Don’t Forget To Tip Your Waitress

Folks, I got nothing.  I’m resorting to jokes sent to me by my seventy-eight year old father.

“A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons.  The stewardess looks at him and says, ‘I’m sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.'”

“Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal?  His goal: transcend dental medication.”

“Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and, with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.”

Thank you! Thank you very much! I’ll be here all week!


Where’s Aldo?

We have a new cat. It took a while after Blanche died for us to feel we were ready, but about a month ago I started to think it might be time.

We heard about a little ginger kitten that a friend of a friend had found. I guess I’m a sucker for a story of plucky survival  – the kitten had been abandoned by his mother, and his father had tried to attack him.  He survived by hiding in the rafters of the garage. After the man found him, it took several weeks before he was able to coax the cat to come to him, and a few more before he could get the cat inside.  But after all of that, the man couldn’t keep him – he already had two cats, and three had pushed him into that scary “single guy with several cats” territory. He needed to find a home for the kitty. I’ve always had a soft spot for ginger cats, so I said we’d take him.

At first, when the cat arrived at our house, we thought we had adopted an invisible cat. We didn’t see him for two whole days. But then we noticed a lightning fast red streak that sped past us to the litter box. A little later, the red streak darted over to the food bowl, and we could see that he was indeed an actual cat.  Slowly, he started spending a little more time with us. By the fourth morning, he had jumped up on the bed and was demanding head rubs before he disappeared for most of the day. That night he emerged and joined us to watch a little TV.

We decided to name him “Aldo,” after our favorite coffee shop on the east coast. He’s a classic red tabby – an orange creamsicle cat.  I’ve always loved orange cats, and at first I worried that I was picking this cat for the wrong reasons. I didn’t really know anything else about him, other than what he looked like. I was afraid – was I making an impulsive choice, based solely on his looks?

Even though Blanche was absolutely loony tunes and could be very difficult, she had a lot of personality. At times it felt more like she was a human roommate than a cat, and we knew she loved us.  What if Aldo was a mean cat? Or a scared cat? Or even worse, an indifferent cat? What if we ended up not simply not liking Aldo? And what if I couldn’t stop comparing him to Blanche?

Blanche was tiny – she never weighed more than eight pounds, even after fifteen years. Aldo is six months old and he already weighs ten pounds. Blanche didn’t like to be held, and would struggle out of my arms. Aldo loves to be picked up, and protests when you put him down. Blanche was a scratcher. Aldo keeps his claws to himself. They’re two completely different cats. But was Aldo the right cat for us?

Now that’s he’s more comfortable, I can see Aldo is a pretty easy-going cat who seems to enjoy being with us. In fact, I’m now experiencing the classic writers block – a cat who wants to sit on the keyboard when I’m trying to write.  But he’s very sweet when I move him off. He doesn’t bite or scratch. You never really know, but I think he’s going to be a very calm, well-adjusted cat. I think we lucked out. He’s not Blanche, but I think I’m okay with that. There will never be another Blanche.  But now there’s an Aldo, and I’m going to enjoy getting to know him.

Falling For New York

I just spent several days in my hometown of New York City. I haven’t lived there for a long time now, and in many ways it’s a very different city than the one I grew up in. It’s not just that they keep renaming all the subway lines (what happened to the “RR?” I miss hearing the conductor say “This is the ara, ara train.”)

New York is a city that seems to reinvent itself overnight. You go to sleep with a coffee shop on the corner, and the next morning it’s a hat store. I know that’s what makes the city so exciting and vibrant, but you can’t drink a beret, so off you go to find a new coffee shop. Yesterday is old news. You gotta move on. New York keeps you on your toes.

One morning I went out in search of my morning latte, and I decided to try a place my father had suggested. He said they had pastries from Balthazar, a very trendy high-end French restaurant with an amazing bakery, and it was where the locals went. Apparently it was tucked into an cramped turn-of-the-century building, and was filled with authentic New York City charm and character.

I was feeling pretty good as I sauntered into the cafe. I tossed out my order to the disinterested counter guy, maintaining the perfect mix between being civil and not looking like I cared. I felt like a real New Yorker again. I took my latte and delicious almond croissant and decided to go upstairs to the small loft area where there were several tables. As I made my way up the steep, narrow steps, I was excited, although I took care not to show it. I had a chic little scarf tossed over my all-black outfit, which I felt gave me a certain je ne sais quoi. I was home, baby! This was where I belonged, not LA, where I always felt like an awkward outsider. After all, I knew how to navigate this town. Nothing rattled me. As I reached the top step, I reflected that a real New Yorker —

WHAM! All of a sudden my arms flew up, my coffee went flying, and I was down on the floor on all fours. I watched my croissant land in the corner, right next to the trash. Apparently the top step was not where I thought it was. Two very trendy Manhattanites sat nearby, watching me. Had they been entertained by my little performance of Swan Lake, there at the top of the stairs?

I looked at the pair for a moment, thinking one of them might get up and come over, but they just went back to their conversation. I picked myself up, retrieved my latte, which somehow had kept it’s lid on and managed not to spill, and glanced at the croissant – my beautiful almond croissant from trendy Balthazar, which was now covered with authentic New York City dirt. I tossed it into the trash and walked past the coffee-drinkers. I tried to think of something to say as I passed by – “Next show at 10:00!” or “If you liked that, you should see my double back flip.” But I couldn’t come up with anything witty enough.

I went to a table in the corner and sat down with my coffee. My knee was bruised from where I fell on it, but not as bruised as my dignity. My je ne sais quoi had definitely left the building, taking any fantasies of myself as a chic New Yorker with it. I was who I was, and it didn’t matter what city I lived in, or what outfit I wore. It was obvious I didn’t belong here anymore. They all knew I was a fraud. A clumsy, bumpkin fraud from LA. I felt their pity, their contempt, their eyes boring into me.

I looked up at all the real New Yorkers, and I realized that absolutely nobody was looking at me. Nobody cared. It was already in the past. It was old news. And I suddenly realized that I didn’t care, either. Time to move on. Time to buy another almond croissant.

New York. It has a way of keeping you on your toes.

Going Home

I’m off to New York for a few days!

I grew up in New York – first in Greenwich Village, as a little kid, my pre- and teen years in blue collar Staten Island, and back to the UWS (upper west side) as a college student and struggling actor. I eventually moved to LA to pursue my dreams, and have not lived in New York for many years. But the moment my feet touch pavement in New York, I’m home.

My husband says I immediately walk twice and fast and start talking with an accent. I instinctively know where to stand on the subway platform so that I’m in the exact right spot when the train comes. I can maneuver my way through a crowd, and I know that in New York, traffic lights are a mere suggestion and not to be given any serious consideration.

But – it’s been a long time since I lived in the City. Things have changed. What used to be little mom and pop shops lining Broadway are now all GAPS and Starbucks. What used to be the unique Chinese Cuban place where you could get a great, cheap meal is now some chain restaurant where you can get … exactly the same thing you can get in Los Angeles.

I know this is progress. New York has always been a city in transition, and to deny that would be to deny the very essence of New York. Sometimes I even feel a little lost in my own hometown, although I would never ever admit it, especially out in public, when it would make me look like a rube. It makes me sad that New York has moved on, and is not really the place I grew up in anymore. But ultimately, it’s exciting to discover all the changes, and remember that’s what most people love about New York – how it’s constantly reinventing itself. When I go back now, I feel like I’m discovering it too, along with all the new transplants from Kansas and Iowa.

I can’t deny that I miss some of  the past. But there is one thing that makes my heart sing when I return to New York. One thing that reminds me this is still the city where I grew up, the city I love, the city that will always be my home. One thing that never seems to change.

When I see the iconic New York coffee cup, I know I’m home.
NY coffee cup

A Lesson About Obstacles

This is a story about a friend of mine. Let’s call her, um, “Zara.” She learned a very valuable lesson about going for your dreams the other day.

See, this friend of hers had a printer she wanted to give away, and Zara wanted the printer, and they talked about the best time for Zara to come over and pick up the printer, and it turned out that the only time Zara could do that was when her friend was out.

“No problem!” said Zara. “Just leave it on the porch, and I’ll come by and get it.”

So Zara drove over to her friend’s house to pick up the printer. Except when she got there, she saw that her friend had one of those electronically-controlled fences all around the house. You know, the kind that you have a remote control for? And as you drive up to your house you push a button and the fence slides open, allowing your car to pass through. Although the fence was fairly low – maybe about two and half feet – it had a threatening row of spikes on top. This was a little fence you did not want to fool around with. Zara called her friend. Who, of course, was not home.

“Hi! I’m here at your house, picking up the printer, but the fence is closed. I guess I’m going to have to come back and get it when you’re home. Okay, bye!”

Darn. Zara could see the printer on the porch, waiting for her. It was so close. Looking at the fence, she suddenly realized that it would actually be fairly easy for her to leap over the fence. Well, not leap. She wasn’t as limber as those people on “So You Think You Can Dance.” But she certainly could do a sort of sprightly “hop.” I mean, honestly, it really was not a very high fence. Totally hopable. Zara started to wonder why anyone would have a fence that was locked, yet hop-able. The fence did not seem like much of a deterrent to anyone except perhaps small children. Was there a roaming band of house-robbing small children in the neighborhood?

Zara thought about hopping over the fence. Would the neighbors be alarmed to see a strange woman hopping over the fence? Would the neighbors call the police? Would Zara look silly? And then, in a blinding moment of truth, she realized she had spent too much of her life worrying about looking silly, and caring about what other people thought. She had given up too often, and not pursued her dreams, and if she continued to never take any chances in life, she would end up a bitter, angry person who felt empty inside. No more! It was time to throw all of that off! Who cared what the neighbors thought? It was time to say to the universe, “I will not be denied!”

Besides, Zara really didn’t want to have to drive all the way back there another time for the printer. She looked at the fence again. Honestly, it was really not even that high. She didn’t even have to hop. She could simply left one leg over, steady herself, then lift the other leg over.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go as planned. Once she got her right leg up high enough to clear the fence, her back said “Hell to the no!” and sort of seized up a little bit, forcing her to quickly lower that leg on the other side of the fence. Which left her straddling the fence on tippie-toe, since the height had turned out to be a little more than less, and if she didn’t stand on tippie-toe, well, let’s just say the fence would have owed her flowers and a very nice dinner.

But failure was not an option. Not this time. Not ever again. This was about more than a fence and a printer. This was about going for your dreams. Zara summoned all her might, and managed to lift her left leg over the fence. She’d done it! She was over the fence! Elated, she walked to the porch, picked up the box with the printer, and returned to the fence, where she realized she would have to do the same damn thing one more time. Geez. This “going for your dreams” thing was kind of annoying. She leaned over the fence, deposited the box with the printer on the ground on the other side, took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and imagined she was a contestant on “So You Think You Can Dance.” She threw her leg over the fence, did her tippie-toe straddle, and as quickly as she could, lifted her other leg up and over the fence.

HA! She’d done it! Twice! As she drove home, she reflected that sometimes you just have to think creatively when you encounter obstacles. Nothing is insurmountable if you put your mind to it, and you should not be deterred from trying to achieve your goals. Something had changed, and she knew she would carry this triumph with her for the rest of her life.

And when she got home she found a message from her friend. “Hey – I see you got the printer. I’m glad you figured that that it’s not locked or anything and you just have to push it to the side. Listen – I have to go. My neighbor is at my door. I’ll talk to you soon.”

Well, anyway. It’s probably still a good idea to go for your dreams and not be stopped by locked fences and all. Zara just might want to look a little closer at the fence the next time, is all I’m saying.

Are We All Living On Shell Beach?

There’s a great movie called “Dark City,” and I don’t want to give away a plot point, but basically the idea is there’s this place called “Shell Beach” that some people are trying to find, and ultimately this place they’ve been searching for and dreaming about, this place that they think will solve all their problems – well, it isn’t exactly what they think it is.

I feel that pretty much describes everything around me these days. In today’s newspaper there was a story about the new film, “Surrogates.” Bruce Willis plays a cop in a futuristic society where everyone lives through surrogates – who of course, are younger and more beautiful than their “real” selves. In order to make Willis’ surrogate character look younger, the filmmakers used a combination of makeup and digital manipulation of the images. This was done to make the film plausible, but when the reporter asked if this technology might be used on other actors – not for a particular plot line but to enhance their beauty – the person being interviewed basically said something to the effect of (and I’m totally paraphrasing here), “Duh!”

It’s no news that almost every image we see these days is doctored in some way. A while ago there was a story about a Redbook cover photo of singer Faith Hill that was extensively retouched. (Scroll down slightly to see the “before” and “after.”) Sometimes it’s a combination of Photoshop, a ton of products, and an entire team of experts, as demonstrated in “The Evolution of Beauty” video from Dove.

It’s everywhere, this kind of manipulation. My husband is a sound editor/engineer, and a friend of his recently worked with a group known for their amazing vocals. The friend spent the last week “Auto-Tuning” their latest recording. “Auto-tune” is a program that digitally corrects pitch, making the performance “more precise.” More “perfect.”

But I wonder – what’s so great about “perfect?” My husband and I saw a commercial recently on TV, and for the life of us we could not figure out if the woman on the screen was an actual human being, or if she was a computer-created image. She was beautiful. Her skin was absolutely flawless – she was perfect. Too perfect. It was disconcerting.

When I see all this perfection around me, it makes me feel I’ve failed somehow. When I read about other people with their seemingly “perfect” lives – their many accomplishments, their many possessions, their achievements and successes – I feel somehow less. I know I have a rich life – I have friends, I have love, I’ve done things in my life. But I don’t have a perfect body, I don’t have an amazing career, incredible talent, or a stellar record of accomplishment. I’m just … normal. And it seems that’s not good enough these days, because all around me people are getting Photoshopped and Auto-Tuned and manipulated into some kind of perfection that to me, isn’t really perfection – it’s robotic and scary.

Why are we so obsessed with being perfect? Do we think that looking perfect on the outside means that we’ll feel perfect on the inside? Bad things happen to us. Sometimes we do bad things. We make mistakes. We don’t always win. Even celebrities, with their money and fame and beauty experience loss and disappointment and sadness in life. Their album isn’t number one. They don’t get a part. They get sick. They get old. They die. Does being “perfect” make any of that easier for them?

I don’t like being manipulated, and I don’t like being mislead. I’m tired of trying to achieve someone else’s definition of perfect. I’m tried of thinking how I look, how I sound, how I live is not good enough. I’m tired of trying to find Shell Beach.

A New Old Friend

I had the pleasure recently of reconnecting with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a very, very long time. Our mothers were best friends when we were kids, and we spent many vacations together. The last time I last saw her was over fifteen years ago, very briefly. When we met this time, we had an immediate connection, as if no time at all had passed.

We both grew up in Greenwich Village, in New York, with similar artsy bohemian parents. There are very few people in my life who grew up the way I did, and it was amazing to reconnect with my friend, after all these years. She understands things about who I am now – even though we haven’t spent time together in a long time – and we fell into easy conversation. She lives very far away now – across an ocean – and I was so sad when she had to leave. Part of it was nostalgia, probably, but I think part of it was realizing how alone I feel so much of the time. My husband is wonderful, and he’s my best friend, but there’s something very special about having a close female friend as well.

I find it gets harder to make new friends the older I get, particular a female “best friend.” Part of it is lifestyle – we’re all so busy living our lives – just getting through the day, dealing with the economy, homes, responsibilities. When you meet someone new at this age, there’s so much past to explain. At this age we’ve all experienced so much – different job paths, different love paths, different dreams and expectations. I love talking with people who are different than me, because I love learning about their lives and their choices, but often, at this age, I find people are either too busy to sit and have those sort of profound conversations, or they’re too guarded. They just don’t have the time or the energy to open up to someone new. I understand why and how that happens.

There’s something incredible about connecting with someone who understands you a very core way. My old friend understands what formed me – I don’t have to try to explain my family and my upbringing, because she lived it too. Even though our lives are different now, we both could see how we’ve made certain choices based on what we experienced as kids. It was so amazing to have someone say, “I know! I get it!” And even more wonderful was that we didn’t only talk about the past – we also talked about the present, how we feel today, as women of a certain age, and what we expected, and what we have, and what we anticipate. I realized how important that is, and how it’s been missing from my life.

I feel I’ve been given a wonderful gift. A new, old friend. Even if it’s another twenty years before we see each other again (and I hope it won’t be), I know that the next time we meet, we’ll be able to pick up again, as if it had been only days.

Do you have someone in your life who gets you? Do you find it easy to make new friends as you get older? Do you feel you have a “best friend,” or do you ever feel alone?