace that hadn't existed the night before.  It was a perfect mess and nothing felt so good or so right.  When I opened that .pdf file, at 11:30 last night, it was that same type of WOW!; the file isn't perfect - there's is a lot of work ahead - but the book is real; it is coming together. feels so right.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What Do You Mean the Lifeguard is Hot!

The entire concept that certain human beings are "hot" basically means that some of us are born into a narrow, carefully drawn, entirely arbitrary construct that defines desirability.  The rest of us are left by the curb.  In High school, I was nicknamed "Physique".  As with most school monikers, it did not mean that I was muscular or even athletic.  I was a six-foot-four-inch, 165 pound geek who wouldn't be hot at a nerd convention.

What bothers me most, now that I am fifty-eight and above such things, is that little girls, specifically my grand daughters, now recognize "hot" at insanely early ages.  To my five year old grand daughter boys may be icky but Johnny Depp is hot!  It is never a throwaway line.  She is not just mimicking her mother who considers Johnny Depp her future ex-husband - because he is hot!  It is more like "I want to watch Alice in Wonderland NOW!; Johnny Depp is sooooo Hot!"  Johnny Depp played the Mad Hatter.  He paraded about beneath a 30-gallon top hat covered in 40 pounds of make-up.  "Hot" apparently transcends Tim Burton's vision.  "Hot" radiates through any shield - be it grease paint, nuclear waste or kryptonite.  In five year old girls, however, the "that's hot" gene is not fully developed.  She also thinks Justin Bieber is hot.

The five year old's sister, now seven, finds "hot" in non-celebrity types.  She has a crush on one of our life guards at the beach.  He's the guy with the six-pack abs of the muscle variety not the more common, more natural six pack of beer abdomen.  Just today, she relocated her beach towel so that she could lay on the sand at the foot of his lifeguard chair.  I don't know if this twenty-something guy has a clue that the forty pound seven year old at the foot of his chair has claimed him for her own but, as a grandfather, I plan to keep both eyes sharply focused on the goo-goo eyed kid.

My twenty year old nephew has a sixteen year old sister.  Every once in a while, he warns her that he'll be cleaning their dad's shotgun whenever she brings a date home.  She usually moans and protests and cries for her mother in the face of her brother's threats - largely because, on some level, she takes him seriously.  While I'm sitting on the beach, dressed in my tie-dye, peacenik t-shirt (partially covered by my non-violent Amish beard) I realize that the kid - my nephew that is - makes a lot of sense.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


[Author's Note:  From time to time, I plan to publish blurbs on patently stupid and incredible stories.  Rep. Anthony Weiner fits very nicely in the "patently stupid" column but the following report takes it one delicious step further.  As comedians have often noted: we can't make this stuff up!  How many ARE YOU BLEEPING KIDDING! columns I write depends entirely on the media.  Oh, and by the way, I had a more descriptive title in mind but it wasn't entirely proper.]

A short article in today's Post-Star newspaper ( reports that Rep. Tony Weiner's celebrity continues to grow.  An online doll company famous for its celebrity action figures (Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, etc.) is marketing a Weiner Doll.  The sexting Congressman's figure will be available in two versions: standard and enhanced.  The latter costs an additional $10.00 and is reportedly "anatomically" correct.  The article did not address whether the Congressman - currently on a leave of absence to seek therapy - posed for the figure or simply provided a few handy photos.  The company reports that the more expensive doll is "for adults only".  It is not clear if the doll comes with its own Twitter account.

Rep. Weiner, as you probably know, tweeted suggestive (or possibly explicit) photos to several women and then lied both convincingly and with incredible ease to his constituents, the nation and CNN. (Wolf Blitzer discussed his own twittering experiences warning politicians that they needed to be careful.)  Weiner claimed that his account was hacked and he was investigating to find the dastardly culprit and uncover just what happened.  He should have added: pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.  The only excuse overlooked was multiple personality disorder.  That would have been interesting, at least.  The rest is too predictable and too familiar.

The Tony Weiner What a Guy doll (my name for it) belongs in the same dustbin as Serial Killer Playing Cards and Osama bin Laden Halloween masks.  Let's hope the only profit derived from this tasteless venture falls in the "learning from one's mistakes" category - but that's just me being naïve.  Worst case scenario: the company's CEO goes into therapy for two weeks.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Standing Up For Living

[for Marian and Etta who loved life and living]

The King is already here. 

Sorry, Reverend, but you don't have to wait for the new and improved date of October whatever.  As sure as the swallows return to Capistrano and lemmings return to the sea, he has returned and I have seen him.  Okay, before you start thinking deluded religious freak, let me add that I am neither religious nor alone.  Thousands of the faithful, fans one and all, have seen him at the exact same time, in the exact same place that I did.  The King returned, as advertised, and walked the streets of Lake George, New York.  Elvis Presley returned for Elvis Fest.

I am mocking and I apologize.  Sort of.  The fervor with which some people embrace the end of the world befuddles and bothers (and, yes, sometimes amuses) me on any number of levels.

Prior to the reported end of the world, the news highlighted what happens when you publish the exact date and time the ferry crosses the River Styx for the Promised Land.  (A couple of mixed metaphors but who cares.)  One woman slit the throats of her children to save them from the trauma of Armageddon. (They all survived, but the idea that someone, anyone, would be willing to slaughter their own children falls into the befuddled category.)  Another woman gave her entire meager fortune to the Church that predicted the end was nigh.  Her fortune was meager if you don't need three hundred thousand.  Since her family did, I doubt they saw it (or rather see it) as an insignificant occurrence.   Even worse, the woman died before the "rapture"; she wasn't aware that the ferryman was at Dunkin Donuts ordering a latte at the preordained time.  Her family got (or rather gets) nothing…practically and spiritually…while the pastor who got it wrong profited.  Hell, he pocketed the whole enchilada.  I recorded this one in the amused column.

With regards the whole let's give away all our stuff stuff I would like to ask a very simple question:  Why?  If the world really does end and if the end can be predicted right down to a last appointed second, what purpose does giving stuff away serve?  Who is going to benefit or, better yet, who is going to be left to enjoy it?  That said, let me add that I will accept anything you want to send.  All sales are final.

I find it obnoxious that a few seriously devout individuals revel not only in the end of the world but also in the inevitable extinction of billions of people.  It is incomprehensible to me.  Some of us heathens don't want to go.  Really.  We like it here.  To put things in perspective, consider this real Armageddon scenario.  When I was a boy (in the 60's) the world found itself on the brink of nuclear war (a.k.a. the Cuban Missile Crisis).  I was a third grade Catholic School student while my brother was a kindergartener at a different school.  My mother, who, like everyone else, followed the news and was terrified by what she heard, knew that missiles could reach us in 45 minutes and wondered, fretted and struggled with an insane decision.  Which son would she be with at the end?  I was four blocks to the north.  My brother was four blocks in the opposite direction.  She didn't drive and she knew she couldn't - wouldn't - be able to reach both of us.  She desperately wanted to envelope us in her arms and somehow protect us; she didn't put much stock in "duck and cover" but maybe a mother's aura would turn the trick.  That panic is the real face of annihilation.  It isn't we're going home halleluiah halleluiah.  It is who will I be able to save, who will I be able to protect, who will I be able to kiss before I die.

In my little corner of the world, everyday brings some insignificant reason to live and live happily.  I find joy in the giggle of a four year old (when the dog licks her face) or in the glee of a ten year old the first time his big-league swing sends a ball to the outfield (he just stood there in awe while we screamed RUN!) or in the immeasurable pride they all feel when the training wheels come off and they wobble down the block on their brand new big kid bikes for the first time.  This is my second bite at the apple.  I have grandkids but I remember every concert, every trip to the museum, every dive off the dock and every first step that made my children the people they are today.  On balance, maybe those memories aren't so insignificant after all.  If the rapture is scheduled again, I hope they don't wake me.  There is a lot more accomplishment to be had.

The dictionary defines "rapture" as follows:

1) overwhelming happiness: a euphoric transcendent state in which somebody is overwhelmed by happiness or delight and unaware of anything else.

2) Christianity mystical transportation: a mystical experience in which somebody believes he or she is transported into the spiritual realm, sometimes applied to the second coming of Jesus Christ, when true believers are expected to rise up to join him in heaven.

If you have to choose, choose carefully.  One is more expensive than the other.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

My Family's Table...or Fat, Starch & Grease as Food Groups

When I was growing up, family meals were large - you could generally feed a small country - and heavy.  The rule of thumb was one pound per person and that was for everything.  It didn't matter if it was salad or lasagna.  Platters were piled so high you couldn't see your brother or your cousin, whoever was sitting opposite, to have a conversation.  Talking got in the way of eating, anyway.  My Grandfather would grunt and someone would pass the potatoes, the meatballs, the stuffing, the turkey, or the Arancini (rice balls).  Different foods had different grunts.  At the end of the meal, if there weren't leftovers, Grandma (and Mom) would be embarrassed: there wasn't enough food!  They'd plan on a bigger and heavier menu for the next holiday…even while Grandpa was protesting that we make too much food.

The typical post-holiday picture was my uncle sitting on the couch watching the game, breathing heavily through an open mouth and dozing by halftime.  His belt would be undone, his zipper lowered slightly and his hand, Al Bundy style, tucked comfortably in the waistband.  The kids would be off somewhere playing and the noise would continue around the table as the wine (sometimes with slices of orange mixed in) would flow and the conversation turned to politics or religion.  It was a lot of fun.

With apologies to my mother, however, there is nothing sexy about Italian cooking.  Not in our home, at least.  As proof, I offer the following memory: about three weeks after my wedding I visited my grandparents.  My Grandmother held my hands, took a set back and studied me.  I think she had me turn around.  I know she pinched my cheek (she had a pinch you couldn't forget) before announcing to my Grandfather: He's gaining weight.  She can cook.  My wife received a big hug and a kiss from the old lady and Grandpa threw her a smile.  That was as warm and fuzzy as he got.  I think it was the first time she was truly welcomed to the family.

If the meal is the gateway to sex and you want to be awake - and maybe even moving - never (Never!) take your girlfriend, your wife or even a first date to an Italian Family Meal.  Come late - insist your mother doesn't make you a plate because you're looking skinny or you'll get sick - and just have desert.  Italian desserts are the next best thing to spontaneous, unabashed, rock-your-world sex.  I don't care if it a fruit torte, an éclair, a zabaglione or my personal favorite, the tiramisu, the person making them is thinking of you and making sure you get happy - even if you say something stupid in the car on the way home and sour the deal.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sitting Shivah for Charlie Harper

The presumed loss of Charlie Harper will be felt for years to come.  No, I am not talking about Charlie Sheen.  The self proclaimed rock star was one factor - but only one - in the injury suffered his better half.  Whether it was life imitating art or art imitating life, Charlie Harper hit rock bottom (Rose, really!) then looked for a shovel and dug deeper.  It had been coming for a long time.  Over the course of a year or two, he went from that funny jingle guy (He wrote "Maple Loops, remember) to a pathetic, hapless, directionless drunk.  The people expected to take care of him failed.  Alan, Berta, Evelyn, Jake,  even his Shrink tried but he lost purpose and focus; he became trapped in a temporal loop of booze and broads.  He didn't know what else to do so he kept digging and digging until the hole got so deep that only memories got out.  When I think of Charlie Harper, I hope he is remembered more as Charlie Waffles and less as Charlie what's his name.  Charlie Waffles was still that guy who believed everything would work out.  Probably won't happen…but at least he will be remembered.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


or how Newt's dreams were buried in a little blue box

I am loathe to defend Newt Gingrich.  It just feels preposterous and, maybe, a little unnatural.  And yet, here I am.  Damn you, Mr. Speaker…and your taste in jewelry!

Newt Gingrich, declared candidate for the Presidency of the United States, is currently baffled.  He said as much on NBC News this morning.  He is at the center of a storm because he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on jewelry from Tiffany's for his wife.  His own wife!  Not somebody else's wife.  Not the wife of some contractor doing business with the government.  Not a mistress…

(You think he has trouble now…a mistress would generate the type of firestorm media moguls live for.  Tomorrow's headline: Arnold Who!)

...but his wife, the woman he married, loves and has the little blue boxes to prove it.

While discussing his befuddlement Mr. Gingrich announced that he is not carrying ANY debt.  The house, the car, the family jewels: all paid for from proceeds from his four businesses.  You would think that would make him the darling of Conservatives far and wide.  A politician who does not indulge in deficit spending, who has not mortgaged his future and who, apparently, lives within his means.  A politician who invests in the community, pays his taxes and grows business.  At least jewelry businesses.  Apparently that is a little simplistic, if not naive.

The problem is the amount.  My mother was absolutely incensed by the cost of the "Royal Wedding". How dare they spend that kind of money?  Couldn't they do it for half and use the rest to do some good?"  Newt, on a significantly smaller scale, is the victim of greenback envy.  He is spending money most people cannot imagine spending; most people actually believe they would do things differently if they had Newt's money.  For the record, I would not think twice about buying a $45,000 necklace for my wife and, while I wouldn't buy myself a $10,000 watch, I would take delivery on a ($100,000+) Tesla Roadster.  I am a friend of the planet and it is a small price to pay to go green.  Besides, it's a hot ride.  In the world a little closer to reality, I will not be taking delivery on my favorite breed of dog (the English Bulldog) anytime soon.  At present the $2,500 canine is 17 on the list - well below food, lodging, gas for the car and the occasional family vacation.

Have we come to a place in American Politics where a candidate has to buy gifts for his wife from Wal-Mart to be a credible candidate?  I do not agree with Mr. Gingrich's politics but he is intelligent, committed, dedicated and passionate.  With emphasis on the intelligent accolade, the Republican Party could do a lot worse.  I will not mention former 49th State governors or reality show moguls by name, but they really could do worse.

To paraphrase  Paul Simon, everyone wants to be "Richard Cory".  We should be honest about that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Poppi's Elegy

On April 28th, my father lost a short battle with cancer.  

To be honest, it wasn't much of a battle.  Dad spent five of his last six weeks in the hospital and in rehab being treated for a persistent pneumonia that taxed his ability to breathe.  He kept insisting that he didn't have pneumonia ("I've had pneumonia before.  This doesn't feel like pneumonia.") and he was right.  Over that brief five week period, pneumonia became pleurisy and, after two procedures, pleurisy became cancer.  The oncologist was very kind but the only words that mattered were "very advanced", "aggressive", "untreatable" and "life-ending".  She gave him six months ("maybe") and Dad got what he wanted all along: he got to go home.

Hospice set up the bed and the commode, they brought the wheelchair and the walker and the oxygen machine and my father took up residence in the living room.  The living room was a television free zone, but we made an exception, ran the cable and gave him his Jeopardy and Law & Order.  In the corner stood a small oxygen tank on a cart.  We saw it as a way of taking him to a restaurant or the movies; Hospice saw it as back-up in case the power went out.

Dad came home on Good Friday.  Because of various obligations (my nephew had to get back to college…I, and my branch of the family, lived 200 miles away and had to drive home) Easter Sunday was celebrated on Saturday.  We prepared the classic Italian meal piling more food than humans were meant to eat at one sitting at one table.  A little later, my nephew sat with his grandfather and shared a scotch.  To be clear, my father has craved a scotch - and the doctors have said "no!" - for a good many years.  He even asked the hospital nurses to bring him a drink.  That last glass of Pinch gave him one of his last, cherished memories.  I watched him sip his favorite amber liquor and smile.  He even smacked his lips when he was done and, as was his way, sucked the ice cubes.  Not one drop of Highland whiskey would be wasted.

The tribe said their goodbyes on Easter Sunday and we drove back to Lake George and Bolton Landing.  On Monday, the phone calls started. "Dad can't get out of bed."  "Dad is breathing too quickly."  "Dad's not eating."  "Dad can't talk."  By Wednesday I knew I had to go back.  It was a decision I had been avoiding.  If I didn't go back, he wouldn't die.  I arrived at 12:10 on Thursday afternoon and he was gone at 12:20.  Ten minutes after I walked through the door.  Somehow, six months had become six days.  The only consolation, the one humans cling to, is that he passed peacefully.

Over the mantle is a photo that he loved.  It was taken on the occasion of my Mother's eightieth birthday and, from time to time, he would point to that portrait and exclaim, "I really like that picture!"  He wouldn't always remember when it was taken or where we were at the time (memory was no longer his strong suit) but, somehow, he recognized that we were all together and he was proud of that.  Towards the end, I used to hate his loving that photo.  Eleven months ago, two of my grandchildren died and his "we were all together" hurt deeply.  Two chairs were empty.  And now, the patriarch's chair stood vacant but it was not the same. The sense of loss was different.   It occurred to me that, at the end of his life, my Father got it right.  Families change, they grow, they contract, the characters in the portrait change but the members who came before never leave.  They are still there.  I do not see the empty chairs when I look at that snapshot.  I see Albert and Hope and Mackenzie.

It is the love we share that keeps us "all together".

Dad will always be "Poppi".

He will always have his place.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hey Arnold...the World is Ending!

Remember the cartoon about the kid with the football-shaped head who faced adversity on an almost daily basis and somehow managed to triumph? Arnold Swartzenegger is not he.

Reports of the Terminator's (or the former Governator's) clandestine affair and the subsequent confession that he fathered a child with a member of his household staff has obsessed the media and pushed real news off the front page. Sarah Palin and Snookie must be pissed. Arnold and his dalliances, Arnold and his impending divorce, Arnold and his love child are not the stuff of great journalism. It is nothing more than a blip on the news cycle and, once upon a time, would only have been mentioned if the Lusitania had not sunk or the Hindenburg had not burst into flames. In other words, if nothing else had happened. The only real story is how cliche Arnold choose to be. I mean really: a member of his household staff! Did he insist on a "French Maid" outfit? People want to know.

In a nation where 50% of married partners (men & women) cheat, have an affair, slip, lust, diddle or canoodle I am amazed by the incredulity. How could this happen? Well, let's see: boredom, intrigue, adventure, opportunity, stupidity, revenge, stature (personal, not physical) or just plan want it, need it, can't live without it. One former employer once described it as nothing more than friction. He should know; he was divorced more than once.  This is not the stuff of great tragedy.  No one poured poison in the king's ear.  Star crossed lovers didn't allow their hormones to get the better of them.  Arnold is not Othello.  Maria Schriver is not Desdemona.  It was an affair, just an affair; even the fact that he got caught isn't news (though getting away with it for 14 years might be!).

One final fascination: the need for a public mea culpa. Arnold is putting his movie career on hold to deal with the impending divorce. The world will have to wait for yet another Terminator movie while he gets his proverbial house in order. Someone should point out how well that worked for Tiger Woods.

I am told the world will end at 6 PM this evening. I saw it on the news. (Guys, think of the possibilities: Honey, I know we don't have a lot of time but I can't face eternity without sleeping with you.") I'm not sure if 6 PM is Eastern Time but, if it is and it does, I should point out that the announcement met with less media attention than Arnold's own rapture. If you are reading this on Sunday, Monday or beyond, I guess that too was another oops moment.

[Post Apocalyptic Comments (that have absolutely nothing to do with this blog):  1) I cannot fathom being so dissatisfied with life that you rejoice in the extinction of everyone - whether we want to go or not and 2) I cannot understand why some people give away their earthly possessions.  Aren't we all leaving at the same time.  That ring you wanted.  Here.  Enjoy.  For the next 10 minutes. Gotcha!]

[Since the story won't die:  Early morning radio is reporting a second Arnold "love child".  CNN is running a video: How to Tell If He will Cheat.  Maybe someone should publish a list of what not to do - a Cheating for Dummies manual.  You know, things like, don't have the maid clean your room three times a day, don't leave your best videos in the DVD player, close your email and IM accounts and don't (please!) have your secretary bring you chicken soup - at home - when you're sick.]


A friend recently posed the following philosophical question in two parts with a couple of ABCs for color:

"You enjoy sudden and unexpected good fortune..."

A)  You get that promotion and the corner office you were never immodest enough to consider...or

B)  While on vacation in Las Vegas you decide to bet the farm on one spin of the roulette wheel but you can't decide between 29 and 26.  One is your birthday.  The other your anniversary.  Finally, you decide to bet on your wife.  If you lose, it will be her fault.  The wheel spins. The ball spins. You hear the click click click as the ball slows and drops into its nesting spot.  You hear the croupier call the number and you are suddenly very glad you got married - at least on that particular day...or

C)  If, you want to go all in, you arrive at your favorite convenience store just two minutes before closing time to purchase a ticket for the largest lottery drawing in New York State history.  And, guess what, yours are the six lucky numbers - the ones you found in a fortune cookie - and you are the only one who bet them.

"...what is the first thing you say?

"Most people, my friend reported, utter, exclaim, shout and even hoot "Thank God!" or some other similar, dutifully grateful ejaculation.  He conducted innumerable interviews over coffee at Starbucks, Tweeted and Twittered and posted the thought to the Facebook universe.  He expressed confidence in his data.

The second part of the question elicited a less demonstrative, though no less definitive, answer.

"Tragedy strikes..."

A) You are making dinner when the phone rings.  It is your mother and she's feeling lonely so you settle into the couch for a long conversation of "uh-huh" and "seriously?"  You listen to her complain about how her best friend went to the store without telling her so now she doesn’t have bread and the milk tastes funny... It doesn't take long before you realize that the oil you left on the stove is really pissed and your kitchen is in flames.  An hour later, the Fire Chief offers his condolences; the house is a total loss...or

B) You read about a small Southern farming community devastated by a tornado.  This is the type of area that barely has the price of a Pepsi left over at the end of the year.  An E.F. 5, "the Finger of God", if you believe the movie Twister, follows the interstate avoiding a junkyard, an old and seedy strip joint, the demolition derby track, those abandoned houses where high school kids go to have unprotected, premarital sex and maybe even that crack house that everyone knows about but no will admit exists before hanging a left on Farm Road 11. That's where the real fun begins.  The crops, the barns, the animals (remember the cow from Twister), the equipment, even some of the homes...all gone.  The Church of the Holy Harvest, built with virtually every cent of local, farming profit, stands white and sparkling in the middle of the devastation, untouched...or

C)  You stumble across a news article about a man who took his legally acquired gun to his daughter’s school and shot everyone in her class.  His action became “necessary” when she got an “F” on her 500 word paper on the subject of evolution.  It seems her teacher took exception to the claim that dinosaurs walked the earth on the sixth day.  His daughter, who always sat in the front row, was the first to go.

"...what is the first thing you say?"

There was an almost universal split between "Lord, help me", "Lord, protect me" and "Lord, forgive me".  There was a small but statistically significant number that asked “why”.  This latter group was not questioning the Almighty; they simply wanted to know what they had done wrong.  This latter group did not answer why their indiscretions and sins caused death, destruction and devastation to others but my friend stood firm on the sanctity of his data.

And then, my friend posed his question:

"Why does God get all the credit but never any of the blame?"

He pointed out, in asking his question, that each individual who faced tragedy had worked hard to lead a good life and struggled everyday to do right by his family and neighbors.  He went on to say that he could have described portraits of the most evil among us reaping great profits and causing immense harm without consequence but, for balance, choose only to address the good and the everyday.

I found the question intriguing but I am not going to answer it.

My friend did not answer it for me.

Your comments would be appreciated.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

     The most frustrating thing about finishing a First novel is what to do when the rewrites are done and the book is...well...written.  I know I should be starting another piece...and I have...but images of that mistake I may or may not have made on page 197 (or 123) keep invading the process. 

     The first couple of weeks (after typing a date at the bottom of the last page and carefully sliding a rubber band over the pages) were dedicated to the query letter and the synopsis.  I have never stressed over the sound of single words more than I have composing that one single-page document.  It reminds me of the SAT's in high school.   Don't worry about's only a test...your whole depends on it.  I'm fifty-eight; somehow, my "whole life" is a scarier concept.

     I may understand the process, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating.  This Little Piggy Belongs to the Devil...that's the a short, taut psychological thriller that has been reduced - repeatedly! - to "your project is not quite right for our list".  In similar words, I have heard the same message forty-one times.  One agent even sent the not quite right missive printed on a business card neatly tucked into the folds of my original letter.

     I keep a positive attitude.  I have to.  It is part of the process.  I use the word "process" a lot; it's what we signed on for when we decided writing made sense as a career, a future and a life.  There is always a silver lining, a positive aspect; at present, unanswered queries still outnumber rejected ones.  Positive thinking, right?

     The whole concept of an acceptable list made starting the new novel difficult.  What if this thriller, with its octogenarian hero, is somehow last year?  Like television.  Lawyers and cops are in, doctors and Charlie Sheen are out and no one is sure about the CIA.  In the end, it doesn't really matter.  Cold Spaghetti is the idea and the idea is taking shape.  It is starting to breath on its own.  In a little while, I'll be pushing different qwerty combinations on the laptop; my characters will be doing all the real work.

      I've noticed that I've stopped thinking about the remaining fifty-three unanswered query letters in favor of the idiosyncrasies of my cranky least until I check the mail and find another SASE with its two, neat fold lines.

Next: Ruminating Philosophically (May 15, 2011)