Background

A Pool Hustler's Daughter grows up in subterranean America. She dreams big, hustles daily and loves her Daddy. With empathy, fascination and grace she navigates and inhabits every tier of society; sees beauty and hope and magic in all things; respects and lives by the "mitzvah."
A Pool Hustler's Daughter calculates the trifecta payout at the racetrack, hides money on three parts of her body, has an arsenal of "Uncles," and keeps a baseball bat by the front door. She values friendship, loyalty and experiences over "things." Like her father, she seeks to learn "The secrets of the universe" and believes "Life ain't on the square." She applauds the self-made and those who learn to "overcome" their circumstances. Her door is always open for a sofa to sleep on, a hot meal, or an eager listener for a life story.
























Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Million Ways to Die in Carcassonne

A Million Ways to Die in Carcassonne by: Catherine Bentivegna Adami

Première partie: Les chaves-souris

My arrival in Carcassonne, France began with a scream. Yep, that’s right, a scream. Well, also, one, long, drawn out, “What…the…fuck?” en anglais. The website stated that there were only two blocks to walk from the train station to my hotel yet that same website failed to prepare me for the most frightening five minutes of my life. This was a far cry from the pastel colored, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg MGM inspired musical sound stage I had expected to stroll onto singing the Academy Award nominated song “I Will Wait For You” followed by a triple cheek kiss from a young Catherine Deneuve.

THANK GOD for Mark Zuckerberg, because without him I might be mort. Seriously. The only thing that kept me alive (other than my children, right?) was my mission to write (when I could finally get a decent internet connection) a Nietzsche themed “that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” zero star Expedia review, titled “You may as well have told me to wear a head scarf at a Trump rally” that I would most definitely post on my Facebook page.

So, there I was, in the South of France, near Les Pyrenees half dazed and cranky from spending all day riding rails beside exquisitely dressed men and women. I mean, even the Dame de Billets was wearing a Louis Vuitton scarf and Joy Eau de parfum. Yes, the French were a people that I envied not only for their good looks, svelte figures and depressing, realistic filmmaking, but - more importantly- for their far superior (at least Bernie tells me so), Socialist system. You mean I didn’t have to work eighty hours a week for a decade to pay off my student loans? Is France where the Four Hour Work Week guy grew up?

Suffering from jet lag, I was forced to walk around like a zombie because of my fear of hallucinating on Ambien. It was dark outside, I hadn’t had a sip of Bordeaux in a whole thirteen minutes, and I was starving. One of the hardships of European travel, don’t you know (Frommer’s always omits this) is feeling self-conscious about eating a lot - in front of people. Especially fresh, mouth-watering delicacies impossible to find back home – many, without pasteurization! I believe, on the European continent at least, les Americains are forced to adopt binge eater behavior. Like, you buy dinner pour deux (or so you tell the serveur) and shove it, truffes and all, down your throat with your bare hands, in the lift that you barely fit into, alone, before someone sees you. Or, you knock over un petit enfant in better shoes than yours in the train aisle in order to sit next to a blind, eighty year old Madam granting you a few uninhibited moments of cramming chocolats noisetiers into your mouth with oxygen breaks, undetected.

A complete one hundred and eighty degree turn from how they approach meal portions is when it comes to drinking alcohol. In this instance, excess is not only okay, it’s celebrated. I mean, if you’re not slurring your words while a guy named Guy funnels aperitifs et digestifs down your throat (or basically the French version of an upside down Margarita), you will stick out like a sore thumb(note to Frommer’s – something else you’ve missed.) One person, regardless of waist size, can guzzle down Champagne, four bottles of vins de Bourgogne and a Cognac and nobody bats (foreshadowing) an eye! They give no fucks. Are you starting to understand the impetus behind the New Orleans credo Les Bon Temps Rouler?

Another place you can be uninhibited in France is in the bedroom. Their tricks of the “tongue trade” made them the hit of English aristocrats back in the day. You may as well indulge in this area, too, granted your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/life partner/soulmate/boo/Dominant will let you. May I remind you that history’s most famous “home wrecker” Anne Boleyn was trained at French court before meeting King Henry the Eighth?

When it comes to insulting my home country, America, the French are also quite skilled. To be fair, I enjoy reminiscing about the good old days of the Vichy regime and the colonizing of Africa and Asia. Thanks for the Vietnam War, guys! I say. They really like to hear that. Nobody’s innocent here, I tell them, wagging my pointer finger at them like Napoléon making a speech in front of his troops before being exiled to Elba(where the hell is that place, anyway? Is it on a map?) America, is place where you can be un cochon, anytime you want, in the comfort of strangers, also les cochons. My own gastronome version of liberte fraternite egalite. Evidence of why America is still great.

Back to my story – okay, so, it’s late evening, I’m tired, and all I want to do is relieve myself in the privacy of my hotel room. “This toilet has been sanitized for your protection” is one of life’s great love letters, isn’t it? After a few minutes in my room, I figured I’d be drooling on stiff, bleached bed sheets dreaming of French actor/filmmaker Guillaume Canet, lover of Edith Piaf star - Marion Cotillard. I like to imagine Guillaume sur un cheval(he’s a famed equestrian), sneering, in that special way only a French man can, in tight taupe pants with a riding crop in his hand…I’m reminded of the French designation, ”experts in the tongue trade” and get all Molly Bloom Irish, “Oui , je l'ai dit oui, je veux dire oui ! » Note to self : Download Belle De Jour and The Story of O from Criterion tonight.

So deeply was I enjoying my own fantasy world (what’s new?) that I failed to notice the, um, oh, one or two hundred blood thirsty bats (or so it seemed - nothing at all like those benign Looney Toons crows I grew up with) huddled together and scheming on long, thin branches above me, licking their tiny, sea lamprey lips who, after a single, large gust of wind, race toward me, en masse, thirsty for my sang americain.

I rolled my suitcase quickly across twelfth century cobblestones, like a Cathar running from torch wielding Catholics, while simultaneously dodging sub-standard French automobiles (you might get cheese and wine right, but cars, I don’t think so!) With these cascading black creatures only a few feet from my head, squeaking loudly and contemplating their obvious kill shots (there’s a lot of meat on me, fyi) I almost went so far as to jump off the medieval bridge I was hyperventilating/panic attacking on and hide beneath it. Luckily, I remembered how Pablo Picasso’s mistress Marie-Therese nearly died from an infection from river rats. River rats. Scratch that, I told myself. I could never pull off Anne Hathaway’s Fantine short hair. Nope, bats over rats. It sounded cooler.

Before ever arriving at my writers’ retreat, completing my masterpiece, and getting reviewed in the Sunday New York Times Book Review, I would be eaten alive by a swarm of stylish (they are French) bats. You never know, my gambler’s fallacy voice told me, having read far too many Young Adult books as an adult - these might be vampire bats and - listen up - you might live forever! Remember Only Lovers Left Alive? Maybe one of these blood suckers is actually smoking hot vampire/British actor Tom Hiddleston? You could star in a Jim Jarmusch film!!!

What tortured me at that moment, other than the thought of having all of the blood sucked out of my body from tiny bat teeth – was how my story would be told on the evening news. Would I (much skinnier without the blood inside my body, obviously) make the glossy cover page of Hello magazine next to the God of mischief himself Tom Hiddleston? Or - would a TV producer drop "A Medieval Town Massacr"e for a story on Khloe Kardashian’s overexposed workout routine? Will the Kardashians ever let the rest of us hard working people (I know, I know, Oprah said they work a lot) win the news hour? Was this my coda?

The Doors’ Jim Morrison (he’s buried in Paris you, know?) began singing…”This is the end…Beautiful friend”…

I imagined my thirteen year old son, a scholar and lover of all creatures both real and supernatural saying, “I mean, what are the odds? EATEN ALIVE? How diverse does my family seem now? My mother was EATEN ALIVE BY BATS. IN FRANCE. ON HER WAY TO A WRITERS RETREAT. That woman just wrote my Harvard application essay for me. Thank you, Mother!”

And then I saw Alfred Hitchcock, or his ghost probably, walking his tiny ghost dog who took a real shit on the sidewalk, making a mandatory appearance in the Hitchcock film that was now my life. Hey, where was a phone booth when you needed one? So that I could run into it, and hide? Then it hit me - there are no more phone booths. I’m dating myself even suggesting a phone booth. Vieille femme! You’re done for!

I made it all the way to the glass windows outside the Hotel Terminus restaurant where I watched couples eating dinner over candlelight. I read on the train that this area of France is packed with people who escaped Franco so I start yelling, “Ayuda! Ayuda!” hoping they speak Spanish. The hotel appeared super “old timey,” as my daughter likes to call it, and, slightly sinister, like - a good place for Mia Farrow to give birth to Satan. Nothing glamorous. They scrimped on the velvet and did a half-assed job cleaning what I presume are blood stains in the marble foyer. Alright, F. Scott Fitzgerald may have taken a leak here, on his way to a much better hotel. Hemingway may have killed a man and then wrote a few misogynist passages. Henry Miller may have slept with a Chambermaid and not paid her. Alice B. Toklas may have stolen a recipe for her cookbook.

Screaming outside the restaurant window, I was like a Gerard Depardieu (post Le Dernier Metro) homeless guy who has a heart attack on the New York City subway platform and who everyone assumes someone else will give mouth to mouth resuscitation to. All of a sudden, hipsters don’t like beards for some reason(?) and not one of them wants to go near the guy because he smells like urine and looks like poverty. He’s been broke ever since losing his car window washing business on the Bowery during the Giuliani administration. Now he can only afford the ninety-nine cent menu at McDonald’s, hence the clogged arteries. Not one person will help him.

Absolument the hotel diners think, cutting into their rare steak au poivre with a fancy Laguiole knife, watching thick red liquid slowly ooze onto their plates while sampling the wines of the Languedoc region. Someone else will save this enormous, hysterical Americain before her eyes are feasted on by bats.

Trying to cover my face before it’s nibbled on – I suddenly remember Box Office Giant of American Seventies Cinema – the blonde haired, blue eyed, man of few words, the actor Steve McQueen. That’s right – Steve F’cking McQueen. He shot the racing film Le Mans in France in 1971. Supposedly having snorted all of the cocaine available in France, he woke his wife up in the middle of the night with a pistol in his hand, talking crazy, like any six pack ab sexy/reform school survivor/war hero/Stella Adler student/Paul Newman rival/Sam Peckinpah muse high on drugs might do. And you know what saved their lives? BATS. That’s right, the chateau they were staying at was filled with bats, flying squeaky squirrels who all of a sudden, out of nowhere, scared Steve and brought him to his senses. Without les chaves souris there would be no Bullitt, no The Getaway, and no Towering Inferno (ok, maybe that shouldn’t have happened.)

I stopped screaming. I was en route to a writers’ retreat. In France. For a week. Avec du vin. Avec beaucoup de vin. Sans enfants. Without any responsibility other than to decompress, restore, and write. Located in what is known as the “Rainbow Valley,” I was going to see and hear a waterfall every damn day. Fresh, mountain, spring water flowed here. Words flowed here. Could anything be more magnifique? For a mother? A writer? After forty?

Inspired, I pulled hard on the brass handle of the giant door of the Hotel Terminus. Fighting off gale force winds, I began to taste the Duck Fat Dinner for three that I would eat, while guzzling aperitifs, digestifs, and three bottles of wine, sitting down, in front of witnesses, at the restaurant that night, not giving any fucks. Un beau cochon americain.

With my hard earned cli in my hand, and wide, still intact eyes, I gazed lovingly at the old timey lobby, missed my children, and welcomed my next, aventure spectaculaire.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Time For Firsts

I'm feeling good
I'm feeling oh so fine
Until tomorrow, but thats just some other time


- "I'm Waiting For My Man" Velvet Underground



Growing up with a constant fear of the rug being pulled out from underneath transformed me into a control freak, albeit a "laid back" one. A "planner" my father would remark, misses out on "spontaneity." In general, I stayed out of serious trouble. I was never caught for curfew or brought in for police questioning.
"What squares I have as children" my father would tell his friends.
Growing up a "pool hustler's daughter" I always had more than one "emergency" exit.

The first month or so of freshman year at university, you can usually identify those that will return home with a degree, and those who will be sent back home to attend community college. Not all, but many kids growing up in strict or conservative households, once their parents drive away from the dorm, become the first in line for a beer bong at a frat party, deflowered, or cheating on their sweethearts back home. Who wants to inhale this unidentified substance? I do! If they are truly rebellious, having stewed deep dark family secrets for the past seventeen or eighteen years(emotional abuse, anti-psychotics, adoption, abandonment, Al-Anon membership, a pregnancy or worst yet incest), distance from home can be both a tremendous relief and also a time for expressive rage, for all past wrongs, as this is the first time in life, each young person is forced to deal and get to know his or her true self. In hindsight, college is far more about survival then it is about academics. Yes, we all know the economic value of that degree, may even actually LIKE anthropology, but there is tremendous value to be found in successfully completing four years surrounded by every imaginable danger and vice without the guilt and discipline of living under an adults roof. And these vices are ten fold in New Orleans. To put it in perspective, even Dub-ya had to graduate Yale, and don't think that was easy.

At an early age, I was counseling my mother on her marriage and promising her that she was "not" fat. My father I would have to beg to "change your spaghetti sauce stained shirt" and "get a haircut." I was a master storyteller. If my parents were screaming or breaking dishes, I would take my young brother for a long walk around the block. "They're in therapy" I would tell my nosy Lincoln Park neighbors "they are supposed to let it all out." Thank goodness for the dime store psychology I learned on the Phil Donahue show.

I had thought of myself as "metropolitan" when I began my freshman year at Tulane. I had been a social drinker since the eighth grade, using a fake id to get into nightclubs at fourteen. I was always chosen to answer the door when we ordered in beer from the local pizza place. I would put my hair up in a towel and throw on a robe, somehow thinking I looked older this way(I was tall) and told the driver it was my apartment and I was getting ready for a party. The driver could have cared less, but I needed a "back story." There were so many go-rounds to acquiring alcohol in a big city like Chicago, that I knew them all - eating at an ethnic restaurant #1(girls are already pregnant and married at thirteen in some cultures, how bad can a margarita be?), have it delivered by a pizza parlor or liquor store(nobody wants to carry a case of beer up three flights of stairs only to have to carry it all back down), or the old faithful: pay a homeless person to buy it for you. Heck, I had been buying beer in my PAJAMAS with Clearasil on my face and a scrunchy in my hair at the White Hen Pantry at the bottom of my father's apartment building since I was thirteen. Although the eighteen year old drinking age in New Orleans intrigued me, free vat at the frat house was not going to make me go all Clockwork Orange - yet.

I had no desire to do drugs when I got to Tulane. The only time I had really smoked pot was when I was thirteen, at a party at a condo just off north Lakeshore Drive. It was the summer before freshman year in high school, and whatever I did smoke was laced with something(or I was just a wuss). It was hot that night, and I was sitting on the window ledge of the second story apartment. I took a sip of Tsing Tao beer and a few seconds later, I got this head rush and almost fell out of the window. Had it not been for an older, stronger, Israeli teen from Lincolnwood, I might not be writing today.

I shared a taxi with my girlfriend who was living with me at the time and another girlfriend who would later become a silicon lipped, weight obsessed television and film actress. I don't know how, but I think I got caught in the plastic seat covers. The street lights as we zipped down the expressway were so blurry and making me nauseous. My girlfriend who was staying with us brought me down to my King Size bed in the basement of our apartment, knocked on my mother's door and said "Catherine needs to talk to you" and ran down into her own bed and hid under the covers.

My Mom came down the stairs and I told her exactly what had happened. Everything sounded like the "Bionic Woman" or "Six Million Dollar man" - you know that noise when they fight in slow motion and use their super powers? Oh, yeah, and I was hallucinating. My Mom, sitting up in my bed, asked me what I was seeing, stroked my hair and smoked a cigarette in the dark.

I eventually fell asleep and when I awoke late the next day, I felt fine. My Mom made me one of her famous home made breakfasts and took me clothes shopping for high school, which I would be starting shortly. She did not punish me, nor tell my father and we never spoke of it again.

Did I mention my parents were a bit unorthodox? Not many parents say "You will NEVER be as cool as we are." They also never felt it was their job to "rat" on their children's friends. Growing up was hard enough without having a few adults you could be honest with and trust to keep you safe. They wanted to be those parents. Drugs were around our home and social circles growing up, so in order for me to rebel, I didn't do any. In fact, when I smelled the wacky tabaky outside our front door only to find my hippie mother dancing to John Lennon, I was mortified.

Upon leaving my father's Streeterville apartment with my high school girlfriends on a Saturday night he would hand me a key, a twenty, and request a kiss on the cheek. If he asked me if I would be drinking I would say "Champagne, maybe." Champagne always sounded so much more acceptable than "Southern Comfort" and my parents always snuck me a little champagne on New Years or if we went out to a fancy restaurant, like the famous "Bakery" on Lincoln Avenue, for dinner. When the girls and I would be half way exited out the front door, my father would yell from the living room "Oh yeah, and, don't do any drugs" and howl with laughter.

I learned about early twentieth century anti-immigration sentiment in college American History class. Yes, these immigrants could learn the English language and even dress like Americans, but were they TRULY Americans on the inside? Conservative America feared(still fears) their ascension in society. Although I am a Daughter of the American Revolution(DAR) on one side and a third generation Italian American on the other, I could kind of relate to these early immigrants. I always felt like I had to make sure I was an intriguing mystery as I mixed among different socio-economic classes, different geographies of America, the world. I could dress the same and talk the same - luckily my Mom spoke perfect English - as my father was south side "neighborhood" spewing colorful "dems, does, ders and aint's" with rapidity and an occasional "cocksucker" thrown in for good measure. That first week of college, an ex-communicated Mormon girl from our floor came back from a "rush" party and told us how a future sorority "sister" blatantly asked what her father did for a living and how much money he made. Any desire for acceptance into the Tulane Greek system was squashed right there and then for me. I would remain an outsider. "Oh, your father is a pool hustler? How exotic!"

So, for some amazing reason, I managed to last four years of high school and four and a half years of college without doing any hard drugs. All of my friends respected my choice and I could avoid participation very easily. I had put cold rags on the foreheads of my girlfriends freaking out on acid in high school, wiped up vomit from the face of a friend sitting on the ground outside Molly's on the Market on Decatur in New Orleans post-shrooming, found tissues for bloody noses, been the recipient of back rubs or found ice cubes for xers, even ridden in the cab of a pick up truck transporting a six foot long water bong, but I had somehow kept clean.

With only a week or two left of my Tulane University experience, I found myself in a chilly December in New Orleans, about to say goodbye to all I had loved. Many of my friends I began school with had left for home, although I was lucky to still have a few around. Some were younger, or fifth year Architecture students or just fifth year like myself. I lived in a barren side apartment of an old Victorian mansion on the South Carrolton streetcar line near Oak Street. My living room had a single chair and a small TV I had owned since I was ten which only carried a few channels - Fox being the best. This was great as I had to watch "Melrose" and "90210."

I had a gigantic bedroom with floor to ceiling windows and an unusable fireplace. I only had one lamp in the bedroom and the whole house was extremely dark. The kitchen was as long and narrow as a matchbox. I rarely entered it as I was deathly afraid of finding a giant palmetto bug or cockroach in there. I was broke as can be, as this extra semester was not covered on my scholarship and my father limited my allowance. The only food I could buy was instant white rice and soy sauce which I ate for both lunch and dinner. If I was really living it up, I would spring for a green pepper, which I would fry up in olive oil and eat on top of the rice. All extra money went toward ice coffees, occasional partying and cigarettes.

I can't emphasize how depressing it can be that fifth year of college. Yes, you are so happy to still be in college, in a beautiful town, in beautiful blue sky warm weather, but you feel like, regardless of friends still there, as if an era has ended, like in my recurring dreams where I go back to Tulane in my thirties and I feel melancholy as my friends are all gone and I don't feel like I belong.

Any way, I had some regrets about college, and living alone in that dark apartment, starving to death, metaphorically and literally, I decided I needed to accomplish a few "college" experiences so I could leave college feeling like everybody else. One of these experiences was doing drugs. I had been offered every substance on the planet, been the only person not on drugs among a hundred at a party, I had said "no" to drugs. This was my time to say "yes."

I gathered my best girlfriends who were also still in school with me and we went down my list of options. We created a pros and cons list of each drug, their cost and any side effect. I knew I did not want to hallucinate, as I never forgot that thirteen year old scare, so magic mushrooms, acid and the magnanimously popular ecstasy were out. Marijuana, I had tried a few times, but was just not as much of a risk, and I was always afraid of lacing or hallucinating. As far as we knew, no one hallucinated on cocaine, but they did have heart attacks - as recently as Sam Kinison so I was wary. Okay guys, I said to my pals, sucking up my mortal fear - lets do some Blow! I cannot tell you how excited people who love drugs are to see someone do their favorite drugs with them. All the girls told me what to expect and went ahead and made the purchase. We were going to take the streetcar all the way down to the French Quarter and par-tay!

One of the girlfriends brought the "package" over to my apartment so we could all partake. Since I had no furniture, no one "hung out" at my place for very long. We found a mirror and laid out the "lines." All the girls tried to teach me the proper way to inhale the powder through my nose. It felt quite intimate actually, I mean I am sticking a dirty dollar bill up my nose - yuck! I remember the salty taste in my mouth but started smiling and laughing a bit. I knew I needed a cigarette. All the girls told me that I wouldn't really get drunk tonight, so watch out as I might suck down twenty drinks without noticing. When we arrived at the beginning of Bourbon Street, four young hotties sashaying down the middle, they all asked me "Do you feel it?" "Yes! I feel like a million bucks!" I exhalted. The Quarter and my big ass had never looked better. I barely felt the cold and was grinning from ear to ear. The best part was that I was not hallucinating - my biggest fear not realized. My heart was indeed racing but I managed to keep Sam Kinison's face out of my head. I was too happy. We headed to OZ, the gay dance Club on Bourbon which had the best DJs in town. It wasn't too crowded, but the Gays were not pleased with more heteros taking up floor space. The girls kept pulling me into the bathroom for more "bumps" but I didn't feel like I needed them as often as they did. They had told me I would never be as high as I was those first two hours, but I was still having fun all the same. It was the middle of the week and I stopped dancing on the floor of Oz, among glow in the dark, muscular, hairless, speedoed men on the top of the bar watch a drag queen belt out "Total Eclipse of the Heart" in a black robe, blond wig and platform go-go boots. Not to sound cliche, but it was a religous experience. All my insecure thoughts were zapped from my head that joyous eve. It was amateur night at OZ and you could tell the performer was a bit nervous. So was I.

The rest of the night went by so quickly, I am sure we hit Cafe Brasil on Frenchman in the Marigny and some how back to campus around dawn. I remember walking home on empty South Carrolton that morning, people walking to work or out for a cup of coffee, and me all dressed up, still smiling, still awake(a rarity if you know me), stopping at the Italian bakery on Oak Street. I bought two glazed doughnuts and ate them on the street enroute to my house, looking up into the sunny, and slightly less melancholy blue New Orleans sky.

I remember an eighth grade field trip to a forest preserve a few hours outside of Chicago. Late in the day, 90 kids met at this beautiful, grand canyon like rock formation with an algae filled waterfall at the end of it with crystal clear water at the bottom. Eighty-nine thirteen and fourteen year-olds - one guy who looked like Prince and rode a purple banana seat bike was thought to be seventeen - climbed up the slimy rock and jumped down the six foot waterfall, getting soaking wet. And I just stood there - as if my skinny Guess jean wearing, thirteen year old self was a chaperon WATCHING. I remember my classmates calling me to join them and then quickly forgetting me as they easily got caught up in the group euphoria of non-thinking time and just plain old messy fun. I can remember the argument in my head - the battle actually - should I stay or should I go? My heart wanting to go,but my feet cemented into the muddy rock below. I just watched, "too cool" everyone guessed.

On the long ride back on the school bus, I tried to block the giggles and screams of the wet mess of adolescence rocking all around me. I turned the volume up on my water-proof yellow Sony Walkman to blast Yaz's "Only You." I leaned my head against the glass window watching the farm houses pass until I could see the famous Sears Tower skyscraper in the distance, knowing I had missed out on something special. I felt incredibly guilty, but I also felt safe.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Divine Intervention

Divine Intervention

This week marks seven years since I was laid off from my 15 year tenure in high-pressure sales. This was my first job out of college and it ended when I was 37 years old. My new boss, who was younger and had once been my peer, asked if we could meet. I asked him if there was anything serious that I should know about, and he answered “Nope, just checking in!” as giddy as a KGB officer knocking on your door with a silencer, who says, “It’s okay, Madam, I just want to talk.”

I was laid off within five minutes. I had been given the old bait and switch.

I finished college wanting to go to grad school and write, but I owed Tulane 14 grand and they would not release my transcripts until I paid this. Plus, I owed Sallie Mae and a few credit card companies who so graciously gifted my unemployed self, thousands of dollars in credit. I was twenty-two years old and buried in debt. I had to dig myself out of that hole, and so I begrudgingly moved back to Chicago and started this job. By the time I received my transcripts (and my diploma!) at age thirty, I had to pay for my wedding and there was a baby on the way. The dream of being a writer felt done for. Caput. I would never get those years back. At work, I felt like the impetus for others to buy their dream cars, their dream homes, summer homes, homes abroad, and diamond bracelets for their wives, but who was helping make my dreams come true? I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t need much. I grew up with few financial resources and I could get by with very little.

My life in those fifteen years had gone 0-100 MPH every single day, and the days – 40, 60, 80 hours a week went by way too fast. I could never enjoy my children, much less a vacation or a day off without being planted in front of a computer or at an Internet café (bear with me Millennial) every day writing proposals. My post-partum, short lived four day work week always ended up being five. My grandmother died while I was on the computer in the business center at my hotel visiting her. I was at a funeral and one of the partners in my office insisted on a con call and sent me an obtuse email, refusing to spend five minutes to answer a client’s question. I repeated, “I’m at a FUNERAL.” No response.

After being laid off, I wondered – what’s next? I felt old. Who was I? I was so numb. All the time.
I wondered, was it possible to slow time and reignite the playfulness of my youth? To feel, alive?

Shortly after joining the ranks of the unemployed, thieves stole thousands of dollars of work clothes, nearly my entire wardrobe, from the back seat of my luxury SUV(I get misty eyed just remembering both the clothes and the car). Divine intervention? My friend, who is an independent filmmaker and knew of my life-long passion for writing, did not comfort me after the loss of my exquisite Piazza Sempione trench coat (like I had hoped he would) and instead said this, “Thank God you were robbed! You need to make it hard to go back to the way things were…”

The way things were…like fearing that I was accidentally going to crash my car into the viaduct on the highway…every single day…so I could stop racing…no one was going to tell me to get off this track…how many laptop keyboards could I destroy with my fists or cellular phones accidentally get thrown out my second floor window? I needed Divine intervention…


A few months later, I beat out 12 candidates for another high-pressure/paying job where I would make even more money than before. The recruiter said “I must have you!” but I just had to meet his boss, who was flying in especially to meet me. I was going through these motions because I thought this was what I had to do, rather than what I wanted. A girl without a familial golden parachute. A girl who had to feed and clothe herself. A girl who to this day still thinks she might end up in a woman’s shelter and has made numerous friends promise that she can live in their garages or guest rooms if it came to it. A girl who feared risk with every fiber of her body.

The day of the interview I had a terrible bout of what I assume was again – Divine intervention. I was throwing up and experiencing diarrhea that only Judd Apatow could possibly understand. I was so nervous and dehydrated that I could barely talk, my face looked slimy and green, my teeth were chattering and my limbs were shaking. I drank a cup of coffee, thinking it would wake me up, but instead I had gut wrenching stomach pains and was sweating worse than Mark Wahlberg after the seventh take of a sex scene in “Boogie Nights.” Even my normally cheery mother was rendered speechless when asked, “How do I look?” When she dropped me off at the interview, I told her to circle the block. My spasm filled guts told me this wouldn’t take long…

I sat in the conference room as my limbs jerked involuntarily and as sweat dripped from my forehead and onto the table, and then my dress, even though the room was a crisp, cool 60 degrees. The group of people assessing me were still wearing their coats and even sweaters and I was burning up so badly that all I yearned for was stripping off my constricting clothes and emptying the water cooler bottle above my head and over my naked body, in the hallway, followed by an old fashioned, satisfying, mouth open and drooling, nap, on the drenched, industrial grey carpet, like a happy hippo in a mud pit.

There was a girl sitting directly across the table from me with long dark brown hair, in glasses and a pant suit. She was me, fifteen years prior. I saw the blank expression on her face, the pale skin, the lack of vitality, one might say, misery. Like, the last girl Prince would write a song about. I thought this nightmare might be a Sartre, No Exit situation where I would be stuck with these disappointed corporate honchos, including my bitter, younger doppelganger, talking only in buzz words, for eternity.

I won over the boss, right off the bat, with my damp palms when we shook hands and then by laughing inappropriately and surprisingly somewhat fiendishly. Like when Tom Hanks hears his adult voice for the first time in the movie Big. I was possessed by a demon. I thought I might faint. I squinted as the fluorescent lights blinded my eyes. Sounds vibrated from soft to excruciatingly loud as if I had accidentally ingested magic mushrooms during Mardi Gras. My throat itched and my voice was hoarse like in a nightmare where no words can come out of your mouth. As if I could even remember a single word in the English language?

Everyone at that table wanted this Bataan Death March of interviews to end. The meeting only continued, I believe, in order to avoid a potential lawsuit for discriminating against a woman who lost control of all bodily fluids. You know how HR likes to cover its bases!

My insatiable thirst could not be quenched for water, which I kept pouring into my glass and spilling all over the table like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas being asked about that Coke can during the Anita Hill hearings. The liquid just made me have to run out of the conference room and into the bathroom and I seriously considered making my home there in the stall permanent. My children could come and visit me on weekends, couldn’t they? The artificial scent of ocean breeze forced through the vents every five minutes wasn’t so bad. I never wanted to leave the security of that bathroom stall. I never wanted to go back into that conference room again. I never wanted to go back to that kind of life, again.

This layoff was my one chance to be…me again.

The interviewers got suspicious. Was I a dope fiend going through withdrawal? That’s certainly what it felt like. Shedding those clothes and that old life was incredibly painful. 15 years at the same job is a long time. Longer than my marriage or college - it was significant. Love it or hate it, I grew up at that job. To this day, I still dream about it.

I was pretty sure my mother was going to have to take me to the Emergency Room once I collapsed into her waiting car outside the office. I was too weak to even pull the seatbelt over my chest as my heartbeat was irregular and I was breathing heavily like those annoying marathon runners on the treadmill at the gym. The phone rang. The recruiter said (as nicely as my new boss had when asking me for that meeting) that he didn’t recognize the person in the interview and that his boss was going to take a pass.

Didn’t recognize me? I had never been so happy to hear that I was someone different.

I immediately remembered my friend from college, the tough talking New Yorker who had asked me seriously, a few years before being laid off, "Where have you gone?"

I hung up the phone and the speedy carousel spins started to subside. “Thank god, they took a pass!” I told my mother with the enthusiasm of someone about to receive a life-saving organ, “Thank God! Those people were trying to KILL ME!”

This layoff was my one chance…to go for it! To create the life that I had always dreamed of. To actually, live a life, you know, that I could defend, like in an Albert Brooks movie?

Seven years ago, I would not have been able to defend my life. Today I can. Thank you, universe, for that layoff.
I am different than that girl in the conference room seven years ago. I sold my luxury SUV and went to NYU to learn my craft. Older than my teachers and classmates, I savored eating 99 cent pizza slices every day and sleeping on the love seat with my best friend’s one eyed cat in her small, air conditioner-less studio. I’ve ridden on a night bus to NYC streaming Asian beauty pageants filled with exotic food eating immigrants (that I’m convinced doubled as an opium/knock off purse smuggling operation) fearful of falling asleep lest I wake up without a kidney. I won a free week writing in France and slept in a twelfth century house to the sound of waterfalls! Saw the American West for the first time on a week-long train ride and marveled at our enormous, magnificent and beautiful country. I know my late father and grandfather smiled at me from heaven when I passed though Glacier National Park in Montana. I perform at open mikes(and I'm over forty!)

I’m a writer! A writer. I live a writer’s life. Many many sacrifices have been made, but it has all been worth it. My father told me I have to believe there is no other alternative. My first novel is being published next month, and at a snail’s pace I have made it to the finish line of my transformation, of being different.

Let me be clear, many people came out of nowhere to help me realize this dream. I’m the result of people buying me a meal, coffee, letting me spend the night at their homes while traveling, introducing me to programs that I could apply to and encouraging me every single day. People who I’ve barely had a conversation with will pull me aside or email me and tell me how much my journey means to them, how my story may have moved them, how they live vicariously through my bare bones travels and adventures. So many friends have provided me with a golden parachute of sorts that’s made up of their belief in me.

I cry every time I think about that. My people are divine.

My higher self(you know, that person you always thought you could be?) has been realized. I’m comfortable in my own skin(well, more comfortable than ever before!) This is huge! Sometimes its like people are meeting me(i.e. the girl I always dreamed of becoming) for the very first time.

Risk, I found out, is good for you. It's how we all grow.

Since being laid off, I often hear, “You’re so passionate! When you talk about your writing, you get so excited! You emit JOY!”

Isn’t joy and bliss an ingredient of youth?

That’s right, my life is an adventure now. Every day offers the possibility for another great story to be born.

My kids tell me that I inspire them and they often tell me about their plans for life after college.

I've had the opportunity to go back in time, and to return to the path that I was on when I was twenty-two, that I had left open, and untraveled, but now I'm travelling that road with the wisdom, gratitude and life experience of maturity - to know how good I have it. Second chances are possible and sometimes Divine Intervention is necessary.

I hope some of you get laid off - at least those of you that need it – like I did - if only for the chance to look in the mirror, smile at someone you've missed - your true self, your higher self - and say “Yes! I knew you were still there!”

It's never too late!


Goosebump Goddess

"Tell me, the dream , again..." "Well, it's night, and New York is particularly quiet. It's not necessarily late at...