Tuesday, December 30, 2014



            This is not my title: it came from the December 31 issue of an intriguing magazine: THE WEEK (Pg. 32).  I was instantly fascinated, having never been aware that wealth does anything to your soul. Perhaps we’re simply not that wealthy—meaning until now our souls have remained unafflicted.

            The sub-title reads: “Getting rich won’t make you happy, said Michael Lewis. But it will make you more selfish and dishonest.”  Of course from then on I was hooked.  The article includes numerous studies, beginning with one about rich kids at a tennis camp—and how the director used a shortage of the “best” cereal—Fruit Loops—to teach kids that rushing to grab the preferred cereal made them feel worse than backing off and leaving it for some other kid. For those children, the tennis camp became a life lesson on the good feelings inspired by generosity. Beautifully written, this study will remain in my memory--a microcosm of the best and worst in all of us. 

            Close to these same ideas, I can share a few experiences of my own.  My family won’t like my bringing this up, but since I’ve written a book called, “Save My Son,” it’s no secret that we have a son with addiction problems. And thus it should come as no surprise that from time to time we’ve visited him in our local jail. Some days it was miserably hot and the outside line was long, and I was forced to stand there with everyone else, feeling out of place and not “one of the crowd.” 

Yet the same thing happened over and over. Just as I’d reached some kind of apex of snobbishness and misery,  some woman or man who was “not my people,” would lean toward me and say, “Why don’t you go sit down over there?” pointing to a cement bench. “I’ll save your place in line.” This happened to me many times—a moment of generosity extended by someone of a different race and social class. In fact, I can honestly say I’ve found more kindness in jail lines than any other kind of line.

            It happened again a few nights ago. Rob and I were having hamburgers at “In and Out,” squeezed together at a tiny table that passed for a booth. Next to us was a lady we’d never have met at Stanford. Yet she was clearly worried about us. “Over there,” she said suddenly, “there’s a table that’s come empty,” and she urged us to go grab it. When somebody else took it first, she never stopped searching—to help us. 

Would we have done this for somebody else? Probably not. 

The article cites a study that showed it was the expensive cars that were four times more likely to cut in front of other drivers than drivers of cheap cars—and far less likely to respect the rights of pedestrians. Another study of truly rich people found that most declared they’d need two to three times more money to feel happier.  A researcher explains what actually happens to the very rich—in biological terms. You should read the article for yourself.   
            We are now of an age where our kids and grandkids can’t think of what to give us for Christmas—and we don’t blame them. Rob and I are out of ideas for what to give each other. But I can say—I hope with humility—that my happiest moment each year comes when Rob decides to give our ten grandkids some common stock. Just knowing what it means to them, to their modest way of life, lights up my soul.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


         For readers following my posts, my latest memoir, "The Tail on my Mother's Kite" is now available on Amazon--both as an e-book and as a paperback. 

         For those who read a few paragraphs of the first chapter, here is another page:  

I thought, Wait ‘til I tell people about this! They won’t believe what I’m seeing. 
     But then a wind came up, and with it the pungent odor of burning wood . . . and soon, carried on warm currents, a couple of charred twigs that whirled past, above our heads. 
Suddenly, without a word to any of us, eight-year-old Jimmy Deetz grabbed a shovel and ran to a nearby patch of grass and beat out tiny flames.
Flames? But from where? I wondered. No flames had come near us, only a few blackened twigs.
Then Laddie, seven, found a discarded broom and pounded another sparking weed. I stared at them, amazed. Two farm boys used to hard work. Nobody asked you to do this. But you found them all, I thought, there won’t be any more.     
For a moment part of me backed away and in my imagination I saw the fire as a drama, a story I would write someday. Even as I envisioned words on paper, the truth dawned, hit me so hard I gasped: This is how fire travels.
Sure enough, the boys beat down more tiny flames, then ran with their tools to pound others.
I looked around. Oh God, tiny flames are everywhere, like a swarm of mosquitoes. Suddenly their efforts seemed futile. What’s the point of what they’re doing? They’ll never stop the fire with a broom.
Yet there they were, two kids imprinted on my memory.   
The wind blew ever harder. When smoking embers landed at my feet, my mood changed. The fire had crept closer, and now here it was, circling like a panther, threatening to end my ten-year-old life.

                           We're all so busy, I won't be posting again until after New Years.   My wish for all of you is that these holidays prove to be happy--and yes, peaceful.  And my thanks to all of you who have been faithful readers.  I wish I could meet you all in person.  Maralys

Monday, December 15, 2014



Before Rob and I left the elevator, I knew we were in trouble.  (And never mind that Rob had bought our concert tickets as a “bargain.” ) 

Our stubs said, “Promenade Circle,” which had such a nice, friendly ring to it, I assumed our seats in Segerstrom Hall would be up a little from the stage, but in some kind of relaxed, roomy area. Which is why Rob and I kept jumping off the elevator at successive floors, only to have a fellow rider assure us this was not yet the promenade level. Finally the lady said with a smile, “Promenade is in the nosebleed section.” 

I looked at her and blinked. “Oh,” I said.  But I was thinking, At least we’re in Row A, which is always a good thing. 

As it turned out, not always.   

When we finally landed at Promenade, an usher pointed us to a door . . . and there we saw Row A—about ninety tiers up from Orchestra, and suspended out in space. Literally. And our front row jammed right up against the world’s tiniest little rail.       

Between us and our seats were several dozen patrons, all hunkered down, and between each of them and the knee-high rail was maybe six inches.  I took one look and said, “Let’s just stay here.  Somewhere on the edge.”  I tried to back away.

Then somebody whispered, “There’s someone coming in right behind you,” and to my horror, I was forced to squeeze my way past knees and shoes, past people who wouldn’t budge an inch . . . every second hideously aware that if I stumbled or faltered I’d go right over that tiny little rail to my death. 

The farther I went, the more it appeared we’d be parked in the two most precarious spots in the house. Thanks to the curve of the tier, we’d be hanging out more than anyone else, with only inches between us and a thousand-foot drop.  With pounding heart, I sat down fast, and so did Rob.  But getting seated provided no comfort. 

I looked around and could hardly breathe. I’ve never been afraid of heights, but suddenly I was. There was nothing in front of us but endless space, and that damned, useless little rail. Down below, miles away, Beethoven began, but who could listen? 

What if there’s an earthquake? I wondered. Why won’t my heart stop pounding?  What if I have a heart attack, how will they get me out?  I’ve got to think about something else, or I’ll definitely have a heart attack.  Why can’t I look down?  Well, I can’t . . .  I can’t look down, I can’t.  And so it went.  Right through the first two movements, until Rob gave me a little poke and whispered, “Watch the percussionist.”       

So I watched the percussionist beating his drums. Keep beating, I thought. Get it over with.  But then my thoughts strayed. How will we get out at intermission--past all those stubborn people? What if we topple over the edge?  Okay . . . so stop thinking . . .         

Finally Beethoven blasted into silence.  Rob rose, and moving like a turtle he edged past those still seated . . . and I followed. Oh God, I thought as we left the ledge. We’re out of there!  We made it!

Rob said, “We’re going down to a lower floor,” and I said, “The bottom floor,” and he said, “Fine. The bottom floor.”  So we went. Still shaken, we stood in the lobby and shared our stories. 

“As we headed to our seats,” Rob said, “I thought I was going to pass out. I’m dizzy enough already. I nearly told you, Grab me, Babe,  if I start to wobble.”  I nodded. He said, “I was also thinking, If I’m unconscious, how will they get me out?” I nodded again. “After we sat, I was thinking, What if there’s an earthquake? I decided we’d better distract ourselves and watch the percussionist . . . Then I thought, In an earthquake we’d fall farther than anyone.” He added, “Right on the people down in orchestra.”

I told him my version. “It’s a wonder anyone sits there," I said. "I wouldn’t go back for a thousand dollars.”     

He smiled. “Nor I. We each figured we were going to die—the deadly faint plus a heart attack.”

I looked around. “We have to go somewhere, Rob--for the second half. Let’s see if our regular seats are open.”  And Praise Heaven, they were. First level, two best seats in the house. 

Next to us was a couple who couldn't wait to make a comment. The man pointed skyward. “We just escaped from up there.”

“So did we,” I said, and we both rolled our eyes.   

So there in our good seats we watched a virtuoso pound the piano through Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto, so close I could see the pianist’s expressive, music-loving face, and I thought, I adore that man . . . Then I thought as I squeezed Rob’s knee, We listened to this together at Stanford, and isn’t this the greatest music in the world? And wow!  We’re both here . . . it’s heaven . . . and we’re alive!   

Friday, December 12, 2014



            “The people seemed to think it was funny to throw glass bottles at me, to hit me with boards and to climb on my back . . . one, two, three, four men . . . until I collapsed. Then they’d kick me ‘til I got back up again. They treated me like I wasn’t alive . . . sometimes I wished I wasn’t.”

            I had no idea who Rob was reading about. I assumed it referred to one of today’s articles on CIA torture.

“What kind of intelligence were they trying to get out of this guy?” I asked.  

            “Not much,” he said.  “It’s me they’re after—for money.  This is a letter about an abused donkey named Floyd.”   

            “A donkey?”  I stared at him.

            “Yeah, I get donkey-abuse letters all the time. It’s a wonder he wasn’t water-boarded.” 

            Well, that ended the blog I had in mind.

Anyway, after four articles about the CIA in one newspaper, I had nothing much to add. Except one thing that nobody mentioned—a bit of anecdotal evidence I’ve observed during angry outbursts, person-to-person. The more somebody yells, the angrier he gets. I’ve seen it often, even in myself. Anger is fueled by your own conduct, by the sound of your own furious voice--even more than by external circumstances. The angrier you behave, the angrier you get.

And so it must be with the CIA interrogators who showered cruelty on prisoners. The meaner they got, the meaner they felt. In the end the sadists were so self-inspired they became grotesquely sadistic.      

Happily, the opposite is also true: the more you pet, caress, and attend to someone’s needs, the more you love him. Which shows why adopted babies are loved every bit as much as flesh-and-blood kids. It also explains why people tend to love things that aren’t human--their pets, their boats, and their guns.              

Thus I understand the woman who said to me one day, “After I die, I want to come back as my husband’s car.”   


Monday, December 8, 2014



            We needed a new toaster, okay?  To replace our two-slicer that each day figures out anew how it will approach our bread.  One day, doubtless after a hard night,  it can’t rouse itself to fire up all its elements, so it browns each slice on one side only . . . or, alternatively, it browns one piece and ignores the other.  Or sometimes, in an ebullient spirit, it keeps browning until it burns. Trouble is, like a teenager with moods, you never know what you'll get.   

            Before we got around to buying something better, Tracy inherited a lot of Diner’s Club gift points from Brad.  “What do you need?” she asked. 

            “A toaster!” I cried.  “With four slots.”    

            “Well,”  she said as she looked over the catalog, “here’s one.”  And then in a softer tone. “It also cooks eggs.” 

            This I couldn’t imagine.  But I told her to order it anyway.

Yesterday it came.  So let me paint the picture.  For two-thirds of its length it’s just a four-slice toaster. But then the last third sports two little frying pans that stick out into space, apropos of nothing, except that the pans also have lids and non-removable, further-protruding knobs, making it a ship that grew too big for its berth.  

At the moment the thing is sitting on my drain board like an obese, but shiny squatter, taking up so much space I can hardly cook around it. It’s waiting to be placed where it goes-- which won’t happen until I dismantle a quarter of the kitchen. As I work, I keep giggling, and from across the room Bob hears me and says, “What were they THINKING?”

As I push it aside, discovering there’s nowhere for it to go, I keep picturing what went on in the board room of West Bend. “You want to invent WHAT?” the president asks, and the inventor says earnestly, “Who wouldn’t want a cooks-all appliance?” and board members shake their heads and one says, “Not MY wife,” but the president finally says, “Well, we’ve got some development money. Give it a try.” 

“Five thousand?” the inventor asks, to which the daring president answers, “Why not five thousand?”  Then, as my grandson says, “They never did much field testing.” 

I can tell you what happened next. West Bend was saddled with five-thousand “gifts”, which they pawned off on Diner’s Club, and Diner’s Club is currently left with four-hundred and ninety-nine, because we have the other one.    

Bob, who tries to find a spot for everything, can’t figure out its placement. The only reasonable scenario (egg pans in) would leave the controls buried against our refrigerator. Egg-pans-out, means I’d have to reach over the little darlings to get at the toaster slots.  We are currently engaged in a typical Wills debate. “Let’s make it a humorous white elephant,” I say, and Bob says grimly, “It’s an elephant, all right—but I intend to keep it.”

So I’m now asking the world: Is there anyone out there who wants a toaster that also cooks eggs?  

Speak up.  I can’t hear you. 


Tuesday, December 2, 2014


Put Text Here 

How was I to know that someone would discover a U-tube that showed my friend, Stephanie Edwards, introducing me as I waited to give a speech?  She's as beautiful and gracious as you all think she is.  Here it is, a brief and wonderful film.  Maralys Wills  

Sunday, November 23, 2014



            How do you survive a crazy childhood?

My mother was rich, beautiful, and oversexed . . . and like Elizabeth Taylor chose to be married seven times. As she dragged my brother and me from city to city and husband to husband, we were like suitcases that became too heavy to carry. From time to time, she dumped us off with strangers . . . her two inconvenient children. 

            For the past two years I’ve relived an era where cars had to be coaxed to go, where we entertained ourselves because movies and radio were the only outside diversions, and where country people lived on unpaved roads.  Here, then, is the first page from my memoir, “The Tail on My Mother’s Kite.”  

AFTER THE FIRE, nothing was ever the same.

Even to our mother who, like Elizabeth Taylor, was destined by her own choice to have seven husbands, nothing was more life-changing than the Siskiyou County forest fire.

Like a cougar stalking its prey, the fire crept down the ridges of Mount Eddy and arrived in full destruction mode at our family’s virgin guest ranch, a 320-acre property with two houses--one wrinkled and old, the other newly framed, barely roofed. The year was 1939.   

In the distance Mount Shasta still rose above the clouds, lofty and gleaming white, disdainful in its splendor as though such devastation a mere seven miles away was beneath its notice.     
Unlike the grownups, I hadn’t seen the fire coming. As I stood in the dirt road with our mile-away neighbors, I watched in awe as one by one, flames shot up the pines on a distant hill. We’d never seen anything like it. In unison, Alice Deetz and her three boys and I all shouted, “Oooh! There’s another one!” “Oh . . . wow!”  “A big one! Look at that!” We were spectators at a shocking, living event, thrilled but not afraid. The sparking hill was far away, across a vast meadow—as all of us knew, in its own universe. 
I thought, Wait ‘til I tell people about this! They won’t believe what I’m seeing.

I now have books to sell. It’s listed at $15.00, but these first copies will be $12.00--plus shipping for $3.00. For autographed copies you can contact me at Maralys@cox.net or 714-544-0344. After the first of the year—perhaps sooner--they’ll be on e-books at Amazon.

Friday, November 14, 2014

THE CAPTAIN'S JACKET -- Extraordinary Moments on a Riverboat Cruise


Extraordinary Moments on a Riverboat Cruise

            We guessed it would be this way—that our river-cruising adventures on a Tauck Tour would be better planned, less commercial, and more fun than most other tours. Our prediction was based on an adventure thirty years ago, when Bob and I were part of a Tauck Tour heli-hiking trip, dropped off by whirlybirds for a series of hikes through Canada’s Cariboo mountains. As travelers allergic to regimentation, Bob and I we were astonished at Tauck’s light touch. In fact we found the adventure so enjoyable we did it twice.

But does anything stay the same?

Apparently some things do; for us, this last month, the light touch continued. Traveling by Tauck river boat along the Danube, Main, and Rhine rivers from Budapest to Amsterdam, we could visit all the castles, churches, museums and shops available to tourists—bused there by our cruise—or led through cobblestone streets by our guides. (Alternatively, we could stay on board and loaf.)

For us, an extraordinary moment came early. The second day I decided we should both buy jackets. Bob and I were in the ship’s small boutique, looking them over, when I realized the ship had sold out of the good-looking ones I’d seen on staff. At that moment, a very tall, very handsome man wandered into the area. With no idea who he was, I took one look, pointed, and said with a grin, “There’s the jacket I want!”

Without a moment’s hesitation, the man shrugged his way out of the garment and handed it to me, mumbling under his breath that I might want to get it washed. I was astonished--and thrilled. But then I saw the I.D. badge pinned to his shirt. The amazing  gentleman was Patrick Tietz, the ship’s captain. For the rest of the day I couldn’t stop telling the story. Someone said, “I bet you’ll wear it a lot,” and I said, “I may sleep in it.”

Notable moments kept coming. A few nights later, Bob and I decided the ship’s musician was playing such great music we had to get up and dance. When no one joined us, we felt obligated to give it our all, even Bob with his cane. At the end, all the spectators clapped. In a moment of celebration, Bob raised his cane, gave a great wave, and broke the chandelier. Above our heads, glass cascaded onto the floor. Neither of us could believe what he’d done. To bursts of laughter, we crept back to our seats. Next day crew members were on ladders fixing the chandelier, and a passenger said, “Oh, you’re the couple that brought down the house.”

Taulk didn’t charge us for the breakage—or anything else. You might say the only expense was to our bodies—the one or two miles we ended up walking each day. Once again, Bob and I did our bit, Bob with his cane, me taking deep breaths. And lo—our three big meals each day did not add a single pound.

As a family of six (two sons and their wives) we kept attracting attention. One night we won the ship’s trivia contest. Another night a paper napkin on our table fell across a candle, and within seconds all the napkins around us were aflame. As we beat out flames, the announcer stopped talking and said, “I see we’ve got a little fire over here.”

Two more nights our group again won the Trivia contests . . . once because the judges asked for original ways to convey the answers and, among some clever maneuvers by Kenny, Chris flew our response in on a paper airplane. 

By prior arrangement with Tauck, I gave an afternoon speech on the topic, “Do you want to write a memoir?” which brought me new friends and readers.   

Tauck paid for everything—including ship bicycles for the everyday use of Kenny and Melanie, Chris and Betty-jo (they rode through most towns), all the shore excursions, three meals a day (whether on or off the boat), tips for the staff, even cocktails and wine at meals. We arrived home with most of our money still in our pockets.

Best of all, we came back with the glitter of gold-leaf in castles and churches still affixed to memory.  On another level, we suspect more than a few people will remember us.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014



The other day I was looking for a receipt on our breakfast room table.  I dug around a bit—among travel articles, prescription warnings, university health letters, family clips—and realized it was hopeless. How deep should I dig, anyway? . . . if , in fact, the thing was even there. Who knew?

Among those who have seen that stack (the table equivalent of a five-car freeway pile-up) are friends who draw benign comfort.  Gee, this looks like one of my tables. And others, like my daughter, who say nothing but think, Thank God this isn’t mine.

That day something snapped.  I can’t stand this any longer. With that, I moved pile after pile to the family room couch, and from there I began sorting. As I dug deeper, strata lines appeared, like those in old, sliced-away mountains. One layer had been dunked in spilled coffee. Another was sprinkled with sugar. At the bottom were papers dating back  to 2007, replete with invitations to events long over. The process resembled an archaeological dig.  

Today our table is so clean that one of our grandkids actually gasped, and now my husband won’t let me set down the slightest thing, even a book. 

Which reminds me of other spots in our house . . . the den where Rob stores calendars from 2012 and piles of National Geographics (which even our library won’t accept). When do we ever look at any of them?  After last-year’s scary backyard fire when we nearly lost the house, the thought occurred to me: if the place burned, how much would I miss?  The answer was obvious—not the clothes we never wear, nor the stones we’ve collected in little dishes, nor the closet with too many towels. We wouldn’t care about the old Reader’s Digests piled in a bathroom drawer. All these are replaceable.

We’d mourn only our writings. And the pictures: our mothers as girls, our children as babies. And maybe some of our clothes, and a few gifts and notes from each other. We might have problems with recent tax records. 

But my drawer full of good, useable purses?  Hey, I keep forgetting I even have them.  

Which is why, when we go on trips, we donate newspapers to schools. If there’s anything I’ve learned about life, it’s that you live it forwards, not backwards. You simply never re-read that article too good to throw away. As many times as you promise yourself, I’ll look at this stuff when I’m old, the truth is plain: you never get that old.     

And now we’re heading for a river trip—Budapest to Amsterdam, cruising three classic rivers. In a few weeks I’ll doubtless have something new to blog about. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014



            While I was overcome, at first, by the circumstances of my son-in-law’s death (so recent and so raw), the important message was left unsaid: What about his life? 

            His dying may be over, but in strange ways, maybe not so strange, Brad Hagen’s life soldiers on. As Tracy says, “He was a powerful presence.” 

Brad was the ultimate foodie. “You’ll be in Minneapolis?” he’d say, (or Detroit, or Boston, or Dallas or even Nowheresville), “I know this little restaurant, off the main drag, hard to find, only the locals know about it, but the food is extraordinary.” And you’d go there and the sausages, or pancakes, or soups or whatever would be delicious . . .

The best thing Brad’s mother did for him was to cook good meals. She turned her cooking into love, and love in turn became food. In the best sense, Brad became a gourmet. But he was always an appreciator.  “Hey, Tracy, you’ve done a great job with this squash, it’s good!”  While he never ate too much, Brad tasted everything, and you had to get used to seeing his fork in your plate. With him, you never went to chain restaurants; he found all the odd little Mom and Pops hiding next to hardware stores—and if he didn’t exactly dictate what you ordered, he tried to, and if you defied him, he’d turn resigned, even crestfallen—but then you’d see his fork creeping your way. 

            In his work as a videographer, Brad was world class. To see him behind a camera was to appreciate what it means to take the ultimate photos, to capture the best images that perfect lighting, exact camera angles, and well-considered background can produce. His clients, among them CEOs of major companies, understood how good he was. And the topper was always the restaurant that came later.   

            It was extraordinary the way Brad always welcomed Bob and me to come over for meals, graciously and without question; in my heart I never stopped thanking him--or Tracy, either. After dinner we played games, and never mind that we two wordsmiths taught him our best word game, Boggle, fully expecting to win. Within a month he was beating us, figuring out ways to extend simple words into long, point-winning words, and I was sputtering, “Can you believe this, Bob? He’s won again!” Brad didn’t gloat. He just smiled.

Nothing reveals character and skills more than a family trip. Alone among us, Brad was a miracle packer, able to fit too much luggage into too little taxi space . . . like Houdini.  The rest of us didn’t help, we just stood around and gaped.   

The most important statement about Brad comes last. When he married Tracy, he also married her two young children, Dane, 13, and Jamie,16. Within a few years both of them, by their own choice, were calling him Dad. You can’t say more about a man than that.

Clearly, Brad has left a big hole in all our lives.   

Saturday, October 11, 2014



            The Los Angeles Times headline came out one day before it happened to us: “Making a date with death.”

Everybody heard about it—the 29-year-old woman who moved to Oregon so she could choose her own death. Brittany Maynard has stage-four brain cancer and wants to die in her own way on a date of her own choosing. A group called Compassion and Choices supports her—and even more, advocates for this right in other states.

There was no choice in my daughter’s house. For a year, almost to the day, Brad’s brain tumor had its way in his life and in Tracy’s, dictating that he would never again drive a car, that an eleven-hour surgery would cost him significant loss of eyesight and speech, and that Tracy would be his full-time nurse—with yes, some amazing help from an angel, Lorena, whom she found in the last month. A multitude of friends also helped—with more dinners and visits and outpourings of love than any of us could have imagined.  Tracy’s friends and family and Lorena literally sustained her.   

Still, the year was Tracy’s to live through, and neither Brad nor Tracy could dictate any of it—how long he’d be able to walk, when speech would utterly desert him,  whether he would end up spending nearly two months in bed, unable to leave, and mostly unable to eat or move.

            One day after the headline, last night in fact, our family’s agony ended. And in her own way, Tracy brought Brad the best death possible—with a young man, an intern from Brad’s company, playing a guitar and singing the kind of music Brad loved—for a solid two hours, until Brad took the last of several deep breaths. Some of this was accidental—until the last part of the day nobody even knew that Anthony played the guitar, or that, like James Taylor, he had such a sweet singing voice. Once we discovered his talents, Tracy begged him to keep playing, and he did.    

            Everybody has his own opinion of Brittany Maynard’s decision—and even now, I’m not sure I would have chosen such an abrupt ending for Brad. During that year he had a few relatively decent months—able to walk his daughter down the aisle, even take two family trips.  But the last few months . . . those were a lifetime that were better cut short. Hospice helped—but not enough.  Brad sometimes held a finger to his head—playfully?—indicating he would shoot himself.

            California has no answers, at least none that are legal. Perhaps we need a few.

Monday, October 6, 2014



Nobody imagined we’d ever see this: at 3:00 in the afternoon, a wolf-size coyote standing on a backyard wall.

Our daughter, Tracy, lives in a nice neighborhood with yards enclosed in high block walls. Tracy’s niece, Christy, happened to be sitting in the family room when she glanced out the window. “There’s a coyote up on your wall,” she said calmly.

“What!” Tracy shouted and ran for the door leading to the outside. Her small dog was out in the yard, barking furiously and running toward the wall.  Not away from it, toward it--as though this tiny snack on legs could scare away the intruder.

Running like the athlete she is, Tracy screamed, threw up her arms, and continued shrieking as she raced toward the wall. Beside her was Ollie, a black-and-white Cavashon, a virtual movie star of a dog. Clearly, the coyote had a choice between jumping down to grab the movie star, or jumping off in another direction. With Tracy in full-ferocity mode, he chose to leap in in the other direction, and disappeared into a neighbor’s yard.

With that, Tracy’s life changed. Coyote stories poured in—about two coyotes on a remote ranch who grabbed two small dogs and ran off with them.  Reacting fast, the rancher shot one of the coyotes, who then dropped his prey. But the other beast, with the pup in his jaws, kept running. They never saw their pet again.

Meanwhile, the ranch owner nursed the injured dog back to life. Once more able to run outside, he was still in danger. A month later, the second coyote came back and got him.

About a year ago, at dusk, I was driving down the largest street near our home when I spotted two huge coyotes trotting along the road ahead of me. I followed them into a cul-de-sac and honked, and the two darted into a neighbor’s yard. I’d forgotten all about them until the disaster on our own street. At dawn, two weeks ago, our neighbor let her dog outside on her driveway to do his morning business. Even as the neighbor watched, a coyote swooped in and grabbed the dog in his teeth. She was devastated.

Now that we know coyotes have a memory, that they operate in pairs and are willing to stalk their prey for however long it takes, that they are not averse to appearing in the daytime, or even with people nearby, Tracy no longer lets Ollie come and go in his own yard. Every two hours she takes her pet outside—on a leash—and she’s closed her doggie door for all time.

           In one terrible moment, Ollie became a house-bound prisoner. But Tracy is determined to keep him alive. To those who know her current situation, it’s clear that losing Ollie would be another disaster, more than she could endure.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014



            A couple of weeks ago, one of my blog readers remarked--in response to my piece about disappointment --“It isn’t over until you quit.”  A simple enough idea and probably not original, yet with profound implications. Think about it:

That must have been the attitude of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini during his agonizing hours (months), of survival on a raft at sea. And later when he was tortured endlessly by the Japanese. Because of the account in “Unbroken” we know Zamparini made it back to the United States—only to face a new enemy: alcoholism. Yet he lived to be 97 . . . and when he was well into his nineties, one of my friends heard him give a speech.  

Examples of not giving up keep coming to me. Three days ago I spent hours (in Boston) talking to my 55-year-old nephew, Jim Klumpp, who had just returned from a hike of 2,200 miles. For nearly five months he walked over 20 miles a day, the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. He wore out six pairs of shoes and could only take in enough calories by eating two Snicker bars before “dinner.” (The only part I would have liked.)  One day he was so exhausted he consumed 10 Snickers in two days. And still he lost 20 pounds. And hey, he’s not a kid.  Clearly I’m not the only one impressed. Jim’s daily blogs ended up with over 100,000 hits.   

            I have my own story of survival: at age 12, during a visit to Jones Beach in Long Island, I was swept into the ocean by a Sea Puss.  The thing carried me so far out I could barely see any figures on the beach. With no idea what had happened, I believed I was going to die. Yet somehow, with zero hope, I kept swimming.  After what seemed hours, the Coast Guard appeared with a 12-man rowboat. And even then, the boat came within inches of crashing into a rock jetty.

This event is described in my latest memoir, “The Tail on my Mother’s Kite.” Somehow the battle to find a publisher now looms large, though by comparison with the above stories it’s trivial. As I finished writing 263 letters to agents (16 different versions without getting an agent), I kept thinking about the lady who said it would be over only when I quit.    

Which means I’ve decided not to quit. But how far should I go?  Five hundred agent letters? (But no—not that many are left.)  Direct queries to small publishers? Well, I’ve done it . . . but only a few take memoirs. And only one of those few answered my query—first with great praise for the manuscript, but ultimately a rejection.  (Hence, the Blog: “Disappointment isn’t Defeat.”)

Here’s where you have to focus on tiny specks of good news: every agent who read the manuscript said great things about the writing. A few even offered hints about its failings—giving me the chance to make corrections. All the dozen friends who’ve read the manuscript loved it, showering me with hope (even knowing friends are supposed to love you). 

Well, I’ve been through this before—the same scenario occurred with my memoir, “Higher Than Eagles.” After 14 years and three top-notch agents who couldn’t convince an editor, I finally found my own traditional publisher. Once published, the book acquired 5 movie options, including from Disney.

But hey, things change. If this book takes as long as “Higher Than Eagles,” I’ll be older than Zamparini. 

So guess what?  I’m trying unconventional stuff. With every New Yorker I meet I say, “In case you know an editor . . . ”  I talk about the project to strangers, hoping I’ll meet somebody who knows somebody. I follow every lead . . . and sometimes imagine myself resorting to tricks and lies—which I might do, except I’m no good at lying.

 Okay, there’s always self-publishing. But as a writing friend said, “Self-publishing will always be there. You’ve gotta keep trying.”  Well, I am. I am. I am. I’m Mining for Miracles.      

Sunday, September 21, 2014


                           THE ATTACK OF THE DRAPERIES

            It happened yesterday at a writer’s conference. Just as I was finishing a lecture and starting a drawing to give away a few books, a participant stood up unexpectedly and began describing her reactions to the last chapter in my memoir, A Circus Without Elephants.  She was pretty animated, and of course I loved it. I won’t repeat what she said, but at the end I asked, “Can I take you everywhere?”

            Here is the chapter she was talking about: 


NOBODY COULD UNDERSTAND WHY we were adding on to the house.  “Your children are pretty much grown,” a friend pointed out reasonably enough.  “Why do you need more space?”  

Rob answered with a grin, “We always add a room whenever a kid leaves.  Makes perfect sense to us.  When all the kids are gone, we’ll build a castle.”  

I nodded.  “Well actually, I got tired of eating breakfast on top of yesterday’s mail. I know it’s ridiculous--spending all this money for a place to put the mail.  But we don’t pretend to be rational.”

The question of whose idea it was to expand the whole rear of the house and add a breakfast room shifted from week to week.  In Rob’s mind “our idea” became “her idea” as the kitchen began to resemble a hobo’s digs, with appliances missing everywhere, like a mouth with half its teeth, and exposed water pipes staring at us from the sub flooring, and the walls sporting nail holes but no cabinets. It continued to be “her idea” as I hauled buckets of dirty dishes to the bathtub and the temperature in the open part of the house dropped below forty and a raccoon came in, and I do mean IN.  There he was one night in the family room, standing his ground defiantly, eyeing us through his mask. 

It became “our” project once more as the kitchen and family room began to look sleek and modern, twice as nice as before.

“This has been an unbearable year,” Rob declared, and vowed he would absolutely never do anything major to the house again, come hell or high water . . .. and high water was what we seemed in danger of getting, because the toilets in two mostly unused bathrooms had developed small leaks, and water began seeping onto the floors when we weren’t looking, and the bathroom floors were slowly rotting into mush. I expected to go back there one day and step right through the sub floor onto the dirt.   

And sure enough, it wasn’t long before we had to tear up the bathrooms, too.  

The house renovations began to consume all aspects of my life.  One morning, for instance, I had to go to Ralph’s Market to load up on empty cardboard boxes so I could pack up and move everything out of our many bathroom cupboards. While I was adding rolls of paper towels to my cart, I managed to topple about seven huge boxes out the cart right into the path of an aristocratic-looking lady who, nonplussed, smiled and said, “Looks like you’ve hit the Mother Lode of Boxes.”

I laughed.  “You must be a writer,” I said, hoping she was and we might get acquainted.  But she merely smiled again and moved on. 

Then for some reason I kept crossing paths with the same lady throughout the store, privately amused that she gave me and my overloaded cart wider and wider berth.

But she was nowhere around when I became truly reckless and gave my cart an excessive push--and sent it crashing into someone’s untended grocery basket. Down in my duck blind of boxes I honestly hadn’t seen the other wagon--and now I quickly backed off before the noise collected a crowd.

Well, I didn’t collect a crowd, I collected “her.”

Out from behind the bread she came, eyeing me in disbelief. 
As she retrieved her cart from its bashing, she gave me a last, funny little look and said, more to herself than me, “I knew I should have come in the afternoon.”   

She sent me out of the store laughing, but also full of regret I would never get to know this witty lady better.  Whereas I could envision us becoming friends, she would make certain the two of us were never in the same store again. 

AS PART OF OUR house renovation, Rob and I eventually acquired a cavalier spirit, a “What the hell” attitude which spread like recklessly sown seeds over the entire house and meant we bought things we didn’t necessarily need, like new living room drapes.

The old drapes might never have become part of the family history had Rob’s car not failed just then, forcing him to borrow our son’s disreputable Cutlass. Finding the driver’s seat literally agape at the seams, Rob searched for something to throw over it—the closest thing at hand being one of the discarded draperies.  Rob tossed the drape over the seat, letting the hooks dangle free in back. Since the car was, as usual, out of fuel, he headed for the nearest gas station.

As Rob drove, he felt the drape slipping, working its way down the seat.  When he got out of the car to pump gas he knew at once he wasn’t alone; the drape had come with him. 

It took only seconds to grasp the situation: the hooks had managed to embed themselves in the back of his bulky-knit Scottish sweater, and now here he was, standing in the gas station with a ten-foot-long, open-weave, gold-threaded cape flowing from his shoulders . . . and not only that, it was pleated!

Rob realized immediately he had a serious personal appearance problem. He glanced around, all-too-aware that he bore a remarkable similarity to King Henry the Eighth.  Reaching around to disentangle himself, he quickly found that the hooks had dug in with fiendish cunning, just at that point in his back where he couldn’t reach.  He twirled and squirmed and shimmied, but all his efforts to free himself merely drew attention to his bizarre predicament.    

As he spun around in his dangling cape, other customers began reacting with startled double-takes, then fast aversions of the eyes. The man fueling the nearest car stood at an odd angle, trying to keep one eye on the gas nozzle and the other on Rob. Rob knew all too well what the man was thinking.  I’ve gotta get away from this nut case. 

There are times when Rob’s sense of humor utterly fails him, and this was one of them.  Ever more exasperated, he clawed at his shoulders like a demented Shakespearian monarch.  But the more frantic he became, the more the hooks behaved like porcupine quills, tightening their grip, until it appeared Rob might be wearing the living-room drapes for the rest of the day.     

By now a few customers were quietly leaving the gas station, some without filling their tanks, and Rob was truly desperate.  He considered disrobing right there among the gas pumps, pulling sweater and drape up over his head and ridding himself of both.  But the sweater was tight and hard to remove under normal conditions, and the drape was so long it dragged the sweater down in back, and he couldn’t begin to shed the two without scissors or a chain saw.  Besides, he didn’t like the idea of adding a strip tease to the rest of his already-underappreciated performance.              

Feeling anything but regal, he kept his head down and filled his tank.  Finished, he gathered his remaining dignity, strode purposefully across the station, paid the bill to a clerk who refused to look him in the eye, and sauntered back, trailing his cape as if it were his normal attire.     

Once at home he walked into the house muttering, “Here, Babe, get me out of this damn thing!”

I took one look at his drifting, open-weave raiment and burst out laughing.  I was laughing so hard it was difficult to make my fingers do what they had to do.  “How did you happen to acquire this lovely garment?” I asked.  

“Well, it certainly wasn’t deliberate!”

The next time I saw the draperies they were heaped in a trash barrel near the curb, which, considering who put them there, was an act of wanton recklessness.  For the man who never throws out anything, trashing those drapes indicated profound disgust, and meant he never, ever, wanted to see them again. 

There’s a bit more to the chapter.  But it was nice to have someone speak up and give me this wonderful moment . . . and also remind me of a chapter that embodies a spirit our family needs right now.