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29 posts from March 2007

March 31, 2007

TIGHTROPE WALKING WITHOUT A NET

Tilt_press_2 The Book Tarts are big fans of both Chris Grabenstein's series, starring John Ceepak and Christopher Miller. How does he write those award-winning books? Here's his secret.

TIGHTROPE WALKING WITHOUT A NET

By Chris Grabenstein

     Every day when I write, I’m reminded of the five years I spent in an East Village basement hopping on stage to make up scenes and songs about acne, hemorrhoids, Times Square, belly button lint, and whatever else the audience yelled out when we asked for suggestions.

     From 1979 to 1984 I had the time of my life performing improvisational comedy with New York City troupes called things like STRICTLY IMPROV, THE FIRST AMENDMENT, and CHICAGO CITY LIMITS.  Every weekend, we’d do three or four shows, some with start times as late (or early) as 1 a.m., charge five dollars a head and, if it was a good night and our hippy leader was feeling particularly generous, we might actually get paid.  Sometimes as much as ten dollars, which we’d promptly go spend around the corner at The Great Jones Café on a couple Rolling Rocks and a basket of fries while we relived that evening’s funniest moments.

     Ah, those were the days, my friend.  We thought they’d never end.

     Improv, which originated in Chicago back in the 1950s with folks like Mike Nichols and Elaine May at SECOND CITY, was made famous again by Drew Carey’s TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway.”   

Basically, improv comedians are tightrope walkers working without a net – the fast-thinking comedy equivalents to jazz musicians.  We had a few set structures, some semblance of a beginning, middle and end, and then we’d ask for suggestions from the audience.  A place where two people might meet.  A personal problem.  A household appliance you could tell your mother about.

We’d take whatever the audience gave us and make stuff up on the spot.  (A great history book on Improv is called Something Wonderful Right Away). 

We’d take those suggestions and create scenes, songs, operas, poetry, movie parodies, blues numbers, mini-Shakespearean epics, and interview shows discussing the political topics of the day – like Ronald Reagan proclaiming ketchup to be a vegetable. 

When I tell people that Bruce Willis used to work with us, they sometimes act surprised, forgetting how funny and quick-witted he is, especially in the early days of his career on Moonlighting.   Kathy Kinney, who played Mimi on the Drew Carey show (and made eye makeup famous or infamous) was another member of our troupe as was Jane Brucker who starred as “the sister” in Dirty Dancing.

The New York Times, in one of several reviews of the First Amendment, said that improvisational comedy was basically “impudent madness.”  Thanks to their vast new on-line archives, I was able to reminisce with a review from 1983:

Chris Grabenstein is a bulbous Kabuki actor who bounces through a pseudo-Japanese version of ''Oklahoma!'' Jane Brucker, asked by the audience to improvise about chocolate in the style of Tennessee Williams, slinks about the stage, drawing a scarf around her neck and whispering, ''I'm just about as hot as a Snickers in a store where the air-conditioning has failed.'' The eight members of the troupe are energetic, athletic, good humored and talented. They have made the First Amendment Comedy & Improvisation Company, one of the best such groups around.

     The rules of performing improv are simple:  you say “Yes, And…” 

     You never negate what your scene partner starts.

     If the suggestion is “The Top Of The Empire State Building” and the performer you’re working with says, “Wow, King Kong looks smaller up close,” you don’t say, “No, that’s not King Kong, that’s my mother-in-law.”   You might get an easy laugh, but you’ve stopped building the scene.

     If you said, while lifting your feet slowly as if trudging through mud (or something worse) and fanning the air in front of your face, “Gee, I wonder how many airplanes he ate today.  The motor oil’s not agreeing with his stomach,” you could build a scene about a giant ape on a rampage, swatting everything out of the sky, and maybe end up with King Kong ingesting Air Force One and depositing the occupants, one by one, on the observation deck.

     Or who knows where you might go.

     This is why, when I write the John Ceepak mysteries or Christopher Miller holiday thrillers, I don’t outline much beyond the beginning, middle, and what I think might be the end. 

     Every day, I play improv games in my head and see where my characters might take me if I let them, if I place them into a situation or predicament and say “Yes, And” or, the writerly equivalent, “What if, and then.”  There are no “No’s” -- at least not in the first draft.  There is just mental jazz gymnastics, letting the moment and the story take me where it wants to go.

     Ah, these are the days my friend.  I hope they never end.

March 29, 2007

Is Love Contagious?

Is Love Contagious?

By Nancy

Since maybe we've been talking a little too much about sex around here lately (and I'm starting to get nervous that my mother is actually reading TLC) I went looking for a new subject to blog about today.

And I hit paydirt: Those editorial wags over at Men's Health magazine have decided that men fall in love with women who have 4 characteristics that have nothing to do with sex.

Bear with me, now, because some of this is going to sound far-fetched.  Here's what men fall for:

First off, the magazine says men are suckers for women who display a passion for something other than the men in their lives.  Like your job or your hobby, I guess.  Apparently, the passion you devote to something else besides your guy confirms you "inherent goodness," your "personal drive," and your "innate independence." 

Really now, do you believe this? Because I bet every woman married longer than 6 months has read the previous paragraph with a smirk on her face, thinking the hobbies our husbands like best in us are making chili, going to the grocery story for Pop Tarts without his participation and/or fooling around, but we're not going to talk about sex today, so let's go with chili and Pop Tarts.

2.  Next, the magazine feels a good woman should have the generosity to give a guy his space when he needs it. (Here's that "innate independence" thing again, right? Sensing a theme yet?  I'm thinking the guys at Men's Health are collectively dealing with needy, clingy girlfriends, don't you? Or else they're freaking out over the possibility that they might actually have to commit to somebody 'til death them do part.) Apparently, men like to play golf, ride motorcycles or boil maple syrup with their buddies, not the women in their lives! 

Okay, as a female who's been married for 30 years, my reaction is, no shit, Sherlock! but apparently, Men's Health thinks this is a bulletin. Any intelligent wife knows what "giving him his space" sounds a lot like,  "Honey, leave me alone to watch the game, and I promise I'll fix the bathtub drain later.  Or maybe next weekend.  Or better yet, why don't you phone Roto Rooter when you get finished with the laundry?"

3.  The magazine also says a worthy woman should have a "strut." (I kid you not.  You can look it up.) What the heck's a strut, you ask? Well, it's "that attitude, that sassiness, that confidence, that charisma, that charm that shows she can be a little bold and daring."  Nowadays, some of us find the time to practice this strut only while we're boldly running the vacuum or daringly lugging trash bags to the curb, but let's agree that most women at one time in our lives (I'm guessing around age 16) have practiced a walk that conveys more of a message than, "Get out of my way, I need to pee right now!" It seems our fellas have been watching.  Who knew guys gave more points to our walk that our ability to bear their young without benefit of anesthetic and then drive the little darlings to school every day for 13 years?

4. A woman should also be able to give gentle advice about such personal issues as a guy's clothing, body odor and hair growing where it's unattractive without wounding his tender ego.  "Guys like to project that they know what they're doing and that they don't need any help. Women who can help steer us, without aggressively grabbing the wheel, are the most treasured copilots."

So girls, if you're been saying stuff like, "Sweet Jesus, take off that ripped t-shirt/flowered Speedo/horrible tie before I vomit," it seems you're not on the path of true love.

Maybe Men's Health is a bigtime source of useful info to many American males, but I'm thinking this time they got it wrong. 

Who's with me in believing that most men don't know what they want, and they fall in love sorta like they catch a bad headcold? It happens when they're standing at the wrong corner in a high wind waiting for a bus to take them home for spring break and wishing their moms would pull up to the curb and take them some place for a hot meal, maybe involving cocoa with marshmallows and a big screen television turned to hockey highlights or even classic Roadrunner cartoons. If the woman behind the wheel happens not to be Mom, but a babe who lands somewhere in the same vicinity as himself on the Scale of Hotness (and you know what I'm talking about, so don't make me explain or I'll call Margie in here) and a willingness to perform acts he isn't regularly getting anywhere else, she's the one!

Women are not as picky. If we were depending on men to tell us what to wear, give us our space, or walk with self-confidence and sex appeal, the end of the species would have happened long ago.

Maybe when females are 13 years old we make lists of attributes we'd like to find in Prince Charming (and I'd love to hear some you found important at 13!) but by the time we hit the ripe and storm-tossed age of 18 or so, the list is considerably shorter.  (I once cared about a man's musical taste, but I married a guy who actually owned Elton John LPs.)

Looking back, I think I married my husband for 2 reasons:  He was tall and he carried a handkerchief.

(I was 5'9" tall in 7th grade, and a 36C.  In other words, boys never looked at me above my collarbones. So tall has always been an important factor.)

Okay, my future husband was also willing to perform acts I wasn't regularly getting elsewhere, but since we're still eschewing sex today, I'll admit he's also been known to make me laugh until Diet Coke comes out my nose. But the handkerchief thing really said a lot about him.  I mean, he carried it in college! It demonstrated he had potential. And over the years since then, I've borrowed that handkerchief to wipe tears, clean jelly from a child's cheeks and sponge paw prints off my pantyhose before a funeral. Afterwards I launder, iron and fold it before I tuck it into his dresser drawer and think about what that handkerchief means. To me, it's a symbol that my husband is a civilized human being, and I'm willing to put up with the beer and the motorcyles and the errant hair and six months of football and even his mother because of it. In other words, I will stand for a lot of typical male baloney if a man displays a modicum of civility. Mr. Darcy he ain't. But he isn't Larry the Cable Guy either.

Recently, my aunt was in the hospital for some abdominal surgery, and I waited with her the morning of her operation. When the transport guy shuffled into her room to wheel her gurney down to the OR, he was coughing and sneezing and wiping his germ-slathered hands on the handles of her gurney as he gulped, "I never had a cold as bad as this!"  My first thought was, WHO THE HELL ALLOWED SUCH A SICK OAF TO COME TO WORK TODAY?

But he was tall, and I had a feeling he probably registered on some poor girl's Scale of Hotness, so it's just a matter of time before the big doofus falls head over heels for Ms. Right.

Meanwhile, ladies, Men's Health magazine thinks they're pinpointed the 4 basic attributes that attract men to women. But I suspect we know better.  How about telling me why you think your knight in shining armor fell in love with you?

March 28, 2007

Giving Up My Martyrdom

Giving Up My Martyrdom

By Elaine Viets

It takes a special kind of courage for Elizabeth Edwards to tell her husband to continue his campaign for President. She has refused to let her incurable cancer stop John Edwards’ bid for the Oval Office.

She is an amazing woman, and I applaud her decision.

But it took a different kind of courage for her husband to accept her offer. Not as much courage, not by a long shot. But sometimes, such a tremendous gift can be hard to accept.

About two years ago, my husband Don and I faced the Edwards’ dilemma on a smaller scale. I had a book tour to launch a new series. Plane tickets were bought, events were planned, and everything was set to go.

Then Don was diagnosed with a nasty complication from an old cancer treatment: a radiation fistula. If you don’t know what that is, you’re lucky. It’s horribly painful and difficult to cure.

His doctor was afraid to operate. He tried to cure it by taking Don off food and water for three months to give his tortured gut a rest. Don took his nourishment through a feeding tube. Because of the danger of infection, he had to go to a nursing home – partly during my ten-day tour.

I knew my duty. "I’m cancelling my tour."

"No, you’re not," Don said.

"Of course I am," I said. "We’re in this for better or worse. In sickness and in health."

"I don’t want your sacrifice," Don said. "I want you to succeed. You need that tour."

He was right. I did. I knew it. He knew it. But I also knew only a heartless bitch would abandon her sick husband.

"Tour’s canceled," I said. "That’s that."

"The tour is NOT canceled," Don said. "We’ll be in touch by cell phone. You’re two hours away by plane."

A small selfish voice whispered, "Take it." But I nobly ignored it.

"The tour’s canceled," I repeated.

"I don’t want to be remembered as the guy who killed your career," Don said.

"The book could die anyway," I said.

"Yes, but if you go on tour and the book dies, it’s not my fault," Don said. "If you stay home and it tanks, I’ll blame myself. I have enough guilt already. I’ve taken too much of your life with this illness. I don’t want your career on my conscience."

I wanted to say yes. I wanted to escape the sights and smells of the nursing home, if only for ten days. I wanted a short vacation in the world of the well. But I couldn’t leave Don alone. Besides, what would people think?

Ah, that was the evil little secret under those noble layers of wifely martyrdom – how would it look? How would I explain my actions? Some people would never understand. My husband was so sick, friends actually asked if I planned to remarry. Now I was running off on a book tour.

I would have accepted my martyrdom, and maybe ruined my marriage, if it wasn’t for a friend who’d recovered from cancer.

"You don’t get it, do you?" my friend said. "You’ve never had cancer. You don’t know how helpless you feel. One day you’re in control of your life, and the next you’re at the mercy of doctors, hospitals and treatments that make you puke up your insides. You can’t eat, you can’t sleep, and you can’t think of anything except you’re going to die. Worse, you’ve turned your family into nurses and servants. They have to drop everything for you."

"That’s how it should be," I said. "I love Don. I can’t abandon him."

"If you love him, you’ll go on tour," my friend said. "You won’t make him feel better if you stay at home. He’ll be sick with guilt for ruining your life."

"What if he dies while I’m on the road?"

"What if he dies while you’re at home? What if you’re hit by a truck driving to the nursing home? Don’t you want this tour?"

"I shouldn’t be doing what I want right now."

My friend looked at me. "You’re afraid what people will say, aren’t you?"

"I want to do the right thing," I said.

"Then do what Don wants. Let him be in control. He’s giving you a great gift. Have the guts to take it."

I went on tour. The book did well. Don found another doctor who performed the risky surgery, and he made an amazing recovery. He’s back at work. We’re living happily ever after.

Elizabeth Edwards was brave enough to give her husband that same choice. And John Edwards had the courage to take it.

I wish them the same happy ending.

March 27, 2007

Your Guide to Writing the Next Artsy Fartsy Blockbuster

By Sarah

As a reader and aspiring writer of high quality literature, probably you've been asking yourself this The_thinker question: What the hell am I doing reading this blog?

No, wait. That's the other question. The real question is this: How do I, an intelligent, aspiring writer of serious literature, write the next quality blockbuster? You know the kind of novel I'm talking about - The Time-Traveler's Wife, Empire Falls, The Secret Life of Bees, etc....If you're thinking Shopaholic and Baby, immediately click on my website. You are definitely in the wrong place here.

Now, with this handy-dandy guide, you - yes, even you - can outline and write the next "heartbreaking, stunning" story about "life and loss, hope and redemption." It will be the kind of novel in which reviewers will use such glowing terms as "brilliantly crafted" and "deeply moving." But mostly they'll use heartbreaking, though they will have trouble remembering if heartbreaking is hyphenated or one word.

STEP ONE: THE TITLE

This will be your most important step. Imagine yourself at a dinner party with intellectuals undoubtedly like yourself. All conversation stops as your hostess (aka, the jealous shrew from your writer's group) turns in your direction and with her sharp tongue says, "Yes, Percival, do tell us the title of this heartbreaking, stunning novel you're writing during your lunch breaks at Taco Bell."

At this point replying, "Spongebob: Dude with the 'Tude," will pale in comparison to, say, "The Lives and Spongebob Loves of an Optimistic Invertebrate." (Later people will ask each other enthusiastically, "Have you read Invertebrate? It's so heartbreaking! Also, very stunning!!")

Speaking of hyphens (not sure we were), you might be tempted to employ a silent one in the title of your next heartbreaking blockbuster. In this day and age, a lame ass title such as Moby Dick is not nearly as compelling as The Whale Hunter's Prey. In fact, insects and animals are very en vogue, though sub-cellular organisms might be the next big trend. (Note to self: Like Golgi Bodies for Chocolate? Just a thought.)

STEP TWO: THE THEME

This is the annoying "crux" of the story, what editors will mean when they ask, stupidly, "What is this novel about?"
Do not confuse theme with plot as there DEFINITELY WILL BE NO PLOT in your heartbreaking stunning novel. If you find you have a plot, back step. You have taken a wrong turn. Instead, toy with ultimately depressing human conundrums (teenage drug use, circus antics, abandoning babies at church steps, shooting up a crowd or, preferably, all four), though avoid child rape, incest, wife beating and birthing babies at Wal Mart as those were done during the glorious Oprah-Loves-Live-Authors years. (A moment of silence, please.)

Also, you will want to steer clear of the paranormal - this has been claimed by the mass market and you, snort, are certainly not writing for the masses. (Though you hope and pray Costco will sign you on bigBetter_shakespeare   time.) Exceptions to this are: time traveling (when used metaphorically) and ghosts (because Shakespeare got away with it, the hack.)

STEP THREE: IMAGERY

Finally, your most important step (after title, natch.) Imagery and your (over)use thereof will be what sets your heartbreaking, stunning novel apartment from, say, James Patterson (and Michael Ledwige, though no one ever notices his name at the bottom of the book, do they?). There will be no act so ordinary, so mundane that it will not be described without all five senses. Especially smell. Reviewers LOVE stinky stuff.

From this point on, grass will cease to be grass and will become "the sharp, pungent blades of spring's hopeful rebirth" upon which your character's "smooth, silken feet" will carefully tread. Blood will become "a bright, pulsing red life source" and your character will be "surprised" to see it spreading over her "white hands with their perfect nails and moon-shaped tips." The glass that will undoubtedly shatter will not simply break but "cascade into a million crystal snowflakes" just like her life.

Hedge_maze Many walls will go up. Hedge mazes are helpful, too. Insist that your married characters become separated in them. Do not mind that no one, but no one, grows mazes in their back yards.

STEP FOUR: THE CONCLUSION

This is where the "hopeful, redemption" part comes in, though do not spend too much time on this step as few, if any, readers will stick around long enough to find if your character, Julia, ever meets up with her senile husband, James, lost in Wisconsin where he has escaped with his orphaned and slightly crippled pet elephant in search of a decent cheeseburger. Focus on the readers' questions that the publicist will require you to add.

For example, many readers will be curious to know this: Why Pittsburgh? Think of something pithy now. Monkey_thinker

I hope this guide has been a help. Of course, you will need an excellent cover. Fortunately, there are many obscure 17th century paintings that can be ripped off. (Copyright laws are so awesome.) And do not forget your author photo: hair graying, straight. Eyes squinting. Mouth as if you just consumed a sour pickle. Preferably, "a pungent fruit of vinegary goodness bursting with the memories of summer afternoons, when Julia stood barefooted on the worn wooden floors surprised by the red life source spurting from her perfect white feet near the shattered glass...."

Well, you get the idea.

See you on "the list"!

Sarah

March 26, 2007

Sex, Again?

Sex, Again?
by Harley

Years ago I heard some advice from someone about fashion magazines. “Don’t read them; they’ll just make you feel bad about yourself.”

I thought, “Wow, that’s radical. Is it true?”

That day, I cancelled my subscription to VOGUE and stopped buying the occasional MADEMOISELLE, COSMO and GLAMOUR and while I didn’t notice my self-esteem skyrocketing, I didn’t miss them.

But at hair salons, I feel compelled to read magazines. What if something big’s happened, hairwise, since my last visit—the return of the Mullet, say, or the Pixie or Farrah Fawcett-Majors side wings? So last week while getting my roots done, I was flipping some fashion rag or other, and on page 124, there it was: a feature article entitled: How Much Sex Are You Having?

“Good news!” the article cried. “A vast majority of you are having sex 3-5 times a week!”

“For whom is it good news?” I wondered. Because for the slim minority who’s not getting laid 3-5 times a week, I see no reason to pop champagne .

I am not doing it 3-5 times a week because A. I have small children who, when left alone, come up with interesting activities, like watering the carpets; B. I get up at 5 a.m. and am comatose by 10 pm, while my husband’s still at work at 10 pm and drags himself awake at 7:30 a.m.

That led me to wonder who responded to this survey. Not Sarah, with teenagers in the house, or Nancy With Snoring Husband or Michele, stuck in the hole, or Elaine, who’s out washing her car. (Margie? Maybe. Probably.) So what are the research methods?

I needed more information. Accuracy. True facts. Hard Science. Sources I could trust. Naturally, I turned to the Internet.

I went home and asked Google, “How Often Are People Having Sex?”

Some random findings:

-- 20% of people using Durex condoms are having sex twice a day.
-- 59% of married people are bathing together in order to spice up their sex lives, 37% are watching porn, and 22% are having sex in public.
-- The average sexual encounter lasts 30 minutes when it’s dark and there’s no sexy talk, but throwing in sexy talk adds 19 minutes to the experience.
-- 74% of those in a committed relationship have sex once a week or more.
-- 4 out of 10 people rarely or never give oral sex.

This last fact grieves Preacher Joe Beam, in Tennessee (and me). In a seminar on Hot Christian Love, Preacher Joe advises men how to make semen taste better (“eat sweet stuff. Cake.”) and encourages masturbation, phone sex, birth control, the Kama Sutra, and, with some restrictions, anal sex. As long as you’re married, And heterosexual. Oh: but no sex if you’re having your period.

It’s all there in the Bible, says Preacher Joe.

I’m no Biblical scholar, but if anyone can point me to the chapter and verse that deals with phone sex, I’d be grateful.

My question remains: who answers these surveys? Has anyone gotten a phone call from a researcher, saying, “In the name of Science, please discuss your sexual habits.” Because I haven’t. But I can tell you this: I don’t need 19 minutes of sexy talk in the dark, since one of us would be asleep after Minute Four. My fantasies are simple, and I share them here for the benefit of mankind.

Husband, wearing a blond wig, whispers those three little words I long to hear: “Bond. James Bond.”

Happy Monday!
Harley

March 25, 2007

My Husband's Sweet Addiction

By Sarah

Last night my husband rolled into bed at 4 a.m. He'd craftily taken a shower, but I knew what he'd been up to. He couldn't hide his obsession from me, not after eighteen years of marriage. Shack

There were the bottles downstairs this morning, evidence of his obsession. And cans. The air was sticky with the smell. The sickening sweet smell.

Once a year, I thought. It only happens once a year. Surely, I can handle his annual disappearances into the woods, his late-night revelry in the shack. Though I'm not sure my jeans can take it. That's the thing about your husband having an addiction to sugaring - the rest of us put on the pounds.

From what I understand, many Vermont men go through this phase. After all, the equipment Charlie's using came from another man who eventually saw the folly of gathering forty gallons of maple sap only to end up with one gallon of syrup. Or maybe his wife saw the folly and put an end to it. Sugaring, you see, takes time. Tons of time.

First, you have to mark the trees in the summer when the leaves are out so you know you'll be tapping a Taps sugar maple and not a, I dunno, sour maple, I guess. For extra difficulty, all our sugar maples are over a sharp hill that leads to a ravine.

Then, after the trees are tapped comes the equipment cleaning ritual. A public defender I used to cover once won a New Hampshire award for best maple syrup. I remember him selling his stuff out of the back of his car during a murder trial. Bailiffs, even the prosecuting attorneys would meet up with him in the parking lot, cash in hand, checking over their shoulders as if they were buying high grade Columbian gold. The secret to his succcess? Clean equipment. Which kinda makes you think about the contenders he beat.

Everything Charlie uses has been jerry-rigged. The "sugar house," for example, is an old playhouse he built for our kids at the edge of the woods. Large holes have been cut into it to let out the steam. He's constructed a very "rustic" (read, unsafe) hearth or arch, as they call it. He's even got a cool contraption using a water hose connected to a plastic tub where the sap is stored.

That's another thing - the sap collecting. Everyday after work, when the snow is melting, when the days are bright and warm and the nights are cold, Charlie and our son head into the woods, down the ravine, to collect sap from the buckets tapped to the trees. Of course, with global warming and wacky weather, this hasn't been such a sure thing. Some people started collecting sap in January. The crazy knuckleheads.

Then comes the hard part - the boiling. It takes a long, long time. And it might take friends. And beer.

Last year, I'd arranged for our kids to be away so that Charlie and I could, you know. (See last Tuesday's blog for you know.) As I pulled into the driveway, having dropped off the last kid, one of Charlie's friends from work (a tax lawyer, don't start with me) pulled in behind me.

"What are you doing here?" I asked rather accusatorily.

"Charlie invited me." And then, grabbing a six pack and looking like a naughty teenager, he leaped over the snowbank and headed to the sugar shack. More lawyers arrived and I had the option of hanging out with them in the sugar shack or folding laundry. I folded laundry.

So much for romance during sugaring.Sam_with_sugar_buckets

Okay - gotta make French toast.

Sarah

March 24, 2007

Why I'm Going to Hell

Our buddy Twist Phelan received her undergraduate and law degrees from Stanford University, and is a former trial lawyer (as well as current author, of the Pinnacle Peak mystery series, which you can check out at www.twistphelan.com)--but that’s not why she’s going to hell.

Why I’m Going to Hell
By Twist Phelan

I really hope there is no such thing as hell. Because if there is, I’m going there. I was driving to the airport to meet a friend for dinner (from back East, she had a layover for a few hours) when I was hit with a craving for a piece of fruit. Specifically, a pear.

Preferably Bosc, although Anjou or Comice would do. I pulled into Whole Foods parking lot, already tasting the pulpy sweetness, feeling the sticky juice on my fingers. I had to have this pear. The produce section was stacked high with pears—red, green, or yellow; lumpy or smooth, skinny or plump. I picked out a perfect Bosc, polished it on the front of my jeans, and headed for the checkout line. It was 6 pm, grocery rush hour, so I chose the express line. There were several people in front of me. If no one asked for ice or cigarettes, both of which would require the clerk to fetch the items from somewhere else, I should be on time to meet my friend.

Then I noticed the woman in front of me. Middle-aged, she was dressed in muted colors. Her graying hair was covered with a headscarf and her shoes were sensible. Truth be told, she wasn't the sort of woman you would ordinarily notice. That is, unless she was in the express line with a FULL CART OF GROCERIES. I groaned. I actually made a noise out loud. No way was I going to be on time if I had to wait for the clerk to ring up all that stuff. I looked at the "15 items or less" sign and cleared my throat. The woman ignored me. I turned to the man in line behind me and said, "Isn't it weird how the sign on every supermarket's express lane says "15 items or less," when grammatically it should be "15 items or fewer"? I raised my voice every time I said " 15 items." The man gave me a tight little smile. He was Hispanic, and wore a t-shirt with the name of a landscaping company printed on it. His companion, similarly dressed, said something in Spanish. The man answered, also in Spanish, then shrugged. So much for that idea. Next I tried to make eye contact with the clerk. Once I had her attention, I planned to look meaningfully at the groaning cart. Surely upholding store rules was of paramount importance to her. Surely she would politely redirect the woman with the laden cart to another line. But no. Instead, she smiled warmly at the woman and started scanning items. It went slowly. Hidden underneath boxes of oatmeal and loaves of bread were baggies of vegetables and fruit. Many baggies. The clerk did not recognize some of the vegetables and fruit, requiring her to consult a binder of photos and bar codes. While the clerk flipped plastic-coated pages, she and the woman chatted, further slowing the process. I was beginning to wonder if I should call my friend and tell her to have dinner without me.

I briefly considered abandoning the pear. But by then I wanted it more than ever.

And this had become a matter of principle. Why should I give up my pear because someone else broke the rules? Anyway, the woman’s cart was nearly empty, only a few boxes of energy bars to go. (The woman didn't look like the energy bar type, which goes to show you can never tell.) The clerk scanned the first box. The machine beeped. The clerk frowned. She scanned the box again. The machine beeped again. "It's not reading the bar code," the clerk said. "I'm going to have to open up the box and scan each bar individually. Is that okay?"

"Yes," said the woman.

My friend was going to be on the plane on her way home before I got out of the store. "No," I said. "It's not okay." I leaned in close to the woman. "You're in the express lane. Didn't you see the sign? It's really rude to go over the limit, especially at this time of night."

The woman looked up at the sign. "Oh," she said. "I didn't notice."

Sure, I thought.

The woman turned to face me full on. "I really am so sorry." At that moment I knew if hell exists, I'm going there. The woman's kerchief was, in fact, a veil. A small gold cross glinted on her wimple. She was a nun.
"That's okay," I stammered, and stood in embarrassed silence while she finished her transaction.

"I'm sorry" she said to me again and left. I slunk up to the register. The clerk glared at me.

"It should be a bigger sign," I said weakly. The clerk pinched her lips together and tossed my pear into a bag. I heard the thunk when it hit the counter. She snatched the dollar bill from my hand. The cross around her neck was bigger than the nun's. Face still burning, I picked up the bag holding my freshly-bruised pear and ran for the door, hoping there is no such thing as hell. Because if there is, I'm going there.


March 23, 2007

New Rules

New Rules

By me, Margie

OK, I had two choices with this blog:

1. Go on a rant; or
2. Start various mini-rants and make the rest of you help for a change.

Guess which one I picked? That's right. Put your ranting caps on, people, it's time to let it fly. Because, you know, I have things to do. Just as an example, I have informed all my unmarried friends about what the rest of you are apparently not doing (and if you've been reading this week's blogs, you know I'm not the only one concerned about this crisis) and that it's up to us to pull up the national average.

"Take one for the team" I told them. "Take two". And if you get to three, have him call me. Stat.

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So let's get cracking on some New Rules. Oh, and to be fair, I filched some of these. Even though people have been making these up for years [example: New Rule - No more taxation without representation. Also known as "Hey, Fat George, I got your teabags right here."] Bill Mahar has raised it to an art form. And no, I don't want to hear about his politics. Or yours, for that matter. I'm just saying - the guy can be funny and this is one of his regular bits. And I filched a couple.

See - I always tell the truth. Always. So listen stud, you'd better bring it when you take a run at Margie. No fakes.

OK. New Rules. Here are mine. Now do yours, I'm busy:

New Rule: Stop saying that teenage boys who have sex with their hot, blonde teachers are permanently damaged. Are you kidding me with this? This is not trauma, this is a live action wet dream.

New Rule: Wine in a box is still not wine. This was true when it was rotgut and it's true now no matter how cute the label design. I could care less what you drink. Hell, pick a different color Thunderbird for every day of the week. But wine comes in a bottle. Something that lives in a box is not wine. Period.

New Rule: If you are going to eat something you bought out of a window for less than a buck, don't bitch if there's something weird in there. People were shocked - shocked - that a finger was found in a bowl of Wendy's chili. What did you expect it to contain? Beluga caviar? Luckily, it was only a finger! If it were a whole hand, some jagoff Senator would have voted to keep it alive.

New Rule: No more judging people based on how they have sex. Who gives a flying fuck? We've got real problems, people. Stop wasting our time trying to get us all hyped up because some couple who doesn't do it lights out missionary is a threat to your pathetic shell of a marriage. Newsflash: my gay friends are having a lot more sex that the rest of us. Maybe we should be putting them in charge of Health and Human Services instead of pretending they're the ones with the "issues". This one really makes me go batshit.

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New Rule: The more complicated the Starbucks order, the bigger the asshole. If you walk into a Starbucks and order a "decaf grande half-soy, half-low fat, iced vanilla, double-shot, gingerbread cappuccino, extra dry, light ice, with one Sweet-n'-Low and one NutraSweet," guess what? You are not only an asshole here and now, but you may have just punched your own ticket to Asshole heaven too.

New Rule: When I ask how old your toddler is, I don't need to know in months. "Oh, he just turned 27 Months." Yeah? How about: "He's two." He's not a cheese. And no, I don't want to hold the little slobberer either. This blouse is silk.

New Rule: If I can hear you talking on your cell, you need to hang the fuck up. We've discussed this before. There is no magical cone of silence. If I want to hear about some loser's lameass problems, I'll watch Jerry Springer.

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New Rule: No more Cialis or Viagra ads with bathtubs. And no more smirky guys either. Good for you, Petey, you're finally getting some. So what are you doing in a bathtub by yourself? Because unless there's a circus act in there under the rim, I don't want to know what's going on.

New Rule: And while I'm at it, here's another one. Enough with the other ED Ads. Let's go back to the football and the tire swing, or the train and the tunnel and be done with it. No one is choosing these drugs based on the artistic composition of the ads, you morons. Save the money and put it into, oh, I don't know, breast cancer research or something. Gawd.

So now that you've got the picture, it's your turn. Lets go kids, take a shot. I'll be back to check on you and you don't want to disappoint Margie, do you?

March 22, 2007

The Marriage Bed

by Nancy                        

No nookie because your teenagers are around? Earlier this week, our Sarah blogged about the difficulties of squeezing your main squeeze when the kids are listening at the bedroom door.

Well, it gets worse, folks.  I'm here to tell you.

As one of the most senior Tarts, I live in an the empty nest, a house that doesn't need locks on the bedroom door anymore because the kids have graduated from college (Praise Jesus!) and are gainfully employed in their respective professions and--more importantly--live off the premises.  Even the dogs have died and left my husband and me alone in marital bliss. You'd think it would be Honeymoon Redux around here, right?

But (and if Too Much Information makes you queasy, or if you carry my mitochondrial DNA, stop here!) our sex life isn't all candles and hot lotion and fireworks on the king size Beautyrest.

Yes, I'm talking worse case scenario:

Separate bedrooms.

As a kid, I was puzzled about Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore in their adorable bedroom with twin beds. Hadn't Lucy and Ricky finally graduated to the double bed after Little Ricky came along? But now that I'm over 50 (I'm among friends here, right?) I know the truth:

Laura Petrie's husband snored.

Or he had restless leg syndrome.

Or frequent urination.

Or sleep apnea.

Or she had menopausal insomnia.

Or night sweats.

Or any number of problems that cause loving couples to go their separate ways after lights out.                

Did you know? The latest development in new home construction is the "owner's suite."  It's not the luxurious "master bedroom" with the mirrored ceiling we've all come to love, but two bedrooms separated by a huuuuuuge soundproof bathroom complete with Jacuzzi tub, sauna, bidet, double sinks, ceiling fan and a toilet that whistles Dixie. All those lavish built-ins aside, it's the two bedrooms that make the crucial difference. They're so Mom and Dad can get sufficient sleep to wake up every morning to go to work that pays the mortgage on the McMansion.     

And I understand completely.

Mind you, tip-toeing across the hall every night at 11pm is my choice. If I don't go to the spare room, I will spend the next 7 hours rolling my husband over every half hour.  Giving him a gentle nudge no longer works. He snores like a trombome and doesn't feel anything less pushy than a bulldozer.

"I don't snore," he said, huffy when I first brought up the subject. "I sleep the whole night through."

Wrongo, boyo. "Most snorers . . . do not realize they have sleep deprivation because they may be so tired they think they are good sleepers."

To give credit where credit is due, my husband listened to my concerns and dutifully went to the sleep disorder clinic to learn if he had the dangerous sleep apnea. Diagnosis: Nope.  He only has the kind of snoring problem that affects his spouse, not himself. The cure: Wear a T-shirt backwards with a tennis ball in the pocket so he can't roll over onto his back.  Will he do it? Of course not. He likes sleeping on his back, bellowing like a humpbacked whale beached on Galapagos sands.  For a while he tried wearing the Breathe Right at night--yes, that nasal strip thingie that's supposed to enhance athletic performance. But the box gradually emptied out and he hasn't gone back to Walgreens for more.

So I gave up trying to change him. I go across the hall instead.

You think separate bedrooms make a difference in a couple's sex life?

Well, DUH!

"Be more seductive," is the advice in those magazines I read at the beauty salon.  "Make the evening more romantic.  Get him in the mood."

But by 10pm, my beloved is yawning pointedly and keeps his nose firmly in the latest Robert Crais novel, snug solo under the covers. He hasn't even noticed my new nightie from Target. 

So I'm looking for suggestions, TLC regulars. I've done some investigation on my own (see below) but I'm looking for input from the real experts--and I have confidence the Men of TLC will come through.  Just to get you jump-started:

The Sex For Life Diet.

The Sacred Prostitute.

Semsutra.

Erotic Hypnosis.

The, uh, horse's mouth.

And even Wal-Mart has tips.

Help me re-kindle the fire, folks. From across the hall.

March 21, 2007

Sex on Wheels

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Sex on Wheels

I can justify almost any expense:

Get my hair done by J-Lo’s hairdresser at the ultra-chic Oribe in South Beach?

Of course. It’s cheaper than a facelift.

Buy an Escada suit?

Hey, it photographs well on tour, and besides, it’s on sale.

But there’s one expense I can’t justify: getting my car washed for twenty bucks.

Some people think washing a car is a dull domestic chore. Not me.

I love everything about cars – driving them, looking at them, even polishing their gleaming curves.

I grew up in the age of the great Detroit iron, when ordinary family cars had V-8 engines. Automobiles had outrageous tail fins, shiny chrome and plenty of horsepower.

The ads showed long, lean automobiles draped with glamorous women. Sure, it was porky. (If the Detroit automakers used hunky guys on those hoods, more women might drive American-made cars today, but that’s another story.)

We got the message in those old ads: A good car was as satisfying as good sex, and it was yours anytime you wanted. Speed was the ultimate high.

As a demure Catholic school girl, drugs had no lure for me. I borrowed Daddy’s Pontiac .444 and raced truckers down I-70. Afterward, I’d drive home at a sedate forty miles an hour and spend the evening sweetly studying.

I wish I could say I’ve matured and understand that cars are transportation.

But when I hit the highway surrounded by fifty-two-hundred pounds of sculpted metal, Isis blue leather and burled oak, I’m in my personal fantasy. I am a cross between Emma Peel (for adventure) and Agatha Christie (for sales).

I drive a 1986 Jaguar XJ6, possibly the most beautiful sedan ever made. Notice that I said sedan. The most beautiful car ever made was the 1968 Jaguar XKE, a sculpture on wheels. If I ever get one of those, I’ll garage it in the living room as an artwork between road trips. I won’t even care about the oil spots on the carpet.

My car’s name is Ralph, and he’s a perfect English gentleman. In the years we’ve been together, he’s never abandoned me on lonely roads. If Ralph is not feeling well, he courteously conks out in the driveway.

But I usually know when Ralph is ailing before that.

Why? Because I wash my car.

I live on the water in Fort Lauderdale, and cars in Florida take a beating from the salt and sun. Go a few weeks without washing yours, and you’re driving a pretzel on wheels.

Most people take their ride to the car wash. I get out with a bucket of soapy water and a garden hose. Part of me is seven years old and likes to play in the water. The rest is following a ritual I learned from my grandfather:

Start washing the car at the roof, then work your way down. Rinse, soap with a sponge and rinse again. Polish the chrome and clean the windows. Rub down the leather seats and the dashboard wood.

My grandfather spent every weekend working on his "machine," his gray Studebaker with the airplane grill, polishing it with a worn yellow chamois.

He taught me a fine automobile looks good and feels good. I learned to admire my car’s twin chrome gas caps. The twin tanks give the car balance on the road. I like the Jaguar hood ornament and the growling cats on the wheels.

Washing my car is how I get to know it and preserve it. Scrape the road tar off the doors and I can spot the developing rust. Feel the loose license plate, and I can tighten it before it’s lost. Spot the nail in the tire tread, and I can get it fixed it before I have a flat, or worse, a high-speed blowout.

A good car is sex on wheels. But it’s even better if you take the time to know the one you love.

By Elaine Viets