Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Holiday Changeover

The Holiday Changeover

“What’re your plans for Christmas?” people ask.

“Not sure, yet,” I reply.

I can just hear what my mother would say if she’d heard my reply. Are you goddamn crazy? Not sure, yet! You going to let your kids run the show at Christmas?

As our adult children start their own families, though, the dynamic has changed at holiday time and I find myself in the transition years.  

By nature, I’m not flexible. You mean, a changeover with holiday family celebrations?

“Relax,” my friend, Cindy, said to me when I’d sighed over missing two of our children’s families at Thanksgiving. “It’s just another meal, Heath.”

It’s gradual, this changeover. As our children got older, there’d be a girlfriend or boyfriend at the holiday table. No problem. They’d melded right into our tradition for the night. A couple new faces at the table but it was still my holiday table. 

Soon, came an engagement. Ok. That worked. I could share. A little.

Then, marriages and a grandchild. That was the big changeover.

Major loss of control. All of a sudden, it’s who goes where. On what night. Which holiday, and alternating years on Thanksgiving.

Part of me longs for those days when my mother hosted. There was never a discussion where we were going on Christmas night. It was always Mom’s house.

“But, Hank’s family….” I’d pleaded originally.

 “Let them work it out,” Mom had said in the early years of our marriage. “You’re coming here.”  

My sister told me the other day that my brother-in-law, Dennis, too, longs for those Christmas nights at Mom’s. “We always knew the drill,” he told her. “Marilyn’s on Christmas.”

There’s no set-in-stone plan now. It’s year-by-year. How did my mother get away with her demands?

Maybe because it was so darn fun at her house, who wouldn’t want to go?

There were always cocktails. Cigarettes. Frank Sinatra crooning on the hi-fi. Mom at the helm in a sparkly sweater, handing out gifts, leading us all with her antics. What’s to hate? 

I’d known that Mom’s Christmases’ would end one day. I’d even said it to my husband, Hank, one Christmas night with our three children asleep in the backseat on our drive home to Pasadena from Mom’s on the Westside.

“It’s been a good run,” I’d said, wrapping my coat around me as if trying to hold onto something I knew couldn’t last. “I’m just trying to absorb it all right now. Somehow hold onto it.”

Yet, as I lament the loss of my mother’s Christmas nights, the loss of my own hosting Christmas Eve (I don’t miss the goose), the alternate holidays, I know that I need to share. To adapt.

That’s where I differ from my mother. 

Ok, wear the hair shirt, but don’t lose yourself in the mix, Mom would say. You’re the mother, for Chrissakes! 

Don’t worry. I’m listening, Mom…

Hank and I decided to leave town on this, our “alternate” non-hosting Thanksgiving year. We had our Thanksgiving feast at a table of three in a restaurant surrounded by strangers. No big table filled with family and an abundance of food. Yet, time alone with our youngest, Joseph, was something we don’t often get. I sat listening to our son, watching him with his father. I drank it in like a fine wine. 

The changeover is good, I thought, flying home. We gain perspective. Special things happen. New scenarios. New family members to love. The comfort that our grown children are building their lives. Isn’t that the goal?

Yes, but the reality of the transformation hit me when I was changing out the pumpkins for Christmas décor and came upon the place cards for the holiday table our daughter, Hilary, made in grade school. Next to that, was the handprint turkey Joseph made in Kindergarten I put out every year.

I paused for a moment, taking in the neatly folded cards with scribbled names in crayon. Joe’s turkey, I’d had framed. I’d never taken them out this year, this little piece of our family holiday décor when they were young.
 
The mantle in our living room is no longer crowded with Christmas stockings. No Nana. No Sinatra. No cigarettes on Christmas night.

Our holiday scenarios are going to change from now on.
It surprises me, my own inflexibility. Sometimes I wonder who am I if I am not surrounded by a long table with a loving family on a holiday? 

Then, I console myself. I am a mother who loves her children enough to recognize the changeover.  

And, to see the joy in it as our family grows.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

For Grace

“It’s like Cheers without the booze,” I tell people of my job at Hodge Podge, the gift section of A Stitch in Time. It’s a gift/needlepoint/knitting shop in San Marino where I work one day a week. There’s something about the female bonding that happens there, the women supporting eachother, that I love.

The thing is, though, I’m lousy at needlepoint. I struggle with a needle and fiber. It takes me eight months just to stitch a holiday ornament no bigger than a luggage tag. 

After working at the shop nearly four years, I attempted a special canvas for my son, Joseph’s, graduation from college. I gave plenty of time to compete it, then, accidentally, I left it on an airplane. My close friend, Wendy, a gifted stitcher, gently took the newly replicated canvas from me. “Let me do it,” she’d said. “I can do it quickly.”

I had to come clean with Joseph. “Wendy did it.”

“Whoa, Mom,” he’d said. “That’s so cool of her. To do this for you.”

“No,” I’d said, “It’s for you.”

“Maybe,” he’d replied. “But she was looking out for you. She knew you needed her help to finish.”

I’d wanted to do something for Wendy in return for her help, to thank her somehow.  “Stop, Heather. It’s not about a tit-for-a-tat. Just accept that I wanted to do this for you to give to Joseph.”

I was humbled by her generosity and I felt the need to give her something in return. I felt uncomfortable and, frankly, undeserved, a byproduct of growing up in a household where attention was scarce. Despite a loving husband and devoted children, I still struggle with self-worth.

Though I continued to attempt needlepoint projects of my own, the truth is, most get sent off to the Philippines where the artisans finish what I am unable to complete. I wish I had the patience for this timeless art dating back to the Egyptians, and the passion to needlepoint as the women at our shop tables. But I do love the finished project!

So, when my first grandchild, Grace, was born on Friday, June 7th, I called my co-workers at A Stitch in Time where I’d already picked out her stocking with no intention of stitching it myself. 

“Grace!” I told my co-worker, Gina, my voice bursting with joy on the other end of the line.  “She’s here and she’s healthy and her name is Grace!” 

“Congratulations! Such a beautiful name,” she'd replied. “Ok, we’ll send it out right away to get her name painted on her Christmas stocking.”

Time is of the essence on these things. The canvas must be stitched and ready (no easy feat) at the end of September to get to the finisher to do the backing and the trim in time for the stocking to hang on the mantle at Christmastime.

A few weeks ago, three months after Grace’s birth, I was with my co-workers, catching up with eachother before the shop opened.  “I’m in a writing slump,” I told them. “I have random slips of paper with scribbled ideas littering my desk.”

“Don’t worry, you’re gathering your thoughts,” Gina said.

“I’m in my own slump,” another co-worker, Caryn, said, joining Gina behind the waist-high wooden counter. “I haven’t had any inspiration to needlepoint.”

“You?” I asked. “But your work is beautiful, and you love to stitch!” Caryn’s needlework is flawless. 

She looked over at Gina, also an expert, who teaches our needlepoint classes, and bent down, reaching for something. “I had absolutely no inspiration,” she said, her voice betraying a smile, “until this." She rolled out a needlepoint stocking across the counter. “This one sang to me.”


Grace’s name was stitched across the top. 

I stared at the finished canvas in disbelief. Wait, wasn’t this sent off to the artisans in the Philippines weeks ago? My stomach tightened, my heart beat fast trying to take in what was in front of me. This was no ordinary work from the Philippines. Complicated stitches, beading, French knots… I studied the decorative stitches, thinking about what has been said about needlework - that each tug of the needle imprints a story and an emotion. It can take someone like me years to complete such a work of art. Or, let’s be honest, I’d never finish it. 

“Caryn, you’d do this for me?”

“Gina did the stitch guide,” she replied. “We confiscated it,” she winked. “We wanted to surprise you.”

I looked over at Gina, brandishing a big smile. Then, back to Caryn. My mouth, gaping open, had gone dry. “When did you…”

“I took it home. Worked on it there after you told Gina that you wanted decorative stitches.” Caryn said.

I thought back to that conversation at the end of August when the canvas had come back with Grace’s name on it. “That was five weeks ago! You did this huge stocking in five weeks?”

“Well,” she laughed, “my fingers are pretty raw.”

I brought my hand to my chest. “It’s beautiful. I can’t…” I started to cry. “I need to tell Grace when she’s older.”

Gulping in between sobs, I added, “I’m overwhelmed. You did this for me.”

“And, for Grace,” they laughed. 

“Oh yeah, her,” I laughed back through the tears, reaching for a tissue in the box on the counter. 

“Seriously,” Caryn said. “We loved doing this. You’re special, Heather.”

As much as I try to believe that I’m special, and work with a therapist who encourages me to resist constantly feeling as if I have to pay, or do, or say something to be liked. Old habits die hard. 

“I don’t know what I can do to repay you both. I need to do something for you.”

“No, you don’t,” Caryn said.

Meanwhile, the store had opened, and a customer had wandered over to my gift section. My emotions still running high, I headed over there thinking back to Wendy and the canvas for Joseph. Now this. This breathtaking piece of handiwork. I rang up a sale and sat down with a sigh behind my counter. My hands shook as I picked up a pen and the little yellow scratch pad next to the register.

Dear Grace,

I did not stitch this stocking for you. My co-workers took this on to help me get to the finish line in time for your first Christmas. 

It is your birth and your name, that has inspired me to accept an unearned gift, to accept the grace of the people around me.

Sure, Santa will fill this with toys and how exciting that will be, but the real gift I want to give you is to remind you to be open to the love that surrounds you. May you always know your value which has taken your grandmother sixty-two years to understand. 





*Thank you, Caryn Moore, Gina Luizzi.  And, Wendy Siciliano.  You women rock.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Making The Call



“Sir, you need to put your bag under your seat or in the overhead bin,” says the female flight attendant while making her final safety check before take-off.  

“Can’t I leave it on my lap?” replies the man. I turn around. It’s the heavyset thirty-ish guy I’d given a friendly smile to as we waited in line to board. 

He’d responded to my smile with a blank stare. 

 “Sir,” the flight attendant's voice is calm, “it’s not safe for you to have anything on your lap at take-off.”

“Why?” he asks, his voice like a petulant kid.

It’s a full Southwest flight on a hot August afternoon. I’m on the aisle. 13F. He’s behind me in the middle seat, 14E. 

“If it’s under the seat,” he adds, his voice rising. “It’ll slip back when the plane takes off.”

“Back where?” the female flight attendant responds. “It’s pretty tight in here,” adding, “Sir, it’s for your safety and the safety of the other passengers.”

“What’s your name?” Petulance has turned to cantankerous.

“Lisa.”

“Well, Lisa, this is f**king ridiculous. F**king crazy….

We freeze, us passengers surrounding this, as Lisa takes matters into her own hands. As usual, my mother’s words pop into my head. “Never argue with a drunk.” Yet, I can tell a drunk a mile away. This guy was an argumentative a**hole. Not a drunk.

Maintaining her professional demeanor, Lisa tries again: “Sir, you have two choices. The overhead bin or under your seat.”

“You’re rude, Lisa,” adding more expletives directed at her.

“We’re going back to the gate,” Lisa says softly, and heads to the cockpit as the plane rolls to the runway to take-off.

My surrounding passengers sit quietly as my heart thumps out of my chest. Please get this guy off without a scene.

I’m thinking that this is the stuff you see in videos on The Daily Mail. “Disruptive passenger on Southwest flight…”

I’m flying solo. No Hank to distract me with a written note or a whisper. Then, I see an opening. The man next to me starts having a coughing fit. He sips his water but can’t seem to quell it.

“Would you like a mint?” I ask him. “Sounds like you’ve got a dry throat and I get those, too. I’ve got three kinds of mints to choose from,” I say, as I fish around in my bag.

You see, that’s what I do. I talk to distract myself when I get anxious. I would have given my right arm to keep a conversation going.

Meanwhile, I watch out of the corner of my eye as the flight attendants converge at the front of the plane. Two bells ring. The purser picks up the phone.

The pilot comes on: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are returning to the gate. We’ve a customer service situation we need to take care of. Won’t be long. Thank you for your patience.”

He’s quiet, this angry man in 14B, and I wait for some reaction from him. 

Nothing.

The plane comes to a stop. The doors are disarmed.

The plane remains quiet except a crying baby a few rows back.

A uniformed woman comes on board, heads straight to him, her tags dangling, and stands next to me to look straight at him. I focus on her tags, eyelevel to me.

“Sir, I’m from Southwest Customer Service. You need to depart this plane.”

“Why?” he shouts. “She was rude!”

Her words are calm and concise. “Sir, you need to depart this plane.”

The elderly man on the aisle steps out and the disgruntled guy in 14E reluctantly heaves himself up and out of his seat into the aisle. The woman from customer service has stepped forward.

“What about my overhead bag?”

“You may take that.”

“What about the bag I checked?”

“That stays on. We’ll book you another flight.”

I watch him clutch the white plastic bag to his chest. What is in that thing that he won’t let go of? 

He curses as he follows her down the aisle. 

He’s gone. Phew.

Later, as the plane bounces from intense heat rising up from the Salt Lake, Lisa is collecting the trash. “Thank you,” I tell her. “You handled that guy so well.” 

She lowers her bag and makes eye contact. “I haven’t asked anyone to leave a plane for fifteen years. He was…”

“He was awful,” I interrupt. “And, who knows what after we took off had he stayed.”

“Thank you,” Lisa replies. Her smile is sincere.

The flight attendants are asked to sit due to turbulence. The guy next to me is clutching my role of Peppermints and his cough has subsided.

The baby has stopped crying. A group of inebriated women in back are loud and happy. “Woah,” one of them laughs as we hit an air pocket.

Praise to Lisa. Praise to her Purser, Brian. Brian trusted Lisa’s judgement and the crew followed through.

Upon landing, we stood waiting to depart the plane. The guy in front of me tells me, “that guy shouldn’t have been taken off,” as he overhears his seatmate and me talking about it.

“If every disgruntled person gets taken off,” he says, “we’d be late all the time.”

“Late?” I reply. “He was scary awful. Did you not hear him? That flight attendant made the right call.”

“But, I’m an hour late,” he argues, giant earphones encircling his neck. 

“And, you had a safe flight.”

“Well,” he admitted. “There’s that,” he said, offering a smile. 



*Thanks to, and respect for, all those flight attendants out there who make good calls. Lisa working Southwest Flight #1845 – you rock! 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Monarch Butterfly

Last Saturday, I called my daughter-in-law, Anna, as soon as we got back from our hike. “Remind me about when you saw that Monarch Butterfly?”

“Oh,” she replied. “It was amazing.”

I leaned back in the worn leather club chair to listen.

“I drove into the driveway,” she said, “and there it was fluttering in front of the white garage door….”

“That’s right,” I interrupted, “I’d been there visiting Baby Grace, and you’d mentioned it when you came through the door.”

“Yeah,” she continued. “I was thinking it was weird seeing it because I hadn’t seen any in the migration that went through Los Feliz recently. Then I saw you in the den with Grace, and I knew it was Nana, Heath.”


It was timely, Anna’s sighting. A few days before, I’d received what would be my last “coping with grief” letter from the Jewish Home For The Aging - letters that I’d received throughout this first year of mourning a parent as part of Jewish tradition. There were mostly poems and articles as an aid to deal with the loss of my mother. I would glance over them, maybe read a poem or two, and at times, dismiss the letters altogether.

I’m fine. I thought, Mom’s in a better place. She’d lived a long, full life. She’s out of a physical body that had succumbed to Parkinson’s. One-liners that moved me forward.

Truth is, I hadn’t really moved forward. I just kept busy keeping myself busy. Yet, there were a few times this past year I’d allowed my grief to rise to the surface. Losing Mom would hit me out of nowhere. “What’s wrong with me?” I asked my oldest son, Allan, on Mother’s Day. “I’m not good today. I can’t stop crying. It kind of surprises me. I thought that I was fine.”

Or, in line at airport security last Fall, when a TSA agent admired the pendant I often wear, engraved with Mom’s monogram. “You’ll always have your mother with you when you wear that,” she’d said after I’d told her it was Mom’s monogram with mine on the back. I’d cried, picking my carry-on off the belt. “What’s wrong with me, Hank?” I’d asked my husband after we’d cleared security.

The Jewish religion has death wired. Although I’m not Jewish, it was something that I admired deeply the day Mom passed away. The Rabbi. The support. And it didn’t end there. There’s not much this wonderful religion misses when it comes to loss. I was contacted regularly this past year. Those letters. A phone call from Hospice. …How are you doing?Recognize that your mother is gone. Deal with her loss. It’s healthy to feel your grief. And, it’s part of life…


A lot has happened since Mom has passed.  Her grandson, Allan, welcomed what would have been Mom’s first great-grandchild. A baby girl, Grace Marlowe. The Mar named after Mom’s name, Marilyn – the low, after Grace’s maternal great-grandmother, Lorraine, who passed recently.

I can just hear what Mom would say. “I got top-billing!”  It would have been all about her. 

“Grace is a looker,” she’d say. “She’ll never have trouble finding a man!”

This past April, her only granddaughter, Hilary, got engaged. “It’s hard to think that you never met Nana,” Hilary, said to her fiancé, Oliver, recently at a family dinner.

“He’s a winner,” Mom would say. Proud that Hilary, who, like my mother, “got out there” and made a new life for herself.

She’d be proud of her grand-daughter-in-law, Anna, a wonderful mother to Grace. 

Mom, who loved men but championed women, would say: “See, even with the kid and the career, Anna still makes time for the husband.”

______________________________________
   
I shifted forward in the chair, my left hand holding the phone, my right hand splayed on my knee.  “Anna, Hank and I were on a hike today and this Monarch butterfly - it looked like the one Nana tattooed on her ankle- it flew right in front of me and I remembered your experience.”

Photo Credit: Hank
“Heath…”

 “I know. I wondered and turned to Hank and told him that you thought about Nana when you’d seen that Monarch in front of the garage. I told him to take a picture of it quick before it goes away.”

“Hank quickly leaned toward it with his camera, then, all of the sudden that butterfly took off from the bush and headed straight for me.”

“No way!”

 “And smacked right into the rim of my hat! Bam!” I laughed. “It’s like Mom was telling me to pay attention!  It’s been a year. Stop with the hair shirt and quit with the constant keeping busy. You’re like a shark. You can stop moving now. I’m gone, but I’ll always be with you. Relax for Crissakes.”


On July 26th, my year of mourning will be “officially” over. 

Time to celebrate that butterfly with the knowledge that Mom is all around me. That she knows Grace. Knows Oliver, and watches over all of us.

The signs are there. I’m paying attention now.  Her voice is in my head.

The evening of the 26th, Hank and I are going to a party celebrating my oldest friend’s fortieth wedding anniversary. Just a little over a year ago, we’d been at her son’s wedding when I got the call that Mom had taken a turn and needed hospice care. 

The year has come full circle.

And, how fitting to round it out at a party. My mother always loved a party. 

“Belly up to the bar,” she’d tell me. “And hoist a few for me.”

Cheers, Mom. Thank you…

Sunday, June 30, 2019

A Roll Of The Dice



We’re on a flight.  Usually, it’s a business trip.  There’s an itinerary. Where to be, and when. Lots of Hank checking his watch, hating to be late.  “What’s your timing, Heath.”

This time, though, it’s to our get away in Park City, Utah.

I look out the window. A ridge of mountains in the distance is peeking out from a layer of haze. Instead of my usual coffee, I’ve ordered a glass of wine. I want to relax. Be quiet, and reflect.

You see, in a few days Hank and I will celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary.  

And, we’re not on a business trip. I sip the white wine. It’s not good. Not even the kind I like, but who cares. It’s airplane wine, and it’s doing the job. Mellowing the hyper me. 

I look at Hank beside me, working on what looks like some sort of graph on his computer. It’s work. I press my hand on his arm, feel the soft cotton of his shirt. He gives me a smile, presses my hand, and returns to his graph. I rest my head on my seatback and go back forty years.


“I now pronounce you man and wife,” the Right Reverend Ollie Garver said, smiling. “You may now kiss the bride.”

Hank, lifts my veil and I take his wire-rimmed glasses off. We kiss for the first time as a married couple.

We walk back down the aisle, full of glee and innocence, smiling wide. Clueless.

And, so our life began.

Because, for me, my life did begin when I married Hank.

“Whom can you trust?” my mother’s therapist had asked her years ago when she’d been debating between two men after my father had left.

“Allan.”

“Then, you have your answer, Marilyn.”

And, I’d had mine. I married a man whom I could trust.

“He’s sane,” Mom had said after Hank proposed to me. “You’ll have a beautiful life with this one. He won’t cheat.”

At twenty-two what did I know? I knew I loved him, but I was twenty-two! Still finishing college when we married. Hank, just a few years older than me, was working but he wasn’t totally convinced that the music business was the path for him. 

“It’s a crapshoot,” Mom had said, “But I think you’ll be cool with this one.”

My mother had lived a life by then.  She could call it like nobody else.

Upon our engagement, Hank’s grandmother, MG, wrote a letter from her beach house, its address printed atop the page.  “I’m thrilled that St. James is the church you have chosen, as our wedding took place there over fifty years ago – maybe that’s a sign!!”

Hank’s grandparents. Affectionately named MG and PG. The lunches she’d prepare for PG at the beach. Little bits of healthy things on a china plate. Just like their marriage.

Hank’s grandmother, Nonnie.  The warmest, most generous woman. Her blue eyes twinkled when she spoke of her beloved deceased husband. She loved to gesture with her hands, the crowded charms commemorating all that had been right in her life, dangling off her linked bracelet like badges of honor.

Hank’s parents. Watergate. Challenged beyond what most married couples would ever have to endure. Yet, there they were. They’d weathered the storm. Solid and together.

I saw this at twenty-two. Marriages that worked. Something I’d never seen before, growing up in a chaotic home with only my mother to ground me until my stepfather came along. 

In her wild scrawl, my mother had written to me the night before my wedding on a torn piece of notebook paper.  “I stayed in bed with you six months while I was pregnant. So that I’d have you my whole life. I tried,” she wrote, “to do my best but it wasn’t that good. But I tried. Better than my mother – hopefully, you’ll do better for your daughter.”

“Remember, Heather, hope springs eternal – fear buries faith - boldness has virtue in it.”

I’m jostled to the present as we hit rough air and the seatbelt sign illuminates. I hold onto my glass, not wanting the contents to spill all over my jeans.

Flying is kind of like marriage, I think. Turbulence, then holding on, waiting for it to pass to move to smoother air and never really knowing what the rest of the flight will be like.

I look back out at the horizon as we pass over a patchwork of the Great Salt Lake. The pilot banks a turn. The horizon disappears and now it’s just the colors of the minerals in the lake out my window like a painting at the MOMA.

As the pilot announces our initial decent, I glance over at Hank.

This guy next to me. The crapshoot that I chose to wager with all those forty-years ago. The guy my mother told me to trust, who would be cool. The guy who would never cheat.

The guy I chose to build a family with, to fight with, to make up with. The guy I chose to love.

I’d rolled the dice.

And came out a winner.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Pitch

I wanted to turn around and go home as I made my way to the third floor of the Hilton near LAX.  The parking lot had been jammed. I’d snagged the last spot and had tentatively filed in behind all the other aspiring writers toting laptops, files spilled out of tote bags, and the ultimate accessory, a coffee in hand. 

I’m at a Los Angeles writing conference to pitch my manuscript to an agent.  I’ve got three ten-minute pitches with three agents in between the morning sessions. I’ve written and rewritten the pitch countless times after calling on two friends and my sister to describe my manuscript in their own words.

My oldest son, Allan, told me to focus on the book. “No gimmicky sell, Mom.  Just be straightforward.”  

On the drive over, I’d tried to memorize my pitch. “Forget it,” I’d thought after numerous flubs and missing my exit on the freeway.

Way out of my comfort zone, I continued to the elevators. “I’ve got to keep at it,” I’d told my husband, Hank, after learning about this opportunity.  “This book’s a hard sell, a ‘quiet read,’ but I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.”

All the triggers are creeping into my psyche as I check in at the desk. What am I doing! DO I actually think I have something to pitch? Is it good enough? Worthy? Look at all these writers. They have such a sense of ease, such a look of confidence. Perhaps they’ve been to this rodeo before, but I’m terrified!

I take a seat on the row of chairs facing the small ballroom that houses the agents. The carpet is a swirl of brown and olive green with random, galaxy-like circles ranging in size.  Who picks these hideous carpets? Is it to hide the stains?  This makes me smile, and I realize that humor is the tonic here. 

Around me, writers study their pitches, heads deep into a typed page, mouthing the words. Some are pacing. All shapes, sizes, genders and races and one writer has put his nametag on his dog, a large mixed-breed that he has brought today. “No gimmicks,” my son had said. I smile again.

“Ok!” blurts out a woman at the door. “All up for the 9:40 time slot!”

As they queue up, it hits me. This is f**ing American Idol for writers. Look at them, these last-minute contestants, rehearsing the pitch, adjusting a skirt, deep breathing and shifting their weight side to side. 

Who, I wonder, will get a golden ticket – the ticket to representation!

I feel the tension rise at 9:48 when the doorkeeper calls out the two-minute warning and the 9:50 group inches closer to the double doors.

Dim the lights.

“Exit right if you’re happy and left if you want to cry,” says the doorkeeper.

A writer directly in front of me is staring at himself in the floor-to-ceiling mirror.  Young-ish, he’s dressed “artsy” in designer skinny jeans, trendy sneakers, and a camouflage backpack. This one’s not starving, but clearly ambitious as he mouths his pitch in the mirror, his hands, emphasizing key points. A pointed finger here. Arms outstretched there.

I’m fascinated. Who can do this in front of people? Five minutes. Ten minutes. He’s still at it in the mirror when the doorkeeper yells the final call for 9:50. 

With one last look, he winks at himself and dashes for the double doors.

I’m competing with this? 

As my 10:00 time-slot ticks closer, my mouth becomes dry. My stomach is in knots and I stand to join the lineup that has just been called. I smooth out the paper nametag (my last name misspelled with an added “r”) stuck to the lapel of my blouse and wait.

“Ten o’clock,” the faux Ryan shouts. “You’re up!”

I straighten my shoulders as I walk through the double doors. “You got this, Heath,” I tell myself, and search for my first agent.

I make my way through the maze of one-on-one tables, a placard identifying the agent. I find my first agent and take a seat. We greet each other formally and before I start the pitch, I look back at the doorkeeper.

“I’ve just got to say before we get started, this is frigging American Idol. You’ve even got Ryan.”

She burst out laughing and my fear melted. Just like that.

“Be you,” Hank had said before I left that morning. “You’ve done the work. That’s enough.”

Dim the lights…



Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Return to a Ritual

     I’m seated in an annex to the right of the nave with its own little altar. A beam above illuminates a modest depiction of Jesus on the cross, giving this smaller rendition a sense of quiet awe. 

     St. Andrews is Romanesque Revival, large in scale with thick rounded columns and high arches. The long pews that grace the nave are empty today. It’s almost noon on Wednesday during Holy Week and the Church is all dolled up. In front, there’s a thick red ribbon in swag across the entrance in recognition of this special time in the Catholic faith where Palm Sunday starts the week, followed by Holy (Maundy) Thursday, the retelling of the story of the Last Supper. On Good Friday, the church gathers in remembrance of Jesus’ death on the cross and Easter Sunday rounds out the week celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

     I take a seat and wonder what to do.  Now what? Do I kneel? I don’t really remember the rites of Catholicism.

     My eyes settle on the rose-marbled column next to me. Then, to the grey-marbled steps that lead to the small altar. I study the striations. Strangely, this quiet, cavernous church calms me.  My eyes lift to the altar and I’m flooded with memories of attending Catholic schools for thirteen years and all that came with it - mandatory masses, the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, and staying in the pew, alone at Communion time, as my baptized Catholic classmates queued up to take the wafer,  “the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”

     So, why as a non-Catholic, do I return?  I’m Episcopal. Why a Catholic church?  Especially, given the scandals in the Catholic Church at present.


     Religion for me is all over the map. Just this past July I was moved by the Rabbi whose soothing voice brought the news of my mother’s passing on that 4:00am call. It was this same Rabbi who greeted us at The Jewish Home For The Aging an hour later, who comforted me as I approached my mother’s room, where she lay, to say my last goodbye. This Rabbi, so gentle and kind, so needed that morning.

     “You do death well,” I’d told him later. “I’m converting.”

     “It’s a lot of work,” he’d laughed. “You sure?”

     Gratitude pulled me to St. Andrews today.  Last night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I wondered if I’d even thanked God for the good things – a grandchild on the way, my husband and children happy, and in a good place, or even something as simple as the pink climbing rose outside our bedroom window. I know I sure as hell call on Him when it’s bad – he’s the Guy I pray to 3am when the “night thoughts” seep in like a leaky pipe. When I need solace. It’s as if I am reaching out for His hand to take mine and make it all ok when things have been tough.

But really, have I thanked Him lately for these blessings in my life? I stared into the darkness of our bedroom, wondering. Have I been so wrapped up in the good that I haven’t needed Him? 

As the sun came up with the morning choir of chirping birds, I woke with a mission. I needed to check in with the Man upstairs on His turf. What is termed, His house.

I believe that one’s house of God can merely be in a garden, or, perhaps a space in your head. I don’t think He really keeps score that way, but I’m here now in a Catholic church though I’m not a Catholic, and am thanking Him.

I’m not a regular churchgoer of any stripe, just a woman raised in Catholic Schools who is revisiting that strange comfort in ritual I’d found as a child.

It’s just a moment, a time, and a day in a week when I feel the need to stop and take stock. Things are good now and yet, I know that life is a series of ups and downs and things can change on a dime. But, for this moment, this day, it’s good. 

I cross my legs, place my hands in my lap and say a silent prayer.

Soon, the church bells ring in the noon. A petite, dark-haired woman around my age approaches. “If you’re staying for the weekday mass at 12:05, it’s in the chapel.”

“Thank you,” I say. 

I wait, hands still clasped in my lap. My eyes scan the small annex and I watch her leave through the double doors that lead to the chapel. Should I go? I tell myself I’ve done my thing and that God doesn’t keep score.

But I need more today.

          I rise and head to the chapel.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Dog Of The Week



Eying the Mason jar filled to the brim with white entry slips, I hand the leash over to the staff behind the front desk. Tucker, our eleven-year-old Puggle, has already dashed to the back.

Tucker loves doggie daycare.

I peer at the snapshot of the “Dog of the Week.” This week it’s a Bulldog, his thick tongue out in defiance. Is that a gleam I see in those doggie eyes?

I sigh, turning to the staff. “Gee, Tucker has never been Dog of the Week and he’s been coming since he was a puppy.”

“Really?” one of them says. “We adore Tucker!”

“It’s random, you know,” another pipes in. “Customers fill out the entry slips with their dog’s name and we pull one from the jar every Monday. It’s a fresh start every week.”

“Yeah, I’ve done the slips, but Tuck only comes when we’re on the road, so my odds aren’t as good as the daily borders.”

The young blonde staffer with a purple streak looks up from her computer.  “Yeah, some of the regulars fill slips out every day they come.”

“Really?” I say, reaching for a slip and a pen, my competitive mode already rearing its ugly head. “Every day, huh?”

“Some of them,” she smiles.

“Let’s see,” I say, filling out the slip. “Today’s Saturday. You pick the winner on Monday morning. My chances are good this week, right? Or, do you get a lot of check-outs on Sunday?” 

A black lab bursts through the door with his owner clinging to a tight leash. “Coco!” the staff says in unison. Coco’s tail wags wildly when one of the staff comes out from behind the counter and takes his leash.

I move to block the jar from Coco’s owner’s view as she hands over neatly bagged meals to the blonde. One less entry slip…

“So,” I say to the two remaining staffers after Coco’s owner is safely out the door. “I’m such a loyal customer.  Been here since Tucker was a puppy. How has he missed being “dog of the week?”’  

I fold Tucker’s entry slip and place it in the jar on top of the others. “Here’s Tucker’s entry slip,” I tell them. “Right here on top. You know,” I say with a wink,” right here on top. Easy to pick.”

“It’s not rigged,” they laugh.

These women behind the desk are great. They know me by now.  At the beginning of October, they’ll ask what Tucker will be for Halloween. The doggie daycare contest is looming and, for me, it’s an all-out war to have Tucker win that thing.

“Oh, of course!” I say. “I know you guys run an above-board place here,” I add. “I’m not one of them,” I gasp, with a devious smile.

I’ve followed the college admission cheating scandal, obsessed with the stories. Who does this? How do they sleep at night? Their children were admitted to college on a cheat – through the “’side-door!’”


“I was never like this with my kids,” I tell them.  “You know, like one of those awful parents with the college scandal, trying to get my dog the coveted spot!”

“You are so funny,” they laugh.

“No, really! It’s true! There was no “side-door” to college for them and certainly no donated building! And, I can’t even remember what they were for Halloween. My kids say I got this way after they left. Now, it’s all about Tucker.” 

Do I detect doubt in their expressions? 

As I leave, I toss another reminder to them.  “I sure hope Tucker wins some week….”


                                                ______________________________


Two weeks later, I’m notified. 

“Congratulations! Tucker is Dog of the Week!” 

And, I wonder, where can I get a “My-Dog-Is-Pet-Of-The-Week” bumper sticker?