Sunday, December 26, 2010

The French Cognac Kiss

The weather outside is frightful here in Orlando. The gusting wind chill has us down in the 40s or 30s. Tonight we get the light freeze. Tomorrow night, the hard freeze. The fronds on my Addy tree are dying and I'm crying all over again.

Good news? I didn't spend $1000 or more to fly to Orlando from the freezing north before the blizzard hit, pay for a hotel room at Disney, buy the package to get in all the parks and meet the characters in the hopes of getting out of the cold! Maybe to people from your neck of the woods this is warm but for us, losing palm fronds is not a good sign. Disney elves replace their plants EVERY SINGLE NIGHT while Cinderella is asleep in her castle. Not me. I'll wait until spring.

This is the one time of year that Mickey and Goofy aren't sweating out in the sun, if you know what I mean. I don't want to spoil any secrets here for the young 'uns. I'll check the cupboard and see if my Christmas guests left me any cognac. I tried to hide it behind the wine and other bottles yesterday. I kept pushing the vodka with OJ, cranberry or whatever. At the end of the long day, the Stoli bottle was empty and the Smirnoff still unopened so I thought maybe my Cognac was safe.

I crept into the kitchen and took the small snifter from behind the wine glasses where it hides discreetly, I pulled the Courvoisier out from its dark corner and alas, there was barely a quarter inch of the golden brown liquid clinging to the concave rounded bottom of the corked glass bottle. Would it be enough? I feared it would not so I put the snifter back into its hiding place and instead went to the next shelf.

Reaching my short, stubby fingers up high, I stood on my tippy toes and grabbed two small, stemmed liqueur glasses and brought them down to my line of sight. Yes, yes, I would share the last of the nectar with my beloved. I uncorked the bottle and poured. Halfway to the top of the little glass, just slightly longer than my middle finger, I stopped and moved the lip to the second glass. As I watched the darkness dribble into the clear glazed flute I hoped that it would match the amount in its twin. Drip, drip, drip...I turned the bottle 180 degrees so that the opening was facing directly towards the target and one last little drop plopped in. And that was all.

Putting the pair together I saw that one had the equivalent of an extra few sips and I remembered that this is the holiday season. So I put both in the microwave for 5 seconds and with miniature drinks in hand, went in and handed the fuller one to my hubby. We clinked and we drinked--okay so I'm pushing it there--and it tasted good. One sip at a time the warmth trickled down my throat into my tummy and when the glass was empty, once again, I felt like I was back in sunny Florida. My husband smiled as he licked his lips, put his tongue in the glass to get the last taste, and then in my mouth as we kissed to share the French kiss of Cognac.

Time to turn out the lights.

**A special thank you to my good friend Absolutely*Kate Pilarcik for giving me a holiday boost. You can read more about A*K here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Red Corvair

What's the point? I figured out that the only revolution I had to fight was my own. I decided that sex, drugs and rock n roll were the way for ME to go. I realized I wasn't going to change the world, I could only change myself. And I did. I got the hell out of Dodge and moved to Florida where the sun shone every day and people were nice to me and we were all broke so I didn't stand out in the crowd. We all shared our drugs and our bodies and our food. Nobody went hungry even if all we had to eat was spaghetti. We did have some University of Miami kids in our apartment complex and they were the rich kids, but they used their money to buy ribs, burgers and anything we could make on the grill on weekends. They fed all of us.

And then when we were all stoned one little moment changed everything. Hank was on his way home from waiting tables at 2 AM and decided to take the shortcut through the ghetto. The bars had just closed so all the drunks were out in the streets. He was tired. It was late. He was going slowly but wanted to get home. A woman stepped out in front of the car and he hit her--the crowd started running to his car and he freaked and stepped on the gas and came home.

When he got to our building he saw my light was still on so he came to my door and we visited for awhile. We talked for about an hour about work and school. Then he said he was really tired so he went to his apartment and I went to bed.

My bedroom was on the corner of the building next to an alley where people sometimes parked their cars. I awoke to the sound of sirens and walkie-talkies and when I looked outside I saw the cops surrounding his red Corvair. I watched them cuff him and put him in the black and white and drive away. I started banging on doors and waking people up. Nobody knew anything. One of the rich college kids was the son of a lawyer. He called his dad. His dad called the court and found out what had happened. He wired money down to get Hank out of jail while the accident was investigated.

The woman was dead. She was black. It was 1969. It was the south.

It was a long drawn out process and Allen's father paid for everything--an attorney, fines, whatever. When it was all over, Hank got a ticket for careless driving.

It changed all of our lives. We were mostly northerners and killing a person (black or white) was a horrible thing, even if it was an accident. Down south there were no charges because she was black. Hank changed. I changed. We recognized that there was no justice. He was so sorry. I thought he was going to kill himself. He was just barely managing to pay for school with that job and he could never go back to the restaurant. He dropped out of school, bought an old pickup truck and hit the road. I was devastated. He was a good kid. His life was ruined. He would rather have gone to jail. He killed a woman and they just gave him a ticket.

We took more drugs. But, one thing we learned was that if one of us was in a bind, the rich kids would come through for us. That was always kind of amazing. Allen and Hank weren't roommates. They weren't best friends. We just all lived in this 40 unit apartment building with a pool in the middle. It looked like a converted motel. It was very communal and we all did the dishes and listened to the Who. Everybody helped everybody else. It was a whole new life. I was so used to being shunned, flat-chested, not pretty enough, and having my mother telling me that I ruined her life, and my family hated me because I was a hippie.

I guess I was on Hank’s side. It was an accident but that woman’s life was worth more than the cost of a traffic ticket. I wonder what happened to him after he left town. A little piece of me left with him in that pickup truck.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Leroy Cooper leaves Ray Charles - the 1st time

Hit The Road, Jack
By Susan Cross

During one of our interview sessions, Leroy Cooper told me a story about why he left the small Ray Charles band the first time. Leroy remembered clearly how his feelings were hurt. Just as clearly, he remember his friend, Marcus Belgrave, coming to his rescue. Leroy and Marcus had known each other before they were in Ray's band together, but that's another story. This story speaks for itself and the fact that he remembers the kindness of his friend over 50 years later gives some insight into Leroy's humility and love for his friends.

Ray’s band was in Chicago and I went to Dallas on a break. Our next gig was in Chicago at the Regal Theater. I had to pay everything I had in my pocket for cab fare from the bus station to the south side. I didn’t realize that Chicago was that big. It left me with about two or three bucks in my pocket. I went to see the road manager.

Let me have a loan ‘til payday, I said to Jeff Brown, Ray’s first road manager. Payday was the next day. I had just spent every penny I had on a bus from Dallas to Chicago to rejoin the band.

“I’m sorry, Cooper, I don’t have any money,” he said.

I couldn’t believe it! I said to myself, what am I going to do? A country boy in the big city. I went to Woolworth’s and bought me a jack size bag of popcorn; I ate popcorn and I drank ice water to survive.

We were down in the band room in the theater after I’d asked for a loan and he said he didn’t have anything, he came downstairs and told the straw boss in the band, “I don’t like the neckties the guys in the band are wearing.”

There was a little shopping center up there and he said, “Go buy some kind of neckties that I like.” I was looking in another direction and he put his hand in his pocket and came out with a Philadelphia roll. That really made me feel bad. I said, Wow, he didn’t have any money and he brought out a roll like that.

“What kind of ties should I get?” He said, “I don’t care.”
Marcus Belgrave

The trumpet player, Marcus Belgrave [right] saw me and he said, “You don’t have no money do you?” I said no. So he straightened me out until payday. But I said to myself once I get back to Dallas, I won’t worry about leaving home anymore. That was the first time I was out of the band for a year and it was because of Jeff Brown. He used to not treat me too nice when I was first in the band. I was sensitive.

Here was this man, the road manager, having money in his pocket and not letting me have enough to survive. That’s when I said, when I get back to Texas I’ll be staying there, (I didn’t tell them that) and that’s what I did.

Ray was living in Dallas back then. When they got me back to Dallas, I was home. When they got ready to go back out I said I’m not going, man. They traveled by car in those days. I lived out by the airport in Dallas. Ray came out to my house.

“What’s wrong? How come you’re not going?” he asked me after we had returned to Dallas from Chicago. I had decided I would never tell him that I was upset about what happened in Chicago.

Copyright © 2010 Susan Cross – All rights reserved

Monday, November 1, 2010

Interview with David 'Fathead' Newman

Let's Talk A Bit
By Susan Cross

During the many afternoons I spent with Leroy Hog Cooper he talked about so many of his friends. Some of these people were relatively new friends, people he knew during his 20 year stint at Disney World playing in the Dixieland band, the jazz band and at private functions held in the park and hotels on property. Others were people he met after he retired and became more involved in the local jazz, blues and society bands that filled up his calendar and kept his lips on the mouthpiece of his various horns.

However, in the beginning of our time together, Leroy spoke mostly about his old friends. The ones he knew growing up. The ones that he played with in the school band. And the ones he played with in clubs. Probably the most important one of these was a fellow who was a couple of years younger than Leroy that he knew in school. They both played saxophone. And eventually, this friend would be the one that changed Leroy's life forever. His name was David Newman, also known as Fathead.

Here is the transcript of a telephone interview I did with David on April 23, 2007. Unfortunately, at that time I didn't have enough information to ask more relevant questions and my interview was mostly targeted at his relationship with Leroy. David was soft-spoken, warm, friendly and expressed his love for Leroy, just as Leroy had expressed his love for David.

Susan Cross:  How long were you with Ray Charles?

David Newman:  From September 1954 to 1964; 10 years. Then I went back in 1970 to 1971, so altogether 11 years.

Susan Cross:  What was your relationship with Leroy?

David Newman:  We were very good friends and colleagues. We go back a long way. Growing up in Dallas, I was a few years behind Leroy in school, being younger than he was. We got to know each other when we both had the same band director at Lincoln High school, Mr. Miller.

Susan Cross:  Was that Uncle Dud?

David Newman:  Yes. That was his nickname. I lost touch with Leroy when he went to college and then into the Army. When he got out and came back to Dallas, we got back together.

Leroy joined the Ernie Fields big band and was playing the baritone sax by then. He had started on the alto, but he was such a big man he was blowing the buttons off of it, not literally, but figuratively. The baritone was very fitting for him being the big guy that he was.

Susan Cross:  How did Leroy join Ray’s band?

David Newman:  Ray’s band needed a baritone sax and knowing Leroy, I recommended bringing him into the band. Later on, I also got James Clay to join.

When Leroy joined, it was a small band. It became a big band in 1960.

The movie, Ray, was inaccurate and so unfortunate.

Susan Cross:  When did you start playing the sax?

David Newman:  When I was about 8 or 9.

Susan Cross:  Was it your first instrument?

David Newman:  No. My mother had me taking piano lessons for about 2 years and the other kids were calling me a sissy. So I told my mother that I wanted to play a more masculine instrument. She asked me, like what? I said, I don’t know. A horn, maybe, a saxophone. So I started taking lessons on the alto sax which was the second smallest, soprano being the smallest. Mr. Miller gave me lessons.

In our youth, there was a place called the American Woodlands Hall. All the musicians would go there and jam and get to know each other. That went on for years.

Leroy’s dad was a fine musician. I never heard him play, but Buster Smith was my (and Leroy’s) main influence growing up, and he knew Leroy’s dad and said he was a fine musician.

Susan Cross:  Who are your favorite sax players today?

David Newman:  James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, Eric Alexander, Javon Jackson.

At the end of the conversation, David told me to feel free to call any time if I had more questions. Unfortunately I did not make a second call. David died less than 2 weeks after Leroy in January 2009. Their music lives on. You can learn more about David 'Fathead' Newman click here.

Copyright © 2010 Susan Cross – All rights reserved

Friday, October 15, 2010

Unchosen -- #fridayflash, poetry

Little girl, little girl
hurting so much.
Why does it hurt so bad?
When do I get my shot,
something for the pain?
Please nurse,
Something for the pain.

If I can't have sometihng
then at least give the doctor some pain
so that he knows.
It isn't fair for him to deny me
when he doesn't hurt.
Give him a chance to suffer
if only for a short while.
I have little doubt
that he'll give us each a shot
if he has a taste of this.
He'll not endure what I do.
Sitting there on my bed
looking down with his sad eyes
feeling sorry for someone
lying on under the white sheets below him.
Let him join me and see
if he doesn't hit us both up.

Why am I so lucky
to be given the chance to prove my strength?
I did not ask to be the messiah.
He chose to be the doctor.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Interview with Pat Travers, 03/2008 - Boom Boom--Out Go the Lights

It seems that the title of this entry "Boom Boom--Out Go the Lights" caused quite a reaction. I had over 100 hits on this post from all over the world, many of which had a duration time of 0 seconds. Perhaps they were looking for a more juicy news story. I've changed the title of the post, putting the subject matter first and the name of the song second. I didn't mean to alarm anyone or get on any government lists. I should have thought before I started with a title like Boom Boom...Let's try this again.

Pat Travers has toured the world -- performing, writing and composing music that is catalogued on more than 40 albums. Over three decades after his first album was released, Travers is still experimenting with his music but as a Central Florida resident his priorities have changed just a bit.

When I called him to do the interview I asked him if it was a convenient time. He said it was, that he was just in the middle of making a PB and J sandwich for his son who had just come in from school.

Susan Cross: When did you first come to Orlando?

Pat Travers: I came here in 1980. I was living in Miami at the time. We were recording a live show at the Great Southern Music Hall in downtown Orlando. We took a break because they were doing some sound checking and I had a friend drive me around. I was a young man looking to buy a house and I was ready to leave Miami. I moved to Rosemont where I lived for 22 years. I’m in Apopka now. I’ve been all over the world and I think that Central Florida is a great place to live.

Susan Cross: What local activities do you enjoy?

Pat Travers: I tried golf for awhile but I could never break a hundred so I got into martial arts. For the last four years I’ve been doing karate training. I’m a black belt now. It was probably the hardest thing I ever had to do.

Susan Cross: How does touring affect your family life?

Pat Travers: My wife is fantastic; we’ve been married for almost 17 years and been together for 20. For my kids, it’s what they were brought up on, but I try not to be away for too long.

Susan Cross: Of all the albums you recorded, do you have a favorite?

Pat Travers: I think the Crash and Burn album I did in 1980 came out pretty good. An album I did in Miami called Black Pearl is another one I really like.

Susan Cross: What are you working on now?

Pat Travers: I’m working on a new album. I’ve been getting more and more bluesy in the past several years. I figure that’s more dignified at my age. We were a party band for years but I prefer to do something that will appeal to a broader demographic. The tunes will be more song oriented.

Susan Cross: Do people in the area know your background? Do you get recognized?

Pat Travers: Yeah, sometimes I walk down the street and they say, hey aren’t you…? But I go to the grocery store and I’m just a normal dad.

To get up to date view the website here Pat Travers or look for Pat on Facebook.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Interview with Wanda Sykes - May 2009

This is an interview I did with Wanda Sykes for Orlando Home & Leisure Magazine prior to her appearance at the Hard Rock Live in Orlando in 2009.

Susan Cross:     Which do you enjoy most, standup, TV or movies?

Wanda Sykes:   My first love is standup because that’s where everything started. TV, movies came along as being known for doing standup. But I do have to say that I love the paycheck of TV and the New Adventures of Old Christine is the best show I’ve had in TV. I absolutely love it over there. The writers are great but I do still love the excitement of doing standup.

Susan Cross:     Since you and Julia [Louis-Dreyfus] have backgrounds as writers do you contribute or stick to the script?

Wanda Sykes:   I am scripted. They do a great job so I’m not going to do something to change what works fine. The character of Barb is pretty defined so it makes it a lot easier to follow the script.

Susan Cross:     Is there something that you would like to do that you haven’t done?

Wanda Sykes:   I have a show coming up and that will probably be the top rung for me – doing the White House Correspondent’s Dinner on May 9th [2009]. I’m very excited about doing that. Actually that wasn’t even on my radar when I thought of different things I want to do so when it came up it was like WOW! Before the President? It’s exciting and scary at the same time. I’m one bad joke away from getting deported or something. I made sure all my taxes are up to date; everything is good; staying out of any scandals or anything; I don’t have any dealings with Bernie Madoff, so that’s all good.

Susan Cross:     Do you think that aging is different for men and women?

Wanda Sykes:   For men it seems like they don’t talk about it as much as we do. It doesn’t seem like it’s as much of a concern for them. Men, they get older, they just date younger. We have all kinds of things going on – body issues and all kinds of stuff. With men, a little Viagra and that’s pretty much they’re chore – date younger.

Susan Cross:     If you were going to be reincarnated what would you like to come back as?

Wanda Sykes:   Oprah!

Susan Cross:     In your personal life have you gotten green?

Wanda Sykes:   Yes, but the doctor gave me an ointment and he said it should clear up. Oh, you mean GREEN. Oh yeah, I recycle; I drive a hybrid; I do the light bulb thing. You try.

Susan Cross:     Is there anyone you’ve worked with that you’d like to work with again?

Wanda Sykes:   I’d like to work with Jane Fonda again but hopefully I can get her to lift that restraining order. And Chris Rock but I would have to lift my restraining order against him. Steve Carell is great.

Susan Cross:     Have you seen a change in your fan base over the years?

Wanda Sykes:   Yeah, people are getting fat. I got to play bigger venues but it’s not because there’s more people it’s because the people are just more! We’re all at the age where we’re spreading. Even me, I need a bigger stage. I’m getting more of a cross section of people now and that’s good.

Copyright © 2010 Susan Cross – All rights reserved

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Leroy Cooper - One Man Band - in his own words

Saving Music History
By Susan Cross

This is an excerpt from Leroy Cooper's memoir as told to me back in 2007. The material is copyrighted by Susan Cross and cannot be copied, published or duplicated without permission.

Copyright Charles Wells Photography


If the title doesn't show at first, refresh the page to listen.

Leroy Cooper had a wonderful life. His musical accomplishments include about 20 years as baritone sax player and bandleader for Ray Charles.

In addition, he was a great story teller. I had the great honor of sitting wth him and listening to him recount his tales. Here is a little clip about how his interest in music first developed.
To see Leroy back in 1975 leading the Ray Charles Orchestra, click here:

You can hear Joe Adams introduce him. The man with the very large Afro hairstyle playing keyboards when Ray comes out is the magnificent Ernest Vantrease, a.k.a. The Deacon. Ernest was with Ray for about 30 years and now plays keyboards for B.B. King.

Copyright © 2010 Susan Cross – All rights reserved

Friday, September 10, 2010

In a Corner Near the Ceiling

It was Christmas Eve, 1975. My mother came home from work and found me in the hallway struggling to breathe. She frantically called the doctor and then carried me to the car and started driving. My gastroenterologists were all Jewish so they were at the office that day. Dr. Leo, the oldest, was like a father to me. He had been treating me for about ten years for the intestinal disease. He came out to the car and carried me inside to a treatment room.

When he saw my swollen abdomen he knew. I looked nine months pregnant when just that morning I had been emaciated. His brother, Dr. Albert, gave me a shot of morphine but the pain didn’t subside. The third doctor was the youngest so he carried me to my mother’s car, a 1969 blue Chevy Nova and drove with his hand on the horn, blaring, running red lights. I was stretched out in the back seat holding on, bracing my body against the agonizing pain. The next thing I remember was being revived in the ER. I heard voices, “DOA.” “BP is dropping.” I saw the blur of bright lights and heard the wheels of the gurney rolling on the hard floors. I closed my eyes and drifted.

I awakened in a little room. There were doctors surrounding my bed. I remember smiling and telling them I wasn’t afraid. They said they were trying to put an IV in my arm but my veins had collapsed. They were going to have to do a cut-down. I didn’t know what that meant, but I told them the pain was gone now so I didn’t care. One doctor told me that I was in shock so they couldn’t sedate me. He apologized for what they were about to do. I watched as they prepared my left arm for surgery. One doctor used a scalpel to make a two inch cut just inside my elbow to reach the vein. He threaded a tube into it and kept threading it until it stopped. I felt a twinge near my shoulder. Then he stitched the incision closed around the tube. I saw the bag of fluid hanging on the IV pole. The fluid was dripping rapidly from the sack down the tube and into my arm.

I slipped away. I wasn’t on the table anymore. I was hovering in a corner near the ceiling of the room looking down at my body and at the backs of the men wearing white jackets. I watched them fussing over my empty shell. I heard no voices. I saw a doctor pound on my chest; then again. And I slipped from the air back into my body and looked up into the doctor’s eyes. I smiled at him. I wanted to tell him how incredible it had been to be watching from above but I was too weak to talk.

The doctors said they didn’t want to operate until I was stable. They waited until 3 o'clock Christmas Day and then moved me into the operating room. The surgeon introduced himself to me. He had an Italian name and I felt bad because he had to work on Christmas. He put a large mask over my face. He said it would give me the maximum amount of oxygen. The mask was so large that I couldn’t turn my head with the straps holding it tightly, covering my nose and mouth. I listened to nurses talking and the sound of the metal instruments being prepared for surgery. It seemed like hours.

Then the surgeon told me there was no more time, he was going to operate to relieve the pressure inside my body. My blood pressure was so low that they were afraid to anesthetize me completely, he said, so they gave me very little anesthesia. I was awake when the surgeon started to make the incision, but compared to the pain I had of my failing organs, the knife was like a fingernail scraping against my skin. I was strapped down to the table and couldn’t move. The anesthesiologist was watching the surgeon so he didn’t see my pleading eyes looking up at him. I couldn't talk. My tongue felt swollen in my mouth because of the oxygen. Finally, I wiggled the big toe on my right foot. Since he was looking in that direction he was startled by the movement. Then he looked at my face, horrified when his eyes looked into mine, and increased the drip. Finally, it was dark and quiet and I felt no pain.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Nice to meet you. What do you do?

It seems to me that when you are introduced to a person for the first time you should ask them something about themselves. Something personal, I mean. Unfortunately, the most common question is, "What do you do?"

I do a lot of things. I quilt, I paint, I walk my dog, well you get the idea. But that's not what they're asking. They really mean, "What kind of work do you do?" Somehow a person's employment has come to define the person. That doesn't sound reasonable to me.

What is even less reasonable is the response most people give. "I work at ??? Company." The question wasn't, "Where do you work?" It was, "What do you do?" So now we're taking it one step further--defining a person by what he/she does and where he/she does it. If the answer to the first question is, "I'm an engineer," does it matter where? Is the question meant to define the value of that person's worth?

As most of you know, I'm a writer. Or at least that's my job. For whom do I write? I write for Central Florida Lifestyle Magazines. Would you think more of me if I was a technical writer? Or if I wrote for Vanity Fair? (Or maybe less of me, depending upon your opinion of those examples.)

Here is a link to my articles in the September issue of Central Florida Lifestyle Magazines.

My point is that people who clean toilets are just as important as the President of the United States. After all, without them, we'd all be sitting on dirty tiolets! (Anybody who was in NYC during the garbage strike knows what I mean.)

Friday, August 27, 2010


“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.

Copyright © 2010 Susan Cross – All rights reserved

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:

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. 

Read More

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? 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?”


“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 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”

“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?”

Friday, July 30, 2010

Brains and skulls and ringing bells

Here's another #Fridayflash story. Please comment and critique. Constructive criticism is always welcome. So are compliments, of course.
JJ’s headache started behind her eyes and spread out sideways and upwards feeling like a swimming cap two sizes too small. Her face didn’t hurt so she concluded that her sinuses were clear. There was a history of headaches in her family but her health had always been great with the exception of the burst appendix last year, and that could happen to anyone. Besides, you only had one appendix and when it bursts and the mess is cleaned up, if you live through it, you never have to worry about it again. A head is a whole lot different than an appendix. You need it every second of every day. If it explodes thinking is no longer a problem.

Every sound was amplified. She lay in darkness in her bed hoping for absolute silence. Then she heard a fire alarm ringing. It stopped. It rang again and stopped. Oh my God, she thought, why is a fire alarm ringing in the house? We have a smoke detector. Each time the alarm rang her pain sent streaks of lighting from one ear around the lower back of her skull to the other ear.

It took four rings before JJ realized it was the telephone on the table next to the bed. Glancing at the clock, she tried to get her voice to sound normal as she picked up the phone and said, “Hello?” From the inside her voice sounded chirpy but the rasp of sleep and pain was not completely hidden.

“Hello, is this Jane,” the voice said.

Without thinking she said, “Yes.” Immediately she wished she had said “Jane’s not available” because in fact, she didn’t feel available for a telephone conversation at the moment.

“Hi Jane. This is Nellie, your neighbor across the back yard and one house over. I’m sorry to bother you but I know I didn’t wake you.”

How could she know that? JJ thought. Although her bladder felt like it would burst, she had fought the sensation and held it so she could finish her dream and then that damned fire alarm—oh no, the phone—started ringing.

“Hi Nellie. What’s up?”

“Your dog has been barking for over an hour. You know I wouldn’t normally complain but Nate woke up with a terrible headache and the sound is driving him crazy. Could you bring her inside and quiet her down?”

“Oh, Nellie. I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize she was out on the porch barking. It must be the squirrels on the screen. You know how she gets when they stop still and she can’t get to them. I’ll go get her right now. I hope Nate feels better.”

As JJ dragged her body out of bed she reached down and picked up the pair of shorts on the floor and pulled them up over her wide hips. Thank God for elastic waistbands. The throbbing continued but at least the ringing had stopped, she thought. Her footsteps resonated so she carefully shuffled her feet toward the sliding glass door. Indeed, the dog was barking continuously. For a 9 pound dog, Sadie could register high on the decibel ladder but how she was able to keep at it without taking a breath was astounding.

Opening the door, JJ called to her, “Sadie, get in here.” Her own voice was like that of a soccer announcer speaking through a microphone at a World Cup Championship game. The dog looked at her. This time she whispered, “Sadie, you come in here right now.”

Sadie sat on the hard cement floor, looked at JJ and tilted her head staring into JJ’s eyes, trying to understand the language. That’s when JJ remembered something she had seen on TV, the Dog Whisperer. He had made a sound like shushing a baby, but with a p in front of it. JJ tried it.

“Psssssshhhh!” Sadie stared at her, but at least she wasn’t barking anymore.

“Psssssshhh,” JJ repeated. “Come,” she whispered. The dog put her little white fluffy head down and slinked through the doorway silently. She went directly to her crate, stepped inside and laid down on the towel that served as her mattress.

The lack of sound immediately caused the muscles around JJ’s scalp to ease. How long did Nellie say Sadie had been barking? She noticed that her headache had slipped away, perhaps exiting through her ears which was exactly where it had entered.

Then she pondered her decision to install a doggie door in the slider. Whose brilliant idea was that?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Photo Album -- #fridayflash

The photograph is old—black, white and a million shades of grey. The date is written in ballpoint ink on the white frame around the edge of the photo. Apparently that was the way photos were printed back then, with white borders on glossy paper. This good-looking young couple would become parents in about three years but in this picture the glow of newlyweds shines through their eyes.

In the next picture the woman is standing in the doorway holding a baby wrapped in a huge blanket. The bunting covers the entire infant except for the tiny face with narrow eyes and chubby cheeks. Her mouth is a little round dark grey circle. The snow on the ground is on both sides of the steps but the stoop is clear.

On the next page of the small album the man stands next to a smiling little girl on a shiny tricycle. It must be spring time. The grass is a dark grey and the child is wearing a sweater and pants but no coat. The man also wears a sweater with a large diamond pattern on the front. Opposite this one is another picture of the girl in profile with her foot on the pedals of the trike looking toward the woman whose hands are outstretched in a welcoming gesture.

From that page forward, all of the photos include only two people—either the woman and the girl or the man and the girl. Color is introduced in the next pages. The child’s short red hair is highlighted in the sun. It is a little darker than the woman’s long locks. The child is smiling but the woman’s mouth does not look natural. She is posing for the camera.

A story is evolving with each turn of the pages. According to the date on the white border around the photograph the girl is about five years old. She stands next to the woman. They are showing off holiday dresses, looking at the camera. The joy of the season is not evident in their faces.

The child is alone now, sitting on the brown porch steps. In the picture you can see her head resting on her little hands, elbows on knees. She is fatter than in previous shots. Her face is barely visible as she looks down at the steps below her feet.

The final photo in the album is of the smiling woman dressed beautifully. Her red hair is coifed in an upswept style. Her lipstick is a darker shade of red. She poses coquettishly in her fashionable dress and the full shot shows her high heeled shoes with thin straps across the ankles. All of these details are more evident because she is alone. But more disturbingly part of the photograph is missing. The left side was squared off with the white border but the right side of the picture is ragged. The photo has been carefully cut right along the edge of the woman’s silhouette so that the gorgeous, happy expression has been captured but the person who once shared this scene is surgically removed. In the border is written “Patricia’s 30th birthday.”

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Agent->Publisher->Self publisher->E-publisher

About a year ago I was polishing off my manuscript. I had made a deal with a small self-publishing house with years of experience and an excellent reputation. Friends with agents and professional editors who had been published by major publishing companies warned me: "Don't do it! Self publishing is the death knell of a successful writing career. Once you're self published," they said, "you will never be taken seriously in the industry."

Since my book was a memoir of Leroy 'Hog' Cooper, bandleader and baritone saxophone player for Ray Charles, I knew that it would only appeal to a niche audience. My market was limited and the likelihood that an agent or major publisher would be interested was miniscule. I had no writing career to ruin so I was going forward with the project as a labor of love. I would probably print only 1,000 copies and be happy to sell those.

I repeat, that was about a year ago. My manuscript was due at the publisher's on September 1. The wheels were in motion (I hate cliches), I had a professional cover design, had used an editor who was a friend and the book release party had been scheduled to take place at B.B. King's Orlando Blues Club. Over 300 people had RSVP'd and I had 3 bands scheduled to play in Leroy's honor for free. And then someone put the breaks on and the wheels came to a screeching halt. Since then, needless to say, the book did not get published. due to legal issues with the verbal contract (boy was I stupid--verbal contract with a 78 year old man whom I loved, expecting his word to follow after his death).

Back to the point. By the end of the year, self-publishing was becoming so popular that the NY publishers were starting their own imprints for writers without agents to take advantage of the market. Why lose out on their cut? If we were going to publish our books anyway, they wanted in on the action. Ah, but perhaps they were too late.

The fire behind Kindle had already started burning soon to be followed by Sony's e-reader and Nook and others. E-publishing became the new way medium. People can download books by Pulitzer Prize winning authors as well as those with niche markets for a relatively small amount of money. For a few bucks you might find a book that an agent would never have paid attention to but SHOULD have.

Let me recap. One year ago I was told that self-publishing was the worst thing a new author could do. Then I was told it was the best way for me to get my book published as long as I was willing to market it, which I would have to do even if an agent sold it to a publisher.

And then came e-publishing. Could it be that the green movement got to somebody high up in the government and convinced whichever czar is in charge of such things that printing books was destructive to our planet? To create books you have to cut down trees, create inky chemicals and glues. Surely this is bad for the environment. And so the story goes, like so many others, technology has solved another problem and will save the baby seals near the polar ice caps.

Gee, I wonder how many forests were leveled to print Al's book. Hmmm. Al, how could you? His publisher printed and sold a whole lot more than mine would have. What an 'inconvenient truth.'

Friday, July 16, 2010

Peaches - #fridayflash

Alicia thought she recognized him from somewhere but couldn’t quite place him. And then it hit her. The guy always made a spectacle when he arrived at the little blues bar on his Harley. He went through a ritual of dismounting, taking off his helmet, then his leather gloves and making sure his vest hung open just enough to cover his beer gut and minimize its appearance at least at first glance.

He was fondling the peaches in the produce aisle. Alicia thought about how odd it was when she saw someone outside her frame of reference and their persona was shed as they became just another human being. In this case, he wasn’t the macho biker but a man buying groceries. He was intent on choosing the fruit that was not overripe but almost ready to eat. He hadn’t noticed her watching him.

Alicia turned away and picked up a bell pepper, inspecting it for flaws. Then she placed it on the scale. Grocery shopping was part of life. She was a coupon clipper, careful with her money. Working at the book store was her dream job but it paid just above minimum wage. Her job had its benefits the best of which was being able to bring the books home to read as long as she reviewed them for the “staff picks” shelves.

As she tore the plastic bag off the dispenser and placed the pepper in it she almost bumped into him. He looked at her blankly at first and then a glimmer of recognition crept into his eyes. He was trying to remember where he had seen her before.

“Hi,” he said. “I recognize you from somewhere.”

Alicia was just about to respond when he continued talking.

“You work in the book store, don’t you?”

She couldn’t hide her expression of bewilderment. How did she not notice him at the store? She was there 40 hours a week, sometimes more, and yet her mental association had gone directly to the blues bar.

“Yeah. I do,” she said. “I’m Alicia.”

“Nice to meet you Alicia. Name’s Marv. I’ve noticed you there but you always seem so busy. That other lady with the short hair helps me find what I’m looking for most of the time.”

“I’m sorry, Marv. I thought I knew you from someplace else. I didn’t realize it was from the book store,” Alicia said. “I do keep pretty busy there and I don’t normally run the register so I can’t keep track of who’s in and out unless they have a question.”

“Well, you’re not usually in the economics section. I kind of hang out there most of the time. I’m a financial advisor so I try to keep ahead of the trends. I see you around fiction and literature,” Marv said.

“Yeah, I’m a fiction reader so that’s what I know. It’s always better to help people with questions in my area of interest. I wouldn’t know how to recommend an author in economics,” Alicia said. “You know, I thought I had seen you at a blues bar a few weeks ago. Do you have a twin?” She laughed as she said it.

“No twins in the family. That would have been me. I’m a big blues fan. You really go to that bar, too?”

“Yup. I’ve been going there for years. I’m a writer. I like observing people at the bar and I love the music. I love working at the book store. Being around books inspires me. Every time an author debuts her first book it gives me hope that someday people will be handling mine.”

“Wow, that’s really cool. Makes sense to me. Writing and reading go together.”

“Are you going up to see that new band this weekend?” Alicia asked.

“Probably not. My Harley’s in the shop. I’d look stupid driving up to that bar in my Beemer. I’ll wait ‘til I get my bike back. Don’t want to ruin my image.”

“Stop in the book store next week. I’ll let you know if they’re any good.”

“Sounds like a plan. I’ll stop in. Nice meeting you. I’ve got to get home to feed my dog. Boy does she love peaches.”

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I think I've traveled back in time...40 years later

And now for something a little bit different...This picture is of Arlo Guthrie (registered Republican with Libertarian leanings), his children and grandchildren in 2009. Doesn't look that much different than a family from 1969 does it?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Monday, Monday

Mondays are always challenging in my house. My husband leaves for work before the sun comes up and my dog goes back to sleep. I stay up late writing so I don’t get up until the light of day when the dog starts barking because she is ready for her morning constitutional. She may be ready but I am not! Of course, I get up anyway because it’s easier to drag myself out of bed, pull on some shorts under my nightshirt and get her outside than to clean up the carpet. Besides, she is hungry for breakfast, the most important meal (and often the only one she eats) of the day. She is my alarm clock which is good I suppose.

What follows is the sad part. Once her little belly is full she starts walking around looking for my husband. She is a daddy’s girl so Monday’s are particularly tough on her. She gets up with Daddy at 5 AM, runs to the door with her little back legs crossed until he gets there with the leash. She no sooner gets outside and a puddle forms under her on the grass. Ah, she made it once again. Good girl.

Back inside, my husband gets his coffee and sits down in the family room half asleep. She crawls up in his lap and lays there with him. They are both happy. She lies across his lap or legs pinning him to the chair so he won’t get up. Eventually, though, the coffee kicks in and he has to roust her from her comfortable position and she slinks back into her crate to go back to sleep while he gets ready for work.

People keep telling me that dogs don’t have emotions. Maybe they don’t share the same kinds of emotions we experience but there is no question that on Mondays this little doggie is sad. Her companion and playmate is gone for the day and she’s stuck with me who sits at the computer for hours at a time, working. Sure, when she rings the bell hanging from the door knob I jump up, get the leash and take her out, but sometimes she just wants to play so when I get to the door she grabs a toy in her teeth and starts to run around the house like a racehorse on a track, expecting me to chase her at a similar speed. I stand in one place and stomp my foot and that seems to satisfy her as long as I growl when she runs by with the toy.

Then I’m back to work and she’s back on the chair next to mine. She has her own office chair to curl up on and sleep. Dogs sure do sleep a lot! In general, Mondays are a mopey day for her. On the weekends, even if my husband isn’t playing with her, he’s walking around doing things in the house and she follows him around like his white shadow. During the week, I sit in one place, at my desk, for long periods and that’s no fun at all. Then I get dressed and go out, leaving her alone. What nerve! Going out and not taking her with me. She looks at me with those sad questioning eyes, pleading to go with me. But this is not Europe. I can’t take her into stores or cafes (like I really go out to cafes during my workday, NOT!) and office supplies stores.

You can set your clock by this dog. She can tell by the measure of sunlight when it’s time to go to the front entryway and lay down by the window and wait for my husband’s truck to pull up. And then happiness returns to her home for a few hours.

All of this may seem normal to other dog owners but the one thing that is remarkable about this little white ball of fur is this. Every night we are sitting in the family room together watching TV, reading, working on our laptops or chatting and she is there with us. That’s where her crate is so it’s like we are visiting her in her room. At 9:20, not 9:19, not 9:25, the dog pulls herself up from wherever in the room she is sleeping, usually my husband’s lap, and slinks off to her crate for the night. In the past, we used to say “It’s bedtime,” and she’d run to her crate knowing that she’d get her favorite treat before slumber. We used to feed her the treat, close the gate on her crate and cover it with a blanket. She likes the dark safety of her cave. Now, we don’t have to tell her, she doesn’t wait for her treat, she just drags her tired ass into that crate, lays down, curls into a neat little ball and goes to sleep. Another day. Monday’s over. She knows that this is the beginning of a long stretch of days before daddy will be home for her on the weekend.

For her, it’s another day in her doggie life—or is that seven days in human for every one of mine?

She was so good last week I took her to the beauty parlor so you can see the before and after pictures.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Seeing Red

“What made you do this? I can’t believe it,” my neighbor said. “I would never have imagined you going this route.” And this is what I told her.

Well, you know those commercials for the red Cadillac CTS where the gorgeous red-haired actress from Private Practice smiles seductively while driving around a curve? Then she looks into the camera and asks, ‘When you turn on your car does it do the same for you?’ Well, I fell in love with that car, way out of my price range, because it was red. Red was always my favorite color. I’ve always owned a pair of red shoes, which I referred to as my ruby slippers since I was about 9. Then I saw this sleek red Cadillac—my favorite luxury car maker—and thought, “I want that.” It was totally irrational. I didn’t need it. My gold Ford Focus gets me where I want to go just fine. And still that red Cadillac CTS haunts me.

I am a person who wears concert tee shirts, specifically from various Eric Clapton and B.B. King tours, with a Willie Nelson and Leon Russell one thrown into the collection (none of which are red, by the way). I do wear some red tee shirts showing my loyalty to the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, and let’s face it, they were named for a beautiful red bird—or at least the male is a beautiful red bird while the female is just kind of brownish. I am not the type of person that would drive a Cadillac CTS. I certainly do not in any way resemble Kate Walsh, the tall, sophisticated red-headed actress who plays an obstetrician on TV. Perhaps Kate, or Addison, her character might be driving this car, but me? A two bit writer of articles about local people who make changes in our community?

After all, she’s famous and on TV. I just write stories about a determined Gulf War veteran who has been able to achieve her dream through the Habitat for Humanity program. And how the conductor and musician for Cirque du Soleil La Nouba, a world renowned extravaganza here in Orlando has volunteered his time to revive the jazz band in his son’s public school while he performs ten shows a week, gives music lessons and brings worldwide musicians to perform in his home while a local artist paints a masterpiece on stage during the music.

My job is just to find these special people and write articles about them, not to be seen weekly by millions of people who follow the scripts that Addison—I mean Kate—remember (or read) so well. And she gets to walk down RED carpets. She is so perfect in that car. I want that car. I want to be perfect in that car. I want to be seductive Kate in that car. I want to walk down red carpets after someone helps me step out of that car in my red stilettos and gown slit up to my hip (which would look stupid since I’m 4 foot 10 and my hip isn’t very high off the ground.)

Alas, I am a little, blond writer who has passed the time of midlife crisis although I never really experienced one. Maybe I was just a little slow, busy raising the kids and getting the grandchildren started in their new little lives. And now I have time for a midlife crisis. Perhaps that is what this is all about. Besides, my grandmother was a very successful businesswoman and always wanted a Cadillac. My grandfather was thrifty (that’s the nice way of saying cheap) and insisted they drove a Ford. That woman was my hero so maybe that’s the underlying reason why I want that car. And she had red hair, too. And when it wasn’t quite so red anymore, she went to the beauty parlor to keep it red, almost until the day she died. She had her red hair but never her Cadillac.

So it would seem that my reasoning here is two-fold, maybe three. I have an obsession with the color red that dates back to the Wizard of Oz, an obsession with red haired women which stems from my grandmother, mother, aunt and sister all having red hair and my being brunette (now blond with a little help from L’Oreal) like my father and I have an obsession with Cadillacs, especially this new CTS.

Knowing I could never own the Cadillac, I talked myself out of driving down the self pity route in my Ford Focus. And then I saw this new Dell laptop in the stores. It was red. I decided that since I was planning to buy a laptop anyway I would buy that red Dell computer. I went to the local Staples store that was advertising them, knew the price was within range about $549, then bought the software I needed to work, plus the case and the 3 year extended warranty, a package of DVDs and before I knew it I was checking out. They were still trying to sell me services when I looked at the total which was over $1,100! For a $549 laptop! What had just happened here? I got home looked back over the receipt to see what these extra charges were for. Some of them were ludicrous. I didn’t even take the computer out of the box and install the software. I was in shock.

The next day I returned it all except for the software which I knew I would have to keep because I had in fact broken the seal. I needed help so I went to Best Buy to talk to a geek or two. I expressed my obsessive desire for the red Dell computer. The salesman understood—he owned one himself! Then he asked me what I would be using the computer for and I told him. I’m a writer. I write articles and short stories. I am working on a book but it’s not War and Peace or the Brothers Karamazov.

“Do you download movies?” he asked. I thought he was joking. “Do you do a lot of gaming? How about programs, do you download a lot of them? Are you planning on loading a lot of specialized software?” No, no, no, no and no. “Then you don’t need this computer. Why don’t you go with this nice little HP Compaq that has a lot of gigs of memory and RAM and a DVD slot, etc. for $399? If you want to buy the extended warranty you’ll be insured against breakage from dropping the computer, spilling water on the keyboard, lightning strikes or anything else.”

Similar to my experience at Staples, I was asking myself what just happened here? I came in to buy the pretty red Dell and the salesman DOWN sold me to a less expensive model that will meet my needs and make me happy and be insured, with a case all for under $750 including tax. Ah, but there was that one little thing that I played down—it wasn’t red! I took my extra money and got over that fact in a hurry.

So now here I am again about to make a fairly large purchase. Larger than a laptop but nowhere near as large as a Cadillac CTS. Did I happen to mention that the car was red? This should be a simple decision.

We need a new sofa. My husband and I had made a final decision to buy leather this time. He said he was leaving the decorating to me because I’m the one that’s good about that stuff. We’re putting in walnut colored laminate floors and I took the large sample of the flooring with me today when I went to the furniture store just to start looking. The salesman approached me as I knew one would. He asked me if I knew what I was looking for and if he could help me find it. With no hesitation whatsoever I told him matter-of-factly that I was looking for a red leather sofa—oh and it had to have recliners on both sides. Yeah, right. Like they would even make such a thing.

“Right this way,” he said. I was starting to tremble. I had even gone online and Googled red leather sofas and came up with very little. The salesman led me to the most beautiful red plush back sofa with soft cushy arms and POWER reclining seats on each end. POWER! You sort of push a button similar to putting up and down your windows in your car. The foot bar goes slowly up until you stop it at the desired height or you can push the other way and it will go down a little or all the way. All I would have to do is plug it into the wall. And how much would this little baby cost me? $1,500, plus $99 delivery and $200 for a 5 year extended warranty that covered any spills, ink, marks, stains or damage to the sofa. For $200 less I could get the regular old fashioned recliner where you grabbed something on the side and the foot bar sprung up into place. It was just as comfortable but not as sexy.

When I got home it was time to tell the hubby that I had found the sofa I wanted. Then I showed it to him on the website. Even though we had discussed the topic and I had informed him of my intention to get a red sofa, he never thought I would find one so he had happily agreed. Surprise!

We got past the issue of color and started talking about floor plans and how I would like to move the furniture and then I told him about the power recliner as opposed to the standard one.

“We don’t need power. That’s silly. The old way works just fine. For $200 I think the price is a little steep but with the 4th of July discount it will be manageable with the zero percent interest for one or two years.”

I had only one word. Wrong! I can’t get the Cadillac CTS and I couldn’t get my red Dell laptop. By golly, or more to the point, Damn it! I want the new power recliner. I don’t want to compromise. I want the red one and I want the power one and I’d better go buy it tomorrow before I am utterly overtaken by rational thinking and the realization that we’ll have to paint walls and maybe buy a chair to go with it. The area rug we had already planned on would be easy to find and I’m creating the wall art myself, some abstract brush strokes on canvas using the colors in the room to tie things together.

I hadn’t thought it through beforehand. I just knew what I wanted. Now I know I am obsessed with the color red ever since equating a pair of red shoes with being home, wherever that was at the time. I am obsessed with my grandmother—her red hair and desire for a Cadillac the first of which she did not pass on to me but the second she obviously did. I even named my dog after her. And to some degree I am craving luxury, thus the power recliner as opposed to the manual. Now when they come out with wi-fi version I will really be impressed but for now I think I will be happy for a long time.

And that, my dear neighbor, is the answer to “Why?”