Wednesday, October 25, 2017


My friend recently told me, her voice breathless with excitement, that she and her  husband had just made reservations for a two-week cruise to Belize next autumn.

Everyone I know who has gone on a cruise has raved endlessly about the great time they had.  I’m not sure why, but the thought of spending time aboard a cruise ship has never appealed to me.  I guess it’s because I’ve always thought of ships as being nothing more than big floating hotels…hotels that you’re trapped in and can’t leave whenever you want to. For that reason, I’d prefer to stay in a hotel that’s on terra firma – where I can come and go as I please…without having to wear a life vest.

Cruises, however, were something my late husband used to mention on a regular basis throughout our marriage.

“I’ve heard that the Alaskan cruises are fantastic,” he’d say every two or three months. “And the scenery is gorgeous!”

“That’s nice, dear,” I would answer, then immediately change the subject. “Hey, there’s a great sale on toilet-bowl cleaner at Walmart!”

One summer day, when yet again, my husband mentioned an Alaskan cruise (the 90-degree temperatures may have had something to do with it), I finally began to think that maybe I was being selfish; maybe I was standing in the way of his lifelong dream.  So, feeling guilty, I went to my computer and checked the Internet for cruises to Alaska, then downloaded all of the information.

That night, when I told my husband what I had done, his eyes lit up. “You mean you actually might consider going on an Alaskan cruise?”

“Yeah. In fact, I think it kind of sounds like fun,” I said. “Listen to some of the information
I downloaded!”

He listened intently as I first read the ship’s sample menu:  “Chilled yogurt soup, smoked duck with wild greens, crab quiche, salmon in dill sauce, crayfish tails in saffron-tomato sauce, and walnut-spinach pie.”  From the look on his face, you would think I had just described meals made from food scraps salvaged from the town dump.

“REAL people don’t eat that kind of stuff,” he said. “Heck, I wouldn’t even know a crayfish if one was sitting on the tip of my nose!  Just give me a big stack of cheeseburgers and fries, and I’ll be happy.”

“And look at all the great activities the ship offers!” I continued. “There’s aerobics, rock climbing, a golf simulator, line-dancing classes, ping pong, bingo, scuba diving, in-line skating, spin classes, volleyball and wine tasting!”

With each activity I listed, my husband’s frown grew deeper, until his bottom lip nearly touched his chin.  “I’m old and out of shape,” he finally said. “If I tried to do any of that stuff, the only thing I’d end up seeing in Alaska would be the inside of the nearest intensive-care unit!”

“Well, you could always play bingo,” I said.

“Yeah, and then I would really need CPR…to revive me from a boredom-induced coma!”

“How about just relaxing out on the deck in the sunlight, then? Or swimming in the pool?”

I didn’t think it was possible, but his frown grew even “frownier.” “You know I’m allergic to the sun!  Ten minutes out on that deck and I’d puff up like a hot-air balloon.  And swimming?  Even for a million dollars in cash, I wouldn’t subject the poor people on the ship to the sight of my flabby, hairy body in swim trunks!  I have my pride, you know!”

Still trying to find something that might interest him, I said, “It says here that they have some nice bus and walking tours of the different areas and historical sites when the ship is in port.  Those might be nice.”

He shook his head. “Walking is out of the question.  As it is now, I get out of breath just walking from our driveway into the house.  And have you forgotten I still need surgery for a heel spur? And a bus tour?  I’m taking diuretics! Do these buses even have bathrooms?  If they don’t, I’d probably end up wetting my pants the minute the bus hit a bump!”

I sighed and put down the information sheet. “Let me get this straight,” I said. “If you were to go on a cruise, your idea of fun would be to spend a couple thousand dollars just to stay in your cabin all day and have room service toss cheeseburgers and fries at you every few hours?”

He smiled and nodded. “And Pepsi.”

At that point, it no longer mattered to me that I might be keeping him from his lifelong dream of an Alaskan cruise. 

Heck, I figured all I’d have to do was lock him in the bedroom, occasionally splash some water against the windows, play one of those “ocean sounds” CDs and feed him cheeseburgers, and he’d be just as happy.

And I’d have charged him only half of what the real cruise would have cost.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017


 I was watching a women’s gymnastics competition on TV the other day and was awed by the pretzel-like positions into which they managed to contort their lithe little bodies.  Unfortunately, the longer I watched the competition, the more I was reminded of every gym class I was forced to endure back at good old West High.

I can’t even begin to put into words how much I dreaded those mandatory gym classes in high school.  For one thing, we had to wear regulation gym suits that would have made even Cher look like Jackie Gleason.  The suits were solid blue, all one piece, with bloomer-type shorts attached, and snaps all the way down the front.  All of my classmates’ suits were so baggy, they could have fit two people in them, but mine was so snug, every time I exhaled, all the snaps popped open. It’s no wonder my nickname soon became “The Flasher.”

To make matters worse, there wasn’t anything I was able to do even remotely well in gym class. I nearly gave myself a migraine trying to learn how to do a headstand.  I never understood why it was so important to our gym teacher for us to learn how to do headstands anyway. I mean, if humans were meant to stand on their heads, they would have been born with wide, flat skulls (and in my case, a less heavy bottom).  Fear also prevented me from doing a headstand.  The thought of my neck crushing like an accordion beneath all of my weight absolutely terrified me.

Rope climbing also was something I never mastered.  There were two thick ropes hanging from the ceiling in the gym. One of them was smooth, for the boys, and the other one had big knots all the way up, for the girls. The knots were supposed to give us something to grasp so we could climb the rope more easily.

Oh sure, as if some puny knots were going to help me hoist my chunky body up anything! I struggled for weeks to make it past even the second knot.

I didn’t do any better on the physical fitness tests.  On one test, we received points for the number of push-ups, sit-ups and chin-ups we could do. It didn’t take long for me to realize that trying to do any exercise with an “up” in it was next to impossible for someone who had trouble just getting “up” out of bed every morning. For this reason, I earned a consistent “D” in gym class.

I did, however, excel at one thing in gym class…falling. I fell off the balance beam. I fell off the monkey bars. I fell off the dumb rope with the knots in it.

To this day, I still believe our gym-suit bloomers are what kept us girls from getting severely injured in gym class.  We could have jumped off the roof wearing those things and they’d have puffed up with air and gently floated us to the ground. Except for mine, that is.  My snaps would have burst open, the air would have escaped, and I would have plummeted to my death.

At least I wouldn’t have had to suffer through any more gym classes.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017


When I was in junior high, I used to spend my summer days sitting out on the front steps of the tenement building where I lived. There, with a well-sharpened pencil, I would scribble my masterpieces (my novels-in-progress) on notebook paper, usually a chapter per day.  And at the end of each day, a group of neighborhood kids would gather to eagerly listen as I read my latest installment to them.  I loved to write, and even more, I loved to see my audience’s reaction when I read my creations out loud.

The other night, I was searching for something in one of my old file cabinets when I came across several of my aforementioned junior-high novels.  One in particular, “Babies in Black” (I “borrowed” the title  from Baby’s in Black, which was a popular Beatles song at that time), was written when I was older, nearly 15.  Curious, I sat down and read it from cover to cover.

I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.

The novel centered around the lives of three beautiful women in their early 20s: Shelly, Sue and Sybil.  They were best friends, inseparable, and each had an incredibly handsome, wealthy boyfriend.  Unfortunately, these wealthy boyfriends, on their way to meet Shelly, Sue and Sybil for a triple date one night, were killed in a terrible car crash.  The girls vowed to wear nothing but black from then on, as a tribute to the memory of their lost loves (and as a way for me to justify the title, “Babies in Black”).

I thought it might be fun to print an excerpt from this book exactly as I wrote it back in the 1960s - corny dialogue, bad grammar, bad spelling and all.

OK, now to set up the scene:  One year has passed since the deaths of the boyfriends of our three heroines, Shelly, Sue and Sybil.  The girls decide to ease the pain of the anniversary of the tragedy by taking a “fun” trip to London (the “hip” place to be back in the early ‘60s).  There, they meet three seemingly nice, leather-clad, English chaps named Steve, Dave and Mack, who invite them out on dates. 

Unbeknownst to the girls, however, these “nice” guys actually are part of a notorious British motorcycle gang!

The chapter begins as Sue, on the back of Steve Blackwell’s motorcycle, is the first of the three girls to arrive at an ominous-looking beach called “Black Cove.”  She still is blissfully unaware that Steve not only is a member of a motorcycle gang, he’s also (insert a shocked gasp here) their leader!  (Remember, I am printing this exactly as I wrote it at age 14-and-a-half.  No editing!).


After a long cold ride that seemed to take hours, Sue and Steve finally arrived at a rocky deserted seacoast area. “Well, here we are,” Steve said as he helped Sue off the back of his motorcycle.

Sue rubbed her back as she attempted to straighten her legs out.  She moaned. “God, I feel like I’m permanently bowlegged!”

“You’ll get over it,” Steve said, slipping his arm around her shoulder.

“That was some ride!” Sue commented. “Not only was I scared half to death, you guys drive on the wrong side of the road here!”  She eyed her surroundings a little uneasily. “So what do we do now?”

“There’s a party on the beach down around the bend,” Steve said. “We’ll leave the bike up here and hike over the rocks.”

Sue’s eyes displayed doubt. “Shouldn’t we wait for Shelly and Sybil and your friends to get here?”

“Nah, they’ll catch up!” Steve took her hand and led her over the jagged rocks.  He held her hand tightly, guiding her just as a perfect English gentleman would.  Soon, laughter and loud music could be heard above the crash of the waves.  The ocean breeze was cold and made Sue shiver from head to foot.

“Hey, Steve!” a voice called out as he and Sue approached. “You’re late!”

Steve laughed and pulled Sue over to the crowd of approximately 50 people, mostly males, sitting on raggedy blankets on the shore and drinking beer.  Small fires dotted the beach, probably for warmth, Sue thought, shivering again.  After all, this group didn’t exactly look like the marshmallow roasting type.

“Have a seat!” Steve said to Sue, gesturing toward one of the blankets as he grabbed a beer.  Sue sat stiffly on the blanket and eyed her surroundings.  Most of the guys there were long-haired and real filthy looking. Barely ten girls were present, and they, in their skin-tight hot pants and leather go-go boots were far from being visions of purity.  Guitar music was furnished by a guy who looked like he hadn’t seen a bar of soap in months. To Sue, the entire scene was…well, pretty grotty (note: British slang for “grotesque”). Sounds of sinister laughter and beer bottles crashing against the rocks made her even more tense and jittery.

Steve noticed her discomfort. “Hey, loosen up, bird!” he said, reaching to rub the back of her neck. “I’ve seen corpses that looked more relaxed than you do.”

His words were like a knife sticking in Sue’s back.  “Corpses!” she screeched at him, leaping to her feet. “Don’t you DARE talk to me about corpses!  You don’t KNOW what I’ve been through this past year, or why I still wear black!  And what kind of jerk are you to bring a girl to a crummy place like this on a first date anyway?!”

Steve didn’t answer her.  His gaze suddenly was concentrated on the other end of the beach where a line of much cleaner looking guys, all in pure white T-shirts, now stood blocking it.  A sickening silence fell over the entire area.  Sue couldn’t help but notice that these guys in white were carrying weapons – everything from baseball bats to knives “Who are they?” she asked in a hushed voice.

Steve did not remove his eyes from the newcomers.  “We call them the Sissy Boys,” he answered quietly, scowling. “They’re the do-gooders, always trying to get rid of the likes of us.  They think we’re nothing but slime, the scum of the earth.  We usually stay out of each other’s way, but when we do happen to come face to face, it’s war, explosive - like a keg of gunpowder meeting a lighted match.  Problem is, right now we’re on their beach, their turf.”

Sue’s eyes widened in fear. “Then why on earth are you here?  Why don’t you just go to another beach?”

“Because we like this beach,” Steve said. “Now, listen, there’s apt to be some trouble here tonight – big trouble, bloodshed. You head back to where we left the bike, OK?  If I live through this rumble I’ll meet you up there later.”  He squeezed Sue’s hand and his huge blue eyes met hers for a brief moment, then he grabbed a broken beer bottle and disappeared into the darkness.

Sue stood silently and watched him for a moment before heading back up the rocky path.  She knew she HAD to find Shelly and Sybil, and fast!  She had a very bad feeling about this battle with the Sissy Boys.  A very bad feeling.


Did Steve and his buddies win the fight against the Sissy Boys?  Or were Shelly, Sue and Sybil left “widowed” once again and forced to hitchhike back to London and stock up on even more black clothing?  

Believe me, for the sake of my reputation as a writer, it’s better if the world never knows. (But just how tough can a gang called the “Sissy Boys” be anyway?).

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Wednesday, October 4, 2017


The other night, I happened to come across a rerun of an old TV show called, “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” The show was about a bunch of junior-high kids who gathered around a campfire in the woods once a week at midnight (I guess their parents weren’t into the whole curfew thing) and told scary stories.  Each week, the kids would try to outdo each other with a new tale of terror.

Watching the show made me think back to my own junior-high days when my friends and I used to do the same thing…sort of.  The only difference was we lived in the middle of the city where there were no woods or campfires, so we had to tell our scary stories while gathered around the furnace in the basement of the tenement building where I lived.  We also did our storytelling closer to 7 p.m. than midnight.

One of our favorite scary storytelling methods was based on a game called “Pass the Guts.”  To play this game, everyone (except the storyteller) wore blindfolds and sat in a straight line.  Then, as the storyteller wove his tale, he would pass “props” down the line to emphasize his point.  The rule was that each blindfolded person had to thoroughly feel each prop or be eliminated from the game.

The goal of the storyteller was to make sure his props were so gross and disgusting, everyone would be eliminated before the end of the story.

I’ll never forget the night it was my turn to be the storyteller. For years, my mother referred to it as the night I ruined a week’s worth of perfectly good groceries (when, according to her, there were starving children in China who never would have shown such blatant disrespect for food).

Being grounded, however, was a small price to pay for winning the coveted “Pass the Guts” crown. I wanted my props to make even the most die-hard horror fans in our group quiver in their Keds.

In my tale, I began by describing a man-eating zombie whose eyeballs fell out, then I passed down the “eyeballs” (black olives) to my blindfolded listeners.  When I described the zombie as having a problem with worms crawling all over him and living in his rotted flesh, I passed down both cooked spaghetti and rice.

And, in a sinister move to make everyone quit the game so I could win the title of “the grossest of the gross,” I described the zombie tearing out and then feasting on a guy’s innards…then I passed down a container of calves’  liver. Of course, my reason for using the liver was twofold. By sneaking it out of the fridge, it also prevented me from having to choke down another one of my mother’s famous “eat it because you need your iron” gag-inducing liver dinners.

The only drawback of playing “Pass the Guts” indoors was cleaning up all of the food that ended up on the floor, the walls and the ceiling after everyone screamed and flung it.  For days after my turn as the storyteller, whenever the furnace kicked on, the smell of rotting liver wafted up from the basement and through all the vents in the apartments.

And speaking of storytelling, it’s funny how some of the most popular horror stories I heard back when I was a kid (and believed were the absolute truth) still are circulating today.  Now, however, they are called urban legends.

I remember one story about a woman who wore her hair in an elaborate beehive hairstyle. Apparently, she ran out of hairspray one day, so in a pinch, she used a mixture of sugar and water (an early form of starch) to keep her hair stiff.  According to the story, the sugar attracted a swarm of bees that built a REAL beehive in her hair and then stung her to death.

Over the years, storytellers have substituted everything from black-widow spiders to rattlesnakes for the bees, but the end result is always the same: the poor lady with the stiff, sugar-coated hair suffers an agonizingly painful death.

One of the most popular stories I remember from back when I was a kid was the one about the teenage couple who went parking on a dark, wooded road late one night.  As the story went, the guy and girl were doing some serious making out in the car and listening to the radio when they suddenly heard a special news bulletin about a mass-murderer who had just escaped from prison.  The murderer was described as a giant of a man who had a very prominent feature…a hook for one hand.

Well, the girl in the car immediately panicked, said she was frightened and begged her boyfriend to take her home. He, raging hormone-factory that he was, told her not to be silly, that the murderer probably was already halfway to the Mexican border by then.

But the girl, feeling more and more uneasy in the silent darkness, insisted that they leave right then. Frustrated and muttering under his breath, the guy started the car and stomped on the accelerator.

When he pulled the car up to the curb in front of the girl’s house, she jumped out and then let out a blood-curdling scream.  There, hanging on the car’s door handle, was a bloody hook!

For years, that story gave me the shivers, mainly because I believed it was based on absolute fact.  So not long ago, when the 11-year-old grandson of one of my friends asked me if I knew any good scary stories, I eagerly related my tale of the hook-handed murderer.  The boy listened intently to my every word, but not once did he appear to be even remotely frightened.

When I finally delivered the shocking final line about the bloody hook on the car’s door handle, I eagerly awaited his inevitable gasp of horror.

Instead, he just calmly sat there and shook his head. “I don’t believe a word of it,” he said. “I mean, the murderer never would have been trying to open the car door with his hook.  He would have used his good hand. And why did the hook have blood on it? Was it supposed to have been torn out of his arm? Hooks don’t attach that way!”

The trouble with kids nowadays is they think too much.

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