Monday, March 28, 2011


The ladies are gearing up for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar banquet. Those lucky enough to be going, and the still luckier ones who are up for an Edgar, are combing the stores and trolling the internet in search of the perfect festive shoe.

This is one of those things that men don't understand. I'm not going to try to explain it to them here, but rather I'm going to muse and rhapsodize on some of the perfect shoes I've had over the years and the perfect shoes I still yearn for. Harold doesn't understand either. There's a box in the attic labeled "Ymelda Marcos Shoe Collection" in his scornful handwriting, in which some of my old perfect shoes are resting quietly, including the red patent leather perforated square-toe sling-backs with the black heels that my sister and I invested in together, getting maybe two wearings apiece out of them before they went out of style. I would wear them tomorrow if my feet hadn't spread from narrow to medium in the last fifty years.

The prison matron shoes are in there also. They used to be bone-colored with brown piping and stacked leather heels, rather sweet really, until something fell on them and stained them, whereupon the shoemaker talked me into letting him dye them black. After that I couldn't wear them without looking down and seeing Lotte Lenya's feet on the ends of my ankles, in that part she played, Rosa Klebb in From Russia with Love. All those shoes need now is knives in the toes.

What I like to see, looking down at my feet, is something that reminds me of Bette Davis stepping out of her stateroom in Now Voyager, after the big makeover. You know the shot, her trim little ankles, her divine shoes. The dress and hat didn't hurt, either, but that's a discussion for another day. I went into a shoe store, The Velvet Slipper in Peddler's Village, a couple of years ago and explained my requirements. The young woman seemed to understand, and produced a couple of retro-looking pairs. I settled on a pair of peep-toe sling-back stacked leather wedge-heeled Chie Miharas, bone-color, lightly trimmed in burnt orange. Divine. They don't start to hurt until I've been standing around in them for at least an hour.

I'm almost ready for a second pair of Chie Miharas. Nieman Marcus has some I really like, if I could only dig up the money somewhere, purple and blue with thick cork platform soles and heels. Maybe I'll stick up a Seven-Eleven. The thing about Chie Mihara is that her shoes are never on the cutting edge of trendiness, so that they don't date right away, and yet they always look perfectly in fashion. If I were going to the Edgar dinner I might wish that she made evening shoes, but she doesn't, not really. On the other hand I'm not really going.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Quest for Fitness

Tomorrow at two in the afternoon I have an appointment with a trainer at the geezer gym at the north end of town. I have to see her because I came to the bottom of my exercise sheet and there are no more blank spaces for recording my activities. To get a new sheet you have to go be evaluated. It's the rule, and to tell you the truth it's time. I need a different routine.

I started going to the geezer gym last October. Since they're part of a physical therapy office, I figured they wouldn't do my back any harm, or if they did, at least they could put it back the way it's supposed to go right away. Maybe. Before I knew I had these back issues I used to go to the hardbody gym, where the young folks work out. But Ralph, my trainer, left for another gym, and shortly after that I found out I wasn't supposed to lift more than thirty pounds. It became difficult. Some of the things I was doing might have been making my back worse.

Ralph was a trip, though. If he hadn't left I'd probably still be over there wrecking my back, just to hear his stories about the old days when he was a New York City homicide cop. I got such great stuff from him that I was seriously considering taking our training sessions off on my Schedule C. He told me, for instance, that perps with guns can seldom hit you. He was never afraid of getting shot. Guys would be standing six feet from him blazing away and the bullets would all go wild.

Except that one time he did get shot. "What was it like?" I asked him.

He pointed to a place in his side. "It was like getting stuck with a knife and then they put a cigarette in the hole. The bullet, like, burns, you know?" I thought that was great. That was something I could use. I didn't think to ask him then whether he had ever actually been stuck with a knife.

But the folks at the geezer gym are much more sedate. Nobody wears spandex. And working out is easier. There is a circuit of weight machines that are simple to adjust. You don't have to make the body builders come back and remove the hundred-pound weights that they left on the machines, because there aren't any weights, and there aren't any body-builders. Okay, maybe I miss them a little.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Delaware, Flooding Again

Lewis Island on Friday
Since the water came up this weekend and got our attention, I thought I'd talk a little bit about what the river is like here.

The Delaware is about half a mile wide between Lambertville and New Hope. Normally it's teeming with wildlife. On a sunny day when the river is tranquil and clear you can look down from the bridge into water the color of tea and see leaves and rocks on the bottom, as well as crowds of fat two-foot carp, all facing in the same direction, huddled together. Snapping turtles big and small crawl up and sun themselves on the concrete piers of the bridge.

Ducks fly here and there and land in the water, elegantly, using their wings as ailerons to slow themselves for landing. Goose gangs waddle in formation on the shore, or head out and swim to New Hope. Each gang is made up of something like a dozen white geese and one or two gray ones. I don't know why. Sometimes a pair of swans shows up.

The river in flood is turbid, full of mud and debris. It flows very fast. I have no idea what the carp do to keep from being swept out to sea, perhaps they don't resist, but the waterfowl stick close to the banks where the water is slower. Harold and I went down to the river on Friday morning to see how far it had risen. Two little ducks sped by, carried on the flood. Others toiled upstream, a terrific struggle. We found Lewis Island to be mostly underwater. A little strip of rocks stood up above the maelstrom. One of the goose gangs squatted on it uneasily, as if trying to get comfortable.

A large flock of Canada geese came upstream toward them. We waited to see what would happen. Would they challenge the white geese for their dry spot? No, they paddled on past. The goose gang looked at them, and then at each other. With one accord they slipped into the roiling water and followed them.

It seems strange when you think about it. These creatures can fly, after all. They can walk. Why would they want to be in that water? Who knows what they have on their minds? I don't understand everything I see. This doesn't mean there's nothing to it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

How to Become a Published Writer

A good friend of mine, a high school classmate, in fact, has just found a publisher for his first novel. His name is George Rittenhouse, and the book is called Hanging Around Hollywood, from Lighthouse Publishing. It's a jaundiced look at the seamy underbelly of Hollywood, not the playground of glitzy film stars but the hangout of homeless bums and slackers. The story is told from the viewpoint of a Presbyterian minister (vaguely resembling my friend) who works in a huge Hollywood church seething with politics. Weird murders and church politics. What's not to like? I was tremendously pleased that he let me read it. It's great fun.

The fact that the book has found a publisher proves the truth of Robert A. Heinlein's rules. The publishing industry was very different back in Heinlein's day, but some things never change. I personally embroidered these rules on a piece of linen some thirty years ago, with flowered embellishments. The project postponed for me the necessity of actually writing anything for a good three months. All those cunning little stitches...

At any rate, without further ado, Heinlein's Five Rules for Getting Published:

1.  You must write.

2.  You must finish what you write.

3.  You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.

4.  You must put what you write on the market.

5.  You must keep it on the market until sold.

That's how it's done. It may take decades, but if you follow these rules you will be published.

Heinlein did not promise that you would become a great writer if you followed his rules, although it stands to reason that the more you write the more you improve. He promised only publication. We've all met folks at cocktail parties who have a great idea for a book. We've all met other folks at the same parties who have had a work in progress for thirty or forty years. You have to write it in order to get it published. You have to finish it.

But, no rewriting, you say? How can this be? You must consider that Heinlein was educated at the Naval Academy, where he was taught to say what he meant the first time. Naval officers must write orders, which must be clear and unambiguous. So it wasn't hard for him. The rest of us may need a bit of rewriting. Just don't pick over your work until it loses its flavor and your hair gets gray. If the agent says fix it and you trust that person's judgment, fix it. If the editor says fix it, the editor is paying. Fix it. Otherwise move on and start another project.

And be persistent about sending it out. This is the key to success. Just ask my friend George Rittenhouse.