Hollywood Beef

Why do all the new movies look so terrible?

If I’m wrong, tell me. Maybe this is just my cranky side coming out, but I used to go the theater to watch a movie every week.  Now I’m lucky if I go once a month, but it’s not for lack of trying.  Since hope springs eternal, every Friday I pull up Fandango on my web browser and take a look at what’s playing at my local multiplex.  Let’s do it now together:

  • Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. I saw the original Jurassic Park.  In 1993.  You know, eight years before the iPod was invented.  Eleven years before Donald Trump would star on the first episode of The Apprentice.  Glad to see Hollywood is keeping it fresh.
  • Tag: A (likely raunchy) buddy movie.  I’ll probably end up seeing this.  You will too.  This is a compromise movie—ie when you want to watch the new Nicholas Sparks weepie and your beau wants to watch Fast and Furious 804, you settle on a movie like Tag.  Neither one of you really wants to see it, but neither will you hate it with the fire of a thousand burning suns.
  • Incredibles 2: I’ll give this one a pass, as it’s a kid’s movie and therefore not my thing.  But by the time we get to Incredibles 10, this franchise will no longer be spared my wrath.
  • Hereditary: Horror films also aren’t my jam, so this gets a pass.  It gets points for not being a remake or sequel, as far as I can tell.
  • Ocean’s 8: What would you do if you had Ann Hathaway, Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, and Helena Bonham Carter at your disposal? I can tell you I wouldn’t waste the combined acting firepower that garnered four Oscars and thirteen nominations on a female remake that even the trailer can’t make look any good.
  • Solo: A Star Wars StoryIt took ten films, but Star Wars finally has a bona fide bomb on its hands.
  • Overboard: Another remake.  This original is from 1987.  Not all remakes are terrible.  But any remake that replaces Goldie Hawn with Anna Faris is certainly trending in the wrong direction.  The least they could do is put Zac Efron in it.  I love me some Zac Efron.
  • Avengers: Infinity War: I probably have a post somewhere in the archives bemoaning the super hero movie.  These things breed like rabbits.  I used to love them.  But after 8 X-Men movies, 8 Batmans, 6 Spider Mans, and 18 Marvel Avengers universe movies, I’ve personally had enough.

These might all be great movies, but you wouldn’t know it from their trailers.

Where are the non-raunchy comedies? Is there a law against romantic comedies?  Give me a good costume drama.  A tear jerker.  Even something just a little offbeat.  To give credit where credit is due, I have seen some good stuff lately.  Book Club. The Greatest Showman.  Battle of the Sexes.  But mostly?  I just stay home and re-watch 13 Going on 30. Or The Lucky One. I told you, I love me some Zac Efron.

Is anyone else out there with me? Anyone?  Bueller?

And if you have seen something good lately, I’m begging you, please let me know in the comments!


This is the Way the Woodstock Ends


Calling in reinforcements!

The Woodstock is dead. Sent straight to hell on the road paved with my good intentions.

I’m talking, of course, about my antique typewriter, a lovely piece of mechanical genius mass manufactured in Chicago in the 1930s.

About two months ago, I became the proud owner of the big black standard desktop. It was covered in dirt and grime, and needed a new carriage strap, but overall the thing was in remarkably good shape.

Until I began my amateur restoration project.

As all disasters do, it started off well enough. I cleaned as much of the inner machinery as I could with mineral spirits.  I cleaned each individual typebar with a q-tip.  I wiped and rubbed, scrubbing away dirt and grime until some of the metal parts gleamed.

So far, so good.

The trouble began when I applied a layer of Soft Scrub to the painted body, figuring the gritty cleaner would help take off nearly one hundred years of grime. I was right—it did take off the grime, but a good chunk of the paint came off as well, to say nothing of the beautiful Woodstock decal.

No matter. I found a website that sells replacement decals for antique typewriters, and I figured I could touch up the paint with shoe polish or automotive paint.

But the next evening when I went back into my makeshift workshop, I discovered the first deadly blow. As I’d applied the Soft Scrub, I hadn’t been careful enough.  Much of it had dripped down into the inner workings of the typewriter.  Overnight it had hardened and gummed up the machinery.  The typewriter wouldn’t advance, some of the keys were now difficult to press, and the carriage had to be awkwardly forced forward by hand.

There was no way around it, the insides would have to be cleaned again. And not just from the outside—I had to really get into the guts of the machine.  So I made the mistake that would signal the death blow to my new friend.

Reader, I took the carriage off.

For the typewriter uninitiated, the carriage is the entire top part that contains the mechanism that you feed the paper into, the rollers, the return handle. All the most intricate pieces of the machine are in the carriage.

It’s a bitch to get off. It’s impossible to get back on.

And so this typewriter, who had lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, Desert Storm, and 9/11, could not survive my feeble attempt to restore her to her youthful beauty.

The poor old typewriter would click-clack and ding no more.

This is the way the Woodstock ends.

Not with a bang but a whimper.



Here is what happens when I try to check out at any grocery, hardware, shoe, or clothing store (I know it happens to you too):

I load your items onto the belt and the cashier rings them up. I hand over my coupons, and the cashier bags up my goods.

Then it begins:

“Do you have our loyalty card?”


“Do you want to sign up for one?”

“No, thank you.”

“It’s free.”

“No thank you. I don’t shop here very often.”

“It just takes a moment—”


Once we’re through with that, we’re onto phase two of checkout hazing. This one is popular at Sam’s Club and department stores.

“Are you paying with your Macy’s charge card today?”

“No. My Visa.”

“Would you like to open a Macy’s charge card today?”

About here is where my teeth start to grind. “No thank you.”

“You could save ten percent on today’s order.”


“Can I have an e-mail address for coupons?”

At this point, please use your imagination to conjure the image of my exploding head.

I wasn’t hassled this much by sales people the last time I bought a used car.

I want a loyalty card that gives me access to a special check-out line. One in which the cashier rings up and bags my items, makes causal chit-chat (or not, their choice), and then takes my money and lets me leave.  Doesn’t ask me to fill out any forms, sign up for any cards, or wants my e-mail address so the store can continue the harassment in my inbox after I manage to escape their clutches in the store.

I’d even pay for it.

Dear Old State


Pattee Library, Penn State


Last week I visited my alma mater. I hadn’t been to Penn State in over ten years.  I’d kept wanting to go, but never having a reason.  On a whim, I took two days off, booked a room at the Atherton Hotel, and headed out on my solo road trip.

As I drove down Atherton Street and the campus came into view, I remembered the first time I arrived as a freshman in the fall of 1999: equal parts excitement and terror.  All summer I’d looked forward to starting the next phase of my life—as an independent college girl.

Except when my parents drove away, I crawled under the covers of my new bed and cried.

After I checked into my hotel, I took a walk around campus. There was Mifflin Hall, my freshman dorm, where I met great friends once I’d found my way out from under the covers.

My breath caught when I saw Osmond Lab—I was there attending a logistics class on 9/11. Across the street was the student center, called the HUB.  The giant TV screen where I watched a replay of two planes hitting the Twin Towers was still there.  When I walked in it this weekend, CNN was reporting on a school shooting in Texas.

Things had changed, of course, but mostly just the things that had changed everywhere. Summer students walked around with headphones in, staring at screens.  Mike’s VHS Rentals is gone. The Daily Collegian has an online version.  You can rent textbooks now.  Beaver Stadium is even bigger.  There were more buildings.

I wasn’t surprised things had changed. I was surprised how much had stayed the same.

Café 210 is still the best and busiest happy hour in town. The Green Bowl is still serving up all-you-can-eat stir fry.  The squirrels will still come right up to you and demand your pizza crust.  The Family Clothesline is still the best spot to buy cheap PSU gear.

Eventually, I packed up my laptop and trekked to Pattee and Paterno Library, a place I hadn’t been since I graduated in 2003. I went to the Paterno business wing, took the DSCN1184elevator to the third floor and found the row of carrels where I’d once spend many hours studying.

Not just studying, but writing. I unpacked my laptop and opened the file that contains the half-written novel I despair of ever finishing.  I sat down in the place where I’d written my first novel, and remembered what a labor of love it had been.

I wrote for hours like I had when I was a college student—unencumbered by the desire to check social media, or worry about my day job, or wonder if I should be cleaning the house. Instead I was surrounded by the buzz of young people in the process of discovering who and what they’re going to be.

Remembering that same buzz in myself—the hope, the anticipation, the certainty I would live up to my potential—that was why I’d come.

Well, that and the Creamery ice cream.

HRH the Duchess of Sussex

hrh duchess

Move over Grace Kelly, we have new American royalty. In case you’ve been living under a rock, (or blown up your TV after one too many political shows), you know that yesterday, Rachel from Suits scored the role of a lifetime:  HRH the Duchess of Sussex.

And now Britain’s Fab Four is complete. Seriously, are there four more perfect royals than Princes William and Harry and their lovely wives?

They are giving the reality-tv obsessed world a lesson in duty, dignity, and tact.

Somewhere, Diana is smiling.

And everyone is wondering, deep down, what does the Queen think of her grandson marrying an American divorcée?

It’s a legitimate question, and one I suspect we will never know the answer to, even long after the Queen’s death and the release of her private papers.

But surely it must make the Queen reflect on how the much the world—or at least British royalty—has changed over the course of her long life.

After all, if royals were free to wed divorcées in the 1930s, Elizabeth may never have become Queen at all.

Her uncle King Edward VIII, abdicated the throne in order to marry his twice-divorced American love, Wallis Simpson. This meant the throne passed to Elizabeth’s father and eventually to her.

Nineteen years after the King VIII’s abdication, Elizabeth was Queen and her sister Margaret wanted to marry a divorced man. While Elizabeth could not technically forbid the marriage, she and Winston Churchill informed Margaret she would lose her royal position and income.  Unlike her uncle, Margaret chose royalty over love.

(And by the way, people found my cocktail party facts about the Windsors much more interesting before The Crown came along and stole all my thunder.)

My point is the Queen grew up in a very different world than the one over which she currently reigns. While she could not—or would not—allow her sister to marry a man deemed unsuitable due to divorce, she’s given her grandson—brother to the future king—her blessing.

What a difference sixty-five years makes.

So congratulations to Harry and Meghan. Sixty-five years ago the Queen would not have permitted them to marry.

But yesterday, I believe they made her—and Britain—and America—proud.

The Blacktop Isn’t Greener


My driveway, in pieces



Sometimes I complain about my job. Who doesn’t?

Not today.

I work a desk job. Monday through Friday, I navigate the corporate jungle of meetings, TPS reports, HR memos, and executive management questions.  When I kvetch, it’s about spending too much time staring at spreadsheets, some new bureaucratic procedure, or IT.  The only thing all Americans agree on is their IT department stinks.

In my first job, when we were having particularly bad days, we used to say we’d rather dig ditches. Our boss would laugh and call us idiots.


But today, I must agree—we were idiots.

This week I’m having my driveway repaved.  It was cracked and the lower left corner was pretty much ground down to the gravel.  I hired a company to tear up the old driveway and lay down new asphalt.

To be honest, I didn’t give much thought to how they’d remove the existing asphalt. I guess I figured they’d use heavy machinery—a Bobcat or backhoe.  Maybe bigger companies do, but these guys specialize in small residential jobs, and they dug up my existing asphalt driveway by hand.

Yes, you read that right.

While I was working from home, sitting inside with an icy Pepsi at my elbow clicking some keys on my laptop, these guys were outside prying up my driveway with picks, sledge hammers, and pry bars.

Corporate America never looked so good.

Four of them worked for hours, hauling asphalt away piece by piece. It was hot and humid, but they kept going until the clouds gathered and threatened rain.  Then they packed up their tools and knocked off for the day.

I was never so happy for the trials and tribulations of my chosen profession. I wouldn’t last a day digging up asphalt driveways.  I’d be begging some executive to let me write a mission statement or tweak a PowerPoint presentation for the hundredth time.

I wonder if those guys were thinking the same thing—pitying me for having to work inside all day, staring at a computer, speaking corporate nonsense on conference calls.

I hope so.

Nothing to Say



Today I have nothing to say. As a writer, this is a problem.

But it isn’t just a problem for writers. We’re all afflicted with blank mind-itis from time to time.  Moments when we want to be interesting and charming, but can’t think of a single interesting or charming thing we’ve done in our entire lives.

Blank mind-itis can strike at any time, but most frequently during work Christmas parties, blind dates, and any event with the word “networking” in the title. It also hits when you’re trying to catch up with a beloved friend you haven’t talked to in ages.  You’ve got months or years of history to report on, and yet you’re blank.  (Why do we have more to say to the people we talk to every day than the people we don’t see for months?)

Blank mind-itis hits hardest when you’re talking to people who have a lot to say. Let’s say you’re catching up with an old acquaintance at your high school reunion and find out she opened her law practice to fight for underpaid women, raises three kids with approximately fifteen extracurricular activities each, volunteers at a homeless shelter, is married to a neurosurgeon who runs marathons, and just got back from a vacation in Turks and Caicos.  I never know what to say when I meet a person like this…outside of, where and what the hell is Turks and Caicos?  But the only response I can come up with is that I found a great new bathtub cleaner, one that gets the rings and soap scum right out of there.

Otherwise, I’m a complete blank.

At least as a writer, I can write about having nothing to say. At the Christmas party/reunion/networking event, there’s nothing to do but alternate hiding in the bathroom and stuffing your face with hors d’oeuvres until it’s late enough to leave without causing offense.

Sometimes, you can’t shut me up. I’ll be a party with one story after another, hogging all the limelight.  Same with the writing…some days the words pour out like water from a faucet.

Some days the faucet is a drip.

And some days it’s as dry as an abandoned well.

So dear reader, I’ll be honest and tell you that the highlight of my week is when I came downstairs and found Blinker climbing up my screen door. This was after she had unrolled all the exposed toilet paper in the house and shredded it to bits.

Other than that, I cut the grass, made dinner, got an estimate for replacing the cracked and worn asphalt on my driveway, and read a great Sandra Brown novel. And scrubbed my new typewriter with a toothbrush dipped in paint thinner.

All in all, a good week.

But not the stuff of riveting small talk. Or blog posts.

Hopefully something humiliating will happen to me this week so I have some grist for next Sunday’s installment.



Last weekend I acquired a typewriter.

You can ask me how. Don’t ask me why.

Two weekends ago I was at an estate auction. It was a nearly hundred acre farm with a dilapidated house and barn filled with treasures.  While walking through the house, I noticed an old typewriter.  It was a big black desktop standard, with those beautiful old glass-topped keys that peg it as no newer than the 1930s.  Upon closer inspection, the insides were filled with dust, dirt, and grime.  Still, when I tapped a key, the typebar flew.


Those keys!

Growing up, my mom had a typewriter. It was a big, plastic, electric typewriter from the 1980s.  Nothing special to look at, but it worked.  When I was a kid, I would sometimes sit on the floor in the living room and type on it.  Mostly notes from things I had read.  I was writing little stories back then, but I mostly handwrote those.  Still, there was something exciting about the typewriter…the clack of the keys, the violent movement of the carriage swinging into position at the end of the line.  When you wrote on a typewriter, it felt like work.  You could see your progress in the pages stacking up.

When I was in junior high, my parents bought our family’s first computer, and we slid the typewriter beneath my bed and forgot all about it.

Yet I never got around to throwing it away. When I moved out, I inexplicably took it with me.  It stayed under the bed in my current house.  Year after year, it survived my spring cleaning and decluttering.  I don’t know why, as I never used it.  It just somehow seemed too precious to throw away.

And let me be clear—I am not usually sentimental about things. Whatever the opposite of a hoarder is, that’s me.  I throw things away I still need just for the pleasure of decluttering.  So I wasn’t keeping the typewriter just because I never throw anything away.

But last year, I did throw it away. I pulled it out one day when my friend’s young daughter was over, thinking she’d get a kick out of click-clacking away on the keys.  She did—for about five minutes—and then the motor made a final dying moan and gave out.  As I mourned silently, she asked if I had an iPad.

So maybe that’s why the auction typewriter caught my eye. But I put it out of my mind.  Lots of things catch my eye at auctions, and I usually forget all about them.  I wasn’t present when the typewriter was sold, which I counted as a good thing, since I probably would’ve bought it.

But for days afterwards I regretted it. What would you do with an old typewriter?  I kept asking myself, and coming up with no answer.  Still, I kept on thinking about it.

Then a week later I showed up at my friend Tammy’s house. The typewriter was sitting on her kitchen table, and she was grinning.  Joy surged through me.

Turns out she knew the woman who’d bought the typewriter. She cleans them up and resells them on Etsy.  When Tammy told her how much I wished I’d bought it, she gave it to Tammy for what she’d paid for it.

and dusty.grimy,A little rusted,DSCN0939


So now I am the proud owner of an old, grimy, dusty 1920s Woodstock typewriter.

She couldn’t be more beautiful.

There’s still a little ink in the ribbon, the keys and typebars work. The carriage doesn’t advance, but I’ve got a few ideas from the internet on how to fix that.

I’ve got a place picked out to display her once I get her cleaned up. I’ve got her torn apart and am cleaning her, piece by piece, until she shines.

If I can get her working again, that’ll be a bonus.

At this point, if I get her properly put back together, it’ll be a miracle.


The carriage is off…too late to turn back now!






A Personal Anthem

If I had to pick a personal anthem, I’m not sure I could do better than Tift Merritt’s “Engine to Turn.”  One of my favorite songs.

There are few lines as beautiful and true as, “Maybe the world feels like me, wishing someone would sing it a song.  About how there’s a lot of good here.  About how it’s done nothing wrong.”

Give a listen, then do yourself a favor and download everything you can find by her.  You won’t be disappointed.

The Ham Sandwich from Heaven


Tammy and me at the Wild Horse Saloon.  This was after we ate the sandwiches.  Obviously.


Do you remember the best meal you ever ate?

I do.

Summer, 2000.

My friend Tammy and I decided to pilgrimage to Nashville, Tennessee, Music City itself, the capital of country music.

We were in college (read: broke) but that wasn’t going to stop us from going to the Country Music Festival to see all of our favorite stars, including JoDee Messina, Tim McGraw, and Billy Ray Cyrus. (Miley who?)

We hit the road early to begin the ten-hour journey in Tammy’s Honda Civic. At first, it didn’t seem like a big deal that the Civic didn’t have air conditioning.

For the first hour, we chatted excitedly about the trip ahead—all the music, the stars, the autographs, the concerts. We rolled down the windows and hit the interstate, blasting Trisha Yearwood’s Wrong Side of Memphis on the radio.

In the second hour, the world started heating up, and the reality set in.

We were traveling south in July, on a bright, sunny, ninety-degree day.

In a car with no air conditioning.

And by the way, when we arrived at our destination, there would be no air-conditioned hotel room waiting for us. We would be camping in a tent and sharing what turned out to be a spider infested outdoor community shower.

We started to sweat. We started to burn.

The third hour we got cranky.

The fourth hour is best forgotten, as our friendship barely survived it.

By the fifth hour, we were as wilted as a bouquet of week-old grocery store flowers. We didn’t even have the energy to snipe at each other anymore.

When Tammy grew so dehydrated that we worried she couldn’t drive the car anymore, we pulled off the interstate into one of those rest stops with only bathrooms and vending machines. Not another human being in sight.  I had never been hotter, sweatier, or more delirious in my life.  We were like characters in a movie wandering through the desert, when the screen goes hazy.

We bought two Cokes from the vending machine (you know I’m a Pepsi girl, but this was life or death), and slid down the concrete wall into a patch of shade outside the building. We opened the cooler we’d packed and there they were.

Two ham sandwiches.

Eighteen years later I remember every bite.

Fresh potato bread. Thick slices of real ham, not lunchmeat.  Two slices of American cheese.  The whole thing slathered with mayonnaise.

And it was cold. The mayonnaise was cold, the cheese was cold, even the ham was cold.

It was rain in the desert. It was manna from heaven.  It was the closest I’ve come to a miracle.

I’m not sure we would have made it to Nashville without those sandwiches. You might’ve just found an abandoned Honda Civic, the seats wet from the puddles of sweat we’d dissolved into.

But we made it, and we had the time of our lives.

Tammy and I still talk about those sandwiches. The vacation too, but mostly the sandwiches.  We just talked about them last weekend.  They saved our trip, our lives, and our friendship.  I’m not sure I will ever eat anything in my life that tasted as good as that sandwich.

If I wind up on death row I know just what I’m ordering for my last meal.

(Though if I didn’t kill Tammy during hour four of that car trip, it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever kill anyone.)