279 posts categorized "Sarah Strohmeyer"

July 20, 2010

Mel's Year of Living Dangerously

*HEY! ANGELA POPOWSKI CHERRY WON THE PENNY PINCHERS GIVEAWAY for her tips on what to do with cereal crumbs!

By Sarah

Okay, look, we gotta talk about Mel and Oksana. Yes, yes, I know you're sick of him, sick of his slurred rantings and ravings as propagated by the online arm of the National Enquirer. Though that hasn't stopped the New York Times TWICE from finding gravitas, nay societal upheaval, in this car wreck of a twisted Hollywood disaster.

Mel and o  But I'm not here to talk about Mel. I'm here to talk about Oksana and how she may have single handedly set back progress in the rights for battered women.

First, the disclaimer: Mel's a skunk. Maybe he's mentally ill. Maybe he's mentally ill from too much drink. Whatever, he's a washed up angry racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, delusional has-been and I say that with much regret. I used to love Mel longggg ago. I loved his intelligence and blue eyes. But, mostly, I loved his grin. Now, all I see is a rheumy eyed drunk who lashes out at dim bulbs.

Which brings me to Oksana.

Until this blow up, I passed off Oksana as, well, a cheap bar date, exactly the kind of idiot middle-aged drunks like Mel would scrape up and take back to his place. I remember one time I had the TV on and Mel was there talking about his new baby, saying he doesn't wake up in the middle of the night to help the "baby's mother." (Either can't or not home yet, I thought).  The weirdest thing was how he kept referring to Oksana as "the baby's mother." Not once did he call her by name. Think of it. Think if your husband went on national TV shortly after you gave birth and he kept referring to you as "the baby's mother." Ewwww.

That interview was last winter, right around the time Mel supposedly socked Oksana in the jaw and broke her tooth. This is a crime. That's it. A crime. Go to jail. Serve time. End of discussion. And it might have been prosecuted as such if Oksana had gone to the police with photographs and a good lawyer. She didn't.

Now, as anyone who works with abused women knows, all too often women in Oksana's position keep mum out of embarrassment, fear, or lack of funds. Oksana did something else.

She got hold of professional recording equipment and illegally taped - possibly edited - Mel's drunken rants. Then she held them over his head for money. Millions, from what I understand. When Mel offered her $20 million plus child support, she went to the National Enquirer. Yes, yes, I know she claims that she was fighting for 100% custody, but it would have been a far more effective war if she'd put her word on a sworn affidavit - not on the endorsement line of a National Enquirer check.

In so doing, she unraveled the good work of battered women's groups over decades. It wasn't that long ago when abused women were thought of as "off." SHE must have done something wrong to provoke Farrah   HIM. Or, the more common myth, SHE is alleging these crazy allegations about a good man because she's having a hissy fit.

It's taken time, effort and brave victims to come forward to raise awareness about how scary it is to admit publicly that you're an abused woman. Courts have agreed to extreme measures to protect their identities, including blacking out portions of public records. Newspaper reporters often withhold their names and these exceptions have produced worthwhile benefits. Now, a beaten woman can call the police, go to a shelter, maybe even watch her abuser being prosecuted while keeping some semblance of her privacy.

Oksana took advantage of that foundation to grandstand for herself, for more money, for spite.

Consider what might have happened if, after getting hit, Oksana called the cops who you can bet would have been all too happy to arrest Gibson on the spot. Perhaps, she could have come forward and said, "Look at me. I'm beautiful. I'm rich. And the former Sexiest Man Alive beats me. Yet, I survived and you can too by summoning your courage, trusting the system and availing yourself of the resources available. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. I look forward to creating a new life on my own."


Instead, even good ole feminists like me are squinting at her dentist photos, trying to figure out if they're doctored. We're wincing when she says, "You give me nothing. I waited for you in Jacuzzi and you didn't come." And questioning when Gibson's admission to striking her sounds as if the tape has been spliced.

Robyn  If there's anyone who has me worried, it's Mel's wife, Robyn, who submitted a statement claiming Mel never hit her or their children. What income does she have? And Mel, supposedly, is broke. Not to mention the seven kids.

Now there's an abused woman.


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? 


October 20, 2009

Every Scar Tells a Story

By Sarah 

A week ago Sunday, I was about to take my dog for a walk on a lovely, brisk autumn day when behind me the front door slammed. Right on my left middle finger. 

This is the part where, if you're eating breakfast, you might want to hold off on reading the rest.

Middle finger At first, I thought I had sliced off the top, except there was very little blood. This hardly mattered as I had been struck speechless, like I'd been sucker punched in the sternum, there was so much pain. I let go of the dog and scrambled inside to check out the damage. Tissue burst forth from the split. Blood seeped under the nail. Days later, I would realize that under the pressure of the clamping deadbolt it had, well, popped.

For a writer, a popped finger is a particularly nasty bit of luck. I have been unable to type R.E.D. without pain or, barring that, wrapping my finger in gauze. Yes, I should have gone to the emergency room but there are few worse outings than sitting in a central Vermont emergency room on a Sunday afternoon. Frankly, a bandaged finger did not qualify. Though now I'm having second thoughts.

It still hasn't quite healed and writing has been a pain though, being a human, my brain has quickly recircuited to adapt, my index finger doing double, if awkward, duty. As a result, I didn't get much writing done last week though that might also have been because I had a swine flu patient to care for at home.

The good news is it is creating an interesting scar. I only wish I had a better story to go with it because good scars should all come with good stories. They are like the tattoos of hard knocks.

My grandmother had a scar running down the length of her right cheek and this, my mother theorized, was what kept her from being married until the ripe old age of 27. Her story - the polite version - was that as a child she'd fallen against a hot iron. Considering she was born in 1890, that was the kind of iron you used to heat on the stove. The real version, I would learn later, was that her drunken father, a German playboy whose family had sent to America to run a vineyard and get out of the damn house, had burned her with a hot poker after she scolded him for beating the horses.

Fun times.

I have a, ahem, friend who has a scar on his wrist the size of a dime. Apparently, his story goes, someone had convinced him that a cigarette could not burn through a dollar bill and to test this theory, my friendCig dollar bill  held a cigarette against a dollar bill against his own wrist. Why he didn't test it against a piece of paper or another cigarette is beyond me. Was alcohol involved? I'll let you be the judge.

There are very few people I know who don't have scars on their chins of some size or another left over from childhood. I got mine slipping in the bathtub when I was four. A kid I knew in high school got his when he slipped against a knife blade when he was fourteen. He never told me if he was in the bath then, too.

I do have another scar. It's under my eye and was caused when I was seven years old under my brother's care in Cape Cod. We were staying at a friend's home on an island off Wellfleet. My parents had gone to dinner and taken the only car. Also, the tide was high which meant the roads were covered with water - a cool aspect of staying on the island, unless you needed to go to the hospital.

That night, to entertain me, my brother who was ten years older took me to the top of a dune to fly a kite. I distinctly remember the kite rising and then disappearing into the night sky only to reappear rapidly with the sound of fluttering dive bombing straight down. Into my eye.

In that case, there was a lot of blood. There also wasn't much we could do. This was before cell phones and parents who cared. My parents hadn't left any numbers so when they returned, they found a heavily bandaged little girl, a scared teenage brother and a lot of bloody towels. By that time, they figured, it was too late to get stitches. I remember being extremely relieved since the idea of a needle in that area would have been almost too much to bear.

After hours If you've ever seen the movie After Hours, you'll know scars and the treatment thereof are key plot devices. I loved that movie. But I think I'm the only one.

The point is that I need a better back story for my scarred middle finger. A slammed door while walking the dog just won't do. So far, I've been playing around with a flipping-the-bird theme but coming up short. I am willing to consider any and all suggestions.

In the meantime, got any scar stories? I bet you do. Hey...if it's a good one, I just might steal it.


P.S. My interview on Marketplace ran this morning. Check it out: _ http://tiny.cc/M3KJN 

October 13, 2009

Worst. Birthday. Ever

By Sarah

This blog is going to be brief. All day, I've nursed a sick kid. Fever. Sore throat. Body aches. Runny nose. Normal stuff in any other era but in the days of The Flu Formerly Known as Swine incredible cause for alarm. 

For example, the doctor wanted to see him but only if he agreed to wear a face mask and be placed in an isolated room. Actually, that made me feel kind of better about going to the doctor's. The school, which previously didn't care how sick kids were as long as they weren't smoking pot, has issued a new policy: any fever - ANY fever - is an excused absence and kids are not allowed to return until 24 hours of being fever free. Since Sam's fever returned tonight, he won't be going to school tomorrow.

Small comfort for a birthday boy.

Yup. Sam's birthday was yesterday. He turned 14 and is now man enough not to care that much about how he celebrates his big day. It was on a Monday, anyway. Bummer. But a sucky birthday is still a sucky birthday, a good baseline, as I told him, for fun ones to come. Plus, he'll never forget it.

I remember my worst birthday - my eighteenth. I was a freshman in college and it was finals week - the curse of a December 17 birth. My mother came up from Pennsylvania with a cake, though, really, she shouldn't have bothered. I was so stretched thin and, little did I know, so ill, I barely noticed. She took me out to dinner and I counted the minutes until I could get back to my dorm and study. Plus, I had a killer headache.

The next morning, the day of my last final, I woke to a 104 degree fever. Somehow, I managed to make it to my history of political science final where my ancient professor, who'd seen plenty of students fake it, asked me if I could muscle the strength to finish the exam since I'd be looking at a 0 otherwise. Needless to say, I "muscled," despite a particularly intriguing experience of tunnel vision. Next I knew, I was in the infirmary and some Tufts intern was palpitating my abdomen and making a crack about it being like "white dough." (Thanks buddy.) My next memory after that was waking in my grandmother's house in Watertown.

What I had I'll never know. But, aside from the chickenpox at 19 and a flu I had a year ago in March, I have never been so ill. That was  the - Worst. Birthday. Ever.

So as I collapse into bed and wake a bazillion times tonight to check on Sam, chime in, won't you, about your worst birthday experiences. I'm sure in the end, it'll do us all a world of good.



October 06, 2009

Money. Root of All Evil and, yet, Source of All Fun.

By Sarah

As a binge spender and, not coincidentally, author of The Penny Pinchers Club, I was not surprised to read last week that a highly scientific CNN Poll showed that money - or, rather, the lack thereof - was the leading cause of stress. So tell me something I don't know. Been there. Doing that.

It's easy to go broke as an author. For one thing, there are no regular paychecks so when you do get paid for turning in a manuscript or publishing in Romania it feels like a huge deal and, well, let's just say pent up spending unleashes. For another, there are taxes. Quarterly. And, inevitably, annually. Not that I'm complaining - hey, it's preferable to when I earned $25K/year after 20 years in the newspaper business - but it does require discipline and sleepless nights. There are rumors of authors having to negotiate with the IRS and, in Willie Nelson fashion, write entire books to pay their overdue tax bills plus interest and penalties.

But authors are a teeny tiny minority. When I posted on Facebook the other day the hopeful Ben and george (manipulative?) words by Ben Bernanke that the economy was turning around, I was flooded with angry responses from readers revealing horrible stories, tales about being unemployed for months and running out of benefits, of rarely daring to step outside their front doors. I'm referring to one woman who'd lost her job and her health insurance and who, as a result, declined to Rollerblade with her nieces because she feared an injury that could bankrupt her.

I'd like to ask her if she feels money is the root of all evil. Because, when you get down to the nitty gritty, this is what the health insurance debate is about. There are those in the upper class who prefer the medical privileges afforded by their cushy insurance policies. They definitely do not think money is the root of all evil. Then there are those in the lower classes, right above Medicaid, who won't Rollerblade.  In between there is the middle class and if there's anything you learned in college economics it's that the middle class aspires to be the upper class while disassociating itself from the class beneath. In other words, they do believe money is the root of all evil and they worry they don't have enough of it.

Who among us is not in that position? I bet even Bill Gates, the benchmark of wealth, lies awake at night wishing for a few billion more. (Ideally, to help stem the spread of AIDS in Africa.) One can never have enough money, supposedly. That's what 3 a.m. infomercials are for, to convince you that you really need a chair that elevates the seat mechanically or a home gym you'll never use.

Thankfully, I live in an area of Vermont where people are not judged according to their income, where a big SUV is an embarrassment, as is a big house. (All that wasted heat!) I'm sometimes embarrassedVt small farm  about my home though it would be dwarfed in a place like the suburb of Cleveland in which I set Secret Lives. Instead, our community tends to approve of those who live frugally, close to the land in harmony with nature. Live simply so others may simply live and all that. It gets annoying, but it's better than the alternative.

I'm so used to the Vermont ethos, I was a bit taken aback yesterday when I was talking with my agent about the constrictions of modern society and she opined that the hallmark of our society was wealth, that in our world "you're nothing without wealth." Really? Is this some New York thing? Because I know plenty of somethings - teachers, poets, social workers, ministers, forest management experts - who have barely two pennies to rub together and they are pretty damned fulfilled. 

With the dawn of the Recession, I'd thought - hoped! - we'd moved beyond glorifying Goldman Sachs. That was the only thing that made this awful period tolerable. If my readers were unable to Rollerblade because they were without health insurance because they had lost their jobs, then maybe the upper echelons of Manhattan society had also suffered and, in suffering, had grown souls. Maybe those assholes who stole all our money had shamed themselves into introspection.

Man, was I naive.

I guess my question's pretty simple. If money is the leading cause of stress, if even CNN is broadcasting that, then why don't people wise up and forget grasping for the brass ring? Lately, I've lost interest in the almighty dollar and have begun focusing on what makes me happy - writing and my family being at the very top. (I really do like to write. It's not just a job. It really is an adventure.) I've been doodling numbers on the backs of envelopes. Just how much - really - would it take to live, to pay the mortgage and property taxes. It's an interesting exercise, especially when you go through your list of "must haves" and realize that must haves are really not-so-much haves. I did it in the Penny Pinchers and it worked. You can cut out a shitload of bills if you have to. You just don't want to have to.

The final equation is daunting. It takes a lot to live comfortably. Too much. Universal health insurance would ease the crunch, I think, as would a change in financing college educations and the credit business. But it's doable. That's the good news. It really is possible to turn your back on the rat race by reducing spending, living smaller and working hard. Not crazy hard. Just hard enough to get into bed at the end of the day and, wearily, knock off.

But Wall Street and Ben Bernanke do not what you to go there. They want you to go to the mall so they can get in their Mercedes.

Pretty sick, if you ask me.


October 03, 2009

Onion Sandwiches: Your Answer to H1N1

By Sarah

Before we get started talking about this H1N1 business, we gotta do something about the name. I'm sorry, but any virus that is already threatening to infect millions and kill hundreds - perhaps more - needs a better moniker. Have lawyers been involved? (Lawyers for the pig industry, I'm guessing.) Because H1N1 smacks of a cease and desist letter. Like when we as reporters used to get threatening memos from the Rollerblade people cautioning that unless the sports equipment was specifically marked ROLLERBLADE on the side, we were "strongly advised" not to go calling any roller skate a Rollerblade. As if any reader cared.
But I digress.
The real point of this blog is to move beyond the fear - of both the virus and the vaccine - and get to those homegrown solutions, wive's tales if you will, that are both cheap and weird and, I believe, often effective in fighting the plague. Which this is, in case you haven't noticed. And, no, I don't want to be hearing from the "Plague People" that unless the virus is classified as "bubonic" I am incorrect in calling it the plague. Because in this world, I'm betting even those viruses have representation. 
Okay, let's start with what we know. The H1N1 is a virus, like a cold or, well, the plague. Viruses are like teeny tiny hypodermic needles. Their key to survival is being able to live outside the body and then, when being picked up on doorknobs or through handshakes or being inhaled after someone sneezes, invading the host, injecting its DNA and replicating more little hypodermic needles with a goal of taking over your body. Your body reacts. Sometimes it wins, like in 10 days for the cold, sometimes it loses, like when you're a sickly child in Africa suffering from AIDS, untreated. Fortunately, the HIV virus does a crappy job of living on doorknobs. Thank goodness for small things.
This means we can fight the H1N1 virus in two ways: a) not coming in contact with it  - difficult b) responding effectively when we do. In the last case, the vaccine helps, though it takes a while (six weeks?) to build antibodies. Some people are suspicious of the vaccine partly because quasi news outlets like AOL news publish stories from England or Swaziland about people receiving vaccines and dying on the spot. But from what I understand the vaccine is produced from two other old, tried and true flu vaccines, so its death rate is really quite low. (Now, I expect, I'll be hearing from AOL.)
Since the vaccine's not readily available right now, that leave us home remedies. Washing hands frequently, of course, is a no brainer. Ever since I went on book tours and had to live in airports for two weeks, I've become an OC hand washer. Sneezing into the crook of your arm (and, by the way, how come it took so long for us to figure out THAT one) is another. Also, staying home and keeping your kids home with the slightest symptoms. Unfortunately, until young working parents have understanding bosses and support, that won't happen. Not in this economy.
Those are normal things to do. Now here are some abnormal things -
1) Onion Sandwiches
Growing up, I had a babysitter, Mrs. Sandt, perhaps I've told you about her. Mrs. Sandt was one of those old Pennsylvania Dutchwomen, not alot of fun, wore a lot of black with clodhopper shoes, but amazing when it came to living on watercress and dirt. She raised 13 kids, or something like that, none of whom ever got sick. How? Friday night raw onion sandwiches. Disgusting, right? She swore up and down that raw onion sandwiches - served on Friday to spare fellow school children the next day - did something miraculous that drove viruses away. I'm not sure Mrs. Sandt even knew what a virus was, but those sandwiches worked.
2) Gargling with Salt Water
This was one of my grandmother's favorite remedies - and she lived to be 107. The concept here is to gargle with salt water at the least little tickle in the back of the throat, though, in the winter, she would do it every night. My grandmother, a full blooded German, was very much into discipline and salt water, refusing to swim in fresh water ponds. That had something to do with polio, I forget. She loved the ocean, however, and she loved salt water gargles. If I had to guess, I'd say that the throat is probably a vulnerable entry point for viruses with all that delicate tissue. Therefore, the salt either kills or prevents viruses from infecting. I don't know, I'm no doctor. Just do it. Alternatively, I gargle with Peroxyl at the least little tickle of a sore throat and that works really well.
3) Garlic, Garlic, Garlic.
Again, we're working on the same principle as the onion sandwiches. Is it that the garlic and onion keep other (infected) people at bay? Or is it that these two wonder vegetables pack a punch? When my kids get sick with some flu or cold thing that lingers, I give them roasted garlic soup. Yes, it has grated parmesan cheese and cream and a bit of sherry, but it also has 40 cloves of garlic and a few onions, too. It's also incredibly delicious with crusty bread and a crisp salad. You can find the recipe here.
So those are my wacky ideas. Got some of your own? Post 'em here. Maybe, together, we can fight this H1N1 virus (I call it the Virus Formerly Known as Swine, though that might be risking legal action from Prince). Apart, we can do even better.
Stay well!


September 29, 2009

Heroin + Incest = Bestseller

Heroin + Incest = Bestseller

Shortly after yet another made-up memoir was published - I think it might have been "Love and Consequences," the story of a black gang member as penned by a white creative writing student - my editor casually mentioned that any book with the word "memoir" either explicitly or implicitly implied was under serious scrutiny at our publishing house. "The problem isn't that all memoir writers lie," she said, rather insightfully, "it's people's memories. They're really unreliable."
No kidding.


Ask any criminal lawyer and they'll tell you the same thing. In fact, the fallible human memory is the crux of cross examination and the bane of many witnesses. Even well-meaning folk who stick by a crime scene as they should to provide testimony about the stabbing they unfortunately happened upon can find themselves flayed on the witness stand, questioned about every minor detail of the moment such as whether it was raining or drizzling, if the light had turned green, if they remembered a group of school children passing by. One answer wrong and the witness turns out to be not so credible after all.
"If Mrs. Jones can't remember that the day was, actually, cloudy not bright and sunny, can we trust her, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, to know that it was a man with sideburns and a crew cut who stabbed the victim?"
Mrs. Jones was sober. Mackenzie Phillips? Not so much. But she, too, has written a memoir, "High on Arrival," that's been featured on Oprah and Larry King, about her alleged forced and then consensual relationship with her father, John Phillips, of the Mamas and the Papas. I predict it's destined for the New York Times bestseller list and, a year or so from now, the remainder bin. Kind of like Mackenzie herself. 
John Phillips is dead, that helps, so he's not present to defend himself though two of his former wives are. They claim Phillips never had an incestuous relationship with his daughter even if he was drunk and stoned for decades.
Mackenzie has shot back that this is the "typical reaction" of family members facing such allegations. Better to deny the horrific events than deal with the reality. Protect the victim and all that.
Okay. I buy - strongly buy - that family members, like all humans, are experts at denial, the shortcut to survival. As a former crime reporter, I was amazed by the mothers of raped children who stuck by their pervert boyfriends instead of their own offspring. It was maddening, especially for the cops and counselors, not to mention the girls themselves. (Book idea: follow up on those children to see how they fared in life.)
But when it comes to Mackenzie Phillips, I'm not so quick to rally. For one thing, in her case I resent the pat response that defense = denial. Not always. Surely, some people accused of rape or incest must be innocent and, if so, those denials have merit. What we've got here is almost a reverse witch trial - if you deny the crime, then you must be guilty.
Also, there's the sober factor. Like in the Mrs. Jones cross examination above, even the most clear-minded brains can be influenced by the power of suggestion, time, distractions and outside influences. We'd like to think that our fourth birthday - the one where we put toothpaste in our hair to amuse our highly


 refined four-year-old guests - occurred exactly as we recall. But there's a good chance it was Susan Foster, not us, who pulled the toothpaste trick out of the hat. Unless there's video, we'll never know.
I've never done heroin, but I have been drunk and I can't say my memory of those times is anything close to crystal clear. So it amazes me that Mackenzie Phillips, who was arrested with heroin just last year, is cold positive about her past.
I know what you're going to say, abusers often target screwed up victims whose memories can't be trusted. True. But I see Mackenzie Phillips, hard around the edges at age 49, racking up the sales on Oprah and I have my doubts. The old line that she's doing it for other incest victims wears thin when she's cashing huge advance checks. If other incest victims were her highest priority, wouldn't she have at least joined an organization protecting abused children? Marched in a few parades? Volunteered?
I guess the bottom line is that I have serious issues with those who make a fortune on revealing secrets for mega profit. At some point - and time is running out - Mackenzie Phillips will have to stop living off her name, for good or ill, and try to make it with her own talents.
One day at a time.


September 22, 2009

If Beds Could Talk

By Sarah

Pray for my soul: I've been shopping for a new mattress and in so doing have accidentally entered a fresh retail hell.
It started with a renovation - no lectures please. Yes, for all my talk about penny pinching this year, 


Charlie and I gave in and had the wall in our bedroom straightened out last week. As with any renovation like this, you just can't let it be. Oh, no. You have to fix the ceiling, too, and the walk-in closet that the bedroom abuts. Of course, new paint EVERYWHERE! (That we're doing ourselves.) And lights. Fresh carpet goes without saying. While we're at it, with this big new room let's finally get a king-sized bed. 
And so a $2,000 job turned into a....well, I don't want to think about it. Especially since we've also got a freshman in college.
In our defense, we've been putting off correcting the closet/bedroom/hallway mistake since Charlie built the addition himself back in the late 1990s. He realized immediately that the architect got way too angle happy with the seven-sided bedroom she designed. Too bad we didn't recognize this before the place was framed.
 We've been living with drywall and plywood floors in the closet and  hallway since 1999. But that's


 okay. Drywall and plywood floors are pretty standard stuff in Vermont. It was fine - until we reached our late 40s and early 50s and the permanent impermanence began to wear thin. Also, our queen bed was suddenly too small. (Amazing how those mattresses can shrink.) And so we closed our eyes and did it.
Okay. I expected to shell out some bucks to Hutch, our very reasonable contractor who built our other addition last year. I did not expect the new bed and the new mattress to cost MORE than a week of his hard work and materials.
Since when did mattresses become space-age engineered monstrosities? The last mattress we bought (13 years ago) cost $600 for the entire set and has been just fine. (Though Charlie disagrees.) I imagined I would walk into a mattress store, pay maybe $800 for a king set and walk out. Oh, how naive I was.
If you haven't shopped for a mattress lately, here's a heads up. 
a) Buying a new mattress is exactly like buying a new car. Bullshit Abounds. "Individually wrapped coils" are to mattresses what "undercoating" is to Fords. "You can walk out of here with a new mattress right now" is akin to "what do I have to do to get you in this car today?" I even had one salesman talk to "his boss" about the price of a $4375 "Sleep to Live" by Kingsdown after I mentioned that I was looking at a mattress more than half that price. He returned with a "one-time" offer of $1919. His boss was feeling generous.


b) The names are ridiculous, just like cars. Consider the Stearns and Foster "LeMans Ultra Plush Euro Pillow Top" for those who equate a solid night's sleep with French racing. But wait, it gets better. One store might sell brand A as "Super Deluxe Plus Grand Prix" and a store down the street might sell the exact same mattress as "Euro Plush Spoiled Tush". So you can't comparison shop! Isn't that brilliant?
c) Everything is on sale. Everything. It is not uncommon to find a 100 to 200% markup drastically reduced. In the end, Charlie and I bought a mattress from a local store. It wasn't on sale and, yet, it was far less expensive than equivalents - no comparison shopping, remember? - in Burlington. His argument was that they didn't play the markup game and I believe him. Also, the store's been in business 40 years. If I've got a problem, they know word of mouth will spread.

d) Wood. Springs. Felt. Padding. These words, once the essence of mattresses and box springs, 

Down pillow

no longer count. Now it's latex and inner core and Visco foam (whatever that is). They have managed to take a relatively simple complex, once a bag stuffed with straw or down, and completely messed with it. I give up.

e) Finally, they're expensive. Crazy expensive. And the line every salesman uses? You got it - "You spend eight to ten hours of your day in bed. Isn't that time worth a good investment?" Fine. Except, you're not plugging savings into a mutual fund. You're investing in foam that will with time (sooner than you expect) sink, collapse and harden until your back is stiff and you're back to the beginning - shopping for a mattress and listening to spiels about eight to ten hours a day investments.
Which mattress did we buy? Chances are, it's the one you either didn't buy or you did buy and now hate. Because that, too, is the rule of mattress shopping - no one loves his or her mattress. Unless they shelled out for a Tempurapedic, then they rave. I wish I could, but I can't. To me, those mattresses are hard in the winter (when we leave the windows open and bundle in blankets) and hot in the summer. Give me springs.
We'll get our mattress and bed next week. In the meantime, our stuff is spread all over the house and 


Charlie and I are basically sleeping in separate bedrooms. (That was another reason for delaying the renovation - for when Anna was in college and we had more space.) There's irony there, but I'll let it pass. All I know is that the $250 twin no name mattress in my office feels divine, possibly because the bed is at least eighty years old and has real springs instead of box "foundations."
But they don't sell those anymore. Of course.

So, now I've ordered a king set but am having second thoughts. If you've got a great bed, please don't keep it a secret. After all, I'll spend eight to ten hours of my life in this bed and...


September 15, 2009

Sit Down. And Shut Up.

By Sarah

What has happened to our manners? Last week, nasty behavior among so-called professionals, not to mention so-called adults, spoiled politics, sports and even music.
Quill Does this country need a time out on the naughty chair?
Letitia Look, I don't profess to be Letitia Baldridge by any stretch. For one thing, I'm a lousy thank-you-note  writer. (Don't judge me!) I'm backed by flimsy psychological reasoning that it's my mother's fault for turning an enjoyable act into a chore laden with guilt and the unspoken, and sometimes spoken, message that whatever gift I received, I didn't deserve.
But, as today is my deceased mother's birthday, we'll let that rest. I already feel guilty. Besides, I've gotten better. Kind of.
Even with my failings, however, I couldn't in a million years imagine yelling "You lie!" to the President of the United States in a public forum, though God knows when George Bush was in office I was screaming it from my kitchen.
And let me pause to ask this: why is it that Democrats can't call a lie what it is? Why do they always use bullshit terms like "misled" or "misdirected"? For that, I admire the Republicans. Of course, I'd admire them more if they called actual lies, lies, instead of lying about lies that aren't lies, but integrity seems to be in short supply on that side of the aisle. (Ducking here.)
Joe Back to Joe Wilson he of the French cuffs and note the blue tie appealing to the angry racist contingent of South Carolina formerly represented by that segregationist adulterer Strom Thurmond for whom he once interned. After the Republican leadership pulled Wilson by the earlobe down to the principal's office, Joe wanted everyone to know he'd done had it with apologizing. Because as any jerk knows, only wimps say they're sorry.
Fast forward to Saturday night when Serena Williams brandished a racquet at a lineswoman over a foot fault call. Supposedly, Serena also threatened to shove a tennis ball down her throat. Ouch!
I don't know why Serena, who'd broken a racquet earlier out of frustration over a Clijster win, was in suchSerena  a bad mood. I'm no expert on the trials of female athletes, but I'm thinking this might have been a display of "roid rage." I'm also thinking that this is what tennis officials mean when they say they'll be doing an "investigation" into Serena's tantrum. Perhaps, it is time for her to retire and write that screenplay she's been working on for the past year. Or at the very least wean herself off prescription pills.
But I've also got another theory about why professionals are losing their cool: publicity.
Wilson's Democratic opponent may have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars after Obama's speech but, apparently, so has Wilson. I'm a case in point. I never heard of Joe Wilson before last week and now I'll never forget him. Moreover, I actually watched the women's finals between Clijsters and "the kid" whose name I can't spell, cheering for new mom Clijsters all the way. I would have missed the match completely if it hadn't been for Serena's outburst.
I believe this craving for constant attention is what drove Kanye West when he jumped on stage at the Kanye MTV Music Awards and yanked a trophy from the hands of Taylor Swift, all of 19. He had nothing of importance to say - he was not, for example, warning everyone that a bomb was about to detonate or asking if there were a doctor in the house. Instead, he spouted off about Beyonce whom, he felt, deserved the award more than the stunned and clearly broken hearted Taylor Swift. As if we were supposed to care.
To her undying credit, when the spotlight shone upon her, Beyonce recalled her own moment winning such an award at age seventeen and called Taylor to the stage so she could finish her speech. Reason #3 why I love Beyonce who had me at the inauguration when she tearfully serenaded The Obamas. I think she should teach a good manners class comprised of Serena, Joe and Kanye. A sit down and shut up class, if you will.
At the very least, I wish the Democrats would jump all over Wilson, but they won't because they really are wimps. Obama's taking the high road as the President's supposed to do. His thugs, Eric Holder and Rahm Emmanuel, are too busy to handle the job.
May I suggest Serena? I've seen her in action and I think she's pretty good at putting people in their places. Plus, considering her potential suspension, there's money in Vegas that she'll have time on her strong, capable, tennis-ball-shoving hands. This just might work.


September 08, 2009

Meet the Beatles! (Again)

Update: Through some strange and wonderful fluke, The Penny Pinchers Club has been selected by a US News & World Report blog as its book for September. The blog was posted today and you can chime in with your questions. See, I told you the Beatles are good luck. Check it out!

It's been a hard eight years since iTunes hit the market in January 2001. All that music and still no Beatles The Beatles - and for good reason. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, owner of iTunes, used (stole?) the Apple name for his business out of homage to his beloved band only to be sued by said idols. (Ouch!) The upshot was a settlement with Ringo, Paul and John and George's estates that it was okay for Apple to continue its computer empire as long as it didn't traverse into music.


That fracas, too, was later resolved and tomorrow - 09-09-09 - I suspect the Beatles will appear for the first time on iTunes. I guess this is the part where I should admit I have stock in Apple, but that's the least of it. My heart has stock in the Beatles.

Of course, I'm not the only one. I'm the 47 year old everywoman the New York Times has been writing about, the girl who grew up with a crush on Paul and, later, an adoration of George. (Truly, a semiGeorge  divine.) Yes, I pre-ordered (or, as I like to say, ordered) a copy of The Beatles Rock Band for PS3 so it'll arrive at my house by 10 a.m. via UPS in a little over 24 hours. I've even insured that all our virtual instruments are up to date and tuned.

I ALMOST ordered the newly revamped Beatles CDs for $243, also out 09-09-09. But that was before I caught wind that maybe Jobs will announce at the semi-annual Apple meeting tomorrow that the entire Beatles catalog in all its re-digitized glory will join the iTunes family. While I've imported my Beatles CDs into the family computer system, the quality is lacking. If Jobs can promise topnotch technology, I'll buy every last song. Even if I have to pay another semester's tuition at Bryn Mawr I don't care. I want those boys in my ears.

Pathetic? Sure. But hear me out.

I used to fall asleep listening to my older brothers play their Beatles albums and I would fantasize that Paul one day Paul and I would be side to side on stage, singing. His adorable mouth in an O. His sloping eyes  gazing lovingly. But my brothers said I was too young and he was too old. Fast forward past Linda - who got the singing on stage role, damn her - to his second wife Heather, younger than I. Boy, were they wrong and boy, did she blow it.

I used to study to the Beatles. This might sound crazy, but I swear the Beatles made me smarter, especially "John's" music. And you could always tell which was John's (cerebral) and which was Paul's (cheerful with a touch of carney.) The Ballad of John and Yoko singlehandedly got me through calculus.

Like most teeny bopper stages, mine did not last. It was replaced with a deeper appreciation of the Beatles' metamorphosis from silly pop band,= to spiritual advisors with experimental rhythms and fantastic lyrics in between. I wrote my 10th grade thesis on the Beatles - twenty pages of gushing teen analysis that nearly sent Mrs. Dragotta over the brink. Though they broke up when I was all ofMick seven, it was their albums I played through college with the occasional interruption by Springsteen, EW&F and the Rolling Stones. Let me ask you this, who listens to Brown Sugar these days? Answer: No one under the age of 20. The Stones are hacks. 

Excuse me while I go cry.

I'm back. Sniff. The point is the Beatles are forever, I don't care what you say. Norwegian Wood. Taxman. Rocky Raccoon. Revolution. Get Back as sung on the windy roof of the Apple offices. Help! as sung on a Caribbean island. The Two of Us! I mean, how many boyfriends (girlfriends) did you have where you did NOT think of that song? And then In My Life when you moved from that relationship to the next. And Let it Be when it was over. 

Yoko We will not get into Yoko. Yoko is a no go.

I've never seen the Beatles, naturally, but my brother's ex wife did. She sat right over Paul's head at a theater when she was sixteen. She thought they were cute. I once hated her for that. When my friend Patty recounted meeting Paul at a private dinner and having a conversation with him about music (he can't read it) I nearly broke her adorable Irish nose.

So that's my Beatles obsession and I'll claim my love to my grave. There are a lot of songs I'd like played at my funeral, most of which my Episcopal church won't allow aside from Jesus Christ the Apple Tree. I want Will the Circle Be Unbroken and Born to Run and something by Tom Waits. But mostly, I want In My Life, which describes perfectly how I feel about the people I love and have loved. For that gift, I can only say, thank you.

Onward to 09-09-09.