The Best Way Out–

A political dramedy in Seussian verse

Here’s an excerpt from my ten-minute play that depicts the Cheetoh-in-chief’s first day as president.

I’m huge with the good people in this great nation. paul-noth-trump-oath-cartoon

You could see them all at my inauguration. 

Millions were there to see me take the oath. 

And I used two Bibles--I needed them both. 

My hands are not tiny like some people say. 

In fact no part of me is, by the way.

If you enjoyed this snippet, here is a link to the whole play: best-way-out

And I couldn’t resist including this Paul Noth cartoon from the New Yorker.


I Would Buy That Book!


Parents PressWalking back from my Zumba Gold class–which makes me officially old–I passed a newsstand piled high with that free monthly from years of yore: Parents’ Press. I don’t mean to imply that Parents’ Press is no longer being published; I just don’t read it anymore, so it blends into that invisible backdrop of Things For Other People. In it, inquiring minds can read about the safest playground equipment, the optimal number of guests to invite to a seven-year-old’s birthday party, and how to get your kid to eat broccoli. I’d forgotten that such issues were ever relevant to me.

I’m still a parent. But Parents’ Press doesn’t provide much guidance beyond school-aged kids. There’s the occasional article about college admissions or high school sports, but its primary readership is parents of younger children–that period of parenthood when you have more influence and presumably more control.

When my daughter was a baby, bookstores were teeming with titles promising to help me do everything from writing a birthing plan to getting my child into college. I believe in the power of information, so I bought a book to help me navigate those early desperate, sleep-deprived months: Your One-Year-Old by Dr. Louise Ames Bates. Then, wouldn’t you know it, the same author had written Your Two-Year Old, which I snatched up the following year, eager to mine her knowledge of toddlers. Your Three-Year Old was an automatic purchase, especially because I had erroneously thought that the legend of the “terrible twos” implied that three-year-olds were easy peasy by comparison. Which, in fact, was not the case. I think whoever came up with the concept of the terrible twos just liked the way it sounded. But because I failed to get the memo on the threatening threes, I was blindsided. Your 2-year-old

Anyhoo…the point is that someone had very thoughtfully written user manuals for parents. Just owning such volumes provided a certain amount of security. Only later did I realize their inherent danger: because I’d read an expert on child-rearing, I was deluded into thinking I was in control. (“This has to work because it was in the book!”) Indeed I looked forward to each new year of my daughter’s life so that I could read the next in the series, certain that at one point the book would tell me that I’d arrived at the sweet spot and it was smooth sailing from then on.

Spoiler alert: that moment never came.

I diligently read the whole series, which also covers children who are four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine, but ends with Your Ten-to-Fourteen-Year Old. I can only imagine that by the time Ms. Ames had published her advice for how to deal with tweens, she grew too disinterested to devote a separate volume to each year. And then, afraid to tackle those tricky teen years, she probably mixed herself a martini and left parents to face their destinies alone and without her guidance.

All of this leads me to wonder where the parenting articles and books are for me, the mother of a 22-year-old? Who is writing on important subjects such as which questions are appropriate to ask the young adult in your life? What can I read that will help me offer just the right amount of support that will neither enable her nor cripple her? Where are the instructions that tell me how often I should call? And why hasn’t someone published what should be a must-read for all parents of young adults: Navigating Social Media for Parents of Twenty-Somethings? (Is it OK to accept a friend request from your daughter’s ex-girlfriend whom you’ve never met?) And wouldn’t it be so helpful to have a pocket glossary so you could keep track of words that joined the lexicon long after you graduated from college? (By the way, “non-binary” is no longer just a math term.)

tongues out
In simpler times

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It is a lifelong endeavor that is constantly assessed for quality control and it must adapt to the ebb and flow of the one being parented. And that’s how it should be. I’m reminded of my favorite title ever of a parenting book: Anthony Wolf’s Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?  We walk a delicate tightrope in order to provide the right amount of space and support. Parenting looks different at twenty-two than it did during the threatening threes. For one thing, my only child is thousands of miles away. But it’s not only the geographic distance that looms; new ideas and beliefs create their own kind of distance. Which is part of growing up, right?  After all, if we do our job well, then our confident, resourceful children eventually don’t need us. Talk about a disconnect between job performance and job security…

So my challenge is to parents who have already survived those tricky twenties: write a guide book! I’d buy Your Twenty-Two-Year Old in a heartbeat. And I’m telling you, the person who writes Navigating Social Media for Parents of Twenty-Somethings will make a million.




Mortified mines those embarrassing teen years

mortified logo

Mortified founder David Nadelberg had a stroke of genius, and we are the lucky recipients.

Twice now I’ve gone to the New Parish in Oakland to see people get on stage and reveal intimate details of their younger selves. And it is hysterical. It’s called “Mortified,” and you can see it either in San Francisco or Oakland every month. It’s also periodically in Chicago, L.A., and other cities, but we have two opportunities to see it here in the Bay Area.

I first heard an excerpt of the show on “This American Life” some years ago, but I didn’t realize it was something I could see live right in my own backyard. It’s been going for eight years and seems to be picking up steam.

According to the program, “All excerpts shared on stage are 100% real.” However these are not just people reading straight from their high school diaries without any focus or practice. The Mortified crew works with the brave souls ahead of time to mine the best stuff. And they do a good job. Both nights that I saw the show, the readers represented a nice variety of teen angst, from the young boy who had no friends and loved the TV character Mr. Belvedere to the girl who recounted her early sexual experiences.

mortified bookTo add to the hilarity, a clever comedic improv band picks up on the funniest parts and turns them into songs on the spot.

Apparently there is also a book, a documentary, and a podcast, so there are many ways to be Mortified.

I highly recommend this unique form of entertainment. I just wish I’d thought it up.

Ginger’s gift

hammock Dave & Tucker
Dave and Tucker enjoy the hammock.

When Dave’s dad was alive, he had a substantial hammock that was the picture of leisure, situated as it was in a generously portioned and perfectly manicured lawn. Transplanted to our backyard, it kind of dwarfs our little patch of grass, but it’s a wonderful reminder that we live in a climate where we can enjoy our backyard year round.

Because it’s only yards away from the French doors that separate his office from the backyard, Dave has taken advantage of the hammock several times, whether he’s taking a well-deserved break from work or just enjoying the beautiful weather. Our daughter Kylie has read books out there, chatted on the phone, and got in some important cuddling time with our cat before heading back east for school.

But until last weekend, I had yet to experience the hammock. When I realized I had an unscheduled afternoon, I decided to seize the opportunity to test out this recent addition to our backyard. It was sunny but not sticky hot, with the occasional breeze swirling by. It was quieter than it had been in a few days that had been filled with family celebrations. Kylie was back at college, and Ginger had gone home too. (Ginger is Dave’s sister’s dog, who was a guest at our house while her adult companions were in Greece.)

So I headed out the back door, ready for my virgin voyage. As soon as I’d swung my legs up, I detected a foul stench. I peeked over the edge and saw the flattened brown remains just below. My gaze crossed to my sandals (still on my feet),  which were now smearing brown on the forest green fabric of the hammock.

“Shit!” was the only appropriate response. Apparently Ginger had left a little souvenir.

I disembarked, hosed off the bottom of my sandals, and scrubbed the offensive smell off the otherwise pristine hammock. Then I inspected my sandals more carefully and realized I needed some sort of tool to dig out the grooves on the soles. Luckily, I have an old toothbrush for just such emergencies, and I put it to work.

But I still smelled dog poop. Was it just stuck in my nose—an olfactory hallucination sparked by that image etched on my memory?

No. It was my foot. Somehow I’d missed the spot where the sandal had rubbed against my skin. Although I know it was just a tiny patch that was easily wiped, I felt thoroughly dirty.

Refreshed and ready to try again after my shower, I carefully stepped to the side of the now-flat brown spot under the hammock and reclined into optimum relaxing position. We live in a pretty quiet neighborhood, but that afternoon, three pre-teen girls were enjoying the warm weather by taking a series of selfies on the deck of the house behind ours.

“Okay, now let’s take one with our elbows like this!”

I tried to be all zen about it. After all, it’s not like it was in the middle of the night and they were doing something awful. But their squeals of laughter were not conducive to the idyllic afternoon I had imagined. Maybe if I turned and faced the other direction, I’d hear them a tiny bit less, I thought, as I pivoted around to place my head where my feet had been. But the pivoting was not successful. I found myself toppling headfirst to the grass below. Fortunately, I didn’t hit the metal rod that gives the hammock its structural integrity.

Unfortunately, I had not cleaned up the dog poop from before.

After emerging from my second shower of the day, I decided to abandon the hammock dream. At least for now…

Isn’t soap supposed to have at least a pretense of cleanliness?

greenWe have two sets of bathrooms on the floor of my office building that both have liquid soap containers. The bathrooms on the east side have soap that most people would consider pretty ordinary, but the bathrooms on the west side dispense a vile yellowish-green substance that looks like the stuff that comes out of your nose when you’ve got a major sinus infection.* As far as I can tell, both soaps do the job that they were created to do. But the soap in the west end makes me feel slightly ill when I start rubbing it between my hands.

I know, I know—why don’t I just use the bathroom in the east end? I usually do. But I know that there’s actually no substantive difference between the two, so I tell myself that the green stuff won’t hurt me and try not to let it bother me. And then just to prove that no mere soap dispenser will get the better of me, I use the bathroom in the west end. But it still grosses me out a little.

And it makes me wonder. Given the miraculous technology at our fingertips, why would any company create a product that is supposed to be the epitome of clean and make it visually interchangeable with unhealthy snot?

And my second question: why do bathrooms on the same floor have different colored liquid soap anyway? You’d think the whole building would use the same liquid soap, yet on the second floor there appears to be a schism in the world of restroom supplies.

I know now my mission next week: I will sample the soap dispensers on every floor and get to the bottom of this. I wonder if there’s a variety of paper towels as well…

Note: I searched images and considered many possibilities. (You’d never guess how many images Google matches to “green snot.”) In the end I decided that subtlety fit the bill.

* from the Home Remedies Directory: Green mucus color means that you have been contaminated and is generally seen in cases of pneumonia and inner micro-bleedings. The phlegm is green due to a chemical known as myeloperoxidases (MPO), that is green in coloring. It is present in bright program tissue and bacteria appeals to more bright tissue than infections. For more on the color of your mucus:

A clerihew is fun to do

edmund-clerihew-bentley-jpgYesterday when I was writing about what I learn from public radio, I mentioned Edmund Clerihew Bentley, the chap who wrote two books of clever little biographical poems that came to be called clerihews.

Which of course made me want to write one.

According to Wikipedia, a clerihew has the following properties:

  • It is biographical and usually whimsical, showing the subject from an unusual point of view; it pokes fun at mostly famous people
  • It has four lines of irregular length and meter (for comic effect)
  • The rhyme structure is AABB; the subject matter and wording are often humorously contrived in order to achieve a rhyme, including the use of phrases in Latin, French and other non-English languages
  • The first line contains, and may consist solely of, the subject’s name.

So here goes…

Bentley, Edward Clerihew

Found a most wonderful thing to do

He wrote couplets with a goal—

Gently mock a famous person and be droll

I have to say that purposely going against the meter in the last line was quite difficult for me personally.


Well, that’s it for today’s clerihew.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll write one anew.

Until then I’ll do my best to abstain

from writing in short, poetic refrain.

David Sedaris never disappoints

Sedaris coverI naively thought that arriving at Book Passage 45 minutes early would land me a seat for the reading on Tuesday night, but that didn’t even guarantee a spot in the parking lot. I know David Sedaris is a Bay Area favorite, so I probably should have realized that all the seats in a small, independent book store would be gone by 5:30 for a 7:00 reading.

So my new regular companion for attending readings (who also happens to be my daughter) and I got in line for food so that we could eat our dinner while watching Sedaris on the monitor set up in the bookshop’s café. We got the last table there. Despite their being out of tomatoes and iced tea, we managed to stave off our hunger and get a seat for the show, albeit not in the same room.

Sedaris started by reading the story that made Kylie fall in love with his writing in the first place, a touching and humorous piece highlighting an event from his childhood when he and his sister Amy sang “Kookaburra” in bed, to the great dismay of their father.

As he traditionally does, he read excerpts from his diary, omitting any that contained obscenities, explaining that it didn’t feel right to use such language in daylight. (Of course, had it been winter, it would have been dark at 7:15 pm when he was reading. But nobody was going to argue that just because it was almost summer in the Bay Area, it wasn’t fair of him to censor his own diary.)

He also recommended a book to us, even suggesting that we buy it rather than his own book because it was better written. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember the title or the author’s name, but I do recall him saying the book store had three copies if anyone wanted to purchase it. He also recommended podcasts (Mark Maron‘s WTF) and one by Julie something—I know, I should have taken better notes).

Then he had a long question and answer period. Because you never know who has the most interesting questions or who are the people who are just raising their hands because they like to hear their own voices, this part of the program can be a mixed bag. I can’t help but wish the questions were vetted ahead of time, but you get what you get. I mean, I could have answered the woman who wanted to know how many brothers and sisters he had. ( 4 sisters and 1 brother, if you care) But I enjoyed his in-depth answer to the question concerning the best interviewers.

Sedaris let us in on some of the behind-the-scenes artifice that goes on in the world of television talk shows. Apparently, at the bigger shows like Letterman’s, someone on staff conducts a 45-minute long pre-interview with guests while they’re getting their make-up done. Then someone decides which parts will work best and turns it into a script that the guest is supposed to memorize for the five minutes of air time. Not being an actor, Sedaris feels pressured and somewhat ill-equipped to perform this way. But with Jon Stewart at The Daily Show, things are different: Jon drops by the dressing room and chats cordially with guests for about 15 minutes, just to establish a comfort level, and then on stage allows the interview to take its natural course, whether that includes specifically talking about the book being promoted or whatever. When Sedaris asked if he could tell a joke, Stewart said yes but not to tell him ahead of time because he wanted to be able to laugh at it spontaneously and not have to “fake-laugh.”

waiting for David Sedaris

Because we were not in the seated area of the reading, we were near the back of the line when it came to signing books. Luckily, we befriended the two people in front of us, who were friendly colleagues, which made the wait seem a little shorter. We’d queued up around 8:15 and had only moved a matter of inches by 9:00. It was around that time that Jeff, the man in front of us, borrowed one of the now-empty folding chairs to sit in while in line. His colleague joined him. Kylie followed suit, and before long, chairs snaked back into the store by twos, resembling a curved bus. Despite the strict warning that no photos be taken, I didn’t think anyone would mind if I took a picture of the signing line itself.

For over two hours, Sedaris chatted with fans individually and asked them questions. At some point he also ate dinner. He had a mysterious box of trinkets that he occasionally opened to produce small gifts or to retrieve something to show. The twelve-year-old girl who related to Me Talk Pretty One Day because she too had gone to speech therapy got her choice of bracelets. Jeff explained that in his heart of hearts he was wearing a Count Chocula T-shirt (in reference to a remark Sedaris made during The Daily Show  interview), at which point Sedaris pulled out a Count Chocula T-shirt to show (not to give away).

When we finally arrived at the signing table, I asked him about the Julie he’d mentioned earlier because he’d said he couldn’t explain Sedaris signed pageher humor to the whole crowd but he’d be happy to talk about her one on one. Looking up at Kylie, who was standing next to me, he asked her how old she was before he answered my question. It took Kylie several seconds to remember that she was 20, but apparently that was old enough for Sedaris to say the word he thought might be objectionable to younger folk. I told him how much I loved his Billy Holiday imitations, after which Kylie asked if he might not sing a bit for us. He said he hadn’t sung in years and would only do so if someone had passed around a hat to collect money for such a performance. I asked how much it would take to get him to sing, and he thought for a moment, then answered “two hundred dollars.” Then he drew a picture of an owl and signed my book. He asked Kylie if she had any Chinese friends (we never did find out where that question was leading to) to which Kylie replied almost guiltily that although she had Korean and Japanese friends, she did not currently have any Chinese friends. Then he asked her how much she spent for the most expensive piece of clothing she owned. She looked down at her outfit composed mostly of thrift store items or pieces borrowed from me until she remembered the one pair of shoes that she’d bought some months ago that were on sale for $150. With that, Sedaris flipped through a sticker book he had, found a pair of red mary janes, and stuck it on the title page of Kylie’s copy of his book, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls.

The whole experience was somewhat random but satisfying.