Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Me Not Smart Enough, Me Guess

From the messy mind of Paul Levine...

I’ve been punked.

For of all things, not being a member of MENSA.  Not that I ever applied.  Believing with Groucho Marx that I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.  (Not saying they would have me.  Hell, I couldn't get in the door with a subpoena.  Just saying, who the hell needs that?  Take Jim Born.  He doesn't need it). 

MENSA calls itself the oldest and largest “high IQ society in the world.”  It’s for brainiacs who have an unquenchable thirst to be recognized as such.  Like wearing nerdy MENSA tee-shirts.

I don’t mean to be critical of all MENSA members (Mensans?)  I think it’s cool that former porn star Asia Carrera and the pro wrestler known as Raven are members, and Albert Einstein was inducted more-or-less against his will.  (He’d been dead 35 years at the time).

So how exactly was I punked?  A dear friend of mine broke up with his girlfriend, causing her to spew out hundreds of testy emails, first to him...then to me!  What did I do?  Nada.  Except to suggest that the young lady’s personality a bore certain resemblance to that of Jodi Arias, currently on trial for shooting her boyfriend and stabbing him 29 times, including one slash that nearly decapitated him

Anyway, among the emails I received was this one.

“More and more I get the feeling that you are very much like a ratio.....a  fraction.  Hmmmmm.   I assume you are not a fellow member of Mensa......? You probably have no idea WTF I am trying to say to you.”

Actually I agree I am a fraction.  In the words of the Beatles, “I’m not half the man I used to be.”

But back to MENSA.  James Randi, the magician, debunker of faith healers, and winner of a MacArthur “genius grant,” has perhaps the best line about the group.  “People who are smart get into MENSA.  People who are very smart look around and leave.”

1/4 a/k/a Paul Levine

Monday, April 29, 2013

I get a kick out of spam

Patty here…

In yon years of yore when we first started blogging we got a lot of spam. For a while there was no good way to reduce the flow without restricting people from commenting, which we didn’t want to do. That meant, as self-appointed blog administrator, I periodically had to search through days, months and years of posts and delete spam in the comments sections. I once found 150 spam messages on just one of our posts, all typed in Chinese characters. All the messages looked like the same message to me but since I don’t read Chinese I was only guessing. I deleted them anyway.

Back in the day, spam comments generally lacked finesse, i.e., “for great girl on girl porn, click here.” One spammer actually begged me in advance not to delete his comments because he needed the money from the thousands of Naked Authors fans who would surely be sucked in by his brilliant pitch. Boo hoo. Delete. Combing through our posts for spam often took hours, sometimes days of labor. Invariably, as soon as I deleted the last spam comment, almost by magic more would appear.

Now that we are blogging again I’ve noticed something: (1) it’s easier to control spam because Google has some sort of filter that seems to know a real person from a spammer and (2) now spammers attempt to disguise their motives with flattery. Too bad I'm not fooled. Here’s a recent gem I got in response to “Time heals all wounds,” a post I wrote in April of 2009 about the loss of my beloved pets. If this touches your heart, please let me know. 
 “I loved as much as you'll receive carried out right here. The sketch is tasteful, your authored subject matter stylish. nonetheless, you command get got an impatience over that you wish be delivering the following. unwell unquestionably come more formerly again since exactly the same nearly a lot often inside case you shield this increase.” 
It seems as if the spammer opened a dictionary, pointed a finger randomly over pages of words, chose a few and strung them together. After this heartfelt message, the person directed me to his YouTube video. Yeah, as if I’m going to click on THAT link.

 Below are a few more gems from people peddling everything from fry cookers to cockerdoodles:
 “Ahaa, its fastidious conversation regarding this paragraph here at this weblog, I have read all that, so now me also commenting here. Feel free to surf to my webpage…” 
“Great blog here! Also your web site loads up fast! What web host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host? I wish my website loaded up as quickly as yours lol Here is my web-site…” 

“Wow, that's what I was searching for, what a data! existing here at this web site, thanks admin of this site. Feel free to surf to my web-site...” 
“Pretty! Thiѕ has been an еxtremely wondeгful article. Many thanks foг supplying thіѕ informаtion. Herе is my webpage…”
“Valuable info. Fortunate me I found your web site by chance, and I am surprised why this twist of fate didn't came about in advance! I bookmarked it. my blog…”
“I have been surfing online more than 4 hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. It is pretty worth enough for me. Personally, if all webmasters and bloggers made good content as you did, the web will be a lot more useful than ever before. Also visit my webpage…”
Four hours? Ahaa. Wow. Pretty. Twist of fate, indeed. Good thing we Nakeds get loaded fast. That's suddenly become a lot more useful than ever before.

Happy Monday!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

From The Archives

Okay, so I am a total shitheel of a blogger recently. Things have been a little hairy--though also great at the same time, which is weird.

Like, hairy: I'm being audited by the IRS, I have to do financial aid paperwork for my kid, I just moved, and I went to LA for a week and forgot all the essential paperwork for me to deal with setting up the audit appointment or do my taxes.

Because that's how I roll (badly. with much chaos and entropy.) This led to four days of stress-puking. Which sucked. I hate ginger ale, and Coca-Cola even more. Also Tums. Which is pretty much all I can weakly ingest when I'm in the midst of a stress-puking fest. Which may well be more than you want to know. Oh well.

The cool stuff includes that I got to be in LA because my beau was shooting the pilot for a sitcom, and I think it's actually really good. Funny and dark and snarky and hip and did I mention snarky? I think I would actually watch this one even if I didn't know the beau. Which is kind of amazing because I'm not a big network TV chica AT ALL... not since the Golden Age of Friday Night Television Lineup when I was little (Partridge Family, Nanny and the Professor, and The Brady Bunch. And then Love American Style if Mom spaced out and we got to stay up for extra time. HEAVEN.)

Here is the really coolest part: the beau is not a yeller. He just calmly reassured me about stuff and even drove back into the city with me when I... um... forgot the essential paperwork a second time. Which is pretty fucking awesome of him.

So now I got through most of the yucky crap, and get to do some fun stuff: unpacking. I am reunited with all of my stuff in one place, and actually have room for it because I'm renting an old funky farmhouse north of Manhattan. I had this storage pod thing delivered last week, and it's the first time in five years I've had all my books (25 cartons. A lot of carrying of boxes this week.) And all my pictures. And all my, well, archives.

The archives are really the coolest part, for me. Like, I got to reread my first-ever report card from this great Waldorf School kindergarten on Oahu, Mohala Pua. I actually went to school there for part of the years I was four, five, and eight. Totally loved it. We didn't have to wear shoes, and Friday was Aloha Day so we wore Hawaiian stuff, and I learned to do routines with Poi Balls.

So my first report card says:

PERIOD: April 7, 1969 to June 6, 1969

Cornelia seems to be a child of considerable inner strength. In her quiet way, she can stand her ground in any situation. She is kind and considerate, too, but she shows her feelings in rather a matter of fact way. "Here," she will say, and give her teachers each a flower, the stem lovingly wrapped in wet paper, and then walk away, barely waiting for any comment.... 
She constantly surprises her teacher with her charming and independent ideas while working with clay and beeswax. She can concentrate for a long time on any activity.... She has a lovely singing voice.

That was from Frau Kudar, who also taught me to knit. I am still a terrible knitter (everything looks rather like fuzzy tumors when I'm done, exactly like the first potholder I did with Frau Kudar, which, if I remember correctly, took me 1,207 years to finish--all during recess. And looked like a fuzzy tumor at the end.)

And then I dug deeper in the box of letters and stuff, and got to a layer of letters that had been sent to and from my dad when he was a kid, through when he lived in Switzerland in the early Seventies. These were all given to me by his brother David, maybe twenty years ago. Dad had left them all in some bureau or something at his parents' house in Purchase, New York.

Uncle David gave me a box full of Dad's things that Dad didn't want. I guess he recognized me as having the archivist gene or something. Which I do in spades.

I treasure this stuff, but sometimes it makes me cry, too.

Here's a picture of their house (from the front):

Here's the back:

It was pretty fancy, which made it even weirder that Dad ended up living in his car in Malibu for thirteen years. Maybe that's why I ended up writing mysteries--I always want to figure out what the hell happened to everyone.

I actually used this house as a setting in my first novel, only I gave it to a demented fictional great-grandmother on my mother's side and moved it from Purchase to Oyster Bay. (Chaos and entropy, see above.)

Here's another picture from the archives--a copy of the sketch John Singer Sargent did of Grandaddy Read:

Anyway, among the letters was one mailed on December 21, 1942, from the Pacific theater, from my grandfather to Dad. The address is just "Frederick H. Read, Purchase, New York." Not even a street, or a zip code. And Dad would have been about four years old.

The return address is stamped "Commander Wm. A. READ, Staff, Commander Air Force, Pacific Fleet, Fleet P.O. San Francisco Calif." A second stamp, hand-initialed, reads "PASSED BY NAVAL CENSOR."

Here's what the letter says:

Dear Freddy-Pie,
I thought your letter was just great, and I enjoyed it very much. Write me another soon because I like to hear from you.
I got the present you and Jeanie-Pie sent me and I liked it very much. I thought it was very nice of you both to send it to me.
Mom said you had a new carpenter set, and were the new carpenter. I think that will be a big help. Be careful how you use your hammer and don't hit yourself on the finger!
I hope you are taking very good care of Mom for me. That's your job until I get home.
I hope Santa Claus brought you lots of presents, because you are a good boy and he ought to.
I will be thinking of you at Purchase on Christmas day and I hope you have a very merry Christmas!
Lots of love to you,
Basically, this letter just kills me, because I knew them both so much later when things were so much more complicated--bitter and sad and crazy and broken. I wish I could just hit the rewind button for them both--or at least tell everyone in 1942 that Grandaddy and Uncle Bill and Uncle Curtis and Uncle Peter and Uncle Roddy and Uncle David would all come home safe from the war. And there would be plenty of sugar for iced tea, and long summer afternoons on the terrace, and wonderful stories.

And also, Dad called my sister Freya-Pie, and me Corneli-Burger. I never knew that was something he'd learned from his father, until yesterday when I found this letter. And Dad would draw us each little pictures of pies and burgers, respectively, next to our names whenever he wrote us.

Here's a picture of Grandaddy around 1942 (I think):

It also kills me because I think when you write a letter like that to your youngest of nine children and you're away fighting your second war, you're probably thinking that it might be all he has left to remember of you, if you don't come home, you know? 

I love how he's trying to tell Dad that he thinks he's brave and a good carpenter and able to take care of Grandmama... and I picture Grandmama reading this aloud to tiny little Dad. And all that... well. Shit. It's touching. There are three of those nine kids still alive, everyone else is gone.

Here's a picture of Dad about the time the letter was written:

And then there's stuff from Mom's side of the family, too. Like, here's a picture my first stepfather Michael took of me when I was seven. I'm on the right, and on the left is my great-great-grandmother Cornelia Parrish Ludlam. She was seven when that was taken of her:

Michael set the whole thing up so that they photos would be kind of mirror images, black dress/white dress, light/dark background... but we're both resting our hands on very similarly patterned wing chairs. The one in my photo was in Mrs. Wilcox's house down the road from where we lived in Carmel. I think seeing Mrs. Wilcox's chair is what made Michael think of doing the whole thing. Or maybe it was Mom's idea. Actually, it would totally have been Mom's idea... she's got a great eye and is very thoughtful about stuff like this. But I digress.

Michael shot a picture of the original photo of Cornelia the First and developed them both together in the darkroom in our basement. He was an interesting guy, that way. He was kind of an asshole in other ways, but I try to remember the nice stuff about him, especially because now he has dementia and is in a nursing home in Hawaii.

Here's another photo Michael took. This one is of Angela Davis, which might give you some idea of the extremes of my life, generally:

He gave that to me when I visited him in Hawaii in 1988, on my way home from backpacking around Asia for a year to get married back in New York. 

I told him I missed the clarity of the Sixties, when I knew who the good guys and bad guys were, and everything just seemed like it would turn out okay.

Michael asked, "Who were the good guys, to you?"

I said, "I don't know... like, Angela Davis."  So he dug this out and sent it home with me. I'll put it up in my kitchen, like always.

And right now I'm really, really happy that all these disparate mementos are under one roof--my Viet Cong flag from a peace march in Berkeley in 1969, and the photo of Dad and his parents and all his siblings right after everyone came home from the war, and pictures of my children from birth onward, and all my favorite books from when I was little, and when I've been a grownup too. Too much to list, seriously.

I try to parse meaning from it all, whether or not that's possible. Maybe I can save the best parts of everyone. Maybe I can learn something from all these shards of the past that's worth passing along to whomever will come in the generations after. Because someone else will have the archivist gene. And maybe, in retrospect, we will all become whole again.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Fun Part: The Final Polish

From Paul's Messy Desk...

I woke up spitting sand.  Someone was kicking me in the ribs.

That's the opening paragraph of my "work-in-progress," which is undergoing the metamorphoses to "book."

It's titled "State vs. Lassiter," and yesterday I received my editor's notes.  I am blessed to have a great editor.  In her notes, she asked two overall character questions and 134 carefully crafted line notes.  It should take two long days to address them all. 

This brings to mind by a question  posed to me on a Linked-In writing group earlier this week.  A budding author asked if I have ever re-written a chapter.

Ever?  Like, when have I not?  If you count re-writes, minor edits, and polishes, I probably re-do each chapter a dozen times BEFORE any editor sees my words.  What about you folks?

As many authors have noted before me, coming down the home stretch is the fun time.  This is when you can shine your work to a high gloss.  This will be my 17th novel, and this part of the process remains my favorite. 

As for the book itself, Jake Lassiter goes on trial as the DEFENDANT after all the evidence points to him in the homicide of his banker/girlfriend.  About half the book consists of a trial for first degree murder.

So, I'm locking myself in today and working on the manuscript this one LAST TIME.

Then, thanks to the generosity of a friend with floor seats, I'll be at the Bucks/Heat playoff game tonight.  Go Heat!

Folks, it just doesn't get any better.

Paul Levine

Monday, April 22, 2013

Boston: One Degree of Separation

Patty here...

I first heard about the Boston Marathon bombing shortly after it happened, via an email from a friend. He was at mile 17, running for charity as many runners were, when a woman near him got a text message reporting there had been a blast near the finish line. He said that within 15 minutes, the police had closed the course and ended the race.

He and other runners were bussed to a church on the campus of Boston College where he waited for approximately two hours until the police allowed him to leave. When he did leave, he stepped into the eerie silence of deserted Boston streets. He walked until he reached a location where cars were allowed and then hitched a ride with a fellow marathoner.

I followed the breaking news, as many people did. Meanwhile, I'd been trying for a couple of days, without success, to reach a member of my writing group. She doesn't always check her emails, so I didn't think much of it. I wanted to know if she planned to meet with us Wednesday night. Wednesday afternoon I received this message:

"Came home from Boston marathon last night. We're safe, but very shaken."

Need I say that I found the news unsettling? When she got to my house that night, she told the group that her husband had been racing for charity and was about two miles from the finish line when the bombs were detonated. She described the pandemonium in the aftermath of the explosions, of people who didn't know where to go or how to find loved ones. There was no cell service, only texting worked. She couldn't reach her husband, so she returned to the hotel to wait. She was in the lobby when police ordered everyone to leave the building. No one knew if there were more bombs.

My friend did leave but shortly afterward she weighed the relative safety of the street versus her room on an upper floor of the hotel and opted for the room. Once inside, she propped open the electronic door with a shoe so she wouldn't get trapped inside in the event of a power outage caused by an explosion.

In the rush to scoop competitors, the reporting by some news agencies turned out to be totally wrong. My theory about the perpetrator's identity formed when I read this:
"The race drew 27,000 runners and has been run since 1897 on Patriots Day, the third Monday in April, which commemorates Lexington and Concord, the two battles in Massachusetts that started the American Revolution. This year, the race coincided with the filing deadline for federal taxes. Security experts said the FBI would undoubtedly look into the possible significance of the date as they tried to find the bomber and the motive."
Another Timothy McVeigh, I thought. However, as soon as I saw that first grainy video shots of the two suspects, I knew that was wrong, too. As it turned out, the bombers were brothers and ethnic Chechens.

Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev (pronounced joe-HARR tsar-NAH-yev)

I attended a wedding in Moscow at the height of the Russian conflict with the subject republic of Chechnya. The bride's father, a retired Colonel in the Russian army, guided us through the city's subway system with steely-eyed watchfulness, scanning the crowd for suspicious characters carrying heavy-looking backpacks. I understood his caution. Many innocent Russian civilians had lost their lives to Chechen separatists' bombs. I understand there is another side to that story, but what I'll never understand is why anybody would target Martin Richard.

Author Dennis Lehane, a Dorchester native, posted these words on his Facebook page shortly after the bombing:
"...It's hard to imagine any people more inspiring than all those people who dashed across Boylston Street within seconds of the first explosion, and rushed to the aid of the injured. Didn't give their own safety a thought. Made me proud to be a member of the human race, which I think was the exact opposite of the effect the bomber was hoping for...So proud to be a Bostonian tonight. So brokenhearted to be one, too."
The actions of first responders and bystanders was indeed heroic, but there were also less visible acts of solidarity and kindness, including the marathoner who gave my friend a ride and the management of the hotel where my other friends were staying that provided a free buffet to stranded runners in sweaty gear and anybody else who wandered in off the street.

In this mad, mad, mad, mad world in which we live, I mourn the loss of those who died and those who were so gravely injured. I also thank whatever gods that be for sparing so many others, including my three friends.

Friday, April 19, 2013

About Boston ....

from Jacqueline

This has been a dreadful week, hasn’t it?  Well, I’m sure loads of good things have happened, and there are people out there celebrating birthdays, vacations, promotions, engagements, a new job, a dream come true.  Yet it’s so sad that all these wonderful things happen while there are people out there bent on killing.  Misguided people, mad people – some of them in positions of power.  People who are misinformed or so damaged by their own experiences, that the only thing they can do is cause harm to other human beings. Or people who want to be somebody, who want to have their fifteen minutes of fame, but in a terrible way.   I’ve written about bombs before on this blog.  Come close to a terrorist bomb and you don’t ever, ever forget it.  My experience of that dreadful proximity happened in London over thirty years ago. 

Writing is my way of life. I am not only a storyteller, but when I’m trying to work things out, I write. I write about conversations, memories, people … and not necessarily with any conclusions.  So this is just me, writing …. 

One of my friends, a paramedic in southern California, told me that, after the London bombings on July 7th, 2005, her department held a session where they watched film of the emergency response teams, and the speed with which triage tents were set up, and everyone did what they had to do like clockwork – “We wouldn’t know how to do that here,” she said.  “We haven’t had the constant practice at dealing with large-scale disasters of that type.”  “Pray you never do,” I said. 
But she had a point. I remember, after 9-11, telling another friend, a British military man well-versed in the nature of terrorism, that I was shocked because people at the airports here were still leaving baggage unattended. I explained that, when I had reported a lone backpack at an airport, I had been told by the official, “Oh don’t worry, someone will pick it up soon.”  My friend offered this explanation: “But Jackie, here in Britain we’ve had time to become vigilant – when you've gone through years during which time not a week goes by without something happening, you get sharper, and you don’t even have to think about it.”  Because I worked in London in the 70’s and 80’s, I am always suspicious of lone backpacks in particular, and I tend to steer around trash cans – I don’t even have to consciously consider it.  However, on my first visit back to the UK after living in the USA for a few years, I was at Charing Cross station. I had an empty drink carton in my hand and was looking everywhere for a trash can, and couldn’t find one. So, I asked a florist who was setting up her stall.  “You’ve been away too long, love – you’ve forgotten the bombs.”  Well, actually, I had only forgotten that those trash cans had been removed – for the very reason that they’re an ideal place to hide a bomb filled with nails, or ball bearings. Yet there’s another reason why this bombing in Boston, and the horrific loss of life and the maiming of innocents has sickened me beyond measure.

I love Boston – was there just a couple of weeks ago on my book tour – and I remember so well my first visit to the city. I was working in London for a company headquartered not far from Boston, and was sent out to the office with my boss for a series of sales meetings. Very exciting – I was about twenty-five and it was my first overseas business trip.  Well, you know how it is, at the end of the day everyone’s pretty tired, but our hosts were determined that the British contingent would not be going back to their impersonal hotel rooms, so they took us to a bar where you could get a wholesome meal and relax.  It was while we were there, laughing over something that had happened during the day, that I became aware of men going from table to table and people reaching for their wallets or into their pockets and putting money – quite a lot of money – into an old coffee can.  I thought it was a collection for one of the regulars who’d fallen on hard times, or a local hospital.  Something like that.  Then they came to our table, and because I couldn’t quite believe what was happening, it took me a second or two to really take in what they were doing.  They asked me to put my hand in my pocket and put money into a can for the IRA.  I felt sick, really sick, because these guys were an intimidating group, and my co-workers, to get them to move on, were all pulling out folding money.  I looked at my boss, and we both shook our heads.  I had seen what bombs could do, I had been to Belfast and I had been in London, and there was no way I was going to have anything to do with it.  Such was the response to our refusal, that our co-workers decided we had to get the heck out of there.

And I still remember trying to explain myself.  “But they just don’t understand,” I said.  “They just don’t understand where that money’s going, and what these bombs do to human beings – to little children, for God’s sake.”

I confess, I’ve been feeling pretty sick about that ever since Monday, ever since I flicked on my laptop and saw photos of the carnage in Boston.   And I’ve been trying to get to grips with it in my mind - though I can't blame myself for my thinking at twenty-five, or what sparked my response to those men collecting money. You see, I think it is beyond tragic that people anywhere are put in a position of having to get used to violence and terror – and I don’t care if that violence is in a drug-addled Mexican border town, or a London sink estate, or whether it’s Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq, or New York or Boston or a school full of precious children somewhere in the world.  We shouldn’t have to get used to terrible things.  I hope I never cease to be shocked and saddened, or feel the wrench of memory in my heart.  I wish I didn’t give trash cans such a wide berth, and take a second look at people with obviously heavy back-packs when I’m walking down a city street, and without even thinking.  But I do. 

So, that’s me, just writing out loud.  Naively trying to work it all out after so many years.

As we hold the people of Boston in our hearts – and, indeed, the people of so many countries, for the Boston Marathon is an international event representing the world’s citizenry – I wish you peace this weekend, and joy.  Life goes on in tandem with remembrance and respect.  And living our lives as well as we can and reaching out to each other in community is the very best we can do in the face of terror, in my humble opinion.  

And as an addendum (I am now in Toronto, Canada, checking my post before it goes out tomorrow), I have just remembered the website started just after the London 7/7 bombings, with the message WE ARE NOT AFRAID.  People from all over the world came together to post their photos and the same message, in solidarity with London.  Solidarity is a good word - it's what people who create terror want to destroy, our connection to each other.  But as has been seen in London and other cities where such things have happened, it will bring the people of Boston even closer.

Still writing and thinking ....

Monday, April 15, 2013

KOBE! KOBE! kobe: when hope fades

Patty here...

Today I had planned to present a comparative analysis of the Iliad and the Odyssey and how my findings will be a game changer in land use and forest management. But then last Wednesday on my way to my writing group I was rear-ended on the 405 Freeway in a 3-car collision. When I heard the sound of metal crunching metal, I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a car barreling toward me. At the last minute the driver tried to swerve to avoid me, but failed. Added to the fact that he was following too close (3-second rule, people!) he was propelled forward by the car that had just hit him.

As luck would have it, a couple of CHP officers witnessed the accident. They had somebody stopped on the shoulder, which is probably why the accident happened in the first place. What do people find so fascinating about a fellow driver getting a ticket? If I figure that out I might work it into my forest management theory.

If my accident weren't enough stress, I was preparing to teach a class on Sunday at the Thousand Oaks Library, dealing with several kerfuffles related to volunteer events I'm planning: last minute cancellations, participant meltdowns, and general running around fixing things that need to be fixed.

And then this happened:

For those of you who don't follow NBA basketball in general or Los Angeles Lakers basketball in particular, Kobe Bryant's torn Achilles' tendon in the game with the Utah Jazz is one of the worst things that could have happened to our city. Kobe is our angry son, our saint, our brother, our BFF all rolled into one. We've watched him grow up and now we've witnessed the injury that could end his career. Kobe pushed his 35 year old body to the limits to propel the Lakers into the playoffs. Now we are asking: Did this have to happen?

Recent turmoil in Lakerland reads like a soap opera. Flamboyant and transformational owner, in failing health, turns over the franchise to two of his children: the business whiz daughter who is engaged to the beloved, winning, Zen Master coach and the son who makes seemingly boneheaded decisions on the player/coaching side. Beloved Zen Master coach retires amidst rumors that the son doesn't like him. Son hires replacement coach who seems like a nice guy but is all wrong for the team. Many losses ensue. Son then fires coach and approaches Zen Master about returning to save the team. Then son blindsides Zen Master by hiring somebody else who is also wrong for the team and worse, he does so without notifying Zen Master before the press gets wind of the betrayal. Fans and sports writers alike are outraged over shabby treatment of Beloved Zen Master. New coach arrives, bad-mouths players in the press and generally acts like a horse's patootie. He forgets the basic rule of leadership: the buck stops here. Injuries and more losses ensue. Fans are not amused.

I love professional basketball and I love Los Angeles Times sports writers, especially Bill Plaschke who I can always count on to tell it like it is. Plaschke doesn't have much confidence in Jimmy Buss. His April 13 headline about Kobe's injury reads: "The season just walked out the door." At the end of the article, Plaschke says this about Kobe: "He has crumbled, and, for now, basketball's greatest franchise will crumble with him."


Happy Tax Day!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Random Thoughts ....

from Jacqueline

My God-daughter came to stay with me during the holidays. She’s currently on a year abroad, studying here in the USA and soaking up life on this side of the pond. I think she and her pals are soaking up cheap wine in copious quantities too, and having a lot of fun!  But I noticed, while she was with me, that the “in” word of the moment is “random.”   Everything was “random.”  People she met were “random” or a restaurant was “random.”  Along with BRILLIANT! and “MASSIVE” it seems “RANDOM” is an in word among Brits at home.  

So, in honor of all that randomness, here are some of the really random thoughts that ran through my mind this week – and I promise you, there are more where this little smattering came from.  Maybe it’s all that book tour travel and airports that does this to me.


I want to know why, when commenting on football games here in America, the announcers refer to the line of defense as “deeee-fense.”  In no other situation is the word pronounced in this manner here in the USA.  There is no Department of Deeee-fense.  There is no Secretary of Deeee-fense, and people do not arm themselves for the sake of deeee-fense. So, why in football?  I really want to know. My husband’s response, when asked the question was, “Well, it’s just how we do it here.”  

Sorry pal, not good enough.  Someone must know the answer. What say you?


I was watching television while hotel-bound this past week.  I do not have a TV at home, so I feel rather good when I surf those channels and realize I really am not missing much.  However, during these rare few moments of viewing, I watched an advertisement for a certain type of super-glue.  There was a demonstration of the glue fixing the broken handle back on a jug, and the jug then being put through its paces and not falling to bits again.  I wondered about that, because I had used the same glue to attach a broken handle back on my favorite mug.  It did not work.  Then … THEN … the kicker.  “As used by airlines across the country.”  This announcement was followed by a close-up of an aircraft mechanic liberally slopping the glue all over an engine at the place where it meets the plane.  This was not a very good thing to watch, was it?  Every time I boarded a ‘plane after that, I felt the handle of my favorite mug falling off in my hand.  Not terribly comforting.


I’m getting a bit fed up with the word “did” messing up our sense of tense.  More and more you hear and read a line such as the following:  “He did say that there would be a moratorium (or whatever).”  What happened to “He said?”  By the time I was about eight, you would have been loudly corrected in class for saying, “Did say …” or committing a similar act of tense demolition.  

There are loads of similar errors in speech from people who should know better, but “Did say” gets to me a bit.   Even my mother is doing it.


This is something I used to try to ignore – that when I first came to America, I discovered there was a collective known as a “bunch.”  You would hear people talk about their friends who came in bunches.  “I went out with a bunch of people.”  Or, “I saw a bunch of movies over the weekend.”  “We went out for a bunch of food.”  Daffodils come in bunches, not people or food.  

However, I have become very used to this locution, but was reminded of it while in the line at the Post Office a couple of weeks ago.  A man walked to the counter and said to the clerk, “Give me a bunch of stamps.”  (Apart from anything else, I always think “Give me … “ sounds so rude).  But a bunch of stamps?  The clerk seemed quite confused and asked how many would be in his ideal bunch, to which he had no answer.  Eventually after some prodding, he said, “Well, I guess 700.”  A whole bunch of people in the line thought that was pretty funny.


My brother is at it again.  Ever since I was a kid, he has been able to pull the wool over my eyes, to have a bit of fun at my expense by telling me something that is far from true, but with such a straight face that I have believed him.  I know, I should have learned my lesson, but I fall for it every time.  I remember, when I was about 12 and John 8 years old, I was reading a book, but looked up from my page and noticed that he was sitting on a chair with his finger in his eye.  Frankly, he was probably scratching his eyelid or something.  “Get your finger out of your eye,” I said.  “You could hurt yourself.”  To which my brother replied, “Did you know, if you press onto your eye hard enough, you can see upside-down?”  Needless to say, I put my finger in my eye and was pressing really hard, saying, “It’s not working for me.”  Then my brother was curled up laughing.  My mother came into the room, looked at me and said, “Get your finger out of your eye, you’ll do yourself some damage.”  There are more stories where that one came from.  Now, of course, we are older, much older.  Last week I was telling my brother that I might need to have a biopsy on my eyelid (an infection caused by flying horse manure won’t heal properly).  I recounted how I had been informed that the biopsy might cause one eyelid to droop a bit, and that the doctor had then told me, “You have droopy lids anyway.”  I was so surprised, and shared the whole story with my brother – that I apparently have these droopy lids. He replied, “It’s a feature of people who have origins in the area of London that Dad came from, you know.”  He then proceeded to name all these people with droopy eyelids, including Michael Caine.  “Don’t worry about it,” he said, “it goes back to tribal London, and your eyelids are just something you’ve inherited from the tribe.”  I’ve been thinking about it, and I do believe he’s kidding me.  But it seems I may well have eyelids like Michael Caine.

I’ve had many more silly random thoughts this week, but only had space for five - plenty, I hear you say!  Now you know – I’m becoming unhinged.

And an update!  Last week’s post about my Carry On bag, designed by the amazing Yali Derman (www.yalisbags.com), led to a good number of the gorgeous Carry On bags being sold – which means more money for the hospital where Yali endured treatment for leukemia as a child.  

Here’s an update I received from  Dori Meyers, a Board Member for the organization which receives proceeds from sale of the bags:

Yali's personal journey of inspiration and healing continues still today.  Recent milestones include a return last summer to Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago (formerly Children's Memorial) for an internship on the hospital's hematology and oncology floor.  It was a way for her story to come full circle, giving back to the hospital that saved her life 13 years ago.  This spring she graduates from Penn's nursing program and in the fall, will begin graduate school and work at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.  Despite a busy schedule, her passion for design and philanthropy continue through her work with Yali's Carry On® and K.I.D.S.S. for Kids.”

I just love toting that bag around with me – it gives me another chance to tell someone about Yali and the great contribution she’s made with her carry on bag.

Have a lovely weekend!

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Is Law School a Sham? Too Many Sharks Already?

From the Former Law Office of Paul Levine...

Are law schools suckering students with the promise of non-existent jobs and the certainty of crushing debt?  (Should someone be shooting law school deans?  In crime fiction, I mean).

Steven Harper's "Law School is a Sham" is adapted from his book "The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis."  Here's his take:

"Law school applicants continue to overwhelm the number of places available for them, ignoring data that on their face should propel most aspiring attorneys away from a legal career. Only about half of today’s graduates can expect to find a full-time position requiring a legal degree. Meanwhile, law schools have grown in number and size to accommodate demand without regard to whether there will be jobs for their graduates. 

"The first part of the equation— student demand—is the product of media images projecting the glamour of attorneys’ lives, the perception that a legal degree ensures financial security, and law school’s status as the traditional default option for students with no idea what to do with their lives. The second part of the equation—the increase in law school supply—was made possible by a revolutionary change in the method of legal education more than a century ago. It gave educators an easy way to transform law schools into profit centers for their universities. Decades later, student loans would provide the funding."

Mama, don't let your kids grow up to be lawyers.  That seems to be the current lesson, though the cream of the crop -- top grads at top schools -- are earning upwards of $160,000 a year right out of school with the big New York firms.

I practiced law for 17 years before I realized my work had about the same social utility as the current plague of pythons in the Everglades.  Yet the education (and the work) prepared me for my next career as a crime fiction novelist and screenwriter.

So, when I'm asked whether a young person should go to law school, I'm often stuck for an answer.  If the person has a damn certain career goal -- environmental lawyer, prosecutor, tax lawyer -- I'd say go for it.  If the person is considering law school because he/she doesn't know what to do with that B.A. degree, I'd say forget it.  Any thoughts?

Paul L.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Do Not Call Me

Patty here...

Lately, I've been flooded with telemarketing calls. Many are robocalls that feature a man's authoritative voice shouting at me: "THE FBI WARNS..." or "DON'T HANG UP!" I find these calls almost as annoying as the smarmy real guy who doesn't know me from Adam but who has been schooled to overuse my name in hopes I am one of those people who responds to chumminess. To me, both approaches are like fingernails scratching on a blackboard.

Many of the calls are from charities, colleges or politicians trying to raise money but most are from home improvement companies, and I think I know why. A year ago I had my house painted. I interviewed several individuals and companies and finally chose one. At the beginning, the contractor showed promise but like so many of my other painting sagas, this one ended in disaster. I finally had to pull a Donald Trump and tell him, "You're fired." The commencement of the calls was too coincidental. That's why I suspect the guy sold my name to a telemarketing company.

During the first wave of Can-I-paint-your-house? calls, I was sympathetic. These are hard times for many small businesses, so I was polite, telling the guy on the line that my house was newly painted and wishing him luck. I also asked him to remove my name from his list. However, when I started to get multiple calls per day, every day, I lost my cheery disposition.

I'm not saying all painting contractors spend too much time inhaling fumes, just the one I hired. Okay, and maybe a few others.

A previous painter claimed he was a Hollywood producer who only took my painting gig while he was between films. He'd come to the house at ten, cover a wall with primer and knock off at three. Then he would head to my liquor cabinet and pour himself a Scotch...or three.

Another painter was making progress on the job until he walked into my living room and spotted a carved, wood head of Saint Antonio mounted on the wall. The guy genuflected, made the sign of the cross and fled the house muttering scriptures, leaving behind all of his brushes, drop cloths and tools of the trade. He never came back.

I'll cut the Saint Antonio guy some slack. With all these junk calls, I feel as if I've been visited by a Biblical plague. Locusts come to mind. I've filed complaints at the www.donotcall.gov website but there are so many bogus numbers to collect I've given up. Luckily, I'm wise to the telemarketers' robo-game. If nobody answers within three seconds, I hang up.

Even the DoNotCall.gov people are not immune to robocall scams. This message is on their website:
"Scammers have been making phone calls claiming to represent the National Do Not Call Registry. The calls claim to provide an opportunity to sign up for the Registry. These calls are not coming from the Registry or the Federal Trade Commission, and you should not respond to these calls. To add your number to the Registry you can call 888-382-1222 from the phone you wish to register, or go click on "Register a Phone Number" in the left column of this page."
Here's an interesting Huffington Post article on how to stop annoying telemarketing calls.

And I swear to you, as I'm writing this post, my phone is ringing.



Yeah. Right.


Happy Monday!

Friday, April 05, 2013

A Right Carry On ....

from Jacqueline

This week I am going to tell you about my tote bag, the one I use all the time.  And you menfolk, do not scramble to get off the page, because I think you will like this story.  So SIT!  STAY!  There, now you’ve been told.

I am a bit of a bag/purse-a-holic. Always have been. Always will be.  But there’s one bag I come back to all the time now, and in a way, all other purses and bags vanish into the mist beside this one – quite literally.  OK, so it’s a bit garish, and very bright, but I get compliments on it all the time – which allows me to tell the story of the bag and send more people to the website where they can buy one.  You see, I have a Yali Bag.  And now I’m going to tell you about it.

I first read about Yali on some online news site.  It was a compelling story.  Yali is a young woman who spent much of her childhood in hospital fighting leukemia.  A year in the hospital is a long haul for anyone, especially a child who has to go through rounds of chemo and a bone marrow transplant.  For this kid, what kept her spirit alive was the creative art therapy provided in the children’s oncology unit of the hospital where she spent so much time.

When she was 16, this creative soul had the opportunity to work with that mistress of the bright bag, Kate Spade, and set up her own trademark – Yali’s Carry On.  The words “carry on” come up time and again when you are facing a life threatening illness – so it was an inevitable leap to create a carry-on bag bursting with color and life to remind us of that we can carry on through any of life’s challenges. Yali used the peacock as her talisman – the peacock sheds each feather during the course of a year, and replenishes as it goes along.  Isn’t it wonderful?

When my cousin, Martine, was in hospital for the best part of a year, I sent her a Yali bag – more than anything I wanted her to carry on fighting leukemia.  We didn’t want to lose her.  Sadly, she passed away without ever using the bag, so her husband sent it back to me, and I have used it ever since.  But it doesn’t make me sad to use it, instead it fills me with joy – not only because my cousin was one of the most colorful people I have ever met in my life (oh yes, I remember those pink hotpants, the orange t-shirt, yellow socks and bright white tennis shoes – all worn together, at the same time …) and it reminds me of her, but because Yali’s Carry On Bag makes people smile when they ask me about it.  And then I tell them the story and they can go and buy a bag exactly the same and more money goes to a good cause.

And Yali?  According to her website she is training to be a children’s oncology nurse, not a handbag designer after all – that’s just a sideline.  I was asked about the bag three times today, while taking a walk in Cambridge, MA, where I am currently on my book tour (off to LA by the time you read this).  Those people took down the website details, and I hope they’ll buy a bag just like mine.

Have a lovely weekend.  Buy a bag …. www.yaliscarryon.com

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

From the nest of Paul Levine

Many years ago, a legal client who was an artist couldn't afford to pay my fee.  Instead, he offered to do my portrait.  I think the likeness is remarkable, don't you? 

Monday, April 01, 2013

Easter Schmeester

Patty here...

Yesterday was Easter and I kept my Sunday traditions: I did the laundry and vacuumed cat hair off the furniture. Late afternoon was spent with my accountant, pouring over my tax return.

Easter is the holiday that holds the fewest childhood memories for me. I'm not a foodie, so the day isn't associated with eating, other than the smell of vinegar used to dye Easter eggs, and being forced to comsume those eggs in the days after. Blech! Our family must have had Easter dinner but I have no recollection of the menu. Ham? My mother wasn't a gourmand by any stretch of the imagination, but she liked to bake so there were hot cross buns, which I don't see much anymore.

My mother would reprise the previous years' Easter baskets and "grass" and fill them with a few candy eggs and a hollow chocolate bunny. Post holiday, she packed the baskets away for the following year.

One of my favorite Easter gifts was a stuffed bunny with a squeaker in its tail. It was lime green with white markings. Metal strips in its ears allowed me to bend them to reflect changes in bunny-tude. Ears up: eagerness or surprise. One up, one down: jaunty, devil-may-care. Ears down: shy or clandestine.

My mother took my sister and me to Easter services at our church. My dad stayed at home to read the newspaper. He was a lapsed Catholic who had had a difficult time of it. He figured if the hand of God had been guiding his life, he might have a better chance on his own.

Most years I got a new Easter dress, which was always a starched, chiffon-y or taffeta-y confection in pastel shades of green, lavender or yellow with a full shirt and layers of crinolines underneath that made me look as if I were in the World Cup Square Dancing competition.

A pair of stiff patent-leather Mary Janes completed the getup. My mother wore a hat and gloves with shoes that matched her purse. As we grew older, she sometimes bought us Easter corsages.

One of my Easter dresses. That's my sister on the right, wearing her big-girl corsage.

So, what were (are) your Easter or Passover traditions?

Happy Monday!