Writer * Dreamer * Ice Cream Eater

Archive for the ‘Of Love, Actors, and Acrobats’ Category

Now Available for Purchase!

In Of Love, Actors, and Acrobats on August 20, 2012 at 5:15 am

Bennet of Love, Actors and Acrobats 72 dpi

Click here to purchase a copy or to borrow it for free if you are a member of Amazon Prime!

What’s the book about?

How does a smart woman who doesn’t own a strapless dress and hasn’t had a manicure since senior prom find love in New York City?  By going out on a Saturday night in sweatpants and a faded unicorn t-shirt, of course.  At least, this approach seems to work for Zoe Richards, queen of bad dates and a boring job, newly thirty, and determined to turn her life around without becoming a vapid dilettante in the process.

Haunted by The Dream (true love, familial bliss, and a kickass career), Zoe turns the big 3-0 facing its antithesis.  Her career?  Neverending document review on a toilet plunger patent case.  Familial bliss?  Try coming home alone every night to a studio that could hardly fit a Keebler elf.  And as for true love, that fabled nemesis of many a single woman, Zoe is a walking advertisement for why sperm banks might not be such a bad idea.

When serendipity throws Zoe into the path of Huck Gentry, dreamy star of the hit TV show Justice, Baby!, she must face all of her insecurities.  Can girls with big noses who are in no danger of falling prey to anorexia win the heart of a guy like Huck? Of Love, Actors, and Acrobats is a hilarious look at what happens when you dare to be yourself and take a chance on love.  For any woman who has ever dreamed of changing her life or ever struggled with why things just don’t seem to come together, Zoe’s antics provide an opportunity to laugh at ourselves and think about some of the crazy double standards women today face in pursuit of the perfect life.

What’s the Book About?

In Of Love, Actors, and Acrobats on May 15, 2012 at 12:03 am

How does a smart woman who doesn’t own a strapless dress and hasn’t had a manicure since senior prom find love in New York City?  By going out on a Saturday night in sweatpants and a faded unicorn t-shirt, of course.  At least, this approach seems to work for Zoe Richards, queen of bad dates and a boring job, newly thirty, and determined to turn her life around without becoming a vapid dilettante in the process.

Haunted by The Dream (true love, familial bliss, and a kickass career), Zoe turns the big 3-0 facing its antithesis.  Her career?  Neverending document review on a toilet plunger patent case.  Familial bliss?  Try coming home alone every night to a studio that could hardly fit a Keebler elf.  And as for true love, that fabled nemesis of many a single woman, Zoe is a walking advertisement for why sperm banks might not be such a bad idea.

When serendipity throws Zoe into the path of Huck Gentry, dreamy star of the hit TV show Justice, Baby!, she must face all of her insecurities.  Can girls with big noses who are in no danger of falling prey to anorexia win the heart of a guy like Huck? Of Love, Actors, and Acrobats is a hilarious look at what happens when you dare to be yourself and take a chance on love.  For any woman who has ever dreamed of changing her life or ever struggled with why things just don’t seem to come together, Zoe’s antics provide an opportunity to laugh at ourselves and think about some of the crazy double standards women today face in pursuit of the perfect life.

Enjoy a Preview: Of Love, Actors, and Acrobats

In Of Love, Actors, and Acrobats on May 14, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Prologue

Enter the Acrobats

The acrobats in my head weren’t the kind wearing glitter and catapulting off ponies in a circus tent somewhere near Milwaukee. It was always clear to me that they were the hidden, spy kind of acrobats working undercover to take out terrorists using their unique blend of physical agility and theatrical mastery. Have you not heard of them? I hadn’t either, which is how I knew I was onto something. Who wouldn’t want to read a book about acrobatic spies? Chick lit was out, everyone knew that. But spy novels? No one can resist a good spy novel, especially one with a love story. My spies would be holding the very fate of the world in their hands while modeling True Love for all of us amateurs.

To be fair, I was drunk at the time these acrobats first came to me, parading into my imagination, setting up camp, and refusing to leave. They weren’t born from the happy kind of drunk but rather the “I just saw my ex with another girl and oh yeah I’m also turning 30 and my life is a complete mess” kind of drunk. When the acrobats flew into my mind, so to speak, I was alone in my apartment sitting on the floor in the dark and drinking vodka from the bottle. When I say apartment, I mean closet. Yes, I am now thirty and live in an expensive closet euphemistically called a studio—the sort of place where approximately two Keebler elves could work in comfort. Sadly, I am quite life-sized (probably because I am more inclined to eat cookies than make them).

I had been crying. Ben had moved on, and it hurt more than I thought it would. Coming home to the apartment only made things worse. I had, of course, celebrated other birthdays drunk and on the floor. Right after law school four years ago, Ben and I toasted what seemed like my old lady status and drank cheap champagne until the room spun. I didn’t have any furniture or even curtains then, just a blow-up mattress and a few fold-up chairs we found on the street. Ben made me a card, something silly with a rhyming poem that made me laugh. Singing a slightly off-key version of Happy Birthday, he grabbed me around the waist and awkwardly tried to spin me around, which never worked since I am almost his height. Still, he always tried, and then he kissed me like there would never come a day when we could have our fill of one another.

That was the happy kind of drunk where the world seemed to unfurl with promise before me, and I didn’t care that I could only afford a tiny apartment with dreams of eventual furniture from Ikea. It didn’t matter because I had made it to New York City: home to the country’s most brilliant and most ridiculous, richest and poorest, best of times and worst of times. I had made it, and I had a job, and I was with a guy I probably maybe loved, and he probably maybe loved me too. I was drunk on the city and my dreams, blinded by the sheer magnitude of the lights that shone bright and hopeful like little sparks of possibility.

I was such an idiot. If only I’d known that happily ever after isn’t such a sure thing. I thought I was moments away from holding the world in my hands, but over the years the city lights became less magical and no longer coaxed me forward with promises. And then I turned thirty, and some other girl was spending my birthday with Ben, and things were standing still or maybe even moving backwards. I was hardly living the dream, but suddenly I could imagine acrobatic spies fighting terrorists in the throes of true love. It could happen. I had to believe anything could still happen.

I could write a story where The Dream would come true, and if I could imagine it, then surely it must be possible. Growing up with visions of princesses dead to the world until true love’s kiss, I am an expert on The (straight girl’s) Dream. The Dream is a shackle and a mirage, impossible to shake off and beautiful to imagine. If I met an alien from another world and its super high-tech translation machinery were broken, I could explain The Dream with just four photos (glossy and perfect like a spread in one of those magazines that make us feel bad about ourselves):

1.  Girl laughing and running down a white sand beach. Her long hair is blowing like ribbons behind her. She is barefoot and slender. There is a boy running behind her. He is tall and athletic. In the photo, the girl is looking over her shoulder, her grin easy and uncomplicated. You can’t see the boy’s face. He could be anyone, which makes him exactly the person she wants. The alien knows desire.

2.  The same couple. They are on a boat, maybe a yacht, next to a small table with champagne glasses reflecting the setting sun. The couple is standing entwined next to this table, as though they could dance right off the deck and into the distant sunset. She has her arms around his neck, a huge diamond glinting on her ring finger. They are lost in each other, completely unaware of the person taking the photo as their angled heads form a heart. The boy appears to be brushing the hair softly away from his beloved’s face. Though the faces are mostly obscured, the tenderness in the photo makes the alien’s heart ache. The alien knows love.

3.  The girl is wearing a long white dress and veil. The strapless dress clings to her slender hips. Her arms are toned and hairless. Just for kicks, she’s wearing a little tiara (which beautifully toes the line between timeless and trashy). She holds a huge bouquet of white roses and lilies in one hand, her arm gracefully bent around her husband’s neck. The man is in a tuxedo and has his arms around her waist, lifting her into the air. You can only see his broad back, but they are caught in the full twirl of motion—her dress and veil blowing about them, the circle of life. The bride’s face is turned toward the camera, her head thrown back as she laughs in delight. You can see part of the man’s face angled up toward her: a strong jaw that smacks of personal integrity and the suggestion of straight white teeth and a brilliant smile. Even without seeing his full face, it is clear he is Prince Charming handsome. He adores her. The alien knows joy.

4.  The couple stands in a lush park (not a homeless man or piece of trash in sight). The man is tossing a baby (since it’s my dream, this baby is dressed like a baby animal, let’s say a penguin) into the air. The man is staring in adoration up at his child. The photo captures the moment just before this little animal child leaves the father’s hands, a laugh of delight caught on the baby’s face (when you take the baby penguin outfit into account, it’s possibly the cutest thing the alien has ever seen). The woman has a hand curved protectively over a pregnant stomach, her other arm around her husband’s waist. She leans into him and smiles up at her baby. The alien knows contentment.

Oh, and P.S., the girl appears to be wearing a lab coat in the park photo, so she must be a doctor or a physicist or something, and the man has on a Rolex (clearly not a fake one), so there isn’t any doubt that they’re doing okay for themselves.

This, my friends, is The Dream (well, my dream, which is the only one I am qualified to describe). Basically, The Dream is a little sick in the way that all obsessions with an image of perfection are a little sick, and even though I know it, I can’t really shake it. As a liberated modern woman, I grew up knowing it was okay to dream out loud about being a doctor or a physicist who wins the love of a good man because of my amazing personality. But in my head, I always suspected that winning the love of a good man might be easier if I aspired to be the sexy kind of doctor and/or physicist. You know, the kind who dresses like the Halloween costumes with high-heeled boots and a stethoscope for show and then runs alluringly down the beach with hair billowing in the wind on her way to the hospital/lab.

Don’t you know any career women like that? I assumed they were the ones who had boyfriends and got married. I was more likely to be in sweatpants without mascara, which probably meant that instead of being married, I would be updating my cats about my awesome progress with mitosis. But, I strongly preferred the perfection trifecta: a great job, an amazing husband, and eventually a family. The problem with The Dream is that it needs all three parts to work.

I admit now that it was bold to attempt The Dream with the acrobats. It seems obvious there aren’t many beaches in Afghanistan to stage the love scenes. But I wanted to bring an impossible dream to life, at least on paper. I needed to remind myself that there is no real reason why thirty turns The Dream into a time bomb ticking in your hands and threatening to self-destruct. Even if I came home every night to an empty apartment and spent ninety percent of my life at a job I found about as meaningful as counting the number of Cheerios in box after box to come up with a statistical average, it wasn’t too late for me.

I can tell you now that the acrobats did change my life, even if not in the way that I wanted (spoiler: this story does not end with me winning the Pulitzer Prize). But from the first moment the future Brock and Stacey backflipped into my imagination, I recaptured the hope that my dreams were getting ever closer, and it wasn’t ridiculous to believe that love was out there.

Chapter 1

The Hard Facts of Life: No, You Can’t Just Stay 29

I.

“Hello?” I croak.

“Happy Birthday!” Scarlett screams. Scarlett is my oldest friend, which is the only reason I will continue speaking to her after this 5 am phone call. Perhaps I should add sleep deprivation to the list of factors contributing to the amazing acrobat plot that will come to me in approximately 18 hours.

“Happy? It’s 5 am!” The bomb shelter ring of my cell phone has my adrenaline spiking and heart hammering. Jolted out of a deep sleep, I fumbled frantically for the phone to stop the racket. Unfortunately, the only solution to the ringing that occurred to me in my panic was to actually answer the phone. Big mistake. I make what must be the millionth mental resolution to learn how to change my ringtone and grope in the dark for my bedside lamp.

Scarlett, as usual, is too ridiculous to be tolerated at 5 am. “Congrats on starting your best decade yet!” she trills into the phone. My eyes feel like someone has rubbed them with sandpaper—definitely not a sign of the best of anything so far. “Am I the first to wish you a happy big 3-0?” Scarlett prattles on into my sullen silence.

“Yes, Lettie,” I grudgingly admit. Scarlett hates being called Lettie, which is my revenge, “. . . but for once why not be the second person to wish me happy birthday? You know, the person who calls me at 8:30?” I channel my usual chipper morning manner. “I still want to be friends with that person.”

“Don’t be grumpy,” Scarlett commands. “Today is your day. Start it with the right attitude.”

“A full eight hours of sleep would have helped with that,” I point out.

“Prepare to seize your best decade yet!” Scarlett gets back on message and continues as though I haven’t spoken. She is in advertising and is used to ignoring what people say and instead telling them what they want. I wonder how she came up with the “your best decade yet” bit—knowing her, she had a team of interns working round the clock to come up with something “empowering” and “hopeful” and “likely to discourage thoughts of despair” for exactly this moment. Despite myself, I admire the decade approach, which buys her some time to say “I told you so” even if the next five years hopelessly suck.

“Right, best decade yet,” I mock. “Off to a great start as I wake up alone at an ungodly hour in an apartment the size of a phone booth.” I swear I’m not normally this bitter (I hope). I blame the lack of sleep.

For a beat there is silence. Scarlett and I are now at war. Who will win the attitude contest? Scarlett is a valiant opponent per usual: “At least you’re not living with your parents. Or with a roommate who shoots up heroin in the bathroom. It could be worse.”

“Great, thanks,” I roll my eyes, forgetting the sandpaper (ouch) and the fact that I am entirely alone, so there is no one to appreciate comedic eye rolls anyway.

Weakened by a 14-hour workday followed by four hours of sleep, I am not my usual match for Scarlett. Emboldened by my lukewarm comeback, she rises to the occasion, embracing her role as life coach/cheerleader/best friend. If she were in front of me, I would kick her in the shins (or not, because she is pregnant, and only a real loser assaults a pregnant lady). “And you live in a country where you’ve had the opportunity to get a great education. And you can go outside without a burka. And drug lords don’t control your neighborhood. And . . .”

Things are quickly going south. “Scarlett. Seriously. I get that it could be worse. It’s too early for this.” I cut her off before she starts going into the “You’re smart, you’re pretty, and gosh darnit, people like you!” bit.

“Well, if you don’t want a pep talk, then try to have a positive attitude. Have you read The Secret yet?”

The Secret is a major bone of contention in our relationship. Scarlett swears it changed her life. I think it’s a bunch of mumbo jumbo designed to prey on the kind of sad, lonely people whose credit cards are maxed out from calls to the psychic friends network and cat food. “Is that the book you sent me?” I play coy, knowing that after skimming The Secret, I would rather move inside a killer beehive and have my eyes stabbed by a thousand stingers than punish them with any more of The Secret.

“So you’re still refusing to read it?” Scarlett manages to sound betrayed, disappointed, and martyred all at once.

“I think I saw it on Oprah and that was enough for me.” I hope that, in honor of my birthday, Scarlett will let it go, but no such luck.

“Apparently you didn’t really get it though because if you did, you’d be more careful about the kind of energy you put out there.” Now Scarlett sounds wise and beneficent, like the Dalai Lama talking to an axe-murderer. Unfortunately for her, I am awake enough to finally recover some of my game.

“Oh, right,” I intone sarcastically, “because if only I were more positive, I could visualize a hot neurosurgeon husband into existence just in time to bring me breakfast in bed right now while quoting a few of Shakespeare’s mushiest sonnets and giving me a foot massage before he lets the black lab out into our picket-fenced yard. It really is such a shame that all those starving children in Africa don’t know about The Secret because maybe then they could will more food into their villages if they just changed their attitudes. And the terrorists? If only they knew that they could will democracy into oblivion simply by visualizing a world without democracy and then believing in that vision with all their hearts and souls. Wow, I mean we really should get news of this . . .”

“Look,” Scarlett interrupts hotly, “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.”

“ . . . over to Amnesty International. If only those political prisoners around the world knew that they just have to see, I mean really see, freedom to be liberated from their jail cells . . .” I continue talking over Scarlett, which is probably rude of me given that raising her blood pressure might be bad for the baby.

“GOODBYE,” Scarlett is practically screaming in order to cut me off, “I love you, but I can’t have you ruin my vibe this early in the morning.”

“What about my vibe?” I retort, “Aren’t I the Birthday Girl?”

“GOODBYE,” Scarlett cannot be placated, “Happy birthday,” she relents before hanging up on me.

“Thanks,” I say to the now dead line. Winning this battle of wills with Scarlett will end up being a highlight of the day, though I don’t appreciate it as such until hours later.

II.

By the time I make it to my birthday party that evening, I feel like I’ve been hit by a car, a bus, and a small but decidedly strong child on a bike with spiked wheels. Since I’ve already come clean and told you I’m a lawyer, you’re not sympathetic to my dilemma, right? We lawyers get what we deserve as the bloodsuckers of society, I know, I know. But, remember that Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer. So was Gandhi. I think the Dalai Lama seriously contemplated becoming a lawyer before all that crap with China went down. So, try to summon a little sympathy for me before you judge too harshly, especially in light of what awaits me at my birthday celebration.

Also, in my defense, I’m not really the kind of lawyer who tries to get off rapists or mobsters. I don’t skulk around in smoky backrooms wiring piles of money to offshore accounts after helping some criminal find a legal loophole. In fact, I don’t really do any of the bad things that lawyers supposedly do (at least I don’t do them in an obvious way). I’m the kind of lawyer who works at the bottom of a pyramid of other lawyers who instruct me to read a lot of boring stuff all day and then write a memo detailing all manner of irrelevant and likely useless things that I then give to another lawyer.

Maybe a few choice boring tidbits from my memos ultimately end up as part of some corporation’s move for world domination, but from my perspective, it’s more mundane. How much can Company A’s toilet plunger look like Company B’s toilet plunger before A can sue B for stealing the design? Yes, this very issue is in fact the current case I’m working on. It might surprise you to know that some of the best and brightest minds in our country, drawn by the money that companies like A and B can funnel into thinking about just such a fairly-pointless-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things question, spend their lives considering “issues” just like these. Screw world poverty, global warming, and cancer. Brilliant minds are needed elsewhere.

This fascinating toilet plunger question is actually, believe it or not, more interesting than my last case, which tackled the following incredibly intellectually stimulating issue: If you go bankrupt and owe eight people money, why do you have to pay this person before that person, and how can our client cut in line to get paid first?

You get the point. It’s not exactly the kind of job that gets you nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but the money is good (or it would be if I weren’t buried under a mountain of student loan debt), and I work with (mostly) nice people. At least these are the things I tell myself every single day, multiple times a day, to justify not getting up and quitting my job on the spot to do something more meaningful, like become a street performer or a traveling salesperson. Also, there is free coffee, as much of it as a person can drink. You may or may not have guessed from the tenor of my thought processes, but I am a huge fan of coffee. I can at least say that about my thirtieth birthday: the coffee was hot and plentiful, and I was fully caffeinated.

Sadly, the coffee comes at the price of being at work, where I have to encounter Naomi on a daily basis, including my birthday. I share an office with her and am constantly fighting back the urge to ask her the same two questions: 1) Why don’t you duct tape your mouth shut? and 2) Will you text message the police if I do it for you? So far, I have never actually asked her these questions out loud. Naomi is made from the worst of New York City. She has zero percent interest in other human beings unless they can somehow help her on her path to . . . I don’t actually know what her goals are. My best guess is that she wants to be beautiful forever and richer than Gisele.

She suffered through three years of law school (or at a minimum some obscure online course that awarded her a legal degree straight from Uzbekistan), so she must have at least some ambition to do something. Or maybe not: as I’ve explained, ours is not really the work of Bill Gates or even the kindergarten teacher down the street. Naomi has confirmed my belief that just about anyone can be a lawyer. That is, assuming that she even is a lawyer because I’ve never seen her do any work. I have no idea if she even bills hours. Maybe she couldn’t even manage an online law degree and is the niece of some partner doing her family a favor. Given her personality, she might have just wandered in one day and demanded a desk and computer and proceeded to use our office as a base of operations ever since. You’d think that with the economic downturn, she might want to consider being useful, but so far she’s had more pressing things on her mind like why three-way calling is no longer en vogue and how to text without damaging a fresh manicure.

My point is that it’s unclear where Naomi came from or where she’ll end up. You’d think we may have discussed these things as two people sharing an office, day after day, but as you’ll see, ours is not a sharing and caring sort of coexistence. I don’t even know where she’s from, though I imagine that rather than being born, Naomi just spontaneously gained self-awareness inside her Barbie box, somehow willing herself into sentience with the same selfish one-track determination that seems to dominate every subsequent moment she’s spent on planet Earth. I should also mention that I would kill to know how long it takes her to get ready in the morning. Her glossy chestnut hair, poreless face and perfectly plump lips don’t just roll out of bed that way—she may never sleep.

Naomi seems to spend half of her workday online shopping and making appointments for manicures, pedicures, facials, waxes, and spa treatments and the other half gossiping with her equally vapid coterie. Since Naomi and I don’t exactly socialize outside the office, I have no idea who these people are or what amazing contributions they might be making to society, but from the conversations I overhear, their goals (such as they are) seem mostly focused on getting free dinners, drinks, and trips and doing everything possible to be mistaken for models without actually having to model (“which would be, like, soooo degrading to not be taken seriously!”).

Sharing an office with her decreases my productivity by about a thousand percent (yes, I favor hyperbole) but also makes me laugh out loud at least once a day and in my heart, silently but with great mirth, at least once an hour. It may just be worth it. Anyway, it’s not jealousy (well, not entirely) that leads me to loathe Naomi. She’s also mean as a snake.

Today, for example, I arrived at the office out of breath and drenched from the rain that started in a strange sudden downpour and dumped buckets of icy water all over me before I even registered the thought of fishing through my purse for my umbrella. The wind tried to lift me into the air Mary Poppins-style before giving up and blowing my umbrella inside out nearly as soon as I opened it. I finally sloshed into the lobby of my office building like a partially drowned rat. The gleaming marble floors, Gothic pillars and huge potted palms hearken back to a temple Cleopatra might have built—if the slaves could be spared from the pyramids. Uniformed security guards didn’t even glance my way as I dripped by and joined the press of suited bodies filing through the electric turnstiles with efficient taps of identity cards. Somehow I was the only person who looked wet.

Three separate elevator banks service the building’s forty floors. Only ten belong to my firm. The rest are home to an international bank, a clothing company, and a magazine. I whooshed up to the thirtieth floor and emerged to the tasteful art and muted colors of Parker & Turner’s lobby. After waving an abashed hello at the secretary behind the big oak desk, I ducked down a side hallway and finally into my office. New York office space is scarce, and as associates, Naomi and I share a cramped cubby that partially makes up for its minimalist dimensions with state-of-the-art computers and a huge window overlooking the Hudson River.

Naomi was at her desk, cell phone nestled in the crook of her neck and a nail file busily coaxing a wayward oval back into shape. Though often Naomi doesn’t acknowledge my arrival, she looked up from her filing and smirked as I shut the office door behind me. Perhaps as a convivial birthday gestures, she even decided to grace me with a few pearls of wisdom:

Naomi:            Um, have you looked in a mirror recently?

Me:                 Yeah, this morning. Why?

Naomi:           It’s just, your hair.

Me:                 Yeah, it’s a little wet. It’s raining out.

Naomi:            (into the phone constantly attached to her ear) No, it’s just my officemate.  She apparently got caught in what must have been a phew-nami if her hair is anything to go by…

Me:                 Do you mean tsunami? They don’t have those in New York.

Naomi:            (scathing look before returning her full attention to the phone) Yes, I told her she looks awful, but anyway… no, I’m not mean, I’m just honest. Anyway, Winston and I are going out again tonight. I almost said no because last weekend when I had the girls with me, he was like, “You expect me to buy drinks for all of your friends?” and I was like, “Is that a problem?” and then luckily for him he said “No,” but I was like, “You’re lucky you took me to Paris last weekend because I’m starting to think you’re cheap.”

Me:                 (toweling off my face with some napkins from my desk drawer and shooting irritable glares in Naomi’s general direction) Naomi, I have a client calling any moment now.

Naomi:            (no acknowledgement I exist) And then he’s like, “Baby…”

Me:                 (increasing the volatility of said looks and angrily throwing now soaking napkins into trash basket) Naomi, seriously, can you take your personal call into the hallway until my client call is over?

Naomi:            (does not look at me and continues her conversation) No, he doesn’t know about Eric, but Eric will be working out of the London office for at least the next month . . . No, Eric swears he wasn’t the one who sent me the flowers! He said he’d never refer to himself as a secret anything.

So, I end up conducting a client call to the backdrop of Naomi’s productive use of work resources to navigate her strangely complicated international social life. When I’m not on calls and have filled my humor cup for the day, I use earplugs 100% of the time, and I don’t think I need to explain why. Now you might actually be thinking that I exercise restraint in only wanting to use duct tape. A lesser woman would totally have invested in a stun gun by now (and don’t think I haven’t thought about it).

Purchase for just $2.99, or borrow free of charge if you’re a member of Amazon Prime!