Sunday, October 21, 2012
Ever want to know what is behind those AOL/Google/Yahoo headlines, like, “7 Ways to Better Sex tonight!” or “101 Techniques to Raising a Healthy Teen,” or “Crazy New Weight-Loss Bean?” There is a science to this, and Nick Thacker wants you to know how to use it. If you are blogging for a job, Thacker can help you get more sales. If you want to penetrate the blogosphere without selling a product, even better. Finally, and I will revisit this later, you can follow Thacker’s suggestion to build up a community that will help you sell books and help other writers. Let me put this in my opening paragraph: http://www.nickthacker.com or http://www.livehacked.com. The books are also available on Amazon.
Thacker chose for the first book in the Dead Simple Guide to address the topic of headlines. I don’t care if your goal is to sell toothpaste, you will fare poorly if you use a headline that folks will blow past when they search to find you – or your competitor. When I’m searching, if I think an article will not help, I’ll leave it unread – and move on, seeking a more likely-looking answer. Don’t you? Shouldn’t you invest some time making sure that you would click on your article, advertisement, or blog post if you were doing the searching? In The Dead Simple Guide to Amazing Headlines, Thacker helps you think through this, and provides shortcuts if you choose to use them.
Now you have your headline, or at least, you can conceive of a headline that would sell your next blog post. Now what? You can make your site awesome, make your content brilliant, and still attract nobody. I know. That’s me. In the second book, The Dead Simple Guide to Guest Posts, Thacker walks you through the process of creating community, which causes people to link to you, host your guest posts, and cross-promote your blog. What is missing here is how to create the code on your site to do what you want. For example, I don’t know how to sell my own book (on Smashwords.com) on my own Blogger page. Hmmm.
The third book in the trilogy, The Dead Simple Guide to Pillar Content, shows that Thacker is really a novelist at heart. “Creating Pillar Content.” Ever heard of it? I hadn’t, either. Pillar content is why your blog exists. You need to make something stand out to let people know who you are and why they should care. Thacker explains why you, a novelist, should write about your philosophy of writing, how you develop your characters, where your plot ideas come from, essentially who you are as a writer. Thacker explains that, whether you are writing a blog on fishing or on writing, that you make the “pillars” of your blog out of content that will draw readers.
Is this collection a real hack, meaning an elegant and quick solution to an intractable problem, to your marketing and blogging issues? If, like me, you don’t know much about the bits and bytes of what to do to achieve your blog goals, maybe not. But for anyone with web design assets, or even a few hundred bucks to handle the tech stuff, Thacker’s trilogy will set you on the right path.
Don’t forget to buy my book 3 Through History: Love in the Time of Republicans, at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/239509. Thanks for reading!
Saturday, October 20, 2012
“Aba, I don’t want to quit playing with my trains. You can’t make me.”
“Why, Ezra? I can sing your prayers to you and turn off the light, and you can’t do a thing about it.”
“As soon as you go, I can turn the lights on again.”
“Would you really want to do that? Do you know what is happening between Ima and me? We can beat this, you and I. I will show her that I am 100% reliable, and you can show her that you listen to me, and she won’t throw me out. We’ll save the family, OK, Ezra? Azor li.”
Segal had long since dropped the pretense of using the language of the Kibbutz of her dreams, and of the legends of her fairy-tales. She noted, correctly as usual, that although Rafi’s English was still heavily accented with Hebrew, his Hebrew had become worse because only Rabbis spoke to him in Hebrew anymore, and their Hebrew hadn’t progressed much past the early days of Statehood. So she just ridiculed him when he spoke to their child in Hebrew. Of course, this wasn’t always true, but there was also a time when she didn’t stick her nose into the air, let her newly acquired triple-chins breathe, and walk right past Rafi except to criticize something he had or had not done.
That April, with no warning except for the deteriorating atmospherics of their marriage, she returned from an Overeaters Anonymous meeting and declared, “I am declaring that our relationship, as you have known it to be in the past, is over. We will no longer be husband and wife. As such, you will move all your belongings out of my bedroom at once, and any that remain will be taken to the curb as trash. I expect you to comply with my decision.”
Rafi half expected this. Despite everything that he had done to meet her expectations, their marriage had reached the point of hallway sex. That is, they would pass each other and she would say, “Fuck you!” and he might respond in kind, only louder. So he gathered his left brain and vocal apparatus, and responded, “Since when could you just dissolve a marriage, just like that? Are we Muslims, that you could say, “I divorce thee, I divorce thee, I divorce thee,” and it’s over? What about our promises, our wedding vows? What about this child? Should we tell Ezra’s birth mom that we screwed it up, and now we’re going to fuck up her kid along with each other’s lives?”
“Don’t argue with me, Mister Professional Jew. I have made my decision, and I expect that it will be carried out.”
“God created this marriage, and you can’t sunder it. We have Ezra here, and Ruchama Shachar in Guatemala City, and I’m their father. You can try to take that away over my dead body.”
“Then you will throw your money away on a fruitless quest? I’ll crush you like a grapeseed that got into the final pressing.”
“Now you’re the one getting Biblical. I don’t agree to a divorce, and I live here, just as much as you do.”
“Fine. You will move your things into the spare bedroom, and anything that is not out of my room by Wednesday goes out in the trash.”
“Lamah ha holi-rah hazo? Ever since we returned to Philadelphia, I just work my ass off to be the best husband I can be, the best father for Ezra and the best handyman, b’Shem Adomai. I go to work, I paint the house, I do the yard, I weld the pipes, your garab all over and I clean it up always, and you sit up there on your computer or in front of your TV with your Law and Order, and I sit next to you for three hours you don’t talk to me. And it’s my fault this marriage is failing? In the name of our child’s mother, you broke this marriage, you help fix it!”
Segal did not take kindly to this insult, the worst that you can hurl at an adoptive parent.
“Az lech l’Azazel ud’fok al atzmecha, mamzer zayin!” No translation needed.
Now Rafi was bargaining with his five year old son to go to bed. “We can beat this together. You show Ima that you will listen to me, and she will know I am a good daddy. You have to listen to me. You have to cooperate. Get changed for bed, and I will come up with a solution that will let you play with your trains.”
“OK Aba,” Ezra replied. “You don’t have to stand here. I’ll do it.”
Five minutes later, Rafi returned to the sound of “click, click, click,” where the mechanical trains were smacking together under the guidance of the 5 year old conductor with rich latte skin with orange hues.
“Ezra, what did you agree to? You want to help Aba keep us together, right?”
“Az ma l’cha k’var? Let’s get you into your pajamas and I’ll tell you my plan.”
Ezra began to cooperate, as Rafi produced a red-spectrum penlight that he had been given by his friend Mitch to use in astronomy gatherings on the North Fork when they moved away.
“This light is bright enough that you can read by it, but other people don’t see it because of its color. You go to bed, I read you a story and sing to you, and then I will leave the room. I will be in my bedroom. You go ahead and use the light so you can keep playing with your trains. I will knock on your door when she comes in, and you stop clicking your train cars and pretend to be asleep. Can you do that?”
“If I do, will you stay and be my daddy and not let Ima kick you out of the house like she says she’s gonna do?”
“I’ll try, Ezra, but even if I fail, I will never, ever stop being your daddy. Remember the Little Nut Brown Hare?”
“I remember him, and he jumped so high and Big Nut Brown Hare jumped higher and they said how much they loved each other, and … How did it end, Aba?”
“It didn’t end, Ezra, because no one could ever measure the love that Big Nut-Brown Hare had for Little Nut-Brown Hare. And no one could ever measure the love I have for you. I don’t know what Ima will do. But if you help me, maybe she will see that we are better off as a family, together.”
“OK, Aba.” Ezra started pulling off his clothes. A cloud of dread filled Rafi’s brain, and when it lifted, he saw a Jewish man, his wife, and his four-year-old son practicing hiding in trap doors and in the chimney. In the story, which Rafi had read during his course at Gratz College on Holocaust literature, the man was dressed in a drab brown suit that had never been much to look at even before the war, but now, invisibility carried a premium – survival. At this moment, the man was wearing the characteristic striped prison garb of Auschwitz.
Ezra woke Rafi up from his walking nightmare.
“Kein, motek? “
“Do you remember when we painted this rainbow racetrack on my wall?”
“Of course I do. I taped it and measured it, and helped you put the paint on.”
“If Ima kicks you out, and you have to have a new house, would I have a bedroom?”
“Can we paint a rainbow oval racetrack, like at the Piston Cup?”
“You can count on it.”
Ezra was asleep before Rafi finished the lullaby version of Bernstein’s Simple Song, which had become Ezra’s bedtime song. Psalm 121, I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence comes my help. Me’ayin yavo Ezri. Ezra kept the red penlight with Rafi’s blessings.
Saturday, October 13, 2012
Usually, Frida would put her T-shirt or nightgown on after. Now she was still naked. Intentionally so. She had decided that there was no right way to say this, so she elected to do it completely vulnerable.
“César,” she began, sliding her finger down his olive-toned arm to his index finger.
“Si?” He had been admiring Frida’s graceful form, and now raised his eyes upward to meet hers. Frida guided his hand to her belly.
“I am pregnant. You are going to be a father.”
The expression in English, “pregnant pause” came back to her. Maestro Garza at BUAP had used it so often, but that was so long ago. She hadn’t been back to BUAP since she had met César, except on a date.
“Well, aren’t you going to say something? Happy? Sad? Was there salmonella in the boeuf bourguignonne? Did I fuck the words out of your tongue, burro?”
“I already am a father, Frida.”
“And as long as we have been together, and as often as we’ve made love, it is inevitable that a form of birth control that is 99% effective would yield one pregnancy in this whole time. Now you have a five-year-old, Gabriel is 4, and you will have another one, maybe even Daddy’s little girl.”
The fire rose out of Frida’s womb. “Say something, damn you!”
“Frida,” César offered, “I had never thought about another child. I had never thought about any changes; my life is perfect just as it is now. I have a solid practice with a healthy backlog of work, I have the perfect queen of the city for a girlfriend, my son has a built-in playmate and younger brother in everything but the name…”
Frida’s annoyance rose to meet her anger halfway. “So Alejandro goes to first grade next year, and Gabriel is still with Aracely and me. Will you notice? Will you make the changes to be the father of a schoolboy? Or will you tell Alejandro, ‘Nómas, bebé, you can’t need me to help you with your homework. You can’t like what your schoolmates like. You can’t tell me what happened at school today. I want you to stay five forever’? Everything changes. What did you do when Magda got that scholarship to Temple University? Did you tell her, ‘No, you become an atheist, you go to no Temple, I command you?’ No, you gave the party of her life, and you hired two people, one for you and one for her dad. Things happen; you change. You grow. That’s called life. Next September, you will greet your new child close to the same day that you send Alejandro to his first day of school.”
“You are crazy.”
“I am a mother, and you are again going to be a father. Happy Father’s Day, Dad, I’ll be big as a taxi and you’ll love it.”
César reached over to the headboard and extracted a copy of Soil Dynamics.
Frida got up, tossed on an Abercrombie t-shirt, underwear with full coverage, and pink running shorts. She padded out of the room, found her briefcase at the front door, and took out her journal.
“My darkest thoughts walk with me like a foul body halfway inside my own; I am invaded by these doubts as to what I am doing here, or anywhere. What am I to César, to my Clientes, to my friends? Sandrina is managing Personas Desordenatas with no help; she has stopped asking me to act in anything except as the signatory to the check for program advertisements. Magda is gone, Tonto doesn’t call. Hector has moved on, no problem, what was I to him except a sex object? Maybe that’s it. Maybe Frida Garcia, Presidente of Delia SA, with my half-a-million peso income and company car, is nothing more to anyone but a very bright sex object. If the world is full of mujereros and mamasotas, what differentiates us from apes? Is our sex different from their sex? Is that all it is, sex?
“If all we are is animals, what does it mean for this gross second body to inhabit me? Is this what man calls conscience? Or consciousness? Is what humanity calls a conscience just this ogre in my skin? Is what I am bearing just a homunculus, like the Homunculus of Desire, but a nascent plague and not a blessing? What constitutes a plague? Is it different than a disease? In English the word means more like the antonym of ease. That’s it. The state of being conscious is measurable only by the level of uneasiness we experience. If so, I am highly, highly conscious, chinga la madre!”
Rituals. Mornings at César’s. Boys to Aracely. Frida to work. César to work. Evening at Frida’s. Playing with the boys while Aracely makes dinner. All to bed. Mechanical sex. Breakfast. Aracely takes the boys. César to work. Frida to work. One and a half days left until Cozumel. Time out! Call Flora.
“Flora? Frida, que haces?”
“Nada, chica, I just miss Magda, that’s all. Other than that, I’m in my oficina.” The clinking of coffee cups and the ring of the cash register attested that all was well at the Panaderia Monsieur Remontel.
“I have to talk to you. Are you there for a while?”
“Si, si – I am on deadline today. We have a Christmas special. All the El Sol travel writers are trying to outsell each other on our cities. You can come with me and we can make a drive.”
Okey – fifteen minutes. Don’t go anywhere.”
While Frida and Flora made notes about their favorite memories of each neighborhood they had ever visited, and made up some experiences for neighborhoods that they would never visit, Frida told Flora how that night the day before yesterday had gone. It was immediately obvious to Flora, at least through her detached eyes, what was wrong. “Why buy the cow…”
“When you already have the milk?” Frida finished the proverb.
Flora opined, “Chica, no problem here. You have a good company. A solid customer base. A great reputation. You also have done all this with a baby between your breasts. So what’s wrong? If it’s the money, the solution is clear. Set up a joint account that takes care of the little one’s every bottle.”
“Even the big glass ones she will buy in college!”
“Especially those. Other than that, no change, no problem!”
Frida took a great deal of comfort from this bit of advice.
The morning of the Cozumel vacation, Frida got up at 5:30 AM to buy an assortment of baked goods from Panaderia Monsieur Remontel, but she had to pull over at Calle 56 and 4a Avenida because she knew there was a public wastebasket that could receive…
“¡Dios mio, Sara! If I throw up any harder, I’ll cough you up too!
Frida opened her glove compartment and found a packet of baby wipes exactly where she expected.
When she arrived at Remontel, she had mostly regained her composure, but not her color.
Sr. Andrez emerged from the kitchen.“¡Rayos, Señora! You look like serious as a donkey on a rowboat. ¿Estas en salud?”
“Nothing, nothing. I see your travel corner isn’t full yet.”
“No, Señora, Flora doesn’t come before 9:30 unless she has been out all night. But thank you for coming in. Here’s a fresh cup of coffee gratis. Would you like an ojo de elefante? I have to dust it with sugar, but the whole batch just came out of the oven.” Sr. Andrez poured the coffee into what appeared to be a pottery beer mug with a fleur-de-lis stamped into the clay before firing. He poured the cream into a twelve-ounce pitcher and set out the sugar.
Frida poured cream into her coffee; she passed on the sugar. The glistening golden glaze on the ojos de elefantes wafted straight from the kitchen into Frida’s nose, which certainly had been shocked by what it had inhaled at Calle 56.
“I’ll take a dozen. Have you baked anything healthy yet? We’re making an excursión.”
“Si, señora, a batch of carrot bran muffins just came out, and I have raspberry tarts also. You should eat the muffins within two days, but the tarts can make you salivate after a week.”
“Good, we can play Frisbee with them, and then eat them afterward. Give me a dozen of both, but in a plastic bag with a twist tie, please.”
Frida paid for the pastries, and downed the coffee.
* * *
Frida acted her way through the next week, enjoying her time with the children, and faking it through her time with César. Once the children were asleep in their own beds and corresponding houses, Frida met César in the courtyard of his building. With the sound of the peeing cherub in the background, César spoke first.
“Frida, I do not want to make this change in my life. I want you to have an abortion.”
“You want me to abort my baby – our baby?” Frida spoke deliberately, knowing that this was one of two possible reasons for this meeting, and César did not seem to have a wedding band disguised somewhere.
“Yes, Frida, I would like you to have an abortion.”
“And we will go on as we have, and nothing will change. We will be happy as we have been. I don’t want to change anything.”
“You don’t think I forgot what I told you, do you?”
“About change. Change just is. Ser, no estar. Change. Is. Life. Is. Change.”
“Frida, I have made my decision.”
“¡Pendejo! ¡Hijo de puta!” Frida slapped her lover of four years across the face.
César turned, without a word, and returned to his condo. The door closed with just a little bit more authority than usual.
Monday, October 1, 2012
Alejandro and Gabriel jumped on the bed, after César had left for a trip to New York with Arqueo before dawn. Frida was asleep. One of her kidneys twinged in recognition of the activity around her. Her mind became vaguely aware of a sound that seemed to come from her throat.
“Bambini, bambini, callate!” The Italian influence came from going with Arqueo to the opera. Dutch. No funny stuff, even though Arqueo deserved a hot babe on his arms, and not his best friend’s girlfriend. The boys jumped harder. Frida caught Alejandro mid-air, “Okey, okey bebe, voy a alimentarle.” She made a grab for Gabriel, but he wriggled like a gummi worm while escaping over her waist without breaking his rhythm. She whipped Alejandro forward to propel herself and him upright, sitting at the side of the bed. Before her foot hit the floor, Gabriel jumped on her back.
Frida was always wearing something, regardless of what had transpired the night before. If sex was even a possibility, she might be in a sheer robe, with or without underwear. The sheer clothing stayed at her place, where César and she had been the previous afternoon, while Aracély took care of the boys. This morning, she was in silver running shorts and a t-shirt. So there was no delay in her body getting into motion for the day, even if her head were on another planet. But something deep inside felt like it was on that other hot, sticky, fecund place full of vines and possibilities. Like being eaten by an anaconda. Or maybe feeding breast milk to leopard cubs whose mother’s milk had run dry. Or sprouting angel’s wings, only to find that in the tropical rainforest between her ears angel’s wings were too delicate to fly.
Alejandro, five year old, was already planning their day. “First, let’s go back to Africam. But we have to go early, or all the cats will be asleep. Then we can go to the lake and have a picnic, and we can all split a sandia and have a seed-spitting contest.”
“Alejandro,” began Frida.
“Oh, right, Gabriel can have a head start, and when we finish the sandia we’ll be all sticky so we have to go wash off in Lago Camacho, and then we can go to the race track and watch your friends race their cars. Maybe one will explode. BOOM!” shrieked Alejandro, excited but certain of his plans.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Frida interjected.
“I want to go PLAYGROUND!” Gabriel insisted.
“I was saying, ‘Aren’t you forgetting breakfast? And getting dressed?”
“OK, Mama Frida, you make pan y canela, and I help Gabriel dress himself.”
Frida remembered exactly when she became “Mama Frida.” It was on the trip home from Africam – the first time. Flora and Magda conspired to put Frida and the toddlers in the back seat of the Suburban from El Sol, when Magda insisted that Frida sit with the boys. Magda would drop Aracely back at Frida’s, and Flora would take Frida and the boys to César’s place. The Suburban’s middle seat, even with the back seat filled with the production gear, held two car seats and a slim mother comfortably. The kids wriggled the whole way to attain the treasured prize – the trim but cozy lap in the middle seat. By the time they got to Lago Camacho, between the whining and the wriggling, Frida couldn’t take it anymore.
“Flora, pull over.”
“Flora, pull over the car now. I need to give Gabriel a bottle. I have to feed Alejandro something.”
“Okey, mama,” Flora replied.
Flora whipped the Suburban onto the berm. She popped out and deftly mixed two bottles of formula and once.
“Lose the car seats, mamachica, You’ll be happier, and so will they.”
“Okey, Mamita Florecita,” Frida wisecracked.
Frida snapped open Gabriel’s restraint, and then Alejandro’s. The boys flowed out of their seats, and unrestrained, they immediately quieted down.
“Ayudame, Alejandro, let’s put the seat in back.”
“Me too?” asked Gabriel hopefully.
“Okey, you too. First I’ll take care of Alejandro’s chair, and then yours. Dos asientos, dos niños, una mama.”
Frida remembered that moment very clearly. For a long time, she resisted Alejandro’s calling her mama, but only managed to gain the middle ground of “Mama Frida.” For the record, both boys had fallen asleep within minutes, each with a head on Frida’s thigh.
This morning, three days before Frida and César planned to take the boys to Cozumel for Christmas, the boys were used to each other and found nothing odd about this creative family unit. Alejandro had just given Frida an order, or so it seemed. At only five years of age, he had no problems pushing, but to his credit, no problems being redirected. Frida complimented Alejandro on his skill in being a big brother, but asked Gabriel to dress himself.
“But you can watch, Alejandro, and if Gabriel needs help, you can give it. Make sure he has clean underwear and that his shoes go on the right feet, okey?”
“Okey, Mama Frida, you make the best pan y canela. Muchisimo mejor que Papi!”
“Really? What would your papi say if he heard that?”
“He’d say yes. He told me so himself.”
Frida headed down to the kitchen. She felt it again. What was that, actually? I’m young, I’m healthy, It doesn’t feel like a muscle sensation. Frida stretched all the way into a half-moon shape, first to the left, then to the right. No change. Back bends, toe touches. Nothing. Wait a minute, it can’t be that. We use protection every time. Beside, there are two boys who love my pan y canela. And a day to plan.
Frida took the boys to the playground, where they met Aracely for the handoff. The sensation that something was different, she couldn’t say what, dogged Frida throughout her day. Even when she changed her clothes from business dress to cutoffs, a t-shirt, and a swimsuit underneath, she felt a twinge. But this time, it was somewhere else; she couldn’t localize it. She felt oddly accompanied on her way down to Lago Camacho. What is it about me that makes Alejandro call me “Mama Frida?” I wonder if they call Aracely “Mama Aracely?”
“Okey, okey, kids. Let’s go get tacos for dinner first, then I have something special for you.”
The evening ended in the Zona Historica de los Fuertes, under the dimming sun, and lots of books about fireworks. The boys got in a good hour and a half nap, and then BOOM! The warning salvo went off. As the children were more and more enchanted with the noise and colors, Frida was becoming more and more sure that in about nine months it would be César, Frida, Alejandro, Gabriel, and Sara.
* * *
César and Frida still had separate homes. They might as well have been married, except that they had never asked for this. Frida did not know – what would she say? How would she say it? What did she know? How could she know it? These questions sat behind her amygdala most of the time, behind her eyeballs other times, and often right in her larynx, unvoiced. After three weeks and a period five days late, she knew. It had to be.
César prepared dinner on a Tuesday while the children were creating trouble for Aracely. Frida stopped by home and kissed the children, then stopped by the florist for a dozen yellow long-stemmed roses. She drove up to César’s apartment complex and turned the lock on the aging spired picket fence door, which opened onto the courtyard. The courtyard was terraced in begonias, tea roses, and bouganvilla in some places, and sculpted with giant astilbe, butterfly bushes, clematis, and jacaranda in others. The pattern was Fibonacci’s sequence – one bouganvilla and terrace, one jacaranda and sculpture. Two bouganvilla and terraces, three jacaranda and sculptures. Five bouganvilla. Eight jacaranda. And of course a stone cherub holding a birdbath in the center. Frida loved this place – it was sheer joy to play barefoot with the boys in the yard, and even better if César were holding her hand or caressing her shoulder.
Frida rang the bell on César’s unit. He greeted her in his usual way. That’s what she loved most about him. Every time he greeted her, he acted as if they were still flirting. Never take a client for granted, Frida told her own clients. Your best clients are your best prospects. He smiled. He flipped her hair over her left ear. He eased her bare shoulders out of her blazer, and slid his hands down her smooth skin while removing the jacket completely with one hand, and taking the bouquet of roses with the other. He slid a teasing finger across her nalgas while moving to hang up the jacket, and finding them bare to the touch under her opaque business skirt, asked, “Thong? Or commando?” He spun her around into an embrace.
On the cedarwood table César had draped a lace tablecloth from his grandmother, with a violet runner in the center. A cut crystal bowl with fruity red rose petals floating on water was flanked by lit yellow tapers. César stepped past Frida into the kitchen, from which the sound of a faucet was soon heard. César produced a matching cut crystal vase, half filled with water, in which Frida’s roses were displayed. César set the vase in the bowl filled with the contrasting rose petals. “The reflective surfaces blend the colors well, yes?” he said, admiringly. Frida wanted to ravish him there, before dinner. But this was César’s return from a long business trip, and he might have everything timed just so. Frida just lifted César’s chin, pulled his shirt collar, and satisfied herself with an aperitif of his lips and tongue. César placed his right hand around her ribs, but the gentle, supple feel of her breast under her shoulderless satin top drew his thumb to it as surely as a moth is drawn to light. Her nipple was pressing urgently through the fabric. He remembered himself, and poured two glasses of sparkling grape juice.