“I feel a little guilty – like I manipulated her” – seriously? Is there a manipulative tactic I didn’t employ? Easter was my father’s favorite holiday and one of the busiest days of his year. Monday was his day off and I stole this one without a second thought.
That said, part of me doesn’t feel guilty – because every minute my children spent with their grandparents was blessed – and I’m pretty sure my parents treasured those times too. They were young grandparents, age. I’m not sure I was ready to be a grandparent when I was their age.
However, more than a decade later, I am so ready I have baby fever. Facebook friends post adorable pictures of their grandchildren and I ache and think, “I want that!” I see cute babies in restaurants and think, “I want that!” I have quite the opposite reaction on airplanes, when an infant breaks the sound barrier for the entire flight. When that happens, I shudder and think, “Thank God that’s not my problem.”
I began planning my funeral when I was young enough to believe it would never actually happen. When I picture it – which, fortunately, happens rarely – I imagine myself hovering near the ceiling, observing my turn-out, noting who really misses me and who’s just going through the motions. Ultimately, it’s about assessing what impact – if any – I had on the people in my world. I’d like them to play “Old and Wise.”
Unfortunately, I won’t have much control over my funeral. Most likely, I won’t even get to watch it – which seems terribly unfair – who among us wouldn’t love to be a silent observer at their own wake? Who isn’t curious about what people will say? But, maybe Alan Parsons got it right.
“Braveheart” won Best Picture in 1996 and Mel Gibson was named Best Director. Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas) and Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking) took top acting honors, Kevin Spacey (Usual Suspects) and Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite) won Supporting Honors. I was pleased Christopher McQuarrie (Usual Suspects) won for Best Original Screenplay and Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility won Best Adapted screenplay).
Due to subsequent events and political correctness, at least two of the 1996 winners probably wouldn’t take home Oscars if the vote was cast today. For me, this raises the complicated issue of how to separate art from the artist. Does a performance become unworthy, is a painting flawed, if the performer or painter is somebody I deem immoral? On the other hand, should we – as a society – elevate and reward criminals?
Do we need to reevaluate and possibly demote great artists of the past? Wasn’t Edgar Allen Poe a drug addict and possible pederast? I doubt he’s the only legend with skeletons in his closet.
I knew what I did not want to do – don a cap and gown and endure an excruciating graduation ceremony. My own Jr. High and high school extravaganzas were torture. What about those magical moments, watching my own children graduate? Don’t you just want to smile all over? Uh, no.
Slow-roasting in bleachers without shade, surrounded by delirious parents straining to spot their spawn in a sea of black-robes several zip codes to the south – made home schooling appear an attractive option. For the record, the only things I dread more than rituals like graduation are parades and colonoscopies.
Flash forward to my son CD, valedictorian for his UCLA film and television class. Two surprises awaited me, one pleasant and one not so much. The good news was, only film and TV students participated, making it more like a party than spectacle. Lulled into a false sense of security, I thought, “this is almost a perfect day.”
CD took the microphone. He singled out his wife and his father – 100% USC Trojan, undergrad and law school. He thanked them for their inspiration. No mention of his mother and fellow UCLA film and TV alum. You know, the one who introduced him to Melnitz hall and UCLA’s campus.
Amazingly, I recovered from this ego-shattering blow as well as a carrot that caused me to barf at the reception. Something deep and primal superseded my lifelong distaste for graduations, parades and vomit. So what if CD forgot to thank me? I could not have been any prouder of him. I still am.
As a Lutheran pastor, my father officiated at hundreds of weddings and funerals. Based on his experiences, in the aftermath of a loved one’s death, intense guilt – usually about things the bereaved intended to do, but didn’t – is a universal reaction.
My father said, don’t go there. What you did or didn’t do doesn’t matter. The love you give – like the love I feel for you – is enough, it always has been and always will be.
Still, regrets linger. I failed to grasp the void their absence would leave until they were gone. I grossly undervalued hours and minutes we might’ve shared, if I hadn’t been busy with meaningless things.
Don’t postpone a visit because work’s been crazy but should calm down. Life never settles down. Choices must be made. Some choices won’t be available tomorrow. Forget the fantasy there’s a perfect moment to express how much someone means to you. There is only one perfect moment – now. Nobody’s guaranteed the next one. If you love someone, say it. What’ve you got to lose?
Robert Booth Nichols was one of the most fascinating, enigmatic people I’ve known. Although I spent many hours with him – and even more time reading and speculating about him (google if you’re curious), I’m no closer to knowing if he’s a patriot spy or an underworld thug/informant.
Bob lived well. In The Last Circle, Carol Marshall writes “in addition to his residences in California, he maintained residences in Italy, France, Australia, and London.” In the NY Times, Bryan Burrough said some people believe “Nichols was a celebrity, a star of the conspiracy theory world who was portrayed on the Internet as a longtime CIA operative linked to a shadow world government, the holder of secrets from the Kennedy assassination to a World War II – era hoard of Japanese gold.”
That’s a minority opinion. Usually, the press depicts Bob as a villainous super-spook, a fraud, a con artist, hit man, member of a crime family, money launderer or snitch. (Take your pick.) While I’m all for free press and investigative journalism, sometimes they get it wrong. On page 63 of the January 1993 issue of Spy magazine, this photo appears with this caption: “DANGEROUS FRIEND The “lethal” Robert Booth Nichols, 1992. He had a secret Casolaro knew.”
The “dangerous friend” in the photo is my husband J, Bob’s lawyer at that time. They are conferring before an arbitration (which J won for 9 million, the largest arbitration verdict in LA to that point). They were not plotting to murder Danny Casolaro. For what it’s worth, Bob’s father was a prominent LA surgeon and his brother is a highly-regarded LA attorney – not the family background that typically breeds mobster thugs.
Three FBI agents found time to personally attend Bob’s 2008 deposition in NY, a mere three months before his mysterious demise. Under oath, Bob testified the CIA and other shadowy government agencies hired him for sensitive matters. They paid in suitcases full of cash, delivered to Bob’s hotel by courier. To avoid pesky questions with potentially embarrassing answers, they advised Bob not to declare the income or pay taxes. His grateful government would give him a pass.
In June, 1992, J and I joined Bob at a conspiracy buffs convention (see flier).
In a crowd like this, Bob was a superstar. Powerfully built and towering over six feet, he was hard to miss. Some people said he resembled “Clarke Gable without the ears.” Being part of his entourage was how I imagined it might feel to hang with Paul McCartney at Beatlefest – an intoxicating blast.
In 1989, my family and I were in London at the same time as Bob and his wife Ellen. I watched him pocket over 100K “someone” wired into his bank account. Why? What for? Beats me. The next day, he flew to Singapore.
The so-called “facts” of Bob’s alleged demise in Geneva, Switzerland, are as mysterious as his life. Initially, a heart attack was deemed cause of death but later reports claim Nichols suffered a blow to his head. A “friend” arranged for swift cremation of Nichol’s body. Like everything else about Bob, we’ll never know for sure.
Some people don’t believe Robert Booth Nichols died. Samuel Israel, the guy Bob allegedly scammed for ten million dollars (who is currently doing 22 years in federal prison for his own Ponzi scheme), insists Nichols is very much alive. Bob might have faked his death. Israel gave that gambit a shot and added two years to his sentence. Perhaps a foreign government or rogue branch of US intelligence spirited Bob away for “debriefing.” This gets confusing, 250 billion in US Treasury notes might be in Bob’s London safety deposit box, or his Singapore place, or in the hands of the FBI, or simply mysteriously missing. Maybe Bob’s just “missing,” too. The truth tantalizes, beyond our reach, exactly like Bob liked it (aside from the being dead part). He was always all about mystery.
The unfortunate armless Cindy vanished in the mists of time but I vividly recall the doll I dubbed Beckie. I don’t know what her manufacturer called her. I fell in love with her photo in a Sears (or something similar?) Christmas catalog and wanted her so much I could taste it. That year, I snuck a peek at my presents before Christmas Eve – the suspense of whether or not she was under the tree was unbearable. She was. Bliss.
When I left for college, my parents asked what to do with my dolls. Desperate to appear sophisticated, I said, “I don’t care. Give them away.”
So, they did.
I regret that. In later life, I collected dolls to recapture the childhood I treated so carelessly. Twinning my #5 Titian ponytail Barbie was a cinch. I still have Fuddy.
However, Beckie is MIA. I’ve scanned vintage Sears catalogs, doll collector reference books, eBay listings. I haven’t even figured out what her name was or who manufactured her.
My Missing Doll poster might be my last chance.
Hence, my poster. So, here’s my Missing Doll description. She was (I presume still is) a vinyl baby-toddler doll. Her rooted black hair sports a Pebbles Flintstone style topknot. I think she was a sitting doll and wore a red and white checked outfit. I think she had a happy, smiling expression.
What looked like my lucky break was actually a crash course in how quickly “All my dreams are coming true!” can dissolve into no one’s returning my phone calls. Sadly, this was far from my last experience with emotional whiplash, careers version.
Still, Froug was right when he advised me to celebrate. Why not bask in the potential something amazing just might happen? So what if it doesn’t, this time? The near-miss zone is nothing to be ashamed of. Most people never get that close. Nobody gets there by accident. Somebody noticed you and said, “the kid’s got talent.” If they didn’t believe it, they wouldn’t waste their time. The least you can do is believe in yourself.
Legend has it, the average overnight success endures twenty to fifty rejections before they’re rewarded with that first life-changing YES. What are you waiting for? The faster you rack up the no’s, the sooner your dreams come true.
The script that earned me this near-miss – “Intimate Changes,” not the greatest title – never got produced, but it won me introductions to agents, producers and network execs, all pivotal in my later career. What felt like loss was only life unfolding more slowly than I preferred.
Should anyone doubt my Nerd credentials, read no further than the above diary entry. In fact, I’d argue knotting grass to make insect beds raises the bar on Dorkiness. Surely, I had a few worthier – at the very least, cooler – hobbies.
What did pre-digital loners like myself do for entertainment in 1965? I pasted green stamps into books for my mother. Played “Kick the Can” and “Monopoly” with the neighborhood kids. I tottered around on the pair of stilts my father built for me. I pored over the Sears catalog – its arrival was a major event in our house. We always placed an order, forgetting that the merchandise never looked as classy in our living room as it did in the catalog.
When the new catalog arrived, I claimed the old one. I named the prettiest models, carefully mulling the perfect moniker for each. I bought my first “A Name for Baby” book around then – the start of a lifelong obsession. And then, I wrote stories about the people I named.
Of course, I became a writer. What other profession gives you god-like powers in your fictional universe plus carte blanche to name a cast of thousands?