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    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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A Few Times I Been Around That Track


When I was in the seventh grade, there was a guy who hung out in the school parking lot at lunch, a guy who’d graduated the previous June, but still came back on a regular basis to smoke cigarettes and gun the engine of his metallic brown Trans Am.  You know the kind of Trans Am I’m talking about, right, with the big, golden eagle decal on the hood?

That first year, he was kind of a celebrity.  But then he didn’t go away.  And by the time I was in the 9th grade, even I, the most unpopular girl in school—with the possible exception of Cindy Evans, whose mother only let her wash her hair once a week—knew that Paul Hearst was a weirdo loser without a life, blasting Starland Vocal Band from his tinny car speakers and lying about all the pussy he was getting.

I’m sharing this story with you to create the following shorthand:  I am the Paul Hearst of the PEN Emerging Voices program—a 2008 fellow, still hanging out in the parking lot, smoking cigarettes and lying about all the pussy I’m getting writing I’m doing.  So, when PEN asked me to speak on a panel for potential Emerging Voices applicants, I said yes, of course, and immediately ran out to get my Trans Am detailed.  Then I thought it all the way through and told them I couldn’t make it. Then I felt like an asshole for saying no, so I recanted (re-recanted?) and said yes again.  I bet Paul was never that wishy-washy about how to spend his lunch hours.

Two days before the event, I spent more money than I could afford having Botox and Restylane injected into my face, in the vain hope that my preternaturally smooth skin would distract from the fact that my ass is 20 pounds larger than it was the last time I saw most of these people, and, more importantly, that my book is still unfinished and “my agent” hated the last two drafts of it.  I’m putting “my agent” in quotes because I’m pretty sure that relationship has died from attrition.  At least the Botox thing caused a huge (I mean seriously HUGE) fight with my husband, which was a welcome distraction from the fact that I am a fat, unpublished writer with a handful of early accolades under my belt and an inability to get out of the parking lot.

The day before the event, I woke up looking like the Plastic Surgeon General of Beverly Hills, which won’t mean anything to you if you don’t know who Snake Plissken is, but you can probably infer that it’s not good.  I was ready to renege for the third time when Betsy asked me to write a guest post about the event.  And I would never, ever, say no to a request from Betsy, so here it is:

I got there late, stood in the back, and drank two cups of vodka while a bunch of people said a bunch of stuff I couldn’t hear because I was too busy worrying about my ass and my lip.  Then I had dinner with some of the other fellows from my year (Hey, congratulations on your Bread Loaf fellowship! Ditto on that book of short stories that just came out!), and then I went to the hotel I got on Priceline for 90 bucks and took a sleeping pill.

Don’t let any of this stop you from checking out the PEN Emerging Voices program, and applying if you fit the criteria.  http://www.penusa.org/programs/emerging-voices

Trans Am and crippling lack of self-esteem totally optional.

Can anyone relate?

27 Responses

  1. Reminds me of every high school reunion I’ve attended. There are the people that ‘peaked’ in senior year; the quiet guy who is now a millionaire, the person who is just starting a new company and all the ones in-between. I’m guessing you are just incubating your abilities longer than you expected.

    And I laughed about the reference to Snake – that book has a special place in my heart as I reminisce about a l-o-n-g night in Silver City, NM.

  2. I can relate, but I could never say it as well as you have. I’d love to read your book.

  3. Oh, man, I’d relate more if I weren’t laughing so hard.

  4. Yes. I can relate.

  5. I have a few questions:

    1. What is the definition of “unpublished writer”?

    2. Does “two cups of vodka” equal one pint (American) of vodka?

    3. Does William Shatner really still exist, or is William Shatner a nanotechnology construct?

    4. Do sleeping pills work more effectively when mixed with two cups of vodka and William Shatner?

  6. The ass-bigger thing, yes…I gained 23 &^%#@# pounds the year I wrote a book. The self-esteem thing is hopeless…one can never, ever win it. The year your book comes out, someone else got a HUGE advance. The year your book comes out, someone else’s gets made into a Hollywood blockbuster starring Julia Roberts. Etc…

    Someone is always going to be more “successful” than you. Ignore them and focus on your own work. Be assured that someone is looking at YOU with envy and gnashing of teeth and rending of garments.

  7. “My ass is 20 pounds larger than it was the last time I saw most of these people.”

    You say that like it’s a bad thing.

    You know the difference between a fat, unpublished writer with a handful of accolades and a fat, published writer with a handful of sales? A Bookscan death spiral, and accolades.

    • August: If I rig it so I win my own FELT TIP PEN Emerging Voices program, could you please be the Prominent Local Author with whom I am awarded evenings of Q&A?

      • Would I only need to answer every third question?

        (That was witty in my mind. Prominent. Local. Author.)

  8. I have completely and totally fallen in love with you. This post is fantastic. I would spend all my lunch hours in your Trans Am.

  9. Good morning, Shanna.
    My Trans Am is a bottom of the line Gibson Les Paul electric guitar I bought about 4 years ago. As midlife crises go, it’s pretty tame. According to Tim Brookes in his book, “Guitar (An American Life),” the second largest group purchasing guitars are men in their 50s (First group is, of course, testerone overloaded teenage boys). The rationale is that us over-the-hill guys want to learn to play before the sun sets on the prarie, but the reality is we just want to make a little noise. Maybe a lot of noise. I mostly play with friends, them better than me (didn’t take 25 years off between strumming an acoustic before moving on to the world of electronics), but I can hold my own on more than a few tunes. If I try to analyse it it might get lost, but when I feel the best is when I don’t care what anyone else thinks because, well, I’m just having fun.
    Ssssnake Plissken–eye patch, trying to get out of NY???

  10. Hate to break it to you Shanna, but it’s not an eagle on the hood of the Trans Am, but a phoenix – a firebird.

  11. A cheap hotel with a crappy buffet breakfast on the outskirts of a mythical town called BIG TIME. Neon flickers a botulism green. I remember. Two cups of tasteless vodka, sipped through a set of numb lips. Emerging voices. One sleeping pill. Bill Shatner, the original cigarette smoking man, says, “It’s as cold as hell” in my left ear and, all of a sudden, I’m on a tiny burlesque stage in a pair of too-tight go-go boots and not much else. My hair’s pulled back so tight that I can’t move my face. Green alien sex seems infinitely possible. I pull off my black bra, reveal bronze pasties, rev my engine. The hypothetical crowd goes nuts.

  12. Woke up this morning, first thing I thought was– it’s neverending, the pain. Yeah, maybe for a day or so, sometimes even two in a row, it disappears, and even though you know better, you can’t help it, you let yourself believe. You think you’ve shaken it, until you bump into it later that day, usually at twilight. You don’t recognize it at first. Not until it steps out of a ’78 Trans Am and rears its ugly head out of the folds of your fat ass. Oh, hi. Where’ve you been? I missed you.

  13. Am I the only one who read most of this before finding out it *wasn’t* Betsy??? Our Betsy got her some Botox! Betsy shot up with Restylane!

    By the time I got to the “when Betsy asked me to write a guest post” my nerves were shot. I’ll be back when and if I recover.

    • And don’t touch the vodka or the sleeping pills! Perhaps a nice spin around the neighborhood in anything but a Trans Am will soothe your frazzled nerves…

    • Nope, you weren’t the only one. I got to the ‘when Betsy asked me to write a guest post’ sentence and stopped, “hang on” and backed up to the beginning. And then spotted the quiet little sentence introducing Shanna. Whew!

  14. Man, you just laid some serious rubber all over that track. You’re smokin’ it. I can smell the burned rubber from here. Ease up on the gas just a tad, let them tires stop spinning and get some purchase and you’ll be speeding straight and true in no time. And, yeah, that’s a phoenix on the hood. It’s relevance is uncannily apropos and no doubt arose from your subconscious. So take the cue and arise from the ashes of your angst and seize the day. Ease up on yourself, let your slicks take hold and then put the pedal to the metal. You can do it. Let all of them eat your dust.

  15. I don’t know how you do it but your posts always make me so fucking happy. I’m actually grinning here.

  16. Muscle car guy wrote in my yearbook, “to a really nice gril,” and forever changed the rules of attraction for me. I’d wager that swagger or no, you Ms. Phoenix are a very good speller.

  17. I guess I’ve been very lucky. Nobody has ever been tempted to single me out as having promise of any kind, saving me the agony of enjoying (however briefly) the esteem of others. Or myself.

  18. There is comfort in the anonymity of wallflowered-ness.

  19. Screw the Trans Am — what you want is an El Camino. Imagine the badassery.

  20. I think I’m going to crawl back under my rock and enjoy my cool piece of peace. Thanks for the heads-up.

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