Lead a man to directions, but don’t expect he’ll follow them.

photo by Caesararum

photo by Caesararum

The night of my son’s 14th birthday, he chose to have his celebration dinner at a restaurant in a town about 25 minutes from our house. Typically one would get there by taking the Garden State Parkway for about 10 minutes and exit onto a very busy 3 lane highway for the rest of the trip.

My husband agreed to this choice under one condition: we take the back roads. No parkways or highways. No shopping crowds or traffic lights. No Saturday night crazies. Back roads only.

“But the last time we tried that we got lost and you got irritated and dinner was, well, unpleasant,” I reminded.

“That was before the G.P.S.,” he said. “We’ve got the G.P.S. now. It’s gonna be different this time. Plus, I know these back roads. The G.P.S. will back me up.”

We climbed into the car with rumbling stomachs at about 6. Our reservation was for 6:30. I got behind the wheel as I usually do since I get car sick at the mere mention of a road trip. My husband quickly programmed the G.P.S., or Bev, as we refer to her, it.

Bev chimed in right away. But we really didn’t listen since we knew the way around our own town. My husband told me to drive to my daughter’s school and he would direct me from there.

Early on I had a hunch things would not go well when Bev and my husband spoke simultaneously. I found myself straining to hear what Bev said to see if she contradicted him.

“Don’t worry about her,” he said with a wave of his hand.

(Just a side note. If you were in our car, you’d think this funny, because the voice coming from our nav system is male, though we call her Bev. We actually switched the voice to a female voice for a while, which our G.P.S. allows us to do, but the directions she gave us were horrific. Like when she expected us to drive over train tracks or brought us to the edge of a pond. That’s when we switched the voice back to male and everything was fine. Good directions. It was clear that we got a nav system which identified female, though she’s a factory born male.)

Hubby said, “Just go to the end of this road. We need to go a little farther west before we head south.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

Bev did not agree. “Recalculating,” she quickly chimed.

But I stuck to this road, nonetheless, winding through a residential area, dark already yet it wasn’t very late. There were no street lights, no house lights.

The car rattled and bumped causing me to slow to a crawl as I navigated a street whose black top was raked in preparation for repaving.

“Jeez,” hubby said. “This street wasn’t like this on Monday. Alright, let’s get off this street, turn left.”

I turned left.

“Recalculating.” She was now annoyed.

“Take this to the end,” said my husband.

The end came fast and brought us to a dark, one lane stone-covered bridge. It didn’t look like a bonafide street or feel like one either, as I sensed the surface beneath the tires shift to what felt like dirt. There were no cars in sight.

“Should I go through or turn around?” I asked.

“Go through,” he said with certainty.

Bev was not happy with that choice.

“Bev says to go the other way.”

“It’s alright,” implored my husband, “Go through. And hurry. A truck’s coming this way and only one of you will fit.”

“Recalculating.” Bev disagreed. Vehemently.

God, I hate it when they don’t agree.

I shot through the bridge like a shucked pea and tried to keep the peace between those two, bobbing and weaving her “recalculating” and his “don’t listen to her.”

Then, curiously, we drove for a long stretch during which neither of them spoke a word. Odd, I thought. We must be really, really lost. Thank god the kids knew better than to tell us how hungry they were.

After what felt like a couple of miles, Bev’s voice severed the silence.

“Drive one mile. To destination. On left.”

We all cheered.

My husband took out his phone. “I told you I’d get us there.”

“Yes, you did.” I said, sneaking a peek at the dashboard clock. “Who are you calling?”

“The restaurant. Gotta make sure they didn’t give away our table.”

I Never Lie About My Age, Intentionally

photo by patries71

photo by patries71

Once, for a whole year I claimed to be older than I was. A doctor’s receptionist corrected me. My “birthdate” and “age” didn’t match up.

It’s not that I have a strict policy about not lying; it’s just that I don’t think one’s age represents all that much so I don’t get too hyperbolic about it.

To celebrate my friend’s 50th birthday (hers, not mine; I’m not fifty) we planned to see a Broadway show. We would try to get discounted “rush” tickets which are offered occasionally by a few theaters, originally for students who were presumably on a limited budget. More select, are theaters which offer “general rush” tickets, available to the general public the day of the show.

We met at the Golden Theater for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. The show would be closing soon and got rave reviews. My friend had arrived before me and attempted to buy tickets. Now she stood under the marquee, a look of defeat plastered on her face.

“They wouldn’t sell me the rush tickets,” she groaned. “I’m not under 35.”

“What?!?! Who ever heard of such a thing? Under 35?”

That’s a little random, no? A 34-year-old could get the cheap tickets but not a 39-year-old?

“It’s not general rush like we thought. It’s “youth rush,” she sniffled.

Youth rush?!?! What kind of ageist shenanigans were going on here?

I gave it a moment to sink in. Part of me was delighted to hear that someone in their 30’s was still considered a “youth.” We had a back-up plan in case the rush tickets were sold out, but they hadn’t sold out, had they? They were just not selling them to us.

I wasn’t leaving without a fight. (Not a real fight, I’m a bit of a chicken.)

I channeled my inner young person.

It took a little longer than expected.

Then a silent pep talk. I could pass for 35! After all it’s only a four year differential. I told my friend my plan. I was assertive. “We’re talking about four years for Pete’s sake, I’m not Betty White!” I thought this would cheer her up. I thought she’d get swept up in my enthusiasm, and my “no one’s gonna shut us out” spirit. She didn’t. Her brows knitted together and a look of deep concern washed over her.

What? What’s the problem?” I begged.

“It’s not just four years. You’re not 39,” she informed.

What? I did the math in my head. Dear Lord. She was right. I’m not 39. Not by a long shot. Holy cow, how long had it been, thinking I was 39? Jeez. That’s embarrassing. I quickly reviewed the film reel in my mind. When was the last time I told someone my age? Did they giggle?

Anyway, who cared. Time to move on and take action.

“Yes, you’re right,” I admitted. “I’m not 39. But I’m not leaving without those tickets.”

“You’re gonna lie?!?” She asked.

“No, I’m not going to lie. I’m simply going to point out that selling “youth rush” tickets is clearly biased and that the obsession with the youth of America is passé. And putting them on a pedestal has been frowned upon for years−I’ll show my frown lines to prove it!” I handed her my umbrella. “They’ll come around once they see it in those terms. You wait here.” I told her to stay put. Outside under the marquee.

I sauntered into the theater and up to the window. I asked, sweetly, for two rush tickets. The solemn lady behind the plexi-glass window looked at me stone-faced, with not a glimmer of kindness or even pity. She craned her neck forward to look at someone else. She said, “I told your friend already,” thrusting her chin at the person beside me, “they’re youth tickets. You have to be under thirty five.”

I looked to my right. I told her to wait outside!

I turned back to the staid lady with the frown. “Really!?!” I managed. The steam building inside me.

“And you need to show I.D. to prove it.” She added for good measure.

Oh really? I.D.! Bartend much! I yelled back at her inside my head. And another thing−you should try smiling once in a while; you might look less ancient yourself! I yelled that inside my head too.

We left the theater.

I don’t know what happened to the speech I planned. I couldn’t muster it. These people obviously missed the memo to stop over-indulging the youth. Disappointed, I looked at my friend and almost wished we were 35 again. But then I grabbed ahold of myself. Everything would be different if we were 35. I wasn’t so sure I wanted that. For one thing, my friend and I wouldn’t have even known each other−we hadn’t met until we were both older than that−and she was the best friend anyone could ever have.

There was one thing I was certain of. There was no way I’d trade in her friendship to be 35 again, not in a million years.

Mostly because, in a million years I’d be turning 50, and I’m definitely gonna need her for that.

P.S. The show was amazing!

I told you I wasn’t leaving without those tickets.

The Cicadas are Here! (Now leave.)

4690180459_bf82999089_ophoto by David Hill

Seventeen years ago−the last time the Periodical Cicadas reared their creepy, red-eyed heads−I was living in New York City. I’ve existed, my entire life, unaware of this species of critter. All that has changed. Now I live in New Jersey, and when I heard that the “cicadas were coming,” I had mixed emotions.

First, to be honest, being the true skeptic that I am, I didn’t believe anyone’s cicada stories. Most people are inclined to exaggerate. (In fact, no one’s more inclined than I am!) All this talk about “millions of them” “swarming in massive cyclones before your eyes” having “cacophonous” mating calls.  (Well, cacophonous was my word, actually.)

Puhleeze. Calm down folks! We’re talking about a bug here!

Others warned that I’d need to “bob and weave” them while walking down the street, that the “crunch underfoot” was impossible to avoid, and sweeping sidewalks would be a nightly chore, creating “snow drifts of carcasses” left to die and stench.

I’ve learned two things thus far: exaggeration is annoying, and I only have tolerance for my own. And, as it happens, no one was exaggerating.

Once I was assured of their arrival, because I began to see them with my own eyes, I became mildly excited. I’m typically curious about nature. The hows and the whys of evolution and the survival of the fittest and all that jazz. I was prepared to be fascinated. They come every seventeen years and produce high decibel mating calls from on high in trees, and suck the moisture from plants and pee like rain and have five eyes and shed their skins and leave their little jackets all over the place like my kids! Heck, they sound like performance artists! I was practically tingling with anticipation! Then they mate and produce scads of holes that blanket the lawn to return to their burrows for seventeen years, yards below the ground. If that’s not sci-fi enough for you, I don’t know what is. Hmm, that had me wondering, could they be a life form from another planet here to enlighten us? Just as my curiosity was peaking, my cicada-savvy friends were in a tizzy. I giggled at their hysteria and silently scoffed at “They’re here!!!” announcements of panic.

It’s a bug, people. What the heck?

It’s been approximately four weeks since they’ve arrived and−I’ve had it!

Their deafening serenade is not enchanting. It wakes me on a daily basis just after midnight. And annoys throughout the day until dusk. Contrary to my initial impression, having five eyes is not cool. Especially since they’re not used effectively to avoid flying into my face, my eyes, my hair, my mouth, my house. There is no allure to the hundreds that are covering my yard furniture. The stench coming from heaps of dead carcasses is not stirring any sense of wonder and I no longer think it’s amusing to get urinated on by cicadas overhead in tree branches. If they do in fact turn out to be an alien life form, keep it to yourself−I don’t give a crap.  

Today, as I stood at the top of a ladder, clipping a holly in front of my house with electric hedge trimmers, I almost pruned my head off my shoulders. A bat flew out of the shrub and got tangled in my hair! Okay, it wasn’t a bat, it was a cicada. But the shadow it cast on the side of my house was ginormous. And when I tried to flick it from my hair, the zizzing blades of the hedge trimmer came dangerously close to my neck! I nearly fell off the ladder! And plunged to my death! (Okay, I’m exaggerating.)

I’ve had it with these stupid bugs.  

Leave town, cicada! You don’t live here! I do, and you’re bugging me! Go home!

And by home I mean six feet under.

Which I’d be happy to arrange.

                                                                                         

Do Fiction Writers have an Obligation to Society?

photo by vpickering

photo by vpickering

As I write this, I ask myself if this has any validity. Do fiction writers have an obligation and responsibility to society and humankind? I’m referring to when writers create stories about atrocities which are not documented in history, but conjured and invented with all of its repugnant detail, by the author. A Huffington Post article I read yesterday made me wrestle my own thoughts for an answer to this.

The article talked about Tom Lonergan, the author of Heartbreak Hill (2002), his self-published book about, among other things, the attempted bombing of the Boston Marathon. “The novel was about a terrorist plot to set off a series of bombs during the race, killing and wounding spectators and runners.” In the novel the bombs were held off, diverting a disaster.

When Tom Lonergan first heard about the Boston Marathon bombings on Patriot’s Day earlier this week, he panicked. In an interview he said, “The bombing is especially troubling because ‘I could not help feeling as I saw the news reports on Monday that someone, somehow may have been inspired by my fiction.’”

This brought to mind a reaction I had in 1996 to the release of Daylight, a movie with Sylvester Stallone in which there is catastrophic explosion, due to a confluence of events, in the Holland Tunnel. I was incensed that anyone (actors, directors, producers, studios) could be so irresponsible as to practically hand over on a silver platter an idea so calamitous, to sickos at large who don’t have ideas like this on their own.

And what about the endless debate over song lyrics which give people, especially teens, ideas of violence and suicide. Like the song by Tupac Shakur, which is blamed for the killing of a Milwaukee police officer by two teens who were unwavering fans of the singer and his messages.

As I reflect on what Tom Lonergan grapples with as a writer, and how closely his novel parallels the very real travesty in Boston, I think about all the thrillers and horrors and suspense novels that have been written in the history of time. I think about my own novel, a thriller in which dark deeds are played out within a realistic setting. Do we as writers have an obligation to censor ourselves? I came across this post, Stop Blaming Music for Violence, written by high school newsmagazine, which mentions film, literature and the news media as sources for violent imagery and asks, “To those who believe that it is music causing violence in teens, ask yourselves this – does reading a suspense novel cause the reader to go out and commit murder? Does watching the news cause the viewer to go out and commit that same crime? No.”

Of course the answer is “no.” Someone of sound mind doesn’t feel propelled to execute malicious acts drawn from literature, or any art form. But is there a message here for writers? Is there an invisible line over which we shouldn’t cross? Should our conscience be our only guide? Are there taboo subject matters which are unspoken as untouchable and off-limits?

What do you think?