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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9kDW3y268Y

O.K., so good news for everyone who has had to listen to me WHINE ABOUT MY CAR for the past few months: IT’S FIXED! Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!

For those of you new to the blog, it all started when some stupid UNINSURED drunk ran off the road in the middle of the day … (with a B.A.L. FOUR TIMES the legal limit. .. hell – LO? How was this fool even driving!?) … and crashed directly into my beautiful little just-detailed Mustang convertible that was parked in my front yard … minding its own DAMN bidness … and (oh wait…there’s more!) SHOVED MY CAR THROUGH THE FRONT WALL OF MY HOUSE totalling the car and separating the front and side wall of the house.. Yeah. Real nice.

Long story short: because I’d gotten an exceptional deal on the pony car, I could not afford another like it. The insurance company gave me a little settlement and for MONTHS I searched for another convertible, even though it couldn’t be a Mustang (my signature car). Dear daughter found me a great deal on Craig’s list for a low-mileage Sebring in my color (black like the ‘stang) and though it had some little things to fix up it was basically a good, low mileage convertible, which was what I wanted.

All was well until ANOTHER idiot (what am I; a magnet?!) tried to get into my car… again while it was parked RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY HOUSE… by ripping the back window loose. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised; as the cops told me there had been LOTS of auto break-ins on my street and the next one.  A friend nodded knowingly and said I should have just not locked the car because then they’d have opened the door, seen nothing inside worth stealing, and gone on to the next house.

Which brings me to an aside: why in God’s name are these thieves so stupid that they steal in the poorest neighborhoods? Does that make any sense? I mean, we’re just as poor as THEY are; what do they think they’re going to get? Why don’t they visit the neighborhoods of the  infamous 1% and steal from THEM! They’ve got great stuff, and it’s probably insured! (Another friend theorizes that the thieves don’t have cars and are stealing within walking distance of their homes. Now there’s a cheery thought.)

 But I digress…

 So I got the Sebring convertible and they got nothing when they ripped the rear window loose and my troubles were starting all over again because now I have not only a house that leaks but a wet car as well.

 Oh crap-o-la.

 My bro loaned me a car cover, which helped when the car was parked, but hey, this IS Florida and it WAS our monsoon season, so obviously I was having to drive through a lot of rain and couldn’t very well do that with the car cover in place. So the inside of the car got wet and apparently screwed up the radio thing under the seat which then began draining the battery yada yada yada… thaaaaat’s right, me with no radio. I was not a happy driver.

I talked to my old pal Gary Miller … Sarasota’s sexiest body man  (CAR bodies, you perverts) … because he had come through for me MANY smashed cars in the past AND on this car when I needed my power windows fixed (a mistake I doubt he’ll ever make again, what a job THAT was!) but this time Gary begged off. He explained that even though he is a GREAT body guy he does not do this kind of repair.

I always try to get three estimates but this time I had to settle for two:

The first was from a guy who I think is a good mechanic but I ended up not trusting the shop because his office manager must work on commission: She seemed totally focused on bidding everything up and selling “big jobs,” as I witnessed when I went to pick my car up and was ignored for 15 minutes while she did a telephone hard-sell on some poor customer and then…every time a worker came into the office afterward … would interrupt our conversation to trumpet to them “Hey, I sold that big job!” That … combined with the fact that the shop owner had quoted me $45. for the estimate and she tried to hit me up for $208.00 … did not inspire confidence. Buh-bye. (And yes, I spoke to the owner and he stuck to the $45. quoted.)

The second bid never materialized after I stopped at a shop where one of the nice, polite workers looked at the car, made a couple guesses of what the boss would suggest, took my name, phone number, info (including the fact that I needed an estimate to turn in within three days) and I never heard from them.

FINALLYI heard an ad on WSRQ radio 106.9 FM (which I listen to FAITHFULLY since my friend Susan Nilon bought it and has been making all kinds of cool additions and changes) and knew that the announcer… named “Doc” … HAD to be talking to me when he asked A) – if the rain was like a sprinkler in my convertible and B) if I wanted a Doc Discount on the repair.

Well hell to the YEAH on both counts!

So I went to Callender Auto Tops & Upholstery on 2nd Street in Sarasota (off Lime) and met the owner, George Callender. He’s a heck of a nice guy, a lifelong Sarasota resident, and I believe said his shop has been here 30 years? Wow. O.k., so this is still a small town; you can’t have a good family name AND three-decade business here if you don’t do good work. I liked him and his crew immediately. George explained exactly what he would do, why he would use the parts he would use, and how much it would cost. Everything was written down and he even jumped through some hoops with me so I could get the money to do the repair. Like I said; a heck of a nice guy.

Of course the down side of this is that the shop is so good they are constantly slammed and it was going to be a while before he could get my car in for the work to be done. The office manager promised to call me if there were any cancellations (well of COURSE there weren’t!) and finally the big day came. Today.

My sister Laurie followed me much earlier in the a.m. than I’m accustomed to being up. We took the car in and, with the same trepidation one feels leaving a child at school the first day, left it there. Except in this case I did resist the urge to call ever hour or so to see how it was going.

The day dragged by soooooooooo slowwwwwwwly… Finally it was time. My neighbor Anne drove me to the shop through the rush hour traffic (the tourists are back, aren’t they…) and there in front of the shop was my sweet little car with NO MORE BOO-BOOS! I was so excited I started walking around it looking at it, wringing my hands in excitement and smiling, and caught the eye of another woman doing exactly the same thing with HER car…we both broke into big grins and let out a whoop of joy that our BABIES were all better, smiling at each other and yelling stuff like “I KNOW!”  

So 24 hours from now if you see a crazy lady with reddish brown hair driving around Sarasota in a black convertible with the top down, that would probably be me. If she’s accompanied by an elderly Bearded Collie, a toothless Maltese/ Chihuahua mix, and a Pit/Boxer that thinks it’ a Yorkie … and all four are howling at the full moon… that’s definitely us.

 Ahhhhhh, life is good again.

 Thank you, George!

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Wow. Has it really been just two days short of a whole year since I last wrote anything here?

And should I write now?

We’ve all heard the cautions: “Be careful what you put on the internet because ANYONE can read it… potential employers…current employers… family members… people you’re writing about…”

But for a blabbermouth like me not to have checked in for a year, people are going to know that SOMETHING was going on, and maybe they’ll think it’s something even worse than reality. I mean granted, the past year has not been my best, but none of us are perfect. We all have “less than shining moments,” right?

Sometimes dropping from sight is a good thing because it means you’ve been too busy to doodle around. But this time, what I’ve been too busy with isn’t all that great. Apparently time flies whether you’re having fun or not…and I haven’t been.

Oh I’ve been blessed all around in that my family is fine and I’ve not had any scary medical diagnoses (knocking on wood) and believe me, I am cognizant of the tremendous value of those things. But you know how sometimes you can cope with one big “arch-enemy” type problem better than all the niggling little things that just wear you down to your last nerve? In the past year I’ve been fighting one battle after another.. Well no, actually, several at a time, they came and clung in clumps … that have left me exhausted, discouraged, and disillusioned. Of course many people have faced much worse… I don’t mean to whine … but damn, it has been trying.

First the bank made their last stab at taking my home of 15 years, but we managed to come to a meeting of the minds and spent six months going through a “Forbearance Agreement;” holding my breath, I continued job hunting while under agreement to surrender my home without a contest if I was even one day late with even one payment.

Why would I agree to such a crazy thing? Gee I don’t know; why does one play a crooked wheel? “If it’s the only one in town.” It was either suffer through this agreement or go to foreclosure immediately. I chose the former. It … along with everything else… almost made me crazy.

Job hunting became a full time job. I signed up for dozens of job boards, got into social media to network, applied for everything from maid’s work to executive director positions… if it was anything I thought I could manage or even fake my way through, I went for it. I cannot count the times I carefully ironed one of my last decent work outfits, put one gallon of gas in the tank, printed out yet another copy of my carefully tailored resume (usually on a friend’s printer because mine ran out of ink long ago) and went off just knowing this was the job for me and I was the perfect applicant for it. Hundreds …literally hundreds… of applications later, still nothing.

Am I too old? Too plain? Too dug in as a writer/photographer to be considered for anything else? Is my wardrobe too outdated? What am I doing wrong?

Meanwhile, to keep the bank-wolf from the door, I temped and smiled solicitously at bosses half my age and/or I.Q. and did things whatever half-ass way they wanted them done. I sorted through peoples’ donated crap, cleaned toilets, emptied recycling bins, cleaned windows in the Florida summer heat, stuffed envelopes, did data entry, sorted out and organized dead files and catalogued them, anything to hang on to my house while the bank played their little game:

Every week after the six-month-agreement ended I’d email or call my “contact person” at the bank and point out that the forbearance period (with its unmanageably high monthly payment) had ended, I had met their terms, and they were supposed to send me a modification application. Where was it?

They always responded that they would send it that day. And when it hadn’t come in a week later, I’d call again.

This went on for four months after the six month forbearance period. FINALLY I got the papers … misdated (as if it had been sent a week earlier) and informing me I had 20 days from the false date to return it.

I did.

I’m waiting.

And praying.

And still job hunting.

Meanwhile, my animal rescue work continued and our county passed an anti-tethering ordinance. A good thing in light of all the ignorant dog owners who tie their dogs out in the yard and then do every conceivable stupid thing from going to Disney World for a week to going to work every day and leaving the animals tied out without regard to how the blistering Florida sun moves while they’re away and bakes the poor creature who knocked over the water bowl (if there was one) within five minutes of the person leaving and is now chained in it’s own muddy little circle with it’s urine and feces. And that’s just the dumb people; there are also the evil dog fighters who chain their animals on four-foot lengths of heavy chain to purposely frustrate them into constantly straining and pulling (thus building up their chest muscles). Yes, we needed this ordinance.

But there are also good dog lovers who simply can’t afford to fence their yards, especially right now. So many families have lost homes and jobs that our animal shelters, rescues, and foster homes are all bursting at the seams with homeless animals. We don’t need families who love and want to keep their dogs giving them up because they can’t afford a fence.

So I took a clue from a great group up in the Carolinas, The Coalition to Unchain Dogs. They build (for FREE) adequate-size fenced exercise areas for neutered dogs if the family requests it. If the dog isn’t neutered they either raise the funding for that or get one of the local free or low-cost spay/neuter programs to assist. When I raised the subject here in Florida people responded with enthusiastic support and I was incredibly excited… until I ran into the IRS.

Who knew it was so hard to try to do something nice? The paperwork was ridiculous. I got a few believers together and we got a well-meaning attorney who would help us for free… except he didn’t seem able to do it. As nice a person as he was, the paperwork kept going back to him with spelling errors in peoples’ names and addresses, and blocks of copy that had obviously been left in from whatever group’s paperwork he’d been using as a guide for ours…

This went on for almost a year before I just gave up and started over on my own. The latest on this is that a nice couple from another charity believes in this cause and has volunteered to meet me at a coffee shop and go over the paperwork with me to see if I’m doing it right. That happens next week… God willing and the creek don’t rise.

Meanwhile the day to day trials of life have continued: Someone broke into my car and did $1400.00 worth of damage that I can’t afford to fix. They ripped the back window loose from the convertible top and now the car floods every time it rains. (Oh I cover it up when it’s parked, but on occasion the rain has not been forecast and has snuck up on me, plus when I’m driving through a heavy rain it only takes a minute before the tide begins seeping into the front floor and every time I turn a corner it sounds like surf’s up!) Question: Who breaks into the old used car of an unemployed person in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the area? That must be one dumb burglar…

A woman I thought was a wonderful friend and a great supporter of the Unchain effort turned nasty and petty over a promise she broke… and I wasn’t even unkind about it, even though her reneging totally threw me under the bus. Worst of all, she responded NOT by coming after me personally, but by bullying the charity I was trying to build, sending out emails that it was a scam, posting nasty cracks on a social media site … What kind of person does that? I was not only angry, I was heartbroken. And embarrassed. I felt foolish for having been taken in by this person who I thought was such an angel and true friend. “Choose your friends carefully,” my mama always said. Guess I needed a reminder of that.

Do you see why I haven’t been writing? I’m sure you’re not enjoying reading this drivel any more than I’m enjoying writing it. I won’t even go into the drunk that drove through my house and disabled my air conditioning and what a long, hot, miserable summer it has been not only for me but more for my poor dogs. Forget about the leaky roof too. And the extended-family problems.

So why am I writing now? I’m not sure. I think maybe I’m tempting fate, daring to hope that there are going to be better things to write about soon, that life is going to become better, that I am going to get a handle on all this.

And maybe I just will because … you know … anything can happen.

My new theme song. ENJOY!                                 :^ )

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     There’s an old joke in the South that “We don’t hide our crazies in the attic, we bring ‘em right out in the parlor for everyone to meet!” And it’s true. Everyone has that slightly-off Aunt or that crazy cousin or that not-quite-there nephew or that sister who Tennessee Williams should have written a play about… and yet, what no one ever mentions is the unsaid ending of that joke: “Of course we ARE careful who ELSE we allow into the parlor …”

     Enter The All-Access Electronic Parlor, aka Facebook, and therein lies the problem.  Suddenly the whole world is in the parlor with all your secrets. Just as videotape exposed the Kodachrome lies of Paul Simon’s teens, Facebook is opening the door to everyone’s Fibber McGee closet, shining a light on the dark family corners we distract our friends from seeing; FB is  making sure that everyone knows everything about us whether we want them to or not. 

     It doesn’t make life easy. Like most people, I try to shine a positive light on my public life. I do my best to at least maintain a façade of what I’d LIKE my life to be, and as long as those I’m not close with don’t GET too close, this works fine. But what can you do when your guilty secrets start popping up in the middle of the virtual parlor? Well there’s a new sticky wicket for our times.

     Facebook’s “unfriending” works well enough for those people to whom you owe no allegiance or maybe don’t even know in rl (real life): if they commit some kind of embarrassing faux pas (like constantly shoving their business solicitations in front of all your “guests”),  you can unfriend those guys without a twinge. It’s your secret crazies that are the problem … they burst into the “room” without any warning and … much as an unfiltered toddler would … proceed to say, do, and show the Things That Make You Cringe to all the world.

    They just don’t seem to have a clue … or worse, they have but they don’t care.  Or maybe they even enjoy making you squirm on the virtual page in front of God, friends, dead relatives reeling in their graves, and everyone.

     Ugh.

     Do you know how vigilantly you have to monitor your Facebook page to be able to immediately HIDE or DELETE those posts before half the world sees them?  Well, believe me; no one is that fast or that consistent. I know because I’ve tried and I’m here to tell you that it can’t be done.

     For a while I tried a different approach that I actually thought was pretty imaginative:  I set up TWO Facebook pages and thought I had carefully policed who I admitted to which page.  Think of one as the family room and the other as a formal or grown-up parlor, no children allowed … and it was working pretty well until the other night…

    I was having a nice conversation with a friend when, without a word of warning, one of the crazies burst into the room, lobbed a totally O.T. conversational bombshell into the midst of everything, and had engaged my friend before I could hide or delete them.

     My worst Facebook fears realized: The unmasking. Followed by the pm’s. (No not “PMS,” but “p.m.s: ” The inevitable private messages that result, expressing the friend’s sympathy and dismay: “I didn’t realize you had a ________ who ______!”

   Well of course you didn’t you idiot;  I’ve taken EXTREME CARE to keep people FROM knowing that.  And now that YOU do, everyone else will, within minutes.

     Damn.

     Might as well just knock down the wall and make it into one big WRECK ROOM (spelling intentional). Yes, just as videotape exposed to the world that the perfectly dressed children were being horrid between still shots on photo days, crazies infiltrating Facebook let everyone know what you’ve NOT been telling while incessantly posting everything you’re proud of and WANT to share. 

     Betty White was right: Facebook IS a huge waste of time.

     And energy.

     I think from now on I’ll leave it to those too young to have any truly guilty secrets.

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Every once in a while a friend with a degree in another field will decide that my job looks pretty easy, and they’ll ask how to break into journalism without a degree … which is pretty funny considering the best line to come out of “Overheard in the Newsroom” recently is, “Let’s all get together and file a class action lawsuit against the guidance counselors who suggested a degree in journalism.”

Surprising as it may seem, a journalism degree helps but isn’t absolutely necessary to getting published. So if you’re not a Rory Gilmore type with your father and grandparents squabbling over who’s going to put you through Yale, and you haven’t been offered an internship or a seat on a presidential candidate’s campaign bus, don’t give up! Here’s what you need to know:

Most editors want to see “clips,” which are just what they sound like: Copies of your work that you have clipped from newspapers and magazines, either in hard copy or sent via email. Now that so many publications are also on-line, things are getting even easier: you can often submit your clips electronically or … when you have a pretty good library on-line … the editor can just Google your name and see your work pop up.

So how do you get these initial assignments so you have some clips to show?

First you gotta pay some dues and work for free. (Oh stop whining!) The reward for these early efforts is seeing your name in print and adding another clip to your portfolio.

Generally speaking, it’s good to start small.

Write a blog that you can offer up as evidence of your talent. Take it just as seriously as if you were up against other writers to create this piece, were being paid by the word, and it’s going to have to pass muster to be published, because if this is a sample of your work that’s supposed to sell you, it better be good. If an editor checks your blog for your skill level and see’s undocumented facts, sloppy spelling, typos and factual errors, you’re dead; if you did this in their publication, it’s would be their head. Plus editors really hate printing retractions.

Contribute to a newsletter for an organization you belong to or know a lot about, but make sure it’s a publication you’ll be proud to be a part of … Remember the old Groucho Marx joke, “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” You don’t want your name anywhere in a messy, sloppy publication; that just reflects badly on you.

Look at the little weekly or “community” papers in your town. Because they concentrate on local news and don’t pick up all the wire service articles, they may have more room for your work. Also explore alternative publications and giveaway publications that are free in distribution boxes around town. Study a few back issues of each (either at the library or on-line) to see what types of stories they like to run. Nothing turns an editor off more than knowing the writer coming to the publication for work has never bothered to read it!

Don’t overlook internet publications …which can be a bit of a mixed blessing because while they’re open to anyone, many are totally unfiltered and unedited, meaning if you’re making mistakes they’re going to be out there for all to see.

Do a good deed or three. Work with local charities and write up their pre-event publicity and/or cover the event and offer it to the local publications free of charge. Steer away from the $1000.00 a plate and black-tie events; those will probably be covered by established reporters. Look to the humane societies, church fundraisers, women’s shelters… the “grassroots” efforts.

Be your own photographer – With today’s digital cameras, you don’t have to be a super-photog to get decent pictures, and if you’re a good photographer, so much the better. Editors love nothing more than when you make their jobs easy. Hand them a package of a well written piece and some interesting photos to accompany it. Also, if your photos are exceptional, it will serve you well when bidding against other freelancers later; you can point out that you’ll save the publication the cost of sending a photographer because you’ll furnish the photos for an additional nominal fee.

Now that you’ve decided what to cover and for whom, be sure to be professional about it: Spell-check is a must, then let it sit and steep overnight before you read and re-read the piece, and it never hurts to have another pair of eyes on it as well, so ask your most grammatically correct friend to proof for errors. (Do NOT trust spellcheck!)

Once you break in and have some track record pieces to show, you can go to the editors and ask if they use freelancers and if so what areas they most need covered. From there it’s just a little rapport building and ability proofing to a staff position or regular job as a “contributing editor.”

Good luck!

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I made a revolting discovery the other day while trying to win a thousand dollars through a call in radio contest: My Smartphone can’t spell … at least not with its numbers like the old phones could. When a contest used to say, “Call 1-800-WIN-BIGG now!” you could look at your phone and hit the numbers that spelled out WIN BIGG. Wellllll not anymore. Blackberries etc. have separate letters and numbers keys. So just a note to all those copywriters who use the old-fashion dial pad to spell stuff out and the companies that pay sign painters to emblazon the exterior of their trucks with stuff like “CALL GET-FURN” and, sadly, to the businesses that paid extra for phone numbers they could post as more-easily– remembered words like “Call B=U=Y=C=A=R=S!” Smartphones can’t spell and the only way their owners will get your number is if you give it to them as just that: A number.
Just thought I’d spell that out for ya.

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Yes, I know, the first thing that came to mind when you read that title was probably the old commercial about “How do you spell relief?”

No matter how you spell it, it means the same thing: A bad feeling was just replaced by a good feeling, and that’s why RELIEF is my all-time very favorite word.

Think about it: How many words can connote that much emotion all at once? Not only the END of … what? Emotional distress, physical discomfort, fear, worry, panic? … and the BEGINNING of a good feeling.

Close your eyes and concentrate. (No, not now, Silly; when you’re done reading this part!) Think of a time when you felt like your world was coming to an end and then, from the depths of your despair you discovered that … OMG, everything was O.K!

Can you feel how you felt then?

Maybe you found out that your tests came back O.K., or your child wasn’t missing, or your job wasn’t about to be jerked out from under you, or that the big lump ahead in the road you were driving down in search of your lost dog was just a dead garbage bag…

Pretty much every time I’ve shouted, “Thank you Jesus!” it’s been a shout of relief.

Relief is my favorite word/emotion because it’s a two-fer: The banishing of something bad being replaced with something welcome, happy, and good.

Ahhhhhhhh … or, if you must (singing) “Ohhhhhhh what a relief it is!”

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The Day My Music Died

As this column points out, every day is Anything Can Happen Day, but on August 16, 1977, what happened was the unthinkable…

STILL MISSING ELVIS

     Well, this weekend… like pretty much every mid-August … I spent The Day steeped in Elvis music as various media marked the anniversary of his untimely death. There’s a strange combination of comfort and masochistic longing involved in this ritual; my adoration of Elvis goes back so far it’s an almost constant thread through my life, all the way back to my earliest childhood  memories.
     When I was a seven year old girl attending Maplewood Elementary School I discovered Elvis and was immediately and completely in love. He was my secret. My family attended Emmanuel Baptist Church and … despite my parents’ love of music … we were not allowed to listen to rock and roll (or dance, or wear make up, etc.). Even when they would bring home instrumental albums, if the cover art included cigarettes, liquor, or sexy women, they were immediately spray painted black before they were deemed fit to be in our living room.
     About this same time, my mom managed to get a hot lunch program started at my school. Each Monday we would bring our lunch money to school and buy a little ticket that could be punched once a day for five days to cover our lunch, including a tiny carton of milk. The only problem for me was that I was, even then, lactose intolerant and never could drink milk. Mom had thought of this too and had set up a provision for kids like me to be allowed to … for a little extra change each day…  get a carton of orange drink. So each morning my dad gave me my “drink money.”
     It was at this early stage of my life that a wicked devious streak kicked in:  my folks had no idea that every day I choked down my lunch without a drink so I could hoard the coins in the rounded front right corner of my little lift-top desk. (To this day I can eat an entire meal without so much as a sip of anything.) When I had enough money, I’d talk my Mom into taking me downtown with her on Saturday and letting me explore the stores while she worked.  This was a much different time in America and it wasn’t unusual for little kids to be running around alone downtown on our small city’s two-block-long Main Street, so nobody thought anything of it when I’d show up alone at the music store and produce a mitt-full of coins to buy a 45 rpm record. Then of course came the challenge of sneaking it home. I can’t tell you the anguished hours I spent getting ready to go downtown with Mom, searching for something to wear that she would approve but that would allow concealment of the contraband for it’s safe and scratch-free ride home. I was certain I was going to hell.  And yet…
     After a while I had a pretty good record collection built up. The fact that my parents both worked every day (and that  my older sisters who “watched” us younger siblings really didn’t care what we were doing as long as we weren’t killing each other or bugging them) gave me plenty of time to listen to Elvis at very low volume  on the little record player my folks had given me to listen to “story records” on. The only problem was that story records weren’t 45s so I didn’t have one of those little center things to fit on the player’s spindle; I solved this by stealing the silver  top off one of mom’s prized salt shakers and sneaking it down to Pop’s workroom where I punched a hole in the middle with a nail so it would slide down the record player spindle. (One more thing to hide in my room.) I left the kitchen quickly when my mother set the filled-but-useless topless salt shaker on the counter as she emptied the diswasher and the junk drawer muttering, “Where could that have gone?”  

     By 1960 my older sisters were both married and one of my brothers-in-law was, I gleefully discovered, a huge Elvis fan. I started spending a LOT of time at their place, something my folks never questioned and my sister would never rat me out on as it would have reflected badly on her choice of mate.  By now Elvis had even done a couple movies, which I longed to see, but I never could figure out how to pull off that huge of a deception (movies were another Emmanuel Baptist no-no), and helping me accomplish that was where my sis drew the line. This was also the year that Elvis released a Gospel album and, thinking this would prove to my parents that he was not “evil,” I actually tried to persuade them to buy it for me. My dad almost seemed ready to give in, but my mother wasn’t having any of it. Apparently she had at some point seen Elvis on TV and wasn’t about to have even his essence in her house with impressionable young kids …two of them female … no matter what he was singing. It was a good try on my part though.
     As the years passed my folks didn’t soften much on their views and I became what was back then viewed as “a problem child,” something my poor mom was ill-equipped to deal with after having raised my two older, angelic, very obedient sisters. She wasn’t the only one to be flabbergasted; whenever I’d start a new school year my new teacher would joyously greet me with, “Oh! You’re Dianne and Donna’s little sister!” which within a few days would change to a disbelieving, “YOU’RE Dianne and Donna’s little sister?!”
     Things were changing faster than I could catch my breath and I was growing up much too fast. The one constant in my life was my adoration of Elvis. Still living in the same small city, my folks now had their own store downtown and on Saturdays I’d hang out in the drugstore down the street from their shop. Back then you could sit on the floor and read all the “fan magazines” (which of course weren’t allowed in our house) and no one ever cared. Add to this the attraction of all these Elvis-wannabe older boys wearing jeans and leather jackets as they stepped over me on their way to the soda fountain… Yeah, it was a great way for a preteen girl to spend a Saturday.
     Maybe it was hanging around with my older sisters and their friends that had always made me feel older than my age and choose older friends, or maybe I was just precocious, I don’t know, but I would lie to people about my age and they always believed me. And so when I saw a picture in one of the fan mags of Elvis with a motorcycle, it didn’t take me long to befriend a guy with a cycle and convince him to give me a ride home one day. As we tore down the road through the crisp Autumn air I closed my eyes and smelled the leather and listened to the mufflers roar and LOVED it! No wonder Elvis rode a cycle even though he had all those beautiful Cadillacs!
     I had the guy drop me off a ways from the house and walked home.
Well, never underestimate the speed of the small town grapevine: by the time I passed our mailbox my mother was on full red alert AND had called my father, demanding that he close the shop and come home immediately to deal with this crisis. As I ambled up our long dirt driveway his work truck pulled in and passed me. When he got  to the garage he got out and stood there, his hands on his hips, watching me approaching. I was about to yell to him to ask what he was doing home so early when my Mom came out the front door uncharacteristically hollering at me to “GET IN THE HOUSE!”  So I pretty much knew what he was doing home.
     Sure enough, one of our nosy church-members had seen me and called my mom immediately to report that I had been spotted on the back of a motorcycle with (gasp) my arms around a boy in a leather jacket, “WEAVING in and out of traffic.” I couldn’t tell whether Mom was angrier about the boy or the motorcycle but I knew enough to keep my big mouth shut and retreat to my room to, as ordered, “Think about this.”
     Truth be told, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was the most thrilling thing I’d ever done in my life. More exciting than racing full-out on my horse without a saddle and taking huge jumps over fences and streams (which had nearly gotten me killed once) … more than sneaking cigarettes with my friends or learning the new dances from my friends older sisters when I went to sleepovers. Riding on the back of a motorcycle, hugging a leather-jacketed boy with slicked back black hair was in my almost-a-teenager silly-girl-mind almost like being Elvis’ girlfriend. I knew I was going to think about it all night and I knew I was going to do it again. And again. And again.
     And I did. Tom was three years older than me and amazing. I kept wondering what it would be like to kiss him. (For those of you too young to identify, things moved MUCH more slowly back then!) I figured it would be just like kissing Elvis. .. especially with my already amazing imagination.

     That was the winter of 1961 and we couldn’t ride the cycle because of the snowy streets, so we had to rely on Tom’s friends who had cars to cart us around. One snowy December Saturday I got my folks to let me ride to downtown with them when they went in to the shop, making the excuse that I wanted to shop and spend my birthday money from my grandparents. Actually, I was going to meet Tom, hang out with him all day, and then catch a ride home with his brother.
     Pretty soon the snow turned into an absolute blizzard, and while we were hanging out in the deserted corner drug store, almost every store on the main street…including my parents’… turned off their lights and closed up early. The old man at the drug store fountain brought us hot chocolate in heavy diner mugs and said he was going to do some work in the basement store room since no one else was around, to yell if we needed anything. We went to the jukebox and played our song; Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love” from Blue Hawaii.  We’d only put in enough money to play the song one time, but something happened and the old jukebox just kept playing it over and over and over.

When Tom’s brother never showed up to get us and the store was closing, we held gloved hands and walked all the way home in the freezing snow as the sky turned that strange wintery purple blue and the light faded. At the streetlight by Krogers corner where we had to part ways, he kissed me. It was the first time I had kissed a boy, and somehow I just knew that Tom kissed just like Elvis!  To this day I can’t hear that song without getting that same strange feeling that I got sitting there with Tom, watching the snow swirl around the big plate glass windows of the corner store, piling up on the grey, deserted streets as we sat cozily inside sipping too-hot chocolate in the deserted drugstore and later under the snow swirling in the streetlight where we parted.
     Of course by summer we went our separate ways, and having in my mind come so close to an Elvis-y boyfriend I wasn’t terribly intrigued by mundane guys in general until in 1963:  I met an older gal-pal’s boyfriend who was even too old for her … and while for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why, this guy put me in mind of Elvis. His hair was wasn’t jet black but it was slicked back, he didn’t have a Harley but he did ride an old Indian motorcycle that was his pride and joy, and … like Elvis … he’d been in the service. His nose and mouth had a touch of Elvis, but not that much. It took me years to figure out that it was his southern accent… which I’d never heard for real on anyone else while living first in Cicero and later Michigan… that did it.             

     And that would be my undoing: by 1964 when my family was ready to move to Florida, I was done with everything I couldn’t tolerate: I was sick of being suffocated, I was tired of being a kid, I had been sneak-dating this older guy … and I found myself lying in the canopy bed my mom had given me for my last birthday, surrounded by stuffed animals, trying to figure out how to tell my parents that I was pregnant and not going to Florida with them. They finally gave up on me, allowed me to marry my baby’s father, and went ahead with their plans to move to Florida while I remained in Michigan.
      If you need any more complete proof of how idiotic I was at this stage of my life, here you are: The biggest thing I kept thinking about when I was getting married was how I would now be able to have my Elvis records out in plain view, play them as often and as loud as I wanted, watch him on TV, actually BUY the fan mags with his pictures in them, and maybe even go to his movies! The first two things were easy accomplishments but the third… not so much. In my crazy 15 year old mind I did NOT want to go to an Elvis movie with my husband! That would ruin everything! No, I wanted to go with my girlfriends so we could sit together in the dark and drool and comment without reservation… and hubby wasn’t too keen on this. Girls’ Night Out in our small Michigan town was NOT a common occurrence in 1964, but then, neither were pregnant 15 year olds.
     Everything in my life … except my love of Elvis … changed 180 degrees by the end of 1965. With the birth of our daughter I had grown up almost instantly and was determined to be a great Mom, and while my husband had probably done his best, things were not good. We talked about moving to California, where his family had relocated, and began making plans to be there by Christmas. But while something about this plan nagged at me I was not able to face the facts that I missed my family and I did not want to be married.  At all.  To anyone.  Anywhere.  I guess I couldn’t face admitting what everyone had tried to tell me all along: I was too young.
      In January of 1966, a couple weeks behind schedule,  we were at last loading up the station wagon to begin the long trek to California, but when my husband announced “O.K., that’s it! Let’s go!” I brought my bundled up nine-month-old down the steps, jumped in the car, looked around and demanded,”Where are my Elvis records?”  He responded that they were upstairs in the hallway outside the apartment along with a few other things   we hadn’t had room for and had had to leave behind. I threw an absolute fit, handed him the baby, and charged up the stairs to get my records. As I attempted to drag the heavy box to the stairway my bewildered husband came charging up the steps, traded me the baby for the box I was pulling on, and carried the records down to the snowy alley where the old station wagon stood warming up with grey smoke huffing out of the tailpipe. We stood by the packed-to-the-gills car trying to figure out where to put the records… we had crammed in only our absolute essentials … mostly baby stuff… and there was really nothing we could jettison. I finally told him to put them on the floor of the front passenger seat.  And that was how I rode for the whole trip: with my feet either up on the records or tucked underneath me on the seat, the baby on my lap (no car seats back then). Before we were even out of the alley I sprang it on him: I didn’t want to go to California; I wanted to go to Florida, where my family was. To his credit, he didn’t argue about any of it. I think he knew as well as I did what was coming… maybe he’d even known it before I did.

     Shortly after we got settled in Florida I left him, taking only the baby’s belongings, my clothes, and of course my records. Life went on, it was very hard, and while I doted on my daughter and tried to work and finish school all at the same time, I kept buying Elvis records whenever I could and trying to figure out how to get to go to one of his concerts, but the $15 to $25 ticket price was just too dear.
       On Tuesday, August 17, 1977, I was working all day and nowhere near a TV or radio. I did some errands and drove home listening to an Elvis tape. When I finally pulled into the driveway just before dark, my 12 year old daughter came running out to meet me and opened my car door as I was gathering my stuff from the passenger’s seat.

     “Mom,” she gasped breathlessly, “did you hear? About Elvis?”

     For just a split-second my heart leapt, thinking she had heard something like that he was going to do a concert here at last, but before I could respond I saw her face and knew immediately that that was not it. This was not good news.

    “Oh Mom,” she said miserably, “he’s dead.”

     Her caring little face reflected the pain she knew I would feel at this news; she was all too aware of how much I loved this man and his music. I sat frozen in the car, holding my purse and briefcase and the bag of groceries.  For several long minutes I simply could not move as she leaned into the car and hugged me. Of course I thought she had it wrong … she was 12…she’d gotten it mixed up… this couldn’t be.  But this dreadful event predated MTV and 24 hour news stations in our area, so I went inside and called a friend who confirmed that it was true. I felt as though I’d lost my best friend.
     Like so many Elvis fans I went through all the usual processes of grief, trying to believe it wasn’t true, that it was some elaborate hoax because he needed a break, or was in danger, or any of a million other goofy ideas until finally I accepted the undeniable truth: he was gone.
     There was no way to really ever lose the emptiness inside. The music was still wonderful, right down to his final recordings. No matter what he had done to his spirit and his body, the one thing that never failed him was that great and powerful voice. I contented myself with his voluminous library of recordings and at one time even had a jukebox in my house with nothing but Elvis 45s on it. Sometimes I’d turn out all the lights at night and play “Can’t Help Falling in Love” over and over, and smile remembering the snowy drug store and Tom, and how incredibly easy and beautiful life had been then.
     I guess because I’d filled so much of the emptiness of my life with focusing on Elvis, I could never really find anything to fill the void his passing left.  While I truly detested Elvis “impersonators,” dismissing them as coffin-riding opportunists who couldn’t hold a candle to the original, when I was writing a music column for a NYT regional paper I was assigned a story on “a local version of the King.” I first tried to beg off the assignment, explaining that I’d be unable to be objective because of my extreme prejudice, but my editor wasn’t having any of it and sent me on my way. I grudgingly called a friend and explained the dilemma, asking her to accompany me and explaining that since I was sure it was going to be awful we’d just go for the first few songs of the first set and then go on to hear some decent music elsewhere.
      When we closed down the room after the last encore, I felt happier than I could remember having felt in years. In my head I had already written my “You’ll Want Him, You’ll Need Him, You’ll Love Him” review of Bobby Salerno’s Elvis Tribute Show. He was absolutely unbelievable and PS – WHAT was he doing here in Florida with that much talent? The friend who accompanied me had seen Elvis live a couple of times, didn’t share my aversion to impersonators andwas in a better position to judge because she had seen imitators in Vegas and Memphis; she pronounced Salerno’s performance (http://www.ladyluckmusic.com/artists/bobbysalerno/ ) far better than any other she’d seen.

     For months we caught every performance we possibly could and it was eerie to find how comforting it was, how much like having Elvis back again. Bobby Salerno was sublimation personified.

     And then he was gone. We were told he had killed himself, but no one could tell us why. (http://tinyurl.com/mcmwzp)

       We couldn’t believe it and never really understood. Selfishly, we felt like we had lost Elvis all over again, and we were hurt and angry. We never went to hear another impersonator… or as Bobby had respectfully called it, “tribute artist.”             

     Finally, on the 25th anniversary of Elvis death, someone came up with this brainstorm to reunite all the players from Elvis’ concerts and have them perform the concert live with footage of Elvis performing on a widescreen at the center back of the stage. My editor tapped me once again and this time I didn’t bother to object. Unlike seeing Bobby for the first time, this just was not a pleasant experience. The hall was dark, the drums started their riveting intro, the horns joined them… and then … and then nothing happened. Oh, a giant screen lit up displaying a grainy, King Kong size image of a trim, fit Elvis going through the motions, but it felt empty and hollow and pathetic. It was like watching a big TV with a bunch of people playing music along with it and, if anything, made me feel emptier than before. Yes, these were the same exact musicians on stage as were seen performing on the screens on either side of the Elvis center screen, the same players from 25 years ago, but it just felt dull and desperate and overwhelmingly sad.

        And so it is, 32 years after Elvis died, that I still miss him. Though I don’t engage in the kind of fan worship you so often see mockingly depicted on various shows about Elvis, I can’t deny that it’s a kind of love that I don’t expect to see again in my lifetime. He was such a part of my growing up, his music the proverbial soundtrack of my life, I’ve yet to find a way to resign myself to the loss. And every year when the anniversary of his death rolls around I tell myself I won’t spend the entire day and night wallowing in the same old tribute specials and hokey movies that they air every year… and every year I watch every one and feel foolish all over to discover that I miss him even more with every passing year.

       I want him, I need him, I love him.  

     With all my heart.

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