Why I Will Never Play Carnegie Hall, or, The Day the Music Died

I started piano lessons in fourth grade.  After the first two lessons, I had visions of appearing before huge crowds brought to their feet, screaming “Bravo” and moved to tears by the brilliance of my artistry.

My teacher was Mr. Thomas, a kind, pear-shaped man who gave lessons in his home.  He had a wonderful grand piano, a plain wife and two homely children.  I could often smell dinner cooking during my lesson.

I raced through all those colorful “John Thompson” piano course books. But I discovered two things about myself that would stomp all over my dreams of a classical career: I hated to practice, and I had stage fright. Not ordinary stage fright. I’m talking no eating or sleeping for a week before a recital; puking and diarrhea on the day of, and mind-numbing terror as I waited my turn like a person next in line for the guillotine.

It was public recitals, the Moonlight Sonata,and my first pair of high heel shoes that brought my dreams of stardom to a screeching and mortifying collapse.

I was an eighth-grader and one of Mr.Thomas’ advanced students. I had chosen Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” for my recital piece.  Beethoven was one of the first composers to make use of pedals in his piano compositions, and the pedal was vital to the emotional, haunting feel of the piece.  So there was that.

I got a new dress for the event. Best of all, I got my first pair of heels. They were only an inch-and-a-half high, but they might as well have been stilts. The circus was on its way.

I sat waiting my turn, so frightened. Then Mr. Thomas stood and introduced me. He sat down, looking proud. I wobbled my way to the piano bench, took a deep breath, and began to play. It was fine for the first ten seconds, and then my calf and my foot on the pedal went into a spasm, caused by the unusual angle the heels had created.

No more sustenado pedal. The “Moonlight Sonata” turned into chopsticks, Mr. Thomas appeared to be having a heart attack, and my mortification was indescribable. I did finish the piece to sparse applause.

So that’s the reason you will never hear me at Carnegie Hall. And the fact that my skill set was clearly somewhere else.

Reporter Nearly Trampled By Startled Turkeys

For 20 years of my career, I worked in PR and advertising.  Nothing as grand as “Mad Men”.  More like Pa Kettle meets Upton Sinclair.

It was the mid 1970s when I was hired as company magazine editor for a large frozen dinners producer.  Women who traveled the country doing business were rarer then. Most of the travel I did was to small towns where the company was the major employer.

I learned more about the breeding and processing of turkeys  and chickens than I ever wanted to know. I visited hatcheries (a nightmare for my baby animal soul as they casually culled the less than perfect chicks.)  I walked through processing plants and interviewed workers whose titles included “Killer” , “Craw Puller, and my personal favorite, “Eviscerator.”

You wouldn’t think that any of this would have been life-threatening.  Not to me, anyway.  But you would be so wrong.

One day I visited an experimental turkey farm.  Turkeys in the wild are pretty shrewd characters.  Turkeys bred for maximum breast meat are so stupid they will drown in the rain.

The farm manager and I went into a very large building where hundreds of teenaged turkeys milled quietly about, making soft gobbling noises.  I wanted to get a photograph of these guys, so the manager waded out into the middle of the flock. They came almost up to his waist.

It was a great photo in the making.  I carefully focused the camera, then pushed the button.  As the flash went off, all the gobbling stopped.  Then hundreds of turkeys began a loud, frightning gobble and went into stampede mode.  The plant manager screamed “run for your life,” and we did.  We hit the door, opened it, and slammed it behind us.  We could feel the thud of the turkeys hitting the door.   Our hearts were pounding.

There would be no pictures of turkeys to accompany my article.  I had survived to write another day.  I have to say, though, that Thanksgiving has never been the same.

Pictures and the End of the World

imageIt is sobering when you stand at the gravesite of your last surviving parent.  First, you realize,whether you’re seven or seventy, that you’re an orphan.  Secondly, as you watch the casket descend, you realize you’re next.

If you are the oldest sibling, you are also aware that you’re the only one who knows the names of all the people in those old family photos.  I always wondered why I would discover albums full of photographs in dumpsters, or sold at yard-and-estate sales.  At one time, these folks were loved, or made great apple pie, drank themselves to death, wore false teeth, or lost an arm in a war or a threshing machine accident.

The pictures wind up in the trash because nobody remembers (more…)

Two Weddings and No Funeral


My first wedding began with my father and I taking a step down an aisle in a Catholic Church.  It may not show on our faces, but we were both praying that the groom would die before we got to the part where dad would lift my veil and kiss me goodbye.

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He did not.

Over the next 20 years this man cheated on me twelve times.  He was a lawyer, and I wasn’t paying attention.

So, I was ten years single.

And then I met the love of my life.  He is tall, handsome, and wicked smaaht.  We married standing before a rabbi, under a chuppah.

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That was twelve years ago.  We both pay attention and don’t cheat , because we want to be together always, and we both have serious, life-threatening illnesses.  We laugh. We fight. We apologize. There hasn’t been a funeral.  And, although we know that such things happen, we dream that they never involve either of us.










Once I Had a House

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I paid $1,000 for it. It had not a single pane of glass. One working toilet, which sat in the middle of ruins from a fire in the back two rooms of the first two floors.You could see the sky from the basement. Built in 1880, it was ten rooms of heartache.

I had never seen anything so beautiful.

It was surrounded by houses in similar condition, lived in by people who were as besotted as I. They were the most creative and generous people I’ve ever known.

These down-on-their-luck Victorian mansions surrounded a beautiful 30-acre park which had been the Disney World of St.Louis in the mid-to-late 19th Century. Swan boats plied its lake, and trolleys carried people there to see wondrous plants in summer, and skate on winter ice. I want my ashes scattered there, where my heart still lives.

As years passed, this house took shape again as hardwood was shined, bannisters returned to tightened staircases, and walls, bathrooms, paint,water and light loved it back to life. Children grew up there. Thanksgivings and Christmases were grand affairs.
Friends married there, mourned there, laughter and music filled it like grace. The house was featured in magazines and opened to house tours.
Maybe the house loved me back. It certainly helped me grow up, express my creativity, and allow my generosity and bravery to thrive.
Yes, I had a house. And,obviously,it still has me.

why use shampoo when you can use real poo

Let me begin by saying I love my opthamologist.

Not in a carnal, smarmy way. But because he’s smart, conscientious, and looks like he might be 12 years old. He has four children, so that’s probably not the case.

I needed to see him the other day, but he was on vacation. So I saw another doctor. She was very nice, and discovered a problem, so I have an appointment to see the 12-year-old in three weeks.

When you go to the doctor these days, you are given a two or three page report card detailing your visit. When I got home, I sat down, pulled it out of my purse, and started reading it. It had all the blah blah blah about insurance, meds, current diagnosis and What The Hell— a past diagnosis of “pseudophakia”. Falsefakeness? Hell, this was several lies beyond “hypochondria!” This was a diagnosis that shoved me past embarrassment directly into shame.

Of course I rushed directly to that 21st Century fountain of accuracy, and googled it.

To my amazement, I discovered that it meant “having cataracts removed from both eyes and replaced with implanted lenses.” Okay, I had this done several years ago. It was a serious procedure.

Apparently, I was not a hypochondriac. I was the victim of a late-night, sugared up slumber party of eight year old boys charged with naming a medical condition. It could have been worse. I just know the other choices would have included booger, fart, or double dog dare.

Adios, Vatican City

Catholic School in the 1950s was like Torquemada’s Inquisition with flush toilets and a cafeteria. It would spawn a generation of atheists, agnostics and Unitarians whose hatred for the Catholic Church verged on madness. I am one such.

Today’s brand of Catholicism is positively cheery in comparison. Except for the pedophilia.

I entered Catholic school in second grade, after a pretty happy two years in public school. In short order, I was introduced to nuns, priests, sin, confession, crucifixes, holy water and my teacher, Sister Ludmilla. She could whirl from the blackboard, and with astonishing speed, nail a nefarious seven-year-old at the back of the room in the head with an eraser. And so began the saga of my disbelief.

Our schooldays included Mass, morning prayers, catechism, bible history, corporal punishment, the instilling of fear, pagan babies,and the belief in transubstantiation (Google it. You won’t be able to swallow it, either.)

I tried to believe. I really, really tried. For a long time, too.
But I already had a predisposition to the notion of sin and guilt. Me and Catholicism merged to produce an OCD, very sick young woman.

In the end, it was  a shootout between me and  the Vatican.  True, it’s still standing.  But I’m mentally sound, and it’s still sick.  Talk about “jesus wept.”