Saturday, October 10, 2009


Behold our bedroom. The red blanket is a two-year-old electric Sunbeam Imperial.

In my mind, the brand name, stands for "reliable, solid, dependable, Good Housekeeping approved."

The blanket was a carefully researched purchase. Two years ago when we had a dial-up modem, and excruciatingly slow internet, I went on line and checked all the stores, price, color, looked at pictures of the controls. And finally ordered the deluxe Sunbeam online from JC Penny's.

Well ... It's not heating properly.

Actually, I didn't want red, I wanted brown -- rich brown -- to replace our ten-year-old brown electric blanket that fits in with the old-fashioned "attic" decor of our bedroom -- exposed raw beams in the ceiling -- exposed brick walls.

Our dear old brown blanket provides hi-lo-adequate heat, but the LED light doesn't work in one of the two controls that lets you adjust the heat on your side of the bed.

Actor/singer, self-educated electrician JC, who has infinite patience once he's on a FIX project, had us both kneeling on the braided rug, comparing the two round, plastic controls -- the one that worked, and the one that didn't work.

The bottom of each control has a DO NOT OPEN sign on it.

As JC bravely proceeded to open his control, following his directions, I opened mine. In the course of an hour, peering with magnifying glass, flashlights, and tiny screwdrivers, we discovered that one control had a teeny, tiny, loose wire.

With his trusty soldering iron, JC labored over it, and finally soldered the teeny, tiny wire so that it connected a tiny, skinny, half-inch, bulb-like tube.

It took a while to test; to realize the light still didn't work, but if I turned the switch on my control to a twelve-noon position, my side of the bed would heat up. By moving the control to different positions on the imaginary clock, I found a position at 5 that gave me the heat I needed.

We laughed because of the time it took (because it wasn't very convenient to use the imaginary clock), but we saluted each other with a high-five and a noisy air-kiss.

That's when I noticed a bump, a small egg appeared just below my knee. "Housemaids knee" said my Malibu doctor pal, whom I chat with on the phone.

Though it took all winter (at least three months) of nightly massaging with an electric massager to get my knee back to normal, we successfully used the dear old brown blanket, and put it away for the summer.

Alas, the following October, the one control light that worked, no longer worked either. That's why I did the research, and purchased the Sunbeam.

Ah me ... Why is it that new things create new problems, and problems with new products take hours, sometimes drag on for days? The Sunbeam's manual ... oh dear, I didn't seem to be able to follow its overly detailed instructions, and I needed a magnifier to check the serial numbers, the who-to-call number.

The first winter with the Sunbeam we re-read manual, more than once, before calling customer service -- called twice, but listening to the long announcement, got impatient, annoyed, and hung up.

(It was an extra cold winter. We used my office's portable radiator, and a quilt, till the weather got warmer. Reprieved, we put the problem out of our minds, as we put away the Sunbeam, radiator and quilt.)

Okay -- winter's coming again. My toes are cold. The Sunbeam's plugged in, and it doesn't get warm enough. We re-read the manual. Got out fat file folder with its warranty, all the warranties, receipts for everything. (Even stuff no longer in use that ought to be thrown out that we don't throw out -- it's a history of how we went from poor, to financially stable, to HEY WE GOT MONEY, to sensible, logical get what we need and stop dealing with malfunctioning appliances!)

JC and I called Sunbeam's Customer Support number, rehearsed and ready to say give us back our money.

We tolerated the long announcement, then a pre-recorded, pleasant voiced, energetic female, with a press 1, for this question, press 2 ,...question 7 was "Blanket won't heat..."

She asked questions. Had we done the heat test? Yes, we'd folded the blanket 3 times, put it on H for high heat, for 7 minutes and there was warmth but not enough to warm my toes. With us answering yes or no (pressing 1 or 2), the lady guided us to a final recommendation: Put the control on high for 30 minutes, then adjust.

It works. (I didn't get a good night's sleep --I was too busy wiggling my toes, peeking down at the floor, squinting at the LED light, adjusting the number, but my toes -- gee, they were more than adequately warmed.)

Yay -- problem solved!

I don't have an egg on my knee from kneeling, just a sinking feeling that I'm getting dumber and slower, while my other self, the confident Dr. Em, is whispering "Haha -- beware -- you've got a new, reliable, Good -housekeeping approved G.E. stove with all the latest newest innovations -- to HATE, CONQUER, SOLVE!"

Friday, October 9, 2009


"Good morning Vietnam!" ... that was Robin William's voice, an unforgettable cadence in the 1987 comedy-drama film set in Saigon during the Vietnam War -- that's what I'm hearing as I'm thinking, worrying, wondering what to hope for.

My head's spinning with the opinions in the news on what we should do, could do, can't do -- what the generals want --what other wise men and women say.

I can't get certain facts out of my mind -- the fact that Britain lost two wars in Afghanistan in the 19th century and it's still haunting them -- that the Soviet-Afghan war in the 20th century was a nine year conflict that Russia lost -- that we're in our ninth year of our war -- that no one is sure what to do -- that strong, knowledgeable, wise men and women, guys I respect, are saying we cannot, must not lose this war.

What looms -- us versus them -- different concepts of heaven -- Christianity versus Islam. To me those different concepts are like iron gates, centuries old, endlessly high, high as my eye and mind can perceive beyond the clouds and stars.

I can't add to the words in the air, the powerful, logical conclusions based on real knowledge (as well as secret information). I'm just me, a single person, a small female, with arms out, trying to embrace whatever there is to hold onto, and hold onto my instinct, my sense of what's happening.

I want us to end the war.

The words -- we can't lose the war, can't stop the war, must not withdraw troops -- we must win this war -- are preventing us from saving ourselves.

Win! Lose! That's in games, where there are victors. We haven't won in Iraq, or fixed, changed, solved issues there, except temporarily, while we continue paying for it, losing millions? or is it billions? as we're saying we're changing them, helping them.

I can only think as me -- one small, little person, wanting me/us to survive, and, find another way, other ways to reach the enemy, And deal with him/them not as an enemy, but as people -- with eyes, noses, mouths, hearts, brains, bodies -- general physical construction like me. I want us to push into, and probe, and find out, and study, and connect, and communicate -- find a way to talk about the ideas, needs, feelings that created them as people, not as our foe.

Stop the war. Don't send more young men to die there.

Please, think into that, deeper, thoroughly, what it could mean and how the losing of the war would be a victory.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Opinion polls -- they're getting to me, bugging and bothering me more than the obnoxious "Men Be Ready Anytime" ads ...

The latest polls are inviting me, encouraging me, practically begging me for my online approval or disapproval OF ------

Obama's every move ...
Direction the county's taking ...
Afghanistan war ...
Terrorism ...
Abortion ...
Trust in the mass media ...
Glen Beck Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Speaker Pelosi, Sarah Palin ...
Federal government -- too much power ...?
Guns and the Constitution ...

And right now, today, there are the latest new polls on should-I, should-you, should-we, should-our-kids bare their arms, lift their noses, get the flu shot, get the H1N1 vaccine?

And today's newscasters, the friendly, handsome, familiar faces I almost trust, (am inclined to trust otherwise how'd they get the job), will be reporting on today's H1N1 poll, as well as Health Care and the War.

And the articulate, intelligent newscaster paying attention to the numbers -- well, it makes the number more important, more significant -- it's creating a sense of this furor being a major issue ... my goodness, it's civil disobedience, practically a rebellion ...

Okay. The polls, are affecting the polls.

I'm remembering coffee ... bad for you ... no, coffee's okay ... have a glass or two of red wine a day .... no, don't drink a glass or two of wine everyday ... I'm thinking of Kerry and his war hero status ... I'm thinking of diets, and pills sold to us that we shouldn't be taking, and racial attitudes brain-washing the brainwashed ...

Maybe I panicking? It isn't that bad yet ...

But repetition of facts that aren't facts, make lies into truths, and I think...this is just me... not my guys, not a poll, just my own opinion -- I think it's endangering us all.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


I arrived by plane, on a cold morning, bundled up in my white, sheared Badger fur, with white, kid-leather, medium-heeled boots, white leather gloves and purse. The coat was a traffic-stopping cape, which I wore with a matching Cossack's fur hat. I looked like I'd stepped out of Dr. Zhivago's Russia.

I felt important. The booking was important. I was scheduled to dance in New York City's Town Hall two weeks later. The performance in Huntingdon was an out-of-town warm-up.

The college concert series was paying me well. They had a large audience. Their students and faculty, as well as students, faculty, and lovers of ballet from other colleges in the area had reservations.

After the show, there would be reception at Mrs. Clifford's home. I'd be sleeping in her guest room, which was walking distance from the auditorium. Mrs. C. was dean of students, head of the committee who arranged my rehearsal, clothes rack, hangers, pitcher of water, and the six student helpers for lights, curtain, props, costume ironing.

Yep -- Em, the Queen of one-night-stands (title I invented for myself), always sent a detailed stage preparation list, specifying the stage areas that needed to be lit, the booms (or side light), the blue, green, orange, lavender gels that I used for the booms, changing color for each section of my solo.

(The college's drama department did four plays each year. They had 120 spots on the bars above the stage and balcony rail (more than what I'd be getting at Town Hall).

Since I was going to be performing my 70 minute solo to Mahler's "Fifth Symphony," just one number on the program with taped music, I'd requested professional sound equipment and a technician to handle it. (See my 6/14 post "High Diving.")

It was peaches and cream -- everything top flight, done right, and more -- knowledgeable, peppy students and the head of the Drama department on the lights and main dimmer board. The rented sound equipment was excellent. And best of all the stage was large -- 50 feet across and 35 feet deep. The second movement of the Mahler, with its leaps, jumps, and running, needed space, and a wide, deep stage made the fifth movement extra thrilling.

The rehearsal finished at four. My set, props, costumes, my giant Chinese silk bird wings, a costume device that I donned that made the ending of the piece stunning, was arranged. The staff had prepared a cot in my dressing room, so I could rest before the show.

Was I tired? Traveling, arriving, setting up a show, and performing the same night is tiring, but after my nap and light bite (scrambled eggs brought in by one of the students), I was ready to do my best. Though I was very slender (like most dancers, I was hooked on looking like a Balanchine skinny ballerina), I'd taken a diuretic. During my onstage costume changes, I could be seen in my flesh-colored body-suit -- it showed every hill -- including the tummy one gets, slender or not, around that time of the month.

The hush as the curtain opened meant a large audience was expecting something special.

My five costumes were works of art -- my extraordinarily talented designer, and two seamstresses had taken over my living room for the month it took for the costumes to be made -- each representing different ages in a woman's life -- each garment exquisitely detailed -- hand-painted, be-ribboned, petaled, fringed, or be-jeweled.

The costume for the grown up woman -- (see the picture), was a transparent, shimmering, purple, floor-length gauze gown with a train, like on a wedding dress.

My dance movements (created by choreographer Norman Walker), ran the gamut -- modern, ballet, Spanish, Oriental -- 70 minutes of dancing needs a lot of invention -- fast foot work, adagio, sustained poses, sudden dramatic changes.

Did I judge myself while dancing? Sometimes, but the best performances, are when the dancer lives in the moment, and I lived in the moment till the fourth movement of the Mahler. After 55 minutes of strenuous dancing, as I stepped on my right foot, the calf muscle cramped.

When I typed "Huntingdon" on my list of blog ideas, I whizzed through a memory -- my sister JB saw the performance. A friend from Harrisburg, where she was living at that time, drove her to Huntingdon. ("Ouch,"I thought, remembering what my sister said after the show, "I won't write about THAT!")

Ouch -- my calf muscle hurt, felt stuck, twisted -- wouldn't untwist, let me step on the foot, and move forward, gliding smoothly ... each step in the fourth movement required that the rolled, weighted hem of my gown be subtly pushed forward by my foot, so that I wouldn't step on it.

Mustn't step on hem I thought as the pain increased. The next step, a pivot on the right foot was coming up ... a step left, step right ... relevé on it ... half-circle pivot ... a pause on the right foot, as I lifted the left leg into a high extension.

(My right foot is stronger than my left. My left leg is more limber and does higher extensions. I turn better to the left, standing on the right. I leap better pushing off the left foot, landing on the right.)

That was where my mind was at. I couldn't do a pivot. A leap was out of the question -- even a pose, a pause, standing on the right with the calf cramping was -- yow -- too painful.

I know pain. I know how to make another muscle do the work of the one that hurts . I know how to avoid pain -- work through it ... even so, I couldn't step on that foot.

... 15 more minutes ... 14 more minutes ... I tried to keep track of where I was, in the choreographic sequence, but each step I took was improvised -- done to get the purple train behind me, not twisted around me, not on the path -- the diagonal toward the center of the stage, where the fifth movement of the Mahler was supposed to start.

... 10 more minutes, then I had to move the movable set pieces, and with swift, lateral, broad steps, gather up the costumes that I'd scattered in a danced tantrum, end of the third movement -- swoop them up, gliding, traveling over and around things when I couldn't glide, or pivot or leap, when pivots, leaps, jumps, and turns were what I was rehearsed and ready to do.

If I'd been in a basket ball game, the coach, the umpire would have gotten me off the field. I thought about stopping, moving to the edge of the stage, telling the audience "I hurt my leg. I have to stop." But then, what? Re-schedule Huntingdon for when? What was wrong with the foot, the leg? Had I broken or torn something?

Thinking those things, and creating steps to avoid putting weight on my right foot, keeping the purple gauze train untangled, I got to the end -- upstage, kneeling in the center -- slipping each of my arms into the sleeves of the huge silk wings, grabbing the 15 foot bamboo poles that were hidden inside the sleeve, poles that were preset on the floor.

I felt no pain, had no thought but "Stand up Em ... lift the bamboo ... arch back ... lift, now swing back and circle your arms ..."

"Thar she blows!" I sang to myself as the Chinese silk billowed up, up, up to the light bars above my head and floated down -- closed around me as I crossed my arms on the last note of the Mahler.

Mrs. Clifford took care of everything after I whispered what happened to me. The reception was canceled. My sister said to me, "You look so beautiful -- so young, My friend Ellie wondered how old you were." (My sister turned to her.) "I explained to Ellie that you were in a terrible accident and they fixed your face -- you didn't have your face lifted, but it made you younger looking."

(When people come back stage and tell you they loved your costume, loved your hairdo, it means what it means -- that's what touched them, not your "art," but the way you look.)

I wanted to get out of my clothes and get ice for my calf, but there was more chatter about -- did I, should she, should her friend have a face lift?


At Mrs. Clifford's, in the guest room which had been her married daughter's room, we iced my calf, and made plans to get to the hospital early, and talk to the head of orthopedics.

In the morning, there was pain and swelling. Mrs. C opened a drawer, and gave me a pair of her daughter's knee-high socks -- I couldn't wear my white boots, so I wore the ballet slippers I'd worn during the performance.

The doctor said I'd torn the gastroc, a muscle in the back part of the calf. After I asked was it serious, what about my performance in two weeks, he shrugged. He said, "It's a relatively superficial muscle -- just.keep off your right leg for three weeks. Then, use it, get back in shape, modifying what exercises you do, and carefully, gradually use your right leg a little more each day."

The stage crew had packed up my things and arranged for my trunk to be shipped back to New York. In my Cossack's hat and fur, (boots in my overnight suitcase) in the daughter's knee-highs and ballet slippers, I boarded the plane for home, dozing and figuring what to say and do about canceling my Town Hall performance and re-scheduling it.

The gastroc healed, but there's scar tissue (from Huntingdon as well as two other times my muscles have cramped on stage). I massage it, every now and then, feeling lucky -- that my face was "sort of fixed," that the improv I'd done wasn't noticed by my sister and her friend, and therefore, probably others in the audience were admiring the look of me, not judging the dancing. I guess that's what happens when singers sing with a sore throat or bad cold. You do what you can do.

Yesterday, with medical revelations about football players' helmets not protecting them from brain damage, we've heard star players declare -- "It's worth it --even if it shortens my life by fifteen years."

I don't take diuretics now but I did before my performances at Lincoln Center. Nowadays, when muscle or bone hurts, I use ice, or massage it, and remember the knee-high socks which sit in a dresser drawer with my exercise clothes.

My darling JC took a picture -- yep, that's my leg in the knee-highs, on my desk, yep, I'm still slender, and limber -- you do what you can do -- I do what I can do to stay that way.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Life and death in real emergency rooms, in an unimportant town somewhere — that I'll watch, if there isn't an old or new movie that sounds interesting. Or the cable "Forensics" show -- I'll watch it. Not "Scrubs" or "Grey's Anatomy," but I'll sit and take in an old "ER" -- I've met most of the cast -- JC played the father of Dr. Greene, the main doctor.

The news -- the repetitious selling of the terrorism scares, scandals, murders, political-congressional wars -- though I like Maddow, Brokaw whenever he appears, and Anderson now and then, lately, it's not what I want to watch at the end of the day.

Sitcoms? "No, no no!" I moan, grabbing the remote the moment I hear a laugh track, or see a NCIS or CSI in the title. I do not want to see manufactured crimes --NOT with what's going on in the real world these days!

The acronym titles are a meaningless jumble so I Googled them. (I prefer to complain with a modicum of accuracy.) NCIS = Naval Crime Investigative Service, CSI = Crime Scene Investigations. TV's got CSI Las Vegas, CSI Miami, CSI N.Y., NCIS, and NCIS Los Angeles.

Their brilliant successful wealthy creators loom in my mind as foes -- the indefatigable Don Bellarsario, and Jerry Bruckheimer (See my post, "Off with his Head" 8/12). I've seen Bruckheimer's name on too many violent shows and megahit films. And though I've dined at Bellarsario's home and met his kids, I'm bored and repelled by what he loves to dramatize.

Sometimes I watch Dick Wolf's "Law and Order, Special Victims." Maybe because JC's been a lawyer, and a judge on SVU, I feel Wolf's shows occasionally ring with truth and are based on issues, not just shocking events.

"Forensics" is easier to take. Fingerprinting, DNA, tests, techniques relating to the investigation of a crime -- the plainer, duller, the less dramatically enhanced, the better. I can chat and watch -- cook/snack and watch -- or watch while I clear the table, run the dishwasher, set out the vitamins and coffee for tomorrow.

The dry narration of who-what-when-how facts ... yes, they're repeated too many times but the salient plot points stay with me. Instead of watching actors act/react to manufactured horror -- bang bang visions of cruelty, pain and blood hitting me -- I'm seeing a story unfold, as told by a police person, or an ordinary looking relative, who explains what happened sadly (but not yucky emotionally).

The actual forensics -- colors, tubes, droppers, flagons, DNA imprints, patterns of fingerprints -- it reminds me of OP art, POP art of the sixties, but isn't boring -- it's a kaleidoscope in motion.

Alas ... last night, making popcorn watching "Forensics ID" a new version of last season's show, a purring sympathetic voiced female narrator kept making comments ...

Is she where they're heading? I've noticed that quite a few new network shows are trauma-dramas, and they keep flashing that word -- "interactive."

Oh God, will it be like "Idol," or "Next top Model," "Biggest Loser," "Dancing with the Stars"? Will we be voting on guilty, not guilty? Live or die?

Gee, I've never really be able to sit and stare at a cartoon show ... gee, do they have p.m. re-runs? Maybe I'll be popcorning, dishwashing watching the "Simpsons," or "Family Guy?"

Monday, October 5, 2009


I love my big serving spoons.

They don't belong to a set that was a wedding present. I don't "love" our other utensils, though I'm fond of our small steak knives (bought two dozen of them so we can use them practically all the time).

I don't have a silver tea set or "guest" silverware, china, or crystal anything, except six Baccarat beer mugs Alan Lerner gave us one Christmas. (We've never used them -- tried to grow carrot tops in them, but carrot tops are a bit of bore.)

" Oh where oh where has one-dear-big-spoon gone ... ?" I sang.

JC, peering under the new stove sang "Where or where can it be ...?"

Husband and wife dialogue while hunting the first day:
"I didn't throw it out? Did you?"
"Gee, I didn't think so, hon ..."
I looked in the trash basket -- "It's not here."
He looked in the garbage basket -- "It's not here."
I searched behind the electric radiator that's under the table.
He moved the orange cabinet, to make sure it wasn't there.

We missed them, serving the salad with two regular-sized tablespoons.

Husband and wife dialogue while checking again the second day:
"What am I going to use when I'm serving the sauce?"
(We were having spaghetti with my red sauce -- with finely cut chicken, onions, mushrooms, celery, plus raisins, tangerine segments, and peanuts.)
JC handed me our clumsy, large soup spoon, muttering "I didn't throw it out."
He looked through the trash in the hallway recycle bin.
While I set the table murmuring something about the impossibility of buying one new spoon to go with the other one, he actually looked through all the garbage in our hallway bin.

Third day, we looked for serving spoons at Pier One. One huge spoon (too large for our drawer), was a possibility. We looked for spoons at two other stores -- no right-size spoons were available. We repeated our mournful conversation about how could it have happened, where could the spoon be, and decided we'd make do with one spoon.

Every time I passed through the kitchen I found myself looking in all the same places again. Saying good night, JC whispered out loud to himself, "Can't believe I threw out that big spoon."

Fourth day, we didn't mention them. JC found a new fixture that could light his computer's black keyboard, bought it, and while he was testing it, I raced upstairs to get a small extension cord and a pair of pliers he might need.

Yay- wow - gee- whoopee!

Lo and behold -- the serving spoon -- it was lying on the back end of our grand piano with the pliers!

I called into the intercom.."Come quick! There's something wonderful I want you to see. "

Well of course we reconstructed the story -- when, how it got there -- I'd put the spoon down and forgotten about it when our new mail lady buzzed.

We told each other over -- it could have taken weeks till we noticed it. It could have taken months.

We clinked the two spoons before serving the salad that night, and again clinked them, serving the sauce I made to go with my cod fish and scallops stew.

"We found it ..." we sang at lunch today, giddily, delightedly, serving each other our fruit salad with our dearly beloved, darling twin spoons.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


New month. My testing finger is up. How's the weather? Where am I heading as we head into the chilly, then cooler, then cold-cold days?

Any interesting, exciting, adventures, plans, or trips? Is fear in the air. Regret?

I regret that I haven't bought a new plant to replace the one that finally had to be dumped. I regret that cold days are coming, because it's cold in our 4th floor living quarters -- and what to wear, what my winter "uniform" is going to be is pending.

Fear? As usual, most of my fears have to do with NOT being able to dance as well today, as I danced yesterday, or two months ago, or last year.

What a convenient, unsolvable fear that is --it's a smallish sticky square like a post-it note. It reminds me every day to work on stretches more and avoid the left knee by using the left gluteus, a muscle under my buttock.

Yes, it's a convenient focus, because it's so unimportant. Thinking about muscles diverts me from more real concerns -- wife /Mom/citizen of New York, America -- fears about things over which I have very little control.

Ah ha! That's the issue -- what I can do, what I can control, improve, fix? What can Em, the writer do?

Hey, hurray -- last October I was tied in knots, dealing with my agents trying to sell, not selling my books! Now, I don't have to sell anything -- just keep my bucket of ideas filled, turn on the faucet and capture any/all little thoughts that trickle out of my mind like ... like what in the world was a I dreaming early this morning, that made me want to stay in bed longer than usual?

Wasn't it something about the guy breaking down the door? (I wrote about the Robber, 9/27.) What a dream -- all I remember was moving stuff into the hall, turning it into an obstacle course in case the robber came back, and then a congested series of old issues ... can't say what they were, but I thought, why am I thinking of all this stuff --I've been here before -- why don't I get up?

Ah ha! That's the thought! I have been here before -- been on a writing schedule that eats up all my work time, enjoying the commitment, aware that the commitment is what's GREAT about writing.

(Dictionary says "commitment -- a state of being dedicated to a cause, a pledge, an undertaking -- an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.)

Yes !

Yes, that's what I want -- I don't want to think about what to wear, or obligations, bookkeeping, renovations, or what to buy for the office, for my home, or for my guys.

Renovations are done -- bought just about all the new stuff we've needed to get -- both my guys are back to work! And I got my license, did my doctor checkups, no "obligations" are pending -- I'm unencumbered, free.

What else is in the wind? Afghanistan, Health Care, unemployment, housing market, stock market -- all those things are in the air, but our man in the White House is a brilliant, energetic, fighter-doer -- I can read and write about any of those things, worry, wonder, pray ...

Well, okay ... I'm ready for the interesting exciting trips I can take in my work . My finger is down, and I've got my post-it note on my gluteus.