Sunday, June 28, 2009

How To Marry a Mermaid

Once upon a time there lived a mermaid. She was a rather strange looking mermaid because she did not live in the sea. Well, let me explain. She did live in a sea of sorts. But it was a well-known sea called the Sea of Humanity.

She was rather the well-turned out mermaid and heads turned as she swam by. By no stretch of her long beautiful flowing golden hair did she think that she was any better than any of the others in the Sea of Humanity. She was merely an observer and would sit by her rock and set her gaze far and wide.

She was peculiar in a way in that she did not live in the past or the future and she liked it that way. The daily happenings around her would rise to the surface and come marching by on their way to somewhere else. And these happenings would often include her in their dramas if she chose to join. These happenings included people from many diverse backgrounds, rich, poor, pretty, short, tall, gambling ladies and onlookers like herself to name a few.

One day she happened to go on an errand, our Mermaid did, and she swam over to the Dollar General Store somewhere near her rock. Swimming for three miles is not unheard of in Oakland Park, Florida during the rainy season and is completely safe for mermaids. It was after work and she wanted to get some things like a calling card and some more water. Mermaids drink lots of water.

Before Mermaid walked inside, she noticed a man in the parking lot who it appeared noticed her. He was young and handsome and alerted to her beauty. Mermaids almost all the time are rather fetching. He stared at her and then went into the store following close to her.

She got her phone card and bottles of water and walked smartly over to the check out counter where she placed the water because it was heavy. It was there she heard someone say, “one beautiful mermaid.” She turned her head to the right and no one was there…she turned her head to the left and the young man was a few feet away.

She said, “What?”

The young man walked up behind her and then stood next to her and said boldly, “You are a beautiful mermaid.”

She was shocked and stood there like a statue, but managed to say quietly, “Thank you.”

When he turned to leave, she paid for everything and walked out.

She had seen many things, being an observer of life, but she had never had such an experience like the one that had just happened. And it seemed to take hold of her mermaid spirit and turned her around into something more. What exactly, she could not be certain.

She swam home and decided to nap. It usually takes a long time for mermaids to lie down. Soon, thoughts came swirling around her pretty mermaid head. This young man was so polite and handsome and had effectively turned her mermaid self into something - wonderful. She knew then she had to speak to him again. She remembered what he looked like and she remembered the beautiful colored shirt he wore. It was turquoise, the color of the sea, her beautiful, beloved sea that she adored so much and spent so much time in.

It wasn’t that the man wanted something from her. And it was not a line to start a conversation so they could go out on a date. Although they were lovely words, it was his intention behind them the mermaid felt. The purity of his words went like a missile, directly to her mermaid heart. And she knew all of this because being a mermaid, she didn’t exactly have a perfect shape. Her shape was round in places and scaly in others and while she had drop dead gorgeous hair that shone in the sunlight like spun gold, she knew his words had nothing to do with her looks. She knew he looked beyond all that. She was after all a princess of mythic proportions and very much an old spirit.

And so the arrow, aimed at her heart, lodged there for days and weeks and months. So long it was with her, she decided to do something about it. She decided to go back to the store at the exact time of day and the same day of the week in hopes that he would be there. But alas, he was not there.

A few days later, she decided to place a note on a website in search of him. And what started as a genuine interest in telling the young man a genuine thank you and how much his words meant, ended up being a record number of emails from other men in search of the perfect mermaid. Many were kind and thoughtful… and hopeful….saying things like “I wish I had been him, I’d say more than that.” Others wanted other things…like, “I lost my keys in the ocean, could you go out there and retrieve them?”

But Mermaid didn’t mind that. She found it all amusing. Amused though she was, she also kept up her search. She had heard of a princess and a glass slipper, but this was different. She was a mermaid and she was looking for the man with the golden words.

She didn’t want to marry him. She didn’t want to date him. She didn’t want anything more than to say how sorry she was that she didn’t turn in his direction and give him a proper thank you. She wanted to extend herself more than one millimeter. That....and maybe she did want to hear the words that felt like a warm embrace just one more time.

Eventually he showed up. It wasn’t the same day of the week or the same time. And she didn’t go there expecting to see him again because she usually never has expectations. But on this particular day, he was there. And here is where the plot does a trick. He handed her a note. In his note were all the emails he had sent her using different names and email addresses. It could happen. And because she turned down the men who emailed her and asked her out, or wanted a relationship with benefits…………….

……………just how THAT would happen will have to be in another story…...

…..or who wanted to see her or call her…Because she turned them all down, because she wanted only to see him once more…he told her he wanted her all to himself and would she come to his glass bottom boat where he lived near the Intracoastal Waterway in Hollywood, Florida where he would support her forever. FOREVER.

Today, if you pass by their big glass bottom boat, you will see the two, the mermaid and her young man….sailing in the early morning. And if you run and get your binoculars, you might just see a great big splash. A REALLY BIG SPLASH.

Meanwhile, back at the Dollar General, things are the same. Of the people who were hopefuls but didn’t have the courage to write or send her an email, some still hang around the parking lot on Fridays, praying like they were driving to New Jersey that Mermaid might just come swimming by.

For now, Mermaid and her young man are settled in their lazy boys on board the “Maiden Voyage” and when they start up the engines and sail out the inlet, Mermaid gets her early morning swim in and she laughs and she sings and she’s happy as is the man in the turquoise shirt with black hair. And now the young man and Mermaid are living happily ever after.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Samurai Leasing Agent

Years ago, I was working as a leasing agent in a large apartment complex earning $7 per hour. While busy at work, I had the good fortune to entertain the maintenance department who stood over the counter blowing cigarette smoke in my face and, in a display of machismo on my first day of work, a Baptist preacher, the manager’s husband, asked if I had made Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. When he whipped out his 357 Magnum to shine it up, I said, why, yes, of course I had.

I couldn’t understand many of the potential renters because of the colloquial language, abridged sentences and three syllable words narrowed down to one. But Samurai Leasing Agent was agreeable to a fault and often able to convince the prospect that the 25 year old apartments featuring gold shag carpeting came equipped with such modern conveniences as stove, fridge, garbage disposal and even a dishwasher. It was 50s television at its best.

That was 1997. Today I sit in my own office temping for a few days and editing and proofreading copy for the marketing department of a credit union in palm-drenched Boca Raton. Easy jazz is the only noise. No one within a 100-mile radius is allowed to smoke. And everyone acts like a grown-up. The kitchen offers food, sodas, tea and coffee and I earn double what I earned up in Georgia.

Last night, my friend, Linda, called to tell me how sad she was because it was Valentine’s day and it was over a year since she broke up with her soul-mate. I told her that two years ago while still living in Georgia, I broke up with a man I loved dearly. It had been a five-year relationship. I said, “You know, he was never great at gift giving, but he’d always call and wish me a Happy Valentine’s day; then he’d say, “Why don’t you come down to see me at the jail?” Or sometimes he’d ask me to drive to Columbus to celebrate Valentine’s day with him at the state mental institution.

“Oh,” she said, “that’s so sad.”

“Not at all. All my exes were cons.”

Now I’m lapping up the luscious words – no one standing over me blowing smoke in my face or ordering me to make Jesus my Lord and Savior. Here an elegant preppie is asking me to read documents for clarity, style and typos. Here, I am no man’s chattel, making me eager to do more. I couldn’t wait to get out of bed this morning. I felt like the young girl I was in 1965 walking along Leopoldstrasse in Munich, all dressed up with a wide smile. When you do what you love and get to be who you are, you own yourself. You own your life.

Declarations of Independence

I make a soft landing on the sixth floor of the Stiles Office Building in downtown Fort Lauderdale where I am housed for four days as a temporary receptionist. It’s cushy and the atmosphere is friendly. I meow all over everyone wanting to be taken in like some wily alley cat. Instead of brushing up against everyone, I inject humor into every conversation, but with subtlety; two coworkers are still laughing. I’m counting how many more I have to nail before the offer will be made. A week of this and I may have them convinced I'm their new receptionist phenome. Then, like other felines, I’ll nest with my teacup and curl up around the computer to write.

Being downtown reminds me of Munich in the spring of 1965. Then the air was clear like fine wine and walking down Leopoldstrasse in Schwabing, I felt like a model in my new suit. 40 years later, I am at the intersection of Andrews Avenue and 2nd Street in Fort Lauderdale and get a whiff of diesel fuel from buses and trucks, the memory stretching me back to Marienplatz and my life as a free agent. From the point of marriage until now, I have been anything but.

So it isn’t lost on me that my return home to South Florida and my flock, picks up where I left off and gathers nostalgic feelings, matching those of 40 years ago. It feels like a circle wrapping itself around me.

And I? I have just begun to declare my independence. But this does not mean I am impervious to the flashy smiles, nor am I a formidable opponent. My leggy accessibility and sensibilities have matured and I welcome this newly formed government of one.

When I go home tonight, I will peel back the unnecessary layers in my mind and jot down the particulars of my own bill of rights. Unlike national governments, the procedures and rules, the politics of dependent governance will not play out. The system will be simple; true independence demands it.

Meanwhile, I walk back from the office kitchen with my tea and pass by The Magnolia Room, where a conference is taking place. Just as I pass by the frosted glass windows, I hear a round of applause.

“Oh, it’s really nothing,” I say shamelessly.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Nothing kills a relationship like indifference. I seldom feel that way because I'm either at one end of the continuum or the other. Love on one side, hate on the other, and the meat and pickles between them, indifference. Yesterday I experienced the meat of the sandwich.

It was a forwarded email from my ex-boyfriend sent to him by the woman he was seeing while staying with me over a year and a half ago. The email was a digusting, vulgur story disguised as a joke. Anything but funny, it was vile bathroom humor. But the contents of the email were less important than what I felt when I read it.

The email showed a disdain for women and the vulgar behavior men use around other men, men who are arrogant and grandiose. She actually had the nerve to send this to a man. And that's what made my day. As I sat there feeling pearly all over, I realized my ex had hooked up with someone of his ilk, someone who has a disdain for men and probably won't make it to his list of characteristics he wants in a partner, namely, someone who is extremely smart and fun and has a spiritual grounding in faith.

Moreover, I found it odd that he would stoop to send me this email. But I quickly realized he did this so that I'd see her name. Why would someone I once loved and who loved me equally want to do this a year and a half later? The only explanation was that he was still hurt. But he was the one pursuing another woman and using my home as base camp. I didn't buy that. He was hurt because he couldn't measure up to my standards of conduct or character. He was not a valiant knight of the round table, but a mere wannabe.

That's when I felt a storm of compassion for him. I was sad his life had come to this, that he was seeking someone so far from what he wanted and that he wanted to hurt me. The only thing I could do was pray God would send him a messenger and a miracle.

That feeling of compassion did not mean I was hurting nor did it mean I still wanted to revive the relationship. What I felt was indifference. I have not called, emailed or mailed letters. There has been nothing from me. Nothing, that is until yesterday when a side of me pushed away old resentments and replaced them with compassion. It is a side of me I have never known. And I never slept better than last night.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Woman of a Certain Age

I was told recently that because I am a woman of a certain age, I would have to do something I could do at my age. Acting would be out of the question. The quote was, "You just don't have as many choices anymore." The man telling me that is 40. I think he was talking about his fears.

I responded that my options were greater now than they had ever been. I had more to choose from because I could. I did not have parents dictating my career choices and no husband wanting me to stay home. A woman of a certain age, I could pick men of any age and race I chose. I didn't have to marry a rich white man in the same age range as mine. I had also proven to myself that I could do almost anything, having worked in law, health, education, finance, travel, publishing and entertainment. Life had handed me a tapestry of many colors. Learning how to do so many different things satisfied my need for change and adaptation. With rare exception, it was a life filled with adventure and adrenaline. These adventures took me all over the world and I felt at home no matter where I landed.

One of the choices a woman of a certain age has is looking at life differently. Another choice is to stay at home and not travel except for occasional trips to visit family and friends. I no longer have that tug of ambition that I had between 20 and 60. Though I feel secure at most any task, I no longer feel compelled to work a 40 hour job the way I used to unless I want to. I choose to work at what I love, and to have play involved in that. If fun and play are not part of the equation, then I'm not interested. I've turned down all but one employer over several years and that one does not harness me to a post and act silly. I feel refreshment when I go to work and feel that way when I come home. The work day is filled with laughter, work and ease. Relaxed at the end of the day means the creative juices can still flow.

I don't worry about the future and I don't have or want a 401K. I'll write until I no longer have anything to say. So the option to write stories that keep coming to mind will suffice for this woman of a certain age. And unless another idea comes along, I will continue doing what makes me happy.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


A year has passed since Rex drove out of my life. Yesterday, I woke with a bad cough and headaches and felt sick all day at work. By nightfall I had a fever and chills. I could barely walk and my skin, muscles and bones hurt. I never get sick. The last time I was sick was in 1984. So what went wrong.

Anniversary dates of a death or an ending to a relationship can take on physical symptoms. While emotions are busy churning up tears, all the organs are under siege by stress hormones. Vision becomes blurred, thinking is unclear and the final stage is to get flu-like symptoms or a really nasty cold that bites. This is the body’s indelicate way of discharging all of the emotions. So today on this anniversary, I am in an intensive care unit of my own making, still wishing I were dead. I’m just not that lucky.

For the entire year, I’ve been taking an inventory of all the things he did to me. You can take that to mean this inventory needed the entire year to accomplish such a list. I did this not to marinate in resentment, but to break down my own denial system. Locking into how he treated me and others brought so much more clarity about the content of his character. Strangely, while I got the big picture, rage and love were still cuddling up next to each other. The flu may be an ending to all of this.

I feel weak and injured and will do anything to feel good again – what could I eat? Drink? Should I sit up, or grab my microwavable bed buddy and lie down? I want to feel good. Everything hurts. Back, head, skin, and stomach are all compromised. I find something that does the trick. I heat milk, sugar and vanilla and sip it. I turn on the TV and watch Gary Sinese who looks like Rex did forty years ago. I see an actor who does what he loves, loves his family, is gifted, handsome, sexy and at 53 looks 33. Since clarity has not set in yet, all I know is that I “feel” better – so the cortisol and insulin levels must be dropping.

Now I begin thinking about how to change my life and I start with looking for things that make me feel good – all the time. This means saying no to those people, places, circumstances and jobs that don't make me feel good. This sickness of heart, mind and body is showing me how.

I miss him and I miss my dog who died five months ago. I miss things I never knew. I miss the whole megillah. But how can you miss what you never had? What was never there? The dog was glued to my heart and mind. For 18 years, he was there, in mind, spirit and body, a constancy born of unconditional love. He was always there waiting for me to come home so we could go out together and visit friends, walk, eat, dance and play together. He was nineteen when he died of natural causes. He didn’t one day decide to wander off with several other lady friends. I miss my dog terribly. But not the way I miss Rex. I miss Rex the way you miss a heart attack, or a nuclear attack. I miss him the way boxers miss the final blow. It hurts and stings. But by the final round, you’re glad it’s over.

Meanwhile, platitudes make my eyes cross. And anger comes out sideways, not at Rex, but directed toward the President of the United States or the mail clerk at the post office who takes her time chatting with each customer WHILE I’M ON MY LUNCH BREAK. Anyone and everyone but Rex.

I feel challenged beyond belief, so last night when I discovered I could find comfort in a cup of milk and Gary Sinese, I realized I was finding things to make me feel good. One of them was choosing to stay home today. The medieval and ill-founded British way of toughing it out no longer serves.

In future, I will be searching for more ways to feel good that will produce those good feelings. For today, I’m housed in a cocoon of comfort and warm milk, behind a sign that reads: NO VISITORS ALLOWED.

I Live In a Neil Simon Comedy

The neighbors, all twenty and thirty somethings, are ridiculous in showing off their stunted growth. Two women who live adjacent to me talk right outside my door. But talking is something normal people do at decibels in the normal range. These two shout at each other standing only three feet away. This noise is strident and irritating and my 1959 steel framed jalousied front door and window make the sound twice as loud.

One of them lives with a cat named Romeo. Romeo is known for being a killer. Anything his size or smaller is prey. This annoys other cat owners who, armed with a sprayer of water, are on watch for the killer. Romeo’s owner is a 30 something woman who uses language much like that of a young child who has a speech impediment and hasn’t quite gotten language down yet. She coos not only with her cat, but also with the rest of the neighbors. At times, I look out to see what small child has come in the gate and see her in the middle of a regression. Regression, as I recall, is a return to an earlier mental or behavioral state, often at the point when emotional maturation has been stopped, in her case, dead in its tracks.

There’s the adorable couple that live three doors down who recently married. She’s from Sweden and is an alcoholic with a flair for loud late night arguments. When her brother arrives to visit, he assumes that we are clothing optional. Her husband is a very nice reformed gambler who did twelve years in prison for several bank robberies to pay off the Mafia he owed a lot of money.

An earlier victim of the two-year old’s tirades tried to warn me with his “Watch out for her.” For three years, I could hear someone call out “CUNT” when she walked by. In turn, she would volley back “FUCK YOU,” inches from my window. This began shortly after I moved in so I suspected this might be a group home for sufferers of Tourettes syndrome.

There’s another gem five doors down who prances around in his shorts and shows off an enormous gut and breasts. Just this morning, I heard a loud, “OH, NO!” right outside my back door. As I opened the door to see what happened, he delivered a loud belch, mere inches from me.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“It’s full of suds. Someone put too much detergent in the machine.”

I slammed my back door and turned on both window air conditioners and fans to drown out my life.

I walked into the living room and sat down to write, but the music from the two-year old’s apartment was so loud I couldn’t concentrate.

If there’s a good side to what goes on here, it’s this: I live in 400 square feet which makes cleaning a snap.

As I'm writing this, I look up from the couch and see the two-year old walking past my window. She's pointing a long, bony middle digit skyward several inches from me. Am I to understand she doesn’t like me?

If it isn’t a Neil Simon play, then it’s Melrose Place. And maybe I’m the one who is regressing.

I close my blinds and my eyes and dream of my own home on an island somewhere south of here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Slow Down - You Move Too Fast

I'm determined to live my life fully and consciously. But moving at Mach 1 speed in a nano-second world with all the superglut of information speeding along the sensory highway, I end up at day's end crashing with no recollection of anything that transpired.

I don't know where this comes from. It could be that I'm a Gemini and ruled by Mercury. Or it could be that I just do everthing fast. This fast pace may have its roots in being the eldest of four children busy with all the housework, cooking, shopping, bathing and clothing my siblings, then fitting in my own schoolwork and piano practice. Playing was never an option.

Recently, I was given an assignment by a mentor to stop doing and start being. I wasn't quite sure what that meant, but she proceeded to give me various slow-down tasks, using such words as leisure and relaxing and something she called fun. I zoned out until she insisted I drive 15 mph below the speed limit for a week. The following week I was to leave dishes in the sink and not race to clean anything. The next week I was not to make my bed and instead actually read a magazine from front to back slowly enjoying the entire magazine. Then the clincher: she said to get rid of my lists and do just one thing a day.

One thing a day? Get rid of my lists?

This was heresy. I hated it. But I did it. And I hated it.

On my own, I started to sit and read a daily affirmation booklet each morning which led to the practice of meditation and that really slowed me down. It not only slowed me down, I became more conscious and my day went by smoothly - with no rushing. There were also ancillary benefits. My blood pressure went down and I stopped using any medications.

Now that I'm not breaking any sound barriers, it's been a lot easier to navigate my world. I continue to slow down and say no to too much stuff, be it too many errands, too many complications, too much of too much. I no longer muscle my way into distractions or take hostages to fill up my day keeping the illusory boogeyman away. This does not mean I neglect myself or the things I need and want to do. It means that there is more time for the things I really want and need to do. Each beat of the day is filled not to capacity, but with equal measure. Life has become simple and quiet and beautifully orchestrated. The best part is that slowing down is portable. Wherever I go, slow motion gets me there faster.

Slow down you move too've got to make the morning last. Just skipping down the cobblestones, looking for fun and feelin' groovy.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mission Statement

I want beauty to fill my life. I want to savor warm and loving friendships full of happy laughter. I want to go to the beach and collect shells and bask in the warm salt water unafraid of sun damage or sharks. I want to live unafraid.
I want to capture each moment I live consciously and wrap my heart around those I love. I want to eat a lot of good seafood and fresh vegetables and make my own meals. I want to surround myself with beautiful art and literature, books of design, architecture and nature. And I want to have a great camera to photograph nature.
I long to perfect my humanness and my life in a way that pleases me. I want to stand in the middle of the stream of consciousness and be alert to all that is beautiful. I want life to be the draft that intoxicates my mind and heart. I want to embrace change more than I want to stay the same. I want music, a husband, rest, art, film, friendships, knowledge, love, serenity and peace to populate my life and I want lots and lots of money.


I have the habit of not being nice when someone takes my parking place at home. It shouldn't be a big deal, but it is. "It's mine" comes out of that whiney prepubescent time when everything I wanted got gobbled up by younger siblings. My clothes, my toys, my stuff. It annoyed me to have to fight to keep my stuff.

One day, I was walking home from school with my baseball, bat and glove after a game. One of the bullies in the neighborhood stopped on his bike and asked to see my ball and glove. We stood there talking and I finally told him I had to go home. He kept throwing the ball up in the air refusing to give me the ball. I said, "Give -me - my - ball - now." He didn't say a word but continued to stand there playing with it. I repeated this three times. Still no ball and glove. While he was looking up to catch the ball, I swung my bat across his left leg which straddled the bike and nailed him. I lost all recollection of what happened next, but I never had problems from the boys in the neighborhood again.

Fast forward thirty two years. I came home one morning to find my parking space taken by another car. After fuming a few minutes, I walked inside the house and thought about what happened. This wasn't an earth shattering event. It was just a car owned by someone who was visiting. What transpired next surprised me. I thought, 'what if the person who did this was my beloved brother. What if he needed to just drop something off and hurry back to work. How would I react? What would I say to him?' That's when I decided to reevaluate the situation.

Although the person who parked in my space was not my brother, it could have been. And then what? Why would I treat someone differently than I would my own brother. In a larger sense, we are all brothers. If I were to consider that someone doing me wrong was an attack against me, and then change my mind and consider that he could possibly be someone I cared about, it might change everything. From that day forward in almost each and every instance, I treated those who didn't think about their actions as my brother. That got me and them off the hook. I call it brotherly love.

From the bully in the schoolyard to the bully in the boardroom and to those who push and shove their will onto everyone, there's no reason for retaliation. Just remember your most favorite person, relative or friend and treat the new situation and them accordingly.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Thanks For Having Me

I love birthdays.

Traditionally, birthdays are a celebration of self and today I celebrate mine. But not in the usual way. There are no balloons, no cake and ice cream, no 29 candles, though yesterday two coworkers presented me with a bounty of gifts and well wishes. Instead, I choose to celebrate and give thanks to my mother and father for having me.

Now, I'm almost certain they didn't sit down sometime in late October and carefully calculate what it would cost to have me and how many children they were going to bring into the world. Instead, it probably had more to do with the romantic and lust-filled urgency a rainy afternoon brought. No matter why or how I came to be, it might have simply been a beautiful New York Autumn day that brought on the cadence of heart and soul sounding out measured beats.

What is important, is that my arrival was an important one to those who brought me here. So important that I have telegrams from relatives, friends and famous people across the country all saved in a photo album devoted to me.

Today, my father is gone. And my beautiful Mother's mind is gone as well. But that doesn't carry the weight it did when I first noticed her searching for words. I know that I was the apple of my father's eye and well loved by my mother. And it is still that way today.

The heartache I put my Mother through was devastating. The dreams she denied herself in service to her four children was a selfless act. And more, she did this without complaint.

I now know I was very lucky to have been born to them. While, Mom never cared for the professions I chose, she allowed me to make my choices. She wanted me to be happy and to experience the things she never would. She was all in all, a glamour girl who once auditioned for a movie role. But looking better than Lana Turner and Monroe at the time was of no help. She didn't get the gig. Still, that DNA strand settled in me and I am grateful to have that dramatic thread coursing through my veins.

Now she is 89 and when I walk in to see her after a couple of weeks away I say, "Hello, Gorgeous." and she gets it. She is the Lipstick Madonna, another strand passed on to me. Her shiny Revlon tubes go with her to the doctor, to physical therapy and dinner. She's also the first to ask, "Is anyone in need." For almost all the children have been at one time or other in dire need. Today, my response is, "No, darling, everyone is doing well," even though that isn't the case.

As for Papa, it was always his pleasure to write and tell stories. Lots of stories. And so I'm thankful to him for giving me that part of himself. He also played the piano, another musical talent we shared. I know that some of my poor decisions weighed heavily on his heart. But his most courageous act came when I asked if I could go visit a boyfriend at UVA in Charlottesville, VA. At eighteen, I was certain he would not allow such a thing. He looked at me and after a minute said without hesitation "I trust you. Yes, you can go." It was that assumption of trust that I never forgot and it imprinted on me to remain trustworthy. I wanted him to be proud of me. And no, nothing happened at the motel on the outskirts of Charlottesvile.

Destiny has a lot to do with chance. I know my future isn't a given or what I think it will be. Those choices I made and the responses from the people I admired the most, those giants in my mind, will stay with me forever. My parents were, like me, flawed. But those flaws, along with the good genetic encoding, are the very things that have made my life far more interesting and far more delicious.

Thank you, Mom. Thank you, Papa. Thanks for having me.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Unemployed Housewife's Cure for the Common Recession

This is a true story, one I'm not happy about or proud of. But if the telling of it helps anyone, then it will have been worth it. The cure for the recession includes debt sniffles, unemployment fever and everyone else getting a bailout but you flu.

I moved to Florida from rural Georgia where I was unemployed for approximately 7 of the 12 years I lived there. As an outsider, getting work was close to impossible. It seems small towns in rural Georgia DO NOT LIKE OUTSIDERS.

I landed in Fort Lauderdale in July 2005 and not a minute too soon. The landlord rented me her house which I found online (mistake going online to secure a rental) and proceeded to kick me out three weeks after I got there as the house was sold out from under me. We had agreed on a three month lease so I was devastated.

Add to that, Hurricane Katrina coming on shore the day I was to move out and you have a recipe for disaster. I had nowhere to go as the hotels were full and I was pretty close to being out of money. The landlord agreed to let me stay on one or two more days, so I hunkered down and lived in a dark and sweltering noisy world for three more days. The sweltering heat and low barometric pressure made for a difficult time concentrating. The metal shutters banged endlessly for three days.

On the evening of the third day, the lights came on. I looked outside to see if everyone else had electricity. I was the only one. I bolted for the shower and luxuriated in the running tepid water. But the shower didn't fix my logistics problem. I still faced the problem of needing a place to stay. As a last resort I tried Motel Six, but all their rooms were full.

I called home. "Mom, I really need a place to stay."

"Well, of course, come on up. We'd love to have you." Mom lives on a barrier island outside of Jacksonville FL which rarely, if ever endures hurricanes. The drive is six hours. Within an hour I packed the car with my clothes, dog and the computer and drove as fast as I could. While visiting her, my 18 year old car's power steering and power motor to the windshield wipers died. Just what you need to happen during hurricane season. I spent the last of the money I had to fix everything and limped back to Fort Lauderdale. Three weeks later, I was in an apartment and still unemployed.

The new landlord wasn't thrilled about renting to someone who was unemployed, but I told him I'd signed on with four agencies and was sure to get work soon. Plus, he could check my rental history which showed 12 years of on time rent. There was nothing I could do about the weather.

I bought the newspaper each Sunday, signed on with four temp agencies and went to the library to use the computer and copiers because my computer crashed. Daily I searched for work. Only one agency had work for me, but the jobs were few and far between and paid pitifully little.

I did have a friendly neighbor who bailed me out with food. For much of the time, the dog and I ate peanut butter sandwiches and I shopped at Dollar General. I longed for fresh fruit and vegetables, but I never starved. I arm wrestled my competitors for the good jobs and gave the employers everything they asked for. One company asked me for my astrological sign because they were having a difficult time choosing between two of us. At some companies where I knew they were looking for a full time person, I purred and rubbed up against everyone to convince them I was the best choice.

During this time, there were no roofs on office buildings. Once I met an employer for an interview at Dunkin Donuts, another I met in their car. There simply was no place to go to hold interviews. Jobs were not only scarce, but the highest pay I got was $15 per hour.

Still I was happy to be back in South Florida and wasn't going to give up. This made my attitude much better despite all the problems I was encountering. I just knew I'd get a job. I had to get a job.

One assignment was at Joe Robbie stadium for the giant sell out of cars for the Maroone dealerships. I was to take names and addresses of the thousands of people who showed up for three days of selling cars in a hot tent with no air conditioning. The next job was in a construction office in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The men began shouting in the conference room, where I was shuffling papers, and asked me to leave. I left immediately and could hear them fist fighting. I told the agency to never send me there again. I was offered several jobs that didn't match my skills and said no.

I wondered how long this was going to last. A month later, I got my answer when Hurricane Wilma entered stage left. This was even worse than Katrina.

I had to do something. But realistically, there was nothing I could do except pray, hope and wring my hands. I laughed a lot. I had nothing to laugh at but I laughed nevertheless.

I called the temp agencies weekly. The bill collectors and creditors called me daily. Nothing was moving. I got sick with some kind of vertigo and couldn't walk too well. I knew that was the product of the stress I was under. Finally, I called my creditors and all but one told me they would give me a moratorium. That gave me some relief for awhile.

I found a job copyediting which was to last three weeks and might become permanent. They were kind, the work was fun and they were impressed with me. But when I got home, the message light was on. I called the agency that sent me there. The woman I had replaced begged for her job back and they gave it to her.

Next, I got an interview with Food for the Poor, a national agency which distributes food to the Caribbean islands. This is where I was tested and interviewed three times. They liked me. They really liked me, then picked someone else.

The landlord was getting angrier about the rent being so late. I asked him to let me use the last month's rent for the current month. He didn't like that but let me do it. While arguing my case, I noticed that as long as he kept talking, I still had a chance for him to say yes. And he did.

After no work for over a week, I came home to find another message from a firm that dealt in the Securities Industry. And that's when I had an epiphany. At exactly the moment I heard the message, I knew I was going to work there. Not just a hunch, but a visceral feeling that there was a yes waiting for me.

It felt like the heavens opened up and, after eight months of unemployment and all the other problems I encountered, this was my time. I've been working there for three years.

So how does one cure the common recession and it's concomitant problems like debt and unemployment. It's pretty easy. The following tips may help.

  • Never armwrestle an alligator. The alligator always wins. This means pay no attention to the problems you encounter. Take everything lightly especially yourself and laugh out loud as much as possible.

  • When you do get a job you like, rub up on everyone and purr.

  • Shop for food and necessities at discount stores.

  • Prioritize what has to get paid. Rent, food and electricity are necessary. Phone may take third place. Then gas for the car. Nothing else is important.

  • Pay no attention to the creditors except to acknowledge your debt and intention to pay it back in full when you get employment. Creditors, contrary to public opinion, are people too and are reading from a script. Tell them you will get back with them as soon as you have spoken to your financial advisor(s). Be nice to them and call them more often than they call you. Keep notes of the conversation, date, time and name of the person you talked to.

  • Keep your records in order. Especially your bills and receipts.

  • Find support from family, friends, church, therapist or self-help groups. People love to help out when times are hard. It's a gift you give them by saying yes to whatever they do for you.

  • Go to the beach or park and have fun. Find free things to do. Craig's list has a "Free" category.
  • Pray, meditate and use affirmations often. Know this too shall pass.
  • Stay away from your own negative thoughts. Staying positive is important. And if you need to convince the lien holder, landlord or creditor of something, keep the conversation flowing until you hear the "yes."

Finally, life can feel intimidating. But the struggle can be turned into something else. It's up to you and your attitude. And if all else fails, take two aspirin and call the doctor in the morning.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Victims Rule the World

Until the day I became a grown-up, I never realized how the pitiful, sad and victimy people always got their way. We live in a world of cliches started no doubt in some monastery where the brothers not only brewed beer from hops in the monastery's vegetable garden, but after a few brewskis wrote books and treatises on civilization as it was back then in the 5th century.

Okay, so I made up the date. It could have been the 15th century, but long ago enough to realize it may be time to change this paradigm. Victims, mostly of themselves and their disordered minds, have it made. The world revolves around their angst and anger, their whine and their whims.

If you have never met a victim, let me be the first to introduce you to one. Her name is Jessie and her current address is the other side. Her role was stepmother and she whined about everything and everybody and how unfair it is that she didn't get all of her mother's estate and everybody else did and after all look what I did for my mother and this is the thanks I get.

But inside that whine is a grizzly bear protecting her young and wanting to let you know exactly how she felt her entire life. And of course your only recourse to avoid witnessing the whining, shouting and pouting is to give up and let her have her way. Sadly, getting her way is never enough. Life is difficult and she wants to be sure and let others know how hard she had it.

If this poison doesn't do the trick, then his/her anger comes out sideways at those innocent people who couldn't possibly understand they had just been taken hostage, like the sweet mail lady at the post office, or the city clerk who takes the water bill and has to listen to the endless griping about the cost of the bill.

Do you know what whining is? It's anger coming through a very small hole. These victimy bullies are're married to them, born to them, work with them, live next door to them and sign them on as friends. If you date them and you're smart, the relationship ends quickly. But know that victims don't like to hang out with smart people because they see through them and can blow that thinly veiled burka.

If you want to know the reason victims can do the I-hurt-my-back-so-I-can't-do-the-job act, it's because they can. They've surrounded themselves with people who will enable them until they die. You know who these folks are. They're police officers, judges, supervisors, children in large bodies everywhere. Victims do this because the weather is bad, the Mets lost, the bridge was closed or the melon wasn't ripe. Logic has nothing to do with this sport. Once, a police officer asked my husband who was driving and drinking to pull over and sleep it off. That's the sort of person a well-trained victim draws close.

You will recognize the victim by the requisite props around them. A few good ones are the cane, the back support, the arm in a sling, the latest vibrating chair from Brookstone. All these special effects are poised to be within an excellent viewing area in order to draw attention. The cute actor I met in New York city used the cane. It worked.

So hear this: If you want to know what to do if you get stuck, run the fifty yard dash as fast as you can away from this individual. She or he can suck you into their funnel shaped cloud faster than you can say, "hel....p." But by then, it's usually too late. I say, buy a ticket to your favorite vacation spot and make it your new home. There is no other recourse. Just beware, they are everywhere. And unless and until you can get strong enough to beat the living daylights out of them, you may as well join them.

I know. I never could win. In fact, Jessie visited me one night five years after she died. I woke up the next morning to find I had a black eye. I was not married then and not dating. When I looked at the dark and swollen eye, I realized I could never have done that to myself in the middle of a deep sleep. I knew exactly who it was. It was the mark of a five star professional ruling from her throne on the other side, a sign of excellence if you ask me.


It's beginning to get wet and steamy. The mosquitoes are enjoying a leisurely breakfast courtesy of my legs and arms. So I have to stay indoors for my morning journaling. They made the news last night...their very own little paparazzi chasing them down with a wide angle lens to prepare everyone for their forays.

Never mind, I love summer still. And, mosquitoes notwithstanding, I take it all in stride. There must be a strain of mosquitoes which don't bite. Many years ago, I walked along a bridge over a mangrove swamp I found by accident at Butterfly World in Broward County's Tradewinds Park. I was attacked instantly by millions of mosquitoes. My legs, arms and face were covered in a black society, but not one single mosquito bit me. I thought this might be a sign I was to become the first female Dalai Lama, so favored by the gods I was that day.

Being smitten by the natural world, I want to do all I can to make this lilliputian world greener for the tiny creatures whose own work is widely known but ignored.

I once lived at Boca Hill in Boca Raton, FL where we had an outbreak of termites. I knew that the carpenter ants who lived in the trellis close to the termites would finish off all the termites, and then the lizards would finish off the ants. Some birds could make a morsel of those lizards. So I never had to use a pest control company for that reason. We did have to hire someone to come in and kill the termites on the inside as the labyrinth of underground tunnels was by now under the house.

I don't like to kill insects as they are part of a much larger population than mine and ensure the cycle of life, mine included, continues. My job is to be a steward of the earth and to live in peaceful coexistence with my small neighbors.

There is nothing more beautiful than watching the caterpillar build his chrysallis for its longed for metamorphosis as a butterfly or moth. When the day comes that it breaks out, I not only feel it organically, but see it as a metaphor for my own breakthrough; living side by side with these creatures humbles one. They dare to stake their claim to my hibiscus and nearly devour it, only to come alive several weeks later and soar into the exquisite butterflies they will become.

Coexistence or no existence. Think about that.