- Column Classic: Deadhead April 23, 2023
By Lisa Scottoline
Of course I read the obituaries.
I can’t be the only one.
I do it every morning, in two newspapers, before I start to work. It takes a lotu of time. I know, it sounds like stalling, but it’s more like praying.
You’ll see what I mean.
And it’s not as if I started reading them recently, now that it’s likelier I’ll die than find a date.
In truth, I’ve read obits all my life, even as a kid.
I never saw them as being about deaths. I saw them as being about people, and I love people.
In other words, it’s not a death story. It’s a life story.
I’m always struck by how accomplished people are, and what they’ve done in their lives that’s benefited me, only I didn’t know it. For example, today I read an obit of a doctor who was one of the first to link smoking to cancer. I owe that guy, though I ever knew him. I nagged my father to quit, and he did. I nagged Mother Mary to quit, but she didn’t until she got and survived throat cancer.
Did I mention she’s stubborn?
I read another obit, of a real estate developer who changed the skyline of my beloved hometown, Philadelphia, and was also responsible for one of my favorite works of art, the giant Clothespin by Claes Oldenburg, which sits in front of the office building where I used to work.
I owe that guy, too.
I used to love to look out of my office window at that sculpture. It’s a brown clothespin that’s ten stories tall, and it made me smile, every day. Because of it, I bought a book about Claes Oldenburg and learned about his life and his art. So the least I can do is take the time to read about the man who introduced me to Claes Oldenburg and send him a mental thank-you note.
I always read the obits of soldiers. I owe it to them, each and every one of them. They’re so young, and they’re out there day and night, putting their very lives on the line while I make dinner or walk the dogs or pour coffee. The obits are the stories of their lives and their accomplishments, which are the greatest and most unselfish of all.
Sacrificing one’s life for another.
But not every obit is of a soldier or a famous doctor, and that’s precisely the point. Lots of obits are of cooks, dentists, teachers, and mechanics. Every death matters, because every life matters.
Everybody owes somebody for something.
For example, I read an obit today about a high school English teacher. I can’t imagine how many people owe her. Hundreds, maybe thousands, in all her years of teaching. I also read an obit of a fire captain who trained new firefighters at the fire academy. This was a man who saved lives, and who taught others to save lives. How many people owe him?
In our own lives, whom do we owe? Mother, father, daughter, sister, brother, aunt, teacher, doctor, girlfriend. It’s all in the obits. Each one tells the story of a human life, and of a family’s love. I look at the notices, I see the names. Grieved by grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Greatly missed by his father. Survived by a beloved wife.
It sounds simple to say, almost simplistic, but all of us are connected by love and by gratitude.
And the proof, its very particulars, are the obits.
It’s true that I’m a little sad after I finish the obits.
Sometimes the pictures break my heart.
The faces smile at the camera, grinning at someone they love, happy and alive.
And I remember how lucky I am, every morning.
How lucky we all are, in each other.
Past, present, and even future.
All of us.
Copyright Lisa Scottoline
- Column Classic: Junk in The Trunk April 16, 2023
By Lisa Scottoline
If Freud wanted to know what women want, he could have asked.
If he’d asked me, I would have answered:
Another kitchen cabinet.
And I just got one!
Here’s how it happened.
It was about ten years ago that I remodeled my kitchen, adding white cabinets and a trash compactor. To tell the truth, I don’t remember wanting a trash compactor and think it was Thing Two who wanted a trash compactor, but I’ve blamed enough on him, so let’s just say I wanted a trash compactor.
At the time, my kitchen contractor said, “I’ll install this trash compactor for you, but I bet you’ll never use it.”
“I’m sure I’ll use it,” said I. And I probably added, “Plus it will give me something to blame on somebody, down the line.”
In any event, the trash compactor got installed, and it came with two free bags, which I promptly lost.
Ten years and one divorce later, it turns out that the contractor was right.
I should have married the contractor.
But to stay on point, I never used the trash compactor. Not once. I even forgot it was there until three months ago, when it began to emit a mysterious and foul odor. I searched the thing and could find no reason for it to be smelly, but I washed it inside and out anyway. Still the smell got worse and worse, until it was so bad I could barely eat in the kitchen. Then one day, the electrician came over to fix a light and he said, “Smells like something died in here.”
The electrician showed me that you could slide out the compactor, which I hadn’t realized, and when we did, we found behind it an aromatic gray mound that used to be a mouse.
The electrician threw the dead mouse away, and I cleaned the trash compactor all over again, but it still stunk worse than my second marriage, which I didn’t even think was possible, so I threw the trash compactor away, too.
Which left an oddly empty space on my kitchen island, a blank square among the white cabinets, like a missing tooth.
I called the kitchen contractor, whose phone number I still had from ten years ago. As soon as he heard my voice, he said, “Told you,” and came right over.
Last week he installed a new cabinet, including a drawer, then asked, “What are you going to use it for?”
”I’m not sure yet,” I told him, excited by the possibilities. It was almost too much to hope for – a nice empty cabinet and a whole extra drawer. After he had gone, I pulled up a stool and contemplated my course of action.
The decision required me to consider the problem areas of my kitchen cabinets, which are many. My pot-and-pan cabinet is a mess because I hate to stack pots and pans in their proper concentric circles. I just pile them up any way, playing Jenga, only with Farberware. Also I can never figure out how to store pot lids, so I stick them in upside down, setting them wobbling on handles like the worst tops ever. Every time I open the cabinet door, they come sliding out like a stainless steel avalanche.
I also have a cabinet containing Rubbermaid and Tupperware, but it’s all mixed up, so that Rubbermaid lids are with Tupperware containers and Rubbermaid containers are with Tupperware lids, making the whole thing feel vaguely illicit, like an orgy of plastic products.
Then I have a cabinet of kitchen appliances I have never used once in my life, but feel compelled to keep close at hand, namely a juicer, a waffle iron, and a salad shooter. You never know when you’ll have to shoot a salad.
My kitchen drawers are equally problematic. I have one drawer for silverware, and four others for junk, junk, junk, and junk. All the junk drawers contain the same junk, just more of it, namely, pens that don’t work, pencils that have no point, extra buttons that go to clothes I’ve never seen, rubber bands I got free but can’t part with, menus for restaurants I don’t order from, and pennies.
In other words, it’s all essential.
I think I know what to put in the empty cabinet.
Trash compactor bags.
Copyright Lisa Scottoline
- Column Classic: King Tut April 9, 2023
By Lisa Scottoline
This column classic this week is in memory of Mother Mary who passed on Palm Sunday several years ago. Happy Easter and Happy Passover to all! Enjoy your families! XOXO
Okay, so my brother has escaped back to Miami, and my mother is still visiting me and my daughter. One afternoon we were all in front of the TV, comatose before the Everybody Loves Raymond marathon, having finished the Law & Order marathon. For the past two weeks, my mother wouldn’t go anywhere else but the kitchen. Driven to distraction, I offhandedly suggested we go see the King Tut exhibit.
“King Tut?” my mother asked, suddenly perking up. Her eyes widened behind her round glasses like an octogenarian Harry Potter. “Let’s go!”
I blinked, astounded. “But, Ma, it’s In Town.”
“So what? I love King Tut!”
I didn’t say what I was thinking, which was, More than Telly Savalas?
“Only thing is, he’s not there,” my mother said.
“That’s because he’s dead,” I told her, then ordered the tickets online before she remembered she didn’t like having fun.
The next day, we were at the King Tut exhibit – me, my mother, and my daughter – three generations of Scottoline women, freshly showered and dressed up, giddy to be out of the house. My mother wore her best perfume, smelling great because she stopped smoking a few years ago, when she got throat cancer. She’s in complete remission now, which doesn’t surprise me. It’ll take more than a deadly disease to kill my mother. I’m betting on a meteor.
I picked up our tickets, bought the audio tour, and slipped the headphones over my mother’s hearing aid, then turned on her audiotape, which was narrated by Omar Sharif. She broke into a sly smile and said, “Omar Sharif can park his slippers next to mine anytime.”
“Who’s Omar Sharif?” asked my daughter.
“Doctor Zhivago,” my mother answered.
“Nicky Arnstein,” I added.
“Who?” my daughter asked again, and we let it go. I cannot explain Omar Sharif to a generation who has not swooned over him. For Omar Sharif, I would have learned bridge.
But back to the story.
We waited in a line that zigzagged for an hour, which was a lot of standing for my mother, especially after she’d come three blocks from the parking garage. She’d walked only slowly, but she hadn’t complained at all. Her vision is poor from glaucoma and macular degeneration, but she was gamely squinting at the museum map. We entered the exhibit, which began with a short movie about King Tut. In the dark, my mother said to me, “Watch your purse.”
In the first room of the exhibit, we were a field trip of underachievers. We couldn’t pronounce Tutankhamen or figure out his genealogy, and we didn’t know what canopic meant. I kept pressing the wrong numbers on my mother’s gadget for the audio tour, so the tape would play the spiel about liver embalming when she was looking at the mask of Nefertiti.
But we found our stride as the exhibit continued. The lights were low and dramatic; the rooms modeled after the King’s own tomb. I held onto my mother’s elbow as she wobbled along, and my daughter read aloud for her the plaques she couldn’t read herself. We saw lovely calcite jars, so luminous that they glowed. Delicate statues called shabti, glazed a vibrant blue. A gilded chest covered with carved hieroglyphs. The artifacts, all over three thousand years old, had been placed in King Tut’s tomb to keep him company in the afterlife. In the Egyptian culture’s reverence for the dead, I could see its reverence for the living. Looking at the amazing artifacts, holding onto my mother and my daughter, I realized that this moment might never come again. Cancer kills mothers every day, and death comes for all, boy kings and perfumed women.
Then I tried to understand why it took a glimpse of the afterlife to make me appreciate this life. It was an afterlife lesson.
We passed into the last room of the exhibit, which was darker than all the others. I had expected to see the grand finale, King Tut’s famous golden sarcophagus. But where it should have been, instead was a stand the approximate size and shape of a sarcophagus. On it was projected a ghostly photo of King Tut, which morphed from a picture of his mummified remains to a picture of his sarcophagus.
“What’s this?” I asked, mystified. “Where’s King Tut?”
My mother said, “Told you. He’s not here. I read it in the paper.”
“That’s what you meant?”
I felt terrible, for my mother. “Sorry about that.”
But she waved me off. “Makes no difference.”
My daughter looked over at me. “Bummed, Mom?”
“No,” I answered, without hesitation.
“Me, neither,” my daughter said with a smile. And we both took my mother by the arm.
Copyright Lisa Scottoline
- Column Classic: To Catch A Predator April 2, 2023
By Lisa Scottoline
I have a crush.
On a fox.
What can I say?
Let me explain.
A few months ago, I noticed that there was a baby fox running around my backyard, hanging out in some brush to the left, far from the house. He was red, fluffy, and adorable, with delicate black paws and ears, and I began to spend time watching him.
That makes me sound lonelier than I am.
Also creepier, especially when I use my binoculars.
If I get a GPS on him, call the authorities.
In time, the fox grew up, going from cute to handsome and then some. Imagine Justin Bieber turning into Hugh Jackman, like Wolverine only nice.
A stone fox.
His body got fuller, his coat glossier, and he sprouted a thick patch of white fur on his chest.
I like chest hair, even if it’s white.
I’m at that age.
In my own defense, I also like nature, especially when it can be even remotely classified as a Woodland Creature.
Chipmunks, call me.
Also I loved that animated movie The Fantastic Mr. Fox, so it was all I could do not to catch the fox and dress him in a pinstriped suit. In case you were wondering, my thing for the fox has nothing to do with the fact that George Clooney voiced the fox in The Fantastic Mr. Fox. As we know, I’m over my crush on George and have moved on to Bradley Cooper, because crushes are highly transferrable, especially when they’re completely imaginary.
And also this is one smart fox.
I didn’t know that foxes really were smart, but believe the hype.
He darts away if I go out the back door, then sticks his head up from the brush when I go inside, as if he watches my comings and goings. He comes out only at certain times of the evening, when we sit and stare at each other from across the lawn. I begin to notice that I’m looking forward to our end-of-the-day staring sessions.
In other words, dates.
Words aren’t always necessary, between us.
Frankly, I’ve had entire marriages that were far less interesting.
By the way, foxes mate for life.
My fox is so cool and elusive, the ultimate mystery man. Either he has intimacy issues, or I do.
Daughter Francesca came home to visit, and I showed her the fox, but she frowned. “Mom,” she said, “he’s cute, but stay away.”
“I know, he could have herpes.”
“You mean rabies.”
“Right.” I meant rabies. “I was wondering if I should put some food out for him.”
Francesca’s eyes widened. “Are you serious? He’s a predator.”
“So what? They have to eat, too.”
“You want him around?”
“Of course. Isn’t he great? I mean, he’s like another dog and cat, combined.” I didn’t tell her he’s my crush. I didn’t want her to think I like bad boys.
So I didn’t feed him, because my daughter is smarter than I am.
But neither of us is as smart as my fox.
I say this because the other day he ran by with a bird in its mouth, and I realized that it might have come from my bird feeder by the back door, which I keep full because I like to watch birds, too.
Though with them I manage to check my romantic urges.
No chest hair.
Although yesterday I did see a superhot blue jay.
Anyway I felt terrible about the bird who was about to be dinner, and worse about the fox. And now I’m thinking that all this time, on our nightly dates, the fox wasn’t watching me, but the bird feeder.
He wasn’t the man I thought he was.
Copyright Lisa Scottoline
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