On fountains.

It’s sweltering in my house. I was dripping sweat earlier. I went outside earlier, to try and benefit from the meager breeze coming from the bay, and my outdoor furniture was wet from a storm that had passed by earlier but I didn’t even care. That’s how hot it is.

I’m not telling you this for sympathy. I think I’m building character.

My life is quiet and small and plain. Again, I’m not telling you this for sympathy or vague reassurance that my life is not the way I perceive it (that just makes someone feel crazy, doesn’t it?). I’m telling you this to illuminate my character, because this realization makes me restless. I always feel like I’m wasting my time and my youth, that I should be doing more, more, more. So I’m taking baby steps to do just that.

On Wednesday, I went to Princeton with one of my best friends. We strolled the campus like we belonged there, despite me being clad in clothes purchased from Old Navy and not J. Crew or Ann Taylor or anywhere else equally as impressive and expensive. Not only that, but an intrusive coffee stain that was too large to be ignored assaulted the lower-half of my shirt in a way that simply screamed I didn’t belong, that I was totally and completely faking it. But I didn’t let my general sloppiness ruin the trip – I’m not that dramatic.

I dragged my patient and impossibly too kind friend to the university to peruse the F. Scott Fitzgerald archives. I anticipated manuscripts and pictures kept under class in a far and quiet corner of the library. I assumed the public had free and easy access to the most personal belongings of a literary genius, but I was so wrong. We had to register, received photo identification cards to enter a restricted part of the library, wash our hands, lock away our belongings, and specifically select which aspects of Fitzgerald’s life we wanted to access. We did this without complaint (which is saying something considering the heat of the day was blistering and my dear, dear friend never intended to spend 150 minutes looking at the personal affects of some dead author), and were shown into a reading room. There, I made plans to visit Great Neck, Long Island for a long weekend (the setting that inspired The Great Gatsby) and to travel to Hackensack, New Jersey (specifically to see the Newman School, which Fitzgerald attended). My friend and I both flipped through a sort of combined scrapbook of Scott and Zelda, compiled by Matthew J. Bruccoli (the only Fitzgerald biographer that matters) and Scottie, Scott and Zelda’s daughter.

Scott’s drama teacher wrote, “Good God, save the soul of the man with the spark!” in reference to Fitzgerald. What a tragedy; what a shame.

We were presented with a facsimile of the manuscript of The Great Gatsby, complete with edits and revisions in Fitzgerald’s own handwriting, not to mention the entire manuscript was handwritten. I nearly cried.

We read letters from Zelda to Scott, which chronicled the beginnings of their relationship, as well as the more tumultuous aspects of the courtship and marriage. I compiled a list of Zelda’s best quotes.

  • … it’s so easy, and believing is much more intelligent
  • And still I’m so mighty happy — It’s just sort of a “thankful” feeling — that I’m alive and that people are glad I am
  • There’s nothing to say — you know everything about me, and that’s mostly what I think about. I seem always curiously interested in myself, and it’s so much fun to stand off and look at me …
  • … something always makes things the way they ought to be …
  • I love you sad tenderness — when I’ve hurt you — That’s one of the reasons I could never be sorry for our quarrels — and they bothered you so — Those dear, dear little fusses, when I always tried so hard to make you kiss and forget
  • … It seems as if there’s no new wisdom — and surely people haven’t stopped thinking — I guess morality has relinquished its claim on the intellect — and the thinkers think dollars and wars and politics — I don’t know whether it’s evolution or degeneration
  • To be afraid, a person has either to be a coward or very great and big
  • … free to sit in the sun and choose the things I like about people and not have to take the whole person
  • It is odd that the heart is one of the organs that does repair itself

I loved the eccentric, charming and dangerous and alarming details I learned about their love, like how Zelda consulted a Ouija board, and how she blamed Scott for her mental illness but firmly believed he could cure her.

We read Scott’s letters with a painstaking clarity, as we knew of the end he didn’t see coming. It was heartbreaking, really.

I decided the goal is to  write the last chapter of my next book in the Nassau Inn, to truly channel the passion and vibrancy and tragedy of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I found some places I’d like to visit in France, places Fitzgerald went to and found some kind of inspiration, whether for writing or living large.

We wandered around campus for a while longer, sneaking into classrooms, disrupting tour groups, and feeling – even if for just a little while – that grand things were still possible for us.

We ventured into the cathedral on campus and a Starbucks and a book store to beat the heat.

We traveled to Asbury Park for some live music and great company. It was a great day, the kind summers are made of. I intend to have more like them.

I was inspired to write the following short story. Enjoy!

FOUNTAINS
by Mandi Bean

Carlos knew that the equator separated the globe into northern and southern hemispheres, and Carlos also knew that the farther south a person traveled, the hotter the weather became. However, Carlos could testify to the fact, and possibly even prove, that the farther west a person traveled, the same phenomenon occurred. He had lived on the eastern shore of New Jersey his entire life and could say without hesitation, could say with near absolute certainty, that the middle of the state was a burning, boiling wasteland in July – the most uncomfortable Summer month to begin with – and that it served no real purpose. Carlos had traveled west at the request of his fashionable, trendy girlfriend and now regretted it something fierce.

They were traipsing about the campus of Princeton University so that his girlfriend could admire the rich history and breathtaking architecture and blah, blah, blah. It was ninety-three degrees and Carlos was miserable. He felt damp and disgusting in places he didn’t even know could sweat. Still, he took it all in stride, trying to keep his girlfriend happy and blissfully unaware of his discomfort. He said nothing as they walked innumerable staircases to gawk at old buildings and open fields that meant something to someone somewhere, sure, but that person was not Carlos. His mood dangled precariously between “thoughtfully quiet” and “crankily homicidal,” and he offered his girlfriend only interested smiles as she prattled on and on about tradition and excellence and whatever.

Carlos only perked up as they neared the center of the sprawling campus. There was a pool, six inches deep at the most, with a fountain at its center, an impressive, enigmatic modern sort of structure spouting water. Carlos took his girlfriend’s hand and rushed towards it, the way someone might rush towards a miraculous pool while stranded in a desert. But this pool and fountain was no mirage; children splashed here and there, supervised by patient adults who smiled and nodded with a calculated, weary sort of encouragement. Carlos reached the pool’s edge, where wide, flat stone steps led down to the water. He was smiling wide, with a youthful exuberance, and he turned to his girlfriend. “I’m going in,” he stated and sat down to remove his shoes and socks.

His girlfriend offered a sweet smile, totally enchanted by Carlos’ juvenile need to cool and comfortable, by his childish ambitions. He was a beautiful young man with dark features that made him appear to be super intellectual, but in reality, he was nothing of the sort. But his girlfriend, equally as beautiful, was not disturbed by Carlos’ lack of desire for education and all things brainy. It kept her in check, kept a balance in the relationship. “Go right ahead,” she smiled. “I’ll wait here.”

Carlos paused and looked up at her. “You’re not coming in? This heat is brutal.”

She shook her head and seated herself beside Carlos. “It’s hot, but I’m okay. You go in, though. I can’t tell you’re dying to.” She leaned against him for a moment to kiss his cheek. That was all the permission Carlos needed, and he took off, splashing with reckless abandon to reach the fountain at the center. That spewing, falling water was the most efficient way to get cool. He passed the laughing, shrieking children and paused at the base of the fountain. The water fell on him in the most refreshing way and he was content to simply exist, it simply be in a world where water was free to fall where it may. What a time to be alive, what with fountains and pools to keep the intense summer heat at bay. He closed his eyes and attempted to wash away the sweat and sourness of the July sun.

After a few moments, he opened his eyes and leveled his gaze. He was surprised to find another adult, another wanderer about campus, engaging in the same activity. She was gorgeous, and Carlos also noted the way the woman had been equally as daring, had strode in the same way Carlos had, not caring for the onlookers or any kind of judgments. There was only the oppressive heat, and the refreshing relief of the water, roaring down from the fountain and tinkling as it reached the pool surface. They both appreciated the opportunity, had seized it, and now stood breathless, together in their choices and ideology, but separate in their strangeness to the other.

Carlos breathed a simple “hey.”

The woman nodded, and kicked water up at Carlos. That was her greeting; that was it. Aside from the playful smile, she had offered nothing, not even her name. But Carlos was game. He returned the splash. In a matter of moments, Carlos and the woman were doing their best to drown each other. Their raucous laughter and innocent challenges drowned out that of the children and even the most dutiful of supervising parent stole a glance at the two grown adults making complete asses of themselves in the fountain on the campus of Princeton University.

But, as do all things in life, the splashing lost its appeal and became old and tired. Carlos looked back to his girlfriend and found her reading (there was always a book in her over sized bag). He waved goodbye to the gorgeous, wild and free woman he had spent the last ten minutes with. Without really thinking about it, Carlos returned to the studious, safe and responsible woman waiting for him out of the water. He supposed that was the way it was supposed to be, that for every soul willing to get lost at sea, there had to be another anxiously waiting on shore.

As he came nearer, dripping wet and breathless and smiling, Carlos’ girlfriend looked up and barked a laugh. “Am I glad you drove,” she teased, “because you would never ever get into my car like that.”

Carlos bent to swiftly kiss her before she could protest or squirm away.

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On near misses.

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For someone who believes in, and more often than not relies on signs from the universe, I’m constantly missing those signs. I’m frequently guilty of missing the point, as it were. It is usually only in hindsight that I am appreciative and finally realize that the Universe was trying to alert me to something.

I left Busco Beach ATV Park in Goldsboro, North Carolina around 9:30 yesterday morning. On the main highway in town, I was stuck in a line of cars waiting for the longest freight train I’ve ever seen in my life. I was patient and waited. Now I wonder if those ten minutes that felt like an hour made any difference, if those ten minutes affected my journey in a crucial way.

About 45 minutes later, I was merging onto I-95 and nearly had to swerve to avoid hitting a giant vulture and some other small bird feasting on a carcass in the middle of the interstate. I’d never seen vultures feeding in real life, only in the movies and on television, and it seemed especially stranger the birds would land and feed on such a busy road. It was a gruesome reminder of mortality, regardless if the location seemed unrealistic.

Some time later, I ran over a blown tire. The sound was loud and startling, but the collision was harmless. Another sign, perhaps, but of what?

The trip was mostly uneventful after the aforementioned incidents, aside from irritating pockets of traffic, until I reached Baltimore, Maryland. I was traveling over the bridge that ended in tunnels near the Port of Baltimore. I was being attentive, wasn’t distracted by my cell phone or iPod, but none of that positive, defensive driving seems to matter. Somehow, an orange construction cone (one of the big ones, shaped more like a tube and reminiscent of a garbage can) was left behind. There was no obvious construction, no other cones or material left behind – just the one thing. The car in front of the truck in front of me decimated the cone, smashed it all to bits. The truck in front of me slammed on its brakes, and I had no other choice but to do the same. I also swerved to the left, into the shoulder.

For a few terrifying moments, I was convinced I was going to crash into the concrete barrier, wedging my jeep between that median and the back end of the truck in front of me. I saw it all happen like some lame scene from one of those “Final Destination” movies. I’d slam against the steering wheel (would the air bag go off?) and there’d be blood gushing from my nose and mouth. My teeth, after thousands of dollars spent at the orthodontist, would be broken and shattered more likely than not. Would the windows bust from pressure of being squished between the concrete and the truck? I had my seat belt fastened, but what would that have really prevented?

But I’m okay. There was no crash, no sickening crunch of glass and metal, no screech of a scrape against concrete. The whole awful mess was avoided and I kept on driving, kept on going. There was no time to stop and investigate the accident that had almost happened, no time to figure out how it had been avoided. Pieces of the orange and white plastic flew by, circling end over end along the shoulder. The sound of my squealing tires reverberated in the air but only for a moment. Life kept moving.

And I was okay.

I think that’s the message from the Universe: Mandi, life changes and keeps going despite your personal dramas, and you’re okay. You’re going to be okay.

So I’m listening very seriously to my mom when she advises me to work on myself, to be happy with me. She seems convinced that once that happens, everything else will fall into place. I’m starting to agree. The ideology makes sense, but it’s also exhausting feeling guilty for absolutely everything that happens in my life. If friends hang out without me, I immediately wonder what I did wrong and try to figure out why they would launch an offensive to alienate me. If I was happy with myself, truly happy, I’d be able to realize that not everything is about me and how horrible I am. That realization makes me feel guilty, like I’m wrong for thinking badly about anyone ever when there’s so much wrong with me. Well, that’s an incredibly depressing attitude and I don’t want to be apart of it anymore.

Today, I got a manicure and a pedicure. Tomorrow, I’m trimming my hair and on Sunday, I’m coloring my hair. These may seem vain and shallow attempts at becoming okay with myself, but we all have to start somewhere, no? And truth be told, I’m happy with who I am on the inside. Sure, I’ve got some crippling insecurities and some awfully bad habits to work through, but don’t we all? I’m going to work on myself in the best way I see fit because I trust myself and I love myself.

There is a difference between narcissism and introspection.

I’m not missing any more signs.

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On catching a break.

March 30th was my last night in Vero Beach, Florida.  I must admit that I was sad; I had such a wonderful vacation.  I lounged in the sand, soaked up the sun, shopped in expensive boutiques, tried a new style with a new haircut and feel completely at peace with myself and those around me.  That vacation had been everything I needed it to be and more.  However, I must also admit that I missed New Jersey and as I left, I was excited to see my family.

As far as the so-called itinerary I had in mind for the trip, I did not finish “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand, but I only have a few pages left.  I wrote, but nothing of real value or quality, and nothing as far as truly beginning a second novel.  I talk about writing a lot, but I fear that lately, it has become only talk and nothing more.  I have to make the time to read and write, and truly devote myself to my passion.  I know that statement seems paradoxical and that one could argue that if I was truly passionate, I would not have to force myself to make time for writing.  That being said, I will admit that teaching consumes much more of my time than I had originally anticipated.  The goal for next year is to strike a healthier balance between striving for my dreams and being responsible at work.  Teaching pays the bills and while I love it and am fulfilled by it, writing is what pumps my blood through my veins.  Writing is what I see when I close my eyes, and the first thing I look for when I open them.

While on vacation, I attended the sunrise mass for Easter and went with Kim and Carol to Cracker Barrel for breakfast.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip.

One of my ceramic brackets for my braces popped off while I was eating sushi … imagine that.  I’ll called my orthodontist and set up an appointment.  Once I got there, they removed the brackets – surprise!  there was two – but did not replace them.  If it’s not one thing, it’s another; but I say that with a smile on my face.

Below is an assortment of photos from my vacation.  Enjoy!  Maybe one will inspire YOU to create a poem or a short story.  If one does, please feel free to share it!

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On needing a break.

Hello there, Stranger Danger!  It has been quite some time since we last spoke.  Unfortunately, not too much has happened, nothing terribly exciting.  Well, aside from the past three days, which were a complete whirlwind.  But – I am jumping ahead.  Let me begin with a highlight of the past two weeks.

The play was a roaring success!  The students were so talented, and sweet, and appreciative.  They made me cry and they made all the time spent, all the bruises, and all the frustrations completely worth it.  I was given flowers and a signed poster and a t-shirt, and was truly touched.  I know I kind of decided that I wasn’t going to be stage director next school year, but if Lee asks, I will say yes.

Lee was amazing.  I miss spending hours and hours with her every day.  She is so sweet, and she is beautiful inside and out.  I wish she had won The Biggest Loser at work.  She came close, though; second place!  I rounded out the top five and was only one pound shy of my goal weight!  I want to lose another fifteen before the end of the academic year, and then I am going to tone.  I am more motivated than I have ever been before, and believe I have a shot at making it this time – a real, bonafide chance.  That will most likely happen after this vacation, though – which brings me to my (slightly) harrowing tale.

I have been looking forward to Spring Break more so than is healthy and probably humanly possible.  I had plans to begin my second novel, to continue dieting and exercising and to really relax.  I used the word “need” whenever I talked about it, and I talked about it constantly.  Everyone at work was echoing similar sentiments; we all agreed that between the mold in the middle school, the split sessions, the bomb threats, Hurricane Sandy, the offensive bathroom graffiti, the new Danielson model of evaluating teachers, and schedule changes, the school year has sucked (pardon my lack of eloquence).  Personally, I believed that I was cursed for having such a year be my first full year as a teacher, and those suspicions were doubly reinforced when I tried to leave, to finally catch a break.  The rare occasions where I am selfish always seem to occur on the worst possible days.  I have always had the worst timing; even Mom says so.

“And the sky opened up, and God looked down, and He said, ‘I hate you, Amanda Bean!'”  Nothing that I plan ever works out; it never goes as planned, even despite all of my desperate, frantic prayers that are intermittent with sobs.  Nothing goes right for me.  In the film “Stranger than Fiction” with Will Ferrell, the main character discovers that his life is being narrated, and thereby dictated, by a female author.  To find out how his story ends, he must first determine whether his story is a comedy or a tragedy.  He keeps score in a little notebook, and soon believes that he is living a tragedy.  I now firmly believe that I have this in common with Harold Crick, the character’s name that I have just remembered.  Better yet, I would argue, and do so successfully, I’m sure that my life more closely resembles a Shakespearean tragedy.  However, if that is the case, then where, oh where, is the sweet release of death?

I know that I am guilty of being melodramatic, particularly with that last line, but I earnestly believe that I cannot win for losing and that if it weren’t for bad luck, I would have no luck at all.  Every time I look forward to something, it inevitably and devastatingly crumbles.  My reality NEVER meets my expectations.  As a result, I recently marched myself into the fairly swanky convenience store beside the Shell gas station where I was temporarily stranded (Exit 118 off I-95 South in Thornburg, Virginia) and purchased a pack of Marlboro Red 100’s – cigarettes.  I planned on smoking as many as it took to keep from drowning myself in my “pity-pool-of-tears” party.  I only smoked one, though I did so down to the filter.  I was distracted by the healthier urge to write and the 24 ounces of coffee that I also purchased.

I was about an hour and a half away from Missy’s house when my car overheated.  The needle was BURIED in the red and steam was POURING from the engine.  I called my dad asking him if I should pull over, or what else I could do, and he began listing the WORST CASE SCENARIO; that my car would have to be left in Virginia and be towed, that I could not have the Spring Break vacation I had been salivating over.  Being a dramatic, young woman, I began to cry.  Dad said, “Jesus Christ!  This is why you can’t go anywhere!” and, essentially, blamed me for the whole incident.  Naturally, I cried harder.  I then called John, and he was SO cool, calm, and collected and totally talked me off the ledge.  Working together via cell phone, we were able to get the car a couple of more miles.  It overheated again, and I had to pull over and there, on the side of the interstate, in the cold and in the dark, I was going to have to wait nearly two hours for Missy to come and find me.  There my car would sit, abandoned.  I was back on the phone with Dad (I had over forty calls in total that night from Missy, John, Dad, and Mom) when flashing yellow lights suddenly appeared behind me.  I was kneeling on the passenger seat in the front, remarkably disheveled, searching for a flashlight to check the fans in the front of the engine.  My high heels were near the pedals, on the floor by the front seat.  My eyes went wide and I was worried that my life was about to turn into that scene from “Taken.”  I was waiting for Dad to say, “Mandi, these men are going to take you.”  Luckily, it was only Steve from the Virginia Department of Transportation.  He wanted to make sure everything was okay, and I am fairly certain he can read minds because he explained why it took him so long to leave his truck and to come to my car is because he had to call it in to the local police.  Could he have seen my wide eyes, wild hair and trembling lips?  Maybe.

But Steve was a godsend.  He looked under the hood, added anti-freeze and that may have fixed the problem, but a new problem emerged right there before our eyes, as unbelievable as it may seem: my battery was dead.  This was most likely because I had left my lights on while parked and waiting for the engine to cool down.  Steve explained that he had a soft bumper and would push me to the nearest exit, which was only about a mile away.  There was a Dairy Queen where I could park and wait for Missy.  He pushed me all the way there, gave me his card and left me with the knowledge that three hours ago, right where I had been stranded, a helicopter landed to fly an elderly woman to the hospital after her car and trailer flipped, with her, her husband, and their dog inside.  The woman did not make it.  The scene was chaotic and horrifying.  But I was okay – I suppose that was his message.  He was smiling when he walked away.

I made it to Missy’s after she came to rescue me with Jimmy.  She drove three hours to get me somewhere safe, even though she had two little ones at home and work the next day.  She sacrificed a lot for me, and John had been so calm and helpful and reassuring.  They were excellent.  I owe them SO much.

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The next day, Mom and Dad drove down to my car.  I did not see my father, but he assessed the problem (which was simple; the car needed antifreeze), fixed it, and went back home because he had to pick Mike up from his camping trip.  That’s seven hours in the car for me.  Mom spent the entire day in traffic to come down, only to drive me to my car the following day.  All that time, all that money (gas, tolls, etc.) for me.  Dad even filled my tank with gas (which was unbeknownst to me, and I purchased $2.51 of gas and spilled it all over me).  And after driving through the McDonald’s Drive Thru in first gear, it was smooth sailing.

I made it to Vero Beach, Florida.  I spent the day outside in the beautiful sun.  I had my phone interview – which was a live radio interview – on the beach.  The interview was conducted by an incredibly sweet, professional, and talented junior by the name of Jeida from Atlantic City High School.  I thought it went extremely well, and Jeida ended the conversation by letting me know she wanted to interview me AGAIN in the near future.  And while the interview was going on (and while my hot wings were getting cold, but I’m not complaining because they weren’t worth the trouble; I have braces now), I began to schedule another interview with Montclair State University’s Alumni Association.  I got some sun, some sand, some good food, to experience the local flavor, and most importantly, to relax.  Life is good.

It’s funny how things work out sometimes.

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On longing to be trendy.

“The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story and writes another.”

– James Matthew Barrie

This week’s way to blast my blubber was to use time wisely; if there are only 30 minutes free in your daily schedule, use it to pack a nutritious lunch and to closely watch what you eat, rather than try to squeeze in a workout. I usually stick to that rule, but this week, I worked harder to make sure I did not go over my daily calorie limit. As a result, I lost three pounds this week. My confidence is bolstered and my determination has more than doubled. So please ignore the fact that I am currently contradictorily snacking on some Funyuns.

My colleague, Jill Ocone, is such an inspiration. She is truly following her passion, regardless of cost. She stopped living to work, stopped being consumed by work at home. There is no reason why I cannot do the same.

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Sometimes, when I am running in the morning, I try very, very hard to find the moon in the sky. I make myself dizzy by searching in spinning circles, neck bent uncomfortably backwards, and though there are plenty of stars to go around, I cannot find the moon.

Sometimes, when I am running in the morning, it is so frigid that my iPod’s battery is completely drained after about 20 minutes. I do not usually get rattled on my morning walk and jog, but with no contemporary music to drown them out, I become aware of the creepiest sounds. The wind makes the branches of the trees creak and groan. A few American flags snap in wavelengths. A dry, crunchy leaf scuttles across the barren pavement – the perfect horror movie soundtrack and every now and again, I snap my neck this way and that in a futile attempt to determine the cause of some noisy disturbance in the blackness around me. Was the snapping of a twig merely evidence of movement by some furry, cuddly woodland creature, or something more sinister, if, in fact, it even existed at all?

I think I need to indulge in writing some fan fiction again; it can inspire something of literary merit. Many borrow characters and plot lines and images to create a foundation for something new. Currently, I am thinking of “True Blood;” I know vampires are passé, but I keep having this recurring image of a beautiful but battered young woman with a bruised and broken body and beaten face. She is sitting in the front pew of an old and tiny church, at the end. She has been crying, sitting and staring straight ahead with dead, vacant eyes for presumably hours. Then, a devastatingly handsome man – or monster? Or a creature? – suddenly appears, standing in the carpeted aisle beside her. He looks concerned and seems genuine, but her response is icy cold: “You don’t belong here.”
It’s not like her to be cruel, especially not to him, so he deflects her verbal barb with an easy smile and explains, as he has done many times before, that vampires not being able to enter churches in actually a myth, and he’s about to begin a long-winded explanation when she cuts him off.
Misunderstood, she nearly snarls to clarify that she knows damn well that he can be there, but she does not want him there. She has wounded him and it shows all over his face.
“I’m not the one who beat the shit out of you. Why are you so pissed at me?” Though her body language is coming through loud and clear that she wants to be left the fuck alone, he sits beside her. Begrudgingly, she moves for him.
And I want her to unravel – tell him EVERYTHING. Her boyfriend, a bartender who is slowly but surely developing a drinking problem, got loaded and hit her. It has never happened before and she believes her boyfriend is really and truly sorry, but everything is different now and that is sad and scary. She was trying to help him, to be loving and supportive and all the good things, but she still got rocked. In her moment of weakness, she is bitter and vengeful and hateful. It is unlike her, and it makes him nervous. He is not easily rattled and his change in demeanor is not lost on her, though her demeanor is changing as well. She asks him if he’s all right, seamlessly slipping back into old habits and tired behavior.
He laughs without much humor and says that he’s fine, that she shouldn’t give a damn if he’s fine or not, and that maybe she should be more vicious and guarded, like it might not be such a bad thing. She nods and wipes her eyes. Silence falls over them and he feels as if he needs to break it, so he asks her how long she’s been there.
She shrugs and says nothing.
He suggests they leave and go somewhere else.
“Why?”
“Because, honestly, you’re just sitting and stewing in your misery and that solves nothing- it only begets more misery.”
“What could we do?”
It’s an innocent question, but the answers that immediately spring to his mind are not. He takes a second to compose himself because he doesn’t want to scare her; she is good and pure and that is what he likes – loves? – about her. He has to protect it; he has to keep it safe. “Where have you always wanted to go, but have never been?” “France,” she answers without hesitation, like she’s simply been waiting to be asked that very question.

“… if you’d only asked me.”

“If I don’t ask you, would you ever think of asking me?”

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I am always surprised (whether it is pleasant or not has yet to be determined) by which blog posts garner the most attention and end up receiving the largest amount of views. The last entry I posted was personal and somewhat pessimistic, kind of made me seem shallow and pitiful, and has more views than the short story I wrote. A wonderfully caring colleague sent me a Facebook message absolutely dripping with sympathy and a classmate whom I have not seen nor spoken to in years, left an encouraging, empathetic and appreciated comment on my blog. These things surprise me.

I guess it’s like that part in the movie “The Breakfast Club,” where Basket Case Allison dumps all her baggage – literally and metaphorically – on the couch, thereby inviting everyone into her problems. So it’s unreasonable then for her to be angry when people comment, offer advice, and so on and so forth. It’s just that I honestly was not looking for pity, sympathy, or attention – I was just purging thoughts, just writing. It is a fine line between my private self and public self and balancing how I see myself against how others do. I know I shouldn’t care, but I do and that’s how I am, take it or leave it.

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I have a deplorable habit of being interested in men whom I cannot have – the distance keeps me safe from rejection, and it keeps me romantically tragic.

I need to start reading Stephen King again.

When it’s rainy, I want to stay in my bed, curled beneath the covers.

The roses in my classroom are dying.

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Why am I always so negative?

A radio station contacted me back! It is run by a high school in Atlantic City. It will most likely have an incredibly small audience, but it will be more of an audience than I have now.

My second royalty check came for the month of December: $23. 22; one print book and nine Ebooks.

The Manchester Branch of the Ocean County Library forwarded my information to the larger – and frankly, better – Toms River branch. I am hopeful.

Yesterday, I ventured to Brooklyn with a friend to attend a bridal shower. It was wonderfully trendy and beautifully artsy. The music completed the atmosphere perfectly and I never wanted to leave. I made plans to travel to Paris, fell in love with love all over again, and yearned to be more creative and artsy in everything I do. It was an awesome shower.

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On boys on bicycles.

Hello all!

I present to you a short story I started writing while on vacation in Florida at the beginning of last month.  I am trying to work on being creepy in a subtle way.  Please comment to let me know what you think, and I hope you enjoy it!

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BOYS ON BICYCLES

Mandi Bean

 

By all accounts, the vacation was desperately needed by the Smith family, so the uncooperative weather was especially frustrating and almost painfully disappointing.  Amber felt the sting of missed expectations most keenly as she had deemed the trek to the Sunshine State a necessity because she absolutely needed to feel the baking rays of a fat, sweltering sun fall heavily upon her as she squished cooled, clumped sand between her toes while standing at a meandering shoreline, watching breaking waves.  The sudden, nearly physical yearning for a sandy shore had surprised Amber, but in hindsight, it made perfect sense.  Amber and the rest of the Smith family hailed from the Great Garden State, which had recently been brutally ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.  With rollercoasters claimed by the Atlantic, enacted martial law, and missing pieces of the famous and beloved boardwalk, the Jersey Shore was no longer a place to escape to.  Indeed, many of its inhabitants were escaping from the coastal communities up and down the shore.  The Smiths were no exceptions and for reasons Amber could not explain, she needed a beach.

This inexplicable need did not grasp anyone else and Amber had difficulty rounding up family members to head to the beach.  In the end, only three others decided to pile in the Hyundai with Amber; her twin sister Susan, her young cousin Adam, and her aunt Kim, at whose home they were vacationing.  Adam was a restless kid looking to get out of the house and, being his godmother, Kim wanted to please Adam and her devotion compelled her to come along (Amber believed Kim’s unconditional love and devotion knew no bounds and that Kim would follow Adam to the ends of the earth were it ever asked of her).  Susan’s motivations were not as obvious, and Amber could only surmise that her twin simply wanted to drive.

With Susan at the wheel and with Kim as the co-pilot, Amber and Adam claimed the backseat of the car and thus began the fifteen minute drive east to the ocean.  There was superficial, intermittent chatter but starting, let alone maintaining, a conversation became more trouble than it was worth over the wind roaring in and out of the open windows.  Amber was happy to stick her arm out of the window and flatten her palm so that her hand rode the waves of air; it was worth the annoyance of having to squint against the powerful gales and to constantly and continuously tuck bothersome strands of hair behind ears to keep them from sticking in the corners of her lips and eyes.  It did not matter to her that it was cold (for Florida, anyway), nor did it seem to matter to anyone else.  The windows stayed down for the duration of the drive.

When the Hyundai came to a rest in a slanted parking space, Adam bounded from the car, excited for room to run in a way that only a child can be excited.  The adults hurried after him, up a flight of wooden stairs to a sparse boardwalk, and then down another flight of wooden stairs to the beach.  The beach was essentially deserted aside from a few other small groups of more obvious tourists and some die hard fitness fanatics reaping the cardiac benefits of running in the sand.  Amber, before making it all the way to the chilly sand, sat upon a wooden stair to roll her jeans over her calves and above her knees.  She also removed her flip flops and held them firmly in hand when she joined the others near the water.  Adam raced Kim along the shoreline as Amber and Susan chased the water back to the ocean and then promptly fled from the icy liquid as it traveled back over the sand.  Amber and Susan also wrote “New Jersey” in big, capital letters in the sand, using their feet and toes.  Then, for a change of pace, Adam raced Susan as Kim and Amber observed, occasionally interfering with either runner by playfully using physical restraint to impede progress.  Short of being tackled to the ground, the runners were breathless, laughing and spinning to a halt in the sand as their loved ones hung about their shoulders and waists.

Though everyone was having fun, it really was too chilly for the beach.  The four resolved to pack it in, call it a day, and head on home.  Amber paused at the top of the stairs leading from the beach to the boardwalk to take one – just one – longing backward glance at the sand and the rough waters of the Atlantic.  Sullenly, she unrolled the legs of her jeans and wiggled her feet and toes back into her flip flops.  There was only sea as far as she could see, and the landscape made her feel limitless and full of endless possibilities.  It was intoxicating and she offered up a silent prayer to Whomever Might Be Listening for warmer weather and longer trips to the beach.

But perhaps Amber wasn’t the only one longing for scenic escapes – no matter how brief – because once everyone was safely back inside the car, Kim made a suggestion.  “Turn right at the end of this street instead of left,” she instructed.  “I’ll show you guys where the really nice houses are.”  Susan dutifully obeyed and with all the windows down, the foursome traveled northwest along Ocean Drive.  There was nothing remarkable to be seen at first, but eventually the sprawling hotels and quaint seaside shops gave way to exotic looking vegetation that concealed starts of cobblestone driveways that led to grand mansions, which, at times, could not be seen from the road.  Those homes in view were certainly impressive.

There were stone staircases with wide steps leading up to double front doors from either side, and the doors were made of rich, sturdy mahogany.  There were balconies with thin, delicate-looking iron railings.  There were terracotta roof tiles covering wide, sloping roofs that turned houses into haciendas, complete with cement archways, an overabundances of hues of orange, and which betrayed the historical Spanish influence on the entire state.  The accompanying guest houses were all substantially larger than the Smith family home and truly dwarfed the house of the surrounding residential communities.

Susan was only barely rolling along, operating the vehicle at a snail’s pace.  Open-mouthed, she craned her neck from left to right and back again, incredulously observing the excess of wealth on either side.  Her scan was panoramic so that, at the very least, the driver was conscientious enough not to slam into anything.  That being said, Susan did neglect to look into her rearview mirror as she was so wholly taken by the new and exciting scenery.  As a matter of fact, it was not until Amber made an announcement from the backseat that Susan gave any kind of thought to the rear.

“There’s a car behind us,” Amber said, her neck twisted gracefully over her right shoulder.  She turned forward after a beat and added, “He looks pissed.”

“So what?” Susan grunted dismissively, clearly annoyed at having been interrupted.  She stuck her pale, toned arm out of the open window and waved the following car around, indicating the driver should pass the four-door filled with unabashed looky-loos.  He passed, after shooting Susan a murderous look, and everyone relaxed, as if a useless, creeping anxiety had been relieved.

But that was only because the rear faded from their minds and no one turned to see the bicycle following so closely that the rubber tread of the front wheel nearly grazed the bumper.  It would have been an unsettling sight indeed, especially when the rider’s face came into clear view.  His young face was not innocent as it should have been, but was instead so blank and vacant and devoid of emotion that irrational as it may seem, the boy seemed sinister and cold.  His youth and carefree activity did nothing to dispel the image of evil that lingered about his person, just beneath the surface.

Adam, upon being confined to the car, became restless once more and fidgeted in the seat.  He looked all around for excitement, even for some trouble, and was successful when he looked behind him and saw the young boy.  Adam knew the boy was about his age, but also knew instinctively that the boy was somehow much older.  There was experience and wisdom running through the odd lines of his face.  Adam believed the young boy knew things that young boys shouldn’t know, had seen things young boys shouldn’t see, and had done things no one should ever do, regardless of age and gender.  His tiny body shook uncontrollably and he scooted to the end of the seat so he could whisper in Kim’s ear, “There’s someone else behind us.”

“What?” Kim asked as a reflex, because she had clearly heard Adam and required no further explanation.  She turned around in her seat to look out the back window.  She saw what Adam had seen and then some, because her advanced age allowed her to comprehend and articulate the oddity of the scene.  Laughing without much humor to keep her own fears at bay and to assuage the unspoken ones belonging to Adam, Kim said to Susan, “Wave this kid around.  He’s tailgating you on a bike.”

Susan laughed with genuine humor.  “That’s ridiculous,” she smiled and once more sticking her pale, toned arm out of the window, she waved to the boy.  She quickly wondered if he would know what the provincial gesture meant, and she was about to yell out instructions in an annoyed tone when he sped past the car.  He was moving so quickly and so close to the window that Susan had to pull her hand in speedily, as if she had been dangling it before the open mouth of a hungry alligator.  “What the hell, man!” she roared.  Angry and in need of validation for her visceral, intense reaction, she turned to Kim.  “Did you see that?”

Kim shrugged, merely imitating a cool indifference.  Her voice betrayed her as it trembled ever so slightly.  “Kids can be just as rude or as creepy as anyone else.”  Though it had been chilly, the weather would have been described as downright frigid by Kim, the longtime Florida native, and she rolled up her window fast.  “Let’s just keep going.”

Amber laughed.  “You’re not afraid of an elementary school kid, are you?”  She shook her head slowly, still smiling.

“There’s more,” Adam whispered.  An intense silence filled the already cluttered interior of the car, and their eyes followed two more boys, older than the first, cycling by at an almost impossibly slow pace; it was as if they were not even moving.  The eyes of the boys were just as intently focused as those of the passengers in the car, each party staring the other down.  Kim, Amber, Adam and Susan observed with wide eyes, betraying their fearful emotion without much thought.  The boys on bikes gazed back with a curious detachment that hinted at a complete lack of empathy and as a result, also hinted at a complete ability to terrorize.  Adam started softly crying.  Amber unbuckled her seat belt, slid close to him and wrapped her arms around him.

“Let’s get out of here, Sue.  This place is weird.  I don’t like it.”

“Okay, okay,” Susan responded, slightly agitated by fear.  She made to increase the pressure her foot was placing on the gas pedal, but found that she could not because the three boys on the bicycles had parked themselves directly in front of the car, so close that the boy who appeared the oldest, trailed his fingers along the edge of the hood.

“Back up, back up,” Kim chanted.

Susan shifted the car into reverse and lifted her eyes to the rearview mirror and had to stifle a scream.  More boys on more bicycles were now barricading any possibility of escaping from the rear.  “Roll up your windows!  I’m locking the doors!” Susan commanded, her voice cracking as it reached a level of hysteria never before reached.  For a brief moment, she wondered if she was being silly; they were children on bicycles.  Where was the threat?  What reason was there for the sweat accumulating, or for the increased pace of her heart, or for the tears pricking at the back of her eyes?

Amber, still holding tightly to Adam, had locked the doors and was waiting for the window on her side to complete its infuriatingly slow progress upwards.  She stared through the windows for a pair of sympathetic eyes, for someone who looked as if they might care.  All she could see were these mini monsters, these children with stone faces who were intentionally scaring them.  It did not make any sense and for Amber, that was the worst part about it.  It had been chilly, yes, but it was still sunny.  They were on vacation in Florida, observing how the other half lived.  It was not dark and ominous and they were doing nothing illegal or harmful, nothing to justify such a turn of events.  Her eyes frantically and desperately scanned the surrounding lawns for adult eyes, aged eyes, eyes with wrinkles that belonged to someone who could rush over and demand the absurdity cease and desist in an authoritative tone.  Amber’s eyes only met statues that may have once been human, but could not possibly be human now.  They were adults on lawns, pushing mowers or chatting idly with neighbors, and they were observing the harassment and intimidation occurring before them, but there were no passing looks of disgust or pity.  Their faces were blank and their eyes were pointed in the right direction, but it did not seem as if they were really seeing.

Kim, Susan, Amber and Adam were helpless and all alone.

Only Adam’s soft and horrible moans penetrated the suffocating silence.  Agonizing minutes passed where the aggressors remained absolutely still and the victims only breathed in and out.

Then, suddenly, the boys on the bicycles descended.

On rain and lines and four-year-olds.

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For Christmas, I had the brilliant idea of taking Jimmy, my nephew and godson, to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.  When Jimmy opened up the box on Christmas morning with a printed ticket for Platform 9 3/4 inside, he was less than enthused and looking back, that moment should have been a great indicator for what the trip would be like.

The morning of the excursion was sunny but chilly.  Jimmy hadn’t been feeling well the day before so I was not sure if he would still want to make the trip, but when I woke him up, he bounded out of bed and got dressed quickly – all by himself, without any help from myself or his Mimi.  The night before, I had invited Sammy and she said she wasn’t sure.  That morning when I asked her she said no and that she was sick.  I asked her one final time before heading out the door and she said no, that she really didn’t feel good.  Just Jim and myself packed the car and headed out, in search of a gas station to fill ‘er up and some breakfast to fill up our tummies.  In the midst of the search, Sammy called and asked that I turn around and pick her up.  I agreed because we were not that far and it would be much easier tackling a four-year-old at a theme park with two adults instead of just one.

The thing about Vero Beach is that once a traveler gets himself turned around, it is nearly impossible to become righted, unless of course that traveler is a seasoned veteran of the highways and byways and lanes and courts and streets and drives.  I am not versed in the geography of the city, so I inevitably turned down 22nd Avenue instead of 22nd court, and made a right onto 4th Street instead of a left onto 4th Lane.  I had wanted to be at Universal Studios, a trek of one hour and forty-eight minutes from Vero Beach, around 9:30AM.  With the failed attempt of locating a gas station and the debacle that was returning to the house to pick up Sam, we didn’t get on the road until 9:00AM, and there was still the matter of finding gas and breakfast.

I used the GPS application on my phone to locate a Dunkin’ Donuts and the one found was conveniently – or so we thought – located beside a gas station.  However, when we pulled up to the pumps, we realized that most were out of order.  There was a gas station just across the street, so we decided to get breakfast at the Dunkin’ Donuts and fill up nearby.  Jim wanted to eat inside and seeing as how the day was really all about him, I acquiesced to his request.  In hindsight, what a mistake.  The employees of the eatery were incredibly rude and probably incredibly bitter that at this point in their lives, they were still only cashiers at a donut shop located within a convenient store off a local highway.  I ordered a large, iced mocha latte but the establishment was all out of large cups.  The cashier had already rung me up and was incredibly disgruntled and annoyed that I was indecent enough to order a large drink without first checking to make sure there were large cups.  Sam’s order took forever and was gross, as was her coffee.  Jim was all smiles though, so we managed to salvage some enjoyment before painlessly filling up next door and hitting the road.  Again, in hindsight, the mishaps should have served as a warning for what the day was going to be like.

We were parked and exiting the car from E.T. section 363 around 11:15AM.  We were hours behind schedule and paying the price for the delay as the park was bustling with people – it was remarkably crowded.  Jim’s excitement was contagious enough to curb my anxiety and we made our way towards the Islands of Adventure theme park.  There, we had to wait close to an hour to purchase tickets but that was not so bad; I felt better with tickets in hand.  We marched straight to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter … and were essentially denied.  That particular enclave of the theme park was packed to its maximum occupancy.  Attendants were handing out standby return tickets – tickets for patrons to return hours later and enjoy the park.  No one felt particularly like waiting, so we figured we would enjoy other parts of the park and just come back later.  We looked around for what rides were nearby and decided that Jimmy would get the biggest kick out of the Jurassic Park ride.  Fighting the crowd like salmon swimming upstream, we got to the beginning of the line to find it completely vacant and although that seemed promising, the ride was non-operational, and that was why no one was on line.

Fuck.

Shit.

Balls.

Sammy had the inspired idea of checking out the super heroes’ section of the park because Jimmy loves – I mean absolutely adores – Spiderman.  When we arrived at the start of that line, the appropriately decorated, electronic sign announced that it would be a 160 minute wait time for the ride.  Refusing to be deterred a third time, Sammy, Jimmy and I chose to wait on the massive line.  Jimmy was a perfect angel.  How any four-year-old could wait three hours with the patience of a saint is an enigma to me.  He feigned sleep on Sam’s shoulder and did some climbing, but man – he was amazing.  Sammy and I made small talk with the surrounding families and friends, disposable companions that are particular to lines.  Most were from Alabama, which was interesting due to our familial ties, all were friendly, and ALL were impressed with Jimmy’s patience.

Jimmy was amazed by the Spiderman attraction and after having some pizza for lunch, we decided to bite the bullet and wait on line for Harry Potter World.  We made more friends, tried Jimmy’s patience some more, but once we were inside, the look on Jimmy’s face was worth it, absolutely worth it.  I bought him a wand and candy and we looked through all the shops and stores.  Ollivander’s was far too crowded, but Jimmy was excited to look through the windows and loved how excited everyone else was.  We waited on another three hour line to get inside Hogwarts Castle but Jimmy’s pure enjoyment and exhilaration made the whole miserable experience of being caught in a downpour and waiting nine hours in lines not so bad.  It was the best Christmas gift I have ever given and have ever simultaneously received.

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On Andrew McCarthy and being un-pretty in any color.

The world was supposed to end on Friday, December 21st. However, I am proud to report that I am still here, along with the rest of the world. Actually, aside from the raging winds knocking the basketball hoop in the driveway onto my car (which cracked the windshield and prevented me from entering the vehicle on the driver side) and an increased police presence at work, Friday was awesome. The days leading up to this posting were also quite awesome; I spent Christmas in Virginia with my nephews and now I am in The Sunshine State – vacationing in Florida. Though I traveled close to eighteen hours from home, I could not escape the fears and insecurities which essentially plague me.
I am slightly terrified that I am more skilled at picking up and impressing women than I am with the opposite sex. It makes me feel like a loser and terribly lonely. Last night, I went to the more prestigious branch of the Ocean County library to listen to Andrew McCarthy speak about his book, and to have him sign it, and get a picture. I was really dressed up in a red, lace number, complete with black stockings and black high heels. I curled my hair and rouged my lips and made sure my eyes looked smoky in varying shades of lilac, lavender, violet and purple. I thought I looked seductive, mysterious or, at the very least, pretty. When I walked into the library, no one seemed too impressed though. I didn’t see any heads turning to watch me pass and no one struck up a conversation even though I was clearly flying solo and obviously unattached.
I slid into an uncomfortable, plastic chair at the end of an aisle that was near the center of the large, dimly lit room. It did give the place a certain ambiance and that set my mind reeling with romantic, optimistic possibilities. I turned to the woman beside me. She was older than I was, with red hair and small eyes. About her was a decidedly academic and impressive air. I asked her if she would mind if I put my bag on the seat between us and she politely replied that no, she wouldn’t mind and that it would certainly be all right. An awkward sort of silence descended, as if both of us were waiting for the conversation to continue but neither of us really wanted to bear the weight of that responsibility. Eventually, I bit the bullet and asked her if she read a lot and that question and the resulting threads of conversation carried us to the start of the program. I learned that she was also an aspiring writer, but spending hours alone in a locked room putting words onto paper did not really appeal to her; she freely admitted to being a herd animal and to being dependent upon human interaction. I commiserated and confessed that I was turning into a writer recluse myself, and supposed that could either explain or rationalize my chatty behavior of the evening.
The conversation was cut short as an older, chubby, and balding man came to the podium with his chest puffed out, as if he believed the small audience assembled before him were just as interested in him as they were in Mr. McCarthy. He cracked a few mildly funny jokes and then introduced the man of the hour. I watched him climb onto the stage with baited breath and slight trepidation not because I was starstruck, but because I was nervous. What if he was completely narcissistic? What if he spoke at length about Hollywood and acting and did not even mention writing or his process? Or worse, what if he attempted to discuss the craft of writing and it became painfully clear that he had no idea what the hell he was talking about?
Refreshingly, none of my fears came true. He did talk about himself, but that’s the nature of the beast, isn’t it? The book is a memoir and he is a celebrity- are they not more inclined to be something of an attention whore? After all, if one is a writer, an actor, a painter, a musician or any kind of artist, one is constantly demanding to be noticed because creations are parts of the artist himself, some pieces more personal than others. However, the key for any artist, in my humble opinion, is to strike a healthy balance, which McCarthy did. He spoke of how he came to be an actor, of how he came to be a writer, about his character flaws and insecurities, of his family both past and present, and of his tastes. He confessed to being a huge Springsteen fan and mentioned that the song “Badlands” is especially important to him and holds a special, significant meaning for him. Clearly, I only fell more and more in love with this romantic hero from my younger years.
He stated a couple of ideas which struck me and will stick with me for some time, I believe. He mentioned that he sucked at journaling and that he found his entires to be self-indulgent and repetitive; I couldn’t agree more. He talked about how traveling allayed his fears and as he traveled, he wrote to keep himself grounded; that inspired me to take my iPad along on the family trip to Florida this year. He also made up my mind- I will travel to Ireland, England and France. McCarthy was genuine, honest and authentic. He is who he is and did not apologize. He wanted to do things and he did them; he did not plan, he was just passionate and pursued those impassioned ideas, goals, aspirations. McCarthy also said that the aforementioned passion was what moviegoers and fans responded to, that there was something in his eyes that confirmed he was right where he was supposed to be doing what he was supposed to do. According to McCarthy, that something was pure, unbridled joy because he felt at home in the world and, perhaps more importantly, in his own skin. I truly enjoyed myself.
The lights came up and there was a question and answer session. Some zealous, older woman asked about three questions and talked as he talked, talked over him even. I raised my hand, but he did not call on me, so I did not raise my hand again. That was cowardice and I mentally berated myself in my seat. We rose to form a line in the short, wide hallway where a table was set up and piled high with copies of his book. While waiting, the woman I had spoken with earlier resumed conversation. She agreed to snap a picture of me with McCarthy, though declined having the favor return – she confessed that she never gets her picture taken with people because she finds the whole process uncomfortable. We spoke about writing again, as well as brief snippets of our personal lives. She is currently unemployed and has previously worked in a pharmacy. She’s been married for a year and lives in Manahawkin. When it comes to writing, she’s having trouble getting started and developing a plot. We agreed to exchange e-mail addresses as both of us would like to widen our writing circle.
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Then came the moment of truth; I met Andrew McCarthy. He took his book from me, said hello and asked how I was. He asked who the book was for, and I told him it was for me, and that my name was Mandi with an ‘i.’ Quickly, with a light laugh, I added, “Don’t judge me.” McCarthy put down the marker, stopped what he was doing, turned to me, looked at me, and laughed. I made him laugh. I entertained him. That has to count for something, right?
Having thusly roused a chuckle from a teen idol, I was feeling pretty damn good and special and unique and all that jazz when I drove down to Atlantic City to see my oldest friends. I love them all so, so, so much because no matter what happens, we can all get together and make each other smile. We smile about the good times and joke about the rough times and it is perfect. I was having a wonderful Friday night … until we went to the club.
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I know I have been gaining back the weight that I lost, and I know that my teeth need to be straightened and whitened, but I have never been as aware of my flaws as I was that night, watching prettier girls become the centers of attention in assigned, miniature melodramas. No one approached me. Well, that’s not entirely true; when Heidi was being wooed, the possible interest had his friend chat me up to keep me busy. I saw through this ruse and called the friend out on it. This seemed to impress him, believe it or not. He said he never had a girl call him out like that before and in turn, he called me out for feeling superior to the whole scene. He was right, but that did not repel him and we kept talking and I was actually having a nice time, but I kept pushing him away with both my words and body language. I figured that since we both knew he wasn’t romantically interested, the whole thing could be over and done with and I could then avoid feeling lonely, lame and like I was the biggest loser in the universe. My persistence in insisting made him feel bad, I think, because he went to the bathroom and never came back. I was expecting as much – had encouraged him to do as much – but it still stung. All my confidence from earlier fled and I wanted to leave. I wanted to go home and cry in my room and watch “Pretty in Pink” and forget the whole thing ever happened. It’s ironic, isn’t it, because here I am, memorializing the whole incident via the internet.
McCarthy talked a lot about insecurity and about how crucial it is to shed that fear. I think he’s right, but I also think to shed the fear and to become the master of insecurity, one needs certain tools. Emotionally and mentally, I feel that I am a catch – that I will care and love someone in unfathomable amounts and be loyal and true – but physically I know I leave a lot to be desired. McCarthy also talked a lot about paradoxes and I believe there is power in paradoxes and contradictions and that is what people gravitate to. Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large; I contain multitudes” (forgive me if that was not an entirely accurate quotation). I know that I am a walking contradiction and that I am positively filled with paradoxes, but that does not make for someone guys want to grind against for a night in a sweaty, smoky club. The true, swift kick in the ass is that I don’t even want to be THAT girl until I’m in the club, and I’m so clearly the only girl who doesn’t want to be that girl. I preach and pontificate about being true and genuine and cling proudly to my self-proclaimed title of “woman of substance,” but then I find myself near tears, desperate to suddenly assimilate.
I can’t be the only one, right?
This upcoming year, the year of 2013, I am going to fix the things I don’t like about myself so that I can become more attractive, appealing and well-rounded. It is not just about getting the attention of males – though it is certainly a factor and I admit that freely because The Boss says it don’t matter what nobody say, ain’t nobody like to be alone – it is about getting the exterior to match the interior. I want to be beautiful inside and out. That being said, I would also like another crack at McCarthy. I would love to meet him again, hand him a copy of my book, tell him how great I really think he is, and snap another photo in which both of us are beautiful.
Wish me luck.

On Sleepy Hollow.

This weekend was enjoyable, productive, and – most of all – much needed.  Yesterday, I ventured to Sleepy Hollow with my good friends Dom and Raina, and Raina’s parents, and Raina’s parents friends.  I met everyone at Raina’s house, which was an adventure in and of itself.  I was pulled over on the parkway by a State Trooper for speeding, but he was understanding, and patient, and because my driving record is close to impeccable, he cut me a huge break.  Still, the experience was somewhat nerve-rattling because I had never been pulled over before and I was anxious just to get to Raina’s house and out from behind the wheel.  The issuing of the ticket made me late, as did generally leaving my house later than I would have liked, but I did arrive.  Dom showed up after I did, so my lateness was forgiven, and then the seven of us piled into two cars and hit the road.

The scenery was absolutely beautiful.  The leaves were all different shades of flaming red, burning orange, and resilient green and the mountains and hills we passed were covered in trees and seemed to go on for miles.  Dom frequently mentioned that it had been quite some time since he had smelled grass and he swore the sky was different in that part of the country.  We rode over bridges that provided safe travel over beautiful, dark water.  Dom, Raina and I caught up, shared snacks and were anticipating spending the evening in a historically creepy geographical location such as Sleepy Hollow, New York. 

The town caught us all by surprise.  We thought it would be … well, sleepier.  It was a “blue collar” town that was diverse in population as far as wealth and ethnicity.  We parked at Phillipsburg Manor, but traveled into the heart of Sleepy Hollow for dinner.  The meal was good and we survived the perilous task of parallel parking, and the gift shop had several interesting items for purchase.  I bought two books (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter) and a witch hat with a celestial theme.  I enjoyed hot chocolate and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the company and the scenery.  The walking path from the parking lots to the manor was lit by candles encased in glass lanterns.  It would have been romantic had we not been able to hear the blood-curdling screams of tourists venturing through “Horseman’s Hollow,” the very attraction we had purchased tickets for.

Dom has a talent for conversation; he is one of the most eloquent people I have ever had the distinct, intellectual pleasure of meeting.  When we were waiting for our turn to line up for the haunted walk, he engaged one of the security guards in conversation and we learned interesting tidbits about the history of the town, the attractions, and the origin of the commercialism surrounding Sleepy Hollow and its legend penned by Irving.  He mentioned Irving’s estate, named Sunnyside, and I made a mental note to visit it as soon as possible.  I also hope to make it to the cemetery, which is purported to be an entertaining, interesting tourist trap.  Dom also engaged the young man checking tickets at the entrance and he was a writer, working on a fantasy/adventure piece for about six years – since he was in high school.  For the first time in a few months, I introduced myself as a writer instead of as a teacher and it felt right.  I felt fulfilled and – for lack of a better term – cool.

The walk itself was definitely creepy and I did scream through most of it and maintain a quickened pace.  The costumed and makeup were remarkable, nearly everything seemed authentic, and we laughed as much as we shrieked.  Our biggest disappointment was that there was not more to do; we had hoped the town would fully and enthusiastically embrace its place in spooky folklore but as it turns out, this is only the third year they had done something to recognize Sleepy Hollow and its legend on a grand scale.  In particular, Dom had wanted to be immersed in history and after talking about that, we decided to make a try for Salem, Massachusetts.  The festivities there do have a historical authenticity and the three of us have yet to travel there and have yet to hear someone speak ill of Salem around Halloween (except for some strangers behind us on line, who claimed Sleepy Hollow was more entertaining than Salem, and that surprised us).

I really hope Salem works out, but I do not want to miss my cousin Cory’s visit.  One day last week, he quit his job because his boss was unkind.  He walked right off the job and embarked on one hell of a road trip.  He has kept me updated through messages, pictures, and Facebook statuses, and I am incredibly jealous.  I would love to be able to just leave, to shirk all responsibility and do exactly what I want.  I would love to get behind the wheel and see the country.  Cory explained that he only has one life and he will not waste it, will not let days go by without having seen and experienced “cool shit.”  I could not agree with him more.  I am so glad I went to Sleepy Hollow.

It was not just for the Halloween fun and atmosphere; it was to travel with friends.  Dom, Raina and I ended up at the Bridge View Tavern at the end of Beekman Avenue.  While the restaurant was all out of appetizers, the view of the Hudson River and the Tappan Zee Bridge was breathtaking.  The beer and wine were cold and tasty and the fries hit the spot.  We talked of people we know, some we still know and others we wish we could forget.  We were appreciative of the gorgeous night and the seasonal radiance particular to fall in October.

If I am to be perfectly honest, the ride home was my favorite part of the night.  Raina drove and to help keep her awake, Dom and I took turns reading from The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter.  The short stories were disturbing and entrancing, but I think the coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts takes the most credit for keeping us up.  Although, when we returned to Raina’s house, we all stayed up to hear the end of the longer story and I cannot even begin to express what that meant and still means to me.  Picture it; three twenty-somethings lounged on couches, attentively listening to a story being read aloud.  The television was not on.  We were not wearing ear buds to hear iPods.  There was an occasional perusal of the iPhone, but for the most part, we were totally engaged by the written word.  That is how I want every night to end.

On stereotypes and skiing.

To be honest, I almost HATED this prompt.  It did not appeal to me by any sretch of the imagination.  I have never been skiing, have never left the continental United States, and therefore, I had no real basis for which to compose interesting, let alone entertaining, fiction.  Forgive me.  I have relied on stereotypes and have only laid a thin foundation of any character development.  There is not plot, either.  I’d advise you to enjoy the piece, but I’d feel like a sarcastic jerk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROMPT: Two skiers, one from America and one from France, get stuck together on a ski lift in the Swiss Alps.

PIECE: This was Bernadette’s first time leaving the United States.  She decided that after the messy divorce with Dan, but before what was to be a drawn out and ugly custody battle, she’d take a much deserved break.  Their only child, a beautiful boy named Nicholas, was with her mother and her father for the week, and would be with Dan the following week.  It was not an ideal situation – far from it, actually – but regardless of classification, Bernadette needed a break.  She was at the absolute limit of her mental and emotional abilities.  Nicholas needed someone stronger than that, so really, this vacation was a time to get her head straight and lace up her ass-kicking boots.  She would return home refreshed, renewed and ready for whatever was needed to be handled.

Bernadette closed her eyes and was quietly drifting in a manufactured kind of stillness, and did not notice the man seat himself beside her on the lift.  Jacques eyed the woman beside him from the sides of his dark eyes, from the intimate corners with an intrinsic and instinctual dislike and distaste.  Jacques had never seen the woman before, which meant she was new to the slopes and the surrounding area; she was a tourist. Therefore, she was an interloper, rudely infringing upon his much needed escape.  What with the global economy being what it was and having to watch his company – the one he created from the ground up – slowly but surely go under, he just needed a few days.  He knew he was going to have to leave his apartment in France as he could no longer afford the rent.  Things were going to be changing for Jacques in gross, major ways.  He just needed a few days of skiing to collect his breath and bearings.

Both Bernadette and Jacques just need a break.  They were not to get one.

The lift became stuck – technical error? Was it a man-made problem? – halfway up its trek to the top of the hill.  Voices rose and floated to Bernadette on a breeze, bubbling and gurgling with frustration and concern.  She opened her eyes, looked around, and asked the obvious question: “What’s wrong?  What’s happened?”

“The lift is stuck,” Jacques replied flatly.  Clearly, he was more annoyed than anything else.

“Does this happen from time to time?” Bernadette asked with timidity.  She was trying to rationalize her nerves away and put them far from her.  She was looking for compassion, for comfort from a more experienced skier with nerves of steel.

“What do you think?” was Jacques response.  He was not going to offer comfort.  He was too agitated to do anything other than sit and sulk.

“Are you French?” was Bernadette’s question.  The timid aspect to her tone of voice had dissipated and she had adjusted her seat so that she was facing Jacques head on.

“What do you think?” Jacques responded again.  Bernadette laughed humorlessly and turned to stare at the frozen tundra below.  Suddenly, she wished to be home and she thought how ironic of a sentiment that was, that she laughed again … once more, with feeling.