A Dime A Dozen

We’d been pounding the pavement and hitting the phones hard for the first 7 months of 1981. As a new jingle company, we rode elevators up to meet with potential advertising clients, along side competing music producers who were established and in many cases, offering cocaine as well as music. Totally sold on the idea of meritocracy, we were sure the creative directors would hear the difference between how OUR music fit the bill so much better than the other guys. I look back now and wonder how we kept going, with “nobody winkin’ back” for so long, as my dad used to say.

And then my partner Mark took a meeting with Tony O. Upon hearing our demo, Tony recognized some music that he himself had worked on and soon learned that the disco-esque charts for a soft drink had been written by Mark while in another company’s employ! Suddenly we had an actual real-live client who liked us!!


Tony wasted no time in asking for a new jingle for La Yogurt (click on underlined link to hear it!), a regional brand that had been using a lackluster version of Frére Jacques in radio and TV ads. Given an afternoon, a list of the available flavors and the direction to imagine all the various times and places La Yogurt could be consumed, we created and demoed 4 different jingles for presentation. When one was chosen, we hired “jingle queen” Linda November and hit-singer/songwriter Paul Evans, as well as “the usual suspects” of studio musicians (like the wonderful George Marge on ocarina!) and an East coast market jingle “hit” was born! The inspiration for the back-&-forwards trading of lines was somewhat inspired by the chemistry of the Polaroid ads featuring James Garner and Mariette Hartley that were running at the time. Our jingle proved versatile, running for a number of years, and we used the musical materials to compose YOGURT VARIATIONS (click on link to hear excerpts) for the New Britain Symphony the following spring. Tony invited us to the International Radio Festival of NY and La Yogurt took home the Gold Award for best radio spot in 1982!


Almost immediately thereafter Tony tapped us to create the new jingle for Lee’s Carpets (click link to hear!), which the agency and client both loved.There was a disruption in this love-fest when our production invoice hadn’t been paid within 90 days, so we re-sent it, waiting another month to follow up with the billing department at the agency. When we finally were connected, the accountant practically laughed in our faces over the phone, sneering, “You wanna get paid? Ha! You guys are a dime a dozen!” We called Tony and eventually we got a check, but it was creepy – and we did NOT “relax” right away!


A couple months later, the BIG prize account came up: Kinney Shoes (click link to hear). With no direction besides the tag line “Kinney Can”, we worked feverishly to create a winning concept. We wanted to build on the established reputation of the brand for being the family-friendly “Great American Shoe Store” while showing that Kinney had kept up with changing times. Encouraged by Tony, we were so excited about the anthem we created that we sank thousands of dollars of our own money into the production, including various versions (click to hear NBAs version) for different shoe lines. We got the best-of-the-best musicians and singers to bring it to life, including Florence Warner (click to hear) and her angel-voice! We were SURE this was the “big one” that would put us on the map as a jingle company!


Alas – we eventually learned that on the day of the big Kinney presentation, Tony had been ill and failed to play our tracks for the client. He hadn’t even shown up to the meeting. Or at least that’s what we were told. Another version of the story was that our tracks had been presented, but all the folks at Kinney were offended that they hadn’t been invited to the recording sessions, so our music was rejected out of hand. We felt strongly about our work, so much so that we entered it into the International Radio Festival competition (where it earned an Honorable Mention, even though it had never been bought or aired). 18 months later we sent a 5-page single-spaced letter to Tony, begging him to re-present it to Kinney, as we’d heard through the grapevine they were unhappy with the music they had chosen and were looking for something new. We got no response.

Tony was a vibrant man with fierce affection for his family and friends, as well as strong appetites for tobacco, liquor and food. His enthusiasms were infectious, so that when he told us he was going to audition for a local production of The Music Man (as Prof. Harold Hill, of course!) and he asked us for help preparing the song “Trouble”, we learned it along with him, and found it the perfect accompaniment for marching crosstown from our west side offices to Madison Avenue appointments. When his boss was having a “big” birthday, Tony asked us to produce a special birthday song; Jerry, You’re the Bess We Got! (click to hear excerpt) for the party, which we did happily – gratis. And when Tony’s daughter showed interest in learning to play the flute, I cheerfully lent mine so she could try it out for a semester. Tony wasn’t “just a client” – we considered him a friend. And we were pretty sure he felt the same way about us; we weren’t “just a supplier”. He invited us to dinner at his home in Bernardsville, NJ and we met his whole family; believe me, that wasn’t the case with most clients, no matter how well you got along and enjoyed working together!


Woolworth/Woolco was set to roll out a new line of Christie Brinkley sportswear, and this time our jingle was chosen! Juxta-positioning Christie in her casual attire and then crossfading to YOU (aka “normal young American woman!) wearing the identical outfit? Well, it was a winning idea; there you’d be, Lookin’ Christie! (click link to hear). Unfortunately, right before the ads could air, Woolworth pulled the plug on Woolco, all their stores shuttered and that was that – another big break bites the dust!

Our finances faltered, a few of our key clients retired and we decided to try our luck in a different market. But even after we’d moved to Chicago, Tony kept calling us from NYC with work. And he wasn’t shy about letting his colleagues know about how much he enjoyed working with us!


The Woolworth company had other retail chains, and we produced jingles for *J.Brannam (click to listen) (JUst BRANd NAMes clothes and accessories), Frugal Frank’s (shoe outlet) (click to listen) as well as demos for the flagship Woolworth’s stores (click link to listen). One of my favorites was Susie’s Casuals (women’s clothing) (click link to listen), the spirit of which was inspired by the Mary Tyler Moore TV show theme song; “hey, girl, you’re makin’ it! your chance is here and you’re takin’ it! The world will soon be awakenin’, and when they do, all they’re gonna see is YOU!”

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There were some semi-risqué demos for Palmolive soap (international) – one of which sold and was played worldwide (click link to listen). And we took a shot at a jingle demo for special Snorks kids sneakers for Kinney Shoes (click link to listen), after we moved to L.A. We even hired Tony at one point, to perform a voiceover for an industrial film we were scoring for a different client – recorded in the friendly confines of his San Francisco hotel room while he was on the west coast for business. Those 3-packs/day gave him an authoritative vocal growl and he knew how to work a mic. Eventually the lack of proximity became somewhat of an issue and his music work went to other suppliers, but our relationship remained warm.


The last time we got together, Tony was working from his home in Bernardsville, NJ and we met at the diner where the final shot of THE SOPRANOS was filmed a decade later. Tony looked happy and talked about his newest campaigns with zest. We always made it a point to look him up to meet when we were back east. And though he and his family never reciprocated, we sent Christmas cards every year.


Until a few years ago. His wife finally sent a note to let us know that Tony had passed on in 1999. We were stunned; we’d been sending holiday greetings to a ghost for 15 years! Once we looked back, a sense of betrayal overwhelmed us, as we realized how compromised our relationship had actually been. Being treated with contempt by a snarly accountant was the tip of the iceberg; the Lee’s Carpet jingle was actually supposed to be a lucrative account, with over 250 dealer “lifts” being edited with our music – each of which was to have been paid separately. This should have put us on Easy Street financially, as we were in the vocal group as well as among the musicians on the date. We found out later that the money that had been earmarked for all those residuals had been sidelined to the ad agency’s retirement plan. So even though these spots ran for several years, with many more customized versions, we never saw any of those payments, and neither did the singers and musicians we hired.

We realized that this was the case with almost ALL of the work we’d done for Tony, we hadn’t received residuals for virtually any of the music we’d produced! Though this practice is widespread in the arts, (see previous blog Things We Do For Love). we’d been in denial of how entrenched the corruption had been at the agency and never dreamed Tony would have let this happen. But he had.

It’s a mixed bag and difficult to reconcile such a relationship; while we were cheated out of the money we’d honestly earned that would have enabled us to stay in NYC, through our work with Tony, we had the opportunity to create some music that we’re still proud of to this day. We got to work in the recording studio (our favorite place!), with the best musicians, singers and engineers (our favorite people!). And, for better or worse, we got to hang out with Tony O. Click thru on the links peppered thru this blog post to hear the Tony O. Hit Parade.


Tony’s Dartmouth fraternity brothers miss him. And so do we. Sometimes.

September 27, 2019

Things We Do For Lo♥e

No professional I know in the arts began with the idea “to get rich”. Indeed, pursuing the arts comes from an irresistible impulse to write, to make music, to act, to paint, to perform, to create something new. As artists, we spend countless hours and prodigious amounts of money to develop our skills. I began with the piano which drew me like a magnet. It was an inner impetus: I had to take lessons. I had to learn how to play. It was an all-consuming urge that could not be denied. I didn’t start out with the idea of becoming a star, or even of making a living in music – although that goal developed in pretty short order! When I was learning to hand-copy music manuscripts in college, a teacher gave me an orchestral work that had been composed by a friend of his. I was delighted to spend weeks extracting the parts from the score, just for the practice and experience of learning. I don’t think the tiny check I received covered the price of the paper and ink I used!

To my mind, the performing arts can be more treacherous than fine arts (painting, sculpture, etc.) in this regard because in most instances performers crave to relate directly with other performers and ultimately to the audience. One has to “keep up their chops” between gigs, so workshops are formed and often participants pay-to-play, as if they were out bowling recreationally, instead of working hard on perfecting their professional skills.

As the daughter of two people who met on stage, I’ve noticed theater people appear to be more eager than many other performing pros to assume that one will volunteer for unpaid rehearsals, free rewrites, event promotion, set-building, etc. – Just For The Joy Of It. This delusion persists their entire lives, apparently!? One of the reasons I found it so onerous to work at The Gaslight Theater was the presumption that my time was worthless and therefore I need not be compensated for it. That idea may have been okay when I was in school, but it didn’t pass muster when I was in my 50s!

As I see it, the stage is set for such gross exploitation at the outset of one’s creative life, when we’re so eager, we’ll do anything to scratch that itch! (It also doesn’t help that the world refers to what we do as playing music, as if it isn’t actually work!) Granted, there are so many more of us who get bitten by the creative bug than opportunities exist to do our thing, let alone get paid for it; it can become a desperate scene.

Last week an article ran in The Hollywood Reporter recounting the tale of an actor who suffered terrible abuse at the hands of a powerhouse film director. My heart was touched by the catch-22 in which he found himself; an ordeal that’s been echoed in my own life experiences all too often, though not as frequently now as in my younger years. Yes, there are still many Things We Do For Love – but increasingly, just as we learn to drive defensively, we may need to lo♥e defensively!

September 25, 2019


♥ Jazz Songwriters ♥

Driving down the 405 to the annual IAJE convention in Long Beach in January 2002, I had to pull over when this song came on KJazz 88.1

“I Can’t Be Choosy”Bruce Brown

OMG!! Where did THAT come from?

I am a fool for wonderful songs in general, and thrilled by wonderful jazz songs, such as:

"Cloudburst!"Jon Hendricks!

"Zanzibar"Dave Frishberg!

"Devil May Care"Bob Dorough!

“Your Mind Is On Vacation”Mose Allison!

“In The Name Of Love” – Kenny Rankin!

Ginny Carr’s UVJQ – “He Was The Cat”

Lorraine Feather – “You're Outta Here”

Dave Tull – “I Just Want To Get Paid”

Sue Maskaleris – “Unbreakable Heart”

Mark Winkler – “You're Outta Here”

All of these writers have tons more wonderful songs – go Google ’em!

August 16, 2019


Mystique Vs. Music?

The cult of celebrity (AKA being famous for being famous) has muddied the waters of music for a long time. Yet, after a lifetime of loving Beethoven’s music, (and Mozart’s, Schubert’s, Chopin’s, Brahms’, etc.), I’m still moved by their works, without knowing much of the personal nature of their lives, if you can imagine that! For me, the logical development of the musical material gives meaning beyond the intrinsic beauty of their pieces – the music stands the test of time on its own merits, regardless of how celebrated or unpopular these creators were during the course of their lives.

I was always a fan of Aaron Copland’s music, though I knew little of his private life and didn’t really care; it was enough to admire the fact he managed to earn a living from his compositions without needing a church gig, like J.S. Bach! (It probably helped that, unlike Bach, Copland didn’t have 20 children to support!?)

When I first met my teacher Hale Smith 49 years ago, I had never heard any of his works. As a teenager without funds to purchase recordings and in the absence of the internet, I didn’t become acquainted with his music until well after meeting him in person and becoming charmed by his vibrant character, energy and prodigious knowledge. While UConn had many fine faculty members who lived near the campus at Storrs, the music department also brought in professionals who made a living in NYC, and who provided an example of how it could be accomplished, for those of us who longed to make our mark in the music biz outside of academia. Hale was the chief shining beacon who inspired and encouraged me to imagine my own future as a professional musician.

But did I know his music? Do I know his music? Ummm…. maybe not-so-much! Though brilliant, cogent and compelling, Hale’s “formal” music demands the listener truly pay attention to catch the nuances that constitute the integrity of his creations. For example, his Contours For Orchestra is pretty intense and difficult to appreciate on first hearing – at least for this listener!  Three Brevities (Allegro) is also complex, though composed for only a solo flute, and only one minute in duration! Hale’s “casual” music is more accessible, I think, but still sophisticated and not completely grokked without paying attention.

We live in a society that frequently prizes big-name superstardom above actual accomplishment, and it’s easy to get swept up in the hype of celebrity; we’re certainly encouraged to do so by the media. One might argue that the personality pervades the creative end result and is indistinguishable – but it seems to me that art falls or stands on its own 2 feet, regardless of the creator’s reputation. It takes effort to focus on more substantial values, in the arts and elsewhere. However, the rewards are worth the effort, IMHO.

August 5, 2019


I Sang With Gabby Giffords Tonight

There are heroes in our midst and sometimes they just appear from the dark on a Sunday evening in the park.

In addition to the fresh air, one of the greatest pleasures of attending an outdoor concert by the Tucson Pops is conductor László Veres. He is a man of steady habits; every Pops concert begins with The Star Spangled Banner and ends with the gorgeous Carmen Dragon arrangement of America The Beautiful. Every time I hear them, I get a little choked up. Between those two selections, there may be musical trips to other lands, but they’re always colored by the affection the Maestro has for the USA; he makes the audience proud and glad to be in America, just as he is.

The Maestro is a naturalized American citizen who escaped from his native Hungary during the Holocaust, and he treasures his adopted country with a fierce passion that’s apparent in everything from his repertoire choices to his stories and patter between numbers. He’s written an excellent autobiography about it: No Regrets. László is a survivor, much like our former congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords.

We sang “Edelweiss” from THE SOUND OF MUSIC, accompanied by the Tucson Pops Orchestra in Reid Park tonight. After the intermission, Gabby had ridden up on her recumbent bike nearby to where we were seated and while the audience hummed the tune, her voice rang out clear and strong through the dark, unmistakably Gabby; “Blossom of snow, may you bloom and grow… bless our homeland forever”. It brought me to tears, knowing how she has blessed Arizona with her leadership, and continues to bless the world with her example of fortitude and courage.

I just had to tell her how much we love her – how much it means to see her persisting in spite of challenges – how much strength it gives me to know that she’s still with us, carrying on with grace and perseverence. And how much I want her husband Captain Mark Kelly to become Senator Kelly (AZ). And how wonderful it would be to hear President Giffords sing “Edelweiss” someday.

It could happen, I assure you. Tonight, after we sang together, I shook her hand, and she’s one strong woman!

June 24, 2019


I Love A Piano

I’ve felt drawn to the piano from the very beginning – there’s just something about it that always made me want to touch it!

The first piano I recall was my Grandma Helen’s – a magical (to me!) baby grand. When she’d play Chopin, I’d spin around dancing in the living room, collapsing in a dizzy toddler-heap – until she’d start playing again! I began saving my allowance when I was 5 so that I could afford to buy my own piano; a turn-of-the-century painted-gray upright that had been in someone’s cellar for so long that it was impossible to bring the tuning up to concert pitch. With $20 for the piano, $20 to move it and $10 for the tuning, it wiped out my savings but was mine at age 10.

Picture Me painted medium gray

My mother gave it away when I moved to NYC after college and I played the pianos down the street at Manhattan School of Music practice rooms until I could afford to buy another upright; a circa-1940s walnut-stained Söhmer for $285, moving and tuning included.

This stood me in good stead for about 5 years until I became accustomed to the sound of grand pianos in NYC’s recording studios – and then I felt the need to upgrade to a baby grand. While accompanying a friend who was shopping for a Yamaha studio upright, a beautiful August Förster caught my fancy… WAY out-of-my-league financially, but SUCH a gorgeous thing it was…

I wound up borrowing from my mother to purchase a circa-1950s Harrington which set me back $1650, after $200 trade-in for my upright. It recorded well and had a really nice sound for a small grand; I loved it dearly until financial troubles in the late 1980s necessitated selling it, and I was piano-less for a few years. (Thank heavens for electronic keyboards, which got me over the hump!)

We began piano shopping in 1994 and found a 1976 Steinway CB we fell in love with. (A “CB” designates that the piano was deemed by Steinway to be superior “concert-artist” quality). I loved playing it for a few months, while knowing that it would need rebuilding to remove the Teflon bushings (more on this issue here) – and we could hear those tell-tale “clicks” begin to happen more frequently every day. So we handed it over to the absolutely finest technician who ever lived, Richard Davenport. For 5 long months he labored, while I returned to my no-longer appreciated synthesizer, and only a photo of a Steinway B tacked to the wall where our Steinway had stood.

David Anderson on Richard Davenport: life-changing!

Finally Richard returned it to us, sounding better than ever, and over the past 25 years it has proven to be a simply wonderful instrument in every way. We’ve recorded over a dozen CDs on it. Technicians love tuning it and compliment its sound and action. It is truly worthy of love.

I know that Billy Joel has expressed his affection for the piano in song, but I prefer the older song – performed here by two dear and extremely talented friends: Linda November & Artie Schroeck – who ALSO “love a piano”!

May 30, 2019


Just For The Joy Of It

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t absolutely LOVE records – although I confess that when I first began hearing the radio as a little kid, I was under the impression that Elvis was actually there in the WROW studio, performing with the Jordanaires. (He always sang each phrase exactly the same, but it hadn’t occurred to me that they were spinning a record. After all, hadn’t the DJ just announced, “and here’s Elvis Presley, singing DON’T BE CRUEL”?)

As I grew into becoming a musician, I came to love records even more; for one thing, I could listen over and over, to learn a song, or just for pure enjoyment (cue The Beatles. Leonard Bernstein and Paul Desmond). For another, I realized that all I had to do was perform and record perfectly once, and then I’d never have to play or sing that song again! I wanted to follow Steely Dan’s pre-90s paradigm and release albums without having to tour.

But oh, have times changed! According to many in the music biz, live performance is now mandatory; the only way a musician can expect to see a payday – http://illusionofmore.com/recorded-music-most-valuable/

and yet “…never has music been less about music. Never have audiences cared less about the actual performances. They watch with their phones and it’s more about “look at me at the concert.”

Which leaves us musicians-who-love-to-make-records exactly where? When a superstar as established as Prince is hurting, what is left for those of us who never were superstars? https://medium.com/@craig_walmsley/while-i-can-well-understand-prince-s-desire-to-revert-to-an-earlier-form-of-music-distribution-and-c1c35509e84c

While it was never an easy career, there’s ample evidence all over the internet that the recorded music business has mutated into something virtually unrecognizable to anyone older than 40. Now, apparently not even mega-hit pop records receive their financial due! AllAboutThatBass

An old friend emailed me 10 months ago, “Keep composing and playing and singing – It can be very liberating with no goal in mind. You know, just for the joy of it.” I haven’t been able to respond to him yet because what I WANT to say is so politically incorrect and sounds so ungrateful. Because I was writing songs “just for the joy of it” 50 years ago. Because I made my living in music, and it stopped being “just for the joy of it” a long time ago, and I began to need to be paid for my music (like anyone else who provides a valued service) in order to live with myself.

Being primarily a jazz musician, I never expected to get rich, even long before Napster started giving away the store. Since jazz is such a miniscule percentage of the record business, it now surprises me how many websites have bootlegged my records and encourage their visitors to download my music for free. I’m pretty sure I could deal with the reality of aging-out of pop culture if I wasn’t aware that my music, like Prince’s, is now being stolen all around the world. (Doesn’t that mean there’s value in it, that it’s worth something to someone, if they bother to post it online?)

Well, it is most definitely worth something to ME! When I listen to the CDs I’ve completed, I’m inordinately pleased with the final results. Sure, there were some compromises, but the pains that were taken in the writing, production, performances – these recordings come as close as possible to expressing what I intended them to convey, and I’m very, very proud of them and all the musicians, engineers and producers who added so much to what I’d envisioned. Since there’s virtually no pay day at this point, I may not be inspired to create a whole lot more music “just for the joy of it”, but I’m extremely glad to have done what I’ve done to date.

Marilyn Harris Music Clips

October 18, 2015


Music for a Joyous Occasion?

After it became apparent that the ad agencies of Michigan Avenue (the Chicago version of Madison Avenue) weren’t going to pull our scorched jingle company from the fire, it was time to make a new plan. Our pastor suggested we use our musical skills to play weddings and funerals, so we did some research, asked friends who had played those types of gigs, got feedback from other clergy, constructed a song list of the most requested religious and secular titles, bought 2 new VERY heavy amplifiers and began marketing ourselves. We made hundreds of cassette demo tapes, took out ads in the Chicago Wedding Guide magazine and sent out thousands of the following pamphlets to every church within 20 miles:

The wording for this sort of thing can get dicey, (especially with funerals) because we’re talking about providing music for…. death. Grieving people are at their most vulnerable and it’s important to strike the proper note of concern and compassion, while projecting sufficient confidence that the music you’ll be adding to the service will be reverent, inspiring and tender. Interestingly enough, the few funerals we were called to play (all at our own church!?) were relatively easy gigs.

The weddings, on the other hand…. ah, the weddings!! The term “Bride-zilla” had not been invented but such things did exist!

We met more than a few GROOM-zillas, too….

not to mention PARENTS of the happy couple….

While we had our own ideas, wedding music is generally “chosen by committee” and everyone has input except the musicians! Thus we wound up adding a LOT more titles to our song list.

I know now that even by late 80s’ standards, we were charging way too little for our services – but we really needed to get some gigs, and we hadn’t figured out how much actual WORK was involved in providing music for a half-hour service, let alone a (gulp!) 90 minute Catholic wedding mass, complete with communion for the entire congregation! We also underestimated the toll schlepping those 2 amplifiers, keyboard, EVI gear and mics, stands, etc. would take on our bodies and our spirits – especially when we got home and still had to carry all that gear up the rickety winding stairs to our 2-flat apartment.

We DID have a few nice moments playing weddings; there was one where the happy couple wanted “their song” performed during the mass AND during the reception right after AND during dinner. (They had hired a DJ for post-dinner dancing so we actually got to go home and feed and walk our dogs after 5 hours). “Their” song was ALWAYS by Atlantic Starr – and we sang the played the duet over and over, to their obvious delight! By the end, all of the guests as well as the complete wedding party were singing along with us!

But most of the weddings were grueling – a high-stress situation with no relief until the check finally cleared. Brides and/or their mothers were always adding MORE special songs we had to perform, and higher choir lofts we had to schlep all our stuff up to… not to mention waiting until everyone was gone before we could break down, pack and head home, where another schlep awaited us. It got VERY old VERY fast.

The end came after a June wedding at a Catholic church. We’d agreed to provide an hour’s music, collected 50% down of the $150 fee we were charging and then things got more and more bizarre; MANY midnight phone calls amending this song and substituting that song, micromanaging every detail imaginable. It was hotter than Hades on the wedding day as we schlepped all of our equipment to the choir loft where I was to play on the out-of-tune organ as well as my keyboard.

We were there early, before any of the wedding party had arrived, so we got to really “case the joint” – and this was turning out to be a BIG wedding! Outside the church was parked a huge video truck and inside were no less than 7 cameras, each with its own cameraman.

Of course the wedding didn’t start on time, but we were instructed to entertain the guests until things got going. 45 minutes later we got to play Lohengrin, and then there was the lighting of this candle and that candle, the mother-of-the-bride’s special music, the groom’s family’s music, etc. etc. etc. The mass went on for almost 2 hours and then we FINALLY got to play the recessional, pack up and head home. As we got to our car, we noticed the arrival of a huge stretch limousine with a hot tub in the back!!!

That was the final straw. We had just sweated and played and sang for almost 3 hours, (not to mention all those midnight phone calls) for a payday of $150 for both of us, and this couple was going to ride away in a hot tub!?

And what was waiting for us at home? More schlepping up 2 flights of stairs! And two very sweet schnauzer dogs, thank heavens!

October 4, 2015


I Want To Be Wanted

This record came out when I was eight years old and I immediately took it as my personal theme song. Everything about it was appealing, from the 12/8 swingy groove to the overly sweet strings and background singers to that little catch in Brenda’s voice. But the most important part to me was the lyrics.

This heartfelt plea hit me especially hard because when my mom had explained “the facts of life” to us a couple years before, she’d made a point of letting us know that we’d been “mistakes”. So more than anything, I wanted to have been wanted. Even though that was an impossibility – hadn’t my parents told me that? They HADN’T wanted me, and yet, here I was! What a conundrum for an 8-year-old. (Not much I could DO about it!?) If I could say just one thing to all the parents out there, it would be to tell them to be as KIND as possible to their kids, and to never, ever, under any circumstances, tell them that they were “mistakes”.

Many years later, in my late 30s, I attended a 12-step weekend retreat in Chicago. We did a lot of activities; writing, drawing and interacting one-on-one with other participants and in small groups. The final exercise involved sitting in a circle, with one individual going around the outside of the circle, whispering the words that person had always wanted to hear while growing up, but never had heard – or hadn’t heard ENOUGH. When my turn came, I flashed on Brenda Lee and whispered in each ear, “you’re NOT a mistake! I’m SO glad you were born!”

More than half of the people began to cry at these words.

We need to know we matter – that we’re where we should be – that we’re actually wanted.

So to you (and myself!) I say: You’re NOT a mistake! You’re here on purpose – your birth was intended, your being is intentional and you’re a blessing to me and everyone on earth. You’re precious and wanted and I’m SO glad you were born and I get to share this time with you!

Yes, you!

October 1, 2015


House of Hate!

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, Chapter 1, first line

Our family lived in garden apartments most of the time I was growing up – little 2 or 3 bedroom places on 2 floors, with ivy on the outside walls, trees and grass in the front and back yards that someone else mowed and tended to, and casement windows that leaked like a sieve when winter came. After a bleak 4-year sojourn as homeowners in Cicero, NY, my mother appreciated finding friends among some of the more educated and sophisticated women she met once we were left suburbia and my dad really liked the fact that he didn’t have to rely on his somewhat temperamental jalopies to get to work – he could take the city bus to his office in downtown Albany and in Hartford, he could easily walk to his job from our apartment.

We kids also enjoyed the more cosmopolitan environment and watched with interest as new neighbors moved in from time to time. Dr. Bill and Harriet Miller were next-door neighbors and their daughter Shirley became my best friend until we moved from NY state to Connecticut. At one point Hazel and Roy lived next door – they were a Chinese couple who liked us and even invited us over for a real homemade Chinese dinner once!

Then came Marrrge & Bob – a couple from Scotland who brrrristled whenever we encountered them. We couldn’t figure out what the trouble was until one day Marrrge came over and screamed repeatedly at us that ours was “a house of HATE!” We were so stunned to hear her opinion and couldn’t fathom what would make her think that? We LOVED each other!! Sure, we made a lot of noise bounding up and down the stairs which were directly on the other side of the wall from THEIR stairs – and we hollered and teased each other, like kids will do. We had 2 adults and 4 kids packed into 1000 square feet and we WERE a bit rowdy from time to time. But HATE? Marrrge and Bob moved away shortly thereafter and we just laughed at how mistaken they were about our loving family.

Decades later Mark and I rented a spacious luxury 2 bedroom place on the Gold Coast of Chicago – just the 2 of us, with our dog Dunkel. Each floor had just 2 apartments. The first night at 3 AM we were awakened by yelling, screaming and crockery breaking from the apartment across the hall. When we asked the doorman what was going on, no one seemed to know. Eruptions occurred on a fairly regular basis and poor little Dunkel would just shudder, like he did when thunderstorms rolled in from Lake Michigan.

It wasn’t just fights that woke us; the man would throw the family’s trash down the chute in the middle of the night and more than once I spied him doing so au naturelle. One night he locked his wife, dressed only in her nightgown, outside in the hall and wouldn’t let her back in, no matter how she pleaded and begged. These folks acted like they were the only people on the planet, totally oblivious to the disruption they caused. We later found out that the father was high up in the police force, so domestic disturbance calls never made it past the thin blue line. Apparently most of the other residents had assumed that the noise was coming from OUR apartment, since we were known to be musicians, and we all know how rowdy and disruptive THEY are!!?

We never found out what, if any, mitigating circumstances were in play in that household. I wonder how Marrrge and Bob would have handled being their neighbors!?

September 16, 2015


Fixing A Hole Where
The Rain Gets In

One of my college professors once told me that he didn’t believe in psychotherapy – that all we needed was a few really good friends with whom to discuss our problems. Well, I have some wonderful friends (including him!), but I’ve found great benefit from consulting with various professional practitioners over the years.

Marvin Beck was my friend Elise’s husband and only charged $25, so I went to see him several times in the mid-70s. I was struggling with being overweight; trying without success to motivate myself to exercise and diet “one last time.” After all, hadn’t I dropped 25 pounds in 1973 by fasting for 2 weeks? Hadn’t I gotten rid of 30 pounds on Weight Watchers over 4 months? Why couldn’t I just get myself back on track? WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME?

I told him about a denim jumpsuit I wanted, but I wore size 18 and this outfit only went up to size 13. Every day I’d gaze longingly thru the store window, practically salivating for it, and then chastise myself horribly for being too fat and not having the pluck to whip myself into shape so that I could buy and wear it. Then I’d devour a couple packages of snack cakes from the bodega. Marvin pulled a Dr. Phil on me, asking “so how’s that working for you?” It didn’t solve my weight problem but it DID make me stop and think about it a little differently – how beating myself up wasn’t the best motivation for change. We never got around to talking about my parents, my love life, or other big issues – but I still feel I got my money’s worth and more from talking with Marvin.

A few years later I began seeing a Christian Science practitioner; Mrs. Alton, a very sweet woman who gently encouraged me to be kinder to myself. I frequently suffered from horrible, debilitating headaches and in addition to her prayerful support, she advised me to soak in a warm tub and have a slice of toast. In other words, “be NICE to yourself! Treat yourself with kindness!” Being reminded that you’re a spiritual being is ALWAYS good medicine.

After a few cross-country moves (known in 12-step circles as “the geographical cure”), I found myself grappling with career and financial challenges and looked into more traditional help. I consulted with the pastor at the church we were attending, but he seemed more concerned about our diminished contribution to the collection plate than addressing my depression. The first place I went for actual therapy was more of a crisis management program and over before it began, so in conjunction with attending OA meetings, I began a longterm relationship with Charlene, an overeating specialist at Lutheran Social Services. I remember waiting downstairs in the reception area before meeting her the first time and starting to cry, thinking, “well, you’ve done it THIS time, kiddo! This is an actual CLINIC where they do actual THERAPY so there really has to be something WRONG with you to wind up HERE!”

Sessions began well and I felt I was making some progress with my emotions, if not exactly getting a handle on my overeating. I attended at least 2 OA meetings/week, checked in with my sponsor daily, and began sifting through and processing family issues, both my own and some troublesome feelings I had about my in-laws. It was rough sledding at certain points because my father-in-law had died suddenly and sometimes it felt like all hell was breaking loose in the family. I told Charlene about an instance a few years previous where I’d been given a baby nephew to hold while the in-laws were admiring the view from the 22nd floor roof of our then-apartment house and how I’d stood frozen, as close to the middle of the roof as possible, as I’d had the terrifying thought, “what would happen if I threw the baby over the edge and he went SPLAT?” I trusted Charlene with this, and other shameful secrets every week I went to see her.

After 6 months, I was encouraged to add weekly group therapy, led by Charlene and one of her colleagues – and my faith in her began to unravel. The two therapists started to conspire to “stir things up”, pitting group members against one another, seemingly only for the therapists’ own amusement. When I questioned this privately to Charlene, I was subsequently shut down and shamed in front of the entire group. At our next private session, Charlene told me about a dream she had had about me, where I was a hermaphrodite (!?) – and then confessed that she was waiting to see ME go SPLAT! – and all my buzzers and bells went off. I called a therapist friend and asked, “is this Kosher?” – to which he replied, “no, that’s a pretty unorthodox treatment model – she should be talking about her dreams with her own therapist, not with you!” He never said, “get the hell outta there!” but I began to think that maybe it was time to leave therapy with Charlene.

The next week on my way to our session, I twisted my ankle, falling painfully to the street, unable to walk, and I immediately called her to cancel the appointment, (for which I would still be billed, of course.) The week after THAT, Charlene stood me up for our session, leaving me waiting in the reception area with no apology. I could clearly see how I was being abused and terminated treatment at our next (and final!) session.

Several years later when my father was dying of cancer, I again sought professional help and found it working with 2 different therapists who weren’t toxic, like Charlene had eventually become for me. One of them encouraged me to take self-defense classes to build up emotional strength and stamina while dealing with the emotional overwhelm, and when the first thing I tried (an 8-week women’s self-defense class at the Learning Annex) wasn’t delivering what I needed, I signed up for Model Mugging http://modelmugging.org/self-defense-articles/confluence/ – which in one intense weekend gave me exactly what I needed. At the final Learning Annex class, I was the only student who was able to defend myself from the instructor successfully!

I’ve tried various religions, spiritual practices, OA, AlAnon and other 12-step groups, in addition to NLP and other therapeutic modalities over the years and found something of value in each of them. Therapy might not be for everyone – (although doesn’t Woody Allen credit his long and productive career to decades of analysis?) The best take-away for me has been the advice recommended by Marvin and Mrs. Alton: be kind to yourself and treat yourself like someone you actually LIKE!

September11, 2015


Little Gold Chevette

I didn’t learn to drive until I was 25. I always figured that I’d never need to, since I moved to NYC after college and planned on living in Manhattan for the rest of my life. Having a car in New York was an impediment and extremely expensive, unless your idea of a good time was driving around the block for hours looking for a parking space that would only be good for a day or two when you’d have to repeat the process all over again. My friend Rick Cummins called this “walking the car”, like “walking the dog” only a lot more time consuming with none of the canine companionship benefits!

But then I took a vacation to California the summer of 1977 and I KNEW that I’d have to learn drive at some point, since L.A. is a car culture place even more so than the rest of our country. So I wound up at the Automobile Club of America, with supplementary driving practice from ever-patient friends. (Thank you again, Jim Suitor and Rick Cummins!) And eventually I got my license. No car, but I was street legal.


Not owning a car, I didn’t have many opportunities to exercise my new skills while living in New York. My dear friend Mara Purl let me drive her Ford Pinto to Baltimore and back – in fact, we were going to share the costs of the car until it got damaged while “safely” parked in a city lot. I rented a car for special trips on occasion and my mom let me drive her Fiat Spider when I’d visit her in New Haven, but a lot of time went by when I wasn’t behind the wheel.

Then Jim Cantin took a road tour gig and asked us to look after his car while he was out of town. He kept it parked in a lot ½ mile away and we needed to dust the snow off and turn the engine over every week, but it was SO cool to be able to escape the city!! We took Jim’s car to Connecticut to visit friends and family and for a premiere of our YOGURT VARIATIONS with the New Britain Symphony, to Long Island to see my teacher Hale Smith – the freedom to get around without using public transportation…. bliss!

Even maintenance was an adventure; since the closest Chevrolet dealership was on Staten Island, we got a ride on the ferry to get the side mirror replaced (another parking garage mishap when the attendant was moving the car around).

But the most fun was grocery shopping trips to Paterson, NJ. Our pockets bulging with coupons and a list a mile long, we’d hop in the Chevette, cross the bridge that Chris Christie made famous and before too long be at PathMark, home of huge bargains (and double coupons!) We’d fill the oversized cart with tons of non-perishables, stocking up on canned food, TP and paper towels like the end of the world was coming. It was always an adventure to be in a real, honest-to-God suburban supermarket after squeezing thru NYC bodegas and tiny grocery stores. The variety! The new products! The SPACE!!!

At the end of several hours’ shopping, the trunk and back seat of the Chevette would be so crammed full of stuff, we could barely see anything in the rearview mirror. With the double coupons and lower NJ prices, a $200 grocery bill would be slashed to $80 some times! (These are early 1980s prices I’m talking here!) Being an inveterate bargain hunter, this thrilled me no end.

Jim has always known how to live; he was the only person I knew in NY who had both a clothes washer and dryer in his apartment – he’d found them at a yard sale, fixed what was broken and… voila! Truly civilized city living! Jim is amazingly talented in many areas; in addition to his prodigious skills as a musician, vocal coach and songwriter, he’s a skilled woodworker, designer, collector, teacher, computer expert, piano rebuilder, photo restorer… there’s very little that Jim can’t do.

He’s also very generous. Thanks again, Jim, for letting us take care of the Little Gold Chevette!

September 3, 2015


My Romances

My initial plan was to become a brilliant concert pianist, marry Van Cliburn and live happily ever after. I figured that since we both had naturally curly hair and loved Chopin, it was a perfect match. But before that, I was going to EXPERIENCE LIFE! Which meant, being a child of the 60s and 70s, that I would have many lovers and flirt outrageously with Johnny Carson, just like Eva Gabor and all the other glamorous women guests on the Tonight Show.

It didn’t work out exactly like that. My first boyfriend was the head usher at the Allyn movie theatre in downtown Hartford. Wayne lived in another part of town, went to a different high school and was very cute. We would sneak up to the balcony on breaks for closed-mouth kisses and while it was new and exciting, I wasn’t really interested in HIM. I knew I liked being liked but that was about it. The one time he dropped by my house on his bike, out of uniform… well, it was a real disappointment. (it was a VERY snappy uniform!!) When I was fired from that first job, it was a relief that I wouldn’t have to see him any more.

The vibes coming from our parents had always been such that, even tho nothing was said overtly, we knew we weren’t encouraged to date. That may have been due to the troubles brewing in their own relationship, or my mother’s terror of our becoming pregnant (and trapped!) or my dad’s unwillingness to see us grow up, or some combination thereof. My dad warned us that “most men see women as meat – something to be pursued, used and disposed of”- a rather unsavory picture of romance for a teenage girl. Still, sexual freedom was in the air and I felt urge to get GOING already as I had devoured all those magazines and read Helen Gurley Brown’s SEX & THE SINGLE GIRL cover to cover.

I’d had crushes – all unrequited, of course – on the handsome but somewhat dim boy in German class, the substitute teachers who looked SO much like Freddie of Freddie & The Dreamers, Paul McCartney and let’s not forget Van Cliburn! And I’d held hands with the accompanist and kissed a singer from the InterHigh Choir on a concert tour to D.C. There was some smooching with a fellow cashier at Korvette’s – but nothing serious – nobody even got to 2nd base. Boys were so FOREIGN and they stayed that way for me through high school.

Once I’d moved away to college, there was more freedom to meet with boys but dating per se had somehow disappeared. My girlfriends who came of age in the 70s agree: in the musician/artist crowds we ran with, NOBODY actually went out on dates! You’d meet someone interesting, flirt, and… sometimes it was almost like shaking hands, it was so casual. From age 18 to 27, I think I may have gone out on no more than a half dozen actual DATES. We didn’t call it a “hookup” or a “booty call”, but for those of us who weren’t in a serious relationship, that’s essentially what it was.

I had always been drawn to musicians – especially those who could really PLAY. It didn’t matter whether they were married or not – in fact, I was more comfortable if they were already spoken for, because I had no intention of letting anything as trivial as sex derail my career ambitions. I wasn’t tuned-in enough to attempt to parlay my affections for career advancement – not that I entertained any idea of “the purity of being in love” – but it just struck me as cheesy. Looking back now, I’m not sure whether I missed some great opportunities or whether it really would have been cheesy!?

I bumbled along through the 70s, never committing to anyone. There were many months at a time when I had no gentlemen callers, even though I rarely played hard-to-get. A lot of time I was mighty lonely. Instead of building connections in the music industry while I was Gil Evans’ copyist, I distracted myself by flirting with his band. Mostly I was judicious and paid attention to my own radar, so I didn’t wind up with many head cases, but I still have plenty of memories that make me cringe to this day, when I was shamed by lovers who somehow felt justified to put me down, criticizing the body they had just enjoyed. In my experience, the sexual revolution did very little to remedy the double standard.

I was confused in many of my relationships – frequently mistaking my interest in men as sexual in nature, when what I really wanted was their friendship and camaraderie. I loved how they played music, their enthusiasm for life, their creativity, their energy… and in many instances, it would have been a travesty to muddle my admiration and affection for them with sex. And yet I did, all too often. The smart ones talked me out of it and I wasn’t too difficult to dissuade – I don’t want to be around anyone who doesn’t want to be around me.

There were certain mileposts of progress – when I turned down a last-minute visit from a gorgeous, brilliant saxophonist because he called after midnight after months of hearing nothing from him – and when I realized that I could actively choose who I wanted to be with and not wait around to be noticed. It wasn’t exactly liberated, but felt like baby steps towards sexual self-esteem.

Romantic moments that actually made me swoon were few and far between, and generally weren’t sexual so much as warm and affectionate; the composition student who held my hand during a string quartet recital or listening with a friend to jazz piano at a NYC club while drinking one too many gin and tonics. Being actually SEEN as a person – and knowing that whoever is seeing you is LIKING you!? To me, that’s the gold. All the other stuff is posturing.

September 2, 2015


You're FIRED!

I lied about my age to get my first job as candy girl at the Allyn movie theater in Hartford. My mother changed my birth certificate and at 14, I was already 5’8?, so I didn’t have any trouble convincing anyone I was 2 years older. I worked part time after school in the spring of 1966 and more hours through the summer until I was unceremoniously dismissed. I was never given a reason – just all of a sudden, my name was conspicuously absent from the schedule. When I asked about it, there was no answer and I puzzled over it for a long time.

After giving notice at my first post-college job at E.B. Marks Music as librarian, I accepted a new job as music editor at Belwin-Mills, only to find out that the job had been eliminated. I was kept on for a month, however, which enabled me to look for other work and qualify for unemployment insurance. I wasn’t exactly FIRED and it turned out to be one of the best things to happen in my beginning career, since I met songwriter Jack Perricone, copyist Arnold Arnstein, some men who wanted to produce an album with me and I got to work on some interesting projects before my departure for freelance life.

In July 1975 I was hired as a last minute replacement to play piano bar on the T.S.S. Fairwind, cruising the Caribbean for 11 weeks. I lasted five. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the job, but I had a bit of an attitude. I wanted to play and sing the songs that I wanted to do, not endless requests for “Tie A Yellow Ribbon”! I was notified right before our return to Ft. Lauderdale that my services were no longer required – and I puzzled over losing that gig for a couple years – until I figured out that I hadn’t really performed as expected – you can’t be lamenting how your man done you wrong when all the audience wants to hear is “Tie A Yellow Ribbon”!

Over the years I had a number of jobs that became so untenable, I was forced to quit – sometimes under scary circumstances; stuck in Altoona, PA with a drunken abusive boss, I lasted less than one night of a 2-week engagement, taking the 5 AM train back to New York, and had to borrow money from a friend to pay my bills. One of my heroes growing up refused to pay me union scale for copying work, got really ugly about it and I had to stop working for him, even though I’d always dreamed that he would produce my records, as he had for Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck. Other clients made things so uncomfortable that I knew I had to leave or something bad would happen such that I wouldn’t be able to work at all.

But that’s not the same as being fired – it still feels crummy, like you’re being forced out – but it’s not the same as being kicked to the curb.

Most recently I was fired from another piano bar gig in Tucson – and not for not taking requests! I’ve wised up and I’m okay with playing whatever song the audience wants to hear, providing I know how it goes! But I had the temerity to ask for compensation equal to what other musicians were getting and… WHOOSH! Kiss that gig goodbye!

What I’ve learned from my sketchy job history is to stay flexible and remember that it’s not the end of the world if you lose a job. Something else will come along and you’ll survive.

For me, this job was Tiffany’s in Chicago. The 3 days before Thanksgiving, 1988.
I held it in the whole workday, then couldn’t stop crying once I made it home.
Life is too short for that kind of abuse.

September 2, 2015


Gifts That Keep On Giving...
and Giving BACK

I’m of the opinion that some of the BEST gifts you can get (AND give!) are practical things such as kitchen utensils, pots, and the like. Back in the mid-70s one of my songwriting collaborators moved to L.A. from NYC and gave me a bunch of kitchen stuff she didn’t want to move out west: a food mill that I somehow lost track of, a DANDY slotted spoon and 2 pieces of square Corning Ware with one glass top that fit them both. I still use the slotted spoon, even though the handle broke off at the end, and I use the Corning Ware every time I make something bake-able, like zucchini-lasagna or chicken divan – that I can bake one for “now” and put the other one in the freezer for “later”.

And I think kindly of Sally every time I use these items – which is pretty much every day. I think, “bless her heart! Sally gave me this nice slotted spoon I’m using at this very minute – which I’ve had for… 35+ years! SHE thought its number was up, but I keep using it every day!!” (note: they don’t make spoons like that any more – I’ve bought plenty of slotted spoons over the years, thinking, “I’ll just get rid of that beat-up, ratty-lookin’ spoon of Sally’s and replace it with THIS shiny new beauty!” – only to have the new spoon fall apart, not FEEL right, or whatever. Back to Sally’s I go.)

So I think kindly of Sally. Just as I think kindly of my friend Larry practically every single day. “BOY, do I like having these Rubbermaid containers! What a great friend Larry was to give them to me. They’re the PERFECT size for these (fill-in-the-blank) leftovers.” (Leftovers ARE my second favorite thing for dinner – second only to Reservations! Sometimes they’re FIRST, OVER Reservations, because you don’t have to leave the house – just reheat what you’ve already got!)

I have few regrets in life – but one is that, after loaning a friend in Chicago an extra 1-quart Revere-ware saucepan with lid I had, when he was getting settled in to his first place and learning to cook, I took it back when he moved to North Carolina. I don’t know WHAT I was thinking – I didn’t really NEED the damned pan – he’d had it for YEARS and I never missed it, but when he asked if I wanted it back, I said, “yes” – and now it sits collecting dust at the back of my pantry. I NEVER use it. And judging from the shape it was in when I got it back, I’m pretty sure he used it a LOT. Just think of all the good vibes I forfeited from my lack of foresight! He could have been blessing MY heart all this time!

September 2, 2015


The Best of Us

“We are all failures – at least the best of us are.” – J.M. Barrie

“When the life you dreamed of and expected does not materialize, it isn’t over and your existence is not a failure. It is simply a different life.” – Alexander Khenkin

I really like this post re. rewriting our story as a Hero’s Quest – by Rev. Gerry – kinda turns “failure” into “success” without too much fuss and DEFINITELY without any dishonesty – thanks, Gerry!


August 30, 2015


'Zine Femineen

My folks were frugal by necessity when we were growing up; Dad habitually traded in his paperbacks at the used bookstore and Mom shopped rummage sales when not sewing her own and our clothes. When I was 10, my mother took me along to a rummage sale in a church basement in East Hartford, CT where I came across stacks of 1950s-60s issues of Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Glamour and Seventeen magazines. What a find! At last, definitive instructions on how to navigate my soon-to-be membership in the grown-up female world! My mother hadn’t gone into much detail about such things, other than to assert how wonderful sex was going to be, but be sure to never get pregnant. Watching the changes in my girlfriends at school, I suspected there was much more to being an adult female than that – fortunately I now had additional resources from which to learn.

All the magazines were priced 10¢ each, but since it was the end of the day, the good ladies running the rummage sale let me have them for a nickel apiece, so I bought at least 20 of them, and then they threw in the remaining issues for free. Seventeen proved to be too juvenile – much like American Girl – and Glamour dealt only with matters of appearance, which didn’t interest me much. In the 1960s, Cosmo still had short stories, but only Redbook could be relied on for full-length novellas. I got a lot more info from reading these tales than any editorial content which usually involved cosmetics I didn’t need and couldn’t afford.

I was reminded of my magazine addiction by this interesting blog post:


While the changing covers don’t tell the complete story, it’s obvious how each periodical’s value-set has intensified over the decades. In the 70s I wound up actually subscribing to Cosmo, and then to Ms, and more recently to More – but as the years pass, I find less and less of interest in what American journalism has to offer specifically to women, especially since so much of it seems to be blatantly or obtusely slanted towards increasing one’s sex appeal. There has to be more to life than that!?!!

UPDATE: September 2016 – I guess the younger generation isn’t ready for anything substantial to change in the magazine messaging… (slightly different skew for Girls’Life vs. Boys’Life!?) :-/

September 14, 2016: HERE we go!! ?

http://www.womenyoushouldknow.net/appalled-graphic-designer-shows-girls-life-magazine-what-their-cover-should-look-like/women you should know

August 28, 2015

UPDATE – 9/24/16 – dig THIS!! ?





I rented a room in Gloria’s apartment on the upper West Side, near Grant’s tomb

I knew I was talented, whatever that means

I knew I had songs to write, music to sing

Once, the night after I’d performed a short set in a Village club (Reno Sweeney’s on 13th St.?) a complete stranger recognized me on the subway and I thought “well, for sure, I’m on my way now! Fame and fortune are right around the corner!”

That was over 40 years ago

Then we went from town to town, finding beauty, looking for acceptance,

Looking for fame, settling for making a living of sorts. There was always one Dream or another to be fulfilled – until we could finally land in Dreamville.

Always just out of reach, our dreams eluded us – hell, they HAD to exist – hadn’t we been schooled to believe

Keep on trying – there’s got to be a pony in here SOMEWHERE

So we kept looking, living beyond our means, living on dreams in Dreamland.

We bought a house in the suburbs – within earshot of the Dream

surrounded by friends, also addicted to the Dream, we all convinced ourselves and each other that success was just around the corner.

Around the corner – past the 7-11, where robberies happened on a regular basis, the police helicopters buzzing overhead

I’ll keep believing if you’ll keep believing

With intermittent reinforcement, like a lovesick lady hung up on a married man

But he says he’ll leave her for me – I just KNOW it’s gonna happen.

Hanging on by a thread of a thread, wrapped up in the tapestry of Dreamland

Tonight is the Super Moon. We’ll look up at the desert sky and see it shine, among the stars

We moved away from Dreamland a long time ago, though it took a while to get it out of our system

We left our still-dreaming friends, too, or they left us

Some had found a way to survive, to afford the high price of oil, of food, to feed the Dream, no matter what the cost

I miss them, sometimes

I miss who we all were back then, believing we would fly

In a way, I’m glad they still believe – I’m glad they still subscribe – their children still aspire to something beautiful, something gauzy, to keep the Dream alive

Even though I woke up years ago, I’m glad to see them still striving to stay asleep

in Dreamland

July 15, 2015


Our Family Bible

As we were raised by two atheists, formal religious education in our family was meager. I recall a few visits to various churches (to appease grandparents, most likely) and a few months of Sundays with the Unitarians – my chief memories of which entail singing Die Gedanken Sind Frei and gobbling donuts following every service. ART was our sole family religion – that is, until the appearance of the family bible, AKA “The Beecher Book”.

Beyond Success & Failure

My father originally came upon this book in 1969 and was so impressed that he got a copy for each of us children AND my mother, who was in the process of divorcing him. My dad totally bought into the book, which encourages taking responsibility for one’s own thoughts, words and actions. The Beechers’ exhortations to “put no one’s head above your own” and “live life on the grazing principle” were apparently comforting to my father, and we were expected to pretty much memorize the Adlerian psychology that inspired their writings.

It has been argued that “…we LEARN from failure. Failure is no reason to be ashamed. Failure shows leadership, innovation, and risk-taking in pushing the boundaries of what is possible… There is great value in examining our mistakes as we go beyond the easy and the simple.” FailFaire

And that ALL of life is worth celebrating regardless of circumstances…

Celebrate Victory: Celebrating victory is something that is pretty straight forward and it’s not something you need much advice for. But, one thing we sometimes forget to do is celebrate the smallest success….

Celebrate Defeat: There is a certain scene in the movie The School of Life… As a junior high basketball team is losing, the main character encourages the team to cheer and be happy even as they are getting their as@#$$# kicked. Then something interesting happens. The team actually starts winning. I realized yesterday that what causes this is the mind set of celebrating. Like attracts like and if you come from the mind set of celebrating, eventually you’ll have plenty to celebrate about.

Celebrate Success: Success is something that should be celebrated even when it occurs in small doses.

Celebrate Failure: There is no such thing as failure, just feedback. So, what you celebrate is the fact that you have learned something new.” Skool of Life

This blog is an attempt to make sense of the myriad adventures – including failures – in my life – and to somehow do justice to the family bible after all these years.

June 26, 2015


Memorial Dogs

I don’t want to be irreverent and I know that Memorial Day is for remembering those soldiers and sailors lost in battle, but it occurred to me to take this time to remember the 7 lovely schnauzers who shared our lives from 1982 to 2010. We’ve scanned photos of our first dog, Dunkel – who we got from a backyard breeder on Staten Island, back when we lived in midtown Manhattan. We met him at 6 weeks old and took him home the following week, since he was the runt of the litter and had been bottle-fed for a while. His breeder didn’t understand the importance to us that he NOT get his ears cropped, but it sure meant a lot to us – he was a musicians’ dog, after all!! He was the most wonderful ball of fluff when we brought him home, renting a car so that the trip would be peaceful for him. As it turned out, he fit perfectly in the pocket of my coat and we carried him home from getting his puppy shots at the vet that way while riding the subway.

Here’s tiny Dunkel, as we first met him.

Dunkel didn’t make a peep for the first few weeks we had him – no barking, no growling, nothing! Then one day he heard a siren going right by our building and the most unearthly howl arose from him – we were astonished! He had a VOICE!

Mark usually took him for his before-bedtime walks in midtown and would invariably encounter ladies-of-the-night who would fall in love with Dunkel, thus he came in every evening smelling of Tabu, Shalimar and Joy perfume!

We took him on his first visit to Grandma and Grandpa in Tucson that first Christmas and he loved following his Uncle Max, sniffing around the yard without a leash!! (big stuff for a city dog!!) He liked going to the beach in Santa Monica, too, altho it was VERY cold and we kept him leashed the entire time.

After the winter was over, it was time for Dunkel’s first haircut. We’d trimmed his feet and ear canals all along, but had a groomer come to our apartment for a REAL thorough haircut! Dunkel’s ears, which had always flopped over naturally, immediately found the air!! We were shocked and the groomer volunteered to tape them down, so that they’d flop again – but you can see from the photo we took of the less-than-an-hour time he was like that, that Dunkel did NOT like his newly-liberated ears being set like that! Life is too short, we figured, for our boy to be so unhappy. We decided to let the fur outside his ears grow, and it took a while, but eventually the weight of the fur gave his ears a bit of a flap.

Dunkel was an excellent snuggle-boy. Here he is, taking a nap with Dad (Mark), sitting nicely with his cousin David, and also with his Grandma Betty, who loved him dearly. Of all our dogs, he was by far her favorite – when we brought him up to New Haven to visit, she tried to “steal” him by hiding him in the clothes hamper. We called and called but he didn’t make a peep – guess there weren’t any sirens going by that day!?

Dunkel was well-traveled – moving from NYC to Chicago when he was one, moving to Los Angeles when he was two, moving back to Chicago when he was 4 – with additional trips to Minnesota, Arizona, Connecticut – he got around!

Dunkel’s 5th birthday at Grandpa Millard and Grandma Marian’s house? Any excuse for cake!!

Lounging by the pool…

Back in Chicago, when it got cold, Dunkel would bury himself in pillows to stay toasty warm.

Dunkel was talented and would perform a lot of tricks for just one treat.           https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OcTk3ZNglkQ

But he was also a little spoiled – once he was housebroken, he was invited to sleep in bed with us.

Not every day was perfect, and sometimes Dunkel would get tired of posing for photos…

Dunkel adjusted great when we added a little sister to our family – he liked Gretel a lot. Here they are enjoying the sun together on the sofa.

Dunkel was patient when illness happened – he had to have emergency surgery when he was 5 years old and he had special eye drops several times per day the last years of his life. We love to remember him as a sweet soul who made us so happy while he was here.

We were so happy with Dunkel that after moving to L.A. we decided we were ready for another schnauzer puppy. Mark’s mom looked for us in Tucson, since there were a few reputable breeders there, and the next thing we knew, we were driving to Tucson to pick up Gretel Garbo, who was named that because her mother was Miss Molly Hollywood.

Of course, since it was our anniversary and we were at Mark’s folks’ house, there was CAKE!! (none for Dunkel or Gretel, though!)

At 11 weeks, Gretel was a bit older than Dunkel had been when we got him, so she had already developed quite a personality! On the drive back to L.A., a semi truck driver turned over his engine and startled her, and boy, did she give HIM a good barking-at! Later that year we moved back to Chicago and Gretel tried to keep an eye on both of us, no matter where we were in the house, so her spot was parked on the carpeted stairs.

This was okay until the day she fell asleep and rolled over, THRU the stairs, falling more than 6’ on her back. She was okay but never hung out on the stairs again!

Dunkel got along great with his little sister – although when we tried to teach her tricks and put him in the other room, he was so busy actually OBEYING commands that we always laughed and Gretel never DID get good at performing-for-treats!

Gretel cleaned up really well once we gave her a haircut.

Mark’s parents were so enthralled with Gretel that they decided to get a little girl schnauzer from the same breeder when their boy Max passed on at 15 years old. When we went to visit again the next year to meet Tina, they pulled a “fast one” and introduced us to Tinkerbelle, her sister, who was a MUCH younger puppy! Here’s Tinkerbelle giving me a kiss!

The three girls were so cute together!!

One Christmas we received as a gift a hand-crocheted doll hat which I thought looked really good on Gretel – what do you think?

She put up with the photo-shoot but didn’t want to wear it in the Easter Parade! She knew how pretty she was, though, and would pose for photos at any time!

Gretel got along with practically everyone – here we are posing with Pete, a Chicago friend.

When we went back to visit Mark’s folks (and Tina and Tinkerbelle), Gretel was a bit aloof from her half-sister and cousin.

Tina and Tinkerbelle were a bit protective of THEIR bed, too… “it’s okay for you to visit, but the pillows are OURS!”

Everything went back to normal when we got home, though.

We let Gretel and Dunkel’s coats grow pretty long during those cold Chicago winters.

One cold night before Christmas, Gretel heard a would-be-burglar trying to break in at our back door and woke us up to warn us! Not everyone knows that in addition to her great beauty, Gretel had a talent that not every dog possesses – because of her superior hearing, she was an excellent sound engineer!

Mostly she loved going on walks – afterwards, she and Dunkel looked like this. (nice tongues, eh?)

After we lost Dunkel (he had a congenital kidney condition that finally caught up with him), we wanted another brother for Gretel. She was actually enjoying being an Only Dog, but we didn’t see that, and so… KAISER!!

He was SO tiny compared to Gretel – and she was okay with that, since she got to boss him around… at least for a little while!

The following year was a different story!

Kaiser lived up to his name – he DOMINATED!! He was somewhat fear-aggressive, so we took him and Gretel to obedience school where he did very well, but never truly got over the fear-aggression completely. He was very friendly and easy-going, UNLESS someone tried to pick him up! Then he’d gurgle and kinda-growl – not in a threatening way, but just to let you know that he wasn’t enjoying this very much! He stopped as soon as you put him down. We’d forgotten about this until we unearthed an old VHS videotape we’d made, where we’d picked him up to be in the picture, and there it was… Kaiser’s vocal protestation.

At the end of 1993 we adopted Tina and Tinkerbelle when Mark’s mom passed on. They were adorable girls and it was SO much fun to have a schnauzer quartet!!

By this time we were doing all our own grooming, although you’d never know it by these pix:




Kaiser was an all-round athlete – he loved the snow,

he loved playing ball – everything from pingpong to fetching tennis balls to basketball was for him!

One time he disappeared in the backyard and we couldn’t figure out WHERE he was hiding. We called and called. Finally we remembered, got out the basketball and only had to bounce it ONCE, and he magically reappeared from behind the shed!

Kaiser and Gretel were good friends and made a really cute couple together.

but with the addition of Gretel’s half-sister and cousin, it got to be a full couch!

Unfortunately, Tinkerbelle wasn’t as hardy as the rest, so at one point, we were down to 3.

We all went along for a few more years, but by February 2000, both Gretel and Tina were losing ground steadily – and even Kaiser, who had been totally healthy for the first 8 years of his life, developed diabetes and internal growths that had to be surgically removed. We lost both girls within one month, in addition to Kaiser’s diagnosis and were in a state of shock.

Kaiser’s surgery was only a partial success. He had a relatively quick recovery but the incision in his side never did heal. We changed bandages a few times every day, since the wound continued to ooze the rest of his life. (another 18 months).

He was always patient through all of this, even allowing us to pick him up without his mumbling-growling protestation! He would wait as long as necessary for his clean-up and bandages, with no problem, especially if there was a tennis ball nearby for him to chew on.

After Kaiser got sick, he was a bit lonely without his sisters, so we looked for a canine companion and found the perfect one in Gustav! We fell in love with Gustav right away and he got along GREAT with Kaiser, who was truly overjoyed to have a “guy” to hang out with after all those years surrounded by feminine energy!

There’s a lot of info and pictures at this link: http://www.marilynharris.com/bestfriends5.html and also this link: http://www.marilynharris.com/bestfriends6.html – but my favorites have always been these:

fetch is always more fun when there’s another guy playing, too!

waiting for Dad to throw the ball again!

We found Liesel thru the same rescue organization where we’d found Gustav. She’d been surrendered by her owner who hadn’t been able to walk her, so she had a bit of a weight problem.

But she sure loved to go for walks once we suited her up! Sure, she was a bit pudgy, but underneath she was strong and had real MUSCLE! Even though she was blind, she loved to take the lead everywhere. Fortunately, she was good at taking verbal cues.

Unlike any other dogs we’ve had, Liesel was also extremely clear on the concept of ridding the homestead of interlopers – one spring she dispatched a half dozen wild felines in our backyard before we could stop her! She was so proud – she brought them right to the back door to show us!

From the start, she and Gustav were like 2 peas in a pod and really good buddies!

They cuddled together a lot, and not just for photo ops!

Both Gustav and Liesel got along well with Oskar, who’s still with us – and the 3 of them made the transition to being Arizona dogs with ease – they sure didn’t miss dealing with FLEAS, which are not a problem here in the desert.

It’s been fun to reminisce about our pups who are gone-but-not-forgotten. They each brought something special to the party and we feel grateful to have shared in their lives. They’ve certainly enriched ours!

June 19, 2015


What I Learned At Summer Camp!

In a weak moment about 3 weeks ago, I accepted a gruesome gig – 2 weeks playing piano for a new drama school’s Musical Theater Camp. The woman who called me is one of my former nemeses from the Gaslight Theater, where I had toiled and felt abused for 2 years. She’s a VERY talented performer, but she’d been a royal pain and made an otherwise difficult job a lot more so – so I really should have known better.

I DID know better, but I felt flattered and accepted anyway. Her pianist had wigged out with no notice and she “needed” me. And I needed the money – I just bought a new car – and these days, money is money, no matter how meager! And playing piano IS one of the things I do!

Heck – It was only supposed to be 2 hours/day for 10 afternoons. But it turned out to be MANY more hours than that, with no additional pay (which had been truly putrid to start with), so I felt more than a bit like a chump.

I began to immediately regret having said “yes” to this gig and I wound up “compensating” by buying food treats on the way home every day – something I’d done to survive my Gaslight gig. I’ve done this before – MANY times! I’ll do something bone-headed, beat myself up for it and then TREAT myself with goodies to compensate. You might call it “Beat and Treat”. Frankly, I wanted to forget I’d ever agreed to DO this gig and couldn’t WAIT until it would be over – I was kicking myself and counting the minutes!! WHY did I accept? WHAT was I thinking? HOW could I have been so stupid??

But then I kept getting ideas on how the school could improve – starting with proofreading their website, which was LOADED with typos (a real no-no if you’re selling “education” to parents!) – and other ideas on how they might interface better with the community and find more new students. I bought a used task chair at the Goodwill since they didn’t have a piano stool. I brought in poster suggestions for their newly painted walls, and lists of local theater folks who they might contact for referrals or guest lectureships. Every day I’d come across something that might help them succeed.

Now, one of the drawbacks to working on a show is that the songs get seared into your brain – even while the rehearsal is over, you’re still hearing the music in your head. So I had 2 weeks of YOU’RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN – which is not one of my favorites! And these kids were having real trouble learning the few songs they had to do – so we went OVER and OVER and OVER each song! Every one of them had visions of giving their Oscar acceptance speech – and yet they seemed to have ZERO retention of what we’d reviewed 10 minutes ago, let alone from yesterday!

Turns out I just don’t like kids that very much – which I already knew. I just didn’t know how MUCH I don’t like them – at least theatrical wannabes with A.D.D., which was pretty much the lot!

Even so, there WERE a couple of moments when I felt that I might have made a difference: one 11-year old kid was disruptive pretty much constantly and just wouldn’t follow directions. Partly because he’s extremely overweight and doesn’t move well but mostly because he’s easily bored and has NO self-control. Several times the director wound up calling his mother to come take him away mid-rehearsal because he was so unruly and uncooperative. At one point in the second week, I became as frustrated with the director as I was with him when he refused to jump up and down in place with all the other kids; he’d shuffle his feet, turn around, lean on the wall – ANYTHING but jump as instructed! So I got up from the piano and started bunny-hopping towards him, with all of my flab vibrating all over, saying, “I’m 60 years old, I weigh 250 pounds – 2 years ago I weighed 350 pounds – I have heel spurs, neuromas and hammer toes on both feet! – if I can do this, YOU sure can do it!” And it got him going! He didn’t disrupt any more rehearsals, either.

The other incident was when the kid playing Charlie Brown stomped off the rehearsal after his goofing around almost blinded another kid and he’d been called to task by the director and everyone else in the room. He became defensive and then mortified, refusing to come back for over 1/2 hour. This brought the rehearsal to a dead stop, one day before the big “show”! Even when threatened with the call to his mother, he wouldn’t budge but kept pouting in a corner.

After the director had left the room, I went over to him and whispered that “the reason they always say ‘the show must go on’ is that… the show MUST go on! With you or without you, the show keeps going on!! And I’ll let you in on a little secret… you’re gonna get your feelings hurt for the rest of your life – that’s just what happens – people point out your mistakes and wind up hurting your feelings! The faster you get over it, the more fun you get to have!” He perked up after that, came back to the rehearsal and…. the show went on the next day! Funny thing was that while I was telling him this, I realized that I was telling MYSELF this, too – and that I could apply it directly to the situation I found myself in with this acting school. Sure, they’d used and abused me, adding on to my hours and duties and not compensating me fairly – I figured out that between the extra hours and the daily commute, I was barely making minimum wage! They had dissed me and devalued me – but what else is new? The sooner I let go of it, the happier I get to be.

Not a bad thing to learn at summer camp!

June 19, 2015


Times I’ve Played The Fool

This is a phrase my father would use to let us know when things hadn’t gone as he’d intended – when he’d stuck his foot in his mouth or goofed up some way or another.  As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and we all have to handle it when life doesn’t go as we’d planned.

In the 80s, after Reaganomics had decimated us financially and Mark and I felt like failures, my father took the time to write down a number of these TIMES HE’D PLAYED THE FOOL – he put them in a collection he called “Celebrations Of Failure” – but after living with them for a while, he truncated the title to “Celebrations” – somehow, looking back at those times from a distance of 20 or 30 years had softened the blow and he didn’t mind remembering how he’d taken the family out shopping, gotten a flat tire, started jacking up the car IN THE SNOW, with all his daughters laughing at him because HE WAS CHANGING THE WRONG TIRE! , for example.

Well, I’ve had a few best-laid plans of my own go awry over the years.  8 years ago we sold our house in California and moved here – to Oro Valley, actually, since our house in Vail hadn’t been built yet.  One day shortly after we’d moved, I read in the newspaper about a woman who had trained for 3 months to walk a half-marathon in the Tucson marathon in December – and in the process, she’d dropped 80 pounds!  Well, that sounded wonderful to me – so I investigated, talked Mark into joining me and together we signed up to do the same!  There was a shoe store sponsoring the training only a mile from the house we were renting, so we went, got fancy walking shoes and began training!

This being the desert, we took our water bottles, to stay hydrated – left the dogs behind and started off!  It was September, so it was still pretty warm during the day, and we both BURN rather than TAN in the sun, so we decided to do our training at night.  One mile – no problem!  Two miles…  piece o’ cake!  Three miles… now we’re getting somewhere!

It gets pretty dark after the sun goes down, and Rancho Vistoso was still under construction, but we made our way – adding a half-mile every few days to our training schedule.  We were out later and later – and there wasn’t ANY commercial place open at the hours when we were walking.

The longer our walks, the more I would REALLY need to pee by the time we got home!!  6 miles… 6-and-a-half miles…. 7 miles….  We were starting to make real progress, but it was killing my bladder!    Every night we’d be out there, though!

7-and-a-half-miles…. we just pushed on through.

Then there was the night we had scheduled to walk 8 miles.  8 miles around the Rancho Vistoso loop.  In the dark.  With nowhere to GO!!!

We were headed home and I just couldn’t hold it any longer.  We desperately looked around for a bush, a tree, ANYTHING….

Then we saw the bench.  It was out in the open, under a streetlight, but I needed a place to SIT to relieve my poor bladder – and there was no one around – no cars going by – nothing.  Mark said he’d stand guard so… I did it.  I pulled down my drawers, sat on the bench and began to pee.

IMMEDIATELY two cars appeared!  Mark said, “whoops!”  I started laughing.  And then I lost my balance and fell backwards onto the spot where I had just let loose – only it was covered in brambles and twigs, so in addition to getting my behind all wet, I got scraped up, too!

There’s no way you can prepare for something like that.  Especially when you still have another 2 miles to walk to get home!

Times I’ve played the fool.

June 19, 2015


Easy To Love….NOT!

Love is mysterious.  It doesn’t make sense – it doesn’t add up – it’s where 1+0 = 150.

I first met Bruce Otto in the early 80s, in Chicago – and to me, he was just a trombonist.  A GOOD player, but nothing special.  He came to our jingle session, played the part, cashed the check and that was that.

When I met him again in the mid-90s, in L.A. – he became a beloved friend.  Bruce was VERY intelligent and had a wicked sense of humor.  He loved to eat, and we wound up going out with him several times every week.  He became our quasi-son – since he came over for dinner at least as often as we’d eat out – and then he would stay to watch LARRY SANDERS or THE SOPRANOS on our TV – since he was too cheap to spring for HBO himself – AND I think he liked the company.  Bruce was an only child – and he referred to our 4 dogs as his brothers and sisters – and would say, “Hi, Ma” when I’d answer the phone.

He’d come over to use our copier machine, instead of going to Kinko’s – and I’d resew the button he’d popped off a shirt, or type up some form he needed.  We went shopping with him – to book stores and record stores – he’d relish the new CDs, especially ones he’d played on! – and hunt down rare recordings.  In fact, he was the only person I knew who had an actual working Victrola and USED it to listen to records from the 20s and 30s.  We took him clothes shopping, since his wardrobe was atrocious – we helped him pick out flattering outfits to downplay his quite overweight physique.  We helped him house hunting, once his parents died and he could afford to buy his own house.  And went furniture shopping, once he found a house he liked.

And we worried about him.  Because Bruce didn’t take very good care of himself.  He’d smoked for 20 years, he had horrible eating habits, he drank too much and got absolutely NO exercise.

But his enthusiasm for music was boundless.  He ADORED Frank Sinatra and knew ALL of his recordings, chapter and verse.  He’d bring over new CDs to share with us – and I loved it, because it was like when I was in college and just discovering all the jazz artists who had preceded us.  His passion for music was infectious!

Still, I came to know a nasty side to Bruce – he had a FOUL temper that flared at the least provocation.  He was a rage-aholic when disappointed by anyone or anything in his life.  I remember when he got his house painted, before he moved in, how enraged he became when, upon further inspection, he found the painters hadn’t done a perfect job – he literally screamed obscenities that echoed thru the empty rooms – it was frightening!  We’d had plans to go out for sushi but I just turned around, got in my car and went home!

Bruce’s only REAL desire was to be a recording musician in L.A., which he accomplished quite successfully in the 25 years he was there.  But much as he reveled in the camaraderie of making music together with other musicians, Bruce also harbored a deep darkness towards most of his trombonist colleagues – one in particular, who he blamed for blocking his success.  Every other musician was a potential competitor, someone who might be plotting to undermine him with a well-timed barb or comment to a contractor.  Bruce was Machiavellian in his outlook towards his peers – much as he craved their attention, cracking them up with stories and jokes – he trusted NO ONE.

Bruce was amusing enough that most of the time we overlooked his faults – and when we had occasion to need a trombonist, we hired him for sessions.  The first few times, he came over by himself and all went well – but when we hired him with other musicians, he became disruptive – interrupting and trying to take control of the sessions.  He ran off unexpectedly in the middle of one, just before we’d scheduled him to play some solos – and then 2 years later, after we’d forgiven him, when he was included in a big band recording, without permission, he invited a female trumpet player, who’d been married to a couple of the other band members and flirted with half the guys in the room!  THAT sure changed the vibe for a while – and not in a good way!

We gave him a good leaving alone for quite some time after that – tho we later started to touch base again with email and the occasional phone call.

A year ago this week Bruce died in his sleep.  He was 57 years old.

Rest In Peace, Bruce – we loved you…. but it sure wasn’t easy!

June 19, 2015