Don’t Make Me Break Out the Big Gun…

09 Jul

“I’m going to come into your bedroom and rape you,” threatens the man on the other end of the line.  It’s the middle of the night and I’m fifteen, maybe sixteen, though my voice sounds much younger, a child’s voice.  This pervert has hit pay dirt by reaching someone like me.  Even today people who don’t know me call my home and ask if they can speak with my parents.  Only seconds before I’d been dead asleep positioned like a corpse in the center of my bed with my hands folded on my chest, the way I always sleep, yet now I’m sitting upright, fully awake, as alive as I’ll ever be.

Is this guy just a sicko with his pants down getting his wood up by randomly calling numbers and waiting for whoever picks up or does he mean what he says?  Is he standing outside my bedroom window right now?  Has he been stalking me?

But then something interrupts all that panic.  It’s an overwhelming sound that every night penetrates the shared plaster wall separating myself from my father.  It’s the sound that makes me sleep most nights with Kleenex crammed in my ears.  It’s the sound of my father’s thunderous snores.  And I remember what’s in his walk-in closet, how it’s filled with business shirts and suits hanging in their dry cleaning wrap and leaning against one wall is a big black shotgun, the safety still on, one bullet in the chamber.  “Just in case,” my dad likes to say.  I’ve witnessed my father carrying that loaded shotgun as he walked the perimeter of the house the night we heard on the news rapist Kevin Cooper escaped from the prison just a few miles away from where we live.  There is no doubt in my mind my father would’ve used it that night had Cooper broken into our home or now if the man on the line suddenly made his way through my bedroom window.

Instead of crying out in fear or pulling the phone cord out from the wall to prevent the pervert from calling back, I slide deeper down in between the sheets.  The man’s breathing remains rapid but mine, it’s slowing down now.  “Do it,” I dare him.  “Come into my bedroom and my father will blow away your sick, creepy ass.”  Maybe it is the sureness in my voice backed by the cold hard steel of the barrel my father will point at this guy’s chest that prevents him from calling back.

The number of violent sexual acts against women in this country is staggering.  My mother knows of a woman who lived alone and awoke to a man in a ski mask standing in the doorway of her bedroom, a knife in one hand, a loop of rope in the other.  On her nightstand was a handgun which she quickly grabbed, firing off a shot.  The intruder ran off, knocking over a lamp in her family room on the way out.

I know of a man who insists he can protect his family with an aluminum baseball bat.  But what if there’s more than one intruder?  What if there’s no chance for the element of surprise?  What if the intruder has a gun and the man with the bat is just left standing out in the open of his family room swinging at air, waiting to be shot and killed?

One night when I was alone with my stepson who was only around seven at the time, I heard my dogs barking wildly at the front door.  I live in a safe community in the San Bernardino Mountains and sometimes I’d forget to lock the door.  “Who is it?” I shouted.  There was no answer, just the sound of my dogs  continuing to bark.  I stood up from the couch and watched helplessly as the doorknob slowly turned.  Thankfully, I’d actually locked the door this time.  I then ran up the stairs to my bedroom, pulled out my husband’s shotgun from its hiding place and loaded it fast with a couple shells.  Then I instructed my stepson to come out of his bedroom and crouch down beside me in the kitchen while I stood behind the counter, readied my shoulder with the weight of the weapon and directed the barrel at the front door.  There was no father to protect me, no husband, no man, period.  Make no mistake, I’m not a gun toting Republican.  I’m a registered Independent who weighs both the Right and the Left and always finds myself right smack in between.  That night in the kitchen, though my legs trembled, my hands remained steady and in some strange way I’ve still never felt safer.






Prized Pugilists, My Father and a Man Who Dresses Like the Color of a Pinata

08 Jun

With the Cotto vs Martinez fight now over, I can’t help but think of the man who raised me, a man I wrote an entire book about, a man whose death literally knocked me to my knees. There were no ropes to clutch onto for support. No one positioning me on a stool in a corner shouting what my next move would be. That morning everything was off its angle.  I was alone in my grief, afraid to come up off the floor, my canvas, because the world as I knew it only seconds before was no longer right.

My father and I loved debating politics but we also loved watching prized fighters.  I can remember the first time I bet against my father and won. It was the fight somewhere in Asia between champion Iron Mike Tyson and a quaking lunk of a challenger named Buster Douglas.  “Dad,” I said, as I watched the fighters dancing in place in the ring.  “Looks like Tyson’s metal has turned to blubber, especially in the chest.  He could use a training bra for those suckers.”

The more sarcastic I got the more my father would smile.  It meant he and I too were going toe to toe even if we were in actuality just seated on the edge of the couch with a bag of potato chips between us, watching HBO.

“You’ve just increased our bet by ten bucks for that one,”  he warned me.

I can’t remember which round it was before my father had to accept defeat and reach into his wallet and hand me one twenty and that extra ten dollar bill.

Another time we were with my uncle at his beach house and I bet against both of them.  It was Tyson again and neither of them had learned their lesson.  Tyson’s opponent was a well muscled Evander Holyfield with a whole lot of God on his side and a win against “Iron Mike” already under his belt.  At least a hundred bucks was in the pot on the coffee table as Tyson in a desperate act to end a fight he knew he was losing  leaned in close against the side of Holyfield’s face and bit down on the man’s ear.  After the shock wore off, my father just laughed, reclining in his seat, crossing his arms at his chest the way he did whenever he was trying to figure something out.  “How’d you know, Paula Girl?”

And as I swept up all those loose bills with both arms it is that moment when I was thinking about how to respond that brings me to last night’s battle between the Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto and the champion Sergio Martinez from Argentina.  Cotto, his career on the brink with one too many losses, humbled himself by switching to basically the best trainer in the sport a year before.  During a pre-fight show he is filmed training before dawn for the fight in unexplainable attire – black and bright pink track pants, matching Crocs?, jumping rope or walking with weights tied to his ankles in a pool, punching at hard water.  But just because a man dresses with the colors of a pinata doesn’t mean he’ll allow himself to be beaten like one.

While Martinez with his perfectly coiffed bed head is seen still sprawled out catching some Zzzzs in bed.  Because he holds the title belt he doesn’t believe he needs to put in the extra time and begins his workouts well after 10 in the morning.  This cocky carelessness of a defending champion is also one of the primary reasons why Martinez went down three times in the first round.  It is why he gave up before the tenth.  It is why I kept winning those bets I’d playfully, I’d lovingly take with my father.

“Because he lost his heart for the sport,” I answered.


A Quick Critique of Chris Mann’s Concert Last Night…

24 Nov

First off, I’ve never watched “The Voice.” While I’ve listened to Adam Levine and Maroon 5 and some Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton is a little too grits and creamed corn country for my taste.  And I have no idea who the shady (his sunglasses, not his character) Cee Lo is or what he’s contributed to the music industry.  So the many references Chris Mann made throughout the night about his finalist status on the show with the revolving red chairs, well, it fell on my deaf ears.  I could’ve cared less.

Here’s hoping Chris Mann one day stops caring, too.  The moment he came out on stage in a pressed suit and tie, belting out not only the classics like “Ave Maria” and his own creations, an emotionally driven song titled “Roads,” he was his own singer.  A rather small guy in stature, his great big voice literally took up the entire theater.  Trained at a music school for the opera, he performed songs by Andrea Bocelli and Nelson, yes Willie Nelson, in multiple languages.

Mann also had a sense of humor.  At one point he looked down at the audience members seated in the pit of the first row and made a crack about the odd angle they had of his body.  The joke about saying the name Rancho Cucamonga where the theater is located fell a little flat as did the good-natured heckler in the audience who made fun of him being from Wichita, Kansas, “Is that in the U.S.?”  But the back and forth Mann shared with his talented pianist was a lot of staged fun.  When the pianist played too frenetically, obviously showing off, Mann quipped, “He’s only twenty-four.”

As for the aftermath, who knew a singer of the classics (who rightly so ridiculed himself for insisting on singing a Dan Fogelberg song) had groupies with full on signage and squealing included?  A long twisted line trailing around one side of the theater awaited Mann where he was to come out and meet the audience.  And while I didn’t brave an uncharacteristically cold, windy So Cal night to meet the singer, I came to hear his rendition of the classics.  I did leave with his new Christmas CD.  His “muscle,” by the way, a big Mack truck of a guy who was shadowing Mann while he signed autographs, who most bouncers probably would allow to remain unruly inside any bar, was all too helpful in exchanging the CD the girl handed me that had a cracked case with a new unblemished one.


Reviews for The Shyster’s Daughter

03 Oct

This look back at a family divided by divorce, geography, and grief crackles with tension, but also locates humor in their excesses and drama.  The narrative is flecked with several gathered quotes from family, clients, and others under the heading, “What They Told Me After He Died,” and the quotes are as dark and funny as the story itself…meeting the author’s family is an illuminating and sometimes disturbing journey the reader won’t forget.

– Foreword Magazine (Fall Issue)

The Shyster’s Daughter is a fascinating, quick and wonderful read.  Similar to Jeanette Walls’s The Glass Castle, Paula provides her readers with a very well-written take of her coming-of-age and adulthood occurring in the shadow of all her father’s and family’s immoral acts.

– Literary Hoarders book blog

In The Shyster’s Daughter Priamos has plied the best attributes of his trade to reveal the mysterious and intriguing personality that was her dad.”

– Women’s Memoir

Priamos’s ambitious and successful effort to meld two stories happens in a book called The Shyster’s Daughter, where she performs the big leap over timidity and skepticism to make her own life story a bigger one indeed…a self-described noir detective memoir, something evoking Nathaneal West or Joan Didion.

– O.C. Weekly

In The Shyster’s Daughter Priamos peers into the motivations of her family members with a rare and enticing frankness that distinguishes her work from that of other memoirists.

– ZYZZYVA literary journal


Strange Encounters of a Religious Kind…

03 Sep

It happened at the Book Expo in Los Angeles.  The woman, eager to spread the word of L. Ron Hubbard, stood before me with a smile, blocking my way.  In her hand was the Scientologist’s version of the Bible, weighty and protected in plastic wrap. “You’re a professor I see,” said the woman, glancing down at my ID badge.  This was before my memoir was published.

“Yes,” I answered with hesitation.  Her eyes popped with so much energy I instantly wanted to bolt.

“You need to stay with me,” she went on.  “Hear me out.”  Her mouth shaped every syllable like she was saying the vowel sounds to a kindergartener.  “You’re an important person in society because you communicate using the English language.”

Part of me wanted to sarcastically point out that everybody mingling about in that Southern California convention center no doubt was communicating like she and I were right then in English, but I was a little leery of how she might react.  Instead I thanked her for pushing a copy of Dianetics on me and went on my way, ignoring her open invitation to attend a closed meeting “at the Celebrity Centre.”

Another time I was driving down a busy street and witnessed a young guy in a button down shirt and tie, riding a bicycle, get hit by a car that was speeding into a mobile home park.  The cyclist’s helmet was knocked off by the impact.  As for the car, it slowed but did not stop.  Quickly, I parked at the curb, grabbed my cell phone and ran to help the cyclist.  A young guy around his age, also dressed up and on a bike, was helping him up off the ground.

“Are you sure you should move him,” I said.  “I’ll call 911.”

“No,” the uninjured guy said.  “There’s no need for that.  He’s fine.”

“But he should be checked out,” I argued.  “He could have internal injuries.”

The young guy who’d been hit could hardly stand.  He looked at me, afraid.  Clearly I put a scare into him.

“No,” the uninjured one said again.  He had the same amazed look I’d seen on the Scientology woman’s face when she stopped me. “God will take care of it.”  And with that unbelievable line he retrieved the helmet, and insisted the boy who was struck by an old Camaro struggle to get back on his bike and pedal as fast as he could away from his own hit and run accident.

It’s hard not to pass judgment on a religion that denies medical treatment for one of its followers, denies justice for that matter.  The police should’ve been called and the callous driver in that beat up car should’ve been arrested.  In this country there is freedom of religion.  There is the freedom to not file a police report and let a guilty person go free.  There is the freedom to aggressively peddle a religion whether it’s on a bicycle or standing in the way of an unsuspecting professor’s path while she’s out browsing for books.  But is it any wonder to these extremists why some of us push back?


Memorable Comments I’ve Heard So Far On My Book Tour…

22 Jul

“Your memoir has the pull of John Grisham and the meatiness of Hemingway.”

“I seriously haven’t read anything like this.  You pretty much created your own genre!”

“Before you make any assumptions about her (me) you need to first read the book and then read her blog.”

“Your legs (I’m in a miniskirt) they look…airbrushed!”

“I love your story, but I feel so insulted on so many levels, I’m not sure I’ll buy your book.”

“How does it feel to have a father who is a sociopath?”

“Are you sure you’re old enough to be writing memoir?”

“I can relate to your story because I’m a daughter who lost her father way too soon too.”

“I read your book in two nights straight.  I kept trying to figure it all out along with you.  You’ve written something real special here.”


Saturday, July 21st at 3 pm – Reading at Cafe’ Aroma, Idyllwild

13 Jul


Friday, July 20th 7:30 pm – Reading at Skylight Bookstore

13 Jul


My Mid-Calf Love Affair with Michael Kors’ Shoes…

14 May

It could be a lot worse, I tell my financially conscious husband.  A fifty thousand dollar fully loaded BMW (which he owns) or an even pricier Porsche Carrerra.  Maybe thousands of dollars worth of face and chest work.  In the LA friendly mountain town where I live I have run into an unfortunate Hollywood actress whose brow appears as hard and indestructible as military armor and let’s get real, some women just don’t know which consonant to stop at when it comes to forever faking their breast size.  C or D, ladies.  C or D.

But what I have on is something that’s aesthetically pleasing, temporary too.  They strap on lightly at the ankle and have much finer measurements.  1 1/2 stacked from the toe and four inches at the heel.  Smooth vachetta leather.  They even come in the color cognac.  I also own a black pair too that I bought at Mr. Kors’ well-lit signature store in Manhattan.  The sales woman was diligent enough to call downstairs and double check just in case they actually had my size, the most popular size that everyone else on the floor reassured her they were sold out of.  She must’ve recognized that look on my face for this Southern California native will never be a tourist, at least not when it comes to a MK store.

My husband thinks I wear Michael Kors heels because they elongate my legs or enhance the shape of my bare calf and, I don’t know, maybe I do.  But I also wear them with jeans.  I wear them to the grocery store and to the post office.  Sometimes to the movies or out to yogurt with him.  At a recent book event another female writer whispered to me during a reading,  “Sorry I keep staring, but your shoes are fantastic!”  I nod with all seriousness, with the faintest of smiles as if she’s referring to the deeply moving prose of the author reading his work at the podium.

And on that trip to New York, I return to my hotel room with my recent pair of platform sandals and I put them on for my friend, my girlfriend who doesn’t wear heels.  But she asks me to take a turn in them because she’s surprised I move so easily and sturdily, and we laugh as girlfriends do who get ready together to go out at night or stay in with take-out pizza, watch a bad movie on Netflix or talk for hours over glasses of Merlot.  We are at an age where confidence becomes us, it defines us.  Whether or not we dare to stand tall in platforms or down with the rest of them in flats, it is our business and we do not dress up for no man, no woman, nobody other than ourselves.


A Father, His Underage Daughter and Eddie Rabbitt

08 Apr

I see the ad in the newspaper – Eddie Rabbitt is playing live at the Crazy Horse Steakhouse and Saloon in Santa Ana. In the past I’ve thumbed by announcements for bigger, iconic country stars like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and even the cool man in black, Johnny Cash with hardly a thought. But this singer is different. From clunky eight tracks, to cassette tapes I had to reel in with my fingernail to razor thin CD’s and now iPod’s, I’ve grown up listening to Eddie Rabbitt’s mostly upbeat music in the car with my entire family and then later with just my father.

Without asking if he wants to go hear Rabbitt play, I suffer through rush hour traffic on the 55 freeway to get to the ticket office at the Crazy Horse. My father and I haven’t seen much of each other even though we still live under the same roof. He is a defense lawyer and spends most of his time in court or at a prison visiting a murderer or rapist. I’m in my second year of college. This is a year or so after my parents’ drawn out divorce is finalized and she moved with my younger brother and older sister literally to the country, to Tennessee where we own a second home.

My father is genuinely surprised in a good way when I show him the tickets even looking up from the family slides he pours over and over again, getting drunk with emotion and alcohol. My father is a Greek so instead of a tall beer it’s a short glass of ouzo. He doesn’t expect his daughter to want to spend time with him not heartbroken like this. It seems my father is caught up in his own bad country song, in love with a woman who no longer loves him, reliving a life that is no longer his.

But for a couple hours at the Crazy Horse my father will have no other choice but to sing a different tune. The sign is what I see first on our approach the night of the concert. Built in 1977 the Crazy Horse must’ve once stood alone in the dark with its trademark sign visible from the freeway, a bucking horse lit yellow through a loop of red lasso. My father’s old diesel Mercedes doesn’t fit in a parking lot full of Ford and Chevy pick-ups, some even attached to empty horse trailers.

The line getting into the venue is long and my father, usually impatient, tonight waits without complaint. He’s in a suit having just come from court. Once we get closer to the doors, I begin to panic at the warning in bold lettering, barring anybody under 21.

“Dad,” I say as if my father needs reminding. “I’m only twenty.”

I had assumed that because the Crazy Horse had a restaurant section that served everyone the concert wouldn’t be restricted.

Now my father looks impatient. “Don’t worry, Paula Girl. They won’t even notice.”

And they don’t. Not after he says our last name is no longer Priamos, it’s Franklin and he distracts the ticket taker with a c-note.

We are led to our table in the concert room that resembles a real life saloon with swinging doors and hardwood floors. There are wooden tables and sawed-off chairs, too. Thanks to my father’s tip we are seated smack center in the front mere feet from the slightly elevated stage and bar stool where Eddie Rabbitt will sit and play. Next to us at the table is a middle aged man with a diamond studded horse shoe pinky ring. He’s wearing a Stetson and a suit with western style stitching with his date, a busty blonde who is about to bust out of her fringe suede vest. My father must truly be beyond the pale for my mother because he doesn’t give this woman or her tanned breasts a second glance.

Shortly after my father’s beer and my virgin strawberry daiquiri are served, Eddie Rabbitt comes out on stage with his band Hare Trigger. He’s in jeans, cowboy boots and a simple button down shirt. No ten gallon hat that swallows half his head and his beard is neatly trimmed. He’s not your typical country singer. Eddie Rabbitt is from New Jersey.

When Rabbitt performs I see the change in my father’s face that he’s for once not thinking of losing my mother. He’s simply listening to the music. My father’s favorite song is “Driving my Life Away” and while he’s never been coordinated enough to dance, not even at his own wedding, he manages to drum his fingers to the beat. At one point when there is canned thunder, horses whinnying and lightning with strobe lights for Rabbitt’s song “I Love a Rainy Night,” my father catches my eye. We both think it’s tacky. It is in this intimate setting with complete strangers that at least for the duration of a three and a half minute song I get my father back.

At the end of the decade, not long after my father passes, the Crazy Horse will shut its doors in Santa Ana and reopen at the Irvine Spectrum. The owners wanted a place that could hold more fans, adding a balcony, flanking the sides of the stage with video screens. For a while the new Crazy Horse is wildly popular. Yet the lease is not renewed. It is, after all, not so far away from Fashion Island. Eventually an Old Navy clothing store will take its place.