Friday, December 7, 2007

Finding My Inner Detective

Two days ago I received a terrible fright. My mother, who is a creature of habit, was missing. She's 80 years old and you can tell time based on her schedule. I called her around 5:20pm as I usually do and she wasn't home. This was odd, indeed. I immediately assumed I had been distracted and dialed the wrong number. I waited a few moments and dialed again, this time the phone was picked up not by my mother but, by my uncle who lives downstairs in their two-family house. The first red flag went up.

My uncle informed me that my mother had gone to the bank. She called about an hour ago saying that she couldn't find her car. My uncle offered to come and pick her up but being the stubborn woman she is, she refused saying she'd look for the car.

Occasionally my mother has shown some signs of forgetfulness which I've never been too concerned about. Her mother, my grandmother, died at the age of 102 and possessed a memory like a steel trap. I've always attributed her memory-lapses to her tendency to converse while watching the news. But losing her car? Could this be the first sign of something more serious? Then a more plausible explanation presented itself.
My mother has a terrible sense of direction. If she parked her car on an unfamiliar block, she could very well lose her way.

What did concern me was the fact that my uncle stated that my mother had rushed off to the bank an hour ago, that would mean she left around 4:20pm. That was impossible because at 4:20pm Oprah was on. My mother can not miss Oprah! Why would she leave during Oprah? She won't even talk to me between the hours of 4-5pm. The second red flag rises.

I phoned 15 minutes later and there was still no sign of my mother. It was night. It was raining with a chance of snow showers likely. My mother does not travel at night nor does she travel when the weather is bad. She's obsessed with the weather forecast. If rain or, God forbid, snow is predicted, she loads up on food supplies days ahead in the event of that biblical flood or the blizzard that will envelop all of New York City. My mother was really missing. This wasn't some sick joke. It wasn't a misunderstanding. This was real.

Panic was rising. My mother does not have a cell phone. I live two hours away. My uncle is 83 with a bad leg with poor night-time vision so he can't go out and search. The bank she went to was closed. My husband was on his way home from work, he immediately turned around and headed for the city. I was left at home with an active of imagination.

She'd fallen. She had a stroke or a heart-attack or maybe even both. She'd hit her head and lost her memory. She'd been mugged or stabbed or the victim of a hit-and-run. Each time I phoned my uncle only to learn that she still hadn't called, the images became darker and bleaker.

I did what I do best. I researched. Trapped without answers, I went online. I found the local police precinct in the Bronx where my mother had gone. I discovered there is very little the police can do when you're searching for someone who is missing, if that person is not ill and in complete control of their mental faculties. I considered lying, telling the officer she was a raving lunatic suffering from diabetes who was without her insulin but my damn religious schooling prevented me. I thanked the officer for his help and hung up. I learned that in New York City, you can only report a person missing in the precinct in which they reside, not in the area where they were last seen. Also, if someone makes a 911 call regarding an elderly woman who has been fallen, suffered a stroke and a heart-attack, been the victim of a mugging, stabbing and a hit-and-run the local precinct will not have this information. So, I went to the next step.

Although, the officer couldn't give me more information, he did provide me with the list of hospitals my mother would have been taken to in the event of an emergency. I go back online to track down the emergency room numbers.
Thankfully they did not have my mother or any unknowns or Jane Doe's. It is quite terrifying to conceive of one's mother being an unknown or a Jane Doe. I was pleased that she wasn't there and that no other family was suffering through the pain of an 80 year old woman brought into the emergency at that time.

I kept checking in with my uncle who sounded more panicked by the moment. He was standing in their vestibule with the telephone watching and waiting. My husband was staying calm and offering hope that once he got to the area he'd be able to find her. I tried to keep my children from knowing their grandmother was missing. I had to struggle not to cry during each phone call.

I considered everything. Maybe she found the car and had gone to the store but no, she is a creature of habit. She only goes to the store once a week, either Sunday or Monday. It was Wednesday. No that was out. Ah, maybe car trouble. Perhaps she called AAA with her last quarter. I called and a very concerned customer service operator could not find a call from her but she did offer her prayers and I took that willingly. I was beginning to run out of answers but I knew if I did that I would not be able to bring her home.

I'd call the police back, then the hospitals. I'd even try Visa and Mastercard. I didn't have her account numbers but I'd keep talking until I found someone who could at least let me know if there was any current activity on her card. If this worked, I'd call her bank and do the same. Was there a neighborhood watch? I'd find out if they were listed and see if they could help me. I'd call my neighbor who is a New York City Police Officer and see what he could do. Perhaps there were channels he could cross that I, a lone citizen, could not.

But then at 6:36pm the phone rang with the melodious sound of my breathless mother. No present can compare to knowing she was home. She was safe. She was cold. Her bad leg was bothering her but she was fine.

I started thinking about this incident in light of my novel-in-progress about an amateur sleuth. I write with my eye focused on the credibility of a character with no law enforcement, no legal and no professional sleuthing ability to solve a crime. Will anyone believe that someone like this could be so persistent that they take matters into their own hands? I certainly received a resounding yes two days ago. Of course my real-life situation involved no dead body, no murderer, and no life-threatening moments but real-life has never been as satisfying as having my Mommy back from the unknown. I would tell her this but it's after 11:30am and she's watching The View right now.

Write on!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Nano Express is Chugging Along

I know by virtue of my publishing this on my blog a crash is bound to occur, but NANO (National Novel Writing) is going smoothly. I'm actually over 31,000 words. YEAH! Last year this time, I was in tears. The 50,000 goal was about as far away as the prospect of paying my credit card balance in full. This year I'm feeling like I might finish the whole book, not just reach 50,000 words.

What surprises me most is that I've been able to write everyday and still manage to keep my life functioning. Yes, there's dirt but it's not the embarrassing kind where you pray no one ever visits. We even had visitors stay with us for an extended period of time and still I managed to write everyday.

I've continued writing through indoor soccer tryouts, tantrums, bloody noses, way too many children running through my house, school closings, while explaining the rivalries between the European nations during the colonization of the new world, or how to regroup three digit numbers and while my toddler head-butts the screen of my laptop

I've written while standing up, laying down and even on the toilet (don't ask but it's the one room with a lock on the door).

I've even written holding a sleeping baby, a fussy baby, a curious baby and a baby prone to eye-gouging. I can squint and still see the screen.

I've written while the dog barks at the UPS truck, the FEDEX truck, the mailman, Rufus the Chipmunk who hangs out by the kitchen, the deer, the leaves falling from the trees, squirrels, turkeys, cars, motorcycles, at me for typing, her own reflection in the window and because she can.

If there were a writer's obstacle course, I'd be in medal contention. I just might be able to call myself a writer without having to look over my shoulder in case someone is listening.

Write on!

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Consumer Generation

I turned on my computer this morning and found another story about a toy recall. A toddler swallowed a bead from an Aquadot craft kit
and began vomiting and lost consciousness. Apparently the chemical used to coat the beads causes the same reaction as the date-rape drug. Oh great, another recall just in time for the holidays.

Yesterday, my daughter and I were stuck behind a slow-moving flatbed truck carrying a humongous shed. You know the ones I mean, they're all over suburbia. They're the size of the average home 40 or 50 years ago. We watched amazed as the truck stopped outside one of these 6000sf McMansions with attached two level, three car garage. My daughter wondered what they could possibly need a shed for with that much space. I resisted the urge to launch into the George Carlin comedy routine about stuff but man, I realized what a prophet he was all those years.

Here are some scary facts:

Though Americans represent a small portion of the world's population, we produce over half its waste. In one day, we generate enough trash to fill the New Orleans Superdome twice. (

There are 6.86sq.ft of self-storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation; thus it is physically possible that every American could stand- all at the same time- under the total canopy of self-storage roofing. (

Average home sizes have grown by more than 50% since the early 1970s while the number of people in most households is shrinking. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 3/30/07)

Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of total economic activity. (Business Week 11/7/07)

Perhaps the cash register should replace the eagle as the symbol of our country.

The message, from above, after September 11th was to keep right on buying. That'll show those terrorist, you can't keep Americans from shopping. Patriotic shopping, what a concept. I guess FDR missed that one after Pearl Harbor. Could the civil war have been averted with a little more consumer spending? Who has time to make war when there's a sale?

Aquadots joins a staggering list of recalled toys. Going through the list I saw a connection. It's not just that most of these toys are manufactured in China but that they're all pretty much crap. They are a perfect symbol of our consumer gluttony. We purchase all manner of junk for our kids. Why do we buy it? Because it's brightly colored, it has cute characters, because we think we're supposed to and the number one reason (drum roll please)- IT'S CHEAP. It's so cheap that we can buy lots of wonderful crap for them. It doesn't matter that they have rooms filled with the exact same crap; we buy it because we can. For $100 you can fill a cart at WalMart. How great is that! It's not about substance but quantity. We're training our kids to take on the family business- shopping. Just go ahead and look at the amount of crap you have hidden in some dark place. Do you even remember why you needed to buy those Chia pets?

There's so much of this crap in our homes that we can't even contain it, it's spilling out. We're buying shed's to store it. We're paying rent for air-conditioned storage spaces in a country that lacks affordable housing. We have houses for our stuff but not our people. Our homes are bigger and bigger and we have to buy more things to fill it up. When it starts to get out of control we purchase container systems, when that doesn't work we move to a bigger home (at least we did before we realized that we couldn't really afford those big homes and now they're being foreclosed).

Here's my solution: STOP BUYING CRAP WE DON'T NEED!! I know it's radical and can be considered unpatriotic but revolution has to start somewhere. It's time to take a stand. Some of you might be hyperventilating at the prospect, after all , the season of gluttony is fast approaching. But we'll take baby steps. Let's start with a day first, then go for a week. Those of you who feel strong may be able to go a whole month.

Hey, like you, I'm a product of our times. I start feeling a slight ache, dull pain in my head and a tickle in my throat when I haven't purchased something in a while. There are things in my house that I can only justify by claiming a momentary lapse of sanity. I haven't reached the point of the storage shed or climate-controlled space yet but I do spend my free time scanning books and magazine in a quest for that perfect container that will make all the stuff disappear. I'll be the first to admit I'll need some support; come join me.

Perhaps we'll end global warming, work ourselves out of debt. Maybe we'll spend more time with our family and friends. Maybe we'll find peace on earth.

Everyone repeat after me: STOP BUYING CRAP!

Write on!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Muse with Combat Boots

O! for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.
William Shakespeare

A while back in one of the writing groups I belong, the conversation turned to Muses. How did we personify our Muse? There were lots of descriptions of the classical statuesque Grecian goddesses with long flowing diaphanous robes smiling warmly as they bestow their gifts.

Some even saw non human forms like unicorns, horses, and rainbows. It was all so warm and fuzzy, I couldn't relate.

I've come to envision my Muse, these days as John Wayne ready to charge into battle.

She swaggers into the room with a vicious glare demanding to know what the hell I think I'm doing surfing the web or checking my email again. "Get writing and don't let me see your worthless face until you've finished that scene or else!" And I get back to work, after all it's The Duke. He's not just a man of a thousand Sunday afternoons of my childhood but the embodiment of action. When The Duke talks, you walk. Even my father who usually fell asleep in front of the television stayed awake for John Wayne.

Other days, this goddess is transformed into Lawrence Taylor.

She dons her armor as I sit down nervously, fingers poised over the keyboard. I hold my breath pressing down on the first key and then the next until I form a word. She's there, her battle-face terrifying through her helmet, fingers digging into the turf below, muscles in her thighs twitching waiting for the attack.

"Mommy, she said I'm an idiot!" Direct hit.

"Mommy, he hit me!" Ooh, a bone crunching tackle.

Oh no, the toddler has broken through the line, a block in his hand pulling back ready to hurl at the computer screen but Lawrence sensing danger, whirls around and takes him out. And I can take a deep breath and write as the voices and distractions fade into the distance.

The ancient Greeks believed that the Muses inspired all artists but in a house full of children they not only have to inspire but rush into battle.

Write on comrades!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It's NANO Season Again, Protect Your Loved Ones

For those of you who aren't familiar with this form of self-flagellation, NANO stands for National Novel Writing Month. During the month of November thousands of people pledge to write 50,000 words (175 pages). NANO officially starts 12:00am November 1st and ends 11:59pm November 30th. Those outside of this phenomenon will simply view it as some sort of pandemic, worse than the dreaded Bird Flu scare. As my civic duty, I've offered treatment for those who love these idiots.


Stage 1: Giddiness

The participant has just signed up.

Symptoms: Feverish excitement, the desire to spend thousands of dollars on needless office supplies, frequent bursts of "Whoppee!!!" and declarations that they are finally a writer.

Treatment: Nod indulgently and begin making plans for the month of November that will take you away from your loved one.

Stage 2: Shock with frequent bouts of Denial

The participant realizes November 1st is actually going to come and doesn't exist in the distant future.

Symptoms: moaning, chills, repetition of the question, "What have I done?", fear of the computer, irritability when well meaning loved ones say things like, "Who told you to sign up for it anyway?", incessant complaining

Treatment: Don't say, "Who told you to sign up for it anyway?", offer words of encouragement, and make certain you stay away from this person for the upcoming month

Stage 3: Panic

Also known as the official start of NANO. Reality has set in.

Symptoms: fever, complaints of vague aches and pains, staring into the white screen of a blank document, spiritual shivering

Treatment: There is none at this stage. Don't suggest starting at the beginning, this could send them into a downward spiral. Offer encouragement but from another room or better yet by email.

Stage 4: Anger

This is where Chris Baty, founder of NANO, will begin to experience a lot of negative energy coming his way.

Symptoms: rage, tantrums, tears, foul language, and some have reported talking in tongues

Treatment. NONE! STAY AWAY. Take a trip, don't answer your phone or emails from this person. It will only end badly.

Stage 5: Bargaining

Self pity and prayer.

Symptoms: a tendency to beg and offer up empty promises, the participant will begin smelling pretty rank at this time and looking ragged on their diet of Cheetos and left over Halloween candy, more tears

Treatment: for those strong enough offer a comforting pat on the back but be careful the participant can slip right back into Stage 5- anger.

Stage 6: Depression

Symptoms: wandering and mumbling aimlessly, head on desk with more crying but this time silent

Treatment: Enjoy the fact that they are leaving you out of this mess. Get some early holiday shopping done. You might want to pick up some air fresheners and discreetly place around the participant.

Stage 7: The Last Stage

The little engine that thinks perhaps...

Symptoms: zombie-like trance, auto typing (as in 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'), loss of hearing and speech, grunting, and dangerous flatulence from too much candy corn. There would be tears but by this stage the tear ducts are non-functioning.

Treatment: Get away. No one should see someone they love this way.

Stage 8: The End

12:00am December 1st

Symptoms: snoring, drooling and more flatulence

Treatment: towel under the head, drool can screw up the keyboard.

Good luck!

Write on!

The Muse Does Windows

"The best time for planning a book is while you're doing the dishes"- Agatha Christie

"I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It's amazing how it cheers one up to shed oranges and scrub the floor." - D.H. Lawrence

I'll never be one of those writers you read about in magazines who grab a cup of coffee at dawn and continue writing until light fades from the sky. It's not that I lack discipline; hey I went to Catholic school, I know discipline. Sitting at the keyboard for any prolonged period of time sends me like an addict with a serious jones searching for something, anything to clean, fix, sort or organize. It's not what you think. This is not a symptom of procrastination. It's more dangerous and disturbing. I confess- I love housework. The more mind-numbing and repetitive the better.

Women are reading this in horror. What can she mean she loves housework? No one loves housework, not unless one of their multiple personalities happens to be Martha Stewart (but then even the real Martha Stewart pays several people to handle this drudgery). I'm not exactly sure how this happened. As a kid my role model was Oscar Madison. I found freedom in his chaos. I didn't need to find a magical wardrobe to disappear into a strange land, my room was that land. I could disappear without a trace. My mother never had to search for creative means of discipline. "Clean your room" would leave me prostrate, begging and pleading, "Please anything, I'll do anything but that. Why don't I get the belt for you?" My aunt took me aside one day when I was a teenager. Her expression was serious and I prepared myself for bad news. She announced sadly that no man would ever marry me because I was a slob. She on the otherhand was one of those women who sealed every piece of furniture in impenetrable plastic so I wasn't too concerned.

With age came a small degree of neatness. When company came over I ran through my apartment tossing things into closets, under the sofa, in drawers and in a pinch- the bathtub. Motherhood changed this. My job was to turn these children into productive citizens but before I could do that I had to find them amidst the piles of laundry and toys so I cleaned. I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned some more. Unlike money and time, cleaning never seemed to disappear. This really sucked.

I grumbled and mumbled my way through the days. Oh woe is me! Why me? Kill me right now if I have to pick up one more Lego piece! I wasn't a happy-camper. Then one day while scrubbing the toilet, a character popped into my head, fully formed. I was stunned. Suddenly I a story was attached to that character and I had a gleaming bathroom which I didn't remember cleaning. This started happening all the time, while running the water to wash dishes, chopping garlic, hanging laundry, you name it. I was working out problems in plotting, defining characters, creating topics for essays. WOW! I made certain I had my trusty rubber gloves, cleaning products, digital recorder and pen and paper.

I've never heard of this phenomenon from other writers. Generally when the subject of cleaning comes up two choices present themselves- get someone else to do it or forget about it. When you're on the New York Time Bestseller's List will anyone care that there's a faint scent of decay in your house? Buy some potpourri and write. I'd never heard a writer on to Fresh Air admit to finding inspiration while removing mildew from the bathroom tiles. When my youngest was born my mother-in-law offered to give us money for house cleaning . How could I admit that the idea of someone else taking care of the housework terrified me? What if my muse began bestowing her charms on them, leaving me a broken vessel, short on content but long on time? No siree! I asked for a closet organizer instead.

Now I kick myself over those years I spent grumbling over cleaning. How many ideas did I lose? I'm making up for lost time. In those quiet moments of sheer panic which usually occur in the middle of the night, I wonder could I possibly succumb to writer's block but then in the morning, I awake to the fresh mess my family has left throughout the house. Of course, I must keep up appearances and I complain bitterly at the unfairness of this, but I know my muse awaits. Ooh goody, it sounds like the dog is throwing up again, now I can finally work out scene 35 of my novel. Write on!