Friday, August 27, 2010

Real

“You’re not my real mother!” he shouted as she took the device out of his hand. “I hate you.”

She took it to the master bedroom and placed it in a drawer remembering a time when those words were like fingers on the video game controller, pushing her buttons and controlling her as if she were one of the characters on the screen.

Mondays were like this, she had learned. After spending a weekend with his birth mom it took him a day to get back into the routine of family life. On weekends there were no rules. No bedtimes. No restrictions. No homework. No chores. But there was also no basketball hoop. No friends. Nobody to play with. Nobody tucking him in at night. Nobody to say prayers with him. From Saturday morning until Sunday night he lived in a different world. His mom was there but she worked at nights and got home very late. She slept during the days.

His favorite food was pizza. Good thing. Every Saturday evening his mom ordered pizza for him. Pepperoni—his favorite. He ate about half of it and put the rest in the fridge for lunch on Sunday. Breakfast was just as good. His mom always bought a dozen Dunkin’ Donuts on her way home from work in the early morning. He got to choose whichever he wanted. Sometimes he ate half a glazed donut and a couple of bites of a chocolate frosted one. If he wanted, he could take a bite out of every one and he still wouldn’t get in trouble.

While his mother slept he watched movie videos. Some of them were R rated. He would not be allowed to watch them at home and he had sworn to his mom that he would keep it a secret. He didn’t like keeping secrets.

One Sunday night he came home and announced that he had earned some money at his mom’s. She let him do some work sweeping floors and helping to clean at her business which she told everyone was a travel agency. He had difficulty repeating the lie and just said, “I earned it cleaning at my mom’s work.”

He didn’t realize that there were no secrets at home. His dad and step-mom never questioned him because they had taught him not to lie. They knew that his mom told him not to tell so they just let him be. As long as he was not there when the business opened they kept their mouths shut. The dancers didn’t arrive until well after he had eaten his pizza back at the apartment and was already watching videos or playing video games. He knew but he didn’t understand. If there was nothing to be ashamed of, why was he sworn to secrecy?

As he got older he realized that he was living in two different worlds. That’s when it began. The confusion. The guilt about lying. The anxiety. But she was his mom. His real mom. The one who had shown him the scar on her belly where the doctors had cut her open so that he could be born. “And don’t you forget that,” she told him. “She didn’t have to be cut open to have you. Remember that. She’s not your real mom. I am.”

Tuesday everything was back to normal. He woke up to the sound of the alarm clock, got dressed for school and poured milk over his cereal while this other woman made his lunch and helped to made sure his backpack was ready. She had helped him with his homework the night before, after she took away the video game controller. His dad got home in time for dinner and they always ate together—the three of them. Dad left early for work, before he got up, but he was always home for dinner. He helped with history and science homework. His step-mom helped with English and math.

He played basketball after school with a friend who lived down the street. They were on a team together but he missed a lot of games that were played on Saturday afternoons. He liked it better when they were morning games and he could play before his mom picked him up.

Wednesday was early day at school. His classes ended an hour early so the teachers could have their staff meeting. He usually went bowling with some kids on a league. That way he would get home about the same time as his step-mom did. He didn’t like being alone in the house even if he was in his room drawing or watching TV. When his dad got home they had some time to throw the baseball before dinner. They were all baseball fans but on weekends there was nobody to watch the games with at his mom’s.

On Thursday he had his favorite class, art. He sketched very well and the teacher praised him. She told him he was talented and should pursue his interest in art. She was his favorite teacher. And Thursday was the best night for TV shows. He, his dad and step-mom all liked to watch Survivor and guess who would be voted off. He secretly giggled when they showed the women in their bikinis. He was at that age.

Friday was a good day. The end of the school week. An evening of relaxation. But by bedtime his mood was already changing. His dad had hugged him and said goodnight but there was sadness in his eyes when his step-mom sat on his bed and said prayers with him.

“What’s the matter, honey? You look so sad,” she asked.

“Nothing,” he said.

“C’mon, you can’t fool me. What are you thinking about?”

“Jody, do I have to go to my mom’s tomorrow? Can’t I stay home just one weekend?”

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tony Bennett, In a Class by Himself -- Interview by Susan Cross


On stage at UCF Sept 2008, courtesy Charles Wells Photography

In September 2008 I interviewed Tony Bennett before he performed at the University of Central Florida. This was one of my most difficult interviews. Let's face it, what could I ask him that hadn't already been asked and answered before?

Susan Cross: If you had to choose, would you rather be known as a singer who is also a painter or a painter who is also a singer?


Tony Bennett: I have been very fortunate to have been able to do the two things I love the most – sing and paint. I have been doing both all my life and I don’t view them as two separate endeavors with one taking more importance over another. Instead, they are pursuits that enable me to stay in a creative zone all the time – they balance each other in the ying-yang tradition.

Susan Cross: Your paintings cover such a wide range of subjects including musicians, landscapes, still life and self portraits. Do you paint from memory, photographs or while actually looking at your subject?

Tony Bennett: I love the spontaneity of capturing a moment on canvas but there are times when that is not possible so if I discover something that I want to paint and there is not time to work on it on the spot I will take a photograph to use as an inspiration for a painting.

Susan Cross: So many cities are featured in your paintings. Besides New York, do you have a favorite city or region that you find particularly scenic?

Tony Bennett: I paint so many of the cities that I travel to while I am performing -- -but I vacation In the Tuscany region of Italy and love to paint those landscapes.

Susan Cross: Why did you name the Exploring the Arts public high school "Frank Sinatra School of the Arts" rather than using your own name?

Tony Bennett: It was a wonderful way to honor a great performer and a very dear friend.

Susan Cross: Do you plan on opening similar schools in other cities?

Tony Bennett: With my wife Susan, we started Exploring the Arts which supports arts education In the public schools and the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, which is a public arts high school is our first endeavor. The permanent building for the school, which was designed by Polshek Partners who are world renowned architects, is the first of what we hope are many such schools.

Susan Cross: How many self portraits do you think you've done over the years?

Tony Bennett: Many.

Susan Cross: It appears in your book that you favor watercolors. Is this your favorite medium?

Tony Bennett: I love watercolors as they are easy to travel with so I can take them on the road with me and I compare them to jazz music which is a spontaneous, in the moment, way of playing. Watercolor is a quick medium and it’s very immediate.

Susan Cross: How much of an impact do you think your CD "Duets" had on a new generation of music lovers?

Tony Bennett: I had a great time performing the songs of my catalog with a host of contemporary artists -- all of whom were very professional and well prepared. It turned out to be the best selling CD of my career!

Susan Cross: Are you flattered by the fact that young artists such as Michael Buble and Diana Krall are performing standards that you originally made famous?

Tony Bennett: I am thrilled that the Great American Songbook has attracted such talented artists and this is the finest music that American has ever created. There was a golden age of songwriting in which these songs were crafted by masters such as Cole Porter, the Gerswhins, Duke Elllington, Harold Arlen and it is a national treasure.

Susan Cross: How does it feel to have received Billboard's Century Award when it is obvious that you are still "Young at Heart?"

Tony Bennett: I received that award during my 80th birthday year which was such a memorable time for me and it’s always nice to be honored but I tend to not dwell on the past too much and always look forward to what is coming next.

Susan Cross: To what degree do you feel that your passion for art, music and family have contributed to your long, happy and productive life?

Tony Bennett: My philosophy is to do what you love in life and you never need to retire.

Susan Cross: What is it about New York that has such a hold on you?

Tony Bennett: There is no city on earth like New York – all the world is here.

Susan Cross: Before you step out on the stage, what thoughts go through your head?

Tony Bennett: I still get butterflies which I take as a good sign – it tells me that I still care about how the show is going to go that night – will the sound be good, will the audience enjoy themselves – it’s about caring.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hunting, Nesting and Gathering -- #Fridayflash

Their lovemaking was like a choreographed dance, pillows moving to cushion and elevate body parts for maximum pleasure. When they were spent, she nested as he prepared to leave. He left her there surrounded by pillows of varying thicknesses and density, one beneath her head, one behind her as she lay on her side, one between her knees and the last one up against her abdomen which she hugged closely.

He was gone about an hour while she dozed in and out of consciousness. Her peaceful face held the smile of satisfaction and anticipation. She heard the door open then close and she smiled, moving the pillows so that several were behind her back supporting her as she pulled herself up to a sitting position.

Sounds emanated from the kitchen. He entered the bedroom with a bakery box and two forks. She opened the box folding the top backwards to display the delectable reward.

“Ummm, my favorite,” she cooed. “Key lime cheesecake.”

“You see, I remembered,” he said. “I had to go to three different bakeries to find the one with key lime. Apparently white chocolate strawberry cheesecake is more popular right now but I want to get used to your cravings. We’ll be dealing with this for another seven and a half months. Have you started thinking about names yet?”

Nothing had changed in a thousand years. He was the hunter, she was the nester and soon would be gathering things for the nursery.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I am a WINNER!

I have won Tony Noland's contest. (View Tony's blog and listen to his voice here: http://www.tonynoland.com/)

This is very exciting for me. Tony has a beautiful voice and as a prize he will record a reading of one of my stories. My problem is that I am not a very good judge of my own stories. So I am enlisting your help. Please read my flash fiction and help me decide which one would sound best when read aloud. Let's challenge Tony and see what he can do. Type Fridayflash in the search bar to the right to read my stories. Then leave me a comment telling me your favorite. I'll pass it along to Tony and once done, sit back and listen.

Thanks for helping me out! Again, I AM A WINNER! Sorry for repeating myself. I don't often get to say (or type) those words.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Susan Cross Interviewing Arlo Guthrie, June 2009


I conducted this interview for a cover article which was printed in GRAND Magazine in August 2009 to commemorate the 40 year anniversary of Woodstock. If I have to explain to you what Woodstock was or who Arlo Guthrie is, you probably won't be interested in the interview. This is just an excerpt targeted at the magazine's market, grandparents. The remainder of the interview has not been published but I may transcribe and publish it on the blog at a later date if response to this one is large enough. So read along with me, remember young Arlo at Woodstock and get to know him as he was one year ago.

Arlo Guthrie Interview – May 5, 2009

Susan Cross: How many members of the family will be touring with you?

Arlo Guthrie: Well that tour begins in October so they’re not with me yet. But when we do get together, there’ll be 4 kids, Abe’s got 2 so that’s 5, 6, Annie’s got two, so that’s 7,8 and Cathy’s got 2 so that 9, 10. Anyway, there’s 7 grandkids and they will all be with us, not all of them [performing]. Obviously some of them are too young to do much but we will incorporate them all in the show and uh the major portion of the show will be handled by me and Abe, Krishna is 18, he’s a great player, and Johnny [Irion] and Sara.

Susan Cross: What are their names and ages?

Arlo Guthrie: Abe is my oldest, and his oldest is Krishna, he’s 18; Serena is Abe’s daughter. She stole my 50th birthday so I always know how old either I am or she is because it’s exactly 50 years to the day. She is 11 at this point. She will be 12 by the time the tour starts. Then my daughter, Cathy, she has a little daughter, Marjorie. Marjorie is about 2 so she’s not going to be doing a whole lot but she’s going to be dancing around the stage somewhere. My next daughter is Annie and her oldest is Mo and Mo is or will be about 16 and I could have these wrong by the way. And Jacklyn is also Annie’s daughter and she’s about 8. And then Sarah Lee has a daughter, Olivia and Olivia is the same age as Jacklyn and they also have a little daughter Sophia who is the same age as Marjorie. That’s it, all 7 grandkids.

The small ones will make an appearance at some point but we may have to get some cattle prods. We’ll get them out there just to dance around at the end but most of the work will be handled by the older ones. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Mask of Invisibility - #Fridayflash

It was an easy question, really. Should she stay in the car or get out and go inside? More questions raced through her head. What kind of mood was he in? Would he be mad at her for being gone so long? Had he eaten or waited for her?

Being away from the house for the day was a pleasant experience. Wandering around stores, talking to salespeople trying to sell her things she didn’t need. She overheard a store manager telling a new employee to "treat each customer as if she were a guest in your home. Put on a smile and welcome her. Offer to help and then show her the new products as if she were a friend stopping in for coffee and you were excited about some new acquisition that brightened your living room." It was an import store specializing in home d├ęcor. Even though the manager was male, he referred to the customers—guests as female.

In the bookstore everybody knew her and called her by name. They were the only ones who knew that she was the woman whose picture was on the back cover of a book crammed in between so many other mysteries. Customers just saw an aging woman wearing shorts that should be longer, a tee shirt with a graphic on the back worn so thin from washing that it was impossible to recognize and those wraparound black sunglasses. She always wore those sunglasses, even in the store, like a mask.

Tonight she would be attending a play at the local theater with a friend. Although they were only one year apart in age, her friend would be wearing a long skirt, a ruffled blouse and makeup. She would change her shorts and tee shirt and put on clean ones. Nobody would guess that she was reviewing the play for a magazine.

The writer’s life is an odd one, very different from a musician’s. People don’t recognize writers by their faces, even when they are successful, unless they look like Kurt Vonnegut or Truman Capote. Being anonymous was almost as good as being invisible. It gave her the opportunity to observe people. But when she introduced herself to strangers she often detected a change in demeanor; passed her business card and suddenly she had an identity.

Her decision made, she opened the car door. Rather than go in through the garage alerting him with the sound of the mechanical roll up door, she walked up to the front door, key in hand and inserted it into the slot. She pushed the door open and it was quiet. She called his name. And then he came to her, sniffing her legs to see if she had cheated on him. Of course, she had not. She knew better than to pet any other dog; it would hurt his feelings when she got home.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Strippers, Planets, Months and Days

“I can’t believe I let her do it to me again,” Bill said. “We’ve been doing this dance for almost 15 years and I fall for it every time.”

“What the hell is wrong with you? I thought you were too tough to get snookered by some broad,” Liz said.

“She told me she loved me. I mean, that was big!”

“But 15 years?”

“She was a teller at a bank when we met. We connected right away. I went up to her window to deposit a check and she gave me that smile, you know the one girls give you when they’re interested.”

“How much was the check for? Do you think that may have had something to do with her smile?”

“C’mon Liz. She told me how unhappy she was in her marriage—and…”

“Her marriage? You have been holding the torch for a married woman for 15 years?”

“She was going to leave her husband. She said she couldn’t stand sleeping in bed next to him let alone having sex. We started seeing each other two weeks after we met and 15 years later I’m still listening to her excuses. I moved to California, then to Colorado, got some chick pregnant and now I’m a dad but my son has the wrong mother. It should have been her.”

“I don’t think so. And anyway, he’s got the right father. At what point did you get it that she might not really leave?”

“Last night. She finally pushed me too far and now I’m sitting here watching the ball game sulking, pissed off at myself for letting this happen. I came here for vacation just to see her and in two weeks I’ve spent less than an hour with her. I could have taken my boy to California.”

“Who is this woman? What’s her name?

“Summer.”

“Summer? You fell for a girl named after a season? I’ll bet she was born in December, too. I had a co-worker named April once and I asked her which day was her birthday and she said August 4. And her parents named her April. Explain that to me, would’ja?”

“Well, I’m heading back out west tomorrow and I’ll see my other girl—not girlfriend, just a friend. That will make me feel better.”

“And what’s her name?”

“Dallas.”

“And I’ll bet she’s from New Jersey, right?”

“No, Ohio.”

“Okay, Bill. I’m going to give you some rules on dating. It’s obvious your rules, if you have any, aren’t working or at your age you’d be married.”

“Go ahead, I’m game.”

“It’s all in the name. Do not, did you hear me? Do not date any woman whose name is a city, especially if she’s not from that city. Or one whose name is a season, especially if she wasn’t born in that season. Are you with me so far?”

“Yeah. Is that it?”

“Nope. Pay attention now. No stripper names, you know what I mean. Think about it. Why would a mother name her daughter with a name that sounds like a stripper? Candy? Pepper? Ruby? Sapphire? Foods and precious gems are out—they mostly sound like stripper names to me anyway.

“If the woman’s name is a noun of any kind, forget it. If she has two first names walk away. For instance, I would never date a man named Ronald Conrad. And on top of that, nobody with two last names—I once dated a man named Smith Young. Well, you can see that didn’t work out. My last name isn’t Young, is it?”

“Whoa. Liz, you’re really starting to scare me.”

“I’m not done, Bill. Planets and flowers, definitely avoid them. I know flowers sort of fall under nouns and Venus probably could be a stripper name, but there’re women named Moon or Sunny, too, even though the sun’s not a planet it still counts in my theory.”

“So what are you saying? If I meet a woman named Tuesday I should just say, nice to meet you, I’ve gotta go? What if she’s attractive and seems like a nice gal?”

“That’s how you got into this trouble. Attractive. Nice. You don’t have good judgment in women. You’ve proven that. Nice, attractive women can become stalkers or be married. Married women, especially if they’re unhappy, make it a point to make themselves more attractive if they want attention outside the marriage.”

“I never thought of that. Makes sense, though. Men do the same thing—or so I’ve heard. Having never been married—I was in a long term relationship once and when it was closing down I made it a point to get right to the gym before it ended.”

“See what I mean? Why don’t you just go on match.com like everybody else? At least you can start out with eliminating names and that’s important. People tend to mold themselves to fit their names even though they had no choice when they were born.”

“I’ve got too much pride to go on match.com.”

“A year ago I wouldn’t have advised you to use an online dating service but it has finally sunken in that it’s no more dangerous than picking up a stranger in a bar,” Liz said with conviction.

“That’s true. Well, you’ve been married for almost 20 years, way before online dating started. How did you meet Chris?”

“Didn’t I ever tell you that story? I was meeting my roommate in this little pub because her boyfriend’s brother was playing in the band. Chris was there with his softball buddies because one of them was the drummer in the same band. We met at the bar and it was love at first sight. We were married about two years later.”

“Wait a minute. You never told me his name was Chris. You always referred to him as your hubby. You’re giving me advice about women and their names and you married a guy named Chris Cross?”