Friday, September 11, 2015


My person waits on the outside looking in. I stand next to her. She’s the instigator. I’m the initiator. She’s the author. Me – I’m the character. Seems backward, doesn’t it?
Just who is this feisty woman that imagined my life? Temptation too strong, I escape the wall of one-inch margins in search of answers.
“Hi, I’m Mike."
A familiar presence – known like an autumn breeze greeting the darkening shadows, she checks her head to the left and turns to meet my outstretched arm. A confident hand joins mine and a friendship of awakens with the combination of the alphabet.
At ease, she slips her fingers into her pocket; my warm touch still with her. My boyish looks, my clean-shaven face and great butt make her pause. She takes another look.
That was the day I met Cynthia; the creator of me. My genetic DNA a mere 27 letters.
I only knew that I encountered a woman unlike any others and she left me in want of more beyond the distance between A and Z and dog-ear of a paperback.
Her smile edged with a spark of mystery, her Scottish fuse-box temper, her fortitude of a brick ignited my inquiring mind.
She appears to the outside world open and completely upfront - totally predictable. To me she is absolutely - unpredictable.
Just when I think I know her best she ventures beyond my grasp and I hold my breath. I discover her to be an endless mystification.
She is an Aquarius. Not that she buys into the stars but she read once that the most compatible match for her is a Gemini. She tells me she really needs me to be a Gemini because I am the only one who will understand her off-the-wall, inside-out-upside-down personality. So a Gemini I am.
A cosmic twin, a two-fold personality. Thanks, Cin. I am strength of character one day and in search of want the next. I am very complex, athletic and in her mind -- handsome.
She takes me through many adventures and real encounters of life. She promises to nurture but not protect. Sometimes I feel lost but I trust my creator to get me where I need to go.
I love the architect of my being. If I were alive beyond the dimension of words I would date her. She is always in search of adventure. She makes things happen. I am lucky because she takes me with her when she goes exploring. The mysteries of life intrigue her.
I think, no, I know, I fell in love with her the day she looked at me with her wondering eyes, a strand of strawberry blonde hair tucked behind her ear and asked, “Why do snails crawl up walls?”
“Where did that come from?” I asked in shocked response. “I thought we were having a cup of coffee?”
Chin resting in the palm of her hand she eyed me with a puzzled look. “Haven’t you ever wondered why snails climb up walls?”
I sat speechless.
“Have you ever seen a snail crawl back down?” She challenged, waiting for an answer.
Still, I had none. But then of course, how could I have the answer. She is my designer and she doesn’t know the answer so we sipped coffee in stalemate.
She leaned into the table shelving the thought and announced, “Let’s go for a run."
Running is our favorite time together. When we jog along the trail our thoughts merge. Any tangled cobwebs from the day’s stress drop with each forward motion until our mind races freely. We run in unison. I share my concerns and the depth of our relationship.
She breathes in the crisp autumn air and stops to look underneath a leaf. Bug spittle clings to the underside. She thinks it might be frog spit. “What do I think?”
“Of course, whatever, frog spit it is, but what about my problem?” A slight breeze blows through my fabricated form and scatters me temporarily east to west. I gather my self, adjust my parts and sprint to catch her down the next curve.
She runs across the wooden bridge. It bounces with her weight. She slips past the catwalk entrance her pace unfaltering onto the dirt path.
“What problem, Mike? Aren’t you having fun with me? You still have all your hair and you don’t have a potbelly. Is it the tofu in your eggs?” She jumps into a puddle and splashes muddy water on me.
I laugh. I grab her arm and make her stop. I hold her towards me. “No, it's not the tofu." I know it’s good for the prostate, not that I really have one. I feel the tightness of her muscles.
She looks up to me.
“It's just, damn you, sometimes I wish you'd quit hitting that cut and paste button. Just when I think I know who I am you either cut, paste or worse yet -- you hit delete!"
"Oh, that." She stretches her fingers and wiggles out the writer's cramps.
"Yeah, that." I stomp my foot. A knee wobbles and I pause to readjust.
"Didn't you like your part in the murder mystery?" She studies my rugged jaw, etched with a long scar of the attacker's knife. "All the reviewers gave you two thumbs up and Oprah loved you, remember?"
"I hate murder mysteries!" There it is out. I cross my arms and hold my ground, barely. "Can’t I just be me for one day? Don’t you know by now that I am the person standing next to you?”
"Out! Out! Out!" She grabs her temples and squeezes. "Get out of my head."
"Don't you get it? I move to her side. "I am out of your head." I inch closer and whisper, "I'm in your heart now."
A bird chirps in the tree. A rabbit scurries across the trail. We stand vacant of words.
She picks up a small rock and skips it across the water. Hands on slim hips she counts the number of ripples on the water and says, "Both of us are in a place of becoming, still changing. I haven’t a clue to our tomorrow." A drop of sweat slowly trails down the side of her flushed cheek. "Sometimes cut and paste is the best choice to help us grow."
Hands in my pocket my feet kick the dirt. I turn to stare out across the lake. I like who I am. I like who she is. She wants more for me, for us. Her hand gently touches my shoulder.
“Do you really want me to tell the whole world about when you…”
“…You wouldn’t. That’s between us.” The memory of the secret makes me smile and agree best kept on a cutting board. “Okay, so sometimes a little editing is good.” I resolve.
Her eyes twinkle, her face lights with the sunshine of her smile. “It's part of our becoming Mike, all just part of our becoming…”

Thursday, March 29, 2012

American Idol Top Nine Honor Your Idol

With Dianne Warwick in the audience, the flag of redemption raised for Heejun and nine fantastic performances, what can I say? The night was the best in American Idol history. No a shrill, squeak or not-my-fault-frown from any contestant.  Come to think of it, this year the attitude on stage is high octane par one.

Each contestant shined as they honored their idol in music. The idol's song. Elise surprised the pants off Stephen Tyler with her rock-n-rock.

Jessica commanded the stage and let her voice take you on a journey. Humble with much potential.

Phillip, always a favorite, poured his life into each and every note. Love his low-drop to a growl and pull me back up. A top three contender. One of my favorites, if pushed to admit.

Colton demonstrated a softer-side and left us with our emotions embraced in the "One". Showed a vulnerable side and I loved it.

Ah Joshua, you get under our skin. On a side note, the jacket didn't do it.

Everyone stepped up a player last night. The applause is probably still echoing in the hall so I'll take a stab and pick my exit vote based on the entire package.

My exit vote is: Heejun

Thursday, March 22, 2012

American IdoI Top Ten - Billy Joel

8:00pm across American and it's American Idol and away we go. 
Billy Joel and TommyHilfiger. What a duo. 
Tonight’s theme is Billy Joel. I love Joel’s music. It taps into the story telling of every day life: the heartache, the mundane, and the Uptown girl. Can they step up and do justice to the Piano Man? 
Tommy Hilfiger dons the stage to pull the contestants to star appeal. Hopefully he didn’t watch “The Voice” and all we see are females in scantily-clad outfits with Blake drooling on the sideline. 
Stephen Tyler – Tommy Hilfiger’s worse nightmare. Flowers on the mike were a curious addition. With the black stripes on varying black stripes accented with bulbous silver beads for a moment I thought Jack Skeleton was a guest judge. Tommy probably popped an antacid or two. 
Now on to the show. Randy deferred to Jennifer several times. Man up Randy and speak your mind without backup. 
01 – DeAndre – The good may die young. An omen? Beware, you may be on *death* row in the American Idol contest. Sunglasses tucked into the neckline of his undershirt. Cool for the beach. Not sure on stage. 
02 -  Erika – Love the hair! Gutsy girl ready to take a chance and it paid off. I almost feel like I’m in a New York state of mind. Believable. Excellent tonight. 
03 – Joshua - I disagree Jennifer. I connected although not his type of song. Danger zone for Joshua is too much of the same vocals. Tame it down and turn it around. Still a top five contender. 
04 – Skylar – Shameless it wasn’t Garth. 
05 – Elise – Powerful! Owned herself tonight. There’s something in her persona that reminds me of Mariah Carey. A look and yes, the feathering of the fingers with the run and perhaps the framing of the hair. Wasn’t thrilled with the flowing dress but the vocals were her best. Great job! 
Okay, so far Tommy is battling resistance on styling up the contestant. Bell bottoms or over powering dress. Neither one works. 
06 -  Phil – If that’s what it’s all about, then I’m moving out. You sold me. 99% of Americans should embrace the words of that Billy Joel song and make it their motto. Phil knows Phil. Wouldn’t change a thing. One of the top five contestants. 
07 - Jessica – Raw talent with vulnerable flaws. Tame the horse but don’t break the spirit. 
08 – Hollie – She’s so cute and definitely dressed better tonight. Score one for Tommy. Honesty is one of my favorite songs but honestly, she didn’t quite grasp it to her ability. Not bad just not great. Frankly, I was distracted by the dandelion blowing in the background. Back to weeding tomorrow. 
09 – Heejun – Entertaining, pitchy, draining my patience. Perfect exit song. You’ll go out in style. Your style. 
10 – Colton – Master musician, artist and entertainer. Knows how to pick the perfect song to please the audience and pull them in and after all isn’t that the mark of a great performer? He’s here for the long run and glad for it. 
My exit vote for tonight is: Heejun 
What’s your take?
Billy, did they do you proud? A Downtown girl who grew up on Uptown music, I say yes.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

American Idol Top 13 - Let The Battle Begin

American Idol Season 11
Notepad in hand, volume churned up a notch, and a chilled glass of Frei Brothers Chardonnay in hand, I’m ready for the top 13 contestants of season eleven. With the buttery warmth of a California Russian River Valley wine, I curl on the couch and sip in anticipation. What’s this? Ryan grew an inch. Love the extra length of his stacked hair. It adds dimension and sex appeal. Nice touch. 
Let the battle begin: 
01 – Joshua.  Energized, believable, depth-of-soul performance. No doubt, easy front runner. Left-hand plays like a penguin in dance. 
02 – Elise. “Not My Baby Tonight”.  Struggles with feedback. Hmm….oh no, Randy deferred feedback to Jennifer. Not a good sign. 
03 – Jermaine. Love, love, love his voice. Stay… 
04 – Erika. Deep, rich vocals. Didn’t quite work for me. Perhaps not capable Whitney’s range. 
For a decade selecting a Whitney Houston song was the dreaded exit-curse. In respect, I understand, but still difficult songs to deliver. 
05 – Colton. Hit a homerun with team Daughtrey and Cook. Way to go! I'm going to love this season. 
06 – Shannon. No, no , the Randy defer to Jennifer again. Like Dawg, quit passing the bad news to Jennifer to deliver. Man-up. Fair is fair. Rough night, overwhelmed by the song. Too big a song for a young soul. Next time. 
07 – Deander. Local boy. Not bad but stay focused. Tends to lose stage presence. 
08 – Skylar. Top contender. Now I know just where my broken heart went. It went South.  Country girl rocks. Excellent! 
09 – Heejan. Randy to Jennifer for the third time. Randy, please watch the play backs and step up to the plate and deliver your own uncensored comments. Smooth notes but pouts on stage. Not a front runner. 
10 – Holly. Proof. Great gifts come in small packages. Goosies. 
11 -  Jeremy. Lovable. Beautiful smooth voice. Complete package? Not sure. Yet. 
12 – Jessica. Untouchable. Sign her yesterday. Incredible tribute to Whitney. Embraced in Whitney’s presence in the last three notes. Haunting. 
13 – Phillip. Quirky, unique, energized. My type of performer. 
In the danger zone:  Shannon, Deander and Elise. 
Safe on home plate:  Jessica, Holly, Skylar, Phillip and Colton. 
Now to pick up the phone and cast my equal opportunity votes for: Joshua, Colton,  Jermaine, Skylar, Jeremy, Holly, Jessica and Phillip.  A job well-done deserves a vote. A job superbly-done, deserves redial. 
The Round Up is on the vine, let the weeding begin…and how does your finger dial? 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No More Turkeys

Beware of turkeys bearing turkeys


"Somebody answer the phone!" I lug the twenty-two pound turkey into the kitchen, plop it on the breadboard and drop my keys. The phone screams a fourth ring.

"Hi, this is Ned," a husky voice greets me.

"Hi, Ned," my arms ache from carrying in the bulky groceries. I hunch my shoulders to release the tension.

"My company gave me a turkey and if you're, you know, not... "I pause and listen. "I thought I could bring it over and we could have Thanksgiving together." I peek at the frozen tom headless on the chopping board.

"Sure Ned that would be great." I fake enthusiasm.

"I make killer mashed potatoes and gravy." Oh, my stomach remembers - potatoes loaded with sour cream, shredded cheese, whole milk and "I Can't Believe it's Not Butter".

I reach to the cupboard and scout out the Maalox supply.

"How about one o'clock then Thanksgiving Day?" The trap is set. "And Neddy's coming, too. Is that all right?"

"Sure." What's another kid I concede. "Pumpkin pie, okay?"

I turn back to the groceries and make mental rearrangements in my mind for a couple more people on Thanksgiving Day. I grab bags of cranberries and toss them into the refrigerator.

"Buy out the store?" Krista checks through the brown paper packages on the kitchen table. She snatches an orange and jabs a fingernail into the peel. "While you were out Kyle, your hiking pal, stopped by with a turkey. Something about 'he got it at work and thought we might like to have it'."

"A turkey?" 

"I put it in the freezer." Orange peels drop and the fragrant juice lotions her fingers.

I open the freezer door and a twelve-pound turkey wrapped in white plastic fills the left corner. I shove packages to the rear.

"I think he was sort of hoping we'd invite him to Thanksgiving dinner." She rummages through groceries and stacks cans on the table.

"Hmm? Ned and his son are coming." I finger count the guests - two plus four. That's six at the table. I count chairs - six.

"Not Neddy, Mom!" She pops a finger down her throat and gags.

"Stop that." Memory tells me the kid turns my stomach, too. "It's Thanksgiving and nobody should be alone. Besides they're bringing a turkey also."

"But what's that on the breadboard?" The card-special-turkey for $5.99 glistens with frost. "Isn't that a turkey?"

"Afraid so." I tap my finger on the counter, open the freezer door and say, "Move over Tom. Here comes your bud."

"That makes three turkeys." Krista shakes her head. "We're going to be eating turkey sandwiches forever."

"And don't forget the soup." We laugh and remember we hate turkey sandwiches. "I guess I better call Kyle. We'll squeeze him in somewhere."

The days grow long, the shadows play over the sidewalk and Thanksgiving Day arrives. I check the television guide for the Thanksgiving parade time and NFL football. Pumpkin pies cool on the counter, the broccoli casserole is mixed and ready to bake and the first batch of dishes is washed. I scrub and cook for hours.

My sons, Kent and Jake, put a leaf in the table, bring in the picnic table benches, arrange candles and the mood is set.

"Time to get Tom cooking." I say.

A seasoned pro better than the herb stuffing, I pull the knobs from the burners, lift the chrome face off the stove and turn on the oven. I grasp two bare wires, tap them to the metal griddle and hot- wire the oven. The old stove sparks; the gas ignites. I get down on all fours, lower the broiler door and bend my head sideways. I double check, the gas flame flickers - good. I slip the dismantled parts back in place and applaud my survival skills - a master makeshift repairman.

Kent watches the ritual and frowns, "Mom, you're going to blow us up someday."

I bake for hours in the kitchen, apron tied around waist, turkey stuffed and popped in the oven. The crippled stove struggles to maintain gas supply to all the burners and oven. I hear the slight poof on the gas line and adjust the temperature. Poof gone.

Ned and little Ned arrive arms full of goodies. Kyle turns on the football game - a Thanksgiving Day tradition.

"Mom, come quick!" Krista kneels on the sofa and watches through the mini-blinds.

"What's the problem?" I drop my rolling pin, brush flour against my face and run to the living room.

She separates a blind. I bend to peek. "There's a guy coming up the walk with a turkey in his hands."

"Not another one." We stare.

"And he's got a dog."

"You know who that is don't you?" I nudge her shoulder. "That's the single guy down the street. You know, what's his name with the immaculate yard and white fence."

"Ahh…look. It's just a puppy."

The door bell chimes and I answer. Guy and dog with turkey on doorstep, unfair strategy.

"Hi, I live down the street." He extends a firm grip and the dog wags its tail. "I won this turkey at the local department store and since I'm all alone I thought maybe you could…it's fresh." He pushes the lifeless flesh in my arms. "I brought champagne, too."

I stand plump with poultry.

"Boy, something sure smells good." He lingers on the doorstep. "Reminds me when I was a kid and our entire family…did I tell you I'm Italian?" His gaze drops to the ground. "Anyway, we had great get togethers before they all moved away." He pats the eager pup behind the ears. "Now it's just DaShiell and me."

I kneel down and stroke the flaps of skin on the toddler bloodhound. Front paws straddle my shoulders and a tongue tickles my chin. I turn to the man attached to the leash, "And you must be…"


I perch my hands on my hands and wait. There's got to be more. I wait for a pipe and sleuth coat to materialize. Nothing. I gaze at the scar etched along his temple; the rogue hair poking from his brow. Still, he offers no more.

"Well then, come on in Sam. The football game's just getting started."

He ties his partner in crime to the porch, steps in and kicks off his loafers. Clean socks, no exposed toes, good touch.

"Everyone, this is Sam. He's coming to dinner." Hands wave. Sons and male friends root and swear from the living room floor and couch.

"DaShiell. What kind of name is that for a dog?" I head to the kitchen, arms freezing with turkey, Krista at my heels.

"Babe bait, Mom."

"Ma, I think you better tone down your scent of a woman or something." Jake pokes his head around the corner. "We're running out of chairs."

"Like I said 'babe bait'." Krista scoots pies to the left window corner and I drop the bird on the counter. "Now we have four turkeys." she gasps.

"Krista," I pull her deep into the room of treats and roasting turkey and whisper, "Beware of turkeys bearing turkeys--especially single ones." I pour a tall glass of champagne and the bubbles pop under my nose.

Krista looks at the three men complete with kid and dog cheering the holiday game. "These guys think you're dessert, don't they?" eyes wide with discovery.

With a sigh I lean against the ceramic counter and swirl the gold liquid in the fluted glass. "It also means they're hungry and don't know how to cook."

"Say where's your friend Arlene today? Maybe she'd like to come over."

"Oh didn't I tell you? She stopped in for some cajun wings at the Chicken Palace last week and she met-"

"Not Denny?"

"Worse. She hooked up with Sly, the cook." I grab my chest and swoon against the counter, "She's 'in love'."


"Well at least for this week."

"What about Jodie?" She starts down my list of girl pals.

"Nah, she flew home to Iowa for the holidays." I count again the men in the front room. "Forget it, we're on our own kid."

Shouts and loud clapping travel from the front room. Score one for the favored team; score zero for Mom.

The kitchen phone rings and I tuck the headset against my shoulder. "Hello?"

Happy Thanksgiving." A melodic voice returns.

"Hi Maggie. I haven't heard from you in awhile. This is a surprise." I wink at Krista and motion for her to mash the sweet potatoes.

"Yeah, I know my Dad and I've been busy." The teen stumbles on her apology, "but we, I mean, I was wondering are you making your broccoli casserole today?"

I look through the glass window of the oven door. The casserole bubbles, the edges golden brown. "Where are you going for Thanksgiving dinner, Maggie?"

"I'm making dinner for my Dad and me," again a pause.

"And what are you making?" I hesitate to know.

"We haven't gone to the store yet." Her voice drops, "You know my Dad, 'there's always tomorrow'."

"You haven't gone shopping?" The hands on the clock extend well past 2:00pm. "Would you and your Dad like to join us for dinner?" I swing the cabinet door open and bring out two more place settings. "However, there's one catch."

"I can make a salad. I have a bag of lettuce." The girl pleads.

"Salad's wonderful," I shove my mix of greens back in the refrigerator. "Tell your Dad if he'd like to come to dinner he has to call me first. You know he hasn't called in over five months."

"He's such a putz." We laugh, hang up and seconds later...

"This is Bob. I was just calling to say hello."

"Bob? Oh, hello. This is a surprise." I feign excitement. I drag another bench along the linoleum and rearrange the table display. "I hear you're coming to dinner. Great. Would you mind stopping at the store for a pie?" I nudge Krista, smile and add, "Seems dessert is a popular item on the menu today."

"Sure…" the familiar click of an electronic goodbye.

"Men." Krista shakes her head. "Maybe we should disconnect the phone?"

"Nah, just check caller ID." We nod in agreement. "We won't answer anymore numbers from guys in want of a hot meal."

"Or dessert," she pops an olive in her mouth and laughs.

"Okay, so now we have ten for dinner." I pour another glass of champagne. "And we ain't even Italian."

"Well, at least Kent and Jake will be happy," Krista mocks Maggie's full bosom, "Little Ms. let-your-boobs-hang-out is coming over." 
Ah yes, teenage sons.
The smells of the day take over the house. Ned hauls in his potato offering, Kyle stirs gravy and Sam takes a bowl of water to DaShiell. We wait for Bob and Maggie to arrive.

The oven goes poof-poof-poof.

I check on the turkey. The legs stiff, not wiggling freely, I pop it back in for another twenty minutes. The football game continues.

We nibble on snacks and watch the fire dance in the fireplace. I walk outside and take an up and down peek along the street. No Bob and Maggie.

The hour hits four. We gather for dinner and give thanks. Sam carves the steaming bird empty of stuffing and everyone grabs a fork.

A solid knock on the front door interrupts the meal. Already knowing who is on the other side, I push back my chair and leave my napkin on the seat.

"Hi Maggie," I give the girl a hug, her breasts bare just above the nipple line. "We're just starting to eat. Come on in." I shoot Bob a 'how dare you' look. I swear it flies over his head and keeps going West.

"Happy Turkey Day," he hands me a mincemeat pie, boasts a bottle of Boone's Farm Fuzzy Navel and lands a three-second kiss on my lips.

"Here, let me uncork the wine for you." Kyle greets the newcomer with a corkscrew.

"No problem. I got it." With a quick twist Bob turns the bottle cap and pours the orange liquid into his glass. "Anybody?" He holds up the beverage.

We shuffle chairs and Bob plops down at the head of the table. Kyle, Sam and Ned frown.

"Mom?" Krista swirls her fork in her yams and leans shoulder to shoulder, "I think you have a problem." She glances at the three men.

I cut my turkey and whisper, "it's going to get better."

"Man, that was a great football game." Ned pours gravy over three of the nine items on his plate.

"Yeah, that last play was about the best I've seen in a long time." Kyle relives the final touchdown.

"I didn't think the wide receiver had a chance of catching that ball." Kent motions a long pass with a buttered roll.

"Foosball, foosball, foosball." Bob drones.

"You don't like football?" Sam plants the question and waits.

"What guy doesn't like football?" Ned scores a point. "Gosh, remember when Montana--"

I raise the bottle high and look to shift the conversation. "More wine?"

I watch the men and study the selection of guys-wanting-to-be-mine.

Ned toting double six-packs of blubber under what might be a taunt six-pack. Not a muscle in sight. Neddy flings a pea from his fork. The pea lands in Jake's hair.

No, not Ned or son.

Bob, lopsided beard, hole in pant's pocket, nice guy but always a day late. Single father of adolescent girl. Non-football fan.

No chance.

Kyle spoons a large mound of stuffing into his mouth. He lifts his wineglass for a fourth refill. His elbow slips from the table.

Sam sits across from me. The late afternoon sun highlights gray strands woven in his thick dark waves. The bulge of his biceps expands the thin cloth of his knit shirt as he passes the Jello salad.

Hmm? Man and dog.

Dinner disappears amid stifled and superficial conversation. We rub swollen stomachs and clear the table.

"That was delicious, " Ned cuddles me from behind and adds, "How about I take a look under the hood of your car. Isn't it pinging or something?" He squeezes my waist and moves in closer.

"That would be wonderful Ned. " I turn, my hands covered with soapsuds and pull back. "I do think it needs a tune-up." He gives me a peck, asks for the keys and heads for the driveway.

Krista dries a dish. "Where's he going?"

"He's going to where all guys go on Thanksgiving after the football games, after the dinner," I nod towards the front yard. "To work on cars. What else is left."

"Mom come take a look," again we peek out the blinds. "Bob's out there, too."

"Not Bob?" I lean back, sit on the couch and laugh tears to my cheek. "He hates working on cars."

"He must really want you Mom."

"Observe and learn daughter-of-mine." I pull open the door and hear Bob shop-talk spark plugs. Ned ups the ante with precise documentation of fuel-injection engines. Kyle contradicts the stats and the conversation escalates.

"This is funny." She stands next to me, looking at the male beast tote its feathers. "Even DaShiell's doing tricks." The puppy jumps sideways in the air and snags a rubber disc.

"And look over there," I point to the over-developed Maggie smiling sweetly at my sons. "She's got the boys right where she wants them." The boys wash and wax her silver Tercel.

'Men." Krista giggles and notes, "Looks like you've got four admirers."

"Yep," I curl my arm around her shoulder.

"They don't stand a chance, do they Mom?" She looks at the flock of men.

"They're great friends, but no," and then with another look, "Well, maybe Sam. Ugly dog. Still -" something about that duo intrigues.

She sports a thumbs-up on my choice.

"What else needs fixing around here?" She eyes the house and turns to me.

"Let's see -- the fence is falling down and the bathroom faucet drips." I chalk up all the repairs and start making a list. "And then there's the stove."

"I'll get the toolbox, Mom." Krista hurries out the backdoor and returns with a metal box.

"Oh Bob," I call from the porch, "Kyle? Do you have a minute?"

I turn to Krista and add, "Thanksgiving's a day to give thanks and remember one can have too many turkeys."

Copyright 2003 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I'm Not Broken

Reprinted in memory of Mom - July 9, 1920 - October 31, 2011 - who believed in more than a little...
"But what're you going to do? You need to get a regular job." I held the receiver away from my ear as Mom's voice spiked.
Mom, the original fix-her-upper I swallowed my thought.
“You’ve got to fit into the mold.”
“I’m not broken, just broke. Those are two different things." The conversation continued; a circle of unlike minds.
"You should be a secretary."
"Mom," I braced my feet on the floor and prepared for the rebuttal. "I’m not a cubicle kind of person.”
"You've got to work." The words stung.
"I do work. Writing’s a job and I like it." The argument unending, I listened for a few more stanzas of 'your life doesn't meet the norm'.
"You're not supposed to like your job. You need money. How are you going to pay your bills?"
I looked at the pile of envelopes marked 'past due', 'friendly notice', 'forget something'?
"They'll get paid, someday." I shoved the mound of envelopes to the floor. "Just believe in me a little."
“What about the kids?”
A single mom with two sons and a daughter, I was determined to stay at home and make my dual career of mom and provider work. Divorced or not, my kids needed a face to come home to after school and that face would be mine. 
"What about medical coverage?"
"Mom, I've got to go… "My voice trailed away as I put down the phone and whispered to the now silent one, "Quit trying to fix me."
I turned to my pile of work. A brochure needed updating, a manual transcribed, a database reorganized. Granted, not the creative writer I envisioned.  Merely a broom keeper for other people’s words on a page: a cleanup person following prescribed protocols. Meantime, a story churned in my head.
Settled in my chair, I watched the computer screen come to life, greeting me with a cornucopia of icons:  Yahoo, Nero and iTunes smiled an unspoken good morning. I welcomed the familiar images like gossip over a copy machine. The array of characters stared, tempting me to play. Enjoying the break from solitude, I jumped into the game, hit the Internet search key and entered the word – hello. 
Returns of hello in languages known and obscure popped up: Konnichi Wa, Goeie dag and Jou San. A collection of Hello Kitty items blanketed a bookshelf. A site simple in name, Hello by Esao Andrews, superb in design, captured my attention, and I paused to explore the creativity.
Intrigued, I sipped my coffee and noted. I had a friend named Hello.
"Anyone else like me out there?" My fingers clicked the letters in place.
A prompt begged "where do I want to go?"
"I want to find people like me. People who think beyond nine to five, stock options and 401 plans," a tear trickled down my cheek and I thumbed it away. "Someone who thinks it's okay for me to be me."
I hit the Internet connection and typed my question in the search box. The computer hunted and returned with an offer of a personal advice counselor. Nope. Got one of those.
I entered "Writers", hit search and waited again. I dipped a scone in my French Roast, nibbled the dry pastry and leaned, elbows on table, towards the computer. Stunned, I reeled in my chair. What's this?
Hundred of writers. Writers in coffeehouses, chat rooms, workshops, E-groups. I scrolled down the list and clicked into several web pages, discovering sites for grammar, publishers, and freelance jobs. Reaching out towards the screen, my fingertip touched the word writer. A slight current traveled up my arm and I lingered--a connection.
"May I join?" I posted my request, hit send and reclined back in my chair, holding onto the base, exhilarated.
A bright message popped on the screen. "Pull up a chair and stay awhile."
Thrilled, I settled in, posted work and waited anxiously for comments and peer validation. What’s this? I was labeled the queen of purple prose, descriptive repetition and head-hopping. I scrambled grammar and made my cyber classmates pull hair and scream down invisible corridors. Embarrassed, I withered in my seat in the back row of web sites. 
"You have tautology." The message in caps shouted.
"I have what?" I bent for the dictionary, flipped through the alphabet and gasped, "I have tautology."
Recognizing my rusty skills, I enrolled in online workshops, accepted the challenge to clean up my court of illuminating phrases, and forged forward. I learned my point-of-view, story structure and beginnings, middles and ends. Armed with knowledge, I grabbed a seat in the front row of URLs.
Still, I massacred commas and frustrated new friends with fragments and hanging participles. I nosed into a grammar site, polishing grade school skills with bone-headed exercises of independent and dependent clauses. I scribbled and wrote, getting characters out of my head. Confident, I stepped to the plate a player. With the best, I provided feedback, offered suggestions, and soon decided to enter a short piece in a contest.
I typed and created. I printed to proof, drew rivers of red lines on my paper and revised. I ran back to the computer - cut, paste, and delete my mantra. The deadline loomed. Echoes of 'write tight' kept me focused. The hours ticked down. Persistent, I formatted the manuscript, packaged the entry and chased down the mailman--my entry on the way.
The months passed and the list of winners arrived; my first rejection notice tumbled to the carpet. I performed a ceremonial dance to my success; my left hip crippled for days, I downed Tylenol cocktails.
"I'm in the game," I circulated a short note to my friends. "I got my first rejection notice."
Words of support, smiling faces and emoticons tagged the moment. The camaraderie system in place, I sent out a selection of short articles and soon a check arrived. I copied and enlarged the pay-to-the-order document and stopped at the store for a frame. Breathless, I hit "my E-groups" and shared the news. E-cards of congratulations and ‘great job’ poured in from Australia, Mississippi, and New York.
My mailbox burst with rejoicing. Unknown faces in unseen places--present in my heart, we had a party of many in my room of one.
Between congratulations the bedroom phone rang and I trekked down the hallway. I caught my breath as my feet followed.
"I was wondering how you're doing?" The scrape of mom's kitchen chair across the tile floor told me we were in for a long chat. “The ladies at church have been praying just for you.”
“Thanks,” I dropped to the bed and curled against a pillow. "I'm just having a party with some friends."
"That's wonderful. Did you get a new job?"
"I guess I did." I switched ears, the right one flattened by the headset.
"Does this one pay well?" A pause on the long-distance line followed.
"It pays pittance." I gazed at the framed check hanging crooked on the wall. "But it has great benefits."
"That's wonderful news. So you have medical insurance and vacation time?" The excitement in her voice told me I graduated off her prayer list.
Struggling for the answer, I said, "Well, not really."
"Then stock options and a good commute?" She searched for the mix of conventional benefits. "Nice boss?"
"The job comes with a terrific group of friends." On a roll, I continued, "I'm working with writers that think like me. Imagine that?" My adrenaline pumped.
"So you're still broke." I sensed a dip in her enthusiasm, my name back on her prayer list.
"Yes, I'm broke but I'm not broken." I jumped from the bed and affirmed, "I'm complete."
"I don't understand your world but if you're happy then so am I." Mom's unrelenting faith reached across the miles and wrapped around me.
Embraced in her words, I smiled and said, “Mom, I sold my first story.”
 ...she believed in me.
Copyright 2003

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fried Green Tomatoes, Crab Cakes and Low Country Ghosts

Fried green tomatoes, crab cakes, collard greens, ghosts and thunder storms, a Low country Spring time vacation in Charleston, SC scores big. 
Meeting Street

Jestine’s Kitchen,  down-home fried green tomatoes, Hyman’s, hush-puppies and stuffed grouper, Sticky Fingers, simmering peach cobbler, The Swamp Fox, pure elegant dining to Palmetto Charleston beer,  chocolate-covered pecansSavannah Bee Sourwood honey, and Super-duper Extra triple-Strength cat nip for my feline souvenir, it’s a wonder I don’t waddle down the street.  
Southwest Oakland to Charleston, I land on a Monday afternoon on a connecting flight out of Houston. A simple, convenient transport by the Charleston Airport Shuttle not only is inexpensive it provides a scenic tour and comfortable chatter between my new-found travel mates. Price range $12.50/one-way shared ride; $30/one-way single passenger. A best travel tip. 
Not so fresh from the airport, I arrive at the Jasmine House Inn. Rated #10 of 49 Bed and Breakfast Inns in Charleston, it ranks high on my top five list.
Jasmine House Inn Courtyard

Nestled behind the main house, my room is in the carriage house. Carriage house number two. With a lace canopy bed, loveseat and rose-floral wallpaper, I step back into a slower time; a Southern Charm. The second-story room provides a door that opens to the veranda. In my pajamas, I savor my light breakfast – hot-biscuits, fresh fruit, cereal, orange juice and hot coffee – the menu varies daily. Just below in the courtyard, guests dine at the patio tables. A Cardinal perches on the veranda rail in wait of morning crumbs.
Vibrant colors dot the greenery, the humidity level is just under the sweat radar and the night-blooming jasmine perfumes the air. Twelve bites and counting the mosquitoes dine on the bare skin so insect repellant is a must in your side pocket.
Charleston is an awesome City. Deep in history, pride and personality. I feel guilty having Yankee-blood. I'm humbled as I step onto Fort Sumter and reel in the realities.
Tuesday, I’m off and running to my morning tour. The Magnolia Plantation. 24 people on a shuttle, I meet Jan and Dave from BeniciaCA – a mere 45 minute drive from my home – and I recall something about the six degrees of separation.
Magnolia Plantation

Relaxed, we arrive at the gorgeous plantation. With Allen, a ten-year veteran tour guide, we wander the gardens, explore the swamp and are escorted through the magnificent home. A peace wraps around your soul and for a moment you understand the tranquility that surpasses a top Billboard tune.
Much like visiting the home of Jack London, a writer feels the power of nature, and I want for the creative energy that sings in the birds, that whistles in the oaks and that powers the smallest alligator across the marsh to ignite my senses. I’m soaked in the unlimited possibilities of serenity in harmony.
A slower pace than California the early-afternoon settles in for Low country quiet time. Guests of the Jasmine House Inn sip on wine, sweet tea, lemonade and cheese, crackers, fresh fruit and pasta.
Nancy, Care and Me

An added perk, I meet two online writer friends. Care, a new friend from Massachusetts, and NancyBookfoolery and Babble, a longtime online friend.
For over ten years a voice in print but never a real-talk-time word between us, Nancy and I have a layered-friendship built on years of conversations, accomplishments, family triumphs and heartaches. For us, it isn't a social topping of "How are you?" and "What do you do?" Instead, it is an instant embrace and a step into gentle banter and a knowing rhythm.   
Girl’s Night Out, we brave the graveyard for our Ghost Tour. Thunder rumbles in the not-so-far distance as we listen to the Charleston tales of those that lie beneath our feet or not. We snap multiple photos of gravestone rows in hope of capturing an *orb* on print. No ghosts visit my lens but for Nancy, I’m open to what I saw on her shot and we’ll leave it at that.
Intrigued, I note the inscriptions on several headstones that beckon me. I revisit graveyards over the next few days and find some reach out with curled finger and say, “Me. Come visit with me.”
I snap a picture and answer, “I will.”
During my Walking tour with Ed Grimball – hi Benicia Jan and Dave again - we visit the Circular Church cemetery and over Ed’s shoulder yet another grave speaks out to me. I headstone wander later in the day until I find this spot again. General Mordecai Gist.
What’s with these restless souls?
General Mordecai Gist born February 22, 1742 – August 2, 1792 is a third cousin to President George Washington. An officer in the American Revolution, I’m humbled that he chose to sit with me for awhile. A warrior for independence, I’m not surprised his two sons were named States and Independent.
An Internet search quickly adds a photo to the name. Spirited. What do you know? Just proves you can’t keep a good man down; not even in death. 
My new haunts
I pull up another photo from my haunting. I’m face-to-face with the Reverend Reuben Post and his wife Harriott and daughter Frances. Post was not only the U.S. Senate Chaplain he was the pastor of Charleston’s Circular Church. In 1858, the Reverend died from an outbreak of yellow fever but his humor lives on. The three grave markers are chess pieces: the king, queen and the rook. Not exactly scriptural but he guaranteed a top spot on the tourist route for eternity. I think I would have liked the Reverend.  
In a City where ghosts are welcome as sweet tea in the afternoon a nudge or awareness is commonplace. I encounter my first ghost in my room. Either a playful or warped spirit, I awaken to the snap of my window blind. The yellow shade careens taunt to the top window edge. I fly to the window to see what's the matter and I'm trapped between The Night Before Christmas and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
I can see why a ghost would linger
 I tiptoe back to my canopy bed, curl under the cover and decide it is a playful ghost and wish it good night.
As I wait to cross Meeting St. two men idle in front of me. A wisp of a breeze picks up Old Spice cologne and I’m bathed in the scent. One whiff and I know. I’m not alone on the sidewalk. My dad alive in spirit is on vacation with me. Together, we cross the street: the two strangers, me and my personal ghost. I bid hello to the two men as I walk by and say, “I love Old Spice.” 
Every body stand up and crow

Beyond the Market, I discover priceless treasures. Braided horses and roosters.   
Blues and Barbecue Sunset Cruise

The Blues and Barbecue sunset cruise highlights the week. I love the harmonica player and Shrimp City SlimFiery Ron’s Home Team barbecue buffet and the serene sunset over the shoreline. Blues to perfection. Scrumptious macaroni and cheese. A ten for my favorite tour.
Ghosts of the four-legged variety

        Friday, I’m off to Poogan’s Porch for lunch for the best crab cakes, hot honey-buttered biscuits and Poogan’s Punch. No canine ghosts tickle my backbone. Not a wisp of a wagging tale against my leg. No matter. I have my own circle of newfound ghosts.
Yes, I'm really in Charleston

I wander the streets and walk every Southern calorie off and then some. It is a great way to end my stay in Charleston