A lopsided love story …

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In another life, I sold real estate and ran my second craft business. I’ve done that you know … worked two ventures at once.

Those were what I call my dead years. The kids were gone, I began to hate every housewife I showed houses, and the crafts business bottomed out.

To fill in the time, I babbled in my second journal and played with short stories. I’d write something perfectly awful and email it to my real estate partner. He read each story and commented that I might want to consider going back into therapy.

What I also discovered during those years was the romance novel. Being hung up on mysteries and traditional types of books, I had never ventured into the romance genre. A good friend told me I needed to expand my horizons.

I went regularly to the Publisher’s Clearing House Catalog and ordered wholesale cases of Harlequin paperbacks for my mother and her eighty-year old girlfriends. Then I’d visit and get them smashed with a bottle of vodka and a quart of orange juice.

“Mom, you like that stuff?”

“Yes, I do. I love happy endings.”

So I gave it a shot. For six months I took out dozens of romance novels from the library and fell in love with Nora Roberts. I was hooked.

Jake Darling was the first time I attempted the three girlfriend scenario. Three girls at a crossroad take a summer cottage. Three sisters inherit their father’s business. Three woman meet and …

Well, you get the picture. Trilogies are the romance rage. It is also Nora’s specialty. No one can do the trilogy quite as well as she does. Three sisters own a bar in Ireland. Three wiccans live on an island. Three sisters break a two hundred year old curse handed down from their great-great grandmother.

For reasons, I can’t begin to analyze, even with the help of a therapist, I tend to save every damn thing I write. I’d still have some of my grade school essays if my mom hadn’t had one of her fits and sent them to the incinerator one weekend. “I told you a thousand times to get that stuff out of the hall closet.”

And if she were still here torturing her only baby girl, it is for damn sure, I’d never let her near my computer.

So without further delay … I give you Sarah, Eileen, and Trudy in Jake Darling.

It opens thus …

We were three girls of the fifties, the first, my mother would say proudly, of the baby boom generation, born in 1946.  Donning plaid skirts and over-sized sweaters, saddle shoes or Skippy sneakers and of course, pony tails.

It is a friendship that began in sixth grade.

Today, we were sitting at a seafood restaurant at City Island and I was expanding on my thoughts of true love.

“Being in love might be compared to seasonal allergies, hives, temporary insanity, or a train wreck depending on the duration and the major life threatening symptoms.”

Eileen shook her head. “Oh common Sarah, don’t you cry when you see ‘A Love Affair to Remember?’”

“Well of course I do.  I cry over love stories all the time, except that nauseating movie in the seventies. God I tried to watch it all the way through once and gagged.”

“You don’t mean with Ally McGraw and Ryan O’Neil?”

“That’s the one.‘Being in love means you never have to say you’re sorry.’ What tripe. Being in love means you’re sorry every damn day of your life.”

Eileen turned to Trudy. “She means Love Story . Don’t you just I cry every time you watch that one.”

Of course, Eileen cried every time she watched her soaps or the nightly news or read the tabloids. “Can you imagine a divorce after all these years?”  “Did you know Gretta Garbo had a love child she abandoned in the South of France?”

“My luck, if I were abandoned it would have been in the South Pole.”

Trudy tapped her martini glass with a spoon. “Would you two cut it out, we have important business to discuss.”

Trudy on the other hand was among the one percent on the planet who had a good marriage.  Trudy and James met in high school, got engaged at the senior prom and had been together for over thirty years. I was so jealous I could bite someone.

“I will concede you and Jim are the exception to the rule.”

Eileen raised her hand for the waiter.  “I think love is always possible. You never know anytime you might turn the corner—“

“And get hit by a truck ‘cause you were looking for love instead of looking at the traffic light.  Give me a break, Eileen.  Look when you’re a kid and you wake up after losing a tooth you find a quarter under the pillow—“

Trudy giggled. “A quarter, Sarah? Your mom only gave you a quarter?”

“Yeah, she probably told me the tooth fairy was having a year of losses. Under the definition of cheap there is a picture of my mom. Anyway, if you wake up at fifty and you lose a tooth you get slammed with a $1,500 dentist bill.”

“Poor tainted Sarah.” Eileen flagged the waiter and orders us another round of martinis.

“Don’t poor Sarah me. You still believe in Fairy Tales?”

“It’s not the absolute belief of anything you can touch and feel.  It’s the knowing of what can be.”

“Trudy, will you help me out here before she starts chanting.”

“Listen you two, cut it out. Either you believe in something or you don’t.” She craned her head. “Where is he with those martinis? Being with you two requires lots of drink.”

Our drinks arrived and we toasted to true love. After all, Trudy was happy with her marriage, Eileen was happy with her search for the perfect mate, and I seemed happy to. To what?

“Let me point out something Sarah,” Trudy interrupted my thoughts, “you are the one who collects love songs and mushy movies.”

“Yeah, and you read Nora Roberts.”

“Yes, but my favorite of hers are the romantic suspense. Mix a little murder and then the love part is more palatable.”

They went off on a tangent of the weekly sales at Saks and I became lost in reminiscences.

We had been friends since grade school. We went to drive-ins together, we flirted at the local diner together, and of course, went to all the high school dances together.  We were at a dance at Midwood High when Trudy met James. Damn if it wasn’t love at first sight.

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Eileen married a year after graduation and divorced after three children, several broken ribs, and a custody battle. She moved back in her parent’s house and still had her pink and white gingham curtains on the windows and her dolls on the bed.

She was divorced for one year and married again, and again after another child and filing bankruptcy she was back in her parent’s house. The last time I went to pick her up she still had the gingham curtains.

“Eileen, why don’t you change these, you’ve had them since high school.”

“I do every other year.  I just go out and get more gingham and make a new pair.  You see, I love the feeling of walking in the room and making believe I’m still sweet sixteen and never been kissed.”

Well Eileen had been kissed. Married twice, engaged three times and currently having a hot affair with a married man fifteen years her senior.  She and the kids went to therapy twice a week for ten years. She worked at a local real estate office, watched the soaps and was a Gold Card member of Parents Without Partners.

I took the middle ground.  Married, two kids and divorced all in five years.  No house, no bankruptcy, no parents to move in with and not enough money for therapy. I concluded the kids might as well stay screwed up.  It would give them more to talk about when they could afford therapy of their own.

My folks were under the impression I would come to my senses and go back to my husband and moving back home would make me too comfortable.  I was under the impression they were too cheap to help us out, so I rented the top floor from Trudy and James house, drove a re-furbished yellow Beetle financed by my Aunt Mabel, went back to college, and started teaching.

My mother on the occasion that I needed a sitter, “Sarah, has it ever occurred to you that your father and I need some time alone in the autumn of our life?”

“Yes it occurs to me every time I ask you to take the kids for one night. You and my father are spending your autumn, winter, spring and summer doing something more important.”

“Excuse me?  Did I tell you to get a divorce? Your father and I tried to convince you to work through your problems. Seems to me your generation could learn a thing or two about commitment.”

“Yeah, we’ve learned, you stay married too long, you end up committed.”

“And what stops you from getting married again? Tell me that? Do you even try?” She pushed her glasses to the end of her nose.

“Now take Eileen, she has herself out there in the mix.  She’s makes an effort.  How many times have we tried to introduce you to one of your father’s business associates?  How many dates have your friends tried to arrange? Tell me how many dates have you refused?”

“Ma, I’m too old for blind dates. What do you expect me to do, put my hair in a pony tail and go hang out at the diner?”

“Don’t be so cute.  Now she’s old. So what happened when you were younger, I ask?  Face it, you need to go out there and find a man. Your children have gone on with their lives and what do you do with your time?”

“Speaking of Eileen.  All a guy has to do is give her a half a smile and she’s getting engaged.”

“But she is out there trying. She’s a trouper.”

“No Ma, she’s a schnook.”

“I don’t like that you are alone. When your father and I die who will you have?”

“I’ll retire and move to Florida with Aunt Carol and her twenty cats.”

“I can’t talk to you.”  She pushed her glasses back up and flipped the pages of her newspaper.

I felt a sharp pain in my arm where Eileen had just pinched me. “Sarah, will you please come back to earth!”

“Ouch!” I rubbed my arm. “Gees I hate that. You know I hate that.”

“Well pay attention.”

“I was thinking about my mother.”

“God, don’t give me a rash.” Trudy leaned forward, her face open like she was about to burst at the seams. “I have monumental news.”

Tell the truth, don’t you just love a happy ending?

I mean if you had your druthers wouldn’t they all end with a kiss?

fOIS In The City

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Heck no-I won’t go …

Did you know that Halloween is the beginning of the Christmas season?

It’s not bad enough that kids don’t know when presidents were really born, or that all holidays do not all fall on a Monday. Soon we’ll tell ourselves it’s a good idea to celebrate Memorial Day in April to coincide with Spring Break.

And did you also know that the second week of October is the time to get your keyboards ready for a November challenge?

There are deadlines and then there are deadlines. You can get them from a boss, from a committee, from a friend or family. And there are those you can give to yourself.

The one I reject and have steadfastly ignored is Na-No. So without guilt or shame, I say no, no to Na-No.

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Since I love the blog, I’ll use it to make excuses why I cannot and should not join in the Na-No challenge.

Speaking of blogs …

How on earth would I explain to my mother what I am up to this time?

“Listen to me young lady. I’d better not find out that blog is a nasty word or you’ll get it good.” 

I can’t remember how many times I tried to tell her to relax and enjoy my special kind of organized chaos.

“I’ll give you chaos. Just wait until your father gets home.”

I never stop missing them. Between the Brooklyn docks and the town of Poughkeepsie on the Hudson River, I’ve met dozens of marvelous characters, fodder so rich, how could I avoid using them?

 “And if you tell tales out of school I’ll wash your mouth with soap.”

Most of my funny non-fiction stories are about my mom. Because I had her around longer, because she was a more dominant force in my life, and because she was funnier.

Dad was like a summer rain storm. All day the weather is hot and sticky, the humidity so thick you can slice open a cloud and drink. Then in the late afternoon or early evening, the sky darkens, electricity crackles, thunder and lightning, rain pelts hot concrete and fast and furious the storm is here and gone.

My dad was like an afternoon thunder-storm, electricity, thunder and lightning, and fast and furious he was gone.

He was young. I was younger. We did not know or understand each other in time to make any sense of it.

But he loved a few things I loved.

He loved walking in the rain and music, cowboys and baseball, football and politics. He loved his adopted country, and more than anything or anyone, he loved my mother.

He loved swimming in the ocean and telling tales of the sea, and like his baby girl he loved to read.

Therefore, I could blame my family for not wanting to participate in Na-No. I could do it but the chemical ingredients in my genes prevents me from responding well to structure. Deadlines anyone?

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Somewhere in that recipe of mixed Italian nuts who comprised my family there was a writer, a reader, a craftsman, a scholar … we had a fashion plate and a Tom Boy, a genius and one certifiable crazy person.

More than anything we had lethal injections of rebellion and since I wanted to be the biggest, the loudest and the most pronounced rebel of them all, I refuse to conform to someone else’s schedule.

My high school counselor did suggest I might want to go to a college with a theater program.

“Don’t be ridiculous. You need to make money. You can make jokes on your own time.”

Earning a living for instance …

Fate flounced her head of lovely red curls and college would be put on hold. We needed money and I was to find gainful employment.

For the purpose of this post, dead end means gainful employment and if by some chance, the employer of said dead-end job decided we should part company, I learned early to come home during rush hour.

No sense provoking her. “What? You got fired again?”

In the twelve years before I became a college freshman, I held down a myriad of clerical jobs, designed to drive nails into my brain at regular intervals. I was a group typist, a pool stenographer, and a secretary. I even rose to the ranks of Executive Secretary and Executive Assistant. It mattered not. I despised and held in contempt the lot of them.

I wasn’t exactly fired from all of them. Some I outgrew. Others became so boring I went to lunch and decided to scope out the twice year leather sale at Lord & Taylors instead of going back to work. I mean for real … it only happened twice a year.

Gainful employment?

That was having a job that brought in a paycheck you could slap down on the kitchen table, lest your parents put your bed in the backyard with the landlady’s bull dog.

It wasn’t that our parents were insensitive to our passionate desires to express ourselves as artists or musicians. Nor were they blind to our need to find our true calling.

They simply expected us to pay our way and no one pretty much bothered to ask if we loved our work. Work was to make money not have fun.

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I was told I was lucky I would not have to wait tables with Flo or Flossie, die my hair carrot red and wear a huge hanky in my breast pocket fashioned like a flower in direct view of my low cut, tight uniform. Nor would I have to earn my tips by bumping my hip against a bald headed man with garlic breath.

I was blessed and lived a charmed life.

Between then and now, I found another passion. I was able to work my way through college, raise two kids, had a job I loved and then … well … then the kids grew up and mama was once more a free agent.

These days, my work history begins and ends with one wonderful word … RETIRED.

And to wrap up this disjointed rant … I will not participate in Na-No because I don’t want to.

How about you reader,

Do you need a push to get your juices flowing?

Have you ever participated in Na-No or will you this year?

 fOIS In The City

 

 

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The end of the beginning …

Writers enjoy pretending to be someone, somewhere in their dreams and those dreams become their stories. An encounter barely remembered, the face of a stranger, that first moment when the fire begins to burn.

The time and place … the who, what, where, and when of the story.

The when puts the reader in the moment. Be it historical fiction or memoir, the when brings your reader into your world.

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As a baby boomer, I might have a proclivity towards the time in which I was born.

My other bent has been the time in which my children grew, those we coined Generation X.

I might posit a story that took place hundreds of years ago, or a hundred years into the unknowable future.

I read a post on Anne R. Allen’s blog asking readers to put in the last 49 words of their first chapter. The post was about the importance of chapter endings.

In other posts, I have read about the importance of beginnings … that first page, paragraph … the opening sentence.

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Today, my mind wanders back the years of my childhood, my formative years and to an experiment with openings.

This snippet is one of three possible openings for Sunset Park, a collection of short stories. This one waxes poetic, nostalgic, and introduces the story of my alter-ego, Antoinette, who she is and where she came from.

The beat of a different drum …

They were urchins running in the open fields behind the factories; a vacant lot became their playground, exploring the Brooklyn docks their adventure.

But like the children on both sides of the border, they identified most with Sunset Park, her long hills and hundred year-old oak trees, the wide turquoise pool and the circular brick wall surrounding the flagpole where they watched a hundred sunsets.

They were the product of blue-collar, first generation dreams.

They played stickball, punch ball, ring-a-lievio, Johnny on the pony, handball, stoopball, and kick the can. They leapfrogged over hydrants and climbed up telephone poles.

A cardboard refrigerator box became a temporary “club house,” orange crates became scooters, and soda caps filled with melted candle wax became a popular street game called Skully or Skelsies.

They were street kids. No one missed them if they left their houses after breakfast and did not return until supper time. The rule was … be in the house before the street lights come on.

With nothing between them and concrete and asphalt, they raced along the sidewalk on solid steel skates, scooters or fat wheeled bikes.

No one monitored their behavior or organized play groups. They were not required to wear helmets or knees protectors. And when they fell, they got up and kept riding. On cheap skates or on homemade scooters pushed by bargain Keds on uneven sidewalks, they explored their world.

Without adult supervision or interference, they created a caste system for selecting kids for stick ball or taking turns to play “stoop” ball.

As teenagers, in mixed-gender groups resembling roaming marauders, they walked everywhere to save bus or subway money. A fun night was sitting at the local ice cream parlor drinking a cherry-coke or an egg-cream and listening to the jukebox.

When the last full moon of their youth waned, the kids left Sunset Park. They got married and raised their kids in safer places. Some crossed the country to settle on the west coast, others never moved more than five miles from the house where they were born. A few went to Woodstock, a few more to Vietnam

They stored their old forty-five records, packed away their short skirts, opened bank accounts, and contributed to the economy.

The street kids of New York City lived and played through the innocence of the fifties, worked and protested and died during the turmoil of the sixties, and survived to become senior citizens in the new millennium.

Yet, somewhere in their memory those moments still live. And on a rainy day or when they miss their kids and grandkids, or need to reconnect to the caste system that molded them …

they take out their old black and white or early “Kodak” moments from shoe boxes or photo albums and remember the time of their life.

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Do you struggle with how to

begin or end your stories?

Or are you one of those who is plagued with

The sagging center?

fOIS In The City


			

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