What I’m Riding . . . the last ride

My first fan, my first beautiful baby, me.

It was seven years ago today that I started this blog.  I’ve shared so many stories and thoughts and opinions.  I’ve heard your feedback, friends and readers and family.  I’ve shared some very personal moments, past and present. I’ve cried to you, I’ve laughed with you.  When I lost one of my biggest cheerleaders, Jessica DeDeo, I lost a little of the will to continue, but I kept on.  Some of the joy was definitely gone and I began writing with less frequency.  Then another big cheerleader, Jeff Robson, passed in January and my excitement about continuing this blog took another hit.  I started to think about the blog and where it has been and where it was going.  I was becoming convinced that some of the  stories I’d been considering sharing would fit better as complete short stories or as a scene in a larger work.  My novel-writing was definitely taking a hit.  With constantly thinking of things to blog about and constructing the posts, my true passion and ultimate goal of publishing a book was suffering.  A major turning point was imminent.

Last month I attended a writers conference in Tennessee.  It was fabulous, confidence-boosting and eye-opening. On the car ride home, quite excited about submitting the YA novel to both agents to whom I had pitched it, I had a revealing conversation with my friend Lisa. As we began reflecting on the many road trips we’d taken over the past twenty years–our first one having been in 1997 with one of her childhood friends–I said that I was going to start a series of blogs about them. I’d already written a few short stories about some of them that although hadn’t been published, had elicited positive comments from editors and a request to hear more.
.        “Our trips are not blog stories,” she said. “You need to write a book about them. That’s the story you need to tell.”
.        True.  Every time I share with someone one of my road stories–visiting a serial killer in San Quentin, the guy in Vegas who dropped his pants outside our door at a Motel 6, the time one of my friends was swarmed by bugs in New Mexico and fell inside someone else’s hotel room, when the three ladies in my car spotted our favorite rock star on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles and decided to follow him home even though California has strict stalking laws–the listener always says with mouth dropped open, “You need to write about this!”  An editor had written on one of my submissions (which yes, she declined to publish in her magazine), “OMG, I would love to be in this car with you.  Please send me more!”  I decided Lisa was right–my trip stories should be a book.  That night in our Macon hotel room I wrote an outline of the fifty states and D.C. with notations about the highlights that had occurred in each one.  I fell about ten states short of a good story, so how terrible for a road tripper like me that I’ll have to visit or re-visit some of them.  Something else that occurred to me while sketching out the book was that three of our gal pal road trippers are no longer in my life–one I had a falling out with, one just kind of fizzled away and the other died.  My father died two months after I returned from my first road trip.  My brother died during one of them.  My niece Jessica–who joined me on two major road trips from coast to coast–died two years ago.  So it’s not only a trip through America, but a trip through life.  It’s a story not only of adventure and comedy, but love and loss.  My trip to Hawaii–although I didn’t drive there because, duh, you can’t–was taken because my family had to use the plane tickets we cancelled a month earlier because Jessica’s death made it impossible for any of us to enjoy the cruise we’d planned.  Hawaii was beautiful and soothing and one of the best places I’ve ever visited.  I also cried half the time I was there because Jessica was dead.  Every thought in my head–Oooh, that’s so majestic (but Jessica will never see it because she’s dead).  The water is so calm and healing (but Jessica’s still dead).  Time to buy souvenirs (but none for Jessica because she’s dead).  My God, you know who would find that so funny right now?  (Jessica, but you can’t tell her about it because she’s dead).  I wish I could stop crying (but the person I always called to help me stop crying was Jessica and she’s the reason I’m crying because she’s dead)–was followed by one of Jessica.  These are the parts of a road trip that make it a relatable and sharable yet entirely unique experience.  It is a string of experiences I intend to share all wrapped together in one volume.

My other reason for deciding to end the blog here was because it’s just time.  Is it apropos to label it a seven year itch?  No.  It’s just kind of timely that things would work out this way, that I would come to this conclusion seven years down the road.  In this current social climate–which I seriously hope goes away soon–where everyone is afraid to express their real opinions for fear someone will try to destroy them or their career for some personal advancement agenda, I don’t find it necessary for me to add my two cents every week or month or whatever it may be.  I don’t want to be some typing armchair critic (you like that, Eez?  I said it!) whose every word will be scrutinized by someone trying to bring me down.  I’m opinionated.  I’m from Philly.  I say nasty things.  I say things I wish I hadn’t.  I hurt people I love.  I hurt people I don’t love.  I don’t mean to, and I wish I could be pleasant and beautiful all the time.  I can’t.  None of us can.  So now I want to focus on writing in character, on lending to the folks in my head all my negative and positive and non-existent qualities and let them speak for me and through me and to you.

Some of the blogs I’m really proud of?  Luckily, quite a few, which is fabulous considering there’s 274 of them.  But if you want to catch me at my best, may I suggest this small list:  peeping Toms, my first love, naked and afraid, when ghosts attack, the left arm, water, tajazzle, farts on a plane, the homemade fan sign, return of the fan sign, gigolos on showtime, my god place, Florida stand your ground, my first kiss, hypnotized on a plane, friendship III, please do judge, born in the wild, I always knew you wouldn’t stay long, boobs, putting it away.  Of course my muse blogs and Vegas Playgrounds and lingo and Crave also hold a special place for me. If you haven’t read, have a look.

Thank you, my beautiful babies, for taking these rides with me.  I appreciate and treasure all your comments and sharings and likes.  I hope I’ve entertained you, touched you, comforted you, made you feel a little more brave.  I hope you laughed, and even cried.  I hope I helped you find or avoid.  I hope I helped you think and challenge.  I hope I caused you to smile, relax, enjoy, realize something wonderful.  I hope I caused you to like me.  If I didn’t, I hope I didn’t give you cause to need to forgive me.  If I did, I hope you did.

Peace, love, be well, and I hope to peek out at you from the shelves of bookstores and libraries across the world.


Thanks for reading 😘👶🏼

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What I’m Riding . . . Bob Bar in a Bag

Like the perfect cocktail, everything in the bag must coordinate

(My brother Drew loved this story and I dedicate its retelling to his memory)

As you all know by now from reading my blog, I was a Philly Band Groupie.  I say this proudly, because the Philly Band Groupie is different from your standard groupie.  Philly Band Groupies are male and female, friends and family members and none of the above, people who hung with the band or wish they would have, people who slept with band members or wish they would have.  It was our club night, our weekend plans in Philly, Jersey or Delaware (sometimes, rarely, Maryland, thank you Hammerjacks and Ocean City).  It was called “the band scene” and it included the three cabarets, JC Dobb’s, the Empire, the 4 & 1, DJ Bananas and so many more.  For about five or six years in the late eighties and early nineties, the Philly band scene was the happening scene.  And it was in 1994, toward the end of its heyday, when I met Bob Bar in a Bag.

After The Hooters graduated to the national scene in 1985, Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers were being promoted as the next rock band to break into the Big Time.  Chris Day was the lead guitarist.  Shortly after recording their first album for Columbia, Chris left the band and started from scratch with his own band, the eponymously titled Chris Day. (I always found it confusing when he would announce from the stage, “We are Chris Day.”  I guess calling themselves “Day” would have seemed clipped and boring, but the band wasn’t Eddie Van Halen.  The band wasn’t Gunnar Nelson.  Okay.  Those are brother bands.  The band wasn’t Chris Daughtry.)  Anyway, in a karmic justice sort of situation, Chris went through several lead guitarists and one of them had a best friend who looked like Extreme lead singer Gary Cherone (Yes, most girls screamed for Nuno; I was a Gary fan).  Dressed in black with long, dark curly hair flowing down his back, he first caught my eye one night at the club inside Tudor’s where Chris was playing.  I thought maybe he was a member of the opening band from the way he was walking around and talking to people and the way people seemed to know him, but when the opening band came on, he was still in the crowd.
.        “So who do you think that is?” I asked Lisa.
.        We started making up stories about who he could possibly be, and I lent him many exotic names:  Xavier, Shane, Stavros.  (This was 1994; those names were exotic for a Northeast Philly girl).  I settled on Bob.  “I bet his name is Bob,” I said, explaining that someone who looked that fascinating probably had the most common name on the planet.
.        Right before Chris went on stage Lisa decided to ask Barney (not his name), who worked for Chris and who Lisa was or was not dating (almost twenty-five years later and she still doesn’t know).
.        “Why?” Barney asked.  “Does Rachel like him?”  This was why we were reluctant to ask him anything about anyone.  He was so nosy and I wanted my conquests to remain under the radar.  No self-respecting Philly Band Groupie wanted the objects of her affection to know who they were.  Anyway, Barney told us he was Chris’ new guitarist’s bff.  “I think his name is Bob.”  Needless to say, I laughed so hard I cried.
.        Turns out his name was actually something else, so where Barney got Bob from I still don’t know, maybe we were having telepathy or something.  But to me he remained Bob, the ever elusive, un-netted social butterfly Bob, who I could never seem to pin down long enough to get eye contact, let alone introduce myself.  (Turns out the lack of him being able to focus on me was from his being essentially toasted all the time, but how was I to know that then?)
.         One night Chris Day was playing at JC Dobbs on South Street.  Lisa and I were roaming around outside between sets, ducking in and out of stores and probably having ice cream or pizza, when who do we run into on the corner of third and South?  Yes, Bob.  He was carrying this black duffel bag and looked a little lost.  Feeling a little bold (cruising South Street in a tight skirt among a bunch of misfit weirdos just like you will do that to a gal), Lisa and I saddled up to either side of him.
.         “Where you going?” I asked.
.         It took a while for him to focus his glassy eyes on me.  I noticed all the little freckles on his face.  He was either mulatto with weak pigmentation or Asian or Hispanic or some combination of all.  He was so very interesting-looking.  Except for the glassy-eyed thing.
.        “Why?” he asked.
.        “Because maybe we’ll go with you,” I said.  I knew where he was going:  JC Dobbs to watch his friend play guitar.  Since we were going to the same spot, why not go together?  Logical to me.
.        “Do I know you?” he asked.
.        Now this was just getting fun.  “Do you want to?” I asked.  Since he was clearly out of his mind, I was not intimidated at all.  I could knock him over with a hip bump.
.        He looked around, like he was scared, like we might kidnap him or something.  “I’m waiting for my fans,” he said.
.        “What do you do that warrants fans?”  That from Lisa.
.         “Why?” he asked.  By now Lisa and I were laughing uncontrollably.
.         “Because maybe we’ll become some,” Lisa answered.  I pointed to the bag.  “What you got in there?”
.        At this he seemed to come alive.  He slung the handles along one arm and opened the zipper a little with the other hand.  “Everything I need,” he said.  The whole bag was filled with booze.  Full-size bottles, not the hotel mini bar kind, either.  Bob stumbled a little.  Lisa and I stared at each other.  Maybe this wasn’t so funny anymore.
.        “Should we take him home?” I asked her.  “He might get hurt out here.”
.        She rolled her eyes at me.  Okay, yes, my motives were selfish.  I saw the morning, me making Bob eggs and coffee, he being so grateful that I saved him from wandering the city and perhaps getting jumped or worse.  But I was also genuinely concerned.
.        “Are you okay?” I asked him and he just stared at me.
.        “Okay,” I said, taking his hand.  “Come with us.”
.        Lisa’s protests and declarations of “Oh My God, what are you doing?” were short-lived.  As we were crossing the street to the parking lot where my car was parked, Barney’s sister came upon us.
.        “Jason,” she said, using his real name (which is not his real name).  “What are you doing out here?”
.        “He’s really messed up,” Lisa said to her.  “We’re getting him home.”
.        “I’ll take care of him,” sis said, taking his arm from me.
.        “Where are you taking him?” I asked.
.        “He can sleep it off backstage,” she said.  Although I didn’t think this was a good idea, and I also wanted to tell her to back off, I saw him first, I had no idea where he lived or even if he’d be able to tell me.  So against my better judgment I released my bounty and watched her walk him back to Dobb’s.  Shortly thereafter Chris also fired this guitar player, and I never saw Jason again, whom Lisa and I had re-named Bob Bar in a Bag.

About a year later one hit wonder Joan Osborne was all over the airwaves, MTV rotation and music magazines (remember when those mattered to a musician’s career?) thanks to Philly God Eric Bazilian’s composition, “One of Us.”  In one of the magazines I was flipping through in my hairdresser’s reception area (I think it was Spin), there was an article on Joan, who was also promoting her next single and video, “St. Teresa.”  She tells the interviewer that she has a pair of dirty panties stuffed in her purse from last night’s tryst, whom she just left to get to this interview on time. Can I just stay here for a minute? You know how much I love dissecting the constant cry of certain women and how they want to be seen as equals to men in enjoying sex and being okay with parading around about how much they get and how they’re not whores, just having casual sex like their male counterparts, who instead of getting shamed get high-fived and slapped on the back. If I were reading an interview with Richard Ashcroft (who was also featured in the issue of this magazine) and he said he had his dirty underwear in his guitar case because he was fresh from screwing somebody and hadn’t thought to bring a fresh pair, I’d be thinking the same thing about him that I thought of Joan: ew. TMI. Oh, I want to be known for my music, but let’s start off the interview talking about my cheesy cum crotch. Oh, and I know I sing about God and someone I call St. Teresa,” who sounds like a nun, really I’m a naughty, raunchy girl. Thank God for Lilith Fair, or we may never have heard from Joan and her panties again. Actually, where are the women of Lilith Fair? All of them. The performers and the audience who failed to keep them making music. Off in some angry corner, I suppose. Hopefully Joan is at home with a tub fool of Woolite. Anyway, I am going somewhere with this.

After reading the article, I did think it was a good idea to always be prepared with fresh panties and a toothbrush. I thought of Bob Bar in a Bag, and how he was always ready with what mattered to him. Wherever he went, however long he stayed within a twenty-four to forty-eight hour period, he had the essentials. So instead of just panties and a toothbrush stuffed into my purse—which sometimes when clubbing was only big enough for ID, cards, cash and a lipstick—I decided on an overnight bag of sorts that I would keep in my trunk. No ghetto survival kit for me. This girl needed more than panties and a toothbrush. I decided to also include pajamas, fresh stretchies (what they were called before someone thought “yoga pants” sounded more sophisticated, even if you bought them at Bradlees) and an oversized t-shirt. Makeup remover pads and moisturizer. Deodorant. A book, in case I left my car at the club and it was a long train ride back. Oh, okay, in case the book was more fascinating than he was or if he drank too much, whatever, I go everywhere with a book, don’t judge (ironic, since I’ve basically Hot Benched Joan Osborne all over this bitch). And this was my emergency plan, packed away in a Mickey Mouse duffel I kept in my trunk. My next birthday, Lisa upgraded me to the black bag in the picture, just like Bob’s, only smaller.

Now that my Bob Bar in a Bag days are officially over (I’m so not spur of the moment, and never have been, actually. Never used the contents of the BBB in any official capacity.  Okay, I may have changed into the stretchies after bleeding on my car seat during a heavy period) I’ve decided to take it on this road trip home to Philly with me and leave it in the hotel room. It’s in excellent condition. Maybe someone out there will take it and, in essence, pick up the torch. Maybe I’ll even get it started for her. Panties and lotion from Victoria’s Secret, a toothbrush and a travel sized paste, some Yes grapefruit facial wipes and moisturizer. A few tampons and a book, something by Liane Moriarty. A $10 gift card to Chik-Fil-A (hopefully she won’t get the after-naughty hungers on a Sunday). And a note from me.  And Joan Osborne.  Okay, Eric Bazilian:
.                      What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on a bus
Tryin’ to make his way home?
Wouldn’t He need this bag?



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What I’m Riding . . . if only it were a Bahama Breeze

Almost as good as a Java Chip

Some days it’s impossible for me to leave the house.  Most days it’s just really hard.  Today wasn’t either of those days, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t without its own set of challenges getting out the door.  The decision wasn’t whether or not, but where.

I had originally planned on going to the mall.  That decision is four-fold, so it satisfies my phobia of not eking every last drop of possibility and efficiency out of a situation.  1) I walk around the mall so I get some movement and Fitbit steps.  2) What if there’s a great sale?  3) I like to write there; lots of people-watching, I can sit for hours in the food court and not be bothered, there’s also a Starbucks, and I can walk to the various department stores and take pictures of outfits I want my characters to wear.  4) The food court.  I was really in the mood for the Taco Bell #7 yesterday.  How does that help me today?  I don’t know.  Which is probably why I nixed the mall.

Then I thought of the bookstore.  Love it there, but there’s only so many artichoke quiches one can eat.  I thought of my neighborhood Burger King.  It looks so bright and sunny in there and never really crowded so it would also be a great place to write.  I don’t like their fries too much, but love the Whopper, Jr.  But then I think of my mom’s friend’s daughter who ate Burger King as much as I eat Barnes & Noble artichoke quiche and had a heart attack that killed her.  Now Burger King scares me.

Then I thought of Bahama Breeze, which is located in my God Place, right off Courtney Campbell.  Immediately my inner Mother Superior was like no, no, no, can’t go there.  It’s too far, you’re by yourself, why would you go there, no no no, and what she was really saying was, “Because I just want to” is not good enough reason to go because what you want isn’t important.  You’re not worth it.  Then I asked Mother Superior, Why am I not worth it?  Seriously.  Why won’t I take myself there?  I’d take a friend there.  If my family was visiting I’d ask that they take me there.  They think I’m worth it.  I love it there.  Why would I deny myself this?  I have no man to take me out; who else will be my date and impress me with my favorite spot?

Ten minutes into my car ride I have my answer because I’m crying.  Now, this happens quite frequently for me, so I’m not thinking much of it.  It’s just something I’ve learned to deal with, eight times out of ten I will cry in the car alone driving somewhere.  (That ratio goes down when I have a passenger in the car, but it is a possibility so just know:  it’s not your fault.  Well, it may be, so don’t be an asshole.)  It’s the sensitive writer, it’s the anxiety, it’s all the death.  I think of dead people when I drive.  I think of dead people and how much I miss them.  My dad.  My brother.  My niece.  My friend Jeff.  My grandparents, three of whom I’ve never met because by the time I was born they were, well, dead.  My sweet furry son Sciante who I can still hear snorting around the house.  Then, in an attempt to make myself feel better, I think of other people’s dead people.  My cousin Ru’s husband.  My friend Ian’s brother and sister.  My friend Jason’s brother and sister.  For Ru, he was her soulmate, the love of her life, her companion for over thirty years, taken too soon.  For the latter two, death wiped out their siblings, leaving them only children.  I think of these people and marvel at their strength, their resilience, and that’s what makes me feel better, the beauty of the human spirit and how at any given time, someone’s fortune may be better than yours or it may be worse (lest you think it was the actual deaths that made me feel better.  It’s not.  I hate that this happened to these people and if they want to cry in their cars, go right ahead dumplings).

My tears have stopped somewhere on the Suncoast Parkway and as I round the bend of the ramp off Exit 2 and the bay comes into view and the sight of the people jet skiing in the water off the private beach of the Westin fills me with joy.  It is my God Place, after all.  Then I think of all the reasons why it is and I start crying again.  The Westin is where I stayed with my family when we came to Tampa on the last birthday I spent as a resident of Las Vegas.  Everyone I love was there, and one of them is dead now.  I am reminded of one of the happiest times of my life and the void that is in me for it can never be recaptured.  Also there is the beauty of that God Place-feeling, which is indeed fall-on-your-knees overwhelming.  I would cry even without the death, the feeling of belonging and just plain old rightness is so palpable.

What I’m coming to realize is that when I go somewhere to write, I need the place to be attached to a feeling to get the most out of the experience.  That feeling that I have to tap into–if done properly–is eventually going to make me cry.  I’m probably anticipating the overwhelming feelings that are about to come over me and I start to get worked up.  After all, I’m about to plop myself in the middle of an establishment full of people, open up my veins and begin bleeding all over the page.  That’s not easy to do in public, yet it’s necessary in order to make it relatable.  Writing in my office is different from writing in my living room.  Or in Panera or at the beach or in a hotel room or at my mother’s in Wyomissing or at my mother’s in Cape May.  Think about where you would choose to take a nap:  guaranteed your sleeping experience will be different in a hotel room than it would be in your own bedroom.  The things you think about before dozing off will be different, your dreams will be different.  Sleeping alone on your couch is different than sleeping on a plastic chair while waiting for your plane.  While on a plane.  In first class after four bloody Marys and an Ativan.  The zone of writing can be a like a sleep-state.  The things I go through while in character are chemically real.  No wonder my knee-jerk reaction is to remain confined in my house while I do it, where it’s safe to lower myself into and then hopefully lift myself out of the surging pit of feelings.

So here I am, alone at a booth in the bar area while what sounds like Jamaican show tunes are blaring through the place, eating empanadas, drinking a luscious virgin bahamarita (I am the designated driver after all, gotta make sure my baby gets home safe) and typing away.  Extra points for not crying since I sat down.  And you may be asking:  what is my point in sharing all of this?  What it always is:  the sharing itself.  To impart to you that when you’re alone, you’re really not.  It’s the main reason why any writer writes:  to share a message.  It’s a message we not only want you to get, but the one we want to hear ourselves.  We want to know we’re not alone on this journey, and neither are you.  None of us is alone in anything:  our pain, our joy, the way we love, the way we feel about ourselves.  What I want is for you to see you in my writing far more than I ever want you to see me.  Less, “I know how she feels” and more, “Oh my God, she knows exactly how I feel!”

I could only write this where I wrote it.  It actually started coming to me in the car, while I was crying.  It took me less than an hour to compose; two more to proof read and get ready for you.  I hope you saw yourself somewhere in it, and know that I did, too.

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What I’m Riding . . . Tampa breakfast

Some of Tampa’s finest

I love breakfast food.  All kinds, any time of day.  I have a few specialties I make for myself at home, one being my version of Florentine Benedict, which is a fried egg, spinach and Tostitos cheese sauce open-faced on a bagel.  I also like to make spinach, tomato and egg white omelettes and home fries with loads of onions.  A late night snack is a bagel with onion and chive spread, capers, cucumber and tomato.  Apple Jacks, Froot Loops, corn flakes, Life–I eat them for dessert like people eat cake.  Pop tarts are my cookies.

My dad liked to cook, and although he wasn’t Gordon Ramsay, he wasn’t half bad.  But I assure you no one could touch his breakfast.  When he made breakfast–mainly down the shore on two hot plates, no easy feat, I assure you–it was an event.  He’d start at seven in the morning and by eight he’d be calling up the stairs everything he made for you:  “Eggs.  Pancakes.  Home fries.  Bacon.  Scrapple.  Toast.  Coffee.  Orange juice.”  Yes, he would do that.  And no matter how tired or hung over some of us were, you better believe we got our asses out of bed for dad’s breakfast.  He was a master of potatoes and breakfast meats.  Any hardcore Philadelphian would have cried over his scrapple, Taylor pork roll, sausage patties, bacon, corned beef hash.

My mom would cook breakfast sometimes, and she’s a master at eggs, but mom’s main contribution to the first meal of the day is her knowledge of diners.  In Northeast Philly, there was The Dining Car, The Country Club, The Red Robin, The Mayfair and Tiffany’s.  Melrose in South Philly, Uncle Lou’s in Wildwood.  Dock Mike’s in Cape May.  West Reading in, well, West Reading.  Some of my favorite times as a kid was when mom would go out and have her dates stop at our apartment at the end of the night to pick me up and take me out to breakfast with them.  Two o’clock in the morning I’d be the only seven-year-old in The Country Club diner eating a cheese omelette, bagel with cream cheese and strawberry jelly, scrapple and hash browns, my eyes rolling back in my head.  And hot chocolate or chocolate milk, depending on the season.  At the age of eight I was ordering hot tea.

There is a reason why I’m giving you this background.  I’m actually listing my credentials.  I need you to know that when it comes to breakfast, beautiful Tampa babies, I know what I’m talking about.  I spent six months going about this town in search of the perfect breakfast spot.  And not just for food.  But for atmosphere.  Because as a writer, atmosphere plays a very big role in where I like to park it for a few hours, grazing the menu items and talking to you.  So listed below, in no particular order, are the places I tried for breakfast and my breakdown for you of what to expect, both food-wise and writer ju-ju-ness.  Some have turned into favorites, some I may give another chance because maybe it was just an off day.  Some I can just leave and say, “Thank you very much for the experience.”  Hopefully I’ll inspire you to wake up and smell the coffee.  And park it for a while to peruse a book, magazine, my blog.  Enjoy!

Don’t let the inclusion of the Caribou Coffee scare you; it’s still the same Einstein Bagels you know and love.  I first started going to Einstein Bagels in Las Vegas, when Billy and I would have our script meetings.  Located on Warm Springs, it was a very busy location, but still had the kind of vibe like a college lounge.  Billy and I got a lot of work done there, some very creative thinking that really got the ball rolling, which we sadly dropped for one reason or another, someone’s fault or the other, at some location or the other that had nothing to do with Einstein Bagels.  Perhaps if we could have lived there for a good sixth months we might actually have a sitcom on the air right now.  Those times with Billy, working on our writing, talking and laughing over coffee and Spicy Elmos, getting to know each other, are some of my fondest memories of my time in Vegas.  The Einstein’s in Carrollwood has that same kind of feel for me, even though I mainly go alone now to work alone.  My favorite spot is the half booth by the window, with the plug strip behind me.  Einstein’s is extremely writer-friendly, study-friendly, and if you like bagels (no more wraps or rolls–if you want a sandwich, it’s gotta be on a bagel.  And you better want a sandwich, ‘cuz that’s all they got), then this is the place for you.  Most of the time they make the food perfectly, the coffee is fresh and hot, and they don’t care how long you stay.  And they have Wi-Fi.  Einstein’s is a weekly spot for me, sometimes more than once, and it’s the one spot I used to go to with Jess where she always treated to breakfast.  And the true test of their power is that when I go in there, I don’t associate it with her and I don’t cry.  See, I’m crying now just writing that.  Maybe I should have written it in Einstein’s rather than my kitchen table.
RATING:  * * * *
## UPDATE 7/5/17 ##
Well, Einstein’s broke my heart, beautiful babies, on Memorial Day weekend.  While I haven’t completely lost faith in the franchise, I have declared to the manager of the Carrollwood location that he will never see me step foot inside or patronize his establishment again.  Why?  I went with Lisa on Memorial Day at noon.  They had three bagels left because the cashier said they were closing at two and didn’t expect to be so busy.  Then they got Lisa’s bagel wrong.  And overcharged her.  And we waited fifteen minutes for them to get it wrong and overcharge.  And they had snotty attitudes about it all like how dare we come in and make them work today.  They did nothing to make anything right.  I’m making a long story short, because I don’t want to relive the bad behavior on all parts.  But I walked away for the last time feeling as if my patronage didn’t matter.
RATING: ** (because at least the food and coffee were good when we finally got it)

Right next to Einstein Bagels, I was reluctant to try it here, and I don’t know why.  Maybe because it’s at the tail end of a strip of stores and looks congested and small.  But looks can be deceiving, because it’s huge inside.  And the menu: phenomenal.  The first time I went I sat in a booth and ordered the Jack of Hearts, which was an omelette with artichoke hearts, bacon and Monterey Jack cheese.  I know, right?! Delicious.  Biscuits as big as baseballs.  Side choices range from potatoes to grits to Mexican rice.  Loved it here so much, I took my baby bro when he came for a visit and he’s hooked.  Only two glitches:  they’re a little pricey.  My breakfast that first day, with an Arnold Palmer, was $25, so after tip I was out $30.  That’s a lot for breakfast.  Worth it, and if I wanted to pack it up I certainly could have gotten two meals out of it, but not a place I could go to frequently to eat and write.  The other negative is their practice of keeping coffee mugs on the table.  None of us had coffee the one day I went with a group, so after I played with an empty mug for a bit, the server eventually cleared them and put them back into rotation.  Um, what if I sneezed on it?  If I had a kid who licked it?  Sorry.  If something’s on a table and not used but people sit at the table, everything gets washed.  So I’ll never have coffee or tea there.  As a writing option, I never checked out the strength of the Wi-Fi or whether it was even available, and although they definitely would have let me sit as long as I wanted, this is a place better enjoyed with someone else.  So I probably won’t go myself again.
RATING:  * * * *

This one’s on Gunn Highway in Odessa and I tried it on a whim after noticing it while driving by one day.  It has a seaside diner feel, and by that I mean it’s the kind of brokedown yet cozy place you picture fisherman sitting around sunburnt and squinty-eyed, telling their stories and drinking too much coffee.  The menu excited me the minute I saw they had skillets (eggs and other goodies slapped on top a pile of potatoes in a skillet), and I almost left skiddies on the seat when I saw they had a corned beef hash skillet.  Then the server informed me they were out of corned beef.  Aw!  Crushed.  So I opted for a veggie skillet, which was spinach, tomatoes, onions and green peppers.  I requested it with scrambled egg whites, home fries and please hold the green peppers.  I got a side of sausage links (that I would cut up and mix in myself) and a glass of apple juice.  When the skillet came it had cheddar cheese in it.  I don’t like cheese with potatoes and veggies.  I didn’t recall seeing cheese in the description.  I know this, because I would have said, hold the peppers and the cheese.  However, if it was my mistake, I would just eat the darn thing and let it go.  The server checks the menu and sure enough, no cheese.  So she takes it back with apologies.  When it comes back, it has mushrooms in it.  WTF.  I’m okay with mushrooms, so I suck it up.  Halfway through I start to see the green peppers.  WTF.  The sausage had some bad gristle, so after a second mouthful ended up in a napkin, I gave up.  The pricing was cheap, staff more than friendly and accommodating, and yes, an awesome spot to sit and write with Wi-Fi, so I’m torn.  Of course Arty is like, never go back there.  I don’t know why I want to give it a second chance, but I do.  I guess I really want to try that corned beef hash skillet.
RATING: * * (and three -quarters)

How could I not?  Seriously, they do have the best coffee.  I only drink flavored and I was reluctant to try DD because they add syrup rather than flavor-roast the bean.  But it is the smoothest, most delicious coffee I’ve ever tasted.  The hype is true, the coffee is the bomb.  I’ve tried various locations in the Tampa area, my favorite being on Gunn and Van Dyke in the Winn Dixie parking lot.  Great atmosphere, cozy, friendly staff and you can sit for days.  Arty and I hold Art Wednesdays there, a new practice that is working nicely.  Their breakfast options are good, and I rotate a variety, from the Wake-Up Wrap to the croissant sandwich to the bacon egg and cheese on toast (strangely enough, I never get a donut).  The quality of the food is hit or miss–they never burn the bacon like I request, the cheese is sometimes not melted, the hash browns are overcooked and cold–but who really goes to Dunkin’ for the food?  Of course they have Wi-Fi, silly.  They may not be as notorious as Starbucks among the writing set, but I’m grateful for that, as it provides a non-crowded atmosphere for the characters in my head to bounce about freely.
RATING: * * * (and three quarters)

This one is a little pretentious among the “healthy eating” set, and the food was good enough, but I had a hard time picking something off the menu.  I went with Arty after a Pilates class, so I’m not sure how it would fare as a writing spot, but it didn’t hit me enough that I would go back there by myself with my computer.  Not while Panera is in the same shopping center.  But it did have the feel that it belonged in the Shops at Carpenter Square in Cape May, so I still kinda liked it.
RATING: * * *

A favorite.  Not all are created equal, though, and I find the best one is on Racetrack.  They have Wi-Fi, plenty of booths, and free pie on Wednesdays.  They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I’ve sampled both breakfast and lunch, but my fave–of course–is breakfast.  My standard is the country skillet, modified without the ham, cheese, green pepper or mushrooms.  Yes, I take out half the ingredients, but they always get it right, even if most of the servers smell like stale cigarettes.  Imagine what they smell like at the other locations.
RATING: * * * *

Had to include it here, and like VI, not all are created equal, as I’m sure you already have your favorite IHOP location.  Mine is Westshore, mainly because it reminds me of my first trip to Tampa when I fell in love with the city.  It’s where I had my first breakfast and my last, just before boarding the plane back to Vegas.  It’s a little more expensive than other IHOPs because it is close to the airport, and it’s almost always crowded which makes the scarce parking situation even more vexing, but the food is fresh and I just feel very relaxed there.  I don’t like to write at IHOP, but I’ve eaten there with practically everyone whose ever come to visit me here, so it holds a special place.  If you’re a fan of IHOP, go to this one.  If you’re not, give this one a chance.  And yes, the tables smell like a baby playing in pancake syrup.
RATING: * * * *

Another one I had to try twice, this one a different location.  I tried the one in Carrollwood a couple years ago when it first opened.  Crunchy, undercooked potatoes, slow service, dirty silverware, flavorless.  Vowed I’d never go back and I didn’t.  They must have found their legs, because they opened a second location last year in Citrus Park.  I decided to give this location a chance, chalking up my first bad experience to keke’s needing some time to hire a competent staff and figure things out.  After all, how bad could they be if their business was growing so fast?  I went around noon and there were people waiting outside.  As I’m alone, I walked in and tried my luck.  I got seated right away, a little table against the wall.  I ordered a scramble, which is another name for a skillet, with tomatoes and spinach, eggs over medium.  Ironically, my first bite of potato was a little crunchy.  Oh no!  Turns out it was just a fluke; the rest was soft and delicious.  Silverware clean.  I even wrote a little; the atmosphere is busy, but in a way that reminded me of the diners in Los Angeles, where Hollywood people share ideas and make deals.  Pricing was reasonable, not sure if they have Wi-Fi.  But I’m glad I gave it a second chance; this location I’ll definitely be returning to.
RATING: * * * (and three quarters)

More kramped than a Kardashian’s kloset (speaking of which, I really think Kim and Kanye totes missed the boat on naming their first-born.  They should have named her Key; not only does that keep with the “K” theme, but how awesome would it be to have your name be Key West?  Instead they tried to be Klever by naming her North, which I’m sure they thought was so kool.  Getting tired of the “K” theme yet?  Yeah, me too), I walked in, looked at the menu and walked out.  Just two tables in here, one of which was occupied, and a kounter, um, counter.  Food consisted of huevos, sandwiches and wraps.  They might be quite delicious, but clearly are more of a takeout joint.  Not the best atmosphere for a writer or even someone looking to relax.  So I’m not rating them; they’re just not for me.

I tried it in its first incarnation as Hattie’s and found it lacking in all areas.  Not enough seating, not cozy, too bright and chairs were hard, food was healthy but all tasted like they just picked it and rinsed it and rolled it in a flour tortilla.  I had to douse it with salsa and sour cream.  I was so disappointed.  It changed hands, was renamed The Liberty Café, so I decided to give it a second chance.  And so glad I did.  They filled it up with more tables, put in some wood paneling, and even put raised booths against one wall so you can look out over the room, and a counter lining the opposite glass wall so you can look outside.  I brought flavored cream but didn’t need it; I ordered the Turtle, which is coffee with caramel, hazelnut and whipped cream.  OMG.  Delicious.  For my meal I had a veggie skillet with egg whites and turkey sausage.  The menu was chock full of possibilities and I will definitely be going back here.  The pricing is writer-budget friendly, as is the atmosphere (Wi-Fi!).
RATING: * * * * (and a half)

At Brunchies I did something I never do–I sat at the counter.  Great for writing.  I got the Florentine Benedict, which was a lot of food, and tasty, but the breakfast potatoes were too salty.  Which is something coming from me, as I add salt to practically everything (I have been known to add salt to my spaghetti if it’s not seasoned enough and there’s no garlic salt or shredded romano in the joint).  Yes, they have Wi-Fi, and this is a place that has a neighborhood café feel, the kind you see writers clustering around on slice-of-America television shows.
RATING:  * * * (and three quarters)

This one’s also in Carrollwood, in the Michael’s parking lot (I speak in crafts).  The interior is adorable; looks like you’re sitting in a garden, which is quite unexpected considering it’s in a busy shopping center along Dale Mabry.  I expected it to have shredded booths lining the walls and smell like month-old Crisco, which is why despite living here for almost six years now and visiting this particular shopping center on a virtual weekly basis I never ate here.  Am I glad I changed my mind?  Sort of.  After standing in the foyer for a decent while, the owner finally came over and huffed, “Follow me,” and slapped mine and Arty’s menus on the table like it was a burden.  The food was fresh, but a little flavorless.  I got the corned beef hash with egg whites and home fries.  Our server was cool, a college girl who bonded with me on the challenge of working with a Greek boss with all his “young lady!” indignant declarations and viewing you as sub-standard.  “Yep,” I told her after I’d witnessed him dressing her down.  “I worked for one of those.”  I wouldn’t say I’ll never go back, but I certainly won’t be rushing there with all these other fine options I’ve listed.  I’d never go there and write, that’s for sure.
RATING:  * * (and three-quarters; the owner forfeits a third star because of his attitude)

Well, that about does it, beautiful babies.  Bon appetit, Tampa!

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What I’m Riding . . . my Truth Journal (11)

The cover of my journal from Marvi, with the truth symbol in the upper left corner

March 12, 2007–Monday (non-italic text within parentheses are current notations)


Like Ryan (not his name) telling me Lisa’s not wired right.  Bruce (not his name) telling me a story about how he’ll be “into” his girlfriend later today.  Victor telling me he had a lap dance or would like to see Thunder From Down Under so he can take advantage of some horny women.  Are they trying to turn us off or on?  Do they even know?  How calculated are the dumb things that come out of their mouths?  Or do they just blurt out whatever’s on their minds?  What do they hope to gain by sharing this information?  They certainly can’t help themselves.  And they know they shouldn’t say it because moments or days later they’re backpedaling or covering it up, probably forgetting they ever said it by sheer will because it’s so stupid.  But we women remember because that’s what they wanted.  They said it to get our attention and get it they did.  I won’t ever forget those three things those men said to me.  In my head forever.  And now on paper.  And I know where we were when they said it and how it made me feel.  Like crap.  Stunned.  Like, “I can’t believe you just said that.”  For no other reason than to get a reaction.  Is it a test?  What will she think of me if I say this dumb thing?  What will she do?
.        Yes, men certainly say some dumb shit.

The thing that stands out to me the most in reading this some ten years later is the line about how these three things will be in my head forever.  Because I completely forgot about Bruce’s and Victor’s comments until I just read them now.  I don’t take them so personally anymore, either.  Now I can see it for what it was:  men are constantly thinking about sex.  Victor’s harmless comment about screwing random horny women is like my knowing my mom made me a peach cobbler but I’m still ogling the apple crumb pie at the Barnes & Noble café.  As for Bruce, everything out of his mouth around that time was about his girlfriend, from “we went to buy a carton of milk” to telling me the song playing on my cd (cd’s were the thing ten years ago, beautiful babies) was her favorite.  Who cares?  Clearly I did. Wish I could reach back in time and tell me to lighten up.  Now Ryan’s comment–totally different story.  This one I do still remember, and it’s a remark that continues to piss Lisa off to this day.  Let’s break it down for you:

In January 2007 Ryan turned 40.  A group of us (me, Lisa, Ryan, Ryan’s wife Liv and friend Paul–not their names) went to an Irish pub to celebrate.  Four of us–that would be everyone but Liv–had spent time together that past September in Los Angeles.  It was supposed to be a trip to shop a comedy pilot Ryan and I had co-written, but Ryan was a little sidetracked by visiting a woman he clearly had the hots for.  I won’t go into details, I’m not sure of all that happened, but at this time Ryan was having trouble in his marriage and was contemplating leaving Liv.  I was having my own drama with Victor, Lisa was being strung along by some guy Ryan and I worked with at HOB, so the three of us spent a lot of time talking, both on that LA trip and at Einstein Bagels back home in Vegas.  Lisa didn’t like Ryan or anything, but she is a flirt and although she didn’t flirt with him in front of Liv at Ryan’s pub birthday, she didn’t offer Liv the respect she thought she deserved as Ryan’s wife.  I don’t know what Ryan was telling Liv behind closed doors, but she clearly didn’t like me and really couldn’t stand Lisa, especially when he opened Lisa’s gag birthday gift of a mini blow-up girlfriend.  Inappropriate in front of his wife?  Sure.  And I think it spooked Ryan, who was afraid Lisa would somehow inadvertently spill the beans on his extracurricular pursuits. Then on the Friday before my birthday in February, Ryan caught up to me at work, grilling me about Lisa, what was her problem, why was she the way she was.  The way she was?  Uh, I’ve always thought of Ryan as a little Amway himself, so I was like, “What do you mean?”  He gets this real serious look on his face and says, “She’s really intense.”  Intense.  I ponder this.  I know she’s a nudgie.  I know she’s an artist.  I know she can be a drama queen.  But intense?  I ask again:  “What do you mean?”  Looking quite intense, Ryan says to me, “I’d watch out for her if I were you.  She’s not wired right.”  He left me then to go start his shift and I’m completely dumbfounded.  What happened?  What does he know that I don’t know?  What is Lisa not telling me?  My mind goes back to the most recent upset I can grasp, when she playfully offered to give Victor a foot massage he’d never forget and I lost my shit on her, right in front of him.  Had Ryan been privy to something else?

When I got home I brought up my conversation with Ryan.  I wouldn’t normally pass on that information to her because people’s negative stupid comments and opinions rarely add to one’s esteem, but I was hoping she would shed some light on why he would say something like that.  She was quiet for a minute, then just said, “Wow.”
.        “Why would he say that?”  I pressed her.  I was thinking about the guy we handed our script off to in Los Angeles.  Yep, Lisa had flirted with him, too, so much so that he asked for her number (neither Ryan nor I got a callback for our efforts, but Lisa did).  Did Ryan’s comment have anything to do with that whole thing?  Lisa only shook her head, grimacing.  “I have no idea why he would say that,” she said, repeating, “Wow.”  I felt there was more to the story, but decided to leave it alone for the time being.  We were going out to have dinner at Claim Jumper that night with Lisa’s co-workers Paul and Nancy for my birthday, something Lisa had organized to cheer me up.

Turns out what she’d organized was a little surprise dinner party of sorts, with ten others from my job and hers.  Now, let me say I hate surprise parties.  Marry that with the fact that I’d been crying just before getting to the restaurant and you can understand that I was more than a little spooked.  2007 was a rough year for me because of Victor’s departure and I spent the first part of it crying.  But seeing all these people who had shown up for me, and Lisa’s taking the time to organize it, helped me to see how lucky I was for having such genuine, caring people in my life.  And it was on the way home after this party that Lisa revealed what had gone down between her and Ryan.

Shortly after his pub birthday Lisa got the idea to host a secret dinner party for mine.  She called Ryan to invite him and Liv.  He said he’d see what he could do.  The day of my party she called him again to confirm.  He said Liv wasn’t feeling well, her bad back was flaring up, and they probably weren’t going to make it.  She told him that if he just came for a little while–appetizer or dessert–it would be better than nothing.  Come without Liv.  Surely she could understand given how much cheering up I needed (Ryan had been witness to the Victor situation, during and after.  I’d cried to him many times) and how I had been there for his pathetic dinner (my word pathetic, not hers).  When he was still waffling, Lisa offered him this advice:  “I’ve known Rachel for a long time.  Friendship and loyalty are everything to her.  She’ll remember everyone who shows up at this party, but more important, she’ll never forget who didn’t.  If you don’t show up for her, your relationship will never be the same again.  I’m just telling you this as a friend.  You better show up.”  After this he saw me and out came the not wired right comment.  Knowing how he felt about her–because I told her–she still called Ryan from Claim Jumper–he lived ten minutes away–and asked if he was going to show.  He said he was on his way out the door but Liv needed him home; he wasn’t going to make it.  So he never showed. He never even got me a card, or brought up to me that I had a party he was invited to and just couldn’t make.  I wasn’t even that important to him that he couldn’t just say, “Sorry I was so lame.” In a string of disappointments, this indeed was the topper.  “The final nail in the coffin,” I told him one day as I handed him the treatment I’d done for one of his scripts.  “I didn’t know we had a coffin,” he said to me.  I shrugged.  “And therein lies the problem.”

My dear friend Jefe witnessed this exchange (he was at my party and now he’s in heaven making the angels laugh, God, how I miss you Jefe, your loyalty, your cheerleading, it’s still so fresh, kisses and tears to you, my friend, I wish you could read this so you could see written down once again how much you meant to me) and later when Ryan would approach him for advice, Jefe said simply, “I think you blew it.”  And he did.  Yes, we’re “friends” on Facebook, but we never went out again after that, never socialized, never wrote together, never had another coffee in Einstein’s.  Indeed, I’ve never forgotten that he didn’t show for me, never forgot that he told me the person who always has my back wasn’t “wired right.”  Screw you, Ryan.  Don’t know which infraction is worse:  dissing me, or insulting one of mama bird’s peeps.

Yes, ten years later I still agree that men say some dumb shit, but it’s what they don’t say that can be the final nail in the coffin.


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What I’m Riding . . . Dance Moms’ curtain call

Superman and Lex Luthor of the dance world. You decide which is which.

Although Lifetime has yet to officially announce its cancellation of season eight, rumors and tweets by the cast members themselves are hinting at the tragic news: Dance Moms has reached the end of the road.  If I do know one thing about Dance Moms, however, is that even if it is cancelled, Lifetime won’t let it go without a reunion special or two, or the broadcasting of “lost episodes;” the second half of season seven has yet to air.  But considering the self-destruction and looming May 8 criminal sentencing of tyrannical dance teacher Abby Lee Miller and the Menudo-esque aging-out of the girls on the Junior Elite Team, not to mention the glaring loss of all original members save Nia Frazier, where else could the show possibly take them? Or us?  It is my belief we won’t see any of them in the spotlight for much longer–breakout star Maddie Ziegler’s mean girl affect will grow grating soon (you can take the girl out of Pittsburgh and all that) and Chloe Lukasiak doesn’t have that Barbie doll look Hollywood is so fond of–but we sure can relive our rooting for these little darlings and jeering their righteous mothers via syndication. Thanks to Lifetime Real Women, I’ve been doing just that.

My last blog about Dance Moms came just as season four was wrapping up).  I offered some advice to the moms, criticizing most of them for not being loyal to Abby.  Holly took this defiance to new heights in the next season, and Nia paid the price.  Watching the rebroadcasting now, I am appalled by Miller’s demeanor.  Although I never liked the way she treated the girls, I never quite saw it for the blatant abuse it is, either.  I guess I assumed this being a television show, with the participants fully aware they were being filmed and that the general public was going to watch it, I thought certain scenes were embellished or set up for dramatic effect.  Never did I think Abby was sincere in her abhorrent behavior.  Surely she must be exaggerating her tyrannical teaching methods; ALDC staff choreographer and Dance Moms cast member Gianna Martello confirmed as much in a recent interview.  But I’m inclined not to agree with her.  I read Miller’s book.  She’s actually quite proud of the way she bullies children.  She thinks it makes them stars.  Does she not know that her only real star is Maddie, who almost never got the full-on Abby Lee Miller treatment?  Of course Maddie flourished; she’s the only one Miller didn’t beat into the ground.

Speaking of Maddie, I admit I’m a little hard on her.  I always saw her as a co-conspirator of sorts, an entitled brat who, although indeed she worked hard, got opportunities handed to her on a platter.  When it came down to real auditions–as lead in Lux’s video and for the Joffrey scholarship–she was beat out of both by Chloe.  Perhaps if the girls went out equally, more of them would have shared in the spotlight.  Maybe not.  We’ll never know.  In that way, Miller was right:  she made Maddie a star and kept the rest from becoming just as famous.  Chloe moved on to making movies and winning Teen Choice Awards.  Favorite punching bag Jojo Siwa now has her own hair bow line selling in Claire’s.  Abby had hand in neither girl’s careers.  But back to Maddie–

I flipped though her book when it first came out and was quite surprised to find little mention of Miller by name and no thank you in the acknowledgements.  Was that Miller’s design?  Or Maddie’s?  Because it was Miller who made her a star.  Ungrateful brat, is what I thought.  Then I thought some more.  I started to see Maddie as a completely abused child, just like the rest of them.  Maddie was the actual club Miller used to clobber the girls.  How horrible it must be for Maddie to stand there and listen to her friends be berated for not being more like her.  “If you were more like Maddie I wouldn’t have to abuse you!”  The guilt Maddie must have felt in hearing she was the reason they were being punished.  How helpless she must have felt watching it all unfold.  Do I say something and watch them get punished more?  Do I say something and risk having her turn on me?  The psychological abuse was enormous.  How could I possibly hold against a child that she refuses to acknowledge her abuser as taking part in her success?  I can’t.

I still think first mom to get the boot Kelly’s a boozer who drinks to numb the pain of a life passed over to her daughters, the oldest of whom I think will end up unmarried and pregnant.  Where I used to loathe Christi–Chloe’s mother–now I can clearly see her soul being sucked away during her last few weeks with the ALDC.  It must be hard watching your daughter be tortured and feel powerless to stop it.  The inevitable was happening:  she was being pushed out, just like Kelly had been months earlier.  Would the moms step in?  The producers?  Of course not; they had a show to make.  And if Chloe was the next sacrifice on the altar, oh well.

Depending on where you fall on the Abby Lee Miller supporter scale, given where we know she is now with all her legal and financial woes, watching her complete undoing play out frame-by-frame is either justice or a horrific tragedy.  I say it’s both.  Originally I sympathized with Miller and her situation.  Overweight with no husband or boyfriend or possibility of one on the horizon, no real friends, she was an easy target for the suburban bitch moms who are living large through their children.  At least Miller was putting in the time with the kids to be able to reap the fruits of their labor.  Her dog, who was like a child to her, dies, and then her mother, leaving Miller literally alone in this world.  Who wasn’t touched when she declared how she felt staring at her mother and father’s graves:  “My whole family’s in there.”  Clearly it knocked her for a loop and she began taking her death stage anger out on the kids and their moms.  Watching her struggle through the motions of her life is painful.  Even moreso when she lashes out at the girls, who ironically could be used as her best source of happiness through this most difficult time.  Too bad grief clouds our judgment.  But there’s also a justification that goes along in watching the arrogant, cruel Miller–who for a time believed she was both untouchable and indestructible–come crashing down.  The innocents will eventually slay the dragon.  That’s the lesson in this fairy tale.

There has been a lot of speculation on the web where the show will go from here, if indeed it returns.  Miller has said she’s out.  Although she has quit before and come back, this one smells of finality.  No way is Miller going to participate in a show where all her proteges are competing against her.  And beating her, to boot.  She won’t share her defeat with the public.  Dancer Kendall Vertes has also said she won’t be back, but camera-loving Kendall and her evermore ambitious mother Jill will undoubtedly be back if there’s something to come back to.  I’d certainly be invested in another Dance Moms spin-off (even though the track record for such ventures is poor.  Of the five previous spin-offs, only Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition lasted past one season–and even that show only went to season two).  Perhaps it could feature the girls making their way through Hollywood, going on auditions and pursuing life after Abby Lee.  If Miller does end up serving time, I’d certainly watch a show where she choreographs her Inmate Select Team to go up against other rival prison dance troupes.  Hey, this is totally possible:  Jodi Arias won her prison’s version of American Idol.  And what about Cathy and her rotten Candy Apples?  Hasn’t she earned her own show?

Whatever any of them do, my world is with my girls living on the dance floor, and you can be sure I’ll be watching.

So long and good night, bitches

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What I’m Riding . . . Ricky

I am Ricky

There’s a feeling we’ve all probably had at least once in our lifetime, and that is the sense that something is speaking to us.  An object, a room, a decision.  It’s why someone will choose one dress over another, a particular piece of furniture, a certain path at a fork in the road.  Pier One has made an ad campaign out of this very premise.
.        “I don’t know,” a hostess might say to her guests when questioned why she dropped five grand on that abstract painting hanging in her living room that looks like the artwork a five-year-old might send in to dear old Captain Noah.  “It spoke to me.”
.        Keeping with the retail side of divine guidance, I’ve had a lot of things speak to me throughout the course of my life.  Most of the time I’m looking for it, asking for some clarity from some invisible force to lead me in one direction or another.  Do I really want this necklace?  This lamp is pretty, but where will I put it?  Then there are those sneaky pockets of spontaneity that sneak into periods of time when despite promises I make to myself to not buy anything unnecessary, there I am swiping the credit card to purchase that frivolous thing that will not only look perfect in some random empty spot in my home, but fill that void somewhere inside of me just as well.  Times when a stroll outside to quiet the brain and oxygenate the blood finds me entering that building, store, restaurant, museum I had intended to walk on by.  Clearly something was calling to me, imparting unto me a sacred wisdom I needed to heed in order to carry on my journey through this life.  How else to explain opening up my wallet for Ricky?

She found me the first of the year, in Niagara Falls.  I was spending the day with family and friends strolling Clifton Hill, intending to participate in all the activities of tourism while maintaining hold on my newly minted resolutions of eating well, exercising, and curbing spending.  Walking:  exercise.  Veggie egg-white omelet for breakfast:  eating well.  No bags in my hands:  spending curbed.  Sure, I’d picked out several things in every shop we entered, but I left them in their display units, telling myself if I still wanted them when we were finished carousing, then I would go back and get them.  By the middle of the day I felt pretty confident that all the spending I’d done previous to New Year’s Eve had been sufficient.  I would leave Clifton Hill weighed down with only the money in my purse.  I held no anxiety as we entered shop after shop.  I was solid.  They all had the same souvenir crap anyway.  I had my Canada t-shirt.  My Christmas tree ornament with the moose and the bear on a sled.  I’d said no to handbags and pajamas and hats and beach towels and books, scarves and syrup and bobble heads and shoes made of chocolate and the most cozy blankets and sweatshirts and hoodies.  Then we entered a shop across the street from The House of Frankenstein and everything changed.

There were the usual offerings:  cheap t-shirts, plastic bracelets, hot glue-gunned hair accessories.  Then there was a second room filled with a bizarre selection of merchandise.  Bodice-ripper paperbacks.  Raw wood products that looked like they’d been hand-whittled by the cast of Deliverance.  Stainless Steel pots.  Knit doilies that I used to buy for favorite neighbors in my apartment complex as a child at the school Christmas bazaar.  And dolls.  Porcelain dolls, vinyl dolls, all with names and certificates of authenticity.  All with long curly doll hair, wearing pretty dresses with stands jammed up their backs.  All with price tags of $50 or more.  All except Ricky.

Full disclosure:  I’m a little afraid of dolls.  Not the baby kind.  Those are adorable.  But the kind some arthritic-handed woman makes in her basement in Switzerland, using her six-year-old granddaughter as a model.  A doll should not be six years old.  A doll is something you play pretend mommy with, not pretend playmate.  What six-year-old needs a doll that looks like a shrunken dead version of her real-life friends?  And what grown woman wants to collect them and put them in her curio cabinet?  Not me.  But there she was.  And she wouldn’t stop staring at me.  And I couldn’t stop staring at her.  I went and got Arty, Superbee, and Jack McGee (soft “g” for Jack’s last name, please) and made them look at Ricky.  Ricky with her hair that someone had deliberately chopped off.  Her outfit looking like something her richer, meaner, prettier cousin slapped her way.  Or a nun.  She looks like she’s off to boarding school.  I’m calling her a she, because she’s a doll and in some sort of dress, but these days, who knows.  I’m not even sure if her birth name is Ricky;  she was the only doll without a nametag.  (It would be Superbee who would eventually come up with the name “Ricky,” named after one of Arty’s transvestite clients).  She did have a pricetag, though:  ten bucks.  After staring at her for a few long seconds–I even picked her up–we all agreed:  creeper mccreeperson.  Superbee had the worst reaction, actually getting the shivers and making a face like I had asked him to lick her.

We all left that room and walked around a little more, with Superbee finally asking if we were ready to go.  “I don’t know,” I said.  Yes, beautiful babies.  I was seriously contemplating buying Ricky.  Ricky who had nothing to do with Canada other than that I had found her there.  I went back to look at her.  We stared at each other for a long time.  What was it about her?  She was definitely giving me a feeling, and although it wasn’t anything I would exactly describe as pleasant, it wasn’t scary, either.  But it was a feeling of simpatico.  She belonged with me.  I just knew it.  Whatever had brought her to that store, she needed me to find her.  And I didn’t know what that something was until right now.  Literally.  Right now.  I was going to end this blog in a completely different way, but my friends, that is the beauty of writing:  it leads you down a path you never intended upon traveling.  And so in writing about Ricky, I realized why I had to have her:  Ricky is me.

When I was a little girl, I had beautiful long white-blonde hair.  My mom had my dad take me to a barber in first grade and had him chop it all off because she said I got gum in it all the time.  After that people would always think I was a little boy unless I was wearing a dress, which I didn’t unless I was going to school.  Because we didn’t have a lot of money, my mom took me to Sears for boys’ clothes, which were made more durable for boys than for girls and therefore lasted longer. I was a Catholic schoolgirl who got hand-me-down blouses from my sister and my cousin Lynnie.  The boys in school told me I was ugly (except for Kurt Estes, God bless you, Kurt) and the girls never let me in their feather-haired cliques.  I lived in an apartment with my mom, sister and aunt.  All my friends had two parents or lived in houses.  In comparison, I felt poor and broken.  I felt unwanted.  I felt like Ricky.  And I just couldn’t leave her behind.

Ricky is in my office.  I didn’t know what to do with her when I brought her home, hadn’t ever looked at her and said, “Oh, she’ll look perfect there.”  I simply bought her for eleven and some change once tax was added.  The saleswoman said I couldn’t have her stand, so one more thing taken away from poor Ricky.  When I got her home, I took her out of her bag and walked her into my office.  She’s between my window and the closet, standing on a purple shelf, leaning against the wall.  She faces the door so when I walk past in the hallway I can see her.  I never look away, never feel scared, even though dolls like her scare me.  Maybe that’s why I was shunned: I was different.  And being different made me scary.  I wasn’t the fifty-dollar curly-haired fancy dressed doll on the shelf.  I was unique.  I was special.  I was creative.  No one told me that.  No one taught me that.  In some ways, I’m still learning the lesson.  This time, a ten-dollar, chop-headed doll was my teacher.  And I pass it on to you.  Because that’s exactly why I found Ricky.


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