Friday, December 28, 2012

Slammin': Things are about to get "Orated."

When the delightful Pam Hill asked if I would compete in the third ever Scranton Story Slam, my initial reaction was one of surprise, nausea and overwhelmingly reluctance.  A bit like oral sex.  In what universe does that sound at all appealing?  But, I am ever swayed by peer pressure; I knew others who had done it, friends who I am sure wouldn't lie to me, who told me I would be "awesome at it and have a damn good time!"  And so, I donned my best underwear, sprayed twice, and took a deep breath.

I give you my oral all:

I won't give you the running commentary.  But let's say, if you ever catch me flicking my hair nervously like that again, please give me a Chinese burn.  Thanks muchly.

The seven minutes or more--probably more--flashed by in a blur.  I was nervous, not just the flutter of small lepidopteran wings in my colon, but like, oh God almighty, Sigourney Weaver Alien Baby about to breach, and Lord knows there was not enough room in that dress for any kind of stomach issue!

Now, dear Reader, I know what you are thinking, "But Eleanor, you were an actress, this talking in front of people mullarkey should be a cake walk!"  Well, no.  No, acting is quite different.  Acting you can be someone else.  Acting, you are regurgitating lines from someone else's mind.  You can blame them.  Story Slamming, is all you.  It is YOU under the lights, strapped to an imaginary chair, a chainsaw whirring through your cranium to cut a slice of brain for microscopic inspection.  You are judged: for delivery, for eloquence, sometimes boob retention, but mostly for content.  It's one thing to be thought talentless, quite another to be considered dumb.

There were several times I tried something new--I was spontaneous--and it didn't quite hit the spot, but the peel of laughter from the Thespos at the back, implied I was, at least, going in the right direction.  Then I got to the broccoli bit--the physical flailing where I am in danger of losing my mind as well as my boob, apparently--and the adrenalin was hitting hard.  I just wanted to get to the end, reach the climax of the story and roll off the stage for a glass of pinot noir and tuna bite.  I writhed, shrieking like a banshee and as I dropped to my knees, I looked up, eyes wide, took a breath and it was the best feeling in the world; my vision sparkled with the glint of white teeth, the reflection of eyes, spectacles, pints of beer, glasses of wine; the glisten of sweat, and gums, tongues and tonsils; people were listening to me.

I didn't win, but it was okay, I'd had my own personal victory.  I had made it through my oral!  I had found my voice, "Yes!  Yes!"  People had listened and laughed!  And I had done it all without a wardrobe malfunction.

Friday, December 21, 2012

My Lowes Point. In which I learn I cannot find studs alone!

I am a fish out of water in home improvement stores.  I walk through the automatic sliding doors, crossing the portal into—Gloria Steinheim, forgive me—Mandom, and I have landed on the moon, or in a swamp, or Nanticoke; somewhere that is clearly, clearly uninhabitable.  The air, it’s heady mix of wood, and oil and GRRR power tools has a chemical composition that is impossible for me to breathe.  That’s it, dear reader, it’s a chemical thing: I drown in home improvement air.

It shouldn’t be foreign to me.  It should be air I can suck on like Michael Phelps does a hookah—I mean, like he does oxygen… when breaking through the surface… when swimming and winning gold—oh what?  Wait.  Nevermind.  The point is, I should not be out of my element here.  Home Improvement is not rocket science.  I’m a woman, that means I actually READ instructions.  I should have this DOWN!

I remember visiting frequently enough as a child and more recently, Friday or Saturday date nights with the ex-Beloved.  Pre- or post- dinner often involved a stop to trawl the aisles of Lowes for some mind-numbing screw, flange or whirligig.  (Perhaps this is why we are ex-?)  

Dating tip #354: when your date is all dressed up and excited to spend time with you, do not add in a “quick trip” to do a chore on the way or return journey.  Firstly, it’s never quick.  Secondly, do you want all the bearded people in Lowes to stare at your sequined and sparkly date like she’s the freak show?  Thirdly, she doesn’t care if you need to spackle your sheetrock.  Spackle can wait.  There are more important sheets to rock.

Since home-owning, not to be confused with ho-moaning, I have counted Self quite lucky.  So sure, I had a run in with the furnace and the local fire department ; I had to change my internal bath tub plug thingy doodah; and I almost decapitated Self when trying to take down an unexpectedly heavy light/fan, but really, I am blessed.  My Lady Lit friend who recently bought her first house had a calamity and schooled me that home-owning was not all it was cracked up to be.  Her sewer pipe backed up and she had to wade through a sea of poo in her basement.  Really, that makes one reframe, doesn’t it?  Everyday I don’t have to be calf-deep in cesspit of piss and shit, must be a good day! 

However, although I grasp a challenge with two manicured, yet determined hands, although I can read, there are things I just don’t know; there are items I just cannot lift; there are heights I just cannot reach.

Take the TV.  Simple enough, you may say.  Nope.  Incorrect, Sir.  Not easy.  It’s a project.  I bought this wangle-dangle TV.  I gave in.  After the torrent of outrage following last week’s blog ( ) that I did not have a screen to place Papa Smurf in front of, I folded and decided, maybe it was time to join 2012 before it ran out.  Sadly, Papa Smurf flew to Blighty the day I bought it, so he has yet to enjoy the technology dans la maison.  Also, I have been doing much entertaining of late and gathering a friend or group of friends to cluster around your much-smudged laptop to watch fuzzy, interrupted youtube clips and re-runs of Dancing with the Stars, does not an equipped host make.  I capitulated.  I surprised Self.  I really did.  I went to a certain grey goods store (it was almost as hard for me to breathe in there as Lowes, but I held my breath and smiled broadly), and I became educated on the difference between plasma, LED and LCD.  Oh yes, people, I know shit now.
After the general spiel, I opted for the Smart LED TV.  Bill explained I could do lots of wangle dangle things with it.  Oh goody.  I did explain to him that I don’t really watch TV, and that I also have an ‘I’ phone that I don’t really use to it’s full capability, but still, it sounded like maybe, if I read the instructions, I could do this!  I could enter the modern age.

After the deal was done I decided a bracket was what I needed.  No clutter or table to dust, I wanted it on the wall, preferably behind a secret sliding panel, a la James Bond, but failing that, definitely mounted!  I bought the mount.  Then began my endless visits to Lowes.
I walked up and down each aisle, squinting at the labels, looking high, crouching low, scouring for dry wall anchors like some crime scene investigator in glorious, impractical Technicolor.  I spent twenty fruitless minutes combing the area and regretting the sequin mini skirt that made bending over relatively precarious.  A bearded chap—I see Home Improvement Junkies all have beards—approached me and asked if he could help me.  Of course, the little purple pack was right under my nose. 

During his weeks here, Papa Smurf had equipped me with a drill and a spirit level.  Of course I told him I would never use them and ungraciously asked him why ever he would bother getting me those useless items—though the level did, I notice, have a nifty ruler on it.  Yet, he was right!  Now was the time, the time for TOOLS!  I tip-toed down to the basement and retrieved the new drill, the level and the plugs and laid them next to the TV.  I felt very accomplished; a bit like a chef, with all the ingredients chopped and minced neatly in little white bowls all ready to start creating!

But, GAH!  There was one ingredient missing.  A vital one.  I couldn't just nail it to the wall.  I needed... a Stud Finder.  I put a message out, certain that my handiest dandiest friend would respond.  He didn't.  Instead a number of kind offers to lend me their Stud Finder.  

Side note: I have never been very good at learning the right song lyrics.  I have always preferred to make up my own--it masked errors through originality.  I'm telling you this, because just hearing the words Stud Finder, regressed me to 1980's Grease 2 and I was a Michelle Pfeifffffffffer’s singing: “I need a Stuuuuuuuuuud Finder!  A Stuuuuuuuuud Finder!”  If you are a Chap Reader, that will mean nothing to you, so here's the video.  (No need to thank me.)  If you are a lady reader, I hope you find this as irresistible to sing along with as I do.  I digress.  But one last thing, don't you love how she is supposed to be 17 years old?  Yeah.  17 plus 7 years. 

Despite these studly offers, the logistics proved more complicated.  And so I thought, Fuck it!  I'll buy my own and do it myself.  You never know when a stud finder might come in handy.

So I returned, breathed deep and with the help of the bearded people, found the Finder of the Studs.  What a great little tool!  If only I could take it out in public and hold it up to every likely lad.  It could save much wasted time.  I found my studs, lying inert under the surface, like a diamond, or gold, or a decaying corpse.  

I imagine I looked a bit like this.
 (And that's shadow in my armpit.  I am British, not German.)
Now, you know this is not my thing.  I write, I teach people about their skin, I do not roll up my sleeves and transform into Tim Allen.  I am lanky, gawky and ungainly.  I make drunks look elegant even when I’m sober.  So picture me now, trying to hold up this large TV above my head—like Atlas—with a pencil in my mouth and the spirit level clenched under my arm, trying to get an idea of where the TV should go.  How do men do this?  Don’t they have the same two hands I have?  How do they hold all these things?  Does a penis naturally endow a chap with an extra hand?  Does it have elephant trunk like skills?  

I juggled the awkward screen in my hands, propping it up with my head, the lightweight television becoming lead-weight with every passing minute.  What didn’t help was the telephone which persisted on ringing, and the slippery hardwood that I had mistakenly spray polished when dusting the dining room table.  I juggled and slipped, dropped the spirit level on my toe, and in the end, slid to the floor, holding the prized screen up like some chalice I must save from the swamp of defeat.

I felt pretty demoralized.  I am sure Papa Smurf could have done it on his own.  Yet, I had failed.  I just couldn’t do it alone.  Sorry womankind.  So, I lit the bat signal, shone it over Scranton, and the cavalry arrived, in the form of my dearest friend's boyfriend: big capable hands, strength and oodles of patience.  The screen that I had sweated under, juggled, death-gripped, he held in his hands like it were cardboard.  He explained the mechanism of the mount and tossed the TV up on the wall with the effort I take to place a fridge magnet.  I was about as useful to him as a scuba diving tank to a fish.

I like to think I am pretty capable.  I like to think I am not a damsel in distress, but a dame with power tools and a dress; yet, sometimes there are tasks one woman cannot do alone; she needs a broader arm span and bigger hands.  Now I just need Mankind to need me for a task that requires smaller hands, a loud voice and bad ass limbo skillz.  No, I can't think of anything other than cat burglary either.  Don't ask me to do that, but  if you need these able digits to twiddle the hard-to-reach wires in the light fixture, I'm your gal!  Or snake to reach the pipes at the back of the dishwasher, I can do it!  Or sit back and watch her new smart TV, ah yeah, I'm on it!

Thank you, Batman.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

FUCSSUE. In which I read something I shouldn't have.

I read something that was not meant for me today.  I didn’t mean to, but I did.  It wasn’t like I picked the lock on someone’s diary—I am not twelve—or that I scrolled through their text messages—I am not jealous soul--but it was just... there and I just… oh whoops, read it. 

Of course you can’t “accidentally” read something, can you?  It reminds me of the Sandi Toksvig novel Flying under Bridges: "How do you get accidentally pregnant?  You don’t just fall off a stool and accidentally land on a penis, do you?"

Reading takes intention.  You have to focus your eyes and string the words together, your brain makes a choice to do that.  You could, at any moment, stop yourself after that first “oopsie” word; realizing it’s not for you, you could close your eyes, turn off the computer, throw your hands in the air and wave ‘em like you just don’t care.  You could.  But would you?

You see, Facebook chats being left visible; texts popping up, readable under the nose of someone they are not meant for; texts sent to the wrong person, it happens every day.   I have heard many of the Closests lament to me that they have sent or received or left messages visible for an Unintended.  And then they have laughed, or cried, or both.  Ah Technology!  You can be a cunning little fucker when you want to be. 

There’s a term for this Reader, it’s a Communicatory Fucssue: a fucking issue, that literally, “fucks you.”  I have never really been exposed to this kind of exposee.  Well, not in adult life.  As an annoying little sister it was only my duty to steal into my brother’s bedroom and try to read anything that was specifically not meant for me.  An invasion of privacy, certainly, but don’t worry, I was always on the receiving end of a sound beating after every reconnaissance mission.  How did he always know when I had been in his den?  How?  I was always so bloody careful!   I was like a seven year old pink ninja, in a leotard, ballet shoes and gloves.  That scene in Entrapment with Sean—GRRR—Connery and Catherine—Queen of Wales-It should have been me-Spartacus-Zeta-Douglas-Jones, sliding and crouching and planking through the security net of laser beams?  That was me!  Yet, every bloody time:  “ELEANORRRRRR!”  I would hear yelled with obvious I’m-going-to-beat-the-ever-living-shit-out-of-you-you-little-turd tone and I’d be up like a character in the Hunger Games listening for the direction and speed of his footfalls and sprinting in the opposite way as fast as my little pink legs would carry me—never fast enough—and I would always be apprehended, upended and tackled to the ground, my legs kicking uselessly in the air and screaming for Mum.  Yeah, ninja.  Completely.

Perhaps it was this early, painful punishment of childish curiosity that made me resolutely, vehemently fanatical about others’ privacy.  I have never read anyone else’s mail, email, texts or FB messages without their approval, or rather insistence, that I should for some reason.  In fact, I like to think that I veer the other way; when the Pavlovian conditioning, that makes me look to the cell display on the table as it illuminates and vibrates, is finally overridden by the realization “Oh shit!  That’s not my phone,” my neck almost snaps to look away in the opposite direction.  Messages are only supposed to be seen by the sender and recipient, right?  Right.

But this, this bait and lure left visible on my own computer was just too much. 

Let me set the scene.  Papa Smurf, known to some as Michael Caine, has been visiting his favourite daughter.  Well, his only daughter.  Oh we’ve been bonding (by that I mean eating and drinking) and aside from the pressures that a visit around my busiest work time of the year, multiplied by the aggravation of uncooperative household projects, we’ve been having a jolly good time, I think. 

But it’s hard, when you have lived independently from your P.U. (Parental Unit,) not to get a wee bit claustrophobic.  The '1's On The Ridge is hardly Wayne Manor; I can't send him to the east wing, the billiard room or the library.  I don't have a TV to plop him down in front of and distract him while I get on with things, so it's a smidgen awkward.  Writing this has been the most constantly-interrupted piece of all time.  I can only look at the screen for so long while he is talking at me before politeness kicks in and I have to break away again.  I have, however, put specific days and evenings aside to see my Papa—I was feeling very Good-Daughter-Cordelia-Smugface about this.

Dad has become reacquainted with the area and has been enjoying the company of my friends.  I threw a dinner party—okay, he cooked, but he likes that, and it was my idea; I threw another party, complete with St. Germain and champagne, and a veritable fromagerie of cheese—I may be crap at throwing balls, but boy do I like throwing parties; we’ve been to jazz at Bazil, Blues at the Back Yard Ale House, I took him to Gannon’s for beers and wings, what more could a darling daught do?  I did shit, People! 

And I was obviously doing a bang up job, because..."recalculating"... Papa Smurf 180-ed and decided that instead of buying a home and a boat in North Carolina, he will buy a home in NEPA!   I was rather surprised by this idea and the sudden geographical “U” turn.  Long have I thought about how nice it would be just to call my parents in the morning and say, “Let’s go for a trot around Lake Scranton and then out to lunch at State St!”  Many are the times that I have wished I was able to include them in a Bond Party, or Oscar Doodah, or seasonal shindig.  There are so many places I want to take them; so many people I want them to meet.  And yes, there’s always been that little silent speech bubble in my brain: where will you be if I have a baby?

But then the idea of North Carolina appealed too.  Oh, somewhere new to visit!  Somewhere warm!  Somewhere in the same time zone!

This new turn of events, therefore, made me quite discombobulated.  Did Papa Smurf really want to be here with the welcoming community I had fallen for; what about his boat, sunshine and retirement idyll?  Surely, thought I, both are mutually exclusive.

Yet, he is gung ho!  He has been salivating all over the property websites like I salivate over the cheese section at Wegmans.  He has been in cahoots with my darling friend Kathy Casarin from Coldwell and they have set up property viewings (without me)!  So, it's fair to say, Papa Smurf is serious.

It’s as we were discussing this around the kitchen island that he said, 
“Well, you mother has written me a long email about it.  She thinks I am giving up my dream of having another boat…” 
“Oh.  Well, round here it’s not really boating weather 9 months of the year.  And the local lakes aren't really, you know, the Atlantic Ocean.”

And that was that.  Papa Smurf went to the bathroom to continue the endless and soul-destroying many-layered wall paper stripping, and I clicked closed my lap top and toddled off to work.

Then it happened.  In my studio in Wilkes-Barre.  I opened my laptop, restored my Google Chrome and there it was: the email on MY Google Chrome.  Papa Smurf never uses my Google Chrome.  Papa Smurf always used the regular blue Windows Explorer internet dooberry.  But this time, he had logged in, and the tab was there, restored in front of my eyes.

I should have closed the tab.  It would have been easy enough.  But I didn’t.  After all, I was interested to know what dearest Mama had said.  I wanted to read her opinions on this sudden life changing decision.  And it was from Ma!  The person I know best in the whole wide world.  So, Dear Reader, Mum, Dad, I read it.

I won’t go into detail.  (I’m trying to make a point it was private after all.)  But, to read one's mother's carefully thought out opinions, including the concern that their daughter never has time for them and she probably will never have children anyway, made me realize five things:
  • I must make more time for my parents.
  • I really hope they move whenever they will be most happy, and if that is near me, I will be pleased.  We can always vacation somewhere warm with beaches and lighthouses.
  • My eggs protest and heart fibrillates at such a death sentence.
  • 2013 is going to be interesting.
  • You should never use someone else's computer and leave your messages open.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pussy Sitting. Tales from the Nanny Poppins Diaries...

A friend in need, is a friend in…DEED.  Or rather, compels a friend do deeds she’d really rather not.  This was the position I happened to face-plant in over the Thanksgiving hols.  And boy, did I face plant in poo.  Kitty poo to be precise.

Monica is one of my very best friends.  When I pulled the keystone block out of life and “JENGAAAA-ed” Self, she was there, helping to scrape up the pieces, feed me wine, drink me hummus (no, really, drink hummus) and she has helped rebuild the strong, happy tower I have today.  When I crashed my car, she is the one who took the call, who picked me up, who hugged me tight. She has mopped up my puke; I have Cloroxed hers.  She has broadened my mind: introducing me to yoga; the Four Agreements; flax seed; recycling; Obama maybe not being as bad as all that; not being afraid to ask for what you want.

She is a truly wonderful, empowered and empowering woman.  But Monica has a problem.  She likes cats.  A lot.  And they like her.  A lot.  (Or as much as pussies can like a human.)  So it’s reciprocated, which is nice.  She is, in fact, like the Pied Piper of Felines; some magical, musical refrain jingles from her door—imperceptible to the human ear—but as loud and clear and alluring to a kitty eardrum as the strains from an ice-cream van on a 95 degree summer day.

Monica has FIVE CATS.  FIVE.  That is four more than one.  Three more than two.  In fact, there has to be a collective noun for it.  If it’s a murder of crows, a pride of lions, a muster of peacocks, a charm of finches, Monica has a “Shitload of cats.”

So, when dear, beloved Monica, decided to join her family over the Thanksgiving break, she was left with a little pussy-sitting problem.  Who, oh who, would she entrust the care and protection of her furbabies to?  Yup, dear Reader, you guessed it.  (She did exhaust all regular avenues first, but being that it was Thanksgiving, and other local cat-lovers had families to cozy in the bosom of, I was it… her last resort.)  “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”

What could I say?  “No thank you very much.  This idea doesn’t appeal at all!  Your furchildren hate me!  They run from me, hide from me, perch places to spy and frighten the b’Jesus out of me!  They plot and conspire against me!  They trail their little toys to the top of the stairs to do away with me!  They’ll probably poo in my shoes!”  But then, she might think me paranoid.  No parent really wants to hear the truth about their children.

So, I agreed.  Sure it was an inconvenience to drive 20 minutes every morning and every evening, but she was my friend and I WOULD DO IT!  I would do it with grace, with a happy face, I would be their cheery, saccharine-singing Nanny Poppins!  What I didn’t realize was a) tasks never take the time instructions say they will; b) her cats REALLY do despise me, c) it’s really annoying to have to leave a date to go and see to your friend’s pussies, and d) 5 cats produce enough fecal material to fertilize China. 

I was sent a list of instructions.  (Monica is nothing if not meticulous about her pussy care.)   The essay was broken down in to bullet points ranging from whose bowl belonged to whom?; the menu and portion size for each individual feline for breakfast and for dinner; and a “play time” regime, in which the kitties needed to be “played with” with feather ticklers and laser beams and what-have-you for “at least 10 minutes each day.”   I felt rather sorry for poor dead Boot, who put up with my childhood mawlings and dinner presented only once a day.  This service at Kitty Manor was surely, the Pussy Ritz, the whole five star spa and wellness with an organic sprig of daily love.

 I was under-trained, and over-committed for this.  Pass the vodka.  And a straw.

My first day of Pussy Sitting was right, slap-bang on Thanksgiving Day.  I was happily enjoying the company of friends, halting on libations, aware of my imminent duty, and that is when the first text came.
“Have you fed the kitties yet?"  My heart slumped.  It was already 7 and I had missed their first feeding window.  (My instructions were to try and serve dins between 5-7.)  Oh God!  Bad Nanny!  How could I mistime my first pussy task?  Ugh!  And now she's checking up on me!  She probably has a Nanny Cam and has seen, from her cabin in the mountains, that I am yet to breach the threshold.  Shit!  Shit!  Lemon shit!

“It’s okay!  I’ve got this.”  I texted as I waved to my hosts and squealed out of the drive.  Ain’t no mountain high enough… ain’t no river wide enough…  As I drove at the speed of light I thought of the new parents who go out on a date and spend the entire duration on the cell to the babysitter:
“Is baby okay?  Is she still breathing?  Put the receiver to her head so I can hear.  And what colour is her poo?  And it's consistency?”  Reassurance, reassurance.  I would text or email her photographs of her delightful  little fluffies, then she'd be content.

There they were, five sets of eyes, shining in the dark and bolting for cover as soon as I flicked the switch.  The two newest additions to the “shitload”, fostered from Indraloka Animal Sanctuary in Mehoopany, Luna and Leo, were the first to give in to my charms.  I greeted them hello with apologies for my lateness.  I had quite the one-sided conversation.  Luna, fluffy and moon faced, just stared at me quizzically as I collected their licked-clean breakfast dishes, and started to fill their dinner bowls, carefully following the instructions, precisely left for me on the counter top. 

I was talking to myself at the time.  Rehearsing, if you can call it that, for a Story Slam I was partaking in the very next day.  As I chatted to the reflection of Self in the stove back-splash, doling out the revoltingly stinking organic cat food, three of the other felines, slowly slinked into the kitchen.  Ears cocked, nostrils flared, limbs primed, eyes saucered.  Only Lulu sulked elsewhere, determined to out wait me. 

The orange tabby, Padme to Monica, Pad Thai to me, stared at me in the back splash. 
“So,” her eyes said, as she leaned back in Monica’s kitchen chair and took a drag of her cigarette, “it’s Nanny Fucking Poppins!”  She blew out a long stream of smoke.  “I suppose you think you rule the roost here, but listen to me, British Bitch, you’ve been away for a while and things have changed around here.  I rule this joint now, ya hear?”  She flashed her claws, heaved her drooping cleavage and stubbed out her cigarette.  “Now, what’s a broad gotta do to get a square meal around here?”
I served her last just for spite.  She viewed me with contempt and as I lay her dish down and I told her in no uncertain terms:
“I will not be eye-spoken to like that, Pad Thai.  I’m here for a while so you better get used to it, or I will tell your mother.”  She looked up from her dish, paused her languid eating, that moist cat food squelch making my skin prick, and I swear a small, smug smile crossed her lips.
Why did I feel like she had won?  Why did I feel like I would return in the morning to find something… nasty?

Of course I did.  And although, I cannot assuredly identify the perpetrator, I am pretty sure it was her.  There it was, beneath where the tabby curled in her ball of orange fur, a splatter of puke.  Hmmm.  I tried to remember my Nanny persona, I really did, but Mary Poppins only had to tidy up a play room, she did not have to scrub carpets clean of kitty spew.   Also, it’s not a bloody jolly holiday with Kitties, because you have to sieve the litter for clumps of poo, EVERYDAY.   No, this is not supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

This was surely my least favorite kitty task.  I felt like I was panning for gold, only asphyxiating myself at the same time.  I’m not into kinky no-breathing games.  I like breathing, very much, but breathing and sieving cat shit is mutually exclusive.  As I panned one of the six litter trays, the elusive Ms. Lulu—the white and grey who appeared in Monica’s kitchen one day and never left—emerged from under the bed.  She’s a spoiled little madam is Lulu and the previous night she had stubbornly demanded room service.
“Go away!”  She whispered to me.
“Look Princess!  I am panning your shit!”  I replied—so demeaning!—“I could leave, but really, do you want to have a poo tsunami here?  No.  I think not.”
“But you scare me, with your clicky clacky heels and your high-pitched voice.  Can’t you just be quiet and invisible?” 
The kittens, bounced up the stairs again interrupting our telepathic tete a tete.
“What’s happening?  What’s happening?  What are you doing with our poop?!  Let’s PLAYYYYY!”
“NO.  Ugh!  Do you kids not understand?  Eleanor is VERY busy and important and she doesn’t have time for your shit today.”  I shook the sieve and dumped the last of the poo into my slop bucket.  “Okay, patently, she is making time for your shit today, but she has no more!  None!”  I think that when, in frustration, I actually touched poo with my gesticulating hand.  Ew.

“But… oh… but…  Mommy said you’d play with us.”  Luna eye-implored.
“Yeah.  Mommy said you were nice.  You were just a bit eccentric, but that’s because you’re British.  Maybe Toby was right.  You are just a meanie.”  Leo chimed in.
“I am not a meanie.” I replied, waving my poo-scooper in the air.  “Oh, o-fucking-kay.  Which feather toy should I pick?”
“OOOOOh!  Yay!  The blue one!  The blue one!  Please Nanny Poppins, please!”
I sighed.  I heaved my non-maternal bosom. I dumped the shit, and I played unenthusiastically whipping the feathers for exactly ten minutes.
During this time the two eldest reappeared from their stalking perches.  It was Pad Thai, chain smoking again, this time in a stand-off with the hereto anti-social Toby.  They could not stand further apart and still be in the same room.  It was like a wild west saloon shoot out.  Pad Thai was packing her claws; Toby was armed with his giant green eye daggers.  They hissed, arched their backs, and exchanged expletives.
“Interloper!”  Toby jeered.
“Fat bastard!” Pad retorted.
“No ear…”
“Now, children.  Come on!”  I interrupted, “Pad Thai, speak nicely to your adopted brother.  Toby, just… close your eyes, for God Sake.  It’s like living with frigging Feline Medusa.”
“It’s not Pad Thai.”  She blew a smoke ring in my general direction.  “It’s Bet.  Bet Miggins.  And I run this bar and all the Pussies in it.”  It was true, I had drunk a lot in Monica’s living room, why not be a Saloon of cat iniquity?  “Toby is an ‘it’, he’s got no balls, no junk in his Tom Cat trunk!  He can’t handle me changing things up here.  Look at the little Princess up there, forever in hiding and spoilt in her room!  She won't come down for you, Poppins.  And these kittens, they wouldn’t know a feather from an ostrich.  Dumb balls of fluff.  I’ve lived.  I could tell you a thing or two.  I have the power here.  Mwahahahahaha!”

I flicked the feather more out of habit than as a diversionary tactic.  But it caught her eyes and she broke her focus, suddenly bewitched by the object in my hand.  Immediately she pounced, bounded, rolled and frolicked.  This was not at all the evil Pussy House Madam I had imagined.  She was suddenly not old and conniving, but lithe and a-living.  Leo and Luna joined in the tussle, Toby watched transfixed, Lulu hid.
But three, thought I, three don’t hate me.  That’s progress!
“Thank you, Nanny Poppins.”  Luna purred.
“Yes, thank you, Nanny Poppins.”  Chorused her brother.
“Yeah,” came the smokers rasp, “You’re okay, Poppins.  You can come again.  I may not even spew in your shoe if you treat me right.”  And she brushed her fur up against my calf, weaving between my heels to get closer to me.

And so it was… you can’t make people or cats like you.  You just have to follow the rules, do your thing, break the rules, and hope that creatures like you just as you are.  Or at least when armed with feathers.

Friday, November 16, 2012

From Deadwood to 'Doble, Rome to Rumba! In which I Learn Dancing is Animal!

I used to have good televisual taste.  Way back, when the nights of the week were differentiated by what show was the daily highlight.  Deadwood Day!   Rome Day!  Those were my favourites. 

Deadwood with it’s blood and sweat and filth; characters so real I could smell them reeking from the screen; cursing with their “cocksucker”-ready mouths, depicting a society so degenerate and uncivilized, I squirmed with delight from the corner of my leather sofa.

Rome was similarly base and lusty, but with grapes and togas and incest!   Corruption and betrayal usually triumphed over honor and integrity, and love?  Forget that!  Whatever was good and noble was crushed or squeezed by sandal or fist, was thrust at with knives, delivered with a twist.  The female led, Atia, played by Polly Walker, was my heroine of an anti-heroine; she was neither nice, nor kind, but she was a passionate force to be reckoned with. 

The characters were vivid, the script was sharp, tight, witty and wonderful; amid the grit of these lavish productions, I would often find myself laughing until I couldn’t breathe, snorting like an asthmatic guinea pig.
Every Monday, my weekly wait for HBO Sunday would seem interminable.
But then, both shows were cancelled.  Both were touted to be made into films, but alas, projects that were obviously too costly, or too risky to gamble on.

I started singing, “Bye, bye, my historical porn,
Perhaps it was the cocksucking that won only scorn?...”

But the TV didn’t die.  It thrives on.  I just get can’t, or rather, I don’t allow myself, to get into True Blood, Mad Men, Games of Thrones, Once Upon a Time, Revenge, Nashville, the televisual circus --God, all the hours that would take up!  I have found a replacement though, and it’s not what you would think.  It’s my guilty pleasure, my dirty little secret… it’s hot and lusty in it’s own gyrating way; oh, there is vertical thrusting---lots of it—there are rippled men lifting scantily-clad females up and down and round-about like they weigh nothing, and the competitors are fed to the lions, the judges giving thumbs up or down, it’s… oh God, don’t judge me…  Dancing With The Stars.

Yes, bring on the too-white teeth, the spray on tans, the hair lacquer, the lettuce-diet.  We're not in Deadwood anymore, Toto.

I know.  I know.  I should not be condoning reality TV.  (Jobbing actors don’t hate.)  I know this is cheap programming taking acting opportunities away from professionals, but BOY this is entertaining!   The relationships, the effort, the physicality, the flesh, the sequins!  It’s a visual feast, this celebration of dance.  And it boggles my mind that someone who loved two programmes so seemingly opposed to reality TV, could be enjoying this harmless family-fun show so much!  Where’s the bleary-eyed, greasy-haired, pale-faced Al Swerengen, delivering his dramatic, almost Shakespearean, monologues to camera, shouting for more whiskey, whores and blowjobs?  Where’s the tangible, breath-holding lust of Mark Anthony and Atia going at it like rabid rabbits in a Roman orgy of wine and silk, with servants listening at doors?

It’s a different type of drama, but there is drama; there is life, there are stories, there are emotions in dance.

Now, perhaps I should confide to you, dear Reader, that I have always had a bit of an emotional tango, a love-hate relationship, with dance. Ballerina Eleanor, was not a thing of beauty.  Ballet En, was in fact about as stiff and wooden as a stick.  A flat, straight, unbending, uncurved, inelegant stick.  I started ballet at about the age of six, one of a small group in pigtails, pink up-the-bum leotards, itchy-mcscratchy tutus and hand-knitted pink wrap-around cardigans.  There was nothing comfortable or practical about this strange ensemble.  I recall, I regularly froze and spent the whole class itching.  The one item I did like was my fairy wings: a gauzey, iridescent panel of fabric that my mother had sewn for me, that gathered up the back and attached to my middle fingers with elastics. 

I thought I was amazing in those wings!  That this pointless, highly-flammable synthetic material conferred on me the power to dance!   I didn’t need Superman’s unitard, or Ironman’s metal, or Batman’s reinforced bat-shield armour; I had NYLON!

Most of the little girls in my class dreamed of being ballerinas, or princesses.  I didn’t.  I think this was principally because I wasn’t very good.  My limbs didn’t curve, so there were no such things as elegant swaying arms, they were goal posts; my jete leaps were vicious karate kicks with the attendant facial expression that was far from ballerina-serene.  In the Nutcracker, I was cast as a rat.  I think that really says it all, doesn’t it?

But, even though I did not dream of ballet shoes, I did love to dance.  I really clearly remember-- I couldn’t have been more than 6 at the time— my great Auntie Joanie had come down on the train to visit.  She sat in the big, red chair, by the window, and, as I flapped around the lounge, pirouetting and slamming into the splits with the grace of an intoxicated, baby giraffe, she asked me if I wanted to be a ballerina. 

I didn’t know this then, but this was quite the loaded question, as Auntie Joanie, back in the day, had been a dancer.  She lived to dance!   (She now has replacement hips to show for it.)  But the war scuppered her dancing dreams and lead to a career in the WAF instead.

It is one of my earliest memories: Auntie Joanie’s face in the soft light, her sparkling expression, her twinkling eyes watching me dance.  Her hands clasped, encouraging and applauding my improvised moves that probably looked as if I was in pain or being electrocuted.

“So you don’t want to be a ballerina?  Tell me, what do you want to be?”

I flapped my wings, shucked my itchy tutu, kicked it off into the air, and told her I wanted to be a stripper! 
She gasped, and then she laughed, and my mum laughed, and somehow it wasn’t scandalous, or perverted or anything, it was just me being a show off.  Now, don’t ask me how or why I even knew strippers existed, because I don’t know, but I thought if I would get to flap my wings and dance with no clothes on, that was alright by me!

Times have changed of course.  Shit, I have to be sedated before I peel off my togs in front of someone.  Give me gas and air, a vodka, a valium, a glass or three; but, give me strategically-placed sequins (or fairy wings) and I could dance the light fantastic until 3 am!

So when I finally stop working, I draw the curtains, light the candles, pour Self a glass of pinot noir and I get down and dirty with DWTS.  It’s quite the guilty treat.   Some friends mock me for this bizarre down shift in En’s programming.  But I won’t apologise for it.  There is merit in such a show, and while it may not be winning Emmys, like Deadwood or Rome, it has all the elements to make you feel.  And isn’t that the point of entertaining television, to make you think and feel emotions?   I sit there transfixed, holding my breath, mesmerized by the wardrobe, the talent, the choreography and I can’t help but sway and feel like I am wearing my fairy wings; slinking like an alley cat as the couples rumba, breaching like a serpent as they tango, flaring my nostrils as they paso doble; and in my mind, I can really dance. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

"I am INVINCIBLE!" In which I learn, pride comes before... a fire truck.

You recall that character in Golden Eye, Boris the Computer Programmer, played by the incomparable Scottish pixie, Alan Cummings; who, thinking himself the master brain, the King of Computer Code, raises his fists in victory and shouts in his rolling Russian accent, “I am invincible!”  RRRRemember?  Yeah, I was feeling like that: a Smug-Face, a Cock-Sure, a Chest-Puffer.  

In spite of my inability to read the instruction pamphlets for new appliances; in spite of the fact I have not replaced the blown light bulb that died oh… two months ago; I felt so sure of my abilities, I took on the… plumbing.  And I thought I won.  I thought I was, indeed, invincible.  But pride comes before a fall, or before a small drama involving a fire truck, five disgruntled firemen, one Scranton cop and a British bird in furry boots.  But I am getting ahead of myself…

Since moving, Home Ownership has been fairly uneventful—thank God—because I am not the kind of girl at home in overalls.  Please don’t misunderstand me here, dear Reader, I was not brought up to be a princess—I believe I have told you of that sad hospital mix-up in which I was not born to Lord and Lady Fortescue-Asquith-Smythe-Smythe-Featherbottom—the sibling and I were always made to help.  I'd be forced to collect the grass cuttings, fling the dog poo on the compost, weed the garden, iron the linens—oh yes, I was a regular little Cinders.  

Dad could and would fix anything, whether building walls, plastering, wiring, installing bathrooms and kitchens, making dressers, vanity units… you name it, my Dad put the ‘D’ in D.I.Y.  There was no electrician, builder or plumber, he was just known as “Dad.”  This was my paternal parental example.

My mum had a Singer sewing machine.  She was a post war baby—she would want me to make that very clear—but still the attitude of "make do and mend" was instilled in her upbringing.  She was hands on.  A do-er and a fixer of material things.  This was my maternal example.

But a little confidence, and no skill, should not a newly home-owning instant plumber make.

When I walked into my home yesterday, I expected the bone-chilling freeze of the outside to quickly  dissipate and my breath to disappear in front of my eyes again.  It didn’t.  I sat attending to my emails and kept my coat on, clouds of carbon dioxide puffing from my mouth.

 “By heck, it’s chilly!” I texted to a friend, which prompted me to inspect the thermostat.  It was 54 degrees of chilly.  It was then, dressed like a Christmas Carol reject, in pink fingerless mittens, I realized that the reason I was cold was that there was no heat dans le maison.  Quelle horreur!  Sacre bleu!  Mon Dieu!  MERDE!

I twiddled the thermostat.  I cranked it all the way to the right, beyond the 80 degrees.  Nothing.  Not a sound from the usually vocal old radiators, not a bump, thump or hiss. 

And so, with phone in hand, I made my way down the narrow, darkened stairs to the underbelly of 1111.  There it sat: the mighty, sleeping metal monster, surprising silent. 

Clutching the phone, a friend text-structed me to light the pilot light.  Sounded easy enough, thought I.  But as I removed the cover, the flame was clearly there, snoring away.  What followed was a comedy, a farce, an hour of feverish texting of photographs of every tap, faucet, lever, spigot; twisting, turning, with eyes half-closed, squatting in cream woolen mini-dress, furry boots, fluffy hat and fingerless mittens.   Finally a reluctant yank of the yellow lever and an oily black liquid gushed into an existing and—fortunately for my plumbing-inappropriate fluffy footwear—well placed pitcher.  The water line in the tube bobbed.  Things were happening! 

And then my dear, dear friend hit on the motherload… “How to flush out your American Standard furnace” courtesy of Youtube.  Because, guess what, Reader?  Furnaces, boilers, whatever the hell they are, GO OUT WHEN THE WATER LEVEL IS TOO LOW!  Duh!  Why did no one tell me this?  Do Americans learn this at school, because we Brits don’t!  Because every single smug son-of-a-goat has nodded sagely when I have retold this part of the story and said, “Oh yes, didn’t you know that?  You need to flush the old water through.”  NO!  No, I did not know that.   Had I known that I would not have spent the best part of an hour dancing like a constipated gazelle fannying around with phone in hand, twiddling knobs and pledging sacrifices to the Heating Gods.

However, Youtube-enlightened, I was able to half-fill the water, as instructed!  And the whoosh!  The roar!  The beast was awake.  I DID IT!  I WOKE THE BEAST!  AND I STILL HAVE EYEBROWS!  YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!  And there, in the depths of 1111 I partied for one with the hoots and hollers of a match-winning Superbowl touchdown.  It was ridiculous.  I WAS INVINCIBLE!

Or so I thought...

I grabbed my bag, reapplied my lip gloss, and sallied forth into the cold, breathy night.  I shan’t discuss the who’s, and where’s, but I enjoyed the bar banter, reenacting the story of my plumbing victory and crowing about my new skillz!

Hours passed.  Wine was sipped, pool was played, topics were traversed, finger tips touched, lusty looks exchanged.  And high on this elixir of surprise success and hungry hormones, I toddled off home excited, content and looking forward to a well-deserved one-to-one with my pillow.  It was nearly 2 am after all.  But it was not to be. 

As I closed the garage door and stepped ever closer to the house, I could hear something.  A sound I had not heard before in this obnoxiously loud, rattle-and-thump house.  It was a beeping.  A constant, pro longed beeping.

Gingerly, I twisted the door handle and pushed.  The house was warm now and I could feel the wall of newly-encouraged heat greet me.  I breezed through each room, trying to find the source of the beeping, the constant, tinny alarm.  Finally, I found it, the First Alert smoke and carbon monoxide detector, right at the top of the landing.  I rushed back down the stairs, nose in the air, inhaling deep yoga nostril-fulls.  (Okay, in hindsight, not smart, but I had to eliminate smoke as the cause.)  

I pressed the basement door handle tentatively, alert to the temperature of it; wondering if behind it, the woken beast was hungry for more than just water, and was burning up the underbelly of my house.  But the handle was cool.  I opened the door just a crack, then wider until I was assured I would not be flash fried by back draft.  I clipped down the stairs, the furnace greeting me with it’s familiar heat-producing growl.  Nothing a foot.  And yet the alarm still beeped.

I ran back up the stairs, texting frantically,
 “Are you awake?”
“Houston, I think we have a problem.”
“My alarm is going off.  No smoke.  Perhaps carbon monoxide?”

I pulled off my boots and started leaping for the alarm.  I jumped, stretching, reaching high, but precariously placed above the top stairs, I could not touch it.  I brandished the screwdriver neatly stashed in the bathroom—don’t ask—and leapt with it aloft to hit the alarm off.   Still it would not stop, in spite of my stabbing.  Finally, I neatly hauled Self up on the wobbly banisters and plucked the battery from the alarm. 
Ah!  Silence.

By this time my phone was blowing up.  Concerned replies, pleas to “GET OUT NOW!” suggestions to open windows, call the fire department, to bed down elsewhere.

I replaced the battery.  It continued to beep.  I removed it, sighed, and dialed the emergency number.   The voice on Dispatch was kind and courteous.  He said it was probably nothing, but I shouldn’t risk it with carbon monoxide, you know, being a silent killer and all.

My!  What a big hose you have!
So there I stood on my porch, in the early hours of Thursday morning, hopping from one foot to the other, trying to keep warm, welcoming the disgruntled, ruddy faces of five middle-aged firemen.  Slowly, they alighted from the huge fire truck.  A policeman arrived separately in his car and they converged on the porch, the first two firefighters and the cop trudged into my house.  FD calendar models, they were not. 

It was like a weird, late night, home tour.  “So, this is the reception room.  Please excuse the lack of furniture, I haven’t committed to any yet.”
“And this is my yoga mat…”

I filled the smokeless air with rapid, embarrassed explanations, as they led me straight to the furnace. 
“So, you …err… you did this yourself?”
“Yes,” I replied, with far less enthusiasm and chest-swelling than a few hours previously.  “There was a video on YouTube…” even I thought I sounded ridiculous.
“Well, no carbon monoxide down here.  Looks like you did it right.”  Thank God!  Thank God!  Thank God!
“Looks good to me,” the other fireman chirped in.
“Take me to the alarm,” demanded the first, still all business.

At the top of the stairs the 300 lb fireman balanced daintily on his tip toes and reached high, plucking the whole alarm down from its attachment. 
“Ah!  1999.  See that?  1999.  It was made in 1999.  It’s old.  You need to get a new one.”
“But… but… you are saying it was beeping because it is old?  That’s it?  I find it very hard to believe that it would go off just hours after I have flushed the furnace, it’s too co-incidental!”
“Yeah, coincidence, that’s all.  So, what’s your name?”
He raised his brows, “Is there more?”
“You’re Welsh?”  His eyes lit up.  “My family was from Wales…”

And so it was, that the cop stood down and peeled off in his car; the troop of tired firefighters slumped back to their truck, one of them a little less irked by this B.S. alarm after sharing his memories of his Welsh grandma; and I, exhausted, but happily not suffocated to death, closed the door and switched off the porch light. 

And as I wiggled my toes between my sheets, replaying the eventful evening, I thought that life truly had become a cliché: for pride does come before a fall; but it is better to be safe than sorry.  

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bite Your Tongue! It's about to get lyrical, not political.

Naked: vulnerable or confident?

Define deceit.
Is it that you wear opinions all too neat, and tailored?
A costume of counterfeit to keep your cheeks from glowing red?
You bite your tongue, turning puce, all to be polite,
Waiting for the question that's sure to cause a fight.
While your skin crawls with hypocrisy,
Brawls with the fallacy,
That underneath is clamouring for clemency,
“Please, dear God, let me be heard!
Stop with the drivel, give me a word!”

But the cloak is pulled tighter, stifling the heckles
Smothering the sound of the honest but reckless.
It's moral mutiny!  It's insubordination!
Instead you must practice public relations.
Silencing the clack of the tongue in your head,
As you allow yourself to be too easily fed, wed and taken to bed.
This shroud is a false skin you should shed,
Burst through the cocoon, not afraid to be alone.

There in the flesh, say what you think,
Shrug off the stares, tuts and blinks.
Laugh as they go cross-eyed and stupefied,
Stunned by the audacity that you step outside
The limit. 
Pirouette and pivot!
Gambol and frolic!
Eschewing the accepted, infected established bollocks,
That makes us merely mindless drones, all for profit:
Automated, fixated, fish-eyed, robotic.

Because wearing this clothing, people make assumptions:
That you're okay, assured, a clown at all functions.
The real deceit is wearing a suit that doesn’t fit,
That itches and pulls and disguises the real shit.
Fuck, where's the lust?  
It’s smothered into unwitting acceptance,
Crammed into Cinderella’s shoe that seemed to fit first.
Not now!  Every step, it cuts into your marrow
Leaving it hollow, a fertile field fallow,
As your real passion flows out in furrows.
It rapidly goes.
Leaving the bones empty-full of echoing space,
A place that rattles with grace, but no passion.
You wear it with sad smiling face, this deceptive fashion.

Friday, October 26, 2012

"Ain't No Party Like A Scranton Party!"

It happened again tonight,
“Are you… English?” He asked with incredulity, eye brows raised.
“Yes.”  I replied, glad to be reminded of the Motherland, and that my answer had received a return stare of wonder and delight.  It is merely an accident of birth; my accent an unconscious product of native geography, parenting and schooling.  I can take no credit here.  And yet, in my new homeland, my origins inspire unicorn-like awe.  Scrantonites are quite in love with GB.  For some, it is their dream vacation destination. 

“You lived near London?  Why would you ever leave?”  
I retell the fairy tale about the wonderful Pennsylvanian who swept me off my feet… and then the reality of the relationship that landed me firmly on my arse.
Uncomfortable silence.
Then the inevitable question: “Why would you ever stay?”

It’s a question I am quite used to, yet am always as surprised by it as the stranger who asked it.
I am always rather to tempted to reply, "Clearly, I never found the railway station," but instead I opt for the truth: because it’s home; because everyone has been so welcoming; because there ain’t no party like a Scranton Party.

Let me go back a bit… eons ago, when I was but a 90lb whippet, all ribs, no boobs and a strange velvet jacket fetish, I followed the educational path to Southampton University.  At the time, it was in the top ten for marine biology and since Wadham, Oxford didn’t want me, it seemed a good place to go and sulk for three years.  I invested no time in actually going to visit the halls of residence and picked one solely based on the fact that in the blurb it said Stoneham Hall was "a Georgian Manor, with sprawling green lawns, tennis courts etc.."  I had romantic visions that my accident of birth into a hard working, middle class Gwyn-Jones family, and not the Fortescue-Asquith-Smythe-Smythe-St.John aristocratic clan would finally be set right! 

As my parents drove me and my 18-year-old cardboard-boxed-life into the gates of South Stoneham Halls of Residence, my smug smile shrank, puckered, and then souffled into gasps of horror.  There had to be a huge, gaping, thigh-in-mouth mistake!  Where was the beautiful masonry, the columns, the balconies, the variegated ivy and wisteria spidering up the façade?  Why was I facing a 1960’s great grey stone tower block with about as much architectural charm as a German armpit?

Ah, Stoneham!  But look beyond... behind the tree.... ARMPIT!

I clambered out of the car for a better look, drawn towards the characterless edifice like the girl in the horror flick who opens the door to the masked serial killer.  I eyed my parents, exchanged glances and slowly walked in, accepting my fate.  I unpacked and made by cupboard-sized cell cheery with posters of the England Rugby Team, and secretly, I planned my escape.

I thought I was better than Stoneham.

Then I met people.  Fourteen floors of tower (four of girls, ten of boys—I liked those odds) and a dilapidated old Georgian Manorful of smiling, excited, accepting faces.  And I realized I was not alone in this frightening world.  I was a Stonehamite.  We would go out en masse: Tuesday Karaoke at the Student Union, Wednesday, Ikon nightclub, Thursday Rhino’s for 70’s night, Friday Clowns and Jesters for pints of acid green “Juicy Lucy’s”.  We had the most ugly halls, others mocked us, yet this united us, we belonged!  WE WERE STONEHAM PROUD.

I see this now with Penn State, with my Mary Kay Team and with Scranton, my home.  Mock us, and you only make us stronger, more solid, all for one and one for all.  THAT, is why I love it here!  But it has taken a while for me to work it out.  I think I was in denial, because, I left, dear Reader.  I moved on from this small city that was the first to have electricity, that prospered in the time of coal mining, that has crumbled slightly since.  Like a serial dater, I wanted an open relationship with PA, I wanted to see what else was out there, because I thought there might be a more suitable city.  So, again, I packed my life in cardboard and  moved to Park Slope, Brooklyn.

There I was for ten months, in the city that never sleeps, and I never felt so incredibly lonely.  The only people who befriended and wanted to talk to me were married men.  Sigh.  Not working in an office, but typing away at coffee shops, surrounded by other writers, their heads ostriched-deep in their keyboards, thoughts snuggled firmly in their own self-importance, meant I was surrounded by people who just didn’t give a shit.  I took myself out, adventuring here and there, going through the motions and pretending I was enjoying myself--trying to not think of what night it was, and which venue my friends in PA would be frequenting and laughing, without me--I randomly spoke to strangers in stores, but it is really hard to meet normal people just walking the streets, shopping, and eating bagels.  Lots and lots of bagels.  "Hello! I'm Eleanor.  I'm British.  I'm a writer.  Would you like to be my friend?"  It might work at age 5.  At 33, it rather means I am a serial killer, lunatic, or hooker.

There was a small clutch of fabulous people I saw in Brooklyn.  Very small.  An actress, an agent, a Broadway Producer and a stand-up comedian.  Can four be a clutch?  They were fabulous company and I thoroughly enjoyed our limited time together, but their hours were long and unpredictable, and the call to NEPA: the invites, the demand for work, the positive feedback, was strong. I returned to PA almost weekly for this party or that. I knew this was time I could have been cultivating friendships beyond the initial serial killer/lunatic/hooker introductions, but I missed my existing circle.

The annual Oscar Party that Michaela and I have held for the last four years, gave the final twist in the guts.  There we were, in ball gowns, tap dancing and singing about George Clooney and Brad Pitt, and I looked out beyond my microphone to the beaming faces.  There were over one hundred friends and acquaintances cheering us on.  It was our little event, but it was an open invitation, it has been promoted in the local newspaper, and yet I could name every single person there.  The warmth that freezing February night was palpable.  My heart was so full I thought it would burst, and that is when I knew I was home.  A feeling that brought me back to my senses and resuscitated my lonely Brooklyn-boxed heart.

Two months after I moved to the neighbourhood, my friend texted to ask what I was planning to do with my Sunday.  I responded the same as I always respond, that I would be working. 
“No, it is Greenridge tradition, you are coming with me!” 

An hour later, one bitter October morning, she led me through the streets to the corner of Sunset and Electric.  As we rounded the downhill corner, I saw the mass of people in scarves and gloves—dressed far more appropriately than me, though thankfully I had grown out of my velvet jacket phase—who stood a beer in one hand, a cigar or pastry in the other, swaying to the three piece band jamming on the lawn, cheering on the Steam Town marathon runners.  Whoops of encouragement puffed clouds of happy human exhaust into the air and filled the Scranton morning with merriment. 

Scranton Support!  Like Spanx for one's morale!  Thanks Ridge Resident Rob Lettieri: 
Two of my friends, Chavdar and Eric ran by, exhausted but still raising a celebratory fist in the air and stretching a smile to me, as they battled through the 24 mile mark.  I shouted weirdly excited, yet incomprehensible, noises to see them.  Scrantonites, members of my home team, doing fantastic things!  GO TEAM!

The party didn’t disperse until the last runners had made it through, and this posse of passionate cheerleaders, weren’t the only people celebrating; other house parties gathered with DJ’s, dancing in the streets, mimosas, iceboxes of beers and endless supportive cheers.  
Last week, I was invited to Halloween 14, for this I must set the scene: imagine an ordinary house, on the end of an ordinary copper-leafed cul-de-sac.  In October, as the leaves swirl to the tarmac, a host of decorating friends descend and transform this ordinary home into the Hammer Horror House of All Hallows’ Fiends!  Devils, Ghouls, Ghosts, Zombies, Vampires, Axe-murderers, Chinti and Flava-Bean-loving-Psychos, Monsters and generally scary types with loose-eyeballs and bloody stumps, hang from the rafters, between the sprayed cobwebs, or lurk in the corners, animatronically waiting to pounce, or chop, or frighten the b’Jesus out of you.

Lauren does this for fun.  It could be a professional local attraction, and for the lucky invitees, it is.  And I was one of the lucky few, invited and game to dress up and partake in this Clarks Green tradition.  The level of dress up here, is more than your average costume party.  There are prizes on the line!  More than that, there is pride and honour at stake.  

Now I have been to those half-hearted parties before, where the standard uniform is naughty nurse, naughty cop, naughty schoolgirl, all plastic-packed costumes, highly flammable and 100% acrylic.  You know, the kind of party with Lady Gaga on repeat and slightly brown and crusty guacamole oxidizing in the fetid air.   This party is not like that.  Everyone makes an effort.  Without rivalry or taking themselves too seriously, but because Lauren makes an effort, and so her guests want to repay the compliment. 

That is another thing I like: effort.  At this party, it is a surreal mix of celebrities, cartoons, fictional characters, animals, decades, inanimate objects… all celebrating this sorority of silliness and harmless fun.

I am sure every 'hood has it's good.  But when I heard Saturday Night Live comedians had joked that Hell is, in fact, “14 miles outside of Scranton,” I chuckled, then I frowned, because the masses might actually believe that, and they'd miss that this place has a heart: Tuesdays on the Ridge, Steam Town Marathon Parties, Lauren's Halloween, The Oscar Party, these are just peaks in the social ECG (Electric City ‘GENda), the scene has a pulse, a strong one, you just have to know where to look for it, because it is there, beating and spiking every week.

I returned to NYC last night to celebrate the birthday of my bubbly actress friend.  She gave a toast and quoted from the Into the Wild, a non-fiction book by Jon Krakauer, adapted in 2007 for the big screen.  "Happiness isn't real unless it is shared."  I found myself nodding like an Office bobble head.

So you can keep your pretty castles, manors, rural idylls, cosmopolitan metropolis’, chic palatial estates; it is the people who make a place; and opportunities will come and go, and I hope my travel-lust will never be sated, but it is the people who bring you back.  It’s their shared bonhomie, camaraderie, spirit, it’s the feeling that people support and admire you from wherever you are and for whatever you do. 

So, if you have just moved to the Ridge, welcome, my friend.  I think you are going to like it here.  (And I have an extensive collection of paint brushes, rollers and chardonnay, should you ever need my help.)