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Featured, Harassment, Lifestyle, Women's Perspective

#MeToo

November 20, 2017

I hadn’t planned to write about the #MeToo movement. Some of my readers might think it too political for all the places this blog posts. The more I think about what is happening, the more I know I can’t remain silent.

#MeToo started with a few women speaking up about sexual harassment. Without going into details, these women stood up and talked about how some men had demeaned them, had exposed themselves. had touched them inappropriately. The list grew daily with women in entertainment, business, and politics feeling emboldened. No longer hiding in the shadows, these women stepped into the light, risked ridicule and having their reputations impugned, and stood steady under verbal assaults from too many different sources to name here.

It’s not just in the US where #MeToo has brought the issue of sexual harassment into the light. I’ve read posts from all over the English-speaking world, including India and Pakistan. Women everywhere are no longer silent.

Yes, I was the victim of sexual harassment. When I was early in my professional career, I traveled with my VP, my Managing Director, and a technical manager overseas. I was the only woman. I had no thought that anyone would say anything inappropriate, but on the first night, the VP offered to “take the edge” off my, um, “tension.” He said I’d be on the road for two weeks and would probably like a little “servicing.” Yes, servicing, like I was a cow in heat. I turned him down. He never made a second move, but I was never in the same room with him without a lot of people around.

By the standards of what is being reported today, this encounter was almost benign. And yet it wasn’t. The VP made me feel dirty, like I was coming on to him, and that I couldn’t be away from home for two weeks without needing sex.

I don’t want this post to be only about what happened to me or to these other women who have the courage to name names, places, and feelings.

I want this lesson to be the LAST time we have to talk about sexual harassment. I want this movement to make real changes in how we respect both men and women, because men are often victims of sexual harassment themselves. I want my daughters and granddaughters to know that they can speak up immediately. More, I want them not to have to speak up, because we have changed our behavior. I don’t want them to have to tell a person in power that you aren’t interested in their overtures. I don’t want them to have to tell a man to talk to the right boob because it’s getting jealous of the attention he’s paying to the left one. I don’t want them to have to look over their shoulders to be sure no one is stalking them at school/church/on the job/wherever. I want the next generations to feel as safe as they should be. I want them to wonder what all this craziness is all about, because it’s no longer an issue for them.

Are you with me? Are you ready to stand up with me and say #MeToo?

Featured, Lifestyle, Veteran's Day, Writing

He Sat Alone

November 11, 2017

Those who are regulars on this blog have read this essay before. I run it every Veteran’s Day to remind me of what our service men and women do and what ghosts they bring home. I hope you enjoy the rerun.

Dedicated to the management and staff at Applebee’s,
Bedford, VA

The black man sat alone in a large booth in an Applebees restaurant filled with friends and family honoring our veterans on 11.11.11. When he arrived, the manager asked, “Would you like to sit with other veterans?”

He shook his head. “I’d rather eat alone if that is all right.”

“Of course.”

The manager led him to a large booth, the only one open, at the side of the restaurant and handed him the special menu for Veterans Day. Every year for the “Veterans eat free” promotion, it was always the same:  sit alone, eat, leave. Every year the manager tried to get the man to join with others, but failed.

He measured every bite of his free dinner slowly. He drank nothing but coffee and spoke with no one. Was he a Vietnam vet? He didn’t look old enough. Was he a combat vet from Persian Gulf War? The age seemed right.

Veterans walked over to greet the man and ask if they could join him. He shook his head. No, he wasn’t feeling like company. He didn’t look up. The vets moved away and found others to share a meal with.

A little boy broke away from his father’s hand.

“Mister, are you a veteran?”

“I am.” The man looked at the boy.

“My daddy was in Iraq. What war were you in?”

“I wasn’t in a war.”

The boy’s father retrieved his son, apologized for interrupting the man’s dinner and moved to his family’s booth.

“But, Daddy, if he wasn’t in the war, why does he get to eat here today?” The little boy’s voice rang through a quiet moment amid the usual cacophony of shouted greetings and hellos.

“Because, Ben, many men and women are veterans, but they never went to war. We need them to help keep America safe during peace, too.”

The boy crawled into their booth, his face frowning over his father’s lesson.

Halfway through his Salisbury steak and macaroni and cheese, the man looked at a vet across the aisle from his booth. They recognized the emptiness in each other’s eyes.

“Army?”

The man shook his head. “Air Force.”

“Where?”

“Dover.” The man looked at his plate. The conversation was over.

The Army vet whispered to another vet. “He was at Dover.”

“Think he was a crew dog?” asked a third man.

“Nah, seen a lot of crew dogs. He never worked the flight line. He was inside somewhere.”

“Don’t look like an officer,” said the original vet.

“Might have enlisted right out of high school,” said the man who knew the black man wasn’t a crew dog.

“Coulda been in an office job. Logistics. Payroll. Something like that.”

“You don’t get that thousand-yard stare flying a desk.”

Other vets in the restaurant joined the whispered conversation. They kicked around what kind of job the man had held that left him haunted.

“Maybe he was in the clinic. Get to see a lot of sick and injured there.”

“Maybe. He don’t look like a combat vet. ’Sides, he told the kid he wasn’t in the war.”

“Peacetime guys see shit, too. Sick and injured. Dead.”

“Don’t Dover get the bodies from Afghanistan and Iraq?’

“Yeah. Wonder if he was on part of the honor guard.”

“Could be. Thought most of them guys was younger. He seems too old for unloading flag-draped coffins in the middle of the night.” The second vet wouldn’t let the issue die.

“Someone has to do it,” said the first vet. “Maybe he saw too much of what’s in those boxes. Young kids. Someone like his own son, maybe. Had to be hard looking at dead kids.”

“Never forgot what it’s like to see your best friend blown to bits,” said an older vet.

“He’s got the look, don’t he, Rex?”

“If he wasn’t in combat, he most likely was in the Dover morgue. Bad enough to be shot at. Worse to have to put the pieces back together for the families. Most IED dead don’t leave much behind,” Rex said.

“He’s alone. Bet his wife and family dumped him. Hard to live with a guy full of demons. Wife left me, too. Never understood the darkness didn’t involve her. She moved out. I tried to move on. Damned hard sometimes.”

“Hear you, man.”

Tables emptied as veterans and their families finished their meals. New vets arrived. Someone would whisper “Dover” and jerk a head at the man sitting alone.

No one asked what haunted him, the man with the thousand-yard stare. Veterans walked past his booth, dropped hands on his shoulder and moved on. He sat straight, frozen, neatly dressed in clean jeans, a shirt and zippered jacket. His ball cap rested on the bench seat beside him. Head and face shaved. He couldn’t acknowledge the support his fellow vets tried to give him.

Alone. On Veterans Day. As was his wish. He kept his head down and ate with complete concentration, lost in his thoughts. He paid for his coffee, asked for a go cup, and carefully dressed it with two creams and two sugars. He stirred, put the lid on, set his cap on his head and worked his way off the bench seat. He passed the boy’s table.

“Mister?” The little boy stood in front of the man. He held out his small hand.

The man reached out and shook it.

“Thank you,” said the little boy.

The little boy saluted. The man straightened his shoulders, held his head high and saluted. He looked at the father and his son, nodded and walked slowly out of the restaurant, a black veteran alone, his cup of hot coffee clutched in his hand.

 

Family, Featured, Lifestyle, Navy Football, Travel

Family and Community

October 15, 2017

Family and community are two words that are flung around like confetti nowadays. We’re a football family. We are a community of like-minded individuals who like a certain musical group. We think of community not as something where we are actively involved but where we are brought together for short periods of time. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing bad about this. It’s just that the meaning of the words has dulled with overuse.

Take this past weekend as an example. As many of you know, my husband and I are rabid, and I mean rabid, Navy football fans. We’ve had season tickets for about 15 years, beginning when we lived in Northern Virginia and games were a lovely day trip to Annapolis. When we moved down to Smith Mountain Lake, it never crossed our minds that we would cancel our tickets and stay home to watch games on television. It was just too much fun to be in the Navy-Marine Corp Stadium with upwards of 33,000 fans five times a year.

We tried once to make this a day trip. Too long a drive, too much traffic, and two grumpy people in one car. We started staying overnight, meeting up with friends we’d left behind when we moved further south. We made these five weekends away our time to play. Limited access to social media, except for an occasional posting on Twitter or Instagram. Mostly, we stayed in the moment with a group of like-minded fans who all sit in the same seats every game. Our group has changed over the years, but at the same time it has also stayed pretty much the same. Every year we have about 50% turnover, so we get to meet new folks all the time.

Last weekend was a zoo at the stadium. Navy hosted Air Force. Sellout crowd of over 38,000 people. Way too many cars for the parking lots and surrounding streets and lawns. The day starts with the March On when the Corp of Midshipmen march into the stadium in winter blues, even though it was 80+ degrees. It was after October 1, so winter blues it was. Everyone stands when the colors pass. Everyone stands for the National Anthem and then the fly-over. The game begins after both teams run onto the field, the coin toss at the center tells the teams which one gets the ball first. By now, the fans are “ready for some football.”

Our boisterous group cheered, moaned, and jumped up and down throughout the game. It all came down to the last 15 seconds when Navy held on to beat its rival of 50 years. Only Army and Notre Dame have played Navy for more years.  Parents whose children go to the Academy go wild; fans like my husband and me go wild. There’s little like the pageantry, the unabashed patriotism, the symbolism of an academy game.

So, Navy won and the 38,000+ fans clogged exits to get to their cars. It took us over an hour to get out of the stadium and onto the highway that would take us to our hotel, the same one we’ve stayed in since we moved to the lake. It was so late that I went straight to the restaurant before checking in. We were starving. Never did it cross my mind that the two men at the front desk would be worried because we were so late. When we finally dragged in, Sam, who was on duty, called out to Ivan who was in the back area, “They’re here. They’re safe.” I didn’t realize that they would be so concerned. Ivan charged out of the manager’s office, around the counter, hugged me. He shook hands with my husband.

We’ve come to know Ivan over the years. We’ve prayed when he struggled with cancer and cheered when he was pronounced cured. We worried for his family in Puerto Rico after the recent hurricane. He told us, “they are all alive.” No running power, no electricity, no telecommunications, but his family was alive. We rejoiced in the news.

Okay, so it sound silly, but that little group of fans in Section Two, Blue Side is like a community that gathers together five times a year. And the two men at the Hilton are like family, because who else but family worries if you stay out too late.

Maybe the words aren’t so overused after all. I’ll keep my Navy community and my Hilton family, thank you very much.

9/11, Emotional Release, Emptiness, Featured, Grief, Inspiration, Lifestyle, Memories, Patriotism, Stress, Survival, Twin Towers

Seminal Events

September 11, 2017

We all have seminal events in our lives. Most are personal–births and deaths, weddings and divorces. Some, however, are public. Massively public. Depending on how old you are, you can respond immediately when someone asks, “Where were you when…?” Pearl Harbor. Kennedy was assassinated. The Challenger exploded. Armstrong walked on the moon. 9/11.

This will be published on 9/11. September 11, 2017. I can remember exactly where I was when I heard my country was under attack. I remember watching the twin towers fall again and again on television, never thinking that, to a child, all buildings in all cities were under attack. Watching the Pentagon on fire, not knowing how many were killed or injured. Weeping when passengers took down a jet in Pennsylvania before it could be turned into a weapon.

Yes, we can remember, but what I remember most is what happened later. After. When we drew a collective breath and realized there were no additional planes in the air waiting to attack us. When there was a run on US flags and poles for displaying them. People who had never flown the flag did so with unabashed patriotism. Some flew it to thumb their noses at the cowards who attacked us. Whatever. They flew them. Whole subdivisions, whole city blocks bloomed red, white, and blue. Many of those flags still fly all these years later. Mine does, although my original flag has long since gone to its grave. Properly destroyed in a military-style ceremony when its colors were retired forever.

Doors opened to strangers. When the commercial jets were pulled from the skies and hotels filled up, people took in strangers. Some stayed more than a week, because the skies were closed for many days. New friends became instant best friends. Blocks had cookouts and group functions to share their grief, pain, anger. Strangers worked hard to help their hosts. Prayers. Hand-holding. Hugs. “Thank you” didn’t seem like enough, but it was.

As days turned into weeks, people in cities looked for hiding holes should there be another attack. Knowing cities could never be evacuated should there be a biological or nuclear attack, city dwellers looked for places away from home where they could feel safe. We gave eight families invitations to our lake house, where we now live year round, but where in 2001 we didn’t. We told them where to find the outdoor key, told them to eat what was in the freezer, sent them maps not only to the house but the local services. Gas stations. Grocery stores. Pharmacy. Liquor stores.

We were lucky. No one needed a rush evacuation due to new attacks. Everyone who knew where the keys were came for long weekends after the initial fear cycle was behind us. The keys are in the same place, so if anyone needs to get out of any situation, they have sanctuary with us.

I have never forgotten the kindness the world showed the US. It seemed that even age-old enemies stood beside us symbolically. We wept and raged together. Later, we met together on battlefields against a common enemy.

The blog entry will be published on September 11, 2017. My gratitude toward the world hasn’t weakened. We were all Americans for a period of time. All over the world. The world became one when we were attacked.

Now, I wish we could become one again. Not due to a tragedy. Not due to a natural disaster. But, because we need to be one world. We need to stand together. We need to build bridges. We need to make amends for our actions which have disrespected other countries. We need to open the door of friendship. We need to be the grownups. We need to do it now.

Featured, Lifestyle, Writing, Writing Style

Interacting

August 28, 2017

Have you ever sat in a coffee house or bar and watched how people sit or stand when they talk with each other? I love watching the gestures, facial expressions, set of the shoulders–anything that makes me think the people want to talk and listen to each other. Recently, I’ve noticed something else.

Men and women sit differently. Women like to sit at a table and face each other. They look at each other, paying attention to facial expressions. Whether it’s a table in a restaurant or a low table in a coffee house flanked by comfy chairs, women like to look at each other. Maybe it comes from learning to read expressions at an early age. “Be careful. Mom’s on the warpath” does not mean Mom is wearing war paint but that her face is set and she’s not going to brook any nonsense. We learn that smiles mean it’s safe to approach, maybe even ask for something. Frowns are off-putting. We learn not to go near until the frown goes away.

Men, on the other hand, like standing at a bar side by side. Whether they are bellying up and leaning on the bar itself, or sitting on bar stools, or turning their backs on the bar to watch what other people are doing, men seem to be more comfortable talking out of the sides of their mouths, glancing over occasionally. When something like a crowd of women or a good game on big screen televisions captures their attention, they may pause at the distraction but resume the conversation a few moments later.

Women like words. Lots of words. They like telling stories about their friends, sharing plots of television shows, catching up on each other’s kids. They fill their space with so many words that they seem to hang in the air, crowding out everything else. They’re in a cone of chatter.

Men like silence. Lots of silence. Grunts, nods, shrugs are as important as words. Single words, monosyllables convey as much between men as clouds of chatter do to women. Men like to think about one thing at a time. Women created multitasking. They are always focused on something they have to do later/tomorrow/right now.

We’re wired differently. Ain’t it great?

 

Featured, Lifestyle, Travel

Hot July Night

July 24, 2017

Instead of a hot August night at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, my husband Terry and best friend Glenn joined 7000 of our closest friends for another hot July concert at Wolf Trap. The venue is outdoors with a covered pavilion and lawn seating. The temp peaked at 96 with high humidity by 5:00. We’d arrived around 5:30 and with gates opening at 6:30, we had a long, standing wait to get in. We actually heard the sound check, although we couldn’t see the stage from the gate area.

Because we arrived early enough to be third in line at our gate, we were assured we’d have a good spot once the gates opened and the land rush began. We had a plan: Terry would immediately rent back rests, Glenn would dash downhill to stake out our homestead, and I’d follow more slowly with the blankets and food. Recently recovered from a broken wrist, I don’t “dash” anywhere. Glenn is a pro at this and had grabbed a great place only about fifteen feet up from the front of the lawn area.

We’d been following this band for years. I became a fan when its first album was released fifty years ago and never stopped buying every new release. In all formats except 8-track tape. Among the three of us, we knew the words to nearly all of the hits. Glenn had been following the reviews as the band worked its way across country. Not a single slightly sketchy review to be found. From 17,500 people at the Hollywood Bowl earlier in the summer to our paltry 7000 at Wolf Trap, the band sold out every venue for its fiftieth anniversary concert series.

The reason for the tour, beyond saying thank you to the fans, was to recognize the life-changing effect the first album had on the band and its fans. The concert was split into two halves: in the first set, the band played hits from many of their albums and singles over the years; the second set was the entire inaugural album from first note to last. The fans came to adore their favorite singers; the singers came to be adored.

Just before the encore, Justin Hayward, the lead singer, thanked the fans for joining them on their life’s journey. The sheer fact that we were there to celebrate was testament to the effect the songs from that first album had on so many of us.

We writers can take a lesson from The Moody Blues. We can thank our fans, our readers, for joining us on our writing journey. It takes so little, but Justin’s recognition of what we’d done over the years, loving the band, made all the difference. The fans were speechless before erupting in a standing ovation that lasted many minutes.

Writers don’t get standing ovations, but we do get to meet fans who buy our books. May we never forget to say “thank you” when we hand back a signed book.

To those readers who continue to enjoy my scribbles, thank you. I hope I’ve entertained, and I hope to continue entertaining for many books to come.

Featured, Lifestyle

Thinking About Toes

July 10, 2017

First of all, the word “toes” is a funny one. It rhymes with nose and does. It’s a plural referring to ten digits at the end of two feet. Now, feet are more than just things we walk on; feet are also units of measure. Toes are not units of measure. They are simply things we need to stand and walk.

I’ve become something of a toe fetishist this summer. It all began in April when I put on sandals and looked at ten bare toe nails. Off to get a pedicure and have bright red polish applied by a professional who not only took care of said toe nails, but the entire foot and my calves. Massaging and scrubbing until my legs were purring with pleasure and my feet were soft as a baby’s behind. It felt so good I should say I’m a toe hedonist, but that was before color choices.

I was one of two women getting my pedicure that first spring day. I poked through fifty shades of red before deciding on one that was perfect. The woman next to me was enjoying getting coral on her toes. We chatted about how and why women chose different colors. Very enlightening, because I never choose coral (coral lipstick washes my face out), but heck, that shouldn’t apply to toes, should it? For me, it seems to. I never lean toward coral shades.

During the last pedicure, the nail salon was crammed. Every chair was filled; many more waited for polish to dry or to begin their appointments. Nail art was in full swing. Several women were having rhinestones glued to big toes; others were opting for stencils of flags, flowers, or dogs. Covering everything was a thick coat of clear varnish to keep the designs from fading.

I grew fascinated by two different approaches to making statements with nail polish. One young woman was having a French manicure, pink nail beds with white rims at the tips. She was going to a wedding and wanted fingers and toes to match. Of course, silly me for asking. The other fascinating approach involved a twelve-year-old and her mother. The child had selected ten different colors ranging from deep purple to hot yellow. I thought she couldn’t make up her mind, but no, she wanted each toe painted a different screaming color. Her mother agreed, then asked for five of the colors for herself. She started with bright yellow on her left little toe and worked her way to purple on the big toe, reversing the order on the other foot. When she left, her daughter looked like a happy neon billboard; mom looked like she was signaling someone with one purple big toe and one screaming yellow big toe.

Me? I settled for a lovely brick shade, not too bright, not too dull. A Goldilocks shade. Maybe I’ll get brave next time and opt for purple. Or not.

Featured, Lifestyle, Travel, Writing, Writing Style

Summer Memories

July 3, 2017

Late last year, I shared a short story here called “Toad.” Set in the high desert of Southern California, it was the tale of an imaginative little boy in the late 1950s. To be a free-range kid in those days was heaven, because Toad could go anywhere but toward the highway. With his two best friends, Shorty, the gray burro, and Rex, the German Shepherd, Toad roamed the desert alone or with his younger brother, Jimmy. The story was filled with sunlight as you would expect from something set in the summertime desert.

Toad began as a bit of flash fiction. I loved the little boy. Later, I expanded the story several times. I wasn’t done with Toad. The further away I was from Toad, the clearer I could see him. I couldn’t get the boy out of my head. I wondered how he would grow up, who his friends were, what happened to his parents, his brother.

The more I thought about Toad, the more I really wanted to write more of his story. What I didn’t want to do was  write a novel. I wanted more freedom to explore, to change voices, to change points of view. I’d read a novel by Clifford Garstang, What the Zhang Boys Knew, a few years back. Cliff’s work was a novel in stories, wherein a pair of boys living in an apartment complex in Washington, D.C. figure prominently in each story, which focus on other residents in the complex.

I couldn’t put Toad in a high-rise in Washington, but I could leave him in the desert, let him go away for school and work, and return to his roots. Along the way, Toad picked up a good friend, Pollywog, who moved in “up the road.” Pollywog and Toad met in high school, before they went their different ways. A not-so-nice aunt and her two young girls, one a spoiled princess who hated everything and one a studious child who hid from conflict inside the pages of books, joined the family. Jimmy, Toad’s younger brother, found voice in his own story.

Toad remained the center of the stories, as did the desert compound where he grew up. Family came and went, married and divorced, had kids and lost kids. Life went on, but Toad’s story unwound in ways I didn’t expect.

I have a lot of work to do on this before it’s ready for publication. I hope it’s out in the first half of next year.

And why did Toad draw me in? Partly because I spent many summers in the compound, which was exactly as described in the stories. Party because I was a free-range kid, something my grandkids can’t be nowadays. Partly because I knew and loved the inspiration for Toad. His story needed to be imagined and told. I hope I do him justice. Time and our family will tell.

Featured, Lifestyle, Writing

Summer Doldrums, Early

June 26, 2017

I spoke with several close friends about their drive to do something. Since the beginning of June, they’ve had the summer doldrums, otherwise known as the summer blahs. Yes, they know chores have to be done, and they do them, but then they want to sit beside the pool, or on a dock on a lake, or on the patio, pour a glass of iced tea (sweet or unsweet, depending on your degree of “Southern-ness), and dive into a book. We want some lounge time, me time to read what we want, not what we may have had to read for work. We want a steamy romance. a chair-rattling gothic, a keep-the-lights-on mystery, a spy thriller.

Me? I chose a spy thriller, P.A. Duncan’s A War of Deception. Like something right out of the John Le Carre school of spy thrillers. this blends old-fashioned Cold War spycraft with modern locales and themes. Bad boy spies and the women who love to hate and love them keep me turning pages.

Why don’t you join me? What are you reading today? If it’s one of my books, please take a pic and let me know where you are and which one you’re reading. If not one of mine, that a pic and post to FB. The author will be delighted.

Featured, Lifestyle, Writing

Worms

June 5, 2017

You read that right: worms. I woke up this morning thinking about worms.

Before I continue, I confess that there is little in nature I like less than a worm. I hate them. I know earthworms are good for the soil, but I don’t have to like them, do I? I don’t know why worms were on my mind before dawn today, but they were.

Think about all the way worms appear in our vocabulary. Remember the childhood complaint: Nobody likes me, everybody hates me. I’m going to eat some worms. Now, I never knew that eating worms would be a good idea if no one liked you, except by doing so you might gross someone out. Watching someone eat worms would gross me out, even if they are considered a source of protein and a delicacy in some parts of the world. I prefer chicken or tofu for my protein, thank you very much.

In early spring, when the earth warms, the rains soften the hard ground, earthworms emerge and slither across driveways and sidewalks. A harbinger of spring, I love it when they appear. Just don’t ask me to touch one. I don’t like slimy things, and worms are right up there with the slimiest.

Ear worms are another annoying, albeit not slimy, evidence of worms. No one likes to have “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” or “It’s a Small World” stuck in your brain all day. “Nights in White Satin” or “Sound of Silence,” maybe. In fact, definitely “Nights in White Satin.” Usually. ear worms are the most annoying interruptions. And the more you try to get rid of them, the louder they get.

What about sayings we hear from our parents and grandparents. “The early bird gets the worm.” Or, “he’s caught like a worm on a hook.” There are more. Add your own favorites.

The more I think about it, it doesn’t end well for the worm. I think I’ll leave it at that.

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