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


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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