Last night we watched the final episode in this year’s “A Place to Call Home,” a really good Australian melodrama. This was its fifth year and who knew we’d get all tangled up in an Australian melodrama? It’s their version of Dallas, sort of … but I like the people better.

In this final episode of year five, the Very Bad Girl of previous seasons eventually kills herself to implicate a Very Bad Guy. It is a sacrifice to all the evil she did in previous episodes. In the end, at least one member of the family feels it is wrong to let the Very Bad Guy go to the gallows when this family knows, even if no one else knows, that the Bad Guy didn’t really kill her.

It got me to thinking about life and death decisions … when you are obliged to save the life of someone who has done you wrong and  every fiber of you is screaming “let the bastard die.”

I believe most of us can’t do that.

Despite the fact that today, in this time and space, our country is being run by awful people who have no conscience and no sense of right and wrong — or good and evil — it doesn’t mean that we are the same. Have once been in that position, I couldn’t do it. Should I have done it? I sometimes wonder, though really don’t know. I was sure then and I’m reasonably sure now I would have regretted it. If I didn’t regret it, it would have changed me and made me into someone else, someone I could not recognize as me.

things we do, good and bad, alter us on a fundamental level. Technically — legally — no one is responsible for saving the life of someone whose death they did not cause. If you see someone trying to commit suicide, you are not legally obligated to stop them. You aren’t breaking the law if you let them jump from that ledge or take the poison. But your soul knows. Your conscience knows. Your gut knows.

The bad things we do never go away. They are little poison pellets that grow inside us. Forever.

That’s why looking at our so-called leadership, I wonder how these people can look at themselves in a mirror and not be struck with horror at what they see. I would like to believe that at some point, this will catch up with them and the poison in their souls will eat them alive. I don’t know it’s true and I have no belief system to prove it, but I want it to be true.


Duke is not our first dog. We’ve had a big selection of hounds, terriers, and mutts of various backgrounds, sizes, ages. Somehow or other they have all fit in here because anyone or anything can fit in here, assuming they want to. For years, there has been great howling and yapping and barking in this house and that’s the way we seem to like it.

The thing we’ve never had, however, are truly obedient dogs. We don’t demand obedience, so we don’t get it. I wasn’t a very good disciplinarian as a mom, either. Discipline makes me feel guilty, as if to say — who am I to demand obedience? Who do I think I am anyway?

Garry is worse. Garry was born with a gene that says “whatever you tell me to do, I won’t do it.” It’s a special piece of DNA that screams “Oh yeah? Who’s gonna make me?” Even in the Marine Corps, when his drill instructor yelled at him, he laughed. It got him a lot of days scrubbing bathrooms with toothbrushes, but it’s in his blood. He cannot help himself. I cannot help him either. He’s a tough nut. People think he’s so easy-going … and he is … unless you get him mad. Then he isn’t. Easy-going.

Duke is the dog Garry deserves. Duke also has no grip on “Do what they tell you. Be a GOOD dog.” You stare at Duke and he stares back. You can see every inch of Duke screaming “Oh yeah? Who’s gonna make me?”

Certainly not Garry. They try to stare each other down, but Garry starts laughing long before he manages to get obedience … and anyway, I don’t think Duke can do it. It’s not in him. The other dogs, if they hear that “tone” in my voice will do what I say because they hear the “alpha” note — and figure they ought to behave, even if it’s just a few minutes.

Not Duke. Nope. Never. He doesn’t do “obey.” He would make a feral cat look like a well-trained pup.

Unless I’m holding a piece of chicken. Chicken is another level of training and if I actually needed Duke to behave, I would need a lot of chickens. Possibly a whole cow. Or an entire flock of sheep and maybe a school of shrimp. Do shrimp swim in a school or is that just fish?

Anyway, Duke is the dog Garry needed. He is the dog that will go eyeball-to-eyeball with Garry until they are both laughing themselves silly. Well, Garry does most of the laughing, but I swear Duke is grinning.

So we know why Garry wound up with Duke, but what did the two Scotties and I do to deserve him?


The week that I started college, in September of 1967, I got sick. Physically sick. I developed palpitations, shortness of breath, rapid pulse and dizziness. The symptoms got worse during my first year in college. I started taking my pulse and it went from 100 to 140, every day. I was exhausted all the time. That kind of exhaustion is called asthenia.

Fortunately, I went to Barnard College, which is part of Columbia University, in New York City. So I lived at home. I could not have managed on my own in a dorm or at an out-of-town school.

I had the energy to go to school, do my homework and very little else. I slept most of the weekend, when I wasn’t studying. I took frequent naps. I had a few friends but not much of a social life.

I went to a doctor who tested my thyroid and found that it was high but in the normal range. He decided to put me on a thyroid suppressant anyway because a hyperactive thyroid could account for my symptoms. It helped at first but then it stopped working altogether.

The symptoms started to get worse again and I started to lose weight. My breasts went down a full size (thyroid problems can do that). I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia and put on a low sugar, low carb diet. My symptoms got better but were still making a normal college life impossible. Then I started running a low-grade fever. I remember going out on one of my rare dates. My Mom had to put my make up on for me because I was weak and shaking, but I wouldn’t cancel the date.

The doctors we went to couldn’t figure out what was wrong. They ruled out thyroid because the medication had stopped working and because thyroid issues don’t cause fever. I was often told the problem was “in my head”.

I went into therapy but my therapist dismissed me. My life was so limited that I couldn’t bring her enough “material to work with” for psychotherapy to work. So I was too physically sick to be helped mentally, but the cause might be mental?

After my third year of college I told my parents I wanted to drop out of school. I said that it was obvious that I couldn’t go to graduate school or have a normal life after college. So why bother finishing school? It was pointless. My parents panicked and went on a frantic search for a doctor who could help me.

They found a doctor who decided to go back to treating the problem as an over active thyroid. He put me on a different thyroid suppressant and this one did the trick. I felt much better and finished college.

Many years later, I realized that there was more going on with me than just hyper-thyroidism. In law school, I was diagnosed with an atypical urinary tract infection. The only symptom I had was frequency of urination and a low-grade fever. We realized that the low-level fevers in college had been from undiagnosed UTI’s.

Jump ahead a few decades. Over the years in therapy I was told that I was chronically depressed. But in those days, there was no safe medication for me to take. At age 40, I developed a more severe depression. Fortunately the anti-depressant Prozac had just been put on the general market. It was a miracle cure for me! I can’t tell you how dramatically I changed, on so many levels. My whole perception of myself and the world changed. My self-esteem improved, my chronic worrying and self-doubt stopped and my pathological indecisiveness disappeared. I wasn’t overwhelmed by everything anymore. I saw everything in a more positive light, including myself, and I related differently to others. I don’t have room here to fully describe my transformation. I started to become the person I am now, which is light years away from the person I was before Prozac.

When the psychiatrist saw the earth shattering changes in me, he came to a realization. He realized that my illnesses in college were actually symptoms of a severe depression. My physical symptoms are not uncommon in cases of depression. In addition, it had recently been learned that depression can also affect the functioning of the thyroid. This explained why thyroid suppressants eventually helped alleviate my symptoms. I am absolutely certain that depression was at the root of my college issues.

I feel bad for my young self. I missed out on the wonderful and formative experiences that most people have in college. I have no life long college friends and few happy college memories.

But without that dark place, my coming out into the light wouldn’t have been such a miraculous experience. Now I am grateful for every day that I feel good about myself and my life. I don’t take ‘normal’ for granted. In fact, I met my second husband because in his online profile, he used the word ‘normal’. I figured that anyone who understood the importance of normal, is my kind of guy! I wouldn’t trade a minute with Tom for anything. So this story had a happy ending. We lived happily ever after – on anti-depressants!


Tis the season to be jolly — which is getting really, really difficult these days. The Grinch is watching the news and going “Damn, these guys are serious dicks.”

If there ever was a time for Christmas spirit and a few Christmas miracles, now’s the time. Ellin and I were watching the live performance of “A Christmas Story” on FOX a few days ago and it got me to thinking about the true meaning of Christmas.

Ellin wrote a blog about being Jewish at Christmas. She’s always been an outsider at this time of year and she keeps saying she doesn’t really understand the holiday. I’ve always felt bad about that. She feels she can’t celebrate Christmas because she’s Jewish.

But here’s the thing. She can. Anybody can. Why? Well, what I’m about to say is probably going to upset some people, but I don’t care.

The truth is, Christmas is not a religious holiday — but it is a special day designed for everyone to be kind to each other.

I can hear pastors and ministers and priests heads exploding  around the world. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. Christmas can be religious. Millions of people go to church on Christmas Eve, but most of us don’t. The ones who go spend most of the service looking at their watches because they’ve got to get home and wrap a zillion presents.

Christmas is supposed to celebrate the birth of Christ, but historians have pretty much concluded if Christ existed, he was born sometime around October.

So why do we celebrate it on December 25th?

The answer goes back to Roman times when Christianity was new.  Christians were routinely persecuted when the Romans found out they were Christians.

The Romans celebrated the Winter Solstice at this time of year, so there were parties and celebrations everywhere. Christians celebrated the birth of their Savior at the same time because they could hide their celebrations claiming they were merely having a “Solstice Party”.Have some Solstice punchicus!

They borrowed the holiday. Christmas has since borrowed most of its other traditions. A Christmas tree didn’t start out as a Christian thing. It came from old Druid traditions. So did Mistletoe. The list goes on, but I’m too lazy to Google all of it right now.

If you want to understand how most of us grew up understanding what Christmas is really all about, simply watch “A Christmas Story”.

TBS runs it continuously every Christmas day for 24 straight hours. They’ve been doing it for years. And it’s great. I watch at least part or all of it every year. It’s a Christmas tradition.The movie came from the stories of Jean Shepard. He was a great story-teller. A genius story-teller. He did a radio show on WOR in New York City, five nights a week, for decades.

All he did was tell stories.  Wonderful stories. “A Christmas Story” came from the stories he told on the radio. He totally summed up what Christmas was for Americans in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, and well … to this very day.

That’s a major award!

First, you have to realize that Christmas is for children.  When you were between the ages of say, four to ten, the entire year revolved around Christmas.

Christmas is the one magical day when, for some reason no child understands, they are showered with gifts! IT WAS AWESOME!

Christmas was the true first day of the year, not January 1st.

The day after Christmas was horrible. Only 364 days until Christmas? 364 days? AHHHH!!

The original movie, “A Christmas Story,” was made in 1983, yet it was a totally accurate story of my childhood Christmases in the 1950’s. Everything in that movie happened to me and my younger brother, Todd. And before you ask, yes, he was dressed in so much winter clothing if he fell down, he couldn’t get up without help.

Yup. That was Todd.

And so there came a year when there was one present I absolutely had to have. In Ralphie’s case in “‘A Christmas Story,” it was a Red Ryder BB Gun, with a compass in the stock and a device that told time.

In my case it was … A FIGHTING LADY BATTLESHIP! What the hell was that you ask? A toy. Not just any toy.  It was THE TOY. It was the FIGHTING LADY BATTLESHIP.

It had depth charges you could fire. It had a gun turret. It had an airplane you could CATAPULT OFF THE SHIP!!  How did the plane get back on the ship? I don’t know, it had no landing strip. I don’t care! It somehow got back on.  Well, now that I think about it, I put it back on. But that’s not the point.

And it had lights and a siren.

I don’t know why, but getting that ship for Christmas was the most important thing EVER! And just like in “A Christmas Story,” I plotted all year to make sure I got it. To be honest, I didn’t go through all the machinations Ralphie did. Instead, I invoked the “one time only, sacred pledge.”

I told my parents “If you get me this, I WILL NEVER ASK FOR ANYTHING EVER AGAIN!”

If you’ve seen the movie, you know a “triple dog dare” is a big thing that can’t be ignored. But “I WILL NEVER ASK FOR ANYTHING EVER AGAIN” is much, much, MUCH bigger. You only get to do it once.

The other thing the movie gets right is waking up in the middle of the night on Christmas and not being able to go back to sleep. Every Christmas, EVERY DAMN ONE, I would wake up at exactly 2AM. And no matter what I did, I could not go back to sleep.

My parents had a strict rule. We could NOT WAKE THEM UP BEFORE 7 AM! Period! So, I would lie in bed. Waiting.

And waiting.

And waiting.

Back then, there was no TV after midnight. Even if there was, it didn’t matter. We only had one TV and it was in the living room. WHERE SANTA WAS COMING. If you were awake and Santa saw you, bad shit would happen. He would leave. Without leaving you presents!

So, I would lie there, look at the clock, which was illuminated. Einstein once explained relativity by pointing out that when you’re doing something fun, time goes by quickly. When you’re doing something boring, time creeps by slowly.

On Christmas Eve, time stopped. I would try to make it go faster by not looking at the clock.

ME: OK. Not looking at the clock. Not looking at the clock. Not looking. God, it has to have been at least an hour now. But still, not looking.

After an hour or two of not looking at the clock, I would finally break down and look at the clock.


That’s how it would go until around 5 AM, when I would go into Todd’s room. He always woke up at 5 AM. We would then hide under the covers and talk.

And wait.

And wait

And wait … until we couldn’t take it anymore. At around 6 AM, we would get up and sneak around the house and change all the clocks to 7 AM, then wake up our parents.  I’m pretty sure they knew what we did, but they got up anyway.

We still couldn’t start Christmas until we went upstairs and got our Grandparents to come downstairs. We lived in a two-family house. If my grandparents weren’t up, we couldn’t start Christmas. But here’s the thing. They were always up. They were dressed, and they were finishing their breakfast when we came to get them.

Grandparents are cool.

At 7 AM the orgy of present opening began. And at about 7:15 AM, it was over. (The parallels to my future sex life have not gone unnoticed.)

Here again, the movie got it right. My brother and I would be basking in the post orgasmic rush of present opening and our parents and grandparents would be sitting on the couch drinking wine.

Yes, drinking wine. It was the one time of the year when it was not only legal, but required that you start drinking at 7 AM. The rest of the day was spent playing with our booty while the adults made a huge dinner that we ate at 2 PM. We only did that on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Why? Who the hell knows.

My point is, that’s what Christmas was when we were kids. For some reason, just like in “A Christmas Story” there was that ‘one special year’. That year when you got that special present.

Just like in the movie, my parents pulled the same trick. We opened all of our presents. The good ones, like toys. And the bad ones, like socks and underwear. But there was no Fighting Lady Battleship. Just as I was coming to grips with the reality I wasn’t going to get my Fighting Lady, just as I was trying to figure out how I would move on with my life, my Dad said:

“Tom, I think you missed something. What’s that package behind the couch?”

With sudden hope rising in my soul, I looked behind the couch. There it was. The big present. The biggest of them all! I ripped the wrapping off and there it was! A FIGHTING LADY BATTLESHIP!!

I’m not sure, but I think I fainted.

And — I never ever asked for any toy ever again.

How special was that stupid toy? Well, I’m 66 years old and I still have that Fighting Lady Battleship. It has lost its gun turret. The depth charges are gone. I have no idea what happened to the damned airplane. But I still have the ship and I will probably pass it to my heirs.

Why? It’s just a dumb toy. I don’t even think it cost much, but it will always remind me of that one, special Christmas.

For many years now, I’ve been quite a Scrooge. I didn’t really celebrate Christmas. I worked on holidays so my co-workers who have kids, could have the day off to be with them. I knew if Christmas didn’t exist, businesses would create one.

Christmas drives our economy. Why is the Friday after Thanksgiving called “Black Friday?” It’s because that’s the day most retail businesses start to turn a profit. Their accounting books go from being in the red, to being in the black. Christmas is capitalism, pure and simple. But watching that live performance brought back my love for the other side of Christmas. I became young Scrooge again. I remembered why I love Christmas.

Maybe it’s because of the world we live in right now. We need some Christmas magic. We need a few Christmas miracles.

My point is, everybody can celebrate Christmas.

Christmas is a mash-up of all sorts of traditions and religions.  How many scenes are there in “A Christmas Story” that take place in Church? How many times does anyone in the movie mention Jesus’s birthday? None. Basically, the universe created a holiday where at least once a year, everybody should be nice to each other. For just one day.

Can’t we all do that? Be decent and nice for one day?

I think we can. Anybody can join in the festivities. To Ellin, and all my Jewish friends, I say this: don’t feel left out. Join in. You, more than anybody, deserve it. Think about it. If it wasn’t for a Jew, there wouldn’t be a Christmas.

Happy Holidays. Merry Christmas!

And to all, have a very good night.