Thursday, April 28, 2011


The skirt I’m wearing on the return trip from LAX isn’t a pencil skirt. It hits just over the knee in white-grey cotton denim, a sequence pattern at the hem.  Not a straight A-line, but there’s room, should it be my fancy, to hide a bomb.  Or so they say.

My shoes are in the white plastic bin, as is my computer and Iphone; my purse, sweater and short navy wool jacket are in another. Hand cream and toothpaste are bagged, visible on the tray, in one ounce ziplocks.

Tame as a sheltie in the San Fernando Valley one might think, but no, not to the team at American.

“We have to pat you down. It’s the skirt.”

“Of course.”


Then she explains.

Everyone with a skirt like mine is clearly suspect.

To their credit, the good people at American Airlines are pleasant, the agent smiles as she directs me to a lunge, maybe it's an Akido or a yoga pose, first the left foot forward, then the right, so that she can check for explosives. It is hysterical and another passenger, the gentleman behind me in line, who clearly isn't wearing a skirt, is amused. "You did that well," he smiles. "Good stretch."

Indeed. Another woman might have been embarrassed. Actually, I am that other woman.

This is a security risk worthy of two full minutes of everyone's time.  How many people are waiting in line?

I finally reach the gate to find that phone signals are scrambled. Perhaps this is a security measure, too, for our benefit, of course. But we'll be arriving a 5 a.m. CST, and I have yet to send my son a text with flight information and it is 1 a.m. his time. So I leave FD to find coverage, have to scramble alone to board when I get back.

My carry-on does not pass. It is too full, too fat, apparently, like I feel after eight days of matzah (I said No thank you on the last day).  The bag is roughly tagged.  It will be sent to baggage, a not-so-friendly agent tells me, handing me a claim slip.  Nobody's smiling here at the gate.  I say goodbye to my newly purchased carry-on, for this is a red-eye, and the ground personnel at Ohare will likely oversleep.

Such is life. I don’t care. It's late.

But oh. FD cares. Why didn’t I argue? The same bag fit on the way to Los Angeles. Why wouldn’t it fit on the way home?

 “I don’t fight City Hall, it isn't worth the time."

He thinks I’m a wimp.

It isn't my nature to confront authority, I remind him, although No has to be the beginning of the negotiations in many situations.  All I want is to get home, not be detained as a terrorist.

The folks at American haven't read the Daniel Silva novels, obviously.  The novelist estimates 16,000 terrorists in Britain alone, three thousand trained by al-Qaeda, as many, perhaps more in the USA? But this is fiction.  I have one of these thrillers in my purse right now.

And because of the novel, because maybe it really isn't fiction, when I look at the world, at the crowds, at people in the airport, even in the park, at the mall, on the bus, nothing is the same.


Monday, April 11, 2011


Let's keep this one short.

Late summer, 2010
FD returns home with a brown paper bag in hand. He hands it to me. “I bought you a present.”

It is a book, a hard-covered basement bargain book from Barnes and Noble with a glossy red jacket, a female detective mystery. “Thanks!” I exclaim, never one to turn down a present. “What’s the occasion?”

He sheepishly admits that he feels that reading Infinite Jest has been bad for me, is making my depression worse.

The 1079-page David Foster Wallace tome does nothing of the sort, I tell him, rather the problem is my relationship with my father (one can do only so much) and his death. Everyone knows this, certainly him, but FD sees me reading this book, and since I don’t see what he sees seeing me, I have to respect that.

I never should have told him that David Foster Wallace killed himself.

A sucker for detective novels, I put down Infinite Jest and lose myself in a book I can't find to recommend.  But I liked it well enough and succumbed to tossing Jest to the pile on the bedroom floor, put it away for the time being.

Then today James Campbell's review,  A Cure for Head-Exploding Brilliance, about David Foster Wallace’s last novel, The Pale King, comes out, and it's all coming back to me now-- that Foster Wallace jones.  Mr. Campbell captures the author's manic writing style, that head-exploding brilliance, with writer-eze that real writers understand.  He uses words like maximalist. 

Campbell tells us that Claud Sylvanshine, central character of The Pale King, is an aspiring accountant for the IRS (timely), and he has a gift. Sylvanshine can count the number of words in any speech or conversation. Confiding his talent he explains, “I’ve said 2,742 words right now since I started. Meaning 2,742 words as of just before I said, 'I've said,' versus . . .' ”

This is a hint to Hal, Hal Incandenza of Infinite Jest, a teenager who knows words, all words, for he has memorized dictionaries, all of them, and can cite their differences. Harold Incandenza, boy word genius, is addicted to marijuana, plays tennis, and loves his mom. His father, a brilliant filmmaker has taken up with Hal’s brother’s girl friend who will wear a mask half-way through the book to hide facial disfigurement suffered in an attempted suicide.  The "accident" is masked as a crack cocaine overdose. Hal's father is also a casualty of suicide, which is perhaps one reason our young hero smokes so much pot.  The method, not for the feint of heart.

Which is why, perhaps, FD told me to put down Infinite Jest.  I was on page 795.  Almost there!

Mr. Campbell on David Foster Wallace (italics mine):
“Admirers know that to open his books— not just the fiction but the essays, too— is to release a great wave of anecdote, detail, narrative teasing, and character congestion and to encounter the enjoyable facility for direct address. Wallace was committed to the entertainment value of fiction. Without it, he told Mr. Lipsky (of the Rolling Stone) the writer risked losing his main partner: the reader. Those prepared to wade through what could seem like massive amounts of information-heavy detritus would eventually reach the bliss of open seas.”
Which is why I read as much as I did.  Those open seas.  That and the 12-Step die-hards and their meetings.  For realism you don't get any better.  

I bring this to your attention, because of that word, maximalist-- for nothing goes to the cutting board  (no dropped claims here).

See what I just did there in the parentheses?  No dropped claims here has absolutely nothing to do with this story, except that those of you who still send paper claims to third party payers know exactly what it means and find the line hugely entertaining.  Maybe not.  A dropped claim is a bill to an insurer that "falls" to the floor, is never processed, and is swept away by maintenance personnel at midnight.  The provider of service is never paid. (That would be your therapist).  Now, if no dropped claims here had anything remotely to do with a story line, a maximalist would keep it.

That’s what it is to be a maximalist-- no editing because the road, the process, the way-to, at least to the author, and clearly to millions of literary fans, is worth the trip.

This flies in the face of everything FD has taught me about how to write, for he taught me, and he learned from the best English teacher in the country, Helen Kuentsler, native to that blue-collar Illinois town with the better education across the Mississippi. Ms. Kuentsler taught The Elements of Style (EB White's reprise of the William Strunk's 1918 original) and FD memorized the book.

Editing one's words is what a good therapist does, by the way.

So I assumed that those of us who refused to edit enough, who wrote ad nauseum without a care in the world, were just stupid. Nobody wants to read so much blather, honestly, and few of us are as entertaining as David Foster Wallace, and probably nobody knows as many words.  But it isn't about anyone else, let's talk, when we write, which is exactly why a maximalist is a maximalist, and there is nothing, really, to judge.  It is why in therapy the therapist doesn't have to say all that much and usually shouldn't.

Campbell alludes to Mr. Foster-Wallace's therapy, that he changed there-after and became obsessed with boring as an antidote for his condition, that exploding brain, which is why his last novel is replete with very short sentences.  He quotes  from The Pale King.
"Irrelevant" Chris Fogle turns a page.  Howard Cardwell turns a page.  Ken Wax turns a page.  Matt Redgate turns a page.  "Groovy" Bruce Channing attaches a form to a file.  Ann Williams turns page.  Anand Singh turns two pages at once by mistake and turns on back which makes slightly different sound.  David Cusk turns a page.  Sandra Pounder turns a page.
Another exerpt reveals that most paragraphs are not like this.  He doesn't, actually, omit needless words.  

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, same newspaper, same day, reiterates EB White's message.  He doesn't even waste words with an honorable mention to the The Elements of Style.  In  How to Get a Real Education Adams advises us how to get ahead, even if we are only B students.  Among his tips:  Write Simply.

This has everything to do with therapy, I feel. For there are minimalists and there are maximalists, and the therapist must read them both, respect all manners of communication.  The minimalists get the max for the minimum, and the maximalists gets the floor, as they should.  More therapy, and who knows?  Maybe David Wallace Foster would still be with us today.


The Post Script:

It is early spring here in Chicago, sunny and warm, and as I ride my bike to the office at 8:00 a.m. on a  bright Sunday morning, it occurs to me that I really want to read The Pale King, whether the sentences are long or short. It might be therapeutic.  For even if I'm not depressed anymore, I can always switch to something, change something for a kick.   What I really want is for my landlord to paint the walls of my office Robin Egg Blue.  Hello?  You out there?  S?


Monday, April 04, 2011

Angry Birds

 The fractured fairy tale of The Three Little Pigs

Second night in a row, rather than read myself to sleep (The Queen's Fool) I stare at my Iphone, play a silly game, tell myself it's an adult thing, trying to master physics.

This cannot be me!  This is unbelievable, wasting time, repeatedly pulling the sling shot, lifting the bird to the sky, determining the precise arc, angry that it takes so long between turns.  But it is denial; it is me. And it's hard to admit it, although I'm looking for a 12-Step program.

I'm powerless when it comes to Angry Birds.              

The next morning I hold the phone in my hands and glare. "I have a headache," I kvetch to FD. "A hangover from Angry Birds. I'm going to delete it."

"Delete it!" he cries, "and don't even let me see it. You know how easy it is for me to succumb to this sort of thing."

But I don't.  I don't delete it. I think, I'll control this. I can control this. No more headaches. I'll get in bed and read, lose myself in Elizabethan England, and fall asleep unless something very worrisome comes to mind.

Oh, that worrisome part!  We're nearing the spring holiday season, and because I like to enjoy the time with my visitors, most of the cooking is prepared ahead of time, in an ersatz Passover kitchen in the basement. After a few hours of work at the stove, and sorting through dishes, straightening, organizing, doing what a woman does while watching what's in the oven, I am exhausted, but wired. It won't be easy, falling asleep, especially since I've heard some news about a sick family member.

The right thing to do, for someone like me, would be to pray awhile, then go to bed, read, fall asleep. But no. We have Angry Birds.

 I wake up angry at myself, remembering last night, beating the third level of the second tier on the free game, the subtle joy associated with that.  There is an endpoint to this insanity, for never would I shell out money for the ap, the enhanced electronic game, no matter how angry the birds.  And we will run out of free levels to the game.

What is the appeal?  I ask myself, because it's not my thing, not usually, electronic games.  Is it their anger? Does smashing walls to pop pigs unleash some sort of sublimated hostility lurking within me? That's what we say, right?  The game is on my phone because on my last visit, my five-year old granddaughter acted out and nobody had time for her and it was too late to take her outside. I had no idea how far she made it on the game, didn't supervise, but she made it all the way to the second tier. We're talking about a game for five-year olds.

Maybe it's subliminal anger.  Or maybe it's that fairy tale about the wolf and the three pigs. It has to be. Remember? The pigs. launched into the world by kindly Mama Pig, are living peaceably in three different houses, one made of straw, one of sticks, the last of bricks.  Along comes a wolf who cries,
"Let me in or I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down."
I can't remember the rest of the story, but it seems the wolf does manage to eat up the pigs, except for the last, perhaps, because he has made more of an effort at architecture.
Do the best you can and you'll survive
is the lesson for the kiddies.

It's hard to hear a story like this when you're five, especially with pictures. Very violent, traumatic. Then you grow up, and some fifty years later, you have the chance, the opportunity.

And you identify with the aggressor on an electronic game.