Category Archives: Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal

Character Study: Madeline Rose in Water Signs

In previous posts, I’ve described Water Signs as a literal, metaphorical and spiritual journey for its two main characters, Madeline Rose and Kenneth Lockheart. And since I alluded to Madeline’s weight issues in my last post, I figured they merited a larger discussion in my next update.

When Chapter One opens, readers get an inkling of Madeline’s motivations, fears and insecurities via her conversation with her good friend Carmen (based on a real-life friend), as the girls cruise down the Atlantic City Expressway bound for Ocean City, New Jersey. She’s just been through a traumatic break-up with her first boyfriend, who’s been harshly critical and judgmental due to his own personal issues (a topic I discussed — along with the theme of forgiveness — in the post, Maddy’s Men). The dialogue centers around Maddy’s lingering hang-ups about her appearance, which Carmen quickly attempts to dispel.

From the outset, I strove to highlight the preponderance of loving, supportive and protective people in Maddy’s life, from family members to female friends — while drawing a sharp contrast between her and the other characters — beginning with Carmen in Chapter One:

“I know,” Carmen agreed. “But believe me; I miss my retail days in New York. Macy’s was tough, mostly due to a Type-A personality boss, but I met a lot of cool people. Counseling clients at New You Nutrition and Weight Loss isn’t exactly a dream job.”

“Isn’t it satisfying to help someone get into shape?” Madeline pursued.

“Only the people who are really serious about it,” Carmen replied. “But most clients just make up excuses and waste their money so they can claim to be doing something about their figure. And the company doesn’t mind because they’re raking in the dough. Not that the program isn’t good, it is. But not even the best weight loss plan on earth will work for someone who isn’t committed to it.”

“You should tell them you owe your skinny frame to New You, and not an inherited fast metabolism!” Madeline suggested, laughingly.

“Yeah, maybe I should!” Carmen agreed. “You look good, Maddy, by the way. I can tell you’ve lost some weight.”

“Yes, I’m trying!” Madeline patted her tummy. “All the walking and swimming I’ve been doing is paying off. And I’m being really careful about everything I put in my mouth. Just a few more pounds and I’ll be all set.”

“Now, don’t go off the deep end,” Carmen warned, suddenly becoming serious. “You are such a pretty girl and you look great. So just remember that, ok? You are beautiful the way you are right now.” Knowing her good friend was still reeling from a painful break-up a few months ago, Carmen wanted this to be a fun weekend for all of them.

“Apparently Jake didn’t think so,” Madeline noted quietly.

“Jake’s an ass!” Carmen shot back, her fiery Latin temper flaring. “Who the hell was he to criticize you? It’s obvious you weren’t dating him for his good looks. He should have been grateful to have a cute girl like you on his arm, instead of acting like a complete jerk and dumping you over the phone. At least be a man and face things head on. What a wuss!”

Partly due to her seemingly unconquerable belief in her own inferiority where men are concerned, Maddy initially reacts harshly to Carmen’s announcement of their impending dates later that evening — although there’s another glaring fact that adds insult to injury. This is also an instance where I employed a bit of foreshadowing just prior to the introduction of Ken:

“Well, while we’re on the subject, I have to confess something.”

Uh-oh. Knowing Carmen, it wasn’t good news.

“What?” Madeline asked defensively, bracing herself for the answer.

“Mary Ellen is trying to get these guys to bring a friend along for you—”

“Aw, Carmen!” she protested.

“Look, I don’t even know if the guy will make it, but you have to start somewhere. These men are successful in business and they’re really cute. We’ll all just go out and have some fun. It’ll be great, you’ll see!”

“Do you even know anything about them?”

“Well, I know they have some kind of import/export business in Atlantic City. And I think they’re from Iran or someplace in the Middle East.”

Fabulous.

Maddy’s type was definitely the masculine, clean-cut all-American guy either in uniform, or out of the pages of Football Digest or GQ; while she had an appreciation for other cultures, she had no desire to date someone from another country—European, Middle Eastern or otherwise. As was her usual reaction to distressing news, she sat in silence.

A little while later, I took a few paragraphs to describe the girls’ contrasting appearances, as well as the dichotomy between Madeline’s self-image and reality, in addition to another bit of foreshadowing:

The girls headed upstairs to get ready. It was already after 6 p.m. and they were planning to go out to eat before heading to the Key Largo dance club just over the causeway in Somers Point. At the Point Diner a little while later, Madeline watched in awe as Carmen devoured a burger and fries, while she carefully stuck to grilled chicken and salad. In spite of her slim figure, Carmen often ate starchy, fattening foods, none of which ever affected her thin frame. It was a luxury Maddy had never enjoyed.

But she looked adorable in a cute white summer outfit consisting of a long, sequined white top over tight leggings, cinched at the waist. She’d pulled her flowing auburn hair back into a loose ponytail, held with a rhinestone clip, and her favorite comfy silver pumps, in anticipation of dancing the night away. Carmen looked stunning in a black linen dress and high-heeled sandals, her dark hair falling straight just below her shoulders. Little did Maddy know at the time, but she would find herself sitting in the very same booth a few hours later, under very different circumstances.

Astute readers will understand that, given Madeline’s overly critical and distorted self-image, the fact that Ken is first attracted to her stunning Latin girlfriend — going so far as to purchase a long-stemmed rose and present it to her on the dance floor — sets the foundation for the conflict to ensue in the budding, unexpected relationship that develops between her and the handsome former US Navy sailor.

Lost in the music, Madeline never saw it coming, but suddenly she looked up to see a hand holding a long-stemmed rose in front of Carmen; a little red devil was attached to it. Then Maddy caught a glimpse of the rose’s buyer and her heart skipped a beat—too bad he was interested in her friend. It seemed so unfair since Carmen already had a date for the evening, unbeknownst to this handsome stranger. But despite her disappointment, Madeline laughed right along as Carmen accepted the gesture and began to dance with her new suitor.

And of course, it’s only when Carmen’s date for the evening finally arrives at the club that Maddy even gets the opportunity to hang out with Ken in the first place — when something inside compels her to extend the invitation, much to her own astonishment:

“Maddy,” Carmen asked again, “What are you going to do?”

Feeling strangely emboldened, Madeline announced, “I’m not going with all of you. I’m staying here and hanging out with Ken!” Then turning to him, she asked softly, “Is that ok with you?”

“Yes, that’s fine with me,” he agreed, giving her a high-five. Maybe the night’s not lost after all, he surmised. She’s seems truly adorable. It won’t hurt to spend a few hours getting to know her.

“Ok, but you better be nice to her,” Carmen warned Ken as she stepped into the back seat of her entourage’s Lincoln Continental.

In spite of her insecurities, Maddy demonstrates even more confident self-assertion when her newly designated date for the evening can’t stop haranguing her over what he considers to be Carmen’s dishonorable actions:

“You know I have to say I really don’t understand your friend. Why would she lead me on like that when she knew she had a date? And did you see those guys? I mean, I spent four years of my life defending this country from people like that and she and her anorexic friend run off with them?”

“Hey Ken, calm down! I agree with you about Iran, but that doesn’t mean those guys are like their crazy government. And you have to know Carmen; she’s just a free spirit. No one tells her what to do. I’m just glad they didn’t bring a friend for me, ‘cause long hair and grunge is definitely unappealing.”

“Well she still shouldn’t have accepted my rose,” he stated emphatically.

Maddy had enough. Cute as he was, she had no desire to talk about Carmen all night; watching Nick-At-Nite at home was sounding better and better. Overcoming her usual hesitance around guys, she spoke up. “Look, Ken, you’re here with me now. Either we’re gonna dance and have a good time, or I’m outta here! What’s it gonna be?”

Pleasantly surprised by her feistiness, he took her by the hand and exclaimed, “Well, let’s dance!”

By the way, this entire chapter is pretty faithful to real life, down to the little red devil attached to the rose; Maddy’s amazement at Ken’s foresight in bringing along a clean shirt to change into; Ken’s initial anger about Carmen leaving the scene with another guy; and his marveling at Maddy’s “tiny” hands. Even the conversation in bold above is absolutely true, and like Maddy, I surprised myself with my own comfort level around this guy; I seemed to have no qualms at all about telling him in no uncertain terms exactly how I felt. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long as the relationship progressed, as I will detail in another post.

Once Ken and Maddy break the ice with a dance, the rest of the evening unfolds effortlessly. Their light-hearted conversation reveals many similarities, including their shared birthday (which, as I’ve noted before is an example of creative license; the real guy and me are both Pisces, but our birthdays are about two weeks apart), Catholic upbringing and status as “the baby” in their respective families. However, Maddy’s insecurities flare up again upon learning more about this intriguing new suitor, unbeknownst to him:

Under the cover of magnificent moonlight enhanced by the muted sounds of music emanating from inside the club, Ken and Maddy chatted for hours. He shared funny and sad stories of his time in the military as she eagerly listened, fascinated by his life experience. At 25, she’d never even left her hometown, let alone traveled the world. Except for a Caribbean cruise with a few college girlfriends after graduation and some assorted family trips to places like Disneyworld and Chicago, she’d lived a pretty uneventful life. Heck, Maddy had even commuted to a university minutes from her house because she hadn’t felt quite ready to leave the nest. At the same age, Ken had enlisted to serve in foreign lands.

She also noticed something admirable and attractive in him—an inner spark, a desire to make something of himself. He was determined to rise above his roots in a sleepy Shore town and accomplish much greater things than his older brothers, all of whom seemed content to work in a local pizza shop.

From the get-go, Ken exposes himself as an entirely different kind of man from Jake, which ironically heightens Madeline’s insecurity. After two years of constant berating about her weight, her choice of dress and even her bust size, it’s a shock to the system (albeit a pleasant one) to be with a man who’s constantly complimenting her. Although he’s quite sincere, she cannot seem to reconcile his glowing impression of her with the unattractive one residing deep within her own psyche.

And her inability to clearly articulate her feelings — coupled with Ken’s deeply held thoughts of inferiority in the face of Madeline’s highly accomplished family —  will help to destroy their relationship the first time around.

More on Madeline in the next post.

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The Food of Water Signs: Regional Brands

In attempting to evoke a palpable experience of the culture and atmosphere of the Philly, Southeastern Pennsylvania, and South Jersey areas, I purposely peppered Part One of Water Signs with references to popular brands enjoyed by residents of the Delaware Valley. Complemented by the addition of ethnic favorites like Italian wedding cookies, provolone cheese and tomato pie, this was highly effective in drawing readers into Ken and Maddy’s world.

In Chapter 9, Maddy tends to a recuperating Ken, who has injured his leg in a work accident (something that did happen in real life, although many of the events of this chapter have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes). It’s here where I first introduce readers to some Philly-area favorites:

“Thank you, sweetheart!”

Ken had awakened to find Madeline busily setting up a tray table with a turkey and cheese hoagie from Wawa, a pickle and a bag of Herr’s potato chips. He looked adorably groggy as he rubbed his eyes and sat up on the couch.

“Damn!” He laughed. “How long have I been out? And what smells so good?”

Placing the tray in front of him, Maddy smiled. “Hmm, well I’d say at least an hour and a half, to answer your first question. As for the second, I am attempting to make my Mom’s mussels marinara sauce for you. There’s plenty, so you can have some tonight for dinner and freeze the rest. I’m also leaving you chicken cutlets and a pan of eggplant parm. Wouldn’t want you to starve or anything, just ‘cause you have a bad leg.” Her tone was playful as she unscrewed the lid to a cold bottle of Turkey Hill iced tea.

Pictured: The beach in Ocean City, New Jersey.

If there’s one thing I really wish we had in South Florida, it is Wawa convenience stores. A cut above similar retail chains like 7-11, Wawa offers fresh homemade soups, salads and sandwiches, as well as various pots of steaming hot flavored and regular coffees, soft pretzels, Tastykakes and other on-the-run refreshment. Oh and yes, in Philly we call them hoagies, not subs.

Lancaster-based Turkey Hill products are also sorely missed.  Whenever I go north for a visit, my parents’ refrigerator is always stocked with fresh-brewed Turkey Hill iced tea and lemonade, and the freezer with their fabulous ice-cream featuring team flavors for the Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies. As for Herr’s potato chips, they’ve been on the Philly scene for as long as I can remember, just like soft pretzels and another area favorite, water ice (known to the rest of the county as Italian ices), as mentioned in the beginning of Chapter 7:

“Here you go sweetheart,” Ken said with a smile, handing Maddy a small cup of one of her favorite treats—lemon water ice.

“Ooh, it’s even got little pieces of lemon in it, awesome!” she enthused, taking a spoonful into her mouth. They were sitting on a green-painted wooden bench, facing the ocean.

“You know, I really could have splurged on a large, Madeline Rose,” he remarked, giving her a playful nudge. Then, just as she was about to speak, added, “Oh, I know, I know. We have to watch our calories!” He was teasing of course, but Maddy took slight offense.

“Hey, just ‘cause you don’t understand what it was like to be the ‘chubby girl’ in school, don’t make fun of me! I wish I didn’t have to be so careful, but I was never one of those naturally thin girls like Carmen who can eat whatever she wants and not even have to exercise. It’s just the way it is.”

As she spoke, her eyes followed the graceful trail of a seagull as it rode the evening air currents. Ken lodged his plastic spoon back into his slushy cherry flavored concoction, and then turned her shoulders so she was looking squarely at him.

That scene is reminiscent of countless hours spent sitting on a bench on the boardwalk — either alone or in the company of family and friends — enjoying a cold water ice while gazing at the ocean. I can picture the seagulls, the waves and the colorful umbrellas dotting the sand even as I type this. It was so easy to place Ken and Maddy into various situations like this, regardless of whether or not the real Ken and I had actually done the same thing back in the day.

In a future post, I will delve into a character study of Madeline, complete with all of her insecurities including excessive worry about her weight, as evidenced in the dialogue above. I’ll also take a look at some of the real places that provide the settings for much of the interaction between the characters such as Frisanco’s Restaurant (now out of business), Taj Mahal Casino, The Ship Inn, Acapulco Grill (which no longer exists), Arturo’s Restaurant and The Boca Resort and Club.

We’ll also explore the use of popular music to help keep readers abreast of the current year throughout a long, 16-year journey; the development of technology to denote the progression of time; and more comparisons between fact and fiction.

Stay tuned!

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The Food of Water Signs: Provolone Cheese & Tomato Pie

In Water Signs as in life, regional foods were an integral enhancement to every celebration and sporting event. My mom was the party planner extraordinaire, the hostess with the mostess — the family organizer and Philly sports fanatic who would create well-thought-out or impromptu gatherings centering around every milestone. Whether it was a First Holy Communion, the Flyers in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Phillies in the World Series or the Eagles confronting an NFC Division rival, Mom made sure there was plenty of great food to complement the occasion.

Good thing too, because as anyone who’s been a lifelong Philly sports fan can attest, more often than not, the food is the only thing left to celebrate after the clock runs out. A certain January in 1981 comes to mind when — off of the high of beating the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game (an event I was lucky enough to attend in person with brother Paul and sister Carolyn…brrr!), the Eagles completely collapsed under pressure, losing to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV, 27-10.  The 1981 NFC Championship that preceded the Super Bowl letdown is recounted in vivid detail by Maddy during a scene in which she and Ken have dinner with her mother and Aunt Maria in Ocean City, New Jersey.

In Chapter Six, Ken and Maddy share a picnic on the beach featuring Italian wedding cookies, provolone cheese from South Philly and tomato pie — all of which are popular delicacies in the Southeastern PA/Philly/South Jersey area. Every Christmas, my mom used to drive down to the 9th Street Market in South Philly specifically to buy provolone, along with other things not typically done as well in the suburbs. Sometimes this entailed standing in line for hours, but in the end, it was so worth it when said provolone was accompanied by roasted peppers and fresh Italian bread (yum!) as a prelude to a fabulous meal. Now, that’s what I call Italian soul food!

Tomato Pie: Wildly popular in the Philly suburbs, Philly and South Jersey, but still an unknown phenomenon north of Trenton.

Last September, I was invited to speak at the Hawthorne Writers Group by my good friend, Don Smith. After some collaboration about the event, we decided it would be fun to include a few of the foods mentioned in Water Signs as refreshments. At the time, I was visiting my parents in Newtown Square, PA so baking the Italian wedding cookies was an easy proposition. However, I felt it would be best to actually purchase tomato pie somewhere in and around Hawthorne (which is located just 22 miles from Manhattan in North Jersey), rather than schlep it in the car for the 2 1/2 hour ride. It never occurred to me that this delicious variation of pizza had not yet been discovered  in Central and/or Northern New Jersey.

But when I went online to find some bakeries and pizza places in the Hawthorne area and began to make calls, you might have thought I was inquiring about some obscure, exotic foodstuff known only to a select group of elite chefs. Most of my conversations went something like this:

Hello, do you have tomato pie?”

“Uh, what? Tomato pie? Never heard of it. What’s that?”

“Well, it’s kind of like pizza, except it has a special kind of dough with tomato sauce and grated cheese sprinkled on top.”

“Uh, no we don’t have that, but we do have the best New Yawk style pizza around!”

“No, I am looking for tomato pie, not New York style pizza.”

“Sorry lady, can’t help you!”

In the end, I ordered two tomato pies from Genuardi’s Supermarket, which I managed to keep fresh and uneaten during the trek north. And both the wedding cookies and the tomato pies were a big hit with the crowd — almost as big a hit as Wilbert Montgomery’s touchdown run against the Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 NFC Championship Game. 🙂

Next Post: Regional brands including Wawa, Tastykake and Herr’s.

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The Food of Water Signs: Italian Wedding Cookies

I thought it would be fun to take a break from some of the heavier themes and plot points to focus in on another aspect of Water Signs — the various foods specifically mentioned, especially in Part One, to help evoke the culture and atmosphere of the Philly/suburban Philly/South Jersey area.

When I wrote about the literary techniques employed, I noted:

As part of bringing regional culture and tradition to both a new and familiar audience, much of the activity in Water Signs revolves around popular foods and delicacies. Maddy and Ken’s beach picnic, for example, features provolone cheese from South Philly, homemade Italian wedding cookies and “tomato pie” (a special pizza-like creation first introduced to the area by a South Philly bakery in the 1900s).

This beach picnic takes place in Chapter 6 in Ventnor, New Jersey where Ken, having determined previously Madeline’s weakness for the popular regional treat, presents her with a homemade tray of Italian wedding cookies, prepared by his roommate from South Philly (who, by the way is a fictional creation):

“Hey,” he warned seriously, “No starvation tactics tonight. You and I are both going to enjoy this good food—no apologies. Oh, and you have to have some wedding cookies. Kathy made those especially for you.”

“She did? How’d she know they’re my favorite?”

“Cause I told her,” he shrugged. “After that, I asked for her advice about how to go about winning the heart of the most beautiful Italian girl I’ve ever met—a girl I almost blew it with that night at Key Largo when I was incredibly stupid and bought a rose for her friend instead of her.” Maddy laughed at the memory.

“And she suggested wedding cookies?” she teased, raising an eyebrow. She gazed at him with her mesmerizing brown eyes, and he felt as if he would shatter into a million pieces.

“She said it was a good place to start, considering they were on your Top-10 list,” he smiled. “And she makes the best, believe me.”

“Hmmm, well I think my Aunt Maria might take issue with that,” Maddy stated. “Still, those do look pretty good,” she admitted, eying the full plate of the familiar twisted knots covered with white icing and multi-colored sprinkles.

Although in real life it was my Great Aunt Emma who was most famous for her baking and cooking, since Aunt Maria plays such a prominent role in this part of the story, I attributed this quality to her (and yes, she was a great cook, too).

The next morning, as they sit around the breakfast table, Maddy, Aunt Maria and Mom enjoy the homemade cookies with their coffee — another element of real life brought into the story. In my family, Italian wedding cookies typically showed up during special occasions like graduations and bridal showers, and on holidays like Christmas. And while they are delicious any time of the day, I remember enjoying them most in the morning, with a hot cup of happiness (as my friend Ava calls it).

Funny, we never actually referred to them as wedding cookies growing up; in fact, I used to call them “coffee dunkers” or when I was very young, “the cookies with the sprinkles on them”. I don’t think I discovered the proper name “wedding cookie” until many years later.

Finally, although I describe them in the book as “twisted knots” (normally how they are fashioned), I prefer to just roll mine into round balls, not being known for my endless reservoirs of patience when it comes to baking. Come to think of it, Aunt Em used to make hers that way, too. Unlike her, I prefer to use either lemon extract or vanilla extract as opposed to anise — a flavor I don’t much like.

But whatever you name them, however you shape them and whatever extract you choose to add to the mix, call them delicious! Enjoy. 🙂

Pictured: Maddy's favorite cookies, in a rounded Christmas-themed incarnation.

RECIPE FOR ITALIAN WEDDING COOKIES

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup white sugar

3 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla OR lemon extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheets.

In large bowl, cream together butter & sugar until smooth. Mix in the egg & vanilla. Combine the flour & baking powder; stir into the creamed mixture until blended. Divide dough into walnut-sized portions. Roll each piece into a ball and place inches apart on prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes in the preheated oven, until firm & golden at the edges.

Icing: Mix together confectioners sugar with half & half in a bowl, making sure the mixture isn’t too thin. After the cookies cool, drizzle icing on top and sprinkle with jimmies (that’s what we called them in Philly…lol!).

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The Revelations of Social Media

Back in April, prompted by some things I’d read on the internet and social media sites, I posted an article entitled Is Professionalism Passe? While it was inspired by many different people (most of whom I don’t know), a few of the twitterers and bloggers are indeed characters from real life — whom I’d immortalized in my book.

I don’t know when it became acceptable to reduce every little family dispute or personal problem into a 140-character status, or deliberately misspell (as opposed to abbreviate) words, but it seems that even the most professional and successful among us lose all sight of propriety when communicating in cyberspace. As I wrote:

…The topic is something that has been bothering me for quite some time, after having viewed some pretty idiotic twitter updates and blog posts from allegedly professional, busy and successful members of the business community. It doesn’t seem to matter how educated, knowledgeable or hard-working some people are; in their minds technology, unlike real life, simply does not demand a certain set of standards.

For example, why is it that we’d never purposely spell a word incorrectly in a business correspondence, personal letter or even an email, yet some of us think it’s cute (or worse, cool, as if middle-aged men should still be concerned with such things) to do so in a 140-word character status? I am not quibbling with the necessary use of abbreviations when limited to such a low word-count — I am talking about deliberately misspelling common words.

I get that for many, typing up a cutesy status update just for fun helps to blow off steam and adds a little levity to life — something we all desperately need in the age of Obama. And as I mentioned in the post, perhaps the English Major in me is being a bit too judgmental of those who are simply using social media as a way to connect with friends and family. Still, reading posts like “Getting ready to strangle mom-in-law” is a little off-putting.

Yes, I understand it probably wasn’t meant literally and that mother-in-law was most likely spared an untimely death; however,  is it really a wise idea to broadcast your in-law issues into cyberspace, a forum where nothing ever really goes away? And if your wife has already demonstrated she has no qualms about logging into your personal account on a social media site and pretending to be you, chances are she’s also checking out your twitter updates. Unless she either shares the same opinion of her mother, and/or has no problem with her husband disrespecting one of her parents, this seems like a great way to initiate an argument.

But we’re also talking about a woman who brushes off the plight of the unemployed in a terrible economy:

And in an especially egregious status update given the state of the economy, a small business owner with pressing deadlines laments about being summoned for jury duty when so many others are unemployed, implying that those “lucky” souls should be the ones inconvenienced by civic responsibility, not important people like her. Pardon me, but if you’re a busy entrepreneur during a difficult recession in which nearly 10% of Americans are out of work, I’d say a little gratitude — not to mention tact — is in order. Yes, jury duty can be a detriment to the bottom line, but creating a status update bemoaning a minor obstacle and simultaneously taking a potshot at others in retaliation is just plain rude and insensitive.

And after what I’d learned from my photographer friend’s friend, I wouldn’t be surprised if the mother-in-law status update was perfectly acceptable to her.

Growing up, my mom (like so many others) often told me to choose my friends wisely because we are judged by the company we keep; moreover, she did her best to carefully steer me away from any kids she thought might be a bad influence, since it’s so easy to succumb to peer pressure when you’re young and impressionable. However, this logic still applies in adulthood.

For example, I finally had to break away from a friend whose constant negativity and habitual doom-and-gloom attitude eventually became too much to bear. I gave it nine very long years until the sheer fatigue and depressing aftereffects of being in her company made it impossible to continue the friendship. I wish her well, yet at the same time, have zero desire to rekindle the relationship.

Is it possible this standard applies to marriages, too? Can one spouse’s personality rub off on the other’s until that person no longer seems recognizable?

Because the guy who wrote about strangling his mother-in-law — among other inane things — is not the one I recall; he’s certainly not the one I modeled a character after. And he’s definitely not the one I shared some honest, emotional phone conversations with just prior to releasing my book. But he’s for sure the “Ken” I choose to remember.

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Six Degrees of Separation: Elyse Meets Erin

My friend “Elyse Lombard” has been living in Boca Raton, along with her entire family, for almost 30 years. For at least the past 10 years, she’s been working in the family moving business as VP of Sales and Marketing, which affords her plenty of opportunities to meet all kinds of people and customers throughout South Florida. She’s also been actively involved in  both the Boca Raton and Delray Beach Chambers of Commerce for as long as I can remember, having met her in early 2001 through a mutual friend.

A mover and shaker, “Elyse” is beautiful, smart, gregarious, charming and hard-working, and her family’s business is well-known and respected in the area. For this reason, it’s often very difficult for her to attend any sort of midday networking events, as she’s typically booked with at least five moving estimates per day. It’s all she can do to keep up with her early-morning leads group meetings at the chambers of commerce — and oftentimes, she exceeds the allowable absences, although she’s never asked to leave because she’s such a great networker.

But one day in January of this year, she was able to attend a luncheon event she’d previously declined when a customer canceled their scheduled appointment. Feeling very strongly that she would bump into “Erin” at this event (a woman she’d never met before), “Elyse” contacted me on the way to the venue to obtain “Erin’s” real name, which I then shared with her.

Did I mention “Elyse” is very intuitive and quite often correct in her hunches?

Later that afternoon, she called to breathlessly inform me that her psychic premonition had been right on target. Even stranger was the way in which it all went down: they didn’t simply “bump” into each other, “Erin” actually strode right up to my friend (who’d been chatting with a few other women) specifically to introduce herself — which is normally the kind of thing good networkers do at such gatherings.

And “Elyse” — in spite of her intuitive awareness — was still quite taken aback when it took place for real. She also thought it rather odd that for someone who’d gone out of her way to initiate an introduction, “Erin” exhibited a strange unfriendliness, a noticeable  aloofness. To the best of my knowledge, she’d had no prior inkling of “Elyse’s” relationship to me, but this description coincided with the one put forth by my photographer friend’s friend — the woman who’d been unhappy with “Erin’s” professional services.

Speaking of which, soon after I hung up the phone with “Elyse”, my photographer friend called me on behalf of her friend — “Erin’s” former, dissatisfied client — to obtain “Elyse’s” phone number. Normally, I’d think nothing of it, but coming on the heels of what had just transpired at the business luncheon, I found it all very curious.

But the story doesn’t end there.

A few weeks later, “Elyse” had the good fortune of being able to attend yet another midday event (again, highly unusual for her), where she just happened to be seated diagonally across from “Erin”. She’d discovered this after greeting another mutual friend (who’d been assigned to the table directly behind her) and exclaiming in her boisterous, effervescent manner “Isn’t it great we’re both gonna be on Daria’s show!”, referring to The Liberty Belle Hour.

When “Elyse” took her seat, “Erin” (whom “Elyse” is fairly certain heard the exchange) kind of gave her a strange look. And apparently, throughout the course of the event, she kept trying to make eye contact with my friend, who kept averting her gaze. If memory serves correctly, I believe they did briefly say hello at some point.

Being the protective “older sister” she is, “Elyse” related her discomfort about the whole interaction and the thought of developing a professional association with “Erin”, but I assured her that business is business; there was no reason to feel awkward about talking to “Erin” at all. I am secure in our enduring friendship and have never been the kind of person who makes unreasonable demands like, “If you’re my friend you won’t talk to so-and-so”, or “If you’re really my friend, you’ll do this or that”. That’s not how I roll. Besides, I’ve done nothing wrong.

If anything, “Erin” should be ashamed of posing as her husband on a social media site and attempting to “trap” an innocent woman whose only “crime” was fictionalizing some real life events into a novel. I might further add that I also put myself through some pretty intense and nearly debilitating heartbreak by pretending to be thrilled when “Ken” asked me point-blank how I felt about his engagement back in 1995 — because I didn’t think it was fair to hurt a woman I didn’t even know.

Would the outcome have been different if I’d been honest with him? Well, as Maddy muses to herself in Chapter 19:

At least the reason for the change in the tone of his calls had been revealed, though Maddy couldn’t quite decipher the timeline of events. Not that it even mattered at this point. She wouldn’t dare hurt a woman she’d never met by coming clean with Ken about her real feelings, about how she still loved him deeply in spite of everything. Even if she did go out on that limb, there was no guarantee he’d return the sentiment, or assuming he did, break off his engagement to Erin to pursue a renewed relationship with her.

One other curious thing that also took place concurrently with the “Erin/Elyse” events I’ve described: another one of my friends happened to come over to my house one night, unexpectedly bearing a particular product that had been on sale at the store, thinking perhaps I could use it. This product just happens to bear the name of the person upon whom “Erin” is loosely based. Very interesting, indeed.

So 2010 certainly started out on an interesting note; funny that this all happened exactly one year after the LinkedIn incident and the Boca Raton Entrepreneur Meetup. In this town, six degrees of separation is simply a way of life.

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LinkedIn, The Star Spangled Banner and the Tea Party Movement

After that little interaction with the nice lady at the networking event, not much else transpired on the “Ken and Erin” front for most of the year.  Armed with new insight into Erin’s integrity, based not only on the LinkedIn email, but also a friend of a friend’s experience with her as a businesswoman, I felt the urgency to steer clear of both of them even more strongly. As I’ve mentioned, I was not out to ruin anyone’s marriage, though the deception displayed by Erin in pretending to be her husband and writing that ridiculous message does make me wonder about the state of their union.

If their marriage was solid and strong, why would a fictionalized novel even have the power to drive her to do something so outrageous in the first place? Did she stop to think about his reaction? Assuming we were having an affair (which I’ve stated is not the case), did she honestly think I’d broadcast it in an email?

Oh yes, Kenny, I want to tell the whole world about your johnson! And while I’m at it, I’ll give them an explicit account of every extramarital tryst we’ve shared, so everyone will know what we’ve been up to!

I mean, it’s simply absurd.

Now one thing I do remember about “Ken” is that like me, he can be overly sensitive; he can also  transform from fun-loving and full-of-life to angry and defensive if he feels hurt or betrayed by someone else’s behavior. I can’t imagine he reacted well upon receiving my forwarded email of the original request, and can only surmise that at the very least, they had one heck of a fight about it. Speaking for myself, if my husband had logged onto a website using my credentials in an effort to “trap” an old boyfriend, that alone would infuriate me.

And if she really thought it possible that he’d been cheating, why not confront him about it directly and calmly? Why add insult to injury by being deceptive?

Looking back, I guess I must’ve salvaged a Christmas Holiday for her, because it took me until the day before New Year’s Eve to even respond, that’s how taken aback I was.

But as 2009 unfolded, I concentrated exclusively on promoting my book, co-hosting internet talk shows, getting involved in the grassroots Tea Party Movement, editing for clients, blogging and otherwise avoiding any potential run-ins with Ken and Erin, either in cyberspace or in real life. Funny, but I’ve lived just two miles away from them all these years and have never once spontaneously bumped into either one, ever.

But in December of 2009, I received an email from “Ken” (who’d also included some pretty big media names in the distribution, like Sean Hannity). This time, it was nothing personal, just a copy of his email response to a stupid liberal sportswriter who thought it was a great idea to eliminate the singing of The Star Spangled Banner at professional sporting events. By this time I’d been contributing regularly to Parcbench, Canada Free Press and my other blog, Palin Drone. I have a pretty good idea that “Ken” had been checking out my posts and hence, thought I could get his editorial letter additional exposure, which I did. I’m sure he also knew it was a hot-button topic for me; one that I would not be able to resist commenting about.

So perhaps knowing I shared his passion for the subject and the USA, he’d sent this to me as a way of re-establishing communication? Who knows. But it did give me a great idea for a story, which in the end was published on the Parcbench site. I am also incorporating it into my sequel, Sea To Shining Sea, as a letter Ken writes to the editor, because it fits in perfectly with the plot and themes unfolding in that story.

“Ken’s” request for distribution led to a series of cordial email communications — none of which so much as mentioned Water Signs — prompting me to use the opportunity to set the record straight about the LinkedIn debacle. In very clear terms, I recounted the entire story of how I’d put all of the pieces together, which ultimately verified my initial gut instincts. He replied that he never uses LinkedIn much at all (we have that in common, too) and confirmed “It sounds like you have figured out that it was not me”.

And I was relieved to finally get it out in the open. For whatever reason, it was bugging me that — as far as he knew — I still believed that tacky, immature email came from him and not his wife. For that matter, I wanted her to be aware that I was on to her little schemes, and in fact, told him forthrightly I “wanted this nonsense to stop”.  And it has.

However, social media would prove to be revealing on other ways as far as these two were concerned. More on that in my next post.

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