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!

EINSTEIN BAGELS/CARIBOU COFFEE
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:  * * * *

THE BROKEN YOLK
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:  * * * *

THE KEYSTONE CAFE
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)

DUNKIN’ DONUTS
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)

FIRST WATCH
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: * * *

VILLAGE INN
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: * * * *

IHOP
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: * * * *

KEKE’S BREAKFAST CAFE
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)

COOL MO’S COFFEE
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.

THE LIBERTY CAFE
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)

BRUNCHIES
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)

RIVIERA RESTAURANT
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)

Today’s Truth:  MEN SAY STUPID THINGS TO GET A WOMAN’S ATTENTION.

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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What I’m Riding . . . Boobs

The power is in your hands

Yes, those boobs.  The things women compete with.  Why?  Oh, any number of reasons.  Money.  Men.  Status.  Yes, boobs translate into all those things, and the bigger the better.  When Arty and I lived in Las Vegas, she worked with a woman whose boyfriend summed up male competition as a game of cocks and wallets, meaning, the man with the biggest dick and most money wins.  Women like to play a similar game, tits and wallets, meaning, the woman with the biggest tits and the husband with the most money wins (sorry, girlfriends/babymamas/head booty callee, if there’s no marital contract, that money’s not yours).   So Arty and I began a discussion on our way home from Einstein bagels Sunday afternoon, debating when and why did boobs become such a symbol of female power.  Of course we then had to define and loosely translate the idea of power.  For women, unfortunately, power has always been about sex.  That’s what we bring to the table.  Pleasure for a man.  I know, don’t think about it too much, it’ll really piss you off (if you’re a woman.  If you’re a man, you’ll think this is exactly right and the way it should be.  You love that women marched with hats on their heads symbolizing the very thing that gives you such power and pleasure, oftentimes taking it away from them.  You laughed and smoked cigars the day of the women’s march).  So we had to modify our quest and change the debate to:  When and why did boobs become a symbol of sex?  We weren’t really sure of the when, but we came up with three possibilities for the why, and (surprise, surprise), they all have to do with men.

THEORY #1
In the good old days, when this country was building itself on the backs of laborers out in the fields, out on the ships, out doing anything but sitting in a big house smoking cigars and deciding what task the laborers should do next, there was a color class distinction.  And no, I’m not talking about the obvious one.  I’m talking about tan versus pale.  Quite simply, if you were tan, it meant you were poor because you had to be out in the sun all day, working your ass off to feed your family.  If you were pale, it meant you were rich enough to sit in the shade all day sipping mint juleps with your big-breasted wife.  (Hilarious now that a tan means you can afford to jet to exotic locales and lie on the beach all day sipping umbrella cocktails while the pale people are stuck in windowless cubicles, toiling away at the office).  So, going with this theory that pale is rich, and rich is sexy, who wants a wife with tan boobs?  Cover up that cleavage, girl.  No man wants to get you in the boudoir and think he’s taking a roll in the hay with the village laundry-line hanger (unless there’s some serious role play going on).  And who wants to put his milky white chest against boobs that have been baked to leather in the hot sun?  It’s all about the smooth, supple, squish.  Keep in mind the one group of women who worked indoors and never saw the sun were pale as ghost whores working for Madame Puss-a-lot.  So covered boobs are sex boobs.

THEORY #2
We’ve all heard of child-bearing hips; how about child-feeding boobs?  Yes, that’s their real purpose, to nourish babies.  Boobs fill with milk when a woman is pregnant so she can feed her baby.  So big boobs mean . . . yes, a woman is sexually active and ready to take it like a champ.  Let’s go back to the good old days before the good old days.  Like, caveman times, or maybe just a little bit after, when men visually selected their mates based on who would best further his line.  Wide hips meant she could carry his children, plenty of them, pop ’em out like an assembly line.  So perhaps big boobs meant she could feed them all, too.  How much milk could an A cup hold?  Not as much as those double D’s!  Big boobs mean you are ready to provide your man with children.  You and your man have children by having sex.  So big boobs are sex boobs.

THEORY #3
Let’s revisit those feeding boobs once again, shall we?  When a man is a baby, he sucks on his mother’s breast for nourishment.  When he is sad or hurt as a little boy, he is drawn against his mother’s breast for comfort and reassurance.  As an adult, these behaviors are no longer acceptable.  (When he’s able to walk, that first one is no longer acceptable, sorry moms who breastfeed their children through high school graduation).  Mama is no longer available for suckling.  He has to replace her, which is why he has a wife.  But considering he is no longer a baby or little boy who gets his nourishment and comfort from breasts, he certainly still wants to rest his head against them, wrap his lips around those nipples, and this time the pleasure is of a sexual nature.  He gets aroused doing these things.  Boobs now give him an erection.  So boobs are sex boobs.

So ladies, take care of your boobs.  They’re very important in this world.  Strap them up so they don’t lose elasticity and scrape the ground.  Get them checked so they don’t get cancer and threaten your life.  They are nourishers.  Comforters.  Arousers.  First and foremost, they’re yours.  So I won’t tell you not to fill them with artificial shit if that’s what you want to do (although I don’t think you should.  They’re beautiful no matter what size, even though your paycheck may not agree with me).  My point is, if you want to decorate them with tinsel, blinking lights and Christmas balls, go right ahead; maybe someone will slap a few presents beneath them.

 

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What I’m Riding . . . not a soapbox

Okay, one more time; why am I outraged this week?

Okay, one more time; why am I outraged this week?

I like Ellen DeGeneres.  I’m the only one in my immediate family who does.  I think she’s uplifting.  I think she’s funny.  I think she’s inspirational.  I think she radiates positive energy.  My niece Jessica liked her enough to send her one of her DeDancin’ With DeDeo videos, hoping to get it on Ellen’s show.  Ellen reminds me of my Aunt Dorothy.  I used to follow her on Twitter.  I stopped because I just can’t take all the political postings.  Ditto Julian Lennon.  Ewan McGregor.  Samuel Roukin.  I didn’t think it appropriate for them to sit back and comment on–fuel–the sadness that is the discord happening in our country right now.  It’s like we’re this reality show that everyone tunes in to every day to get their daily fix of drama.  Bad Girls Club, USA.  Survivor:  America.  It’s so depressing.  Especially when I read about these marches going on all over.  Hey sheep, here’s where to show up next week.  Notice it’s never at a soup kitchen.  Never a homeless shelter.  No pussyhats breaking down the doors of women’s safe houses.   Nope.  They’re standing in the street, blocking ambulances.  Furthering the gap between “my side” and “theirs.”  As if they are different sides.  If just one person, or group, the coordinators of these marches, told everyone to pick up some rags and soap buckets and go to all the Philly el stops and start cleaning, WOW!  Game changer.  All the bus fare and gas money and lunch money spent on getting down to the protest, put it instead into a GoFundMe account to build drug rehabs and houses for immigrant–or even domestic–women and children.  OMG!  Donate it to schools. Donate it, along with your time, to Habitat for Humanity.  We’d have built a village by now.

What are we doing?  Seriously?  What is walking down a street going to do?  Piss off the “opposition?”  Don’t you want to instead convince someone that what you’re doing actually changes things?  Makes them better?  Hate, hate, hate, everywhere hate.  How many friends have I dropped on Facebook because someone posted, “Here’s what I believe, and if you don’t, then drop me as a friend.”  Maybe I actually agreed with you, but if you’re looking for a yes-man ass-kisser who doesn’t have her own mind, then you’re absolutely right:  I’m not the friend for you.  It’s like this mob mentality, this conga line that someone just jumps on because they like to dance.  It’s so much easier than actually rolling up your sleeves and doing something.  Be the change you want to see in the world, right?  Um, so how many marches have we had now over the past two years, for how many different causes?  And exactly what has changed?  Certainly not your MO.  Can someone please think of some other way to promote their message?  Like the northeast Philly way; have a beef and beer. I know that sounds flippant, but I am trying to be serious.  I really want to know what change, what betterment someone is hoping will happen when they take to the street for a walk.  How is that going to help anyone other than yourself in reaching your Fitbit goal.  Not a real question.

I try to stay out of the political arena.  I’m not a politician.  I’m a writer, so that’s what I’m doing.  I have an opinion on what is important for me as a single and childless woman over forty, who–by the way–no one ever represents or seems to care about.  You’ll never hear a candidate running for any kind of office trying to get my vote.  I don’t matter.  So I vote on who I think will give me the most of what I’m looking for.  I’ve been disappointed in practically every presidential election since I’ve been old enough to vote.  I think Bill Clinton was the last time I was like, “Yay!”  When I registered at eighteen I was non-party affiliated.  I still am.  I don’t care too much about party.  I just want a good president.  I want to live in a country where we the people are working towards a common goal: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.  I’m aware of what that means for me; I don’t need anyone else telling me what I should want, or how lousy I am for wanting it, or what a saint I am for wanting it.  What I do know is that like on a troubled airplane, none of us can help any of us until we put on our own oxygen masks.  Who’s going to be the first one to do it?

Ellen DeGeneres, I hope it’s you.

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What I’m Riding . . . El Jefe

Jeff at my surprise party at Claim Jumper in February of 2007. My birthday card was Bugs Bunny (the rabbit in red, the rabbit in red)

Jeff at my surprise party at Claim Jumper in February of 2007. My birthday card was Bugs Bunny (the rabbit in red, the rabbit in red)

My introduction to Jeff Robson came over a decade ago via a name on a deposit drop bag.  We were both members of an incestuous little family known as The House of Blues Las Vegas, he a part-time box office employee, me on the accounting team as a full-time cashier.  It would be a year before I would actually meet him face to face, when he was promoted to lead auditor and essentially became my supervisor.   I wouldn’t say I wasn’t welcoming to Jeff, but he was filling a position vacated by Fides, who had championed my hiring and ultimately became a close friend.  And this Jeff Robson:  what did he ultimately become?  A big brother.  A tormentor (yes, mentor is in that word; he did teach me a lot).  A trusted friend who kept many confidences.  A politically incorrect kindred spirit.  A lifetime source of support, laughter, guidance, wisdom.  Luckily for me, I have written about Jeff before and he has been able to see my words and know his impact on my life.  Luckily for me, I got the chance, many times, to tell him exactly how I’ve felt about him, what he’s meant to me, good and bad, for better or for worse.  Sadly, as I hit the keyboard one more time (one more, not last, as I’m sure I’ll write about Jeff again) Jeff is not here to read it.  Jeff Robson passed yesterday at 8:40 pm after suffering a heart attack.  In sharing some stories here, I’ll try not to repeat myself.  It shouldn’t be difficult, as there is so much to say about Jeff, so many memories to relive.

I can’t do Jeff justice unless I talk about his no filter way of speaking.  It didn’t matter his relationship with you, your race, color, sexual orientation, gender, economic status, anything.  Jeff said what he wanted and how he wanted to say it.  Some may find that offensive.  I sure did when it was directed at me.  But somewhere inside I found him downright hilarious, and a little envious that he could express himself so openly, could say things that I haven’t heard since the eighth grade St. Jerome schoolyard.

At HOB LV (that’s House of Blues Las Vegas) Jeff and I sat back to back in a hallway that was converted into desk space, separating us by partition from Marvi, the executive assistant.  The three of us were one bawdy, brash, sports locker room mob who laughed just as much as we worked. (And we did work.  No bones about it, Jeff was smart, and he got the work capital D done.)  We had a co-worker who was handicapped.  I’ll leave it at that.  What I will say is that when you sit in a hallway you hear people talking, you hear an approach.  Talking the way we did, it was always nice to know who was coming.  We always knew when this person was coming, someone I will call Pat.  Rarely did our conversation cease unless we were talking about Pat’s department.  One day we heard Pat coming, and then we heard Pat fall.  We stared at each other, wide-eyed.  Was it rude to go help?  Was it rude to not?  Marvi called softly over the partition, “Should we go see who’s in trouble?”  Jeff and I nearly lost it.  “Who’s in trouble?” he asked once Pat had walked past us, none the worse for the wear (well, the hair was a little disheveled, but otherwise in fine shape).  “Like you didn’t know who that was.”  “Wellll,” Marvi hedged, “we couldn’t be sure.”  Jeff then coined the phrase I continually use in certain situations:  “Of course we knew who it was.  Pat has a very distinctive gait.”  Bravo.  So PC.

Jeff always understood my own brand of Philly lingo.  Write or wrong (see that:  to a writer nothing is wrong), growing up I said things were “retarded” or “so gay.”  Just like some men lovingly refer to their women as “my bitch.”  “My old lady.”  The parlance of certain groups isn’t always pretty.  I had to curb that at HOB.  But not around Jeff.  Jeff was someone who would point at my frozen water bottle and ask how I was enjoying my iced penis.  Someone who would type on my “Things To Do” screen “make out with Jeff.”  Someone who would mouth to me across the room regarding a female bartender with short hair and no make-up, “Is she a lesbian?”

Lest you think Jeff is all joke and no heart, he is also someone who was one of the first people to buy a necklace from my fledgling company when I moved to Tampa.  He never betrayed me when he found out who my latest HOB crush or dalliance was.  He always encouraged my writing and was never stingy with the “like” button on Facebook.  He nominated me for employee of the month, and I was selected.  The day of the unveiling is one that will live in my memory forever.  I was supposed to take a picture with Jeff and Nichole (lead auditor and controller) to hang on one of the bulletin boards in the hallway by the time clock.  Only Nichole showed up and when I asked her where Jeff was, she told me he wasn’t coming.  Wasn’t coming?  But this was my moment.  A moment that he was the catalyst for.  How dare he not show up?  Jeff rarely had his office door closed but on this day he did.  And I rarely walked in without first waiting for an invitation, but this day I did.  I knocked, then tried the doorknob, and finding it unlocked I threw the door open.  “Jeff,” I demanded, “get your ass out there.”  His back was to me, as his computer was against the side wall and he shook his head and turned to me.  “I can’t,” he said, and he was crying.  He said he knew it was ridiculous, but he was newly divorced and for some reason today it just hit him.  “Okay,” I said, and backed out, closing the door, feeling awful.  “He’s not coming,” I said to Nichole, and the two of us posed for the picture.  Jeff and I never spoke about it again.

One of my last conversations with Jeff had to do with, ironically, dealing with death.  The summer of 2015 I lost my niece.  Jeff also lost a young lady who was like a daughter to him.  Mine went first, and I was a little upset that when I posted or spoke of my loss, he remained silent.  Okay, so I was actually a little angry.  Jeff was almost always one of the first people to comment, to comfort.  I held it against him.  Then he lost someone, and I immediately dropped the anger.  I reached out to him, we had a nice exchange, with Jeff saying, “I know you too are having a horrible time.  You have always been a good friend.  Maybe you need to move back when Vegas gets a hockey team.”  Ironically (again), that is happening next season.  But the move hardly seems necessary now, does it?  What I said to him in parting was, “I don’t have much happiness right now, but perhaps I have a little strength.  So I give some to you to carry today.  Carry on.  We’re here as long as we’re here and we need to enjoy it.  I hope you do today, just a little bit.”  I guess I can say the same thing to you now, reader.  I’m crying right now, so go get your happy somewhere else.  But I am writing, always a source of power for me.  And after that I will walk off some sorrow.  I will build up that reservoir of strength we all need to keep going.  Do the same.  He’d want you to.

Jeff, safe travels my friend, and God bless those who have to navigate this terrain without the benefit of your smile, your encouragement, your heart.  I will miss you more than you could know.  And no, that book on clowns you got me for my birthday didn’t make me immune to them, no matter how many pages you showed me of “happy clowns.”

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