Showing posts from March, 2016

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That time I wanted to pass myself off as Joyce Carol Oates #TBT

I submitted my first piece of writing when I was seventeen, a story about my first job, working at the employee cafeteria at General Telephone where my mother was a dispatcher. Rolling the 20# white bond backed by a sheet of thin blue carbon paper into my Smith Corona, I typed it out slowly, carefully, on a piece of erasable paper—and mailed it off to Cosmopolitan along with a cover letter. Not just to any editor at Cosmo, by the way, I sent it directly to Helen Gurley Brown. 

The piece itself, meant to be comical, was full of clumsy attempts at self-effacing humor.  I strived for a similar tone in the cover letter I addressed to Brown, completely clueless that the high powered editor in chief wasn’t the one reading unsolicited manuscripts. After I signed off I added the following PS. I could have said I was Joyce Carol Oates. What I thought that would accomplish I can’t imagine. That an unsatisfactory submission would get published because of a lame joke? 

No surprise, in the SASE I’d …

A is for Apple #ThrowbackThursday [memoir]

Last year author, Mary Catalina Vergara Egan a new follower over at Chapter1-Take1 invited me to join in something called the A to Z Challenge. Here’s how last year’s challenge began for me:

Today's letter is A and the whole alphabet theme of the challenge brought me back to my days as a single working woman, subbing in elementary school classrooms in the latter half of the 1980's. Those days came to a screeching halt when the teachers went on strike in May of 1989.

A is for AppleMe? A teacher? I couldn't believe that all it took to go from Universal Studios tour guide to card-carrying substitute teacher was a bachelor's degree and a passing grade in the C-Best, California's emergency credential exam. I was pretty damn sure that you had to be a whole lot more qualified, a whole lot smarter than I was for the Los Angeles Unified School District to put you in charge of a classroom full of elementary school kids.

But I was wrong. There I was, not one minute of teacher tr…

Coffee & Kodachrome: A Photographic Memory

It was the top of the 80’s when Max Factor Cosmetics was still based in Hollywood, and I was working as their in-house copy writer. The job meant coming up with promotional shade theme events, nail polish color names, package copy, brochures for the sales department and the like. While I once wrote a radio ad for Jaclyn Smith to record, it was mostly the less than glamorous creative work too lowly for our ad agency, Wells Rich Greene, to bother their big apple heads over. 
When my boss was assigned to the company’s London office for six months we were both thrilled. She got to go to London —LONDON!— and while my new business cards said Associate Creative Director, I essentially jumped from in-house copywriter straight into her Creative Director shoes. Suddenly I was in everybody’s Rolodex; the girl to call if you were working the freelance beauty market in L.A. in the very early 80’s. Along with other writers who came out of their introverted shells to offer their services—No, I’m stil…

Above Ground on the London Underground—Day 23: So this is Knightsbridge?

I’m taking a virtual walking tour ‘above ground’ on the London Underground. Using my Tube guide & my fitbit® device, my goal is to walk 10,000 steps a day roughly following along the Underground route, reporting back here on Fridays with my findings. Here are the days that came before. Currently following the Piccadilly Line. This is Day 23.

As long as we’re in the borough of Kensington & Chelsea, let’s breathe in the rarified air. For my money, it sounds a bit like Bev Hills but a tad cooler with Stella McCartney, Eric Clapton, Richard Branson, J.K. Rowling and Elton John calling the area home sweet home. Correction, Chelsea is one of the four places Sir Elton calls home. The Evening Standard reports he’s got pads in Venice, Nice and Berkshire as well.

But truth be told, where the tube lets out on the Gloucester (Gloster) Road in the Knightsbridge nabe of Kensington, we could be in any ugly urban center in the U.S. There’s a Burger King, a KFC and a Starbucks all in a row. ICK.…

Do I mind my own business or do I butt in?

“Is that Lorena?” 

My husband is half-in, half-out the front door, screen bumping at his back.


“You know, the woman in black. With the boots.”

I look over his shoulder and he’s right. It is Lorena, standing on the corner across from our apartment building in the dying light. 

From a distance, standing still, she’s a fashion plate in her black Michael Kors trench coat. It’s slim cut and cinched at the waist, hitting her legs just above the knees. She has black knee high boots with chunky heels that she wears year round, spring, summer, winter and fall. Up close her black dyed hair is grey at the roots, her raincoat is streaked with grime. When she walks she totters along like those Chinese women with their bound and tortured feet used to do, inch by painful looking inch.

Standing on the corner now, she has her purse open on the sidewalk at her feet. Her head spins from side to side, looking up and down the street.

I know her to say hello to, she and Jane, the older lady who lives n…

You make the earth move under my feet

Photo by Joanne DeCaro Afornalli
My friend Mindy is in L.A. for a week, staying at Le Méridien Delfina in Santa Monica. “I think my hotel is across the street from your old high school” she tells me, and we agree to meet there for a drink. 

Checking the address online, I see it’s on Pico, across the street from Santa Monica High’s main entry, but I can’t picture it. All I can see is a 45 year old snapshot in my head of the dingy apartment building that used to be there and where I’d smoked a joint with a guy named Hank. It was one of the precisely two times I’d tried marijuana in high school. Afterward, he’d taken me flying down PCH on the back of his motorcycle. The idea terrifies the old lady in me now, but to be honest, I think I was scared to death even then. Still, Hank walked around school in a military-style jacket that flared in gently at the waist, dark navy, gold braiding at the collar and epaulettes, its brassy buttons flashing in the sun, the way rock stars did when the sixt…

Above Ground on the London Underground—Day 22: The Sage of Chelsea

Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle  James McNeill Whistler/ 1873 I’m taking a virtual walking tour ‘above ground’ on the London Underground. Using my Tube guide & my fitbit® device, my goal is to walk 10,000 steps a day roughly following along the Underground route, reporting back here on Fridays with my findings. Here are the days that came before. Currently close to the Piccadilly Line. This is Day 22.
Thomas Carlyle. Thomas Carlyle. While I couldn’t tell you what specifically he’s famous for, I do know he was a man of letters, a historian, social critic, essayist and author. And that the house he shared with his wife Jane, is a nearby National Trust property. With Chelsea at my feet, and the house an easy half hour walk from Earl’s Court station, it’s time I checked out him out. It’s a beautiful morning to wander around—let’s throw away our weather app and pretend it’s a perfect 77.5° no matter the weather—and Chelsea surrounds me with inviting gard…

Above Ground on the London Underground—Day 21: The Magnificent Seven

Central Avenue, Bromton Cemetery     IMAGE CREDIT  © The Royal Parks  I’m taking a virtual walking tour ‘above ground’ on the London Underground. Using my Tube guide & my fitbit® device, my goal is to walk 10,000 steps a day roughly following along the Underground route, reporting back here on Fridays with my findings. Here are the days that came before. We're in the vicinity of the Piccadilly Line. This is Day 21.
The Magnificent Seven. Not to be confused with the 1960 movie starring Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Charles Bronson, James Coburn and Robert Vaughn, the Magnificent Seven is a group of London cemeteries built over a decade in the middle of the 1800’s. And one of those cemeteries, Brompton, is just up Cromwell Road from where we left off last week at LAMDA in Hammersmith.

In the first half of the19th century, London’s population doubled from 1 million to 2.3 million, and with that growth, came the overcrowding of the city’s burial grounds, typically small …

Made on Location: Eating for Two

My son at 15 months and me. On the set of Free Willy II
My son’s twenty-third birthday was this past Saturday. My husband’s birthday is this coming Saturday. That’s my excuse for not giving you a new piece on this memoir Monday. I’m republishing “Made on Location” which is really about the both of them. I could have called it “Eating for Two.” 

Made on Location

On any other Sunday I’d be digging shamelessly into a steaming stack of blueberry hotcakes, purple compote oozing out all over the place. The Pig ‘n Pancake in Astoria, Oregon were famous for them, and I usually couldn’t wait to wade in. I didn’t need—and didn’t want—the calorie breakdown you can’t escape from on menus these days to know they were pound packers, all buttery and crazy delicious, the kind of food I would normally eschew in favor of leaner fare like two eggs scrambled, cottage cheese on the side, one piece of rye toast. 

But the rules are different when you’re on location.
[Read the rest of the story...]

There is Someone Walking Behind You

My daily three miles in the morning—up from two miles, thanks to my Fitbit™—keeps me in passable shape, clears my head and gets me going. I start each day, after coffee and writing my daily post on Chapter1-Take1  by heading out along the sidewalks of our neighborhood towards the Activity Center where I like to walk in circles around the park. There's a gravel pathway shaded by Jacaranda trees, stunning in springtime when they bloom in deep blue purples, mandatory in the summer when LA heats up early. Today as I near the patio sitting on the perimeter of the park, I see the gardeners have hosed down the cement, the entire surface is still wet and puddled. Without my permission my heart starts pounding, bringing me crashing to a halt. Wimp, I think. That's in the past. Shake it off.

I can't. I’m afraid. I can trace my fear back to a sunny day in Puerto Rico in the late sixties. I’m walking in the footsteps of my 15 year old self, along a sandy road near the beach out in Is…