How memories work

I felt him in a tampon ad. Seventeen, it was. A shade of purple velvet. I stared out over a dying sunset, with this hiker.

A carnival in the middle of New Jersey. I don’t even remember her name. But she had the cats, one scratched me.

An ABBA song on the way to my grandparents’ house in Bridgeport. I pretended he loved me in the lyrics.

That time I caught a pop fly in left field. Him, leaning against his bike. Stuck between the pages of a Stephen King novel, decades later.

The sound a basketball makes on a driveway across the street in Halawa Heights.

The way a random radio personality says, “Tomorrow,” “So long.”

Nobody says that anymore.

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Ignoring Thanksgiving

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MAGIC VIEW: The two loves of my life — son James, 15, and husband Ed, 55 — preparing dinner on this fine Thanksgiving eve.

We decided to forego traditional Thanksgiving in favor of steak, our son James’ favorite treat. Plus my husband Ed’s famous Caesar salad and shrimp cocktail. Bonus: No dietary restrictions, or guilt, for me, the fatty in the bunch.

All very low-key. Other than sitting around the ottoman in front of the HD-TV, nothing else remotely screamed Thanksgiving.

We wound up watching “Stranger Things” on Netflix, then, went to bed at a semi-reasonable hour. Just an ordinary, extraordinary day.

I don’t have a love/hate relationships with Thanksgiving the way I do with Christmas. In fact, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I always associated it with lots of special food and my parents dad easing up on their his stern, mood-swinging bullshit. They were He was almost pleasant to be around, joking about their the “Gravy Girl” with the grandparents. I always got to watch my grandmother prepare the food earlier in the day — she could give Julia Child a run for the money.

My birthday often fell around Thanksgiving. So it wasn’t much of a big deal. Not that I ever imagined throwing myself a birthday party, but… the chances of anyone coming were a thousand to one. By the time my birthday came around, everyone I knew had gone — out of town or off celebrating with extended families. Oftentimes, I wouldn’t see or hear from them until mid-January.

Even my own immediate family, pre-marriage, would take off, leaving me behind to fend for myself. By college, my brother was on the Mainland doing god knows what with god knows who. My mother was too busy taking care of her boyfriend and his family to bother with me. She only thought to invite me twice in our lifetime, post-divorce, to any Thanksgiving gathering of hers.

The one time I went to Thanksgiving at her boyfriend’s house, I couldn’t believe the spread, the best local food in Hawaii: sushi, steak, fried noodles, mochi, I think even lumpia, in addition to the staples. I hated every minute.

I didn’t know anyone but the boyfriend and my mom. I went to see “Nine To Five” once with his two daughters, but they weren’t particularly friendly. They barely gave me the time of day at this Thanksgiving dinner. I focused unduly on the food, found an inconspicuous spot in back of the living room, and prayed my mom would hurry the fuck up and take me home. Doggy bag, maybe?

Usually, though, I’d stay at home with my turkey TV dinner and my TV, sitting in the dark and wishing I were someone else, somewhere else, far far away.

By the time I had my own family, I could’ve gone either way: the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving dinner or nothing at all.

I did try to make our Thanksgiving dinners special. I reached out to friends. Very few accepted, most of them too busy with their own families and friends. When my mom visited, we made a total holiday of it. She loved my stuffing and drank way too much wine.

Once I thought about combining Thanksgiving and my birthday for a blow-out bash. But only the popular get away with that extravagance. I didn’t even utter the wish out loud, it was too ridiculous for words.

Nobody would come to my house for ANYTHING on my birthday.

Maybe if I had been born in the middle of April (is that Easter?)…

This Thanksgiving was more my style anyway. Just me, my husband, and our son hanging out, me in my pajamas, forgetting about work or school or our past two years of hellish health problems. We laughed, we joked about the steaks being far superior to any five-star fancy restaurant, #FuckTurkey, we relished our happy time like normal people.

Best of all, we didn’t have to spend Thanksgiving with assholes. Unlike the majority of the population in the U.S., we weren’t forced to sit through agonizing, boring, tedious Thanksgiving dinners with craptastic food that made us barf, or pretend we were enjoying ourselves when Aunt Jean started in again on her drunken rant about the rift our drunken cousin twice removed caused when he brought that whore…

Why do they do it? Because they have to. It’s expected.

Then, they go on Facebook to humble-brag about all the fun they’re having with their families (quantity vs. quality, every time) and that disgusting platter of ham and overcooked turkey (again!).

I once went to someone’s house for Thanksgiving. What an absolute nightmare that was. Turkey tasted like sawdust; I literally choked on a piece. The stuffing, flavorless… and who puts oysters in that? Gross. When I eagerly looked for the green bean casserole, it was gone. Some pig to my right ate it all. Everyone pretended to enjoy every bite, and the company, then we retired to the family room and watched “National Lampoon Christmas Vacation” — my idea of torture.

It took me a long time to be comfortable with my small family and my humble Thanksgivings. I wanted what other people had. I wanted to be out there complaining about overbooked flights, crowded kitchens, and sitting around the table fighting over politics. I wanted that huge family, with grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles, and a slew of friends with nowhere else to go and grateful for my invitation. I wanted to be the glue that drew all those rag tag outcasts together.

It’s never going to happen. And you know what? I’m perfectly fine with it. Because I get to come home to this…

It’s My Birthday, And I’ll Ignore It If I Want To

Every November, it’s the same.

I tell everyone to forget my birthday. I don’t want to go out. I don’t want anything. Fuck your calorie-laden birthday cake and your empty, easy social media platitudes.

Yet, every November, I wake up early (for me) and hope that this birthday will be different. This birthday will be as special as the ones my parents threw for me early in my childhood before everything went to shit (divorce, it’s everyone’s business).

I did much better in following my own nihilistic urges yesterday. We did not go out to eat at a fancy, Yelp-approved special occasion restaurant (fuck, Canlis, too). I did not make my own chocolate birthday cake (a great big fuck-you to my parents for those disgusting, girly pink and white, store-bought shortening sheet cakes), or the Tres Leches cake, from scratch, like I almost wanted to. That would’ve been too pathetic.

I did, however, go out for a Starbucks run to cash in on my birthday rewards green tea latte — venti (no “Happy birthday” from the disinterested barista) on the way to Trader Joe’s and Walgreens for tomatoes and my Cholestyramine refill.

I did post that it was my birthday in a variety of not-so-subtle ways on social media. I may be a rebel, but I’m still a bit of an attention whore.

I did buy myself flowers — pale-blue, white hydrangea and these sad pink roses/daisies at a crowded Trader Joe’s, one day before Thanksgiving!, then promptly dumped most of the yellow petals from one bouquet in the parking lot before heading home. And chipped a glass vase. And spent an hour cleaning up imaginary glass shards all over my kitchen counter.

In the midst of this birthday madness, one of my favorite YouTube personalities — SMQ AI — invited me to one of his live streamed chats to talk about my “gift” of premonition. He also asked to interview me on Sunday. Me!!?? It was the best birthday gift ever.

My son made me his famous scrambled eggs for breakfast. I usually have to beg for these eggs any other day. He also gave me a hug and let me cuddle him like I used to when he was little while we binge-watched “Stranger Things,” the first season, on Netflix later that night.

My husband made us all his famous burgers — no bun on mine, thanks — for dinner.

A thoughtful friend in California sent me an Amazon package. Every year, she sends me a birthday gift. I met Karyna on Twitter. She was a soap fan back when I used to cover ABC Daytime. For this birthday, she bought me a porcupine-looking acupressure yoga mat and pillow for my stenosis. Thoughtful, right?

Another friend posted something that had me doing a double-take on Facebook: “Your ability to know when I need you the most is amazing to me…” Beth’s the only one of my friends who stood by me during a terrible time. Narcissist survivors will relate.

My own family surprised me. My brother, who lives in Hawaii, texted me happy birthday — and he never does that. My husband and son chipped in and ordered that “I drank so much coffee today that I accidentally believed in myself” mug from Sapling Press (no wonder my son kept checking the front door all day).

So yeah. I could live with this kind of birthday.

I’m 53, can you believe it? I never will.

go

I spent the equivalent of seven years with a bunch of obnoxious strangers in the span of a handful of weeks. Late last night, they said goodbye in the finale of Mad Men… the way careless people do when they think they have all the time in the world. I’m only half-mad that I wasted so much of my time with these sleazebags, whores, and puffed-up peacocks.

I did it, because everybody in the real world went mad for them back in Mad Men‘s. I missed the AMC show, just as I’ve missed many others, X-FilesLostThe Big Bang TheoryGame Of ThronesGrey’s Anatomy.

Yuck.

Now, I’m onto the next, big thing, according to you: Stranger Things. I’ll probably hate that too, then myself for watching when I could’ve been outside seeing the world — what’s left of it.

“The reason you haven’t felt it is because it doesn’t exist. What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons. You’re born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.” —Don Draper, “Mad Men”

I don’t get Mad Men‘s popularity. Just like I could never get why so many boys in my school would go apeshit over these plastic cheerleader types who couldn’t spell outside the dictionary, and would always smell like morning shit up close.

Mad Men‘s characters had their moments. A couple of times, they’d surprise me before reverting to snippy, defensive, lecherous type: Roger championing Don, Peggy bursting into tears, surprising herself when one of her neighbors — this charming little boy — hugged her goodbye, Pete in the elevator with the black man, learning to be a human being, Stan in the beard standing there taking Peggy’s hits.

Maybe it’s me, but I need more than small doses of accidental human kindness, or basic decency. Maybe I need more than your kind decency, as well. Maybe I need you to mean it when you say nice things to me. Not just because it’s the nice thing to do, or because I did you a solid (again).

Maybe I need you to go out of your way and show me love, the kind they hype in the movies from as far back as the roaring ’50s. A slow dance, one perfect pink rose, a vintage bottle of Coke.

I don’t know where I am anymore. And, my time’s running out.

Writer’s Block

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Photo by Jason Yu on Unsplash

“The silent voices are driving me crazy.” -Simply Red, “Stars”

Words come easily to me, much easier than small talk.

Others see in color. I see words. They pour into my head like shooting stars, fireflies. I have to catch them, you see, if I want to be seen. Then, there are the conversations I overhear, real or imagined. They also come, little visitors with cakes.

I pride myself on coming up with the right words on the spot. They come pouring out, “like lava” — an English professor named Tom once said. But what did he know. He only wanted to fuck me so he could prove he wasn’t gay.

I’ve suffered from writer’s block on occasion. Like my mother’s daughter, I hardly gave it a thought. But I’m older now, prone to over-worry about things that seem to fit into a pattern, a pattern into a life sentence. What if this is a sign? What if I never write again?

After the back-to-back Harvey Weinstein then Kevin Spacey scandals, I took a week off, thinking I may not return to social media, I may only dabble as the writing occasion arises.

I never imagined the writing would simply die along with my interest at the time. At least, I hope it’s not. Dead, I mean. That would suck, especially for someone like me with very few creative outlets.

When I decided to get back on that horse, I found I couldn’t write. I tried very hard to summon up whatever the hell it was that conjured those words, those voices in my head. Nothing but static, and some nice music on YouTube and iTunes. Simply Red’s a favorite.

I pushed through, got it done. It’s the review of Beth Whitney on her new recording, The Wild Unrest. One hundred hits — can’t you believe it?

After I wrote the review, I felt like the biggest fraud ever. Oh, I loved the record. Her songs sunk into my soul instantaneously, as if I’d been singing along with her since I was born — the best friend I never had.

Some of the words, the subject matter, though, eerie synchronicity, to the point where I wasn’t sure I could go on. Dead on the money. The mind meld of our separate worlds spooked me.

The day before I ever set eyes on her press release, I wrote a poem off the cuff about something else, trying to describe a boy I knew who was locked in his own loneliness. I used the words, “glitter in the dark,” to describe a moment we shared (I thought), when he pointed out the moon, his eyes coming back to life.

Those words were in Whitney’s press release, instantly putting me on alert.

When I listened to the music, read further, I realized the dreams and thoughts and experiences I had in the past 15 years intersected hers. It was as if she and I sat in the same dark cabin, facing down our worst fears, insecurities, doubts, and the demons of self-persecution. Let’s just say she wasn’t alone. I went through the same emotions during a major milestone in the lives of most women.

Another important song mirrored a dream I had several weeks prior, which shook me to the core. In the dream, I was stuck as a sex worker, a victim of human trafficking. I felt horrible claustrophobia and mind-numbing fear, trapped in this life that never belonged to me. I kept looking up at the window whenever it was sunny, wishing I were anywhere but here. It was important to care about this, I thought, as I woke up. I couldn’t shake the dream for days. Even then, it was everywhere, in the news, on YouTube, Bellevue, for god’s sakes, and now, Whitney’s song, “Days Of Nights.”

Ravens, too. The first song off Wild Unrest took me back to the many times I encountered their friendly faces in my neighborhood, doing errands at various markets. They’d always be careful around me, watchful, but strangely kind. They remember people. They knew I would never cause harm to them, because they’d seen me slowly go out of my way to avoid scaring them in my car, giving them a wide berth if they were dining on the carcasses left behind in parking lots. So that’s what ravens are, I thought after the song. It made sense.

I didn’t give Beth Whitney nearly enough credit in the words I struggled to find to describe this glitter in the dark. I felt ashamed when I posted the link to my review. I felt like I failed her, like I failed the best person.

It was my responsibility not to let her down. I can do better, I swear!

Yesterday, I spent close to seven hours, maybe more, trying to spit out a review of a jazz show Saturday night. It should’ve taken me an hour, max. Most of my articles do. I’m fast. I used to be a reporter. I was once the most prolific, fastest reporter on staff at my college newspaper. I even received the Golden Nugget. I could whip out four articles, with quotes from several sources, in under an hour.

I couldn’t for the life of me get the right words out in this music review. I was tangled up in knowing too much, wanting to mention everything and only the things that really caught my eye, giving this musician, who is also a friend, who’s been nothing but kind to me… a review he truly deserved.

Maybe that’s my problem. If I care about the artist or the subject, too much, if it starts mattering more than writing the fucking story — the words don’t flow. They become harder to find and guide into any semblance of a) originality, b) heart, c) coherent thought.

I envy NPR writers. Recently, this “All Things Considered” transcript about Cécile McLorin Salvant — another jazz musician I have a hard time reviewing, because I love her voice so much (too much) — blew me away. Tom Vitale writes like a surgeon, leaving only the necessary parts, fleshy, yielding, observant, true to the task. He doesn’t throw excess words out, hoping some of them will stick. He doesn’t try to get too clever with Shakespeare-meets-Sylvia-Plath, like this was some secondhand poetry competition.

And it seems to be an interview transcript, not an actual feature! That’s how I wish I could write!

As for me, I spent most of my Sunday trying to improve on my review with a second one. I was up till 2, 3 a.m. I hit the mark on a few initial paragraphs, but then hit send still feeling like I’d missed the point. Hell, I couldn’t even find the point.

I was stabbing in the dark, foraging for my food in the dead of winter. Chasing fireflies dressed like raspberry garnets, unable to catch even one. Listening for any sign of life in an empty room.

That’s what it’s like for a writer trying to get out what’s in her head when what’s in her heart gets in the way.

I was so tempted to try again today with a new review of a new Christmas album. But it’s 3:55 a.m. My son has soccer practice tomorrow. I’ve penciled the Reta Watkins review for later that night. Who knows what will happen. I certainly don’t.

If the words come, they come. If not, I’ll rely on my years of training to help me make heads or tails out of something.

I’ve learned that inspiration comes when you least expect it. It’s a gift. Funny, my birthday’s in two days.

Bryon

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Photo by Viktoria Hall-Waldhauser on Unsplash

Do you understand that you can have this thing without owning it?

I dreamed of Bryon today. We were married. Time seemed recent, or not far off. I can’t say, reincarnation. Like it would fix everything. Slap a label on the side of a piece of meat, sell it to the masses for pennies on the pound.

Besides, the scenery… Does that even matter in dreams?

All that mattered was the feeling I had, waiting for him to show up in that doorway. He was a gift. Every day. In that doorway. And everyday, he came home to me.

Today, we are strangers. I’ve reached out to him. To help. Some nonsense. I don’t know the man. Sometimes I don’t want to. He seems resigned to what remains of the day, buried beneath… probably the same things I am…

He’s this man in a desert, after experiencing an oasis. Beauty, charm, success, passion and privilege, mad, mad fucking love. Everyone bought it. I used to watch like the movies on Friday nights, up on the silver screen, gobbling up my popcorn and Raisinets.

I’m… nothing.

I don’t understand love and attraction, the difference between a few well-chosen, kind words (“It’s only polite. Write her back.”) and sweaty, late nights under the covers making your peace with motherhood, apple pie, and the flag.

I don’t under the silence between us, when I can remember a thousand unspoken conversations between the kids, dinner, and the day our world exploded.

abysmal bliss

you are a composite facsimile
drawn into me, we’ll wait for the bullshit disorder to check out of this random
hotel room, a shirt and tie, the sea below, my childhood neighborhood in Aiea
where I never met you yet
you wait for me, taller, sometimes taller than I could ever imagine, this looming
shadow of a darling tree, its extended branches dangling, twisted, caught in my hair
“Say yes, Carol.”
Yes, yes, yes to freedom and pleasure, and the sex between our twisted legs.
He says he will wait forever, he swears
he smells the locks of my hair in this perfume I shoplifted at the airport.
I leave him holding my scarf to his mouth. It is a compelling final image.

Abysmal Bliss

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This is what you came here for. Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

A few reviews ago, I stumbled over the use of “abysmal bliss” and “abysmal static” in referring to the overall effect of ambient jazz. You know, the background music we hear in movies that is supposed to enhance our enjoyment and the writers’ subliminal intentions.

That’s how I feel about the constant insertion of gratuitous T&A sex scenes on TV and in movies. If I wanted to see porn, I could download porn.

I’m currently in the sixth season of “Mad Men” on Netflix. I got into this 2007-2015 period series (after the fact), because I wanted to see the characters’ creative process in the advertising world. If I saw groovy period pieces from the 1960s in the bargain, cool.

Without knowing anything more about the series other than what I’d seen in passing on awards shows and in “People,” I dove in a few months ago.

The constant fucking nearly sent me packing. I did not sign up for this.

I don’t think I’m a prude. People say I can be quite crass, graphic and dirty in my delivery style. I’m hardly the type of delicate flower who needs her smelling salts every time some chick’s considerable bosoms heave.

But, I’d rather not see those bosoms heave in my face when there’s an important job to be done, or group hijinks to be had.

Nothing ruins a hit TV show or movie for me faster than women appearing simply for the sake of men getting their rocks off. Or, for lonely female viewers getting their romantic rocks off and organizing yet another tired supercouple stan club — the death of soaps for me.

In 2001, I couldn’t wait to see the World War II period movie, “Pearl Harbor,” in a theater. I thought the movie would be about, you know, Pearl Harbor, the Japanese dropping bombs, the military aftermath, strategy, Americanism, internment camps, what this did to Hawaii, where I’m from, conflict and tension over patriotism and doing the right thing on the battle field. I wanted to see Cuba Gooding reacting to the barely simmering racism vs. nationalism going on during that time frame.

Instead, I got a chick flick, featuring British babe Kate Beckinsale (Lt. Evelyn Johnson McCawley). Lt. McCawley hijacked a potential blockbuster about WWII in Hawaii and turned it into some boring romance — for me at least.

I wouldn’t have minded a Japanese- or Polynesian-American actress in a side love story in the midst of this war over racial power. But there was very little chance of that happening in white Hollywood (I saw very few Japanese or Polynesian actors and actresses).

But, this chick in her own little chick flick romance just had to take over, to the point where I almost walked out of the movie and demanded my money back. I kept waiting for the “Pearl Harbor” WWII payoff. It never came.

The movie was more about who Lt. Evelyn loves than an actual war.

I saw this same trend in countless other movies and TV shows, including the U.S. version of the dark British comedy, “The Office.” Pam and Jim became their own soap opera within a hit sitcom in short order, their stans almost obsessive in seeing their primetime supercouple front and center at all costs, at the expense of a once-priceless comedic ensemble, featuring some of the most amazing comic finds of our generation.

One of the reasons I think I enjoyed “Breaking Bad” so much was that TPTB kept the chick flick aspect down to a minimum, and only serving the main theme surrounding a Science teacher gone bad.

“Mad Men” is admittedly a hard show to warm up to anyway. Its characters ruin almost every good moment by inexplicably lashing out. They can be unapologetically, mercilessly brittle to brutal, rude af, infantile, selfish, self-serving, and nauseatingly routine in their endless need for sex, booze, and power-mongering.

IMHO, they only shine when they come together in the office for the greater good: the nuts and bolts, the glamorous sheen of advertising. I love watching them brainstorming a million ideas for an ad campaign on deadline (the episode with the B12 shot was my jam) for days on end, on into and through the weekend and holidays.

Their brainstorming sessions remind me of my own past deadlines in a news/magazine office, including the goofy, crazy hilarity that would always ensue when insomnia met desperation.

But as far as I can remember, none of us turned into a porno, fucking everything in sight.

I’m sure this was the norm with Mad Men in the ’60s, a different time from the one I grew up in. It’s just not my thing.

Every time a hot chick goes near the main character, Don Draper, I cringe, because I know the rest of the fucking episode will go to waste, to hell with the deadline, meetings blown, everything coming to a screeching halt while TPTB devote camera time to Don and his whores, slurping lips, dick swinging, jiggly ass spreading bullshit.

What value do these whores have, really? What do they have to do with the art of advertising?

If you’re going to put a woman in a TV or movie, give her a meaningful role, give her some power, give her a story we can understand, where she grows stronger, or weaker, or effect some goddamn change other than in the dick.

I would’ve enjoyed Creative finding a way to make Fleischmann’s margarine sexy, not watching Don Draper sneak away for more sexy time with yet another pliable sex doll in fly ’60s threads.

Draper’s the best when he rises to the advertising occasion — that Chevy ad was pure brilliance — not to every Faye, Joy, and Sylvia.

And what does that say about us as a society? We watched in droves during the height of “Mad Men.” In droves.