Sunday, January 24, 2016




I never imagined I’d take it this hard—these last days as Pretty Boy kept trying to jump up on my table or onto Bob’s lap, and sliding back down, not quite making it—he, the incredible jumper. And now knowing I’ll never see him again.

I’ve suddenly become as bad as Rob—weeping over an animal, somehow unable to see him any longer as just a cat.    

How could this happen?  I am mostly a people-lover, not especially knocked out over animals, but here was this little guy who’d become a third presence in our house . . .  who would sit for hours on top of a protected outside shed, just waiting for us to come home. And then, as the car stopped, we’d see him mid-air, saw his paws extended as a great, carefree jump took him from the top of the shed onto our windshield, where he left tiny cat prints. Tail swishing, he followed us into the house. In his seven years, he must have spent half a year on the shed, waiting patiently.

He was never just there.  He inserted himself into our lives. Like a puppy, he followed us around the house. His favorite spot was Rob’s lap, where he parked himself every night as Rob watched television. Second favorite was the back of Rob’s chair, which inspired a feline impulse to give Rob a shampoo.

When Rob wasn’t available, I was second-best. Suddenly he’d appear upstairs as I was typing, full of sudden fervor to spread out across my keyboard. I had to push him away . . . until eventually he caught on that I didn’t want him as a second author. With that, he chose the back of my upstairs couch and stared out the window until he fell asleep—sometimes for hours. 

Cats are nothing if not great sleepers. Yet they’re light sleepers, too. When I appeared every morning in the family room, he was right there, rushing to greet me at the door, standing still and purring as I rubbed him under the chin. At those moments he stared into my eyes—which I’ve heard is how a pet tells you he loves you.

To our continuous astonishment, Pretty Boy was, for years, an Olympic-class jumper. After a quick sizing-up, and with no apparent effort, he’d take a sudden flying leap and land atop a cupboard that was six feet higher than where he started. He never cared to stay long—it seemed the attraction was simply doing it. When he came down again, he landed miraculously amidst pictures and little boxes and papers, without disturbing any of them. Occasionally, when we couldn’t find him, he spent the night outdoors. We knew why the coyotes never got him: our Olympian could out-leap a Bengal Tiger.

The last month with him was agony.  Three different vets told us he had kidney failure and wouldn’t last. After they’d treated him for days in a cat hospital they said, “We’ll help you put him down.”  

Rob was horrified. “I can’t kill my little friend. I can’t. I won’t.”  And I said, “Isn’t it better for him?” But Rob said it wasn’t, that Pretty Boy wasn’t suffering.

“But you’re suffering,” I said, “And so am I. Maybe we should put you down.” And Rob replied, “Give him some food, Babe. Offer him something new. Maybe he’ll get better.”

Which explains why for weeks I kept opening new cans of tuna (since cats won’t eat anything exposed to air), and I kept following him around the family room, placing fresh food under his nose. In despair, Rob and I saw him turn away, refusing everything except water. Yet until the last week, he still managed to purr . . . and the last day he broke Rob’s heart when he wobbled after Rob into another room.   

At last Pretty Boy did what pets do. After we went to bed, he found a small spot deep in a cupboard we couldn’t see or find . . . and using his last energy to get there, he spread out and died. Yet Rob and I were not without help. Next morning it was Tracy’s Paul who came over and found him—and yes, buried him. 

We may eventually get another cat. But we know in our hearts we’ll never replace Pretty Boy. For us, his enthusiasm, his unconditional love was irresistible. In the end, love is what it’s all about. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016



It’s all my daughter’s fault.

Today she had lunch with an executive director of a large charity—a woman whose life will soon be videoed by Tracy’s company, Video Resources.

As the luncheon finished, Tracy called me. “Vivien is a dynamo. She’s only four feet tall, but she’s full of energy. She’s been writing for years and wants someone to critique her book. I told her she should meet you.  If it’s okay, I’ll lead her to your house. We’re not far away.”

“Okay,” I said, wondering if  not far away gave me time to jump in the shower and get properly dressed. I took the chance—imagining Tracy would pause long enough to stand with Vivien at our front door.

She didn’t. And sadly, I was off in my estimate by five minutes. The doorbell rang before I’d put on my shoes or combed my hair.  It got worse from there. When I finally opened the door, Vivien—an elegant but very tiny lady--was alone.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I wasn’t dressed.”  Already embarrassed, I suddenly decided to seat her in our living room. Who knew where Rob was, or what semi-dressed state he was in?

She sat down at one end of our sofa, so I chose the nearby, expensively antique wooden chair.  Maybe I sat down hard, but I don’t think so. In any case, the second my rear came in contact with the seat, the chair collapsed. It didn’t just sink to the ground, it came apart. Completely. Various pieces of wood went their own ways, some leaning against my hips, so I found myself down in a valley of wooden legs and foot rests, all forming a kind of cage.      

“Oh, oh,” the lady said, “Oh, my, are you all right?” I could feel her discomfort and concern.

“Well . . . I think so,” I said, feeling less injured than mortified. With no idea how to extricate myself from this sudden mess, I flailed about. Then adrenaline came to my rescue, because I managed, finally, to rise. Staring down at what was now a heap of lumber with a seat vaguely attached, I wondered what to do with it. While she waited, I dragged the pieces away from our shocked eyes and into the front hall. 

She moved over on the couch, and I sat with her. We began talking about books and writing. And that’s when I noticed further destruction. Compounding my infamous descent to the floor, I saw that the cat had partially dismembered our two beautiful couches. Small puffs of white lay on the floor, and more white stuffing billowed out around the arms, and beneath them you could see he’d sharpened his claws right down to the wooden frame. 

“Oh,” I said, “I can’t believe what our cat has done.  I haven’t been in here in awhile.” I didn’t tell her our kitty was dying, now within a day of never moving again. She’d had plenty of shocks for one day.

We discussed the impossibility of her traveling great distances at the worst traffic hour to take my class, and instead settled arbitrarily on my giving private Saturday workshops closer to her home. My reddened face never quite cooled off as I tried, feebly, to get her excited about an alternative to my privately reading her entire book. 

As she stood to leave, she began raving about how much she’d enjoyed meeting Tracy. She’ll never say the same about me. I’d done nothing but shower her with apologies. Whatever impression she is now conveying to others, of one thing I’m sure. No matter how much time goes by, that small but dynamic lady will never forget me.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Remember the L.A. Times Columnist, Jack Smith?

Last week I found one of Smith’s old columns in a cookbook drawer. Don’t ask what it was doing there. I haven’t the faintest idea.

Jack Smith was a gentle humorist who loved words. Like thousands of his readers, I relished his words, no matter what he was trying to say.  This column that suddenly appeared in my hands is about the boxer, Leon Spinks. What intrigued Jack Smith was a quote by Spinks headlined in the paper’s Sports section.  The quote reads as follows:


Smith continues: “You can wait a long time for a triple negative that makes perfect sense, and I hope it is not thought that I am making fun of Spinks. Actually, I cherish his remark as an example of the vigor and adaptability of the language. He had something to say, and he got it said.” 

After explaining that Spinks had bested boxing champion, Muhammad Ali, possibly as a result of stimulation by a drug he had taken from “a little black bottle,” Smith comments further. “Pedants who insist on logic in language might have a hard time with ‘I ain’t denying there wasn’t no bottle.’ I have tried to dissect it, to see where it comes out, but it has too many turns. Actually, if the word denying is taken as a negative, it is a quadruple negative, not simply a triple, and a quadruple negative is beyond the powers of even the most devious British playwright. Playwrights use the language. People like Spinks invent it.”

To tell the truth, this week I, too, tried dissecting Spinks’ comment, and I never did get it to make sense.  In the meantime I was reminded of all the Jack Smith columns I found charming. In one of them he says (and here I’m quoting from wildly imperfect memory), “People have accused me of hiding behind the moniker Jack Smith, implying that my REAL name must be something else. Why does anyone think I would choose such an unimaginative pseudonym, when the world is full of so many better names . . . like Gaylord Gallagher, or Winston Wainwright, or Christopher Collingwood. Against all these elegant possibilities, do they believe I would voluntarily choose Jack Smith?”

In another column, Smith goes for a nature walk and claims that he saw (obligated by specificity) a bird called a Grackle. Ornithologists were quick to point out that no grackle  has been seen West of the Mississippi. With that, Smith took off on a back-and-forth multi-column banter with these experts, finally claiming he’d seen two grackles. He defended himself beautifully. “If they think I hadn’t actually seen one grackle, I might as well claim I’ve seen two.” 

One of my fondest memories is the time I appeared on the same library program with Jack Smith—who afterwards agreed to write a blurb for my memoir, “Higher Than Eagles.”  Which he did. 

A fascination with words has always defined certain members of our family. A lot of us do crossword puzzles or eagerly compete in the word game, Boggle.  Two sons have contributed chapters to several of my books, while my husband Rob has written three books of his own. 

I especially love what my lawyer-son, Kenny, came up with this Christmas. As the new grandfather of a two-year-old child, Ken decided the little boy—barely talking--should call Kenny GrandDude. 

Which sends new echoes up the familial ladder. Logically, I suppose this now makes Rob, well . . . the Great GrandDude. 

All my books can be found, autographed, on Maralys.com . . . click store.

Or check them out on Amazon. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016



Today, January 3rd, is think-back day.

When I first met him, Rob didn’t look like a husband—as he cut in on me at a Stanford Jolly-up, he was just a kid with very white teeth and a brilliant smile. Plus, oh yes, an  insistent personality, which I could feel later, back in my dorm. But he was too short, only six-one, and I was looking for six-three or better.

(It turns out Rob was looking for someone with good legs. It also turns out he never considered himself a good candidate for marriage.)   

Next day he took me on a prevaricator’s “date.”  “How would you like to go on a beach party?” he asked, and imagining the party might include someone taller and less intrusive, I said Yes. To my astonishment, the beach party consisted of Rob and me—plus Hudson Bowlby, a stodgy acquaintance with a Model A. For all the words uttered by Bowlby as he drove us to the beach, Rob had found us a stiff English butler.  

Rob’s summer of wooing never turned conventional. Instead of using the dorm’s buzzer, he summoned me by whistling outside my window—as though calling his dog. We rode to the movies on bicycles. We seldom studied; instead we went to the library and passed notes back and forth. That summer was hell on our grades, but Rob won me over—not with his craziness, not with his smile, but mostly with his brains. On one thing we both agreed: he was the smartest man I was apt to meet.   

Some things have never changed; Rob is still the brainiest person I know. He missed qualifying for Jeopardy by one point, and on any given night he’s apt to answer more questions than the contestants.  “How do you know that?” I ask, and his answer is always, “I don’t know how I know. I must have read it someplace.” 

Today he also charms me with laughter; together we giggle over life’s small incongruities and ridiculous human behavior—though I need to go elsewhere for laughter when I’ve done something stupid.

As our friends know, our marriage has survived raising six kids, five boys and a girl, plus the overwhelming sadness of losing two sons to hang gliding accidents. Somehow we overcame the BIG things—while at times nearly perishing on the shoals of lesser events.

But now, in the trailing-off years, we rejoice that we’ve both had productive careers—lawyer and writer—but even more that the two of us have metamorphosed into thirty-nine people—with ten grandkids and twelve great-grandchildren, all of whom sooner or later become good friends.   

Lately, Rob and I have found it often takes two of us to complete a sentence, and we’re best served with a team approach to driving a car.  But that isn’t all. Last night, topping off the years, he gave our marriage the ultimate compliment: “By now, Babe, we’re all intertwined, our branches intermixed. We’ve grown together like a couple of tree trunks.”