blog, featured, press, publications, Uncategorized, Writing

THE WHITE COUCH

It was like love at first sight when we entered the pearly gates of the furniture store. In retrospect, we were blind-sided by the white couch. It sat there, almost mocking us, in its snowy purity. “Oh my God,” I gasped upon seeing it. “It’s so chic …so, so WHITE. This is the dreamiest sofa I have ever seen in my life!”

My husband Bruce didn’t seem too concerned at first, knowing how frugal I am, but then he plopped himself down on the billowy cushions and suddenly he had an ethereal glow about him. I plopped myself down next to him on the cloud and let it consume every fiber of my being. I, too, felt seraphic and knew we’d succumb.

“Whada ya think?” I asked. “This will be great in our great room, dontcha think?”
“Let’s go home and sleep on it,” he responded, as we glanced back at the couch, and exited. That night I tossed and turned. I had a nightmare that the couch was alive, like a ghost haunting me.

Next morning we discussed the over-sized sectional and I got out the tape measure. It would be a perfect fit in the great room. I bit my bottom lip. “Should we order it?” Bruce raised his shoulders. “Umm, and what about the puppy we just ordered?”

“Oh, yeah. Bad timing, isn’t it? Let’s ask if the store can put the couch on hold while we quickly house-train our dog. After all, our doodle is part poodle, so he’s smart and will learn fast.” I didn’t let Bruce know I was even more worried about house-training the humans. You know, the grandkids running around with sharp objects and sticky fingers and extra-large magic markers. And worse than the children, what about the larger-size humans – the red-wine-drinking adults? There goes our social life. Maybe I can compose a questionnaire and send it out to all our acquaintances, to find out who drinks red and who drinks white. A process of elimination, if you will.

My head was spinning. If there is a spill, is there a service that sends a marked vehicle with a siren and flashing lights for emergencies, kinda like 911 for white couches? Of course, they’ll have to show up fast, as the stain cannot set in. I will have to research their Spot & Blot techniques. Do they use chemicals or baking soda-based cleansers? If those products fail, I will resort to dabbing with vodka, which has a dual purpose.

After I hand out Tide sticks at the front door, what food shall I serve with the Sauvignon Blanc? Sushi seems pretty harmless. Ahh, to think the whole idea of the white couch was turning into the white elephant in the room. The premise of getting the most comfortable lounge in the entire world to recline on was fading fast.

Then came the big test when our daughter and son-in-law wanted to give themselves an impromptu birthday party on our rooftop on July 4th weekend with 70 houseguests. I schlepped furniture up to the top of our four-level home, half-heartedly agreeing, because I figured the roof is far away enough from the big couch. Besides, it was also a celebration of my husband’s opening of a record store in August on John Street, downtown – an UN-retirement party, if you will.

After a long dry spell, I had prepared myself for inclement weather and the party being moved to the great room. At the last minute, I covered the beauty of the stupid couch with three king size white quilts. We schlepped the furniture back down the staircases. Our first guests arrived about the same time as the heavy rain did. I visualized 140 muddy feet propped up on the nearly extinct giant mammoth. I was convinced something bad would happen to the sofa. A candle? A cigar? A bear? Oh, My! For peace of mind, we finally moved the sofa to one side of the room, so people wouldn’t bump into it and barricaded it behind a heavy stone table that takes four strong men to budge. No one would get near that thing if I could help it!

The party was a success. The elephant survived. And of course, our fluffy, soft dog is happy once again to have it all to himself, perched eloquently, on our new décor like a shag throw rug. I stare at his innocent little face, and I wonder when all his baby teeth will fall out.

blog, featured

WHY I WRITE

People often ask me why I write … hmm. That’s a story in itself. Early on I think I longed for adventure, and if I wasn’t satisfied with what was around me, I’d create my own adventurous stories and, of course, I’d be the main character. Let me back up the clock a bit – quite a bit.  When I was a toddler I scaled a chain link fence to get to the German shepherd on the other side. I was a tomboy growing up and I looked for the tallest trees to climb. As a teen, I’d climb out of my second floor bedroom window in the middle of the night and sneak back into my house before dawn.

I kept a 500 page journal about my escapades hidden in the attic behind a trapdoor, which I could only reach on tiptoes while balancing on a tall stool. One day I discovered it was gone … my mother must have read it, disapproved, and conveniently lost it, without confronting me. Perhaps she didn’t know enough about my mischievous ways until she read about the person I really was – not a bad kid, just a bit curious and daring.

Because I was painfully shy in high school, I didn’t participate in afterschool activities; I went straight home to my fantasy world where I needed to express my innermost feelings on paper.  I dreamed of seeing the world. And eventually I did. As a stewardess back in the glamorous days of flying, I travelled to many exotic destinations. There was a whole world out there I knew nothing about. Unwittingly, when I met strangers on the road, many who couldn’t speak a word of English, they became bits and pieces of future characters in my writing.

I’ll never forget visiting the Anne Frank house in Holland, and how it influenced me. Of course, like every young impressionable girl coming of age, I had read her diary. I got through the narrow hallways and secret places the family hid in, without tears, but it was at the end of the tour where I choked up when I read a letter her father Otto Frank had written. He explained how we do not truly know each other in our families – mothers and fathers and daughters and sons. I thought that was terribly sad. Is it because we’re so close, we can’t bear to see their pain?

After raising my own two children, I became restless within my empty nest. Boring domestic distractions at home forced me to leave my comfortable computer screen and drive aimlessly to a writer-friendly location. Oddly, I’d find myself sitting in my car on a winter’s day with the heat on, parked next to a horse farm, writing feverishly, while my two golden retrievers breathed down my neck, keeping me company. Ah, the loyalty and patience of dogs.  There’s something so comforting and spiritual about the beauty of animals that I am drawn to, and that makes me feel “right” inside. Hours would pass. Once in a while, a horse would whinny and come to the fence, and I fantasized about riding him bareback. I’d say that a majority of my debut novel came to fruition in that very spot.

I felt great relief to fill so many blank pages and fill the empty pages of my heart.  It took me thirteen years to write my first book, Rembrandt’s Shadow and the sequel, Restitution. When I look back at those days, I realize I was hardly aware that I was writing two works of romantic historical fiction, or why, but it was too late to stop. It was as if the characters were controlling my thoughts, guiding my pen, and driving me to finish the story about those dark days they knew, before I was even born. The irony is that the ghosts were real characters in my husband’s family, who went to their graves with secrets they kept, which I wasn’t even aware of until years after I started writing.

If I had known beforehand that I would turn into this isolated writer for that long, I wonder if I would have made such a commitment. In the end, I am truly grateful I endured the grueling process, because every day, I meet people who are unaware of what took place during those horrific times of the Holocaust. Every time I meet a reader who tells me he or she was moved or enlightened by what I wrote I feel rewarded.

Sadly, history does repeat itself. Recently, I was touched by nine elderly women, all Holocaust survivors, who felt an obligation to remind ALL of us to remember the six million Jews who were scapegoats … because of fear, because of power. These women who looked into the faces of pure evil in Auschwitz had promised almost 75 years ago this would “never happen again,” yet it did happen again and again: the Killing Fields, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur … Syria.

The least we can do is read about it and write about it until we run out of paper.  Finally, for me, I believe I have the answer to the question I am often asked – why I write.

blog, featured

WHEN DUTY CALLS

Nine months ago, while packing to move 40 years worth of “stuff” from New York to South Carolina, I hesitated while holding the dog’s pooper scooper. Should I pack it or shouldn’t I? After all, the truck was filled to capacity, and the doggie excavator was of the super-size variety for my rather large golden retriever. Maybe it wouldn’t be necessary where we were going; maybe the Poop Fairy would show up in the dark every night to remove the golden eggs.

Weeks before, I attempted training my rebellious husband how to pick up the dog’s waste when out in public – a chore we’d be obligated to do, once we resettled down south in Pleasant-Ville. Our new home is in a very pleasant area! If you bump into anyone, they say, “That’s fi-i-ine!” instead of giving you the northern scowl or the finger. In our new neighborhood, they pump jasmine scent into the air; the children (even teenagers) are well-mannered, and their parents drive down the tree-lined streets in shiny golf carts, mothers wearing Laura Ashley dresses and fathers in pink shorts. We’ve recently invested in the Happy Pills they take, and are learning how to mark off the calendar where every day is Saturday.

“I will Not be picking up the dog’s poop!” my husband had protested.

“Oh, it won’t be so bad,” I told him. “We’ll take turns.”

“Take turns? How many times does a dog poop in a day?”

“I’m not sure,” I answered, honestly, since she had always done her business, privately, in the woods on Long Island.

“I wonder if there’s such a thing as dog poop services.” He went online. “Well, look at that!” he said. “They come to your house on a regular basis in marked vehicles. It says dogs poop approximately 23 pounds per month. The more poop, the higher the price. It looks like it will cost us $20 per service. Kind of pricey.”

Not bad, I thought. Bruce is retired now – Hmm… maybe? But it is an art to find it and remove the __it. These people are experts…

He continued reading: “The service people move in a grid-like pattern, their eyes meticulously scanning the path before them.”

“What about behind bushes? I asked.

He ignored me because we were moving to property without a lawn, without bushes, without any maintenance at all; well, except for the removal of dog doodie in a large brick courtyard.. And once collected, whatever do you do with it, I wondered.

He interrupted my thought. “It also states their service is insured.”

“Insured? For what? If someone steps in it? If there’s unwanted poop contact?” I thought of a Seinfeld skit I once saw describing those little poop bags dog owners use, following behind their mutts and purebreds on the streets. It is the lowest activity in human life,” Seinfeld said. “If aliens are watching this through telescopes, they’re going to think the dogs are the leaders of the planet.

Flash-forward: I am proud to say my husband has now mastered the pick-up. He is a Pro at inserting his hand in the bag, scooping it up in one swift motion and disposing. Flashback: I will never forget the first time I had handed him the little black plastic bag to do his duty. His finicky back went out a little as he squatted, and then it turned ugly! Well, you don’t need to know the details. Not entirely his fault – my husband’s not handy!

But I must say, good things have come out of this. The relationship between man and his dog is different now. The way my dog looks at him all schmoopy, as she watches him do the poopy-scoopy, as if she has a whole new respect.

Speaking of Respect – R-E-S-P-C-E-C-T, aside from Aretha Franklin coming to mind, I will not forget the irony of what happened next: While my husband was trying to be discreet when walking the dog in the open field near our house where neighbors sometimes gather, the poor guy ran into a sticky situation. As it turns out, one of those neighbors was the banker he had recently met with about a loan.

“Mr. Berg?” he called. “Glad I ran into you. I just started going over your application. So, here’s the scoop…”

My husband dressed in his favorite Bob Dylan t-shirt, quickly tried to hide the little black bag behind his back. “Oh! Umm, hello!”

The gentleman, dressed in a navy blue 2-button pinstripe Brook Brother’s business suit, extended his hand in greeting and my husband nervously extended the wrong hand and flung the little black plastic bag straight at him. He tried to wipe the banker’s jacket off, but that apparently rubbed the man the wrong way.

“Err…sorry. I guess we’ll finish the application process on Monday?” my husband asked in a weak voice.

“I don’t think so!”

Hey, stuff happens.