Creative Nonfiction

BORN AND RAISED: VEGAS STRONG

Yesterday morning, I drove to the Strip for the first time since Sunday’s mass shooting. Aside from checking my GPS to see what roads, if any, were still closed, I didn’t think too much about the impact this would have on me.

And then I got there.

As I headed east on Tropicana and approached Las Vegas Boulevard, it hit me like a brick wall (as a writer and someone who hates clichés, I would love to avoid that phrase, but there is no better way to put it). The digital marquee outside of the MGM didn’t boast a bare-bellied girl pouring an electric-blue liquid into shot glasses, or a sleek, skinny-lettered advertisement for KÀ, as I’d expect. Instead, it boasted the Vegas Strong graphic that’s been making its way around casino properties these past two days. A simple black background, with words that read: “We were there for you during the good times. Thank you for being there for us now. #VegasStrong.”

The effect it had on me was far more than I expected and, as I took inventory of all of the other digital marquees that were in my line of sight at that point, I noticed they, too, displayed that exact same graphic. Every single one.

No $3 Well Shots!

No The Loosest Slots in Town!

No Come see our girls!

Just Vegas Strong.

I’ll be the first to admit, as someone who longs to be by the water and enjoys nothing more than being outside (and still being able to breathe) on a summer day, I don’t always have the kindest words to offer about the city I was born and raised in. I often tell people I can’t wait for my husband to finish law school so we can move to Lake Tahoe. I joke that there’s nothing to do here, that I’d never raise children here, that I once burned my dogs paws by taking him on a bike ride at 7 a.m. one morning...in May. (That last one is an actual anecdote, not a joke. It happened. I’m a terrible dog-mom. Shame me.)

But as I drove on the Strip today, my heart broke for the victims of Sunday night’s shooting, their families and, yes, any terrible thing I’ve ever uttered about my hometown. I didn’t think about the unbearably hot summers or the overpriced steakhouses or the fact that you can never, ever walk in a casino without walking out reeking of cigarette smoke. Instead, I thought about my childhood—much of which took place in the very casinos that I now am so quick to denounce.

My brother and I had a fairly unusual and extremely fortunate childhood. We rolled around with white tiger cubs on the carpeted floors of the Mirage executive offices. We ran around back-of-the-house as if we owned the place. We hosted birthday parties in private poolside cabanas where we treated our friends to fresh fruit plates and virgin daiquiris. We met Cal Ripken and hung out in the Orioles’ dugout. We spilled Coca-Cola on duvets that cost more than our mom’s car. We walked to the front of long casino buffet lines with passes that read “VIP/COMP.” We stayed in villas that had their own pool, equipped with TVs that arose out of the bedframe at the press of a button. We painted with Dale Chihuly at his boathouse in Seattle, where he spent the afternoon showing my brother and me his accordion collection and letting us swim in his indoor pool (the bottom of which boasts tons of his blown glass pieces covered in a single plexiglass sheet—you literally can walk on art) and, most importantly, teaching us to paint using the tools and methods he did. Afterward, he took us for calamari and explained to me that what we were eating was squid—and I remember thinking, as a nine-year-old girl at the time, that that would be the coolest thing I ever did in my entire life: ate squid with Dale Chihuly. I was right.

My family was not wealthy by any means. All of this was thanks to my mom’s career as an executive assistant to casino owners.

In other words, all of this was thanks, in large part, to Las Vegas, to my hometown.

So when I saw the Strip today—in all of its colorful, eclectic, dusty-day-time glitz—I was immediately brought back to my childhood, to how I used to see the Strip as a child. Not as a place laden with drunk tourists and terrible traffic and overpriced cocktails, but as a place where magic happened.

It didn’t take long for the tears to come.

I was crying for the victims—the children’s football coach, the veteran, the selfless men who died shielding women from gunfire, the police officer, the college students, the commercial fisherman—who lost their lives in what was the most recent of the 521 mass shootings that have occurred in the past 477 days.

I was crying for the fact that my work week involved nothing but creating communications and content for a slew of selfless, big-hearted clients who wanted to do something, anything to help—to donate meals for first responders or offer donation-based haircuts or donate the week’s proceeds to the Las Vegas Victims’ Fund.

I was crying for the fact that we have a leader—love him or hate him—who is the most divisive president in American history, who—whether through thoughtless acts or strategically selfish ones, or a combination of both—only serves to deepen the divide in our country, who digs up, exposes and feeds on the dark, diseased, divided roots that rumble their way beneath this country’s foundation.

I was crying for the fact that, as I sat at a stoplight on Las Vegas Boulevard and watched unmarked vehicles pass in front of me, I wasn’t thinking: Great, the President is here to help. Instead, I immediately thought: Anyone but him.

Anyone but him to address this great city today. Anyone but a leader who does anything but lead. Obama, George W. Anyone.

And, as is typically the case with someone such as myself who gets uncomfortable when vulnerable emotions rear their plum-colored head, the anger followed. And I am aware that this is where I will lose many of you, that this is where I’ll turn into the victim-disrespecting, free-loving, tree-hugging, going-to-take-your-guns! liberal that I realize my conservative friends often see me as. But that’s fine. I just watched a massacre break its ugly, sticky, bulbous way through my city’s front door. I can live with upsetting a few readers.

So let’s talk gun control, shall we?

No ordinary citizen needs access to military-grade weapons. Period. They have no place in hunting, and no place in self-defense. Hunters who treat the activity as they should—as a sport and a skill—would never use a semi-automatic rifle to fire twenty rounds of bullets into their prey. And, as far as self-defense goes, my grandfather taught me a shotgun will do just fine.

I’ve heard people argue that shooting semi-automatic weapons “is fun” and that it’s not a hobby they’re "willing to give up." You know what else is fun? Driving my car 110 mph down the freeway with my eyes closed—but I’m willing to make a sacrifice and not do that in the name of saving lives. I think of the recent story an Australian friend told me about how, after 35 innocent people died in the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, Australians showed up in droves to hand over their long guns, which the government bought back from them. (Her exact words were, “people were more than willing to do anything to prevent another shooting of its kind from happening.” Think about that: more than willing.) And here we are saying, “Keep all of your guns, just hand over the really insane ones that were meant for military use, the ones that were designed to take out masses of people in minutes.” And how do Americans who claim to love this country, to have respect for the victims of its incredible number of mass shootings, to be unwaveringly “pro-life” respond? By arguing that “it’s just too much fun to shoot a machine gun.” The selfishness of that is something that I will never, ever be able to understand.

Will a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines prevent every single mass shooting? Of course not. But does that mean we shouldn’t try? Do we legalize heroin because “addicts will always find a way to get it”? Do we get rid of the requirement you must have a license and insurance to drive a vehicle because some people will always get behind the wheel without one or the other? Laws aren’t perfect—and they take time get right—but they certainly have a place in our society—especially if that place ends up saving the life of a single American civilian or first responder.

What fires me up the most about anti gun-control people is that they’re essentially working for the same swamp they want to drain without even realizing it; they’re lining the pockets of politicians, lobbyists and special-interest groups by perpetuating carefully crafted messages that have been fed to them via Fox News, InfoWars and other right-wing media outlets.

The NRA, in fact, was originally founded as an organization focused on training and marksmanship—but in recent history has shifted its focus to profits and political gain. America's obsession with semi-automatic weapons is a relatively new one (20 or 30 years ago, no one would have argued that everyday citizens "need" to have access to assault rifles), and is the result of a major push, on the NRA's part, to increase its own profits. They're brilliant at messaging.

In short, the NRA has learned to appeal to, prey on and take advantage of humans' most basic instincts (our desire to feel safe, to play the hero; our fear of those who don't look like us, etc.) in the name of increasing its profits. They've carefully crafted strategic messages that half of our nation has unfortunately adopted and clung to—and, as a result, the NRA gets to sit back and watch as well-meaning Americans do their dirty work for them—preaching about and fighting to protect their “second amendment rights,” when ultimately they’re really compromising their own safety and lining the NRA's pockets.

Next up, let’s talk hypocrisy:

The party of “individual rights” is the same party that works tirelessly to limit women’s access to health care or birth control. The same party that is endlessly, ridiculously, insanely “pro-life,” does nothing about the fact that, as Americans, we are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than citizens in any other developed country. The same party that aims—with an absolutely frightening level of enthusiasm—to regulate the eggs in my uterus and chip away at my individual freedom of choice as a woman every single day claims that, when it comes to guns, regulations don’t work and the government should never be able to tell you what to do or how to do it.

Unless you’re a woman seeking birth control or an abortion.

Unless you’re a gay man or woman seeking to marry.

Unless you’re trans person seeking to use the bathroom of the gender with which you identify or selflessly serve in our military.

A brown person from a country whose name we can’t pronounce attacks us and we're more than willing to give up a slew of individual freedoms without batting an eye—we take our shoes off at airports, walk through body scanners that aren't great for our health, allow strangers to pat us down and/or sift through our belongings in public—the list goes on. Yet, when terrorism comes to us in the form of a white man rather than one who looks different from us—when the country of its origin isn't a place that scares us but rather the United States of America—the same party that claims to be anti-terrorism and pro-life refuses to enact a single piece of legislation to help prevent further loss of life.

Fox News pundits have repeatedly said this week, “We need time to mourn before we politicize this,” or, “Now is not the time for a gun-control debate.” Yet, the night of and day after the Orlando shooting those same exact anchors, hosts and authorities did not shy away from talking about legislation that needed to be enacted to stop Muslims from coming to our country. (“In the wake of this attack, you wonder whether people like that should be coming here,” or, “Anybody who’s coming from overseas—especially the Middle East—we need to vet them out.”) So, why then, when the attacker is a white multi-millionaire does the country suddenly need to back off of political debates?

And while we’re on the subject, those same Fox News anchors who claim it’s disrespectful to engage in political debates in the days following the massacre have had no problem calling out athletes who kneel for the National Anthem, and I'd consider that "engaging in a political debate." As Trevor Noah brilliantly pointed out, those same pundits have now used the shooting to pivot back to their feelings on the First Amendment—especially as it applies to African Americans exercising their First Amendment rights.

When a black athlete kneels—peacefully—as a way to draw attention to the police brutality problem we have in this country, we suddenly don’t care so much for constitutional rights. We suddenly think we should be able to scale back First Amendment rights. We claim it’s disrespectful to law enforcement who risked their lives on Sunday night to exercise our First Amendment rights in the wake of the shooting.

Or, in another attack on the First Amendment, let’s talk about Trump’s desire to “open up libel laws.” “Opening up” libel laws is, indeed, altering the First Amendment. Yet his crowds cheered—enthusiastically—for this. Explain to me, then, how the First Amendment does not extend to journalists who report stories you do not like, to athletes who protest in a way that makes you uncomfortable—while the Second Amendment applies to everyone (even those with mental illness and on the no-fly list) and every single piece of weaponry you can imagine?

Finally, I’d like to end this by communicating the fact that I have nothing but respect for the victims and their families, for the first responders who ran toward the gunfire, for the men and women who risk their lives every single day for our country.

And it is out of this respect—rather than out of a lack of it, as so many will argue—that I have to believe we can do better.

Better than two-days’ worth of social media "thoughts and prayers" before we sink sullenly, yet swiftly, back into absolute, unapologetic inaction.

Better than accepting that evil exists and that’s there’s nothing the most powerful nation on the planet can do about it.

Better than writing off the idea of enacting any type of legislation because such legislation “won’t stop every single case.”

Better than mindlessly repeating fraudulent messages that have been fed to us by private-interest groups, rather than forcing ourselves to think independently.

Better. Just better.

I’d like to encourage those who’ve made it this far to donate—however much they can afford—to the Las Vegas Victims’ Fund.

And, for those who feel the same way I do, call your representatives—every single day—and ask what it is they plan to do to help prevent something like Sunday night’s massacre from happening again in our great Silver State. And, while you’re at it, call Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s office and ask why the Attorney General refuses to implement the Nevada Background Check Initiative, which Nevadans, who Laxalt was elected to and is paid to represent, voted into law in 2016. Ask him how much of the $6.5 million the NRA spent fighting that initiative in our state is in his pockets. Ask him if knows how democracy works. Ask him anything you want—but just pick up the phone and start demanding answers. 

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto:

P: (702) 388-5020

P:(775) 686-5750

Senator Dean Heller:

(702) 388-6605

(775) 686-5770

Attorney General Adam Laxalt:

775-684-1100

702-486-3420

Pacifica: Change of Fools

“I’m telling you, if they don’t have the banana pancakes today I’m going to shit bricks.”

Probably not the most romantic thing for a girlfriend to say on the first hour of our trip out of Reno.  

“Oh they’ll have them.” Matt says to me matter-of-factly.

Four hours from Reno, Nevada to Pacifica, California breathing in each other’s air, the smell of melted Marion berry shakes and semi trucks’ raw, relentless exhaust and all we want is to sit down at our favorite breakfast place on Linda Mar beach.

We pull in the parking lot, hop out of the 4Runner and head to our destination—Nona’s Cafe.  

“Gotta eat before we go out.” Matt says.  Part of me wants to argue.  He sees this; he won’t let it happen.  He’s an outdoorsman.  A “never know when you’re gunna need to live off of the breakfast you ate this morning for three days” kind-of guy. We watch 127 hours and he analyzes James Franco’s, or technically, Aron Ralston’s every move, explaining what he could have done differently: “I wouldn’t have stepped there.  Why on Earth would he step there?” or what he’s doing right: “Great idea to piss in the camelback.  Just a genius, genius idea.”

Matt wins; breakfast will ensue.

The moist air instantly seeks out our dehydrated desert bodies with a salty vengeance.  It wants to save us.  I imagine my hair, skin, cuticles, and lips praising the lord—better yet, praising Neptune. Tiny cells baptized in humidity, reintroduced to the coastal doctrine. Born-again ocean worshipers.  The boom and crackle of breaking waves taunts me.  Not yet, I tell them. Banana pancakes first—for Matt’s sake.

“Are. You. Fucking. Kidding. Me?”

We stand facing an empty and disheveled Nona’s Kitchen. We press our greasy, road-tripped faces up against the glass and look in at what was.  Tables and chairs awkwardly strewn about.  Stainless steel looking as lonely as ever.  An empty kitchen minus a few odds and ends.  No people. 

No people and no banana pancakes.

Three doors down we notice Nona’s kryptonite—High Tide Café and Creperie—a new restaurant that ranks half-a-star higher than Nona’s in Yelp reviews.  We decide Yelp can fuck off; we’re boycotting High Tide. 

“What now?” I ask.

We stand in a crowded Starbuck’s.  We’re awkward.  And disappointed.  Awkwardly disappointed.  I imagine if you took a bird’s eye photo of this place, it’d look like an arcane puzzle of ironic sweatshirts, sunglasses that serve no purpose, and oversized purses peppered with tanned limbs and empty heads. 

Starbuck’s is the father of coffee and we’ve just been scolded.  We hate how places like this make you feel there’s a proper way coffee—or one of the 3,000 varieties thereof—should be ordered and, then, waited for and, should one not adhere to this code, they will be hung from the forest green awning outside as a warning for all who dare enter, while the Starbucks Goddess—a fucked up hybrid of the statue of liberty and Mona Lisa—sentences the offender to a life in Starbuck’s hell, serving up one “grande frappuccino with extra whip” at a time to former-brace-faced girls turned greek-letter worshipers. 

 “We don’t hand you your coffee at the register; pick it up around the corner.”

Pick it up around the corner. Why are there so many corners in this place anyways? It’s a goddamn corn maze disguised as a coffee shop.  It has a mix of about 90 percent locals and ten percent tourists, with Matt and I solely comprising the ten percent.  I think back to the last time we were in Pacifica, just a few months before, and can't help but feel a palpable difference.

_____________________________________________________________________________

I’d never been before.  Matt insisted we go together.  He calls me Gidget—a nickname he proudly derived from deciding I’d be a great surfer once when we decided to swim across Tahoe, “ just from rock to rock,” on a day so choppy, if you closed your eyes you’d think you were in the Pacific.  I was months in from a broken knee and torn ligament and ended up putting both my older brother and his girlfriend, who swam with the gracefulness of a tutu’d five-year-old on her first day of ballet lessons, to shame.  “If you can swim, you can surf,” Matt would always say to me. 

He took me to Pacifica for the first time in May of 2011. 

A free-write I did in an English course right after we returned reads “Pacifica, California.  Not San Francisco, Pacifica.  It’s outside of the city, a hidden town that appears shy in San Francisco’s shadow.  I love it.  However shy, however awkward.  It’s David, not Goliath.  It just hasn’t won yet.”

 “It’s the perfect place to learn to surf,” Matt tells me as we cruise along Highway One. 

 I nod. 

I always feel guilty talking on trips with such beautiful scenery, as if my voice—or any voice—might perhaps taint the experience, compromise the senses.  We continue down Highway One, a drive that, every time I take it, makes me feel unappreciative and shallow.  It’s as if there’s such a compact and awesome amount of beauty edged along that route that some piece of it is bound to be missed, bound to be taken for granted. 

I put down the “Smartfood” popcorn (the truthfulness of its name can be debated), pick up Matt’s Nalgene and take a fat swig.  A wave of Tahoe blue washes away the compacted cheese dust from the crevices of my wisdom teeth and my tongue acts as a tool for the bits it missed.  I sit up and attempt to soak in the coastal scenery to best of my ability, vowing to not take any part of it for granted, though I know it’s an unavoidable anomaly that the more I attempt to not take it for granted, the more I will.   

We camp at Half Moon Bay State Beach.  My knee injury got us a bright red temporary handicapped pass and, in turn, a remarkably-oversized camping space.  I’d feel guilty, but it’s the middle of the week; no one is vacationing in Pacifica right now.  I’ll exaggerate the limp around the rangers.

Matt takes me to a shopping center right on the edge of the beach. There’s a NorCal shop that Matt loves.  I nod.  I agree.  It looks great.  But we don’t go in.  I am not surfing.  Not today, not this trip.  I’ve never surfed.  The water’s cold. Nonetheless, Matt loves the NorCal shop.  He was here a few years ago and bought one of his two surfboards from the shop.  He talks about how nice the workers are and how, when you rent gear, they don’t even take a credit card as collateral because, “they’re just that trusting around here.”

Next to NorCal is Nona’s Kitchen. Nona’s is a quaint café.  I’ve never been before but it’s Matt’s favorite place on Linda Mar.  There are no menus, just a chalkboard with a few specials written and waitresses with great memories. 

I have the banana pancakes and an orgasm. 

They were, hands down, the best banana pancakes I’ve ever had.  I start humming Jack Johnson at the table, like some sort of terrible cliché, but I can’t help myself.  Matt has the bacon pancakes and, from the look on his face, an orgasm as well. 

We vow to come to Nona’s every summer from here on out.

_____________________________________________________________________________

 “Matt, your two grande coffees, Matt”

We burn our tongues and head to the Ocean.  But not without stopping at NorCal first.  I need my gear.  

The shop has clearly expanded since the last time Matt was inside.  We try to figure out what store it took over in order to expand—another restaurant, the head shop maybe? Good thing we didn’t forget rolling papers.  We step inside.  The place is huge.  We are not greeted and, judging by the faces on the equiamounts-tanned-and-peeved employees, not welcome. None of the employees are recognizable.  Perhaps because most of them have their faces buried in their cell phones behind a counter.  We notice one young man who doesn’t.  We approach him, but realize he’s “helping” someone else.

“Size 6, huh? That’s sexy.  You have small feet.” Apparently, the new norm at NorCal is to either have your face buried in your cell phone, or a 17-year-old girl’s breasts.  Matt’s disappointment is palpable and is coupled with a constant explanation of the NorCal shop that once was. The one he remembers. The one he loves.  It was nicer; it was smaller; it was better.

I try to recount the reasons I always defend northern California—good vinyl shopping, Haight Ashbury, Nona’s Fucking Cafe.  Suddenly, they all seem to have lost their validity. Has southern California eaten the entirety of the state alive? No, I think to myself, that’s impossible—southern California doesn’t eat. 

I wander around the store for a good five minutes—you know the way you do when you don’t want to disturb anyone “working” but you figure if you can look lost and desperate enough someone will voluntarily come to your aid.  No one takes the bait.  Angry Birds and tits and hold their attention.  I find a wetsuit; I’ve lost Matt at this point somewhere in this Sam’s Club surf shop.  I head out back behind the store and grab a foam long board. 60 dollars.  Matt pays--perhaps because he's acutely aware of how much pain I'll be in after surfing for the first time.  Credit card on file.  So much for the old honor system.  We walk out to the parking lot, spend a few minutes condemning NorCal and then head to the beach right in front of us. 

I half expect the ocean to be as unrecognizable as Pacifica itself—perhaps an access key card swipe and a retinal scan required before you step into the water, High Tide cafés recurring every fifteen feet in the sand, life-size iPhones sunbathing, eager to tan themselves to the point where their screen is unreadable, Starbuck's cardboard sleeves strewn about the sand, mountains of breasts with pierced-nipple peaks along the shore. 

There it is, though.  Looking the same as ever.  Inviting and enticing and taunting me.  Hungry for the flesh of my knees, the fat of my heels, the skin of my elbows.  Thirsty for every inevitable drop of liquid it will effortlessly gain from me--my blood and my snot and my saliva.  Begging me to hop in, let it swallow me alive, introduce me to every sharp rock and chunk of tangled seaweed it has to offer. It, unlike the locals, loves first-time surfers. I’m its nutrition for the day.  

California may not eat, but the ocean is as hungry as ever.  And thank God for that.

Worlds apart

**The following post is fiction and written from a StoryMatic prompt card (a box of cards that prompts writers to write, basically). The card I pulled today read, “person born in the wrong time period.” Here goes:

     I often feel like I don’t belong. An anomaly of sorts. A fish out of water. A cliché that makes little sense but yet is still living, breathing, convincing.  A wrong in the middle of rights.

     There’s a book on my bookshelf. One I got for free at a music festival. A woman stood at the entrance—or perhaps the exit depending on your place in time—handing them out. Shiny, black, hardcover books. For free. I watched as people passed by, not understanding. It’s free, people. A free book. And you’re not going to accept it? I accepted it. Which is to say I grabbed it from her hands, took it home, opened it once to find a writing style so far from that which I enjoy that I slammed the cover closed with the verve of a five-year-old. Post-naptime. Yet there it sits. On my shelf.  As it must.  Simply because it’s a book. And my shelf is, after all, for books. It is wrong in so many ways among the read and the re-read and the analyzed and the margin-noted. The Mary Karr and the Joan Didion and the David Sedaris and the John Muir and the John McPhee and the Bill Bryson and the Henry David Thoreau and the Karl Marx and the others. Many others. It, other than during its initial opening, has not been read. Nor re-read, nor analyzed, nor margin noted. No neon Post-Its pop from its edges, sun-faded and moisture-sucked from the hot desert air, their revealed edges curling, as if gasping for air. No words inside are underlined in ball-point pen (nor in pencil as my mother would prefer). Nor looked up and jotted down on my never-ending list of words to learn. I guess this is all to say it doesn’t belong. Yet, for some reason, it must live amongst the others. Unloved and untouched and uncared for. Like a manikin unclothed, standing amongst others draped in silk and paisley prints and velour.  Yes, that’s it, a naked manikin. In some ways, I suppose that’s one of the saddest sights there is to see in this world.

     I want substance more than I’ve ever wanted anything. Even context. In today’s world, I thirst for it like water in a drought, knowing, all the while—as my pallet becomes thick and sticky with my own spit—that there is none. At least none of the nature for which I’m looking. I suppose "like water in a drought" is one of the worst analogies I've ever written. I had a professor once who compared cliches to Twinkies. He said they were fine, for the everyday eater, the everyday reader. But, he said, if you were a chef--someone who got paid to cook for others--serving Twinkies on a silver platter was unacceptable. So, as a writer (despite my lack of pay), I suppose "water in a drought" is my version of a chef serving twinkies. I apologize for that.

 

     Sometimes I watch the news. Or what they call the news. The other day an anchor was discussing her porn name. You know, where you take the name of your first pet and the name of the street you grew up on and there you have it. On the news. An anchor. Discussing her porn name.

     Did I mention I want substance?

     Perhaps my grandma wanted the same. Substance, that is. Perhaps, in the ‘40s, she longed for the 20s. Perhaps those in the ‘20’s long for the previous century’s ‘80s.  I do not know. All I know is that I long for the ‘40s, the ‘20s, the previous century’s ‘80s. Anything but the here and now.

     I visit her, my grandma. Every afternoon. She lives down the street from us in Las Vegas. On Ringe Lane. I listen to her stories. The stories about the ‘40s. We look at catalogues together. I love her if for no other reason than the fact she uses the word “catalogue.” There is a difference, you know, between a magazine and a catalogue. But no one seems to care about that anymore. Just as women don’t wear silk slips so sheer their whole body pierces through the fabric, round thighs and bony hips and perky nipples. No, slips are out. Catalogues are out. In the here and now, that is.

     She likes what you and I would call the “vintage-looking” dresses. Ones with big fabric buttons and bright white polka-dots and skirts that shoot out so far from one’s silhouette, the wearer of such an item would be a fool not to dance with a handsome man in it, if for no other reason than to spin that skirt for all its worth.

     I like her best when she sees what you and I would call the “skank” dresses. Visceral and embarrassed at once, her reactions are. Curious yet offended. She asks me, You wouldn’t wear something like that, would you, bean? No, I tell her, Never. And I mean it, too. Most girls my age would wear those dresses, but I would never.

     And, speaking of my age, my friends often tell me I’m much older than the years I've actually acquired. They joke that my strawberry-blonde hair looks dull-grey inside, when it doesn’t have the sunlight to flatter it. I wouldn’t mind—though I never tell them this—having grey hair. For grey hair would mean I was born to an earlier time. A better time. Grey hair would mean my wide-eyed face first saw this world when it had not yet been drained of that substance I so long for. But close only counts in horseshoes, my grandma always says.

     My boyfriend doesn’t quite understand that saying. Though, to be fair, no one my age does. Rolls his eyes when I say it. Asks why I can’t just be happy. He’s sleeping, after all, with many a happy girl. Girls who don’t say things like “close only counts in horseshoes.” Though, I’d never let on that I know this. He thinks I think I’m his only. I don’t even wish it to be true. Perhaps that says something about us. About him and me. My friends ask why I’m with him and I have no answer other than to say I suppose when you feel like this much of an outcast, who you date and if you date doesn’t matter. Not that I date him to feel less like an outcast. No, that’s not it. It’s just that when you know—I mean really, really know—that no man nor boy in this particular place at this particular time is ever going to come even close to being right for you, you take the first one that comes along without putting up much of a fight. Why take him at all, you may wonder. And that, I’m still trying to figure out myself.

     Or perhaps that is a lie. The “trying to figure out” part. I don’t much try to figure out anything. My discomfort with this time period, oddly enough, has made me quite complacent with many things. Like who I choose to be friends with. Or who I choose to date.  Or what clothes I choose to wear. When you don’t like any of your available options, you’ll take anything, for Choice A is just as miserable and unfulfilling as Choice Z. So why waste time sorting through semantics?

     My phone rang today while I was with him. I left while he was in the restroom—the sound of his strong stream of piss breaking through the calm water was more than I could take in that moment. It was my grandma. The phone call, that is. Wanting me to come over. Wanting me to hear her stories, I assume. Her stories are my key to turn back time. My get-out-of-jail-free-card (jail being the present) that, when cashed in, takes me to a place that looks and smells and feels like the place I wish I was born into. It’s not an all-out time machine—my time with her—but I’ve found it’s as close as I can come for now.

     I leave his house and drive. Drive through the ratty neighborhood he lives in and past the Buck’s Tavern and Big O’ Tires on Nellis Avenue. And I arrive at her house on Ringe, failing to even glimpse at my own home as I, too, pass it.

     I open the screen door and shudder at the high-pitched creak it makes as I do. And my shuddering makes me laugh—a reminder that I’ll never get used to anything, not even the sound I’ve heard every single afternoon since I was old enough to open the old thing on my own. Audrey Hepburn said that in Breakfast at Tiffany’s: “I’ll never get used to anything. Anyone that does might as well be dead.” At least that’s how I remember it. What she said. I let the screen door with its broken spring slam behind me and brace myself as to avoid shuddering again. I’m successful this time.

     My grandma sits on her sofa. It’s light blue fabric, lighter even in parts where asses have planted themselves over the years. Amongst the blue is a white toile print. One of men in straw hats and women in long dresses, ribs and bellies shrunk and stretched length-wise via corsets. Every time I look at that print I wonder what it would take to become part of it. I used to imagine, as a kid, that one lucky day I would sit on that couch and it would take me in, suck me up and re-fashion my being as part of its pattern. A two-dimensional, single-hued, toile woman, I long to be.

     I notice my grandma’s holding something new. A Kindle to be exact. It was a gift, she says, from my Aunt Joann. Her daughter, my aunt. From either perspective, a moron, I think. Why would my grandma want a Kindle? Only then I realize she does indeed want a Kindle. What I at first thought was merely the white, white reflection of the thing’s screen in her eyes, I notice now is a an unfortunate glow. A child-like light beaming from inside. She’s excited. No, no. She’s thrilled.

     Do you like it, I ask her. I love it, she replies. That’s why I had you come over, she tells me, I need help with it. She knows not how to download books nor how to read them once she does. Why she picks me of all the 13 grandchildren to help her—the one grandchild who doesn’t have a Facebook account who actually wears the things she buys me for my birthday to places other than ironic Christmas sweater parties—is beyond me. And I tell her this. But never mind that, she says. I should just help her, she says. See if I like it myself. If I do, she says, she’ll buy me one. I ask her to stick with the sweaters instead. She mumbles something I can’t make out, perhaps because I don’t want to.

     We spend the next two hours buying books online. Online on her fancy new Kindle. I cringe less and less with each “purchase” click. In fact, not only do I cringe less and less, but I perk up more and more. No matter how hard I resist the digital domain—especially one that houses what once were books, actual, physical, crisp-as-an-apple books—I find myself giving in. Relaxing on the toile couch with my grey grandmother and her black Kindle. A recommendation comes up in Amazon. Lo and Behold, it’s “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Oh, I’ve heard of that one, she says. How Amazon got “Fifty Shades of Grey” from her previous purchases of mystery novels and Harper Lee and John Steinbeck is beyond me. That’s enough for now, I tell her.

     And just then, as I worry my grandmother may be turning both her and me into digital-romance-novel-reading zombies along with the rest of the world, she says, Fine. Fine, she says. She’s tired, she says, because of the screen. It has hurt her eyes. Let’s relax, she says, Put on a movie. And with that I get up, head to her VHS collection, pull one from among the many, and force it into her VCR--the inevitable click-clack as the machine accepts the device like music to my ears. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Ah, she says, Just what I was hoping you’d pick. And for the next near two hours, we lose ourselves in the delicious past.

How Bravo and Botox Could Help my Career

I have a story.  Well, being the talkative writer I am, I have many stories.  But this one in particular, I’d like to share.

Yesterday, after a long day of writing, I sat down to treat myself to one of my guiltiest pleasures: The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.  That alone needs a disclaimer: I don’t watch any of the other Real Housewives series, but, for some odd reason, the ladies of Beverly Hills in all their Berkin and Louboutin glory have my attention. That’s all I’ll say about that.  Judge as you please.

So, I’m sitting in my family room, sipping earl grey tea with honey, waiting for a friend to call and save me from both myself and the “reality” series vortex I’ve been sucked into. 

And then it happened.

One of the “housewives” (who is not married nor a home maker, but hey, semantics) was sitting down meeting with a literary agent. For those of you not familiar with the industry, here’s a brief synopsis: A writer gets an agent. That agent then helps the writer find a publishing house to publish their work. The agent takes a cut. Without an agent, you’re not getting published.  I am currently seeking an agent. The end. 

Back to story: I’m watching in awe as this particular divorcee—or as Bravo has deemed her, this particular “housewife”—is meeting with someone I would give my left breast to meet with.  Or both of my breasts for that matter—they’re not that big and, after watching the particular plastic-surgery-peppered series I’m watching, feel even smaller. 

Bottom line: I am dying to get an agent and here, sprawled out across 47 electronic inches in front of me, is a big-breasted blonde who wouldn’t know great literature if it kicked her square in her ass implants, meeting with a literary agent.

The subject matter of the compelling memoir she plans to write? Her divorce. 

Now, if being a divorcee were grounds for writing a decent memoir, my mom, my dad and about fifty of my friends’ moms and dads would have all won a Pulitzer by now.  The truth is, she has an agent because she’s a celebrity.  And there’s nothing agents love more than a celebrity willing to “write” (think: hire a ghostwriter) a book.  Celebrity stories sell. Correction: Celebrity stories sell well. And agents take a healthy cut of those sales. That’s all there is to it.

If I was using a knife to stir my tea rather than a spoon, this is the part in the story where I stab myself in the eye.

So, this scene (the blonde and her agent) prompts me to check my email, which I haven’t checked in a whole seven minutes.  Background info: Ever since my manuscript has been with a literary agent in New York, I check my email religiously awaiting her response. I’m practically picking petals here: she’ll represent me; she’ll represent me not; she’ll represent me; she’ll represent me not; she’ll represent me! My obsession is so bad that, when hurricane Sandy hit, all I could think was: I hope she didn’t lose my manuscript in the storm. (I swear I'm a compassionate person.) 

So, I get up from the couch and head to my laptop. And there it is. 

My very first rejection email. 

Turns out the agent in New York is “passing” on my manuscript.  Now, this is all fine and well.  It was the very first agent I sent my work to and I’ve heard horror stories from successful authors who’ve been rejected literally hundreds of times.  Many authors, in fact, tack their rejection letters to their office walls like bloody--or, more appropriately, inky--badges of honor. 

I almost—if this is the truth or a lie I now tell myself, I’ll never know—didn’t want to get accepted on my first try because what kind of a story would that make for? I can’t give my acceptance speech for the Pulitzer and say, “Oh man, it was such a breeze to get to this point. Everyone loved my work right off the bat.”  Rejection is a bittersweet reality in that failure makes for a better success story. The best authors often have the worst time trying to get published. Think: Dr. Seuss. 

So, I indulge myself with another cup of tea and all of about three decent tears—until I realize I’ve just done my makeup and the whole crying thing is really affecting the evenness of my bronzer—and I get back to my show.

I press play and she (the blonde I’m currently loving to hate) asks her agent the hard-hitting question all authors want to know: How long until we find a taker? Translation: How long will it be until a house offers up a publishing deal? 

Now, I’m thinking, Hit her with the hard stuff, man. Tell her how long it's bound to take. Every writer knows that, even once you’ve got an agent, the hard part is often getting a publishing deal.  Your agent could send your manuscript to 20 houses with no bites.  The waiting game is often longer than a year.  

“Oh, I’d say we’ll find someone in a week.”  “A week? Really? I mean, I knew it was good but I didn’t know someone would want to publish it right away?”  “Oh yes, it could be published very soon!”

Fuck you. Or, more appropriately, me. 

And fuck my bronzer.  Because now I’m crying.  Crying because, not only did I get my very first rejection—which stings in its own right—but crying because I got my very first rejection as Tits McGee is simultaneously getting the news that I’d give both my breasts, a leg, and my hands (which happen to be my favorite part of my body; I’ve got great nail beds) to hear.  And that, my friends, is insult to injury in the purest sense of the phrase. 

So, as I sit down to write more chapters today, I can’t help but think how much further I could get with some Botox and a show on Bravo. If only I could get over my fear of needles to the face. 

On Writing. And Control.

I’m a bit of a control freak. 

I like my shams folded and thrown over the couch just so—the scene must never look too contrived nor too chaotic.  I am physically unable to fall asleep knowing something is left on or left unfinished.  I’ve awoken at odd hours before both to sleep the computer and to transfer forgotten water glasses from the coffee table to the dishwasher.  I practically get shingles watching my boyfriend do the dishes—Did he just put the sponge face down in the sink to dry? Is he loading the plates facing away from the water jet? That same boyfriend notes my tendency, or rather my physical need, to run in front of him on jogs.  I try slowing down and letting him take the lead; this lasts for two generous seconds—vomit crawling up my throat the entire time—before I can’t help myself.  

I am, indeed, not a bit of a control freak, like I stated earlier.  I misspoke. I am a full-fledged floorboards-dusting, let-me-fix-it!, don’t-touch-that! control freak. 

And what I’ve come to notice—or, more accurately, what I’ve known my whole life but have taken calculated steps to avoid—is that, in writing, you’re rarely in control. 

As a writer, the smallest sliver of control you’re granted is over the words that represent a story—the physical (or often digital) ink that you press into physical (or often digital) paper.  Do I want to describe that article as convoluted or as arcane? Was the doll pattern on the dress animate or lively?

This—word control—may initially sound like a huge win.  Words? Ink? Paper? What else is there to a story?

A lot. 

And it’s all out of your control

There’s the story itself. So often stories take you miles away from where you thought you’d end up or, even more often, miles short of where you thought you’d end up.  The story controls you and, if you’re a decent writer, you let it. 

Then, there are the readers.  Humor and emotion are subjective. You know the saying God knows…? Well, I can assure you that even God herself doesn’t know how readers will respond to your writing. (You like that I made God female, don’t you? Word control, baby.)

Then, there’s the publishing industry.  And that, my friends, is numero uno for no controllo.  Agents and houses and editors the ever-unpredictable market.  Costco and Barnes and Noble and the recurring threat of e-readers and, the even more recurring threat of no readers. 

It’s frightening, indeed. But I will say that, for all loss of control and sleep and sanity that is involved in writing, we do get some perks. After all, in what other career path is it acceptable to drink a Bloody Mary at 11 a.m. on a Monday or to step out back, still in your robe at 5 p.m. and release the most primal scream you can muster for all of the neighborhood kids to hear?  Or to not comb your hair? Or to spend an entire day reading, calling it “research?” 

Exactly.