Exercising My Right to Freely BBQ

I am so off schedule, it’s up there with completely ridiculous. Obviously, my posting at this blog has suffered greatly, and most of you who follow along on my writing journey know that it’s due to the recent publication of my alter-ego’s first book.

Quick update: Going great – seems like a good response so far. No reviews or royalty statement, so I am currently in Wonderland as to how many units have sold and whether or not people love or hate this thing. For my impatient demeanor, that has been frustrating, yet to be expected. I am moving to phase 2 of promo; after the virtual blog tour for the anthology, I am now setting up – or supposed to be setting up, sigh – the next blog tour for the standalone release on June 11th. More on that later.

That actually brings me to the present, and why I’m even more off-schedule. It’s been a non-stop drama-fest at work for the last week or so with more ch-ch-ch-changes. Some of you will remember that my position was eliminated in a corporate re-structuring (paste my name and face on thousands upon thousands of Americans around the country) blablabla three months ago. Due to my friend and co-worker’s enormously wise decision to escape from Hellhouse, my job has just become available again. Which would mean going back to salary exempt, staying up all hours to write, being exhausted, and not getting to make homemade potato salad and Sopapilla cheesecake pie (thanks for that recipe, very wise co-worker) on a holiday Monday that I get to spend with my family. The financial reward? A few hundred bucks. Not that I don’t need that few hundred bucks (I do), but I still haven’t seen that royalty statement yet. Will it replace that money? And haven’t we survived these last few months without it? And if I don’t make up the money now, won’t a few months down the road (and more completed writing) replace it then?

Enter my boss who swooped down on our little beach hamlet last Monday to grill us all like day-old grilled cheese sandwiches ( I have no idea what that means) on what our workplace intentions were. And to ask if I’d like my old job back. Uh…….hmmmmmmm…well….NO. I need to stay true to my writing path, and my sanity. And, okay, I confess; I did have a little bit of a “HA! NOW you want me! Forget it…” moment. But hey, I’m human, and I have been taking it in a part of my anatomy that shall remain unmentioned, quite a lot lately at this job.

I am now officially the trouble-maker. Or, the worse than ever before trouble-maker. But I need to stay true to my path here, and to my family that is also along for the ride. However, it’s been stressful because since I didn’t make it easy by neatly filling in the gap at work just as we go into our busy season, the boss is not thrilled. I did leave the position available for others – one in particular – who would do great and really benefit from it – but not according to the corporate rules and regulations. In other words, the expected and proper line of ascension up the corporate ladder. Such nonsense. So I say – they are bringing it on themselves, which is why all of this happened in the first place. Had well enough been left alone, my wise co-worker and I might have just stuck it out. But once she got my job – in addition to the essentially two jobs she was already doing – dumped on her, well, there’s only so much one person can take in the name of corporate down-sizing.

But here we are, it’s a nice day, and we’re all celebrating (those who don’t work retail anyway) the freedoms we have because others sacrificed and fought for us. I haven’t had a holiday day off like this in the four years since I took this job, so I’m going to exercise my right to BBQ – and to be with my family for a change. Happy Memorial Day to my American friends out there!

 

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But It’ll Learn Ya’…

…way, way better than school. ( Heart – “Cook With Fire” from Dog & Butterfly.)

Yes – I am still on a tangent. Billie and her evil spirit buddies will have to wait a few more days – so I will understand if you fast forward to the future. And if you are capable of that skill – please let me know how you do it. Anyway, here’s a little story from when I was a young pup back in the eighth grade. It was not a more innocent time; frankly I don’t believe such an animal exists. The times have all been varying degrees of anti-innocence. The differences have primarily been the era – and the degree to whether or not fast food was available – in which the lack of innocence occurred.

A few of you had the rare privilege of attending the same crappy private religious school with me. For those few I say: sorry to remind you it existed. For the rest of you, I offer some background. Crappy private religious school in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley: check. Typical awkward middle schoolers fighting for their spot on the ladder of eighth grade society: check. Teachers and administrators kissing up to the parents with the most cash to keep said school from sinking into oblivion: check. Come on everybody, here we go! (Peter Pan)

I’ve always had a not-so-healthy dose of drama bred into me, and even though I was finally coming out of the weird anti-social cloud I had previously inhabited when I was in grade school, I was hardly the epitome of awesomeness. Especially acceptable eighth grade awesomeness. I was a nerd, and it wasn’t until a couple of grades later that I learned how to work my nerdette into some sort of grand – albeit limited – social status. In the eighth grade I was merely one of the faceless masses that slogged through each day.

I longed for more. Like everyone else, I wanted to better my space in the universe. I just never considered accomplishing it by squashing others around me. I had already been infected by the acting bug earlier, and I saw hiding behind another persona a good ticket to escaping from whatever loathsome creature I perceived that I was. The eighth grade teacher – lets call him Mr. Roberts – was a young, blond cutie that most of the girls and one angry, rotund fellow teacher swooned over. We weren’t allowed to lust, it was against the rules. He was somehow put in charge of putting together some colonial play of some sort to support what we had supposedly learned in American history that year. Since I have no recollection of what this play was actually about, it’s rather apparent how compelling it was.

Several of us, including my eighth grade best friend – lets call her Joanie – excitedly got ready for the auditions. I don’t know if I blocked a lot of this play out like a bad Vietnam experience, but I seriously can’t remember the auditions, or much else about the specific play. The events surrounding it however have that memory imprint in my brain the way that some things do from the past. Finally the results were announced – I was in! Joanie, however, wasn’t. She was not at all gracious about her loss and my win. She was actually quite angry and hurt. I felt really bad.

I became determined that I would find a way for her to be involved. There were a lot of ensemble groups – I have a vague memory of a courtroom and jury – couldn’t she just be on stage during one? I mean, what would it hurt? I brought it up to Mr. Roberts.

“I’m sorry Wren. We’ve already announced the cast, and it would be unfair to others who didn’t make it, they would want to be included too. Plus, we are already having trouble coming up with enough costumes for this thing, I couldn’t possibly add another person.”

“Well,” I said, suddenly coming up with one of my bright ideas that have a tendency to kick me in the ass rather than help me, “Her mom is a seamstress. She could make Joanie’s costume for her, and maybe, if her daughter was in the play, she might be more likely to help with the other costumes!”

Mr. Roberts pondered this interesting piece of information. “Let me think about it. I’ll talk to Joanie and see if she thinks her mom would really do that.”

I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to tell my friend that I had gone out on a limb for her, and everything would work out. And it did. For Joanie anyway. One day before rehearsal, Mr. Roberts took me aside. Maybe I was going to get an even bigger part, or maybe he just wanted to thank me for helping out. Joanie’s mom had really stepped in and taken over the whole costume thing.

“Wren, I need to talk to you about something. It turns out that the play is a little too long, and we need to cut a couple of the scenes. Unfortunately, your scene was one of the ones we had to cut. I’m really sorry.”

I was stunned, and yes, my stomach did drop. I’m sure many of you know exactly how that feels. “But, I can still be in the play, right?”

“Uh…I guess you don’t quite understand. I’m really sorry, but we have nowhere else for you to be. And we’re actually going to be needing your costume back so that we can give it to one of the other cast members. It will save us some time and money.”

Since rehearsals took place after school, and everyone – except me – was still in rehearsal, the halls were pretty much empty when I dazedly made my way back to my locker. Somehow the act of turning the combination dial on my locker unleashed a fit of sobs. Cristal, an acquaintance who shared a class with me and Joanie, noticed me and came over to see what was wrong. I told her my whole wretched story. Apparently, Joanie had already filled her in. Mr. Roberts had told her and asked her to be really nice to me – oh, and to make sure she got the costume back from me. Joanie was intimating to the other kids that she was much better than me in the play, and that was why they were using her instead of me.

As you can imagine, I had some pretty hurt feelings, and confused ones as well. Would my best friend, Joanie, really say such a thing? It seemed unlikely. I was thirteen folks, I didn’t fully get yet that we were all in a life rehearsal on how to treat one another. That this kind of crap would continue. And continue. And continue. The one thing I should have been paying attention to, as if I were the protagonist in a horror novel, is how to recognize the cues of bad human behavior, and then how to run screaming away from said human. In novels, it’s a device called “foreshadowing”. In my story, this was the foreshadowing, but I was thirteen and clueless. Unfortunately, I continued to be clueless many a time after that. Thankfully, I’m in clueless relationship recovery, and am a little better these days.

But we’re talking about the eight grade, right? Once I had regained a modicum of composure, I decided I needed to talk to Joanie about it. She was obviously more advanced than me in the intricacies of game-playing and manipulation, and she thwarted my efforts with excuses and such, until finally, it was sort of swept aside. I did notice a change in our relationship. She was often times too busy to hang out after school as we once did, and I found myself spending a little more time with Cristal, who was stuck everyday at the school until her mom could get her after work.

But Joanie was still my best friend, and I was loyal, dammit. I didn’t want her to think I was cheating on her with Cristal, so I made every effort to always choose her first. This held true for the big year-end Six Flags Magic Mountain field trip coming up. We all had to pick a field trip partner, and obviously, Joanie and I would be amusement park buddies. I verified, and re-verified. She seemed irritated that I kept bringing it up.

The wonderful day arrived; we would all get to go to Magic Mountain instead of school. I had been waiting for this trip for months. I arrived at school, and saw the two big buses ready to take us to this Magical – albeit, roastingly hot – roller coaster paradise. I looked for my park buddy, and finally spotted her standing next to Miss-More-Popular-Than-God. Let’s call her Buffy. Buffy noticed me approaching, and elbowed Joanie. We locked eyes, and I saw something I couldn’t describe. She most definitely had an odd expression on her face, one that said she was less than thrilled to see me. I had that stomach-dropping thing going on again.

She walked up to me, away from the other girls. “Hey. Uh, I’m going to hang out with Buffy today. You’ll have to find someone else to go with.”

WHAT?!?!? Someone else to go with?!?! Everyone else already had their buddies! I tried to keep it together. “But…you…we…” I’m not so great at forming sentences when under emotional pressure.

She shrugged her shoulders. “Sorry.” And walked away.

Everyone was looking at me. Would she cry? Would she scream? Would she punch Joanie in the face? I wish I could say I gave them a good show, but instead, I started walking home. Fairly easy to do, as I lived across the street from this portal to the inner sanctums of hell. Fighting back the inevitable tears, I tried to walk as fast as would appear dignified away from there. Shit – there was my mom. How would I explain this to her? She would be lurking at home, ready to grill me and then make it worse by pitching a fit at the school.

Cristal saved me. She ran up to me, and as soon as I saw her face that clearly portrayed how sorry she felt for me, I burst into tears. She already had a park buddy, but that was okay, the three of us could hang out – it would be fun. I was shaking my head, I didn’t want to go, I was too embarrassed. She kept insisting, and being the amazingly funny and goofy person she still is to this day, she got me to laugh, and I went. And we had a good time.

I was held prisoner at that CPRS (crappy private religious school) until I graduated, and even after Cristal transferred out (in a fit of great wisdom), we remained friends. I watched Joanie meticulously work on reinventing her persona to match the expectations of the most holy crowd of popularity, and it worked. To a degree. After she cut and colored her hair, got the braces off, got model head shots, took up cheer leading, etc., etc. she was “in”. As I had moved on with my life, I wasn’t stalking her enough to find out what actually happened, but she and Buffy had some sort of falling out. When I got my agent, and started going out on acting calls, she started sniffing around.

Nope. I had about five minutes in my junior and senior year where I had a lot of confidence and clarity, and knew better than to hook up with a manipulative climber who only wanted what I could offer them at that given moment. I back slid for quite awhile after that, but I saved myself from any further humiliation and hurt from Joanie. The protagonist triumphs!

And as David Byrne would say: Same as it ever was…   

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKlrkBJozuc

This is the Working Hour…

…We are paid by those who learn by our mistakes. (Tears For Fears – “The Working Hour”, Songs From the Big Chair)

Bad moods, certain songs, and an internet connection could get one into a lot of trouble. But I will refrain from that and just ask you, my dear readers, are there certain songs, entire albums, musicians, etc. that just take you ‘there’? ‘There’ is that place where you connect with some small part of you that you forget you have most of the time. It’s the alive spot in you that can be released just by playing that certain disc or song.

Sometimes I can connect like that when I’m writing. Sometimes not. If I can get that perfect synergy between writing and playing music, then it’s insane. I used to achieve it by writing music. Writing music and playing music at the same time is counter-productive – and ridiculous –  so I’ve only had this marriage of connection activities since I’ve become so invested in my writing.

Then there’s this other thing. The other thing is related to all of the crap I deal with on a daily basis. Sometimes writing can’t help that; sometimes it is absolutely necessary to help it. But there’s one thing I know for sure that always helps it: music. Certain music. I have a rather lengthy list of varying and sundry artists and songs, but I’m currently on a tangent. You know how that is; it’s when only one type of musical vibe will do. What’s your certain music? I bet you can get a feel of where my vibe is at by my certain tangent right now:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOY_aqkUTxY

Promote or Die (Part Two)

Her name was Billie. I met her through a free Los Angeles rag called the Recycler, a big newspaper of ads that had everything from lawn furniture, pets, yard sale postings, musicians wanted, and of course, antiques and collectibles. It had it’s hey-day in the eighties when The Recycler was the only thing you had to find awesome stuff at a steal. Remember, this is pre-internet and eBay days.

As I said in my last post, I needed to find new and creative ways to sell my stuff. Fortunately, I had caught on fast and was able to find things such as an antique pen in a leather case at the bottom of a box at a yard sale for a quarter, and then sell it to an antique pen dealer for $85. But sometimes I just didn’t have a connection for some of my things. So when it got a little slow, I turned to my friend The Recycler.

Now, you could put in free ads as a private party, but dealers were supposed to pay for ads. That sort of didn’t work for my whole “I-have-no-budget” lifestyle. So, I was careful to only put in a few items every once in a while, and use my home number as a contact. Then I would meet the person at a coffee shop or something to see if we could strike a deal. I was only able to do this with things where I had such a huge margin (like the pen) that I could afford to let it go at a steal.

This is how Billie came into the picture. It seemed that Billie had the same strategy for using The Recycler. She was definitely a dealer, she just didn’t have a shop. She would buy and sell to various dealers, and made her living that way. I would find out later that she was a widow with a home in the somewhat tony area of Sherman Oaks, someone who believed she would marry Clint Eastwood one day because of one look they once shared, an alcoholic, an animal hoarder, and insane. But the night I met her, I learned something even more disturbing about her.

Typically, dealers have a specialty that they focus on. This way, you can know a lot about this one area, and spot a deal from a mile away. Billie’s first love and expertise was jewelry; I had a similar inclination. She answered my  for some signed rhinestone jewelry from the forties and fifties, and we met at a Mexican restaurant in the Valley to see if we could do business. She asked me up front if I was a dealer, and assured me that it was fine, she was too and did the same thing. The transaction was fantastic, and we both felt we could do business again.

She also gave me the impression of being a little kooky, but I had been bred on kooky. She was in her mid-forties, at least twenty years older than me, but still dressed in super tight jeans and these blousy tops to hide the giant midriff roll she had to yank up to fit in the jeans, that was then oozing out the top. She spoke in a sort of breathless Marilyn Monroe voice, but was far from looking the part. She also smoked constantly.

Once we did a few more deals at various restaurants, I was comfortable enough – and wanting to avoid anymore restaurant bills eating (haha) into my profits – to just meet her at her house. She had a nice little three bedroom bungalow that was where she and her late husband had lived. He died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. She said he went to sleep and just never woke up again. I hate to sound cruel, but once I got to know her, saw ( and smelled) all the animals, and found out about her weird house, well…I might have also just gone to sleep and never woken up. She claimed the doctors could never give an explanation as to what happened. In retrospect, this could have also been one of her dramatic stories – akin to the “Clint Eastwood glance” – that she liked to tell.

When I arrived that first evening, I was given the official animal instructions. The healthy cats (about a dozen) were kept in the bathroom off of the hall. I should never, ever open that door. It was imperative that she control where they went, so that they wouldn’t get mixed in with the ones that had distemper, or some other incurable kitty sickness. Those cats were kept in cages out on the patio where she had built a big area with rabbit hutches (with many rabbits), and were gated from the rest of the yard where the outdoor dogs were. Yes, there were indoor dogs. I forget exactly the difference between the outdoor dogs and indoor dogs, but it may have been a size thing. One exceptionally chosen and blessed dog – a whippet that shivered and shook constantly – was given the coveted spot on her bed. Maybe it sensed the dead husband vibes, who knows.

There was a continuous cycle of moving these animals around. She would corral the indoor dogs into a room with much chasing and yelling, then twice a day open the bathroom door for the cats and scream “OUT!”, and they would pour out to their bowls in the kitchen. They would then get about fifteen minutes of in-house freedom, and then she would scream “IN!”, and they would all race back to the bathroom. It was actually quite amazing. She would do a similar routine with the dogs, so that the indoor ones could at least shit outside occasionally.

Billie claimed that she had saved every one of these creatures from a horrible fate at the hands of some other horrid pet owner or pound, or that they were strays she had rescued. She used the word “rescued” a lot. It’s amazing to me that I didn’t fully grasp just how cruel she was being to these animals, but at the time, she was such an animal rights expounder, and constantly talking about how she had “saved” these animals, that I somehow thought she was doing a good deed. Plus, there weren’t reality shows about animal hoarders back then. Sometimes television just has to tell you what to do.

Okay, so the same night I met the menagerie, I also met Starchild. This wasn’t her real name, and what I mean is, she really wasn’t using her real name. She was using her alien name. Starchild was  renting a room from Billie, who was finding it harder and harder to make the mortgage payment. This young girl was about my age, and was some type of artist, but really, other than hide in her room for days without emerging, I’m not entirely sure what she did.

So after some awkward introductions and unintelligible comments from Starchild, we retreated to the kitchen to conduct our business. It was at the back of the house, with a door leading to the backyard where the outdoor critters were. Another door I should never, ever open. Every time one of the outside dogs would bark, she would freak-out and scream at them to “SHUT UP!”. She said she didn’t want the neighbors to complain about the noise. The only thing the neighbors were likely to complain about was the incessant screeching. For someone with such a quiet voice, she could really shred the decibel levels when she wanted to.

Yet none of this craziness prepared me for the next phase in my relationship with Billie. As I sat at the kitchen table that night, I was facing the window to the backyard. She was facing me, with her back to the window. It was pitch black out, and halfway through our negotiations, I saw it.

 

(To be continued next week)

The Grey, The Hunger Games & Struggling to Survive

Apparently, I’m an idiot for not staying after the credits to see the extra scene at the end of the Liam Neeson survival film, “The Grey”.  Although, as John and I both felt, the very fact that everything was left unresolved made for a very impactful end; one that made you have to think for yourself. God forbid.

As long as we’re on the subject of this film, I do want to point out that it is not a typical action thriller. Even though Liam Neeson is so bad-ass that he makes bad-ass cower in the corner, there is a heavy philosophical undertone that is not typically Hollywood. The film is based on the short story (ya’ see short story writers – it’s not just novels that rule the world!) “Ghost Walker” that one of the screenwriters, Ian Mackenzie Jeffers wrote. The story truly makes you consider life, death, and how we choose to fight for our right to exist. Heavy man. Definitely not typical Hollywood. I worry about this film’s prospects though, as it was marketed to appeal more to the Action/Thriller crowd. “Hey dudes, how about a nice exciting film about the underlying layers to the meaning of life with intense metaphysical takes on death? Then we can grab a couple brewskys and shoot some pool after.” Hmmm…

I am also currently reading the final installment of the Hunger Games trilogy, “Mockingjay”. Hey – we’ve been through this before – I get around to stuff when I’m ready, not necessarily when everyone else is obsessing over it. The fact that I made it to a film on opening night for the first time since “Return of the King” is about all I can handle in the being-up-to-date department. Which reminds me – less than 11 shopping months before The Hobbit opens!

Okay, I’m back. For those of you woefully behind the bestseller times – such as myself – The Hunger Games is a YA dystopian trilogy that is going to emerge  in theatres soon. I think they may be trying to turn this franchise into the next Twilight phenomena. God help us – they’d better not ruin it. They have an excellent actress playing the lead (Jennifer Lawrence) and the author (Suzanne Collins) is contributing as a screenwriter. We may be safe.

The books are excellent. Suzanne Collins has said in several interviews that she doesn’t write about adolescents; she writes about what war does to adolescents. The central theme to these books is very much one of survival; again, fighting for one’s right to exist, to stave off death. The choices that each individual makes are not only the difference between you surviving, but another person dying.

The similarities in theme between both The Grey and The Hunger Games cannot be denied. Neither Hero/Heroine of these stories is magically endowed with awesomeness, they are not super heroes. They are everyday people with checkered, difficult pasts that exist in challenging and depressing circumstances that find themselves tested to their limits. Neither of these characters give in. They fight, not only against the odds thrust at them, but against their own personal doubts about the sanctity of their own lives. Can I hear another “heavy man” from the audience?

Yet, these are not depressing stories at all. Hard to believe, right? Yes, they do make you think because they are not cardboard stereotypical beautiful or magic people. They inspire because they are so relatable.  You feel if they can transcend these outrageous circumstances, than you can probably get it together enough to pay your utility bill on time this month. Because seriously, if Batman gets pummelled by Ra’s al Ghul, there’s no way that I can possibly be expected to achieve much with my limited skills. I told you Liam Neeson was bad-ass. 

I like that the characters in The Grey and The Hunger Games are real. It gives me hope.