Saturday, April 21, 2012


"What's it like, John, playing Grandpa on the television sitcom, "The Middle?" Emily asks.

John's answer surprises Em. She likes him playing leading roles -- the Grandfather part is definitely not a leading role. She assumed that playing a small role might be sort of boring.

John loves working on the show. He likes the cast -- they connect with each other and it feels like a real family to him. The somewhat codgery old Grandpa that he's playing is easy to play -- he has fun with the plot problems the show's writers provide for him.

John explains how the atmosphere for a television show or a movie is set by the leading characters, the "stars." In "The Middle," leading lady Patricia Heaton's warmth pervades and sets the tone for everyone.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I'm in limbo, wondering and worrying about what our Supreme Court will decide about the Health Care bill.

For years, I've thought of the court as a supremely wise, just, careful bunch of guys in robes, who weighed the pros and cons of every law that they, themselves, decided to evaluate.

The Supreme Court was -- to me as a child -- like the Constitution -- hey, like the flag itself -- an unassailable part of my world.

It was the faces carved in the side of a mountain -- the pledge allegiance words -- one nation, liberty and justice words we said every day.

And I was in the center with my family and friends, surrounded and protected by teachers, preachers, president, congressmen, senators -- and they were surrounded by thousands of men and women in uniform who were watching over them as they were watching over me in my home.

As I grew up I learned that sometimes the golden-iron, unbreakable, impermeable thing of truth and honesty -- the trust I had in the circle of guys,
got shattered -- they quit, did bad things, got jailed, or just disappeared, but the others in the circle always came together and their togetherness took away the fear that nothing was safe.

My child self is just expressing my need for someone to be there, protecting advising, making sure we're safe.

As an adult, I can deal with what might be BAD doings by a Justice -- something in a background check, details about what they voted for previously or opposed, or some political statements they've made that reveal bias or seriously out-of-date ideas.

I close my ears and file it away. I realize my allegiance is pledged to those eight people in black robes, whom the main guys in the circle put there to study the whys and wherefores of the laws, past and present, in our country.

But that's why I'm frustrated, frightened, refusing to contemplate what might happen if the Supreme Court decided to throw out the health care bill, or restrict it in ways that defeat its purpose.

Remember the story of the Dutch boy who saw that the dykes in Holland were leaking, and put his finger in the hole and tried to save his country?

That's how I feel. There are leaks in the dyke and I can't stop the flooding.

Panic doesn't help. Moaning, complaining, arguing -- telling each other, reminding each other again and again how this Justice or that Justice did something bad or wrong doesn't help.

I think we have to sit tight and wait for the Supreme Court's rulings on health care are announced. Then see what the man we trusted and pledged allegiance to when we elected him, the President, the guy who got us healthcare -- see what he says and does, and go along with him as he handles what needs to be handled and moves ahead.

That's what I'm going to do so I won't go crazy with worrying.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I don't go to church. But I make steeple hands often, as I am doing right now, as I'm figuring out what it is that I want to say about the NONES.

I never heard the term "NONES. They are people who, asked about their religion, reply "none." They aren't atheists or agnostics, just folks who gave up going to church, but chose to meet with others in order to share thoughts about spiritual things and help others -- the poor, the sick or needy.

Researching, I learned NONES are the fastest-growing religious group in the U.S. Their numbers have more than doubled since 1990; major surveys put them at 16% of the population. Many people, who have given up on organized religion, have not given up on faith. Surveys say only 4% of Americans identify as atheist or agnostic.

Diana Butler Bass, who's published books and articles about religion, has written a new book, "Christianity After Religion." In it, she notes that the past decade has been particularly challenging for organized religion in the U.S., from the Catholic sex-abuse scandal to the entanglement of faith in heated political campaigns, resulting in a "sort of 'participation crash.'"

A 2009 Pew Forum survey on Religion & Public Life, that asked people whether they believed in God, how often they prayed, and whether they were affiliated with a particular religion, found that 40% of the unaffiliated people were "still hoping to find the right religious home."

The Huffington Post, USA Today, and other surveys, suggest that young people are inclined to be NONES; the poor economy has created NONES; NONES are 18 % men, 12% percent female.

I think I am, unofficially, a NONE. When I was a child we were the only Jewish family in Winnetka, a wealthy white, Christian, Chicago suburb. In my novel, "Somebody, Woman of the Century," with my heroine Cordelia, here's how I used some of my personal experiences:

"The next morning was Sunday. Mama was sleeping. Cordelia got out her grandma's prayer book that she'd put under her pillow. Gramma said, "This was my book when I was your age. If you keep it under your pillow, the words will perhaps find their way into your mind and your heart."

Generally when church was mentioned, someone changed the subject. Learning how to pray seemed to be one of those "You'll understand when you're older" things. like why Mama and Jeorg weren't married. And why Mama had moved the two of them to Kenosha to work for "Uncle Charlie."

Prayer book in hand, Cordelia tiptoed downstairs to the street.

The grey stone-slabbed church on the corner had a sign that said Lutheran. As Cordelia peered in a man said, "Why aren't you in Sunday school little girl? Who are your parents?"

Cordelia replied, "Rosalind Benedek and Jeorg Zerega are my parents."

The man had a grey slab face. He said, "I don't recognize the names. If you want to attend Sunday school, your parents will have to register."

The next church in the next block was red brick with a white door. Cordelia was prepared when a man opened it and asked with a cheery smile, "May we help you?"

"I'd like to learn how to pray. I was thinking about joining your church," Cordelia said.

"You were, were you? And how old are you?"

"Almost eight. My parents aren't members. I'm not a Lutheran."

"This is the new Christian Science church. Have you ever heard of Mary Baker Eddy?"

"No, but I heard of Mary Mother of God."

He looked at the book she was holding. "Oh ho! And is that your bible?"

"No, its for praying in Czechoslovakian--my grandma gave it to me."

The man tapped the cross on the book's cover. "Why don't you try the Catholic church, two blocks that way." He closed the white door before she could say goodbye.

The Catholic Church had a tower with a steeple that looked like a finger touching the clouds. The windows were on fire with colors.

A Nun stopped Cordelia as she peered into the huge room with pews. Eyeing the prayer book, the Nun asked, "Where are Father and Mother today? Does your Mother go to confession and pray?"

"Sometimes Mamma prays for a Hoover vacuum ," Cordelia said like a nice little girl but she was getting to feel not nice. She wanted to learn to pray and she was tired of questions.

The Nun handed Cordelia a booklet. "Poor child, take this home, and let your Mother read it to you."

"Oh, I can read," Cordelia said, trying to keep politeness in her voice.

"You can crayon each of the pictures, child." The Nun brought out a small box. "This is a present for you." She opened the flap. There were six melted looking crayons inside. She pressed it into Cordelia's hand.

"You're a good girl. The Holy Mother Mary and the Blessed Saints have guided you here." The Nun pinched Cordelia's cheek affectionately. "We will pray for your soul at our shrine."

Cordelia smiled as well as she could with the Nun pinching. "Thank you."

Back in her room in Uncle Charlie's house, on a shelf she arranged the globe Grandpa gave her, Jeorg's postcards, the Nelly Bly doll Mama had made for her.

She placed Grandma's prayer book in the center of those precious things, put the Nun's booklet underneath and the crayon box on top. It made a perfect shrine.

She kneeled and clasped her hands and sent up a prayer like a smoke ring, picturing the words dissolving in the clouds --"Please God, keep your fingers crossed and watch over Mama and Cordelia in our new home in Kenosha."

So that's more or less my story. Though I am not officially a NONE, I send prayers up into the clouds.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Whoa -- it's an IFFY sort of subject -- John Cullum is very uncomfortable when Emily wants to talk about "Agnes."

The Cullums reveal that "Agnes" is John Cullum-the- maid, who does the heavy-duty clean up chores. And yes, John plays Agnes to the hilt -- southern drawl, obedient, uncomplaining -- she's like a maid in an old film, one of those politically incorrect maids we don't see any more.

Yes, the Cullum's agree -- playing Agnes may be "incorrect politically," but Agnes-John never complains, and she works for no pay. It gets them both laughing when it's time to take care of the nasty jobs that have to be done once in a while.