Monday, December 15, 2014

This Is My Confession

In loving memory of my Grandmother,
Anne Portnoy Farman,
who taught me everything I know. 
When my friend Nancy asked what was going on with my memoir, I told her I wasn't writing it.  I
waited for her to ask why -- it was a conversation I'd had frequently, and it unfolded like a script  -- but she didn't.  Instead, in the consoling tone one uses when talking to a lunatic, she said  "I understand.  You don't want to live there."

"YES!," I cried, genuinely enthused.  I'd been searching for what to tell people when they asked about my book,  and Nancy had come up with the perfect response.  It was inaccurate, but it was reflective, self-aware, and deep, and that's what I was going for.

"That's exactly it," I said  "I'm not writing a memoir because, you know, I want to move forward."

When I was in fifth grade, and in trouble for the gazillionth time, I was sent yet again to the principal's office.  I'd figured out that the teachers at Noonan Elementary didn't actually check my math homework;  they only looked to see if the blanks had been filled in, and I'd finally gotten nailed for the random numbers I'd been writing in as answers to math questions since sometime in Kindergarten.

"Do you know what your problem is?" scary Principal Caffrey asked as I stood at her desk.  "It begins with an L and ends with a Y."

I looked at her blankly.   "Lady?" I said, knowing the answer was wrong, but stumped by the question.   "I'm a lady?"

"WHY WOULD IT BE A PROBLEM TO BE A LADY?"  Miss Caffrey bellowed,  losing her shit. "The problem is that you're lazy.  L-A-Z-Y.  Lazy."

After she calmed down, she escorted me to a chair outside her office, and told me I'd be spending the rest of the day there.  "Don't even think about moving,"  Miss Caffrey snapped,  somehow unaware that sitting still for a few hours was about the best thing that could happen to a lazy person on a school day.   I thought about telling Miss Caffrey that her problem began with a Clue and ended with a Less, but thought better of it;  she would have sentenced me to more time in the chair, which would have prevented me from getting home to my TV and a comfortable couch.

He gave me permission to
use this photo. It required
too much energy to object. 
I was in no way disheartened by Miss Caffrey's assessment of my very big problem; it was the least disturbing of my character-related trips to her office.  She'd accused me of succumbing to each of the 7 Deadly Sins by the time I graduated from elementary school, and while I may have chosen to be lustful, envious, greedy, wrathful, prideful and gluttonous by the time I was 12, sloth wasn't a choice.  It was a genetic imperative.   It was the Portnoy Gene.

It was first identified in my grandmother - a Portnoy by birth --  who once told me when I called and asked what she was doing that she was looking at her feet.  My cousin Rick, the most successful Portnoy grandchild, tells people that his management style is based on laziness. "The first thing that enters my head when someone asks me to do something or something I need to do arises is who I can get to do it,"  he says.  My father is more extreme.  The Portnoy Gene kicks in without the burden of conscious thought.  In other words, he automatically avoids any effort.

Of necessity, most of us developed work-arounds.  My Uncle Ed is a fancy New York lawyer who plays tennis four days a week, and my Dad -- who's worked up the daily motivation to support himself as a freelancer for 40 years - reads big fat books.  Rick is a monster entrepreneur, which outweighs his passion for meditation, an activity which requires silence and sitting still for hours on end.   As for me -- and as previously noted --  I went on three dates this year, and regularly do multiple sets of unassisted pull ups just for kicks.

What I can't seem to do is sit myself down in front of my computer every day and write.  Despite the fact that little movement  is required, writing is hard.    Try  though I might, I am a carrier of the Portnoy Gene, and relaxing with a nice bowl of cereal demands too much energy to resist.

Still, the next time I'm asked why I'm not writing my book, I won't say it's because I'm lazy; I'll say it's because I don't want to live in the past.  I'm committed to rigorous honesty, and living right here right now is far less strenuous.


Monday, December 8, 2014

A Remembrance of Things Past, and the Lack Thereof

Yes, those are the guys from Firehouse.
 (Also pictured: Ged Doherty, Dave and Ann Glew, Glen
Brunman and a little couple called Gloria and Emilio.)

I've been avoiding going to my storage space since August of 2010, when I moved (or "moved") to Australia.  I was convinced that the evidence of my former life would freak me out - I still think I'm more emotionally fragile than I actually am -- and I was worried that I'd be gutted by the experience.   I was more willing to go after I moved last month, but that's not saying a lot;  I wouldn't have gone if my friend Susie hadn't picked me up, pried me out, and brought me there.    

I have very few memories of packing up and leaving, and I had only a vague idea of what I would find.    I remembered that I'd decided to keep only what was essential, valuable or sentimental, but I was totally unprepared for how  little I kept, and how I'd defined valuable, essential, and sentimental.  

My Mom and a Finster Angel, 1996
I didn't keep my grandmother's freshwater pearls, the Baccarat vase or my Finster angels, but I boxed, wrapped and stored a set of pastel sconces, a pineapple novelty lamp and a Day of the Dead mirror so ugly that Susie suggested that if I kept it, a good place to hang it would be in a closet.   I didn't bother to save any financial records, but I had every Pixies itinerary from 1990, 1991 and 1992, and a file folder full of Oasis-related correspondence.  There was a maroon Dali-esque melting clock missing its  hands, a ceramic sculpture I'd named Mr. Bunny missing its ears,  and a crateful of mic flags and clipboards from my days at E!.    The only furniture I stored was  a collection of tables:   an oak table,  a bamboo table, and eight small tables made of white reclaimed wood.   There was no bed, no couch, no clothing, no jewelry, and no records, but  there were ten tables and a dozen boxes, two of which contained loud patterned dishes that I bought at Ross for $12.99 sometime in the '80s.   I did have it together enough to keep photos, letters, and postcards, but it may have been because they were stored in the same crate that I'd stored my 8th grade yearbook.  (I've always been proud that I was voted "most involved" in junior high, even if what I was most involved in was the yearbook and I made up both the category and the results.)

One of 900:  My nieces,
Amanda and Hannah, circa 2000.
Fortunately, and due largely to the presence of Susie,  I was far more entertained by the contents of my storage space than I was traumatized by them.   And, when I finally got up the courage to start working my way through the photos, the letters, and the postcards, I was mostly heartened and occasionally embarrassed, but never heartbroken or contrite.  I realized five seconds after we opened the door that I was out of my mind when I moved,  and that I need to stop beating myself up for it.  I may have done some damage to my life, but it was because I was damaged at the time.

As for my possessions, or lack thereof,  it's all ok.  I was a little extreme when I downsized but I kept what was most important: I have  abundant reminders of  the people I love, an incredible friend in Susie, and a lot of trade shots taken at Campanile and Spago.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Just Checking In, or Still Fucked, But Less So

At least I didn't show him the photo.  
I didn't make a decision to stop posting back in February, or even to take a break.   Time  just got away from me, as it tends to do, and instead of posting, I watched a lot of SVU.    But I moved three weeks ago, and I now live in a neighborhood where people introduce themselves and immediately follow up with the most important  question  one can ask a new acquaintance in Los Angeles.   They ask what I do.    "I'm a writer," I answer,  which, considering my output of late, is only slightly more true than saying I'm a detective on the New York City Sexual Victims Unit.

I met another neighbor this morning and told him I was a writer; when he asked what I wrote,  I said I had a drop dead deadline and split as fast as I could.   I can't even say I'm working an a book.  I told my agent that I'd given up on the idea because writing was too hard, and  he offered nary a word in protest.   He said, simply, "I can relate," and signed off  quickly with all the best.

So I've decided.   If I'm going to say I'm a writer, I will write, and while it doesn't require the talent or dedication of composing an actual book,  blogging counts.   There are no revelations forthcoming, though, and there's no big news to report.   I'm just posting in an  attempt to be retroactively honest.   It's my usual self-absorbed nonsense.  I'm just checking in.

Life has gotten progressively better since I wrote about my chubby,  brokeass and loveless life on the skids.   My teeth have been fixed, I've  got a three figure bank account, I've lost 35 pounds and I've traveled enough to credibly hate Southwest, United, and American Airlines.  I still haven't fully recovered from my most recent heartbreak,  but blah blah blah:   it didn't kill me, so I'm stronger.   I actually considered it when I was invited to run away with a felon on the lam - a man from my deep dark past -- and I've gone on a slew of dates.

I went out with a portly, unemployed man 15 years my junior who was either an asshole or an Aspie or both;  I gamely talked myself into embracing his good qualities on date #3, which took place just before I never heard from him again.   I dated a studio executive for a while, but it turned out he was big on Tom Cruise.  This had nothing to do with a pragmatic respect for the little man's box office draw, and everything to do with Xenu, the cruel galactic ruler, who was in charge of our galaxy approximately 75 million years ago.  

On Monday, I had dinner with a guy I've known for thirty years.   Back when we met,  the playing
field was sort of level,  although his talents were far more substantial  than mine -- mine were based on my ability to mix and match Jack Daniels, stimulants and opiates and remain vertical, and his emanated from an ungodly facility with beats, melody, and a noble commitment to working hard.   In the years since first we met, he's become wildly successful, complete with a body of influential work and a boatload of prestigious awards.  I'm proud of my credit for the Pamela Anderson episode of  The True Hollywood Story and my Klout Score, but my biggest achievement to date is still that I once won $15,000 on a 50 cent slot.    

I had the BEST TIME with him, but sadly, it doesn't give my evolution towards romantic openness any additional weight.  I knew even before we went out that it was a non-starter. He's a stunner, but, for one thing, he doesn't live here, and, for another, he can do much better. (The only thing about me that qualifies as extraordinary these days is that I can do complicated arm balances and unassisted pull ups.  Which I actually pointed out during dinner.) 

Thankfully, my progress has extended beyond my bold attempts to date.   I have ample work, boring though it may be, and I've been sober for more than three years.   And,  after housesitting, dogsitting, and squatting at my amazing and good-hearted friend Katie's unoccupied condo for an entire year,  I signed a lease and moved into an apartment I love earlier this month.   It's fantastic and not only that, it comes complete with unwittingly inspiring neighbors. Today, I'm writing again.  It may only be a blog post, but I intend to keep it up.    At least until the next SVU marathon. 


Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day, Bitches

My love affair with Uber is over.  I got an email from them on Wednesday offering Valentine's Day skywriting on demand. "Take your love to new heights! For one day only, hopeless romantics in LA can send a turbocharged love letter," it read, and this is horrifying. As if Valentine's Day doesn't suck enough, today I can look forward to sweet  messages of  love and devotion emblazoned across the great big blue of the Los Angeles sky.  It won't be safe to go outside, although that's probably a good thing -- Valentine's Day is a day for we, the singles and cynics, to take cover.

The last time I actually enjoyed Valentine's Day was in 3rd Grade, when every boy and girl  in Miss Clark's class exchanged die-cut cards with cute pictures of monkeys ("I'm bannnas for you"), bunnies ("Some bunny loves you"),  and bees ("Bee my valentine!").   By 4th grade,  I was done with it all, a nine-year old spinster:  February 14 meant only that I'd be forced to hide from Dana, the chubby monkey boy who was bananas for me.

During the rare Februaries I was coupled up,  I would gently suggest that my boyfriends send flowers; I took it a step further when I was married, and insisted on it.  My ex-husband dutifully obliged, and would send dozens of long-stemmed roses to my office -- an announcement to my co-workers that I was either loved or feared -- and romantic dinners at The Ivy or Matsuhisa were a given.  Ironically, or maybe unironically,  it was on Valentine's Day that I finally busted out with the news that I wanted a divorce.   On the day that Hallmark insisted on the glory of love, I realized that the glory of it was eluding me, and it was time for both of us to stop pretending.

I'm miserable on Valentine's Day, so this year, I'm taking action.   I won't soothe myself  by binging on self-purchased chocolate, which always makes me sick, and I'll keep myself from feeling like a loser by avoiding Facebook and my friends who share photos of their blissful love.  Instead, I'll be reminding myself that a) I'm generally happy to be single, and b) my glass might not might not be full, it's not empty either. So, while I may be staying off Facebook,  I'll be all over my email:  I've gotten Valentine's Day wishes from WD Software, Yoga  Today, and Bed Bath and Beyond! It might not be sweet somethings in the sky, but today it'll do.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

My Back Pages

I wrote once before that I'd tell anyone anything except how much I weighed.    It's not true. I won't tell anyone that I was molested in nursery school.  It's not on  purpose -- it's not like I made a conscious decision to keep it a secret   -- it's because I forget that it happened.  Not forgot, which is past tense. Forget.  I forget in the present. I intentionally forget.

I only think about it when I'm triggered, and last night I read  Dylan Farrow's "Open Letter" in the New York Times. In it, she details how she was sexually abused by Woody Allen as a child.  I'm triggered. I've been triggered.

I didn't feel traumatized when I read the article.  I didn't connect Dylan's story to my own; I didn't flashback to the  back room at the White Nursery School, or the teacher who took me there to brush my hair. Instead, I went to the kitchen and ate everything within arm's reach, and had a cigarette or ten. Then I thought about getting high.   I'm right across the street from Cedars.  I used to go to emergency rooms with fake  headaches and walk out with prescriptions for percocets and oxys.

I didn't tell anyone what happened until I was in my 20s, when I told my therapist, Jody.   She gave me a set of cassettes called The Courage to Heal.   She told me that I might be uncomfortable listening to them -- that my body might remember what I didn't -- and that I  should push through it.

I was up for it.   I wanted to stop feeling the way I've felt since I was a kid:  bad, dishonest, and ashamed.   But I listened to the first cassette and went straight to Silverlake to hook up some dope. I  returned the tapes to Jody the following week.  I didn't get any closer to remembering  what happened,  but I felt it, and it was too much.

Last time I went to rehab -- Rehab #4 -- I was determined to confront the past.  My first day there I told a therapist, Mike, that I had been molested, that I couldn't remember it, and that I wanted to.  "It's been fucking me up for my entire life,"  I said.

"You'll remember when you're ready to," he replied.   "For now, how about you focus on getting your shit together?"

It was sage advice.  Instead of working through the events of 40 years ago, I worked on putting my life back together, and I put the memories away again, stored safe.   But after I read Dylan's letter last night - as I walked to Lee's Liquor for another pack of smokes -- I thought about nursery school, and the floor boards of an unfinished room.  I'm doing ok, but I could be better.

I believe Dylan Farrow believes what she wrote, and I'm in awe of her courage.  By writing in the New York Times, she brought attention to sexual abuse, and because of it, others might break their silence. I don't know what happened to Dylan, but  today people are discussing a subject they'd much rather ignore, and this I know:   I'm one of them.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I Blog, Therefore I Am, or the Ghosts of Grammys Past

I started this blog on February 13, 2011,  known as Grammy Sunday to marketers the world over. I was at my Dad's house, parked on a gray carpet, blogging away in front of a flat screen TV. I did it to distract myself.  In 2010, after I got laid off at E!, I couldn't bear to watch the Grammys; in 2011, I figured out I could watch the show if I gave myself something to do.   It helped, but not enough:  the first year that I witnessed the Grammys as a civilian I was gutted.

I worked the Grammy carpet off and on for 20 years, first  as a publicist and then as a talent wrangler. Working as a talent wrangler was much more fun -- accompanying an artist through the minefield of a red carpet required far more tact,  energy, and feigned enthusiasm than I could ever muster.   At E!, with a position at the top of the carpet, it was like hosting a party that I'd never be cool enough to actually attend. We'd hang out at the Limo drop, greet the musicians and their publicists  as they exited limos and SUVS, and pull  them into our position  before they had a chance to decide they'd rather talk to Access or ET.  

Year after year the same people worked the media platforms, and, while we were collegial at the start,  30 minutes in we'd be playing by Red Carpet Rules, a term which means all behavior is tolerated during the frenzy of awards show arrivals.  I was physically restrained by a producer who held me back as I tried to lure Mary J. Blige to E!'s position,  and a photographer once threatened to punch me out.   Although I was later told I'd imagined it, to this day I believe that a wrangler from MTV tried to trip me as I chased T-Pain away from their platform and onto ours, which was embarrassing for us both.

I was always in awe of the veteran publicists, most of whom I'd known for decades.  Yvette Noel Schure, who worked with Beyonce, had a miraculous ability to gracefully move Beyonce from one live shot to the next with only seconds to spare; Dennis Dennehy, with Eminem, could ditch the carpet altogether and still be the coolest guy in the room. With Angelica Cob-Baehler leading the charge, Katy Perry could do 200 outlets in 14 seconds,  and Paula Erickson could move Taylor Swift off a platform before anyone noticed she was gone. Barb Dehgan and Lourdes Lopez, who ran PR for the Grammys,  could place journalists in the bottom 100 positions without pissing anyone off, and  Liz Rosenberg -- with Madonna or Michael Buble or Josh Groban -- could wear antennae and actually get away with it.

Yes, the publicists were breathtakingly adept, but I was even more in awe of  the mechanics and precision of
E!'s production and the people who made it work.  The red carpet shows required more than a  hundred  people, state-of-the-art-technology, and meticulous planning; there were directors, producers, editors, teleprompter operators, camera and audio people, researchers, engineers and set designers.  There were staffers monitoring the satellite feed, putting up the graphics, and logging  thousands of on-air comments. There were fact checkers and runners, and yes, there were writers, because someone had to write questions like:  "Are you wearing midnight blue?"

There were surreal moments.   I listened as the bosses in our headsets passed on interviewing Robert Plant and Allison Krauss to keep the platform clear for the Jonas Brothers -- which, sadly, was the right call  -- and I witnessed reporter after reporter take Nicki Minaj seriously. I watched accomplished E! executives fall to pieces when  no one was around to translate John Mayer's Japanese response to a question about his tedious relationship with Jessica Simpson, which, in English, would have been a big fat scoop.  (I believe what he said was "I have a clever publicist who prepared me for your  inevitable question.")

The jaw-dropping moments didn't always involve other people; many of them were horrifyingly my own.  When my sister happened to call during a break from the live show, I answered it,  and in a shocking display of unprofessionalism, I  put Adele on the phone.  In an attempt to get him to E!,  I bowed to Kanye and  fell over a security guard when I got up.  I did my best Spanish accent and pretended that I went to high school with nice Marc Anthony as I tried to get Jennifer Lopez to talk to us, and got loudly nailed for it when someone in his entourage pointed out that I was WAY  too old for that to be true.

I'm no longer completely bummed out on Grammy Sunday; I no longer fixate on everything that was good. Instead, I remind myself of  how painful it was to act as if I was excited to see Rick Ross, and  how mortified  I was when required to appear similarly thrilled when Panic at the Disco showed up.  It was horrible to look delighted  by Miley Cyrus' arrival,  and soul destroying to subsequently realize that when Miley Cyrus showed up I was legitimately happy to see her.

I stopped blogging the carpet after that first year.  These days, I post relentlessly to Facebook, and  my comments aren't always kind.  In real life,  I restrain myself, but on Grammy Sunday, I say what I want.  I may not be at the show, but  red carpet rules still apply, and, as long as I stay home, I'm not gonna get punched.



Saturday, December 14, 2013

Kenny from South Park, and The Importance of Being Walter

Day one: Walter tries to convince me
that on Mondays, he eats breakfast twice.
Until March, when I took care of Walter and Kenny for my friend Rachael, I didn't understand the whole dog thing.  I loved Hoover, my father and stepmother's dog, but most of the dogs I encountered here in LA appeared to be accessories.  They were cute, but impractical  - accessories should come in a size 9 or be designed to hang on a shoulder -- and they definitely should not be needy.  (I realize that a small dog might be willing to give my shoulder a shot, but he or she would be unable to hold my wallet and would probably lose my keys.)

I could take them or leave them; dogs just didn't do it for me. But then Rachael asked me take care of Kenny and Walter when she went on tour last spring, and everything changed.

Kenny protects his duck.
It wasn't easy.  I'd done days with Walter and Kenny, but I'd never done an overnight.  I was a wreck.  I worried constantly.

Despite hearing the phrase "sleeping like a dog" a million times, I didn't know that dogs slept heavily, and, on night number three, Kenny went disturbingly still.   I yelled at him and shook him, trying to wake him up, and finally, in a complete panic, I punched him in the nose.  He lifted his head, glared at me, and walked slowly out of the bedroom.  For the duration of my time at Casa De Rachael,  Kenny kept his distance.

I didn't know that dogs had a lot of nipples, and I completely melted down when I found four bumps on Walter's underside.  My stepmother reassured me after I urgently texted her photos,  and although she was kind, she was unable to suppress her laughter.  A week later, convinced that a floating rib was a mast cell tumor,  I took Walter to the ER, and even the vet, an affable white-haired guy,  made fun of me.  "Those growths at end of his legs?"  he said.   "Don't be concerned about them.   They're paws."

I always googled before I freaked out, but the first result for "dog is sick" is usually  PetMD.  PetMD -- like WebMD --  is run on advertiser dollars, and, as such,  never ever advises letting sleeping dogs lie.  Dogs who bark are in horrible pain, eating grass could be a sign of stomach cancer, and if a dog crawls under a couch, he's preparing to die.  Eventually I figured it out, and looked for answers to my ever-present questions on the ASPCA site and   It never eased my mind, though, and I'd always email Rachael.  Eventually, her responses were terse.

 "Good morning!,"  I'd write.  "How's the tour?  How are you?  Everything good?  Anyway. I'm worried about Kenny.  He wouldn't eat breakfast this morning."

"Don't take him to the vet," she'd reply.

I didn't spent the entire four months that Walter and Kenny were in my care in a panic.  I fell in love with
Malibu Walter
(Photo: Katie) 
them -- which isn't surprising given that I refused to leave them alone for more than an hour at a time -- and the worry was replaced by an uncharacteristic joy.  I chose restaurants that were dog friendly, arranged play dates, and took them on field trips. We went to the dog park in the mornings, and hiking in the afternoons, and, on one  gorgeous summer day, we went to Katie's in Malibu.  (Rather than bask in the pleasure of her glorious company, I frantically set up photos of Walter and Kenny. Katie, incredibly well-mannered and a full-on dog person herself, pretended not to mind.)

When Rachael came back, I was gutted.   She was ecstatic, though, which made me feel better, but so were Kenny and Walter, which did not.   It was a difficult transition for me.   Thankfully, Rachael understood, and continues to be generous.  She's even loaned me Walter a few times, and, a good and trusting friend, she never worries that I'll refuse to give him back. Which, one day, I might.

This year's been twenty times better than last for a lot of reasons:  I'm sober, working, and in awe of my friends and family, who show up for me each and every day.   But when I look back at this year,  that won't be what I remember.   2013 has been all about Kenny and Walter, and that means it's been a very good year.*