Monday, August 31, 2009

(Post) Modern Love: WE NEVER TALK ABOUT IT


He hasn’t moved all night. Usually he flops around the bed like a fish. We play tug of war with certain choice pillows. Throw off blankets – put on sleeping bags. Turn off the fan, turn on the fan. Go to the bathroom. Take a pill. Get water. See what the noise is. Put our night shades on. We’re more active as a couple at night, then during the day.

We are not sound sleepers he and I. So when I wake up and realize he hasn’t moved all night, I am afraid to touch him. We haven’t touched in a while. We’re in the midst of one of our cold wars, where we sort of coexist.

But now I am laying here afraid to touch him. What if he is cold, and hard, and …. we never talk about death. Never. We have never in our ten years of marriage had that necessary conversation about what would you like done? Where would you like to be put? I think he’s more afraid of it than I am. And I am. When I was young and first learned about death, I just decided that I wouldn’t. I made up the rule that if I did a somersault into bed every night, I would never die. This totally relaxed me about the subject, absolutely certain that this would work. So for years I somersaulted into bed. I never told anyone why; my mother, friends who slept over. It was just my quirky way of getting into bed. And then one night many years after making this bargain, I was tired or maybe even drunk, and I forgot to somersault in. I woke panicked in the middle of the night. I’d known I’d blown it. I had had it in my hands, the power to be immortal. And I blew it.

He gets overwhelmed by the infinity of a starry night. An endless field of purple wildflowers gives him a panic attack. So the thought of eternity just ain’t a topic for conversation.

I turn roughly in the bed to see if that will stir him. No movement. I stare at the wood beamed ceiling. Watch the ceiling fan turn and notice the thick layer of dust on it.

He would want a Jewish service I know that. He prays quietly every night before bed. I don’t think he knows I know. We’ve never discussed it.

The alarm goes off, his alarm – a clock radio. A moment of Santana plays. He grunts, gets out of bed and turns off the radio. I ask him how he slept. He mumbles something unintelligible without looking at me.

We get up, we dress, we go off to our daily lives. We never talk about it.

***Laurel Ollstein lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter, and two great dogs. She is working on her memoir
Freud's Opening Night.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It Might Be You -- Stephen Bishop

Who doesn't remember this great song at the end of the movie Tootsie?

Monday, August 24, 2009

(Post)Modern Love: My Little Mate


Like any self-aware and psychoanalyzed single woman in her late 30s, I dreamed of meeting my soul mate. The last place I expected to find one was inside a cold, musty warehouse space that was packed floor to the ceiling with cardboard-covered computer accessories. The setting in no way resembled the Monet-like garden of my fantasies.

David, my darling and commitment-phobic boyfriend of almost two years, needed something for his G5—the latest unnecessary gadget or fancy wingding. I had no such need or interest, but, being a good, supportive girlfriend, agreed to go with him to Mac Mall on our way to dinner one unseasonably warm winter night.

The place, as usual, oozed low levels of testosterone. I wandered, randomly checking out new developments in virus protection and the various choices for the keyboard I probably needed to replace, having permanently disabled my arrow keys during an energetic game of Deimos Rising. David promptly engaged in a deep philosophical discussion about classic cars, guitars, the newest feature on Protools, or some other subject that held the sales clerk’s rapt attention. I could hear that David’s British accent had become more pronounced, indicating his obvious enthusiasm for the topic.

I was in for a long stay.

In the center of the display area was a round, low-to-the-ground bar where slick and shiny new models of Macs and PCs attempted to entice me with their charms, not unlike a row of slot machines in Vegas. Squat, cloth-covered stools shaped like oversized champagne corks surrounded the bar. I balanced myself on one near the center, feeling like the mom at a parent-teacher conference who, with whatever dignity she can muster, squishes herself into a first grader’s desk.

What to do, what to do? Writing a fake e-mail held no appeal, nor did doodling with the latest greatest edition of Adobe Illustrator. But, hey, a chess game. I could do that. In fact, this seemed to be the perfect opportunity to practice.

A beautifully cut glass chess set had been among the many gifts that Christmas, and David had started teaching me how to play. He took it easy on me in our first few games and I was determined to improve. Googling “chess” led me to Web sites that defined the different playing pieces, moves, and strategies. A pawn can only move forward, one space at a time. The bishop is restricted to diagonal moves. The King, well, you’ve got to protect him at all costs. And the Queen, like the female in most relationships, is the strong one.

I knew I had no chance of outsmarting my computerized opponent, but playing would allow me to practice, commit some things to memory, and it would kill the time.

I played along for about three minutes, a little bored since Mr. Computer beat me unmercifully at his first opportunity. “Check mate,” he droned in his inhumanly digitalized voice. But I was absorbed enough that I didn’t at first see the approach of a quiet observer. Rather, I felt him. A little boy, maybe about 6 and small for his age, had eased up alongside me, watching intently.

“Do you know how to play chess?” I asked.
He shook his shaggy, due-for-a-trim, dark brown mane.

“Would you like to learn?”

“Okay,” he said quietly, nodding so that his long bangs fell into his shy brown eyes.

I began with some basics—which was about as much as I knew—demonstrating how the pawns and the knights and the other pieces moved. He soon took over the mouse and made the moves himself after we discussed the strategy of each.

Mr. Computer was a ruthless opponent, not at all like the parent who “cheats” at Candy Land, losing every time so his child can develop confidence and a love for the game. But each time our King surrendered, my teammate and I clicked “new game” for another chance. We would have lost a fortune gambling. As we focused on the chess screen, I noticed he had moved his small left hand onto my leg. He leaned his head lightly against my shoulder, and then, almost imperceptibly, he moved into my lap. I caught a whiff of his mildly sweet, slightly metallic little boy scent, when…


Like a bird fleeing the nest, he hopped off my lap in answer to his father’s sharp call. But soon he was back.

“My dad says I can play s’more,” he announced with a grin that lit up my whole being.

And so we did. I did most of the talking, although our words were few. He commanded the mouse. In perfect symbiosis, we made a great team. It all felt so easy, so natural, almost primitive, which is ironic considering we were playing a game that was thousands of years old on a piece of technology that would be outdated before we left the store. Maybe we had known each other in a previous life; maybe he was my soul mate and this was our one predestined encounter in this lifetime. I never learned his name, nor did I give mine. Formalities seemed unnecessary.

Too soon, David signaled that it was time to leave. He had long ago selected and paid for his item.

I thanked my young companion for playing with me and made my way out of the store, nodding to his father, who had also finished his business. Both men had been quietly observing us, allowing us our little time together.

I wondered why this sweet child came to me. Did he feel I was safe? Did I look nice or maternal or helpful? Or like I would be fun to play with? What attraction had drawn us together?

Untapped emotions and biological yearnings churned through me as I cradled myself in the soft seat of David’s convertible. “You really should have kids, you know,” he said, starting up the engine that would make all further conversation inaudible.

I know.

***Freelance writer Kathleen Guthrie lives in San Francisco with two dogs and a great man (not the guy in the story).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

(Post)Modern Love: Honey, My Head is On Fire


Unless something is burning, sputtering fumes, bleeding profusely, or beeping, my husband Vlad, a family medicine physician in his last year of residency training, does not feel the urge to act. I’m not talking about what he’s like on the job at the hospital, goodness no! I’m merely describing my husband’s approach to domestic situations – unless something or someone is burning, sputtering fumes, bleeding profusely, or beeping, why should he get up from his comfy lounging position on the red couch we inherited from my parents?

The problem, dear reader, is that on certain occasions when Vlad sees none of the four tell-tale signs of an emergency, I see embers drifting quickly towards us, embers poised to land on that stack of interwar novels I borrowed from the library (ay! a red hot one is wafting awfully close to Vlad’s foot!), which makes me conclude that unless we spring to action, we will roast alive in our apartment.

If not catastrophe by fire, then water will do. On the afternoon that Vlad is blissful, napping in front of a tennis match on television while our toddler Théo plays quietly with his blocks (for a few minutes anyway), I feel the flood levels rising – because we are going to run out of milk in the next couple of hours, and I have three days left to pay our credit card bill on time, and we have yet to decide whether or not we are going to attend Vlad’s ex-girlfriend’s wedding in the mountains. And then there are those embroidered sheets my grandmother gave us that I’ve been meaning to iron. And the book proposal for the novel I started working on in college? I must respond to these looming tasks post-haste, lest we drown in a pool of inactivity.

Sometimes Vlad and I go see our shrink CK. CK is smart and funny and forthcoming. When I talk to him about my parents and my in-laws, CK recounts strategies he and his wife (a therapist who practices in the office next door) came up with to deal with his mother. He is also a good listener and he knows when to ask pesky questions. When Vlad and I told him about the moving violation Vlad got several months ago – Vlad’s driver’s license is pending suspension and his car will be impounded imminently, according to the reprimanding letters we keep receiving from the court and the Department of Motor Vehicles – I said that I was frustrated and pissed off, I felt let down.

CK asked me what made me anxious about Vlad’s driving infraction from hell and how Vlad was dealing with it, so I tried to tell him that I was not anxious, I was angry, I was furious, I was an Amazon warrior betrayed by my longest-standing ally (aka my husband who might not be able to pick up our kid from daycare, or drive himself to work for several days or weeks or months, because his driving privileges have been suspended). CK repeated his question.

And that’s when it began to dawn on me – where I saw a fire raging, getting more and more out of control, Vlad saw a gang of persistent bureaucrats who had figured out how to send form letters in scary tones. Unlike an untamable fire, threatening form letters from government agencies can be dealt with during business hours.

Vlad settled my burning questions about his legal status as a driver and vehicle owner after some internet research and a twenty-minute phone call: no, he did not need bail posted, and no, he would not have his license suspended, nor would he risk losing his car if he drove to the market to buy that gallon of milk we so desperately needed. He simply had to fill out an online form, pay a little fine, and show up in three months for the scheduled court date (three months?!).

When another threatening letter showed up a few days letter, Vlad decided to get aggressive about the situation (after much screaming from a woman he had once agreed to marry and who suddenly resembled a fiery dragon on uppers), so he drove to the court in the county where the ticket had been issued (this all happened, by the way, because a police officer saw him make an incomplete stop at a stop sign inside the hospital campus where Vlad had just gotten off shift around midnight on a weekday). You can imagine that at this point I was diagnosing third-degree burns and mumbling to myself about the months of rehabilitation.

Given the deserts and oceans that seem to separate my and Vlad’s points of view, I am eager to ask CK for his off-the-record opinion, not as my shrink, but as a man who interacts regularly with a wife and mother and daughter and female patients (oh, the hordes of women prone to crying wolf in the eyes of their male mates!). The problem is that I am currently sharing my weekly hour on CK’s couch with Vlad (so we can debate each other with a third party present – and CK does call time-outs, by the way). So far we have discovered that Vlad wants more romance (in other words, sex and all the excitement-building activities that promote undressing). We have also learned that I want to get our carpets steam cleaned.

Until my one-on-one hour with CK materializes, I am busy elaborating a few theories about me and Vlad, and about women and men in general, that have been enriched by a small constellation of trusted sources and friends. First, Women are from Mars and Men are from Venus – at least, that’s how Vlad would tell it when I’m in the middle of a Queen of the Night aria-gone-wrong while he’s trying to sweet talk himself back into good standing with the DMV lady over the telephone.

Second, as my acupuncturist says: men are simple. Men are stones and women are water. Water must move around the stone, and stone is polished and shaped by water. She also says that when I am flowing around my husband like a river around a medium-sized boulder, I have to do it happily – I cannot resign myself because I have no better choice.

“Happy water!” I say in return to her, as I wonder how her college-aged daughter would explain the stone-water dance in post-feminist terms. “I’m a happily flowing river. Gurgle gurgle!”

My friend Sara, who teaches kindergarten, recently told me how different her little girls and boys are, year after year. Even the ones who have been given both dolls and trucks as toddlers and named gender-neutrally (Jordan, Hunter, Mackenzie) separate into boy and girl-like activities during playtime. The girls set up house, prepare meals, invite each other over to primp and discuss the day. The boys show up to put out the fire that accidentally started when the girls forgot to take the pot roast out on time.

Once the boys have dealt with the emergency, the girls invite them to stay for supper, but their rescuers can’t afford a sit down meal – the boys have other fires to put out, other people to save. The girls dish up thick slices of play pot roast that they proudly administer. The boys crowd around the table as they wait their turns to receive. Suddenly one of them says, “hey, I’m gonna carry mine in my mouth, like a lion – rrrrrrroah!” The firefighters-turned-lions depart in a cacophony of roars spurred on by pot roast (veggie roast for the vegetarians in the group, of course) while the girls giggle or grumble (how rude!) and then resume their conversations.

As much as I love Sara’s stories about kindergarten, I have other sources who don’t care for anecdotes or metaphors – Venus/Mars, stone/water, firefighter/Betty Crocker – and who focus their energies on practical solutions – ahem, strategies.

My neighbor collects all the balled up socks her boyfriend leaves around the house, and once a week she puts them under his pillow. The next day, inevitably, he shows up with a pizza, a six-pack, and the latest fashion rag, and puts his dirty socks away neatly (to be technical about this, he flings them atop the heap of unmentionables in the back corner of his closet).

Which reminds me: men and caves. A sacred duo! Virginia Woolf should have thought that one over and written a sequel: A Cave of One’s Own: the Twentieth-Century Man. Whenever I can’t find Vlad in our apartment, I call him on his cell phone. He never answers, but he usually shows up 5-15 minutes later with some story about going down to the storage basement to find a tool he’s been looking for or to put something away for me. I don’t dare ask if he had a nice retreat into his cave, because identifying it spoils the action. He needs to disappear to do his guy stuff undetected.

Fortunately, Vlad and I have fully accepted that we think and behave differently in many cases. We cannot explain the differences, and sometimes we cannot understand them, but nonetheless we trust each other. This morning I convinced Vlad to go to yoga with me because he was feeling especially stiff after too many overnight hospital shifts.

“It’s not going to be that military-style yogaerobics, is it?”

“No,” I said. “The class is very relaxing – a lot of stretching and breathing and simple poses.”

I was true to my word. We didn’t do fast paced sun salutations and push-up sequences, no flying crow pose, bird of paradise, or little thunderbolt. Our teacher, Mary, led us through hip and shoulder openers, and a slow series of cat and cow stretches. As we alternated the two movements – rounding our backs like midnight cats, and raising our gazes while dropping our bellies like mooing cows – Mary instructed us to add the lion’s breath.

Vlad laughed out loud as he discovered he was the only man in a roomful of women hissing like mountain lions ready to put out a fire. And those are two of the many reasons why I love my husband – he has a sense of humor, and he knows that girls like to be firefighting mountain lions just as much as boys do.

*** Magdalena Edwards lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son. She is working on a memoir about becoming a mother in unexpected circumstances.

Friday, August 7, 2009

In memory of John Hughes

"Don't You (Forget About Me)" was written by Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff for the soundtrack to the film The Breakfast Club and performed by Simple Minds in 1984. 

Don't You (Forget About Me)

Hey, hey, hey,hey

Won't you come see about me?
I'll be alone, dancing you know it baby

Tell me your troubles and doubts
Giving me everything inside and out and
Love's strange so real in the dark
Think of the tender things that we were working on

Slow change may pull us apart
When the light gets into your heart, baby

Don't You Forget About Me
Don't Don't Don't Don't
Don't You Forget About Me

Will you stand above me?
Look my way, never love me
Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling
Down, down, down

Will you recognise me?
Call my name or walk on by
Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling
Down, down, down, down

Hey, hey, hey, hey

Don't you try to pretend
It's my feeling we'll win in the end
I won't harm you or touch your defenses
Vanity and security

Don't you forget about me
I'll be alone, dancing you know it baby
Going to take you apart
I'll put us back together at heart, baby

Don't You Forget About Me
Don't Don't Don't Don't
Don't You Forget About Me

As you walk on by
Will you call my name?
As you walk on by
Will you call my name?
When you walk away

Or will you walk away?
Will you walk on by?
Come on - call my name
Will you call my name?

I say :
La la la...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

(Post)Modern Love: Scarlett and the Underwear Kids


Things had been feeling somewhat grey lately, what with my girlfriend back east for a six-month stint at a cousin company, and the doldrums that usually nabbed me in the winter months. My own work as a tax attorney had become grueling – long days and longer nights that promised no end until well after April 15. Whenever I slipped into the office at 10:30am, the head lawyer didn’t bother to look up from her coffee and computer screens – she had a string of emails from the night before that I had sent between midnight and 3am. A few times she asked me if I had slept in my clothes. The truth is that I had no energy for laundry and other up-keep, so I found myself hoping yesterday’s pants would un-wrinkle in the steam from my morning shower. Or, I would dig out slacks and a shirt that had been stuffed in the back of my closet for far too many years. All in all, life was drab and dragging.

Then I got the email reminding me of Scarlett’s opening.

My friend Scarlett was a painter. We had met in a café in Paris a few summers earlier. I was on a dinner date with a French-Mexican jewelry designer who, after we had polished off our crème caramel and espressos, invited me to meet her friends for a drink. We stumbled upon a gaggle of ex-pats and locals on the art prowl in the back room of a gallery in the 13th. The beers, kir royales, and shot glasses of absinthe cluttered the two tiny tables we crowded around. Half-way between midnight and dawn, we found a secret after-hours club, and Scarlett led the charge as we cross-pollinated with the other night crawlers. My date Morgana said, “she’s wonderful in a crowd, but silence bothers her.”

The next morning, the remnants of our group quietly sipped noisettes and shared crusty bread at a corner café before parting ways for a morning of napping or bloodshot work. Morgana rested her head on my shoulder between tiny gulps of her espresso with the slightest drop of cream.

“Looks like you two hit it off,” Scarlett said suddenly. “First date and you spent the night together.”

“Oh, darling,” said Morgana. “It doesn’t count if it’s with you and everyone else. You know me, I share too easily.”

“True. It’s why we love you. But if you’re not careful, someone might slip your sweetmeat into their pocket while you're looking for the lipstick in your purse.”

“I won’t fit in a pocket,” I said, speaking up for myself.

“Well, I don’t wear pockets,” replied Scarlett. “But I have friends who sew in extra ones. Just in case.” She giggled. Morgana raised her cup as if to make a toast.

“Sweethearts, I have to run, but maybe we can do a dance party tonight? My friend Fido has an amazing farm outside the city and he’s dying to inaugurate it for August’s long goodbye.”

I don’t know if the dance party at Fido’s farm happened or not. I only saw Scarlett a couple of times en masse for the remainder of my three-week vacation.

Meanwhile, Morgana and I enjoyed each other’s company the way you do when you’ve found your sweetheart on the ten-day family cruise your parents booked. The night before I left Paris, Morgana and I said our gentle farewells. The next morning on the plane, I wondered when I might see Scarlett again.

Every time I ran into her, and she got around – Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, Paris, Rio – Scarlett always had a new haircut to frame her angular features and shocking blue eyes. Her razor straight reddish hair made the shock all the more sharp. Our post-Paris reunion happened by email. “Hear you’re living in LA! Come to my place for a BLT party tomorrow night!” When I showed up, her small apartment was crowded with hipsters, acupuncturists, and an additional lawyer or two. Her friend Mitchell, a junior exec at Universal with a hankering for the kitchen, had made the BLTs: farmers’ market yellow tomatoes, watercress, rye or sourdough bread from the bakery a block away, and organic bacon, or veggie-strips for the non-meat-eaters.

“Mitchell’s my husband,” Scarlett announced to me as I took my first bite into my first BLT.

“Oh, honey, don’t you wish!” he retorted, giving her a playful spank on the backside of her cropped riding pants.

When I headed home after the evening with Scarlett and her friends, I was totally hooked. This was the most fun girl I had ever met and not dated. I began to wonder whether not dating her made our relationship all the more exciting. I never knew who Scarlett would have at one of her gatherings – and it didn’t threaten me because I could not make proprietary claims over her. I couldn’t find her outfits over-the-top (glittery pink wigs, fishnet biker shorts?) or too sexy (off the shoulder sheer tank dress) because… because she looked fantastic and set the tone for the evening – fabulous fresh times all night long.

Scarlett was the best barometer for potential girlfriends – they either hated her or loved her, were jealous or eager to make her their own friend. She was kind to me about my poorer choices (“she has such great eyes!”) and asked me tough questions when I didn’t necessarily want to hear them (“why do you think she didn’t mention her ex-husband earlier?”).

My current girlfriend, Sandie, adored Scarlett and indulged her antics with various explanations: artists have abundant seed to sew, she's too smart not to be naughty, carpe diem by the hour. "She'll settle down one day," Sandie would remind us all. When I told her that I was going to Scarlett’s opening on Saturday night, she said, “I wish I could make it for the weekend! It’ll be a night to remember, if Scarlett has anything to do with it. Enjoy yourself, you’ve been working way too hard.”

Sandie was right. When was the last time I had spent an evening hanging out, having a drink or two, not looking at the clock or pacing until the beep on my phone indicated a new email from my boss?

I showed up at the gallery about half an hour into the opening. Scarlett’s pieces – photographs of rotting fruit in market stalls around the world, portraits of children in hospitals, anatomical drawings made sensual despite being headless – allured and challenged her viewers. I heard a few debates in hushed gallery voices and noticed fervent eyes fixed on the work. Her pieces would not be everyone’s cup of tea, but her technical flair was unquestionable – and she had a spirit to her work, a certain oomph that grabbed you in the gut.

A few minutes after I had arrived, I felt an arm around my waist and a whisper in my ear. “Do you think Sandie would mind if I borrowed you for the night? Gianni flew in from Milan and he’s threatening to throw a fit if I don’t spend the rest of the weekend with him. I need you to be my fiancé.” Scarlett’s breath was hot against my ear. “Please,” she repeated, though only saying the word for the first time.

I looked at Scarlett, as if to communicate the weight of what she was asking. Her eyes glittered back saying that she knew I loved her enough to do it and that it would be a fun night all the more. “Sandie won’t mind,” she told me as she squeezed my hand. “Should we call her to ask?”

I thought it over for less than a second.

“No,” I said to Scarlett. “But will anyone really believe us? Where is your engagement ring?”

“Oh, I’ll tell them you’re building me a house instead – on the coast of Florianopolis with a view of the surfers. I’ll have private lessons with Marco for a whole year!”

“Sounds pretty good,” I admitted as I filed away a question or two for later, maybe for the next morning's conversation with Sandie when she was bound to call me from her apartment-hotel back east: “What are friends for? Is honesty the best policy?”

I’m not sure I would have had much to tell Sandie if she had pressed for details from the night. Gianni and I ended up sharing a half-bottle of Johnny Walker blue while talking about politics and our mothers. Scarlett left the after-after-party with Julia and Shane, underwear models featured on one of Hollywood’s biggest billboards.

***Damian Scotts lives in Los Angeles with his wife and twin sons. He's working on a collection of short stories.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Engaged in Love

Anna Paquin & Stephen Moyer are engaged to be married, says People.

Will they have offspring of the telepathic vampire sort?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Monday, August 3, 2009

From the film TWO DAYS IN PARIS

ven if this person bugs you sixty percent of the time, well, you still can’t live without him. And even if he wakes you up every day by sneezing right in your face, well, you love his sneezes more than anyone else's kisses."