Waiting on the Cheeto Mobile: a short story

*Note: this post is part of a 20-day writing prompt 101 program I’m participating in. Today’s Prompt: “The neighborhood has seen better days, but Mrs. Pauley has lived there since before anyone can remember. She raised a family of six boys, who’ve all grown up and moved away. Since Mr. Pauley died three months ago, she’d had no income. She’s fallen behind in the rent. The landlord, accompanied by the police, have come to evict Mrs. Pauley from the house she’s lived in for forty years. Write this story in first person, told by the twelve-year-old sitting on the stoop across the street.”

The Cheeto Mobile

The Cheeto Mobile

The late sun bore down on his brow as he waited on the porch steps and alternated between picking a scab on his left knee and watching a ladybug inch across the peeling paint on the wooden slat between his sneakers. An early spring breeze blew through, prompting him to zip the blue sweat jacket up to his collar bones as he lowered the visor on his ball cap.

When’s he gonna get here?

He’d been sitting here on the shabby front porch forever. Well, maybe not forever, but 20 minutes felt like forever to Zach. Dad was always late on Fridays. That’s because he had to close up the shop Fridays by himself. The other mechanics got to go home early because they’d worked there longer. So said Dad. Whatever. Zach always packed his stuff and waited outside early on Fridays anyway. That way Dad could just pull up, roll down the passenger window and holler for him to get in. Better than getting him and Mom face to face and all pissed off at each other.

As he waited, he saw a cop car with flashing lights coming toward him. No sirens, though. Wonder what’s up? He always wondered why sometimes the cops used their sirens, and other times just the lights? His buddy Josh said they skip the sirens when they’re going on a donut run. Whatever.

He picked at the scab again – crap it started to bleed – and had a flashback of the motherf***er who tagged him out at home plate. He almost had it. Damn. Gotta work some more on his base sliding. As the cop car crept closer, Zach’s attention jolted back to present. It stopped in front of Ms. Pauley’s house. He looked across to the trashed out row houses – all of ’em were, including his, around this dump of neighborhood in West Philly – and saw her leaning against the door jam. Looked like she was crying. She had her hand over her eyes and her hair was all messed up, like she hadn’t combed in forever. Mom promised we’d get out of this neighborhood as soon as she got a promotion at her secretary job. But Zach doubted they’d be moving anytime soon. They’d been here at least a year, renting it from someone Mom knew, ever since Mom left Dad. He missed their old house with the back yard and rope swing. But they had to move after it got repo-ed. Or foreclosed…something like that, he couldn’t remember what they called it. Whatever.

He stood up to get a better view, then saw another car pull up next to the cop’s. Still no sign of Dad. When’s he gonna get here?

He kept looking down the street for it: the 1990 Camaro Dad had been driving lately. Dad worked on it for weeks, even put a new carburator in it. He called it his “Cherry Red Sweet Ride” but Zach thought it looked more orange. Kinda like a big Cheeto. Ha! He called it the Cheeto Mobile once but it pissed Dad off big time so he stopped. Whatever.

“Hey Zach, I need you for a sec…” he heard from inside.

He looked across the street again and saw the cop get out of the car – he looked about Dad’s age. He was a tall white guy with dark glasses and a bunch of gear hanging all over him – holster, radio, badges. He walked up the stairs toward Ms. Pauley and started talking, but Zach couldn’t hear what he was saying. Zach watched as the cop widened his stance and put his hands on his hips. Ms. Pauley started crying even harder. Her whole body looked like it was shaking. Then he saw the other guy get out of his car, a black Cadillac…

“Zachary come inside! I need to talk to you…”

He sighed. Whenever his mom used his full name he knew she had a chore for him. He already took the trash out and put the dishes away. What now?

“What? I’m waitin’ for Dad, he’s gonna be here any minute…”

“He’s always late. But that’s not the point. Come inside now Zach. I need to talk to you.”

He got up, left his pack on the porch, and swung the creaky screen door open to step inside. “What’s up?”

“Listen, I’ve told you about Ms. Pauley. You know her husband died during that big snow storm, and she can’t afford to live there anymore…”

“Oh yeah, I heard he shot himself! My buddy said Ms. Pauly found him down in the basement by the dryer.”

“Zachary! Stop it. We don’t know what happened over there. All’s I know is those jerks on her front porch won’t give her a break, and I don’t want you starin’ at her while they kick her out. She’s a nice lady.”

“I’m not starin’. I heard she’s got a bunch of sons in trouble. Josh told me one of ’em is in jail for robbing a mini-mart a couple of years ago, and another one is selling drugs…”

“Don’t you listen to Josh. That kid’s mouth is bigger than my oven. But you listen to me Zachary – I’m working my ass off so we can get outta here and one day you can go to college and be a good upstanding citizen. You hear? You need to keep your grades up and learn from what you see around here. You can’t mess up in school. I don’t want to end up like her, getting dragged out of my own house…”

“I know, I know, Ma…I would never let that happen to you I swear.”

It took her a moment to swallow a forthcoming tear. She hated getting emotional in front of her son. But he was such a good kid. Such a good kid.

Zach turned away, knowing she wouldn’t want him to see her cry. Just as he saw Ms. Pauley descend the steps with the cop, holding onto the rail, holding onto the last shred of pride she could muster, he saw his Dad pull up.

“Hey kiddo, sorry I’m late!”

Zach looked up at the sun, sneezed, adjusted his ball cap, and swore to himself that he’d do whatever his Mom wanted. Study. Chores. Anything she needed. And make sure she’d never have to wait on an ugly porch for a cop to take her away.

He looked back at her, grabbed his backpack, and waved goodbye: “Back Sunday, Ma. I love you!”

And climbed into the Cheeto Mobile.





A style guide to conquering fear in handstand

*Note: this post is part of a 20-day writing prompt 101 program I’m participating in. Today’s Prompt: “We all have anxieties, worries, and fears. What are you scared of? Address one of your worst fears. Today’s twist: Write this post in a style distinct from your own.”

a style guide to handstand

a style guide to handstand

It’s not what you wear, but how you wear it. Or so says some acid-tongued fashion critic out there. I was thinking along these lines during my morning solo yoga practice as I approached handstand. I wrestled with a purple tank top that refused to stay put once my hands hit the floor. Do I tuck it into the back of my tights? Toss it to the corner? Curse the brand that designed the ill-fitting piece of crap?

Except it wasn’t about the damn top. It was about how I was wearing it. I paired it with all sorts of emotional accessories: fear, frustration, anxiety, and every other verb analogous to freaking out in preparation for pressing into handstand.

It took a few minutes of sitting on my ass, closing my eyes, and breathing deeply to get to the bottom of this nonsense. What is it about this basic (note I said basic, not easy) pose that always sets off internal five-alarm bells before my fingers touch the mat? Even after decades of practice? I realized, just prior to snapping the above photo, getting into handstand requires a lot more than simple mechanics or alignment.

I realized it’s not what I’m doing in handstand, but how I’m doing it. Traditional how-to guides on soaring high in the elusive pose run rampant – just type “handstand” into the YouTube search window and see what happens. Or look at any workshop page of a yoga studio and some sort of “Take Flight!” gig will appear. Point is, I’ve watched. Workshopped. Read. Practiced. For three decades or more, and I’m still scared shitless of handstand. What I need, I realized this morning, is an attitude makeover. Hence, here is my non-technical, non-practical, maybe even a little smartass guide on how to conquer fear in handstand with style:

1. Embrace individuality. You will teeter, flail, swear, grunt, and possibly crash land. Sometimes all at once. Welcome to handstanding! The key here is to anticipate, and even expect any or all the above behaviors to show up in technicolor with every attempt. Don’t quit. Keep at it and embellish heavily.

2. Stay current. Yesterday’s lumberjack shirts and Jennifer Aniston hair are gone. So too is whatever happened in handstand. Begin fresh with every attempt, and assume nothing. Not an ugly spill out onto your neighbor’s mat, nor a euphoric 15-second hold in what felt like a dance in Heaven. What happened yesterday is gone, and staying current will help keep you from comparing to past attempts or expecting something you have no way of predicting. Just kick up into the present moment and savor what happens.

3. F*** age-appropriate rules. I love brazen 60-ish babes who rock leather micro-skirts and acrylic nails. If they feel sexy in it, who am I to judge? Same thing with handstands. Start whining “I’m too old to learn” or caving to peers who say you’re nuts for trying and you may as well crawl into the wooden box and stop living. Seriously. Go near a wall, put on a helmet if you must, and kick up. Don’t act your age, just do it now or die an old fart who never tried.

4. Try bigger shoulder pads. I think they’re back…along with jumpsuits. Whatever, I’m just digging for an analogy here, and it’s this: bigger shoulder pads mean more muscle. Handstanding takes work. Planks, push ups, upside down L-shapes at the wall, lunges (if you need a visual go to YouTube). I’m just here to tell you that to kick up and soar, you gotta get strong. Seriously strong. And even then, no guarantees.

So there it is. My guide to conquering fear in handstand with style. Think I’ll go try it now. As soon as I adjust my purple tank top…

Serially lost and found (part 3 of 3): the art of the thank you card

*Note: this post is part of a 20-day writing prompt 101 program I’m participating in. Today’s Prompt: “Imagine you had a job in which you had to sift through forgotten or lost belongings. Describe a day in which you came up on something peculiar.”

found: a thank you card

found: a thank you card

I’m not sure when it began….my love affair with paper cards. Could have been the grocery bag of Valentine’s Day cards I collected from every classmate in my third grade class. I spent days flipping through them – analyzing the handwritten notes for clues to what that boy in the back really meant by “be mine”, or whether the popular girl was truly my “BFF”.

Perhaps it was the genuine smile that would emerge on my late papa’s face upon opening a birthday card I painstakingly chose from a wall of others at Papyrus (do I go with funny? sentimental? cynical?).

I just love paper cards. Even thank you cards – the bane of many a newlywed sorting through a sea of gifts post-honeymoon – get me excited.

It wasn’t always that way. Before the ribbon or tape was off the package my brother, sister and I were prompted to whip out the pens and starting thanking.

“Think of all the kids out there who didn’t get anything.” If pressed, the decibels would rise. “I will not tolerate greedy little bastards!” Or something along those lines…

So we wrote. To Aunt Barbara for the hand-sewn stuffed frog on roller skates (I still have it – 35 years later). To Dad for the autographed Rawlings baseball glove. To the delivery guy who left a fruitcake on our porch.

And as I grew past the age of “it’s the thought that counts”, and warranted a few thank yous of my own, I loved the cards even more. The best ones came with multiple paragraphs describing how much they loved the handmade polar fleece hat (during my temp job days) or Donna Karan eau de parfum (in better years) I wrapped and sent.

But since moving to five locations in five years, it’s a wonder I receive anything in the mail. I’m hard to track down. But since those “I will not tolerate greedy little bastards!” days of my youth, the thank you cards keep on coming. That’s because my well-trained nieces are proudly carrying on the tradition, despite their e-generation and backpacks full of techie gadgetry.

Case in point: as I rummaged around for an empty envelope to stuff a check for my cat sitter into, I found a few recent thank you cards from my niece, Claire. And it wasn’t enough to simply state what she loved about her gifts. She drew them – a green frock dangling from a hanger; an assortment of books and B&N gift card.

Handwritten thank you cards, I found out this morning, are not a lost art after all.

*read parts 1 and 2 here:

Get your yoga butt here! A short story…

*Note: this post is part of a 20-day writing prompt 101 program I’m participating in. Today’s Prompt: “Think about an event you’ve attended and loved. Imagine you’re told it will be cancelled forever or taken over by an evil corporate force.”

This story is fiction. I had fun with it!

Yoga? hmm…

As she got off her bike to enter the crosswalk, she saw it: a giant red banner screaming Get your yoga butt here! $30 Intro Offer. Details Inside! 

Huh? Erin paused, heeding the warning from the flashing red hand on the crosswalk signal. In five years of near-daily practice, she’d never seen anything like this. No sandwich boards, no sales pitches from teachers at the end of class, and certainly no obnoxious banners promising tight asses. What the hell was going on?

As she entered the crosswalk, she spotted Fran, a retired French teacher, who appeared equally incredulous. “Have you seen this?”


“When’s the last time you practiced?”

“Last Friday morning. You?”

“Thursday. They must have put it up over the weekend.”

They rounded the corner on Birch Street, and encountered the promise of a yoga butt once again – this time from a poster mounted on the front door. Unbelievable, Erin thought. I mean, yeah, even an established neighborhood yoga studio like hers has to bring in new students to keep the lights on and incense burning, but ‘Get your yoga butt here!’? That was a stretch. Literally and figuratively.

Upon entry, they nearly stumbled over a clothes rack. Hanging on it were a row of fluorescent crop tops, a couple of black and gold Body Magic-logoed off the shoulder (a la Flashdance) sweatshirts, and a pair of tights with what looked like cutouts that started at the ankle and rose all the way up to the outer hip.

“Holy shit. Are these for yoga or pole dancing?” an aghast Fran shrieked.

“Can I help you ladies?” the unfamiliar face behind the desk chirped.

“Who are you?” Fran turned. “Where’s Kate?”

“Oh. You must be one of the regulars…” the now not-so-chirpy desk attendant replied.

“What the hell is going on?” Fran demanded. “What’s with the trashy clothes and ridiculous signage out front? I don’t even recognize this place!” She walked toward the main studio, yanked open the door, and nearly screamed: “Erin! Get in here. They’ve painted the ceiling black and put fucking mirrors on all the walls!!”

Erin laughed, then nearly cried. Clearly, the owners sold out.

“Excuse me,” she asked the attendant, “did someone buy out the studio?”

“Yeah, but your membership is still good here. And seriously, at Body Magic there is so much more going on…hip hop yoga, vogueing-strike-a-pose yoga, yoga bootie…”

“Yoga what?” Erin cringed. She looked at the schedule, and not surprisingly, none of her teachers were on it. As Fran stormed out, she followed.

Clearly, the magic she’d found in her five years at this special little studio died the moment that sign went up.

Time to get her yoga butt out of here. Forever.

Choosing space over things: why it’s worth the effort

*Note: this post is part of a 20-day writing prompt 101 program I’m participating in. Today’s Prompt: “Write about finding something. Today’s twist: pick up the nearest book, and turn to page 29. What’s the first word that jumps off the page? Use this word as your springboard for inspiration. Today’s twist: write the post in the form of a letter.”

Don't overpack

Don’t overpack

“Things” was the first word to pop off page 29 of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (terrific book BTW). I decided to link back to a post that’s pretty closely related to this subject. Specifically, it’s about the challenge with letting go of things and finding more space. Here it is: Finding space in my luggage, and my life.


Serially found in a coat pocket (part 2 of 3):

*Note: this post is part of a 20-day writing prompt 101 program I’m participating in. Today’s Prompt: “Write about finding something. Today’s twist: if you wrote day four’s post as the first in a series, use this as the second installment – loosely defined.”

Found: a Holiday memory with my husband

Found: a Holiday memory with my husband

Taking one last look around before belting my ankle-length winter coat, I saw it for what it was: a dwelling. Our third apartment in 3 years, with a stack of boxes in the entry hall waiting to be assembled in preparation for move #4, this unit wasn’t a home. We considered propping up the artificial tree, but practicality won over. A few empty stockings and reindeer figurines would do well enough.

My phone beeped with a text: “just you and me babe. Christmas Eve. you pick the place..”

Earlier, before he returned, the hollowness crept under my bones. I’m no longer there, but not quite here. Every corner of this unit shouted transient – especially the measly number of Holiday cards taped to the kitchen wall. And spacing them out didn’t make a difference.

Christmas Eve this year would be different. No squeezing onto a tight sofa with my three giggly nieces. No ribbing my 40-something brother as he stuffed his plate with jello pudding and baked marshmallows without the accompanying yams. No creating new traditions in this about-to-be-vacated apartment.

I texted back: “Mediterra. love their ceviche. twinkly lights on trees and a festive courtyard too…”

“perfect baby girl. CU soon.”

As he walked through the door, arms open wide with the signature ear to ear smile, my vessel filled. No tree, repeats of Christmas’ past, or plethora of cards taped to a wall could top how at home I felt right now. With the love of my life, who was about to take me to dinner.

And inside my coat pocket I pulled out a little surprise. A two-year old ticket stub from a Holiday concert in Seattle we attended two years earlier, when we first met. The stub followed me all the way here.

Perhaps I’ll tape it up on the kitchen wall. Wherever that will be…

*read part one here: Serially lost in the mail: Holiday cards

There’s a lesson from the waiting room if you listen for it

*Note: this post is part of a 20-day writing prompt 101 program I’m participating in. Today’s Prompt: “Write a post inspired by a real-world conversation. Today’s twist: include an element of foreshadowing in the beginning of your post.”

“Hi. I just got here. Probably take an hour tops, if what she told me is correct,” she whispered into her phone. She studied the other women seated around the small waiting area – purple cotton robes like hers tied at the waist, one knee resting over the other, frayed magazine in lap. Their collective silence and flat expressions revealed little.

Dear Lord, I pray
Please help me, on my way…

All heads shot up as the petite black woman broke the spell. In her fifties, perhaps, with a giant voice that belied a tiny frame – pronounced collar bones poking out from her loose robe, delicate hands pressing into her thighs as she looked skyward and continued in verse.

Give me courage, and more strength
Each day
Ohhhh, ohhhhh
I’m holding, thy hand
So determined to stand
And by thy grace…

Some went back to the mindless pages in their lap. The youngest in the room, maybe 25, gripped her pages tighter, as though a cherry torte recipe, 3 ways to apply mascara, or a new chapter on a celebrity breakup could make this whole experience go away. Just stop! Her body language was saying to the voice across the room.

In another corner, a silver-haired woman tapped her spotless white walking shoe in rhythm to the lyrics, choosing instead to participate fully in the experience unfolding before her. Something resonated, as the lines on her sun-spotted face revealing years of happy memories grew deeper. Tears rolled down into the grooves. The gospel singer caught her eye briefly, then continued, gazing skyward again:

I know that I can make it
Lord, somehow
Ohhh yes, somehow

“Listen to this!” she whispered back into her phone, before holding it out as discreetly as she could. “Yeah, not what I expected either. They haven’t called my name yet. I’ll let you know when I’m done. Promise.”

I’m gonna make it somehow
Somehow (make it somehow)
I’m gonna make it somehow
Oh Lord I’ll make it, somehow

“Ms. Jackson? We’re ready for you now…”

Lord I been carrying this old cross
All the way
Carry the cross all the way
Oh I stumble and fall
Till Jesus hear my call
And by your grace
I’ll make it somehow

It ended almost as soon as it began. Ms. Jackson rose, locked eyes with every remaining woman, and sent a blessing. May your mammogram reveal nothing. Nothing but health and vitality, And may the Lord be with you.