Friday, July 30, 2010


The view from our living room windows is pleasant, with trees, houses, and sidewalks. Apparently that is all I ever notice. It seems that I take everything out there for granted, and my eyes are truly unseeing. Agatha Christie would have never written about someone with my observational skills! THERE HAS BEEN A RED CAR PARKED OUTSIDE OUR HOUSE FOR THREE WEEKS.

My husband brought this to my attention yesterday. “That car has not moved in three weeks.”

ME: “What car?”

HIM: “That red one. Hasn’t moved.”

ME: “Well, call the police.”

HIM: “I did. It is from Michigan, and it belongs to someone named Hackman.”

At this point, I have to admit that I was a little intrigued. My husband, the detective. This started a lively conversation about said Mr. Hackman.

ME: “Are they going to tow this Hackman guy’s car away?”

HIM: “Well, I am concerned that maybe this Hackman guy is sick or something, and can’t come back for his car.”

ME: “SICK? What made you think of that? Why not DEAD?”

HIM: “The police would know if he were dead.”

ME: “So if you have his car towed, and he gets better, you are afraid he will be wandering the street in front of the house in his robe, looking for the car?”

HIM: “He wouldn’t be wearing a robe if he was better; that is just silly.”

ME: “Well, then, maybe you should go around the neighborhood, knocking on doors, asking if anyone is harboring the ailing Mr. Hackman from Michigan.”

HIM: “I thought of that. The sick thing is probably ridiculous, right? So maybe he is a victim of foul play.”

So there we stood, looking out the window, speculating about Mr. Hackman. Is he a criminal, who put his car there for a getaway vehicle after a robbery that is in the offing? Is he just somebody’s houseguest? Is he IN THE TRUNK of that car? Did the car just break down three weeks ago, and Hackman abandoned it? What if Mr. Hackman is an Alzheimer’s victim, aimlessly wandering the area, searching for his auto? IS he actually sick somewhere? It was fun for awhile, but soon we got bored with Mr. Hackman, and went back to our laptops.

It is still sitting there. If anyone out there knows this Hackman guy, will you tell him to move his car?

And tell him we hope he feels better soon...

Saturday, July 24, 2010


I live in a regular neighborhood. It’s full of regular people doing regular things. As a writer, I have often wondered what it would be like to have other writers living around me. Famous ones. I think block parties would be incredibly interesting, and borrowing cups of sugar could turn into epic conversations. What would carpools be like? Trick or treating?

If Nora Ephron lived next door, I would probably spend a lot of time hanging around at her house. I’ll never forget the article she wrote about being mystified as to how those of us in suburbia get anything accomplished, due to all the walking and driving required out here in the heartland. So having Nora next door and taking her to the mall would be hilarious. She would DIE at the size of the parking lot! We’d get makeovers and talk about our neck wrinkles. We would compare notes about menopause. I am sure she would love being my pal.

I would think that a romance novelist would make a great neighbor. My choices would be writers who write with a bit of edge and insight. Not that Danielle Steele would be unwelcome, but I would prefer Elizabeth Buchan. She can write about the spurned wife like no other. I bet her house would be very comfortable and that her bookshelves would cause me pangs of envy. And if we also had Joanna Trollope in the area, would the three of us get together and talk about our angst ridden children or the just how difficult our relatives are?

For some excitement, I would love having Elizabeth George in the vicinity. What kinds of mysteries might she concoct using the locals as inspiration? Would she craft a character around me? Would an accordion player get murdered and his wife be the main suspect? How fun! And if Sue Grafton was around, would she include ME in one of her alphabet mysteries?

I would be thrilled if Meghan Daum lived nearby. That would mean that our neighborhood is of a very high standard, indeed. Our property values would go up due directly to her decision to buy a house here. She and I would compare DIY projects and I would be very honest in advising her about paint colors.

If Craig Wilson were a neighbor, everyone would want to go over to his house during the holidays. His columns in USA Today evoke such charm. I am sure that his Christmas decorations would be inspired, and that we’d gather around the piano and sing Carols. There would be delicious food, punch, and mistletoe. He would regale us with stories of his fascinating life and travels.

I have a great neighborhood. There are doctors, lawyers, delightful children, lovable dogs, and women that I admire. We are a congenial group. But I can’t help thinking about what having Steig Larsson around the block might have been like. Dark. Would he have brooded at the block parties? Would he have given out "Swedish Fish" on Halloween?

But then again, if he lived around here, his book might have been called “The Girl with the Ladybug Tattoo.”

Sunday, July 18, 2010


It is a common assumption that people come to resemble their dogs. I have not necessarily followed this line of reasoning, but then again, it might hold some truth. I am a firm believer, however, in the idea that one chooses one’s home for deep psychological reasons. Taking this just a bit further, if women are one with their homes, and resemble their dogs, somebody should write about it. I feel uniquely qualified, and I have categorized some “common” archetypes of female homeowners and their dogs.

HERMIONE. She lives in an upscale neighborhood in a large American city. Her flat, in an old brownstone, has wide planked hardwood floors and a non working fireplace. An Anglophile, Hermione drinks tea in the afternoons and has antique chintz draperies. Her overweight Pug, Dashiell, has access to the back garden, and prefers coddled eggs to processed dog food. Hermione has noticed a tendency to gain weight as she ages, and her facial wrinkles cause much worry. Hermione spends too much money on facial creams and exfoliators. Dashiell watches it all with amusement, and takes frequent naps.

MADELINE. A graduate of a prestigious Ivy League College, Maddie, as she is known to her friends, is an attorney. Recently married to a dermatologist, Maddie and her husband own a lovely Tudor cottage in an old suburb of Chicago. Maddie is allergic to cats, and her husband likes big dogs. Fred is a Borzoi, whose grace and charm have won Maddie’s heart. Fred and Maddie spend inordinate amounts of time in the garden outside the cottage, where Maddie is growing climbing roses and lavender, and where Fred’s flowing white tresses contrast nicely with the herbaceous borders and Maddie’s black braids.

SMUT. Of dubious parentage, Smut spent the formative weeks of his life in a cage at a kill shelter. Black and white, and slightly bowlegged, Smut was often passed over for more attractive pups. The day Sheila walked in, it seemed like Kismet. Sheila, who had angry chicken pox at age six, has always felt inferior to her coworkers at the fashion magazine where she is a copywriter. With coarse hair and uneven facial terrain, Sheila is single and lonely. Sheila and Smut live in a small loft in Soho, where they often gaze out the floor-to-ceiling windows and dream. Their loft is sparsely furnished, and what is there is primarily from the thrift store. Their prized possession is a roomy, overstuffed plaid sofa, where they spend Sunday mornings dozing and reading The New York Times. Smut often persuades Sheila to buy croissants, which they share.

BETHANY. She’s busy. She has four children under the age of ten. Her husband is a successful corporate type, and they live in a gated community in a house with all master bedrooms, an unused back yard, and a media room. Bethany is WAY too busy for a pet, and so she rarely pays much attention to their two ill mannered Labrador Retrievers, Chloe and Pepper. As a result, the new suede sectional has major tears. The children complain that the dogs knock them down. Somebody peed in the mud room yesterday. The electric collars are somewhere in the back of the junk drawer, and Chloe was last seen running down the street after the mail carrier. Bethany was unavailable at the time, as it was her day for her golf lesson and Bikram yoga class.

CARLETON. He is a very distinguished eight year old Dachshund, of the smooth coat variety. He has impeccable manners and a very soft spot in his heart for his mistress, Mrs. Duncan, who returns his adoration. They live in an old, Victorian house, full of antiques and Persian rugs. Mr. Duncan, who was a lovely man, died soon after Carleton was adopted. So Carleton and Mrs. Duncan rattle around together in the old house, sharing memories and tidbits while sitting by the fire. Carleton loves his walks, and he and his mistress can be seen strolling through the leafy streets in all weathers. When it is cold, Carleton wears a plaid jacket. When it rains, Mrs. Duncan carries an old Burberry umbrella. Mrs. Duncan is very soft spoken, and Carleton rarely barks.

There are, of course, as many types of dogs out there as there are women and their houses. But I would venture to say that our choice of canine is reflective of our true selves. Take me, for example: I am bossy. I live in an old house with lots of breakables. I have a dog who knows her place, has impeccable manners around my good china, and who knows that I am the pack leader. I love cats, and she pretends to. It’s a match made in heaven. But wait. Our dog doesn’t resemble me at all! Oh my gosh.

She’s the spitting image of my husband…

Saturday, July 10, 2010


I thought I was done. The children are both paying their own bills now, and I just assumed that once that happened, the parenting part was over. I thought that after offspring finish college, parents get to look forward to dandling grandchildren on their knees, and that’s it. I was not prepared for the next stage of parenting.

The needs of adult children, as it turns out, take a big bite out of the empty nester’s schedule. I didn’t realize that our children would need advice on their retirement plans, whether or not they should buy houses now before the economic downturn ends, or if it is a good idea to get dental coverage. And I forgot all about weddings!

Within the next twelve months, there will be two weddings in our family. As parents of brides, we suddenly realized the enormity of what looms before us. Did you know that there are companies out there who specialize in LIGHTING for weddings? Apparently, these days, weddings include special effects. One of our daughters wants to get married in a barn in front of a horse, and the other will be tying the knot in a winery. It’s complicated.

The disappearance of dowries, which generated sighs of relief for parents all over the world, has not benefited my generation of parents. Back then, all it took to marry a girl off was a respectably put together hope chest. I would love to send both girls out with a few sheep and some chickens. I would even throw in a few pots and pans. Instead, we have to grapple with wedding planners, musicians, decorative hay bales for the barn wedding, and large wheels of cheese at the winery. Decisions about guest lists and bridal parties must be made, and save the date postcards sent out.

At weddings I have attended recently, there have been singing brides, indoor fireworks, multi media presentations, stand up comedians, gluten free wedding cakes, signature cocktails, and multi lingual ceremonies. Not to mention wedding singers, disc jockeys, vegan entrees, and cake balls.

As I recall, my wedding was very simple and inexpensive. We had a few people in a little chapel, I had a very attractive off the rack dress, and my mother planned a very nice luncheon afterwards. The whole thing probably set my parents back a couple of grand. These days, weddings have become extravaganzas. During this next year, I will be talking with florists, caterers, and seating planners. I will be sampling sushi and cake balls. There will be meetings, long distance phone calls, and dancing lessons. It sounds exhausting, expensive, and a little exhilarating.

It takes a village. To plan a wedding.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


I was appalled. Yes, there were three children in a shopping cart. And yes, they were very active. But letting them hurl cereal in the aisle, take their shirts off, and use the F word caused at least a dozen elderly shoppers to have near-coronaries. I was among them. It seems that it is again time for me to put on my “Emily Post hat” and give all you young whippersnappers out there some of the finer points of daily etiquette.

CHILDREN ARE REALLY BETTER SEEN AND NOT HEARD. Is Dr. Spock no longer in vogue? Who is giving out advice to young parents these days? Believe me, it won’t hurt their forming psyches one bit to learn how to keep their little mouths shut in adult company. I have yet to meet a toddler who has anything REALLY interesting to say!

ALL PANTS SHOULD BE KEPT ON IN PUBLIC. I must admit that there are pictures in our family archive of naked children pushing shopping carts, but it was in the privacy of our own home. And once they hit the age of two, nude toddlers are no longer charming to the general public. Those little tushes should be encased in something during outings.

TEENAGERS MUST SPIT OUT THAT GUM. I know that teens lack self confidence, and that the teen years can be brutal. But I am lost as to how chewing gum 24/7 helps ease the transition into adulthood. And summer jobs are scarce. Gum chewing during job interviews does not endear you to any employer that I am aware of.

I UNDERSTAND THE LURE OF TATTOOS. BUT BE SO VERY CAREFUL WHERE YOU PUT THEM. The Baby Boomer generation still associates tattoos with drunken sailors. I realize that every single one of my grown children’s friends has at least five tattoos. But please don’t get one across the bridge of your nose! I really think you will regret that one. And for those of you out there who have uncivil words anywhere on your body, think of how you are going to explain them to YOUR children!

PUT YOUR NAPKIN IN YOUR LAP. Perhaps eating while sitting at a table is a lost habit, what with all those soccer games and dancing recitals, but honestly, all children must learn table manners. Forks, not fingers. Straws for drinking, and not shooting coke at your sister. No slurping. Elbows are still unwelcome on the table, no matter how comfortable that is. And for heaven’s sake, sit up straight in your chair and stop kicking your fellow diners under the table!

PLEASE AND THANK YOU ARE STILL IN THE LEXICON. There seems to be a bit of a sense of entitlement going on out there. Just a reminder, here, that gracious people get a lot further in life than their counterparts.

WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY? Are there any words that are considered taboo these days? Scatological terminology and sexual descriptives are everywhere. Does it really help to loudly use the “F” word when frustrated, say, at the mall? Is it ok to call women and girls “bitches?” I blame rap music for this. I blame rap music for a lot of things. As a matter of fact, just this morning, when I stubbed my toe, the word that came flying out of my mouth was directly due to the worldwide influence of rap music.

FINALLY, ALL CHILDREN OVER THE AGE OF TWENTY FIVE SHOULD GET MARRIED AND HAVE CHILDREN. It is only good manners to award your parents with grandchildren before those parents are in nursing homes. This practice of having careers, living together for extended periods, and THEN tuning in to the biological clock is creating an entire generation of diaper wearing GRANDPARENTS.

I want to thank you for reading this. Please come again.

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