book reviews and excerpts

Book Review – The Healing 100 by Cherie Kephart

***Chronic illness tires us out, all the time. The perpetual pain colors our outlook on life and can lead to frequent depression. When this occurs, assembling the will and strength to do the comprehensive research needed to help us can be quite impossible. With Kephart’s The Healing 100 we don’t have to. Each of her 100 healing methods is short, uplifting, and easy to assimilate. She gives us a holistic approach. We get to pick and choose the approaches we know will work for us. Her ideas derive from her extensive physical obstacles. Yet, her voice remains friendly and encouraging voice throughout. I recommend The Healing 100 highly.

 

My cookbook, Following Good Food Around the World, with its 180 wonderful recipes, my newest novel, Do Lutheran Hunks Eat Mushrooms, a hilarious apocalyptic thriller, and all my other books, are available on amazon.com.

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Book Review – The Spirit of Shy Moon Lake by Reina Lisa Menasche

 

Serenity is deceptive. Happiness is fragile. And karma is a bitch with a long memory and the power to punish whenever it wants and however it wants. Jess McCortney moves with her family to the idyllic town of Shy Moon Lake where you can move in, but never leave. Jess hears stories of blood rituals. She tries to uncover out the town’s history but gets stonewalled by everyone. Why are her neighbors so strange? And just why does no ever go into the beautiful lake?

The Spirit of Shy Moon Lake is a captivating read from cover to cover. Reina Lisa Menasche deftly examines karma, our yearnings, and our fears. I have enjoyed all her novels.

 

 

My cookbook, Following Good Food Around the World, with its 180 wonderful recipes, my newest novel, Do Lutheran Hunks Eat Mushrooms, a hilarious apocalyptic thriller, and all my other books, are available on amazon.com.

 

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Book Review – Lion at Twilight by Roger L. Conlee

It’s 1953. Europe is in a state of flux. The Cold War becomes chillier. Then Prime Minister, Winston Churchill vanishes while in Berlin. Britain’s already shaky prestige and power seems vulnerable, especially without the man who led it through World War II. Churchill needs to be found and be retrieved. However, the government can only do so much without admitting Churchill’s disappearance. MI6 turns to the resourceful Jake Weaver, a man they have found useful. Jake and his daughter Ilse’s secret trip to Berlin becomes fraught with danger as his friends prove less useful than expected while his enemies lie waiting in the shadows.

As in all his previous novels, Conlee’s research is meticulous. This action-packed adventure remains compelling throughout. It is a real page turner. Fans of history will love it. I recommend it highly.

 

Paul De Lancey, The Comic Chef, Ph.D., and travel advisor

My cookbook, Following Good Food Around the World, with its 180 wonderful recipes, my newest novel, Do Lutheran Hunks Eat Mushrooms, a hilarious apocalyptic thriller, and all my other books, are available on amazon.com.

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My Favorite Funny TV Shows – Part 2

These are more of my favorite funny TV Shows. I sure forgot a lot of them in the previous list. There are, doubtless, many funny shows I’ve never seen.

* = Shows that were side splitting and I would very much want to see more episodes.

There’s quite a few hilarious British TV shows. Unfortunately, the Brits don’t seem to make a lot of episodes.

Blandings*
Crackanory*
Doctor in the House
Family Guy
Friends
I Love Lucy
Jeeves and Wooster*
King of the Hill
Lucy Show
Mind Your Language*
My Living Doll
One Foot in the Grave
On the Buses
Roseanne
Thin Blue Line
Vicar of Dibley
Wodehouse Playhouse
Yes, Minister*
Yes, Prime Minister*
Young Ones
30 Rock

Paul De Lancey, The Comic Chef, Ph.D., critic

My cookbook, Following Good Food Around the World, with its 180 wonderful recipes, my newest novel, Do Lutheran Hunks Eat Mushrooms, a hilarious apocalyptic thriller, and all my other books, are available on amazon.com.

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My Favorite Restaurants – Mother’s, New Orleans

New Orleans is chock full of superb dining establishments. However, my favorite one, the one I always go to whenever I have the good fortune to visit the Crescent City is Mother’s Restaurant.

Mother’s claims it serves the “World’s Best Baked Ham.”  I have to agree. However, I am a sucker for dipped, hot sandwiches. I nearly always go for their Ferdi Special.

As you can see from the picture on the right, the place displays a modest decor, while the many photos on the brick are of celebrities who made a point to going to Mother’s.

The omnipresent long line outside to get into the restaurant, shows the enduring popularity of this historic eatery.  Be sure to pick out your dining choices as you make way in the line to the counter; there are lots of people behind waiting to get in.

As I mentioned above, my favorite dish at Mother’s is the Famous Ferdi Special. It’s a po’ boy with ham and roast beef. Be sure to ask for it with “debris.” Debris is the bits of roast beef that fall into the gravy while carving. This po’ boy is so good that ordering any of their other fine dishes feels like having an affair on the Ferdi Special. But what an affair, it would be. I recommend trying the World’s Best Baked Ham Dinner, the Ham Po’ Boy, the Gulf Shrimp Po’ Boy, Red Beans and Rice with ham, and Shrimp Creole.

Google Maps(tm) describes Mother’s Restaurant as “Greasy spoon with Southern comfort food.” And how! I’m getting rather hungry writing this blog. So let me leave after listing their tasty sides: cabbage, turnip greens, red beans & rice, Jake’s green beans with tomatoes, grits, cheese grits, potato salad, and French fries.

I want to go back to Mother’s Restaurant. You should go too.

 

Paul De Lancey, The Comic Chef, Ph.D.

My cookbook, Following Good Food Around the World, with its 180 wonderful recipes, my newest novel, Do Lutheran Hunks Eat Mushrooms, a hilarious apocalyptic thriller, and all my other books, are available on amazon.com.

 

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The Great Chicken Invitational – Part 1

Golf had long been a bastion of people, its exclusivity maintained by a silent gentle folk’s agreement. But no longer, for on January 1, 1974, in Kippen, Idaho, chickens finally integrated the game.

The top thirty chickens in Idaho arrived at the prestigious, private golf club, Froussard for “The Great Chicken Invitational.” Earlier, in late August, Froussard enrolled a chicken to qualify as the host.

Skeptics everywhere had maintained that chickens do not have the necessities to play golf. Other critics had argued that even if physically able chickens could be found, they would not have the mental skills required to converse and to make business contacts.

Nevertheless, the Great Chicken Invitational came to pass. The Invitational’s organizers invited the most athletic chickens for miles around. Intrepid entrepreneurs designed full lines of chicken-sized golf clubs. Chicken owners everywhere got into the spirit and demanded full sets of these clubs for their tiny friends.

Golf enthusiasts from all over the world yearned to see the momentous event. Sven Fjaderfa, CEO and owner of mammoth Swedish Furniture, up and left work a day before the start of the tournament. “I want to see chickens play golf,” he told his employees. Thousands of other golfers joined him at Kippen, Idaho, for the greatest exhibition of golf the state has ever seen.

At seven in the morning of January 1, the organizers trucked in the chickens to the golf course. While the officials spent an hour assigning starting times, the spectators admired the chickens’ traditional tartan knickerbockers. “They look darling,” stated Heather Anders of Fashion Magazine.

At eight o’clock, the organizers unloaded the chickens near the first tee. The chickens immediately scattered to peck for worms in the recently mowed course. Eventually, an official, Tom Purdue, caught Agatha and plopped her down at the tee. He gave the chicken a number one wood, as this was a 476 yards, par 5 hole.

The crowd watched in anticipation, as Agatha surveyed the fairway. She carefully held the driver in the traditional chicken grip, the top wing just touching the bottom wing. All expected Agatha to be a serious competitor, as she never smiled. She looked down the fairway once more, clucked a few times, moved the club back, keeping her left wing straight, and then rapidly brought it forward to hit the ball.

Sarah Dindon, was there for the tee off. “I was lying down on the ground looking up at the blue sky, as I have always found this the best way to view chicken golf.” Sarah watched Agatha’s ball soar above her head into the clouds. The ball then came down, landing a yard down the fairway. At this effort, some unsympathetic fans hooted in derision. Agatha reacted angrily by pecking her nearest tormentors.

The organizers hoped for better results from Roxanne, a fierce, muscular chicken, who spat gravel at the poor official who carried her to the tee. Roxanne followed Agatha’s lead by selecting a driver from the tiny bag on her back. She exhibited perfect form, as a lifetime of looking for worms in the ground had given her the enviable ability to keep her darn, stupid head down. Although her drive nearly doubled Agatha’s in length, this still meant she was 474 yards short. Nearly all the attending journalists agreed that her chances of parring the hole were remote.

Chicken after chicken followed the pattern of Agatha and Roxanne. Something had gone wrong. Apologists for the fowls suggested that the media circus attending this first professional contest unnerved the flock. Indeed, Bob Banks, owner of Francine, slugged a reporter who badgered chickens in rather one-sided interviews.

But the reason for their poor performances lay in the chickens themselves. Remarkably, no one had considered the possibility that a twenty-ounce chicken using a four-inch club would drive a regulation golf ball a considerably shorter distance than would a two-hundred-pound man with a regulation club. Furthermore, for all their attentiveness to their swings, the chickens’ lack of hands proved to be a major obstacle to getting firm grips on their clubs.

(To be continued)

 

– Paul De Lancey, The Comic Chef

My cookbook, Following Good Food Around the World, with its 180 wonderful recipes, my newest novel, Do Lutheran Hunks Eat Mushrooms, a hilarious apocalyptic thriller, and all my other books, are available on amazon.com.

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Spotlight on Concha Alborg, Author of “My Mother, That Stranger. Letters from the Spanish Civil War”

About the book

 

Over eight-hundred letters were written between the author’s newly-engaged parents during the time that her father was on the Republican war front fighting against Franco’s forces, and her mother awaiting the end of the war. Her father, Professor Juan Luis Alborg, would live to become a well-known literary historian and critic. Her mother’s life, on the other hand, was overshadowed by her husband’s academic celebrity. The letters were discovered whilst preparing for a symposium marking the centenary of her father’s birth, celebrated at the University of Malaga in 2014

This unique memoir is a microhistory of the Spanish Civil War at an individual level; it illuminates the ‘official story’ as told in history books at multiple levels. Her mother’s personal narrative adds to the understanding of this significant time because she shows how a family lived in the midst of war. A primary relevance is that she lived in Valencia, which in November 1936 become the official capital of the Republican government. Working in a government co-op gave her an insider’s view of the ongoing political and military situation. She describes the contrasting burdens between family life in Valencia, and the life of her fiancé soldier on the southern frontlines. The author’s mother is exemplary of the women who were formed under the liberal Second Spanish Republic (1931–39) only to be silenced during Franco’s repressive dictatorship (1939–75). The long-lost letters made Concha Alborg realize how little she understood her mother’s passion to set down complex feelings in the most difficult of circumstances. My Mother, That Stranger will be of interest to Hispanists, historians and literary critics for its uniqueness on the epistolary genre and gender studies, and to the general public as a heartfelt family memoir.

 

Excerpt From My Mother, That Stranger. Letters from the Spanish Civil War

 

In this memoir My Mother, That Stranger. Letters from the Spanish Civil War, Concha Alborg included recipes from her family in Spain. Today, we would like to share one with you.

“Rollitos;” Christmas Anisette Cookies:

All the entries in my mother’s recipe notebook are of desserts; there is not a single one of her savory dishes. The recipes are written neatly, underlined with red ink and they encompass a life trajectory of sorts. There are several from the old Alborg aunts, Isabel and Vicenta, some from her Spanish friends, all the way to my recipe for sherry cake and another for chocolate chip cookies, written in English! My mother never ceases to surprise me. It is interesting that she would take the time to write down these recipes, but not any of the meals she was best known for. It is as if she believed that cooking is an art and baking a science. She did not need to record her masterpieces, but needed the exact ingredients of the sweet treats, although she wrote “as much flour as needed” for the “rollitos.”

Growing up we seldom had sweet desserts. Fruit was served at the end of each meal, but cakes and cookies were reserved for holidays, such as the Saints’ Days and birthdays. Only at Christmas time did we have special treats of almond nougat and marzipan. “Meriendas” (a late afternoon or early evening snack) were usually made up of a sweet roll or a croissant, but those were store-bought. As children we usually had plain bread with some chocolate and a glass of milk, nothing more.

She made “rollitos” in early December for our Saint’s Day on the 8th and the leftovers were reserved for Christmas. They were and still are my favorite cookies ever! Their liqueur smell permeated the house and when I was a little girl, I could smell them the minute I stepped out of the elevator. The recipe I have in my mother’s handwriting with red ink on a 3 X 5 card is yellowed and stained, but I would never think of copying it anew.

I started making them as a young bride and continued doing so religiously after my daughters were born. I was glad that most of my friends and in-laws found them strong and strange and preferred the traditional American sugar cookies for Christmas, the more for me to savor. I know that making “rollitos” is a tedious job. They take a minimum of two hours and they are all rolled by hand in small donut-like circles the size of a ring. They are dipped in sugar, which makes one’s hands sticky and you need to wash them often. When I was little, I liked them best eaten warm and I was supposed to wait until they cooled down or I would get a stomach ache. But I found out that it was not true, because once I ate at least a baker’s dozen (an expression in English I love and we do not have in Spanish) when the “rollitos” had just come out of the oven and absolutely nothing happened to my stomach.

Diana, my oldest, learned to make them early and I thought she was a fan until the day that she took the dough and made one huge “rollitón” announcing: “Here, I’m done.” Luckily, her sister was old enough to take over and, again, I thought she enjoyed the family tradition, only to find out that she hated making them too and did not like eating them, even if they were warm. When my daughters grew up and left the nest, I found friends and neighbors to join me making them. I soon got the feeling as soon as the first Christmas songs were heard, that no one wanted to see me, and they would disappear from my kitchen with the excuse of being really busy. My late husband Peter, despite his serious character faults, was very helpful in the kitchen and a fellow “rollito” lover and made them with me for years. In desperation, during my years as a widow, I have recruited unsuspecting boyfriends to bake with me with the expectation of perhaps winning my heart, which has not happened yet.

As we know, life can have very sweet surprises and now I have two lovely twin granddaughters who enjoy making “rollitos” with me, I think. At least they humor me as long as I make them a “tortilla de patatas” in return, a potato omelet, which they love. Having two helpers instead of one makes it more efficient. Actually, I have doubled the recipe since now the three grandchildren expect their own tin of “rollitos” to take home. The twins are amazing. They have figured out that one rolls out the dough and the other dips “rollitos” in sugar, which saves with the hand washing. They know how to charm me and speak Spanish during our baking day. One year, when they were in the “fighting-with-each-other phase,” I allowed them to insult each other as much as they wanted as long as they used the affirmative and negative commands in Spanish, which are so tricky to learn. There is nothing like being a retired professor and a grandmother to come up with this trick!

Here is the recipe:

INGREDIENTS

1 cup virgin olive oil
1 cup anisette
1 cup sugar and more for dipping
2 eggs
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons baking powder
Flour, as much as needed (about six cups)

METHOD

In a large bowl, combine the oil, anisette, eggs and sugar. Add the lemon zest and the baking powder. Add the flour little by little until it becomes manageable and it can be kneaded on the counter.

Form rings of half an inch-size wide dough. Dip them in sugar before baking. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 20 minutes. The bottom should be golden brown.

Makes about five dozen.

 

Bio

 

Dr. Concha Alborg was born in Valencia and grew up in Madrid. She has lived in the United States since the 1960s. She received a Masters from Emory University and a Ph.D. from Temple University. She was a professor of contemporary Spanish literature at Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia. Some of her academic publications include: Cinco figuras en torno a la novela de posguerra, a critical edition of Caza menor, and Temas y técnicas en la narrativa de Jesús Fernández Santos. Her fiction and creative non-fiction publications are detailed on the press website.

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Paul De Lancey

http://www.pauldelancey.com

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Spotlight on Barbara Hammond, Author of “Daddy du Jour”

About the book

 

This is a book about survival in many ways. Barbara became the primary caregiver of her younger brothers at an early age. There was a revolving door of men in her mother’s life. Some were good; some were not. Her favorite stepfather introduced her to the man she’s been married to for more than 50 years which proves how living in chaos can sometimes lead you to the other side. That’s a happy ending.

Excerpt From Daddy du Jour

 

Chapter
I

Running Away

 

“I’ll take care of putting your things in the trunk, Miss, you take the baby and get in the cab where it’s warm,” the Taxi driver said.

Warmth.

Something I had longed for through all the horrible winter months. And, here we were making our escape on the coldest night in the history of Toledo, Ohio. It was twenty-three degrees below zero on January twenty-third, nineteen sixty-three. I was twelve, and I could never forget the date.

The taxi had an odd exotic aroma I wasn’t familiar with but, it was warm. There were so few times we had been warm this brutal winter. It was heavenly.

I slowly loosened the quilt from my brother, David, and removed his stocking cap. He didn’t wake, so I laid him on the seat next to me with his head on my lap. He was so small for a three-year-old, but given our lifestyle, it wasn’t a surprise. It would be a fairly long ride, and it was best he slept.

The driver got in, and we were off to, what I hoped would be, a safe haven. My step-father, Al, was trying to take custody of us and, his sister and her husband were going to take care of us during the process. David was Al’s son.

Al was mom’s third husband. Here we were returning to the town we’d left four months before when mom’s affair with a local businessman blew-up all over us. He owned the local ice-cream shop, and I went to school with his daughter. This was going to be awkward.

I remember how mom and Al fought all night when he learned of her affair. He slammed out of the house pre-dawn and told her she had better be gone when he came back.

Her Prince Charmless came and loaded up his car with everything she could gather, including us. I had no idea where we were going, and I’m not sure she did either.

“I found you a great little place,” he said. “It’s only temporary but, you and the kids will be fine.”

I looked at the back of his large head as he sat behind the wheel. His name was Jack. He was much larger than Al and had a wide, pockmarked face. What in the world did she see in this guy?

“What about school?” I asked.

“I’m sure there will be one,” mom said sarcastically.

I was in sixth grade, and this would be my seventh school. I suppose I should have been used to it, but you never get used to perpetually being the new kid.

As I looked out the car window, the landscape became darker and seedier, like coal dust had enveloped everything. Where in hell were we going? Suddenly we pulled into a parking lot in front of a truck stop.

“You wait here, I’ll go get the keys,” Prince Charmless said.

As I looked around, I could see a trailer park behind the building. It could not have been uglier. It was October, and there was not a speck of fall color anywhere around us.

He came back with the keys, and we drove behind the building onto a gravel road lined with rusted out shitty tin boxes. One uglier than the next. My heart sank, and I wanted to cry.

“I know it doesn’t look pretty but, as I said, it’s temporary,” he said.

“God, I hope so,” I mumbled.

“You shut up!” mom yelled, “Jack’s doing us a big favor after Al threw us out. You should be grateful we have a place to go.”

“Why can’t we go to Mamaw and Granddaddy’s?” I asked.

“Don’t you worry about it,” she said, “we’ll be fine.”

My grandparents had always been there for us, even when they didn’t agree with mom’s way of handling the men in her life or how she treated her kids. I always felt safe with them and couldn’t understand why she was keeping them away this time.

The car stopped in front of a black and silver trailer with so much rust it resembled a calico cat. Jack got out and continued to assure her this was temporary.

“It’s completely furnished,” he said.

Mom nodded and followed him up the rickety wooden steps to the door.

“Come on, bring David and get in here,” she said.

The outside was depressing enough but, the inside was complete with the smell of cat piss. It kept getting worse. How could this be happening?

He began describing it like he was trying to sell it, which he was. Not that she had a choice in the matter. There was no plan B.

“You can put the kid down,” he said, “let him explore a little.”

I was afraid of what he might find. Whoever lived there last must have left in a hurry because there were dirty dishes in the sink. I put David down and said, “Don’t touch anything!”

“It needs a little cleaning,” mom said. That was the understatement of the year.

“Let’s unpack the car and then I’ll take you to the store to get some food and cleaning supplies,” he said.

They dropped our meager belongings inside the door and went shopping, leaving us there in the stinking tin box.

There was a small TV in the living room and, fortunately, it worked. I sat David in front of it and began looking through the cabinets for something to clean with.

The kitchen was tiny with a counter dividing it from the living room and a fold down table below a small window opposite the sink. There was a hallway down the side. The first bedroom had bunk beds where David and I would sleep, then a tiny bathroom and the (ahem) master bedroom taking the entire width of the back of the trailer.

I found a can of cleanser under the sink, filled a bowl with hot water and took a diaper out of the diaper bag to begin scrubbing things down.

I put all of the dishes in the sink. There weren’t many, and they were all plastic with a sticky film on them. It was warm outside so opening the windows helped air things out. Everything I could clean I did. But, where the hell were they with the groceries?

By dusk, they returned. Clearly, they’d stopped at a bar.

“Hey! We brought food and new sheets for the beds,” mom said.

For some reason, I thought he would be leaving. I was wrong. He brought in his own suitcase and took it to the back bedroom.

By November Prince Charmless was gone. Our temporary arrangement became permanent without any assistance. Mom got a job bartending 3pm-11pm. She made arrangements with an elderly neighbor

 

Bio

 

Barbara Hammond is an artist, children’s book author of The Duffy Chronicles and blogger at Zero to 60 and Beyond (https://www.zeroto60andbeyond.com). She’s been married to her husband Dave for over 50 years and has two grown sons and three grandsons.

Barbara and her family have moved many times over the years due to Dave’s career in retail. With each move, Barbara found ways to re-invent herself. She worked in the fashion modeling profession at an agency in Philadelphia and after several years and a move to Massachusetts, she opened her own modeling agency.

There she and Dave also owned a health spa for a few years. After a transfer to Pittsburgh, Barbara dabbled in real estate but did not feel it was her calling. Both she and Dave found jobs in radio sales at a classic rock radio station.

Eventually, the couple moved back to Philadelphia. Barbara went back to the modeling agency to begin a talent division that worked with actors from NYC and Philadelphia. Today, Barbara and Dave are retired and living at the Jersey Shore.

 

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Paul De Lancey

http://www.pauldelancey.com

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Spotlight On Arlene Schindler, Author of “Stand Up & Heartbreak”

About the Book

 

Stand Up & Heartbreak is a narrative non-fiction glimpse into the life of a budding stand-up comic who unknowingly marries a sex addict, and they both stop performing. Set in NYC in 1981, from comedy cellars to dive bars to Park Avenue high-rises, a female comic from Brooklyn meets the man of her dreams, not knowing his addictions and double life. With big hair and a satin jumpsuit, she confronts sexism, manages hecklers, says “next” to bad sex and endures a marriage gone awry, finally emerging with the punch line. Stand Up & Heartbreak spotlights being a comic at the wrong time in a world where timing is everything.

 

Excerpt from Stand Up & Heartbreak

 

Chapter 1:

 

DAY JOBS DON’T HAVE PUNCHLINES

 

I never said the word vagina in public until my parents were dead. That’s why you probably never heard of me.

Center stage: Comedy U, down-town Manhattan. Spotlight on me and my jokes.

Some people have stage presence. I have stage absence. In school, I was voted most likely to be forgotten. The teachers called me “Um.

Thrilled to be in front of an audience, I felt the hot lights on my face. As the crowd laughed long and loud, it seemed as if the room had embraced me in a loving hug. Nothing like a great set to make me feel fearless. Afterwards, taking compliments and congratulations from well-wishers, I grabbed my coat and left the club after midnight.

On nights like tonight that ran late, I’d ask a fellow comic if I could go home with them and sleep on their couch, then train home to Brooklyn in daylight. But after a few months of that, I’d now run out of couches.

I had to take the subway. Walking alone through the chilly April wind, my adrenaline surged as my heart beat kept pace with the clickety-clack of my spike heels on cement. One foot, then the other, echoing a half block away as I race-walked the five blocks to the urine-scented subway for a 45-minute ride home on the F train.

I was 25, with, big permed hair and, enormous shoulders thanks to the oversized pads I tucked into every garment. It was 1981, the most violent year for crime in New York City. A mugging was more common than a celebrity sighting. I may have had a big mouth and big dreams for a comedy career, thinking nothing could harm me when I was on stage, but my courage shrank on the streets. And with the spin of the subway turnstile, I went from fearless to fearful.

Old muggers don’t die; they just steal away.

My orchestrated plan to avoid muggers was dressing in my “Ugly-Up-Get-Up” the shabbiest of coats over my nice club outfit, appearing to have the fashion sense of a bag woman. Carrying all money inside the coat, with no purse in evidence, I sat in the middle car of the train, near the conductor. Solo on the desolate ride, if anyone approached me, I’d start singing loudly about the solar system (Moon Over Miami was my favorite song/rant, encompassing both) so potential muggers would think I was insane.

The near-empty train chugged along the tracks as I worried about my safety, always anticipating the worst.

While my F train lingered at the West 4th Street station, waiting for it’s D train connection, I replayed the evening’s show in my head. How did I get to be in a smelly subway car around midnight after loitering in smoke filled comedy clubs with wacky guys?

My mother blamed my dad, a former comic, for my pursuits. In an era before Tina Fey, Lena Dunham, the Amys (Poehler and Schumer) or Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, my ambitions to write, direct, and star had but one role model: Elaine May. After an accomplished career in nightclubs, comedy records and TV, May was an idol to every funny girl my age. In 1963 Dad used to wake me up close to midnight to see the comedy team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May on The Jack Paar Show on our black-and-white television. A sleepy, pajama-clad second-grader, I was mesmerized watching her. Whip-smart, in a little black dress, May caused the all-male cast on the show to roar with laughter. Daddy had no idea that during our special times in front of the TV, when we were bonding in comedy, I was also setting a goal for my adult life.

When I was twelve, Dad and I saw A New Leaf, a movie in which Elaine May starred, wrote, and directed, on one of our cherished Saturday afternoon movie-and-a-meal dates. Although Dad’s comedy career ended in his twenties, his knowledge and opinions about the comedy business shaped my own.

Afterwards at a Chinese restaurant, he said, “You’re funny, kid. You saw what she did on screen. You could do that, too.”

Those words were emblazoned on my psyche for years. Dad neglected to mention, however, that I’d need lots of other people, bags of money, and most of all, unrelenting chutzpah—to turn my chubby, funny self into a funny girl onscreen.

Sadly, I was the roundest and most graceless in Madame Benet’s ballet class, where each girl had to leap into the air and then effortlessly tumble. Madame stood tall, inscrutable, black leotard, toe shoes, and that bun pulled painfully tight at the top of her head. She tapped her long wooden pointer as every girl began her tumble, counting the beats, “a one, two, three,” until each girl stood again.

Not me. Flat on my ass on the floor, legs in the air, I couldn’t get my chubby legs over my head. I was mortified as my body veered to the left or right, never quite overhead.

“Again, one, two, three.” Madame insisted. My legs were unresponsive. “One, two, three.” My body heated up with tension and embarrassment as my classmates stared at me. Just then, Madame Benet, and her trusty pointer, pounded down on the hardwood floor, again, again. Still, I was hopeful that on the next try, my legs would swing over my head. Meanwhile, Madame hit her pointer so hard, her impeccable bun was starting to unravel, as was she. After about five minutes of watching me fail, she retreated. “Let’s just move on.”

I told Mom about this, hoping she’d put a stop to my humiliations.

“It’s important to get rid of your klutziness. Ballet can turn you from a klutz into a swan.”

My dad tried to be sympathetic in the only way he knew how—with corny humor.

“A chubby girl doesn’t wear a two-two. It’s a four-four,” he said.

Compared to that, telling jokes in front of a roomful of strangers on a brightly lit stage didn’t seem scary. And years later, after hearing so many stories about my Dad performing in clubs and my watching Jack Parr, The Ed Sullivan Show, Woody Allen movies, and comedy everywhere, I decided this was my dream.

Meanwhile, still sitting in a blindingly bright subway car, trying not to be nervous or look at anyone, I ate raisins one at a time, like a chipmunk, to appear insane, and be left alone.

Two young punks running through the car, slowed to look at me. Fearing getting mugged on the train, head down, I struggled out loud with new jokes.

“I used to be so fat, they called me a Behemoth babe the size of a BUICK. Behemoth BABE the size of a Buick. BEHEMOTH babe the size of a Buick.”

The punks laughed, gesturing that I was crazy. Then they exited the car. Relieved, I stopped eating raisins. Just four more stops.

Finally at my train stop, I rushed up the stairs of the desolate station to the street. Gusts of wind swirled through trees as I passed gated storefronts and groups of men congregating on the corners along the barely lit Church Avenue to home. As a chill brushed my cheek, the memory of my show’s laughter warmed me when a room full of strangers adored me. Now, I wished there was someone at my side to walk with me. Turning the corner to Ocean Parkway, house keys in hand, the warmth waned. This was the part of stand-up I hated—the profound after-show loneliness—the emotional crash of life alone in my studio apartment.

I hated being solo, with my inner voice screeching unrelenting criticisms.

“You idiot, you’re not funny enough. You blew that punch line. The neurotic guy with the mother issues, his set three comics before you, he could have saved it. He’s a crazy jerk, hungry for more stage time than you. He’s out six nights a week. Do you want this badly enough to keep coming back night after night? Can you do it all, clown girl?”

#

After the death of disco, New York City was a hotbed of new comedy—and male comedians (geeks, nerds, misfits, and man-children). The club scene was a man’s world where “girl comics” were allowed to participate, but not be taken seriously. Small clubs and restaurants needed performers yearning for stage time.

I’d worked my way through school writing jokes for other comedians, with plenty of gags to spare, but I wanted to tell my own. Dad, my comedy cheerleader agreed. When I’d started college, he’d waltz into my room early on Sunday mornings carrying a brown paper bag brimming with hot bagels, shaking the bag under my nose to rouse me, stirring the smells of fresh garlic and onions, saying, “Get out of the rag business. Become a comedian, your true calling. And don’t forget to find a husband.” He called this “bagel hypnosis.”

Dad was a Catskills comic in his early 20s, in the 1940s. His agent, Rose, also booked gigs for him at dinner theaters and supper clubs in Brooklyn and Manhattan, like Leon and Eddies, where food was served on fine china with cloth napkins and waiters wore tuxedos. That sounds worlds classier than working in dive bars, like me. Rose had two other comedians she booked on the circuit; Irwin Alan Kniberg, who became a comedy success as Alan King and Leonard Hacker who had a great comedy career as Buddy Hackett. In that era Jews either changed their names or their noses or both, to be accepted in the Gentile world. Rose revised Dad’s name too, from Al Schindler to Hal Chant. Sadly, neither Hal nor Al was as successful as Alan or Buddy or his other contemporaries Stubby Kaye, who went on to star in the original Guys and Dolls or Sammy Shore, comedian, club owner, and father of Pauly Shore. But Dad was happy, telling jokes in his comedy life, until his father made him quit and get an “adult job.” Former comedians may stop performing, but they don’t stop being funny. He hoped someone, somewhere in his world, would work in comedy and he was banking on me. So for me, performing was the natural progression of my comedy education, the way the son of a dentist goes into the family business.

“As I look into your faces, I see your faces need looking into.” That was a line from Dad’s act in the Catskills, years before I was born. Goofy to me, but he said it sparked laughter.

#

My first night onstage was at an open-mike night at a club called Good Times. The room brimmed with underworld bravado, like an early Scorsese film. Dark, ugly faces appeared interesting. I had a hard—or should I say, flat-out impossible—act to follow, the kind of “talent” many comedians have nightmares about. The comic, a guy dressed in one of those shiny, printed Huckapoo disco shirts from the late ‘70s—same era it was last washed—jumped on the dimly lit stage, cleared his throat and began reading from a small box in his hands.

“For relief of occasional constipation or bowel cleansing before rectal examinations.” Then he opened the box and continued reading. “Lie on left side with knee bent, arm resting comfortably.” He assumed the position. Curled up on his side, when he said the word insert, the crowd went wild. Maybe his comedy hero was Andy Kaufman, that was my only justification for why someone would read enema directions as their act. How could the audience find this funny?

“Why can’t I follow someone who has actual jokes?” I whispered to another comic for validation and a consolatory smile. There’s fight or flight. I chose a third way: complain.

Up next, I had no choice. I thought, “I should get in a cab right now.” Heart pounding, I paced the back of the room, longing to flee. Nervously running fingers through my hair, I mumbled my jokes to myself like a Buddhist chant till his set ended. It felt like forever.

Finally, Paul, the MC said, “Next, we have a girl from Brooklyn. Welcome, Arlene.”

I took the stage. The spotlight prevented me from seeing faces in the audience. Looking to the back of the room, I saw myself in a mirror, looking sleek in a black jumpsuit and low-heeled lace-up boots, pleased my hair had cooperated and didn’t frizz, just this once.

“Hey, that’s me!” said my little-girl inner voice in amazement.

“That’s me?” said my doubting inner critic. I almost froze from the thrill of being somewhere I’d always wanted to be. After practicing jokes as a girl in my bedroom, this was my moment. “I only wear designer clothes,” I said into the microphone, unaccustomed to the echo, my mouth too close to the mike. I pulled back. “My favorite designer is final sale.”

A few people chuckled.

The sweating began. I felt it drip down my sides and back. My scalp under my permed hair heated up slowly, then fiercely, feeling like a tin of Jiffy Pop popcorn cooking on top of my head. Was I pursuing comedy at the wrong time in a world where timing is everything?

In spite of my discomfort, somehow more jokes tumbled from my mouth, in a surreal out-of-body experience akin to being underwater, (which would have been refreshing). Everyone’s favorite joke from my set was, “I’m a procrastinating bulimic. When I’m ready to purge, it’s already turned to fat.”

I didn’t kill that night—but I didn’t bomb. I was hooked.

#

I quit a good job as a copywriter at an ad agency to become a gal du jour temp secretary, so I’d be available for auditions, cattle calls, and other forms of soul-crushing that entertainment hopefuls endure.

Think American Idol in a blender, with the top off.

Working odd jobs for sporadic paychecks at buttoned-down corporations around midtown Manhattan provided a small income. Writing new material, juggling appointments and a budget that never balanced, trying to maintain calm, my life was in turmoil. At the time, I didn’t realize I was living my dream, maybe because I thought I was supposed to have another goal, something stable.

Fantasizing about being onstage at night while I licked envelopes and made copies, all I wanted to do was perform and then go to sleep. It was all exhausting.

“Hey Vinnie, how about another Seven and Seven?” I asked the bartender one night. “Sorry, girlie, just one. A second would not be a good idea.” As I leaned over the bar to try again, a guy pinched my ass. At first I thought I had imagined it, but when he passed the bar again, he pretended to reach for something next to me—and got my tits.

Nights like these made it uncomfortable being in a club by myself. Plus, it’s scary to be onstage at the mercy of strangers’ approval. In retrospect, rather than feeling brave, I saw pursuing comedy as an alternative because I didn’t think I could get and keep a “regular” job (and didn’t want one). Onstage, I was queen of my universe, star of my show, writer, designer, music arranger, leader of my life. I liked that part.

Mornings, bleary eyed, sandwiched between other rush-hour subway strap-hangers on their way to work, I was a mere peon in the job world. Sometimes I was a temp copywriter at marketing companies, composing copy for catalogs and brochures, even dinner menus: “Succulent roast beef, piled high with mashed potatoes.” Remember that one? That was mine. Other times, I got to use my eight years of art training. I had attended the High School of Art and Design and Parsons School of Design, a prestigious art college in New York City, only to be faced with a recession in the clothing industry due to the over-use of polyester. Once, I designed an ad for cellulite cream that involved hours of poring over photos of models with cottage-cheese thighs. The ad ran in Harper’s Bazaar for six months.

Mostly though, I was a receptionist: answering phones, taking messages, and doing “lite” typing. I didn’t have a business card or know what to say when people asked, “What do you do?” I couldn’t sum up my catch-all career as copywriter, comic, girl Friday, and one other thing— itinerant overeater. Sure, I’d lost my post-adolescent emotional eating weight by putting a padlock on my dorm refrigerator (12-18-32). But anxiety led me to believe I was just one mood swing away from consuming enough food in one evening to gain it all back … and more.

When I turned 25 my parents put a sign in front of their house: Last girl before freeway…plus Salad Bar.

I had hopes for a romantic future, in spite of my pitiful romance-less present. The dating life of stand-up comics was laughably unglamorous, low-rent, and sometimes dangerous. One night, a lecherous fellow performer, asked me, “You live in Brooklyn? I can drive you home.”

I asked, “Where in Brooklyn do YOU live?”

“It doesn’t matter.” he tossed off.

I immediately pictured myself screaming and struggling to get out of a locked car trunk. A ride with a drunken, wild-eyed, ax-carrying hitchhiker would be safer than getting in the car with this guy.

Usually, I was the only woman on the bill. If there were others, many were either unattractive, anorexic, wore overalls, got their hair cut with a bowl on their head or were just plain freakish. As for me, I’d lost 40 pounds in my last year of college. Still thrilled that I could choose clothes that weren’t pastel polyester in a size 18, I wore slinky black jump suits, secretly hoping I was channeling a sleek, sophisticated Audrey Hepburn or Marlene Dietrich. I looked pretty onstage, I was told. Not a good thing for comedy. Audiences watched the first few minutes of my show, nodding and smiling, thinking this was the singer’s intro patter. When they realized I was the comic, my set was over. Maybe I’d dressed too prettily for the job.

I spent my 20s in a holding pattern. Was it marriage or a career? I wasn’t sure … but I was waiting. While I waited, I bought “good-enough” sheets along with make-do furniture, dishes, and pots and pans. My first apartment and all of its contents were like a training bra for my adult lifestyle. When this “thing” I was waiting for came, then I’d buy my dream house and fill it with the best.

Hopefully I’d have a spouse, soul mate, or life partner to share it with too.

I have a new way to sexually satisfy my wife. I let her sleep.

That was my joke! I sold it to a Catskills comic when I was 25. I had no idea it would be the prophetic punch line for my future, riskier than a fearless vagina joke.

 

Bio:

 

Arlene Schindler, born in Brooklyn, N.Y. is an author and speaker sharing humorous tales of women’s secrets and desires. She originated the comedy column for The New York Post, writing reviews and profiles of comedians appearing in New York City. It was the first of its kind in the country, helping spur comedy’s greatest growth period. Her writing has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Daily Variety, Purple Clover, The Huffington Post and many other publications. Her novel The Last Place She’d Look is a raucous romp through the hidden sex lives of today’s mature women.

Contact Arlene

Twitter @SmunnySchindler
Website: http://www.arleneschindler.com/
Goodreads: Arlene Schindler

 

**********************

Paul De Lancey
www.pauldelancey.com

Categories: book reviews and excerpts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spotlight on Perry Block, Author of “Nouveau Old, Formerly Cute”

 

About the Book

 

Like you, Perry Block is a Baby Boomer who turned around one day in 1978 and suddenly found himself 40 years later at an age he always thought was exclusively reserved for people’s parents.

Through a series of often hilarious essays, Perry tries to make sense of it all, aided by his son Brandon and a host of other real and fictitious characters, including Batman, Cupid, the Legendary Jewish Vampire Vlad the Retailer, Richard Nixon, Moses, and more.

Every Boomer concern is here – aging angst, fatherhood, the singles life, friendships, fading looks and physicality, social trends, the1 960’s, religion, Judaism, the writing life, parody and satire, self-deprecation, and the nagging worry that not only has he measured his life in coffee spoons, frequently the coffee hasn’t even been hot.

 

Excerpt from Nouveau Old, Formerly Cute

 

The LOJM

 

I’ve never been one to believe in tall tales, myths, or urban legends.

I don’t believe the tooth fairy could ever turn a profit on used enamel, doubt the existence of Bigfoot and Nessie, and scoff at aliens crash-landing at Roswell because beings that advanced would know there’s no other place to crash-land than Orlando.

Beware the LOJM!

Today is my birthday. On this day I am 40 years old, just as I have been for many years and always will be. But today somehow the rest of the world will look upon me and see something obscene, loathsome, and truly terrifying!

The world will see a man who is 67.

 Beware the LOJM! (pronounced “LOW-JIM”)

Known more formally as the “Little Old Jewish Man,” the LOJM is a foul and malignant creature known to torment and bedevil Jewish men of a certain age.

And I am its victim!

I can no longer have my picture taken in peace. The instant a camera is produced, the LOJM dashes in front of me with blinding speed. It’s like the DC Superhero the Flash if the Flash were endowed with the additional superpower of speaking fluent deli!

 The LOJM next positions itself between me and the camera, musters its most hideous visage, and then vanishes as soon as the picture is snapped! Moving at hyper-speed, the monster arrives and departs undetected, leaving only the surrogate image of its gruesome face as evidence of its foul and deceitful visitation.

Then I see the picture!  No winning boyish grin, smooth and supple cheeks, or lush brown hair swooping low across my forehead.

 But the creature’s evil work is not yet done. The LOJM mesmerizes those around me so they actually believe its foul face is my own!

Even I sometimes cannot detect the deception.

 Curse You, LOJM!

 

A Fine Bromance

 

“Sorry to hear things aren’t going well in your marriage,” I said to my friend Mark as we sat at the bar one evening.

“That’s an understatement, Perry. My wife is never home anymore. She’s always out shopping.”

“Well, that’s not unusual. Many women like to go shopping.”

“For small arms weaponry?”

“Oh. So what do you want to do? Get a divorce? Look for a woman on the side?”

“No, I can’t afford either.”

“What then?”

“I want a bromance. A close friendship with another man to fill the void.”

“I’ve heard of bromances. But where do you go to meet another guy to have bromance with?”

“Perry, there are bromance bars all over town! Ben Affleck and Matt Damon just opened a string of them. Sometimes they show I Love You, Man on continuous loop.”

“So you’re going to frequent bromance bars and hit on guys to have bromance with?”

“Yeah, baby! I’m gonna be out at night cruisin’ the bars looking for hot bromance!”

“Well, do you have any idea how to hit on guys in a bromance bar?”

“I think I’ll pick out a sensitive looking guy who seems like he’d be swell to discuss the Eagles or Flyers with, and then pitch him a slick line.”

“Something like ‘Where have you been all my life? Shopping for power tools at Home Depot?’”

“Yeah, or maybe ‘Come here to watch televised sports often?’ or ‘Buy you a drink, tall, dark, and platonic?’”

“So let’s say you start connecting with a dude and you’re finding you have a lot in common, how do you then ‘move the party’ elsewhere, if you catch my drift?”

“I think you ask the fella if he wants to go hit some golf balls. Then if all goes well you invite him back to your place for a nightcap and when the timing is right, you pop the question: ‘Would you be my bromance!’”

“I think you’d better wait on that.”

“Why?”

“You want to make good and sure it’s true bromance, not just puppy bromance.”

“Oh, right. Well, I’m off to hit some bromance bars. Care to come with?”

“No, thanks.”

“How come?”

“Call me old-fashioned, but I’m still looking for romance.”

“I understand.”

“But, Mark, just in case …”

“Yes?”

“Save me a seat.”

 

Bio

 

Perry Block is a writer living in Havertown PA, which is close enough to the Philadelphia Main Line so that he can wrongly brag he lives there. In his lifetime, he hassucceeded in virtually every sphere of human endeavor, but failed miserably in the rectangular and triangular ones. Writing has been a passion for Perry ever since he learned that it does not require math. His website is at www.perryblock.com. Perry Block – Nouveau Old, Formerly Cute is his first book. Kindly put your life on hold waiting for the next one.

**********************

Paul De Lancey
www.pauldelancey.com

Categories: book reviews and excerpts | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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