With My Dad

When I see the news blurb that Hugh Hefner is selling one of his mansions, I feel a rush of panic. I’m not concerned about the health of Playboy, an empire about which I have mixed feelings. My concern is personal. As an LA native, through the years I’ve seen my past erased, sometimes slowly, sometimes with the abruptness of thievery in the night. And now I fear that the Playboy mansion, the majestic estate in Holmby Hills, is up for sale.

In third grade I was extremely popular with the boys, presumably due to my tomboy demeanor, how I slid into the boys’ games at recess like I was one of them nearly indistinguishable with my short haircut and athletic skill. With this strong schoolyard bond, it was natural that afternoon play moved to my home.

I don’t remember when I came up with the idea of sharing the Playboy magazines in my parents’ bedroom with my friends, magazines not hidden in covert places but out there in the open filling the antique wood magazine rack at the foot of the bed. No shame there. My dad worked for the company.

Determined to use my dad’s job to my advantage and elevate my cool friend status, one day I nudged a male friend towards the stash, and from that moment on my carefree afternoons turned into a time-lapse movie sequence where boy after boy came to my home and disappeared into the magazines, ogling one playmate after the next as I sat bored on the end of my parents’ bed aware that my plan for securing friends had been misguided.

When my parents separated, the Playboy Mansion became a regular destination for my Saturdays with Dad. As a producer for Playboy Productions, a film division responsible for Roman Polanski’s acclaimed Macbeth as well as the unfortunate hiccup, The Naked Ape, starring the darling child from The Rifleman, Johnny Crawford, as a grown up, my father had become good buddies with Hef and had open access to his home, as did a lengthy list of Hollywood celebrities and sports stars.

“We can play at Hef’s,” my dad said, referring to a game of tennis. I’d first walked onto a court five years earlier at age seven, a court in our own backyard. Sports were a strong bond between me and my dad, for we were the two athletes in the family. But since my parents’ marriage ended and the house was sold, our tennis matches needed a new home.

So off we went, snaking through Holmby Hills in my dad’s convertible Caddy, a boat of a car, so very 1970s. At the guard gate, my dad turned his head to the small speaker box, announced his name, and I watched the wrought iron gates part to allow our entry. Keys to the kingdom, indeed.

We parked the car in the well-photographed circular drive in front of the English Tudor mansion, and crossed a vast lawn towards the secluded tennis court. After a couple hours, Dad and I transitioned to lunch, magically ordered from any phone on the property to a phantom kitchen without a menu. Ask for whatever you wanted, give your coordinates, and club sandwiches would arrive within a half hour.

Dessert was the game room. Wall to wall pinball machines encircled a pool table. Dad and I stood side by side at our favorite machines, desperate to beat our best scores, throwing our weight into our flipper action, twisting the ball release plunger to get the right spin. My dad taught me that, though I don’t know if the technique was scientifically sound. Winning free games sounds meaningless in a no-coins-required world, but it wasn’t meaningless to us. It was the measure of our skill, our determination, our progress. Next we’d move to the pool table. Dad had turned me into a bit of a shark for my age, a skill that stayed with me through college and was useful in the dating world to stand out as a little surprising. When Dad and I needed fuel, we’d reach into the bowls of M&M’s – both peanut and plain – behind us on low-lying tables. A never empty refrigerator offered up soft drinks. People think of the Playboy Mansion as Disneyland for grown ups, but I tell you it was Disneyland for a 12-year-old as well.

Aside from the ubiquitous display of Playboy Magazines on the indoor surfaces, I seldom encountered the adult side of the Mansion. There was the time I tripped into the circular space off the game room with the sponge-like, seductively cushy floor. I figured out its purpose, and knew I wouldn’t be playing in there. Then there was the hot afternoon when a post-tennis swim was in order. The Mansion stocked bathing suits for guests in all sizes organized into little cubbies along a tall cabana wall. I don’t know if it was the strangeness of borrowing a suit or not wanting to figure out how my 12-year-old body would look on display amongst the grown women, but I decided to skip the bikini and swim in my red-trimmed, white tennis dress.

Oh the beauty of the pool. A ring of water arching around a grotto over whose entrance cascaded a waterfall. A lovely stone deck dotted with lush lounge chairs.

I eased into the water, ruffled panties and all, as was the tennis fashion of the era. Breaststroking toward the grotto, I dove beneath the waterfall, resurfacing inside the darkened cave, its perimeter adorned with padded couches. The grotto was empty, but within seconds a man walked in from the cabana entrance, walked in tall and naked. I caught a glance – my first full frontal of the grown up variety – dove shyly back underwater, and swam out.

Strangest of all, I told my dad, as if I needed to confess interrupting a private moment. In response he said something like, “I’m sure it was fine with him” or “I’m sure he didn’t mind,” words that carried a slightly lascivious hint that made me realize that men sort of like being caught on display.

While the Mansion’s public image is of bathing beauties and constant nudity, that just wasn’t the Mansion I saw, no bunnies sporting ears and puffy tails, no wild orgies on the lawn, no sexual innuendo in every conversation. I had that one brief nudity encounter, but generally people dressed as they would around any swimming pool, fully covered in bathing suits. On occasion, a top may come off for some sunning, but it was tasteful, less overt than those who strut on the French Riviera.

In the daylight at the Mansion, you could see families with toddlers, parents joyfully showing their child the amazing collection of birds housed in the enormous aviary beneath the trees. And on 4th of July there was always a huge kid-friendly buffet. Only once did I stay at the Mansion past dark in order to see a screening of a film, and we left as the credits rolled, for I think my dad understood that the tone of things shifted as the sun went down.

All this was the window dressing on the Mansion, images I strongly remember. But what I remember more was that it was at the Playboy Mansion when I first beat my dad at tennis. It had been coming. Our games were getting closer and closer. My dad played tennis every weekend with his friends. I had recently entered the world of junior tournament tennis. When I hit the perfect drop shot and my dad couldn’t race forward fast enough to catch the ball before it fell, game and set went to me, 6-4. I felt the sting of pride and fear at the same time. A child beating a father. A daughter beating a father. But before I could digest my emotions, my dad’s face broke into a large grin. For the next hour, anyone who wandered over to the court heard my father boast that I had just beat him. He was more proud of my achievement than he could ever be disappointed by his loss.

And there was the time when I took on Jim Brown, the famous footballer with the speedy legs. (Try getting a drop shot past him.) And all the times I was the only female in a game of doubles. I was a real competitor amongst the men, and that made me think about identity and womanhood and achievement. The bunnies were appreciated for their beauty. I was appreciated for my skill, and I saw the difference. I felt the respect.

I also met my first porn star courtside, and had a hard time looking him in the eye years later after having seen his famous film at a retro on-campus screening during my freshman year in college. He and I ended up in a conversation about the first amendment and several lawsuits he was involved in, and that, too, taught me something: Don’t diminish people based on assumptions. And yes, Hef does always walk around in silk pajamas.

Some dads teach their kids to fly fish. Some sit down and deliver lectures packed with words of wisdom. Mine took me to fantasyland where I could think about my place as a woman and my goals and dreams. And have fun, simple fun, even if the setting wasn’t so pure.

I search the Internet to see if another piece of my childhood will be boarded up and dismantled, and I learn that it is Hef’s neighboring property that’s on the market. While I haven’t visited the Mansion since my late teens, I am relieved that it will remain. Many people – my mom included – questioned my dad’s judgment in taking a young girl there, but I can tell you, the time I spent at the Playboy Mansion built memories. Good memories. Indelible memories. Memories with my dad.



I’ve never been a smoker, but I’ve never been a vicious anti-smoker either. Well, except for that time my mom lit up in a doctor’s office waiting room when I was a precocious child. Despite my requests, she wouldn’t put the thing out, not even when I feigned a coughing fit. I asked the receptionist for a piece of paper, pencil, and tape, and made my own ‘No Smoking’ sign that I posted on the wall. That sufficiently embarrassed my mom into snubbing out her cigarette.

That moment aside, I’ve always been laissez faire about smoking. I’ve traveled Europe and sat in smoke-filled cafes and bars. I lingered in the Los Angeles clubs of the 80s where only through the hazy filter of polluted air could you see the performers on stage. The smoke never bothered me, and I seldom gave it any thought.

Until lately.

Since my brother – a smoker since his early teens – died of lung cancer last month, I just can’t look at smokers the same way. I can’t just shrug and not care. I can’t.

We all have habits, some easy to discard, some that clutch to our sleeves desperate for survival. Not everything in my day amounts to healthy living. Not even close (okay, close, but still.) But smoking, that now has moved into its own category.

My brother was diagnosed around the New Year, and my parents instantly rallied for him to quit smoking, but his attention wasn’t focused in that direction. He was about to start chemo and radiation, and the thing is, I got why he was still smoking. He was about to face the most stressful and challenging time in his life, not exactly a setting best suited to kick the habit. Besides, his problem was so much larger than a few more months of continued smoking. If he made it through treatment, then he could face the reality of quitting.

He didn’t make it through.

When we emptied his apartment, we found a few cartons of unopened cigarettes. My mom wanted to destroy them. My brother’s friend said he could see if they could be returned to the store. My mom didn’t like the idea of someone someday smoking these cigarettes, but the conversation veered off to another corner of the room, to the stacks of clothes and papers and other remnants of a life snubbed out suddenly.

I don’t know what happened to the cigarettes. I don’t need to ask.

Now when I drive through LA traffic, my eyes hang on the smokers. I examine their profile, the way they move fingers to mouth, and the quality of their exhales. I drift into their heads looking for what their thoughts might be, could be, how they can puff away with the knowledge of the potential harm.

I study these inconsequential moments of these smokers’ day and think of my brother, of our last email exchange on his birthday – his voice too weakened to speak – when I playfully suggested that he’d be healthy and running marathons and doing yoga on his next birthday, this to the brother who never engaged in any form of exercise. He responded that all he wanted was for his next birthday to be cancer free.

He died later that night, alone, in the secluded hours of night, his eyes turned towards the TV.

When smokers shrug off their habit as just another habit, as an enjoyable slice of their day, I just don’t get it, because really, it is not so simple, not so innocent.


Black Thumb

I don’t know how it happened, but walking towards my bedroom door, I tip my head to the right, and there it is, my plant in bloom. For many, this is an annual occurrence, the resurgence of blossoms that definitively demonstrate life’s cycles.

The typical cycle in our household begins when I impulsively and optimistically buy a cute little plant, usually something on display at Trader Joe’s, imagining it the center of attention on the island between the kitchen and living room, or perhaps on my nightstand greeting me as I start my day. During the next phase, I kill said plant either with neglect or ineptitude. After watering it for a few extra weeks just to be sure that the brittle brown leaves don’t really signify death but rather a state of – let’s say – disinterest, I finally give up and give in. The burial is an unceremonious dumping in the garbage can.

I could turn the failed dream into mulch in our communal front yard and let it participate in the parallel life cycle story, cinematically valid but a little depressing. The fact that I don’t just shows how black my thumb is. In fact, I think my thumb can now be labeled a serial killer, so many have died under its care.

To see fresh blossoms on a plant I nearly killed two weeks ago while trying to extract all the spindly brown stems weaving through the cheerfully green show-offs, only to discover how truly entwined they all were (sorry, healthy stems that I ripped from life and a hopeful future), is truly amazing. Really. This is the first plant I’ve kept alive through one whole cycle.

There was one plant I had in college, that leafy green variety bred specifically for college students because it cannot be killed. Drownings in beer, lit cigarettes scorching its soil when used as an impromptu ashtray, a complete absence of light – the plant barely flinches. Sophomore year I went home for winter break, a full four weeks, and had no one to care for my plant, so I left it on our back porch and promptly forgot about its existence. Six months later, when packing up for summer, I found the plant on its side having fallen off the porch and living in a tangle of dirt and leaves. And you know what? It looked great. Better than if I’d actually tried to care for it.

My mom tried to give me an orchid on Mothers’ Day. I just couldn’t accept it. I have killed so many orchids that I’m sure I’m on that plant’s most wanted list. I can imagine them all lined up at the post office, waiting to send goodies to loved ones and glaring at the photo of my innocently smiling face – though in their eyes, maniacally so – amongst the other FBI’s most wanted felons. It’s that bad.

While Spring arrived for others weeks ago, I mark today as my official first day, commemorated by little purple flowers. At the same time, I must say an apology to all the plant siblings that didn’t make it. I did my best.

There is a reason I have only one child. I know my limits. Most of the time.


:: taken too soon ::

It’s the image that always comes to me when I think of my relationship with my brother, the royal blue and white striped peashooter he gave me for my fourth birthday. It must have been his idea at age eleven. I don’t think my parents would have suggested arming a four-year-old.

He may not have thought it through, the fact that once armed I would request ammunition – unpopped popcorn kernels – and permission to follow him outside with his gang of friends. They’d shoot slyly at the moving cars that passed our house, raising peashooters to mouth at just the right moment, puff out their cheeks with requisite air, and blow, jettisoning a small morsel at their target, and then quickly hide their weapons by their sides. I’d stand focused on the parked car in front of me, roll a popcorn kernel around on my tongue to gather the right amount of spit to afford perfect trajectory – my brother must have taught me that – and then fire away awaiting the satisfying sound of the ping, of kernel hitting metal.

It’s the only gift I remember receiving before age nine when a snazzy three-speed Schwinn bike arrived, that’s how important that peashooter was to me, probably because it came from my older brother, the one I mimicked and followed around, stealing his T-shirts and any other clothing items of his I could wrap around me.

Through the years we grew apart, our relationship more courteous than connected, but lately things had shifted. We were on the mend, so it seemed. In his illness, challenged to speak, we resorted to emails, emails that bounced back and forth like live dialogue, emails that revealed our history, our one-time bond, our status as siblings. In his words he was warm and encouraging, inserted happy face emoticons and LOLs.

He spoke of his gratitude for his friends and family, what the caring of others in this time was teaching him. He spoke honestly about his mistakes and how he wanted to shift, of changes he wanted to make. “I have found that once I let others into my life things get easier all the way around,” he said. And I thanked him, told him he was gifting me with his openness, and that he was teaching me about learning to accept help.

I’m sorry he and I didn’t have more time to explore this renewed connection. I’m sorry he didn’t have more time to explore what he had discovered. Mostly I’m sorry for his young children because I know what their dad wanted more than anything was to have more time with them. If their mom doesn’t mind, maybe I’ll get them each a peashooter for their next birthday, and together we can fire off a popcorn kernel or two and try to make a ping and think of their dad.



You come because you fear missing. The moment, the announcement, the invite, the laugh. The need to be in, be a part, belong. Like willingly slipping into handcuffs, you log on, log in, but with the sound of the bird caw you raise you eyes to the window, see the crow dodge and swerve, rattle in the palm fronds.

And then you know.

Time to go outside.

Outside, without devices.
Outside, untethered.
Outside, to catch the missing.

Like the accidental brush with a stranger, the person who passed that spot that one time, who dropped a card you would have retrieved and returned, who would have thanked you with a lingering look in your eye that moved past courtesy. You missed the cloud that blocked the sun just so to create colors and swirls like watercolors meeting in a rinsing bath. You missed sounds uniting in cacophony, unchoreographed bikers and skaters in dance, dots of sand skimming the beach in the wind.

But you never know, for no record remains, no evidence taunts you. And the indoor habit, mighty, forceful, demanding, unwilling to lose, mocks when you stay away, when you return, with etched proof of what was.

Balance. In/out.

There are the online connections, the people who enter your life through serendipity. There is the info, the images, the stories, the words, more and more and more until you drown in what you cannot absorb.

Whenever I leave, leave and fill the void with in real life, I find the me that goes missing in the information age. I find the me of greater confidence, who compares less, who competes less, whose breath grows deeper, whose legs grow sturdier. I find that which I do not know I look for.

Balance. In/out.


Home and Away

It could be the jetlag, the confusing sleep pattern that allows me to drift off at a reasonable 10:30 p.m. only to awaken four hours later prepared to start a day that still sleeps. Or it could be the disorientation of returning to a life that demands planning beyond which sights I will see before noon, before the descent onto a nice lunch spot. The loss of life-in-the-moment slaps me hard as thoughts return to paychecks and tuition checks and career milestones and how to track down the undelivered post that was squeezed out of my mailbox during my two weeks away, the two weeks that my neighbor forgot to bring in my mail.

I am not born to travel. I am born to not be stationary, to live outside a predictable existence, to be part of a community that changes with the turnover of hotel rooms. In a life outside expectations of consistency I do better, where it is the circumstances that prevent relationships from growing too deep as opposed to life where the relationships do not grow because the connection is just not there.


That is what this awareness offers. When I stay off the internet, when I do not read of all that I cannot change – despite the proclamations that change resides in each one of our hands – I find peace. Selfish peace – or not – but peace nonetheless. When I walk instead of drive, when I read fictional tales rather than watch fictional tales. In these moments I connect with a quality that surpasses these simple actions.

The trip was to jumpstart the creative flow, to remind me of life outside the one offered in my day to day, to bond with a teen who may soon refuse to travel with me. Once I learned not to starve him in an effort to keep costs low (“What, fries and chocolate do not a lunch make?”), we found our rhythm. I hand over the guidebook and say, “Here, you plan Amsterdam,” and he does, and he leads and he chooses and his directionally-challenged brain learns to read a map.

We return home with shared sadness to a world awash in English, to signs we read effortlessly as opposed to the signs we proudly deciphered in the foreign lands, the ease diminishing the achievement we savored each day as we traveled.

We launder our limited two-week wardrobe of two pairs of pants each and a few shirts, and quickly re-adorn the same clothes, neglecting the closet full of options. Simple, I think. Fewer choices, more simplicity. I want to toss the clutter, remove the stacks of magazine back issues I will never read, create clear countertops and paperless drawers. I want less and less, yet do not know how to get to less.

But I will. I must. I must get to less. This is where my sanity resides. Spare. Sparse. Less.

And remembering. Remembering what brings out the best of each day, and recreating it here no matter the challenge, no matter the struggle.


Looking for Love

It’s not your fault.

I say the words as I stroke his back, nuzzle his muzzle, watch him fall asleep curled into my lap as if he has found home.

Tears trail my words and gather in my eyes. Tears unseen and quickly blinked away in the chaos of dogs running, barking, leaping, of people looking and deciding and considering.

It’s not your fault.

It has felt like my fault. Simple words spoken to the mixed-breed never offered a home, to the ten pounds of love in my lap. Simple words to take away the blame.

From him.

From me.

It’s not your fault.

I lean my face into his, and thank him for healing me.



True to self. I struggle to find me in a sea of others, others who gather like a school of fish, swimming in unison, following the leader, accepting the hand off to swim in the front, but always going together. I drift on the edge like a piece of floating sea junk bobbing up and down.

Pulled into the updraft, I slide into the stream. But the school takes a sharp left and I go straight, fast and furious as if my steering is set on ahead, cruise control, no means of adjustment.

They don’t see me leave, don’t care, don’t notice. Except for one, out of the corner of her right eye. A pulse of kindness, yet she stays with the pack.

My eyes follow the ocean floor, notice the sway of seaweed, the loner fish dipping in and out of rock dens. I let the current carry me forward, trusting the glide, trusting the ride.

The colors reside in the palette of cool with occasional punctuation marks of red and orange. My arms extend wide and I am an airplane underwater, dipping and soaring, dipping and soaring.

Ahead the sea grows murky, cloudy, destination obscured. I disappear into the haze hoping to emerge into clear when the sea rests, when the waves stop, when the sun shines down from above.

Patience, I tell myself. Patience. And I close my eyes.


4 a.m.

The sound of the quiet wakes me. My ears strain to absorb the white noise of life sleeping, the molecules of sound that lay like a blanket over four a.m. I picture soft-spoken particles colliding in air like flitting dots of dust that dance in sideways angles of light beams. Despite their tiny size, their lives are full.

With these awakenings now a regular occurrence, I wonder what predawn wants to tell me. I roll from side to back, back to side, in search of comfortable. I name the hour peaceful, for that is how I feel, except when I imagine four p.m. and the sleepiness that will descend in protest to my early waking.

To remain with eyes and ears open or to negotiate a return to sleep? I want to treat the waking as a mandate and follow the natural flow of my rhythm. And sometimes I do. Sometimes I reach to the nightstand for the laptop and start my day in the silent darkness. And sometimes I reach for the stories of my dreams that slip back into silence when I open my eyes. And sometimes I squeak out a couple more hours of sleep.

But mostly I wonder what the predawn is trying to tell me because I believe a secret waits to be discovered at 4 a.m.