Finding Alice

What I Can't Help But Say

Hi there, Loyal Reader – Did you call the Alameda Police to report me as a missing person? After hearing from several readers who wondered if they had an incorrect link to my new site, I’m back! I stalled, procrastinated, and even alphabetized Si’s Louis L’Amour paperback collection instead of writing.

But I’m back, and here’s what I want to say:

Friday March 8th, 2013 will remain in my retrievable memory long after I can recite on command what I had for breakfast or the last four digits of my social security number. After over five and a half years of Weight Watcher meetings, I made it to “goal.”

I stepped onto the scale that morning, squeezing my eyes shut. When I opened one slowly, I saw the digital number was almost half a pound lower than my 60-pound target – a weight in the healthy range for my height and less than what I weighed when I married at 21.

How many women can (honestly) say they weigh thirty pounds less than what’s printed on their driver’s license?

I grabbed the kind staff member by the shoulder and said, “I made it – Finally!” It took a few seconds for her to realize I meant that I reached goal. I started crying. She hugged me enthusiastically and turned to the adjacent weighing station to give our leader the news.

As word spread, members came up to hug, kiss, and “high five” me. Some cried, either having witnessed my persistence or understanding the difficulty of a constant battle. I stood up front for most of the meeting and thanked everyone for making Friday morning attendance a pleasure instead of an obligation. I believe that if it wasn’t for our leader’s charisma and the collective personality and spirit of our group, I might have given up long ago.

Late that afternoon I drove to Anthropologie in Berkeley to fulfill the self-made promise of a new outfit – something trendy and expensive. I tried on several things but purchased nothing. For once it wasn’t because I was too large for their racks. (One jacket was the wrong color and though the skinny jeans fit, I couldn’t bring myself to pay that much for jeans when I needed a new wardrobe.)

So the next morning my daughter and I hit TJ Maxx with a vengeance. I found a body hugging “little black dress” for a third of the cost of those jeans, along with several other pieces to replace larger sizes now banished from my closet.

I wore my new dress to a cocktail party in the City that night – a 60th birthday for a good friend. Every guest I knew complimented and congratulated me. One guy in particular should launch a charm school, teaching lessons on complimenting a woman so she hears it.

He said, “Alice – You look stunning!”

I smiled and said, “Thanks! I feel good.”

He shook his head and said, “No, what I meant to say is that you have always been pretty. But you transformed yourself. Now – You’re ravishing!”

Ravishing? The unfamiliar word “stunning” still rattled around in my head. In more than half a century I don’t remember ever hearing the word “stunning” and my name in the same sentence. But, ravishing? And the way he said it let me know he thought I was pretty all along.

That’s the lesson, guys. Turn down the corner of this virtual page and take out your bright yellow marker:

  • When someone loses a tremendous amount of weight, don’t say, “You look great now!” What a large woman hears is, “So glad you lost that weight, honey, because boy – were you one dumpy broad!”

After an hour of floating through the party on my inflated ego, I chatted with a couple who followed my Alameda Patch weekly column. They asked if and when I intended to get back to writing. I thanked them for the nag, admitting that I had difficulty honoring self-imposed deadlines. I promised to write and post something by today. As I made the promise, I knew I would break it.

Then a woman whose son attended preschool with our eldest joined us. When I asked about him, she said, “He works for Google, has published three books and is working on a fourth.”

My ego deflated faster than a pin-pricked birthday balloon. But it was exactly Imagewhat I needed to hear to get back to the keyboard. (Her son isn’t yet 29 and he is working on a fourth book. Thank you…)

You reach a goal and think you’re pretty hot stuff. Not so fast, sweetheart. Another highlighter worthy line here:

  • When you reach a goal, it’s time to set a new one.

I am attending a four-day writer’s workshop in May. If I don’t want to waste money and look like an idiot in front of complete strangers, it’s time to make writing a routine. You have permission to nag if you don’t see regular posts.  

And thank you for hanging in there. God knows, I missed you as much or more than you missed me.

I’m back! Sorry for the delay… I was buried alive in the aftermath of Christmas. That, and I obey deadlines from others much better than my own. So with a gentle shove from my daughter, Sarah, and another my workout buddy,  Chris, here is one toe in the water – an essay submitted to Alameda Patch back in June of 2011. It never posted, so I figure the content still belongs to me:

After dinner a couple of weeks ago, my family and I were watching something on TV that caught only half my attention, so I started fiddling with my new laptop – “Googling” myself, then “Googling” past column titles to see if anyone outside of Alameda was reading, maybe some complete stranger who wasn’t a relative or didn’t even know or love me. I found a couple of my columns posted on websites in Georgia and North Carolina and started to get pretty excited.

How cool is the Internet?! I started to wonder if my work would go viral, or if some New York publisher would call to beg me for rights to my yet-to-be-written Great American Novel. (Saying I have an active imagination is the definition of understatement.)

Then I found an altered version of a column about my friend, Mrs. Drake, except for in the new version she was “Mr. Drake.”

My shriek uprooted the rest of the family from their spots on the couch. Throughout the plagiarized version, it was as if someone had run the piece through a thesaurus in a different language, changing a word here and there to mean the same thing but with a completely different end product. I didn’t know whether to be flattered, angry, or both.

Did I need a lawyer? This was uncharted territory.

My original text: “A few weeks ago, I went to visit a 93-year-old friend. Well, I shouldn’t say old friend. I should say good friend.” Altered text: “Some weeks ago, I went to visit a Ninety Three-year-old pal. Well, I shouldn’t state old pal. I have to state fine pal.”

Nothing out of the ordinary so far, but it’s not how I would say it. They spelled out the numbers, changed “friend” to “pal,” “good” to “fine.” They changed “living room” to “family area.” No big deal, other than the plagiarism thing.

As I read further in, it got worse. My text: “With sweaty palms in a living room packed with parents and fellow students my children’s ages, I played the heck out of that piece. All I can say is thank God for blood pressure medication.” Altered text: “With sweaty palms in a family area packed with ancestors and fellow students my youngsters’ ages, I played the heck out from that chunk. All I could state is thank God for hypertension cure.”

“Packed with ancestors?” That’s kind of creepy. Sounds more like a séance than a piano recital… And “played the heck out from that chunk?!” Permission to roll over, Mozart.

They changed “terrible, horrible, no-good lousy friend” to “awful, awful, no-fine awful Pal.” (I may be an awful, awful, no-fine pal, but I do try my best not to be repetitive.) They changed “I reunited with parents” to “I re-joined with ancestors.” (Believe you me – Although I miss them, I am in no big hurry to join my ancestors.) “Harry Snider, whom I’ve known all his life and didn’t recognize” became “Harry Snider, whom I’ve recognized all his life and didn’t understand.” (Ok, that’s true. The older you get, the harder it is to understand the younger generation…) Referring to “Mr.” Drake’s pneumonia, they wrote, “I might hear the liquid deep in her breast.” (Liquid breasts… Hmmm…)  They changed “Lady Diana Spencer” to “Female Diana Spencer”. At least they left Diana’s gender intact, unlike poor “Mr.” Drake.

Owners of local businesses should share my outrage. Kelly Kearney’s “Pacific Fine Foods Catering” was changed to “Pacific Fine Meals Catering.” “Lauren’s Closet” became “Lauren’s Utility Area.” Pamm Drake’s “Dance/10 Performing Art Center” became “Dance/10 Carrying Out Art Center.” (Hey Pamm – Excellent idea! If you can’t make enough money in this economy as a dance teacher, you can always open food take-out service in one of your spare studios.)

Our family business name morphed from “Hidden Connections” to “Obscure Links.” It scared the heck out of me when someone called the office and said, “Have I reached Obscure Links?” Turns out it was a friend who saw my Facebook post about the column theft. Got me, John!

I’m flattered someone found my work worthy of plagiarism. But I wish they had changed my byline. I may not have a Pulitzer Prize on the mantle – yet – but I am NOT an awful, awful no good writer. I am Alice S. Lewis, who moved whole lot of the way from San Francisco to Berkeley (Go Bears), and then to Alameda in 1986. I outlay weekdays in a dusty storehouse, working as office executive for Obscure Links – my family’s Alameda AV setup business. Evenings and weekends I watch way too much adverse* television with my spouse, Si, while eagerly expecting telephone calls from our grown daughters, Sarah and Emily.”

*PS – I had a hunch Si might occasionally watch adverse television after I fall asleep at night. Don’t ask, don’t tell is my policy.

Happy Holidays! Hope you had an excellent Christmas and are enjoying the aftermath. If you want to receive my posts regularly, please click on “follow” in the lower right corner below and enter your email address to sign up. Thank you for taking the time to find me in my new space. I look forward to many good times together in the years to come.  Happy New Year!

With love,