Friday, June 29, 2007

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

The first weekend in August, Anne and I will make our yearly pilgrimage to The Fest For Beatles’ Fans (aka Beatlefest, until all hell broke out a couple years ago over a copyright infringement that had been unnoticed for about 20 years or so). We have been doing this for ages, since I think, 1980. At least that's the first ticket stub I could find.

Go ahead. Make fun. Manilow, the Beatles…and YES, dammit – I’ve been to a Star Trek Convention!! You will never feel so much a part of anything in your entire life until you travel to one of these affairs. As Barry Manilow said so eloquently, “you aren’t a misfit when you are surrounded by other misfits.” They may think I have a couple screws loose at work, but at one of these soirees, I’m just one of the happy crowd bumping elbows with some lawyer from Milwaukee who’s dressed like John in his Sgt. Pepper outfit, or sitting next to a housewife from Duluth in her Yeoman Rand Classic Star Trek red uniform, including a wig with that weaved hair.

And you know what? I’ll bet 99% of the people there are happy. A crowd of happy campers, just there to get a chance to meet Manilow, or watch “A Hard Day’s Night” on the big screen followed by a great talk by Victor Spinetti or shake hands with Leonard Nimoy, who loves to bash his captain Bill, who can dish it back just as well.

So tell me, where’s the harm?

I know. I know. Maybe some people don’t snap back to reality and manage to get back to their lives. But maybe they don’t have much of a life to get back to either.

Me? I’m trying to escape for awhile. Escape work and responsibility and bills and the telephone and e-mail and laundry and shopping and cleaning and refereeing fights between the kids. Nothing says “Escape” better than a blue officer’s uniform with triangular patch over the left breast and a set of Spock ears, or the anticipation of the season’s first Beatles’ Puppet Show.

Beatle time in August means only 2 things: regression and a never ending supply of low-brow laughs courtesy of the flea market (and maybe a couple of drinks to ring in the celebration). When’s the last time you scrounged through Fave, Sixteen and Tiger Beat magazines from the 1960’s? When’s the last time you heard the name Bobby Sherman? When’s the last time Davy Jones’s love life EVER crossed your mind? There's hot news on Paul and Annette, Paul Revere and the Raiders…..the Beau Brummels…..Herman’s Hermits…..that guy named Lloyd Thaxton who drew a face on the side of his hand (the thumb was a jaw) and made stupid jokes….Music Scene….Gary Lewis and the Playboys. When’s the last time you saw your Beatles metal lunch box with matching thermos? Well, if you’ve seen it recently, it’s probably worth about $500.00….so who’s laughing now, huh?

So call us nuts. Call us crazy. But when that Trivial Pursuit question comes up: “Who was the ‘fifth’ Beatle?” you’ll want us around! We KNOW (without benefit of the internet or one single reference book) the answers to this stuff:

So embrace the "fan" in you. Share it with others. I guarantee, "a good time will be had by all..."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

General Hospital

I actually haven't watched "General Hospital" since Dr. Noah Drake left and I'll explain why. It's really two reasons: #1 -- What for?; #2 -- I work there, figuratively speaking.

It seems the older I get, along with my friends and their loved ones, I'm seeing a wide variety of doctors, nurses, hospitals, hospital rooms, ER's and surgical waiting rooms both as a visitor and patient. Add this on top of being a hospital employee and I believe I have valuable insight that is my duty to relate.

Allow me to share Lara's Rules and Regulations of Doctor/Hospital Etiquette.

The number one rule: Doctors Lie. The word “Discomfort” in their language has a far different meaning than it does between normal human beings. You would assume that discomfort means, well, it’s gonna hurt a bit, but then it’ll be okay. Don’t assume. You know what it makes out of you and me. A doctor saying “discomfort” is like a volcanologist calling Mt. St. Helen’s “a little burp”. You’ve been warned.

The number two rule: Don’t be brave. You need pain medicine? Think you just MIGHT need pain medicine? Yell. Do not, under any circumstances, suck it up. Be a baby. This correlates proportionately to when you are in dire need of pain relief and near unconsciousness, they will tell YOU to suck it up, that you didn’t need it before and why don’t you just wait awhile? If you finally complain long and loud after suffering in silence, you will be considered a “difficult patient” and no nurse will answer your call button...ever.

The number three rule: At the very first glimpse of an opportunity to leave the confines of the hospital, do so ASAP. If the doc says in his singularly see-saw way (I’m thinking William Shatner here), “Well..., we could... keep you overnight...or send you home if you can...” just agree with him. Whatever bodily function he needs you to perform, do it and get out. Those places will kill you...physically and financially.

The number four rule: Pull out every piece of ammunition you’ve got to get them to be nice to you. From the Doctors on down to housekeeping. Tell them whatever they want to hear. Be nicer than the Dalai Lama. Be the life of the hospital party (your pain meds might help with this) and for heaven's sake, don't make waves. Because if you make waves and don't play ball, you will be labeled a “difficult patient” and we already went over where that will get you.

The number five rule: Just because people have initials after their names doesn’t necessarily mean they are smarter than you. MD, BSN, PhD, RT, APN. You know yourself better than anyone. You’ve lived with you for...well, years. So speak up and ask questions. Make sure if you are in for an appendectomy but it seems like they are prepping you for brain surgery, politely ask for a "time out". And if anyone comes at you with a large foreign object that hasn’t been preceded by an anesthesia consult, remember Rule #2.

Finally, throw your dignity out the window but keep your sense of humor intact. After all, anything you've got, they've already seen.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Dangers of the Internet

We've heard all about them. Predators. Abusers. Lurkers. Schizophrenic sociopaths.

However, ponder for a moment that neither Ted Bundy nor Jeffrey Dahmer nor Richard Speck had the internet. Nor did the Hillside Stranglers nor the Boston Strangler. They just lurked right out in the open, so to speak.

This weekend, say some, I took my life and the lives of my children and put them in potential harm's way. I invited a female friend and her daughter to my home for the weekend -- a friend I met over the internet.

We bonded over Barry Manilow via blog (i.e. LIKE THIS ONE) and an on-line fan club ( Now I'm sure Mr. Manilow has his share of lurkers, but I'm still here. And I know my kids are still alive because there's no food in the house.

Oh, I know what you are thinking. Yeah, first Barry Manilow. I like Mr. M and we've gotten past that already, haven't we? Now, on-line interaction.

I'm not suggesting that you "converse" with a blogger and invite them for dinner. And none of this applies to anyone under 21 years of age. But I am saying that probably the percentage of bad outcomes is the same for internet interaction as it is for the population as a whole. In other words, there are nuts everywhere. Every day you walk out of your house is a crapshoot. You meet nice people and you meet raging lunatics. Think of your work environment. It's probably safer to invite an internet Manilow fan over than it is to work at the post office ("nothing against the USPS," she said with all love and affection).

It is necessary to use a little brain power, instinct and caution. And while we originally bonded over Manilow, we got to be good friends by sharing stories about our fears and our hopes and our lives. Yes, I could have been a good liar. So could she. But after about a year of "type talking" and a couple conversations on the phone, well, it was apparent that we had many of the same likes besides Manilow singing "Here at the Mayflower": (a good laugh, writing, reading, taste testing tequila, and maintaining our Mother of the Year status) and dislikes (liars, bullies, bigots and my ex-husband). We also share that most beautiful title of all: smart-ass.

Bottom line? We had a wonderful time. The internet brought 2 friends together that never would have met. I'm very grateful for this little cable that connected the 400 miles between us....and of course, Mr. M.

So to my new dear friend and her sweet little angel daughter -- This One's For You.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Chat on Fat

I opened my e-mail today and realized that every day I am reminding myself of things I have not done, will not do or simply don't have time for. Every day, I get cute little blurbs from such big hitters as:,,,,,,,, I am starting my day a failure already. I did not work out. I did not meditate on my daily food choices, nor did I have time to make a heart healthy lunch. My emotions are running high and I do not want to think about exercise or dieting or food or anything. What would make me happy is a very large pizza and an even larger Coke. Regular.

Do you know I’ve tried every single diet known in the free world? Cabbage Diet, Jenny Craig, Weight-Watchers, Nutrisystem, Atkins Diet, SouthBeach Diet, Richard Simmons Diet, Grapefruit Diet, Starve Yourself To Death Diet, Pritikin Diet, Heart Healthy Diet, The God Diet (you pray a lot that you won’t gain weight while you shove the food into your mouth), and others I’ve forgotten the names of. I also have an assortment of exercise videos that rival the entire nationwide library of Blockbuster, Inc. Jane, of course, The Firm, The Not So Firm, Walk to Lose Weight, Yoga to Lose Weight, Stretching to Lose Weight, Breathing to Lose Weight and of course, every tape and book released by Richard Simmons. I also have a collection of CD's that you are supposed to use when you are walking and/or jogging to keep a nice, fast pace and I have any and all things even remotely endorsed by Oprah Winfrey. I am currently on high alert for updates on Valerie Bertinelli's weight loss challenge.

Are you getting the impression that the money I have invested in the quest to lose weight has equaled the gross national product of some small countries? No wonder I’m in the red and Jane Fonda has 4 houses.

For grins, let's review the home exercise equipment I have bought, the majority of which has found permanent residence in my garage, until being put out by the front of my house in recognition of amnesty day, when the garbage men will pick up absolutely anything except marked explosives. On second thought, let's not. I just can’t embarrass myself any further.

I’m assuming you are getting the point. I have issues. Food issues. Weight issues. I handle stress by shoving food in my mouth. Don’t care what kind of food particularly and I have found out that even too much of a good thing will add pounds. I once had this thing for oranges. I just fixated on them and ate above and beyond the normal orange per home capita. The entire state of Florida noted off the chart economic growth. I gained weight.

Perhaps there is some credence to the perimenopause idea. I’m experiencing desperate Food Swings. Pizza....celery. Chocolate BBQ Ribs.....spinach. An entire block of dark, dark, chocolate.....and an entire block of dark, dark, chocolate. (I just crave that ALL the time).

So the solution? Yes, I should remind myself of what my cardiologist told me which I shared with you in a previous post -- to make small, permanent changes and stop beating myself up. But WHY? Why...when we can food flog ourselves into self-loathing delirium?

Should life always be neat and easy? No! Of course not. As Captain James T. Kirk said in Star Trek V, "I NEED my pain!" It is our right as women to reject the logical and go for that which will undermine all the work we just did with our psychologist...and our personal trainer.

This, friends, is why I love America.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Portrait of the Writer as a Young Girl

Yes, that's me. 1958-ish. Obviously winter and obviously dressed to the nine's with my muff, matching hat and burgundy coat.

In case you were worried, I still have that chair I'm sitting on.

So how, do you ask, did a cute little thing like me with devoted, kind, intelligent parents end up depressed and suicidal in WAM-ville?

Oh, wait, let's see if I can get Rose and Frank's pic in here too.

There they are. Wedding day. September, 1948. (Go ahead, check the dates. They were married years before I came along).

Q: Lara, didn't you KNOW that WAM was a possessive, nasty, control freak? You dated him for 3 years before you married.

A: Remember this and remember it well: abusers chose their victims with care. They are as persistent and well educated at reeling you in as Captain Ahab. You will almost never see through their screens. I had a few bad feelings in the pit of my stomach, which I didn't listen to...and my dad never liked WAM, which I didn't pay attention to. Perhaps standing back listening to my "little voice" and paying closer attention would have helped.

Q: What about your parents? Did you recreate your family home like so many do?

A: Nope. My mother was an excellent role model. She had her own stuff, maintained a job, took no crap from my dad, who was mild-mannered, more on the reticent side and very respectful of women. My mother had me read Thoreau’s “Essay on Self-Reliance” when I was 13. So, bottom line? No. I jumped into a whole new nightmare that I have to worry about my children recreating.

Q: So what did your Mom say when you told her about WAM?

A: Well, both my parents became ill after I got married. My mother died 366 days after I got married, my dad a year after that. So I really couldn't dump my horrid marriage on them. When I did mention to my mom that that marriage wasn’t EXACTLY what I had anticipated, she told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t to take shit from anyone. She didn’t raise a daughter to cow-tow to some two-bit moron. I was to value my own intelligence and self-worth above all, and basically bag anyone who didn’t subscribe to the same agenda. My dad concurred.

Q: What happened?

A: Maybe because I lost them so quickly and so close together, I dropped into grief and mourning and didn't have the strength to deal with WAM. Or eventually the strength to leave him. I became the antithesis of who my parents wanted me to be. I was frightened, abused, petrified, numb. I felt stupid, useless. I told Anne that in WAM’s eyes, I was FULS. Fat, ugly, lazy, stupid. That’s how I was treated and that’s how I began to see myself.

Q: Why did you believe him? You were 30 years old -- had been on your own, traveled, had a good job, had many friends, came from a strong background.

A: When I married WAM, I loved and respected him. His opinion mattered. When I realized he thought I was worthless, I became worthless in my own eyes. (Can you say "co-dependent"?) I couldn’t see that his perceptions were a result of his own problems, his own issues with women. I couldn’t imagine that I had made a mistake falling in love with him or marrying him. I was the epidimy of the saying “A woman will do almost anything to avoid facing the truth about the person she loves.”

Are you getting the idea that I was a mess? I was a mess. "Was" being the operative word.

Q: So why you? Why WAM?

A: I used to joke and say: The planets aligned, Saturn's rings were in the 7th House of Usher, we met, we got married. But the truth of the matter is, if I hadn't met the WAM-ster, I wouldn't have Sean and Erin. Motherhood is the absolute best thing that ever happened to me. I've told both my children that because of them, I know that God exists in the universe. My parents and my cousin (who lives far away) were all the family I had and after my parents passed away, I felt disconnected and groundless. Having Sean and then Erin, especially since WAM didn't want children (there's another story) was a gift. A true and real gift from God.

And you know, things might have turned out differently. If my dad had discovered the actual true nature and personality of WAM before he passed away, WAM would have been dead, and my dad would have been in jail. If the timing of this well-justified murder was bad, I might have missed out on having my kids. Sometimes, you can just feel the hand of God on your shoulder.

Q: And what about now?

A: Now, I have my kids. I have my cousins. I have friends. I went to hell and came back stronger. I really did. I am living proof that sometimes, as pitch-awful as it is, we just have to let the bad stuff happen.

Then, when we are better, when we are healed, we can extend a hand to those who are where we once were.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

You've Got To Have....

Yes, friends.

And the one I've had the longest is Anne. The attached picture was taken probably around 1962. Anne is still a cute, little cherub and I'm still a....witch. What is most notable in this picture is that not only is Anne still in my life, but so is that piano we are sitting on. It was the first piece of furniture my parents brought new in 1951 and it is still in my living room, below the same picture that adorns the wall behind us. There is something soothing in the constancy, especially when a good part of my adult life was filled with abuse.

For those of you in abusive relationships, although I've gone through it, I simply can not tell you what to do. You need to figure that out on our own, through your own power. Those steps you take to free yourself, whether it's working things out with your mate or divorcing, will give you ultimate strength to deal with what is meeting you down the road. The main thing is to GET HELP and GET IT FAST.

I don't really have bad feelings for my ex, WAM (as he is nicknamed) any longer. After 6 years of being free from him, I traveled to find myself again for my own benefit, as well as my children. But it was a long, hard, tearful road. I consistently took 2 steps forward and 4 backwards, but I slowly made progress. I was lucky to have a close knit group of friends, including Anne, who were there for me all the way. I learned something very, very important from all of them who patiently listened, who comforted, who prayed for me and also who slapped me upside the head when I needed it. I learned from them by example what a truly wonderful and devoted friend is. There is no way I could thank them enough.

I was also lucky to find wonderful, supportive counselors who helped me. To all of them, friends, my cousins, counselors, physicians, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude.

At this point, it might seem strange that as I look back, I feel like a schizophrenic. I laugh at the situations as I feel sorry for who I was then. Here, for example, was normal dinnertime conversation with WAM:

“Are you going to eat that? Why did you make that? You know it’s really not healthy. And why aren’t the kids eating that? You should not let them eat peanut butter sandwiches at dinner. That’s not a meal. It’s unhealthy. They should be made to eat what we are eating. You let them get away with murder. If they turn out undisciplined, that’s gonna be on your head, not mine. I’d make them eat the stuff on the table. (Breath) Didn’t you kind of take a big serving of that stuff? Are you going to exercise to work that off? It’s probably got a lot of calories and god knows how much fat. You should eat off a smaller plate. You know they say if you eat off a smaller plate you get full faster. We should eat more healthy. Fish is good, but I don’t like fish. And I don’t like salads or vegetables, but let's try to eat more healthy. (Breath) Didn’t you say something was wrong with your mother's liver or something before she died? Is that why she got a big belly? You know, your belly is getting big like hers. Did you ever have a blood test to check your liver?”

You think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. I saw Dustin Hoffman in that movie, and I realized I had the perfect name for Mason: Rain-WAM.

I know what you're thinking: why didn't you tell him to shut the f*** up? Because he controlled by threats, by the daily diminishing of my self esteem and confidence, by creating fear, by a horrid and vile temper. It was my job to quiet the waters, shut up, and keep the playing field as clear as possible. Anything could turn him nasty. Baseball team losing. Cut off in traffic. Revisiting some memory from his childhood. Didn't matter. I was the closest thing in his vicinity (because most people -- friends and family included -- had deserted the playing field long ago), and someone had to pay for his misery. That was me.

Now trust me here: all men are NOT like this. My father wasn't. Sam, my significant other, isn't like this. My son is not like this. What makes a man a mean, cruel, vindictive person? I'm not sure. He was just damaged in some way and was totally unable or unwilling to ask for help or accept the help he was offered. Accepting help was a sign of weakness....and weakness just wasn't allowed.

Alcohol was a crutch. Medication was a crutch. Religion was a crutch. Cigarettes were a crutch. Should you use any of these for relief, you were subject to ridicule and berating. As a "man", I guess you were supposed to take "everything" and then go home and beat your wife and scream at your kids. If you were a woman under stress, well, too bad. Life sucks.

I'm not a doctor, only a victim. You need to protect yourself and your children. The problem with victimization is that depression goes along with it and makes you utterly powerless to make any decision in your own behalf. Break the cycle...and get help. Use every resource at your disposal -- friends, family, counselors, physicians.

I can't tell you it'll be easy....but I realized I was worth it with a little help from my friends....and so are you.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A New Point Of View Is Beginning...

I feel compelled and must, MUST continue to tell you the story of my book writing odyssey. Only unlike Hubbell from "The Way We Were", who was beautiful beyond beautiful, smart beyond smart and talented beyond talented, my journey was born out of depression and a need to focus on anything besides my horrid marriage, even more horrid divorce and the looming title of “Single Full-Time Working Mom”. Besides, I promised “redcat” I’d finish the story. And really, wouldn’t Barry Manilow like to know?

No. I didn’t think so either. And actually, right or wrong, poor Mr. Manilow had nothing to do with any of this, other than having the tenacity and talent to hang around from 1974 through to the new millennium.

So to summarize, we left Lara post Manilow google, doing some serious contemplating and welcoming in of January, 2006.

The remaining notes I took during my journey were in diary form.

January, 2006

Knowing I’m going to hit 50 this year, I’ve decided I’m going to take a trip to Vegas, perhaps by myself and see Barry. I haven’t seen him since 1979 – in the old Chicago Stadium. I found the program from that concert the other day and really cracked up. Lots of jumpsuits and rhinestones! I also found my calendar from 1976 when I saw Barry for the first time in concert – Ravinia in Highland Park. I suspect his Vegas show is nothing like Ravinia, which featured 3 backup singers, a small band, him and his piano. Oh and the palm tree. Loved the palm tree and his frenetic pace back and forth on the stage.

When I told Anne of my plans, she heard the words “Vegas” and “birthday” and said, “I’m so there.” Manilow is merely a side attraction. She is checking on hotels and flights. I’m in charge of Barry tickets.

We have hotel, flight and tickets for October, 2006. I have put my confirmation up on my bulletin board at work. My co-workers, while admiring by Beatles calendar and Captain James T. Kirk action figure (along with pictures of my kids – I’m not that crazy) are puzzled by this Manilow addition.

I realize I am awash in a sea of….Manilow-who-cares? You know, they wondered if he was even still alive. I march boldly on, used to the chuckles and snickers. As Barry said years ago, “You take a lot of shit for being a Manilow fan.” Fine.

There is some recognition that he is indeed still alive as his 50’s CD debuts at Number 1 on the charts. Sorry, Barry, but I just can’t make the purchase. That picture on the cover frightens me. A part of me realized you just might need me to set you straight on what is “cover-worthy”.

February, 2006

I decide that I need to touch base with other Manilow fans, as I realize there are none within a 200 mile radius of where I live.

I’ve hit paydirt. On-line fan clubs! Now this is what the internet was designed for! The BMIFC/Barrynet thing is fine, but I’m beginning to realize that his fans are like the population in general. You’ve got Right Wingers, Middle of the Roaders and Left Wingers. The extremists scare me, but I’m a big girl and have been taught not to give out my home address and social security number, even if they ask.

I have written a reminder on my computer at home limiting myself to 45 minutes of Barry Manilow a day. Any more than that, and I may have to check myself into rehab.

Anne, Vegas companion and friend since kindergarten, tells me that my Manilow fixation comes out of left field to her. She hasn’t remembered the name Barry coming up in any of our conversations since Barry Newman. Or Barry VanDyke. I tell her it’s hormones and to just play along. I know all her secrets.

March, 2006

Not only are there on-line fan clubs (Barry’s Retro Fans Unlimited, Manilow’s Midnight Dreams, Manimodems, Barry Manilow, All4Barry Manilow, Melting for Manilow to name only a very few) but there are bloggers. Lots and lots of bloggers. Anne tells me to check out one she found on line. I do so and start corresponding to one in particular, using an alias of course. See? I know how to feed my fixation and remain anonymous.

I painfully realize that while I am well versed in Manilow trivia from 1974-1990, I am sorely ignorant of his tours, travels, loves and fax paus from 1991-2001. Oh, I have all the mainstream albums and CD’s, but have not ventured into the purchasing of CD’s that have all the songs from say, Barry Manilow II, along with a bonus track, necessitating the need to dish out $11.99 for one song. I remind Anne that I have scoured racks of CD’s during our 25 year annual pilgrimage to the Fest for Beatles’ Fans looking for a particular McCartney compilage, which has everything from “Ram” on it, except in a different order. She accepts my Manilow fascination as a fact of life.

I yank out my old VHS copy of “Copacabana” taped off the television in 1987 and notice it’s disintegrating before my eyes, plus irritating me with commercial interruption. How can I get a new one? Oh, look here. Barry Manilow merchandise on-line! Imagine that! Perhaps along with replacing my worn copy of “Copacabana”, I can get a tee-shirt that actually fits. I could finally put that medium sized “I Love Beagles” shirt to rest, where it really has been since I was last able to wear it in 1980.

April, 2006

It’s spring and I’m busy. I do keep up with the on-line fan clubs and notice there is lots and lots of information out there on poor Barry Manilow. Part of me starts to feel sorry for him. Thirty years of having the press up your ass at every turn must be very wearing, especially when they usually rip you a new one every time. There’s lots of press because of the 50’s CD and his Music and Passion show.

I realize, via Barry, that he likes his fans and could give a good shit about what the press and reviewers have to say about him. He laughs his ass off all the way to the bank. I finally get a good night’s sleep. I hear that he’s planning a 60’s CD as a follow up to the 50’s CD and I wonder if I can get a note to him quickly enough, offering my suggestions for the cover. I lose sleep once again.

I have been getting to know one of the Barry bloggers fairly well. Her blogs are a riot...she comes up with very humorous stuff. We “converse” via blog, which is an interesting way to talk to anyone. You are having a conversation with someone solely via the written word. It’s like the 1800’s again, only you can’t give out your real names or where you really live.

I’m still contemplating how I can meld my future writing career and Barry.

I get my answer at 2am during a very impressive panic attack. The fans. The fans share stories, their pictures. There’s the Manilow Fund for Health and Hope. Why not create a book of fan stories/pics and donate the proceeds to his charity?

I decide to think about that some more.

To be continued...

Remember These Priceless Gems

My parents weren't really much on sitting me down and lecturing me on the finer points of survival in the world. They showed me what dignity was, they showed me the value of integrity, of honesty, mainly by example. They also imparted on me little chunks of advice that I have never forgotten. The information was never beaten into me, rather it was wrapped around a story or an incident. I remember so vividly sitting in the car with my dad, Frank, when a story came on the radio about the Moral Majority. All my dad said was "The Moral Majority? I don't think they're either." It took me years to get it, but it rolled around my cranium from the time my dad uttered it, to this day.

Now my parents did have other bits of advice that I've lived my life around. Little beauts that I will share with you because of their simplicity, their importance, their relevance. These gems are timeless and I've gotten to 50 fairly intact by remembering them.

So here, for the first time, is all the advice I ever needed from Frank and Rose:

From my Dad:
1. Always pump your brakes;
2. Always balance your checkbook;
3. Always be honest;
4. Always admit when you are wrong or have made a mistake, then take your lumps like a man;
5. When you shake a person’s hand, look them in the eye and shake like you mean it;
6. Always be a good girl.

From my Mom:
1. No matter what you do, where you do it, how you do it or with whom, make sure that when you get up in the morning, you can be proud of who stares back at you in the mirror;
2. If you want to be treated like a lady, act like a lady. No matter what;
3. Always be a good girl.


Thank you, Frank and Rose.

P.S. -- In my 30+ years of driving a total of 5 different cars, I've never needed a brake job.

Friday, June 15, 2007

"But You MUST!"

“The Way We Were”, Redford and Streisand: If Chick Flicks had an Academy Award, this would be the winner...or at least in the Top 5.

And while I could go and on about movies...and in particular Redford...I’m not.

I wish to draw your attention to a conversation between Katie and Hubbell. Katie has read Hubbell’s novel and is amazed. Hubbell is non-plussed. She goes over the parts in his novel that could use a little work, which he takes fairly good-naturedly, and Katie finishes off with this confidence booster: “Your next novel will be better.” Hubbell is stunned by this comment and inquires why she thinks he should write another one.

“Because you MUST! You are too good a writer not to,” she blurts out, just as confident that he must write as she was that E=mc2...or that Roosevelt was a great president.

(thanks to Anne’s miraculous brain capacity to easily recall things that I simply can not.)

I find that I must write also. Not, I guarantee you, as well as Hubbell who managed to get published, but nonetheless must take pen to paper. I must type out little blurbs of stories that I'll never finish, write down notes of ideas that maybe someday I'll work on.

Sometimes I think of these little reminders as failures. Failure to struggle through the words, the ideas and finish it. Other times, I feel these are little reminders that I'm always thinking, always getting creative ideas that I could mess with....or not. It can be a real confidence booster to realize your well rarely runs dry.

I've written mostly with "the door closed", as Stephen King would say. Written solely for my own entertainment or edification. The trick is then to take that story and rewrite it with the "door open" -- ie, writing for other's to enjoy. And as I mentioned in previous posts, I'm not prepared for the rejection.

I've shown some of my work to friends, and being friends, they are very tender, encouraging and guiding....and therefore, probably lying through their kind, loyal teeth. If something I wrote sucked, I know they'd never tell me. And I'm not sure I'd want them to ??

However, I've spent the last month or so reading books and magazines about writing. The ideas given by other published writers (Stephen King, Sol Stein, Anne Lamott) have truly been helpful. I recommend reading about writing. It will help you be your own critic and view your story from a different perspective.

And so what if you just write for you? If it makes you happy, do it. And someday you just might feel like spreading your wings a bit....and maybe try blogging for example! The point is to do what you love, no matter what other people say. There is a wonderful saying: it's better to do badly at something you love than to succeed at something you hate.

So write your stories, type your blurbs, think about your Great American Novel. And remember to never give up on your dreams.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Open Letter to My Son’s High School English Teacher (and Stephen King)

There’s a rant in here so beware. The rant will be directed at My Son’s High School English Teacher. I have no plan to rant about or at Stephen King, but I gotta tell him something.

So first:

Dear Mr. King,

I read your book, “On Writing” and I loved it. I never realized the pain you went through even before you were blind-sided by a van on that country road. I do, however, have one comment, and seeing as you have sold 10 billion books and I haven’t completed a single manuscript, take it as you will.

You had some wonderful advice – written in that great style that is yours. I don’t think there is anyone more devoted or enthusiastic about the English language.

In your book, pointed out something very important: “To be a good writer, you need to do 2 things: read a lot and write a lot (and kill those adverbs).”

However, I’ve not gotten to blogging at 50 without one other piece of the puzzle, which I feel is equally as important: You need to listen and observe A LOT. For obvious reasons. Without getting out into the world, talking and observing, one’s output could possibly rival the Bronte Sisters. But if you want to be Hemingway, or Crichton or Grisham for that matter, you need to get out into the world, get busted up and back, from here to Sunday and READ A LOT and WRITE A LOT.

Lara Angelina Harrison
(never published, but observant as hell)

Now, onto my rant, which I’m sure you will enjoy for its sheer poetry.

“Dear Sean’s High School English Teacher:

I’m just a mom. I work, do laundry, cook and clean. I have full time job. I run my kids around until I’m exhausted and my brain is ready to implode. However, even in my most pathetic, depressed, exhausted, horrid frame of mind, I could make English more exciting than you.

Sean was to read “A Raisin in the Sun” and “The Great Gatsby” this year. Both incredibly magnificent reads. Rich, full---positively amazing! I read “Gatsby” in high school 30 years ago and still remember being taken back in time with the story of Daisy and Jay, the eyeglasses, the gas station, Daisy’ relationship with her cousin; with the mystery of Gatsby himself. “A Raisin in the Sun”, so moving – the characters just draw you into their lives, into their problems, into their private pain. It takes some mighty fine writing to do that.

Now how could this be an absolute nightmare of a chore to read either one of these? Especially for a kid like Sean, who actually goes to the library on his own to find things to read?

Answer: crappy teaching. My friend Anne’s grandpa said once “it’s Anne’s job to show up at school and the teacher’s job to make her enjoy learning” Or something like that. More beautiful words were never spoken.

When I spoke to this teacher, I was stunned she was an English teacher. Dull, flat, hates her job, hates the kids. Not one ounce of enthusiasm in her entire molecular structure. So here’s some advice to spice things up in the classroom for next year:

Get rid of the monotone when discussing books. Books are like living creatures – they breathe, they give meaning, they have an energy all their own. Once you’ve read a GOOD book, you never forget it. Synapses in your brain store the words, the imagery, the feelings given off things we’ve read. That’s some pretty powerful stuff, Ms. Unhappy High School English Teacher.

Not only that, but how introducing authors’ backgrounds? Stories of Fitzgerald’s life interspersed with Gatsby…how about that? F. Scott’s wife Zelda was a story in her own right, his failure in Hollywood, his drinking, their daughter Scotty. Please. Authors’ life stories (see King, Stephen above) are so pivotal to what they write. You can’t separate the two.

Also, this is the 21st century. Offer the kids the opportunity to download the books onto their iPods. Make a deal with Amazon for a group download or something. Rent the damn movies – Sidney Poitier won an Oscar for “A Raisin in the Son”. Dear God, Woman, Wake Up.

And yes, Ms. Unhappy, you can tell me the kids don’t care, don’t pay attention, and blah, blah, blah. They are TEENAGERS. It’s their job to be aloof – it’s your job to keep them motivated and watch for that glimmer in their eyes when you’ve gotten them hooked.

Look, the great authors, and the not so great authors ALL had English teachers. I had great teachers. My eighth grade English teacher showed me the beauty of books, of words, of writing. Maybe I’m the only one…..but she got through to me and I hope to high heavens you can get through to someone. You never reached Sean, who is pretty damn accessible when it comes to reading.

I was going to wish you good luck, but I think it might be more appropriate to say good luck to the kids in your future classes.

Sean’s mom”

Friday, June 8, 2007

When You're Alone and Life is Making You Lonely

you can always go....ONLINE!

All due respect to Petula Clark, but a trip downtown for a show, bite to eat, parking and the gas needed to drive your lonely ass there and back costs about as much as a week in Hawaii at a 4-star hotel. So what's a needy, social creature like me supposed to do?

Telephone, you say.

True, I reply. But what about those nights when sleep eludes you at 2am, you are tired of listening to your new "Andre Previn Conducts the Russian Philharmonic" CD and you've finished off the latest Harry Potter? You can't just call up a buddy for a few laughs unless you are totally certain she or he is a chronic insomniac just like you. Kinda risky.

Cable television! you blurt. Yes, but television is a lonely sport, 550 channels aside.

DVD's, VHS!! you exclaim. Nope. Once again, all you need is Team One with that scenario.

We are not looking solely for entertainment or diversion. We are looking for the human element.


Voila, you say! The answer of course: the internet. It never frickin' sleeps and can serve up any dish you wish, any time of the night or day. An all night diner that's always crowded. The only thing you need to know is what you want to eat...and if you want to give out your real name with that.

You could certainly choose loftier pursuits, such as researching the origins of the universe, the real meaning of 6.02 x 10 to the 23rd power, why Thoreau went into the woods or if Abe Lincoln truly had bi-polar disorder....but why? Why, when there's a smorgasbord of chat rooms and on line fan clubs and other venues that feed our need for connection, even under an alias? There are few absolutes in this world, but one that holds true is the promise of the internet. You like baroque music, escargot and Mad Magazine? The internet has a site for you! Into Andy Williams, Night of the Living Dead movies and gene splicing? No problem. Waiting for you...even at 2 am.

Good luck sleeping after that.

In my world, the discovery of the internet -- particularly e-mail -- was like eating lobster every night. I was able to keep in contact with friends and began savoring the use of the written word. E-mail has brought back the elegance of the letter, the note, the quick hello in our scattered lives. But while e-mail is instantaneous, it is also fleeting. I have an idea? I can burp that baby out over a telephone wire and someone in Liverpool, England can read it seconds later....and delete it seconds after that. Then it's gone. We'd never see the handwriting of our Founding Fathers if the Constitution had been e-mailed with an electronic signature.

But the internet is a glorious tool for keeping us connected in an ever-widening world. I've made wonderful new friends I never would have without the internet. I've learned things I never would have learned, saw things I probably never would have seen.

Downtown? Yup, downtown is great. The song says: "the lights are much brighter there and you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares", but for my money nothing beats sitting in my own living room, reviewing the menu of the all night internet diner!

Little Tidbits From Someone Who Knows Jack

And I’m sure you little smarties out there know which Jack I mean (!)

Anyway, I thought I would brighten your cyberspace doorstep by relating yet another one of my adventures resulting in abject humiliation. Keep this in mind at all times: if you ever feel stepped on, abused, misled, ignored --- come on over. I’m here to remind you that there is always someone who’s screwed up WAY worse than you.

No problem. My pleasure.

So, let’s talk about: oxygen. You know, like in breathing.

Biology 101: Your Autonomic Nervous System.

This system takes care of things so you don't have to. I wish I had an Autonomic System to shop, cook and clean...and pair up those damn socks in the laundry, but unfortunately --- unavailable at this time. Your A.N.S. assures your heart beats (varying rates at varying times, but generally anywhere from 70-80 beats per minute), makes sure your eyes blink (around 20 times a minute, unless you are working on a computer or concentrating on something, in which case the number decreases) and makes sure you suck in OXYGEN and blow out CARBON DIOXIDE (at a rate of about 16-18 respirations per minute). There are many, many other things your A.N.S. takes care of, but then we'd have to graduate to Biology 202 and screw that.

Now as an important sidebar to that info I listed above: I AM NOT A DOCTOR. I'm just spitting out generalities. So if you figure out you blink 25 times a minute, please move on immediately and find something else to do.

What I really want to discuss is breathing. You don't think about it much unless you are climbing 4 flights of stairs after a meal consisting of a 12 oz Porterhouse, 2 pound spud with butter, sour cream and salt and a couple of green wisps in a bowl smothered in liquid fat disguised as "salad dressing". As you push your stomach before you while trying to remember what floor of the parking garage your car is, your legs will begin to complain around step 12-ish. By step 15 - 16, you are sweating. By 20 you are gulping air by the bucket fulls, by 25, you're sure you're having a heart attack. By step 30, you are swearing off food and alcohol forever, sacrificing children, parents, pets, your own eternal soul. Oxygen, at this point, is foremost on your is your lack of getting proper exercise. And as you crawl on hands and knees up step number 32, you sadly acknowledge that the simple acts of breathing and getting a little exercise have been totally ignored by you for years.

Now we can go on and on about exercise. I have and will. But for now, let's talk about breathing….and how, as a 40+ year old woman, I found out the hard way that I wasn’t doing it PROPERLY.

Things, as they are wont to do, started out simply enough. I wasn’t feeling well. Not feeling well on my radar always translates into ensuing drama. To save you the gory details, because of my cardiac issues and panic disorder, I ended up on a gurney at 2 am, being taken to my local ER once again by those nice paramedics who know me better than some family members.

I undergo my usual battery of cardiac testing and then Dr. Donald comes in. Dr. Donald and I know each other well. Dr. Donald is wonderful. I love Dr. Donald. I’ve seen him more in the middle of the night than his own wife has. And when I hear him say, “Lara, your heart is fine”, I relax and know I’ll be going home soon.

One night however, Dr. D sat down and held my hand. He looked me right in the eye and said, “Lara, if you are ever uncertain about how you are feeling, I want you to come to the Emergency Room. Always listen to your body. Never leave your health to chance, but Lara, do you breathe? I mean do you know HOW to breathe?”

As my respirations were still about 30, I guessed not. So I began another journey to learn how to breathe, how to relax, how to count breaths, how to monitor that I’m not hyperventilating. I did poorly in the beginning and Dr. Donald and I had several more discussions over the year at 2 am, but I’m getting the hang of it.

Soon, and I think VERY soon, I may be able to give up the little brown paper bag I carry with me to breathe into in case of hyperventilation. I will then lose my “bag lady” designation, but that’s ok. The point is to be healthy. The only down side?

I’ll miss Dr. Donald.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Come Monday....

my life starts again.

I've thought about that since I've reached a certain age --- you know, if I'd want to go back and be a kid again. I see what my children (a teenage boy and pre-teen girl) go through and I most emphatically say "NO!" It's not only that, but I'd have to go through all the things I've prayed to God to just get through the first time. Highschool, parents dying, abusive 15 year marriage, divorce, entering the dating world again with offspring for chaparones. Dear Holy Lord. No thank you.

The only advantage would be watching all the body parts that have started a downward descent begin to head north, the fading of wrinkles, the ability to sneeze without worrying if you are wearing a pantyliner and, once again, to jump out of bed on a dime without worrying about throwing your back out. This is just the tip of the iceberg -- and I'm not THAT old. Let's just say I watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and fell in love with George Harrison on the spot. (There has been some discussion between myself and my friend Anne that I fell in love with George because she had immediate dibs on Paul, but we can discuss that later.)

For now, let's discuss blogging. I've heard it's a good creative outlet for those of us wanna-be writers who are intimidated by the actual writing/publishing game. Yes, I write all the time. No, I've never been published. Yes, I'm too afraid to submit anything. I hate the thought of going through everything to just get rejected -- I can just stay home with my kids and get that.

I thought I would just make your day by relating my little trip into the realm of creating a book for publication. It brought out the best in me creatively and ignited my worst fears of failure. It got me in touch with a new dear friend and opened my eyes to some wonderful possibilities. It confirmed that I have friends in my corner that will always hope for my success, no matter what idiot moves I make. It also proved to me that when things look the bleakest, I'll find some way to survive, someway to keep myself occupied.

Hang onto your hats as we take a trip down the path of my convoluted thinking processes trying to write a book about.....Barry Manilow.

No. I'm not kidding.

And I know what you are thinking: Barry Manilow? Damn, she is crazy. But just hang in there. I can explain. Eventually.

Scene: I was extremely out of sorts, to put it mildly, following a divorce from a guy who wasn't really nice to me for most of the 15 years we were married (she said, being PC). It was the first weekend my children, then 4 and 10, were with their father. I was pretty lost, alone, confused and had shut down emotionally from the stress. There isn't much I remember about that time. However, as I did subscribe to the benefits of "retail therapy", I took a trip to a local super-store that had everything from lettuce to 50-inch television sets. Sure, I looked and felt like I had been emotionally tackled by the defense team of the 1985 Chicago Bears, but at least I was moving. I think I had even managed to take a shower and brush my teeth, so I was actually way ahead of some of my other days.

So I wandered around the store. Not looking at anything -- just wandering. The music department called my name and off I went. I spotted a new CD on a front rack. "Here At The Mayflower". I picked it up, curious, as I couldn't decipher the cover art. It was Barry Manilow. Of course. Barry Manilow! He'd been kicked around like a piece of talentless shit for years...but there he was. New CD and all. Well, ok. Ok...the world still worked on some level, I told myself. Barry Manilow was still standing and surviving. Fine. So could I.

I picked up the CD, left my empty cart in the aisle, paid for it and left the store. I went home and looked at it. I placed it unopened by my stereo. It remained there, wrapped in its original cellophane, for a long, long time.

I don't know why I didn't open it. I didn't open that CD for years -- until my life was better, until I was able to function like a normal human being again. Why? I don't know. Another mystery that is me.

After a couple of years of once a week couch time and whining endlessly to my dear, patient girlfriends, I got ME back and the only thing that I wanted to do was write. The only thing I could think of to write about was Barry Manilow. Once again, I don't know why. My psychologist doesn't know why. Manilow was my life raft and there you go. "Mayflower" made me realize once again that Barry Manilow was very talented and I fell in love with him all over again...just like when I was 19 and saw him for the very first time in 1976.

Anyway, I contemplated poor Mr. Manilow for a long time. Not contemplated like in "stalked", or contemplated like in "losing touch with reality", but just as in hey, maybe I could write something about Barry. He wouldn't care. At least I'd be nice, which was a big foot up from most of the crap that has been written about him.

So in July, 2005, I googled Barry Manilow for the first time (and I hope he enjoyed it). I started squirreling and sifting my way through mountains of internet information. I looked to see if other books had been written about him during the years I lost my Manilow-focus and didn’t find much. Mostly just the usual lambasting of his work, looks, fans, tours and personal life in magazine articles and reviews. SOS, different years.

I began contemplating digging up my own information and know maybe...seeing if...sort of...I could...maybe...write something about him. I had some serious self confidence issues at the time, which, you'll be happy to know, I've overcome. Mostly. So from August to December, 2005 I thought lots and lots more about writing about Barry Manilow (which to you new writers is called the “exceedingly long contemplation phase”). I think, therefore I am --- but that's it. Nothing gets down on paper. Thinking will only get you to ... thinking some more, unless you take pen to paper and plop some of those thoughts down.

However, I was keeping myself busy. Which, viewing the whole thing in my rear view mirror, was probably the point. I could have taken up needlepoint or yoga or painting or yodeling, but it was Barry Manilow.

And my story isn't done yet.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Bowing Before False Idols

I walked into my 10 year old daughter’s room the other day and noticed that one entire wall was filled with pictures of various stars of the Disney Channel. As a mother, as a woman who was once a little girl, I wept. Wept. Any concern I had that she had taken after her father completely disappeared. She was mine. All mine. Those pictures of Zach and Cody and Hannah and Raven confirmed that my sweet girl did indeed carry a heavy load of my DNA.

I was whisked back in time to my 10th year in 1966, and remembered my bedroom walls covered with pictures of the Beatles, the Monkees, the stars of “The Mod Squad”, Donny Osmond and Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise (whose picture, I’m sorry to say, was always hard to find in the latest editions of Fave, Tiger Beat and Sixteen). As I move my time line to 1976, I see Robert Redford, that infamous picture of Al Pacino as Serpico, Shaun Cassidy and Barry Manilow. The 80’s – who else? The poster man of ALL poster men, Tom Selleck…and a newly issued picture of William Shatner as our Captain, now featured in the big screen version of Star Trek. The 90’s? Well, if I’d had the nerve to do it, I would have put David Duchovny up on my wall. The year 2000? Please. Johnny Depp, alrighty.

Now should you think I developed this fascination for celebrities through any fault of my own, let me correct you. Allow me to introduce you to my mother, Rose.

My mother loved Clark Gable. She snuck off to the theater to see “Gone with the Wind” when she was a young girl and was hooked. Hooked on Gable, hooked on movie stars, hooked on the movies. My grandmother NEVER would have allowed my mother to see such a movie. “For heaven’s sake, Rosebud,” – they called my poor mother Rosebud to distinguish her from the dozen other Rose’s in my family – “they show a woman HAVING A BABY in that moving picture!” Reason enough in my grandmother’s mind to disallow such a consideration. (Please note: Gramma was from the old country and thought the following: seeing a scary movie when you were pregnant produced birth defects and sitting on cement caused kidney problems. We loved her anyway.)

But my dear mother’s legacy of loving the movies, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Chopin, Van Cliburn, Victor Borge, Van Gogh and Monet left an indelible mark on me. Not only did she love them and share them with me, she loved whom I loved.

1964. The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. My mom noted how innovative they were, how fresh, how different and how their music had a great, bluesy/jazzy beat. She also liked that John Lennon spoke his mind and except for that "Jesus" quote, never backed down from a confrontation.

My mother traveled with me through the Monkees (“didn’t Neil Diamond write some of their songs?”), Shaun Cassidy (“lots of talent there, Cookie! Check out his parents!”), Barry Manilow (“such a nice voice and a talented pianist – he likes Chopin! How can you go wrong?”), William Shatner (“Captain Kirk is the ultimate hero!”), and of course, Tom Selleck (she just fanned herself with a dishtowel).

Yes, I come from a history of bowing before false idols. But as my mother watched Star Trek with me and listened thoughtfully to Alice Cooper and Led Zeppelin, I reciprocated. I truly listened to Mozart and Mahalia Jackson. We watched dark film noir starring Robert Mitchum and that squirrelly little blonde guy whose name I’ve forgotten; giggled at Lana Turner, cheered on Joan Crawford as “Mildred Pierce” and was shocked when Bette Davis let her husband die in “The Little Foxes”. We loved William Powell and Myrna Loy in the “Thin Man” series and we watched every single black and white horror movie that Universal ever made. We watched Chaplin, Pickford, Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn.

What did I learn? To share my enthusiasm for music and film and art with my children. The first song either one of my children learned was “Here Comes the Sun” by George Harrison. I have my Beatles posters from the 60’s framed and up on the wall. My Barry Manilow calendar graces my kitchen and we play his albums on my old turntable (When my daughter yelled, “Hey, where’s the other 6 songs???”, I had to explain that albums weren’t like CD’s with all the songs on one side; that you had to flip the album over to hear the rest of it. She was very put out by this ancient technology, and let out a heavy, 21st century sigh. She was even more aghast with my mono version of “Meet the Beatles” which is a worn shade of gray and produces more static than music.) We watch the original Star Trek episodes on VHS tape (“Mom, it’s so cool and CHEESY!”) and DVD’s of the X-Files and Magnum PI. However, I have learned to appreciate what my children love. Through my mother’s talent of finding something good in literally anything and everything, I can sit through Disney Channel sitcoms and laugh with my daughter. Not because it’s funny necessarily, but because she thinks it’s funny. I can listen to my son’s new wave/heavy metal music and smile, thinking of my mother trying to say something nice about “Welcome to My Nightmare” by Alice Cooper. I mean is there any difference between Green Day and White Snake when you come down to it, really?

It can be a struggle to come up with something brilliant to say about “The Suite Life of Zach and Cody”, but I think my daughter is just happy to sit with me and hear me laugh with her. Just as I was with my mom. “The Monkees”, “Gidget” and “Batman” just cracked us both up. I know my son is happy is have me in his room, while he tries to play his own guitar to a new song he just purchased by Alkaline Trio. This sharing forms a unique and long lasting bond that transcends time and teaches some valuable life lessons.

My mother has given me a great look for things to appreciate in what your friends and loved ones like, even if it really isn't your cup of tea. To find something to enjoy in what others may wrongly dismiss as idiotic or not worth their time. Life becomes more of a shared adventure and bottom line, it just might be fun, you just might learn something, or you just might meet someone who will be important to you the rest of your life.

My girlfriend jokingly once told me, “you’d have fun at a garbage dump.” And I just might. Thanks to Mom.