An Observation / Getting Out of Neutral

People like it when I write about human vulnerability, even though everyone wants to encounter a happy face out in the world. Moments ago, I speculated with my friend that often when we’re alone, we acknowledge our dark side, and when we park ourselves in front of a computer to read, we welcome other people’s dark sides. It validates our feelings and offers us a connection. But funny, as we put on our shoes and move away from the computer, we demand lightness.

Readers who like the dark might appreciate my looping of yesterday. Yesterday, I couldn’t see the light. And I wrote about it, but the words embarrassed me because later in the day I accidentally landed on a woman’s blog who had been chronicling her encounter with infertility and cancer. I read the final post, from her friend, announcing her death. At 33.

So I got embarrassed about writing of my loneliness. Suddenly it sounded so quaint. Except for the fact that I wasn’t sure I had a friend who would write my final post, and then it didn’t seem so quaint. It seemed very real.

And before all my friends attack me saying that they’d write my final post, let me just say, I’m not trying to diminish your existence. All I’m saying is that some days I feel so alone, despite my friends, despite my son, despite my family, despite my dog, that refuting my loneliness is pointless.

And if you’re curious, this is what I wrote yesterday before reading of the passing of the woman with cancer. It’s more honest this way, because trust me, I was tempted to make some grand revisions afterwards. This wasn’t what I intended to post today, but sometimes you’ve just gotta go with your gut…

Getting Out of Neutral

Today is one of those days, the kind where I can’t quite shift out of neutral. Try as I may, I just can’t get my head around anything.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

I’ve got the mosquito bite of loneliness, a small, nagging sensation that keeps interrupting everything I attempt to accomplish. My mind clings to thoughts of people coming together. Those who do and those who don’t.

I’ve been in the ‘don’t’ category for a long while. For me admitting that that bothers me is like openly declaring a communicable disease. It’s something I’d rather keep private. But if my goal here is honesty, I figure I must reveal.

The Revealer. That could be my super hero identity, the one who utilizes powers of self-disclosure to unite society for the strength and good of all mankind. I like it. Kind of makes you smile, doesn’t it?

I’ve always thought admitting to loneliness is the worst possible thing anyone could do. Let’s face it, no one likes a whiner, and if loneliness is the worst thing on your plate, you’ve got it pretty good. Yeah, maybe, but if you do face a big problem and you face it alone, suddenly loneliness seems like a pretty brutal added burden.

As I see everyone else walking down the street hand in hand, sharing a large bucket of popcorn at the movies, glancing over a shared menu at a cafe – yes, in moments of self-delusion, everyone else is perfectly paired as if prepping for a cruise on Noah’s Ark – I can’t help but blame myself. On a population-exploding planet, if you can’t find someone to click with, the trouble must lie within you, right? Of course, right.

In addition to the reality-twisting blinders I wear as I move through my city, I fault Hollywood for my completely romanticized view of love. In other words, the one is just waiting around the corner poorly parked so as to invite the beautifully accidental collision. Or, at first you two may hate each other, but it all works out in the end. Or, yes, she might be poor and uneducated and he might be a wealthy Rhodes scholar, but really, they’re perfect for each other. Just ask Hollywood.

While it’s only a movie, after years of digesting the romantic poison, I think all of us buy it a little. At least subconsciously. I go everywhere looking for connection. Maybe I’m just a circus freak and my breed is very rare. On the other hand, one stop at Craig’s List personals and you’ll get a really healthy look at freaks. Maybe the problem is that I’m not freaky enough or in the right way or that the human condition is one giant design flaw.

I think that’s it.

Loneliness may be my curse, but I have enough friends on antidepressants to make the drug industry proud. Call me crazy, but I prefer the days of nonprescription self-medication. At least that often included a social component (which selfishly also served as a beautiful antidote to my loneliness.) Distraught friends, rather than trolling Google for diagnoses of their depressive symptoms, called one another to go for a drink. Talk often trumped the actual consumption. Sure, some friends became alcoholics, but in my circle, relatively few.

Everyone faces days where they feel stuck. It’s always considered the greatest badge of courage to go through life without complaining, to bravely accept the downs and humbly enjoy the ups. But in that model, many of us feel as if we’re the only ones struggling. With false smiles plastered on our friends’ faces, we feel a few steps behind. I know I do.

As hard as today is for me, I’m giving myself permission to feel bad and not cover it up, to not dismiss the emotions with the realization that I’m not homeless or starving or injured or ill. I’m just me facing the specific challenges placed on my plate as I try to find meaning and connection in my life. Tomorrow, this may all seem ridiculous as I wake with a lightness in my soul, as I dine with a cherished friend, or collide with my next great love. I know it’s all possible, but please excuse me if I had to journey through this shared meditation to feel it.

Yours always,
The Revealer


A Sniper in Training

A typical Tuesday afternoon, I turn into a cramped parking lot with parents loading and unloading kids. My son leaps from the car and races into a tiny building for his guitar lesson. I can’t accomplish much in a half hour, so I find a safe spot in my car against a dumpster to wait, and pull out a book. Suddenly, an odd sound draws my attention.

I look up, and I see this kid, maybe five-years-old, maybe less, poking out of the open sunroof of a parked SUV. In his hand, a toy machine gun, army green, strap dangling. He’s picking off passing cars like a sniper in training, eagerly providing the sound effects as they pass by. Meanwhile, his mother yaks on her cellphone, apparently thrilled that her son has found a way to occupy himself.

Only one question comes to mind: “What the hell is she thinking???”

I want to go bang on her car window and ask, but I stop to consider current societal rules. When do we have the right to step in and comment on the behavior of other people’s children?

I understand that breaking down such barriers between strangers opens the door to battles of conflicting values and mores. Another parent could easily approach my son and complain about his low-hanging jeans exposing his multicolored plaid boxers. Actually, if anyone could convince my son to pull up his pants, I’d probably welcome the intrusion.

What I see as a minor nuisance is someone else’s moral imperative and vice versa. But if we’re growing a society together, isn’t it our duty to discuss these issues?

I barely know my neighbors in an era where it’s easier to reach out via the Internet than to knock on an acquaintance’s door and extend an invitation to dinner. In my suburban childhood, kids flew out of each other’s homes, parents stepping in for one another. My son will never experience this kind of community. Our corner of Venice doesn’t appear to house children, for I’ve barely ever seen another kid in my immediate neighborhood.

We joyously live on a sleepy walkstreet shielded from traffic, a half a block from the noisy chaos of the Venice boardwalk where anything goes. On walks, my son witnesses people of every color and culture. Scruffy musicians sing out as they strum guitars. Drum circles erupt, and the sound of a mournful sax scores our sunsets. Yes, we walk in an odd version of reality with homeless and people who need to be in mental hospitals, where far too many trinkets and T-shirts are for sale, and pizza is the primary culinary offering, but I love how this pocket of affluent Westside LA hasn’t been completely sanitized, at least not yet.

It’s this lack of sanitization that keeps parents with options away. When I first moved to Venice, gang graffiti decorated every building. A triangular zone nearby, commonly referred to as Ghost Town or the ghetto, erupted nightly with automatic weapon fire as gangs and drug dealers prowled the streets. In the daylight hours, underprivileged children romped in the front yards of the only remaining LA beachside area defying gentrification.

But now even that part of Venice is transforming. Things have quieted down. And that’s good and bad. No one wants kids to be surrounded by violence, but many poor families are being forced from that neighborhood as property values rise, one of the sad realities of progress.

With the sound of the nearby gunfire disappearing, families are eying our walkstreet, and perhaps soon my son will have friends within walking distance. That would be nice. On the downside, the spirit of Venice struggles to survive as new residents want to experience a cleaned up version of this once artsy community.

But when these new neighbors fight for policies that attack the heart of Venice, I speak up and come to its defense. And that’s probably what I should have done when the young sniper took me into his scope. But how? How do I approach a stranger and question her parenting? Should I just knock on her window and say, “Uh, excuse me. Remember Columbine?” and then point to her son? Would that be acceptable?

I don’t want someone’s kid practicing his sniper skills. It offends my sensibility, especially since I was one of his targets. Living on the edge of a neighborhood that once grappled daily with violence, I struggle to comprehend the affluent suburban parent who hands a young child a machine gun with no interest in intervening when antisocial behavior emerges. For those eager to come to the defense of gunplay, let me just say this is not about two little boys going ‘Bang! Bang’ in their backyard, though that would hardy be my choice of play. What’s at issue is, “How do we learn to talk to each other again?”

I haven’t felt a sense of community since first arriving in Venice in my twenties. Sadly, that feeling quickly vanished due to the transient lifestyle this city breeds. And while I hardly idealize my childhood (let’s not go there), I mourn the vanishing community, and along with it the ability to turn to a stranger’s kid and without hesitation say, “Don’t point that gun at me!”


Just Friends

Waking up to hammering rain, which three hours later transitioned to blazing sunshine so disoriented me that all I’ve accomplished is moving from one room to another, over and over. I’ve pounded out words and more words, folded clothes, written emails, filed papers - all important matters - but none of this activity alleviates a nagging sadness.

When a relationship ends, people shower your broken heart with sympathy. Even if they hated your mate, they acknowledge your pain and offer well-circulated platitudes. Society doesn’t have the same default setting for when a friendship ends. We don’t even know what to call such an occurrence, but for me it’s a break up of the worst kind.

Yes, I’ve been dumped. Not romantically. That’s the other problem. This friendship never fit into a tidy category. From occasional lovers to intimate friends to long time confidants, we’d traveled all the terrain except for established couple. But this man has met someone new and no longer needs me as his the stand in girlfriend. Good-bye spontaneous calls to go grab coffee or visit the farmer’s market. No more ‘Let’s get a drink’. No more ‘Let’s plan a dinner party.’ No. No more of anything. The phone sits silent. The inbox remains empty.

When the quiet began to overtake the noise, I refused to passively sit back and wait. I made the overture, picking up the phone, despite the onset of vulnerability. I sent the innocuous email. The response? Casual indifference. This from the person who’d called me so regularly, and often with such urgency, that I’d flash on the Red Batphone in the Commissioner’s office. Yes, he deserved his own direct line.

But I’ve been discarded, and right now I don’t know if I’d rather have a hanky or a hatchet as I vacillate between hurt and anger.

The unceremonious dumping came abruptly. When he disclosed that he’d met someone, I confessed my preparation for his departure knowing how easy it is to get replaced in this life, but my friend cut me off by adamantly rebuffing my concerns. And I actually believed him. I must admit that this isn’t the first time that this friend has dumped me, but this time was on the heels of the most entwined period of our friendship, so it stings the most.

When he came back into my life after his last harsh vanishing at the request of a girlfriend threatened by my existence, my regretful friend promised to make things right. And while I could beat myself up for falling for his line again, I actually want to congratulate myself on embracing someone I found meaningful despite our troubled past and his complicated stance with me. I operated from the heart and lived according to my own code. He may have pissed all over our friendship once again, but I can now walk away with pride knowing I deserve better.

When I recount this story to a few key allies, the male friends all say good riddance, that this guy is hardly worth my sadness. The women, on the other hand, encourage me to reach out and give him another chance. I’m sorry, but I align with the men on this one. What is it about female forgiveness? Do we collectively feel so unworthy of proper treatment that we won’t even stand up for ourselves? How many chances does he deserve?

But I do think wistfully upon the term ‘just friends,’ which is so often maligned as a demotion, because, really, there is no such thing as just friends. If only we all could remember that.



Stuff happens. Always. To everyone. But in this past month as I examine and write and critique and comment, more incidents have been hurling their way into my path.

“Write about me,” these incidents taunt.

Yesterday was a particularly brutal day as far as insults go. Musing with my friend, I shared the sudden vanishing of a best buddy, the hit and run assault on my parked car, and the arrival of an overdue critique of one of my screenplays that included a synopsis with character descriptions alongside job depictions never mentioned in my script. The critic praised my writing, multidimensional characters, social commentary, and pacing, but also pointed out similarities to an existing film, which unbeknownst to him arrived in theaters six months after the completion of my script. Rather than consider timing and coincidence, the reader, in closing, questioned my creativity.


“BlogFood,” my friend replied calmly. I laughed. “More things have been happening to you since you launched your site.”

In her view, I’ve karmically invited all this upon myself. As I cruised in my newly dented car, I had to consider whether I’d rather lead an incident-free life and have to search for material or whether I could welcome the onslaught of events as inspiration. Routine and calm have never been my goals. I like a rich and vibrant life, even if it comes with ups and downs. But sometimes the energy reserves run low, and resilience requires too much.

But I love the idea of BlogFood. It gives meaning to all the randomness of the day. And I love that now when an experience attempts to nudge me towards pain, I can whisper a new mantra below my breath. BlogFood. I like the sound that.


Mission Accomplished

I’m always striving for change, but since I often take on grand tasks, I’m coming up a bit short in the ‘accomplished’ column. In an effort to turn that around, I’ve decided to advocate goals that seem within reach. Forget about trying to end the brainwashing of Americans in regards to beauty standards, or providing the Democratic Party with a backbone (a few notable exceptions excluded from this indictment), or a look towards impeachment (which, by the way, should be off the table. I mean, remember who would step in and take Bush’s place. We’d have to work our way pretty far down that food chain before we’d hit a tolerable option, and then all we’d do is set that person up for a good run in 2008.)

I bypassed trying to convince American city dwellers that they should stop driving tanks down our suburban streets. I’ll leave that one to the car manufacturers and legislators, believing in the slogan, “Build it and they will come.” Give a family of five a nice option for carting around kids, friends, sports gear, and musical instruments, and I’m sure they’d happily trade in their gas-guzzling monstrosity. As far as the singles driving those vehicles, my wide-eyed lack of comprehension as I sit opposite them in conversation would telegraph my disbelief in their claims of necessity, aside from the select few who engage in extreme sports or regularly haul stuff. Sorry, I don’t buy the safety argument which points out all the other huge vehicles whizzing by on the road. That’s what the arms race was all about, and we know where that led.

I’ve also decided to forego trying to end world hunger, at least while Brad and Angelina are manning that fort. I figure if they can’t pull it off, what odds do I have? While tackling the traffic problem in LA would probably bring me the greatest immediate personal relief, its eradication would remove talking points from half of all conversations in the city leaving awkward gaps of silence. Besides, short of halting all development and sealing the city borders, a solution doesn’t come to mind. Yes, I’ve heard of subways, but by the time Los Angeles makes them fully functional, I’ll be using a walker. At this point, I’d rather try to come up with how to get our troops out of Iraq.

With these grievances tossed aside, I started considering possible campaigns I could launch. So where am I turning for a chance at success? Bike clothing. Everything morning as I stand in line in my local coffee joint, teams of morning bikers waltz in dressed in the most absurd attire I’ve ever seen. I’d take Bjork’s swan dress over these outfits. How did an industry convince these exercisers that this is a desirable look? I can excuse the bright colors due to the above-mentioned grizzly local traffic where bikers ride perilously close to multi-ton vehicles, but what’s with all the faux sponsorship plastered across their chests and backs? Do they really think we believe that these companies have signed up to sponsor their morning treks from home to coffee shop? Do they feel like star athletes parading around in these get ups? Meanwhile, I struggle to explain these eyesores to my son with his emerging fashion instincts. Where’s Nike or Adidas when you need them? Can’t they step in and come up with something tasteful?

The only down side to my quest is that at the end of the day it’s one of aesthetics. I just can’t convince myself that ‘Mission Accomplished’ on bike wear is on par with a wake up call to this nation. After all, I now live in a country that accepts religion as a reasonable weapon to promote bigotry and hatred. I live in a country so blind to human nature that policy makers support abstinence only education over giving developing teens information about their own bodies. And somewhere along the road, expressions of love and commitment by about ten percent of the population became labeled as examples of a war on family values.

While I once idealistically believed that I lived in a country that wanted to lead by example, I certainly never expected that example to include terrorizing young children in a foreign land as we bomb their government into submission. Of course, I’m not the first to feel distress over these issues. Op-ed pages across the country repeatedly explore these ideas, only to be ignored by the majority of residents.

At this point, my only hope is that we look back on this era as a time of learning, as one of those embarrassing missteps of a culture that eventually gets it right in the future. And while we work for the big changes, let’s not turn our back on the small ones. By tackling the more easily mastered problems, we can fuel our own belief in the ability to bring about progress. So, if you have a biking mate, how about suggesting a fashion overhaul. Remember, change begins at home.


Getting Personal

I’ve had a few requests here to get a bit more personal. You know, to provide details of dating and sex and all that juicy stuff. I didn’t realize that being a blogger put you in the same camp as a DJ. Am I supposed to take requests? I imagine it gets quite tricky posting personal details, especially if they happen in virtual real time and include other people, whom from this point forward I will refer to as draftees due to their involuntary inclusion. Let’s see, you and I went on a date last night, and now I’m sharing all my reactions to it here in public. Odds of a second date are…?

If I were to honor the request and accept this challenge, I undoubtedly would start with my most recent personal experience: A man with whom I’ve had a confusing, spicy entanglement – and who ultimately relegated me to the much cherished ‘friends with benefits’ category – calls and asks if he can fix me up with one of his new friends. I still can’t figure out if this is a compliment or an insult. Kind of teeters between the two.

But I say ‘yes’ because Fixer Upper makes a good pitch, and I am coming off a dry spell. Besides, this may provide the positive spin I need to digest all the craziness that’s transpired with him. Despite the curiosity surging through my brain, pride prevents me from asking Fixer Upper how he offered me up to his friend. I can only imagine.

I meet Draftee #1 at a dinner party I host when Fixer Upper brings him along. The entire evening is a joy, and I’m quite impressed with Fixer Upper’s instincts. Draftee #1 offers grand appeal, and we seem to have some nice overlap. Following a spontaneous jam session – the result of five musicians gathered in a home cluttered with musical instruments – most of the guests depart citing fatigue and the next day’s work demands. Draftee #1 lingers behind as I clean up, sip my wine, and pick at the remaining dessert. We have a moment to investigate each other away from the watchful eye of Fixer Upper who kept coaching me all night to “go talk to him.” Surreal? Yes. Comfortable? Not so much. But in the one-on-one scenario, Draftee #1 and I do pretty well. A follow-up date is fixed.

Upon awaking the next morning, I feel hung over, and it’s not from the wine. A part of me is so burnt out from investigating new people that I would rather do anything than actually try again. When the phone rings a few hours later, and I hear the voice of an old flame inviting me to join him at a party that evening, I eagerly agree, largely because the offer to tread in familiarity is so damn appealing. I’ve always said that I love change, but sometimes newness gets very old.

The evening arrives, and I wander into the party. Rather than the promised wild time, I encounter a room of lawyers delivering self-congratulatory speeches on some big case settlement to a silent crowd. I scan the room for my former romantic partner, Draftee #2, but he’s nowhere to be seen. With deft thumbs, I send a pleading text message, ‘Where are you??!!’ as I step outside seeking breathable air. Moments later, my phone rings, and we set a meeting point upstairs in a corner.

I love the delicious ease of flirting with Draftee #2. He and I expect nothing of each other. I don’t feel jealous when he checks out other women, nor am I offended when he tries to fix me up with someone else at the party. We’ve already played out our story, and we’re both comfortable with where we’ve arrived. We laugh together about the romantic desert we’re moving through forgetting that we were once huddled together at the oasis. (Yes, it was very alcohol filled and under a neon sign, an impressive first date that was never matched by our subsequent meetings.)

I guess I should say that things didn’t pan out with Draftee #1. Just one of those things you can’t explain. Meanwhile, Draftee #2 and I have been talking a lot, mostly coaching and teasing each other about the dating landscape like war buddies sharing tales that no one else will quite understand, as we honor the passage from optimism to disappointment to the conviction that next time will be better. He also offers to fill my loneliness in the interim, a purely selfless act no doubt. And while I haven’t accepted, hearing his voice on the other end of a phone line has made me feel light on several occasions.

Despite the nice talks with Draftee #2, I recognize that it is easier for me to reveal myself publicly than with close friends. I’ve always been great on those long European train rides locked in a compartment with strange faces where anonymity and picturesque scenery prompts intimate dialogue. Yet when the train pulls into the station and it’s time for one of us to disembark, I’m never prepared to say good-bye, wishing I could take this new friend home with me like a souvenir.

Draftee #2 was the one who requested I get personal here, undoubtedly not anticipating his own inclusion, but he doesn’t understand that getting personal for me goes far deeper than tales of sex and dating. A friend of mine living across the globe told me how she recently enjoyed a two week DVD marathon session of all the seasons of Sex and the City, and how the friendships the show depicts seem nearly unattainable.

“With my friends, we won’t even tell each another if they have bad breath,” she said, “but instead we go home and complain about it to our mates.”

For me the truly personal is the courage to admit to our friends the pain of a hurtful comment or the humiliating experience or to boast of a glorious feeling. But if you’re anything like me, you often keep those feelings to yourself. If you come clean, I congratulate you. I bet you even tell your best friend if her breath really stinks.

Maybe I can treat these disclosures as phase one as I work up to phase two. It's not exactly what Draftee #2 requested, but if he's really my friend, he'll understand.


In the Green Room with David Sedaris

We all have our fantasies. Ever since the first time I saw David Sedaris read live, I’ve mentally placed myself in a room with him, talking, laughing, journeying over our common territory. Common territory? This would be the first tip off that it’s a fantasy. He’s gay and lives in Paris, was raised in North Carolina, and is an extraordinarily successful published writer. I’m a single mom living in Venice, California, a refugee from the film business, struggling daily to tap out my emerging voice on my very loyal laptop keyboard. Let’s see, the overlap resides exactly where? Ah, but since truth is stranger than fiction, lucky me was given a chance to explore my delusion.

Recently I found myself standing alongside my son in the crowded lobby of Royce Hall at UCLA, one of my regular cultural destinations. We’d come to see David Sedaris on his annual trek to LA, a journey I’ve made the past five years, always amidst a sold out crowd. Each year I invite a friend or a date to occupy the seat beside me, but now that my son has turned twelve and has heard David Sedaris on NPR, he asked to come along.

As we stood waiting for the auditorium doors to open, I surveyed the faces of the arriving guests, and turned to my son. “You may get the prize for being the youngest one here tonight.”

“Yeah? What’s my prize gonna be?” he asked. Before I could answer him, I saw David Sedaris charging towards us, a woman with a walkie-talkie by his side. My son had no idea who this man approaching was, though I was all too familiar with the face.

“Perfect,” I heard David say to the woman beside him. “You!” David said, pointing to my son. “How old are you?”

“Twelve,” he answered.

“Perfect,” David replied. “Would you like to introduce me on stage tonight?” A moment’s hesitation hung in the air. I wasn’t sure how my previously shy son would reply.

“Sure,” he said nonchalantly.

David then reached into his wallet, pulled out a ten, and handed it to my son. “Your stage pay,” he said. I stood dumbfounded, as the only thought forming in my head was, “Good thing I invited my son tonight.” Yes, I’m not above admitting my leap to personal gain.

My son was calm, but I felt as if I’d stepped into the Twilight Zone as we passed through doors unlocked just for us, weaving through corridors off limits to the public. Having been raised in the land of celebrities, I’ve never been star-struck, but I’ve been a David Sedaris fan for years. His dry wit, his odd topics, his irreverence, it all worked for me. Countless times I’ve attempted to recount his tales to friends and have raved about his live readings to anyone who would listen. I’d encouraged my mom to attend this appearance, and I knew she’d be entering the auditorium around this time, scanning the crowd, wondering where her daughter and grandson were.

But we were beyond the range of her eyes, backstage in the Green Room with David Sedaris who was telling my son that he could say whatever he wanted in the introduction, that he couldn’t fail no matter what he did.

“If you trip and fall when you walk on stage, that’ll be fine,” he said. David then excused himself to go outside to have a cigarette. As he headed for the door, I boldly opened my mouth.

“I loved how last year you said smokers got to go to the head of the line for the book signing. It was hysterical.”

“I got in trouble for that,” David replied. “But only here. A man filed a lawsuit saying he was discriminated against on California State property.”

I couldn’t believe it. A David Sedaris fan filing suit over such a thing? How humorless. With David off smoking, my son turned to a UCLA employee and asked how many people Royce held.

“Eighteen hundred,” the student employee replied. My son didn’t flinch. David rejoined us, taking his place in a plush green armchair, sifting through a satchel he pulled from the ground.

“Since we always start late, when people leave in the middle of the Q and A, I tell myself that they have to get home to their babysitters,” David revealed. “When they leave mid-show, I tell myself that they’re doctors on call.” Then he smiled. Kind of.

Cool. David Sedaris had shared his coping secrets with us. But I remained silent, slightly on edge. I was there as a parental chaperone, invited, but not necessarily desired, so I self-consciously kept small talk to a minimum and restrained any desire to gush. After all, my son and I were two of the thousands of people who had passed through this famous writer’s life. To pretend that our half hour together held any grand significance for David would be ridiculous. To try to prompt a real conversation, as he was about to climb onstage before a couple thousand fans, seemed insensitive.

“Where do you live?” David asked, his eyes addressing my son.


“I thought only criminals and drug dealers lived there,” he offered.

“Sshh. He doesn’t know yet,” I jumped in. But my attempt at banter hit the ground before traveling the four-foot gap between us. David explained that he’s never actually been to Venice, and in one of the lamest attempts a fan has ever blurted out, I told him the next time he came to town, he should come by. I even dug out a business card and handed it to him, desperate to cling to my fantasy of a budding friendship. As he stuffed my card into his wallet, I flashed forward and pictured him casually discarding it into his hotel trashcan, my identifying information floating through the air like a movie-moment feather, only to land upon some soiled tissues. Before I became too deflated by the image, I congratulated myself on my courage. What the hell. It’s good practice to take such chances.

David offered my son cookies from the tray that sat before him, but my son politely declined.

“Have you had dinner?” David asked.

“No,” my son replied.

“Will you after the show?”


Suddenly I felt like a woman destined to be turned into child welfare. “Wait!” I spoke up with a bit too much enthusiasm. “Tell him you came straight from karate class.”

“Karate?” David looked up from his satchel straight past me to my son. “You could do some karate moves on stage.”

Show time. They ushered me into the audience, and my son onto the stage. He climbed upon a box behind the podium, introduced himself, and welcomed the audience to UCLA. He asked people to turn off cell phones and pagers and anything that beeped, and explained that audio recordings were forbidden. My son was a pro with his casual twelve-year-old rocker stance, hair down to his shoulders, a Pink Floyd t-shirt hanging on his frame, his skater jeans slung low.

“Oh, and I want to say hi to my Grandma Pat who’s here and didn’t know I’d be doing this. Hi, Grandma Pat.” He gave a little wave. I could actually isolate my mom’s laugh from the others inside the packed auditorium.

“And now, we’re about to see a great man, a really funny writer.” My son swung both of his arms towards the wings like Vanna White. “David Sedaris,” and the writer emerged to shake my son’s hand.

My son was brought into the auditorium, eyes following him as he took his seat beside me while David read his first story. I felt as if I were sitting next to a star. Midway through the evening, David thanked my son, emphasizing that most people fear public speaking of any kind, but that this twelve-year-old accepted the challenge happily.

After the show, my son walked from the theater a newly anointed celebrity, people approaching and complimenting him on his on stage ease. He appeared to grow taller with the attention, and I glowed with parental pride. We went to find David to say good-bye, as my son wanted to introduce his grandmother. The woman with the walkie-talkie saw us approaching the book signing area, and ushered us past ropes restraining awaiting fans, to an outdoor area where David was standing having his post show cigarette amongst friends. A thank you, a quick introduction, and two handshakes later, we were on our way.

And like that, it was over. Our encounter with David Sedaris. I want to believe it won’t be the last. I want to cling to my carefully crafted fantasy that included a discussion about writing, but part of me feels as if you only get one shot, and that this might have been mine. But the other part of me believes that there’s more to come, that one day he and I will recall this evening with laughter. That’s the beautiful thing about fantasies, you can write them however you like.


Loose Lips

Tourette’s Woman joined my kick boxing class today. Okay, I admit, it’s an amateur diagnosis, but what else could explain the behavior I witnessed?

“1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8…,” bellowed our motivating black belt leader, courtesy of a wireless headset microphone, over the loud pulsing music in the room. “…8-7-6-FIVE!” A new voice chimed in on “5,” or more accurately, screamed out. “4 – THREE!” – there it was again – “2-1.” I looked around the room. It was the new woman.

“Hmmm,” I thought to myself. “She’s feeling inspired. Good for her. It’s a little weird to lend your personal vocalization to the instructor, but whatever.”

Twenty panting women charged onto the next exercise, guided by the shouts of our black belt. The countdown bounced off the walls, and there she was again, ‘Tourette’s Woman,’ hollering out at five and three. My eyes leapt from face to face, searching for reactions from any of the other sweating kick boxers. Was no one else finding this odd?

For a bit of clarity, Tourette’s Woman was not exactly new. She was new to me. From what I could gather when I overheard her chatty pre-class greetings to other students, she was a returning participant after a lengthy break.

I’ve been religiously attending this class for the past two months. Our teacher takes us through a rigid progression of lunges, kicks, and punches. His voice encourages, cajoles, and chastises, and our punching and kicking bodies respond, often against our pained will. Until this day, no one had ever screamed spontaneously mid-class. I’m sure we’ve all wanted to as our lungs were gasping, our arms aching, and our legs quivering, but we’ve shown restraint.

But Tourette’s Woman offered a special treat, a delicious distraction from my own physical pain. It was always the countdown that revved her up, so I eagerly anticipated the numbers five and three, in that order. Then I suppressed a giggle every time she did her thing.

I finished class with a crazy ear-to-ear grin and a hint of guilt for laughing at someone I didn’t even know. On other hand, I figured she’d brought it on herself. But then I thought, “Do I blurt things out in life without any hint of control?”

Don’t we all?

How many times have we said things we wish we could take back? The words spewed from our mouths in the midst of an argument where we’re willing to use anything as ammunition. The premature gushing enthusiasm for a potential new mate. The parental jab at a child that no adult would tolerate for a second. I’m guilty of them all. Damn. Busted.

Someone recently told me that if we all expressed what we felt, we wouldn’t have any friends. I found that kind of sad, that our true feelings would push people away. Instead we learn to function within the rules, schooled from an early age on politeness and proper behavior, the balancing act of honesty and acceptability we navigate our whole lives. When I saw Tourette’s Woman shout out, I imagined it must be very freeing to just let it rip, even when it’s not socially sanctioned. I think a lot of us could learn from her spontaneity, from the freedom to reject the conditioning that at times wrongly silences us. We may lose a few friendships along the way, but we may build a few stronger ones in exchange. I hope Tourette's Woman comes back tomorrow. I think I'd like to get to know her.


Lil Ol' Me

What do we do with the bad days? I mean the really bad days, the days when our perspective is so clouded and confused that the only reasonable response is to cry and hide.

That would be today.

A day when nothing of note happened. A day when a meeting created the remote possibility of work, emphasis on remote. Sometimes being presented with what could be is the equivalent to rubbing your face in what isn’t.

That would be today.

And since that hour this morning, I have been useless. Starting much and finishing nothing. Wandering and wondering. Wanting to talk to everybody, yet hiding from all. And now I wait for the sun to go down so I have permission to assume the night stance, a time when I allow myself to stop seeking what I lack.

But the days are getting longer, and I have much time to kill. Time that some of my friends may not have. Yesterday’s phone brought word of two possibly impending deaths. And today, a stumble upon a former coworker’s website reveals his wait for a pair of lungs so that he can go on breathing. And here I was crying because I felt lost.

And their race with time makes me conscious that if it were my race, I’d feel so far behind, not yet saying what I must say or doing what I must do or loving as I must love.

We don’t tell children how hard life can be, perhaps because we don’t want to worry or scare them, but then they arrive in adulthood completely untrained to cope with the new terrain.

That would be today.

And I figure the only way to deal with today is for it to be tomorrow, a wishing for the passage of time that I’ve always railed against. But sometimes I must allow myself to be weak rather than complaining that I’m not strong. Sometimes I must allow myself to feel sad even when I know I should feel grateful.

Yet the night is not eager to allow me my peace, as if I must still confront the lesson I am denying, the lesson I can’t seem to comprehend. Jolting awake at two a.m., I reach for my dog for comfort, but he growls as I startle him with my touch, snarling as if saying, “this is your problem, not mine.” And that makes me feel even more alone and lost.

And because I am who I am, I look for meaning, imagining myself as the processor of everyone’s pain, here to digest and spew to make it easier for others. And then I blush with embarrassment over my crazy, grandiose thoughts. Lil ol’ me.


A Matter of Seconds

I think it’s time for all of us to band together and wage a mighty nationwide protest. We’ve been victimized too long, and our silent acquiescence must stop. The injustice I speak of echoes in our ears several times a day, and like a recurring nightmare, we try to ignore it, but it subversively eats away at us, mocking us, making us feel powerless.

What injustice do I rail against? “At the tone, please record your message. When you have finished recording, you may hang up or press ‘one’ for more options. If you’d like to leave a callback number, press ‘five’.”

In my cellphone network, and nearly all I’ve encountered, this is a mandatory tag to your own voice mail recorded greeting. My service provider explained that I can’t remove it. Gee, I wonder why?

This tag line lasts eleven seconds. Hardly significant, right? Well, let’s say that of the approximately 190 million cellphone users nationwide (cited in a Washington Post article in July, 2005), 100 million of them hear a voice mail message twice daily, a fairly conservative and very unscientific estimate. 100 million x 11 seconds x 2 = 36,666,667 minutes. Granted, not every one of those 11 seconds would kick you into the next minute of your call, but let’s say half of them did. Well, then I should divide the number of minutes in half, but remember both the calling party and the receiving party pays for the call, so we’re back up to the previous number. If these minutes occur after exceeding subscribers’ monthly limits, let’s say to the tune of 45¢/minute, the nation’s cellphone users just spent $16,500,000.

Of course, each of those minutes may not translate to a billable minute, for some cellphone users never go over their monthly minutes, but let’s say ten percent of the minutes become billable. With that very unscientific scenario, the cellphone companies are receiving $1,650,000 daily for forcing us to listen to a useless recording. (I imagine most people just leave a message after the beep completely ignoring all the options offered.) And this is all on the conservative side. I hear voice mail messages far more frequently than twice per day, as I imagine many of us do.

But the insult doesn’t stop there. With my provider, when I call in to retrieve the messages on my cellphone, I hear, “Welcome. You have [insert number] unheard messages. The following message has not been heard. (isn’t that redundant?) First unheard message.” This times out to 10 seconds, which is tagged onto the greeting I must interrupt to get to the message center, followed by a message prompting me to enter my password. All of this totals 15 seconds. If I have saved or skipped messages, the tag points that out as well, adding time. Again, I can only estimate how often cellphone users pick up their messages, but I can promise that a fair amount of money just migrated into the pockets of service providers.

Some may argue that they never go over their monthly minutes, and thus none of this impacts upon them, but how did you arrive at the number of minutes you needed? You undoubtedly selected a plan to comfortably pad your usage. Did you realize how many minutes might have been added to your total simply due to these voice mail tags, not to mention how many minutes of your life have vanished into the stratosphere never to return to you? Do you see how this affects you now?

Yes, there are lots of permutations to alter the actual numbers above, but the point is, cellphone service providers are holding us hostage with these voice mail tags and making money off our inability to alter or remove them. My landline service, which has little incentive to keep me on a toll free call, is provided by the same company as my cellphone service. And guess what? I have several choices for modifying my voice mail greetings.

Are there more worthy things to lobby against? Absolutely, and the cellphone companies bank on that fact. While we’re distracted by gas prices, world politics, the failings of public schools, and countless other issues, this scam marches on, costing us money and time and a small piece of our sanity. Maybe we feel powerless to alter this practice, but if we were to flood our providers with complaints, I imagine change is possible. Get busy dialing.