Thursday, November 20, 2014

playing possum.

Back before all the trouble started, and for years and years, I woke up each morning with such delicious expectation of the gifts the day would bring you would have thought I had been raised on nothing more than bare-back unicorn rides and Mallomars. Even if there was some petite crise on the table, the dawn always seemed to wash away the grime and bring the shiny bits to the surface. I liked that very much. Liked that I was someone who sought out the golden hue and who always believed life (and people) were wonderful. Then, well, you know, things got shitty. For a long time. 

In Angels in America, Tony Kushner talks about a “painful progress.” How we’ll get there in the end but, boy, it ain’t gonna be easy. I thought about this a lot while wandering through my wilderness and kept wondering when the painful part would end and the progress part would begin. As it happens, they walk hand in hand for miles and miles but then yesterday, out of the sunny, shiny blue, I jumped out of bed like a gymnast and expected again. Expected love and magic and a hot cup of coffee. More progress than pain, I finally felt like myself and skipped outside to see how my roses were doing. That’s when I saw the possum. 

The dead possum. 

He’d clearly put up a good fight but had lost big and we were both bummed out. Him because he was dead and me because I had to deal with his deadness. I sat down with my bad cup of coffee (seriously, can anyone tell me how to make coffee? Feels like something I should be able to do by now) and tried to figure out what to do. 

I thought about waking up Dash and, under the guise of a “teaching opportunity,” have him deal with it but it was still pretty early. Plus, he was wearing footsie pajamas and looking far too angelic to do any “cycle of life” type stuff so I went back inside for another cup of coffee and checked all the rooms to see if maybe there was a boyfriend somewhere in the house that I had forgotten about. That’s when I remembered that my boyfriend Derek had moved to SF a few weeks before and I had yet to replace him. 

I went back to my perch and resumed staring at the possum. I remembered Derek telling me a story about finding possums in his garage a few years ago and I mined my memory for a salient tidbit that might help but all I could remember were the words “possum” and “garage” and they are not as helpful as you might imagine. 

Hyped up on caffeine and adrenaline, I gathered my strength and jittered over to get a closer look. I was surprised to find that the possum - eyes wide open in fear and locked in rigor mortis - looked familiar. He looked, actually, a lot like me. 

A while ago, when things were bad, I tried hard to keep up with the greeting of the dawn but eventually all I could see was the underbelly of the worst parts of being here and that’s when I gave up. Everything was just too hard and too hard for too long so I shut out the sun with bamboo blinds and settled into a matte-finish existence. I got into bed, curled up and played dead - staring blankly at the walls like a mental patient. On the days I had to (shudder) do something, I was more zombie than human – dead-eyed and aimlessly plodding from point A to point B in holey hand me downs. 

The only good thing I can say about this time in my life is that I wasn’t ever truly alone. Penniless, heartbroken, sick – I met zombies of every stripe out there in the night and like Carnies, we roamed together in search of flesh, a lighted house and a nightly occasional glass of wine. We patched up each other’s holes, lent the same $200 around to whoever needed it most and told each other everything would be okay even when we didn’t know if that was true. Then, a few months ago, I realized that the lights were still on at my house so I went home, drew the blinds and let the sun come rushing in like a lost love. 

In the last three years, I’ve had to deal with actual poverty, the changing room at Target and a heart that’s twice been used as a whoopee cushion. I have overcome a lifetimes worth of family tragedy, a kid begging to be sent to a military academy, and a couple of moms on the party committee at school who have ruined the word “cupcakes” forever. Everything that can break has broken in the house. Same with the car. And my hair. 

In the end I had no choice but to MacGyver myself back to life. Using nothing more than a glass of water and a ball of twine, I held on by believing that the beauty of every single thing falling apart at once is that eventually there’s nothing left to break. That’s when you start to build again. You get Amish in a hurry and build the damn barn. Plus, I’m stronger now than I ever thought I’d be. I’m talking strong. Bring it on strong. High five oak trees when I pass them strong. 

When the dryer makes that weird noise or the pipe in the bathroom gives way or the car gets a flat on the freeway or a man tells me he loves me but “can’t” or the phone rings in the middle of the night, I no longer turn around and ask someone to take care of it. I grab the wrench, the manual and the rosary and get the fuck on with it, thank you very much. Besides, who cares if I don’t know how to make coffee? I know how to make a Gin & tonic. 

I looked at the possum and said, “I got this.” I’ve been trying to show my son that his mom can do anything and that strength is the true magic so I wasn’t gonna let a possum undo all my can do. I put on a pair of goggles, some rubber gloves and grabbed the shovel. 

I felt amazing. Look at me! Strong Alex. Oak Alex. Protecting her land AND wearing cute boots! I was high as a kite and then… I couldn’t do it. The thing was just too gross. I ran back into the house and spent the rest of the morning going to the window, hoping each time that the possum would magically be gone. Carried away by a coyote or a twister or that perhaps he’d merely been playing possum and threat over, had skipped away to re-join his people, stuff the turkey and count his blessings - there’s nothing like dodging yet another bullet to bring the meaning of cranberry sauce into sharp focus – but he was still there.

Countless times I headed out to be triumphant. Couldn’t wait to tell Dash how cool and fearless I had been but each time I went back inside and put the goggles away. If my son was going to learn a lesson about strength that day he was going to have to learn it from someone else. 

Eventually he woke up and the neighbor kid, Jorge, came over for breakfast. I told them about the possum and they ran out to look at it. They thought it was gross too but also cool. Cool gross. They yelled for Dean & Karen over the fence and told them all about it. Dean said, “What? You’ve never had possum and sweet potatoes before?” Me and the boys squealed with disgust. 

I’d love to say that I handled it in the end but I really, really did not. Dean talked to Dash about being the man of the house and that the task ahead was for men. I was fine with that. I know my mom marched for equal rights and I know that I can fix a bunch of stuff all by myself now but I am positively 1956 when it comes to this kind of thing so I stood on the porch with Karen and Jorge and watched Dean and Dash put the possum in a bag and throw it away. 

When he was done, Dash came inside, stripped off all of his clothes and threw them out the window. He didn’t ever want to wear them again but a rite of passage had taken place and for the rest of the day he walked around like he owned the joint. I watched his face as he recounted the story later, saw how proud he was of himself and realized I don’t look like the possum anymore. I look like Dash.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

second acts.


The theater is dark and packed. Outside it’s a hot and cloudy afternoon in New York City but inside dawn is about to break over the English countryside.

From the moment the curtain lifts and Mark Rylance begins to act the acting out of his role as Rooster Byron in the play, Jerusalem, the audience leans forward and this is where they stay - edgy, open, grateful. Two and a half hours in and they’re a mixture of exhausted and exhilarated and everyone wants more.

Rooster, who the playwright has put through hell, is banging on a drum and bleeding from every orifice. His home is about to be bulldozed, all of his friends have left, his child has given up believing he will ever be the man he’s meant to be and his last hope - that a giant he’d (maybe) met near Stonehenge will appear to save him - is nowhere to be found.
Literally beaten and spiritually broken by circumstance and his own failings, Rooster calls forth each of his ancestors by name, demands their assistance at the top of his lungs and drums until his palms are as purple as plums. He is stripped down to his most human self, desperate for transformation and, somehow, impossibly, filled with hope.Then… the trees on the stage start to sway wildly in an off-stage wind. Then… heavy footsteps - a giant’s footsteps - loud enough to rumble the theater - can be heard approaching. Then… the curtain comes down. Hard.

It takes me a second to realize I’ve stopped breathing and started cryin
g. Everyone has. I’m swept into the thunderous applause - hooting and hollering for a standing ovation that lasts FIVE minutes. I look to the man on my left, a stranger before that moment, and we clasp hands, beaming at each other like a couple of headlights.I’d forgotten how community is always thisclose, just waiting for me to show up. I tell the stranger this. He nods and smiles. I yell over the audience, “Everyone is just waiting for everyone to show up, right?” He nods again.

A few minutes later, while washing my hands in the ladies room, I catch my reflection in the mirror – red nose, swollen eyes – and think of the horoscope I’d read two days before:
“A journey or a meeting takes you back in time and you may be surprised what you find buried under years of neglect…”


The biggest surprise was the journey itself. Because of the terrorists and their big bag of bullshit I have a fear of flying so crippling that I haven’t left the state of California in a very, very long time. If I can’t get there by car, it’s off the list. In my microscopic corner of the universe, they really did win and I hate myself for letting them take what had been, up until then, an incurable case of wanderlust.

For years I was always just getting back from somewhere or just getting ready to go. I see photos of myself, each dated before that Tuesday morning – Vietnam, Paris, Austin - and
squint to make out the woman who believed the world was tiny - the one who wanted to see every centimeter - and I barely recognize her.

In place of actual travel, I’ve spent my time logging on to airline websites and planning routes to places I’ve yet to see, knowing full well I won’t buy a ticket. I look at my friend’s Facebook pages stuffed with photos of their great lives until, utterly disgusted with myself for being such a pussy, I eat entire tubs of whatever I can find that comes in tubs.You see, the thing is, I used to be kinda cool. Now I’m not. 

During the early days of the blog I set out to accomplish a weekly challenge so I could go back to being cool but I haven’t been able to keep up with it because I’ve felt like a fraud. How can I write about the glory of this life and the big banquet we all have to eat from if my only daily activity is walking to the mailbox and back? My “existence” has been equal parts fear, poverty and terrible luck - luck that can only be attributed to a lifetime of bitch slapping leprechauns – and I’ve had nothing to say.

But then, out of the blue, Roni called and offered me a trip to NY. She has always been positively Amazonian in both her generosity and her lust for life and she’d been worried about me for a while. She’d wholeheartedly supported the divorce and the writing but had grown weary of my recent disappearing act.

“I’ve had it with you,” she said when she called that night. “You’re coming and I don’t want to hear any of your bullshit excuses. Waa-Waa to someone else, just get your ass to LAX and I’ll take care of the rest.”
My fear of flying is nothing compared to my fear of losing Roni’s respect so I tried to remember how to pack a suitcase, lubed up for my TSA search and found a seat at the gate with a view of the bar.

I took one, two and, finally, three (they were small) Valiums and in a dreamy haze I saw the writing on the wall. Literally. A part of the terminal was under construction and on a dusty support beam someone had spray-painted: Ub4. I stared at it forever (I was really, really high) and burst into tears. Some of the other passengers eased away from me or pretended not to stare as I tried to make sense of what had happened to the b4 me.

Who was I before Dash or the troubles with Slim? Who was I before the bust up of the family? Before John broke my heart? I’d gone from a globe-trotting, table-dancing bon vivant to a woman too self-conscious to go to the market because there was no
money for an eyebrow wax. I’d stopped having sex and stopped dreaming. I’d started chewing my nails to the quick and stopped writing. 

They called for us to board and by the time I found my seat in the seventeenth-hundred row,
in the middle of two smelly fat guys (fuck you, leprechauns) I not only didn’t care if the plane went down, I was kinda hoping it would. I ordered a Gin & Tonic and assumed the crash position.

Once airborne I pulled out the computer "to journal." I decided to use the 5 hour flight like an
archaeologist at a dig – sweeping away the dust to uncover the bones – and the hope was that by the time we landed, I would have answered the riddle of my own antiquity and emerge from the skies re-born.I drank the gin in one swill. It reminded me of my flight to Europe the summer I graduated from high school. It was the first time I’d had a grown up cocktail. Before then it had been rum and Coke (without ice) out of someone’s trunk at the Marina Greens in San Francisco but suddenly drinking was less about unprotected sex and throwing up into the bay and more about pretending I was French. I thought about my cousin, Taj. He and I had gone on that trip to Europe together and in a few hours (God willing) I would be at his apartment in Chelsea.

I tried to write, tried to sweep away the dust, but mostly I stared past the gut of my fellow passenger and out into the inky black sky. There is a piece of evidence missing from my memory, I know it, the one that will crack the case but before I had the chance to figure out
how to get the me before to merge with the me now, I passed out.


I’m on the rooftop at Taj’s apartment. The deck is covered in silver paint and when the sun bounces off, the reflection clears up everyone’s skin. We’re all so beautiful. I’d forgotten. Flowers of every conceivable color and shape bloom in big pots. There’s food and wine and easy conversation. Taj and his wife, Rey, embraced me with such force upon my arrival that
I haven’t been able to stop smiling.I can see the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building from my perch under their painted umbrella. The city sounds like summer. We sit around a table holding hands. It’s hot out and my face hurts from all the smiling and I can’t remember the last time I was this happy.

Taj and Rey live life out loud and this enthusiasm emanates in every thing they do – how they speak, love, cook, decorate – everything a wild mixture of Dominican, Pakistani, Italian, French and American. No sentence commits to a single language. We yell across the roof to
each other (and to our friends who have joined us) “Tu quiero, caro mio! I am so happy to see you. Basta – it’s ridiculous but, you know, Je t’aime, mija. Really. Mangiare, tutti.”

It’s. Heaven.

We stay on the roof for 10 hours – from the moment I arrive until we force ourselves to go to bed. They tuck me in with kisses and as I fall asleep I realize that Roni has given me the most extraordinary gift – she has forced me home to find myself even without knowing that is what I’ve needed the most.

Over coffee the next morning, Rey shows me a book called Color, by Victoria Finlay. “Alex!” she says in her delicious accent, “You MUST read this book! You must!” Everything Rey says has an exclamation point at the end of it. I curl up on the sofa with the book but first she says she wants to dress me up. She has a major job in fashion and the closet to prove it. She’d taken a pass at my suitcase and cocked her head to the side, confused. Didn’t I used to dress with some panache? What are all the jeans doing here? Why so many t-shirts? She looks
at me with sympathy. “Oh, Alex! Cos'è successo, mi hija?”

She brings me an outfit and begs off for a live out loud day in the city. I’m to dress and head out too. I’m to explore and feel the sun on my face. “Cara,” she says, “it is what you NEED!” I do as I’m told and I have to say, I feel great. It’s been a hundred years since I’ve worn something that wasn’t utilitarian and a strut appears in my step.
Like the THUMP-THUMP bass from a lowrider's speakers, the city is vibrating with activity. Everything and everyone synchronized. The cobwebs begin to loosen.

I take the subway to where it all began, the house I lived in when I was a little girl. I stare up at the façade, look down the street and see Slim toddling behind me calling me Ax. It’s not easy to
remember something so sweet in the context of knowing what would happen later but I keep breathing.

In her book, Finlay tells the story of visiting the cathedral in Chartres when she was a little girl. Staring up at the stained glass window, her father told her, “It’s 800 years old and now we don’t know how to make that blue.” I know about this. The lost formulas, the terrible yearning for a hue.

I walk to the apartment I was living in at the height of my bon vivant-ness only to find that it’s no longer there. The symbolism is not lost on me. I remember the Feast of San Genarro – how I used to watch it from my fire escape. Eating hot zeppoles out of a paper bag, I would watch the neon lights
from the Ferris Wheel bounce across my legs.I get a coffee from Dean & Deluca and see myself coming into the store the day before Thanksgiving in 1992, the first time I ever made the meal on my own and remember how much everyone loved my pumpkin cheesecake.

I hop on the train to midtown and swing by the old showroom building. I used to work in fashion and as I step into the air-conditioned lobby, it all floods back – the trade shows and sample sales. I remember a fake fur I bought, how I used to wear it like a robe after baths and how I can’t remember the
last time I let myself be naked. I run to meet Roni at the theater.
At the curtain call, Mark Rylance, still out of breath, told a story: “One night after the show, a woman came up to me backstage and said, 'The last time I was covered in blood, listening to a drumbeat and waiting for the giants to arrive was the day I was born.'”

When I leave the theater the skies have turned yellow and it’s started to drizzle. I'm more grateful for this than I can say. The rain has always been special to me and tonight it feels like a gift. Even though I’m dressed for a runway, I decide to walk back to Chelsea.

Along the way, I see a writer at her computer inside a Starbucks. For some reason she looks up at me and we smile at each other. I'm so glad I’m a writer. I see a woman with her son. He’s about 9 and she’s dragging him behind her, trying to keep him under their umbrella. I miss Dash, fiercely. I'm so glad I'm a mother. I see a woman in her early 20’s screaming into her iPhone at a boyfriend. She’s drunk and her friends are trying to calm her down. I’m so
glad I’m 43.

After months of feeling like my personal soundtrack has been scored exclusively by cellos, I start to hear new music. Specifically, Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone only - because of the
weather and being in NY and wearing a necklace that costs a year’s salary – I hear it in some dance techno beat. “How does it feel to be on your own?” Fucking amazing. 


By the time I get back to the apartment, I'm giddy with anticipation. For what, I’m not sure.
Taj and Rey are gone for the night so I decide to go on to the roof and enjoy the view. As I walk through the door, a huge gust of wind comes up and slams it shut. The clouds open and it begins to pour down rain. I turn to go back in but the door is locked. It’ll be hours before anyone knows I’m here and the umbrella is gone.


I have no choice but to find a chair and embrace my predicament and in that moment of resignation I find the missing evidence. Yes, my life used to be different but it wasn’t necessarily better. It was exactly like it is now. Good and bad. Mourning for any moment before this one stops making sense and the road I’ve been on to find myself forks to the right.I tilt my face skyward and recognize this for what it is. Baptism. Then... footsteps. Heavy footsteps.

A giant's footsteps.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

shake your booty.


I was on the phone with a friend this morning and he told me he'd hurt his arm at the gym last month, “My shoulder’s still really bad. It’s been like this for weeks and now, well, you know…” His voice trailed off but I knew exactly where he was headed. “And now you think it's cancer, right?” I said. He let out a big exhale and whispered, “Yes."

I was understanding and supportive because
irrational cancer scares based on nothing more than the wind and some article I just read are my thing but I had to ask, "Is there such a thing as shoulder cancer, honey?" Because that's a stretch - even for me. "Since when does something have to be an actual thing for you to invest in it?" He had me.


As anyone who knows me can attest, I have a flair for the dramatic that borders on the Victorian and am unbelievably susceptible to the power of suggestion. Life has been heavy with drama for the last 40 years so now I live in a perpetual cycle of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Also, my shoulder has been hurting ALL day.


I told a friend about my shoulder and she said, “Now that you mention it, I’ve got some stuff happening with my stomach that I’m not crazy about. Think I’ll see if I can get in to see my doctor.”

Wouldn’t it be great if doctors were just always available and close by? I mean, technically, they are but I wish I had one sitting on the end of my bed at all times just waiting to answer questions cause I'm multi-symptomatic, as a rule. My doctor’s all the way over in Century City and all he ever says is, “Will you please stop diagnosing yourself on the Internet?”

He also refuses to let me have a supply of antibiotics on hand just in case, refuses to give me a blank prescription pad AND he doesn’t work on weekends which is the only time I ever think I have something.


Just got a call from ANOTHER friend who’s worried about some blood work she just had done and now we have to wait until Monday to hear the results. I groaned and said, “What's wrong with you? You know you’re only supposed to get tests done on Mondays so we can spend the following weekend celebrating your clean bill of health with booze, cigarettes, Xanax and cheese.” I swear, some people.

Shoulder still hurts and now my knees are doing this weird crunching thing whenever I stand up.


For most of the 90’s, I was totally convinced I had AIDS due to my heavy dependence on hysteria so, one day I called my therapist for an emergency phone session. “I don’t know,” I said, “I just feel funky.” I listed my symptoms and recounted my sexual partners (and the deviant histories I had made up about them) and said finally, “I know it. I’ve got AIDS.” She said, “You. Wish.” Then she hung up on me.


Woke up feeling like we’re all ridiculous - myself, most of all. I don’t know why I’ve spent so much of my life MSUing (making shit up) but I'm getting kinda sick of it. I want to fully embrace a relaxed and groovy approach to life (and somehow instantly have a yoga body and poised demeanor) instead of just dabbling with the idea but, God, it's hard to change these stripes.

I'm thinking of this because my friend Piper is coming over this morning for a visit. We haven’t seen in each other in years and just reconnected on Facebook. I'll tell you, all the "what ifs" are kinda hilarious until you make a plan with a friend who actually has fucking cancer.
Which she does. I just found out.


We had a really nice visit. We caught up and laughed and for a while avoided the whole cancer topic altogether but then we took a breath and just dove in. I’m glad. I’d hate to be one of those friends who can’t handle talking about what’s going on for her because of narcissistic concerns about my own health. I listened and asked questions and was generally there in the room with her but a couple of times I caught myself thinking, “Oh God, what am I going to do if I get cancer?”

So, turns out, I’m one of those friends after all.

Later still.

Been listening to LeAnn Womack sing, “I hope you dance,” for the last two hours. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.


Went to go visit my “blood work” friend at her office to wait for the results and everything came back clean. Huzzah! Apropos of absolutely nothing, her co-worker was wearing a blue bracelet that said, IT'S ALL GOOD, and he gave us each one to wear because he said they were lucky charms.
I put it on immediately.


Got the gig to write short stories from an ad I answered on Craiglist. Can. Not. Believe. It.


Just found out I booked a commercial I auditioned for. Can. Not. Believe. It.

This week is like the complete opposite of that week I had last May. Never taking the bracelet off.


Piper and I were supposed to meet for dinner but I begged off so I could work on the short stories in an effort to meet a deadline for once in my life. She said she was fine with it but something in her voice told me that it wasn’t actually fine so I changed my mind and we met up for a smoothie.

Turns out, after some hope-filled months, she went in for her regular treatment today and the doctor said he was “worried about something” and now she has to go in and get a different kind of scan. FUUUUCCCCKKKK!

She is so upbeat, even though she’s stressed about it, and I just don’t have a clue how she does it. I fall apart when I have to get a routine pap smear so, yeah, I’m basically just retarded and pretending (badly) that I’m not while she is just about the coolest person in the history of persons.
I took my bracelet off and gave it to her with instructions not to remove it until the scan results come back. 

On the way home I found myself running some kind of complicated algorithm in my head: how many friends I have x how many friends have cancer x what the National figures are x what my odds would be in that group but I’ve always been shitty at math (and now friendship, I guess) and didn’t come up with anything. When I went to brush my teeth, I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. 


I woke up this morning and had an epic panic attack. I barely made it to the wardrobe fitting for the commercial but once I got there I started to calm down until…
I got a phone call with bad news about Slim followed immediately by an e-mail with bad news about Dash. It was clear I wouldn't be breathing normally for a while.

I’m not going to lie, I thought about getting the bracelet back from Piper because it was kind of amazing how soon things got wonky after taking it off but I’m not calling MY FRIEND WITH CANCER to ask for the bracelet back. I mean, after you make a call like that, what’s next? Slapping babies? Teasing kittens?


Today was the first day on the commercial and I found out I wasn’t going to get as much money as I originally thought, which meant that paying rent would be, um, hilly. I eyed my phone, pre-set to Piper's number, and bit my lip. Instead of making the call, I took a walk over to craft service because my Jordan Almond addiction is getting pretty serious and that's when I saw the penny. 

The skies had been overcast all morning but at that moment the sun slivered through and made the copper sparkle. I don't know why but a wave of calm came over me so I picked the penny up, put it in my pocket and decide it would be my new lucky charm.


I called Piper and told her the story about my run of bad luck. I wasn’t going to because I didn’t want her to feel self-conscious about being totally greedy in keeping the bracelet to herself but telling it was also proof that the bracelet really was a good luck charm and that's news she might want to hear. Plus, there were some funny bits and I knew she'd laugh. She did.
She laughed for a long time on the phone and then called back later to say how much she appreciated the break from all the shit her brain is telling her.

I think that maybe one of the reasons we’re back in each others lives is that she reminds me to get my head out of my ass and I make her laugh. She won’t know this until she reads the blog but she’s actually the reason I went on that audition in the first place. She’s showing me a different version of how to live. One with more pep. And more grace.


Still don’t know when Piper's going in for her scan but now we’re thinking that the doctor may be the actual drama queen in all of this cause all she has is back pain and everyone we know has back pain. I've been thinking about booking on our friendship the last few days because there’s a big difference between getting together for a quick cup of coffee with an old friend who's suddenly very sick and signing up to stick around for the duration. Staying put and witnessing the unfairness of her situation is sometimes maddening enough to want to pull all your teeth out in protest but I’ve wholeheartedly decided to stick around and here’s why:

She was awesome long before she got the diagnosis and she’ll be awesome after she kicks it’s ass. She is exactly like all of my other friends – twisted and kind and smart and open and talented. I'm crazy about her. I have no idea what she sees in me but I’m psyched that we got thrown back together again. Life is better since she reappeared because that’s how it is with great people... they improve the conditions.

She recently told me, “My doctor’s don’t think I’m gonna make it, but I do.” And that right there is the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever heard. Ever. So all we have to do now is let the bracelets and the pennies do their jobs and get on with it. I think she’s gonna make it, too. I really do. 

In the meantime, there’s life happening every day and no one's life wants to do all the work. We must chip in. Instead of staying in the what if (fear, fear, fear) I want to reinvigorate the abandoned campaign of ravenous living. The shoulders and blood tests and stomach ailments and funky knees and panic attacks are distracting us from the banquet. Not to get all “I hope you dance” on you but seriously you guys...

Let's dance.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

the winter ball. the responses.

Despite my assertion that I could, in fact, live another day without seeing a crotch shot, the penis pictures continued to stream in unabated – all of them attached to email responses of every imaginable sort. Poets sent verse, misogynists sent rants, men still living with their parents, or stuck in loveless marriages, sent missives akin to an SOS.

Despite the many differences of my would-be suitors, most fell into one of the following categories:

THE GRAMMAR DENIERS: Men who adore commas, misunderstand semi-colons and are absolutely terrified of their space bar. It also bears mentioning that the bigger the penis, the worse the spelling.

THE “TIRED OF THE GAMES” GUYS: Never got a clear answer on what games they were referring to but my God they are SICK of them.

THE NO BS GUYS: See above.


THE MASSEURS: If I weren’t afraid of the whole barrel thing, I could be getting massages every day for a month, in the privacy of my own home, for FREE and still not run out of offers.

THE BENEFACTORS: Lots of offers to help pay my rent and bills in exchange for candlelight dinners, a couple cocktails and “lots of laughs.” The only catch being that I must stay “open-minded” because “who knows?” I looked at the tower of bills on my nightstand, covered in cobwebs, and bit my lip. I called Shauna and said, “We all knew it was gonna come down to prostitution eventually, didn’t we?” “Yes,” she said, “yes we did.”

THE NATURE ENTHUSIASTS: They all love the beach. Ditto, sunsets and mountain streams.  These places are their “power spots” and where they feel the “most connected.” I tended to delete these almost immediately because, buddy, who doesn’t love the beach? Ever met anyone who said, “Sunsets, my ass. Every night with the beautiful colors and the overall sense of well-being. Enough.”

THE POT SMOKERS: I had NO idea so many people smoked pot. Or how many smoked pot while also insisting that I smoke pot, too. Some of these guys were super handsome, which I imagine is very important since we wouldn’t be able to do much but stare at each other all day through heavily-lidded eyes after calling in sick to work, eating bags of Funyuns and watching re-runs of Ren & Stimpy.

THE FETISHISTS: By far the most spirited group. One wanted to tell me what to wear and what to eat and I have to say, that sounded kinda great. As chief decider in these parts, the idea of having someone lay an outfit on my bed AND save me an exhausting twenty minutes weighing the gnocchi against the steak, seemed like a vacation. One wanted me to dress up like Marie Antoinette. Another wanted me to dress HIM up like Marie Antoinette. One wanted me to wear panty hose and that’s where I had to draw the line. Amirite, ladies? One asked, “So, where do you stand on the whole rape fantasy thing?” I have to admit that I didn’t know it was a thing and, without even thinking about it, I realized I stand rather firmly against rape. One wanted to go pacifier shopping (don’t ask) and another asked me how many gag balls I currently had in my “collection.” Anyone who’s ever met me knows that this is a ridiculous question as I’m not sure I’ve ever gone longer than five minutes without chiming in about something or the other. I’m sure there are people who would welcome having a gag ball in arm’s reach while hanging out with me but volunteer for silence? Um, no. Anyway, like I said, they were just a super fun group of guys and I wish them all the best.

THE “I’M ONLY HERE FOR ONE THING” GUYS: My favorite being the one who wrote simply, “Wanna get licked and get paid?” Golly, SURE!

DEREK: His email arrived sans photo or fanfare. He was funny and could spell. We had both lived in the same small, San Francisco neighborhood. He had kids, too. After forty-eight hours of reading what basically amounted to the same soft-core porn novel over and over, his lovely and straight forward email floated gently to the top of my mind. Him, I wrote back.

Next up: The Dates.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

thanks giving.

I couldn't sleep last night, partly due to Dash who, having run into my bed after a nightmare, dug his elbows and knees into my ribcage and snored in my ear - quite impressively for a 6 year old. But even if it had been quiet, even if I'd had more than an inch of bed space, it wouldn't have mattered cause the truth is, I was awake when he arrived. After receiving crushing financial news the morning before, and spending the rest of the day trying to figure out a way to make everything work out, I laid there, eyes as big as the half-dollars I no longer had, and panicked.

I finally gave up the ghost at 4 am and decided to start the day. The house was as cold as a Russian novel so I lit a fire and made coffee. I stepped on, and broke, a Christmas ornament and swore like I was raised at a truck stop. I went to make toast but only found two heels and worried about how I could sell them to the little prince when he demanded toast with his breakfast. I laid out our Thanksgiving getups and checked the progress of a zit that had taken up semi-permanent residence on my chin. I cleaned up a room I had cleaned up 60 times in the last 24 hours and finally sat down to stare, dramatically, into the fire. A quick assessment of my life confirmed my fears: I am not where I want to be in my life in the three big areas: career, love, abs. I sighed for an hour and then pulled my knit cap over my ears to drown out the sound of my pity party.

I went into my room on tip toes and sat on the edge of my bed to watch Dash in the moonlight. As much as I wanted (and needed) him to stay sleeping, another part of me wished that he would wake up and say something that would shake me out of my Dickensian funk. He cradled his new teddy bear, the one I bought him for his birthday and my heart started beating again. All the black sludge that had been masquerading as my blood got washed away cause I remembered what Dash told me before he went to sleep. "Mama," he said, "this bear is crazy about you."

Smiling from ear to ear at the memory, I went into the living room and did the only thing I could think of: I made a, VERY partial, list of everything I am thankful for, today and every day:

Afternoon naps in shafts of sunlight
Lint rollers
VivaldiLadybugs on blades of grass
Elbows and knees


Christmas lights at dusk
Full tanks on long drives


Lingering eye contact

The flower market



Hot baths

Sleeping babies
Laughing sons

Soft rugs and smooth rocks

Cold water in July

Lemon curd

Long shadows

Rocking orgasms

Aretha Franklin singing Nessun Dorma
Big clouds
Skating rinks

The SF Bay


and on and on and on...

Life. Is. Good.

My financial picture is as confusing as a Pollock but everyone I know is having the same hard time. I have friends whose homes are being foreclosed and whose cars are being repo-ed. Even the friends who are doing okay are struggling so, you know what? I've never been in better company. Everything will turn around. The only thing we can depend on is change and this - sleepless nights and debt collector avoiding - will give way to something sunnier. This is not a time for fear. It is a time for faith. There is work to do.

This morning, Dash asked for a dog. I told him that as soon as I get a job, we will get a dog. Dash said that would be fine. He also said that I could get a job as a fry cook "like Spongebob" or as a "worker at Staples" (I have no idea) or in an office building "cause those are the fancy jobs." So, I guess I'm all set.

Yes, there are doors closing but there are windows opening and even if that makes life sometimes feel a bit drafty, there is always something to be grateful for. If true wealth is measured, and I really believe it is, by health and good friends and smiling kids and a loving family, then I am, for the 43rd year in a row, a very rich woman indeed. In the words of Maya Angelou, "... wouldn't take nothing for my journey now."

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

the winter ball.

In January 1983, the halls of my high school were abuzz with talk about our upcoming formal dance, The Winter Ball. We were excited – booking limos, asking older siblings to buy us rum and going to Macy’s after school to try on taffeta dresses. Since I was only 15 and did not yet have a boyfriend, my friend, Doo, set me up with a guy her date knew, sight unseen.

On the night, Doo and I got ready together and the guys arrived to pick us up. I don’t remember their names but I’ll call my date, Mark. Mark, the asshole. From the instant he arrived, he made a few things very clear: I had given him "lousy" directions to the house, my dress looked “Victorian” and like something his “grandma would wear” and, even though he didn’t say it, he wished he was on the date with Doo instead of me. I know this because after we got to the dance, if I wanted to actually lay eyes on him, I had to figure out where Doo was. Find Doo, find Mark.

In the end, my girlfriend, Ayn, saved me from the debacle. Her date was equally gross so she and I took off in her mother’s car, went to a diner and, corsages wilting, ordered onion rings and milkshakes. We had a ball.

Now, at 44, I can tell you that Mark had the entitlement of Kim Jong-Il, the defensiveness of a hedge fund manager and a pasty, moon face very popular among serial killers. In short, the kind of guy I would cross the street to avoid but, back then, I was just a girl made up of insecure atoms so I thought this is what dating was like and vowed to avoid it like the plague.

While I didn't actually manage to avoid it, I'm happy to report that Mark is STILL the worst date I’ve ever had and I am grateful, really, that I knocked that one out early. As for my best date? That would be the time my soon-to-be boyfriend, John, asked me on our first date, if I would join him for part of his upcoming European bike trip so, on what would’ve been our third date, I flew to Munich. Despite the obvious "international escort" undertones, it's still one of the best decisions I've ever made. The rest of my dating life has settled somewhere in between - not quite horrific but seriously lacking in passports.

I’m thinking about all of this because I just recently launched into an experiment: online dating. After an eye-opening week on wherein the ONLY specification I listed was a height minimum of 6’, I received e-mails from every man in America under 5’8.” So, I did what any sane woman would do, I canceled my account and headed over to craigslist.

The term, “eye-opening,” takes on a whole new meaning over there at old craigslist. I don’t consider myself a prude at all but my holy goodness, I saw more penises in my first three hours than a porn director after a week of auditions. I thought that eyes were the windows to the soul but maybe I’ve been wrong.

Now, we’ve all heard the scary stories about online dating, and craiglist in particular, so it’s important to note as I regale you with my experiences that I am not giving anyone my real name, e-mail address or phone number. These early days are as private as can be and if I do decide to go on a date with anyone, Kathlyn and Denise are already on deck to accompany me, chaperone-style. Also, while there is no doubt that some people out there are nutjobs who wouldn’t know a boundary if it slapped them across the face, most people are decent and kind and, like me, aren’t sure exactly how to go about dating while also having kids. And a case of the olds.

Here’s the post I put up and now we will wait to see who turns up:

After 2 years on my own, post break up, I think I'm ready to explore again. Not sure what I want, relationship-wise, because I dig having my own space but I don't feel the need to do ALL of it alone anymore. I'm truly new here and after a day of research it's starting to sound like there are a LOT of people pretending to be one thing and actually being something else altogether. That's not me and I don't suffer fools BUT If you're funny and smart and can tell a good story, send me an email.

For the record:

I have brown hair.
I live in a cute Craftsman.
I'm funny.
I love the rain.
I love fireplaces.
I love everything (well, not EVERYTHING, but I see beauty wherever I can.)
I'm a writer.
I want to learn how to make cheese.
I sing all the time.
I have a terrific kid and crazy, lovely parents and tons of friends and a whole life.
I have big eyes and marvel at most everything they see.

Also, for the record:

I don't want to "hook up" today or tonight.
I like massages but I just had one so, I'm good.
I'm not going to start off by telling you where I live or giving out my number because I'm not insane and don't want to end up in a barrel.
I will trade e-mails and see what's up.
I’m a 100% real person.
I know you love your penis and, you know, awesome, but I’m not interested in seeing it quite yet. I’m sure it’s terrific but I’m willing to bet it’s not your best feature.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

happy birthday. one and all.

Growing up, my home life had two speeds: Busby Berkeley musical and slasher film. By the time I was a teen-ager I spent the majority of my time in search of a more consistent genre (and sometimes coke and ecstacy) so was often too busy to pay attention in, what is commonly referred to as, “school.” I was a terrible student and the only miracle that took place in the four years I attended Sisters of the Presentation College Prepatory was my graduation. To this day, the mere word “graduation” sends me into fits of giggles. It was my first hustle.

A few months after convincing Sister Helene that now would be a good time to remember her vow of charity, overlook my academic record and let me pass on personality alone, I thought about my future. I was seventeen, rudderless, and, owing to a generous grant from a grandmother who had always appreciated my “moxie,” freshly home from several weeks in Europe. I arrived back in the States to find that A) my room had been given to my younger brother and B) pretending to speak Italian fluently cause I had spent most of July there did nothing but aggravate everyone in the room. It was time to make a plan.

I took stock of what I had: a Ziploc bag full of European coins, a diploma boasting a 2.1 GPA, and a tan. I was surprised to discover that none of these gems secured me a spot in college, so I headed out into the world to find passion in work and, of course, money for the coke and the ecstasy. Problem was - career wise - nothing fit.

I backed into everything I tried. Never so much choosing a direction as accepting one. Inevitably, I would reach a point at every job where my boredom grew so large that without notice to anyone, including myself, I would walk into work on a seemingly normal day and quit on the spot. Then, when I was 32, and woefully resigned that passion and work would never coexist in my life, something wonderful happened.

It was the year 2000 and I was a rep for commercial directors, making more money than I could spend and, as usual, hating every second of it. One particular Sunday I watched the Super Bowl with my other rep friends. We would talk during the game and amp up during the commercials, each of us yelling over the other to announce, “This is one of mine.” In the middle of the melee, a new spot came on featuring Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken:

“… I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

I stole off to the bathroom and cried. Money be damned, once again, I was nowhere. I was sitting on the toilet, staring at the hostess towels like they held a clue, when a quiet but fertile seed planted itself in my brain.

My mother is an amazing poet and a literary life was greatly prized during my formative years. I had always written too but I never thought to choose the profession for myself. Writing was something you suffered for, something done under cover of darkness with a huge snifter of Brandy and, as my ghetto-adjacent childhood proved to me, there was no money in it, but for some reason, the morning after the Super Bowl, I went online and started to research writing classes.

Sitting at my desk that Monday morning, I discovered that my favorite poet - Stephen Dunn - was teaching a workshop in my favorite place – Mexico. The deadline for entries was THAT day. I looked up Frost's poem, cried a little more and spent the next hour bouncing back and forth between the poem and the workshop application.

I made myself a cup of coffee, smoked a cigarette, visited with my colleagues, then went back to my desk and wrote a poem about a woman trying to live a lie while serving tea to her inner “monsters.” I sent it to the editor of the workshop. At 3pm, I received an e-mail saying I had been accepted. At 4pm, I quit my job.

That was 11 years ago and I have never looked back.

I’m thinking about this because today The Early Girl turns one and, like all toddlers, I’ve been falling on my ass a LOT lately. Emotionally, I've been having a rather rocky, “Jesus, take the wheel,” couple of weeks but the only thing I can think about is how grateful I am for that Super Bowl. For Mexico. For my mother. For the written word.

Writing, something I now do in broad daylight and with great exaltation, turns out to be my greatest hustle ever. Other than Dash, it is also my greatest love. For the first time, what I do for a “living” (read: no money for a bikini wax) and what I do for fun, coexist. It can be, at times, an ear-splitting harmony.

BUT, for me, there is no greater professional pleasure and I miss the weekly Early Girl posts. I am tits deep into the script, and maybe it’ll reap many financial rewards, but on this auspicious occasion I just want to say that I miss you.

Thank you, so muchly, much for reading. At the time, walking away from the security of that repping job was the hardest decision I had ever made but, just so we're clear, you are a big part of why being brave so many years ago was the best thing I ever did.

Monday, March 4, 2013

have. have not.

Due to a virulent strain of writer’s block, I haven’t been writing. I’m long overdue for a post and I tried – I really did – but all the words went ass over teacup and refused to line themselves up, single file, in a sentence. So, instead of publishing gobblygook that reads as if were written by drunken toddlers, I thought I would give you a partial list of the other things I haven’t been doing while I haven’t been writing:

I haven’t been hourly checking the progress of the cherry tree outside my living room window nor have I been crouching in the vegetable garden watching the broccoli grow.

I haven’t been writing my Emmy acceptance speech.

I haven’t been making round-the-clock BLT’s.

I haven’t been obsessing about Kate Middleton’s wedding dress and randomly bursting into tears over Princess Diana’s death.

I haven’t mentally purchased a NYC apartment or an 18th century farmhouse (and horses) in the Hudson Valley.

I haven’t thumbed through catalogs mentally purchasing items for my mentally purchased homes.

I haven’t planned every detail of a party I am having 7 weeks from now.

I haven’t been fancying myself a “painter.”

I haven’t been color coordinating my spices.
I haven’t been admiring the spring line at The Pleasure Chest.

I haven’t been practicing the guitar outside in an effort to scare away the marauding gang of birds who are trying to turn my garden into their clubhouse.

I haven’t been buying cheese-making supplies because of a captivating do-it-yourself youtube video.

I haven’t been holding old photos of myself up to my face for comparison nor have I talked to a nurse about Botox.

I haven’t taken the last box of Christmas ornaments to the garage.

I haven’t been bringing in fresh greens for the two snails Dash found outside and brought inside to live as his pets.

I haven’t been reading every horoscope I can find until I get to one that says something I want to hear.

I haven’t given myself an at-home pedicure.

I haven’t been watching Cheers re-runs with follow up googling of why Shelley Long left the show.I haven't been promising my agent a new draft of the pilot.

I haven’t eaten my weight in Gummi bears.

I haven’t been experimenting with baking.

And, contrary to what you may have heard, I haven't been dancing in my house like some character out of a romantic comedy, singing P!nk songs at top volume and polishing my floors.

How was your weekend?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

best week ever.

One Friday afternoon last month, I was on the way to pick Dash up from school when I stopped at the ATM and discovered my account was overdrawn $700. This was definitely some shoddy, Brokedown Palace news and I wondered why it is that these things never happen on a Monday morning at 11 when you might be able to do something about them but always at the exact moment that banks put a “Next Teller Please” sign in their window and head off to Happy Hour.Anyway. After some detective work, it was determined to be an accounting error. That was the good news. The bad news was that no one could tell me when it would be resolved. I knew I would have to circle the wagons and get either very clever or very drunk but, as you know, I’m a hope-y gal and always on the lookout for the magic of small blessings so I remained determined to look at the situation from my pro-jubilance stance: just another in a long line of solvable challenges. Instead, it turned out to be a starting pistol.


It was a beautiful Mother’s Day – the best since I got the gig six years ago. There was $40 in my wallet when I found out I was overdrawn and I had stretched it like taffy. There was just enough left over for Dash’s breakfast, lunch and dinner and just enough gas to get him back to school the next morning when I was sure the situation would be resolved.

Dash was at his most sweet and adorable – making me snacks and showering me with gifts and notes. We’ve had some days recently that were more tense cease-fire than Hallmark card so we’d been in the market for a win and we got it in spades.

Then, Peter called to tell me he had proposed to his girlfriend and that she had accepted. I was happy for them but, even though Peter and I have known for years that we would never want to reconcile, it was still hard to come to the realization that after one year with her he was able to so easily do something he couldn’t do with me after six. I hung up and smiled at Dash but never got my groove back. I couldn’t remember a time I had felt so lonely.


I work part-time as an extra for TV commercials. The work pays well and is super fun but only comes in fits and starts. I had worked quite a bit in the fall but there had been a steep drop-off after the New Year and I’d been living exclusively on unemployment. There was just enough to pay for food, gas, bills and the almost daily ice cream cones and 99 cent store toys I get Dash after school, but absolutely nothing extra. I had decided to start looking for another part-time job because the romance of poverty had faded and I’d grown tired of living like one of the Duggars – all hand-me-downs and home perms – so was smack dab in the middle of resume tweaking when the mailman arrived with my unemployment check. A check that had mysteriously shrunk in size from $900 to $124.

After firing off a panicky WTF e-mail to the unemployment people, I was informed that because I’d been working they'd opened a new claim based on my smallest earnings. The matter was “not open to appeal.” I responded by asking why people who worked and only collected unemployment sometimes were being penalized. “If I’d known that getting a job would end up being my downfall, I would’ve spent my days gambling and getting pregnant in front of the liquor store just like the Republicans think people on unemployment do.” I didn’t hear back.

I called Lucky in a state of pique. She tried her best to calm me down and even offered to FedEx her Starbucks card because it had $30 on it. “They have food there,” she said.* She reminded me of my blessings and I hung up feeling slightly better until I dropped my phone on the stairs of the porch, watching in slow motion as it hit every step before finally landing on the pavement with a crunch.

*I swear to God, if my girlfriends get any more amazing I don’t know what I’ll do.


My account was still overdrawn but I did have that check for $124 so I headed to various banks to cash it. I needed a phone and my stomach was grumbling but none of the banks would cash it and I couldn’t bring it to mine since the overdraft would just gobble it up and leave me nowhere so I went to a check cashing place and let me just say this: no bueno, no mas.

The first sign I encountered on the bullet proof glass advertised pre-paid cell phones “for prisons and jails.” I stared at it, amazed that such a thing would be popular enough to warrant it's very own sign. The store was well lit which only made the umbrella of desperation that much more visible. I ran out of there as fast as I could, minus the $20 fee they charged.

I went to the Apple store with my $104 and asked for the cheapest phone they had. Turns out the cheapest phone they had was gonna cost $98.99. I bought it. I mean, what can you do? You gotta have an iPhone in this life, right? Armed with $5.01 that I would have to use for gas, I gave the food court a dirty look on my way out of the mall and tried to focus on something positive. Turns out, I could now include pictures in my texts.

I willed the gas tank to make it back and walked into the house eager to jump into the re-write of my TV pilot. It would be my saving grace and I had already started to write a JK Rowling-esque mythology of how ABC would swoop in, buy the show any day now and save me. “It’ll be a great story and I’ll be very stoic in interviews,” I told my agent. “Single moms on the edge are always good copy.”
Somehow, I had managed to divorce myself from the fact that that it wasn't just a story I made up. It was the truth.

Nine people had read the script and loved it and all that was left was my manager’s reaction. I had waited two weeks for his call and today was the day. He called and I sat poised with my pen and notepad, expecting to write down words like “inspired,” “fresh,” “exciting.” Instead I sat, shoulders sagging by the second as he told me how much he disliked it. “Was there any character you liked?” I asked after forty-five minutes. “No,” he said.

I got off the phone and watched my amazing story of triumph in the face of adversity dissipate into the ether. I was now officially broke and without talent. I got into bed and stayed there for 24 hours, staring at the ceiling and sighing like Billy Crystal in When Harry met Sally. Sigh… Sigh… Sigh. Also, I cried.


I found $20 in the pocket of the last pair of jeans I tore through and went to the market. Dash was coming home that day and I was relieved I didn't have to borrow money to cover him. After spending a fair amount of time collecting coins from around the house and eyeing his piggy bank like a crack head, holding actual dollar bills in my hand felt like a victory. Then, groceries rolling around in the back seat, the oil light went on. I pulled into a Jiffy Lube to discover that my car requires a “synthetic” oil and that fixing the problem will cost me $80. I told the guy I would take my chances. I rested my head against the steering wheel and wondered what kidneys were going for on the black market. Seriously.


The commute to Dash’s school is forty minutes, each way. I woke up and realized that there wasn’t enough gas to get him there and back again so I told him we would be playing hooky instead. He was absolutely stoked about this and for a brief, shining moment I felt normal. While he ate pancakes with whipped cream smiley faces and watched a DVD, I hit “refresh” on my e-mail inbox every few seconds waiting for the job offers to come rolling in.

After about an hour, I realized that I would have to do something I promised myself I would never do and downloaded an application for food stamps. After entering in the requested figures, I received a determination: “It appears you are eligible for emergency aid. Please go to your nearest welfare office to apply.”

An hour later Dash and I walked up the steps of the gray, boxy building and even though he had eaten the pancakes and a quesadilla and a green smoothie, I looked at the kid and said, “Showtime, boo. Act hungry.” I know some may think that my bringing Dash was an intentional act meant to garner sympathy and increase my chances and they would be right but, as it happens, I’m not the only one. The place was crawling with kids.

In the end, all we got was a mountain of paperwork and instructions to gather seven billion-thousand forms and come back the following day. Dash, bless his heart, wanted to stay cause there is a special children’s section with a TV and toys and he wanted in. I love this child. I don’t know how but he took any shame and terror I was feeling and turned it back into hope - if only for a moment - but what I've learned this year is that a moment is all it takes, sometimes. We watched Shrek for a couple of minutes and then headed back home.


Friday the 13th. Pure poetry. I got Dash back to school so relieved that the next three days I would only have to worry about myself. I still wasn’t eating but somehow, between the check cashing place and the welfare office, I could still channel gratitude. There is a very big difference between broke and poor and I knew, as with everything good or bad, a change would come. Plus, I was as skinny as I had ever been
. "Hello, hip bones," I thought. "Where have you been all my life?"

For some reason known only to the pack of demonic elves who hang out at my house these days, I decided to pull weeds from my long driveway. It would feel good to be pro-active about something so I parked my car on the street and got to work. A couple hours later I went to move my car back and found a ticket for $58 under my windshield wiper.

It was official. The universe had broken into my house while I slept and tattooed my forehead with the words: OUR BITCH.

To be continued…

Monday, January 2, 2012

pay it forward. fillopantry.

I remember the moment it happened. The exact moment I realized we were poor. I was 10 and Slim was 8 and we were in our room talking about who was cuter: Shaun Cassidy or Donny Osmond. Polly was asleep in her crib and our Mom sat in the living room arguing, in hushed tones, with our step-father. Turns out, he was great at volunteering for those less fortunate than we were but he was less great at bringing home actual money and mom, draped in children and stressed to the gills, had had enough.

When the argument started to escalate, Slim turned up the music on our Barbie turntable and I closed our bedroom door. Thanksgiving, and it’s superior twin Christmas, were upon us and, even though we didn’t understand all of what was being said out in the living room, it was wet blanketing our holiday enthusiasm and we wanted none of it.

A little while later, the doorbell rang. I don’t know who it is Slim and I always expected to find on the other side of the door (our real parents, perhaps, the Duke and Duchess, so happy to have finally located us) but whenever that bell rang we ran toward it like sailors on leave. That night, we opened the door to reveal – not foreign dignitaries with adoption papers - but Father O’Malley and Sister Janet from our local parish, holding two boxes of food.

Slim and I looked at each other like confused puppies and then up the stairs at our mom who stared at the boxes with an expression I hope I never see again. She was at her most stripped down – a potent mixture of fury, shame and resignation – and, in that moment, gravity failed me. None of us knew what to say but I remember praying that they had the wrong address. “Oh,” I thought, “you must be looking for the poor people who live down the street. Let me point you toward their house.”

Before I could even finish the thought, though, I knew they had come to the right place. In all the years we had been taught that giving to others was important, it had never occurred to me that we
were the others. I looked at the exposed bulb that lit our porch, watched the moth’s frantic ballet and knew exactly how they felt.

That night, I fell asleep to the sound of my mother’s tears as she put the food away and, a few days later, on Thanksgiving, I choked the food down, never once grateful that we had it - only desperate to remove any evidence of it or the night it had arrived. But some memories are immovable and, to this day, I remember that night and everything it represented and I am so grateful I do. It keeps me humble during the times I have way more than I need and it reminds me, when I don’t, how blessed I still am. It changed me, yes, but not in the scary way I assumed it would. It's a memory that shaped me and when combined with loads of others – like tacks on a map – I can clearly see how I came to be. The dark and the light.

Anyway, the other day Dash and I were talking about philanthropy (he calls it fillopantry, which is super fitting, if you think about it) and about what he and I might do together to help those less fortunate. 
He says it’s “fun.” It is.

Last week we went to a retirement community and hung out with the old timers. Dash wore his Halloween costume (Spongebob, natch) and trick or treated. He beamed at the old folks and the old folks beamed back. It was pretty great but it’s time for me to fill up some boxes of food so, next up, I am volunteering at a soup kitchen here in LA.

The call from our better angels is always loudest during the holidays but it's important to always keep an ear open. To remember to hear the call long after New Year's Eve.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

kiss kiss bang bang. part three.

The day before I went to the shooting range, Polly called to find out who was coming with me. “Mom, Pop, Slim, and Darren,” I answered. “Oh God,” she said, “It’s bad enough you’re risking our family’s lives, why do you have to drag Darren into this?” Darren is Slim’s boyfriend and the newest member of our tribe. “Look at it as a rite of passage,” I said, “he’s getting ‘jumped in’ to the family.” She said, “We’re not Crips, Alex. You can’t give GUNS to these people. It’s totally ridiculous. No, no. Bring someone stable.” I mentally flipped through my Rolodex. “I don’t know anyone stable,” I said. “Well, find someone,” she said, “I’m not willing to lose my entire family for your blog.”

She had a point. Our family has a flair for dramatics, bordering on the Victorian, and we fight regularly.
The wisdom of putting guns into the hands of people who have wanted to kill me (and each other) on more than one occasion suddenly felt very shaky but I hadn’t been able to convince anyone else to go. I said, “Look, if we’re gonna blow each other’s brains out, better we do it at a shooting range than at Christmas.” She was quiet for a second and then said, “That’s valid. Alright. Call me when you guys are done.”

In the end, our folks bowed out. They were happy puttering at the house and beaming at the neighbors and didn’t want to interrupt their flow. Plus, naturally, they were fighting. He would hover over her and fret about the way she was laying the patio stones and then she would hover over him and fret about how much mortar he was mixing. “Probably best you don’t come,” Slim said to them as we made our way down the driveway. “It’ll be too

The LA Gun club is located inside a converted warehouse in - you guessed it - the Fashion District.
I ran inside and immediately scanned the room for Gun Guy, but he wasn’t there. An armed employee named Junior offered his assistance, and we took it, but I was cranky about Gun Guy not being there and made a mental note to pout about it later. After 15 minutes of instruction, Junior filled our baskets with the guns we had chosen, plus ammo, safety goggles and headphones. He pulled out paper targets depicting everything from the classic graph outline to photos of bad guys hiding behind trucks and masked intruders crouching in corners. They were really creepy. I picked the classic, in green, cause it matched my eye shadow. Junior pointed towards a long, narrow room divided by partitions. “Have fun,” he said.

I assumed, because of some random Charlie’s Angels flashbacks,
that we would be in our own individual booths (and that I would, magically, be wearing a policewoman uniform) but we were all jumbled up together in one room and that upped the stakes. There were maybe 15 other people shooting guns and rifles right next to us and I stopped being worried about Slim getting revenge for the countless times I’ve pissed her off and started worrying about the strangers. Everyone else saw a nice couple on a date and some executives doing corporate building but I saw highly trained assassins who had recently quit smoking and were just looking for an excuse. I walked to the far end of the room.

It’s been sign-of-the-apocalypse hot in LA so the room was sweltering and really, really loud. Even with the headphones on, I jumped through my skin every time someone fired their gun, as if I had completely forgotten where I was.
I was a wreck but I was also determined to finish the challenge so, with sweaty and shaking hands, I loaded the .44 Magnum, aimed at the paper target, and fired. Having the gun in my hand, loading it and firing it, made me feel powerful, sexy as hell, AND completely out of control. I felt like a total bad ass that no one should ever consider fucking with but also like a terrible mistake had been made and that I should never have been allowed to hold something that might do grave bodily damage. Turns out, I was the one who was tempted. Who knew that NOT killing someone would be the real challenge? You know, I’ve been tense.
While Slim and Darren traded weapons and notes, I took a second to step back and take in my surroundings. I watched the strangers, stealth-style, and noticed that one looked a little wonky, probably on account of his lazy eye and, in my mind, I kept hearing that night’s news report about the wonky guy killing the blog writer. I told Slim and Darren that he was making me nervous. “What the hell are you talking about?” they said, “You’ve got a lazy eye, too.” It’s true. I gave wonky guy the once over and saw my own reflection staring back at me. I guess the person I was most worried about going postal was me. I finished the bullets and got the hell out of dodge.

“You were scared because you’re a fearful person,” said Gun Guy when I called him the next day to tell him how it went. “Look, I don’t really know you but you called so I’ll tell you what I think. If you look hard enough, everything is scary. Even you. So why’re ya looking so hard?" Gulp. For someone who doesn’t know me, he sure does know me. “So, is this gonna be a regular thing now,” he asked, “the phone calls and the updates?” I told him I just had a few questions. He said, “Shoot.” Oh, Gun Guy, you’re funny.

I asked him if it wouldn’t be safer to have individual rooms instead of a public one. He said, “Look, If you’re a bad guy and you’re looking for mayhem, where are you gonna go?” I told him I didn’t know. “McDonalds,” he said. “That’s where you’re headed. You want to shoot up the place but you don’t want them to shoot back and the fry cook isn’t armed. Even disturbed people aren’t going to go to a shooting range. This place is about neutral destruction but I’ve got six employees with guns and they know how to use them. These psychos might be dumb but they’re not dumb. Know what I mean?” I thought of the sign I had seen at the entrance. “Did you make the sign?” I asked. “Yep,” he said, “I make ‘em all. Laminate them too. People used to come in and pull their guns out of their waistbands like they were just dying to say, “freeze” and I had to stop all that.” I told him it was a great sign. He said, “It’s a sign.”

I asked him what kinds of people usually come in to a gun range. “Everybody,” he said. “I get chefs and designers and cops and musicians and mothers. The world has gone crazy and people come here to relax.” I confessed that I didn’t find it very relaxing. “Let me ask YOU something,” he said. “When you were shooting the .44, what were you thinking about? And don’t say, ‘make my day’ cause that’s annoying.” I told him I was thinking about each of the steps and lining up the shot correctly. “That’s right,” he said, “You weren’t thinking about the rent or the traffic. You were in the moment. That’s relaxing.”

I told him about my mom being a Buddhist and how she’s always extolling the virtues of living in the moment. Maybe firing a gun is the same as meditation? “I can’t talk about Buddha but I can say that I try real hard to make this a safe place for people to blow off steam. I made a sign about it, let me walk over there and I’ll read it to you.” Sure enough, the sign stressed the importance of safety and fun and customer service. He genuinely wants people to have an outlet for their frustration and he wants me to come back and give it another shot. “I think I’d rather shoot outdoors,” I say. “Who wouldn’t?” he said.

I asked him why he’s never there in the afternoons. “Cause I don’t like to mingle with the customers. Not anymore. I’m 63 and I’ve met enough people. I come in every morning and sweep and take care of whatever needs taking care of and then I go home and put on my shorts and watch TV. Mostly, I just try to keep off the freeway cause nobody knows how to drive anymore.”

He says, “I know you’re young (bless his heart) so maybe you won’t get this, but I go to Costco on Monday mornings because it’s quiet. Sometimes I go on a Friday and that’s always a mistake because it’s packed. I see the old, retired people there on Fridays and tell them they should go on Mondays. I have earned the quiet cause I did all my scary stuff but you’re still a Friday Costco person. You need to earn your stripes.”

I tell him I will come back, that even though it was scary, when I left, I felt totally high and alive. When I got outside all of the angles were sharper and the sun was brighter. I couldn't really explain it - just that everything suddenly felt possible. “Listen, shooting a gun can be scary so there’s nothing wrong with you for feeling that way but isn’t doing scary stuff the whole point of your blog?” I say yes and that the feeling I had afterward is what I want more of.” He says, “Well, then, what’s the next challenge?”

I tell him about having to get a job and maybe starting to date again. He says, “Those aren’t challenges – that’s just living. What’re you gonna do that everybody else isn’t already doing?” I say, “Well I’ve always wanted to be a singer. Maybe I’ll take some lessons and sing in public or something.” He says, “Now we’re talking. Look, I got a crack in the men’s toilet and I have to fix it.” I wish him luck and he says, “I don’t need luck, I just need a wrench.” I say, “Bye, Gun Guy and thank you.” He says, “Learn how to sing and stay off the freeway. You’ll be fine.”