My dear friend Lois Keller, of Studio City fame, hosted a book club gathering at her home yesterday featuring my novel Feng Shui and Charlotte Nightingale. Lois served Charlotte’s fave dish, Emperor’s cashew chicken, which I couldn’t fully enjoy as I sat in via Skype. (Anne E. Schwartz, author of the definitive book on Jeffrey Dahmer, and one of my besties here in Wisco, accused me of wearing “those big slippers shaped like animals” because no one could see my feet on the screen. I guess you become suspicious when you’ve spent time with a Milwaukee serial killer cannibal.)
One of the book club guests asked me how long I’d been back in Wisconsin. I moved to Los Angeles in 1994 and spent 20 glorious years in the sun and surf before returning to the mothership – this much I knew. Even so I had to think for a moment.
“Uh, couple of months,” I answered. Lois spit a cashew at her iPad; it looked big as a bratwurst on my monitor. I suddenly realized, Good god! It’s going on three years!
The same woman asked me if I’d ever written about transitioning from L.A. to Milwaukee, and my first reaction was that I would do so once I’d settled in, unpacked, caught my breath. Three years later I’m as settled as I’m ever going to be no matter where I am, I’m unpacked but for the 500 boxes in storage, and although it is the end of April I am breathing in ice cold air accented by bits of frozen rain. (I refuse to call it snow because I occasionally revisit the 1st stage of the L.A. to Wisconsin transition—denial.)
You don’t just up and leave paradise and become a cheese head with a heart of gold (and green) overnight, ya know. It’s a little like death, with 5 stages.
1. Denial. I told myself I was here for an extended vacay. I would shortly return to Southern California where my mosquito bites would be but a distant pockmarked memory, where the only frostbite I’d get would be from my agent, and where people wouldn’t know a cheese curd from a carb.
Where housewives aren’t real at all, but their body parts have warranties, and the only American vehicle you will ever see is an Escalade. Where nothing is deep -fried. Everyone has a subterranean sprinkler system, and people wear flip-flops to work. In December. This little “visit” to Wisconsin is a blip. I will be back in the warm embrace of the Hollywood Bowl and the Glendale Goddess Association in no time.
2. Anger. My “people” could have gone from their unheated yurts in Eastern Europe in the early 1900s and settled in, oh, I don’t know, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA! No, they chose Wisconsin, which is Algonquian for “where the frozen waters gather to die.”
I’ve read that during the “third great immigration wave,” from 1881-1920, people gravitated to areas which most resembled their homeland—topographies they understood, knew how to navigate, farm and make flourish. I knew my grandparents pretty well, and my parents, and I am here to tell you it had nothing to do with familiarity, and everything to do with suffering.
There is just something in the DNA of those two generations that love a nice long painful test of human endurance. I understood this at an early age when I would be sound asleep on a Saturday morning, awakened by the sound of a vacuum cleaner beside my head.
“Get up,” my mother would bark. “Time for chores.”
My cousins went through the exact same thing. Although we had an entire day to clean our rooms, vacuum, sweep the porch and build the addition on the garage, it had to be done by 7AM. Why? When you love suffering, as much as the Eastern Europeans in the third great wave of immigration, I guess it’s natural to want to share it with your children.
3. Bargaining. If I shovel the snow without crying, buy the big black sleeping bag with arms and wear it in place of my groovy moto jacket, and switch out stilettos for mukluks, then I will be rewarded with a short, temperate winter, a sunny and cheerful spring, a long, languid summer and a crisp-as-a-honey-crisp autumn during which the Packers will win every single game en route to the Super Bowl.
In lieu of that I will go to temple, church, mosque, meeting house, Parthenon and shrine and I will kneel, jump, lie prostate, hopscotch, milk a goat and do back flips if whatever or whomever it is that controls the weather will please be nice.
4. Depression. I am wearing a big black sleeping bag with arms. Kill me now.
5. Acceptance. Snow in April notwithstanding, I am home now. I’ve reconnected with some dear friends, and made new ones that I can tell already will be life-long. Last summer was the loveliest season ever. It smelled sweetly for months on end, everything was lush and verdant, and for some reason I didn’t get even one mosquito bite. Winter was mild, although it has reached nearly into May, but even that isn’t so bad.
I’m home. This is the place my ancestors wanted to be, where they carved out lives, raised families, and woke their kids up at the crack of dawn to milk cows and vacuum.
I wouldn’t eat a deep-fried cheese curd if it had hollandaise on it, but I am addicted to Friday fish fry, old-fashioneds and frozen custard. There is nothing that compares to a Wisconsin blue sky with cotton ball clouds floating above a cornfield; the corn’s soft golden tassels undulating gently in the breeze.
Do I miss my old life, the goddesses, citrus trees, Calvin Klein underwear models named Mario and the ocean? Oh, yeah. Every day. But for now I am home.
Be sure to check out Pam’s interview with Ron Hood here.
Photo courtesy NASA, ESA and Allison Loll/Jeff Hester (Arizona State University)
“The world is awash in purple,” said my cousin Colleen Anderson. And so it is. From the Eiffel Tower to the Superdome to NASA, which released an image of a purple nebula in honor of our sweet Prince, the world is in mourning even as we get on up and dance to his funk-filled legacy.
It never occurred to me that we could lose Prince. No person, much less “entertainer,” was so alive, electric, electrifying, radiating and vibrating, and transcending mortality than the Purple One. His energy came from somewhere else – not anywhere on earth, that’s for sure. He was an explosion of matter—dust and gas and particles—visible in the night sky as a bright patch, an outburst, a detonation. He was a purple nebula.
For the past two days all I can do is watch videos of his performances, and interviews that revealed him as incredibly bright, incredibly thoughtful, incredibly funny—incredible. He was funky. His soul, in every sense of the word, drenched the arenas in which he played. How could you not be effected? Infected? And up on your mofo feet!
It soothes my broken heart to know how much he meant to the world—to civilians, musicians, other artists, and even presidents. I don’t fully understand why his passing has wounded me so deeply. My throat keeps closing up and the tears come over and over, like I’ve lost a family member. My heart literally hurts.
Then I watch more videos, and from somewhere in the cosmos that music, that energy, that love fills me up. The purple nebula burns brightly for eternity. Farewell, sweet Prince.
This interview was so much fun. Ron is a lively, lovely and thoughtful interviewer, who coaxed a bit more out of me than I intended. There’s a great section toward the end about my dad’s work with Ansel Adams, and about the master himself. Enjoy!
(There is a charming “old time radio” story at the beginning that runs to minute 6:15.)
This year April 15th shall go down in history, for me, as the end of the world as I know it.
In the past, I used an accountant to do my taxes. Self-employed as a TV commercials director, writer, producer, photographer, and media consultant, there were just too many variables for me to take on the IRS all by my lonesome. But this year, all I had income-wise were proceeds from a brand new photography business and books sales from my novel. (Uh, you guys have to schedule more photo shoots and buy more books. Seriously. I honestly didn’t think I needed help tabulating my “income” this year.)
Au contrare, Pierre, as they say in I-see-London-I-see-France. This, from the IRS website, “If you made or received a payment as a small business or self-employed (individual), you are most likely required to file an information form with the IRS.” In essence, if someone paid me $5 for taking a photo of his dog with my iPhone, I must file a separate tax return in addition to my personal income tax return.
Knowing full well that the thought of filing taxes turns mortals into Jello, the charmers at the IRS have devised this thing that is meant to sound helpful. I say “sound helpful” because there could be no way for an actual human to believe this thing is actually helpful. The thing is a form to which a government clerk has added the letters EZ, i.e. forms 1040EZ and Schedule C-EZ.
One would think the letters EZ are meant to indicate, oh, I don’t know, a procedure that by comparison to brain transplants and speaking Lithuanian with a high degree of fluency might be construed as EASY. EZ. See what they did there?
I foolishly set aside two days this week to do my taxes. My Uncle Ivan was the bookkeeper for our family’s advertising photography studio, and he drummed it into my head to save every receipt, annotate all paperwork with excessive detail, keep records of any transaction in triplicate (including dry cleaning bills even though one would never dream of deducting such an expense unless the clothing had been soiled during a work-sanctioned food fight with mandatory attendance – we did, after all, work in advertising), and assume accountants from the government would terrorize you if the corporate checkbook wasn’t balanced to the penny.
One wouldn’t normally place the word “terrorize” in the same sentence with the word “accountant,” a term more generally associated with the phrases “date from hell” and “I’m sorry, I fell asleep. What did you say?” But these are the Feds we’re talking about.
Fully aware that the term “accountant” may not cast quite enough fear into the hearts of American citizens and others who pay U.S. taxes, the federal government has bestowed upon their “accountants” a more fitting and ghastly title—agent.
I don’t care how old you are or where you grew up, when you put the word “agent” in the same breath as the word “government” you’ve pictured a sinister man in a raincoat whose goal in life it is to do you harm. I believe, verbatim, this is in fact part of the actual job description of the IRS agent.
It was demoralizing to discover that in spite of my record-keeping—a feat of human organization and skill unmatched by anyone whose uncle was not Ivan Ferderbar, I would be unable to fathom the instructions for filing my taxes.
I’ve read Finnegan’s Wake—an experimental novel with no clear plot, of approximately a million pages, single-spaced in a tiny font—that is written all stream of consciousness, consisting of idiosyncratic language, i.e. quirky strings of words that you wouldn’t exactly call “sentences,” based on free association, and that as best I can tell, is an attempt at capturing the feeling of dreams—and not the ones you remember or can fly in. 77 years after it was published, Joyce scholars still can’t agree on what it all means, but they unanimously concur it is easier to read and understand than form 1040EZ.
I tried calling the IRS Helpline. Only government agents, i.e. sadistic psychopaths, would have the audacity to use the word “help” to describe a thing (you can’t really call it a function as it lacks purpose) that is actually 100% a hindrance. They should call it the IRS Ironyline. Or Glitchline. Make up your own name for it. It’s a better use of your time than calling the number at 10AM (CDT) on Monday, April 11th, only to get a recorded announcement telling you the office is currently closed, and to call back during normal business hours, defined as Monday through Friday, 7AM to 7PM. (The message did not state whether this was central daylight time or Martian winter hours, but 10A (CDT), no matter how you slice it, falls within any definition of “between 7Am and 7PM” anywhere in the contiguous United States, except for maybe a place in Texas where they believe the earth was created 6,000 years ago and Christian people rode domesticated triceratops to work.
My guess? Just like in a cartoon with a squirrel and a moose, a diabolical yet small man wearing a trench coat came into work at the IRS at precisely 7AM on Monday morning the 11th of April, 2016. He reached for the “off” button on the office answering machine, but his finger hovered, not quite disengaging the device. A sinister smile crept across his oily face, making his pencil mustache go up at the outer edges, like evil punctuation. He left the answering machine on.
“BWAAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA,” he exclaimed, before sitting down at his desk and determining whom he would like to audit next. Then he grabbed a folder with the letter F on its cover, and opened it to the name Ferderbar.
You’re getting sleepy. Your eyes are getting heavy. NOT!
Even as a teenager I wasn’t a big sleeper. My friends would still be crashed at noon and I’d be hopping around my room like a nervous cat, waiting for someone, anyone, to answer their damn phone so we could go out and do something fun.
“Hello, Mrs. Fliegelman. This is Pam Ferderbar calling. May I please speak with Beverly?” (This is how teenagers use to speak to adults, yo.)
“It’s only one o’clock, dear. Try back after three. How’s home Ec this year?” (Which is how adults used to speak to teenagers.)
I’d wander the streets of Delafield waiting for someone my age to get the hell out of bed, which is why I ended up dating grown men with motorcycles who apparently didn’t require as much sleep as boys my own age.
When I was just a little older I was prone to “disco nap” – that delightful 8 – 10P snooze that allowed one to dance all night, go to bed for 15 minutes and still make it to class on time, fully functioning. It never occurred to me that one day I would despair of the fact that I. Can. Not. Sleep.
Oh sure, after a few glasses of wine I doze off in the passenger seat of a guy’s car without fail. Step one, buckle up. Step two, ZZZZzzzzz. I am a necrophiliac’s dream date. Likewise, if I’m in for the night, whether I’ve had wine or just a bag of potato chips, Zzzz. If my butt is on the sofa and it’s after 8P, I’m a goner. Until 11P, when it’s time for bed. Then I’m all, whassup? Me! If it weren’t for Law and Order marathons I’d kill myself.
“Why don’t you read yourself to sleep?” you may ask. Reading before bed reminds me that I am supposed to be writing a second novel, but I didn’t finish the prospectus for a juried exhibition for my photography group yet, and there are 283 emails I need to get out reminding people we have a fundraiser next week, which reminds me I need to do laundry, note to self, put laundry detergent on shopping list, and I should really pick up the dry cleaning before they give my stuff to orphans (do they still call them orphans?), but the neighbors are on vacation and I have to feed their cat. Crap. I let the dog out this morning and never let it back in.
I am simply better off hearing “DONK DONK…In the criminal justice system…” At least I have a fighting chance of nodding off at some point, in spite of consistently disturbing dreams that involve Benjamin Bratt – if I’m lucky. Fred Thompson if I’m not.
My physician told me, although officially she doesn’t recommend it, that when she can’t sleep she gets up and works out in her home gym. Our veterinarian has a yacht, which I believe is named the Ferderbarge, so I imagine I helped subsidize a few dumb bells in the fitness center of my doc’s chateau on Pine Lake.
I have a recumbent bike in the basement, so I tried the “getting up and getting moving” approach, willing to experiment with anything in order to poop myself out. I ended up sweaty and wide-awake at 3AM. A shower, no matter how luxurious and hot, does not put a person to sleep. I’ve taken up Skyping with “friends” in Europe, strangers whom I more or less “befriended” specifically for their alluring time zone.
I have tried over-the-counter herbal remedies, teas, and gnawing on the leaves of a valerian plant. Tylenol PM gives me a weird taste and Benadryl just makes me hyper. None of it worked until my husband-at-the-time had sinus surgery, and they gave him hardcore sleeping pills. That man could hibernate standing up in the express lane at the grocery store, so sleep was the least of his problems. He didn’t need the pills.
Even after his operation he continued to snore like an inbred bulldog, so I figured, hey, who says I shouldn’t try one of these little beauties? He was fast asleep, standing beside the bed, when I knocked him over, took one of the tablets and got under the covers. Within two minutes I felt as if I were enveloped in a heavenly cloud of melted Velveeta, only better. I awoke exactly eight hours, to the minute, later and vowed I’d never take another one of those wonderful wonder pills. I totally get how people become addicted. What could be better than floating in warm cheese? (I’ll admit this may be a sensibility peculiar to Wisconsin.)
Last night I decided enough already. No TV. No lights. No whirrrrrrrr of the stationary bike. I would lie in bed, first counting sheep, then counting backwards from 1000, then I started to think about something I read that said we should pay more attention to circadian rhythms if we want better sleep, and in the winter months, especially if you live in a place like Wisconsin, set up a light to go on at a certain time of the morning – a light that replicates the sun, and be sure to shut off the lights at a certain time of the night, mimicking the cycles of…what? A cicada? That has got to be where the word circadian comes from, right? So that weird bug that comes out of the earth for like a minute every 17 years – I think cicada is another name for katydid, but they don’t call it katydidian rhythms – makes a buzz saw noise to beat the band and then dies right away, what kind of life is tha…Z Z Z Z Z z z z z z z z
Here are some ideas for beating insomnia from the Mayo Clinic.
And our friend Alisa at Nest Maven has some really great tips, too. Sweet dreams!
1. Zuzu is a straightforward communicator.
At her most vociferous, such as when a deer, wild turkey, postal carrier, door-to-door religion salesperson, chipmunk, squirrel, robin, bunny, leaf or twig appears in her yard and she howls like a shewolf in heat, her oratory is still not as shrill and bombastic as the majority of other candidates when they open their mouths.
While Zuzu occasionally barks at the wind, she would not say something just because pollsters have told her it’s what you want to hear. If anything, Zuzu is honest to a fault. If you’re cruel, mean or have liver sausage in your pocket, Zuzu will call you on it.
2. She would not embarrass herself, or the American people.
Although she may eat deer poop and lick her own private parts in public, she is still more dignified than most of the others. To be fair, she will kiss babies, but that is only because they usually have food on their faces.
She won’t go full dork and lamely pitch the first ball at a baseball game. (See “she has no thumbs” below.)
Zuzu would not engage in an any discussion about paw size or whether someone’s wife is a dog. (I mean, seriously. She was incensed by that one.) A firm believer in a bitch’s reproductive rights, she has proudly been spay, but would never disparage someone else’s lifestyle choices, even if they had a litter out of wedlock or named their children after math functions and trees.
3. No doubt about it, Zuzu would 100% warn us if a bunch of Wall Street bankers were about to rob us blind.
As a founding member of the Dogalist Party, Zuzu does not believe might makes right, but if Bernie Madoff or the marauders at Goldman Sachs had come to our house, Zuzu would have bared her teeth and growled like a cornered Chiweenie, while quite possibly soiling their $1900 Ferragamo loafers at the same time. Our politicians swept open the door and bowed while the Wall Street crooks waltzed into the bank and took everyone’s money without so much as a warning arf.
Zuzu will sleep with one eye open, just waiting for the criminals at Morgan Stanley and their BFFs at the SEC, to walk past her cedar chip beddie. (A cup would be a wise investment, fellas, as she’s likely to go straight for the nads.)
4. She is not judgy.
She doesn’t make assumptions about people based on skin color, income, the car they drive, the religion they do or don’t practice, sexual orientation, gender, culture or whether they prefer dark or milk chocolate. She takes one thing and one thing only into account when assessing the quality of a human being, and that is their smell.
Zuzu could march straight into the U.N., nose twitching, and immediately know who to trust, and who was likely to pull a Ukrainian invasion, test a nuke, or cheat on his #3 mistress.
5. What you see is what you get.
When her tail is wagging and she is smiling, Zuzu is genuinely happy, and would bring the country its slippers, curl up on its lap, and charm the pants off international leaders at State dinners by wearing a plain cloth coat from Petco, and serving farm-to-table kibble.
If, however, an opponent were to disparage Zuzu’s humans, make fun of the fact that she doesn’t know who her parents are, where she was born, or because she was homeless on the streets of L.A. for a time, her ears would go back and her eyes would narrow to steely slits, and she would take away his liver treats until his behavior had improved.
6. She has no thumbs.
She cannot hold nor fire a weapon, but she can still give hugs. She cannot perform the gag-inducing “thumbs up” gesture that, no natter how asslike it makes them look, every single politician does regardless of age, party or fitness to hold public office much less go around indicating everything is hunky dory.
She cannot place her thumb on the scales of justice, but would treat everyone with the same even handedness.
7. She finds the goodness in nearly every situation.
If there’s one square inch of sunshine on the floor, Zuzu is in it. A candidate who knows how to follow her bliss is more likely to lead us in the right direction.
Unless you are a cat, Zuzu does not care what you do in the privacy of your own home. (She only cares about what cats do because she doesn’t believe for one second that they are really that independent, and eventually, Zuzu believes, they will be found out.)
We’ve had grumpy, loud, crass, argumentative, hot-headed, orange, lyin’ eyed, trash talkin’, comic book villain, snarky, sharky dolts representing our country during this election cycle.
It is time for a tail waggin’, butt sniffin’, happy, sappy little dog to make the rest of the world smile, and think of Americans once again as a well-adjusted, well-behaved people, not a bunch of bitter contestants in a reality show on a crap planet.