Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Stealing

Sunday Stealing: The End is Near Meme, Part Two

21. BIGGEST LIE THAT YOU'VE EVER BEEN TOLD? I'll answer regarding quantity vs. content. Back in the days when I was a boss, I had an art director who lied to me about everything. For no particular reason. For example, he once told me he was an only child, yet another coworker had met his brother.


23. WHO DO YOU PHONE MOST? It used to be my mom.

24. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB? Babysitter.

25. WHAT WERE YOU DOING BEFORE SUNDAY STEALING? Sorting my laundry and paying bills. (I know, I know ... sexy, huh?)


27. WHY DID YOU FILL OUT THIS SURVEY? Because fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and I gotta post.


29. WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF ALCOHOL BECAME ILLEGAL? Buy bootleg hootch from speakeasies.

30. HOW MANY KIDS DO YOU WANT/HAVE? Kids just were never in the cards for me.



33. WHEN DID YOU LOSE YOUR VIRGINITY? At about 8:30 on a late summer Sunday evening.

34. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON, WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU? Of course. I consider it a party just to be near me.

35. DO LOOKS MATTER? Yes. More than they should.


37. WHERE IS YOUR SECOND HOME? The local movie theater.


39. DO YOU USE SARCASM? Moi? Jamais!


$1,000 and a trash can

I stopped by my mother's house for a few hours today. I was in her laundry room -- washing, rewashing and re-rewashing my two new pairs of jeans to reduce rub off -- and decided to work at emptying out that part of the house.

I filled up one of her alley garbage cans with three black Hefty bags full of stuff -- shoe polish and half empty bottles of window cleaner and clothes lines and spray starch and, oh, hell, I don't even remember what all. Then there was the bag of empty bottles that I was able to salvage for the recycling bin. Believe it or not, this took two hours. At this rate, we'll never get it emptied for the reverse mortgage company in time. So I told my kid sister she simply has to hire someone to help her.

We have $1,000 now to put toward that we didn't have earlier. Found some savings bonds from 2001 that I gave my mom but she never used. We were co-owners so I can cash them at will. While they will certainly come in handy now, I wish my mother had used them herself in life. That's what they were for, and they might have relieved some of her worry about money.

Oh, and $1,000 is the princely sum my older sister is putting toward our mother's funeral. That's 10%. I don't know how she thinks that's fair. But I'm trying to let it go. In the scheme of things, while this is undoubtedly going to be a pinch in the short term, a couple thousand dollars is really not that big a deal over the long haul of one's life.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

It needs to be said

I've been so distracted by personal events this week that I completely ignored the passing of Andy Williams.

He's been mentioned at least a half dozen times on this blog over the years, usually in regards to autumn or Christmas. His voice is packed with memories to me. So, to borrow from Arthur Miller, "attention must be paid."

He had 21 Gold albums and three Emmy awards. And even though in later years he seemed to morph into a RWNJ, he will always have a spot in my heart for his wrenching performance of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" at Bobby Kennedy's funeral mass.

Rest in peace, Andy.

Saturday 9

1. When did you last feel down and out? When I read Bud's introduction to this week's Saturday 9. Makes me feel very sad to see this chapter come to a close. I feel as though I know him and I'll be losing a friend.

2. What do you do to feel sexy? I don't "do" anything because I either feel it or I don't. Sometimes I feel it at the most inappropriate times about the most inappropriate men. If only it was something I could switch on and off like the hallway light.

3. Do you think people think you are normal? Most likely not. But, as my best friend likes to say, "what does normal look like?"

4. What have you always wanted to do? Remodel my bathroom! I will someday, too. As God as my witness, I will one day rid myself of that Pepto Bismol pink bathtub!

5. What do you appreciate the most about your life at this time? Not a lot. I've hit a rough patch. My mommy died earlier this month and the enormity of that statement has yet to hit me. Things are not going well at work. Along with my mother's passing came incremental financial responsibilities. Sometimes I want to scream ... except I don't have the energy. (Sorry, but you asked!)

6. If you could be somewhere else, where would you be and why? Philadelphia, ca 1992. I was very much in love and filled with hope for the future and the country. ("Don't stop thinking about tomorrow ...")

7.  Have you ever made a fool of yourself? If yes, spill. Oh, please! I am such a klutz! It would require a second blog for me to catalog all the times I've embarrassed myself by a fall, stumble, drop or dribble.

8. How often do you feel guilty? A lot lately. My mom's death brings up a lot of unwelcome feelings. Mostly guilt about people I should call back or write to and haven't because I just can't. I have a strong desire to move on, to face forward and simply recall happier times with my mom. But there are quite a few people who mean well but want to talk about IT -- her final illness, death, and the gruesome family aftermath of the funeral and now trying to empty her house. People's feelings are precious and I don't like how casually I appear to be treating them. So I feel guilty.

9. Give us an example of what you’ve done when feeling low self-esteem. I fake it. I'm utterly tone deaf and to hide this fact, I only mouth the words when called upon to sing in public. That includes hymns at church, "Happy Birthday" and The National Anthem at Cub games. (As luck would have it, I have not had to face singing "Go, Cubs, Go!" very much this season.) I view that as a metaphor. When I have low self-esteem, I pretend I'm fully participating and know what I'm doing.


This weekend's challenge:  Take one of your former Trifecta or Trifextra 33 word entries and build upon it with another 33 words. 

I revisited the challenge from August -- to write the last 33 words of my book -- and then added the 33 previous words. I enjoy the exercise of working backwards and seeing where the story takes me … in reverse.

The bailiffs surrounded him. He removed his watch and that gold stud I gave him long ago and handed them to the public defender. He very nearly maintained his dignity despite the handcuffs.

Twenty months will grind inexorably by until it brings us to the next shared moment in our sad saga – and when Sam is released from prison, I’ll be there, waiting at the gate.

Friday, September 28, 2012

998 miles

That's how far apart my best friend and I are.

He's getting depressed and feeling isolated as his unemployment drags into its third month. I came unglued today when I thought a client reorg would put me among the ranks of the unemployed, as well. We spoke for about a half hour, me pacing around the lobby of my office building because my office itself is filled with three coworkers.

I wish we could be together. We get one another and, since we're both suffering, we could comfort one another.

But it is what it is. We'll have to settle for email and phone.

Thump thump, thump thump ...

I opened the mailbox, saw the envelope, and my heart started beating out of my chest. It's the company that holds the reverse mortgage on my mother's house. We have to let them know what we're going to do by either October 13 or October 19. (The 13th marks a month since my mom died, the 19th is 30 days from the date of the letter.)

I know what we're going to do. We're going to give them "the deed in lieu of foreclosure."

The thing of it is, the mortgage company gets to then decide when we have to vacate the property, and my kid sister seems to think Christmas is doable. That's simply not going to be good enough. She's feeling overwhelmed and sentimental about everything, but our deal was this -- since she can't pay for any of my mother's funeral expenses, she'll empty out the house. Now I'm going over there tomorrow for a few hours to help.

This also means I have to deal with my older sister in a matter regarding money and control.  Never a good time.

Oh, and the bill for $6,400 is waiting for me at my mother's house. That's how much we still owe on the funeral, and doesn't count the $4,000 I already paid. I know someday I'll get much of that back, but it's still a daunting sum. My older sister has vacillated between telling me she'll "make a dent in it" (whatever that means) or she won't pay anything on it. We'll see which one she'll be. In the meantime, I have to proceed as though she's not paying any of it.

Thump thump, thump thump …

Things didn't go well at work today. The client is reorganizing on their end and I don't know what impact this could have on my employment. I really can't afford to lose my job right now. At first my boss was not especially forthcoming or supportive about this, but then later in the afternoon he told us it will all be good and besides, none of the big changes will come down for a year. Okeedoke. I don't know if I believe him, though.

Thump thump, thump thump …

Thursday, September 27, 2012



This TT is a golden goodie blast from the past -- a repeat of a 2008 valentine to one of my favorite movies. I have been writing about classic films a lot lately, and often the movies considered "the best" are ambitious, highbrow and inaccessible. Here's one that's entertaining, well made, and intended to be nothing more than a good time. It succeeds beautifully!

Author/screenwriter William Goldman famously said of the film business, “Nobody knows anything.” Much of this trivia and many of these factoids about Die Hard back that up ...

1. The original “coming soon” poster for Die Hard didn’t include Bruce Willis’ face. Executives at Fox were worried that the press he’d received recently might turn off moviegoers. These “problematic” news stories included …

2. The many high-profile feuds on the set of the Moonlighting, which was being shot during the day while Die Hard was filmed at night … and

3. The $5 million Bruce received for the movie, a damn near unheard-of salary nearly 25 years ago, especially for a TV actor who had no box office successes under his belt. There was much snickering and smirking (how appropriate where Bruce Willis is concerned) about no actor being worth that much and "who does he think he is" and Fox and Rupert Murdoch must be crazy. But …

4. The studio quickly realized what it had on its hands with Willis/McClane and switched to the poster you see here.

5. When a suspicious LA cop casts aspersions on McClane’s credentials, saying that for all anyone knows “he could be a bartender,” it’s a reference to Willis’ previous profession and the fuss about his Die Hard salary. One of the industry rags had a headline that ran something like, “$5 million & 5 years ago he was tending bar.”

6. Director John McTiernan had worked with Arnold Schwarzengger in the past and hoped Arnold would take the role of John McClane. Happily, Arnold turned it down.

7. Second choice Sylvester Stallone turned it down, too. Rumor has it Stallone thought that the McClane character had too much dialog. (In years to come, Arnold, Sly and Bruce would become partners in Planet Hollywood.)

8. So did third choice Burt Reynolds. Imagine McClane in a dirty, torn t-shirt and a toupee. Shudder!

9. So did fourth choice, Richard Gere – rumored to be a favorite of the studio but not the director.

10. McTiernan encouraged Bruce Willis to ad lib, and among his more memorable unscripted contributions are, (as he crawls through the vent) “Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs” and (as the firetrucks approach Nakatomi Tower) “Come to papa and I’ll kiss your effin’ dalmation.”

11. McClane’s signature line, “Yipee-ki-aye, MF,” was considered too intrinsically American for European audiences and before the movie was released in some countries, it was dubbed in as, “Here, eat this!”

12. All the action takes place overnight, rather than in the afternoon as originally written, because Bruce was working on Moonlighting during the day. Most of the film was shot on location in an actual LA skyscraper (Fox Plaza), and making the Christmas party an evening affair instead eliminated a lot of lighting problems.

13. Bruce Willis and Demi Moore were married in Las Vegas during the filming of Die Hard. Ashton Kutcher, then aged 10 and not yet able to cross the street by himself, was not in attendance.

For more information about 

the Thursday Thirteen,

or to play yourself, click here.

Paramount Centennial Blogathon

Sponsored by The Hollywood Revue, this Blogathon is celebrating the illustrious history of Paramount Studios.

Robert Redford and Sydney Pollack. Independently they have/had spectacular careers, each with two Oscars. Redford will forever be The Natural and The Sundance Kid. Pollack directed Tootsie and had pivotal roles on-screen in several films, including Michael Clayton. Together Redford and Pollack were a great team, giving us The Way We Were, Jeremiah Johnson, The Electric Horseman, Three Days of the Condor, Out of Africa and finally the underrated Havana.

Both men were so powerful and so prolific for so long that it's hard to think of them as anything other than successful. Yet there was a time, at the beginning of their careers, when they struggled. And it took a glamor girl using her clout to give them credibility with Paramount. The result is entertaining, if not successful.

In 1965, Natalie Wood was definitely A-List. Her transformation from enchanting child to alluring adult captivated the American public. Many of her recent movies -- Gypsy, West Side Story, Splendor in the Grass -- sold tickets. Her love life -- Elvis Presley, Robert Wagner, Warren Beatty and now David Niven, Jr. -- sold magazines. At this point in her career, she had a great deal of good, old-fashioned star power.

And she was wielding it to get her dream role. Wood always admired Vivien Leigh's portrayal of the sexually powerful but emotionally frail Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire. She longed to do something just as literary, just as seductive, and she believed she found it in Alva in This Property Is Condemned. After all, it had the same author and a similar heroine. She wanted it, and Paramount gave it to her.

For her leading man, she handpicked Robert Redford. He had a few films in the can, including Inside Daisy Clover with Natalie, but was not yet a star. Many studio execs shared Richard Burton's assessment that he just didn't have what it takes to catch on (decades later we would learn from his diaries that Burton was glad Redford dropped out of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Hammersmith Is Out because he found the younger actor lacking). Still Natalie believed in Redford and, just as important, she liked and trusted him. Her tumultuous personal life had her "dancing on the edge of a cliff." (Biographers agree that there was a suicide attempt at about this time, though there's no consensus as to exactly when). She believed that being surrounded by those she felt a connection with was vital if she was to give the performance she believed she was capable of.

When This Property Is Condemned came to Natalie, John Huston was "attached to it." But he envisioned the movie with Elizabeth Taylor (a Tennessee Williams actress of the first order) and Montgomery Clift. Natalie Wood and Robert Redford simply were not in that league.

So now Natalie was without a director for her dream project. Redford recalls being the one to "sell" her on his buddy Sydney Pollack. The men met as actors on War Hunt (1962). Pollack moved on to direct a great deal of TV and The Slender Thread, an as-yet unreleased film starring Sidney Poitier and Anne Bancroft. She liked Pollack's established rapport with Redford and his frank assessment of the script ("It can be improved," he said, unimpressed by either the Tennessee Williams pedigree or the studio-approved Francis Ford Coppola script doctoring) and she saw to it that Pollack got the nod. Like Redford, she trusted Pollack completely and felt that, with these two watching her back, she could let herself go and be as daring as Leigh had been in Streetcar.

Filmed on location in Mississippi, This Property Is Condemned is told in flashbacks. It begins with two kids (Mary Badham and Jon Provost) wandering along the railroad tracks. The girl, Willie Starr, explains that the gaudy junk jewelry she wears belonged to her sister Alva, once the most beautiful girl in Dodson, back when Dodson was bustling, as opposed to the virtual ghost town it has become.

Willie recalls one of the many nights when Alva (Natalie Wood) was the "main attraction" at the Starr Boarding House. A party is in progress, and no one seems to notice the stranger, Owen Legate (Redford) in search of a room. As young Willie tells it, she takes Owen under her wing, introducing him to Mama (Kate Reid), who shows Mr. Legate to his room and then encourages him to join the party.

Legate stands back and observes. He sees Alva making out with a partygoer in the back while town boys drive up to the front call out for her. Disturbed by the boys' attention and protective of her big sister, Willie tells them to go on home or she'll get her Mama. "OK," one of them jeers, "we'll take Mama instead." The atmosphere is thick with competition between vibrant Alva and faded Mama.

Legate watches Mama and Mr. Johnson conspire to get him "settled" with Alva. Mr. Johnson is a wealthy married man from Memphis. His wife is an invalid and unable to show him affection. He will take care of Alva, as well Mama and Willie, too, if Alva will be his mistress whenever business brings him to Dodson. Alva is not interested in dull Mr. Johnson. She is, however, intrigued by the handsome stranger, Legate.

Alva finds him in the quiet kitchen and they spar. She believes she can captivate him with the same hair twirling, tall tales and saucy banter that enchant Mr. Johnson and the boys of Dodson High, but Owen puts her in her place. She furiously returns to the party and into the waiting arms of the local men who work on the railroad (including Robert Blake in a small role) by day and patronize the Starr Boarding House by night.

After the party, Alva visits Owen in his room. She admits that she was "fibbing" before, trying to impress him by appearing worldly. She doesn't consider it was lying because she dreamed of a life beyond Dodson so often, she almost believes she's lived it. Owen seems more bored than attracted, adding that if she is "included with the room," he hopes that can get on with it because he has to get up early in the morning. Alva runs to her own room in tears. Owen sees her for what she is, and it hurts to see it reflected in his eyes.

The next day Willie latches on to Owen, as she considers him her friend and appreciates the respect he shows her. It's hard to get any attention in a household that includes Mama and Alva. Willie walks him to his mysterious job as "efficiency engineer" at the railroad office.

Mr. Johnson comes to the boarding house for another date, another attempt to seal their deal. He gives the still reluctant Alva jewelry, but she can't bring herself to accept it. Instead she excuses herself and finds herself looking for Owen. They hide out in the garden, where Alva tells Owen that the long-absent Mr. Starr abandoned his family.

Alva wants to daydream her Papa, but Owen steers the conversation back to Mr. Johnson and their arrangement. He pretty much calls her a prostitute and it enrages her. She runs back to the house and loudly -- loud enough for Owen to hear -- announces that she's going skinny-dipping. Mr. Johnson is shocked, but Mama and her boyfriend JJ (Charles Bronson) and many of the other Starr Boarding House residents join in.

Nude in the dark water, JJ sidles up to Alva and makes it clear that he prefers the daughter to the mother. Alva distractedly brushes him off, hoping that somehow Owen can see this display of her desirability and is jealous. Instead it's JJ who is jealous, and tells Alva that Owen is management scum, there to throw them all out of work, spelling doom for Dodson and The Starr Boarding House.

Alva returns to the boarding house with her wet clothes clinging to her and confronts Owen. He admits it all and says that tomorrow most of the workers will be let go. He tells Alva that this frees her, that there is nothing holding her to Dodson, and that she's better than the life her Mama has planned for her. They spend the night together. (This is the first example of the Redford/Pollack romantic archetype -- the remote object of desire who sees and appreciates the girl as no one else does; think Hubbell Gardiner and Denys Finch Haddon.)

Mama may be malevolent but she's also a survivor. She realizes layoffs mean the end of the Starr Boarding House. She springs into action and turns to Mr. Johnson with a new proposition: If he will pay for the tickets, she and Willie and most of all Alva will accompany him on his return to Memphis. Mama confirms that, once in the new city, Alva will be his "companion."

Owen wakes up with his own rescue fantasy. He'll bring Alva home to New Orleans and once they are married, they will send for Willie. There is no place for Mama in Owen's plan, though, and that makes him a threat to the old girl. While Alva is in the shower, Mama maliciously lets Owen know that Alva is "just wild" about Memphis and Mr. Johnson, implying that her daughter is, indeed, a golddigger and a slut and that the night before with Owen meant nothing to her. Disillusioned, Owen leaves for New Orleans alone.

Owen's hasty retreat leaves Alva confused and depressed. Mama and JJ take Alva and Mr. Johnson out to celebrate their last night in Dodson and poor Alva gets drunk -- very drunk -- and reckless. At dinner, in front of Mama and Mr. Johnson, Alva asks JJ if he really wants her more than her mother. It's a dangerous game since, like Owen, JJ is a man she cannot control. He confirms he wants, all right. She says he can have her, right now, tonight, but only if he puts a ring on her finger and gets her away from her mother's clutches once and for all. (This is Wood's best scene.)

The next morning a very hungover Alva wakes up with JJ, horrified to find herself in a life she doesn't want. Desperate, she sneaks away with his money and their marriage license and pretends it didn't happen.

The movie isn't clear how much time goes by, but soon the flashy tramp from Dodson, Mississippi, is a polished, New Orleans fashionista. She tracks Owen down until he finds her and they pick up where they left off. It's a lushly filmed, romantic reunion, with Owen telling her, "Miss Starr, you were a missed person. Deeply missed."

Living together in Owen's tiny apartment, they are finally happy. One thing is missing, though: Willie. They send the girl a postcard, inviting her to join them in New Orleans. 

That was a mistake. For they come home to find that Mama has found them. Alva is struck dumb. She never told Owen that she married JJ, is probably married to him still, and that her new start in New Orleans came courtesy of the contents of his wallet. In the silence, Mama takes charge. She tells her oldest daughter/meal ticket to get her coat because they're going "home."

Owen is furious. There's no place for meddlesome Mama here. This is when Mama lowers the boom and tells Owen everything about JJ and that last night in Dodson. He turns to Alva and sees the truth written all over her face. She looks in his eyes and again, can't stand to see unvarnished reality reflected back to her. Wounded, she screams and runs out into the rainy night.

The film ends (rather too suddenly, IMHO) back in the present day, with Willie and her young friend on the railroad tracks. Willie explained that, as a result of that night in the rain, Alva caught tuberculosis and died, that's how Willie inherited her flashy jewelry.

The movie is more soapy than sophisticated. But it's also entertaining. The cinematography, sets and costumes are consistently high quality. Natalie is a beautiful, sympathetic mix of victim and vixen. Paramount believed it had a sexy Southern-fried hit on its hands. After all, they had a raven-haired beauty in a Tennessee Williams story (if not script) and, on paper at least, it looked like La Liz' classics, Suddenly, Last Summer and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. So that's how they promoted it. Natalie's slip is reminiscent of Maggie the Cat's lingerie and the swimsuit scene in Suddenly, Last Summer.

Unfortunately, the public stayed away and This Property Is Condemned (along with her two other 1966 bombs -- Inside Daisy Clover and Penelope) was the beginning of the end of Natalie Wood's film career.

But it also marked the beginning of genuine stardom for Redford. His next two films were Barefoot in the Park and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Pollack's sensitive handling of Natalie Wood helped establish him a Cukor-esque actress' director and soon he was behind the camera with They Shoot Horses ... Don't They? Because of what Bob and Sydney went on to do, individually and together, This Property Is Condemned is one of Paramount's more influential films of the 1960s.

A sad footnote: While Natalie never worked with Pollack again, her path continued to cross with Redford's. Her second husband, Richard Gregson, produced Downhill Racer, and Redford was a groomsman at their wedding. She helped him out with a cameo in The Candidate. Which is why he was distressed that, the last time he spoke with her, he had to turn her down. She wanted the role of Beth in Ordinary People, his directorial debut. He wanted to help her out, understood what a difficult time she had finding good film roles. But he was committed, emotionally and contractually, to Mary Tyler Moore for the role.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I Want Wednesday

I want to be fully awake! I haven't felt completely in the moment since the night I went to see BROOOOCE, weeks ago. And even then, it was only during the concert itself.

Ever since my mom got sick over Labor Day weekend, I have been exhausted. I thought it was because I'm sleeping well, but I don't think that's it. I think maybe it's grief and stress.

I want to move along, move forward. But it hasn't even been a full month. My mind, heart and body have to do what they have to do to feel and process my mother's illness and death. I can pray and I can contemplate, but I can't speed it up. As my best friend keeps reminding me, I must take care of myself.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Me and my shadow

Some people cast enormous shadows across our lives. My uncle was one of them.

Today would have been his birthday. It's the second one since he died in November 2010, and the hardest so far.

Partly because he was my mom's baby brother and I just lost her. Partly because he had been so sick for so long (Parkinson's Disease) that his death was, in some ways, a welcome relief from his suffering.

But now that time has gone by and I have recovered from the reality of his passing, I'm left with his long, wide shadow.

I miss the terrible puns, told with such joy. And his athleticism -- before disease overtook him, he was good at every sport he tried, from swimming to running to skiing. And his smarts -- by and large we are not a family of deep thinkers but he had both intuition and brains (if not wisdom). And his curiosity -- he was self taught but expert on everything from numismatics to tropical fish.

When I was a little girl, I thought he brought magic with him every time he came to visit. I miss the magic most of all.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Hillary was right

As I post this, I'm watching Bill Clinton on The Daily Show and, as always, the Big Dog has me enthralled.  I'm paying attention to his hands and they are very expressive. I'm reminded of what The Missus wrote in her memoir, Living History:

One of the first thing I noticed about Bill Clinton was the shape of this hands. The joints are thin and elegant, the fingers long and refined, just like a pianist's or a surgeon's. When we met at law school, I liked to watch him turn the pages. Now his hands bear the marks of years; he shook hands with thousands of people, played golf and made kilometers of signatures.

Like working in a garden

I went into the office today for the first time since my mom died. Everyone knows I like flowers on my desk, and I was shocked and surprised to find two (TWO!) floral arrangements. One from "the team" and the other from, of all people, my least-favorite coworker, The Chocolate-Covered Spider! I was really touched. It occurred to me that we have only clashed twice this year. Maybe her thoughtful gesture is a wake up call for me, very Yom Kippur.

My golden pothos really thrived in my 1.5 week absence, too. My mother loved her backyard, so I like to think that I'm working in a garden.


Sad observation

Cancer Lady is smoking again!

I don't know her, actually. She's just often on my el in the morning. One of those commuters who stopped to light up as soon as she got off the train, even though the ride was less than 30 minutes. I noticed her absence for a few weeks or months, then she reappeared wearing scarves. She no longer smoked. When she abandoned the scarves, I noticed her once black hair was very, very short and tinged with gray. Her totebag bears a pink ribbon design.

Today she stopped again to light up. I wanted to slap her upside the head and yell, "What are you doing?" But I don't know her. I know nothing about her.

Still, it made me sad.

"We've missed you"

So began the email I received this morning from my health club. Well, I miss them, too.

Over the summer I suffered so through the heat that those months had a sense of unreality to them. I intended to start again anew after Labor Day, but then my mom got sick and died. So here it is, September 24, and yet it feels like August 54th.

I want to go back. I want to work out at least three times this week. You know, I swam laps  when I was staying in a Best Western in Madison, visiting my mom in the hospital. I remember how good that physical exertion felt. I think I'll sleep better and feel more alert if I can get back into working out.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

I must remember this

I like Yom Kippur. Atonement and repentance. As a Christian, I know I don't observe it the way my Jewish friends do (for example, I prayed about it this morning for less than an hour instead of a formal observation beginning Tuesday night). But while I regularly ask God to "forgive me my trespasses," it's important to recognize my shortcomings, own them, and forgive myself, too. Just as I must use my power of love and forgiveness to let others off the hook. (This doesn't mean letting them back in my life, it means letting go of the anger and blame.) This prayer also has an even greater impact as I consider my family in my new, post-Mom world.

I'm posting the Litany of Atonement so I can revisit it.

For remaining silent when a single voice would have made a difference, we forgive ourselves and each other other; we begin again in love.
For each time that our fears have made us rigid and inaccessible, we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For each time that we have struck out in anger without just cause, we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For each time that our greed has blinded us to the needs of others, we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For the selfishness which sets us apart and alone, we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For those and for so many acts both evident and subtle which have fueled the illusion of separateness, we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

Ambien and Xanax

I'm doing OK. I return to work tomorrow for the first time in a week and a half (3 days with the flu, 5 days of bereavement). I think it's time. I have to stop thinking about what my mother left us legally/financially and start facing forward again.

But mornings are the worst. If I sleep through the night -- which I'm doing thanks to the sleep meds -- then I wake up with my heart beating out of my chest because it's all still true. My mom is still dead. I still have to get through the estate stuff. So I take a Xanax.

It's not like my life was that hot before all this happened. I don't know what the future holds for me at work. My best friend is still struggling with his new jobless status. My oldest friend is still beleaguered by her troubled children. I'm still fat.
BUT this is my favorite weather. The heat is over. My cat Charlotte is OK. And my mom is no longer scared or suffering. That's a comfort.

My doctor thinks a week or two more of Ambien and Xanax is quite typical and will help me fake it till I can make it.

Sunday Stealing

Sunday Stealing: The Sparkling Beach Meme, Part 1

1. Ever been given or received an engagement ring? Yesterday I just received my recently deceased mother's engagement/wedding ring set. I don't know what I'm going to do with them. My older sister is being so hideous that I'm considering having our mother's rings appraised and then just hand them to my sister … provided that she just leave me alone about the money, the money, the money. It's wearying. She was my mother, not an investment.
2. Longest relationship? Too long. He wasn't a very nice man.
3. Last gift you received? Flowers from my oldest friend. They made me so happy!

4. Ever dropped a mobile phone? No.
5. When's the last time you worked out? August. I'm not happy about this. I think I would feel better and sleep better if I could get back to the health club.
6. Thing(s) you spend a lot of money on? Streisand and Springsteen tickets. Bruce was just after Labor Day. Babs is in October.
7. Last food you ate? Post Great Grains

8. First thing you notice about the opposite sex? Hair.
9. One favorite song? Ba-de-ya!

10. Where do you live? Chicago. The best city in the world.

11. High school attended: Yes. I hated it.
12. Cell phone provider: Working Assets
13. Favorite shop: The Body Shop
14. Longest job: I have been with this agency since 2004!
15. Do you own a smart phone? Why? No. My little phone works just fine for now.
16. Do you prank call people? No.
17. Last wedding you attended? My friend Barb's.

18. First friend you'd call if you won the lottery: My oldest friend.

19. Last time you saw your best friend(s) Christmas 2011.
20. Favorite fast food Restaurant: Five Guys

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday 9


1. What’s the best memory that you have of your dad, while growing up? He traded cars with a coworker, driving home in a station wagon. Then he turned down the backseats and took my favorite little classmate and I to see HELP! at a drivein. He wanted to make sure that we young Beatlemaniacs had plenty of room for screaming, crying, bouncing around, etc.

2. How boring do you think your life is? I wish it was more boring. I was named executor of my mother’s will, which gives me way too much to do in way too short a time span. Plus my older sister could not be angrier about this turn of events.

3. Can you do any accents? If not, do you know someone who is good at it? I am hopeless at this. However, I had a lover who was exceptional. He had a million of ‘em, but my favorite was when he’d call me, pretending to be Bobby Kennedy.

4. What technology did you at first fear that you now could not live without? You’re lookin’ at it!

5. Do you, or have you ever, thought you have a book in you? Oh, I dunno. I write ad copy for a living. I’m not sure I even want to try to write a book. It might just feel like an extension of my job. Maybe when I retire …

6. How does the weather effect where you live? It doesn’t. Everywhere has its extremes and natural disasters.

7. Are you more interested in your favorite artist’s next work, or the TMZ side of it all? Depends on the artist. With my beloved Boss, Bruce Springsteen, his work is all I need to know. On the other hand, I just like Jennifer Aniston very much and news of her recent engagement made me happier than some of her movies have.

8. Have you ever felt “battled-scarred” by a relationship or relationships in general? If yes, do tell. I wasted too many years on a genuinely hideous man. Every now and again he tries to contact me. I wish he wouldn’t. He’s creepy and cruel and I don’t trust him, even after all these years.

9. Do you tend to root for the bad guy? Well, Bonnie & Clyde is one of my favorite movies.

Ready for some good news?

About 15 years ago, my mother took a job as lunch mom at the local grade school. It made her very happy to be at the same school where her granddaughter, my niece, was beginning kindergarten. She made $10/day, which she put to her electric bill.

While there, she met another lunch mom. Lisa was juggling motherhood and nightschool and took the gig to see her son during the day and help out her household with a little extra money. Despite their 20+ year age difference, my mom and Lisa became friends. After a few years, Lisa moved on to her new career as librarian. She and my mom ran into one another in town every now and again, but they drifted apart.

Lisa showed up at my mom's funeral service last Sunday and remembered how much my mother loved her cat, Ethel. She found out that Ethel died a few months ago and that my mother had recently gotten a new cat, Nora.

Lisa asked if she could take Nora! She said it would be "an honor" to repay my mother's kindness in the way she believed Mom would appreciate most. Plus, Lisa's son -- the one she took the lunch mom job to be near -- is now in college and will be moving out soon. She believes it would do her good to have a furry friend to help her ease into this new phase.

I am so relieved! I figured I'd have to take Nora, because clearly that's what my mom wanted. But I didn't want to. Nora has been through a lot -- from shelter to my mom's house, and then my mother's absence due to hospitalization and death, knocking around in that big house all by herself. And so has my own high-strung cat, Charlotte. I was so worried about the impact Nora would have on my delicate old girl.

Nora went home with Lisa last night. To a forever home. I'm so grateful for how this turned out.

Friday, September 21, 2012




You know her: The dark-haired beauty who bedevils the fair-haired heroine. Stylish and smart, she was always a formidable foe, but -- movies being what they are -- she never wins. In short, spicy Gail Patrick helped make such leading ladies as Carole Lombard, Ginger Rogers and Irene Dunne seem twice as sweet. Her screen persona is clearly illustrated in three of her most famous films: My Man Godfrey, Stage Door, and My Favorite Wife.

My Man Godfrey (1936). At the center of this sublime screwball comedy are the Bullocks, a Park Avenue family has more eccentricities than sense. Gail Patrick is sophisticated Cornelia, the sister who has to win at all costs. The inimitable Carole Lombard is adorable Irene, who has so much heart and humor that they crowd out common sense or killer instinct, making it easy for Cornelia to best her at every opportunity … until a new butler, Godfrey (William Powell). enters their lives and puts his thumb on the scales, tipping them in Irene's favor.

Unlike the guileless Irene, Cornelia is smart and scheming and makes no attempt to hide it. At one point she requests a favor of her current beau, he automatically asks, "Who do you want killed?" She dismisses this comment as silly, not because she's not that kind of girl but because, "I do my own killing."

Cornelia is a beautiful woman, so it's not impossible to imagine men preferring her to the luminous Lombard. In Gail Patrick's best scene, Cornelia makes a serious play for Godfrey. He responds by telling her how he feels about her, calling her a spoiled "Park Avenue brat" who wastes her energies on childish pursuits that are beneath contempt -- even the contempt of a butler. Because Cornelia admires Godfrey, his words hit her like a whip. She visibly winces but then replies haughtily, "Thank you for a lovely portrait." Naturally, we're glad our hero Godfrey sees Cornelia for the selfish scorpion she is and prefers Irene. But the way Patrick plays it, we're touched by her sad attempt to retain her dignity and we find ourselves pulling for her despite ourselves, hoping that she will see the light and turn her life around.

Stage Door (1937).  Instead of an heiress, she's a working girl, just another aspiring Broadway starlet in a very full rooming house, waiting for her big break. While the movie stars the indomitable Katharine Hepburn, Gail Patrick's Linda finds herself tangling not with Kate but with Ginger Rogers' Jean.

Linda and Jean are dancers who compete not only for musical-comedy parts, but for the attention of the much older and very influential producer, Anthony Powell (suave and slimy Adolphe Menjou). As the movie begins, Linda is Powell's current "flavor of the month." Linda relishes this not only because it can advance her career, but because Powell is showing her a life she could never afford on her own. It also gives her prestige in the boarding house. And remember, Linda is sharing space with some very formidable roommates -- in addition to Hepburn and Rogers, the stellar cast includes Lucille Ball and Eve Arden.

It would be easy for Patrick to get lost amid all these  smart-talking dames, but she doesn't. She rises above, working so hard to command respect that she never sinks into villainy. Yes, she's sleeping with the producer to further her career. The movie is rather frank about that. But she's also sympathetic because Linda clearly realizes how tenuous her position is. She attempts to hide her desperation by appearing tough and confident, even when confronted by a pretty blonde replacement (Rogers' Jean).

The scenes between Linda and Jean crackle with tension, because (1) each recognizes how worthy her adversary is, and (2) the prizes at stake -- a modicum of financial stability and even better, a part! -- are so rare and dear in their world.

Linda: If you were a little more considerate, maybe Mr. Powell would send his car for you someday. Of course, he would probably take one look at you and send it back … You know, I think I could fix you up with Mr. Powell's chauffeur. The chauffeur has a very nice car, too.

Jean: Yes, but I understand that Mr. Powell's chauffeur doesn't go as far in his car as Mr. Powell does.

Linda: Well, even a chauffeur has to have an incentive.

My Favorite Wife (1940). At last it looks like Gail Patrick gets the man. And, oh, what a man! At the beginning of the movie, her Bianca Bates marries Nick Arden, played by none other than Cary Grant. But romance never runs smoothly for typical Gail Patrick girls, and Bianca is no different.

The film opens with Bianca and Nick trading I Do's before a judge. Nick has just had his beloved wife Ellen declared dead, a full seven years after she went missing at sea. While Nick and Ellen were once happy together and had two lovely children, he believes it's time to move on.

Unbeknownst to Nick and Bianca, Ellen Arden (Irene Dunne) has just been rescued from the Indonesian island where she's been shipwrecked all this time and she's on her way to back to a joyous reunion with her husband and children.  Uh-oh!

After she receives a tip from Nick's sympathetic mother, Ellen takes off for Yosemite, hoping to interrupt Nick and Bianca's honeymoon and reclaim her man. Just as the elevators close, taking him and his new bride to their hotel room, Nick catches sight of Ellen. But it can't be! He just had her declared dead! Naturally, he's shaken.

After quite a bit of charming slapstick, Nick realizes that Ellen is indeed back, healthy and whole, and he's thrilled to have her. But now he has two wives. What to do?

The contrast between heroine and interloper is so clearly drawn, it's as though director Garson Kanin and screenwriter/producer Leo McCarey used a thick, black magic marker. Irene Dunne is fair-haired, Gail Patrick is dark. Dunne's character is the homespun Ellen, and Patrick is the more exotic Bianca. Ellen is a loving mother, Bianca is childless and, at best, a dubious stepmother. Ellen was able to thrive on a deserted island, whereas Bianca couldn't survive without room service. The sophisticated Bianca calls on a foreign-born psychiatrist to help her understand Nick's sudden coolness and erratic behavior. Ellen is a well-adjusted, neuroses-free All American Girl.

So while the movie itself is funny and endearing, in My Favorite Wife, Gail Patrick found her quintessential, and most thankless, role. With Bianca she's not so much a character as a clever plot device. Yet she acquits herself admirably. Nick makes it clear that Bianca was good to/for him after he "lost" his wife and, if he's not exactly in love with her, he appreciates her and doesn't want to hurt her. So it's Cary Grant's humanity and charm in the role of Nicky that engenders sympathy for Bianca, not the script.

A full career after movies. In 1947, at the age of 36, Gail Patrick married literary agent Cornwell Jackson and walked away from acting. A lifelong diabetic who found childbearing difficult (she gave birth to premature twins who lived only a short time), it's sweet and touching that upon her retirement she opened a playground in her home, an informal daycare for the children of working actors and actresses. She also took her lifelong love of fashion and turned that toward kids, designed a line of children's wear. Happily, she and Jackson eventually adopted two children to complete their family.

Then, in 1957, she returned to show biz, behind the camera. Her husband was Erle Stanley Gardner's agent, and that gave her a huge advantage when she wanted to bring Gardner's Perry Mason character to television. She executive produced 271 episodes of the extraordinarily successful show for CBS and Gardner's Paisano Productions.

She in died 1980 at age 69, but she lives on through the Gail Patrick Charitable Trust Scholarship. In her will, she left $1 million to the help "young women of distinction" continue their education, regardless of their finances. She is also remembered for lending her time and talents to the American Lung Association's Christmas Seals Campaign. "My Man Godfrey" would have been very proud of how beautifully "Miss Cornelia" turned out!


Three great bloggers/Twitter pals, Kellee (@IrishJayhawk66), Aurora (@CitizenScreen), and Paula (@Paula_Guthat), are co-hosting a celebration of character actors–those indelible supporting players who populate some of our favorite films. As they explain:

“[We] are dedicating an event to the great character actors that so enhanced our classic movies. To the faces, the laughs, the drama presented by these wonderful actors whose names all too often go unrecognized we dedicate WHAT A CHARACTER!
  • Would Casablanca be as great without the laughs provided by S. K. Sakall?
  • Would we want to look out Rear Window if not for the warnings of Thelma Ritter?
  • Can you measure how much Edward Everett Horton added to the fabulous Astaire/Rogers pictures?
We think these and so many others deserve their due. 
So, here we are with a blogathon in their honor.”