The Writing Life

images-2.jpegWriting keeps me afloat.

Writing keeps me sane.

Writing keeps me warm on a cold day. What does that mean exactly?

It gives me hope.

I’ve written all my life. When my mother locked me in my room in the attic like a jail cell, I wrote. Poems mostly. Couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 figuring they were useless and lost, until years later, when my dad died of alcoholism.

After the hospital gave me his personal effects, there in his wallet tied with string, was a little couplet I penned called…He. The ink had run, the edges frayed, but there I was, published in his billfold.

Paul Auster said, “becoming a writer is not a career decision like becoming a doctor or a policeman. You don’t choose it so much as get chosen.” I understand this since, I have little choice but to write.

My blog has been a gift since, it gives me a place to be when I can’t be anywhere else. It’s like the gym…you can work out on the page, keeping your writing muscle taut.

I try not to judge what appears especially when tears transform into words. Meeting your feelings head on, writing them down is freeing. You shed that skin you’ve been so uncomfortable in, allowing you to move forward.

I’m inspired by the blogs I read, and grateful for the handful of readers I have.

I’m also sparked by writers long gone who encourage and teach from the ether, like Carrie Fisher who said,

Take Your Broken Heart and Turn It Into Art.

I just spent the week with Hemingway and already have slimmed down my prose, making it clearer, less flowery, and of course Kurt has me pruning those adverbs.

I’ve been working on something, worried what’s going to happen next, but then remember E.L. Doctorow’s quote:

It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

Writing keeps me afloat.

Writing keeps me sane.

Writing keeps me warm on a cold day.  images-1.jpeg



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A Little Caboose

I should just switch my site to a train travelogue since, once again, I have a tender tale to share.

I’m on the N Train, the Broadway local into Queens, when, as I make my way to the stairs to exit, come upon a young mom and her little girl that’s no more than 2.

The kid is screaming because she doesn’t want to be held, preferring to walk on her own. The mother, all of 20, looks Polish to me with a round, doughy face that tries her best to calm her child, who’s having none of it.

I say as I tool by, “She’s already so independent, and oh so cute.” The kid, all female, stops wailing, basking in the compliment, before going back to her version of Twist and Shout.

Finally, her mother gives up, putting her down while those crocodile tears shut down like a sprinkler.

She then, expertly grabs the railing proceeding to walk.

I offer to take their stroller down, but Mom says a polite no thanks, as we both watch how each step takes 5 minutes since, the tiny diva thinks nothing of resting after each one.

You couldn’t help but to smile, this wee bossy bundle in pink who knows perfectly well she’s gotten her way, now giggling her spoiled half-pint head off.

It’s like watching a YouTube video, just LIVE.

By the time she reaches the bottom of the stairway, a crowd has gathered.

As she makes it to the landing, we all clap, our parental slips, all showing.

Just goes to show you, women, big or small, will always tell you, who’s boss, and don’t you dare forget it.    🙂



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Notes From the Carlyle…January 2020


I’m having a melancholy Friday, yearning for all things gone, like my old neighborhood for instance.

They’ve knocked down the block across from where I lived, leaving this vast emptiness, feeling as if 40 years of my life, went along with it.

But Bemelmans is still what it’s been for 71 years – restored, preserved, and left untouched.

I float through the revolving doors that, if they only talked,  Unknown-1.jpeggettyimages-919988678-1534966522.jpg could tell us a tale or two.

Tommy, the long time bartender, who died in 2012, I swear I still see, polishing glasses with a bar towel, giving me his best Irish wink.

Good to see ya Lassie, I hear him say.

Laurie, his successor, when my reverie clears, smiles as I perch myself on a stool.

“Well hello stranger, I mean it’s you isn’t it?” she says, smirking like a cat. “I’m pretty sure, cause you never, ever change.”

“That’s because, when you walk in here, time stands still Laurie. Don’t you know that?”


“I wish, but I’m still not drinking.”

“That’s the worst thing you can tell a barmaid.”

“How bout a Pimms cup, without the Pimms.”

“That’s the second worst, but I’ll make it anyway.”

Wasn’t sure how it was gonna taste, with just Ginger ale, lemon, mint and cucumbers, but I was about to find out.

Boy, being sober sucks in more ways than one when I take a swig and my cheeks pucker.

“Do I look like a Cabbage Patch Doll?” I ask Laurie.

“Yes, as a matter-of-fact. Just a very tall, thin one, which reminds me, you still eat chips, right?”

“You bet,” I say, “and now you’re talkin.”

It’s still early, but because it’s the start of a long weekend, the place is pretty filled. I listen to the two guys next to me who offer to buy me something, a little more substantial, is what the one nearest to me says.

Just my luck, but It reminds me of one of my favorite jokes.

A guy says,”Hey cupcake, can I buy ya a drink?” And she says,” No, but I’ll take the 3 bucks.”

Goes to show you how old it is. Now I’d have to change it to, no, but I’ll take the 20 bucks.

I start to giggle.

The other guy looks at me, his shaved head like a huge cue ball bouncing in the overhead light. “You’re not even drinking and you’re laughing,” he says, “that’s impressive. Maybe I should have what you’re having.”

This made me remember another one.

“Wanna hear a joke,” I ask them, sipping my Pimmless Pimms.

“Sure,” says Baldy, “why not.”

A man walks into a bar, and says to the bartender, “I wanna buy that douchebag over there a drink.” The bartender says, “That’s not very nice sir.”

But he says it again. “I want to buy that douchebag a drink!” The bartender finally goes over and says, “The guy at the end of the bar would like to buy you a drink.”

“Great,” she says.”I’ll have a vinegar and water, straight up.”

They both look at me, then at each other before losing it, like I’m Joan Rivers back, for one night, from the ether.

Baldy then says, “You’re this funny, and you don’t even drink?”

This makes me smile.

Who said you need to be three sheets to the wind to be the life of the party?

“Laurie, I’ll have another Pimms without the Pimms…

easy on the lemon.”    images-1.jpeg


Posted in alcohol, comedy, Culture, History, humanity, humor, New York City, Women and men, words, writing | Tagged , , , , | 60 Comments

Best Story of the Week…January 16th

It’s twilight as I make my way home after a putting in a pretty long day.

A guy coming the other way waves and says, “Someone is calling you.”

I turn, and there’s another guy, a real cutie, bundled in a peacoat and watch cap, walking a Golden Retriever.

My girl pops out when I stop and purr, “Can I help you with something?” And he says, “Well not me, but my dog has something for you.”

Unbeknownst to me, I had dropped a glove that Addie, though proud of her catch, is nice enough to return.

Oh well, at least my girl got out for a quick spin.  🙂


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Good Copy

I’m sitting in a cafe writing on a legal pad, when I notice a well-heeled woman staring at me from across the room.

Do I know her from somewhere, I wonder, my memory lately doing the hula.

She starts walking over.

An attractive woman, in her 50s, with jet black hair in a sprayed flip, cascading over a little too much cleavage for 4 in the afternoon. I can’t see what she’s wearing beneath what looks like, a full length beaver coat. I do notice she has on Tod loafers that gleam in the pre-evening light.

“Excuse me,” she says, genuinely apologetic for disturbing me. “I really need to ask you something.”

My essay light pops on as I smile and say, “We haven’t met before, right?”

“No,” she says, looking around like Mata Hari. “I have to go to a party and we’re all supposed to come as someone famous. After seeing you come in, I thought I could go as Audrey.”

I’m speechless, because the whole thing is a bit bizarre, even for me, plus the last person she resembles is Audrey Hepburn.

“Tell me where to go get what you’re wearing,” she says, now sitting across from me.

“Well, I’m only wearing tights and a turtleneck, and flats. Certainly you must have them in your closet.”

This woman looks as if she has 40 closets. You can tell. Her coat alone could pay my rent for a year.

“I don’t. I never wear black for starters. Too funereal. And my butt is just too big for leotards.”

“Then, maybe Audrey is not the best choice,” I say tactfully, ignoring the funeral remark. “Why not go as Marilyn, or how bout Ava. You could pull off a great Ava Gardner.”

Now I’m into it, her new costume ball fashion consultant.

She thinks about this for a second. “I could get my guy to do my hair like hers. Could bring him a picture.”

“Yeah, and you can go to Sephora maybe and get your make-up done, like a 40’s siren.”

“What else do you know?”

That she always wore tight, tight pants, like all the matadors she slept with.”

“She did?”

“Yeah, she was a very sexy lady. She was married to Sinatra remember.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot that.”

After Adrianne and I decide her 20 ply white cashmere Oscar de La Renta sweater will be perfect with skinny leopard pants and hot pink mules, she thanks me, kisses me, then…

picks up my check.     Unknown.jpeg

Only in New York folks.

🙂  SB


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Cheap Cheap

No, this is not about chickens with a typo.

I ran into a fella I hadn’t seen as I was coming out of Barnes and Noble, who seemed initially, very happy to see me.

After a pleasantry or two, he says, “I can’t believe you still spend all that money on fuckin’ Christmas cards.”

A direct quote.

I don’t need to tell you he doesn’t send them.

I keep my Connecticut intact admitting, yes I do, guilty as charged, and they’re beautiful to boot, as he knows, being a recipient.

None of these, just had it layin’ around so I’ll force myself to use a stamp, cards for me. To defend it further, it’s a lovely, traditional practice I wish was still in common play.

After I tip-toe around his snark remark, he asks, why I’m in Barnes and Noble so early.

I pause, knowing if I tell him, he’ll lose his mind, but my inner prankster says, play with his parsimony why don’t you Susannah, take Fred Mertz out for a ride.

“Since you’ve asked, I just bought my Christmas cards for next year, half price.”

What a photo-op sadly missed when he says, “That’s a joke, right?”

I pull out three boxes…Santa, angels, and a polar bear ice skating.

He looks as though he was hit over the head. I smile my best, I like ya, even if you can be a bit of an asshole smile, kissing him, French style, on both cheeks.

Take good care Fred.

No I didn’t say that, and just to annoy him, he’ll get a card, maybe even two, next year.




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A Little Tenderness

I’m in Starbucks crying, the happiness I promised myself nowhere to be found.

While huddled in a corner wrapped in layers of wool, wondering if spring will ever come again, a baby in the tiniest red hoodie, toddles over to hand me a napkin.

He looks at me like an angel on duty, eyes big and round.

When I look to his mom, she shrugs and says, “I had nothing to do with it. He’s very sensitive, and has been, even when I carried him. He never kicked, came into being easily, like he did it all before. His dad calls him, our little, old soul.”

All this time he’s standing by me, eyes big and round, waiting for me to trade my tears for hope, or at the very least, a smile.  images.jpeg


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Adverbs, Vonnegut and Me

Kurt Vonnegut loathed adverbs (a noun, word or phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or other adverb or a word group), slaying them at every turn, making me aware how often I use them.

That LY you don’t really need is like wearing too many jewels with your little black dress.

It’s hard to appreciate its elegance drenched in all that bling.

And LY has a slew of cousins that if you’re not careful, will move right in.

She has ALMOST finished

She is running VERY late.

She is walking TOO slow.

Of course, using one now and then is okay, since it may just be part of your charm, but I now see what an adverb junkie I totally am, by nature.

Hemingway, the king of clean prose, rarely used them. I’m rereading Movable Feast and halfway through, have come across one.

He did say, when beginning a piece, write the first true sentence you know, a tip I take to heart.

This all started with a series I discovered called, The Last Interview, and Other Conversations, a collection of writer’s last words.

They’re wonderful…short, poignant, insightful, as if Kurt and Ernest and a host of others, are sitting in your living room expressing how they felt about things.

Chewing the fat, just for you.

Hunter Thompson was another interview I liked. He said, the secret of good writing lies in good notes. As much as I absorb detail, I rarely write it down, never seeming to have a notebook handy, hoping I’ll just remember.

Nora Ephron, in the series said, whatever you’re writing has to have a beginning, a middle and an end.

That’s my idea of true success, when you can inspire from the ether.

What’s that Mr. Vonnegut? I haven’t snuck in that many adverbs?

I GLADLY would have, but I’m CAREFULLY and a bit AWKWARDLY trying to write, JUST like you.

Fat chance, I know.   images.jpeg

But a girl can dream.



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Raccoon Run

For two weeks I’ve changed my rhythms, going out to run at 5. It helped me get through the holidays that turned into a John Waters Christmas. All I needed was Divine to come back from the dead escorting my mother.

The park is pitch black at that hour, lit only by its lamp posts giving off just enough light to keep you on your route.

Only a handful of runners are out, along with a colony of raccoons, heading home.

Usually they skedaddle when they see you, but this hasn’t been the case with me. They tool on by as if to say…this is early, even for you.

I of course respect their territory, politely stopping to let them pass. One had his paws filled with contraband lifted from one of the trash bins.

When you see a lot of trash on the ground, it’s not from sloppy park-goers, but the coons who pick and choose what they’d like, forgetting to put the rejects back in the can.

They’re young, many of them, and I’m sure like all kids, have messy rooms.

They’re also shy creatures, another reason they prefer night to day, something we can all relate to.

Sometimes you just don’t want to deal with the outside world.

People think when you happen to glimpse one at dawn, he’s diseased, but not necessarily. He’s just late, missing curfew…again. You can tell because they run faster, hoping mom doesn’t catch them.

I always picture the mother pacing up and down in the tree half worried, half pissed, sending him to that messy room.

You’re grounded for a week Rocky, or in his case, tree-ed till you can learn to respect the rules.

I’ll end with a story my friend Anthony, who has a cabin upstate, told me.

He had a dresser on his porch he was planning on stripping and refinishing that had several drawers. Every morning he’d get up to find them scattered across the yard.

He finally stayed up to catch whoever it was, and sure enough, a raccoon, the size of Pittsburgh, tooled up the steps opening each one to see if he’d find anything interesting.

Anthony, a big nature lover, was so charmed, he just sat and watched.

The next night when Mr. Raccoon came, he found the drawers filled with a buffet of canned goods.

Don’t you know he made several trips, and left the drawers alone.

How I love that story.     




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A Gentleman Caller

It’s around 3 A.M. when I get up to write, a habit of mine if I can’t sleep. I don’t feel lonely often, but for the past few days I’ve had a yearning I can’t seem to quench.

It happens.

After making coffee, I empty the grounds into a plastic bag to leave outside my door to not forget when I go for my run.

When I open it, who’s sprawled on Mimi’s welcome mat that’s still in front of her door, but Patrick, the cat.

Mimi was our dear neighbor and friend who passed away a while ago, who adored Patrick and would leave him treats, something he clearly remembers.

Pat and I look at each other, and realize what my yearning is all about.

I miss Mimi too.

I creep across the hall in my pjs, picking Patrick up, purring like a motor boat, as a tear slides down my face.

I invite him in for a bowl of milk he accepts, as my gloom takes flight.

God speaks in many languages, doesn’t he, using whatever creature he has on hand.


This is my 2000th blog essay, dedicated to…

Eugenie “Mimi” O’Hagen (1930-2018)


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