Assistant Graduate Fellow, Bennington Writing Seminars Teaching Fiction

It’s exhilarating to have just written the above headline. My fingers are even excited. I will be teaching High School students at Burr & Burton Academy in Manchester, Vermont, during my upcoming final residency at my beloved Bennington. Of course, I’m nervous. However, at 57, what better time to jump right in, am I right? Can I get a witness? So many feels and shivers I can hardly stand it.

I’ll let you know how it goes. But first, I have to tackle yet another rewrite of my graduate lecture on Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. If there are such things as spirit animals, he is my spirit author. If you haven’t read this group of connected stories, you must. Talk about shivers.

The Thesis Looms

Yep. I am slated to turn in my thesis on December 4th to my advisor at Bennington College, the brilliant, Pulitzer short-listed David Gates.

How do I feel? (Don’t you just hate self-talk? I do, but I couldn’t resist.)

Answer: A-new-word-that-has-not-yet-been-invented for “happy.”

I wish I could write more, expound upon all I’ve learned. But right now, my finger strength is being reserved for the 120 pages I have in front of me.

More later, chickadees.

Deep South Magazine: Josie’s Documented Evidence

This story was originally here on my blog, but after a good, much-needed edit, it became exponentially better and was then accepted for publication in the iconic, warm Deep South Magazine. I could not be more proud. Makes me wanna drink a big ‘ole glass of sweet tea.

It’s inspired by real people who I knew from my dad’s hair salon in the Beverly Hills of Dallas, Park Cities.

Read the story here.

 

Our Film: #4 Best Music Documentary in Dallas

Yes, it’s true. Our film, “His Name is Bob“, was voted by the Dallas Observer as in the Top 10 best music docs in the city.

Huge honor. Here is the link to the story.

Just a quick back story: I co-produced it with J. Sebastian and Heather Lee. Together, we are 3 Frogs Productions.

Selected to be in nine film festivals across the U.S., the film received distribution on The Documentary Channel and ran for a year. After that it received streaming distribution from Nelson Madison Films in Los Angeles, and it can be seen now on Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube Movie Rentals and SnagFilms.

You can also buy a DVD on our site.

The tagline:

The story of a spiritual savant who survives his own personal holocaust.

A line from our trailer that pretty much says it all:

Bob has nothing to offer us. Except the answer that could save us all.

Come join us on a spiritual journey.

Big Shrimp! Sounds like a contradiction.

Jingles. Yes. I have written them. Can’t say I’m proud. It’s just a fact: when you’re an ad copywriter, some corporations call for musical renditions through which they woo their customers. Or think they are wooing them. (Right now, the Milestone Electric “Fix it in a Flash” jingle makes me instantly frozen with distaste and anger. I want to punch the TV in the face when I hear it.)

You see, most of the time, these simpleton-ish ditties get stuck in my head on a terrifying loop and I end up singing them 24/7 like a crazy person inside my head, but sometimes, these irritating melodies spill out when I’m in the shower or taking out the trash or walking to the ladies room (or in a ladies room stall). So excuse me in advance, if you ever see/hear me singing to myself.

My jingle was for fried-in-GMO-vein-clogging-corn-oil (might even be some motor oil in there) shrimp from Long John (Dong, we said) Silvers. Yes. But not just any ‘ole shrimp. BIG SHRIMP!

Here are the lyrics:

“Big shrimp, sounds like a contradiction.

Big shrimp, we’re not talking fiction.

Big shrimp, it’ll bigger than your prediction.

Big shrimp, it’ll cure your shrimp addiction.

At Loooong Joooohn Siiiillllvers…

BIG SHRIMP!”

The jingle was sung for me by a now-deceased friend, Mark, who chose to interpret this jaunty number as a Frank Sinatra/SNL Bill Murray lounge singer, replete with accompaniment on his portable Casio organ.

It was incredible and I can sing it now. I wish you could hear me.

The agency, however, chose to make it schmaltzy with a chorus of singers and lots of tambourines, finger cymbals and congas. (Not really.) But the thing I liked best about the commercial was that the couple, two blonde-ish, middle-aged actors (bad casting, middle aged people can die eating this crap) who were meant to be in love with Long John’s Big Shrimp flirted with each and actually “toasted” with the shrimp a la wine glasses. However, while on production, they (I didn’t get to go on the shoot) saved the best for last:

These two vanilla-y, scale-paid actors consumed this death food by wrapping their wrists around each other like newlyweds do at a wedding when eating their cake and FED each other the shrimp.

I am going to find this gem of creative brilliance and post it here. All I have now is a clunky, boxy three-quarter tape that costs oodles to get transferred to a something playable. (The speed technology advances is as warp-speed fast as Twitter posts appearing on my feed. I refresh my page and there are 3 Tweets. I look up two minutes later, there are 568. True story. Sort of.)

Nevertheless, Mark sent me a cassette (what are those?) with his joyous recording on it. I played it for everyone who I could pin down in my office for at least a minute.

But the fun didn’t end there.

Mark used the same tune for another song that he wrote lyrics for, and sadly, I can’t claim authorship to them. His excellent song was “Let’s Rock Iraq.”

Once again, he sang his unique compositions a la Wayne Newton and he just tickled me – his voice had a certain swagger. Back in the backward technology days of 90s (car cell phones the size of bricks) and when we were at war with Saddam Hussein, he sang this one to me – into my answering machine. When I came home from work, I was greeted by a flashing light (always so exciting!). I pushed the button and out came these astonishingly clever lyrics:

“Saddam is such a mad man.

Hussein rhymes with insane.

He’s really got it, that man.

This guy’s a royal pain.

He’s stirrin’ up the Arab masses.

He needs some geography classes.

Look how high the price of gas is…

Let’s go kick some Iraqi asses…

LET’S ROCK!

IIIIIIIIIRAQ!…”

And then repeat that last refrain.

When I got home and heard this on my modern machine, I just fell out (this is what they do at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church when someone is slain by the spirit. I was just writhing with uncontrollable laughter.)

I miss my friend, Mark. He was such a funny, kind, gentle soul, and so wanted to be a jingle singer. When he died, he left me all his VHS tapes of classic movies like “Gone with the Wind” and musicals like “My Fair Lady” – hundreds of them! I was in Cinema Heaven!

And while Mark never was a national sensation, he was my Big Shrimp-singing hero for a brief :30 in time, and was famous through Big Shrimp from Long John Silvers. In my office. For all who passed by.

To this, I raise my imaginary crunchy crustacean and toast a hearty thank you to the Jingle God – and Long John Silvers for bestowing upon me – and Mark – the chance to immortalize ourselves in the baffling contradiction called Big Shrimp!

 

My Flash Fiction Story. Dictated While Driving.

So, yeah, I was crazy that day. I was driving on I-75 in a tornado-esque rainstorm, feeling a mammoth deficit of estrogen and progesterone, and straight up terrified, like pee my pants terrified (I’m a big baby), that the 18-wheeler within inches of my car was going to shove me into the concrete barrier.

And that would be it.

Histrionic? Yes. That’s me. But I don’t like driving and especially in Dallas on I-75, where one Thursday night a bunch of guys on crotch rockets descended upon me like a swarm of killer bees, scaring the bejesus out of me, then scurried away in formation like one long, glittery rattlesnake. This memory haunts me every time I hit the entrance ramp.

Anyhoo, this is the story, the fear-based rant I dictated to my sad iPhone, a 4 that is lacking in all hipness and coolery. Also contributing to my Woody Allen-ish neuroses (love him, his obsession with death, but could do without his betrayal of Mia) is my OCD. But I don’t want to get into a loop about that. So stop I will.

Here is the story.

Blessing to you all who pass this way….and actually stop and read.

Toe-to-Toe with Patrick Warburton

My saga begins in Chicago’s O’Hare airport in 2008. Mom and I were on our way to London to see her favorite opera star, Bryn Terfel (pictured below), in “Tosca” at Covent Garden. We were slated to meet a group of people from the fan club, the Terfeliads, a group of ladies who caravan around the world to see this dashing Welsh super star fill their hearts with bass baritone splendor. They are, as I like to say, the Dead Heads of the opera world and we fit right in.

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Icy weather had delayed us out of Dallas so we knew we would have a miniscule window in which to make our connecting flight to the UK. So here we come, down the wide, cavernous, echoing main promenade at O’Hare, running as fast as our non-sensible shoes with spindly, ankle-breaking heels could take us to our gate. We show up staggering and sweaty, hair flying in every direction (except for mom’s), dragging our over-packed bags behind us like body bags.

And then we see it – the plane slowly pulling away from the gate.

“Aaaah!” we both say, and look at each other with utter despair, dropping our bags with overly dramatic flair and flinging our hands in the air, saying, “We were sooooo close!” (I don’t know why I say “we.” I was the only one doing this. Mom was her usual elegant, dignified self.)

With crestfallen hearts, we start wringing our hands and worrying about what we might do next. How would we make it to see Bryn?

As we are doing this, I notice a man to our left. He, too, had missed the connecting flight and was less than enthused. He mentioned he had hoofed it all the way from his gate, a flight from LA. Only thing was he didn’t look disheveled or rattled in any way. No hairs out of place. No sweat around his collar. No, he was hip and cool in his dark leather jacket, toting a black carry-on and interestingly, a giant film reel the size of a dinner plate charger (but thicker) on a small trolley.

He looked familiar, but not immediately so. He was definitely Captain Hunk – tall with dark, distinct eyes and perfectly arched brows. He had an elfish, mischievous grin. And killer dimples. His voice slayed me. Very deep, resonant voice like an FM radio announcer. I knew he was “somebody”, but I didn’t know just who.

We struck up a conversation with this friendly, handsome man. He was out of ideas, too, about how we were going to get to London. We talked to him for a few minutes, sharing our mutual irritations about the plight of air travel while we all droned on, frowning and fretting with disappointment.

In a few minutes, an American Airlines gate attendant in her red and blue scarfed, official self appeared and told us we’d be on the next flight. Not to worry. It would depart about midnight and it would be taking off a few gates away.

Soon more people who had missed their connection arrived then we all waddle en masse with our bags like little ducklings down to the new gate.

Mom and I decided to get some sandwiches for our long flight so off I went to fetch our nourishment.

When I returned with full bags from Which Wich and sodas, a conversation between my mom aka The Red Headed Bombshell and this mystery man with the film reel was in full swing.

“Lisa, this is Patrick Warburton. He’s on ‘Seinfeld, SEINFELD‘ “, she said in an elevated tone. “He was Puddy, Elaine’s boyfriend,” she said. “He’s been in lots of TV shows and movies.”

I chimed in and said, of course I recognized him.

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“I thought I recognized you,” I said, “I knew you were somebody…just didn’t know WHICH body of the SOME you were.”

He smiled and gave me what sounded like a courtesy laugh. I asked about his film reel. Turns out he was taking it to the Irish Film Festival in Dublin – and he was one of the main stars, Mack. I think the film was “Made for Each Other.” Here’s the IMDB plot summary:

The best part of any marriage is consummating it. However, after 3 months of a sexless marriage, Dan finds himself in the throes of casual sex with another woman. Dan decides the only way to morally rectify this is, of course, to get his wife to cheat on him and thus he sets out to find the right man to even the score.

“My daughter, Lisa, she did a film, too,” mom said, proudly, beaming with pride.

“Yes, your mother was filling me in on your documentary,” Patrick said with a glimmer in his eye, as he popped open his Coke can.

My mind raced about what else my mom had told him about me while I away getting our food. Did she tell him I was a spinster who used to write ads in New York but was currently unemployed? Did she tell him I was not a real blonde? Did she tell him I wore corrective shoes as a child? That I hid behind the door when I was a toddler when I had a dirty diaper?

“Yes, I did a film about a homeless guy, Bob, and the tagline is ‘The story of a spiritual savant who survives his own personal holocaust.’ ” He smiled and made some witty remark and I returned with something that was less than witty, I’m sure. Nevertheless, the volley was on.

Mom told Patrick all about Bryn, and gave him Bryn’s operatic CV, i.e. where we had gone to see him (New York, Chicago, Houston, etc.), who was in the fan club and more. He looked genuinely interested.

It came time for us to board so we continued a bit of conversation as we trudged on and found our seats.

As it turned out, Patrick was sitting right behind me. Not to the left. Not to the right. But directly behind me.

After we had gotten settled and the flight took off, we resumed our volley. He talked about the cast on “Seinfeld,”  “The Tick” (pictured below), as well as “Family Guy” and the many other voices he had done in the cartoon world.

 

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I told him I had written a TV spot for JC Penney in which we cast Bryan Cranston, Elaine’s other boyfriend, the dentist re-gifter, on “Seinfeld.”

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“He was your competition,” I said.

“No contest,” he said, indicating that Bryan was clearly the better, more suave of the two.

He then told me all about his wife and kids. He pulled out his wallet and showed me photos of his kids – quite a few, he had four. They had his DNA and were all handsome and gorgeous.

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“You are prolific,” I said. I think he blushed.

He told me how hard it was to have a family and be an actor. Was he flirting? Certainly not, I thought. I was a Pleb. He was Hollywood soon-to-be Royalty – a Patrician. But I did try to empathize with him, telling him that when I was on the road doing TV commercials, I could not have pets or plants.

“My plants died. Even my cactus. And I had to give away my lab, my sweet Simon,” I said.

He raised his eyebrows a bit, giving me a mumbled, “Yeah, I know what you mean.”

I’m not sure the parallel was really the same. I was, though, trying.

I shared more about the woes of being a part-time filmmaker, but said we did have a track by Tom Waits – who he said he loved. I dubbed this a personal victory.

Over the course of the six-hour flight, it was a verbal joust. We talked on and off about films, TV, books, music and more. When I thought of something to say or ask him, I would pop up over the seat and talk to him. He would do the same to me. We were like little Whack-a-Moles jutting up from each side of our seats. Mom even joined in on our conversation, piping up about movies she liked, even musical groups.

“Even though my first love is Bryn, I really like the Bee Gees,” mom said.

“They are some snappy dressers, those guys. Their white platform shoes alone should be feared,” Patrick said. Mom giggled and he winked at her.

Near the end of the flight, we both decided we needed to sleep.

As we started our descent, the flight attendant came on and said we’d be landing in about an hour and that we needed to wake up, make sure we did our customs forms, and other blah blah things we needed to do to enter the country.

Suddenly, I felt it….on my socked-footed toes – Patrick’s toes! He was tall enough that he could stick his feet under my seat…and tickle MY toes with HIS!

At this point, you can imagine my surprise. I jumped up, making a big scene, bursting into laughter, and looked up to see him laughing, too.

“Just had to wake you up, make sure we didn’t lose you during sleepy time,” Patrick said.

After we landed and were gathering our belongings, he said to my mom, “This is for you. I want you to have this.” It was a jar of orange hard candies with an orange ribbon on the top. I have no idea where he got these, but he was insistent about parting with them.

Mom was gushing, absolutely delighted.

“You keep an eye on her, ” Patrick said to me, nodding his head in the direction of my mom. “You never know what the Red-Headed Bombshell is going to do next.”

When we deplaned, we said our goodbyes. We wished him well at the Irish Film Festival – and with his connecting flight to Dublin.

“You better hurry,” mom said.

“Oh yes, m’aam, I better skedaddle,” Patrick said.

And off he went, with his film on the trolley that clacked and clacked on the marble floor until the sound was just a whisper.

Mom still has the jar of orange candies. I am sure they’re rancid by now. But she and I won’t give them up, or eat them. And every time she sees them, or sees him in his commercial for National Car Rental, she tells the story.

“Do you remember the time was saw Patrick Warburton on the way to London? You know he gave me some candies..”

If I ever saw him again, I am doubtful he’d remember me. But at least, I’ll always have that moment when I went toe-to-toe with Patrick Warburton.