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On Unnamed Mannerless Males and a John

22 Feb

A man-boy with a plaid paunch slides into his car in the faculty parking lot and purposely drops a pile of fast food wrappers outside his open door. Why, I wonder, does he not get out and take those two easy steps to the nearby garbage can? Is it gas? Given the trashy leftovers he’s left behind, I imagine there must be something that doesn’t smell right coming out of him about now.

It is not just his lazy littering that causes me to pause. This is a university lot where I must first look out, not for oncoming cars, but for fresh splatters of saliva where the male population have hocked a mouthful onto the asphalt. The sound of a young man calling up a new wad of slimy phlegm in his throat makes me click my open toed wedges faster to my destination than the cover of darkness or any threat of a would be mugger jumping out of the bushes.

The lack of proper everyday etiquette amongst the opposite gender transcends social lines. It transcends race and even monetary ones too. No matter how many times I ask my husband and stepsons to refrain from doing so, they continue to loudly blow their noses in their napkins at the dinner table. During the summer they wear “wife beater” t-shirts making them not so unlike those exotic European women who suddenly lift their slight arms and shock the rest of us, at least those of us in the U.S., with heavy clusters of matted hair. My meal ruined, the sounds and sights of it all makes me almost dry heave.

As for my late father, a successful lawyer and businessman in his day, he never once spent a buck or two on a box of sticks with a dab of cotton at the tip. An absolutely pointless expenditure, he might’ve said. His house key dug far deeper and produced far more from his inner ear canal than something so dainty and decorative it’s collected in a glass jar on the woman’s side of the bathroom countertop. Not to mention his sturdy house key was environmentally friendly in the sense that it could be reused countless times over.

And when it comes to the bathroom, if a guy resides under this same roof, there is always to be found a well-stocked magazine rack. One time in class I asked a young male student where his textbook was and he replied reflexively, even unabashedly, “I left it on top of the toilet tank.” For upon the john is arguably where many a man experiences his biggest mental and otherwise bodily breakthroughs.

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The Mrs. has MS…the Difference Between Vows and Verbiage

22 Jan

Mitt Romney Newt GingrichMake no mistake, I am the annoying and unpredictable political Independent.  I have friends who lean right, many who lean left.  When my stepson had me take a test he’d heard about in his Government class he was stunned that my beliefs really do fall smack in the center of the populus circle – a target for some, alienated by all.  I don’t even tell my husband who I’ve voted for until after I step out of the voter’s box.

Watching the rapid succession of Republican primary debates, I’ve paid close attention.  When most recently the white haired former Speaker’s  face colored with indignation at a certain CNN reporter’s question, I stayed seated on my couch.  I did not rise to my feet with the South Carolinians.  Maybe as a shyster’s daughter I am accustomed to listening to raucous self-righteousness in defense of the one under attack, the underdog who looks as if he is unjustly accused.  Boldly my father would speak inside a court of law and successfully, artfully even, get quite a few clients off who were dead to rights.

But the truth is, like I suspect Newt Gingrich’s performance the other night, it was all an act.  There is no honor in leaving your wife who has a debilitating disease.

Granted it was Newt’s second wife, so he did have some practice in learning how to leave a marriage.  Okay, I get that.  He met and fell in love with another woman.  But if a man is to be judged by his word then shouldn’t Mitt Romney deserve a little credit for keeping his vows as a husband?   His wife was diagnosed over a decade ago with coincidentally the very same disease.  He did not cut and run.  Instead he and his wife live with her disease like so many other couples do with various hardships whether it’s health or financially related.

So what is the fear in finding this part of Mitt Romney’s character admirable?  Is it because he might be wearing ill fitting Mormon underwear beneath that well tailored suit?  To be fair, Romney and his wife are not the only longstanding political couple who look as if they are still in love. There are unscripted moments when President Obama looks at the First Lady like he still cares deeply for her.  If I am going to vote for a candidate for president who will keep his word, I am going to vote for either of these two men who have proven to at least one woman that he can do just that.

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Don’t sit so, don’t sit so, don’t sit so close to me…

24 Oct

A young couple at Yard House is so obviously hot for each other that they’re publicly banging body parts, elbows that is, in the booth near my friend and me.   It’s Happy Hour on a Friday night so they are not the only two seated in the crowded restaurant this way.  The guy is left handed and noticeably he’s having a tough time cutting into his bloody steak without jabbing his bubbly female dinner companion right in the breast. While he must enjoy the heat of the two of them sitting so close, he must also move his knife carefully, daintily even.  I doubt he’ll ever get a real mouthful before the whole meal goes cold.

My friend Michelle rolls her eyes.  She’s been married close to twenty years to her high school sweetheart.  “Seriously,” she says.  “How is sitting side by side more intimate?  They can’t even see each other.”

A big production about this most strange foreplay position with couples and food was made in the film “Date Night.”  A boring husband and wife from the burbs had lost their sexual edge because they no longer shared the same lap napkin.  Instead they preferred sitting across from one another in order to hold a conversation.  After a madcap night in Manhattan where implausible events occurred they, of course, renewed their love by morning, sitting side by side in some greasy spoon.  We are to assume satisfying sex soon followed.

But does my friend have a point?  Maybe.  I have had the unfortunate experience of sitting beside a man (whom everybody said was gay) at a dinner event as I felt him place an underhanded, and dare I mention clammy hand on my thigh.  Another time as a teenager, I was enduring the tail end of a movie on a bad date with a fifteen year old who sweated a hand print into the fabric of my jeans.  Neither of these instances brought me any closer to these two awful males even though I was mere inches away.

How we communicate, how we first even fall in love, happens through the meeting of our eyes.  And if relationships are to last, if a leisurely meal is to be shared, shouldn’t it occur without possible injury – without clashing cutlery or suffering a neck cramp from an awkward turn in a booth that offers a much better, more comfortable view?

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Some of my favorite lines in literature…

08 Sep

I never grew up, but I got old.

– A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, Michael Dorris

“‘The marvellous thing is that it’s painless,'” he said, “‘That’s how you know when it starts.'”

– “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Ernest Hemingway

The changes began on a Wednesday, miercoles, the day that sounds like miracles.

– The Speed of Light, Elizabeth Rosner

“Now I can come down..”  And he did, right into the center of the yellow net that glowed in the evening’s edge like an overgrown halo.

– “The Conversion of the Jews,” Philip Roth

The last time my father calls is shortly before the anniversary of his disbarment to tell me he’s just cheated death.

– The Shyster’s Daughter

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About that mean old white lady with the yellow toenails…

07 Jul

The other day I was getting a French pedicure when an elderly woman in white see-through capris and granny underwear threw a childlike tantrum in the middle of the local nail spa.  She was ten minutes late for her appointment and was furious that she now had to wait.  “That’s not very nice of you,” she spat at the kindly Asian man who owns the place.  “What are we having here…some kind of language problem?”

What I hear loud and clear, whether it’s out of the thin-lipped mouth of a racist patron like her or the rotund man with the sweaty brow who spent five minutes (I timed him) bawling out a waitress in a steakhouse because his medium rare meat wasn’t pink enough, is that our society has contracted a sick form of rudeness.

There are hardly ever any apologies that go along with bad behavior.  And if there are, they are not exactly genuine.  Although one of my students out of over five years of teaching did share that once when he worked at Macy’s, a woman called later, maybe two weeks later, to explain her volatile outburst that rocked the dinnerware department.  She was a photographer who had taken pictures of the aftermath of 9/11.

At work I’ve had someone inexplicably curse at me while I passed her in the hall.  Apparently she was in a foul mood and didn’t like the smell of my Chinese take-out lunch.  My husband who once wronged the wrong person was warned through an email of that cryptic cliche’ – Karma is a bitch.  While he doesn’t believe, I do.  On days when I sense it most, I wear an evil eye bracelet I picked up at a Greek festival to ward off the darkness that just might be coming at me in the seemingly inoffensive guise of a female senior citizen in bright white capris.

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Why Oprah insists on getting Frey-ed again…

17 May

Lately I’ve been hard at work on a draft of my literally thriller I’m dead set on finishing by the end of summer, yet I feel the need to stop for a moment and comment on James Frey’s assertion on “Oprah” that most memoirists do what he did i.e. LIE.  If you know anything about Frey’s publishing record, his wannabe memoir “A Million Little Pieces” had first been schlepped around the big houses of New York as a novel.  Only after receiving numerous rejections and a pivotal suggestion from a higher-up did he do the lowly thing of defrauding readers by passing his novel off as a memoir.  This was the act of a desperate writer.  The title of his other “memoir” that’s no longer even billed as such with the bright pink cover I’ve thankfully already forgotten.

As the author of a memoir set to come out next spring about my complicated yet loving relationship with my father, a defense lawyer who inevitably was disbarred for embezzlement, I take offense.  While I have done things such as change names, some locales, and physical characteristics, I’ve stuck to the truth as I remember it.  Make no mistake – this is not the “emotional truth” as some memoirists like to hide behind when they feel they’re about to be caught in a corner of their own creation during a panel at a writer’s conference or on “Larry King Live” as Frey did a few years back.  At the time Oprah was naively still on board voicing her influential support behind Frey via a live on-air phone call.  I’m assuming that besides the spike in ratings, this private embarrassment, not the public flogging he endured later, is why she’s brought him back to her show.

I have written a personally accurate narrative about my past derived by memory, photos and literary leg work.  What a novel way of contructing a memoir.  Do memoirists cut time in their narratives, re-imagine people, conversations and scenes?  I would hope so.  These are the techniques of the creative writer, not a lazy one who semantically spews all over the page and calls it artful steam of consciousness. The truth is Frey was never a memoirist.  He was and is a successful enough fiction writer.  Good for him.  But it would be refreshing if for once he could just stick with the facts.

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ZYZZYVA Reading Saturday 5 p.m. May 14th at Skylight Books in Los Feliz

13 May

Please come to the reading this Saturday at 5 p.m. at Skylight Bookstore in LA.  Vanessa Hua and I will be reading from our works that are featured in this spring’s journal.  Laura Cogan, the new editor of ZYZZYVA, will be there as well to discuss the interesting directions this very cool and edgy outlet for west coast writers will be taking.

Skylight Books

1818 N. Vermont Ave.

Los Angeles, CA

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Flip Flops Can’t Outrun a Bat’s Wings

07 Apr

Close to sundown one warm spring evening, I make the mistake of still being out walking my dogs.  Instantly I look up at the pine trees.  This is when they come out – from under the cover of needles and shade – the hairy airborne creatures that are supposed to hang upside down in caves.  Suddenly one drops down from the tallest branches and flutters rapidly, if not unsteadily, straight for me in its blind flight.  Before I can stop myself, I hit the asphalt.

Leo, my big teddy bear of a dog, strains on his leash and turns around and around, barking at my sudden fall.  No doubt I have scraped up my knees.  But I do not have time to check for blood or gravel in my wounds.  In defense, I throw my arms up in the air, a grown woman causing such a childish commotion, until I shuffle all the way home in my flip flops.

When we first moved in, we found in our mudroom what I thought were mouse droppings left in strangely high places.  In actuality I later learned they were from bats known to migrate to this area during spring and later returning briefly at the end of summer.  No matter how stifling it may get in there, I insist on keeping the doors to the mudroom locked after dark.  The rest of my family resisted until early one morning as I entered the kitchen to make coffee, a bat swooped down from the rafters and landed on the screen window.  This time it was so close I saw the rough fur on its back.  My screams woke up everyone.  An elderly neighbor dialed 911.  No coffee was made and I waited at Starbucks until I was reassured that the bat flew out on its own through the front door I’d left flung wide open.

Many times in my life I have confronted things that have terrified me whether it be a rabid student or relative, even my former neighbor’s Rottweiler.  But I have never been able to fully control my fear of bats.  Maybe it’s my hairdresser who likes to tell stories that sound more like urban legends while I sit still in an adult version of a booster seat while she snips at my wet hair.  Over the years she’s told me the story of when she was at a gas station bathroom in the desert and a tarantula fell from the towel dispenser and landed right smack in the palms of her hands.  Or the time another client of hers got a bat stuck in her updo.  It clawed and bit at her scalp until her husband knocked it unconscious with one of his wife’s garden tools.  My hairdresser laughs at the horror on my face through the mirror.  “Don’t worry, Paula.  You don’t use too much hairspray.”

Most of my family and friends find my phobia of bats quite funny.  My mother has gone so far as to buy me a Beware of Bats sign made out of wood with a stake at the end to plant in the yard.  Instead I’ve hung it on the front door to ward off those flying spirits.  But it is my friend’s adorable young daughter and what she will think of me that convinces me, however temporary, to suck it up as I hold my breath and follow her brave lead inside the wall to wall bat exhibit at the Central Park Zoo in New York City.

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First things first, about that second wife of yours…

20 Mar

It was early on when my husband was getting his recent memoir published that he was told that although his wife was a published writer her full name must not appear on his book because it would look like self-promotion.   “Haven’t you seen the way some of those back covers look?” this person said.  Yeah, I have.  They look like a couple of writers who respect one another enough to have their names and status as writers on eachother’s books. One of my favorite writers, Jeanette Walls, writes in the inside dust jacket of her most recent book that “She is married to the writer John Taylor…”  Because I go by my maiden name Priamos, I just naively assumed I would include my husband’s last name (and my married name)  on the back cover of my memoir when it comes out next year.

The proper publishing etiquette between writer spouses is very confusing to me.  When my husband’s first memoir came out in paperback I was asked by the publisher to write rather informally in the P.S. section in the back about what it was like living with Jim while he wrote the book.  I will forever be grateful to that publishing house for requesting that of me, even including my full name and the fact I was a writer, even before I had any national publications.  How daring of them.

Maybe I’m touchy about this subject because as the second wife those who have known that other woman who came first make snap judgments.  If you’re younger, they laughably assume you’re a gold digger?  Yes, that professor’s paycheck after taxes and alimony and child support leaves quite the financial hole of which to crawl out from.  The two of you couldn’t possibly have gotten together because you fell in love?

If they’re particularly rude and crude like one pompous, white-haired writer was at an event we attended, he’ll take your hand and say, “Oh, I didn’t know you had a daughter.”  Good one.  You’d think a man who’d won the Pulitzer would’ve come up with dialogue a little less cliche’.  Apparently it is I who lacks literary couth for assuming my husband and I could share our true identities, not only as real flesh and blood characters inside the covers of our respective memoirs, but on the outside of them as well.

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To Live or Die on Highway 189 in the San Bernardino Mountains

22 Feb

On Highway 189 where at least two young church goers might have just lost their lives, I, too, have quickly become religious, making the sign of the cross as my car slid down an icy turn.  Spirituality is usually a selfish act on my part, spurred on by an uncontrollable situation I find myself in.  And this time was no different.  I remember how stunned the man driving towards me in the oncoming lane was to see I’d left my wheel, however briefly, in the hands of a higher power.  Ironically, I watched him mouth the words “Oh my god.”  I’ve lived up here long enough to know that hitting the brakes would only make things worse and that no matter how illogical  it sounds, it’s far less destructive to continue on in the pathway of the slide instead of fight it.   As it turned out the driver and I passed one another within mere inches, a grateful nod shared between us that we avoided the headache of a head on collision.

This area of the 189 is treacherous because it is a place where the sun rarely strikes.  It is where I have suddenly become late for work because a bus full of the elderly just jack-knifed shutting the route down altogether.  It is where I once spotted a pair of taillights flashing in the brush and called in what I saw to the Sheriff’s station.  Later I found out that there had been a person trapped inside and that the jaws of life had to be brought in. The woman working the desk said I might have saved a life.  But I felt more guilty than heroic because a part of me hadn’t wanted to pull over and bother hunting for bars to appear on my phone.  A part of me had nearly kept on driving.

Yesterday afternoon having come back up the mountain after visiting with a friend, I encountered two CHP squad cars obstructing the entrance to the 189.  The graphic scene of the bus accident that killed two and airlifted several others to nearby hospitals with shattered bones and internal trauma wasn’t what drew my fingers to my chest again in a real effort of prayer.  The wreckage was hidden down in a ravine.  It was the eight gleaming news vans with their extended antennas parked all around, which signaled the accident  was catastrophic.  The last time TV reporters gathered in such force it was to cover the death of a young boy who had been swept right off a picnic table, right in front of his family’s eyes, by a mudslide that buried within minutes an entire Christian camp not so far from here.

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