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30 posts from October 2006

October 21, 2006

This Just In...

This consumer bulletin just in from Harley's sister Ann Kozak, warning women of a scam taking place in CostCo parking lots nationwide.  It could happen to you!

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I don't know how many of you shop at Sam's Club or Costco, but this may be useful to know.  Two seriously good-looking 23-year-old, well-built guys come over to your car as you are packing your shopping in the trunk. They are both shirtless and start wiping your windshield with a rag and Windex, with their highly-defined chest muscles and rock-hard abs exposed. It's impossible not to look.

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When you thank them and offer them a tip, they say, "No," and instead ask you for a ride to another Sam's Club or Costco. You agree, and they get in the back seat.

On the way, they start talking dirty about what they want to do to you.

Then one of them climbs over into the front seat and begins kissing your neck and begs you to pull over so he can make love to you!! 

While this is going on, the other guy steals your purse!!    Go to fullsize image

I had my purse stolen last Tuesday, Wednesday, twice on Thursday and again on Saturday, and also yesterday and most likely tomorrow.

October 20, 2006

Breasts and Calendars

Breasts and Calendars

By Rebecca the Bookseller

Breasts Breasts are wondrous things.  Who doesn't love breasts, really?  They are a source of nutrients, for heaven's sake.  Oh, and if you're reading because you're looking for a list of the best calendars with the best breasts, sorry.  But there will be more about both, so hang around anyway.

Everybody has breasts - men and women both.  And breasts are made up of many different and fascinating parts.  The nipplular area alone can keep a person entertained for hours.  I mean, it's like a little amusement park that you carry with you all the time.   Just ask John Mayer.  Oh yeah, her body is a wonderland, my friend, and guess what's under the Big Top? 

You can see breasts everywhere.  You can even eat a a restaurant that is all about breasts.  Or you can go to a club where you can see lots of breasts.  But I wouldn't eat there.  Seriously - don't try to tell me you don't cringe when you happen upon an ad for a strip club and they show a photo of a buffet.  Are you kidding me?  I'd rather take my chances with e.coli than whatever's lurking in those stainless petri dishes.

Advertisers love breasts.  And why not?  Nothing can grab a certain demographic's attention like a nice set.  Or two.  Those Doublemint Twins don't keep resurrecting because the gum is so good, people. 

BrothersWe have lots of names for breasts.  Feel free to share your favorites.  One of mine is 'big American breasts' from the Festrunk Brothers sketch on Saturday Night Live, but you have to say it with a fake Czech accent to make it work.  Without the accent, I think bust is a nice word.  Boobs reminds me of my mother's criticism of bad TV: "Shut off that Boob Tube!".  I try not to saddle breasts with any bad connotations. don't you?

There are all shapes and sizes of breasts.  Some are small and perky and some require an architect to keep them from causing major damage to their surrounding environment.  Some are real and some are fake.  Some are plain, and some have designs.  Ouch.  Some even have things attached.  Double Ouch.  Janet Jackson's had things attached, and people were talking about it for months.  "A breast with something attached?" they said, aghast. "That is just horrible!" they cried, "show it again." "Those breasts are a threat to the American Family!" one Senator raged, then: "Wait, I missed that last part - show it again."  "Seriously, let me see it again."

Here's the thing about breasts - when you lose one, it's a big deal.  It's not like losing a finger.  No one puts fingers on calendars.  So we need to care care of them.  We need to keep them healthy.  We need to do self-exams once a month.  With a special friend, if you wish - just do it.  We need to have them checked, at least once a year, by having a Mammogram.  The new machines don't even really hurt any more.  And even if they do, tough.  Because breast cancer can not only cost you a breast, it can cost you everything.  And as one beauty once said: "If you lose your life, you've lost something very important."  Luckily for her, she had nice breasts, which is why she was talking on TV with similarly-breasted women of equivalent IQs.

Breast Cancer survivors are real women, with or without the mammaries.  They are warriors.  They are sexy, strong, vibrant people.  Some have reconstructive surgery and some don't.  Whatever they want.  Because a warrior has earned that choice.  So as much as we love breasts, we love our women - and men - so much more.

As you already know, this is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and many organizations are distributing or selling pink calendars.  Calendars are very important to people battling cancer.  They use them to schedule treatment appointments, and to make plans for the future.  Holding a calendar with all those days in it reminds them that there will be an end to the treatments, and that there is time to treasure.  Our dear friend Mary Alice, upon receiving a pink calendar right after her diagnosis proclaimed: "Thanks and I am going to fill up every one of those days!"  Yea!

So be aware, get checked, and support the cause - the only cure is through research, and research costs lots of money.  And every time you look at your calendar, or your breasts, or even your calendar of someone else's breasts, be thankful.

October 19, 2006

Newspapers and My New Fridge

by Nancy                              Go to fullsize image

It's a mystery to me how a refrigerator can get so dirty. It's not like I'm tossing trash in there or failing to mop up spills.  But how did that jelly jar loosen its own lid and tip over, dripping marmalade down the back of the fridge for 3 months before anyone noticed. (Anyone? Hahahahahhaha--what am I saying?  Like my husband would ever notice anything that required cleaning up!) And the glue on the bottom of those 12-packs of soda pop---how come the cold air didn't keep it from turning to concrete on the glass shelf?

Okay, truth be told, I've hated our fridge since we moved into this house shortly after September 11th. We had been living on a mountaintop in rural Virginia (in a community so remote that the only newspaper was USA Today) but Jeff got a job here in Pennsylvania and had to leave in a rush. I stayed behind to sell the house and finish a book.  For 3 months, we lived apart while my husband started a new job, and I wrote like mad and dealt with realtors until the house sold.  Shortly after the terrorist attacks, I drove the manuscript of HOW TO MURDER A MILLIONAIRE to the post office, then raced home and packed up the 5-bedroom, 4 bath, 3 living room McMansion all by myself in one weekend, a Herculean task which included downsizing our possessions to fit into our cozy little empty nester bungalow here in Pennsylvania. Even after my giveaway efforts, the movers couldn't cram everything into their truck. So I jettisoned another ton of precious belongings, including our wonderful side-by-side.

Which meant we had to make do with the refrigerator that had been sitting in this house for 25 years or more. It gulped electricity. It lacked all the modern conveniences. (Yes, it's possible to live without an icemaker, but it makes for a tempestuous marriage.) At night, it rattled like a lawn mower running out of gas. On a weekly basis, it collected enough dog hair to make a sweater for a pudgy toddler. And it smelled funny.

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So, okay, in the ensuing years I might have let slip my standards on refrigerator cleanliness. Instead of scrubbing shelves, I began to scour all those advertising flyers that came bundled in the Sunday newspaper.

I wanted a new refrigerator.

And I found the one I wanted! It was gorgeous. It was huge. It suited my tendency to give large cocktails parties with trays of nibblies, and it could accommodate my enormous collection of--well, enormous party trays.

It was also $2500.

Which is nuts.  You can buy a working car for $2500!

Then one morning while reading the newspaper, I noticed a small display ad for the Sears Scratch and Dent Store.

I made it to the store in 8 minutes.  And there, on the floor of a drafty warehouse, stood a line of 18 of the refrigerators I coveted--all  half price!  Yes, that's still ridiculously expensive, but looking at new refrigerators is kind of like shopping for a puppy.  If you go into the barn and pick up a beagle puppy to nuzzle, what kind of person can leave without taking one home?

You already know how weak I am, right?  And those refrigerators were gorgeous.

Okay, some of them were not in the best of condition. There were so many scratches and dents I wondered if the guys who delivered them were the same coked-up maniacs who arrived at our Virginia McMansion one midnight to bring me the tables and chairs I'd ordered at the North Carolina furniture outlets.  (Most of that furniture didn't fit into the cozy empty nester bungalow and had to be given to the Goodwill because in a town with only USA Today for a newspaper, there are no classified ads to sell your stuff!)

But in the Sears warehouse, I found one magnificent fridge that sported dents only on the side that wouldn't show in my kitchen.  I plunked down my credit card and became the proud owner of a refrigerator that makes my takeout leftovers look like the food porn on The Food Network.

I told the delivery guys that the old fridge still worked and maybe they could find a good home for it.  But the one without the tattoos said, "Forget it. We can't even give away these old dinosaurs."

I didn't care because I was smitten with my new beagle puppy--er, fridge.  Tell me:  Why is a new refrigerator so wonderful? Why does it feel as if I have a glorious new life ahead? The light is brighter! The shelves are immaculate! The drawers all work! There's a digital thermometer! There's a door alarm! (Which, if you were married to Jeff, you'd recognize as important.) I feel as if I'm starting anew.  There's a clean slate in my kitchen--why not the rest of my life, too?

And I feel blessed that I live in a city with a newspaper that advertises the Sears Scratch and Dent store.

You're aware that newspapers are dying, right? Craigslist has made classified advertising a thing of the past, drastically reducing newspaper revenues. Online news makes newspapers out-of-date as soon as the presses start to roll. Young people (yes, it was difficult to type that phrase) don't see the need for a newspaper subscription. Late night television non-news comedy shows are more entertaining when they deliver the same stories Brian Williams does earlier in the evening. Even blogs, I'm told, have become a primary conduit for citizens to receive their news.  (Please: If you're learning about current events from the Book Tarts here at The Lipstick Chronicles, uhm, you need to re-think your strategy.)

Newspapers are downsizing faster than that mad weekend in Virginia when I kept calling the man with the pickup truck to say,  "C'mon back!  I gotta get rid of more stuff!"  The effects of staff cutbacks at my local newspaper have already shown up on the pages of the paper in reduced features, more news stores from the wire services, and fewer local columnists. Newspapers missed the boat by not creating a Craigslist of their own, and they're still slow to respond to what improvements the internet makes on a daily basis. Even important national papers are busy squabbling about staff cuts instead of creating innovations that will help newspapers beat the internet competition.

I'd never have bought my wonderful new refrigerator, if not for the newspaper. But also, I'd never read thoughtful commentary about the shenanigans of our local school board, our idiotic politicians, or learn the details of whatever brouhaha is going on in my home state. Yes, I can get the updated headlines about Madonna's adopted child on Yahoo every 15 minutes, but to truly understand my corner of the world--not to mention what the hell is going on in Iraq, Korea and Afghanistan, I need my daily newspaper for which seasoned journalists research and distill information down to its unbiased truth.

This morning I sat down in my favorite chair, opened the paper and began to read. I love the moment when I part those pristine pages and cast my gaze down on fresh type. The news!  What a joy! But this morning, from the kitchen I heard an unmistakable rattle as I started to read.

My new refrigerator is making a funny noise. A kind of whirring, followed by a weird plastic-sounding rattle. Maybe the newfangled invention isn't as good as the old one after all.  And even cute beagle puppies pee on the floor.  Good thing appliance repair shops and carpet cleaning companies still advertise in the newspaper, huh?

October 18, 2006

Marrying Elvis

By Elaine Viets

South Florida has something you won’t find anywhere else on the East Coast:

A marrying Elvis.

Scott Ringersen, an Elvis impersonator in Delray Beach, became a notary. He now performs weddings.

"As far as I can find out, I’m the only marrying Elvis on the East Coast," Scott said.

Take that, New York, Boston and Philly.

"Until now, to get married by Elvis, you had to go to Hawaii or Las Vegas," he said.

I’m proud to live in an area with a marrying Elvis. It makes so much sense to get married by an Elvis impersonator. He’ll not only perform the wedding, he’ll sing during the ceremony. That beats a harpist or church organist any day. At least by me.

Scott says "Love Me Tender" is the top hit for the bridal set, but "I offer them songs from the young Elvis or his Las Vegas years. I’ll sing whatever the bride wants. It’s her day."

He is obviously the right Elvis impersonator for the job. He will be an inspiration to the entire wedding.

Scott dresses as the Las Vegas Elvis. It takes guts for a grown man to appear in public in a black jumpsuit with gold spangles and a belt buckle the size of a brick. Scott’s sartorial courage will be a comfort to the bridesmaids, who are forced to wear the dresses the bride picked out.

The marrying Elvis is also an example of fortitude for the bride and groom. He doesn’t have to preach how difficult it is to go on year in and year out, honoring your commitment. He can show it.

Almost every Thursday night, Scott performs at Elwood’s Dixie Bar-BQ in downtown Delray Beach. Elwood’s is a former gas station. Scott gets up on an outdoor stage the size of a matchbox. He wears the heavy long-sleeved Elvis regalia, despite the Florida heat.

Elwood’s is right next to the railroad tracks by the Dixie Highway. Scott puts on his "Las Vegas style show" with the freight trains roaring by. Sometimes, he sings over them. Sometimes, he waits for them to pass. He croons his tribute to the King despite bugs, heat, sweat and unmufflered motorcycles. He sings to smirking young women and swooning older ones, sneering boyfriends and embarrassed husbands. He sings to a crowd that’s chugging beer and chomping barbecue.

After awhile, the smirks and the sneers disappear, and the most sophisticated and standoffish are cheering for the King. The more time they spend with him, the more they love him.

And he does it week after week. Let that be a lesson, young lovers.

A marrying Elvis will save a couple money, too. Scott doubles as preacher and deejay. He’ll sing during the ceremony and work the reception, if the couple wants.

"I can’t say exactly how much it will cost, though. It will be different, depending on whether I have to drive to Miami or Fort Lauderdale, and if I’ll need another person to haul the equipment, and how much I’ll be singing. It’s all customized."

There’s one more advantage to this marrying Elvis. Scott is a former Delray Beach police officer. He was also on a SWAT team.

Think how handy that will be when Uncle Chuck has a few too many beers and starts a fight on the parking lot.


(For a look at the East Coast’s marrying Elvis, check out www.elvisringersen.com.)

October 17, 2006

Bitch Slap Breast Cancer

By Sarah

The_scream This is a blog about cancerphobia so don't freak.

Because that's what I do whenever I am tooling along, flipping through magazines or scanning the newspaper and I come across anything to do with cancer. I freak. I want to slap my hands over my ears, cover my eyes. I am so sick and tired of cancer. Can't they get rid of this thing already? Come on people. They're merely errant cells. Let's show them who's boss.

There's a lot to dislike about cancer: it's painful, deadly, exhausting, scary and just plain stupid. (Cells that don't die means that you might. Where's the logic in that?) But cancer's also annoying because it's one of those diseases that very often has a "lifestyle component," the kind that leads you to a hospital bed moaning about the alcohol/cigarettes/unprotected sex you shouldn't have had and you KNEW you shouldn't have had but that you had anyway and, well, here you are. Frankly, I think they should eliminate the whole "lifestyle component" altogether. Being sick is bad enough without the guilt, thank you very much.

For me, October is the worst. Breast Cancer Awareness Month, like I don't live a Breast Cancer Awareness Year. I come from three generations of women who've had breast cancer (and died from something completely different.) My husband noted the other day that it was fairly astonishing I'd made it this far with my mammary glands in tact. I feel like a walking breast cancer bomb. I've been enduring mammograms since I was 29 and now bask in the luxury of digital mammograms at Dartmouth Hitchcock, one of the few centers to sport the outrageously expensive equipment. I tell doctors my history and they just shake their heads. One doctor said to me, "You're cooked. The question is when."

Thanks a lot, buddy.

Then this morning, I turn on my computer and there's AOL with the hysterical question of the day: "What's that rash? You might be surprised to find it's a rare, but lethal, form of breast cancer." I was in the bathroom less than a minute later surveying the scenery. If the shoe's gonna drop, I don't want it to be a rare, but lethal, form of breast cancer. I want a teeny tiny tumor that's easily removed with a 100% cure rate.

Last year my neighbor - a forty-four-year-old woman who has no lifestyle components - came down with the evil cousin version of evil ovarian cancer. One day we were standing in our mutual field, talking about the upcoming summer, watching our kids and dogs play. Two days later, she was in the hospital barely conscious from surgery that had done a number on her normal internal arrangement. WTF?

"If you have to have cancer," she said, "ask for breast. This sucks." (She is fine now.)

I'm sure people who've had breast cancer might say breast cancer sucks, too. A friend of mine, a doctor specializing in breast cancer rates among indigent women in North Carolina, found a lump in her breast at age thirty five and ignored it. Hey, she'd played field hockey at Middlebury. She was a doctor. She had eighteen percent body fat and no history of breast cancer in her family. (No "lifestyle component" either.) Her people didn't get breast cancer. In the end it was her husband, also a doctor, who forced her to check it out. They found the tumor was benign.

It wasn't.

She is still alive today, eleven years later, but only because she's a pesky bitch and insisted they run the test again. She told me she'll never forget the look on the internist's face as he apologized profusely, over and over. He felt awful. She felt scared. I'd choose awful over scared any day.

Moral of the story? Don't be afraid, be a bitch. I've decided it's the only way to overcome my fear and guilt every time I walk into that mammogram room. I can't do helpless, sick, nauseous, maybe dyingBoxing_gloves patient, but I can do bitch. And bitch-slapping cancer? That's something I could definitely get into. In fact, I think it's long overdue.

If you feel the same way, please let us know. Nothing inspires a slapfest like hearing other people's stories about how they knocked down this or that nasty enemy. We'd especially like to hear from breast cancer survivors, women who've been to the mat, so to speak. There is motivation in truth. And these days we need all the motivation we can get.

Be angry enough to get checked! Here's the lowdown.



October 16, 2006

Only 69 Days Till Christmas

Only 69 Days Til Christmas
by Harley

They’re all around you this time of year. These people. They may be the next-door neighbors, or the drycleaner. Your own parents. They haven’t made their move yet, but they’re thinking about it. How do I know this? Because I’m one of them.

I’m not talking about vampires or members of the John Birch Society or people operating meth labs out back in the tool shed. I’m talking about—Christmas Maniacs. The ones who cover every inch of their yard with inflatable Santas. The ones who crochet car covers for everyone on their gift list.

I belong to a subset called Card Fanatics.

Some C.F.s send homemade cards they’ve embroidered. Others send the Annual Letter, describing in single-spaced detail their Nobel-prize-winning offspring, their trip to the rainforest, and their gallbladder operation. I fall into the subset’s third category: Family Photo, with caption.

My card requires photographer, costumes, props, graphics, printing presses, wholesale envelope vendors, and my brain. So I start in October.

There’s no known cure for this mania except conversion to Islam. When others are planning their Halloween costumes, I’m pondering how to attach haloes to my dogs’ ears. I’ve been doing this since 1984. I tried to skip 1997, because I couldn’t figure out how to send hundreds of cards from Morocco, where I was honeymooning that December. But we came home to messages from people who, not realizing I’d gotten married, thought I’d died. So I sent cards. (2 months late.)

It’s embarrassing to admit this. Mailing Christmas cards to 677 people is not just nuts, it’s nerdy. Some of you resent me; others are perplexed. (“But she seems so normal.”) I swear to you, I don’t scrapbook, I bring store-bought cookies to bake sales, my children wear cheap polyester Halloween costumes from Target, I don’t do birthday cards, chain letters or magazine drives. This card thing is my only Martha Stewarty aberration.

My season’s now in full swing, meaning that while I SEEM to be talking to you, I’m in fact mulling over fonts and matte versus glossy. Around Columbus Day I conjure up The Concept. Then I call the photographer—usually my long-suffering friend Dick—and explain it (elves in sportscars, cats flying through space, or dogs running for Governor against Arnold Schwarzenneger). Dick is usually quiet on the other end of the phone (worrying). I explain it to my husband, whose response is either “that is ridiculous” or “huh?” and assure him The Concept will make sense once he sees the photo. Sometimes this happens, sometimes not. Then we go into production. On Photo Day there are bribes and threats and dog treats, although I always adhere to the Geneva Convention.

And then the race is on, until December, when I stuff envelopes while watching the latest version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Ashton Kutcher as The Ghost of Christmas Past/ Paris Hilton as Tiny Tim) or maybe a LAW & ORDER marathon. After which I’m exhausted and have no holiday spirit left. Let someone else wrap the presents and frost the Büche de Noel. I’m in my jammies, reading the hundreds of cards I get in return, some of which critique my card.

With comments like:
1. “I liked last year’s better.”
2. “what were you smoking?”
3. “guess I know who YOU voted for.”
4. “it wouldn’t be Hannukah without Aunt Harley’s weird card.”
5. “Well, it’s nice to see a photo of the children, at least.”
6. “I didn’t get it, but my cleaning lady liked it a lot.”
7. “is NOTHING sacred?”

Happy Monday!

October 15, 2006


by Nancy                          Go to fullsize image

It's no secret that I'm half blind.  So when I'm gearing up for a book tour, it has come to the point that I need another person in the car to drive and/or navigate to all the bookstores I'm supposed to visit. I can't read a map and drive at the same time anymore.  And the big trouble is, I've run through all the family members who are willing to take a week or more out of their lives to get behind the wheel of the Silver Bullet and haul Nancy around to bookstores with moth-eaten cats snoring in their windows.

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It's not exactly what my loved ones yearn to do with their week of vacation time, if you know what I mean.

But I have discovered a miracle. 

Now, you know we're not about plugging anything here at TLC.  Well, okay, both Elaine and Sarah have books coming out next month, and you'll hear about that soon enough, but most of the time we're pretty good about not hitting our dear readers over the head with what's know in the publishing biz as Blatant Self Promotion, better known as BSP. We respect you. 

Okay, we truth be told, we don't want to piss you off.

But I have found Verizon Wireless GPS. And it has changed my life.

Yes, you can have a little voice that tells you where to turn to find any Barnes and Noble in the country . . . and IT'S ON YOUR CELL PHONE.  Not more pulling off into the nearest Home Depot parking lot to have weeping meltdowns!  No stopping three times to beg the same gas station employees from Pakistan how to find Chester County Books! It's top-of-the-line Global Positioning navigation technology for dummies!

Better yet, it's only ten bucks a month--or $3 a day if you only need it occasionally.  I'm telling you:  Find a Verizon store & give it a free two week trial.

I find this product so unbelievably good that I'm gushing about it on the blog.

You can try it out here:  http://support.vzw.com/swf/vz_nav/verizon_navigator_demo.html

Now, if a grocery store in my city can just figure out a way to deliver food to my house. (Fresh Direct in New York has changed my sister's life for the better.) If a happy truck driver arrived at my doorstep every couple of days with wholesome fruits and veggies, I wouldn't be munching on pretzels at this very moment. And think--I could free up a lot more time for writing!

Once we lived in a town where a dry cleaner came to the door to pick up a bundle of my husband's limp shirts. They'd return the following day with fresh, crisp shirts neatly starched and hung on hangers.  I haven't washed or ironed a shirt for my husband in 29 years, but that particular dry cleaner got very big Christmas tips.

And what a joy it would be to have a personal chef. 

What I really need, though, is somebody to clean up my desk.  Or pay my bills on time. Or . . . Oh, never mind.  I think I'll navigate my way to Sunday brunch somewhere!

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October 13, 2006

Heat of Tartness Book Club: Definitely Dead

Welcome to the Heart of Tartness Book Club: Definitely Dead

On behalf of the Tarts and the Hearts of Tartness, I hereby call the second meeting of the Heart of Tartness Book Club to order.

Today's Book: Definitely Dead by the wonderful Charlaine Harris Definitely_dead

This book is the latest in Charlaine's Southern Vampire series, starring barmaid and detective Sookie Stackhouse. 

Some brief background, for those of you new to Sookie's adventures.  Sookie can read people's thoughts.  It can be distracting - so distracting that it keeps her from doing things many of us take for granted, like attending college.  When she's not busy solving mysteries, she works at a local bar.  Her boss, Sam, is not altogether human.  Neither are most of her dates.  Sookie seems particularly attracted to vampires - for one thing, she can't read their thoughts, which is a real relief for her, especially when things get intimate.  Sookie's first love is Bill the Vampire, but she's also got a soft spot for Eric, a more senior vamp, as well as a couple of werewolves and at least one weretiger named Quinn.

The anthology "Bite" includes a short story by Charlaine called "One Word Answer" that sets the stage for "Definitely Dead".  Sookie's cousin Hadley has died and left her estate to Sookie.  Hadley, it turns out, was not only a vamp, but a very special friend of the Queen of New Orleans, and Sookie finds herself the object of way more attention than she wishes in connection with Hadley's possessions.  Diamonds may be forever, but they also may mean the end for Sookie. 

Mystery, romance, intrigue, adventure, betrayal, politics and power - it's all here.

Just like in a live book club, the participants will dictate the discussion, so feel free to change the subject, disagree, or just pipe up with your opinion.  If the comments become too numerous to follow, we'll post a the current topic here at the top and note the time, so you can jump ahead if you wish.  Otherwise, we just go with the flow.

So, let's start with the basics - what did you think of the book?  Are you a fan of the supes, or was this your first venture into the paranormal?

October 12, 2006

There's a Casket in My Office!

by Nancy Martin

A writer must look for inspiration anywhere she can.

These days, I need look no farther than across my own office where my husband has left his casket.

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He's been building it for 3 weeks  now, and he's reached the upholstering stage. He moved it to my office so he can watch football on television here while he lines the box with nicer foam padding than I put on our dining room chairs.

He's a volunteer for the local zoo, you see, and with his set-building skills (a few years ago, I drafted him for the stage crew of the community theater group, and he's been doing minor carpentry ever since) he's assembling a casket for their annual Halloween party/fundraiser, the Zoo Boo. How the casket ended up in my office on a couple of sawhorses, I'm not quite sure, since it's been a garage project up until now. But Jeff looks good in a tool belt, and there's a certain aphrodisial quality to the smell of sawdust, so I was easily persuaded. He's supposed to be finishing it in the evenings, but he often gets busy doing other things instead--like watching the inside of his eyelids with a crossword puzzle in his lap. Meanwhile, the casket takes up a hell of a lot of space in here.

I keep waiting for a dead person to sit up from inside the thing and suggest a subplot for me.

I look for writing inspiration in lots of places. Like family stories. My mother tells about her various dead relatives who were laid out in their coffins on the dining room table in the house where she grew up. There's the old joke about an inebriated male relative who was asked to sit with the body all night, and spent the first few hours nipping steadily on a bottle. Pranksters rigged the body with wires, and at the appropriate moment threw a yowling cat ito the room, then pulled the body to sit upright as if in shock. But the drunk spoils the prank by putting his hand on the dead man's chest and saying, "Go back to sleep, Grandpa. I'll take care of this."

My own grandfather---an excellent Irish storyteller--told the tale as if he'd been the drunk character, but I've heard it from other people, too, so I think it was one of those old stories that just made for good after-dinner laughter.

The first time I ever saw a dead body in a casket was after church choir practice (I was 12 or 13) when my mother took me across the street to the funeral home so she could pay her respects to the family of an elderly gentleman in the community. I hadn't known him in life, so the sight of a distinguished old fellow lying in a frilly box didn't unnerve me much. In a small town, those meetings in the funeral home are times to learn about all sorts of community and family lore. It's where I first learned about my grandfather's illegitimate brother. (My great-grandfather was a handsome tom cat.) I met that same brother on the street a decade later when my grandfather was dead--and I was so shocked to see him alive (they were so alike it was uncanny) that I froze on the sidewalk and barely squeaked out, "Hello?"  as he walked past, no doubt baffled by a stuttering teenager.

When my grandmother died, my father held my mother as we entered the private viewing room to look at her. My mother was pretty upset--weeping like we'd never seen before--so my sister and I hung back as our parents approached the casket. More than the vision of my grandmother in the box, I remember the funeral director standing behind my sister and me--and how his stomach made the noisiest growl we had ever heard. Which of course got us giggling. If my father could have spanked us there in the funeral home, I think he'd have done it.

Thing is, though, I toss a hundred ideas for every one worth keeping and using in my books. I could fill this casket with a few thousand crumpled Post-It notes in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, Jeff's casket is the talk of the neighborhood.  The guy next door who helped carry it into the house--a popular quipster who's often asked to be a pallbearer--says it's the lightest coffin he's ever carried. Ha-ha. He says his wife is watching out for me. If I disappear for a few days, they'll call the police. I suggested if they wait that long, it'll be too late.

Which, come to think of it, gives me an idea for a story....

October 11, 2006

What's Wrong With Him?

By Elaine Viets

"My son’s soccer coach asked me out," Ilene told me.

"The blond hottie with the muscles?" I said.

"That’s the one."

"Way to go, girl. When are you going out?"

"I’m not," Ilene said. "He’s too young."

"You’re only 45," I said.

"I’m also overweight and divorced with a teenage kid. What does a twenty-five-year-old guy see in me?"

"Someone who’s smart and funny. Older men date younger women all the time."

"And act like idiots. Would you go out with him if you were single? Be honest. What’s your first thought when a younger man hits on you?"

" ‘What’s wrong with him?’ " I said. "I’m flattered. But I also hear alarm bells."

"Exactly," Ilene said. "That’s the major difference between men and women. Your average 45-year-old guy figures he’s hot stuff when a 25-year-old woman hits on him. Maybe his stomach isn’t as flat and his hair isn’t as thick as it was at 25, but he’s still got it.

"Your average 45-year-old woman wonders what’s really going on."

You’ve got that right, Ilene. When a younger guy hits on me, I ask myself:

Is he after my money?

Is he looking for a mother – in a really kinky way?

Is he a closet gay asking out a "safe" older woman so he won’t have to deal with women his age?

Did he read Ben Franklin’s advice: Older women don’t swell, don’t tell, and we’re so grateful we’ll bed any randy kid. (Really, Ben, that kite experiment must have fried your brain.)

It’s true that a younger man could be genuinely fascinated by an experienced older woman. He could have the good sense to appreciate our wit and mature beauty.

It could be true – but it probably isn’t. I don’t see rich guys dumping their wives for Ph.D.s. Donald Trump didn’t hang around Mensa meetings when he cheated on Ivana.

A man told me that women react this way because we have "low self-esteem." "If you had a man’s confidence, you’d believe in yourself," he said.

Personally, I think it’s a sign of our good sense. Mother Nature gave females a natural warning system. It’s called menopause. Men don’t go through it. Women do. Menopause is nature’s way of saying, GAME OVER.

We may be able to fool the world with hair coloring, diets and plastic surgery. But we can’t fool ourselves. We know we can no longer compete with 20 year olds.

That knowledge can save us a lot of grief. Asking, "What’s wrong with this situation?" can prevent embarrassing media stories, expensive divorces and messy murders. A prenup that promises nothing in a divorce may make a penniless spouse consider the "till death do us part" clause. What is a prenuptial agreement, anyway, but an acknowledgment that the love of your life is really after your wallet?

Women are supposed to be romantics, but more older guys seem to have a touching belief that the young stuff is hot for their flabby bodies.

Older women are more practical. They are more likely to accept that their young lovers really wants their power, money or social position.

I know wealthy women of a certain age who have chauffeurs with "other duties" – and pool boys who never get wet. They don’t kid themselves that these younger men are in love with them. And they sure don’t date them – much less marry them.

I met the first female of this breed in the 1980s. She was a dramatic sixty, with a sleek chignon and lots of jewelry – which she bought herself. She traveled with a much younger man. "He likes money," she’d say. "I like sex."

At the time, I was shocked to my shoes.

Now, I understand. It wasn’t real love. But it was reality.