9 posts categorized "DRIVE TIME"

April 28, 2011

Kevin Kline Owes Me


By Elaine Viets

I don’t know what you did in 1973, but I helped Kevin Kline.

Kevin was born and raised in St. Louis. In ’73, he toured the country with the City Center Acting Company, along with other Juilliard drama school graduates, including Patti LuPone. The troupe performed "Threepenny Opera" in St. Louis.

I was a 23-year-old feature writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, interviewing the up-and-coming actor with a hometown connection. Kevin was going far beyond St. Louis. He was one of John Houseman’s first students at Juilliard.

During the interview, I asked Kevin about his acting. We talked about Duke Ellington, too. Don and I heard Ellington play at the Rainbow Room in Manhattan. Ellington, in the twilight of his career, was magical.

So was Kevin Kline at the beginning of his career. His Macheath was intense and athletic.

After the show, Ellen, the theater’s public relations person, sent me a note dated Nov. 20, 1973.

"This thank-you note is a little late in coming, but I do want you to know I appreciated the nice publicity you gave us in the story about Kevin Kline," Ellen wrote. "Immediately after it appeared in the Post, we sold out. I talked to his parents at the play and they were just thrilled about it.

"Please don’t hesitate to give me a call if I can help you with anything in the future. I certainly owe you a favor."

I didn’t have the pull to pack the theater. I was a cub reporter. But newspapers had tremendous power then. A print story could fill a theater.

Kevin moved on, racking up Tony Awards on Broadway and then Golden Globes and Oscars for his movie roles in "Sophie’s Choice," "A Fish Called Wanda" and other major films.

A fish called Wanda 

"Wanda" has an in-joke. Kevin, trying to identify a caller, asks, "Was it Kevin Delaney?" Those are his first and middle names.

The New York Times called Kevin "America’s Olivier." In his hometown, Kevin has a star on the St.KKA-header-image  Louis Walk of Fame. The Professional Theatre Council of St. Louis gives out the Kevin Kline Awards. Not bad for a boy who went to St. Louis Priory School.

I’ve moved on, too. I write mysteries instead of newspaper stories. "Pumped for Murder," my tenth Dead-End Job novel, will be published May 3.

I need your help, Kevin. My Dead-End Job series is making a major change. Helen Hawthorne will still be working those low-paying jobs, but now she’s going undercover as a private eye. Helen and Phil have opened their own PI agency. In "Pumped for Murder," they investigate two cases. One is a Miami-Vice style murder from 1986. The other case explores extreme bodybuilding.

Pumped_for_Murder The reviews are good so far, but I’d like to pack the houses. I’ll be touring seven cities starting this week. Check the Events at www.elaineviets.com. You might be in St. Louis May 25 visiting your mom.

You wouldn’t even have to read my novel. Just carry it with you on an airplane. Do you still fly commercial?

"Pumped for Murder" would make a terrific movie. It has sweat, sex and nearly naked bodies. My new book trailer shows the visual possibilities. http://tinyurl.com/5wsr9en

Come on, Kevin. We Catholic school kids have to stick together.


April 11, 2011

TheTrill is Gone

by Hank

 Phone 1

 Dear Telephone.

I fear to tell you, since we've had such a wonderful relationship over all these years, and certainly I'm grateful, but the thrill is gone.

I remember you, CLifford 1-4858. You were a black rotary phone on the wall and my cute little sister and I had such fun with you! We'd call a random number, then say "Yes, May I help you?" And when the person on the other end was confused, and insisted WE'D called THEM, we'd excoriate them for playing with the phone. (No lame "is your refrigerator running" phone pranks for us.)  Yes, phone, I liked you then. 

(And we had a party line, didn't we, for part of  the time? And it was weird but fun to pick up the receiver and hear someone's voice that we didn't quite know who was. And we were not allowed to listen in.)

I remember you, UPtown 3-2768. I remember you were a pink princess phone  with buttons, so very new,  in the Beatle-wallpapered bedroom I shared with my suddenly bratty and annoying little sister. We'd would call the radio station to try to win records and tickets, and you were so good at it! And I know you were always ready to take the calls from the boys who rarely called...and you were so patient  when I'd check to see whether maybe, maybe, there was something wrong with you when the calls didn't come. Maybe our phone was broken? Maybe it was busy? Off the hook? And that's why they didn't call?  I relied on you!  You were my lifeline to coolness. 

(Even though being on the AXminster exchange was cooler. One could always know who lived in the flossy neighborhoods because they were AXminster. Or TRinity. We were UPtown, which meant rural. But I digress.)

Even years later, when you received your three-new-numbered area code (those would never last, right?) and lost your instantly-recognizable glamorously geographical nametags, and became all numbers, I still couldn''t live without you.  Newstips and news sources and appointments and dating and guys and endless endless chatting with girlfriends about what had REALLY happened that night or what we should DO or SAY or tell someone.

Bells And when I lived in Washington DC, I had an answering service, a real person, like in Bells Are Ringing, who'd take my messages and then tell me when I got home who had called. (She seemed to really care about my personal life, in a big-sister kind of way.) And I looked forward to talking to her. She know what was going to happen in my life before I did!

 So, dear telephone, when did it happen?

 When did the sound of your trill lose its thrill? 

I remember my first cell phone--yikes for some reason I can't remember that number, psychologists will have a field day-- and I DID love it, it was convenient (although huge) and I could call for reservations and pizza and tell people I'd be late. Nice. And my landline (when did we start saying that word?) had a tiny tape cassette as the answering machine.

 But now--I have a cell phone, which everyone expects to be on ALL  the time, and everyone expects me to answer it, and talk to them when THEY want to talk.

And when I'm home? How does our landline know to ring RIGHT when the pasta is ready, or RIGHT when The Good Wife is starting or RIGHT when we've just opened the Sunday paper and our coffee is perfectly hot and the cream cheese is melting beautifully on the bagel?

RINNNNNG!  So, what?  I'm supposed to drop everything and answer it?

 (Yes, when the lovely Malice people called about DRIVE TIME's Agatha nomination, I was thrilled to have you, dear phone, and saved the message so I can listen to it over and over, but that' s anther blog.  And when my husband fell and I had to all 911, I was pretty darn happy with you.)

Caller ID is new to our territory...love it. But to me, it's just proof of the bleak spectrum of potential callers--fundraisers, solicitors, powerwashing offers and the drugstore saying our prescription is ready. Fine, but I don't wanna talk about it. Please, leave a message, delete delete delete.

Telemarketers But caller ID is also a diabolical dilemma. If someone calls, and they think I'm home, and I don't answer they know I'm gasp--screening calls. Which is rude rude rude.   

And now, dear telephone, I'm sorry to say every time you ring now, I cringe. Frankly, part of it, I fear, is the apprehension that there'll be something bad on the other end.   Or something I have to do or take care of, or decide about.

(Oh,  tarts, you should be at our house when the phone rings. Jonathan and I look at each other. Answer it, I say.  RING RING No! He says, you answer it, It's going to be for you. No, I reply, It is not! RING RING!  YOU get it, okay? It's your turn. You get the picture. 

Then we wait til it stops ringing. And  then we check the message. And if there isn't one, we win. We hope.)

 To be fair, I don't call OUT much, either. But everyone , everyone, I see walking down the street,  (or driving, yikes) is on the phone.    Why? How would they have handled their life before you?

THOUSAND-CLOWNS_3 Remember Jason Robards, in A Thousand Clowns? He'd answer the phone: "Is it someone with good news or money? No?" And then he'd hang up.

 Dear telephone, what am I missing here? Do others love you, need you, want you, lust after the sound of your voice?

I'd love to know. Perhaps in the comments. Or send me an email. But don't call me, okay?

Do you remember your first phone number? Do you have a special ring tone on your cell?

August 02, 2010

A New Holiday For You!

by Hank

MicrophoneThe summer interns are leaving. It happens every August. As I get increasingly older and crochetier they all seem to be named Lindsay or Brittany (Last year, there were actually three Heathers. I'm not making this up.) They're all journalism majors, and you can see they think working at a TV station is cool.


Some are certainly going to be star reporters and producers. (Just like reading a good manuscript, you can tell right away.) And others, well, there is a significant lack of knowledge of  current events, capability of analytical thinking and, well, spelling. But they're students, right? (There's also a significant lack of clothing, especially the clothing that is supposed to go between waist and neck. I’ve never seen so many pink tummies and cleavage in the workplace in my life.) 


A few years ago, we had one we secretly called “Dee” (short for delay) because when you asked her a question,  there’s this  moment of silence, like the brief delay that occurs as a result of an on- camera question being transmitted up to the satellite, and then back down to the person in another location who has to answer it. (You’ve seen that? Right? Where the anchor in New York says—thank you so much for being here. And the person in Duluth sits there, silent, smile pasted on,Radio tower and then finally answers. That’s the time it takes for the satellite transmission.)  That’s what it was like to talk to Dee. 


Anyway.  I have a soft spot in my heart for them all, Dee especially, because no matter who they are now, and no matter how spacey and seemingly undereducated, they aren’t who they WILL be. And, so sweetly, they don’t even realize that. 


 (Plus, of course, I remember  my miniskirts were scandalous, and there was a  time, oh yes, indeed, when I had no idea what I was doing, and had no idea that I had no idea.)Dress-evening-short-sears-68


And when the interns leave, they have this—terror of what’s to come.  I said to one of them, ready to enter senior year, last Friday—so, what are your plans for the fall?

Intern: Plans?

Hank: Yes, you know. School?

Intern: Classes, I guess. I don’t know. (Moment of thought. Then: ) I don’t know what my plans are.  I’m not really sure.


Hank: Any idea for what you might want to do?


Intern: (moment of panic crosses beautiful face.) No. No. I have no idea. Um, and like, it’s getting late, you know?


I had to smile. She’s maybe—19? And she’s saying—“It’s getting late” ? I almost burst into tears.


I told her: There’s a holiday this August you ought to celebrate.

She said: A holiday?

Yup, I said, it’s called….


Then I paused. Here’s the story I told her.Nantucket


Years I ago, in mid-August,  my girlfriend Jane invited me to go to Nantucket for a week. To share a house with a bunch of other people. (She and her husband had a big fight, and he was staying home, so I was the last-minute replacement.) It would be our pals Neil and Ellen, and their two kids, and their nanny. Just the seven of us. 


 I packed my books and my bike and my tennis racket and a couple of bathing suits.  (I was six months or so into the midst of a pretty unhappy divorce (a blog for another time) and was happy to be out of town, and focused on sand and water and friends. NOT romance.)


 I had zero expectations.  So I did not pack any floaty skirts or cute hats or slinky cover-ups.I did not bring any makeup. (This will especially shock those of you who know me in person.)


Jane and I disembarked from the ferry,  got to our lovely beach house, walked in the front door. And there was the HANDSOMEST man I’ve ever seen. I stopped in my tracks.


Oh, Neil said, this is Jonathan. We invited him at the last minute.


Red lipstick Holy moly, I thought to myself. I need Lipstick. Bronzer. Everything.  Get me to the drugstore.


But then, I didn’t go. I thought—this is how I look, take it or leave it.


The story is longer, and funnier, and eventually more romantic, but the short version is, Jonathan and I have not been apart since that moment.


And, I told the intern,  Jonathan and I don’t celebrate the anniversary of the day we met.


We celebrate the anniversary of the day BEFORE we met.  And we call it “You Never Know Day.”


Because you never know what wonderful amazing unexpected impossible-to-imagine thing is just around the next corner.


So don’t worry, I said, giving her a hug. It’ll all be wonderful. Just—see.


You Never Know Day is coming up. (Year 15, fyi.) And, I told her,  keep in mind, if you’re freaking out, or worried, or hoping for something to happen or wishing that something won’t happen, you never know what’s good or bad or what’s just about to take place. It’ll probably be something you never thought of.


We officially celebrate it on August 18, if you want to mark it on your calendar.  But of course, every day is you never know day.


So good luck, interns, headed out into that unpredictable world. Blessings and joy. And may you embrace what’s to come.


Because you never know. And that’s a good thing. 




Do you have interns? Were you ever an intern? How did you meet your significant other? Was it a surprise? Happy August!

July 26, 2010

Two, Four, Six, Eight, Who do we appreciate?

It's the fourth Monday--and  you know what that means: Hank and Harley and Heather chat about whatever seems to be compellingly important and socially pivotal. 

Today: Cheerleaders. Yes. Cheerleaders.
HANK: Breaking news about cheerleaders. I know we should be talking about summer reading or something, but just saw this on the AP wire—a judge in Connecticut has ruled that "cheerleading is not a sport.” Apparently a university there had decided to eliminate the women’s volleyball team, and replace it with a competitive cheer squad. Their goal was to keep the school in compliance with its Title IX law that mandates equal opportunities for men and women in education and athletics .

 jCheer 3

Okay, that's weird and I'd have loved to have been in the board room when they came up with that idea.

But sorry, the judge said: Competitive cheerleading is not an official sport that colleges can use to meet gender-equity requirements.  And I love this quote of his for so many reasons: "Competitive cheer may, some time in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX. Today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students."

 I’m not sure what I think about this.


When I was in grade school--insert creaky oldster voice here and no, that's not me, above-- cheerleading was a glorious, exalted role. One that every girl secretly or not-so-secretly wanted.

And now, I think it’s incredibly organized. There are competitions, right, very tough and elaborate? And cheerleaders can be athletes, no question. I can’t second guess the judge’s ruling, not knowing all the facts, and it does seem like a weird idea, but gee, do you think the judge still thinks of them as sassy teens with pompoms and little skirts? Should cheerleading be classified as a sport? I mean--just thinking out loud here--synchronized swimming is in the Olympics. Curling. Table tennis. Beach volleyball. Seems like being a cheerleader is harder than playing playing beach volleyball. I could  be wrong, of course.

 HARLEY:I'm not sure that anything that involves makeup and hairspray and smiling is a true sport (imagine coaching Mike Tyson to smile); however, anything that can result in trips to the E.R. and involves diving, falling, jumping and the splits is hardly a walk in the park. I'm astonished at cheerleading virtuosity. Back in the olden days (i.e., when I was in school) it had more to do with how you looked in a short skirt and the perkiness of your attitude.

HEATHER: It looks like a sport to me. It's grueling! Demanding, physical, and amazing to watch these days. Not only that, the cheerleaders are cheering--because of sports. I don't believe I've seen cheerleaders cheering at debates, though maybe they do these days. It includes incredible physical strength, coordination, stamina, dance abilities . . . maybe it could even be classified as several sports!

HANK:  Did you have cheerleaders at your school? Grade school? High school? College? Were they cool--or the mean girl clique? (I don’t think we had any boys on the “squad”—did you?)


HARLEY:In grade school we had altar boys, not cheerleaders. In college? Uh, no. At least, not at NYU School of the Arts. They'd have been laughed out of the building. But h.s., yes, and I think they were mostly nice--some were actually my friends--but frankly, I was doing a few too many drugs to swear to it.

HANK:Cheerleaders for the arts, though, is not a bad idea. YAY poetry! Gimme a S, gimme an H….etc. What’s that spell? Shakespeare! YAY!

HEATHER: I'm pretty sure we had cheerleaders all the way--Miami public schools! I don't think I had a secret desire, though God knows, I barely remember yesterday! I think we even had guy cheerleaders. But, also, Miami High won everything--until I got there. I think I jinxed them. They probably definitely did not want me to be cheerleading.

Okay, never mind. So, were you ever a cheerleader? I was, briefly and unsuccessfully. I was in the back row, incredibly klutzy and uncoordinated and although I kind of liked the attention (I’m admitting it, but hey, I was 13) I knew early on my skills were absolute zero. And I had no desire to practice or get better. Call me a shallow teenager, I fear I just wanted the outfit.

HEATHER: I was never a cheerleader. I have never, at any point in my life--not even at the age of 1 or 2--had anything that resembles coordination. Or the ability to jump. Or the courage to jump high.

 HARLEY:Nope. I had a fleeting yearning somewhere around 7th grade, then realized my destiny lie elsewhere. Plus,I couldn't do splits or cartwheels and couldn't afford to squander my afterschool hours making signs and posters with magic markers or hanging streamers in the gym. I had avant-garde theater to do.

HANK: It was hilarious. I had no idea what "first and ten let's do it again" meant. Completely clueless. I just joined in when everyone else did chanted it. But, still. Can you spell the word victory out loud without making it sound like a cheer?

 HARLEY: I can spell out anything in a very downbeat and depressed tone of voice, which comes from years of spelling out S.E.X. in front of the children and "I don't have time for a W.A.L.K." in front of the dogs.

HANK:And now of course the cheerleading thing is—so different! The skimpy outfits, the dance moves, “cheerleaders” in pro sports are more like flashdancers. It's ridiculous. And generally embarrassing. On the pro level, at least. Or am I overreacting? Anyone close to you a cheerleader, or anyone want to be?

HEATHER: I have one young friend cheerleading now. The height thing scares me--she is teensy and gets thrown into the air. I am only envious because she looks like a million bucks in the outfit. I have a zillion young friends who dress up to go to the clubs on Miami Beach at night--they all look like flashdancers, too. The cheerleaders are all in good enough shape to look good in the outfits, so I'll put my money on them.

HARLEY: I pray that my children will want to be . . . well, almost anything else. Porn stars. Race car drivers. My mom was a music teacher and begged us not to be cheerleaders if we cared at all about our singing voices. "Vocal nodes" to her was like saying "herpes." Now all I think about is "spinal cord injuries."

 HANK: Still, Bring it On is one of my top ten guilty pleasure movies. And the Cheerios on Glee may bring give cheerleading a whole new image.

HARLEY: I can see the handwriting on the wall. "GLEE" is going to hijack this blog.

HEATHER: G-O G-L-E-E!!!!!!!!

HANK: Not necessarily a bad thing. Did you see the one where Santana—oh, sorry.

When I googled for cheerleader photos, the first google image suggestion was "cheerleader." The second was "cheerleaders without clothes."  I mean--not even: how to be a cheerleader, famous cheerleaders, cheerleading camps. But Google figured I wanted pictures of cheerleaders without clothes.

I don't. (And now I probably have some virus on my computer.)

So. Should it be classified as a college sport?  Is this one of those pastimes that's just gone horribly wrong? Irretrievably passe?  Do we need cheerleaders for the arts? Do we need cheerleaders...at all? Anyone remember the tag line from "Heroes"?

April 04, 2010

With Three You Get Egg Roll


HANK:  Do you know Julie Hyzy? If you don't, I am delighted to introduce you to one of the most charming, intelligent, witty and hard-working rising stars in mystery world. Julie and Karen Olson and I toured the hot spots of North Carolina together a few weeks ago--we were the Triple Threat Mystery Tour under the watchful eye and wise shepherding of the amazing Molly Weston. And someday really, I'll post pictures of the hilarity: books, barbeque, sweet tea, some wonderful bookstores and libraries and non-stop fun--but the photos are still in my camera, so you'll have to imagine.  Oh, wait! here's one, courtesy of Karen Kiley (xoxo) at the Cary Library. (Notice Julie and me, listening, enraptured, to Karen, while Molly Weston prepares her next tough question.)

North caro tour



So you see--just like any good writing ,the weekend has a theme! The Triple Threat reunion.

Yesterday, the fabulous Karen shared her tattoo secrets. Today, we're eggcited to welcome Julie. Yes, I can spell.  But that's eggzactly what I meant to say.




Julie Hyzy: Today is Easter Sunday, and whether you celebrate the day because of its religious significance, or just because you enjoy Marshmallow Peeps, you have to admit one thing: Eggs are everywhere. There are plastic eggs filled with treats, hard-boiled eggs colored in bright pastels, cream-filled eggs, and those superbly smooth Dove truffle eggs. Ooh… I could go for one of those right now.



Hank generously invited me to guest blog today because my latest book—the third in my White House Chef Mystery series, Eggsecutive Orders, is set just before the Easter Egg Roll. These books feature Olivia (Ollie) Paras as Executive White House chef who feeds the First Family and saves the world in her spare time. Although we truly do have our first-ever female Executive Chef in the real White House, my books are fiction, and my President Campbell and his wife bear no resemblance to our current leader and his family. (Buffalo West Wing comes out next year and…cough, cough…that may change…)


Tomorrow, in the real world, in a tradition that dates back to 1878, President and Mrs. Obama will open the White House lawn for the annual Egg Roll. The event is for kids and their families—provided, of course, those families were lucky enough to snag tickets. As I’m sure you know, books take a long time to get published.


   Back when I turned in Eggsecutive Orders, the only way to get a ticket was to stand outside the White House on the prescribed date, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. The Obamas have since updated the process so that Egg Roll lottery tickets are awarded online. Now hopeful families sit at their computers with fingers crossed and hope for the best. So, even though it just came out, Eggsecutive Orders is already a little bit dated.

This year’s Egg Roll theme “Ready, Set, Go!” is designed to dovetail with Mrs. Obama’s mission of promoting kids’ health. And just for the record, the Egg Roll is no small event. There will be live music, cooking stations, storytelling, kids’ activities, and of course there will be eggs. Lots of eggs.


And hey… even the Oval Office is in on the fun. It’s in the shape of an egg, isn’t it?



When I was researching Eggsecutive Orders I discovered that the White House provides over fifteen thousand hard-boiled eggs for the event. Think about that. Fifteen thousand eggs. That’s one thousand two hundred and fifty dozen. When my kids were little and we colored eggs the Friday before Easter, it sometimes felt as though we went through at least that many. Nowadays we color just enough to make a pretty platter at dinner. But it’s still a lot of work.


When I envisioned what it might be like for my characters to produce fifteen thousand eggs, I had a hard time wrapping my head around that number. But I also realized that the White House kitchen staff does this every year as a matter of course. No big deal. Just one more “herculinary” project on their platter. So I decided to make things a little tougher—to give Ollie’s group an extra challenge this time around.




When Eggsecutive Orders opens, it’s eggsactly (sorry, couldn’t resist!) one week before the annual Egg Roll and Ollie, Bucky, and Cyan are hauled in for questioning, eventually finding themselves banished from the kitchen. Seems one of the president’s guests didn’t make it to dessert. What’s the worst kind of dinner guest a chef has to deal with? You got it—a dead one. Carl Minkus, head of the NSA, keeled over at the table, a victim of poisoning. And except for the kitchen staff, no one had access to his meal.



Fun stuff. Along with the dead guest and the team’s subsequent banishment from the White House, there’s espionage, Ollie’s mom and nana visiting from Chicago, Ollie’s frustrated Secret Service boyfriend, a couple of celebrity guest chefs with a possible motive, and an over-the-top newspaper reporter looking for scoop… all in a day’s work for Ollie. Heh heh heh. Why is it so much fun for writers to put characters in conflict?

I think that’s another blog.


Today—this Easter—I have far fewer worries than Ollie does. I’m carrying on a tradition set up years ago by hosting the extended family for dinner. I’ve owned Easter as my holiday for a number of years now, and although I can probably run dinner in my sleep I still worry about everything being hot at serving time and remembering to turn the coffee on before we sit down. Small concerns really. Even if I burned the entire meal, they’d all still love me…and probably even come back next year for another round.




But tomorrow—Egg Roll Day—just as Ollie puts all the pieces together to figure out who killed Carl Minkus, just as

she scrambles to make sure all of those fifteen thousand eggs are where they need to be, just as she brings the guilty person to justice while protecting innocent bystanders from getting killed, I’ll be here in my quiet house, enjoying the best part of hosting holidays: leftovers. Ham, potatoes, sausage, sauerkraut, lamb cake, jelly beans, and chocolate..



 For the record, I can skip on Marshmallow Peeps. But hand over those truffle eggs and no one will get hurt.


HANK: Thanks, Julie!  We used to make Easter Eggs by--writing on them with crayon? And  then dipping them into..something?  Am I remembering this correctly? Any Easter egg-making secrets out there?




Julie Hyzy’s first book in the White House Chef Mystery series, State of the Onion, won the Lovey Award for Best Traditional Mystery and the Barry, and Anthony Awards for Best Paperback Original in 2009. The series includes Hail to the Chef, Eggsecutive Orders, and (coming in January) Buffalo West Wing. Julie is also excited to announce the debut of her new Manor of Murder Mysteries. The first book in that series, Grace Under Pressure, comes out June 1st.

March 15, 2010

They're Baaaaaaack!

by Hank Phillippi Ryan

This is a story with the happiest of endings. But first let me say: We don't have any pets.

Yes, I had cats, before, and Lola and Leon were stellar. Lola, especially perverse at age 19, knew that Jonathan was allergic to her. So Queen Lola, who never agreed that anyone else existed but me, spent the last year of her life stalking my sneezing but stalwart husband-to-be.

All of our friends have dogs. And I know that would be fun, but unfair, since we're never home. For awhile, we had an invisible dog, Wheatie, who we would "walk" and "feed" and discuss. But then we forgot, which is another indication it's good we don't have a dog.

I promise you this is about ducks. Just hang on. Ducks flap

One of my favorite books of all time is "The Worlds Largest Cheese" by Christopher Cerf. Its a sort of a compendium-collection of random funny stuff. Including, of course, a photo of the world's largest cheese, and a photo of a baseball player who doesn't have any vowels in his name. It also has a list of  "Famous Animals in the White House," which includes pets US Presidents didnt know they had.  John Adams' field mouse, for instance. And Rutherfod B. Hayes' daddy long legs. (You might have to read it to see how funny it really is. I'm realizing it sounds pretty out there.)

Anyway, that made me realize we might actually have pets. But the pets chose us, we didnt choose them. 


Yes, ducks.

In our back yard, there's a swimming pool. It's in ground, and built in the fifties, maybe? (In the winter, it's covered with a tarp, and fills with snow, then rain).  Its lovely and peaceful and  surrounded in spring and summer and fall by flowers and graceful trees. 

But several years ago, on a March afternoon,  my husband and I were sitting on the couch in the sun room--and suddenly heard the strangest sound. A huge splash!  We looked at each other, surprised and questioning--and then looked outside.

Flo and eddy

Paddling on the pool, just as if they belonged there, were two  mallards, a male and a female. The male with an iridescent green head, and a perfect white stripe around his neck, and a slash of purple on each wings. The female, demure and wrenny, a thousand shades of brown. Paddling around.  Just as if they belonged there.

Jonathan and I burst out laughing. “Got any duck food?” I said. (Which is hilarious if you know the duck food joke. If you don’t, let me know. )

Anyway.  I  got some bread and quietly quietly opened the back  door, and fed them. We named them Flo and Eddy.   (Which I thought sounded nice and watery.)

The next day they  came back. And brought friends.   We guess they thought the tarp-covered pool was a pond. The ducks flew in and out all spring. We fed them, and got to know them. We learned their methods of communication..how they bob their heads when they’re ready to leave. How they swim completely underwater. How they stand on one leg and sun themselves, motionless for hours. How two males can swim together, but not three, unless they each stay in a different part of the pool. And when there are three males and a female arrives, they fight. I’m just saying.That’s how it is.

Sometimes they would fly up onto the roof. Bizarre.

Ducks on roof



And then, one almost-summer day, they did not arrive. 

I was so sad. But I knew the pool people were coming soon to open the pool-- they would  take off the tarp, put in chlorine,  and make it nice for humans, but not so nice for ducks.  So it was, actually, time for the ducks to go. How did they know that? 

The next day, one lone female duck, who I recognized as Eddy, came back, swam around a bit, then flew away. Then she brought Flo.Ducks in pool

They swam for a moment, in the chlorine, looking confused. Then they flew away together.

And they didn't come back.

Summer came, and then the dahlias,  and then the leaves turned and the pool closed and  we were in the midst of the Boston winter.   And then...as  March arrived and  the ice on the pool started to melt, and there was a certain kind of ripple on the water, there was another splash.  

The ducks were back.

The same ducks.

And they've been back every year since. Six or seven years in a row.First the robins arrive, then the crocus shoots, and then, the ducks.

So a few days ago, as the ice started melting, and the trees got tiny buds, and the water in the pool had a certain kind of ripple, and I said to Jonathan--it's just about duck time. I wonder if they'll come?

And Sunday they arrived! And here they are.

Flo and eddy on side 2010

  Flo and Eddy, I'm sure of it. It was pouring rain, but you know. Good weather for ducks.  And they waddled up to our back door for duck food, which we provided, then they got back into the pond. Er, pool.   

It's spring, no doubt about that. And I'm not sure you could call Flo and Eddy "pets." But maybe so.

What are you hoping for—waiting for—expecting--this spring?  And have unexpected pets arrived at your house?

March 01, 2010

That Ever I Was Born to Set It Right

by Hank Phillippi Ryan


Happy Leap Year Day!


Now I  know you’re saying, Hank, it isn’t Leap Year Day. It's March first (rabbit rabbit) not February  29.  True, and I know it, too. But the thing that always fascinates me is that it could be the 29th, if we all just decided to call it that.


But back in the (fill in the blank) century, fill in the blank guy (probably a  guy, sorry, but they  were generally in charge back then) figured out that for  fill in the blank reason, the calendar was going kerflooey, and something bad was about to happen, and since we didn’t want it to,  we need to stick in an extra  day every four years in order to make sure that chaos did not ensue and that people would be able to know when their shows were on TV.


Totally makes sense.


But I’m thinking that was the beginning of the end of time. Because here’s what I mean. It proves that time is just what we call it, and hasn’t that worked out nicely for the people who sell stuff?


Here’s why. I went to the drug store recently, like, day before yesterday, and what was on the shelves? EASTER CANDY. Peeps. Colored EGGS.PeepsCadbury bunnies and  pastel jelly beans and woven high-handled baskets filled with cello grass and wrapped and tied with crinkly plastic and curly ribbons.. Did I mention Peeps? PEEPS!


Need I remind you that it is FEBRUARY? Okay, its March ,but it could be February if we call decided to call it that. And even so, it’s nowhere near EASTER.


 If you went to the stores on say, December 26, well, okay, maybe January 2nd, I bet there was Valentine’s candy.


You know I’m right.


 But it’s a way to get you to buy stuff.  It’s a way to get you to think—oh, I’d better buy this now, otherwise I’ll forget, and I’ll feel organized and can check this off my list.Easter


But if I might add, if you buys your Peeps (PEEPS!) now, or jellybeans,  you now you’re going to be unable to resist eating them. And that means you’ll have to buy MORE, won’t you?  And let me also say that if you can hold off from eating them, they’re going to be stale by the time the real Easter rolls around in what, five weeks? FIVE WEEKS!


Easter bunnnies

(Forgive the photos. You can tell the ones that were taken surreptitiously with my cell phone in a valiant attempt not to get yelled at or interrogated by the drug store employees. Not for nothing am I the investigative reporter.) 


You know we barely get through back to school before Halloween costumes and candy corn are out. Don’t even get me started about Christmas decorations for sale on November 1.


Just last week, someone here complained that they could no longer buy a snow shovel in the hardware store—am I remembering correctly that they were indeed selling garden trellises and pool toys and tiki lamps? But snow shovels, no. Because the season was over.


Anyone look outside? Anyone?


 I say, it shouldn't be about convenience. It’s when it IS. Next thing you know they’ll be taking something that’s absolute, like say, Lincoln’s Birthday or Washington’s Birthday, and deciding we should celebrate them together or some arbitrary day. (Yes, fine, I know, they already did that. Mess with history. Got to love that. Do you think the Brits would change the date of, I don’t know, the Battle of Waterloo?  Just so it was easier?) Admit it—you’ve not batted an eye when someone says—oh, we’re having July 4thon the third this year, because July 4th falls on a weekday. You know, it’s gonna happen 5 out of 7 times. But July 4th should be July 4th.


It is a slippery slope. So maybe we should take advantage of it.


For instance.


I almost completely missed my step-daughter’s birthday last week. She’s a dream and a treasure, and that situation was only saved by a fast email and a gift card via the internet. But how much easier would it have been if I had just decided that to me, her birthday was going to be when I wanted it to be, when it was convenient for me?  I mean, if we can change the birthday of the father of our country, a young woman in Brooklyn’s shouldn’t be that difficult.


Hmm. No more panic to buy Christmas and Chanukah presents—its Christmas and Chanukah when we say it is. And we’ll be better off for it; because there’ll be no more stress. If we want to put up out holiday decorations, say, in February, when there’s finally time to do it, why not?


I suppose the people who make belated birthday cards might be unhappy—after all, nothing would be belated. No more: “sorry I missed your birthday.” Because the birthday would be whenever you wanted it to be.

I like it.


So, Happy Leap Year Day to you all. Happy Nancy’s book pub day!  (I know it’s tomorrow, but I’m celebrating TODAY! ) And Happy Birthday, Krista.  And now I’m going out to buy a bathing suit while there are still some left in the stores...  


February 15, 2010

Perchance to Dream

Stars by Hank

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. "
  Hamlet Act 1, scene 5

If you remember your dreams, and if you've ever discussed them with a pal, you've certainly realized that although we sleep separately (even when we're in the same bed) there are dreams we share. 

It's comforting sometimes--you say, oh, I had that dream, too! That I was late for my class, and there was a test, and WHY didn't I study, and why can't I find the classroom. Classic stress dream, and one I used to have all the time. (Not so much anymore, though, which is probably a blog for another time.)

Flying? I only had that once, and it was great. There were lots of rules, like you couldn't carry anything, and you had to take off from the ground. You couldn't jump off a building or anything. 

And psychologists and psychiatrists do think dreams mean something, that they come from somewhere  in our psyches, though they argue about how and where. And sometimes, dreams are pretty darn obvious. Like--you meet someone new, and then in your dreams you're diving into water. I mean, come on. Caves and tunnels, that kind of stuff.

But whatever. Even though similar, our dreams are separate.

But--and I know you're wondering--here's the point.

About three years ago, I had such a powerful dream that I woke up and I was crying. I thought gee, that's odd. And tried to think about what I had seen and where I had been in my dream, and I felt the tears on my cheeks. I thought--oh, it's a dream, go back to sleep. Then I looked at the digital clock.

The clock said 4:11. And I thought--oh, 411. That's the number for information. This dream is trying to give me information. I better write it down.

So I have that notepad right here. And I will transcribe what is says. The point, I promise, is coming. Here's what I scrawled in the darkness: 

End of world. Everyone knew it. It was OK. Everyone was getting ready and planning where to go. People had barbecues and lots of food. People trying to decide the best place to be.

There was a kit. Three books to love. Some not want? JD Salinger maybe?

We could decide where to be as the end got closer. We went out and went to a beach house with friends. Too many little kids.

We left. 

THE PARABLE OF THE SAIL  (this was like a title page or something. An interruption in the dream.)

You're sailing along in space. There's nothing nothing nothing. Why keep on?

Suddenly in the nothing, there's like a hair, and though it's small you realize there's something!   And then there are puppies and kittens and finally, someone! And that's why.

End of the parable. Anyway, still looking where to go. Sky getting dark. Leave beach house. People actually okay, and happy everywhere. Sky pretty.

Not really sad. Why? We go to a big restaurant, realize people are getting things free because it won't matter, very crowded but peaceful.

We lose each other briefly. I call your name, you call your name back--you've gotten coffee and chocolate almond ice cream in cones, it's so cute. It's coming, we decide to head for home.

Well, there's more, amazingly, but I'll just tell you that part. And here, finally, is the point.

The other day, Alice Walker wrote a wonderful appreciation of Howard Zinn. It was in the Boston Globe. And in this essay, she described a dream she had which made her feel better.

And here's part of what she wrote:

"We (someone and I) were looking for the place we go when we die. After a quite a long walk, we encountered it. What we saw was this astonishingly gigantic collection of people and creatures, birds and foxes, butterflies and dogs, cats and beings I've never seen awake....We were happy too. But there was nothing to support any of us, no land, no water, nothing. We ourselves were all of it: our own earth.   And I woke up knowing that this is where we go when we die. We go back to where we came from: inside all of us."

Now, I ask you. Is that not the same dream? And because (to me)  it certainly is--what do you make of that? 

300px-Federico_Fellini_NYWTS_2  Einstein

This is a picture of Federico Fellini. I mean, it seems appropriate. And Einstein. Him, too.

February 01, 2010

To Boldly Go

by Hank Phillippi Ryan

How brave are you?

But wait--before we see today's main feature and plumb the depths of your fears and courage, we bring you some special messages:

FIRST: Hurray for Sarah! The adorable movie, "Lying to Be Perfect" based on Sarah's The Cinderella Pact premiered on Lifetime TV Saturday night...and it was charming.  If you haven't read TCP,  you're in for a treat. If you haven't seen LTBP, check your On Demand listings.

AND THEN: It's time for DRIVE TIME! As you've no doubt noticed from the relentless countdown counter on the upper left of your screen, today''s the release day for DRIVE TIME,Drive Time FINAL 300med the newest book in my mystery series featuring the smart and savvy TV reporter Charlotte McNally. It has a wonderful blurb from our dear Robert B Parker on the cover...

And Library Journal gave it a starred review! Here's just part of the rave:  "Buckle up and prepare for a wild ride!...Placing Ryan in the same league  as Lisa Scottoline...her latest book catapults the reader into the fast lane and doesn't relent until the story careens to a halt. New readers will speed to get her earlier books, and diehard fans will hope for another installment."

And interestingly, ripped from the headlines, it's all about the dangers of recalled cars.

(And hey, order a signed copy of DRIVE TIME from Mystery Lovers Bookshop and mention TLC--and get a wonderful black canvas tote bag and free shipping! Today only for the tote bag--usually you have to buy three books to get it!) 

We now return you to our regular programming.

How brave are you?

It was back in oh, 1980. I was a not-quite-cub but not-quite-experienced TV reporter in Atlanta. If you want to picture it, I had long long dark brown hair, my shoulder pads could rival Dick Butkus, and my eyebrows were straight out of Brooke Shields. You remember.

With all the fearlessness and ambition and confidence of someone at the beginning, I hoped, of a career, I was planning to move to the networks, take over from Barbara Walters, and cut a swath through journalism, breaking stories and catching bad guys and uncovering the truth. 

But how to break out from the pack of other wannabes? Space-shuttle-challenger

And then I saw the ad in Columbia Journalism Review. NASA was looking for applicants to become the first journalist in space. One lucky reporter would be chosen to ride the then-brand-newish space shuttle, and report first hand on their experiences.

Bingo. I saw my career path rising like  the shuttle itself. My insightful  and thoughtful and technically brilliant reporting, I figured, would transform me from medium fish in a medium pond to big fish in the biggest of ponds. I plotted the whole thing out, rubbing my hands in anticipation. I was perfect for this assignment. I was young. A woman, and I figured, they had to choose a woman. This was going to fly.

I sent in my request for the application, and could hardly wait. Space-shuttle-launching

When the thick brown envelope arrived in my mailbox, I ripped it open. Inside was a multi-colored multi-copied stack of paperwork, as elaborate as a college application. Full of forms and questions and medical stuff, if I remember correctly, and lots of blanks to fill in. Piece of cake, I thought. I'm young, healthy and brave. Bring it on.

And then, I saw the biggie. There was an essay question. Tell us, it requested, in five hundred words, exactly why you want to be the first journalist in space.

Drat. I hate essay questions. Just let me go, I thought. You won't regret it. But after a moment of petulance, I knew  that if I wanted to blast off, I'd have to write that essay.

I decided to make the best of it. Maybe there was a point to it, anyway. Maybe it would be a good thing, emotionally and intellectually, if I really did explore why I wanted to be the first JIS. I mean, "desire for fame" probably wasn't a very compelling reason. And probably was not going to charm the judges.

So I sat at the kitchen table, as I remember, contemplating my future. Imagining being the first journalist in space. I'd go through all that training, cool. I'd bond with the other astronauts. Cool. I'd suit up in one of those protective outfits, great. I'd climb into the space shuttle, wave at the camera, and blast off into space.

Pause. Pause.

Pause. Pause.

Not a chance, I decided. Not a chance in the world. When I actually had to imagine fifty billion pounds of thrust (or whatever) blasting me into the unknown on a little space shuttle thing with vast nothingness around me and, basically, no back-up plan if something went wrong, all the wind went out of my sails. 

I was staying earthbound. No question. I folded up that application, tucked it back into the envelope, and tucked the  envelope away somewhere. Traveling in my head was as close as I got to space travel.

Reality had trumped ambiton. And I wasn't as brave as I'd imagined.

The journalist in space program was halted, of course, after the tragic ending of the teacher in space program. And I remember, with some irony, that I was sent to New Hampshire to cover the Christa McAuliffe story.  And that was a powerful lesson for me about true bravery.Space-travel

So I'm wondering. Space travel.  Just one question: Would you go?