A Publishers Life…
What’s so funny about the death of Michael Jackson? These were the thoughts that raced through my head after receiving several requests to blog about the untimely passing of the “King of Pop”. I write irreverent and humorous stories about moi, not someone else. Not write about me? Why would I do that?
“Because he’s an icon. Because it’s so weird,” said my husband, who apparently doesn’t think I’m serious about the divorce thing. “Does everything always have to be funny? Or about you?”
Well, yeah, I thought as I accidentally threw my sandal at him. He did the George Bush duck as I called out “Sorry! Slipped!” But his words stuck with me as I sat in front of my laptop, ignoring the muffled cries for “help” coming from the other room (it’s strange, but I have an uncanny ability to tune out the boys when I’m writing).
Not a believer
I am not particularly a fan of Michael Jackson. I was raised with his music and I admit I sang along, as a child, when “Ben” was played on the radio, but I’m not a die-hard. I jumped on the “Wacko Jacko” bandwagon when it rolled through town and helped dissect him in the press when the pedophilia charges came out. I rolled my eyes when he claimed to have vitiligo, the condition that turned his skin white, and wagged my tongue when it hit the papers that he had married the just-as-odd, Lisa Marie Presley. He weirdness made him such an easy target, it was hard not to gossip about him.
I was still in shock from the announcement of another iconic passing, Farrah Fawcett, when the texts about MJ’s death started coming through. I figured it was just another media-hype, like the hyperbaric oxygen chamber he claimed to have slept in, or of his friendship with Bubbles the Chimp. When I found out it was true, I reacted the same way as when John Lennon was killed or JFK, Jr. died, I couldn’t make sense of it. It seemed too surreal – he was of my generation and too young to die.
Michael Jackson did not know me, but I knew him. I knew of his marriages, his divorces, his successes and failures. I knew his children, the Jackson family and the famous friends. I knew when he was arrested and when he went to trial. I knew his shame and embarrassment. I knew his secrets.
No matter how strange someone is, it’s still sad when they die. The running movie that was Michael Jackson’s life ended abruptly and with an unsatisfactory conclusion. Like Princess Diana, their unexpected death took me by surprise; I wasn’t prepared for the emotional jolt, the fact that we wouldn’t grow old together. What would their senior years have brought? Would Elvis ever have faded away? Would Heath Ledger’s star have continued to rise? It speaks to your own life and possible untimely death. It makes me wonder when I will die.
His life and times
When I started looking back on Michael Jackson’s life, I discovered much about him that I either didn’t know or had simply forgotten. I found out that he holds eight records in the Guinness Book of World Records, mostly for his musical achievements, but also one for his support of 39 charities, more than any other entertainer. Through his foundations, he has donated millions of dollars to the poor, the hungry, the sick. I was also reminded that, as a child, he was continually abused by his father, a claim supported not only by the senior Jackson, but by his eight brothers and sisters as well. Even as an adult he was afraid of the dark and slept with the lights on.
The issue that bothers me most is that of the pedophilia, but even then, does that mean he deserved to die? Or that somehow he got what was coming to him? I don’t know and I can’t speak for those who have experienced the agony of abuse. Does his support of so many charities somehow offset the horrific charges against him? Does what he gave outweigh what he took? Was he a sick man who let the sycophants pander to him, like Belushi or Marilyn? Somewhere along the way, he dropped the reins – was it his fault that he wasn’t in charge of his life? Maybe.
I wonder what will happen to his children. Will they be as strange as their father? How does being raised with a veil covering your face, (or a burqa for that matter) shape your life? Will genetics or fate step in and save them from circumstance or is it too late? Will they forever be known as “the children of Michael Jackson” or can they ever break away and make their own future?
Money and happiness, not always compatible
For all the fame and fortune that Michael had, it seems his personal demons nestled in and never left him. They didn’t care who he was, but he was good eatin’ and they made a meal. We’re all familiar with demons and how they operate – ignore ‘em and they grow. Soon they’re giving advice and before long they’re running the show. Over time and with proper nourishment, some demons get so big that there’s no fighting them, they’re too powerful. Their hold is strong – all they have to do is remind you of your insecurities and how you’re not fooling anyone. Then it’s over.
I have so many mixed thoughts and questions about the life and death of Michael Jackson. Whether you like him or not, it’s hard to dispute the fact that he was an icon, that five decades of his music will influence generations to come, and that his personal story will be forever clouded with doubt and shame. He lived a life that was so bizarre, I can’t even imagine it.
No one likes to speak ill of the dead. We search for the nice things so say in a eulogy, the person’s strengths, what a good cook they were or what a green thumb they had. Their peccadilloes are brushed over or not mentioned at all. Even in death-row inmates, we elaborate on how they found God or of the fine rehab work they have done with other inmates. The nasty and the mean must have something positive that can be said about them. Right?
I am not fond of quoting from scripture but the passage “let he who is without sin, cast the first stone” comes to mind. How quickly would we forgive the wrongdoings of a Dick Cheney or a Bill Clinton if they were to pass away? Does someone have to die before they can truly be absolved of their sins?
I can hear your quick reply “of course not” but I’m not so sure it is a question that is easily answered. Do we ever forgive the truly heinous (Hitler)? The horrible (OJ)? The despicable (Bernie Madoff)? Where do you draw the line? Or do you turn that decision over to a higher power?
You tell me.
“That’s a horrible picture of you.” The woman with the frizzy hair pointed up to the large banner with the caricature of me sitting in my Coffee Blog cup. “It’s really bad.”
“Do you think so?” I replied, taken aback. Not only was her manner brusque, but I actually thought the picture was somewhat flattering and I’ve had worse. (First photo after giving birth – not good)
“Terrible. Not good at all. Your hair looks like a wig and your face looks fat.” She looked around. “Are you giving anything away for free?”
I handed her a pair of cotton gardening gloves with the word “MOM” stenciled on them. “Thanks for stopping by.” I smiled sweetly. “It has been a pleasure.”
She looked disappointedly at the gloves as she dropped them in her bag. “My advice – get a new photographer.”
“A real pleasure,” I repeated as I glanced over at Dawn, who was gently peeling a man’s very hairy hand from her arm. “Dawn,” I called out, “can I talk to you?” She looked at me gratefully as she made her way out of the corner in which she had been backed in to. We needed a code word.
Here’s the dealio . . .
Situation analysis . . . BEA – BookExpo America, the largest publishing conference in the U.S., New York City, May 2009. Windy City Publishers was making its debut and I, along with partners Dawn and Kristyn, was manning our booth on the convention floor. The lines to get in were long and we were crazy busy from the moment the doors opened and a brave librarian threw herself across the entrance threshold, determined to be the first to get Fabio’s autograph. No one had the heart to tell her the Harlequin icon hadn’t been there since 1995.
My friend, Debbie, who helps run the show, was kind enough to garner us a booth in the middle of the action, a stone’s throw from Random House and Simon and Schuster. This gesture was testament to her willingness to let bygones be bygones as earlier this year my husband had gotten into a heated discussion with her. The debate had concerned some ridiculous provision in the contract for the booth space, and we almost didn’t go as he told me, “You can’t sign this, it’s too one-sided.” But the threat of divorce can be a serious one and he quickly changed his tune and made nice with Debbie. “I understand,” she told me apologetically, “he’s a lawyer.”
Don’t judge us by our junk!
Authors, publishers, book sellers, book buyers, librarians and anyone who was willing to pay the piper roamed the two floors of the large convention center. Our goal: to get as many of these fine folk to stop by our small 10 x 10 booth and listen to our pitch. The hook? Junk.
Last January a local warehouse outlet store was going out of business and I struck a deal with the manager to take cases of the cheesy merchandise off her hands for, literally, pennies. The thought at the time was to hand out the Speed Racer tire gauges, rulers that said “girls rule”, gardening gloves (see above), Rubik’s cube erasers and a number of other “gifts” as bait to lure the folks hustling by into the WCP booth.
But Dawn and Kristyn did not share in my excitement. They didn’t find the charm in the golf balls that said “dear dad” or the lighted magnifying glass shaped like a dog. “I’m not sure how to tie that in with publishing.” Kristyn, ever the marketer, told me diplomatically. “They don’t even say Windy City Publishers.”
“It’s just the fact that they’re free,” I said. Thoughts of my cheap relatives passed quickly through my head – had I unknowingly become my father? “Everyone likes something for free.”
My argument did not convince them and we struck a deal. I had one hour after the show opened to make my case. If the gifts did not perform as I expected, the Ice Age II bouncy balls and Harry Potter stickers, along with the other treasures, would be pulled and stored behind closed doors. We could then join the ranks of the sophisticated other vendors who were above such nonsense and hopefully Windy City Publishers would have enough time to earn back the respectability that such a stunt might damage.
The Big Bet
Dawn was so confident they were right, she offered to kiss a certain large part of my anatomy for a year if I was proved wrong, and Kristyn joined in the bet, both women convinced that I had relapsed and the bizarre voices in my head had returned.
It could have been the fact that I stood in the aisles shouting “free stuff” or that I practically stalked the patrons walking by, but within minutes it became obvious that the pink lava pens were a hit. Say it with me, friends . . . we like free junk! I know I’ll take anything (two if it’s small) of whatever you want to give me, even if I have no need for it, no place to store it or don’t even know what it is. I actually bought 1500 of the Rubik’s erasers, knowing that I would have at least one item for birthday gift bags for all the foreseeable future.
But people pushed into our booth, jockeying for position. We overheard librarians claiming that we gave out the best chotchkies and they would pass on our location to their friends. The booth was busting at the seams, folks spilled out into the asles and we couldn’t keep up with the crowds. We did manage to spread the good word of our company and collected hundreds of business cards in addition to talking non-stop for three days. We met some really great people (hi to Ray, Barbara and Peter) and some really interesting people (translation: strange).
I’m not one to rub it in, but WCP was the buzz of BEA, partially because of our swag, partially because of the scantily dressed models we had hanging out (I’m just pulling your leg – Kelly and Leslie aren’t models). I may slightly exaggerate, but we were very popular. The “gifts” proved to be excellent bait, and I’m happy to report I have a year of special lovin’ coming my way from two of my very favorite people (That would be you, Dawn and Kristyn).
Now if anyone is interested in a Rubik’s cube eraser – have I got a deal for you!
A special thanks to our good friend and design expert, Jeff Comeau, (IntuitDesign) for all his hard work, on both his design work and his manual labor at the show. P.S. Jeff, my leg is fine, the bruises have healed nicely!
I may have mentioned I am not a fan of balls (footballs, baseballs, etc.) but I am a fan of my children. At least that’s what I tell people.
Because I raised my two older kids as a single parent, I got away with whispering in their ear that team sports were only for the “weird” kids. And there was no one to tell them otherwise. Not so this time around. Max and Sam have kicked and thrown and run their way from the hospital, in which they were born, all the way to this year’s basketball league champions of the Inverness Park District. All with the overwhelming support of their father.
This is what I get for thinking
I originally thought the basketball thing would be a good idea because the boys would be gone for practices and games. The added bonus was that as their coach, Craig would too. Now, if I give you the impression that I don’t care to spend quality sports time with my family, then I have hit the mark. It’s true. After 28 years of raising kids and another 11 to go, I value the little privacy I have. If I can steal an hour or two to catch up on Rock of Love Bus Tour (with Brett Michaels – no less), I unabashedly take it.
Our community is fairly small so most of the kids on our “Turquoise” basketball team were either classmates or friends, and Roger and Jay, the other two coaches, are neighbors. But, what started out as a friendly instructional league, (think wiping away tears and kissing boo boo’s) turned into an all out gladiator battle complete with a fight to the death. Worse, I wholeheartedly admit that I became part of the mob scene rooting for the lion to tear the limbs from the nine-year old boys on the opposing “Fuchsia” team.
2-4-6-8 Shout! Chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out!
This is somewhat surprising as I usually could give a rat’s fig as to who wins any game. But I think I smelled blood and this stirred some primal instinct, hidden under layers of latte’s and biscotti, that rose to the surface and spurred me on to places I’ve only imagined.
This didn’t happen overnight. During most of the season, I held court with Sue and Liz in the coveted “coaches wives” section, not paying a whole lot of attention. We shouted out the obligatory “atta boy” every now but spent most of the time catching up on the latest gossip. But as the season progressed and the “turquoise” team rose in the ranks, we couldn’t help but be drawn into the web of excitement that surrounded our athletically gifted young boys.
We ran with the exhilaration that our husbands emoted. During the week, emails flew back and forth between the coaches, twenty, thirty, forty, a day, discussing the various pros and cons of the “picks” the boys could set (I have since learned that “pick” is a fancy name for a rehearsed “play”) . To throw off the other team, Jay and Roger cleverly decide to name the picks after animals and more than twice, I would hear Craig saying something like “Let’s do the Capuchin monkey after the Bengal tiger. I really like the monkey.” They would meet at the local watering hole to discuss in-depth, the strengths of the various third-graders who could best execute the orangutan or the snow leopard.
You don’t win the silver, you lose the gold!
Their hard work paid off and the boys finished in second place. But hold on to your hats gang – the best is yet to come. And that would be the playoffs. I am usually morally opposed to any playoffs because I hate them, but not this time. I found myself grilling my exhausted boys at bedtime, pushing them to recite the moluccan cockatoo parrot pick just one more time.
The day of the big game was cold but sunny. Anxiety hung in the air and I found myself snapping at Craig and the boys for no reason other than the joy I felt at their discomfort. The nervous energy exuded from my pores and I cleaned the refrigerator in record time while the cookies baked in the oven. I realized, in my own special way, I was putting on my game face.
I knew we had a good chance at winning the semi-final game, but it was the championship against the dreaded “Taupe” team that had me eating Oreos two at a time. They were good, but it was their coach that really burned my basket balls. All the parents disliked the loud obnoxious dad that had the nerve to scout the other teams, which by the way, is clearly against the rules. When Roger and Craig and Jay went to see teams with none of their sons on them, it was always out of pure love for the game.
Get in there and win, damnit!
The boys easily won their first game due to the fact that the other team’s best player was in the parking lot, vomiting. Liz, Sue and I expressed our sympathies to our friends from the other team whose sons just couldn’t keep up without their star, but silently and gleefully jumped for joy at the good fortune that had fallen our way.
The championship game was a close one. The lead went back and forth but at half-time we found ourselves down by eight points – unacceptable by any stretch of the imagination. Liz and I decided that this wouldn’t be the case if we were coaching and we criticized our husband’s ability to do even the simplest of tasks correctly. Meanwhile, Roger and Sue were on the sidelines engaged in a heated discussion and when she returned to the stands she commented that there was going to be hell to pay that night. Things were not going well.
The second half was a nail biter – I literally chewed off two of my acrylics while our boys amazingly made the four baskets needed to tie the game. The din of the cheering parents grew increasing louder as the tension sky-rocketed and I barely managed to utter a few words of advice to the ref before he looked at me, put his finger to his mouth and pointed to the door. But we were not to be deterred and I firmly believe that it was our incessant screaming that drove the boys to victory that cold spring day.
Pain is only temporary, but victory is forever
Then there were the parties, the ice cream, the trophies, and the trip to the emergency room for Sue and Roger. Apparently their son had broken a bone in his foot, but like any gladiator worth his salt – he carried on. My husband repeated every play of the game to anyone who glanced in his general direction and after hearing it myself four times, I reminded him I was there.
We still cherish the memories but I’m back to generally despising balls and any game in which they are used. Until next year’s championship. Then I’m in for the kill.
So I’m flying back from LA and I end up sitting next to a real live hippy. A throw back from the seventies, complete with a bushy salt and pepper beard, small round glasses, a Grateful Dead shirt and yes, there is a story here.
If you don’t already know this about me, I despise flying and only do so when a number of conditions have been met. First, I must have a gun to my head. Second, I must be fully medicated and lastly, I must do so alone – as a general rule, Craig and I don’t fly together. I have passed on weddings in Hawaii, bar mitzvahs in Cleveland and spring breaks anywhere we can’t drive. I’m lucky my husband has more phobias than me or I might find myself on eharmony once again.
My seat-mate is starring straight ahead, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he will soon be puting his life into the hands of complete strangers. I notice he orders his first drink before we even begin the safety instructions and it is crystal clear to me that I will not be able to count on him should I need oxygen or help with my seat cushion/water vest. When he throws that drink back and orders another, I make a bold decision, one I have not made in years, but one I know is the right one – I decide to not take my medication. Not only might I be called upon to assist in a search and rescue mission and need to have a clear head, but I am taking a big step, one that my therapists (yes plural) would be proud of. I reluctantly put the valium away.
Could I fly this plane?
I keep myself very busy with Sudoku through the takeoff, but it is an extremely nerve-racking time and I’m not happy. I’m convinced the pilot has violated his vow not to drink during the last 24 hours and I can’t get the picture of him staggering around a strip-club out of my head. It’s only when we reach 36 thousand feet, well past the threat of geese, that I can even begin to work on my goodbye message, the one I leave my children when the engines quit.
It’s a long flight from LA to Chicago and inevitably you must speak to your neighbor, either as you climb across his lap to use the bathroom or as he leans across yours struggling to see the Grand Canyon. I broke the ice first.
“So where you from?” I ask my flying partner.
He’s mumbles he’s from LA and something else, but I can’t make it out. I nod my head like I agree and wonder if the co-pilot is a dope fiend that has managed to slip through the system, undected. I mention good-naturedly that I don’t care much for flying and my neighbor says it “don’t bother him a bit, been doing it for years”. I ask him what he does for a living and when he speaks it’s slow and deliberate.
He tells me he’s the tour manager for the Billy Joel and Elton John Face2Face concert tour. This surprises me. Having been in the “business” for a number of years and met my share of tour managers, he did not fit the stereotype of a sharp, astute administrator, who was generally the only one not drunk or high.
But this is good for me. I have a puzzle to figure out – one that is forcing me not to dwell on the flight attendant’s ditzyness (I can’t belleive she’s qualified to react in an emergency situation, Where’s Sully and his crew when I need them?) and I dive right in.
“Really,” I say. “What exactly do you do?”
Well, he mumbles, he’s not the actual tour manager. He’s the assistant. He’s the assistant, but really more like a personal assistant to Billy Joel. He’s been with him for years, been in the business since the late sixties.
Now things are making sense to me. He’s a glorified gofer. I can easily see him in this position, picking out scantily dressed women from the audience, running to get more sequins for a costume, directing the caterers to pick out the brown M&M’s from the candy dish. But as benign as he appears, it’s apparent what living forty years of a rock n’roll life-style have done; he has that detached personality of one who sees the world revolving around aging men not willing to give up wine, women and song.
Sing me a song, Piano Man
Nevertheless, I have nothing against the “Piano Man”, and his assistant and I share war stories. He shows me the official tour book and points out when they will be in the Chicago area. Somehow talk turns to Van Halen’s former lead singer, David Lee Roth, and the “bimbo brigade” he has paraded through his dressing room after his show (three lucky girls get to stay!).
Billy doesn’t do that, he tells me. But he does have some hot girls picked from the nose-bleed seats and moved to the reserved area directly in front of the stage.
“Really?” I say encouragingly.
“Well,” he continues,” Billy’s married. It’s not for him”
“Of course not,” I reply. I do know his current wife is his daughter’s age.
“It’s for the guys in the band. He does it so they can play to some pretty girls. You know, they’re on the road for weeks at a time and he just wants them to have something nice to look at.”
“That’s so thoughtful,” I tell him.
“He’s that kind of a guy,” he replies.
“Sounds like a dreamboat.” I wondered how many times he’s been married. “You should write a book,” I tell him, thinking all kinds of devious publisher thoughts.
“A book. You know, share the great stories of all the legends you have worked with.” My mind was spinning with the possibilities.
“I do have some doozys,” he drawled, ”I remember this one time, I was working with Joni Mitchell, and we were on a plane…”
I cut him off. “Is this a scary plane story?”
“Yeah, we almost crashed.”
“Um, we’re going to have to put that on hold until we land,” I said, clenching my teeth. “I don’t care much for flying.”
“But it has a happy ending,” he added, coughing that scary throaty cough.
“Evidently. But I’m not interested in hearing it now. Really. Maybe when we land.” I was jerked back to reality and it occurred to me that I could be spending my last few minutes with the roadie next door. Would we hold hands and pray together?
He was quiet for a bit and it was obvious our relationship had changed. When lunch was delivered and I asked him a few more questions, he told me point-blank he wanted to eat undisturbed. Ouch. I guess that’s one book deal that we’ll never get.
But that’s par for the rock-star course. I’ll never meet Billy Joel unless I happened to get plucked from the nose-bleed section and I have a feeling, even though I’m a number of years his junior, I’m still too old for him.
The dress code on the invitation said “Hollywood Glamour.” I glanced at my husband and sighed. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to realize this meant gowns and tuxes. I’m just more of a meat and potatoes kind of girl, that’s all.
My husband works for a very wealthy man. Wealthy, like he owns four homes and has his own plane, wealthy. I must clarify that we do not run in the same circles or socialize much with “the Boss” and his wife, “Twyla”, but as a long-time and loyal employee, Craig (and I) occasionally get invited to one of their soirees.
Last month we received an invitation to “the Bosses” birthday party from “Twyla” (Thin, Wealthy, Yout-going, Lovely and Attractive). They have a home in Beverly Hills and, literally, share a driveway with a very famous movie star, who I am classy enough not to name but let’s just say she and Brad Pitt used to be married.
So we loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly.
Hills, that is.
Swimming pools and movie stars.
As we wove our way through Hollywood, four crossing searchlights beamed out towards the heavens from a location high in the hills. Craig looked over at me and raised his eyes. Wordlessly, I shrugged and wondered if that’s where we were headed. We had entered a different zone, a time zone if you will, and I searched the night sky for the unicorns and superheroes I’m sure had been hired to spirit us away to the party. This was, after all, the night before the Oscars and it was Hollywood / Beverly Hills / LA / Tinseltown / California – anything could happen.
The searchlights drew us in like zombies and, sure enough, when we reached the estate, it was apparent that we had found the mother ship. Security personnel swarmed the base of the drive directing party-goers and paparazzi alike and we followed limousines and Bentley’s up the winding road, past the heavily gated mansion of that famous movie star who was recently in that “Marley” movie, and got in line to valet our borrowed Subaru station wagon.
The wine and the valium kicked had in and I felt oddly relaxed, like I did this every day, like I belonged, like I’d come home. I readjusted my bosom, shook out my hair, and smiled to the tuxedoed men scurrying to open my door and help me out. A large red carpet led from the car to the mansion and I had to turn my head as I walked it, the bright flashes from the photogs camera’s blinding me, and the deafening screams of the paparazzi calling out my name forced me to cover my ears. (Umm… well, I may have exaggerated a bit. Not the part about the drugs and alcohol, but the part where they were screaming my name. All I actually heard was someone say was that “she’s a ‘nobody’”, but at that point, I was living the dream my friends, living the dream)
“Oh-my-God! You look fabulous! Who did your gown?” A woman, who looked just like Joan Rivers but a hundred years younger, rushed over to us and shoved a microphone in our face.
I couldn’t remember the generic name on my label, so I just smiled sweetly and replied “Dior, dahling”. The Joan impostor nodded, duly impressed, and then asked us to say a few words to the birthday boy. We offered our congratulations into the videographer’s camera and then walked into the gala. My fake jewels glistened in the fake moonlight and I walked into the party, chin held high, chest even higher.
Burka, baby, burka
Quick note. The last event I attended in Beverly Hills was for Twyla and “the Bosses” wedding. I had on, what would be considered in the Midwest, classic wedding attire – a long black skirt and a fitted jacket. My hair was pulled back in a chignon and my make-up was . . . normal. In Beverly Hills, my outfit was akin to wearing a burka – I kid you not. The female guests at the wedding wore long sweeping strapless gowns held up by their ample and overflowing cleavage. Make-up and hair were professionally done (duh!) and the jewels, oh the jewels. I swore the next fancy party I attended I would not make the same mistake.
And I didn’t. That night I was not the same frumpy bumpkin that I once was. The moment I stepped out of the family car, strewn with my nieces and nephews toys, I became as charming as Cinderella - or at least, Snow White. After giving Twyla the small gift I had made (fancy potholders), I offered up my fake fur wrap to the butler as though he were my long-lost brother. I batted my false eyelashes, air-kissed (European-style, no less) anyone who came even remotely close and even tucked a business card in my amply displayed cleavage. I refrained from whistling at the speeches and clapped politely when necessary. I thanked the “help” when leaving and didn’t even ask what they were going to do with all the extra food.
After midnight, we returned to the pumpkin for the trip back to my brother-in-law’s place. I kicked off my slippers and struggled out of my girdle (code name – “Spanx”) so I could take my first deep breath of the evening, and sat back for the long ride back to the other side of the tracks.
All in all, it was an interesting night but I couldn’t imagine living that way. I would miss doughnuts and deep breaths (two things that are near and dear to my heart), and just the anonymity that being a “nobody” brings. I would, however, take the rich part. That I could get used to.
It all started with a stone. A Petoskey stone, to be precise.
For all you non-Michiganders, the Petoskey stone is the official state rock of Michigan. Michigan is one of the few states that actually has a state rock, and for those of us who have resided there at one time or another, the Petoskey stone is a continual reminder of just how special this mitten-shaped state really is.
Petoskey stones are a valuable commodity, partly because so many have been snatched up by tourists and eager entrepreneurs, and also because they are very difficult to spot. When dry, they look like any other gray rock, but throw some water on them and the mottled net of veins that wrap round the stone magically appear—truly an amazing geological experience.
It’s not as easy as you think.
My stepfather, Pete, has an eagle eye for spotting these stones. He walks his four dogs daily on the beaches near Point Betsie, where you can find the gems, and he rarely returns home without a pocketful. My mother carefully washes the rocks and then runs them through the tumbler in their garage. The end product is a consistently shiny, lovely stone.
My parents have Petoskey stones piled in large pots on their deck, gathered in water-filled glass vases on the windowsill, artfully displayed on platters on their coffee table, and heaped in a clear cookie jar in the guest bathroom. They enjoy handing out their rocks as gifts to visiting out-of-towners who are awed by the stones but don’t want to fork over the big bucks it takes to buy one (no kidding—large stones can sell for as much as $100!).
Pete and my mother, Claudia, are opposed to selling their stones, but have no problem giving them away to their friend, Bob, an entrepreneur, who is not. Bob makes Petoskey stone lamps, picture frames, and bird houses, and is working on a Petoskey stone mouse pad (don’t ask).
This, my friends, is where my story really begins.
Last summer, as I always do, I visited my mother and Pete in the quaint little town of Frankfort on Michigan’s northwest coast. I was excited not only because I got to visit my parents and their four very large special dogs, but also because Frankfort was having its yearly Art Fair/Garage Sale. This year was extraordinary because, in addition to the usual booths of Petoskey stone pictures, Petoskey stone puzzles, and Petoskey stone animals, there was going to be a real, live local author who had self-published three books.
Now, I had just finished writing my first novel (available this spring!) and I was beyond thrilled at the opportunity to rub shoulders with another writer—especially one who had been published. I left my mom and Pete in Bob’s booth and anxiously searched for the local celebrity.
I found him sitting high on a chair behind a table of neatly stacked books. I casually picked one up, pretended to leaf through it, looked up, and said, somewhat nervously, “I just finished my first one.”
“Congratulations. You read your first book.”
His sarcastic comment threw me off. Normally, I would have chuckled and made some smart-alecky reply, but his unkind tone and my nervousness did not encourage such playfulness.
“Uh, no, I meant writing it.”
“Oh.” He glanced away dispassionately.
I was flabbergasted. How could he not be overcome with curiosity? He was a writer, for Pete’s sake. Wasn’t he the least bit interested in this woman, who had, by the way, spent the last whole year writing? Writing before everyone got up. Writing on my laptop in the car while the boys took tennis or swimming lessons. Writing while the laundry sat in piles or my husband took the kids to Mickey D’s . . . again.
I wanted so badly just to converse with this man that I ignored his rudeness. Maybe we had simply gotten off to a bad start. I tightly clutched the piece of paper on which I had written out the questions I wanted to ask and started over. After the third monosyllabic reply, I finally gave up. My feelings were hurt, I was tremendously disappointed, and I had never felt so strongly that the club I wanted to join was not accepting my kind.
I set the man’s book down slowly and wished him luck. As I made my way back to Bob’s Petoskey stone booth, I contemplated arson, and bodily harm and childishly regretted that I hadn’t made some nasty comment to him, or come up with a devastating put-down, or even said something to the effect that his books looked incredibly boring and amateurish.
But the truth was, they had not. I would have bought all three if he had humored me, or even just said good luck. But he hadn’t. He had lost not only a sale, but also the respect of another human being, another writer, who just wanted to share war stories.
Drowning my sorrows . . .
It took me a couple of banana daiquiris and some old Barry Manilow songs to get over my funk, but the will to live did return. Soon I will continue this exciting saga, and next, tell of my tumultuous rise to mid-level accounting manager (it’ll have you on the edge of your seat!). Or I could just skip to the moral of this story . . . which is – don’t judge a rock by its cover.
I bet you thought I was going to say something like “have faith in yourself” or “never lose sight of your dreams” or “don’t give up”. But sometimes you just have to connect with a person, or catch a glimpse of a half-wet rock, or be in the right place at the right time. Sometimes you just have to be lucky.