My son loves to read. When I say “read” what I really mean is that he’s not quite two but loves to look at books, get books, have books read to him or pretend to be a grown-up and sit in his little easy chair curled up with a book. So when I got “Flippy and Toadpole” written by John Mese and Dawn Kelsey and illustrated by Chanler Holden, I was excited (Part of the Flippy and Friends network of awesomeness). New book, new chance to get cute kid reaction– good or bad. So I put the reviewing of the book in little Ben’s hands. I got it out, he grabbed it, examined it and handed it back to me. After the first reading, he said “Again!”— three times. The book was a hit. It’s quirky, sing-songy and with adorable, friendly, wide-eyed characters with poppy names. Big hit. Then I broke out a review copy of “Flippy Goes on a Road Trippy” (coming out in January) and Ben, well, flippy-ed out. This one was long, with lyrical rhymes describing an exciting cross-country road trip with friends including Crawdaddy, Eartha and others. He actually paid attention through the whole book, which reads for kids a little older than him. He loved scanning the pages filled with exciting animals, landscapes and cars and wanted me to read it to him twice more. Success! I love these books and they’re very cool and hip but with the mind of a child at the center of the narratives. Flippy Fantasteriffy.
So last year my friend John started this great online mag called Shuffleboil.com where he gathered up a bunch of his writer friends and we all contributed to his brilliant work. The mag is something new and great and all his own now, but I was reading through some old posts and I thought I would reinvigorate (and rewrite) some here.
ODE TO WRITERS
When I watch the Oscars, my favorite category is Best Writing. Why it’s not Best Writer, I really don’t know. It’s a crime. I am consistently amazed at novelists, essayists and short story writers who engage me so completely that I dream about their characters and I physically feel as though I’ve been transported to another place and time. It’s magic.
And while I get a lot of pleasure out of my book learnin’ ways and my critically-acclaimed film tastes, I always stand ready to praise the quality of writing that I see on television when merited. Sure, most of the dramas and comedies they pass off as entertainment doesn’t even get a second glance from me. But today, I watched a new episode of Mad Men. I am riveted by how thoroughly I was carried into the dialogue and mannerisms of ad guys in Manhattan in 1960. The characters depict a picture of restraint and rage duking it out over the neatly folded over tear in the book of genders. It is a world of men and their women—whores or saints—peddling through a haze of cigarettes, whiskey and lies. I have never seen such an honest depiction of this time in the evolution of American society and culture. The sixties are here, and everything is about to change. This would be the last few years where openly speaking about “catching a husband” or “private executive bank accounts for men who need to keep certain matters from their wives” would be even remotely socially acceptable. There is one’s inside-your-own-head voice and the one you use to maneuver through daily life. I might even dare to say that the guys in Mad Men are the great envy of many men today.
So while the best writers in the industry—the women and men you depend on for that storyline, those characters, that fleeting escape—are constantly fighting to get their fair share and keep writing and providing for their families, I would like to pitch my own reality show while supporting my fellow writers. This is my small way of bringing the two sides come together. A little win-win never hurt, right? Here goes.
The Write Stuff!
Take a group of sixteen writers and make them compete for a chance to be named America ’s #1 Writer! Prize package includes a lifetime supply of paper, pens, ink cartridges, giant cans of coffee and stress balls (provided by Office Depot). The winner will receive health insurance for his ENTIRE family (provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield), and a steady annual income of $150K per year until death (provided by the network) and 10% of all profits from his or her own work. The winner will also receive a 100% matching 401K and free financial planning (provided by ING). Finally, America’s #1 Writer will have a brand new office outfitted with ergonomically correct chair and desk (provided by IKEA) complete with both a desktop and laptop networked computer (provided by Apple) pimped out with every piece of writing software available. America ’s #1 writer will also receive a t-shirt that says “Hey, America , I’m Your #1 Writer!”
The contestants can be screenwriters, novelists, poets, mystery writers, journalists, whoever calls himself a writer by trade. The sixteen writers will compete in Survivor-style reward and immunity challenges like:
1) Balance as many Jane Austen novels on your head as possible while wearing a corset and walking around a big dining room table—last one standing wins.
2) Write your own life story in 15 minutes with your least dominant hand—whoever has the best penmanship wins.
3) From five racks of clothing, speed to dress like a critically-acclaimed author for a photo shoot. You’re being shot for your book jacket by world-renowned portrait photographer Annie Leibowitz—best book jacket photo wins.
4) With a team, act out the scene from a great American play using mime only—team that guesses the most scenes in allotted time wins.
5) Make your own quills and sell them on the street—whoever sells the most wins.
6) Write a children’s story using only vitamins, safety equipment or dentists as characters and read it aloud—children are the judges, best story wins.
7) Pitch your movie idea to three different studio executives… sort of a writer’s “go-see.” You’ll be transported to each pitch meeting on the back of a Vespa driven by a hot Italian guy or girl—whoever impresses the judges the most wins.
8) Stage a poetry reading titled “Voices of Sorrow, Faces of Poverty: A Consciousness-Raising Event to Benefit the Homeless” in the financial district and promote it however you can– whoever has the most audience members wins.
9) Spelling Bee
10) Start a fire with only two rocks, a stick, a piece of string and a pile of Stephen King books
Notes: The only food provided for the contestants during their time on the show will be Ramen, Slim Jims, rice, Tic Tacs, Saltines and ketchup packets. Limitless cigarettes. Judges are beloved American poet Maya Angelou (regular Oprah guest), hefty humor writer Bruce Vilanch (Celebrity Fit Club) and one of America ’s most famous Academy Award-Winning Screenwriters, Ben Affleck (Project Greenlight)
So cheer up, writers. One of you just may get everything you’ve ever wanted, everything you’ve ever needed and probably more! Just know that this writer has your back, and good luck. We’re all counting on you.
Me: What the @!&*… what the hell time is it…
Me: 3:30 in the freaking morning.. who is calling at…
Husband: Caller ID says it’s Lohan. Whaddya want me to do?
Me: Arrrghhhh…. I’ll take it in the office.
Husband: OK, but tell her that real people need real sleep and…
Me: I know, I know. I’ll handle it.
Husband: Good Luck.
Me: Uh..huh… Hello?
LL: OKOKOKOKOKOK I absolutely KNOW that it is late, but I’m in Paris, and it’s not late here– actually I just had a nice breakfast at this little cafe and…
Me: WHAT!? What do you want, Lindsay?
LL: OK, so I thought I better call now, or I would forget.
Me: Forget what? Forget to remind me that I have yet to get to Paris in this lifetime and you’ve been there, like, fifty times already and you just want to make absolutely sure that I realize how unbelievably underwhelming the City of Lights actually is? I was in the middle of a pretty decent dream involving me and a talking dolphin, so this better be good.
LL: It is. I promise.
Me: OK then.
LL: Well, now that I think about it, it’s probably not a big deal. You go back to bed. I’ll call you later.
Me: Over my dead body. You tell me now, or you permanently lose this number.
LL: OK OK… I was thinking I need to get a makeunder, you know. Just sort of Streep it up a little.
Me: Get your Streep on, as it were?
LL: Exactly! She told me once that she thinks I’m pretty good, and I’m not going to have my looks forever so I better get serious about, you know, serious stuff.
LL: And I’ve been looking at pictures of myself a lot…
Me: As usual…
LL: Uh-huh. As usual and I’m looking, I don’t know, kind of bummed out.
Me: You are bummed out. Your Mother and sister just did a lame ass reality show totally exploiting your celebrity, your Dad’s in jail, you’ve already been in rehab a couple of times.
LL: I know, and it sucks. I just want to hang out, you know?
Me: And I want to sleep. Is that all?
LL: No. I need your help.
Me: That’s what you have agents and managers and “people” for. Go ask them. I’m tired.
LL: Tell me about it. I just got off this shoot and…
Me: OK, not to interrupt but I’m Mom-with-toddler-juggling-bills-dealing-with-clients-cleaning-house-running-errands-staying-groomed-by-myself-tired. Not celebutante tired. That’s a different tired. People run at you in warp speed to make sure you don’t have bags under your eyes. People run away from me because, honestly, my morning hair scares the crap out of them. So go get help from, you know, your help.
LL: But you’re my friend.
Me: (deep sigh) OK… how can I help?
LL: OK Good. So what books should I be reading? Are there any really, you know, super smart people I should be hanging out with? Have you ever read “The Alchemist”? My Reiki woman said that would that make a good movie.
Me: The main character is a shepherd boy– there is a gypsy, but it’s a pretty small role and…
LL: Well screw that. What else? Can you think of anything else?
Me: Well… let me think about it. Would you be willing to gain some weight?
LL: Weight? How much weight are we talking about? Like Bridget Jones or more like Charlize Theron in that death row movie?
Me: I don’t know. I’m just asking cuz that might make a difference in what I recommend. You said you wanted to Streep it up…
LL: Yeah, but that’s like DeNiro. Streep does accents. I can definitely do accents. Didn’t you see The Parent Trap?
Me: I just want to know how far you’re willing to go.
LL: I need to think about it.
Me: Okey Dokey. Just get back to me… at a decent hour. And send me an Eiffel Tower snowglobe.
LL: You have like 15 of those.
Me: Yeah, but I don’t have one from the Lohan. Au Revoir.
For those of you who have requested the links to my Reality TV column, “My Next Top Reality” on Shuffleboil.com, here they are:
My Next Top Reality: The Price of Pain in Hollywood
My Next Top Reality – Weigh to Go
My Next Top Reality – “Hey! I’m Trying to Eat Here!”
My Next Top Reality – America’s #1 Writer
My Next Top Reality – What the hell sort of happiness is this?
My Next Top Reality – “Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares”
Me: Wait, someone’s calling on the other line. Let me check who it… cool. It’s Barack. Can you just e-mail me that cashew chili recipe? I gotta take this. OK? Thanks.
Obama: Hi, Jennifer, How are ya?
Jennifer: Honestly? I’m just about fed up with some stuff, and I need to vent. You ever get that way? You just bottle it all up and try to stay positive and look on the bright side and use words like “challenging” instead of freakin’ off-the-charts “terrible”? Doesn’t it get to you that you can’t say exactly what you think all the time?
Obama: I do say what I think.
Me: I know, I know. But you’re a politician. C’mon on now.
Obama: No. Seriously. On the most part I do say what I think.
Me: How did you like that cheesecake I made for you?
Obama: It was awful. I had to toss it. I couldn’t in good conscience feed it to my staff.
Me: Uh huh.
Obama: I mean, have you ever even made a cheesecake before? I’m just asking cuz…
Me. Yeah, yeah. I get it. You’re honest. I bet if I was the Queen of Siam, you’d make yourself like it. You’d…
Obama: There is no Siam.
Me: OK, Brainy McSmarts-a-lot. I don’t know who’s briefing you on international stuff or whatever. But there is a Siam. For crying out loud, I just ate at King of Siam Buffet last Friday night. If you think you want to be president you really have to study up on…
Obama: Well, it’s still there. It didn’t disappear. It’s just called Thailand.
Obama: So anyway, I was just calling to check in. I wanted to see if you would consider joining my strategic communications committee. Actually, I have a need for someone who can give me some important counsel on reaching out to a wide variety of voters.
Me: But you’ve got my vote.
Obama: Yes, I think we’ve got the lifelong yellow dog Democrat/East Coast liberal arts college educated/ artist/creative consultant/feminist/cat person/dog person/rabbit person/Catholic Buddhist/organic vegetable eating/Target shopper vote all nailed down.
Me: Are you sure? Because I think I have a really good handle on the issues that mean so much to this segment of the population. We need access to free healthcare and three day work weeks and mandatory kitten adoptions for families with two or more kids, and some other stuff. I can send you a list.
Obama: Yeah. I know. But I think I could really use your help with some other folks.
Me: Well, I’ll try. What are you thinking about?
Obama: We’ve had some challenges…
Me: You mean you’re terrified of losing…
Obama: OK Fine. I’m terrified of losing… the carny vote.
Me: The swami vote?
Obama: The carny vote.
Me: The Blarney Stone?
Me: Carny? You’re afraid of losing votes of traveling carnival workers?
Obama: Is that what they prefer to be called? Carnival workers?
Me: How the hell should I know? I’m just seeking, you know, some clarification on what you’re looking for.
Obama: Well, we had a staff meeting, and I think it goes without saying that the Carnival Worker population has been woefully underrepresented. Every year they are tasked with providing all-American entertainment in parking lots and open fields across America. They travel and because of this many of them fail to claim a resident state. Without a resident state, they are less inclined to vote– even by absentee ballot. But these people are the salt of the earth. They are hardworking Americans who need to be heard. I can be that voice.
Me: Um, OK. Can I just ask you something?
Obama: Why what?
Me: Why do they need to be heard? I mean, why don’t you just leave them alone?
Obama: Excuse me?
Me: Baby steps, Barack. You’re getting way ahead of yourself.
Obama: What do you mean?
Me: I’ll be blunt. I know this is an historic election.
Obama: That it is.
Me: And you’re totally going to win.
Obama: Yes, I am.
Me: And all sorts of crazy hoo-ha is gonna happen because you’re young, you’re liberal, you’ve made history in so many incredibly awesome ways, and you’re just not gonna take it anymore. Am I right?
Obama: Go on.
Me: Point is… just leave the carnies out of this. I figure, most of them are off the grid. Most of them probably haven’t paid taxes their entire adult lives. And you know what? Do you think they have disability insurance, not to mention health insurance, even while they’re operating equipment called “Sizzler” or “Megadrop” or “Horror Train”? I don’t think so. They’re rebels.
Obama: You see, that’s exactly the point I’m…
Me: Shhhh… shhh…
Obama: OK, I’m Shhhh-shing.
Me: So anyway, just don’t do any photo opps with guys named Lefty or Big John or Ghost Eye. Just don’t.
Obama: If you say so.
Me: You’ll thank me.
Obama: So what was it you wanted to vent about?
Me: I just saw that documentary “Sicko” and I am asbsolutely outraged that our government, unlike the French, does not send ladies to houses to do other ladies’ laundry when they have babies. Their daycare is, like, a dollar a day and they are awesome. And doctors actually make housecalls– and they like it! Why don’t we have that? Huh? Why?
Obama: I’m working on it.
Me: Oh you better be… or I’m moving to France. I mean it this time.
Obama: Au revoir.
Me: Yeah, well, I would ditch the jokes too.
Obama: Whatever you say.
Obama: You’re welcome.
Me: Now go kick some McButt.
So, here’s a short list of middle grade and YA fiction that recently caught my eye. They have been crowding my nightstand for months, and I can now say that they are worth checking out. The only reason I am not giving synopses at the moment is because I am dead tired and attempting to rest up before this weekend. Happy exploring!
And I also want to give a big shout out to my McCallum High School buddy Greg Foley who has done such an amazing job with his two picture books which he wrote and illustrated:
The first time Alex saw Ava it was in an ad for a Co-op Radio benefit. There was a photo of her and three guys– all hosts of the most popular shows. The foursome looked very bummed out because it was a benefit for the station which had burned to the ground just a week before. No one knew the hows or the whys of why it went up in flames. It was a mystery. Co-op was still was sharing space with the college radio station for the time being, and they had cut their programming by almost seventy per cent until they could raise enough money to buy a new, small studio.
When Alex saw Ava, he felt as though he had hit the mother lode. She was petite with light-haired pony tails. She had perfect, straight Bettie Page bangs and wore black-framed glasses with rhinestones. The photo was in black and white, and he wished he knew what the true color of her eyes and hair really were. In the picture, Ava wore an argyle cardigan over a concert t-shirt which Alex finally made out to be from U2’s Joshua Tree tour. He wondered where she scored the shirt since she must have been in kindergarten at the time. Maybe she had a cool aunt or uncle who passed it down to her. Or maybe she had bought it online. She didn’t seem like the kind of person who buy something like that online, so Alex concluded that it came to her in some wonderful, serendipitous way– like she had come to him. And although she was frowning for the camera, her eyes had a hint of a smile that calmed Alex to the bones.
With the cutback in the schedule, Alex had temporarily panicked thinking that “Pop Candy” would be off the air indefinitely. But Ava wasn’t cut. She was popular. Alex was relieved and disturbed by this fact. “Hey,” he thought. “Who else is listening to her? There can’t be someone out there who loves the show as much as I do.”
Alex had been doing pretty well since discovering “Pop Candy” and he looked forward to it every night. On the weekends, when Ava wasn’t on air, he would line up one album for Sat. night and one for Sun. night– recordings that Ava had talked about or recommended on air. He would sink into his bean bag, put on his garage sale headphones that made him look like a rusty robot and would listen to the entire CD from beginning to end, eyes closed. Sometimes he didn’t have any pot or beer, so it would take him nearly three songs before his mind would stop racing. But for the nights that he did score some weed or had enough for a twelve pack, he would barely make it halfway through before falling into a deep, dreamproof sleep.
He would imagine Ava sitting in a bean bag right next to him, her headphones plugged into the same stereo. Every now and then they would look up at each other, smiling and nodding to the music. Their hands would be clasped and they would tap rhythms on the back of them to keep time. Maybe she would squeeze his hand every now and then at some particularly sentimental lyric.
Tonight, he was listening to The Bends by Radiohead. When Fake Plastic Trees came on, tears began to quietly flow down his face in a torrent of salty, stinging pain. Soon, his face was hot and soaked through like a sponge. He ran the palms of his hands roughly over his eyes and pulled the tears through his dirty hair making it shine in the moonlight streaming in. He could feel the wounds of the years bursting through his skin, ravaging his body with the bold, ruthless pain of regret and fear. He didn’t quite understand what the song meant, but he cared about the person who could write something like that and lamented his own lack of ingenuity when it came to expressing such longing for something better.
At that moment, Alex’s father burst into the room, flung on the lights and took what looked to Alex like a war stance.
“Enough is enough, Alex,” Mr. Whitney said. “You’ve drained the liquor cabinet and you haven’t been out of this house for two weeks. Now you’re sitting in the dark crying like a little girl. What the hell is wrong with you?”
“What? Nothing. What?” Alex’s tears dried up like drops of water on a 400 degree skillet in summertime.
“Tomorrow, I’m locking you out of the house. And there’s nothing you or your mother can do about it. When you get a plan, a job, anything, you let me know and you can get the rest of your things. I’ll pay your first month’s rent, and then you are on your own.”
Before Alex could jump up and say “Hey, Dad. I do have a plan. I mean I have an idea, and it’s slowly getting better. I mean, I’m getting better– just give me some more time…” Mr. Whitney slammed the door shut so hard, Alex’s shelves came crashing down and his CDs fell like tarot cards across the dusty rug. His heart began to race and his eyes darted toward all of his belongings as though he had to make a split second decision on what to keep and what to let burn. He felt his world had suddenly exploded into flames and he had no idea where he was going to go once the sun came up.