Tuesday, September 13, 2016

I was terrified.
Was it a big hairy spider? A home invader? A tornado? A threatened lawsuit? A burst pipe? A volcanic eruption (in New England, that would really be something else!) ... ?
No. My computer refused to boot. It got to the "welcome" screen then just sat there. Going around and around and around. It has never done that. It was fine when we left to go to the grocery store. No blue screens of death or anything at all. It was computering along uncomplaining. Fine, thank you.

But. It. Would. Not. Boot.

I put it in "safe mode with networking" and restored it to the last save point ... two days ago. And now, it's fine again. No idea what happened except for a tiny, brief message that said "new drivers installed" then vanished -- this while it was in "safe mode." What drivers? I didn't install any new equipment and the only driver I regularly upgrade is for my graphics card.

72-Alien Computer-B_06

So I have no idea what happened, but my heart is pounding and I've got a headache. I think my blood pressure just went into the stratosphere.
Although the computer is essential to my life, in fact everything on it would be easy enough to restore. Photographs and documents are safely stored on two external hard drives. My virtual life is on various clouds somewhere out in the Ether World -- WordPress, Google, the bank, Amazon and probably a few others I can't think of offhand. Other than Photoshop which I have on DVD, all my software is easy enough to replace by downloading.  Yet having my computer not boot filled me with dread and a horrible feeling of powerlessness. I think I'm less afraid of spiders ... and that's saying something because I'm really phobic about arachnids.

I will never know what happened. A virus? A bad download? Nothing is supposed to download to this system without my permission. It's one of the reasons I don't like Windows 10. You can't turn off automatic downloads. I hate when things happen and I have no control over them.

If I wasn't sure how important my computer is in my world, this absolutely showed me the bare, ugly truth. I need my computer like I need air. How did it come to this?
And wasn't it a long way down.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Dateline: Uxbridge, Massachusetts 

It was an ordinary day. Early September in southern New England. Cool. Almost crisp. Some leaves had already changed and they shone bright yellow, signalling the rapid approach of Autumn.
An average kind of day — except, as it turned out, we had run out of half-and-half.
In many — perhaps most —  homes, this would be no big deal. Certainly not an emergency requiring an immediate voyage into town. But. This is a household of addicted coffee aficionados. There was no way we could get through 24 hours without half-and-half for our coffee.
No. Regular milk is not the same. Someone — okay, Garry — would have to go to the store to buy half-and-half. The nearest shop — the deli — sells only tiny containers of the stuff and often has none at all. So it was off to Hannaford.
Hannaford, the grocery store we patronize, is not the biggest or fanciest. Au contraire, it’s the smallest and least impressive of the local supermarkets, part of a small Maine-based chain. We like it because the prices are not bad, the produce is fresh and often locally grown. You don’t need a special card to get the discounts and they give a 5% discount to Senior Citizens every Tuesday. Most important, they are easy to get to and have ample parking.
I was in the middle of a book — I usually am — so I didn’t pay a lot of attention as Garry went out. Not a big deal. Just the aforementioned half-and-half and maybe pick up something for dinner, too. He came back a couple of hours later. Which was a bit longer than such errands usually take. Garry looked amused.
“There is shock and confusion in downtown Uxbridge, today,” he announced.
“Shock and confusion?”
“Yes,” Garry said. “I thought it might be delayed PTSD because of it being 9/11 and all. Everyone in Hannaford looked stunned.”
“Because?” I questioned.
“The credit card readers were down. You couldn’t pay with your bank or credit card. You had to pay cash or use a check. Everyone looked shell-shocked. Thousand-yard stares. Stumbling, vacant-eyed around the store.”
“Holy mackerel,” I said. “I can only imagine.”
“You could see them mumbling to themselves. They kept saying ‘cash!’ … but I could tell they were confused and were not sure what to do.”
“Wow,” I said. “Oh cruel fate! How awful! What did you do?” I asked. Garry seemed to have survived with his sense of humor intact and brought home the half-and-half.
“Oh, I paid with cash. I had enough on me.”
He went off to the kitchen chuckling to himself. I hoped everyone would be okay back in town. A shock like that can haunt people for a long time. Cash. Imagine that.
Everyone will be talking about this for weeks. The day the machines went down at Hannaford. That’s huge.

Monday, September 15, 2014


It’s been a while since I finished reading the Bert Lahr biography, “Notes on a Cowardly Lion“, written by his son, John. I am still emotionally involved.
Why does a book written more than 40 years ago about a show business figure who peaked more than 70 years ago still sit front and center in my mind? I’m a retired TV and radio news reporter with more than 40 years in “the business”. The “news biz” is journalism, but it’s also performance, even for those of us who strive for objectivity.
Part of the job is celebrity too. When you appear on television five or six days a week for more than four decades, you become a household face. People ask for your autograph. You receive special treatment in stores and restaurants. Twelve years into retirement, folks still recognize me, tell how they grew up watching me on TV and ask for autographs. Mine is a regional celebrity although I’ve encountered fans almost everywhere I’ve traveled in the United States and overseas. I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated my celebrity. Yes, I miss it a bit when I’m not recognized but I don’t get depressed if I go unnoticed. I needed to share a little of my life because it puts my feelings about the story of Bert Lahr’s life into perspective. I really understood in a very personal way where the man was coming from.
Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion in Wizard of Oz...
I enjoyed the biographical side of the book. It speaks to history, the history of vaudeville and burlesque, show business venues that are frequently misrepresented. As a self-proclaimed trivia maven, I received a little education. Case in point: Clifton Webb, long perceived as a middle-aged effete, film actor actually was a well-received song and dance man in vaudeville. I learned the difference between vaudeville and burlesque. I came to appreciate the art form of what I used to perceive as Bert Lahr’s overly broad slapstick comedy. I understood how Lahr’s art form suffered at the hands of Hollywood film directors who tried to minimize his well honed craft and squeeze it into their movie concept of musical comedy.
Lahr’s comic genius never really had a chance  to shine in Hollywood. “The Wizard of Oz” was the exception. But that success also spelled disaster in Tinseltown because Lahr never again received a film role like the Cowardly Lion. Years later, he would find similar frustration with television which tried to restrict his comedic moves in variety shows. Lahr didn’t think much of TV comic legends like Milton Berle and Sid Caesar. Ironically, both Berle and Caesar spoke highly of Lahr in lengthy interviews with me — even as they lamented the fading of their celebrity. But that’s another story. Back to Bert Lahr.  Born into poverty, Lahr was always very conscious about being financially secure.
BertLahrEven when he returned to Broadway where he found his greatest success over the years, Lahr never felt financially secure even though he was earning top star salaries. In later years, as a TV pitchman for Potato Chips, Lahr earned more money for a thirty-second commercial than he ever did for starring in a play, movie or TV special. He still didn’t feel financially secure.
Bert Lahr did find some unexpected late professional success with surprising turns in work like “Waiting For Godot” co-starring with the likes of E.G. Marshall. Lahr savored critical acclaim, but was never satisfied even when he received it. For all of his professional and financial success, he was an unhappy man. He was insecure as an aspiring comedian/actor seeking stardom. He was insecure as a star thinking others were always trying to undermine him. He was insecure as an aging, respected legend believing people had forgotten him even though he was recognized everywhere he went. Lahr was miserable as a husband and father — demanding but not giving. Lahr desperately needed the audience — the laughter, the applause — throughout his life. Sadly,  he never appreciated the love and admiration he got from his family.
As the curtain closed on his life — with his loved ones gathered around him — Lahr still longed for his audience and their laughter and applause. He couldn’t let it go and move on, nor appreciate the good things life offered him. Lahr’s loneliness haunted me. The deeper I got into the book, the more painful I found reading his biography. I know first-hand how intoxicating and addictive celebrity is, especially when you fail to appreciate real life. Bert Lahr was never able to see the joys and sorrows of family and friends as “the real thing” that makes it all worthwhile. It’s the celebrity that is unreal and ephemeral.
It’s the people who love you who will sustain you after the curtain closes and the audience departs the theatre. That Lahr was never able to recognize what he had and accept the love that was there for him was his personal tragedy.
It’s a fine biography, but not a joyful reading experience. It is in many ways a cautionary tale, a reminder of how important it is to keep ones perspective and ones feet on the ground.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


No matter how clearly we think we are expressing ourselves, someone is going to misunderstand it. It's THE problem with electronic communication. Actually, it's a problem with any communication which isn't face-to-face. People probably used to misunderstood each other's handwritten letters. 

The difference between the old, snail mail method and the modern snappier email method is the speed of response time. When you wrote it out in longhand (remember longhand??), you had time to notice if you were being hasty in your response. There was time to rethink, rewrite, moderate your response.

:-D I believe the :-) was invented entirely to convey that what you are writing isn't meant negatively :-(

I use emoticons liberally, though they are considered bad English (they aren't English at all) and childish. Children are good at conveying feelings, so I'm not averse to being childish if it improves communications a little.
I tend to be brusque, both in person and in writing. Short. I try to be witty, but it doesn't always come across as wit. Sometimes, it just sound mean. My attempts to be "cute" can easily backfire and be misread as snide, snippy, and dismissive. 

So, if you think I am being an asshole, you should know:

1) If I'm being snide, snippy, or dismissive, it'll be obvious. You won't have to guess. No wondering what I mean. I'm not that subtle. Really.
2) My wrists hurt. My typing is getting worse. Of the emerging issues caused by pain in wrists, the most malignant are missing words. Not misspelled or otherwise mangled. Words that aren't there at all. Particularly unfortunate when the missing word is "not" -- exactly reversing the meaning of a thought yet appearing grammatical.


Lacking fonts that clearly express sarcasm or irony -- both of which are better expressed by tone of voice, body language, and facial expression -- maybe we (me) should consider alternate forms. This is difficult since I have always tended to be sarcastic. (I used to be worse, but I'm in recovery.) 

That kind of wit (?) doesn't translate well in text. Not yet, anyhow and until it does, I'm considering humor less likely to be misread.

The second solution isn't a solution, but might help. Before you decide you've been insulted, dismissed, treated with scorn, etc., check with the comment's originator. Make sure what you know is what was meant. That it wasn't a complex typo, or a failed joke.


It's easy to read everything as a form of criticism. I've seen people slide into this by degrees until they successfully misinterpret everything. You need some toughness to live in the virtual world. You also need patience, in the sense of not jumping to conclusions. Finally, you have to remember you are not the center of everyone's world.

One of my many problems with the whiners, complainers, oh woe is me-ers is they have sunk so deep into their own "issues," they forget other people have lives. People can be brusque -- dismissive -- and it hasn't got anything to do with you. They are responding to something going on in their world to which you are not privy.

Usually, you will never know what is or was going on unless they choose to tell you. Because many of us like to keep our private things private. I deal with intimate issues intimately, face-to-face. Or telephone-to-telephone. Not on my blog.


Which brings me to the final point.

Bloggers can easily contact each other privately. If you have a bone to pick with someone -- or think you do -- try email. Directly. To the individual. Even if your position is righteous and your cause is just, public isn't the best place to resolve a dispute.

Why not? Because it invites strangers to jump in -- which won't help anyone fix anything. Because once you've publicly insulted someone or hurt their feelings, they may be disinclined to forgive you. Ever.

And finally, because squabbling about personal stuff online is tacky. Totally teenage, very Facebook, and not classy at all.


An episode of Law and Order got me thinking (again) about something I've thought about off and on for a while. The subject is "Under what circumstances might I commit murder -- or kill someone -- for any reason?"

We all say stuff. "I'm going to kill you," doesn't mean you are actually planning a murder. You are blowing off steam, saying "I'm so angry, I've run out of words to express it." Garry pointed out that television and movies would be pretty dull if everyone behaved sensibly.
blood evidenceWe yell at each other. Sometimes there's a slammed door and I occasionally rattle the pots and pans, but we don't throw things. Don't break things. Don't kick the dogs or get in the car and drive like crazy people. We don't binge drink or comfort ourselves with drugs.

We get angry with each other, though. We think about breaking a window. Throwing a piece of crockery. Then reconsider. Having that picture window replaced would cost a bundle. Never mind.

Under no circumstances do you hurt your pets.
In short, we are rational. We are never so angry we can't see the consequences of our behavior.

I think most people have a hard-wired inhibition against killing people. If we didn't, the world would be a much worse place than it already is. You have to train soldiers to kill. Young men won't (normally) kill other young men unless you break down their inhibitions against killing. That's what boot camp is about, right? Right. You knew that.

Garry said something perceptive, smart, reminding me of one of many reasons we're together. He said "That's why it's good we have things like Facebook. People can go there to rant, rage, carry on. No knives, guns, bats. No corpses. Angry people vent. No one really gets hurt. Like the guys on the sports radio stations who call in screaming about the Red Sox. They're just letting off steam. It's just as well there are safe places for them to do it." (Note: That explains Facebook. Nothing explains Twitter.)

Maybe it's because Garry has seen so much violence and the results of violence. It was part of his job. Not the part he liked, but something he had to accept to be a reporter. I couldn't have done it.

As to my original question, what would it take to make me kill another person? I don't know.

Would I kill to protect my life style or for money -- even a great deal of money? No.

Would I kill to protect someone? I'd want to, but could I? I'm not sure I could kill to protect myself. Many people can't and lose their own lives because they hesitate. 

Television, fiction, and mythology notwithstanding, most people's instinct is to not kill.
Inconvenient, but it may be the saving grace of the human race.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Ouch! That really hurts! My back’s been a mess since I was a kid. Fell off one horse too many. Rebuilt in 1967 — fusion and laminectomy using saws and chisels — long before micro surgery and instrumentation. I’m not special because I deal with pain. I’ve got plenty of company. It’s just sometimes, I feel like I’ve got too much company. We’re all squished together in an over-crowded lifeboat. Sinking. Together.
Me at 20, a year post spinal fusion.
I’ve had a lot of problems with my back over the years and the fusion, which was bone paste made from a piece of my hip, began to disintegrate about 25 years ago, to be replaced by a sheathing of arthritic calcification. That’s not such a bad thing because without the arthritis, I’d (literally) fall apart.
Looking at pictures of me in years gone by, I got to wondering how the long winding road of life landed me here. How did the bright-eyed woman become this creaking achy old thing fighting to keep moving under her own power?
Who is this person?
She doesn’t look or act like me. I can vouch for this because I used to be her, but now I am not at all sure who I am or whose body this is. While I slept, someone slipped in an imposter body. I would jump right on the imposter theory except being me is not something any sane person would want. If I had a say in the matter, I would be healthier, wealthier and younger. Some other body, but I’d keep the brain. I like that piece of me.
Life changes, sometimes in a split seconds.
stages of spondylolythesis
I’m grade 4. It’s only part of the problem. That’s the way it usually works. You don’t have a single problem, you have a basket of related problems.
Remember Christopher Reeve? One minute, he was a big, handsome, strapping movie star. A dreadful split second later, he was someone else.
My down hill slide occurred at the pace at which bones and joints calcify. I broke my back when I was a kid. I was reconstructed when I was 19. For the next 35 years, I refused to pay any attention to my spine. I was not going to be disabled. Not me. It was mind over matter and I am strong.
Turns out, mind over matter only takes you so far. Seven years ago, I began to have trouble walking. My balance became erratic. I lost sensation in my feet and miscellaneous reflexes disappeared. I went to doctors, orthopedic hot shots. All of them said I need a new spinal fusion, the old one having fallen apart over the long years. Diagnosis: Horrible spine. Solution: New fusion in which I get screwed together using metal rods. After surgery, I would be in even more pain than now, but my spine would be stable. Say what? This surgery would be the 21st century version of the surgery I had in 1967.
I said Hell no and took my case to the top spine guy in Boston, the Supreme Court of spinal diagnosis.
He said I don’t need surgery. More to the point, he said the surgery wouldn’t solve my problems. Now I heard: “Your back has got you through this far, it’ll take you the rest of the way. Pain control, gentle exercise, and recognize your limits. Don’t do anything stupid.” Like fall off a horse? Lift heavy packages?
There are a lot of members of the back pain club. After you join the club, you usually get a lifetime membership. I finally discovered I have a problem I can’t fix. No amount of persistence, research, medical attention or cleverness is going to make it go away. So I’ve designed the world to make my back happy. We have a back-friendly home. From our adjustable bed, to the reclining sofa, our place is kind to spines.

There’s no moral to this story. It’s just life. If you don’t die young, odds are you hurt. The years roll on, pain gets worse.
I’ve had to accept reality but I don’t have to like it. Sooner or later we all face an intractable problem. Or several. It’s a nasty shock, especially if you’ve always believed you are unstoppable.
When you hit that wall, I recommend very comfortable furniture.

Saturday, January 11, 2014


Despite my passion for masked heroes, I was always preferred Superman to Batman. There were a couple of reasons. Superman was genuinely super. Invulnerable. And moreover — HE COULD FLY! Never underestimate a guy who can fly at supersonic speeds. A boyfriend like that could prove really useful on a day-to-day basis. I mean really. Hey, Supe, can you give me a hand moving to that new apartment ?
Me Not Super
Hey, Supe … the roof leaks … could you take a look at it? And that big boulder in the backyard is really ruining my plans for a new garage. You think you could relocate it maybe? And build a foundation for the garage while you are at it? It will just take you a couple of minutes …
So, I’m a Superman kind of gal. Above and beyond that delightful and very useful powers, I just loved that no one recognizes him when he wears his glasses. As a long-time eyeglass wearer, I tried it myself.
“Garry,” I say to get his attention. I then whip my glasses off, stare meaningfully into his eyes and ask “Who am I?”
He laughs. So I do it again, but he just laughs harder.
I persist and try this on friends, relatives and near total strangers, but alas, no one thinks I’m Wonderwoman or Supergirl.
Do you think I need a costume? Or is the gray hair giving me away?

Thursday, December 26, 2013


After months in a cryo-tube, they finally woke me. What a headache! Sheesh. And holy moly, I really had to go to the bathroom, after which I needed not so much a shower as a sandblasting. That cryo gunk is sticky and it gets into places you just wouldn’t … well, maybe you would … believe.
Then there was food. Never in my entire life have I wanted to eat a starship, including the wings. Talk about an appetite. And it wasn’t just me. Everyone had just been wakened and I’m sure we all felt the same way: hollow.
A little piece of T.S. Eliot was spinning in my head:
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
I vaguely remembered more of the poem.
This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.
I sure did hope that was not a prediction for our explorations to come. Because given what bad shape the earth was in, we needed more than a merely decent place. We needed a fertile planet on which crops could grow. Where the battered human race could remember itself, its better self. We hadn’t been better than cockroaches in a long, long time.
Finally after eating for what seemed an eternity, we donned our lime green suits — the lightweight ones for worlds that were not inherently hostile, merely unknown — and they opened the doors and we emerged. Into paradise.
It was breathtaking. The colors were a bit odd with that pink sky and pale blue clouds. And the plants were all kinds of colors, like a flower garden. Hell, the whole planet was a garden. So we named it “Eden” which I thought was a mistake. We got kicked out of Eden once already. But hey, what do I know? I don’t make the Big Decisions. Way abovemy pay grade. You might say I was just along for the ride.
Before we reboarded the ship, I had a little thought. I dawdled. Picked up the litter we’d left behind. I found a big piece of cardboard. Must have been a box of some sort, but it would make a pretty good sign. I found a piece of wood to attach it to. I had a nail gun in my tool kit as well as a big marking pen — fortunately it hadn’t dried out and worked in the lower gravity of this new planet. New to us, but home to so much life. As Earth had once been before we stripped her of everything but our trash.
I planted my sign near where we’d landed. I was sure future expeditions would land in more or less the same spot. Then I wrote my message. In my best handwriting. Using huge letters so no one could miss it — or mistake its meaning:

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


Here we are again somewhere in what's probably the most bittersweet or sweet bitter time of the year for most of us. It's the jolly, holly Christmas to New Year period.  It's the time of year filtered through childhood memories for many and wrapped in holiday music, movies, and hectic preparations to greet folks we don't often see.  We need to force ourselves to shift gears, putting aside worries about health, bills and family drama to put on a happy face for the most wonderful time of the year. 
Emotions are curious. The holiday season plays fast and loose with our emotions. For those of us who internalize our feelings, it can be tricky. Smiling is not easy. Showing pleasure or happiness isn't instinctive. It was easy for me to show emotions in my professional life. But we're talking about real life. I'm past the September of my years. Getting into the Christmas spirit is harder than ever. I miss childhood.
Garry - Writer Christmas DayAs a child, Christmas was a time of anticipation. I was the kid in A Christmas Story.  The year I campaigned for the two-gun Roy Rogers set was very anxious for me. My hopes were almost dashed when I thought Santa had not heard me as we ripped though our presents that Christmas morning. But my Dad who always had a funny smile during Christmas and New Year's Eve, motioned to one last present. Yes!! It was the DELUXE Roy Rogers two-gun set with 2 rolls of caps!! Even Mom smiled as I squealed in delight.
I never thought we were as poor as Mom frequently reminded us because we usually got what we wanted on Christmas. Those holiday memories include relatives who are long gone. Our Christmas card list was long and included Aunts, Uncles and Cousins, Grandpa and Grandma who I can still see clearly in my sense memory. I used to carefully print the card messages when I was young. As I grew older, I proudly displayed my penmanship, writing endearments to my relatives. I thought they would be in my life forever.
These days, I am the only one in my family to actually write and mail Christmas cards. I take the time to write messages to each person. Usually I wind up with writer's cramp for my efforts. But I see my Mother hovering behind me somewhere, nodding her approval. I have to remind myself NOT to buy or write cards to Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma and all those Aunts and Uncles. They're all gone as are many of my friends.
Something is missing in those cherished memories. I have to force a smile. I'm not a kid anymore. I'm Gramps, one of the old people  as my 17-year-old Granddaughter calls my Bride and me. There is a sense of loneliness that won't go away. The movies are my cure-all.
I grew up as a child of the movies. I  saw my first film, The Best Years Of Our Lives,  during the holiday season of 1946. My Dad had just returned from the war.  He was in uniform and seemed 10 feet tall as we went to the venerable radio City Music Hall to see the movie which is still a favorite with Marilyn and me.  Movies and their fantasies have always been a part of my life, my personality. I am comfortable, charming and loquacious when talking about movies. I lose myself in movies, especially westerns and holiday movies.
I can laugh, smile, cry and sing along with favorite movies like It's a Wonderful Life, Meet Me In St. Louis, A Christmas Story, The Shop Around the Corner and many other memorable films shared in our collective sense memory. But once the movie is over, it's back to reality minus the celluloid good cheer. Ironically it was the same way during my life as a TV news reporter. I did holiday stories ranging from heartbreak to feel-good. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people over decades watched those stories and associated me with all the festive times.  The real me smiles at the TV reporter me -- trying to separate fact from fiction.  Print the legend, as they say in that old western.
One of the nice things about this holiday season is catching up with long-lost friends who've found me on Facebook. One person, a former mentor, who I presumed dead chatted me up, clearly remembering the years when I was a young reporter full of myself.
Then, there was the overnight radio show I did on WBZ radio in Boston last weekend. It is hosted by my dear, dear friend, Jordan Rich. Jordan has been through a very rough patch recently losing a loved one. But he spread friendship and laughter for his gang of movie mavens as we entertained listeners who called in from all parts of the country to chat about favorite holiday movies.
During breaks and commercials, we laughed and giggled like teenagers. The listeners picked up on our mood and said that it was infectious especially for many who were alone, lonely or depressed. I cried a little when an elderly woman thanked Jordan for being a life line. After the show, now close to 4 am, Jordan and I lingered talking about our lives and our families. We hugged each other for a long time with plans to get together again for a movie night out with Marilyn.
As I walked out the door, I looked back and Jordan was smiling. I felt warm outside and inside. That moment  will stay with me throughout the holidays and beyond. It's good to be able to smile!

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Being a cast member on a movie set wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. Maybe I wasn’t sure what to expect since my experience with working on a film was altogether vicarious, drawn from depictions on television or movies. Even subtracting 95% of what I thought I knew to align my expectations with reality, I thought something should be happening. I guess it was, if you were one of the stars or co-stars.
movie-set-bostonBut extras? Which is what I was, though these days the term “extras” is out of favor and “background performer” is in. Whatever you care to call us, we got shuttled from set to set, fed three meals at lavish buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners where everyone chowed down with extreme prejudice. Otherwise, we waited. And waited. And then, we waited some more. While we waited we were required to be silent. Don’t annoy the stars. Don’t be in the way. Don’t go anywhere — including the bathroom – without permission. Permission you had to get from one of the dozens of assistants, those attractive young people running around with headsets and clipboards.
It was confusing to say the least. You never knew if someone might decide you or your group were needed in a scene, but even if you were never in any scene — entirely possible — you had to act as if you were about to be “up” any moment and your presence or absence was life and death. On a movie set, it turns out everything is treated like life or death. It’s a Hollywood thing.
It was mid-November, night in Lowell, Massachusetts.  I hadn’t worn enough layers. Cold.
My feet hurt. Not to mention my back.
I needed to pee.
I was bored.
The director was on the 128th take. Before the night was done, he would close in on 250 takes of this particular scene. It was the turning point of the plot. It included every member of the cast except a bunch of us “background performers.” No matter. We still had to be there. Just in case. I wondered how much money I was going to make, just standing around. I didn’t think it was going to be enough especially since it seemed unlikely this would be the night Hollywood discovered me. I wished I’d brought a book, though in the dark I wasn’t sure if I’d have been able to read.
That was when I noticed the woman. She was standing just off to my right, leaning against a street light. It looked like she was reading, but whatever it was she was holding wasn’t a book. Something else. It had a light attached.
I sidled over.
“You’re reading? What’s that? I’ve never seen one.”
“It’s a Kindle.”
“OH,” I said, things clicking into place. “I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen one before.”
She looked up and smiled. “It’s wonderful. I don’t know how I lived without it. I can bring books with me everywhere, as many books as I want. See?” she said, and she began to show me all the cool stuff it could do. Like being able to bookmark passages, get definitions of words and phrases. And carry a whole library with her in just this little thing no bigger than a paperback.
I held it, turned it this way and that. “You know,” I said. “This might be exactly what I need.” Certainly my bookcases at home were bursting at the seams. Anything that let me buy books without finding someplace to put them sounded like a really good deal. And this thing would let me take books everywhere without hauling a trunkful of paperback. It seemed a good idea. But the price was still too high for me and I wondered if I would like a book that didn’t smell like ink and paper. It was convenient, but it lacked ambiance.
Nonetheless, that conversation stuck in my brain. Long after the movie — in which I did not appear, though I had one scene which was cut and left on the editing room floor — had faded into memory, I remembered the lady with the Kindle. When the new generation of Kindles was released and the prices dropped, I bought one. Then I bought one for everyone in my family who reads books. And I bought another one that plays movies and audiobooks and checks email. Finally, I got an even newer one that does the same stuff, but (supposedly) better and faster.
I can’t even imagine life without my Kindle. I’ve got hundreds of books on it. It goes everywhere with me … literally everywhere.
A week or two ago — don’t remember exactly when — I had to read a paperback. It was heavy. It was awkward. I couldn’t hold it in one hand.
And where was the light?
This may sound like no big deal.  After all, it’s just another toy, one more electronic doohickie. But it isn’t. For me, it was a life changer. Because finally, I could always have books with me.
If you were to take away everything else, all my toys, gadgets and widgets — but let me read, I’d be okay. I can live without TV, movies and games. I can’t live without books. My Kindle has become a magic doorway into that world of dreams called literature, the place where everything is possible. Where I go to live when life in the this world is too real.


Being a non-observant Jew is effectively no religion. It isn’t like being an atheist because it doesn’t imply a belief inno god. My mother was an atheist. I understand what it means. To me, atheism requires as much certainty as any other faith. You have to know something you can’t really know. It’s faith, even if it’s faith in nothingness.
Given my upbringing and personal preferences, I’m mildly uncomfortable celebrating all religious holidays, including Jewish ones. I feel as if I’m wearing someone else’s clothing. Even when they fit well and look good, I know they aren’t mine. Every year when Christmas rolls through town flattening everything and everyone in its path, I bow to its power and supremacy. I enjoy the lights, music,  gifts and season while remaining aware it isn’t my holiday. When everyone is sharing their warm fuzzy memories of Christmas as a child, I have no equivalent memories to share. Not of Christmas or any holiday because my mother, atheist that she was, celebrated nothing. As a kid, I yearned to be part of Christmas. All my friends had trees and got a zillion presents. I would wander around to my various friends’ houses, stay a little while, aware I wasn’t really welcome. Then I would go home. I felt so left out.
When I married my first husband, his family was almost as religious as mine. They were pretty sure they had been — at some point in the past — something, but they weren’t sure what. They celebrated Christmas with enormous energy and enthusiasm, without any bothersome religious overtones. It was an alcoholic’s dream holiday featuring eggnog that might actually kill you. And very tree-ish. My father-in-law hauled in the biggest trees I’ve ever seen in a private home. Paul Bunyan would have been impressed.
That first Christmas (1965), they pulled out all the stops. They had a Jew to entertain. How exciting. A new audience. Jeff passed away twenty years ago, but his mother — she will be 104 in February — still sends a Christmas present. I have one in the living room right now waiting to be unwrapped.
The nine years I lived in Israel gave me perspective. There was no evidence of Christmas. Chanukah was a holiday, but not like Christmas. Passover and Sukkot were big festivals. It was comfortable to be a Jew in Israel. That sounds redundant, but the freedom to live by a Jewish calendar was no small thing. Even if you were entirely non-religious, you didn’t feel the pressure to be involved in what is — theoretically — a Christian holiday, but is — as practiced — Pagan. I like the Pagan part.
Basically, I have no religious affiliation. Jewish by ethnicity and history. And I know a lot about Judaism, admire it, but I don’t practice it and never have. I thought seriously about practicing it but it didn’t fit better than anything else. I’m skeptical of everything, certain of nothing. I have no answers.
So to all of you, Merry Christmas. Have a cool Yule and a grand Solstice. Whatever you celebrate, please — enjoy it! I’ll sing along because I know all the words.