My Life: Printed, Collated and Velobound

There are people that know intimate details of my personal life. My doctor, lawyer, accountant, banker, hair stylist and that one checker at Ralph’s. But unless they are all at the same party, chat and decide to drain the punch bowl, none will have the complete story.

That honor falls to Mamie, the manager of the copy center at my local Staples. Like a bartender an hour before closing time, I tell her all my secrets.


This occurred to me after my most recent visit to that oasis of toner, over-sized printing and presentation board mounting. I was there to get good prints of a new passport photo that I’d taken. What? Just go to a place that does the whole thing, you say? Have you seen how those come out? After a certain age my image will not be circulated without excellent lighting and retouching.

But I digress.

The conversation when Mamie saw me went like this:

“Hey, how’s the pooch? When’s that book of yours coming out again?”

You see, for the last ten years Mamie has unwittingly assisted me in pitching the Marie Callender’s account, presenting storyboards and site maps for numerous web projects, helping commemorate my Dad’s 85th birthday, and making large prints of photos of my dog diving underwater suitable for framing. To be clear, she’s not nosy or prying, I just seem to feel better after telling her all the details of each job. I’ve been more successful than not with these, something I attribute to the “Mamie touch”.

She’s witnessed the evolution of my writing career and was the one that gave me a discount on the printing of my manuscript, part of the submission requirements from a neo-Luddite literary agent that I was querying. I heard that she’s now retired and running a toothpick farm in Washington state.

I proudly show Mamie the cover of my first book and she explains to the other customers waiting to pay or get help sending something to the copier what I have done.

“She’s written a book, and it’s coming out in-?”

“November,” I say not really wanting to attract attention to the photo paper she’s holding with six rows of my 2″ X 2″ mug shot for the U.S. Passport Office.

But this is much more interesting than the back-up paperwork one woman needs to refute an insurance claim denial. Even the bag lady nestled in the corner pretending to be waiting for a free copier gives me a thumbs up. A guy waiting with stack of photos of guys on motorcycles in the desert looks back and forth from my photo sheet to my face and gives me a head nod of approval.

I wonder if they look at this place and Mamie like I do, as a kind of airport terminal waiting to send you on your way in life. The trip can be sometimes as trivial as getting rid of a clerical annoyance. Or it can be to capture forever events that will be remembered fondly.

But this is L.A. after all, and as the bag lady said, “This screenplay isn’t going to produce itself!”

“What do I owe you for the photos, Mamie?” I hold the sheet up in front of my face like I’m auditioning for a revival of “A Chorus Line.”

“Nothing, it’s on me. Just go someplace fabulous.”

And one more for the road…


My One-On-One With Mall Santa

Last week I dashed into that place I dread even more than finding an irregular mole on my arm. The Mall. But these days it’s hard to find a Macy’s that isn’t attached to a Big Fat Pita and a Sunglasses Hut. So off to the mall I went hoping that 9am on a Tuesday would diffuse some of my expected misery.

I dashed in, eyes firmly planted to the floor just two feet in front of me. I tuned out the Holiday music, ignored the offers to test drive a drone and quickly dispatched with my returns and purchases. The ink was barely dry on my parking stub, this was going better than I’d hoped.

Now all I had to do was clear the one hundred or so feet back to the entrance to where I’d parked. Easy. Like a marathoner closing that last half mile, my focus was solely on the finish line. I declined the perfectly complected guy’s promise of a “youthful, radiant glow” with just three applications of the hope in a bottle he proffered.

“Honey, that ship has sailed,” I said to him picking up the pace.

The drone demonstrator was working on a new victim but the girl in the elf hat and pleather Daisy Dukes had her sights set on putting me in a brand new hover board.

“Does it come with a free hip replacement,” I asked barely slowing. She disappeared like a struck whack-a-mole.

I was just a few steps from victory when the corner of one eye yanked me to a halt.

Why is it always the left one?

There sitting in a bedazzled high back chair was the mall santa. As they go he was pulling off a pretty good rendition. He sat all alone, and looked less than jolly. Sure it was an odd time of day, but I was leaning toward this being another thing that the internet has ruined.

I took pity on him and approached. “No worries, I won’t sit on your lap. You don’t want to lose your job and I don’t need another night in jail.”

“Merry Christmas,” he said keeping up the charade.

“Is it?”

That seemed to stump him. I pulled up a chair. “Sorry, I came over because you looked like you needed cheering up and now I’ve driven you to drink with two little words.”

“No, you’re right.”

“You have alcohol?” My enthusiasm was returning.

He shook his head. “You know how little this job pays? At least the Easter Bunny has access to candy. I’ll never pay off my student loans.”

“Yeah, this year bitch slapped me to the bone too, I won’t bore you with the details.”

We sat in shared dour silence amidst the fake Christmas trees with empty wrapped packages around them. Then I saw the makings of a tiny smile breach his face and rampaging white beard.

“So you know I can’t make good on this, but how about you to tell me what you want for Christmas?”

I thought long and hard and realized that I was so battle scarred that I didn’t really want anything. I told him so and got up to leave.

“I hear you. I’m in the same leaky boat.”

He stood as well and suddenly wrapped his red velvet arms around me in a warm hug.

“Feel free to pass this along, but only to the good ones,” he whispered.

I was so stunned and at the same time embarrassed as I felt tears beginning their descent.

“You could at least have bought me a drink first,” I smiled back at him walking away. “And hell, Merry Christmas!”


A Paean to Food

I’m not sure I’ve ever met a person who “eats to live”, if I have I can guarantee that we had a very short conversation.

It is hard to imagine when you watch the crude repasts cobbled together by the contestants on Survivor or Naked and Afraid that someone back in the day figured out that you could eat an artichoke. And the person who created a nice Aioli from that stinking bulb frankly deserves sainthood.

In fact I think that we should honor all the brave souls who, during the birth of civilization, said “Hmmm, we should eat this”.

And let’s not forget the Nomad who, some 4,000 years ago, tied a pouch of milk to his horse’s neck and rode along during the heat of the day. When he checked it later it had become the yellow, creamy bovine manna that we call butter. There is no greater gift.

Of course some things were obvious, a bright red strawberry exuding a caramel-like aroma, sweet creamy corn, or a tree bursting with fragrant, tart apples. Sorry Eve.

But it took determination and fast hands to capture and taste the first lobster. And butter, which thankfully was already being churned on a daily basis thanks to a certain nomad.

Food is a memory unlike any other. Long after you’ve forgotten the details of the cobblestone side streets in Perugia, the thought of that omelet served with shaved truffles the size of Oreos takes you back to an Etruscan sunbathed ancient world.

When we celebrate anything we do it with food. Graduation? A steak dinner. Tonsils out? Ice cream. Birthday? Cake. Baby shower? Pink or blue cake. Home alone on New Year’s Eve? About $300 worth of groceries.

When I eat something I particularly enjoy I find myself humming and rocking back and forth. Which is basically saying that I do yoga while consuming the bitter, salty, sour, sweet, umami tastes of food, glorious food.

Happy Birthday, Bardot.


My dog turned five today and, as with any milestone, she spent a moment taking stock of her life so far. The following is her assessment, (as dictated by Bardot on June 3, 2015).

“This morning I reflected on my accomplishments, which are varied and many, and on the very few things that I should maybe have thought through a little better. I decided that my time was best spent focusing on the positives:

  1. People: I think that I have effectively fooled them into believing that I can only understand the same few words spoken loudly or in a foolish tone of voice. Ridiculous. But it does lull them into a false sense of confidence that what they say around me doesn’t matter. I’m writing a book.
  2. Home: Needless to say, I have thoroughly and successfully found the best places to nap, scratch, sun, eat and hide stuff they don’t want me to have. That was Day 1. What they don’t realize is that I have also mastered the fine art of ignoring “No”. If I am somewhere I shouldn’t be I just strike a cute pose and I am exonerated. Big eyes and floppy ears help.
  3. Food: I chose to go against type here and be the Lab who is not totally food motivated. Hehe. This, in fact, elicits them giving me MORE food and significantly ups the quality. “You’ve got to eat, Bardot.”  : (
  4. Performance: Having a “special talent” gets you all kinds of free things. I urge you to cultivate one doing something that you already love doing. Me? I dive down to the bottom of pools and retrieve toys. And let people photograph me doing so. Check out photographer Seth Casteel’s web site for evidence.
  5. The Head Cock: This my friends is the key to the Kingdom. Perform this when people are talking to you and you will be richly rewarded. Make sure to mix up the head positions to show intent concentration on your face.

In sum, I’d say that I have this happy life thing down pat. Which is not to say that I am now going to sit back now and rest on my laurels, heck no. I want my own TV, mini fridge and the keys to the car every Saturday morning.

What’d you think I’d say, that I want a bone? C’mon, that is so bourgeois.”


Campari and Soda


Two years ago today Mom went to heaven. She is still with me everyday. At her memorial service I gave this eulogy:

Well, Mom finally got her wish. I am standing at the altar.

Dad and I want to thank you, our dear friends, for coming today. I know Mom is beaming at seeing us all together.

Some important information, one, there will be wine and hors d’oeuvres immediately following the service, and two, I will be brief.

Mom, as most of you benefitted from, was the great storyteller in the family. So I will not even dare tread on her supremely conquered ground. I’ll stick to some anecdotes, quotes and little reminders that you can use to fill in your own, special memories of my Mom, Doris Blum.

Thank you, Father Loc, Mom was a devout Catholic and this was a beautiful service.

Mom was also a multi-tasking Catholic. I often marveled at her ability to say her morning prayers while applying make up, combing out her hair, cleaning her jewelry for the day and lint-brushing a St. John Knit.

Mom was also a lover of all animals, although she never understood why God created flies.

While living in London she was on her way to a luncheon one day, dressed to the Ferragamo nines, when a small dog ran out into traffic. She demanded that the cabbie stop, and when he complained, she jumped out anyway, scooped up the dog, and made the driver take her to the address listed on the dog’s tag. Ignoring waiting friends and winter white clothes, she comforted the dog on her lap until he was reunited with his owner and on the way to the Vet. Luckily the dog was not seriously hurt. But the cabbie whined all the way to the luncheon.

And so started one of Mom’s favorite sayings, “the more I learn about people, the more I love dogs.”

Mom had phrases she picked up from her first coming to America and wanting so to fit in. I suspected and then later confirmed that these sayings were not entirely accurate, or she wasn’t 100% sure what they meant. For example:

No matter how much she explained about America being a melting pot, she could not convince me that the first line of the National Anthem was, “Jose, can you see?”

When we bet on something, even if I won, I never seemed to get dollars or donuts. Huh.

I never understood the story of Carter and his liver pills, but I never forgot that “Yvonne Lutz had more beautiful clothes than Carter had liver pills.”

Then there were phrases that at first sounded perfectly fine, until you thought about them a minute:

Speaking of my Dad and myself, she would say: “You two are so alike!” (was that admonishment in her voice?)


“Hunger comes with eating.”


“Poor dear had a humorectomy at a very early age.”

There were bridge club phrases that I grew up saying, long before I held a card:

“Never send a boy in to do a man’s job.”  “ Who dealt this mess?“  “Second man low.“

As a kid I loved the day after Mom had bridge club, because in my lunch box I had Bugles stuffed with pimento cream cheese, cold pigs in a blanket, Jordan almonds and unspiked whiskey sour mix in my Thermos. Good times.

A rich life was led in 85 years, and the best I can do here is briefly use my words. Mom was:

Exciting, elegant, easy-going, and full of expression.

German, prone to malapropisms, neat and tidy and a delicious cook.

Able to get a suntan to rival an island native, all the way through middle age.

Great at keeping surprises but better at receiving them.

A natural born actress.

Unable, despite her aristocratic upbringing, to sit stone-faced when told a poop joke.

NOT a singer.

My Mom was a friend, cohort, co-conspirator and doe-eyed innocent when we were caught.

A lover of beauty and a hater of tacky.

One of the smartest people I’ve ever known, and skilled at hiding it to good use.

Loved and lovely.

Funny, often ’til it hurt.

A great celebrator of tradition and occasion. She knew everyone’s birthdays by heart.

A delicate eater unless it was foie gras, venison, pâté, caviar or German, white chocolate.

An aficionado of silly British humor.

A damn fine bridge player.

The love of my Dad’s life. (Deep breath)

My role model and my most favorite character to write about.

A lexicon of grace, warmth, style, pathos and motherhood.

And if it is about noon in heaven right now, I am willing to bet you that she is batting her long eyelashes at some unsuspecting angel and saying in a soft voice, “I’ll have a Campari and soda, please.”

Thank you.



You’ve got to give Los Angelenos an “A” for effort when it comes to decorating for Christmas. In their quaint, showy way, they’ll hang some lights and a Trader Joe’s wreath on just about anything; the Palm tree, a diving board, the grille of their SUV, their gazebo, the family dog, and their Alma Louis Vuitton bag.

The Holiday music from artists like Grumpy Cat and .38 Special do a lot to bring the true meaning of Christmas to the kids, but who is educating them on the true meaning of Christmas Decorations???

I am here to serve.

1. When Mommy spreads out that white, Egyptian cotton 800 thread count sheet on the front lawn, it is meant to represent the snowy bed of a bucolic forest. Don’t worry about her “breaking up a set”.

2. And when Dad sets up the mechanical reindeer atop the sheet, they are not bobbing their heads to “All About That Bass”, they are furrowing for imaginary acorns and berries. It is called “setting the scene”.

3. If yours is a house with a very Disney Christmas, then you may be wondering why Mickey is trapped in that giant inflatable globe with the white particles floating around. It is not the aftermath of a divorce party bonfire, but meant to connote a snowy, holiday tableau.

4. Do your parents set up a Nativity Scene? That is not due to the continuing problem with immigration, read your bible.

5. The hanging of the stockings over the fireplace? That is not a go with for UGGS, it is St. Nick’s first stop from his drop down the chimney. Worried about what will fit in them? Think jewelry and gift cards.

6. Wrapped presents under the tree. You’ll see this at the Mall, there is nothing in them. However the Christmas themed shopping bags around your tree at home will be filled with goodies. Make sure the receipt is included.

As for why we cut down a tree and drag it inside, and take lights outside to hang on the trees that dodged a bullet? I got nothing.


A Story About Writing A Story


An Homage To Girl Reporters — Part One

On a crisp and predictably sunny morning in November of 1989, I was having a coffee and perusing the Los Angeles Times before leaving for work. I’d come to L.A., like every wannabe, with dreams of writing stories that would be made into hit movies. I’d taken a job in advertising “just until”.

In the paper that morning I’d learned that the Lotto was up to $4.6 million, The Who was on its farewell tour, and Japan had just suffered a 7.1 quake. Pretty routine until I saw this story in the local news section:

Herald Leaves a Rollicking Legacy : Journalism: Romping, stomping tales of brash paper are recalled as staff members prepare to say “30.” Written by Times staff reporter JOHN BALZAR.

By the time I read the following I was hooked:

“…(Agness Underwood) was the mother of two and wanted extra money for stockings, as the story is told. So Aggie became a telephone operator at a newspaper. She ended up working on a story one time when no one else was around to do the work. From there she went on to become a celebrated crime reporter on one paper and then moved to become the crime-oriented editor of the Herald. Crime, after all, was what sold newspapers, along with sex and skulduggery..”

I was both excited and depressed. I could see myself stepping back into L.A. in the 40’s, Lana Turner, the scandals and grisly murders, and the stars and sensations, like “evangelist” Sister Aimee Semple McPherson. But I figured in this town, Aggie’s life story would be optioned before lunch. Reluctantly, I squirreled away the article in my hope chest of ideas and waited for the movie.


Two years later there was still nothing. Am I the only one who thought this was cool??

By 1991 I had a Mac II, which was great for word processing and hanging onto during a tremor, but the internet was still a mere seedling in Al Gore’s mind. So in order to really get my head into Aggie and this amazing newspaper world, I had to get out there and become a Girl Reporter. A native Angelina would never have started here, but I’d come from NYC so my first step was the Santa Monica Public Library.

The two-foot long wooden drawers holding Dewey Decimal sorted index cards yielded little help. I was able to scroll through microfilm of old editions of the Herald Examiner, resplendent with dramatically lit-from-below photos of villains of heinous crimes, but got no real insight into Aggie herself. The old library with its cozy carrels provided a pre-Starbuck’s respite for the local homeless. They’d grab a periodical and pretend just enough to be reading it to avoid being kicked out.

I made my way to the help desk which stood like a high wooden altar in the middle of the room. This is where they kept coveted items like the Kelly Blue Book, and where they could access the entire archive with a clunking IBM green screen. When it was my turn I put on my best Girl Reporter mien and announced, notebook and pencil in hand, that I wanted everything they had on Agness Underwood.

“Aggie?”, I heard and turned to see a disheveled fellow in a tan raincoat lift his head from slumber. “I used to work for her, best damn newshawk ever,” he said wide-eyed.

His name was Joe. I bought him a coffee and made him drink it outside. Upwind. His chain smoking helped with the stench. It turns out that he had been a cub reporter at the Herald in the fifties. Later I’d learn that these guys were adrenalin junkies. Their job was an early version of reality TV playing 24 hours a day. If they caught the right show they ended up on the front page, above the fold. When the work fizzled they turned their addiction to booze, drugs and cigarettes. Despite traces of a boyish face, Joe was close to typing “30”.*

“Aggie was the best boss I ever had, she didn’t need yelling to lead us. But don’t get me wrong, if someone fumble-fingered a story she didn’t pussyfoot. She kept a baseball bat on her desk for those situations.”

Suddenly he didn’t smell so bad.

“We had a rewrite man who sat in the pool with us. One of Hearst’s from Frisco. A chinaman. Every day at lunch he’d crack and peel a hard-boiled egg and eat it at his desk. Stunk up the place like you can’t believe. We’d complain and throw things at him, but that little guy was as stubborn as a lid on a pickle jar. Then one day he took a big crack to his egg and it was raw, got the junk all over himself. Next day, same thing. After a week he gave up. No one ever owned up to the prank, but rumor has it a half dozen hard-boiled eggs were seen in one of Aggie’s desk drawers.”

That pretty much exhausted Joe and he slipped back into a blank stare. Sad. I gave him a $20 and he headed back to the library. This time I went home. It was clear that stories like his were going to make this come alive. I needed to track down some of the names I’d gotten from my research.

I needed to find Frank Elmquist.


*In newspaper-speak, “30” is typed at the bottom of a story to signify the end.

The File Cabinets In My Head


I’ll admit it. Lately I’ve been struggling with a bad case of CRS. Can’t remember shit.

This is without a doubt attributed to the massive amount of text, video, audio, emotion, motor skills and innate revulsion to Tofurky Pockets that is clogging up my brain. Like when you can’t see the forest through the trees of tee shirts in your dresser drawer.

I feel sorry for the workers in my brain responsible for thought delivery. Those file cabinets are so overloaded that material is no longer being sorted according to any logical system. Wherever there’s space, data is jammed in.

Lately the workers, (who are always depicted in black & white), have been charged with handling the brain matter needed for me to play Pharrell’s “Happy” on the ukulele. They find it difficult to remain stoic about this task. This seemingly needless clutter impacts their ability to supply me with simple facts that once came tripping off my tongue.

Friend: “How many years have you lived in your house?”
Me: “Ummm, let me think.” (I usually count the American flags I get from the realtor each July 4th, but I’m not home.)

I start thinking of other milestones that might suggest a time frame. The workers upstairs run around frantically searching for the pets I had when I moved in, which car I was driving and how long my hair was. And how blonde.

Why does she want to know anyway?

A diligent worker proudly provides me with a memory of myself, dressed in an over-sized men’s white dinner jacket, striped French sailor’s top and black pencil skirt.

Me: “That’s the 80’s, stupid.”
Friend: “Whaa?”
Me (Deflecting): “Do you want to get a gluten-free cronut?”
Friend: “I’m doing karaoke yoga in an hour.”

Worker in my Brain: “How Kafkaesque.”

The Magical Summer of Camp Runamok

Camp Runamok

Summers are already good, they embolden us with permission to show as much skin as we dare in public, to drink more, “We’re outside, for Pete’s sake!”, and to play childhood games that were dangerous then, and are now downright lunacy. (Think Lawn Darts.)

Occasionally one comes along that is more than good, it is magical. Mine came in 1985 and was called, “Camp Runamok”.

We were in our twenties, living in Manhattan in 5-floor walk-ups or tubs-in-kitchen or 300 sq. ft. rooms with Murphy beds. And no air conditioning. A summer share in the Hamptons was out of the question. So was staying in the City on 100 degree weekends. We found an affordable retreat in the form of a cabin on a creek in Phoenicia, New York. In the Catskills. Henny Youngman was extra and we were on a budget.

Every weekend we’d stop for corn, watermelon and some cases of Genesee Cream Ale, (brewed locally and dirt cheap), on the way upstate. The number of guests varied, but there was a core group who had all assigned themselves projects for the sojourn. Some busied themselves designing the perfect croquet obstacle course. In addition to the wickets, a successful round might include a pitch over the water hazard, (kiddie pool), a straight line descent down the slip n’ slide, and a tap on all four tires of the station wagon.

Others tended to our sustenance. Particularly getting the BBQ fire readied and keeping the watermelon properly marinating by pulling out a wedge and adding vodka periodically. No one was exclusively assigned this task, so efforts were often duplicated.

Third was the crew who had chosen hard labor. Beside the cabin was a brisk running creek that was no more than two or three feet deep. Their goal was to remove enough dirt and rocks to create a swimming hole. I’m not sure how successful they were, but we always had ice cold Genny Cream Ale.

July 4th was when the magic came into full bloom. It was four days of our own private Woodstock, “Caddyshack” and Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest. Allow me to introduce the players:

“The Bodacious Love Birds”
Since they were to be married in the Fall we gave them the honeymoon suite, (basement). Theirs was, and still is, a perfect, wacky union. A “Bewitched”, “Dancing in the Street”, “Diner” kind of love.

“The Affable Frat Boy”
Always happy due, in part, to “brewskies”. Very likeable due to his “yupper” attitude.

“The Iconoclasts In Training”
Chipping away at norms, this group happily mixed campy tradition with alternative world views. Fashion experimentation flourished, one member sported a pot on his head all weekend.

“The Be Frees”
These folk, with their unique personalities, weren’t so much trying to change the world, they were happy running alongside it.

With a backdrop of Americana, we played a combination of “Murder” and “Sardines” all night, invented the bacon-burger-dog, (thereby efficiently covering all the food groups), and held a watermelon seed spitting contest, (which fizzled due the lack of enthusiasm in letting go of any bits of the spirit-laden fruit).

We successfully shed the wet blanket of pressure-filled weekdays, defined by forced conformity and office politics. We were kids again. Kids who could drink, make love, go in the water right after eating and laugh ourselves silly during a game of beerminton.

We called our place “Camp Runamok”, but in truth, we knew exactly what we were doing. We were becoming bodacious, affable, iconoclastic free thinkers. Something that has stuck with us to this day.

The Damn Birthday Song

Birthday Song

Here it is, the dreaded annual event. I don’t mean the day that marks another year of living, I have never been one to fret about getting older. That would be about as productive as watering a dead plant.

No, I am referring to that unavoidable moment when a group of friends and colleagues gather ‘round to honor your time on earth with the most inane 4‐line ditty ever written, “Happy Birthday to You”.

Really? That’s all you can say after all these years? “We know you were born, and we know your name”. Let me fetch my box of medals.

Or is it just something to get quickly out of the way so that we can focus on the real star of the day, cake. If so, then shouldn’t the lyrics be, “I’m so happy there’s cake, I‘m so happy there’s cake, I’m so happy there’s ca‐ake, I’m so happy there’s cake”? Seems like a much more appropriate rallying song.

Even “Jingle Bells” has more of a plot arc. And there is tension. Why just one horse? Can he not get along well with others? Or is he just taking a break from equine relationships that invariably end in separate stalls? And the sleigh is open. Is that really wise during flu season?

The Birthday Song was written in 1893 by a pair of kindergarten teachers in Kentucky, and was originally called “Good Morning to All”. If I had been required to listen to that every day I would have begged my parents for home schooling.

The song has been translated into dozens of languages. Now how hard could that have been? Marilyn Monroe even succumbed to its allure when she slurred it to President Kennedy in 1962. Even in her inebriate state she felt compelled to expand upon the lyrics. Not that anyone was paying attention to the words.

It was the first song to be sung in outer space – by Apollo IX astronauts. Aliens are still hurling meteors at us for that.

And I’m told that Warner Chappell purchased the company owning the copyright for $15 million in 1990. Heck, I’d sing your entire life story in the style of Billie Holiday for a fraction of that.

Next week is my birthday. I will attempt to get through it aurally unscathed. But I know someone out there is humming “you know what” just as I type. It is even the appropriate length for a Twitter tweet.

If cockroaches learn to sing we are doomed for all eternity.