Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Flying back to Vegas today

My trip down to PA was a lot of fun. Beautiful Aunt Joyce looks fantastic--the best I've seen her since this cancer bullshit came her way--and my sister Lori and I had a blast at the Little Feat concert. Everyone there looked like people I might have gone to college with back in the 70's at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. I remembered how much I love "cold weather" people--they're so down to earth. All the guys in their flannel shirts and bushy beards made me a bit nostalgic.

The show itself wasn't that great though--surprisingly. It took forever for them to really kick in, and whenever they came close, they would retreat. For example, just when they finally got into "Dixie Chicken," what do they do but go into a bass solo. You lost us, guys! Lori and I concluded it was the concert equivalent of bad sex; they'd tease us a bit and then do whatever made them feel good. (And we paid for this!) I mean really, does anyone, other than the bass player, ever enjoy a bass solo? (That goes double for drum solos.) Too often during the show we thought, "This would be a good time to hit the bathroom." That's not the sign of a good concert! A good concert keeps you on your feet dancing front and center until you're ready to pee your pants or risk a bladder infection.

Penn's Peak, however, is one of the best venues I've ever been in. It kind of reminds me of a House of Blues, but double the size. If I lived around there (in the middle of freakin' nowhere), I'd be at that place all the time, even if the band held only minor appeal. The Pretenders and Loretta Lynn will be there soon--I wish I'd be in town to see them.

Lori and I hit the road around noon on Sunday because I had a set to do at the Lark Tavern Sunday night. It was a long ride back to Albany since we were both hungover as hell (after the show we checked out a biker bar and made a bunch of new friends). We stopped for lunch at this delicious greasy pizza place across from the Poconos Caesar's Palace. At one point, Lori made me laugh and I spit pizza sauce all over her, which made us both crack up to the point where everyone in the place was looking at us as Lori wiped up the table.

I have lots more to say; this has been a great visit. I fly back to Las Vegas late this afternoon, and since I have a layover in Chicago, I probably won't get home until after midnight. If I'm lucky. Not looking forward to my alarm assaulting me at 5:26 tomorrow morning, but tomorrow should be a "throwaway" day at work and I have fun plans for New Year's Eve with my friend Lisa, and the present moment is just perfect.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Survived the holidays!

Just a short post today. I'm still in Albany, NY, and will be here until next Tuesday afternoon. Christmas was fun. This may sound disgusting to some of you, but my idea of a perfect day off is one where I don't have to shower. It's true. Christmas was just one of those days where one thing led to another and before I knew it, I was on my third beer (thanks to my wonderful brother-in-law, Russ) and the day was more than half over and by then what would be the point of showering? (Of course, I did put on some lipstick; I'm not totally gross!)

It's great to see everyone, and the weather is very mild, thank God. I think my whole family prays for a heat wave when I come to town so they don't have to listen to me bitch the whole time about being so cold and how can you people stand to live in this godforsaken place? I'll post pictures when I get back. Not of me, though. No shower = not pretty.

Today my sister Lori and I are heading to Jim Thorpe, PA, (about a four-hour drive) to see our aunt Joyce, our father's sister. We have two aunts named Joyce; this one is Beautiful Aunt Joyce (BAJ) the pastor (!) and my mother's sister is the famous quirky lesbian Aunt Joyce, who is equally as beautiful. BAJ lives near this cool little restaurant/concert venue, Penn's Peak, and tonight Lori and I are going to see Little Feat there. How lucky we are!

This will be a fun road trip--Lori's always a blast. It will be a short trip--we're coming back tomorrow, since tomorrow night I'm doing a set at the Lark Tavern. I'll probably see a bunch of my old friends, some of whom have never seen me perform.

Busy, busy...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays!

I’m posting a day early since I doubt I’ll have a chance to get near a computer tomorrow, Christmas Day. This afternoon I fly to Albany to spend the holiday with my kids, my precious grandson Connor, my Harley-riding sister Lori, and most of the rest of my family. Can’t wait to see everyone, but I’m definitely not looking forward to that weather.

Anyway, I thought I’d post this picture, taken the day after Christmas 2004. That’s my first husband, Chris, and me and our kids, Courtney and Christopher. Courtney had just cleaned up after a big shindig at her place for Connor’s birthday and by the time this picture was taken, I had about three beers too many. Yeah, just a typical granny in a Sonic Youth t-shirt tying one on at her grandson’s birthday party…

Note my hand on my ex’s thigh—ha! Also note the expression on his face. Too funny.

At this point, Chris and I had been split up for 10 years, and my second husband (the infamous “B.H.”) was already history as well.

I like this picture (even though I look terrible in it) because it depicts what I would wish for every couple post-divorce, especially during the holidays. No matter what you buy for them, and no matter how old they are, the most important gift you can give your kids is a sense of family cohesiveness, even when the structure of the family changes dramatically.

Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Countdown to 200,000: Why my Saturn is the best car ever

Hey, look—my Saturn hit 197,000 miles last Saturday!

I’m the first to admit I have a weird emotional attachment to my vehicle, but it’s only because I have the most awesome car on earth. It’s the first new car I ever purchased entirely on my own. I bought it in 1996 after my first divorce and since then, I’ve gone through a whole other husband and, of course, innumerable boyfriends.

My car is cute as hell—it’s a two-door coupe about the size of a kitchen table—and at last count I got 41 miles to the gallon. I’ve never had a problem with it (knock on wood), even though the “Service Engine Soon” light flashes on now and then and another red light on the dashboard has been blinking for like a year or so. I assume it’s nothing to worry about.

The guy at Big O Tires pitched a freakin’ fit like last time I pulled in without a drop of oil in my tank, so now I do have to put oil in the car, but because I don’t actually know how to check the oil, I use my psychic powers to determine just how many gallons to pour in at a time. I really have no idea what’s going on under the hood (maybe I’m not even putting the oil in the right place—who knows?) I just know my car runs perfectly (fingers crossed).

Men don’t seem to share my enthusiasm for my beloved Saturn, probably because it’s terribly uncomfortable for anyone larger than my 5’4” frame, but maybe also because the roof is a little dented from when a tree fell on it back in 2000 or maybe because I never wash it. (Men are into washing their vehicles.) (Whatever.) A guy I was dating once said to me, “Linda, I love everything about you except your car” and I thought, “Newsflash, dude: This car will sooooo outlast you.” Of course, I was right.

“Love me, love my car,” I say, though I definitely have a double standard. If a guy picked me up for a date in such a shitbox, I’d be like, are you out of your freakin’ mind? The only way I could get past it would be if he had a cool British accent. Yeah, I’m that shallow.

I probably shouldn’t brag about my Saturn; I probably should be mortified that at this age I’m driving a dusty 12-year-old vehicle with a dent in the roof--not exactly the picture of success. (My friend Joey D tells me his neighbors must think the maid is there when they see my car parked out front.) But I love my car and I’m not about to give it up, and in 3,000 miles, I’ll be having one hell of a celebration.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Well, how did I get here?"

Five thoughts about my current state of life:

1. I woke up this morning to the sound of a chainsaw cleaning up from this week's snowstorm. In Las Vegas.

2. I think my comedy set was only so-so last night; it went over fine, but I learn something every time I go on stage and there's definitely a lot of room for improvement. The crowd was great, though.

3. Two of my writer friends are having (separate) book signings today, so this afternoon I'm going out to support them. One will be at Borders; I should pick up that Chicken Soup for the Soul book that I have an essay in.

4. I'd like to finish my next Living-Las-Vegas column today, but I may not get to it until tomorrow.

5. Sometime soon I need to draw a line in the sand and decide whether to continue pursuing representation for my manuscript, Bastard Husband: A Love Story or go balls to the wall and self-publish. Hmmm... that title. I'm still not sure if it's right.

Not too long ago, back when I was in Albany, NY, (where I lived for the first 43 years of my life), I would have looked at those statements and thought, "Wha-what-WHAT?"

Who could I possibly be talking about? I live in Las Vegas? I have writer friends? I'm a writer? I do stand-up comedy?

As the kids say, WTF? As the Talking Heads song goes, "You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?"

The answer lies in one of my favorite movies of all time, What About Bob? It's right there in the title of Dr. Leo Marvin's book: Baby Steps.

For the most part, your life is a reflection of the baby steps you've taken and the choices you've made--more specifically, the actions you've chosen to take. None of this stuff happened magically for me; for example, let's examine my path to the stand-up stage.

I perform stand-up comedy these days because one Sunday night I chose not to be a pathetic, lonely freakin' two-time divorcee (I hate that word) and instead of staying home to watch The Simpsons, I chose to go out by myself and check out an open mic stage in the back room of a bar on the west side of town. A few months later, after choosing to go back week after week, I chose to sign up to do a set myself, even though it scared the crap out of me.

Then I chose to stick with it--on and off for a while--because in the meantime, I chose to take similar baby steps on my path to becoming a writer: I chose to structure my journal writings into a memoir, with the help of the Henderson Writers' Group, which I chose to join. Blah, blah, blah... you get the picture.

So, with the New Year approaching, this is a good time to think about the path you're on. Is it the right path for you? What types of baby steps are you going to choose to take during the coming year?

Oh, one more thing. I've had two interesting developments lately that I don't want to talk about too much because I don't want to curse myself. One of them was alluded to yesterday on my friend Lisa McGlaun's blog. It may turn out to be something cool, or it may turn out to be nothing. At any rate, check out Lisa's site--she's a beautiful person and a really neat chick.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Still a work in progress

After my last post I thought, This is crazy. Dammit, I am going to stop being so hard on myself. Unlike some women who got the message growing up that they were never good enough, I was lucky to be raised by a mother who, from Day One and to this day, tells me I am soooo smart, and soooo beautiful... and both of my ex-husbands constantly validated my looks--"You were the prettiest girl at the party," each one has said--and the truth is, I'm a freakin' man magnet, even at this age and with all my perceived imperfections, but beyond that, I don't need to be validated by anyone else anyway, right?

So fuck the media, I decided. I blame them and I'm not going to buy into their bullshit that everyone has to be a size zero with perfect hair and perfect facial features. Yes, fuck them, I said! I decided my New Year's resolution will be to shed all those false beliefs and even be a role model to other women who struggle with a poor self-image inflicted at their own hands. Yeah, that's what I told myself.

Then I opened a DVD a friend sent me of my last stand-up performace, and three seconds into it, I gasped, "OH MY GOD, I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M SO GODDAMN FAT!"

Two steps forward, three steps back...

P.S. Yes, it really did snow in Las Vegas! This is how it looks this morning, taken from my apartment's balcony. I talked about the storm on my Internet radio show, Aging Nymphs, last night. Click the link to listen to the archive!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How we see ourselves vs. how they see us

I think about 95 percent of my readers are women, and though this post is directed to the gals, you guys out there are encouraged to comment as well.

Last time I talked about the importance of worshipping a love interest and being worshipped as well. Corny shit, maybe, but I think there's something to it, and part of that whole worshipping thing means being able to look at each other and see nothing but perfection.

This is something I know I'm capable of; I can look at a beloved and, I swear, see only perfection. But I think it's easier for women to view someone else that way than see ourselves in that light.

For example, here are just a few of the imperfections I see when I look at this picture taken last summer at a comedy gig:

But when someone worships the ground I walk on, this is what he sees:

So ladies, is it just me or are we all so critical of ourselves? And why? Is it because of the media? Are we trying to compare ourselves to images of airbrushed models half our age? (I'm 51, for Christsake!) And why do we allow ourselves to erode our own self-image like this?

And guys, is this just a girl thing or do you, too, get hard on yourself? (Sorry, I should know better than to phrase a question to men using the words "hard on.") (Left myself open for that one.) (Not literally.)

Anyway,what do you think?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Two conditions for a successful relationship

When I was a kid, I thought that before a judge grants a divorce, he or she should make the couple kiss one last time, for maybe that one last kiss would spark some sort of renewed appreciation for each other. Maybe the couple would then decide to call off the divorce proceedings and go back home and live happily ever after.

Wasn’t I cute?

I’ve been thinking about relationships a lot lately. My friend Deb once made a casual comment that may truly hold the secret to lasting romantic relationships. She said there are two conditions that must be met:

1) The person must "get" you.
2) The person must worship the ground you walk on.

As soon as the words left her mouth, I could determine precisely what went wrong in each of my marriages. I "got" what my first husband was all about—meaning I understood his values, what was important to him and why—but slacked off on the worshipping. He left me for another woman, but who could blame him for wanting to be with someone who could do both? I'd make no such mistake with my second husband, who understood me well enough, but was too absorbed in his own trip that he couldn’t possibly reciprocate in the worshipping department.

This whole worshipping concept may sound terribly antiquated, but I'm convinced it has to be in place. I think women who came of age in the 70’s, like me, got the impression that we shouldn’t have to worship any stinkin’ man, and some men still carry the belief that they’re above worshipping a woman. I bet those lines of thinking messed up a lot of marriages. Really, isn’t it the greatest feeling on earth to be so into someone that it’s an absolute JOY to worship them? And how many times in your life do you meet a person you totally, totally dig?

Think of the relationship you’re in right now. If you’re unhappy, I’ll bet you anything one of these conditions is out of whack. If you’re happy, no doubt they’re in place.

So now as an adult, I think that before granting a marriage license, a judge should ask the couple those two key questions:

1) Do you “get” this man/woman?
2) Do you worship the ground he/she walks on?

If the answers are “yes” all around, then the couple can kiss and get married and live happily ever after. Simple as that.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The holidays make me mental

I hate the holidays. I’ve often said I wish I could hibernate from the day before Thanksgiving to the day after Christmas. Call me a scrooge, grinch, killjoy, spoil sport, party pooper, wet blanket… call me anything (except fat or ugly), I don’t give a crap. When I was a kid, we had fabulous Christmases—I mean, incredible. We got everything we could have wanted, and yes, I loved it. But as an adult, I look at the holiday differently.

Call me crazy (yeah, that would fit), but I think Christmas should be for um… Christians, and, well, I’m not a Christian. I’m sure Jesus was lovely, but since I don’t go to church to worship him, I think I should be off the hook when it comes to Christmas stuff. Yes, when my children were little we showered them with presents and we decorated the house and had a Christmas tree, but quite honestly, I couldn’t wait to take the damn thing to the curb, vacuum up the pine needles, and put the living room back the way it was.

And yes, to this day I give people Christmas presents, but I can’t say I always feel good about it. It’s not that I don’t like giving presents; I’d much rather give unexpected, spontaneous gifts. For example, back in August my son, Christopher, was in a wedding in California and I sent him a couple of hundred dollars for his trip. It brought me joy to surprise him like that! Last week a friend of mine came over with some really nice Yankee candles. They weren’t a Christmas present; he just knows I like candles. Awesome! But at Christmas, I have to schlep all over creation to find presents for a holiday I have no business celebrating anyway. (I should say I also hate shopping.)

I know; I’m so bah humbug. Sometimes people will ask me, what about the whole “Christmas spirit” thing? You know… “Peace on earth, good will to men.” Can’t I get into that? I respond similarly to what I wrote in my Thanksgiving blog last month: shouldn’t those sentiments be expressed all year round? Yeah, why can’t people be kind-spirited all freakin’ year?

Now after all this bellyaching, you may be surprised to hear that I recently saw a Christmas decoration that I actually like. My sister Lori found this little gem in Rite-Aid among all the Santas and angels.

In case you can’t tell from the photo, it’s a little statue type of thing of a mother, father, baby, and dog. And look--the baby’s leg is in the dog’s mouth! Not only that, the father and mother are pulling the baby away from the dog. By the hair.

Lori and I were practically peeing our pants over this. And the best part is, it's not really a Christmas decoration. They're all standing in a mound of snow, but there's nothing Christmasy per se about it. It's a winter decoration. If I were Lori, I'd keep that baby out from Thanksgiving till St. Patrick's Day.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

From tragedy to a life's work

I met my new BFF Lisa Gioia-Acres at a writers’ gathering last summer and instantly we hit it off. I dig fun-loving chicks and we have a lot in common—we’re both from upstate New York, we’re almost exactly the same age (Lisa’s two weeks older—ha!), we got married around the same time, we each have two kids and a precious grandson, and we both fit the “aging nymph” free-spirit persona.

What we don’t have in common is our family background. As I wrote my blog last Saturday honoring the memory of my father, I thought of Lisa, who never got to know either of her parents. Lisa and her three older brothers were brought up by their maternal grandmother, who had already raised a dozen children of her own. Lisa's parents died soon after her first birthday in the worst possible scenario of domestic violence: her father killed her mother and then took his own life.

Lisa grew up not knowing much at all about her parents; she just knew they were dead. Questions were always evaded, and anecdotal stories and references to her similarities to her mother made her want to learn more. She began a serious search of her history and was able to uncover the real story of the lives of and circumstances surrounding the deaths of the parents she never knew. Being proactive in learning more has helped to fill the void of loss. Lisa now has court documents, police statements, letters, interviews, photographs, and film footage of the parents with whom she never felt any connection.

The brutal events that occurred 50 years ago have shaped her path in life. With a master’s degree in history, Lisa now documents the lives and stories of others. Through her business, Mourning Dove Preservation, Lisa offers services in genealogical research, photo preservation, and the recording of oral histories and biographical memories. Her goal is to help people find a tangible connection to their ancestors that they in turn will pass on to future generations, adding their own legacy to the story.

If you ever meet Lisa, you’ll be immediately struck by her gregarious personality. She’s a blast to hang out with, and as we put away a few beers together at the Mountain Springs Saloon last Saturday afternoon, I wondered how someone with such a traumatic beginning could end up being so vivacious.

Yesterday she sent me an email saying I'm such a great motivation for her writing. Well, Lisa, you give me great inspiration for living. I’m really happy to have made this wonderful new friend.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Reflections on my father's birthday

Today would have been my father's 75th birthday. He died in 1999 at the age of 65. He and his girlfriend, Pat, were on vacation--every year they went down to Florida to watch the Yankees in spring training--and Daddy had a massive heart attack one night in their hotel room. When Pat returned to Albany, everyone along the way commented that she sure had a lot of luggage for just one person. "My companion died on the trip," she explained. I bet they didn't expect that one.

Daddy was a colorful character, a bus driver who absolutely loved his job. “I don’t work,” he’d brag, “I drive other people to work.” Always the kidder, he’d sometimes ask the riders, “Have you ever thought of buying a car? Everyone has a car these days.” They’d laugh at his good-natured ribbing, but I’m sure he would have dropped them off at the auto showroom had one been on his route.

He had the most delightfully demented sense of humor. I remember when I was in labor for my first child, I called my parents to say I was heading to the hospital. My father offered a tender bit of advice, words that remain with me to this day: “Good luck,” he said, “and don’t go home empty-handed.”

And this is how the conversation went when he called to inform his sister about a death in the family:

"Joyce," he began to break the news, "how many uncles do we have?"

"Why, we have one uncle," she answered, to which he bellowed, "WRONG!"

My father would do anything to score a laugh--walk into walls, summon a waitress by calling, Nurse!--whatever it took. Daddy was always on, always looking for the perfect opportunity to quip, "Other than that, Mrs. Kennedy, how'd you like Dallas?"

His sudden death was both a shock and a blessing. Soon before he died, Daddy had been diagnosed with throat cancer. The heart attack spared him what have would undoubtedly been a much more painful and trying way to go.

We gave him an awesome wake and funeral; he was laid out next to a billboard of himself that had been part of the bus company's promotional campaign a few years earlier. (Daddy prided himself in being a "male model.") The funeral began with a bugle playing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and my aunt, who's a pastor (!), performed the service. Afterward the funeral director said he never heard so much laughter coming out of that room. Daddy would have loved it.

When I think of my father's sense of humor and how several years after his death I began to perform stand-up comedy, I'm reminded of a passage in Natalie Goldberg's book, Long Quiet Highway.

"Whether we know it or not, we transmit the presence of everyone we have ever known, as though by being in each other's presence we exchange our cells, pass on some of our life force, and then we go carrying that other person in our body, not unlike springtime when certain plants in fields we walk through attach their seeds in the form of small burrs to our socks, our pants, our caps, as it to say, 'Go on, take us with you, carry us to root in another place.' This is how we survive long after we are dead. This is why it's important who we become, because we pass it on."

Thanks, Dad, for everything you passed on to me. Except for the crappy hair gene--that's something you really could have kept.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

If I'm so queer, why aren't I a lesbian?

I fancy myself as being kind of hip. Okay, that in itself is a really unhip thing to say, but you know what I mean—I doubt anyone thinks of me as an old fart. But for such a cool chick, sometimes I can be queer as hell.

When I was a kid, I had a collection of imaginary friends--all cowboys--and I liked to pretend I was Hoss and Little Joe’s kid sister. I even wrote to the powers that be at Bonanza suggesting they write in such a part for me. “I’ve never been on a horse,” I told them, “but I’m willing to learn.” (Very industrious, even at such a young age.)

As an adult, I still catch myself pretending. For instance, I hate washing my kitchen floor, so to motivate myself, I pretend Princess Diana and JFK, Jr. came back to life and are coming over to my apartment for dinner. Um, how queer is that?

Sometimes my sister Lori and I do the Buns of Steel video together. During the hard parts, she gives the guy the finger, but I put on a pretty-face smile because I pretend I’m auditioning to be one of the exercisers in the background. When I told Lori my strategy, she literally fell over screaming, "Oh my GOD, you are so queer!"

Shall I keep going? Okay... If I’m in a situation where I have to deal with someone who I think is a real a-hole but I have to be nice anyway, I pretend one of my family members needs a kidney and that person is the only suitable donor. Queer. And whenever I go out to see some music by myself, I sit at the bar and pretend the cutest guy in the band is my boyfriend. Superqueer.

So if I'm so queer, why aren't I a lesbian? Because I'm just not that smart.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Back to reality (almost)

I had a great visit in Albany. I spent a lot of time with my kids and my precious grandson, Connor, and my sister Lori and her family are the best hosts ever!

My connection in Chicago was delayed last night and I didn't get back to Vegas until well after midnight. By the time I got home, it was after 1 a.m. and there was no way in hell I was going to feel like hearing my alarm at 5:26, so I emailed work before I went to bed and said I'd be taking a personal day today--yay!

I have a ton of stuff to do. It's amazing how things pile up when you're away for even just a few days. I have lots more to say, but right now I'd better start unpacking.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Essay: Welcome to my Thanksgiving World

I'm visiting my family in Albany, New York, this weekend--I'll blog about my trip when I get back to Vegas. In the meantime, this is something I wrote last year as Thanksgiving approached.

The World of Thanksgiving According to Linda Lou

Thanksgiving is coming and frankly, that's a holiday I can do without. Not that I'm not thankful; in fact, I document my blessings every night in a gratitude journal. I list all the wonderful things that have come to me over the course of the day; if strangers smile or hold the door, I note their acts of kindness. Every hug extended to me, every compliment I receive, every laugh someone incites—I record them all. But don't think I'm that nice. If someone cuts me off in traffic or addresses me in a tone on the fringe of rudeness, I assure you, I will spend the next two weeks plotting their painful demise.

I don't care for Thanksgiving because the day is typically consumed by football and food. Football—yuk! I can't take the racket and I don't understand the game. Fourth down? What the hell is that? And with all the equipment involved, you have no idea what those guys look like—how do you know if you're rooting for the cute ones? At least with baseball you can see exactly what the players have to offer and when a runner crosses home base, the team gets a point. Easy enough.

Although I can usually find a way to remove myself from the Thanksgiving football scene, there's basically no escaping the food. Or the inevitable weight gain. Like every normal American woman, I obsess over my weight and wouldn't dream of stepping on the scales without peeing, blowing my nose, and removing my contacts. Not that I have to worry: I'm one of those annoying people who can eat pretty much whatever I want. Lucky for me, I don't want much.

You see, I'm not a food person. If it were possible, I'd take a vitamin or some kind of energy pill and spare myself the whole ordeal—the cooking, the cleaning up, not to mention shopping for the food in the first place. And now that we're expected to scan our own purchases at the checkout, I enter a grocery store only when I'm out of beer or Starbuck's Java Chip ice cream is on sale. For me, there's no Joy of Cooking; I don't even find particular joy in eating.

I think that's because I'm a picky eater. I was eighteen before I tried cream cheese and thirty-six before I ate a chick pea. One. I won't live long enough to try something like sushi, especially since rumor has it that it's raw fish and I sure as hell want no part of that. Plus, I don't like the sound of it, which is reason enough that it will never traverse my palate. The same goes for tofu. I don't even know what that is—some kind of vegetable maybe? And don't get me going about yogurt. I hear it's alive.

Some people are picky eaters in the way that they consume only organic vegetables or raw foods or ocean-fed salmon. Please… I'm not that big a pain in the ass. It's okay for me to say that; one of my best friends is a vegetarian.

"Oh, good—I love hotdogs!" I exclaimed last Saturday afternoon as our waitress set two wieners in front of me. Deb winced, as she often does when we have a bite together.

"Let me get this right," she said. "You refuse to eat a banana, but have no problem with ground pig anuses."

I nodded. "You know what else I love? Cheese in a can. It's delicious!"

Deb pressed her palms together in silent prayer while I extracted the celery from my macaroni salad with the precision of a neurologist. "Why would anyone put celery in this?" I asked in disgust.

As if restaurants aren't bad enough, eating at other people's houses is a nightmare for people like me. Even when I was a kid, a simple lunch invitation from a friend prompted a multitude of concerns. Sure, I could eat a sandwich cut vertically instead of diagonally into two triangles, but what if my friend's mother used chunk light tuna instead of solid white? What if it wasn't Bumble Bee brand? What if she mixed it with something other than Hellman's mayonnaise, or put something weird in it, like onions?

The fact is, I found the cooking practices of my friends' mothers downright bizarre. They made spaghetti sauce from actual tomatoes, the kind that farmers and Italians grow in their gardens, and they'd simmer them in a pot for hours. That seemed like a lot of work to me; if they were smart, they'd open a jar of Ragu, like my mother.

Once I was playing at a friend's house and her mother asked her to come in to peel the potatoes. Peel the potatoes? I wondered. What could she mean? My friend then explained this elaborate process that involved washing potatoes, then peeling them, then boiling them for a while, and finally mashing them with some sort of utensil or a hand mixer. I listened in wonder and thought, you gotta be kidding me. My mother could make delicious, creamy potatoes, stirred from a conveniently packaged powdery mix with a fraction of the effort! Hell, she'd bolt off the couch halfway through The Mike Douglas Show and have a meal for a family of seven on the table in the twenty minutes before my father got home. She was a freakin' efficiency expert.

I may not know the difference between a parsnip and a turnip, but I can tell you, you couldn't pay me to eat either one. I've never had a radish or a rutabaga, and the whole notion that food should somehow resemble its natural state is lost on me. But as we approach Thanksgving, I do have to admit I look forward to Mom's Jello. God knows what Jello really is, it's just one of those magic foods that only she can stir.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving every day

Holidays are not my thing. Not to sound like an old bat, but holidays come with too much commotion. I do love St. Patrick’s Day, and there’s a certain amount of commotion that comes with that, but it’s barroom commotion, not kitchen commotion. Yes, it’s the kitchen commotion that sets me on edge.

I’m not a food person, which makes Thanksgiving my most dreaded holiday of all. Sure, I’m happy to be spending time with my family and of course I’m thankful for everything I have, but that’s my point—I just don’t need to prove how thankful I am by eating an exorbitant amount of food.

I give thanks every day. Really. For several years I kept a gratitude journal and at the end of each night I wrote a list of all the gifts I received that day, whether it was unexpected email or call from a friend, a check in the mail, a good day at work, or even a smile from a stranger. I no longer write everything down, but at the end of each day I do reflect and give thanks.

So the annual feast means nothing to me; expressing gratitude should be a daily practice. I feel the same way about Valentine’s Day. I don’t want tokens of acknowledgement once a year; offering appreciation for a satisfying relationship should be a daily event! Which probably explains how a good-looking chick like me stays single.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Saturday night in Boise

I had a great time in Boise last weekend. Poor Mom picked me up at the airport Friday night with a Band-Aid on her ear; seems earlier that day her hairdresser almost Van Goghed her. Mom said she bled all over the salon, but the good news is she got five bucks off her haircut, which (curiously) was what she left as a tip. So the tip of her ear paid for the hairdresser’s tip… yet another reason to marvel at the synchronicity of the universe. Yes, everything unfolds in divine order, though you may give up a chunk of flesh in the process. To her credit, Mom laughed it off and wondered how deep a discount an eye would have garnered.

Saturday night I did, in fact, kick Mom’s and Stepdaddy’s asses in Scrabble. Mom is a formidable opponent, but Stepdaddy gets points in technique. He stares into the tiles—without even blinking—and then in the time it would take me to write a short novel finally produces “que” (perfectly acceptable if we were playing in France or Quebec) or a pseudo-word like “glab.” This sets Mom off.

“GLAB?” she yells, despite the fact that Stepdaddy wears two hearing aids. “What the hell kind of word is glab?”

Stepdaddy shrugs, and instead of bothering to create a pseudo-definition, he immediately replaces the made-up word with something like “zoom,” positioning the 10-point Z tile on a triple letter space, which causes my mother to roll her eyes and murmur obscenities under her breath.

Almost losing an ear at the hairdresser’s—no problem. Stepdaddy’s tactical approach to Scrabble—problem.

Playing Scrabble on a Saturday night in Boise—priceless.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Boise bound

I’m posting a day early since I’ll be out of town for the weekend. Tonight I leave for Boise.

Boise? Yep, Boise. Mom and Stepdaddy moved there about four years ago and they both love it. Granted, it’s one of those places you’d never go to unless you were visiting somebody, but you’d be surprised at what a cool little city it is.

Boise is a college town with a vibrant arts and music scene. It has a cute downtown with lots of funky shops, bars, cafes, and restaurants. As much as I love Las Vegas, there’s nothing funky about this city. I do miss the funky.

My favorite thing to do in Boise, other than kick old people’s asses in Scrabble (kidding, Mom—you guys aren’t old), is to go to the Flicks movie theater. Flicks reminds me of the Spectrum Theater in Albany, a multiplex that screens primarily independent and art-house type films, except Flicks is even more awesome. Like the Spectrum, their concession stand is stocked with tasty baked goods, but look closer and you’ll also see a selection of wine and beer. I’m talking microbrews, people!

Get there early and you can lounge in front of the fireplace in their café area while sipping on a delicious Black Butte Porter. And they let you bring your drink into the theater, too. Do you know how much joy that brings me? Jeez—we have to smuggle beers into theaters here in Vegas (in Vegas!) and we don’t even have an independent movie house. Yes, a couple of theaters have “Cine Vegas” screens, but the walk through the ding-ding-dinging casino kind of spoils the mood. Again, there’s no funky in Vegas.

That’s okay. What Las Vegas lacks in that area, it makes up in warmth, and that weighs heavily on my happiness scales. I can always watch the IFC channel and enjoy a dark beer on my couch. I’ll have a fun time in Boise with Mom and Stepdaddy, but I’m always glad when the plane lands back at McCarran.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My foot's only a size 6, but it lives in my mouth

This will not be a shock to anyone, but sometimes I say the stupidest things. No, not just stupid—insensitive. Not intentionally insensitive, just stupid.

Here’s a perfect example. I know the lady downstairs from me has been out of work for several months, so what did I have to say to her last Sunday in the grocery store?

“Did you find a job yet?”

Of course, the answer was “No.” And I’m sure she appreciated my bringing that up, since everyone she knows probably asks her the same damn question and she can’t possibly be sick of telling people she still has no job, right?

That reminded me of when I was a hospice volunteer. I’d bounce into a patient's rooms with a cheery smile and sing, “How ya doing today?” Um, exactly what type of response did I expect?

“Well, I haven’t eaten solid foods or taken a dump on my own in about a month and, oh yeah, I have about three days to live… I’m just SUPER!”

[Shaking my head… rolling my eyes.]

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Back in love again

Don't get too excited; I'm not taking off to New Zealand. I'm talking about my book, Bastard Husband: A Love Story. (Is that a collective sigh of relief I hear?) I went through a period where I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. But I do. I love it again.

Finishing the damn thing was like finally giving birth after a three-year gestation period. At first I was elated—believe me, writing a book is no small accomplishment—and I didn’t even lose faith when I started to get rejections from agents I queried. I knew it was a worthy project; even my rejection letters were complimentary of my writing style. It was just a matter of connecting with the right agent who could see its marketability and recognize my brilliance. (Ha.)

Then I began to wonder, “Wait a minute... is this an ugly baby?”

And so I cut about 7,000 words from the first part that I’m not sure I was ever comfortable with. When requesting a partial manuscript, agents typically ask for the first 50 pages, and I always wanted to tell them, “Don’t worry, it gets better as you go on.” Well, that's not good! So I did some rather heavy-handed editing, and now I’m much happier with it. I think I did the right thing, but of course, I'm always second guessing myself.

After reading the excerpts I recently posted (on November 11 and 15), I love it again. I mean, I really do think it’s good. I’m confident readers will be entertained and inspired; something I have to say may even make a major difference in someone’s life. I want it out there.

Right now an agent in NYC is reviewing my revised first 50 pages. He’s had them for over a month, which is a little longer than most agents’ response time for a partial. That’s okay. I’m giving myself until the end of the year to find this perfect agent that may or may not be out there; after that, I’ll self publish. I know a lot of writers who have taken that route, and given the current state of the traditional publishing industry, doing it myself looks more and more attractive. And even if I do get an agent, there’s no guarantee he or she will be able to sell it to a publisher, again, given the state of the industry. My dear friend Lisa McGlaun wrote a beautiful book that, as far as I know, has been in limbo for over a year as her agent works on her behalf to make it a reality. And once a book is sold to a publisher, another year and a half to two years will pass before it sees the light of day. That's a long freakin' time.

So stay tuned. I do believe the universe unfolds in divine order. It will be interesting to see how my project gets into the right hands, meaning the hands of the reader.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Glimpse of life in Utah -- from my book

Today I thought I'd post a short chapter from my manuscript, Bastard Husband: A Love Story, an autobiographical account of my first year living alone in Las Vegas after a mid-life divorce.

Lately I've been thinking about the 10 months I spent in Cedar City, Utah, where I lived with my ex before I moved to Las Vegas. In this chapter I return to Utah to dump some stuff in my ex's car and give readers just a glimspe of what it was like to live there. It's a middle chapter, so it's a bit out of context, but you'll get the picture.

Chapter 12.

This is good; I need to get away. I’ve been driving myself nuts getting ready for Sunday night--analyzing, restructuring, and punching up my material. (It’s five minutes, for God’s sake.) Plus I want to get rid of his stuff. My apartment is my sacred space and I don’t need his crap stinking up the joint.

Our old house in Utah looks the same. I could have headed directly to the faculty parking lot, but it takes such minimal effort—in this case, a three-block detour—to perpetuate my exercise in self-torture. Scabs from emotional wounds beg to be picked at, and I willingly oblige, if only to confirm I’ll still bleed. Sure enough, the sight of someone else’s red Neon sitting in the driveway that used to be ours invokes the perfect degree of suffering. Linda doesn’t live here anymore. Another two steps back in the healing process. Good job.

The town looks the same, too. Nestled in the foothills of magnificent red rocks, innocuous little mom-and-pop establishments peddle Victorian gifts, country living décor, scrapbook supplies--nothing funky or eccentric. The newsstand displays this month’s issue of Cosmopolitan behind a chunk of black plastic to shield us from the shapely model’s allure. While Cedar City’s physical setting calls to one’s sense of adventure, the collective vibe feels bleached and scoured to ensure nothing skirting the borders of decency will ever take root. Yuk.

I could shake off the repressive culture when I lived here, but after five months of enjoying the decadence of Las Vegas, this place now gives me the creeps. My innate defiance against authority yearns to rebel. I fantasize about covering myself in vulgar tattoos and shouting obscenities as I strut down Main Street with a lesbian lover—let’s make her black—in our matching “Jesus Hates Me” t-shirts. It’s a shame; it’s beautiful here. If I could populate the town with the people from Laramie, I’d never want to leave.

His car is parked in its usual spot, and according to plan, he’s left it unlocked. I dump two bags of crap in the back seat. That should be the last of it. I meant to tell him he’d better change the address for his precious Economist subscription because from now on I’m throwing them the fuck out.

It’s weird to be in his energy. But since I am, I may as well snoop a little. I search for a morsel of evidence, some hint of what he’s been up to lately, unsure of what I hope to find. Receipts? Condoms? The Guide to Picking Up Girls, Volume II? I’d still love to know what that was about. I rummage through his glove compartment—“glove box,” as he calls it—and find, of all things, gloves. Damn! He’s not this tidy. I bet he cleaned out the car just this morning, knowing I’d be in it.

Afterward I meet up with my girlfriends Michael and Becky at the bar at Applebee’s. Earth-mother Becky, in her flowing skirt and Birkenstocks, is as sweet as ever. She has papers to grade, though, and stays for only a minute. Too bad. Michael is decked out in Ann Taylor from head to toe, her way of proclaiming, “I’m not from here; I just live here.” She continues to struggle, I can tell. Her clothes are exquisite, but her face looks like she just had a throw-up burp.

Who could blame her? I’d be reaching for the razor blades if I were in the middle of my third divorce. She and Mona are the same age, and like Mona, her “marital dissolution” is much more complicated than mine was. They have assets to divide, a house to give up. But unlike Mona, Michael actually liked her husband. That makes it harder.

She motions for a refill and our pig-tailed barmaid hurries over.

“I’m sorry, ladies, I can’t serve you another drink until you order something to eat,” she informs us.

“Oh, Jesus,” I groan.

“Exactly,” Michael murmurs.

Someone in pigtails is denying us alcohol. “You can’t have more than one drink unless you order food,” she explains. “Would you like to try our cheesy bacon tavern chips?”

Michael can bite that girl’s head off in one chomp. “Whatever happened to separation of church and state?” she asks, as she reaches for her lighter and cigarettes.

Pippi Longstocking is all over her. “I’m sorry, ma’am. You’ll have to go outside to smoke.” Michael rolls her eyes in my direction. She’s deliberately being a pain in the ass, and she’s digging it. “OK,” she sighs, “we’ll take your cheesy bacon whatever-the-hell-it-is and I’ll have another vodka and cranberry.”

“Certainly, ma’am.”

“Make it a double,” she adds, kicking me under the bar.

“We can’t serve doubles, ma’am. I can give you a one-ounce pour and a side car. That’s a one-ounce shot on the side. You’ll have to mix it yourself.”

“You can’t serve doubles?” Michael shakes her head, though she knows the rules damn well. “Fine, give me the side car thing.” God, she’s precious. As long as it’s not directed at me, bitchy people can be utterly delightful.

I want to play, too. “I’ll have another Sam Adams, please.”

“Ma’am, I can’t serve you until you’ve finished that one. You can only have one beer in front of you at a time.”

I raise my three-quarter empty glass. “So if I chug this, you’ll bring me another?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You want me to chug my beer before I drive all the way back to Vegas?”

“Yes, ma’am,” she says, and marches away while she still can.

I turn to Michael, and though I’m no Jack Nicholson, coolly deliver my line. “I'd like an omelet, plain, and a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast . . .” I need go no further. She gets it. Michael is pretty when she smiles.

I tell her about my stand-up debut three days from now.

“I can see you doing comedy,” she comments, without a hint of wonder. “You’re the funniest person I know.” Coming from someone whose lips curl only while tormenting a poor coed over morality laws, that means a lot. I think.


A short patch of I-15 clips the remote northwestern corner of Arizona and winds along the narrow walls of the Virgin River canyon. My drive through here earlier in the day was a steady climb through colorful cliffs and rocky crags, a scene, like so many out West, that impels me to thank God for my eyesight. Tonight I cruise downhill in the darkness, a little faster than I probably should. With both hands on the steering wheel, I maneuver the twisting pavement like a Play Station game, accumulating imaginary points with every passing mile marker.

This bit of highway that links the divergent worlds of Utah and Nevada serves as a birth canal of sorts. It was wonderful to see Becky and Michael, but it's clear they're in a world where I no longer fit; that part of my life is over. Even the twinge of nostalgia I felt in front of our old house ebbed straightaway.

After twenty minutes of joyful careening, the road ejects me from the canyon into the wide open sky. Cut loose from the protective parent, I'm on my own, with infinite possibilities lying ahead.

Utah is behind me. I'm a Vegas girl now.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

It's about LOVE, people!

I’m far from being a political activist, but it is inconceivable to me that anyone would deny same-sex couples the right to marry and enjoy equal protection under the law as Americans. I mean inconceivable! I have a wonderfully quirky lesbian aunt and many precious gay and lesbian friends, and anyone who wants to deny these dear folks the basic civil right of marriage is at the top of my shit list right above people who clip their fingernails at work.

Yet in the last election, voters in California passed Proposition 8, which took away the same-sex marriage rights that were (finally) granted earlier in the year. Having lived in Utah for 10 months (that was quite long enough), I wasn't surprised to learn that the Mormon Church was the single largest monetary contributor to the “Vote YES on Proposition 8” campaign against same-sex marriages. Members of the Mormon Church were strongly urged by church leaders to contribute to the Proposition 8 campaign, and the millions of dollars marshaled by the Mormon Church had an undeniable role in the measure's victory.


There is now a grassroots movement to boycott Mormon-owned businesses. Many people feel that by supporting such establishments, they are indirectly supporting the tenets of the Mormon Church. Bill Marriott, CEO of the Marriott hotel corporation, recently posted a blog defending his company's position. Check it out--there are a ton of interesting, thoughtful, and passionate readers' comments, though I know for a fact not every comment was published on the post. I submitted two (under different names); they didn't print the one where I pointed out that until 1978 African Americans were banned from Mormon Temples and from the "priesthood," which every Mormon male over the age of 12 is supposed to hold. (However, they were allowed to be baptized into the Mormon church and attend Church meetings--hey, their 10 percent tithing was as green as anyone's.)

What follows is something the comedian Roseanne posted recently on her blog site. Yes, we all know Roseanne is a bit of a whack job, but cut her some slack—she grew up as a Jew in Utah. There’s a joke there somewhere… but really, this is serious stuff.

My Dearest Friends,

The Mormon church was the single largest monetary contributor to the VOTE "YES" ON PROPOSITION 8 campaign.

The Mormon church gets its money from church-members and its business holdings.
Below is a list of organizations that are either owned by the Mormon church outright; owned, founded or run by Mormons in executive positions (a portion of whose salary is tithed to the church); or in which the church owns a large percentage of stock.

I respectfully ask that you carefully review this list and think twice before you financially empower these companies with your patron dollars.

Kroger Foods (Ralph's and Albertsons), Dell Computer, American Express, Priceline.com, Host Marriott (Marriott hotels and resorts), La Quinta Properties (t-a Quinta hotels), Jet Blue, Black and Decker, Ryder Systems (Ryder trucks), 1-80O-Contacts, K-BIG FM radio Los Angeles, Hollywood Entertainment (Hollywood Video), lomega, K-Swiss lnc., Corvis, Sky West Airlines, Central Pacific Bank, Swift Transportation, Cornerstone Realty Income Trust Inc., Cygnus Inc., Tropical Sportswear, Diebold, Williams Companies Inc., Zions Securities Corp., Dionex, Downey Savings and Loan, AgReserves lnc. (agriculture), EarthShell, Sunrider Int'l., Franklin Covey, NPS Pharmaceuticals, Latham and Watkins, Hillenbrand Industries, Huntsman Chemical, Headwaters Inc., Bain Capital, Spectra, Azul, JP Realty, Deloitte Touche, Key Corp., Zions Securities Corp., Knight Transportation, Bonneville comm., Telefonica Brasil, Apx Alarm, Micrel Semiconductor, Micro General, Merit Medical Systems, Monaco Coach, Microsemi Corp., Myriad Genetics, Novell, NuSkin, Affiliated computer services, Oil States International, AES Corp., Oakley, Avista Corp., Phelps Dodge Corp., Cadence Design

P.S. I am really, really sick of people who think their religion is the tits.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happy Veteran's Day -- for my favorite vet

(adapted from my manuscript, Bastard Husband: A Love Story)

I met Paul about eight months after I arrived in Vegas. I’d just done a comedy set on a new stage and stopped in to see a band in the Orleans casino on Tropicana. A tattooed biker type with a goatee and shaved head kept glancing my way from the other side of the L-shaped bar, and from where I sat, I’d be damned if he didn’t look like a cross between Billy Bob Thornton and Charlie Manson. Sure enough, with drink in one hand and cigarette in the other, Slingblade headed over and took the barstool next to mine.

I felt his eyes beaming into me, and could tell he was itching to converse. Shit. I really just wanted to sit there and chill by myself. Thankfully, the music started up. I sent a flirty smile to the bass player, pretending he’s my boyfriend. Yes, I’m with the band.

“Have you seen theses guys before?” Slingblade asked. His gravelly voice matched his appearance.

I nodded in his direction, avoiding eye contact, but I bet if I looked at him straight-on, there’d be a swastika etched in his forehead. I sipped my beer.

“My name’s Paul. Do you want to dance?”

“No, I don’t dance,” I answered in his direction. “But thank you.”

Although he maintained a respectable physical distance, on a cosmic level his energy was all over me, totally invading my space. “Baby, why won’t you dance with me?” he asked. I glanced down toward the floor as he spoke. Nice shoes.

Finally I turned to face him. “Because you look like a murderer,” I answered politely. But as the words left my mouth, I realized that wasn’t not quite the case. He was more handsome, his eyes much kinder than I expected. There was an intensity about him, to be sure, but I also detected a vulnerability. I softened a bit myself and teasingly asked, “Well, have you ever killed someone?”

“Yes,” he replied, as simply as if my question were, “Is today Wednesday?” I didn’t quite know what to make of his response. He held his cocktail with his pinkie in the air, not exactly the killer’s way of drinking.

He nudged my arm as the band started to play the next song. “C’mon,” he said. “Let’s dance.”

We seemed to move well together. He smelled nice and his shirt was soft. We danced nearly every song and lingered for a while afterward as the band packed their instruments.

“I’d like to take you out,” he said before we parted. I gave him my number.

Paul picked me up the next Saturday night promptly at eight o’clock. “Here, baby. I brought you something,” he said, handing me a pamphlet entitled Understanding PTSD.

It’s no doubt some kind of warning signal when your date arrives at your door not with flowers in hand, but a brochure detailing his chronic mental disorder. In retrospect, I suppose the gesture was rather considerate, and to be fair, I could have reciprocated with a handout of my own, entitled What You Should Know About Incessant Nagging.

“I have PSTD,” Paul explained. “From Vietnam. I wanted to be honest with you.”

“Post-traumatic stress disorder? Hmmm… I should tell you something, too,” I said, and then with a teasing smile, added, “Men don’t usually get that until after they’ve been with me.”

I’d never been around anyone whose life has been haunted by war. During the Vietnam era, I was young and absorbed in issues of importance like impressing boyfriends and scoring a fake ID. Sure, I saw snippets of the carnage during the six o’clock news—we weren’t bombarded round the clock by cable broadcasts back then—but that was the extent of my exposure. I had no relatives called to war, no friends who lost older brothers serving their country.

For me, Vietnam produced an era of great music, and I remember wishing I were a few years older, to be part of the Woodstock generation and participate in the sit-ins and love-ins and anti-war protests. The closest I came was in 1980, when I left the babies with Chris and took a bus with some girlfriends to Washington, D.C., to attend a No Nukes rally. As someone who’s never been able to grasp the concepts of atoms and molecules, nuclear anything was way beyond my level of comprehension, but Jackson Browne was associated with the cause and he was cute as hell. Though we tried to catch the wave of spirited dissent, the scene was nothing but a party and now I have to live the rest of my life knowing I protested against kind old Jimmy Carter, probably the most peace-minded president we’ve ever had.

For the most part, Paul seemed perfectly normal, though some of the PTSD behavior took some getting used to. I found out the hard way not to trigger his startle response, and would cough or clear my throat when approaching him from behind. Reports of the day’s casualties in Iraq often prompted him to hole himself up with the blinds closed, sometimes for days. “I get in a bad way,” he explained, “so if you don’t hear from me, don’t worry, it has nothing to do with you. I’ll call you when I come out the other side.”

Paul was a blast to hang out with and I reaped the benefits of his many connections in town. We dined in four-star restaurants and got the best tables at the comedy clubs he took me to—everyone he knew seemed willing to comp us in exchange for a few bucks passed in a handshake. Paul’s son, who managed one of the ultra lounges on the Strip, made sure we were well taken care of; bouncers would unhook the velvet ropes just for us and doting waitresses, who came to know me by name, served complimentary cocktails or sometimes came just over to say hi or show off a new boob job.

Even though Paul’s ten years older than me, his body was strong and fit, and with all the scars and tattoos, he's an anatomical museum. There’s the portrait of his hero, Che Guevara, inked over his right pectorals, a Buddha good luck symbol on his back, a serpent climbing up his neck, and many detailed images of war—a skeleton in a Marine’s uniform, a soldier being shot in the back, a graveyard with one tombstone etched with a fallen comrade’s dying words, “Help me.” The scenes so embedded into his psyche seemed to emerge through his skin.

And then there are the scars—the bullet wounds that earned him his two Purple Hearts, and the thin vertical line running down his chest from quadruple bypass surgery, evidence of mental stress taking its physical toll. So much to scrutinize on that little body of his, and like museum artifacts, I didn't really know what I was looking at until I heard the stories behind them.

“What’s this one from?” I asked late one night as I rubbed my finger over a little crater in his back.

“Shrapnel,” he replied, then went into a war story, as he often did when we lay together. This time he told of his platoon rushing through a rice paddy, caught in the cross-fire amid mortar explosions and flying debris.

“A bullet ripped though my sergeant’s jaw, like in slow motion,” he said. “I can still see the blood in his beard... bullets zooming past our heads, people falling and screaming, ‘I’m hit!’” He re-enacted the battle as if it happened last week. “Then an explosion went off and I went down. They took me to a hooch where they kept the wounded. Because my wounds were minor, they let me help out the corpsmen. All I did was hold the other Marines’ hands, trying to comfort them as they died. A lot of boys were calling for their mothers.”

Paul closed his eyes. All his bedtime stories ended the same way. “Why did I live and they didn’t?” he asked.

I never knew what to say. What was the proper response?

Paul’s narrations moved me to write a poem, the first I’d ever attempted.

For Paul

My heart aches
to hear the horrors of his past,
the grieving for an ambushed youth.

He remains armed;
the struggle continues within.

I am careful not to intrude, and
offer only the comfort of the present
while I whisper, “Triumph is certain”
for I can see

His heart still loves.

I don’t know if it’s any good or not, but his eyes welled when I gave it to him and a week later he showed up with another a tattoo. “Ambushed Youth,” it said.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Let your freak flag fly!

The buzz from last week’s visit from my college girlfriends lingers. That’s a good thing; you know you’ve had a fun time when the happy feeling stays with you even when you’ve come back to reality. So often this past week, I caught myself daydreaming in my work cubicle with a goofy smile on my face as I replayed moments from our trip to Sedona.

Two specific images warm my heart the most; both took place in the Spirit Room, the old saloon in the Connor Hotel, in Jerome. One is of Kathy grooving to the band. I can see her right now, eyes closed, shaking her head in time with the music, her right hand hitting the cymbals of an imaginary drum kit. Some people play air guitar; Kathy plays air drums.

The second is of Maggie on the dance floor. Maggie’s always been much more reserved than Kathy and I, and I hadn’t seen her do “the Maggie shuffle” in many, many years. The next day I told her how wonderful it was to see her dancing.

“Really?” she asked, her tone incredulous. “I never dance. I’m afraid I look stupid.”

What? For me, the most beautiful images of that trip were not of spectacular red-rock vistas, as glorious as they were, but of my dear girlfriends letting loose. Is there anything more joyful than seeing someone lose all inhibitions and fully dig on the present moment?

Ever notice a child giggling uncontrollably or playing with an imaginary friend? Children don’t give a crap about what people think of them; that’s why we find kids so endearing. The same goes for adults—even if you’re around that 50-year mark like Kathy, Maggie, and me, we’re most endearing when we freely share the essence of ourselves, especially when we’re having fun.

So keep on dancing, Maggie!

(And keep on making these new friends--he was cute.)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The gift of travel

I’m still flying high from last weekend’s trip to Sedona!

You know, traveling provides the perfect structure for spending quality time with people you dig; you’re on an adventure together, away from distractions, seeing things you’ve never seen before.

Several years ago, when I was still living in Albany, my mother and I took a trip to Arizona. We spent two days in Scottsdale, then went to Sedona for a couple of days, explored Jerome, and stayed in Prescott on our last night. Mom’s face still lights up when she talks about our time together.

When my son turned 21 I took him to Ireland. It was a short getaway; we flew into Shannon and stayed for a long weekend in Killarney, but Christopher will always remember that trip we took together. Any other present I could have given him that year would be long gone from his memory by now, almost 10 years later.

Christmas is coming—why not give the gift of travel? Do the kids really need yet another electronic gadget that will be obsolete in no time? Why not create a memory that will last forever?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Fun things to do in Vegas, Sedona, and Jerome when your girlfriends from college come to visit

Wow. What a weekend. I love playing hostess!

Thursday - the girls arrive. Two of my girlfriends from college, Kathy and Maggie, flew in from Albany last Thursday afternoon and the fun began shortly afterward when I met them after work at Ellis Island. If you're not familiar with Ellis Island, you can read all about this little gem in my recent Living-Las-Vegas column. Trust me, with $1.50 brew-pub 20-ounce beers, you can't go wrong.

Afterward we hit the Ovation Lounge at Green Valley Ranch to catch a blues band. There's a great blues scene here in Las Vegas; again I'll direct you to another of my Living-Las-Vegas columns. Fortunately, we had an early night since the girls were still on Eastern time and I had to get up at my usual ungodly hour of freakin' 5:26 a.m.

Friday - Halloween. The girls checked out the Strip while I went to work dressed as a Mardi Gras goer. (Yeah, what a stretch.) That night we went to the Royal Resort, where I hosted the Las Vegas Comedy Show. I'd never hosted before--I've always done a set--but hosting was fun. There's a little less pressure to be funny, but you can still be as funny as you want.

Afterward we hit another one of my all-time favorite Vegas bars, the Fireside Lounge at the Peppermill. If you haven't been there yet, I don't know what you're waiting for. It's a great place to cozy up with a date, and I found it just as cozy with my girlfriends. After a couple of drinks, we went to Sunset Station's Madrid Room to catch the last few songs of best and tightest classic rock band I've ever heard, Yellow Brick Road. At 2 a.m. we called it a night since we wanted to get on the road to Sedona fairly early Saturday morning.

Saturday - Sedona. We got to Sedona early in the afternoon and had lunch at a Mexican restaurant in the uptown shopping district. This was Kathy and Maggie's first time in Sedona, so of course, they were in awe. We did a little shopping and then checked into our hotel, Sky Ranch Lodge, before it got dark so the girls could see the view from our balcony.

I've stayed at Sky Ranch Lodge up on the airport mesa (which is also an energy vortex) many times, and even got married there in 2000 (perhaps on the same balcony). The decor is nothing special--it wouldn't hurt them to invest in some higher quality sheets and towels--but the view is spectacular. If you go, be sure to splurge for a rim room.

At night we happened upon a really cool little out-of-the-way place, the Oak Creek Brewery. We drank yummy beer and made new friends while sitting around a huge fire pit out back and listening to a funky Grateful Dead-influenced band. I danced with a cool old guy named Robert to a Roy Buchannan song, "The Messiah Will Come Again," which was a real treat since you don't hear bands play Roy Buchannan very often.

Sunday - Bell Rock and Jerome. Bell Rock has probably the most beautiful vista I've ever seen. We climbed a good way up, took some pictures, thanked God over and over for our eyesight, and then went to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Unfortunately, there is a god-awful monstrousity of a gaudy freakin' mansion at the foot of this sacred structure. Evidently money doesn't buy taste.

I was driving the girls nuts, I think, because I kept saying, "We have to be in Jerome by 2 p.m." Jerome is a cool little ghost town/artists' colony, and the Spirit Room, the biker saloon in the Connor Hotel, is probably my very favorite place on earth to hang out. They have fantastic bands every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, and every band I've seen has been better than the last.

The girls and I made lots of new friends--a real nice guy named Bill took Maggie for her first motorcycle ride (helmetless, much less!) and I met a really neat biker couple who I think I talked to last August when I was there. The husband, Norm, was a super-smiley guy who looked a little like Nick Nolte had he aged better and when we found out we have the same birthday, we were hugging and high-fiving like it was all meant to be.

On Sunday, the band was Los Guys out of Tempe, and let me tell you, any band that's willing to accommodate my request for Warren Zevon has a special place in my heart. And when they played Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" as I sat drinking beer with my dear girlfriends of more than 30 years, well, I was truly in happiness overload. Just friggin' out of my mind.

I'd tell you more, but you know what they say: "What happens in Jerome, stays in Jerome." (Ha!) My point is, when you go to Sedona, be sure to spend the afternoon at the Spirit Room at the Connor Hotel in Jerome. It's the most fun, every time!

Monday - back to Vegas. We were going to make a detour to the Grand Canyon on the way home, but we were all a little beat and instead we shopped some more in Sedona. The girls didn't mind--they had never been to the Grand Canyon, but they (correctly) said they couldn't imagine it being more beautiful than Sedona. Personally, I think the Grand Canyon is good to see, but after Sedona it's a little anticlimatic.

Tuesday - time to say goodbye. I had to work today, but I met the girls for lunch before their flight. They treated me to the Wynn buffet, which is worth every calorie.

Kathy, Maggie, and I had an amazing weekend. We must have said, "How lucky we are" a million times during their visit, and it's true. How lucky we are.

I have a lot to say about the importance of girlfriends and the importance of traveling with people you love, but I'll save that for another time. Now why don't you go make some plans yourself?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

One of my best essays (I think so, anyway)

I won’t be blogging on Saturday; two of my girlfriends from college are coming to town and we’re going to beautiful Sedona for the weekend. It occurred to me that I’ve known these girls for over 30 years, and when the three of us were hanging out together in dive bars in downtown Plattsburgh, some of my dear girlfriends here in Las Vegas hadn’t even been born yet. What follows is an essay I wrote over a year ago about one of these precious young gals.

"Unhappy Friday"

Sharee greeted me with her full-of-the-devil smile as she loaded the coffee urn with a package of high test. "Good morning, Lindalicious!" she sang.

The "licious" part of my name is apparently a reference to a hip-hop song, so the twentysomething kids here tell me. As one of the oldest drones in this IT company—just marking the big 5-0—I'm flattered to have been given a nickname with such a young and flirty connotation. Better than "Crotchety Old Bat."

"Good morning, Ree-Ree," I answered. "Happy Friday! You going to the pub later?"

Sharee ran her fingers through her fuchsia-streaked hair, and then shimmied her sturdy build, momentarily turning the corporate kitchen into a late-night dance club. "Yay-yah!" she boomed.

Kristin, Sharee's best friend, works in the cubicle across from mine and my first order of business that day was to confirm Kri's happy hour attendance. "Oooh, yeah," she nodded.

Good. With the important stuff out of the way, I sat down to review the user interface guide I'd been working on for the past few days. With my usual zeal, I click… click… clicked through the application, making sure I captured the step-by-step processes and wondering, for the millionth time, if God would be so cruel to put someone on this earth with the explicit purpose of writing software documentation.

This job is better than the last one, I have to admit. No more schlepping 24.8 miles every morning to the northwest side of town—what a pain in the ass that was. The traffic conditions were rarely favorable; usually I'd sit trapped in an automotive cluster, bitching about being late for work because some idiot had to smash his car into a jersey wall, the 20-point rise in my diastolic blood pressure more of a concern than the possibility that someone might have been seriously injured. No, this job is much better. It's a lot closer to home and the guy I report to has no discernable mental problems, though I'd still rather be lying poolside counting the minutes until Guiding Light.

Click… click… click…

As always, I was thankful that day for the occasional distraction of Sharee's voice resonating throughout the cube farm. Whether she's gabbing about her plans for the weekend, the latest diet she's trying, or stories about her identical twin who works on the first floor, it's inevitably more interesting than the task before me. I get a kick out of my young friend and admire how she talks openly about her partner, Kimberly, just as others speak of their spouses. And why shouldn't she?

Click… click… click…

Lucky for me, my 2:00 functional spec meeting wasn't nearly as boring as it could have been due to a piece of lunch that got caught in a back molar, which gave me something to play with. I appreciated the distraction, and when my tongue finally dislodged what I determined to be a piece of chicken, I enjoyed a minor sense of accomplishment followed immediately by, so now what?

Afterward I headed back to my cell block, ready to announce that a mere hour and a half separated us from Guinness time. But as I neared my desk, I saw Sharee in Kristin's cube, her body heaving with silent sobs, too overcome with emotion to emit a sound. Kri held her in a tight embrace, a futile effort to console the inconsolable.

What the hell?

I approached them, maintaining a respectful distance so as not to interfere. As I expected, Kri gave me a nod that communicated, "I'll tell you later," and so I retreated.

I hope she didn't get fired, I thought, though it wouldn't have surprised me. Loud, colorful personalities who occasionally address customers as "you guys" generally don't go over well in the corporate world. Hmm… I knew Sharee had a wild night out earlier in the week and she called in sick the next day. Maybe that did her in.

Poor thing. It's only a stupid job, sweetie, I tried to psychically communicate to her. You'll find another one, a better one. I'll help you write your resume. You'll be fine.

Goddamn it, why did they have to get rid of her? My psychic communication shifted to corner office. Sharee's young—can't you give her a break? She's only a few steps down her career path, and she tries hard. Christ, I could think of five other people I'd ax before her.

We all mess around, I reasoned. The kids are always on MySpace and I never miss a day without checking the online obituaries of my home-town newspaper because—God forbid—what if someone from high school died and I didn't know about it?

Oh, no… What if someone died?

With that thought, I sharply reversed my initial position and hoped Sharee did, in fact, get fired, though somehow I knew at that moment it wasn't so.

I discretely tried to assess the situation in the cubicle ten feet away and through a fringe of vision, I could see Kristin leading our coworker toward the exit. A few minutes later she returned alone, her face drained. My eyes pounced on her for information. Tell me I'm wrong, they said.

"Sharee's dad died."

"Had he been sick?" I asked, as if the pain would somehow be diminished had she seen it coming.

Kri shook her head. "No. He was killed in a motorcycle accident. On his way home from work. She's going to try to get a flight to Portland tonight."

We stood enveloped in a fog of sympathy, with nothing more to say. Kristin returned to her cubicle and shuffled papers, as did I.

My heart ached for our precious Ree-Ree as I thought of what she'd face in the days ahead—the trip home, the funeral arrangements, the exhaustion from the flood of tears—and I remembered when I got word of my own father's death. I was working on the road; my sister tracked me down at my hotel to deliver the news. "You're kidding!" I cried, as if her sense of humor suddenly took a sadistic twist.

A day can take the most unexpected turn; sometimes you go to bed to a picture that has no semblance of what you woke up to.

One of the software developers from the other side of the building breezed by on his way to the weekend. "Going to the pub, ladies?" he asked. After checking each other's reaction, Kristen and I nodded in unison.

At four o'clock we logged off and headed across the street.

Life goes on.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Winter may be the best time for writers

Novelist, poet, and short-story writer John Updike has a piece in the November/December edition of The AARP Magazine (no comment) entitled “The Writer in Winter.” He reflects on about what it’s like to be as a writer at an age that is older than many of his idols lived to be.

Early in the piece he states, that “memories, impressions, and emotions from your first 20 years on earth are the writers’ main material; little that comes afterward is so rich and resonant.”

Really? I don’t buy that.

Updike also says, “By the age of 40, you have probably mined the purest veins of this precious lode; after that, continued creativity is a matter of sifting the leavings.” I don’t buy that, either.

Soon after I turned 50 I wrote a blog on my MySpace site and listed all the things I accomplished or lived through during my years between 40 and 50. This is what I came up with:

I witnessed the birth of my grandson.
I buried my father.
I threw up for the first time in 15 years.
I got divorced.
I fell in love again.
I got married on a hotel balcony in Sedona.
I lost a pregnancy.
I moved from New York to Wyoming.
I taught yoga to senior citizens and young people with Down Syndrome.
I watched the odometer of my car mark 100,000 miles.
I giggled and flashed my breasts at the camera as I stood beneath Mount Rushmore.
I frolicked on a New Zealand beach on Christmas Eve.
I moved from Wyoming to Utah.
I got divorced. (Again.)
I moved to Sin City, alone.
I was a hospice volunteer.
I performed stand-up comedy for the first time.
I did a split on a bar in New Orleans.
I flashed my breasts from my hotel balcony on Bourbon Street.
I told hotel security I would never do such a thing and that I'm a grandmother.
I took a job selling timeshares on the Las Vegas Strip.
I got fired for not selling timeshares on the Las Vegas Strip.
I got another job.
I watched the odometer of my car mark 150,000 miles.
I got pulled over four times and never got a ticket.
I rode on the back of a motorcycle through the desert.
I walked off a job because somebody pissed me off.
I got another job.
I witnessed my mother's marriage at the age of 71.
I lost two good friends, and held the hand of one of them an hour before she died.
I wrote a book.

Sifting the leavings? I think not! The first 20 years of my youth were nothing compared to the 10 years that are supposed to usher in middle age. And I have a lot planned for the next 10 years. A lot!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The gift of a quiet morning

This weekend I have no obligations; my social calendar is blank and I have no writing deadlines to meet. Of course, there are always a million things that I could do, but for today and tomorrow, there is very little that I have to do. To me, a day free of any agenda is truly a gift.

It's a beautiful morning here in Las Vegas (well, Henderson). I woke up around 8:00, which is another gift; usually my alarm blasts at 5:26. The sun shone through my window, which I'd opened last night before I went to sleep. How wonderful it was to lie in bed for a while--looking out at the blue sky, palm trees, and Black Mountain-- with nothing prompting a need for me to move.

When I was damn good and ready, I got up, made some coffee, and checked my email. Then I put on my bathing suit and soaked in the morning sun on my balcony. I lazed in an Adirondack chair, sipped my coffee and read yesterday's paper (the Friday paper is the only one I have time for these days, and sometimes that lies unread).

I thought about how wonderful it is to live in a place where you can sit out in a bathing suit in late October and how lucky I am to have a balcony in such a beautiful apartment complex. A friend of mine asked if I feel like I'm on vacation living here, and I said I really do.

This is a wonderful place. I'm glad I took the time this morning to enjoy every minute.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Quick lesson in punctuation: apostrophes with nouns ending in s

In a previous post, I wrote about Boss’s Day. Why did I write Boss’s Day and not Boss’ Day? Because according to the Associated Press Stylebook, for singular common nouns ending in s you express possession by adding ’s.

Examples: The actress’s voice, the hostess’s invitation

However, if the next word begins with an s, then just add the apostrophe without the s.

Examples: The actress’ smile, the boss’ seat

BUT… for singular proper nouns, use only an apostrophe. (Why do they have to make it so hard?)

Examples: Agnes’ book, my Guinness’ smooth flavor
Exception: St. James’s Palace (Don’t ask—this is why people hate grammar.)