Tuesday, December 30, 2008

23-year-old jumps to his death

This morning I called Edie Mannion to see if she could attend our New Directions' Planning Meeting on New Year's Day, "I'm trying to think of the smartest people I know in the area of mental health," I said.

She asked if I'd read the Philadelphia Inquirer's account of the suicide of a 23-year-old man who jumped from a hotel window on December 1. I had not & immediately went online to read the tragic story. My first thought was, Had this man come to New Directions? If so, had we recognized his potential vulnerability & what had we done about it?

This is the usual response a person has when they hear of a suicide. "What could I have done?"

When I called Mary, one of our members, to invite her to the Planning Meeting, I expressed this sentiment to her. So many young people attend our meeting never to return again. It's imperative, I said, that we make an indelible impression on young people, even if they come only once.

There are so many things they need to take away from the meeting. The first is that it's okay to have a mental illness. No one wants to admit it. I sure didn't when I was diagnosed at age 38. It's hardest though when you're a kid. You've got to accept it & move on with your life. And, for heaven's sakes, take your medication!

Mary came up with the idea that from now on at meetings we oughta make sure we call people between meetings. Phil, one of our small group facilitators, sends out emails after meetings with everyone's phone number.

How wonderful for newcomers - and especially young ones - to know that one of our veteran members is thinking of them enough to give them a call.

It's unclear why Zal, the 23-year-old, jumped to his death. His family and friends were incredibly supportive. His family, orig. from Mumbai, India, had taken immediate steps upon learning of his illness six years ago to get him professional help.

At the time of his death he was allegedly on a med cocktail with the all-important injection of an antipsychotic plus other meds. His delusions such as believing he could fly & that he was in direct contact with God, as well as hearing destructive punishing voices made living in reality increasingly impossible.

Why did he jump? Did his rational mind tell him, This is the only way to get out of this veritable hell? Or did his voices dictate, If you jump, God will reward you. Like many people with either bipolar or schizoaffective disorder, he was in the grip of fierce religious thinking.

His parents noted in the article that they never received a proper diagnosis for their son. He reminded me of the brilliant John Forbes Nash who won a Nobel Prize for his Brilliant Economic Mind. Nash, now 80, (b. 1928), refuses to take meds for his schizophrenia, relying instead on his cognitive powers to differentiate between reality and illusion.

Read the Inquirer story by Melissa Dribben here. She did a fine job in documenting his mental decline while portraying him as a talented young man with a world of promise ahead of him.

The only thing that can occur with tragedies of such personal magnitude is to learn from them. That's what I hope we at New Directions will do. Our illness is not to be trifled with. When well-controlled we can go on to live happy productive lives. When we slip up and forget to take so much as one dose of medication, our brains retaliate and our symptoms break out anew.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Shaved Ham

I didn't begin eating the leftover Christmas ham until I worked up a big appetite after swimming today. First I asked myself, Can you go swimming, Ruthie, with only two slices of bread and butter in your belly, and a couple squirts of tonic water?

Gee, I think so, I answered.

I swam a good half hour. Had my own lane. You bring your own thoughts with you. That's all you have when you swim. Your thoughts and the water and the other swimmers and the light coming in from the windows. When I pulled myself out of the pool, took off my bathing cap & shook the water from my ears I heard the sound of Russian men in the Jacuzzi. "It's like the bath houses," I thought. The bath houses of eastern Europe. How I wished I knew what they were talking about. Probably business. But they could've been talking about anything.... constipation, plantar's warts, hair loss. Four of them right there in the Jacuzzi far from the motherland.

When I got home I was famished. I pulled out the leftover ham from Christmas and made up a plate. This ham is so good it's like eating chocolates. You just can't stop. I spread some Grey Poupon off to the side to dip the ham into and discovered that I prefer Dietz n Watson mustard.

When we were kids we lived on possibly the smallest street in Shaker Heights. Glenmore Road. All the streets had English names to impress people. There was Westchester Road off to the right, Byron Road straight down the middle, and Rye Road on the left. We knew 80 percent of the residents on all those streets. That's the way it was in the 1950s. Know thy neighbor!

Right next door lived The Turnocks. My dad captured them and us in reels and reels of home movies. My mom and grandmom were constantly comparing us - and particularly me as the oldest kid - with the The Turnocks. Why can't you be like the Turnocks? They were the perfect Leave it to Beaver family.

But guess what? Later on we learned that the 4 Turnock Girls were always being compared to the 5 Greenwold Girls!

Some things never change.

Jews were just making their way into the Cleveland suburbs back then just as different ethnic groups are making their way into the Philly burbs today. The Turnocks had undoubtedly never been intimate with a Jewish family before. What were Jews really like? Was it true they had horns? Were they the Christkillers that many Christian religions actively taught?

The number one thing about the Greenwold Girls is we loved to play. We were always outside playing baseball in the empty field across the street, playing badminton out back, catch on the front lawn. We had a swing set & sliding board out back we used like monkeys in the zoo.

And the smells of food emanating from our house! Mom made sure we were well-fed. And well-dressed. Maybe one reason I love casual clothes today is that we all had to look immaculate. Perhaps this is the immigrant mindset... if they look good, they can't be that bad.

Anti-semitism did exist back then. The first Jews on Westchester Road got eggs spattered onto their windows with some Jew-hating words written on their mailbox. My dad however taught us to be proud of our ancient heritage. "See Georgie Jessel on TV?" He's Jewish. "Groucho Marx? He's a Jew."

My best friends were gentile. Whatever's the opposite of xenophobe, that's me. People like me enrich the gene pool. I'm attracted to people that are very different from myself. My ex certainly fit that description. I introduced Judaism to a whole group of his farm-stock people in East Texas.

After swimming, I came home and started cutting up the ham in thin slices. Suddenly a buried memory resurfaced. The Turnocks ate wonderful sandwiches made from 'shaved ham' or thinly sliced ham from the deli. I had never tasted anything so delicious. Our family did indeed eat pork. As you know, each immigrant generation in America becomes more and more integrated so that the Kosher-keeping among us gave birth to non-Kosher kids.

Most Jews my age remember their Kosher grandparents and the phenomenon of keeping kosher which once served a practical purpose. Thank goodness modern science has proven that eating shrimp is actually healthy.

Please pass the Kelchner's cocktail sauce.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Sacred Task of Breadmaking

To me, making bread is as private an activity as taking that first glance outside the window first thing in the morning. You want to get your bearings, make sure the world is still there, are the neighbors awake? Are the bushes shriveled with cold? The birdbath frozen with all those beautiful leaves trapped underneath? And, what, for heaven's sake is Bob up to across the street backing cars out of his drive and parking them on the street.

First thing is to ensure privacy while you bake bread. This is if we're gonna make it a spiritual experience. And let's face it. There are few spiritual experiences during the American Christmas experience.

When I had fullblown manic depression I was far more spiritual than I am today. I wrote the bulk of my poetry then and found God in every church steeple I saw or every bird that stopped to drink from my birdbath. And, oh, those praying mantises that regularly visited every fall. What regal individuals they are!

Alone with my ingredients I stand before them in my green Starbucks apron. I am ready to knead. This is the holy part and has always been so. I have always thought of kneading the bread as creating a baby. My hands are ready, having been thoroughly spread with olive oil as has the dough.

Wearing my clogs, both for elevation & comfort, I begin the rhythmic motion of kneading as I watch the bread progress & develop slowly. You can watch the transformation beneath your fingers and it brings an abiding sense of joy that you yourself are carrying on this ancient tradition, that you yourself have CHOSEN to be a breadmaker.

Inhale its rich aroma! There is only one thing, I tell my breadmaking classes, you can do wrong. You mustn't let it rise too high or it will fall upon itself and exude a powerful stench of alcohol. Kind of like a politican, huh? Or an African or South American king! Not to mention our own 43rd president of the United States, The Universal Moron.

You must pay attention to your bread not unlike a baby in the other room. Heed its call. Know its needs. I use a timer.

My whole wheat challah, the bowl covered by a damp towel, is now undergoing its second rising. Did I hear the ding of the timer? Not sure so I will go in & check. Take no chances where bread or babies are concerned.

It's now ready to be shaped into loaves. I make braids & set one braid on top of the other pinching them together so the top one won't topple off. Then comes the egg wash & liberal sprinkling of poppy seeds.

The whole house smells of industriousness when a woman bakes her own bread. Then and only then will I go downstairs & work on my novel.

It is also necessary while kneading to constantly admire the bread. While you needn't say I love you, you might say, as I do, "You're so beautiful!"

A Christmas Morning

This morning began, as usual, with a bowl of potato salad and a huge gulp of tonic water. I like my drinks to scald my throat, just as life does. I was born to be bad. You know who said that? Joseph Brodsky, a poet, who I rediscovered this Christmas morning.

The topic this morning is Christmas cards, indeed cards of all types. As my readers may know, today is my birthday no. 63. I always thought 60 was old.

Stay tuned. I've gotta start my whole wheat challah and then I'll be back.

Okay, the yeast is rising in the potato water I saved from last nite's potato salad. I've got 2 eggs stirred in there, plus a quarter cup of blackstrap molasses. I don't measure anything. For the yeast, I just poured it out in my palm which is about the size of a tablespoon.

When the timer dings, I'll go in and add the flour and then let it rest again.

Thanks to everyone who sent me birthday cards and Christmas cards. I'll use my friend Pam as an example of how I treat 'bought cards.' Pam is a wonderful friend. She came over thother nite to pick me up to see the mediocre movie Vampire. I had erroneously confused it with another vampire movie my daughter had blogged about. This is the bad part of being 60. Your memory has lost some of its finer points. This is true unfortunately! I could never enter medical school now.

We're sitting in her van in my driveway. It's the coldest night of the year. "I got you something for your birthday," she says, handing me a gift-wrapped little box and a card.

I thank her effusively, give her a hug & attempt to stuff them into my backpack.

"Aren't you going to open them?" she cries.

"Well, I thought I'd do it after the movies. We're late as it is...... oh, lemme open the card."

It's one of those cards that costs more than the gift. It's a triptich like those religious paintings of Christ and the Madonna at the art museum.

Oh god, I'm thinking, what a frigging waste of money.

Nice, I ooze, trying to put it back in my backpack.

Aren't you going to read it?

I did, I say. It said Friends are like Sisters. That's a b'ful sentiment, Pam, and I feel the same way about you. I'll read it when I get home, I lied.

I threw it out first chance I got. Threw out, in fact, all of the lovely cards people sent me. Can you guess why I threw them out?

In case you can't figger it out it's b/c the words on the greeting card werre written by a PR expert. All the buyer need do is match up the card with the person. Yes yes I know I'm being a scrooge but one can't argue with feelings!

Then my cantankerous nature had a pang of conscience. I realized I'm hosting a meeting at my home on New Year's Day, I'd better display some of the cards, so I fished a couple out of the trash.

Then this morning, as if to further taunt me, I get is an ECard from Nancy for my birthday.

What is my duty about opening ECards?

You're on your own, Ruthie, there's no one to ask. Think for yo'self.

It took so long 'loading' on my computer - god gives us only so much patience - so the decision was made for me. HOWLEVER (that's how they pronounce it in Philadelphia), HOWLEVER, Nancy herself wrote a small inscription on the ECard, to wit something about the joy of being placed on this planet.

Now THAT was beautiful and meaningful and ORIGINAL.

I have never ever sent a 'bought card' to anyone w/o writing something original on it. My bought cards are all freebies from various nature groups I belong to and they have glorious blank spaces in which to write your encomia (incorrect plural of encomium). Make that, correct plural. I just checked.

Also, if you send someone a card, if you think well enough of them to mail them a card, why not be courageous & sign it with the Love word. As in:


Other acceptable signatures are:

With love,


Warm regards,

Once I sent Jane Pauly a pretentious email when she was first diagnosed w/bipolar & spilled her guts to the news media & I signed it Godspeed!

Knock! Knock! It's the news media camped outside on the lawn. Please provide us with the most gruesome details of your life, weep while you're speaking, so that we can move up on the shameless CNN news ladder.

Born to be bad, as the late Brodsky said. You MUST read him. Start with the Wiki entry being sure to read what the Accusing Judge said to Brodsky when he was brought to trial in the Soviet Union.

Then you can hear Brodsky himself read - in English & in Russian - on the Poets.org link. His English is perfect (the man was very gifted) and then you'll hear him read the same poem in Russian. O how that Russian language pours from his lips like gusts from the almighty sky and ocean crests, you feel the might of the beleaguered Russian people and the tyrants who continue to rule this great people.

Okay, the timer just went off.

Next installment is about LAST NIGHT!

Scott's parents were married on Christmas Day, the only day Dave could get furlough when he was in the Air Force in Lincoln, NB, so he and Natalie were married 53 years ago. Altho they're Jewish, they LOVE celebrating Christmas. And what a spread they put on the table!

Isn't it amazing when you think of it how the food is all over the place & then it gets macerated in your mouth & fits snugly into your intestines! Well, I guess if you think about it we've got miles n miles of intestines. But ya know what? It's best not to think about it.

Scott & I left early since he had to work Christmas Eve. As he says, Someone's gotta take care of the trains. He works with the electronic systems at the city's transportation center.

After I drove him to the train, I came home and began cooking for Xmas dinner at my son's and future dtr/laws today. I wanted to get that tater salad marinating in the fridge all nite & did. It tasted pretty good this morning altho I forgot the relish in my secret sauce of mayo, mustard, olive oil, paprika, garlic, parsley, celery leaf which is blooming right now outdoors.

At midnight I lay down to go to sleep. I stopped saying my vespers a few years ago cuz it made me too depressed. I would start thinking about Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, schizophrenics, political prisoners, mothers with postpartum depression & psychosis, the betrayal of Bernie Madoff, the camps and ovens of the Holocaust and I just couldn't go on so I stopped praying. YOU pray if you want to. Look, I'll even lead a group prayer, I just can't pray by myself.

I lay waiting for sleep to come. There's lots of noise upstairs. Clanging and banging. It sounds like someone's upstairs. Oh shit, I think, must I go upstairs to check? Should I carry a knife? Or maybe brew a cup of coffee as a peace offering?

I swung out of bed and marched purposefully upstairs turning on lights as I went up. The noise emanated from the third floor of my modest-sized split level, the floor with the 3 bedrooms and the bath. I turned on the light of my bedroom and pulled off the covers.

No one was hiding there.

Then I went into the closed doors of Sarah's bedroom. Freezing cold but no one was there.

Lastly, I went into Dan's room, painted bright yellow. As soon as I opened the door I heard it: the loud rustling of plastic taped to the windows to keep the cold out. The wind was shaking that plastic and giving it a good what-for, I'll show you, who dyou think you are trying to control the wind.

I shut the door loudly and went back to bed.

Monday, December 22, 2008

You've won my heart Fred Hersch!

Ethan has a particularly poignant blogpost about one of the greatest contemporary jazz pianists alive - Fred Hersch. I've never heard of him either but it's worth reading about this amazing fifty-three year-old man and the difficult paces his illness has put him through.

If prayer does any good, let's all pray for Fred Hersch.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

We took Shelly's car

Shelly, I said on the phone, have you looked outside today? It's a sheet of ice. My car door won't open.

Oh, so you don't wanna go visit my brother today?

I didn't say that. Of course I wanna visit him. But I don't wanna drive. Can you pick me up?

Naturally I felt guilty but since colliding with a schoolbus two years ago in a snowstorm I lost my gumption.

I'll be there in half an hour, she said. I set the timer so I'd know when to watch out the window.

When I got in her car I was relieved to see that in case an icy tree fell on us and we had to await the jaws of life she had plenty of food and drink for us in the backseat. Idly, I wondered if she had a can opener for that can of yummy baked beans.

Her brother lives with two other men in a group home in East Oak Lane. It's literally a beautiful three-bedroom house with lovely paintings on the wall and comfy furniture. The only thing it lacks, which I didn't mention to Ron, the house manager, was a mat when you come in to stomp your feet on.

Shelly & I made ourselves at home. In the kitchen, I plugged in the Mr Coffee Maker & consulting Ron and Shelly, made 10 cups of coffee, Dunkin Donuts Decaf. Shelly cut the cheesecake from Trader Joe's (no, Peggela, it's not half as good as yours) and some holiday apricot kuchen.

We all sat down to eat. The TV was on with a boring football game. In group homes like this the TV is always on. I've probably been in a dozen group homes in my life. The house managers are very important people and have power over people's lives just like parents.

All of the men talk to themselves. Their histories are contained in huge notebooks in the bookshelves which also contain the drugs they take. It's very organized. They all smoke like chimneys. The man I sat next to and tried to converse with had eyebrows that draped halfway down his face. Try as I might, I just couldn't get a conversation going with any of them.

They loved their coffee and finished the entire pot within fifteen minutes. So you know what I did? I made another six cups. Without exception they drank their coffee with shaking hands. Their medicine made their hands shake. Shelly's brother shook so bad he spilled the coffee all over his sweatshirt and onto the table & didn't even seem to notice it. So I went into the kitchen and got a dishcloth and wiped it all up. I cannot stand food messes. I let Shelly wipe his mouth.

Him and another guy lost all their teeth. They also had tardive dyskinesia in their mouths.

When I started working with mentally ill people at Bristol-Bensalem Human Services I always wondered the following: if you put these people on an island all by themselves would they be able to fend for themselves and populate a new nation. I remember thinking this thought when I was sitting in the office of the chief psychiatrist Norman Lamonsoff & looking out the window saw one of the women going off campus into a nearby forest.

Norm, I said casually, one of the crazy people just escaped.

Usually a slow-moving man, Norm got up from his chair, summoned Diana Ice and a posse went out looking for the woman.

That's how I learned the patients were not free, couldn't wander about like I could, and must be kept under suveillance. Yet when they went home on the bus at three o'clock they could do as they liked.

I had two cups of decaf at the group home. We lit Chanukah candles. Shelly and I invited the boys to join us as we said the Barucha but no one could remember it. The candles flickered merrily on the dining room table and the men asked for seconds of everything.

I asked to tour their rooms. One man had a chess set in his bedroom. And shelves filled with books. He was a Temple University graduate who as a young man allegedly had his drink spiked with ecstasy or some other drug which ruined his brain. True? I dunno.

I pretended to myself that I was married to the guy with the long eyebrows. I'd dress him up real nice and bring him out to meet my friends. I'd coach him on what to say and how to behave. He was a year younger than me and looked about 80. I could tell my friends I'd finally met someone who wanted to marry me. But, you know what? No matter how I coached him it would never ever work. The man would do what he wanted to do.

We stayed for what seemed like a very long time but it was never boring b/c Shelly was there. She's a real talker. After we left, she said she found out some good info about how Ron (not his real name) got her brother to do stuff when he didn't want to. "I just tell him" said Ron, "that if he doesn't do it, I'm gonna take him to the doctor."

Well, it's better than telling him, "I'll take you back to Byberry." He'd get beaten up regularly at Byberry when he used to live there. Lost his teeth there. He is the sweetest guy you've ever met. The quality of sweetness resonates from William. Sometimes Scott tells me I'm sweet, but honey, you ain't never seen sweet till you met William.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Guido Grows Up

Please email me your thoughts about the latest poem I'm obsessing over. RuthDeming@comcast.net.


the sun crept up
behind our apple tree
the morning father died
I heard him call
Guido! Guido my boy!
your daddy needs you
though hair grew thick as
wheat upon my chest
and time had come
and gone
to have a family
of my own.

His Guido boy
was downstairs
having my
holding a dry one
up to the light
peeking through
to read my daddy's fortune

Guido! I ran to the top
of the stairs
Lad raced up ahead of me
jumped on the bed

I'd never seen daddy dead
nor imagined the
nonchalance of it
the laissez-faire
the man who walked me
to the schoolbus
those wintry days in willow grove
before my brain began
its slow de-rail
an illness that has no name
a life without
a melody

O father
my protector
so dead now
lying barrel chested
as if the ceiling held
untenable pleasures
and your boy held none

Your riding mower
will rust in the garage
your grass will grow high
rioting with dandelions
over your proud lawn

Who will visit mother's grave?
the woman who filled in
my silences since I'm
slow to talk

I will not go to the bridge
this time
to stand and think of
the world without me

I will rise up and
walk the dog
and look at the snow
in the pine boughs
without father

I will lift the door
of the garage and
oil the mower
and be ready for next spring
when the grass grows without you

I lie my head on your silent chest
as the heavy feet
mount the stairs
and look out the window
as a boy on his bike
pedals up the hill

the boy does not know
nor does the world
a simple matter
a man who cannot leave his bed
or close the windows when it rains
or sing a holiday song

all the grief is mine to bear
here at 89 Edge Hill Road.

Air Traffic Controller

No, the above is not the name of my new rock band. Several years ago the Silent Neighbors were moving out. They rarely emerged from their home. He was in his 50s and dying in the basement from Parkinson's disease. She was caring for him. Only one person, AnnaLynn was allowed inside to help with the vigil of slow death. The man spent 80 percent of his time asleep.

Suddenly their home was a beehive of activity. Their two sons converged on the house to move both parents out and onto Compass Road in Warrenton VA, I believe, where mom could have a life and dad would count down the remaining days of his life. They would move into the newly purchased home of bachelor son Randy, an air traffic controller.

They let me into the house during the last week. They gave me a small orange book on the Jehovah's Witnesses. The entire family were Witnesses. I asked Randy to inscribe the book for me and write his new address and email. I got in touch with him once on the day he was giving some out-of-towners a tour of his Washington DC office. "I guess it IS pretty impressive," he said after I commented.

What qualities do you need to be an air traffic controller? I asked.

The main quality, he said, is the ability to forget what you had for breakfast. To forget what happened an hour ago. You've got to live exclusively in the moment.

Think of it. Those planes are coming in from all over. It's all computerized of course. Your mind must be a blank slate.

That's how I feel when I come home from New Directions' meetings. I try to tie up all the business right there at the meeting so I can come home w/no unfinished business.

After our post-meeting trip to IHOP, I got home & opened the door. It smelled like dinner - chicken soup with brown rice, leftover asparagus, carrots, celery, mushroom & a heavy dose of cinnamon for flavor. I had some orange juice mixed w/tonic water for a post-meeting treat.

Mostly, tho, I was waiting for 3 people to write me back their impressions of my most recent poem Guido Grows Up.

No one wrote back. On my wall I tape up a phone list. On the list it says:


These are all the people I call when I wanna read a poem & make sure it's understandable. I just need to reach one single person so I go down the list.

Okay, so no one wrote me back. I clicked onto the NY Times to see what disaster had happened in the interim & something reminded me of a fellow I went to Goddard College with. I decided to goggle his name.

This is so manic, I said to myself. In the old days, I would call up old boyfriends in the middle of the night- what for? In my mania I'd feel a strong thread between us. So now, 30 years after Goddard, I'm goggling "Tom Twist" and find him on Facebook.

Against all my principles, I sign in to Facebook & send him a message:

goddard college? please lemme know if you went there.

In 2 minutes I get a reply. 1963-66. Tim Pitkin's finest hour. (Tim was the president)

Gleeful, I reply back. DO YOU REMEMBER ME? I was short, Jewish and hung out with Carolyn Hughes and Wendy Davidson.

Psyched, I pour myself another glass of OJ and await his answer.

It never arrives.

Like the air traffic controller, I must excise my folly from my mind.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Forbidden thoughts

I sleep downstairs in the family room. The darkness becomes me. Almost asleep, I saw a light shining at the top of the stairs. What was it? Christ tiptoeing thru the house? I have never personally met the man - not even when I was floridly psychotic.

There were no sounds from the kitchen at the top of the stairs. The light hurt my eyes. Then I remembered! Sarah was home! She had taken the bus in from Brooklyn to cook for the bridal shower of her future sister/law. She was up late making finger sandwiches, shrimp cocktail, and tiny h'ors d'oevres.

Ours is a small kitchen with a shocking lack of counter space. Sarah, I said, if need be we can always move TV tables in here.

I'm fine, Mom, was her cheery reply.

She brought home her professional layer cake pans. She let me lick the batter. Major role reversal. There is nothing better than Butter Cream. Fat carries flavor, said Sarah. Is that why whole milk tastes so delicious? Is that why I slather butter on my homemade bread making it taste more delicious? Is that why I make mayonnaise dressings for my fish dishes? Is that why I take Zocor?

Sarah could not be in the kitchen as there were no sounds. Had she gone out for a walk underneath the tremendous pulsating moon? A moon she rarely sees in her Brooklyn apartment. Shaking the sleep out of my eyes I went upstairs.

All was dark including her room.

Sarah? I called.

I'm just taking a rest, Mom, she called from the bedroom.

Why don't you go to sleep, Sweetie, it's midnight, and I'll wake you early next morning. You still have lots of time to make the rest of the goodies for the shower.

Okay, Mom, she said in her low sleepy voice.

I turned out the lights and went back to bed, falling asleep quickly in the darkness.

When I awoke for a brief moment in the middle of the night, I smelled the delicious aroma of her cooking and remembered the four-layer creme cake she had made.

Mom, she had said earlier, did you see the cake?

What? You took it out of the oven already?

Yeah. It's beautiful.

I looked around the kitchen. It wasn't there. My first thought was The dog ate it. Everyone knows how careful you must be when you have a dog. Even the best-trained dogs can turn on you & gobble you up. So that sounded like a distinct possibility. Except I don't have a dog.

Where's the cake? I asked.

It's on the floor, Mom.

I was immediately terrified that I'd unwittingly stepped in it.

But, no, there they were - the two cake pans - cooling on a rack on the floor under the windows. Sarah had made use of every surface in the kitchen.

In the middle of the night, when I smelled the delicious aroma of food, I thought about raiding the refrigerator and eating the cake. She had painstakingly written Nicole and Dan on the raspberry butter cream icing. Why wait for the bridal shower? I could pretend a burglar entered the house and ate the whole thing.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Mayor of Willow Grove Mall

I'm always late for Mornings at the Mall. That's cuz I know either Helen or Marion will be sitting there & either greeting the Mallsters or doing their own thing if no one shows up. (My own dread fear of abandonment.) When I walked into the mall yesterday, I braced myself for an empty table. I had come prepared w/2 library books - the extraordinary Searching for Schindler by the Australian who wrote Schindler's List made famous by the movie, & another book by a woman who won a prize that kept her in handbags and jewelry until she completed the book.

First I glanced at Fred's table which I call The Sexy Old Men's Table. I've gotta avoid them cuz they're really interesting & have an opinion about everything. They meet daily. Someone should write a newspaper article on them - or about us.

Our table was packed! Sitting at the end was The Dysfunctional Family of the Year. As soon as I sat down the 3 of em wanted to talk to me. They look for a saviour to solve their multitudinous problems that grow at an exponential rate. Just cuz I was born on Xmas Day doesn't mean I'm IT. The kid starts talking. Then the other kid. They all talk at the same time. It actually reminds me of my own family when I was growing up. You could not finish a sentence. No one gave a darn about what the other person said b/c one's own needs were forever insolvable!

This was a very needy family. They'd spoken their peace to Helen - who is VERY GOOD! - but now they needed to say the same thing AGAIN to the alleged head of the group. I used to like helping them b/c I THOUGHT I COULD DO SOME GOOD. The family has been in professional therapy their whole life.

I made a brilliant intervention that I knew would change the entire course of their family history and put them on the fast track toward success, maybe even making them future candidates for - well, let's say the gubernatorial race of Illinois.

Stop right there, says I. You keep looking at one another while you're answering my questions. You people can't think for yourselves. Aaron! I'm talking to you and I want you to look straight at me and not check with your girlfriend.

And, silly me, actually thinks this is gonna sink in.

Okay, on to the next victim. A new girl named Sandy. She turns out to be far more depressed than you'd ever know. She has suicidal thoughts when driving. Ya know, drive over the cliff, drive off the bridge, how bout ramming that tractor trailer & showing who's boss? I say this lightly, with humor, b/c you can't deal with heavy stuff like this by letting yourself feel their true pain. I myself have felt their true pain - as has the entire Mall table at one time or another - but once you're out of that deep pit, you can't allow yourself to be lowered back down.

I say to her - and reiterate it this morning on the phone - Those thoughts are gonna come. They are very strong, very intense, but they are tricking you. You are smarter than they are & you've gotta toss them aside by saying something positive or shouting outloud. Yes, you are smarter than those thoughts.

I also have Sandy make out 2 affirmation cards. The first is: I will not kill myself. The second is How to get out of bed in the morning.

Okay, on to pleasanter things. Like what? Oh! The Mayor of the Mall. I nearly forgot.

So, we've got one shift of Mallsters & then Shelly Quigley walks by. She's an entertainer & sits down with us. At 5-minute intervals she jumps up to hug someone she knows. "I feel like the Mayor of the Willow Grove Mall," she says. Shelly will be joining us on Sunday at our Coffeeshop Gig! Check the website for her tagline. We're also visiting her brother, who lives in a group home, the week before Xmas.

Another featured guest is Claudia Beechman, an old friend & an immensely talented woman. Her sister Laurie was an actress and singer on Broadway before she died at age 44 of ovarian cancer. When speaking w/Claude last nite, she told me of Laurie's breathtaking performances available by the miracle of YouTube. Before I went to bed last nite I sat at my computer beguiled by these 2 videos. Click one. Click two. These are appearances she & her husband made on the Phil Donohue Show. Laurie was in Cats, Annie, & Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Machine, among other shows. Immense talents like hers are rarely seen. Like the sun in our galaxy. She pulled me in!

When I see Claudia on Sunday I'll tell her that Claudia herself has a very similar voice to Laurie who was trained as a child as a singer. Claudia's voice is as powerful as her sister's and also as expressive. You will LOVE HER!

And of course Pam London Barrett will be there dispensing free prescriptions for Abilify to anyone who wants it. When o when Pamela are you gonna have your own practice, we all want to know. She's currently practicing at Norristown State Hospital.

Brrrring! Ah, there's the phone above the soothing noise of the dishwasher. Don't you love the sounds of your home machines? Sometimes I lie in bed and listen to my refrigerator make ice. I lived w/o ice for nearly 2 years cuz I was too cheap to get the icemaker fixed. Now I'm in love again - with ice!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In praise of the library

When I was 21, I worked as Bob Klineman's secretary at Bates Bedspreads in Manhattan. It was one of those in-between jobs while I tried to figger out what to do with the rest of my life. I would hand Bob one of my carefully typed letters for him to sign & he'd return it with his dirty fingerprints from pipe-smoking. He had a little office in the back and you could hear him talking on the phone to his new wife & blowing her kisses.

The days went by fast. Bob kept me busy. I waited for the erudite office mail server twice a day. We didn't have much time to chat but we'd exchange names of good books. He talked me into reading The Fixer by Bernard Malamud and from then on I was hooked on that author whom I read while taking the bus and train from Englewood Cliffs, NJ, into Manhattan.

One day it dawned on me. Become a librarian! I'd had 3 semesters at Goddard College, had no ambition, and was looking for a career. I had no idea what librarians do, but to work in an environment filled with books and encyclopedias and dictionaries and atlases was a far far better thing than sitting in a windowless office typing letters to Bonwit Teller, The Higbee Company, and Carson Pirie Scott.

I decided to become a librarian.

First, tho, lemme tell you how I spent my lunch hours in Manhattan. I had a strict schedule. I would walk from The Garment District uptown to Times Square and have the most marvelous of all possible lunches: A hot dog with sauerkraut and mustard and a Regular Drink from Orange Julius. Nothing was better.

Sometimes I'd stop at Penn Station where passenger trains from all over the entire country would stop. Dressed nicely, wearing my hip Fred Braun shoes which I needed to pad inside with cardboard since the sole developed a hole in it, I was often taken for an official at Penn Station. Thing is, there were no officials. But elderly travelers thought I was there as a guide to help them find bathrooms, staircases, ticket booths.

Not having anything better to do on my lunch hour and eager to forget my association w/Bates Bedspreads, I did what I could to help, often fantasizing wearing an official badge of my own making.

After I was married and living in Texas, I did pursue a library degree at the U of TX at Austin. I had never loved classes so much except perhaps English at Temple where we studied Dante's Inferno and Paradise Lost and of course The Holy Bible. Having access to much of the world's knowledge thru library science was a heady experience for a naive girl from Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Since the birth of my daughter Sarah was imminent I only completed one semester of library science. I then became that greatest of all things: A Mother. Full-time. For both Sarah and Dan.

My love of libraries is as strong as ever. My home library is The Upper Moreland where I visited only yesterday.

Guess what? My blogging time is up. Gotta get on with my day. I'll talk to you later.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cranberry Milkshake

I admit it. I was desperate last nite. Trapped at home with nothing to eat. And it was only 7 pm and I was starving. There was no fresh fruit. Not even a lone grape at the bottom of the bowl. A Jewish home without fruit? Oy veh. I tore open the cupboards. Thank goodness for Dan. When my grown son lived w/me he lived off canned goods and frozen foods. He'd left behind a bevy of unappetizing foods he refused to bring w/him to the home he bought. When you're starving like I was, nothing is unappetizing.

I carefully arranged my food to bring downstairs to my everything bed. The bed sits prominently in my family room, the room where the 5-panel gas heater is the main attraction in the wintertime. On my bed I watch movies and use my laptop, usually simultaneously. When serving food on said bed you must be very careful. My new Sleepy's Mattress does not have a rubber sheet atop the mattress like when we were kids & used to wet the bed. Enuresis it was called. We were all bedwetters. I didn't even know enough to be ashamed of it.

Okay, let's get back to my midnight snack. Please forget about the urine part.

Very carefully onto the bed I lowered my bowl full of canned cranberry sauce and another bowl of canned saltless mixed nuts (less than 50% peanuts, brags the Planters label).

Let's just say the snack was passable, filling. Delicious it was not. I was answering emails, popping the filberts and cashews as fast as I could. These canned mixed nuts by Planters are really not that good. Is it b/c they're unsalted? I add no salt to my diet.

So what does one do with a can of partially ate cranberry sauce? Let's toss that question out to the young man in the argyle sweater-vest. What dYOU think, sir? @$%@% Oh, dear, it's one of those unrepeatable responses.

Here's my Anytime Cranberry Milkshake I made this morning which was UNBELIEVABLY FANTASTIC. So good, in fact, that I'm having my second:

Into your blender put:

2 cups milk
1/3 can cranberry sauce
1 banana
lots of cinnamon

Give it a nice swirl. Then quaff, staring at all the tiny seeds coming your way.

When my son lived with me, he removed my old blender & replaced it with his new, inferior one. I didn't mind. All of his new appliances and gadgets found a friendly place to live in my kitchen. Dan is a modern man, after all. When he left, out came all my old beloved things including my Osterizer Blender. The bottom comes off for easy cleaning. In another post, I'll tell you the importance of this tool which significantly is as old as my daughter, Sarah, 34 years old.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Ask Dr Ruth

I'm not even gonna try & defend myself about the title of this blog. My friend Nancy calls me Dr Ruth. She's a very clever girl and an artist. Here's her recent question:

Q: oh, dr. ruth, i do remember you telling me to not hang out with "mentally ill" people...i have one calling me on a daily basis....i really do not know how to stop her from calling me. i lied and told her i was too depressed to do anything, and she said that she would be happy to come over and help me with any chores i needed. this is sad..........'Suzy' is a very nice person, but will not take any medication and is schizophrenic, i believe. i don't' know exactly what she is......but, not your garden-variety of friends of mine who tend to have spells of depression and anxiety......nope, she is in another league.
last summer i made the mistake of going to a movie with her and inviting her to 2 activities i was in .........one at a park and the opening for the aids task force art show. well, she attended them ...... and really has not called me for a long time. now.....DAILY !!!
so, i hope to hear from you soon. i am very, very grateful to be getting back to myself.......depression really sucks.

A: First of all, Dear Reader, & Dear Nancy, this is a perfect antidote to my previous blog where the situation made me feel like a dang fool. So by answering this, I'll feel better about myself. And remember, whenever something makes you feel like crap, do something IMMEDIATELY to make yourself feel good. And I do not mean eating an entire banana cream pie. (Do I have any crumbs on my blouse?)

A certain group of people court friendships with people with very serious problems. This is very unhealthy. Nothing wrong with having a few friends with terminal cancer, the hepatitises, stroke victims, Munchausen's by proxy, but - hey! - how about a few healthy friends to counter-balance the mix.

Continue being nice to Suzy. Let her understand that you're a busy woman, that you like her, but must divide your time between your other friends and activities. She may be clinging to you now more than ever since she senses you're trying to get rid of her.

We must always be empathetic yet our own needs must come first. Does that make sense?

New cell phone

An importunate voice begged me to meet her in Northeast Philadelphia. I am a sucker. Bigtime. "I found you on the Internet," she said in her Russian accent. "I must meet with you."

"But the Northeast is really far," I said. "Can't you come to Willow Grove?"

"No, no. It is impossible."

Then I heard a bloodcurdling scream in the background. And rapid conversation between her and 'the scream.'

"Is that why you're calling me?" I said. "Because there's someone there with a problem? It's your son, isn't it."

"Yes, yes," she said. "Can you meet me?"

Alright, I said and got the address of Jack's Deli where she wanted to meet me. Thinking quickly, I called her back & asked for her complete address, then got in touch with a mental health clinic to find out where to send her son. He sounded very very ill. Every word his mother said, he screamed at her.

I wanted to meet her on Wednesday, but no, she insisted on Monday, today. Me, god's gift to mental illness. That's what I thought when I left home. Except I thought of myself - rightly or wrongly - as McGuyver armed with my new cell phone.

Armed with directions and dressed in layers against the cold, I drove off planning to solve all of "Katya's" problems. (Name stolen from my son/law's blog today).

What goes thru YOUR mind when you meet someone youve never met before. First, there's a huge chance they'll stand you up. Second, you have no idea what they look like so you form a usually incorrect mental picture.

I'm sitting there at the deli munching on my 2 half-sandwiches - half-tongue and a half-chopped liver - she's 20 minutes late - and finally a woman in a hat strides in. "Are you Katya?" I ask.

"Yes, where have you been?" she says.

"I've been sitting here prominently looking out the window," I say biting into a pickel.

"Yeah, she's been sitting here watching every person come in," said Waitress Sue.

"Vell, I vas waiting over vhere they sell the meat."

"It doesn't matter," I said. "You're here now. Sit down & let's talk."

She refused to sit. She said she would wait until I finished. "Yes, but I'll be lonely," I said. "Keep me company."

"No," she said and disappeared.

"Geez," I said looking at Sue and another customer, Linda. We'd all become friendly during my wait.

I took my time finishing, tasting each delicious bite. Before I ate, I went to the 'meat part' of the store & spoke to Perry the meat man. He gave me a sample of the chopped liver which I told him was exquisite.

After paying my bill, I motioned to Katya who was standing idly near the rugalech case. Her bright red hair stuck up under her hat. Her age was indeterminable.

"Where should we go?" I asked her.

"We stand right here," she said leading me into the restaurant where two chairs were placed for outgoing orders. We were to conduct our public business in front of the customers.

"Tell me what's happening," I said beginning to think the problem was as much with Katya as with her son.

Her body language was very interesting and unusual. She kept her hand in front of her mouth as if she were contagious. I felt like pulling it away so I could hear her.

"I can't hear you," I said at least seven times.

The more she began talking, the more she saw she didn't need my help or anyone else's.

Some questions I asked her were:

How old is your son?


Does he have schizophrenia?

No. He has depression.

When is the last time he left home?

Five years ago.

Is he ruining your life?


Do you have relatives you talk to?

Yes.... no.... yes... no

Did you ever hear of Jewish Family Services?

Of course.

Have you called them?


Then I pulled my trump card from my pocketbook - the name & number of a Mobile Crisis Unit who would come out to their home.

That was the last straw. She was finished with me.

"I must go," she said.

"But don't you want my help? He's ruining your life."

"Do you want me to pay you?" she asked.

That was the last thing on my mind. Ya know what was on my mind? That I drove all the way down to Jack's Deli, having gassed up last nite in the dark when I can't even see to drive in the dark, that I cancelled all my plans for this woman, and then she rejects my help.

Ya know what? It's not a big deal. Not at all. But, look, I'm human, for chrissakes, & it perturbed me.

"Ya want me to pay you?" she says.

"Yeah," I said.

"How much?"

"Give me $10."

She gives me a how-dare-you look. She opens up her purse. Then she shakes her head.

"Well, give me something, anything," I say.

She closes her purse and walks out the door.

Before she goes, I say to her, "Look, you're going to leave here feeling terrible. I don't want you to feel bad."

I watch out the window to see what car she gets in. But she's vanished. I run out the store and look down the street. Is she a figment of my imagination? No, there she is walking down the side street, passing by all the cars. She has walked here. I am trying to pry money from a woman who may not even own an automobile.

But she does own a cell phone. Her son called her when she & I were talking. Her husband has died. Her son does not leave home. She is a character out of a Chekhov short story I wish I had never ever read.

On the way home, I get on my new cell phone. The last 4 digits are 2009. I call my psychiatrist friend Dr. Pam London Barrett to 'process my emotions.' She's on her way home from work. I say, "I'm on Bustleton Avenue in the Northeast & went on a fucking wild goose chase." She says she can't talk but will call me back later. So I call my house number and leave myself a message. I want to see what I sound like on my cell phone.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Breakfast on Pearl Harbor Day

Come on, said Scott. I wanna show you something.

Wait a sec, I said. I've gotta put on my full regalia, meaning sox and clogs and warm sweat shirt.

We went out my side door which leads directly to our now-frozen vegetable garden. The sun had just come up & shone on the thin dusting of snow. I glanced across the street at their Christmas ornaments spread across the lawn. The huge white reindeer and sleigh look so out of place in the daylight.

Don't tell me where they are, I said to Scott. Let me find them myself.

I stared down at our summer veggie garden. It was still green. Would the winter turn it brown? I suppose.

All right, give me a hint, I said. Where are they?

In the middle he said, pointing.

Oh my God! I don't believe it. They're beautiful!

Pointing toward the sky were 2 blooms of broccoli flowerets. So this is how they grew. Smack on the end of the thick stalk, surrounded by leaves.

I'll put it in our breakfast omelette, I said, as Scott picked the only 2 flowerets that made it. We'd planted them the end of June. They were tiny plants that grew and grew but never produced a thing except leaves. What went wrong? The soil? Crowded out by too many tomatoes? Frightened off by the menagerie of birds & animals who came to stare but couldn't get in our tightly-fenced garden.

This is delicious, I said, eating a tiny bite. I'll go make breakfast now.

I always use 5 eggs. Sautee the onions first, then put in very thin strips of the broc, cover with the eggs & when eggs are set, add grated cheese.

It was spectacular. I served it with left-over fennel & celery chunks.

We'd gotten up at 8 and went right into Movie Mode. From the library I checked out Salaam Bombay, dedicated to all the children living on the streets of Bombay. Amazing how the human being adapts. Ya know how they say dying children find a maturity & a philosophy as if they were adults? Same here with these little kids, as young as four, who for various reasons are separated from their families. They form new bonds on the streets - whether Bombay or Rio - our world has gotten so huge and traveled so far from our tribes and clans - but instinct keeps our herd-natured species depending on one another. Salaam India is a good introduction to this unknown world of chance, cruelty, violence, lost dreams and the love that sustains its survivors and its losers alike.

Contrast this world to the bar mitzvah I went to yesterday. All was pomp and jewels and the gilded Torah as I sat in the freezing chapel in Lafayette Hill, PA, rubbing my legs to get warm. Rob couldn't find a seat so he waited out in the hall. The bar mitzvah boy chanted in a sweet high voice.

Rob and I got there quite late. He's a man of the world so he told me to go check my coat, which I did. Then we took a brief tour of the temple. I've been to many temples. Many many temples. Of all the ones I've been to - and this includes one with a dirt-floor in one of the Caribbean islands - this was the dullest. I mean, if you wanted to steal one item - and I mean only one - you'd give up your trade.

After my people finished davening, I left the chapel and caroused in the hallways with Rob. We were waiting until the group moved en masse to the party in Manyunk. We sat over by the windows.... guess what? I so can't stand the environment that I'm gonna move us, Dear Reader, directly into Rob's car.

As a man about town, Rob knows the entire google map of the area. We headed toward Manyunk but first we passed by his new condo, located in his new town of Conshohocken. It's a blue collar town, he said. Ah yes, I said, noting it looked like one of John Updike's towns in his Rabbit Run series. Updike created such luminous descriptions of these dying decrepit towns that even though I read these books 30 yrs ago, they still remain with me.

We were very high up on an expressway. We had a great view. I love being a passenger. Rob is a mellow driver. I don't have to worry about him trying to 'beat' other drivers or weaving in and out lanes.

He suggested I check my warm coat at the restaurant. I felt vulnerable without it cuz I didn't know anyone. People were chatting away. Rob and I felt like outsiders. The worst thing to do when you feel like an outside is to ONLY talk to the person you came with. That is cowardly & despicable. Rob, I said, I'm gonna find some nice people for us to talk to.

There was an attractive couple who weren't talking to anyone. They were sitting alone for about 7 minutes. I inched toward them. You wait for them to meet your eye. They refused. Obviously they found us despicable.

I turned on my heel and saw a very friendly looking man. Nice to see you, I said, going over to him with my glass of red wine & shitake mushroom or derve, my napkin, & my 2 hands.

I'm Eugene, he said.

Eugene, Oregon? I said.

(Not really.) But that's how we worked our way into feeling like we ALMOST deserved to be invited to the party.

We happened to sit at Table Number One with the hosts. I was introduced as her closest friend.
Her mother said to me, There's lots of business for you here, Ruth, lots of bipolar people.

Frankly, I didn't know what she was talking about. That's how people think of me - Bipolar. Ooch! What an ugly word. I just stared at it. As you know, or know NOW, I much prefer manic depression. Ya know what? When I was first diagnosed, I almost levitated out of my chair. It was such a shock. Plus I thought only the elite suffered from it. I sure proved that diagnosis wrong.

But let me tell you something. It IS a diagnosis to be proud of, as long as you don't let it kill you.

Rob and I did a little dancing. Scott said he looked like a doctor in his fancy suit and tie and his soft hands when they shook hands. I'll have to tell that to Rob. So, after this one song by the Temptations is done, I said to Rob, ready to go?

He eagerly said Yes. It was a strain for the 2 of us to think of nice things to say to people. I get paid for that at New Directions & I don't like to do it on my days off. We walked out into the fresh crisp air & waited for the valet to bring us his car.

Interesting, I said to Rob, that the coat check girl remembered my coat & I didn't have to show her my ticket.

She was good, said Rob.

Yeah, I'm thinkin she remembered cuz she thought I was such an idiot, a total outsider, a misfit.

Hmmm, said Rob. I was thinking just the opposite. That she remembered you b/c you're such a distinguished individual.

I just laughed & blew my nose in my Dunkin Donuts napkin.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Company for Dinner

Just bid farewell to my online novel-writing class by sending them a mass email. Question is, without the class, will I be able to motivate myself to complete the book? I'm halfway done. It sounds easy, right, working on a novel. John Steinbeck had to chain himself to his desk like Andromeda on the rock. My best work is done at The Coffee Salon in Hatboro, PA, instead of at home next to the laundry room.

Woke up at 5:30 a.m. when I heard a cardoor slam outside. I ran downstairs and opened up my front door to see if someone was stealing something from my car. I have this nice dish from Brussels my mom bought me which I use to keep acorns and seashells in, also a pair of earrings in case I forget mine (a gift from a former client) and of course 2 watches. In the dead of night last summer someone stole something very precious from my glove compartment. Send me an E and I'll tell you what it is. I actually wrote a short story about it but I forget where it is. It's called The Dead Body.

When I looked out the door it was the man across the street zooming off to work.

Returning to bed, I began reading a new book Ada gave me by David Sedaris. It's about his family. After about 5 pages we realize our own dysfunctional family is NOTHING compared with his. My own mother tyrannizes me - to this day - whenever I speak to her on the phone. I'll call her in a good mood & within 60 seconds she starts bumming me out. Money, death, disease, and decay are her main topics.

She does it all in such a cheerful voice.

I think I better get going now before I hit heavy traffic. The morning has sped by. How does my hair look? Gotta buy dinner for the guests. Have you had your salmon this week?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Straight out of Isaac Bashevis Singer!

The bizarre tragedy in Mumbai was hardly an isolated incident, according to my sources. (The NY Times.) They've been having their own 9/11's since the early 1990s. The latest 5-day shooting spree & terrorization of innocent citizens is recapped in this Times article. Particularly sad was the young Orthodox Jewish couple who left Brooklyn to help their fellow Lubavitchers in Mumbai.

Their 2-year-old son was saved by his nanny & will be brought home to Brooklyn. They asked me to be the wet nurse but I declined. Remember, only in IB Singer. The very eerie and tragic part of the story is that the Orthodox couple are the parents of not one, but two children with Tay-Sachs.

At the time of her death, the deceased mother was with child.

And for breakfast....

Simply chop up the apples - I used Granny Smith, Gala & Macintosh - place in large stovepot, cover with water & simmer. Set timer as always so you won't burn pan bottom. It's usually done in about half an hour, by which time my entire breakfast was done - omelette with onion, toasted homemade challah twist w/poppyseed. I like fruit as dessert. I popped in a handful of frozen raspberries from the freezer. "Breakfast's ready!" I called to Scott. Mmmmm.

Worked very hard on Chapter 7 of my novel yesterday. In the winter I spend most of my time at home either in the warm kitchen or the warm downstairs where I have this new gas heater affixed to my wall. Problem is, it's as dark as Canada down there. It's like living in another house. My windows are those ice-cube-like blocks all along one wall so they let in only a modicum of light.

Yesterday I'm sitting working on the book & a shadow crosses the ice-block window. Can't rightly make out the shape. I'm sitting cross-legged on my bed huddled over the laptop & have to untangle myself to open the door & see who is preparing to abduct me. Ah! I'm looking square in the face of a squirrel. We stare hard at each other. He looks both wily & wise, not unlike an Italian grandmother. Will he perhaps shed his earthly guise & tell me his true mission?

Back to my novel. I put a one-page sex scene in there. It seemed to be right. I put on some Steve Roach atonal music to help me think, to move me forward, to give me hope, to give me courage, writing a book is hard. I spend time with my new character, a fellow from Ecuador like one of my brothers/law. But my Ecuadorean is decidedly NOT Hernan Roberto nor any other person I know. He is a handsome man with wide face and night-black hair fanned across the pillow when he falls asleep. I am pleased I thought him up. Pleased, that is, until until I saw his likeness on TV. Darn. Isn't there anything new, Ecclesiastes, under the sun? Read on....

In the middle of the night it's Pledge Week in Lehigh Valley. I lie in bed next to my gas heater turned to Panel One (out of five heating panels) and under 3 comforters & Pledge Week is offering Yoga for its viewers. How come I've never seen this man? What is his name? Not to worry, they repeat his name 10 times a minute. His wife's too. An odd looking couple that must be goggled immediately, whether or not you're wearing your contact lenses.

Rodney Yee, son of an American air force colonel! How can it be I've never heard of him. I lay awake thinking of Rodney Yee before I fall back asleep. He's 51 & is a former ballet dancer. I wonder to myself, Should Wiki have said "controversy about Rodney Lee" or "scandal." Well, I guess they chose the right word.

But lemme tell you something. It is nearly impossible to get out of here alive without having one or more scandals in YOUR name or someone you love.

I drove my sexy chapter over to Walter's. His tallstory apartment bldg towers in the neighborhood. We each read a copy. I must DEFEND it tonite online. Five others will read & critique it. It was the sex I was worried about. "I guess you know what you're talking about," said Walt, smacking his lips. "Yes," I said. Here is my philosophy, Dear Reader. No need to elaborate about your ability to write a good sex scene. A woman of my age is bound to have had sex at least twice in her life by now - 2 grown kids - wish I'd had more, kids, that is, not sex, well, yes, sex too. Where IS that boy?

Anyway, he said it was well done. That's all I needed to hear. Walter is a discerning man. He has photos of his girlfriend on the shelves and grows tomatoes on the balcony. He eats healthy and made me a dessert parfait with yogurt, Krazy Richard's peanut butter, dried cranberries, dried crystallized ginger from Trader Joe's, canned pineapples - and had me taste some cooked quinoa which I will hie to bye.

Then we went for a walk around the darkening grounds. Walter told me about the death of women he had loved and how he was entrusted to sprinkle their ashes across the river. He had with him the ashes of Florence, his greatest beloved, but when he came to the creek to spread her ashes, the creek near where they had lived together, he cried like a baby and could not give them away.

He is a good man, that Walter. I gave him a giant hug goodbye before I hopped into my Ford pick-up and drove away.