Nov 30, 2008

Smokin'. . .

A long, long time ago I smoked a cigarette. Actually part of a cigarette. More like a couple puffs. I wanted to be cool. Everyone was doing it and at the time I guess I was a "jump off the bridge" kind of gal. And to be fair, cigarettes and cancer were not synonymous at the time.

I was in college. On summer break. Meeting friends for cocktails at a trendy bar by the beach. It was way cool. I was not. Not by half. I've always been that person who is friends with everyone. My philosophy is: I like everybody I meet unless they give me reason not to. The people I was meeting at the trendy bar were some of the cooler people I went to school with. They were incredibly cool and sophisticated and fast. I am fairly certain I was none of those things. I'm pretty sure they wanted me around mostly because I made them laugh.

There was only one problem. All of them smoked. I did not. I had dallied in the art of cigarette holding once in high school. A friend and I sat in her father's home office and lit cigarettes and pretended to smoke. We took one puff to light the sticks and then ended up trying to see who could keep their cigarette lit and the ashes from falling off the longest. We wanted to look like we knew what we were doing. My friend had read somewhere in a contraband copy of her oldest sister's Cosmopolitan magazine that it was sexy to learn the correct way to light a man's cigarette in a bar. Before you get too crazy, it was the mid-70's, and cigarettes hadn't become the devil incarnate yet. Our lesson lasted for a total of one cigarette each. My friend's mom came bursting into the room spraying a can of air freshener and opening all the windows saying how stuffy it was in there. She never said a word about all the smoke or the pack of cigarettes, minus two, sitting on the desk. We got the message.

So, that night as I got ready to go meet my friends I bowed to peer pressure and stopped at the store to buy a pack of Virginia Slims. If I was going to smoke it wasn't going to be the Tarryton 100's or Winston's that my dad smoked. It had to be a girly cigarette. I almost didn't do it. I felt like a criminal. I was not a smoker. I was not that girl. I was the Catholic school girl - Candy Striper - Good Girl - who didn't do things like that. For one night I decided to be bad. I was going to smoke. Or maybe just pretend to.

I opened the pack of Virginia Slims and pulled a few of the cigarettes out and threw them in the trash on my way out of the store. It had to look like I had had a few on my way there or smoked all the time when I pulled the pack of cigarettes out of my purse in front of the cool ones. I drove on the freeway thinking the whole time that maybe I should smoke at least one cigarette before I got there, just for practice. I had heard from many people that their first cigarette left them coughing and sputtering. I didn't want that to happen. I couldn't bring myself to do it and waited until the last minute (in the parking lot of the trendy bar) to light up. I lit that puppy up and took a nice long drag burning halfway down the cigarette as I sucked in all the smoke. Never one to do anything halfway, I held it for a minute and tried to blow it out of my nose like I had seen my dad do many times. I ended up coughing it out instead. I took another long drag and finished off the cigarette. I felt really dizzy and a little sick. Next thing I remember was waking up to the sound of a horn blaring and my car seat on fire. I had passed out and my face had landed on the car horn button. I looked down. I had dropped the cigarette between my legs onto the cloth driver's seat. It burned a hole clear through the velour and was still smoking. I panicked and jumped out of the car. I grabbed my sweater and beat the seat until there was no sign of the lit cigarette anywhere except for the gaping silver dollar sized hole staring back at me. I grabbed my purse and tossed my car keys to the valet who had been watching me curiously from his post and ran inside. Everyone was there. Cool as ever. Smoking. It's a wonder I could even see them for all the smoke in the bar. It was like walking into a giant fireplace. My pals waved at me and I made my way to the corner table and sat down. The cocktail waitress came over and took my order. I wanted a Shirley Temple so badly, with lots of cherries, but I ordered a plain 7-Up instead. No booze for me. I was still feeling light-headed from that cigarette. I also wasn't 21 yet, but my sister and I looked exactly like each other and her I.D. came in handy at times like this.

My 7-Up arrived and I took a sip. And another. I tossed the straw onto the cocktail napkin and sucked the rest of it down. My throat was dry, my eyes were burning from all the smoke and my stomach wasn't feeling so great. I hadn't eaten all day so I could fit into my super tight ( lay on the floor and have your sister pull the zipper up with your dad's wrench) and - oh, so sexy - Gloria Vanderbilt's with the swan on the pocket. I decided that 7-Up and cigarettes were not a good combo meal. I excused myself and headed for the lady's room. I spent a fair amount of time in there. Most of the night. I never talked to my friends. I never even really saw my friends. Someone came to check on me and to bring me my purse. Another friend came in to tell me the bar was closing. I made my way to the parking lot and fresh air. I got in my car which smelled like an ash tray and drove home, crawled into bed and swore I would never smoke another cigarette again for the rest of my life.

The next morning my dad was sitting at the breakfast table with my pack of Virginia Slims lined up in front of his coffee cup alongside his more manly cigarettes. I sat down next to him and pretended like I hadn't seen them. He looked right at me, called me by my full name, and pointed at the pack of cigarettes waiting for an explanation. I looked over at him and said, "I wouldn't smoke those in public if I was you."

the end...

Nov 26, 2008

Two Chickens . . .

I married my husband when he didn't have two nickles to rub together. I married my husband two months out of college. I married my husband after knowing him two years. I married him 10 days after he turned 22. Two's seem to play a running theme in our marriage.

Little did we both know in that first year of marriage that the two of us were incredible chickens too.

When we first married we were struggling newlyweds. Our first apartment was in the Hollywood Hills. Not the nice part. Closer to Hollywood Blvd. Way closer. The Mann's Chinese Theater lit up our living room like the Fourth of July. A friend who owned the building gave us a good deal on rent. We were grateful and young and knew it wouldn't be forever so we moved in. A homeless guy lived in the laundry room. An aging star lived across from us on the second floor. She played piano at all hours of the day and night. I'm sure she was talented in her day but those days were long gone. She had hair like Einstein and babbled out the window to our son. They had many a conversation consisting of gibberish and hand gestures. She was harmless. A prostitute lived downstairs. Her mother lived across the pool from us. They carried on conversations by yelling from their respective apartment windows across the complex never bothering to visit one another. An ex-military guy high on PCP lived a staircase over from us. He got high one night and thought he was back in Vietnam. Helicopters were a nightly occurrence and that particular night he had a flashback hearing the chopper above and the police had to cart him away. A possum lived in a tree outside our window and would watch me with beady eyes as I stood in the kitchen warming up baby bottles. Homeless people lived between the apartment buildings. Have I painted a pretty enough picture yet? I do have a point for bringing this up.

Your sense of safety and well-being becomes heightened as well as anxiety and stress when you live in an environment like that. One particular day we were watching the news and it just so happened that a killer was on the loose. He was somewhere in the area. Somewhere nearby. I saw the hubby's hair stand up on the back of his neck and his eyes shift to our front door checking the 9 locks and deadbolts holding the balsa wood door on it's hinges. He leaned over the couch in our tiny living room and twisted the bent tin foil wrapped metal dry cleaning hangars disguised as an antenna on our 8 inch black and white television to try and get a better look at the guy. It was a distorted and fuzzy picture to say the least. Cable hadn't been invented back then.

Two chickens were hatched on that couch that night. Two scared young chickens with vivid imaginations. For two weeks the killer was on the loose. Two long weeks. For two weeks the hubby swore he saw him at every turn. We would be at a stoplight and he would think it was the guy next to us innocently waiting at the light who was probably out on an errand buying a loaf of bread for his ten kids at home. We slept with the windows locked, a bat by the bed and a heightened sense of awareness.

I have no idea why when I think back on it these many years later that my hubby was certain that the killer was coming for us next. Anyway, after a long two weeks culminating in looking over our shoulders we took a self imposed sabbatical from "killer watch" and went out with friends. The hubby imbibed a little too much. I dragged him home and up the steep flight of stairs to our dingy apartment and deposited him on our bed fully dressed, safe and sound. He was snoring in minutes. I got ready for bed and put our son to sleep. We had a one bedroom apartment the size of a postage stamp so we were cramped together in one room. In the middle of the night our son woke up crying and attempted to climb out of his crib. I woke up immediately to his cries, jumped out of bed and scooped him up. I turned on the light in the hallway to see if anything was wrong with him and seeing that he was fine I rocked him in my arms and carried him back and forth in the hallway and then back into our room. I left the light on in the hallway and stood for a moment in the doorway to our room.

I was just getting ready to put our sleeping son back in his crib when my husband sat straight up in bed and pointed behind me making unintelligible sounds mingled with a look of horror on his face. The chicken in me took over. I panicked. I screamed, "What is it?" and started to hop back and forth on both feet not bothering or thinking clearly for even a second to look behind me. This woke up the baby who started to cry again. My husband continued his pointing and grunting. I screamed louder in near hysterics by this time still not bothering to turn around as I was glued to the spot in sheer terror as I clutched my son tightly. Then my husband started making a horrid guttural yelling sound and I came unglued. He said something along the likes of "He's behind me" ..followed by a yell and and a bunch of garbled words and that pointing finger. I knew the day had come. The killer had finally found us. I nearly fainted on the spot. My knees shook and my mind went completely blank. We continued our screaming symphony until I realized after a long throat scratching high pitched wail that I had been at it for quite some time and the supposed killer behind me hadn't made a single attempt to silence me or my husband. My husband hadn't moved from the bed, and our baby had stopped crying and was staring at the both of us as if he was waiting for a break in the yelling so he could say his first sentence, "Please put me up for adoption."

The phone rang and there was a pounding on our door. That silenced us immediately. It was our neighbors. They had heard the commotion as did all of Hollywood that night. In the end when all was calm it ended up that the hubby had been talking in his sleep as he did every so often. He woke up in the middle of his sleep talking to see me standing over the bed screaming and holding our child and thought that someone was coming through the window behind him. I thought his pointing and guttural sounds meant someone was coming up behind me in the hallway. We had a good laugh and sore throats the next day. I asked the hubby why we had the bat by the bed seeing as he left it there the whole time and made no attempt to pick it up. He looked me straight in the eye and said, "That's not to hit the intruder. That's for me. I intend to knock myself out with it if anyone breaks in and let you deal with it." Smiling he went into the kitchen to make himself a sandwich and watch the possum climbing outside our window. I followed and said, "They wouldn't want me....I taste just like chicken."

Two chickens...that's us.

"Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!"

Nov 24, 2008


I'm back... and today's post won't be like the others. I'd like to say that I took off to join the traveling circus...or set out to discover myself, but the reality is that I had a moment of "what the hell am I doing here-itis"...plain and simple.

It all started a couple weeks ago when my husband decided to read a book. I am a librarian. Married to a man who doesn't like to read. They say opposites attract...and he more than makes up for it in all other areas of our life together so I can forgive him this one transgression. Funny enough...when I think back on wasn't one of the questions that came up during our courtship. I was too busy falling in love with everything about him to stop and ask him if he ever read a book....ever. It wasn't a high priority at the time. I just assumed everyone did. I thought that everyone loved to read as much as me. I was wrong. I chose someone who doesn't even like to read the captions under pictures in People magazine. He makes up his own captions....says it's more fun that way. I'm sure it is. He's one funny guy so I bet his version is better.

When the Da Vinci Code came out he asked me to read it to him. I tried. He fell asleep right after I said, "Once upon a time..."-- not even in the book, but I was testing him to see if he was listening...he wasn't. His philosophy about reading is that he would rather do something himself and be active than read about someone else doing the same thing. It's just he way he's wired and I personally find it charming and wouldn't change him for anything.

So...nobody was more surprised than me when he told me that he wanted to read a book. I was so excited that I grabbed the car keys and took off in a flurry down the street to the nearest bookstore. I ran through the double doors...took a moment to smell that unmistakable scent of books and coffee and then headed for the information desk. The clerk asked if he could help me and I stared blankly at him. In my excitement and shock I had forgotten to ask my husband exactly which book it was he was interested in reading.

I called him.

Me: "What was the name of the book you wanted?"

Him: "Where'd you go?"

Me: "Heaven on Earth for book lovers... Now what was the name of the book you wanted?"

Him: "I can't remember...I think it has the word alone in it...and I think the author's first name was William or Billy or something like that. ---pause --- Where are you?"

Me: " At the bookstore...and I gotta go...this could take all night. Do you know how many books there are with the word alone in them?"

Him: "No...I don't read...remember?"

Me: "Gotta go...four million hits just came up in the search engine and I have to weed through them...see you in a couple days."

Him: "Take your time."

Me: click

The bookseller helping me happened to be a criminal justice major in school. I was looking for a true crime book. It was right up his alley. We found the book in record time. So fast that he hung around disappointed in the fact that our search ended so soon. He began to pull book after book off the shelf and hand them to me. Some of the titles were along the likes of, Bone Alley, Skeleton Farm, Backyard Full of Bones, How Well do You Know Your Neighbors, The Killer Next Door, He's In Your Closet, Creepy People and How to Deal With them get the gist.

Well, many years ago I read a few books like that. Helter Skelter, In Cold Blood and The Stranger Beside Me to be exact. They scared me half to death and I swore I wouldn't read anything like that again. I wanted to live in a happy place, a pretty world, and a fun world, filled with laughter and joy. The book my husband was interested in reading was by Billy Queen. It's about the years the author spent as an undercover agent trying to break up the Mongol Biker Gang in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. A friend who is a detective with the LAPD recommended it.

The store clerk had a stack of books piled up for me, and the pile was growing by the minute. I chose one off the top and flipped through it. I wanted him to know how much I appreciated his enthusiasm so I started to read an excerpt from the book in my hand. Unfortunately the book was about the BTK killer. The part I opened up to involved a family. Needless to say, I wanted so badly to read that this guy didn't really kill two innocent children and their parents in the house he had invaded early one morning. He did. It was brutal and disgusting. It made me sick. I stood in that book aisle with tears in my eyes and sadness for that family. It also reminded me that there are some people in this world who aren't so nice or mentally fit. It made me question blogging. I started to think about why I was doing it. My intention from the start has been to help me with my writing skills. I am in the midst of writing a book and this blog was a place to try out my see if anyone liked my make people smile and to attempt to bring a sunnier side of life to those who chose to visit my little blogging corner of the world. I stepped away for a bit to gain perspective.

My perspective is that I have met nothing but nice people in the blogging community. People who encourage and say kind things to each other...people who care about each other...people who are good.

As for my husband...he finished the book in two days....didn't run off to join a biker gang, or ask me to start calling him "Danger" or " Evil" or "Bad Bart" or anything else...and hasn't asked for another book.

Next time I go to the bookstore I'm heading for the Fairy Tale section and choosing a "Once Upon a Time" story...they always have a happy ending.

Nov 11, 2008

This kid . . .

This kid was the third girl in her family.

This kid was named after her mother.

This kid was the youngest kid on the block.

This kid never made it into the Secret Club behind the gates of the neighbor's backyard because she wasn't tall enough - - ever- -. They measured me. . . every - single - summer. . . and the marker grew with me. That's okay. I eventually grew to be the tallest kid on the block anyway. The Secret Club eventually set the backyard on fire while conducting a secret experiment with their Secret Science Kit that our neighbor boy sent away for in the back of Boy's Life magazine. I was the only kid on the block who wasn't grounded for the entire summer. It was a lonely summer if I recall. Apparently the Secret Club had a larger following than I imagined. They took a vote that next summer and told me they were thinking of letting me in. They would let me know in September. I told them that I had a fondness for my eyebrows and hair and would pass on their consideration.

This kid was a human remote control before TV clickers were invented. I learned to watch television out of the corner of my eye. Fortunately for me there were only a few channels available when I was a kid. Cable would have killed me or given me a bad case of carpal tunnel syndrome. I was the fastest remote in the West. I could switch from American Bandstand to Soul Train and back to Chiller Thriller in no time flat. My tiny little hands were but a flash on the fabric covered control panel.

This kid was an excellent game player. I was always the very last kid hanging on the end when we played Crack the Whip. To this day, anytime someone goes to shake or grab my hand I have flashbacks. It was me against the asphalt. I was Home Plate when we played 3 Flies Up . It taught me to duck and cover like no other. I was the first kid lined up against the garage wall when we played Dodgeball. I have little feeling left in my lower extremities to this day but I can proudly say, "I am no quitter!"

This kid was the neighborhood runner. I could pull a string of kids around the block with a rope tied to my waist while they sat on skateboards with metal wheels, bicycles with flat tires, or roller skates with one wheel missing. I learned to navigate the cracks in the sidewalk. With my excellent Crack the Whip skills, I could turn a corner at warp speed, manage to keep everyone in line and still keep my balance. I had a washboard stomach before I was 8. I would like it back please.

This kid learned how to play Monopoly before she could read, Tripoley before she could count, and Parcheesi before she realized how boring it was.

This kid is what she is. Someone with extreme amounts of patience. Someone who is a great observer. Someone who isn't afraid to try. Someone who never quits or gives up easily. Someone who likes herself just the way she is and what she was.

How about you?

Nov 3, 2008

Come fly with me . . .

Gasket Andy.
My Grandfather.
A man ahead of his time.
Really should have been called Loose Gasket Andy.

Gasket Andy owned an airplane.

Gasket Andy loved flying his airplane.

Gasket Andy would tell my parents that we were going to take a trip to the store to pick something up and we'd be back in a little while. I would innocently hop in the passenger seat with one of my sister's and off we would go. I'd wave goodbye to my family with one hand while hanging onto the door handle using all of my strength to stay seated with the other as Gasket Andy sped out of the driveway like Mario Andretti in his final lap around the track.

We would pass one store after another. I would ask why we weren't stopping. Gasket Andy would laugh and say, "They don't have what I'm lookin' for," and then he would step on the gas as we sped ahead toward adventure. After going straight for a few miles he would suddenly veer off the road into an open space and we'd be at the airport. The airport had a little "Mom & Pop" store where they sold a little bit of everything. Technically we were "Going to the Store." We would go inside and get an Abba Zaba and a soda while Gasket Andy got the plane ready for take-off.

My sister and I would play "Rock - Paper - Scissors" to see who would sit in the front passenger seat next to Gasket Andy. I lost this particular time. That meant I was sitting up front. Gasket Andy smiled at me as we walked up to the plane. "Whose my co-pilot today?" he yelled over the roar of the engine. "Me," I said weakly.

My sister climbed into the back seat of the plane and buckled up. I climbed into the co-pilots seat, strapped myself in, said a quick prayer to the patron saint of airplanes, crossed myself a dozen times, checked the buckle on my seat belt again and again as Gasket Andy hopped into the pilot's seat and radioed the tower for clearance to take off. We taxied down the runway and gathered speed. Gasket Andy yelled, "Here we go," as we left the ground below and headed for the friendly skies. We had a routine. It was the same every time. Gasket Andy would circle the control tower and dip a wing at the traffic controller in fond farewell and then we would make a sharp right and head for the hills. Head for adventure. We never got too far before Gasket Andy would turn the controls over to the co-pilot. This time it was me. He would tell me to fly the plane as he slowly let go of the wheel on his side. I would grip the wheel with my tiny little ten-year-old hands and hold steady as I wished for God to make me 5 inches taller in the next few seconds so I could see out the front window to know where we were headed. Loose Gasket Andy would tell me to turn the wheel to the right. The plane would dip. Then he would tell me to turn it to the left. The plane would dip the other way. I could see where we were going. Headed for the ground. Fast. Gasket Andy would take over the controls and tell me what a fine job I'd done and then the stunts would begin. We would shoot up past the clouds and then down again. We'd loop in circles, turn one way, then another and then when I thought we'd done just about everything we could possible do with an airplane...Gasket Andy would cut the engine. Silence... soaring with the eagles ... flying without a net...and then after a long moment...the sound of the sputtering engine would start again and we'd level out just in time to head back to the airport before dark and around the control tower dipping a wing and then land back on the ground safely.

We'd always make a quick stop back at the "Mom & Pop" store before heading back home. Gasket Andy would run in as he left the car in park and my sister and I waiting for him. He'd come back out with a brown paper bag and toss it in the back seat and hand us kids a treat he'd picked up inside for the ride home. We'd eat our ice cream, Ding Dong or Twinkies and talk about what a fine day it had been. He'd race back down the straight highway and we'd make a sharp turn into the driveway and there would be our parents standing out front wondering where in the world we had been. Gasket Andy would reach in the back seat, grab the paper bag and say, "Tell em we got lost," as he jumped out of the car and handed our grandmother the bag.

We were lost alright...
...lost in adventure...