« April 2011 | Main | June 2011 »

31 posts from May 2011

May 31, 2011

WTF or "Who is running that show?!"

 WTF or "Who is running that show?!"

By Kathy Reschini Sweeney, who would like five minutes alone with whomever it is

Have you ever seen or heard something and thought to yourself: "WTF?!  Who decided THAT was a good idea?" In my family, our expression for it is "Who is running that show?!". We accept this alternative because no one says the F word, in any form, in front of my Mom. Okay, there were some times in the '90s, but that was different.

Earlier today, I asked my FFFs (Fabulous Facebook Friends) for ideas on a blog, because I cannot blog about the stuff that is filling my head (The Royal Wedding, various stress-inducing events, how I hate certain people with a fire that rivals the sun, why I despise litigation, why we should each be allowed one murder, no questions asked, etc.).  They came up with some wonderful ideas and after I read about them, I was left with this theme.  (Note to Tom, Brenda, Nell, Heidi, Mike, Laura and Barb- watch this space for future blogs.  Note to other TLC bloggers: no filching.)

Face it, my friends, there is a ton of screwed-up shit going on around us.  Someone is at the bottom of this shit, and someone (maybe the same someone) is coming up with enough cash to spread the shit.  Apologies to actual animal shit, which makes great fertilizer as well as a reason to keep the windows closed on large sections of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  The only thing this other shit helps grow is morons.

I give you, for example, talking heads on radio and TV.  We've discussed this before.  For every loon you hear ranting, there are at least two other ones aiding and abetting: the network and the marketing people.  You can't just pull a public-access cable caper, like Wayne and Garth, and get massive media play.  Someone at a network level has to authorize the program, and someone has to be willing and able to buy and sell advertising space.

Pajama jeans Which brings me to certain product ads.  Ladies and gentlemen: pajama jeans.  Thanks to our own Ramona, I was reminded of a product that left my family gaping at the TV.  They're pajamas!  They're jeans!  They cost $40.00.  WHUH?!  Forty bucks for pajama bottoms?  That look like jeans?  Do you have any idea the micro-percentage of people on the planet who would actually look decent in these things?  Hint: if your age starts with a number higher than 2, you don't make the list.  If you are going for comfort, you can get pajamas for much less, and since it has now become acceptable to wear pajamas in public (another WTF and thanks Josh) I just don't get it.

One size fits all This leads directly to another WTF moment - one day I saw a rack of jeggings (an ill-conceived combination of jeans and leggings) on a rack that said "One Size Fits All".  Guess what kids?  That is a bold-faced lie.  One size may fit you and I guarantee another size at another store will fit me, but not since the dawn of motorized travel and processed foods has one size fit all.

Why - other than genetics?  One word: food.  Glorious, wonderful, mood-enhancing food.  My deepest condolences to those of you who do not love food.   Kara's smores cupcake You are undoubtedly much healthier, assuming you force nutrition into your pie hole. But you will never know the ecstasy of the first bite of a Kara's S'mores Cupcake (thanks Lynn).  Or the simple magic of warm chocolate chip cookies and cold milk (thanks Mom).  Or the mind-numbing delight of a salad with crab, avocado and mango (thanks, Rev Susan).  

I mean, even mac and cheese can go from the basic familiarity of the blue box to a dairy-filled delicious dish (thanks Janee).  And a salad can be anything from a wedge cut out of a head of iceberg lettuce to the best Caesar on the planet (thanks Robin).

Another FFF (Marianne and I grew up on the same street and I used to 'run away' to her house) noted that some families (like hers and mine) make food part of our traditional gatherings and celebrations.  Many ethnicities share this practice.  As I've said before, a Passover Seder is damn near exactly like an Italian Christmas eve.  Tons of food, tons of drink, and everybody talking at once.  Heaven.

There is a little box at the bottom of this screen that tells me I just hit 700 words - normally I pay no attention, but at this point I decided to go back and read what I just wrote.  

And here it is in much fewer (but less fun) words:

1.  Life is filled with idiots, the things they do and the things they make.

2.  Food is good.  One magnificent cupcake can change a life.

3.  No matter what happens, your friends are always there to help.

Your turn - share a WTF or a great food, or how a great friend helped you.  

  Cleavage caddy *Ding, ding, ding!* And we have another winner: thanks to Ramona for alerting us to this fine product called...the Cleavage Caddy.  I can only assume it's most useful for cross-dressers, since I see no room in there for the actual cleavage.  You be the judge.


May 30, 2011

A Memorable Memorial

HANK: Happy Memorial Day, dear Tarts! And we hope you are celebrating in the way you love best. For me, Memorial Day has always been about two special sounds.

 One, Taps on a bugle, of course. Those haunting notes that can leave a huge crowd in utter silence. My father--who is healthy and happy with a wonderful wife and I can't even count how many grandchildren--was taken prisoner in the Battle of the Bulge. My little cute Dad! Who loves music and philosphy and dance and good food, and who carried a book of poetry with him in the war "to remind me there is beauty in the world." Yay, Dad. And thank you.

The other sound--the roar of 33 engines of the cars in the Indy 500. I grew up in Indianapolis, and not a person in the city didn't stop and listen the race. For years, it was only on the radio,and we'd sit in the back yard, all of us five kids and my mom and step-dad, and imagine how it looked. Even now, as a (?) grown up, I have to watch the race. I have no idea about auto racing, but you know, that's just what ya do on Memorial Day if you're a Hoosier.

 So here we are--a geographical triangle on Memorial Day--Harley in CA, Heather in FL, and Hank in MA.   And hurray, we get to share it with you!

Favorite Memorial Day tradition?

 HANK: Vroom vroom. VROOM. Press accelerator, keep turning left. And then have a cookout.

HARLEY: It used to be Topanga Days -- in my old ‘hood, a 3-day Woodstock-like event with a lot of beer, banjoes, hippies, and heat stroke. But I was pretty much over it after the first two years, and now it’s like penance. I’d rather go visit a cemetery.

 HEATHER: I think our Memorial Day tradition is a bit different. Both my dad and my stepdad (my mom was a widow who remarried a super-great guy at the tender age of 70) were in WWII, navy and air force, respectively. I never bring my dad's grave flowers--we all remember when he sick and someone brought him flowers and he said, "Hey, guys, come on, I'm not dead yet!" But I did share coffee with him constantly.

We'd go out mornings for coffee, and I guess that was when I really bonded with him. So, Bill (stepdad) was a great deal like him and a wonderful guy. We go, and think about the amazing things they said over the years about war--and pour coffee on the graves.

Since cooking out is so traditional: One Grilling secret.

HARLEY: Here’s my secret. Have a barbecue and invite a friend who likes to grill, and hand them the utensils and show them where the grill is.

HANK: Yeah, that's mine, too. Get Jonathan to do it.

HEATHER: The meat--always have quality meat. Or, in Harley's case, the vegetables. The freshest, best veggies and meats available. And a touch of olive oil in a bit of a marinade. Yeah, throw in garlic, too. And supply mints.


For extra credit: Gas or Charcoal? Top on or top off? Lighter fluid or newspaper?

 HEATHER: Charcoal. Top off.

 HANK: Lighter fluid is the scariest thing. The whole deal is scary. I don't even know how people grill without going up in flames. Jonathan loves it. LOVES it. Fine. I hide.

 HARLEY: Do I look like someone who would know the answer to these questions?

Bday 2Because Harley's twins turn nine today--Happy Happy Birthday Birthday--One Memorable childhood birthday.

 HARLEY: When I turned 10, my big sister made me a chocolate cake and then dropped it. But she “mended” it with a few hundred toothpicks and a lot of frosting, the Elmer’s Glue of the baking world.

HEATHER: Oh, Harley and twins . . . happy birthday!

 HANK: I have absolutely no memory of any childhood birthday. So I thought, when I heard this question, maybe I'll call Mom and see if she remembers. Luckily, I stopped myself. Can you imagine THAT conversation? When I'm SURE she worked and worked to do wonderful things for little me...and I have NO memory of it at all. What can we learn from this?

 Memorial Day Mandates: what is a seasonal must-do this weekend?

HANK: I always say I'll do it later, but those winter clthes were taunting me. So I put them all on the third floor mothball room and brought down the summer stuff. And I am wearing FLIP FLOPS! And, we have switched to gin and tonics. Diet tonic, HIGHLY recomended.Gin and tonic

 HARLEY: Survive it. And change the outfit on Bob, our dining room mannequin, from his winter tux to his swim trunks and tank top.

HEATHER: I think that has to do with the year--this year? MUST finish Civil War vampires. Yes, Civil War Vampires. Have to save DC from the scourge before Monday night.

HANK: Heather, you're too funny. Good luck with that.


Do you wear white shoes all year? How about white jackets?

HEATHER: I'm from Florida. I didn't know that you were supposed to change your sandal color by the season. I never wear white jackets. Black is my color--five kids, something spilled on you constantly . . . black just cleans the easiest, and thats the way it goes! Oh, I have one pair of black and red boots that I love. I'm not sure where the black shoes came in . . . I guess they just go with the other black.

HANK: No white shoes til Memorial Day. Do I even have any white shoes? I don't have any white shoes.  (Although I like those above..hmmm...)White jackets--always. White wool is a lot different than white linen.

 HARLEY: Nope. I’m a classicist. Summer only. Unless they’re running shoes, of course.

 The real Memorial Day--who are you remembering today?

 HANK: My Dad. See above. Memorial Day really gets me. Boston Common is covered in American flags today. Twenty-thousand of them. All those sons and daughters.

 HARLEY: My dad. Rest in peace, Joe.

 HEATHER: I think about my family, of course. And I also think of friends gone, our soldiers out on the field now, and those who fought before. I'm amazed to think of the Revolution and the Civil War, and all those men who walked right into blazing cannons and bullets being fired directly at them. I know that I'm a terrible coward, and I'm incredibly grateful for those who fought for me. And I think about the founders of the country, too--men who signed the Declaration of Independence, knowing they'd fight a war against incredible odds, and be hanged if they were caught.

 And I think of my mom and her family, and how much it meant to them to move to this wonderful country. Yeah. We have our problems, but we get to voice our complaints out loud with no fear, vote and campaign for change, and talk about our leaders.

And we'll leave it to dear Heather to wrap up:

HEATHER: No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.Of course, that quote is from Sir Winston Churchill but it sums it up nicely. Memorial Day--Thank you to all the heroes and heroines who have fought for us.

 So--you don't have to answer them all--but hey, tell us about your Memorial Day!

May 29, 2011

Whirlwind Tour of St. Louis

By Elaine Viets

I grew up in Tornado Alley, so I learned to recognize twister weather. My hometown of St. Louis has been battered by vicious windstorms these last six months. They seem to attack on holidays.Tornado

New Year’s Eve, a tornado struck the south part of the city. Poor Joplin was also hit.

Good Friday, another storm stomped the St. Louis airport and flattened homes in north county.

Now it was close to Memorial Day. I was back in St. Louis signing "Pumped for Murder" and my other mysteries at local bookstores.

When I came out of the Borders near the Galleria, more grim weather was on the way. The sun was gone. I felt a cold wind under the heat. The uneasy sky was churning with dark, brackish clouds. Worse, long strings trailed from those clouds.


I high-tailed it out of the parking lot. I was staying with my friend Karen in Olivette, a west suburb. By the time I pulled into her driveway at 4 o’clock, rain pelted my windshield. The radio blared warnings: tornados had been spotted in the south, west and eastern parts of the metro area.

The TV was even more frantic. The weather map was dotted with tiny red twisters, purple patches for hail and dark green for flash floods. Those cheery colors meant misery and destruction. Between the local weather warnings, TV viewers saw the heartbreaking tornado damage in Oklahoma and Joplin.

By 4:30, the tornado sirens were wailing. Karen’s lush green backyard still had smashed wrought-iron lawn furniture and two cords of wood from a tall tree toppled in the Good Friday storm. It was not reassuring. Neither was the sudden, deathly stillness. Now it was so dark, I switched on the lights. Karen’s house has huge windows and no basement. I grabbed two blankets and the phone and shut myself in the guest bath, the only windowless room.

From there I called my husband Don in Fort Lauderdale. "There's a tornado coming," I said. "Talk to me."

"What do you want me to say?" he asked.

"Anything. I'm scared."

"I have good news," he said. "I don’t have to work tomorrow night, but I don't think that helps you now. Is your signing tonight at the library still on?"

It didn’t seem likely. Jagged baseball-sized hail was breaking windshields in south St. Louis. People would be too busy calling their insurance companies to see me at the library.

Don and I talked about our work until I finally let the poor guy hang up. I realized my call was selfish: Don's last memory of me could have been hearing me shriek as I was sucked out of Karen’s house. I figured that was covered under the "for better or worse" clause in the marriage vows.

By 5:30, the driving rain had slowed. I was supposed to talk and sign at the St. Louis County Library in 90 minutes. I called the library and asked, "Are we on for tonight?"

"We're in the basement," a librarian said. "We had to evacuate the building when a funnel cloud was spotted overhead. You can talk to Mr. B. He’s in charge." That was James Bogart, manager of the St. Louis County Library Foundation.

The rain was easing and the funnel cloud had moved on. Librarians and patrons left the basement shelter. I said I’d go the library in case some stragglers showed up, but I didn’t expect anyone.

Thmb_P5250062 I was wrong. People started arriving at 6 o’clock. Old friends and new readers braved the flash floods and thunder – including Alan P, Queen Molly and Princesses Yael and Merav. (Alan took the photos. That's Yael in purple and pink and Merav in black.)

James Bogart and Holland, the bookseller from Pudd’nHead Books, carried inThmb_P5250051  extra chairs for the crowd. By 7 o’clock, about a hundred people packed the auditorium. Hail, tornados and flash floods don’t stop St. Louisans. They laughed at my jokes and bought books. I hope the audience had as good a time as I did.

I left for Florida the next morning. I was in a hurry to get home to Fort Lauderdale.

Hurricane season starts Wednesday.


Help our tornado victims. Donate to your favorite relief organization. Or send a check directly to the Polk County Emergency Management, PO Box 181, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. Mark it "Joplin."


May 28, 2011

Memorial Day

[Margaret Maron:  TLC welcomes back, Julia Spencer-Fleming, whose newest book, One Was a Soldier, is getting excellent reviews across the country. Her website is www.JuliaSpencerFleming.com] 

  Small author pic-1


False blue,



Colour of lilac.

Heart-leaves of lilac all over New England,

Roots of lilac under all the soil of New England,

Lilacs in me because I am New England.   -Amy Lowell Lilacs and cemetery-2


They're everywhere in New England. You see them behind ancient stone fences running along backroads that were thoroughfares in the 18th century. They tower above white-painted barns; hard, twisted wood two hundred years old. They flank driveways running up to pre-fab houses; short, well-behaved cultivars bought from the nursery down the road. Get in your car and drive out of the city and the country roads will be a blur of tender green and lilac, lilac, lilac. Park the car and walk: the scent from the bushes growing singly, in pairs, in hedges will make you drunk on spring.


Still grows the vivacious lilac a generation after the door and lintel and the sill are gone, unfolding its sweet-scented flowers each spring…sole survivor of the family. -Henry David Thoreau


Lilacs smell like the past. They smell like your grandmother, like marble gravestones, like Transcendentalism. When you read Thoreau and Emerson and Whitman, their words smell like lilacs. They are sentimental, Victorian, like the violets spreading by the old carriage drive and the lily-of-the-valley tucked up against the cool granite foundation. They were planted a hundred years before you or I were born, and they will outlast us, as they have outlasted many others.

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,

And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,

I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring. --Walt Whitman

 The lilac is the flower of Memorial Day. Decoration Day, as it used to be called by the ladies of the town, who, along with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Volunteer Fire Department would be out beforehand, neatening the graves of the honored dead, digging up weeds and planting annuals and slipping small American flags into aluminum holders that looked far too delicate for such an important job. Just as every New England town has its statue of a Union soldier eternally standing watch on the courthouse lawn or village square, so to does every cemetery have its Civil War dead, the first recipients of Decoration Day refurbishment. The first generation that mingled the scent of lilacs and memories and tears. The first, but not the last.

One Was A Soldier medium-2

O death, I cover you over with roses and early lilies, 

mostly and now the lilac that blooms the first,

Copious I break, I break the sprigs from the bushes,

With loaded arms I come, pouring for you,

For you and the coffins all of you O death. - Walt Whitman


In my small town we cut the heavy blooms off their tough woody stems and carried them to the bridge over the Kill – the river. We brought them in armloads and in bike baskets and in Radio Flyer wagons. We marched behind the high school band and the Ambulance Company and the D.A.R. and Miss Washington County Dairy Queen sitting in a shiny Lincoln Town Car with the dealership name on the sides. When we reached the bridge, the music wheezed to a stop and there was a speech. Or perhaps a poem. In my memory, it is always They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old, but I may be inserting that for the fine effect it surely would have made. Then we throw them into the Kill. They fall thick into the dark clear water, so many that it seems you could walk over lilacs and never wet your feet. They slip and slide, pushed past turtled rocks, casting heart-shaped shadows over the pebbled streambed, breaking apart, floating out of sight.

                                Lilacs and fence-1

They only last a few weeks. Memorial Day comes and goes and with it the blossoms, leaving behind pleasant leafy screens that never trouble the mind. But if lilacs stir memories, memory breeds lilacs. You may carry them with you: the stone wall, the white-painted clapboard. The granite plinth and the small sturdy flag. And the lilacs, scratching your arms, their antique scent making you dizzy, as you march in the hot green afternoon to a stone bridge over a river.

I may finally find myself
somewhere beyond the treeline,
beyond loss.

For though I don’t believe
in ghosts, I am haunted by lilacs. - Linda Pastan









May 27, 2011

Extreme Gardening

by Barbara O'Neal

It’s garden season, and for the first time in six years, I have a real garden of my own.  It’s quite a project.  My beloved, probably weary of hearing me bitch about the idiocy of using scarce water to (barely) keep a backyard full of blue grass alive in a climate where it was never meant to grow, gave me a Christmas gift of a garden plan and the people to put it into operation.   


We started with a very bland rectangle. The most boring suburban backyard (complete with winter-killed grass) you can imagine.  



Over the past month, we've come to a series of raised beds.


Which I'm in the process of planting.


Now, a garden project in most places sounds like a perfectly reasonable idea.  Grow some roses, and some corn, a little lettuce and some dahlias. 

In the Rockies, even on the Front Range where I live, gardening is not a sport for the faint of heart.  We live at 7000 feet above sea level.  The air is thin, which means less oxygen (babies born here actually develop larger lungs than other people).  It also means the sun is scorching.  

The weather is also…er…challenging.  It’s almost June and we had a hard freeze last week.  This morning, at eleven am, it’s 46 degrees.  My neighbor, looking over my fence at the newly created raised beds in the backyard said, “You’re putting in a garden? What about all the hail?”


It will hail.  It has already hailed three times on my baby little plants.  I will build hail-protectors out of PVC pipe and window screens to haul out as necessary, because I have lost entire gardens to bad storms more than once. 

But what is a gardener to do?  Give it up because it’s hard? 

I am a gardener, thus I garden.

In England, gardening is a national sport, and for good reason.  I am astonished anew every time we go back to visit CR’s mother.  She has foxgloves large enough IMG_0687

 to sail the seas in.  Roses climbing to heaven, grass thick and starred with buttercups. Everything grows with hedonistic abandon, and naturally, everyone gardens.  CR’s mother is quite a talent, which doesn’t sit well with her neighbor.  That neighbor, (Barbara, too, as it turns out), takes me aside secretly to show off her wisterias and exotics, all called properly by their Latin names.  These two older English ladies are thrilled that I share their passion, and send me home with gloves and potato bags and all manner of beautiful gardening treasures. 

It would be lovely to garden in England.  Or California (oh, for an orange tree! For avocados!).  Or the south where wisteria drips from every surface.

Here I am, however, in the high desert where it will not rain enough and then fling hailstones.  Where the sun will scorch baby plants and give me wrinkles, but eventually coaxes out roses and corn, squash and sage.  Since mailing my book last Monday, the only thing I’ve cared to do is plant and dig and arrange and make notes on my plantings.  (Imagining myself to be Vita Sackville-West, composing my own tiny Sissinghurst.)  My neighbors will pity me, they with all their grass, but in August when the corn is over my head, when I’m bringing them tomatoes hot off the vine, filled with the flavor of sunny days and cool nights, they’ll envy me. When I’m plucking peaches from my tree, and collecting new potatoes in jackets the color of garnets,


they’ll know why I stick with it.  In the spring, my lilacs will explode, and the tulips will dance.  Next year, it will be even better, and the year after that….and the year after that.   

I am a gardener, so I garden.

What is gardening like where you are? Love it? Hate it?


May 26, 2011

Small Tainted Fortunes

By Elaine Viets



Pumped_for_Murder"You’d be surprised how many comfortably off people are living off a small, tainted fortune," a detective told me when I researched "Pumped for Murder."

 In my new Dead-End Job Mystery, Helen and Phil open their own private eye agency. They investigate a cold case from 1986, the days of the cocaine cowboys, a wild time in South Florida. A dress shop owner swears she closed her business so a drug dealer could spend $50,000 on clothes for his lady friends in one afternoon.

01-money-coloursVeteran cops know these stories. But they also talk about the ones who walked away – ordinary citizens who made a fortune and quit the drug scene.

In this scene from "Pumped for Murder," Phil and Helen discover that phenomenon when they look into the death of Mark Behr, a mechanic who worked for a mid-level drug dealer named Ahmet.


"Drug dealing is a business, like Kmart, Home Depot or McDonald’s," Phil said. "The dealers set up a surprisingly corporate structure with a regular chain of command. There’s a CEO at the top, far removed from the street sales. The lower levels have lots of employees. Ahmet was like the manager of a McDonald’s and Mark was a lowly burger flipper. He’d be wearing a hairnet at Mickey D’s.

"Dealers usually let the low-level players walk away. They can’t kill them without a good reason. A death invites too much attention. Drug dealing breeds in the dark, like vermin."

Money-background-dollar-bills"So we’ve got low-level Mark selling drugs," Helen said, "asking people if they want fries with their coke. Why did he need a gun? Was he afraid someone would shoot him when he hung out in the projects?"

"Mark? Selling in the projects? Not a chance," Phil said. "People like Mark do not go into the ghetto to sell. He probably peddled coke at parties."

"I’ve never been to any parties like that," Helen said.

"Yes, you have, you just didn’t know it," Phil said. "You were probably drinking or dancing in the main rooms. The drug users congregate in a basement, a rec room or a bedroom. They use coded language like: I’m really stressed. I need to relax and mellow out. Or I need some energy. That’s the cue to bring out the drugs."

"That’s just middle-class drug use," Helen said and shrugged.

"Drug dealers are businessmen, Helen, and the middle class has lots of those. The good dealers ones are smart businessmen. They have to be.Briefcase

"In the eighties, it seemed like everyone was either using coke, selling it, or both. Ordinary blue-
collar guys were stashing drug money in their closets. The handy ones built secret compartments in the bedroom closet. The cops always knew where to look. They’d lift up the carpet on the closet floor, and the secret was revealed. Or the cops would see some cheesy door cut into the Sheetrock closet wall with boxes of Christmas decorations piled in front of it. Obvious as hell. Once the small timers were caught, they usually folded."

"My ex, Rob, and I were offered a chance to bankroll a couple of drug dealers in St. Louis," Helen said. "They promised we could make fifty thousand dollars. It was presented as an investment opportunity."

"And you turned them down?" Phil said.

"Of course. Rob wanted to go for it. He thought we could make one big score and quit. I was too scared."

"You were too moral," Phil said.

"No, I knew I’d get caught."

"You might have," Phil said. "But you’d be surprised who got away with dealing. A lot of respectable business people got their nest egg selling drugs. They got in, made some money and got out. I kept hearing, ‘I’m just in this until I can buy a house.’ Sometimes it was a restaurant. Or a boat. Or a flashy vacation. They had a goal. They wanted to make a hundred thousand, or two hundred thousand. Enough to open the restaurant, take the luxury cruise, or start their dream business.

"The ‘buy the restaurant’ guy was more likely to quit when he reached his goal. Some small timers did that in the eighties. They scored and got out of the business. Or something happened and the middle-class ones got frightened back into being so-called good citizens. The ones who didn’t either died or got busted."

"Behind every great fortune is a great crime," Helen said. "And behind many small fortunes are small crimes."


Win a $50 gift card to the bookstore of your choice, online or on land. Click on Contests at www.elaineviets.com

May 25, 2011

Remember Your First?

by Margaret Maron

They say you never forget your first time. . . I mean the first time behind the wheel of the first car you yourself owned the title to.  What did you think I meant?


Oh, okay.  That, too, but Sarah's post yesterday has me remembering past cars.  I learned to drive on my mother's old beat-up Studebaker with a stick shift.


It was impossible to look cool in one of those bullet-nosed oddities, so it didn't bother me when that young naval officer who'd asked me out showed up at my apartment driving a 1948 Plymouth that he'd paid $100 for.   Images_3

Rusty and battered, it had been a D.C. taxi in its youth and my hair kept getting caught in the wires that dangled down from the rooftop where the lighted sign had once ridden.  I was amused, not embarrassed to be seen in it, and I even came to have a genuine affection for it when, shortly before  we were married, he confessed that a general's daughter had turned him down after two dates because she didn't want to be seen driving up to the O Club in that car. 



Images_2 The first car that had my name on the title was the first car my husband and I owned together:  a 1960 VW Beetle that we bought on his tour of duty in Italy.  Stick-shift, of course.  It held a pup tent, sleeping bags, and a Sterno stove; and we camped all over Europe in it.  Because we didn't have much money though, we got the stripped-down version.  No extras.  Among the features considered "extras" were a radio and a fuel gauge.  If the car started to sputter, there was a lever under the glove compartment that you could turn to get an extra liter of gas.  Believe it or not, in the 10 years we owned that bug, we never once ran out of gas.

After that, the cars blur.  I vaguely recall a Hornet, a couple of Fords and a Mercury and I still mourn the old used  Lincoln I drove till it got totaled last November.  It was so comfortable on long trips and wasn't all that bad on gas either, all things considered.  I'd planned to keep it till it died a natural death.


These days I'm driving a plain vanilla Toyota and my husband clings to his 1986 Ford F150 pickup. The snow covers a load of rust and dents, but he's still the same guy that picked me up in that 1948 Plymouth.  "It's my mule," he tells me.  "What do I care what it looks like?"


Unlike  the other men in my family, he's never waxed lyrical over cars.  I guess when you grow up in NYC and don't learn to drive till you're 25, it's not the same as growing up out in the country and hungering for the freedom of your first set of wheels.  My brother can tell you every car he's ever owned:  how much it cost him, how he worked out the money, why he traded it.  Same for most of my male friends.  My women friends?  They might remember the guy with the cool Jag or the car they learned how to drive in or the one they got on their 16th birthday, but after that?

What about you?  Is there one particular car that lives on in your heart?

May 24, 2011

Scaring the Shift out of Me

By Sarah

My husband was all for Sam getting his permit. The boy turned 15 in October, one of the oldest in his class. He's a guy and apparently guys need to drive (unlike Anna who seemed to be in no rush until the summer before senior year, two weeks before her permit expired). Plus, you've got to clock in 40 hours, 8 of nighttime driving to get a license. Better to start now.

And so Sam  has been driving back from after-school practice when, I figure, the streets are less crowded. This means that every day around 6:30 p.m., I'm gripping the door and jamming my foot against the invisible brake as I channel my dearly departed mother: "Don't worry about the driver behind you. That's their look out. Slow down! Ease to the right at the curb. Give the other guy clear signals what you want to do. Remember, you are on the road with the same idiots/stoners who couldn't pass ninth-grade math. Jesus &%$#@ SLOW DOWN!"

Dart My mother hated teaching me how to drive and I hated learning. The situation was not improved by our two dysfunctional cars - a 1977 VW Dasher that overheated when it reached, oh, 80 degrees and
you sat in traffic more than five minutes and a 1973 Dodge Dart "Swinger" that was anything but. It had a tendency to stall while taking a left turn, a glitch that strangely left my father unperturbed, though I nearly lost my life twice.

Once, on my way to a Brown alumni interview, I stalled, was nearly killed by a tractor trailer huffing it up a steep, blind hill and showed up shaken and stirred. To this day, I can remember the calm faces of preppers in Mr. Brown University's panelled living room as I collapsed in a chair and babbled about my recent escape from the clutches of death.

Speaking of clutches, this is why I didn't drive the Dasher. At first. Like a lot of Pennsylvania towns, Bethlehem frequently placed stop lights at the top of steep hills. (See above.) And while my brother liked to run down th 1979 Volkswagen Dasher. - 6 e clutch by stepping on it while remaining in first, I yanked up the emergency brake and proceeded through a serious of complicated steps before burning rubber just to avoid stalling and/or backsliding. 


Once a helpful (drunken) man got out of the pickup behind me, knocked on my window and demanded to know if I could drive. Nice, huh? Maybe "accidentally" backsliding into his truck might have answered his question.

ANYWAY...the point is that teaching someone to drive just sucks. On the one hand, you don't want to destroy your offspring's confidence. On the other, you want to... live! This is why schools devote precious taxpayer resources to the matter. 

But being a smart kid, Sam's schedule is so jam packed with honors and AP courses, that fitting in driver's ed doesn't quite work.  Frankly, I don't know when he'll get his license - maybe next fall if we pay for private courses.

And then comes a new flood of worries - Will he come home in one piece? Will his passengers come home in one piece? Will the car? Will he know better than to let road rage get the best of him? Or alcohol? 

The only fact that keeps me from losing sleep over this is my own experience. The night I got my license, I called my friend Lisa (to whom all my books are dedicated) and she came down to my house Icecream so we could go out for ice cream. We had a lot to celebrate since it took three tries for me to pass the test. (The second time, I was tricked by a state trooper who told me to pull up to the line and then promptly flunked me because I didn't have a licensed driver sitting next to me ON THE COURSE!)

I backed out of the garage in the Dart and stalled. It hadn't even been a left turn. And when I tried to step on the gas, there was this awful scraping sound. Also, the sound of falling concrete. Plus, I couldn't move.

"Look," Lisa said, pointing to where the car was stuck into the garage wall.

My father was very good about it the next morning. And now I know why he kept the Dart - just for this occasion. And why I'm keeping my 2004 Honda Pilot with 122,000K miles and several dents.

What's your driver's ed story?



May 23, 2011

The Dishwasher Must Die!

by Harley

Eastern1 Ever notice how fiction’s bad guys these days are always the Russian mob, or the Ukranians? It’s like we recycled old Cold War characters, dressing them up in capitalism and leather jackets. I’m guilty of it myself, in my 4th novel--and before you start yelling “xenophobe!” let me say that I’m half Slovak, which is just down the block from Ukraine. But now these people--my people--have shown up in my real life. Here’s how it happened.

3 years ago I moved into a “new” house, 25 years old (the house, not me) that came with elderly appliances, plus a home warranty policy that repairs or replaces appliances as they die off. When the policy expired I signed on for another year at $975, and got lucky when my hot water heater burst.

Since the water heater, no appliances have died, but many have gone on the fritz (apologies to any reader named Fritz) including—8 times—my dishwasher.

I loathe my dishwasher. Not to name names, but the brand starts Images with “M” and rhymes with Paytag.

Here’s the drill. The dishwasher breaks. I call up Crabby Home Warranty (not its real name) and a computer answers, saying, “Please state the nature of your problem. For instance, if your air conditioner is not cooling the air, you could say, ‘my air conditioner is not cooling the air.’ Or—”

            I say, “My dishwasher isn’t washing my dishes.”

            “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. Please state the nature of your problem. For instance, if—”

            “My dishwasher won’t wash dishes.”

            “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. Please state the—”


            “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. I’ll connect you with a human being so sullen you’ll wish you were talking to me.”

The human assigns me a case number and turns my file over to Kremlin Appliance Repair (not its real name).

_40508887_brezhnev_ap_238 Kremlin Appliance Repair sends over Yuri or Yaroslaw or Mikhail. Never the same guy twice. I pay him the $60 service fee. Yuri examines the Paytag, orders a part, and leaves. A week later Yaroslaw shows up with the part, does the repair, and lectures me about liquid detergent and over-rinsing my dishes, explaining that detergent needs food particles to stick to. I switch detergents and leave food on plates. 2 months later the Paytag stops working, only now Mikhail shows up, orders parts, tells me sternly, “you must scour plates before you load. Anyone knows this.” Six weeks later, it’s Boris, who wags a finger at me, saying dishwashers are only as good as their rinse agent, but even so, a dishwasher cannot be expected to truly clean dishes.


Because there’s a 30-day warranty on service calls, the Paytag always waits 5 weeks between breakdowns, ensuring that I will go broke, $60 at a time. I was explaining this to Cindy, my Jenny Craig counselor, by way of justifying my need to self-medicate with cookies, when Cindy looked around furtively, then whispered, “Harley—you’re not using Kremlin Appliance Repair, are you?” the way people do when discussing Satanic cults or mafiosi. Vladimir-Ilyich-Ulyanov-Lenin-1895-Police-Mugshot-Mug-Shot And that’s when it hit me. In our troubled economy, people trained in one trade--schoolteachers, carpenters, assassins--find themselves flipping burgers and repairing appliances. Yet therein lies my solution.

The Paytag must die. Bronislav or Leonid or Dmitri must pronounce it dead, so that Crabby Home Warranty will buy me a new one (perhaps a Bosch!) I know this won’t come cheap. I know Kremlin is getting kickbacks from the appliance parts company. I don’t care. The Paytag has had eight service calls in fifteen months. I’m losing the will to live.

My question is, what's the going rate for an appliance hit? And what’s the etiquette? I’ve never negotiated with the mob before. Do I just blurt it out? And is it immoral? Illegal? Am I a racketeer?

Is there an inanimate object you’d send to sleep with the fishes? And how would you do it?

добрый день!





May 22, 2011

Trash-Tastic Weavery

by Karen Abbott

Ftk American Rose

My name is Joshilyn Jackson, and I freely confess that I love me some Karen Abbott.

She’s more fun than a bucket full of drugged-into-a-state-of-bliss confessional poets, and under that bombshell bod beats the heart of a lion. Not the kind of lion who stalks you and kills you and eats you and pukes your bits back up to feed the cubs, mind you. More an English FLAG kind of lion, rampant and mighty. A lion who always has your back.

She’s also the critically acclaimed and New York Times bestselling author who, according to USA Today, “pioneered sizzle history,” with her debut Sin in the Second City.

Most recently, Newsday said, “Abbott creates a brainy striptease similar to the one her subject may have performed: uncovering doozies,” while rave-reviewing her most recent book, American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee.


Ftk sin in the second city

PS! This means that not only does she have the inside skinny on the best burlesque shows running, but if you go to see them with HER, you get to claim you are only there to help do RESEARCH.

A note on images: The Madonna pic shows Madge’s Ray of Light look, and the white dress pic is Karen rockin’ her old school hair. The brunette pic is Karen now, and then I toss in one more OLD SCHOOL HAIR pic because---PEEP THE SLEEVES ON THE DRESS! It is just so Luke-and-Laura’s-Wedding, I could DIE! Here's Karen:

Joshilyn Jackson and I were on the phone having one of those conversations borne of a desperate need to procrastinate. We don’t care what we’re talking about—or even if it makes any practical sense—so long as it blithely, stealthily takes the place of actual work.

Previous topics of this vein have included a debate on the hotness of erstwhile presidents (neither one of us would’ve kicked Warren Harding out of bed, for example, and didn’t Andrew Jackson have quite a rakish sweep of hair?) to whether Matthew McConaughey’s strangely bloated skull should be classified as “fetal chicken head” or “amniotic sac head.”

TLC madonna-ray-of-light-hair

“What’s the trashiest thing you’ve ever done?” Joss asked. “Not the smuttiness, not the sleaziest, but the trashiest.”

“Well,” I said, “when I lived in Atlanta, there was the time I bought five dollars’ worth of crap at Krystal Burger on Ponce de Leon at 3 a.m.—and put it on my credit card.”

“Pretty trashy, Abbott,” she said, “but I know you can do better.” Of course I could.

It was 1998, and Madonna’s “Ray of Light” video played nonstop on MTV. I coveted Madonna’s hair (also her abs, waist, and ass, but mostly her hair). At the time my own hair was shoulder-length, recently (and thankfully) downgraded from pure bleached to ashy blonde, and I determined the only way I would acquire that wind-whipped, ringleted golden pelt was via extensions.

TLC oldschoolhairToday, the highest-quality extensions—real hair with the outmost cuticle layer intact—cost $200 per package, and are such a hot commodity that roving bands of thieves are stealing them from salons across the country.


But back then I was in debt from student loans and didn’t bother to do any comparison shopping. Instead, during lunch break one day, I popped into a beauty supply store in Center City Philadelphia and purchased a weave, wrapped tight in clear plastic. Two pieces of long, wavy, blond, hair-like substance for the bargain price of $20.

After work, I ventured to an old-school hair salon in West Philly that specialized in weaves. It was apparent that I was not their typical customer, being the only white person within blocks, and when a stylist approached me I placed the weave in her outstretched hand.

“Girl,” she said, “that’s the sorriest looking weave I’ve ever seen, but if you really want it in your head, I know how to put it there.”


It took about six hours to cornrow my entire head and sew in the weave. If you squinted or were very drunk, I’m sure I looked exactly like Madonna, or at least some crazy cousin, one who was housing a colony of randy squirrels in her head.


Tlc karen_poster_med

Since it wasn’t real hair, I was told not to wash it. I mostly obeyed this edict, just patting my roots with soap and stuffing the rest in a shower cap. After a week, I grew careless and wayward strands of weave on my left side tumbled out.

I panicked and grabbed my hair dryer. Bad idea: the strands of “hair” melted and fell limp and began separating; you could see the cornrows peeping through.

There was only one thing to do, of course: cough up another ten bucks and buy a replacement weave, just for that left side.


I made an appointment for Saturday afternoon, and left the weave in my car.


TLC oldschoolhair2

On Friday night, after work, my husband and I went rollerblading in Fairmount Park. After the ten-mile trek, we arrived back at the car to find the passenger’s side window smashed open. The culprit stole our house keys, my husband’s wedding ring, and my new weave, still wrapped in plastic.


It was time, I decided, to become unweaved.

My husband spent two hours sifting though my hair, pulling out pieces of thread and unbraiding cornrows, wondering if the thief would fetch more for my weave or his wedding band.

I consoled myself with a cheesesteak, but at least I paid in cash.

So now it is your turn. Surely you have some work you need to put off!

Let me ask you Joshilyn’s question: “What’s the trashiest thing you’ve ever done? Not the smuttiness, not the sleaziest, but the