Saturday, December 29, 2012

Not a Blast...

but more of a gentle twinkle from the past.  I wrote this for a friend's newsletter when Tori was in 1st grade, and recently he sent it back to me.  When I saw it for the first time in years I realized that I loved it--not my telling of it, but the memory of the experience--just as much as I did in the moment.

"I know a story about the Big Dipper," my daughter says, looking up. We're walking to the playground in the quiet spring night air.
"Tell me," I say.
"See that smallest star, at the end of the handle?" She points.  "That's the youngest brother. There was once a little girl who had no brothers. She made beautiful suits of clothes for seven brothers, and they made her their sister. But one day a calf came to the door and said that the buffalo herd wanted her. The brothers said they couldn't have her, so the the buffalo attacked. The girl and her brothers climbed up a tree to escape, and the tree kept growing higher and higher until they reached the sky. And they began to glow."
She points again.
"And that's them?"  

She nods.  "That's them. They turned into stars."  

"Is that true, do you think?" I ask as we reach the playground.  

"Its a legend Mom," she says, and climbs onto the swing. Her toes barely reach the ground as she pushes off.
"You pick if you believe it."
She stretches her feet toward the sky so hard that her long hair brushes the gravel in the dark, and I absolutely believe that a child can climb high enough to join the stars.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Too Discreet to Function

Last month, I spent a few days at the Ritz-Carlton Resort on Amelia Island.  It was a lovely place with excellent service, nice restaurants, onsite shops and a wide array of services I would never have thought to take advantage of.  And this was the view from my room:

The truth is, though, the whole atmosphere was a little more tactful than this carpenter's daughter is accustomed to.  For example, it took me quite a while to locate the ATM, which had its own spacious room behind a heavy wooden door with only the smallest and most discrete of signs identifying it.

I didn't get into real trouble, though, until I unexpectedly needed to make a purchase that apparently upper class women do not discuss in public.  There were several shops in the building, including one that advertised "sundries", so I didn't anticipate a problem.  But a quick turn through all of them turned up nothing.  After a review of the map of the resort confirmed that I hadn't missed any shops and that I was a good half hour from town, I went to the front desk and asked whether there was a drug store on the premises.

"No, I'm sorry," the young woman behind the counter said.  "But the sundry shop does carry items like..."

She trailed off.  She looked away.  

I was raised in a barn (well, a small industrial town in Illinois) and I was in a hurry.  I filled in "feminine hygiene products?"

"Yes," she confirmed with obvious relief.  "That's what I was going to say, but I was looking for something more...delicate."

Then, she continued, "But they keep them behind the counter."

I thanked her and hurried back to the sundry shop.  I've never bought drugs, but I think this might be what it's like...if your dealer is a nervous novice.  I approached the cashier and said, "The lady at the front desk said you had feminine hygiene products back there?"

She quickly looked around to make sure no one had heard.  Then she gestured me behind the cash register and opened a cabinet at floor level and completely concealed by the counter.  I made my selection and started back around the register to pay, but she whisked the package out of my hand and into a bag before I made it around the corner.  

This bag:

(The tissue paper is a nice touch, don't you think?)

Underneath the fancy wrappings, of course, these were the same products that I casually toss into my grocery cart every month.  Until last month, I thought everyone else did, too.

I'm not sure how the refined professionals at the Ritz-Carlton would feel about my telling this story in public, complete with the vulgar use of "feminine hygiene products" on at least two occasions.  I'm thinking of it as a public service, though.  Ladies, if you're wandering the hallways of a swanky resort in minor crisis, just ask at the sundry shop. But for God's sake, keep your voice down!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Katie Pukes on the Big Screen

I've talked before about reading the original script for Motivational Growth back in 2006 and how I first met The Mold long before Jeffrey Combs had signed on to play him.  In 2010, Director Don Thacker sent me a much-revised copy of the script.  The new script included between forty and fifty characters, but as I read it I knew exactly what he wanted.  I went to the bottom of the stairs and called up, "Tori?  How do you feel about vomiting on camera?"

Then I IMd Don to let him know I'd read the script and he said, "I have Tori in mind for Katie."

Yep.  Just as I thought.

Katie is mentioned exactly twice in the script.  Here's what it says about her:

Katie pukes.

And then later:

Katie pukes.

Turned out that it takes approximately eight hours to puke twice on film, and that fake vomit tastes a lot worse than the real thing, and that sitting with a maple-syrup-based concoction in your mouth for the better part of eight hours messes with your blood sugar in a very negative way.  But Tori was a trooper.

Then all of the stuff happens that typically happens with movies: you hear one is being shot or it's shot in your home town and you get all excited about it and then your children grow up and leave home and your dog dies and you've been through three cell phones and two automobiles before you hear that it's going to be released next summer.  Tori was 14 when she sat far into the night holding fake puke in her mouth and she's just shy of 17 today.

Last night, we attended the private screening of Motivational Growth. I'd seen three or four rough cuts by this point, so it was hard for me to really watch the movie like a typical theatergoer and get a sense of it.  So, I did two things.  I listened for the audience reaction (a very good rhythm of suspense, quiet attention, surprised laughter, repeat) and I watched for my kid.  She's only in the film for approximately 60 seconds, but it's broken up into pieces (she pukes more than once, after all, and then there's the altercation with the main character and the blue genie).  Turns out that when she's puking at 12 feet tall, she looks pretty much like she does when she's puking in my bathroom at home.  I guess that's a good sign, since she wasn't actually puking in the film: apparently she does a good job of ACTING like she's puking.  (Or wait...maybe that's not such a good sign. I don't think this is the niche she's going for.)

Anyway, it would be impossible to cover everything that was cool about the evening or to mention all of the amazing people involved in the production, but here are a few highlights:

  1. The Patio Theater in Chicago is billed as an old "movie palace" and it lives up to its designation.  The architecture is on a par with some of the great live theater venues in Chicago, and the ceiling mimics a starry night sky with moving clouds (hence the name, I'm guessing).  
  2. It was amazing to see my dear friend Don Thacker and his wonderful bride and producer (the former Alexis Nordling) reach this point with a film they've poured their hearts and souls and sometimes lunch money into for more than two years.
  3. I mentioned that my kid was on the big screen in a beautiful old movie house, right? And her name.  Oh, and mine, too--I was very touched to receive a wholly undeserved "special thanks" in the credits.
  4. My 16-year-old went and hung out in a bar with her co-workers.  Sure, I was there and the only thing she consumed was pizza bread, but it was still a kind of shift.  A kind of shift that already takes place in this crowd because they're the only group that Tori and I each independently relate to as peers.  She's always been comfortable with my friends and I with hers, but this is the only context in which they're the same people.  (Short version:  My kid grew up while I wasn't looking, but I'm not sure how it happened because I've never looked away.)
The only negative moment in the whole evening was when the bartender at Sabatino's on Irving Park Road in Chicago "misplaced" my change after I gave her a twenty for a $2 Coke and then accused one of our friends of having stolen it.  The piano player was excellent as was the floor server, but after the manager defended the bartender's actions and shouted at me that it wasn't the bartender's responsibility to get my change back to me, I'll never go there again.  I could have lived without the $18, but not with service staff who accuses my friends of stealing rather than admitting to a mistake.

You've probably noticed that I haven't said a whole lot about the movie itself.  In part, that's because it was a private screening and I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to say.  In part, it's because the less you know walking into this movie, the better the experience is going to be.  In part, to be honest, it's because it defies description.  I can't even assign it a genre.  There's more puke and blood and fungus than I typically favor, but there are also a lot of open questions (which I very much appreciate in film) and some really standout acting.  I think we would have left the theater revisiting certain scenes and asking questions if, you know, I hadn't read multiple versions of the script, talked at length with the writer and director and seen the movie multiple times and a couple of different endings.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Dancing in Elevators

The other night around midnight, just after an outrageously funny game of Lego Star Wars, Tori announced that she was ready for an adventure.  I'm usually game for most things, but opportunities for adventure are fairly limited in a small town on a rainy weeknight in December.

We kicked some options around and decided it might be fun to take some plastic animals out and leave them in odd places around the neighborhood.  If you can't see why that seemed like a good idea, you're clearly a healthy, well-balanced person but you should probably stop reading now.

Of course, Tori is my youngest child and she's sixteen, so we didn't have any plastic animals at the ready.  That wasn't a problem, though.  In a small, midwestern town the ONE thing that's open after midnight is Wal-Mart.  I try not to shop there, but I figured that a few bucks in plastic animals wasn't going to make or break the economy.

When we went into the store we were laughing about not "arousing suspicion" with our animal purchases and such, so we were both a bit taken aback when (possibly for the first time in all my years of shopping) the cashier commented on the oddity of our purchasing a bunch of plastic animals at 12:30 a.m.  As if that weren't enough, she went on to tell me that her kids still played with those animals, "And, for some reason, they think it's hilarious to go around and leave them in people's..."

I swear, she paused.  And during that pause I thought, "Wait, kids do this?  This is not a unique idea?  We're JUST LIKE THE CASHIER'S TEN-YEAR-OLD SON?"

Then she finished her sentence. "...beds and stuff."

She laughed.  I laughed, too.  "We're not going to do that," I said.

We walked quickly out of the store with our bag of plastic animals, trying not to laugh.

Though we were planning to distribute most of the animals in our neighborhood, we'd chosen a special one for a childhood friend of my daughter's.  She lives in a quiet neighborhood but on a main street, so as we drove toward her house I said to Tori, "Probably the police are going to come to find out why we're prowling around Megan's neighborhood at this time of night."

She said, "Probably" and laughed and then we turned onto Megan's street and...the police were there.

I'm not going to give away all of the species and locations, but I will tell you that one of the animals we delivered was a plastic dinosaur.  We left the dinosaur on the frame of a work truck, just over the driver's side door. We don't know the owner of the truck or anything about the residents of the house.

Or we didn't, anyway.

We finished the strategic placement of lions and giraffes and such in the late-night rain and headed home, amused with ourselves and not expecting ever to know what happened next.

The next evening, I took the dog for a walk as usual.  On my way down the block, I noticed that the truck had been moved from the driveway to the street and there were two men talking in the driveway.  I was absurdly self-conscious, walking by the house, as if they might look across the street and say, "That woman there, with the Yorkie!  The one we've never seen before!  Probably SHE put the dinosaur on the truck."

Or, of course, it was possible that the dinosaur had been stolen before he'd come out in the morning, or that he'd driven off without noticing it and it had fallen somewhere.  I forced myself to walk at a normal pace, right on past, without looking toward the house.  By the time we passed the house again on the way home, it was getting dark.  A young man was walking toward us on the street and the dog barked at him and the barking caught the attention of the men in the driveway, who looked up and saw the young man and greeted him.  I was delighted, because this directed their attention away from me and the imaginary, "Hey, me and my kid left a plastic dinosaur on your truck last night" sign over my head.

I kept walking west.  The young man kept walking east.  And just as he was about to pass out of range of the house, one of the men in the driveway called out to him, " leave that dinosaur on my truck?"

It is, it turns out, possible to actually choke on laughter bitten back too hard.  While I was coughing, the man on the sidewalk said, "What? Nah.  It was probably Fred."

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks for Being Thankful

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  No commercialism, no pressure, no hoops to jump through.  You choose the people you want to be with and sit down with them for a good meal and reflect on the blessings in your life.  It’s simple and relaxing and when it’s over you don’t have to rearrange your kids’ bedrooms to fit in all the new stuff they really didn’t need.

I make it a point each Thanksgiving to really think about the things I’m thankful for, and to share some of those things both here and with the people in my life.  As usual, there are many.  But this year, I’m feeling most thankful for my worldview.

See, in the past few weeks I’ve lost (for different reasons a few days apart) a major source of income and my medical insurance.  I also ended a very significant relationship.  Oh, and when I set out to cook Thanksgiving dinner, I had a problem with my stove that should have been an easy fix but ended up with Tori and I sitting on the porch in a very cold rain waiting for the gas company. 

But I’m feeling good.  If you only know me through this blog or you’ve only known me for a few years, it probably won’t be immediately obvious what a big deal that is.  Because you probably don’t know—you probably can’t even imagine—that between the ages of 13 and 27, I was suicidal at least as often as not.  I even made a half-hearted attempt in law school, washing down pills with a bottle of wine in front of the television. I was spacing them out to make sure I didn’t throw up, and my life was saved for the stupidest and tritest of all reasons (talk about things to be thankful for!): I got caught up in an episode of LA Law and stopped taking the pills because I didn’t want to pass out before I saw how it ended.

In one of those ironic but beautiful twists that life brings us, a stalker who came just a little too close to killing me saved my life.  Or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder saved my life.  How those catastrophic events healed my life is another story for another day, but I often say (in complete sincerity) that having my life threatened, losing my business and having to flee the state to save my life is the best thing that ever happened to me.  Much to my surprise, it freed me to be happy.

So today, as always in recent years, I am thankful for many things.  I’m thankful for my children and grandchildren, for my amazing friends, for the way that writing transports me and for the flexibility of the past few years (even if it turns out that it’s time to venture back into the workday world).  But mostly, I’m thankful that the challenges that have arisen in the past few weeks don’t affect my ability to laugh with my daughter, to love my life, to take positive action where I can and to smile automatically when I walk out the door in the morning and see the sun.  Or, you know, a nice clean, cold rain.

That’s the greatest gift, I’m convinced.  No life is entirely smooth, but if you can be happy in the midst of challenges, you have everything.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Trip Down the Memory Interstate

Earlier this week, I was talking to a friend about an upcoming cross-country drive.  The conversation started with him mocking my inclination to meander along the highways, browse the truck stops and enjoy a leisurely lunch in some small-town diner in Ohio, but it ended with a somewhat surprising trip down memory lane.  I've done a lot of long-distance driving in my life, beginning with a trip from Illinois to Washington, D.C. in my early twenties.  On those trips, I've seen civil war battle grounds, visited major theme parks, sat in on arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court, window-shopped on Fifth Avenue, dined at Ninja just after it opened, watched fireworks over the ocean, visited old friends and staked out haunted cemeteries--and that's only the beginning.  But when I started thinking back over the thousands of miles of road I covered, it wasn't the Statue of Liberty or the White House that stood out in my mind.  It was a series of low-profile, objectively insignificant moments that I wouldn't have missed for the world.

1.  I crossed the Kentucky border for the first time well after midnight on a week night, my toy poodle asleep on the passenger seat, and the first thing I noticed was that the neon was a softer green than I'd ever seen in the midwest--even the lighting on the chain gas station where I stopped.  Everything, it turned out, was softer: the lighting, the quiet night air when I stepped out of my 1979 Mustang and the cool grass under my feet as I walked with my tiny dog by my side.  I've driven through Kentucky several times since then, good parts and bad, but the mere mention of the state always brings to mind the feel of that grass and the velvet night air just across the state line. 

2.  The beauty of the upper Ohio valley during the third week of October came as a shock; I'd expected Ohio to be as flat as Illinois.  Instead, Interstate 70 rose into gentle hills, valleys (I guess the terminology should have been a clue) painted red and yellow and orange and brown spreading out below like a vast impressionist painting. Twenty-four years later, the changing of the leaves still brings back the memory of that drive and I hope that one day I'll pass along that same road at just the right time of year.

3.  En route from Georgia to Chicago in August of 1990, my friend, my teenage sister and I agreed that we simply had to pop off the interstate in Clarksville, Tennessee and have a look at the train station--maybe snap a few pictures. We may or may not have sung.  We were nonchalant when we asked a long-haired, middle-aged man walking down the street for directions to the train station.  He laughed softly and shook his head when he told us that Clarksville didn't have a train station; it seemed like maybe we weren't the first to have come looking for it.

4.  A California highway in the summer at the wheel of a new, champagne-colored rental car and "Runnin' Down a Dream" on the radio.  That is all.

5.  Driving across the country to take my 12-year-old daughter to the ocean for the first time during the summer of 2008 meant working the phones.  That is, sitting in fast-food restaurants and coffee shops with internet access looking up hotels and calling to ask the all-important question: "Do you have the Disney Channel?"  I usually like to drive far into the night, but on that trip we were tucked into our Disney-equipped hotel rooms early each night because some version of Camp Rock was on television every night that week. We've both outgrown the Jonas Brothers in the intervening years, but the Camp Rock soundtrack will forever be our go-to road trip music...and I will forever be the parent who planned her vacation stops around the third and fourth viewings of a Disney Channel movie.

6.  On most road trips, the greatest problems I've encountered have been traffic-related, but in the spring of this year my daughter and I headed to Florida.  I was going for a seminar on the application of the Uniform Commercial Code to residential mortgage notes; she was tagging along for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Our second day on the road, I woke up in Manchester, Tennessee to find the window on our rental car smashed and some minor theft.  Though we'd fared better than some of the other guests, it was a rough morning.  We had to wait hours for the rental car company to send someone out to replace the glass and the combination of stress and being limited to vending machine food had my head pounding by the time we got back on the road mid-afternoon.  We were nearly a full day behind schedule and it was clear that I'd be paying for a room at the Embassy Suites that night that we wouldn't see before daylight.  Naturally, there was nowhere to eat except gas stations and fast food places.  We bought sandwiches and chips at a Subway in a truck stop, and when we walked outside found ourselves at the foot of a breathtaking mountain. "Let's eat here," my very wise teenager suggested.  I squashed the impulse to rush, knowing that half an hour wouldn't make a significant difference at that point in the day, and we sat on a concrete wall at the edge of the lot, backs to the gas station, and looked out at a landscape soothing enough to carry me through to our 5 a.m. arrival in Orlando.

Is it a waste to pay $250 for two days at the Universal parks and hold close the memory of a $4 sub in a gas station parking lot? Perhaps.  But those other moments, the purposes of the trip, aren't forgotten. We were enchanted by the world of Dr. Seuss; I braved the Spiderman ride in Orlando.  In Savannah, we stood by the ocean at sunset with a very old friend of mine and watched dolphins play in the surf. Though I'd be at a loss to explain why, I've toured Juliette Lowe's house twice. We took the boat to Ellis Island with another old friend and ate hot dogs on Coney Island.  My daughter performed at Disney World; she held tight to my hand the first time an ocean wave washed over her.  I spent an afternoon talking to Vietnam veterans at The Wall. The more dramatic experiences, the more concrete items on the "what I did on my summer vacation" list, have their own value.  But they don't preclude the everday magic that can come from just being where you are in the moment.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Seven Songs and Counting

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter wrote a blog post called 15 Songs.  She'd picked up the idea, apparently, from the drummer of Mayday Parade.  He only wrote about ten songs, but she's young and she couldn't cut it down that far. Reading her post, of course, got me thinking about the stand-out songs of my own life.  While many of hers hold places of honor because of the bands or musical genres she found through them, my songs are more situational. I'm not sure whether that's a function of age, or is because she's a musician and I'm not.

I've been adding songs as they came to me for a few days, and thus far I only have seven.  I'm going to keep carrying that golden notebook and green pen around with me, though, so by the time you're reading this post I may have ten...or twelve.

1.  Jessie's Girl isn't my favorite Rick Springfield song by a longshot--in fact, sometimes I kind of wish people would stop calling me from bars when they hear it at 1 a.m. and stuff.  But it was the first Rick Springfield song I heard, the one that started the ball rolling. And, if you know me at all, you know that Rick Springfield had a big impact on my life --not over the radio airwaves but by taking a leap of faith and cooperating in and supporting my book about him when I had nothing but a handful of local newspaper clips to my credit.  And I'll always love him for the way he treated my daughter in the process.

2.  American Pie was my first record. It was on both sides of a 45--you had to flip it over in the middle of the song--and I played it constantly on my plastic record player (trendy 70s goldenrod with a sticker of the Carnuba Hot Wax bear on it).  Decades later, the winter my daughter was two, she changed the whole mood of a  late night-before-Christmas-Eve retail line when she sat in the cart and sang the song from beginning to end.  She claims not to know the words anymore, but I choose not to believe her. I think everyone knows the words to American Pie.

3.  Big props to Kris Kristofferson for writing Me and Bobbie McGee, but nobody but Janis should ever sing it.  Rain, the open road, a presumably sexy could you go wrong?  Add in the fact that I first heard this song when I was about 12 and that I've always been more of a sucker for the nostalgic "could have been" than the here and now, and this one is a powerhouse for me.  On top of that, it always brings to mind this charming story:  When my daughter was three, she heard this song on the car radio and asked "Do we know who wrote down this song?"  I told her that Kris Kristofferson had, and that he was the same person who'd written down Sunday Morning Sidewalk.  "Oh," she responded from her car seat, "we should find out where he lives and tell him 'thank you'."  We should, indeed.

4.  Bruce Cockburn's Nicaragua would have been my first dance song at the wedding I never had back in the early nineties, but that's not why it makes the list.  The whole Stealing Fire album blew me away because there wasn't a wasted word and it evoked such visual imagery along with the music and the message.  Though I found it entirely by chance--my college roommate had it on vinyl--this remains my favorite album after nearly thirty years.

5.  I'm a little embarrassed to put Hang on Sloopy on this list, and it's not just because it's a dumb song. It's because my connection reaches back to the days when I was playing groupie to a pretty bad campus band back in the 80s, and Hang on Sloopy was their signature song. I mean, really, that says it all, doesn't it?  But 24 years later I still can't hear that song without smiling (or sometimes laughing out loud). Porbably everyone should have a brief, hazy drinking-whisky-from-the-bottle-and-dancing-in-dive-bars phase. (Except you, Tori)  This song was the soundtrack for mine.

6.  The Year 3000 is not only a Jonas Brothers song, it's a fake Jonas Brothers song--a cover of a song from some other little-known band.  But it was the first song the Jonas Brothers sang when they appeared on stage and took my daughter's breath away at a concert we went to for her 12th birthday.  Every time I hear it, I remember that moment. And, of course, I think there's a strong possibility that Joe Jonas is Rick Springfield's illegitimate son.

7.  One night a thousand years ago in another life, I discovered that they'd taken Revolution off the juke box at a litte roadside bar I frequented.  It was the last straw in an otherwise generally malcontented night and I went somewhere else. As I approached the door, I heard Revolution playing from inside.  The next few minutes changed my life, even though only a handful of people will recognize this story.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Feeling Like a Number?

My sister is 7 years younger than I am.  We look and sound very alike, but couldn't be more different unless we'd  been raised in different countries. But when we were younger, my mother often began her sentences with, "You girls are so..."

The truth was, there were very few comments that rightly applied to both of us; I came to believe that if one of us did something, it was automatically attributed to us collectively and this kind of comment followed.  My sister, though, had her own way of dealing with it:  every time my mother started a sentence that way, my sister burst into a rendition of  Bob Seger's "Feel Like a Number". It never did a thing to change the way my mother lumped us together, but we all got a good laugh out of it.

These are my daughters:

No, I didn't give birth to the older one. Do you really want to quibble?  They're six years apart. They look and sound quite a bit alike, but they couldn't be more different unless they'd been raised in different countries.  I try to be very conscious of those differences--I talk to them differently, teach them differently, ask different things of them, etc.

I have never, ever, ever said, "you girls" or "the two of you" about them in my entire life.  I'm pretty sure that neither of them has ever "felt like a number"--at least, not because of anything I've said or done.

And yet.

For the past month, my younger daughter (who lives with me) has been visiting her father in Indiana.  That means she spends a lot of time with her sister, who lives just a few miles away.  And, often, they call me together.



a lot of times when I'm talking to them on speaker, I can't tell who's who. 

That kind of came as a surprise to me, but what came as a greater surprise was that most of the time I don't care.  When they're talking to me together, they're usually doing something together; there's a common theme.  They're telling me a funny story about one of the grandkids or laughing because they're dancing in Wal-Mart and wanted to share that with me in the moment or any of a hundred different things they share. And I find that it doesn't matter in the least who told which part of the story or which one of them is holding the mud-covered child and which one is wiping him down.  I just address them as "hon" or "sweetie" and let the story unfold just as it would have a decade ago, when I was hearing those mingled voices and bursts of laughter from the next room as they sang along with Britney Spears or worked on each other's hair in the next room.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

RJ Buckler is NOT in the House

The other night, Tori and I attended an event celebrating the release of our friend Dawn Xiana Moon's new CD, Spaces Between. Tori had a small part in the music video for "Strong", so we knew a few of the people involved in the production, and we were a little surprised not to see Director RJ Buckler throughout the evening. Tori had commented on his absence and I'd scanned the crowd when I walked through a couple of times and he just wasn't there.

That's why we were both surprised when Dawn stepped up to the microphone and said, "RJ Buckler is in the house." In fact, we both said (albeit very quietly), "No, he's not."

My friend Margo was with us; she doesn't know RJ, and so she leaned in and said, "Is that RJ?"

Tori and I both looked at the tall, behatted man at the microphone and said...nothing.

See, it clearly wasn't RJ.

Neither of us knows RJ well, but Tori's worked with him on a few projects and we did once spend nearly three straight days with him during a 72-hour film contest. We know what he looks like. It's different from what this guy at the mike looked like, and not just in some vague way. The guy at the mike was shorter, and had an entirely different nose, for example.

But everyone clapped. He started talking, and he claimed to be RJ, and he talked about making the music video, and he was funny. Everyone laughed. And still, neither of us answered Margo. Because we were both pretty sure that wasn't RJ. No, not pretty sure. We KNOW RJ. That wasn't him.

But Dawn had introduced him as RJ.

It was a very strange phenomenon, knowing full well that this guy wasn't RJ, but somehow feeling like we might just be confused, like he might just have had a nose job, like it was dim in there and we hadn't seen him for a long time...because how could this whole room full of people be accepting a fake RJ?

The event was in Chicago, so we had a long drive home, and during the drive we talked about how that clearly wasn't RJ. We talked about how funny it was that everyone had accepted the fake RJ just because he was introduced as RJ, and about the obvious differences. We brainstormed half of a screenplay about a guy who is replaced by someone who looks nothing like him and no one mentions it.

But every once in a while, we wondered whether that might have been RJ. Because, of course, sometimes people just shrink a few inches, have their skin bleached a few shades and get a radical nose job in the few months since you last saw them.

The next morning, RJ posted on Facebook from South Korea. Early the next morning. That clinched it for us. Except...the YouTube video from the event said right in the description, "RJ Buckler was on hand to..." And there, in the thumbnail, was the guy we were pretty sure wasn't RJ.

Finally, this evening, we confirmed that the guy wasn't RJ. Which, of course, we knew. Which everyone knew, right? Because we know what RJ looks like. But it was fascinating, that niggling doubt...that piece of our brains that was almost ready to accept what our eyes were telling us was absurd.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sliding at Midnight

Yesterday, Andrew had a rough day and we didn't get to go to the park. We also got a bit thrown off of our usual schedule by some of the fuss and ended up eating dinner pretty late. By that time, though, he'd come around to his usual sweet and charming self, and when he mentioned as we were cleaning up that he was being good now, we all wholeheartedly agreed. And then he said, "So now we can put on our sunglasses and go to the park."

It wasn't really midnight, of course, but it was after 8:00. It was full dark outside. And I started to say that we'd go to the park in the morning, but Tori cocked her head and said softly, "Or...we could put on our sunglasses and go to the park."

Someone raised that kid right.

My contemplation lasted just about as long as it took me to say, "I...guess we could." Fifteen minutes later, we were piling out of the car onto a dark, quiet playground and the kids were giggling like it was the biggest adventure of their lives, talking in those half-hushed tones that people unconsciously adopt in the dark. And we did, in fact, wear our sunglasses.

Okay, we had to stick a little closer to those little people sliding in the dark, and maybe a few of us got a little wet on the equipment...but it was almost jammie time, anyway, so that didn't matter. We only stayed about twenty minutes--the whole adventure from door to door only took about 35--but Andrew is still talking about "park in the dark", and I think I may be feeling a children's book coming on.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

So, I'm in Love Again...

This is Sammy. Isn't he beautiful? (Hint: The answer is "Why, yes, Tiff. He's perfect.")

And, as if this tiny being weren't enough of a delight in and of himself, his older brother (age 3) whispered to me at bedtime that him and me were best friends.

I'm just bubbling over with love, really. If you don't have any grandchildren, you should probably run out and get some or rent a few to see how you like it. I haven't experienced anything better since...well...I had babies.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

So, depending on where you left off, you may or may not be aware that my beautiful grandchildren have been staying with me for a little over a week.

And you may or may not be aware that however cute and innocent they might look, Caleb (the LITTLE one!) managed to land me in the hospital on Friday night with a concussion. It wasn't an accident, either: I was flat on my back on the couch with a bad case of the flu, and he picked up a hard plastic toy and swung it like a baseball bat, cracking right across the top of my head so hard that my daughter heard it from across the room.

So that was fun.

Saturday I was back down, this time resting for 24 hours on doctor's orders, and by Sunday my absolutely amazing super-hero mom-stand-in daughter was a little frayed and I had a serious backlog of work to get done. Oh, and there were a lot of dishes in the sink.

But guess what? That's all just background--I haven't started the story I sat down here to tell yet. Kind of long-winded? Blame the concussion. Or brain damage from the gas.

Yes, that's where today's saga begins. I left the house to do some laundry and hadn't been gone for fifteen minutes--I had actually just unloaded my laundry at the laundromat--when my daughter called me to tell me that the house smelled like gas, and not just a little. In a matter of minutes, the smell had spread from one corner of the kitchen throughout the lower level of the house.

I told her to get the kids out of the house and that I'd be right home. Because I live in this lovely little midwestern town, I left my laundry right where I'd unloaded it and hopped back in the car. (Well, probably I would have done that anyway, but since I live where I live, I did it without concern for our clothes.) On my way home, I realized that I hadn't said, "And the dog" and considered calling my daughter back to make sure she got him, but you're not really supposed to use a cell phone in a house full of gas, so I decided to just hurry home instead.

Turns out that she'd figured out that we didn't want the dog to blow up all by herself. He was happily on his leash. Andrew (3) was running in circles around the Whoville tree in an oversized t-shirt, his jacket and a pair of snow boots. Caleb (18 months) was sitting on a lawn chair in a similar t-shirt and his winter coat wearing only socks on his feet. Tori was also in her pajamas, and had had the wisdom not to stop and brush her hair.

I took a deep breath and popped back inside to grab Caleb's shoes and a blanket for him, and then we waited around outside for NICOR to come and tell us everything was fine. Because that's what they do, right? I mean, I've called the gas company because I smelled gas before. They come in with their little machines and run them around your house and then either tell you that a pilot light is out and fix it in half a second or tell you there was never any gas to begin with, and you go on with your life.

Except today. Today they said, "Your furnace is leaking."

Fortunately, they were able to just shut down the furnace, which meant we could all go back inside and everyone could get dressed. Unfortunately, they shut down the furnace, and it was 39 degrees today. Oh, and I had my doors propped open the whole time we waited for the gas company, trying to clear the gas out of the house.

Hey, at least I rent. That furnace was someone else's problem. So...the morning was a hassle, but it's all over now, right?


While we were waiting outside, Jake had some sort of...ummm...stomach malfunction. Because he has his long winter coat on and we were a little preoccupied as it happened and didn't address it immediately, he ended up with his own disgustingly mushy waste all tangled up in his fur.

My still-heroic daughter volunteered to bathe him while I dropped by the property management company with the threatening notice from the gas company. But Jake had had all the trauma he could take for one day, and he escaped, dripping and smearing everything he was trailing across the bathroom floor and then running for downstairs. So then she had to wash not only the dog but also the tub, his leash and harness, and the bathroom floor. She opted to just throw away the towel he'd rolled on.

As soon as I came in from the rental office (which turned out to have closed for lunch 4 minutes before I arrived), she called me upstairs to tell her this story. While I was upstairs, Andrew called up that he needed to use the bathroom and I told him to use the one downstairs (since the one upstairs wasn't fit for humans). He said okay, but a moment later let out a wail that had me down the stairs at a dead run.

He was standing in front of the toilet, but his clothing was soaked and there was a puddle on the floor to rival what the dog had left behind upstairs (though this round, thankfully, was just urine). "Me pee everywhere," he sobbed. And he had. I think with all the chaos, he'd waited just a bit too long and then barely made it in the bathroom door before it let loose. It took me some time to convince him that it wasn't the end of the world and we could just wipe it up and wipe him up and get him into some clean clothes. Or so I thought.

While I wiped up the floor, Tori sat him down for lunch and he told her he'd been bad and peed on everything. ("Really?" I'm thinking. "You still think you're bad? After I picked you up and hugged your naked little urine-soaked self? That accomplished NOTHING other than creating a need for me to change my clothes?") So we all had a talk about how accidents weren't bad ("Oh! Okay.") and then I looked around and decided enough was enough. The temperature was dropping, someone would be working on the furnace, the bathtub needed a good scrubbing and we were all so far past the ends of our ropes that we didn't remember having them.

So I'm writing this from a hotel, where everyone had a nice swim and we had pizza delivered for dinner and it doesn't smell like gas and no one had to clean anything.

Well, almost nothing. Earlier this evening, a little voice called out from the bathroom, "Tori's mom! Me peed everywhere again!"

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A New Year Indeed

Honestly, I wasn't all that optimistic about 2012. It wasn't that we'd been warned that the world would end--that seems to happen all the time. And it wasn't that by the end of the year I'd been unemployed for more than three months. I'm bizarrely unconcerned about that. It might have been in part due to the fact that I was sick for both Christmas and New Year's Eve, we didn't have any snow for the holidays and when 2012 began it seemed like there was a lot of unfinished 2011 business hanging on. And it was partly, I'm sure, due to the state of the world. When most new years dawn, I'm thinking about what the year ahead holds for me and my family. This year, more than most, I was thinking about what 2012 would hold for the country and the world; my expectations on those fronts were pretty bleak. That's still true.

But something changed for me with the new year, something I didn't plan for or resolve about or even anticipate.

2012 became the year to finish all of those dangling projects of the past, to clear out my filing cabinets and find a home for whatever was in them, to clean house not by tossing things and donating things as I usually do but by following a thousand paths mapped out in the past and interrupted or abandoned.

For example:
  • In November of 2006, I wrote a romance novel on the train. I did it for no reason other than that a lot of women I knew were participating in NaNoWriMo and I wanted to find out whether I could write an entire novel in a month. Because I had a full time job and a 2+ hour round-trip commute and was a single parent, I didn't have a lot of time to write...but I managed to wrap up that novel largely during my commute (by train) that month. Then I basically let it sit on my hard drive for five years. During the first week of the year, I reviewed it, proofread it and added about 5,000 words; then I uploaded it to the Amazon Kindle store.
  • During that same week, I vetted the children's books my daughter and I had written together during her early childhood--books that have been sitting around much longer than that romance novel had. These, in fact, only existed in hard copy. I picked the two we wanted to publish first, sent one off to get a quote from an illustrator I'm super-excited to be working with, and set Tori about making illustration notes on the second.
  • This week, I finished creating e-book files, uploading them to my website and creating Paypal code and then created a sales page for my law school admissions e-books. Mike Gifford turned that content into an actual web page for me and added it to my site this evening.
I have two freelance projects to wrap up over the weekend, so that's probably it for this week, but really...I can't wait to see what next week holds.