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,, 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?