My Nest Isn't Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space: The Amazing Adventures of an Ordinary Woman (8 page)

BOOK: My Nest Isn't Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space: The Amazing Adventures of an Ordinary Woman
12.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Deadline Fever

The good news is that I didn’t have mange. The bad news is that I had poison sumac and a deadline.

Or as I think of it, a dreadline.

To explain, it takes me a year to write a novel, and my deadline just passed, on a Monday. Below is a rewind of the week leading up to the deadline, with play-by-play medical updates. Please tell me you’ve had weeks like this, because poison sumac loves company.

Our story begins on Monday morning, when my satellite radio stops working. It flashes Acquiring Signal, even though it isn’t. No biggie. On Monday afternoon, my cell phone breaks. It’s been dropping calls for a few weeks, but now it won’t stay connected to anyone. I don’t have time to get another, so I just won’t talk on the phone for a week. I have to work anyway.

Poison sumac spreads to look like a map of Italy, which suits.

On Tuesday, I’m low on groceries and down to take-out food, so I try to reheat pizza for dinner, but the oven won’t go on. All right, no sweat, I can wait a week to get the oven fixed. I eat the pizza cold, which is delicious.

Poison sumac adds islands of Sicily and Sardinia, now geographically correct.

On Wednesday, I’m brewing my 55th cup of coffee and I go to get Half & Half from the refrigerator, but when I open the door, the light stays off. The refrigerator is on the fritz, and I notice water pooling on the floor. I can ignore the puddle, but the Half & Half will go bad and I need coffee.

Caffeine and deadline is my longest marriage.

So I call the appliance guys, and luckily the refrigerator guy is in the neighborhood, so he comes and replaces the gasket, whatever that is. I work all night on coffee adrenaline, and by Thursday morning I need breakfast, so I go to the freezer for ice cream.

Yes, you read that right. Ice cream for breakfast. On deadline, I crave sugar. Caffeine, sugar, and me are a threesome.

But when I open the freezer door, a solid block of ice coats the top shelf and my Häagen-Dazs is vanilla soup. I call the appliance guy again, and they tell me the gasket repair caused an air lock, whatever that is. They’re not in the neighborhood and will get there when they can. So I drink the ice cream, and it’s delicious. In fact, if I had cold pizza to go with my warm ice cream, I’d be in pig heaven.

Also, poison sumac has spread to the Italian island of Ischia, which sounds like “itchier” for a good reason.

On Friday, I’m working and adjusting to the new normal. My house is quiet because the radio stayed mute and the cell phone can’t ring. I don’t cook in the oven because it doesn’t work, and there’s no food left in the refrigerator, even though it does. I eat things that used to be frozen, like Boca Burgers, which I microwave for lunch and dinner. For breakfast I make toast. For dessert I have microwave popcorn, and it’s all delicious. I’m backsliding with carbohydrates, like ex sex.

Carbs join sugar, caffeine, and me for the weekend. We have a deadline orgy.

Poison sumac invades Poland, intending world domination.

Saturday afternoon, my laptop is acting wacky. The monitor seems fainter and I can’t read it, so I call my computer guy, who comes over. We use one of my old monitors with the laptop, but that doesn’t work, so we replace the laptop with an old computer. This process takes four hours, during which I eat nothing but fingernails, for three more grams of carbohydrates.

Poison sumac marches westward to France. Paris is burning, and so is my chest.

Sunday morning, my throat aches and my tongue is swollen, but I’m fine. It hurts to eat anything, but that doesn’t matter because there’s nothing to eat. I can’t drink either, but I’m out of coffee and running on bile. I power through to Monday morning, when I finally finish my book.

It’s called
Think Twice.

But it should have been called
Poison Sumac Acquires Nuclear Weapons.


As you may know, my first book of adventures was entitled
Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog.

Which pretty much guaranteed that I’ll never have a third husband, but you can’t have everything. Mostly, I have fun.

I remember when I told Mother Mary that the book was going to be published. She was sitting at my kitchen island, her neat head bent over the crossword puzzle, her close-cropped hair showing a grayish whorl. A hearing aid nestled behind each ear like a plastic parenthesis. Next to her sat a mug of coffee, with a napkin covering the top. She always covers her drinks, perhaps to keep out airborne bacteria or incoming helicopters.

So I broke the news, and she looked up, lifting a sparse silver eyebrow.

“Why?” she asked.

“Why, what?”

“Why are they making a book about the stories? Who’s gonna buy that?”

“I hope some people will. It’s funny, right?”

“Yeah, but they already read them in the paper.”

“Well, they might have missed some, or they might want them all in one place, or they might give it as a present for the holidays.”

She looked at me blankly, a slow blink of milky brown eyes, behind bifocals.

“Ma, not everybody lives in Philly and gets the
You, for example, live in Miami.”

“I don’t need the paper, or the book. Cousin Nana tells me what it’s about.”

This is true. Never mind that the columns are online, so that Brother Frank can get one and print a copy for her, every Sunday. Instead, she prefers to rely on Cousin Nana from South Philly, and I have stopped pointing out that, in hearing “what it’s about,” she misses these superbly crafted sentences. I tried another tack:

“Ma, the cool thing is that you’re going to be in a book. People will read about your lab coat and your traveling back scratcher. They’ll know you hate Raquel Welch and love Omar Sharif. Aren’t you excited?”

“No.” She sniff s. “Who cares? Nobody cares.”

“They do. At least, some of them do.”

This is also true, if my email is any indication, and thank you for writing to me. Mother Mary always gets rave reviews. She’s like the
American Idol
of mothers. Rather, the
of mothers. Or maybe I’m the survivor.

Then I got another idea. “Ma, I’m going to have a few book signings, and you should come. I’m sure people would have questions for you, and you could answer them. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

“No.” She went back to her puzzle. “I’m not going.”

“You could even sign the books.”

“Why would I?”

I left it alone, knowing that it was too soon to start campaigning in earnest. Of course, in time, I guilted her into coming. After all, she’s the reason I started writing, though she’ll never know it from me, because Cousin Nana might forget to tell her this part. To explain, I’ve always loved this quote of Eleanor Roosevelt’s: “A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she’s in hot water.”

I knew that was true, if only from living with Mother Mary, who had been in more hot water than any fifty tea bags and had come out stronger. Later, I saw that strength in my girlfriends, and I wanted to see in print the kind of women I saw in real life. I think of them as extraordinary, ordinary women. Tea bags, all.

Sisters to Nancy Drew.

That’s why this book has the subtitle, The Amazing Adventures of an Ordinary Woman. I think it sums up the point, doesn’t it?

So keep reading, and save your questions for Mother Mary.

She has all the answers.


I think a lot about words, and I like to choose the most important words for the decades of my life.

For example, when I was in my twenties, everything was about dating, romance, and love. During school, I had crushes on anything that moved, and being Italian, I fell in love many times.

On the same day.

Just kidding.

But I did have a low flashpoint in those days, and the most important words of my twenties were, “I love you.”

The words “I love you” lead to marriage, or at least they did then, and I had two of those in the next decade or so. And my most important words morphed from “I love you” to “I’m sorry.”

I’m sure it’s a coincidence.

In my thirties, I apologized for everything. I was like an apology machine. The apologies started with things like “I’m sorry I’m late,” then increased to “I’m sorry I said what I said,” and ended up with “I’m sorry I think what I think,” “I’m sorry I am who I am,” and ultimately, “I’m sorry I married you.”

Really, really sorry.

Luckily, there were backsies.

This led to the most important words of my forties, which were, “Thank you.” As in, “Thank you, God, for divorce.”

Among so many other things.

I was thankful that I had gotten back on my feet and acquired a grace I should have had earlier. I was thankful for everything in my life. Thankful that Daughter Francesca was growing up so beautifully, despite the many curveballs I’d thrown her. Thankful for my parents, then both still alive. Thankful that I had my health, when so many did not. Thankful for my house, even with its mortgage. Thankful for my dogs, though they never listened. Thankful I had a second career, which I loved.

So what words are the most important for my fifties?

It’s taken me years to figure it out, but I know it now. What’s the word it’s taken me this long to figure out, and once I figured it out, even longer to say out loud?

What is as important as “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” and “Thank you,” now and forever?


I never used to ask for anything. Help. An answer. A favor. A new job. A concession. A request.

Whatever it is, if I wanted it, I would never ask for it. I would just hope it came to me, magically. Or I might just suffer in silence, in the manner of the early Christian martyrs.

Heaven, help us.

Now I ask, and I get plenty of no’s. But I’ve also gotten a yes or two, which feels like I won the lottery. There are a lot of little examples, but here’s one: last weekend, I was at the National Book Festival, and I was scheduled to speak at breakfast. As book gigs go, this is a big one, but it was early in the morning. I had to be dressed and ready by seven o’clock, and I was worried.

About my speech?


About my hair.

I was going to speak in front of hundreds of people, so I wanted good hair. I called a few salons to see if I could get an appointment to get a blow-dry that morning, but the managers said they weren’t open until seven o’clock, which was too late for me. So I asked:

“Sir, would you please come to my hotel room, for money?”

Well, not exactly, but you get the idea.

In my forties, I never would have asked. I would have gotten my hair blown-dry the day before the speech and slept all night in a chair, sitting up. In fact, I did do that once.

Please tell me I’m not alone.

But now, I ask for what I want.

The most they can do is say no, and they didn’t. At six fifteen in the morning, a handsome young man arrived at my hotel room and blow-dried my hair. Honest to God, it was all I wanted from him, and that’s what being fifty is all about.

Of course, I haven’t forgotten, “Thank you.”

And “I love you” will always matter.

But I’m not really sorry, at all.

BOOK: My Nest Isn't Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space: The Amazing Adventures of an Ordinary Woman
12.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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