Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Girl Just Hangs Out With the Governor

Me and my boots! (Oh, and the governor
 there in the background) 
A new project at work necessitated a meetup with the governor this afternoon. 

I'm used to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown, with their super-sized egos playing limbo with the doorway to the publisher's conference room, while their hard-muscled body guards skulk in the lobby. Statesmen overseeing more than 38 million people (the population of Poland) in 58 counties and 29 area codes.

Comparatively, Delaware has fewer than a million residents -- about the same governed by the mayor of San Francisco -- who I  ran into daily when I worked in City Hall covering the Board of Supervisors for the Chronicle. (And whose security detail includes my SF condo building's co-owner, who saved my life ... but I digress.)

Here, we've got three counties, ONE area code and no need to add letters to our six-digit license plates. (I bet if you check you can get your first name on a vanity tag.)

In short, it's hella fun!

Here's how the intro went, more or less:

Our exec editor: "This is Suzanne Herel, recently from San Francisco, but she's a native Delawarean ..."
Guv (interrupts): "Oh! Where did you grow up?"
JAG: "The Binns."
Guv: "The Binns! Did you know ..."
JAG: (Thinking: He's going to bring up Ken Burns)
Guv: "Ken Burns lived in The Binns?"
JAG: "Yes, three doors down. He played baseball in my backyard with my brothers."
(Sprite, sitting next to me, whispers, "You know Ken Burns?!")
Guv: "He comes back now and again, he just lived there for a short while ..."
JAG: "Yeah, I think he moved away when he was 12. ... And you went to Newark (High School) with my sister."
Guv: "She was in my class?"
JAG: "Yes. In fact, she was in here earlier this week. You've had two Herel women in one week!"
Guv: "My mom still lives in the Oaklands, I grew up in Windy Hills."
JAG: "Oh yes, of course."

Then we got on with our program.

You cannot swing a toothpick in this state without hitting someone who knows someone you know.

Loving it.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

News in, and of, My Life This Week

"Sometimes, you can just smell a
shitty day week on the way, can't you?"
I started my work week last Tuesday morning by accidentally dropping a capped plastic bottle of diet Dr. Pepper on the floor of my cubicle and then -- mistakenly thinking it would be safe to open since it was half-empty -- spraying my entire desk with soda.

It was pretty impressive, actually -- it spewed in a beautifully symmetrical arc. What could I do? I threw back my head and laughed. And then went to grab paper towels.

Sadly, I returned to find my ergonomic keyboard on the DL.  I unplugged it, drained out the Dr. P. and placed it, in a hopeful manner, upside-down to dry out, while turning to my laptop to work. (UPDATE: The "o" key stopped working. Who knew the utility of a full keyboard would be dependent upon a single letter? One reporter (O'Sullivan) suggested it was a conspiracy against the Irish.)

Apparently, this set the stage for my week.

Wednesday morning, as I was putting on my makeup, Bear cat jumped up on the vanity and, with a flick of his tail, upended my container of loose dark brown eye shadow. Onto my white tile floor. Did I say brown? And white? And loose? Right.

I wiped it up, set off for work ... and got lost.

I was daydreaming, I guess, taken by this random cemetery located on a splinter of land in Belvedere. (Not to be confused with Marin County's town of the same name.)

Upon arriving at the office, I passed one of my favorite reporter's desks and said, "Sprite! [Really, I'm not a soda fiend; she's truly a legendary elf-like creature.] I got lost on the way to work!"

To which our new hire from Louisiana responded, "I feel your pain."

Sprite piped up and said, "No, she's FROM here!"

"But I've been gone for a LONG TIME!" Hrmph.

Meanwhile, I was dealing with an ever-worsening sinus infection (collateral damage from the eye-gouging scene of the Oct. 10, 2009, drama, "The Man Who Tried to Kill Me"). What's that? Go to the doctor, you say? Well, I would, except I just signed up for benefits and my health insurance has no record of me yet.

Oh, and then I get an e-mail from my SF tenant saying he'll be leaving my condo. Holy mortgage payment, Batman!

But enough of this woe-is-me. Because first of all, the above-mentioned thriller reset my "Delighted to be here, God, thanks again for that" attitude, and I'm really just having fun with it.

Secondly, I delighted in my reporters this week. I was thrilled that my nomination for an in-house quarterly award was endorsed for the teamwork of Esteban (Stevie P.) Parra, Melissa (Swell Mel) Nann Burke and Sean (Gumshoe) O'Sullivan in their tenacious ongoing coverage of the so-called Courthouse Shooter.

Thirdly, I was reminded that serious horrors befall other unsuspecting people every day.

On Thursday, we got word from the state police that two girls, ages 14 and 15, had stuffed an 89-year-old woman who'd been kind enough to give them a ride into the trunk of her own car, where they kept her for two days before letting her out -- in a cemetery, where she was found crawling on her hands and knees because she was too weak to stand.
Margaret "Bad-Ass" Smith

A lively debate ensued among the editors about whether we should name the juveniles. Even though the police do, The News Journal doesn't, except for egregious crimes.

There were five in all: Two boys had joined the two girls, and then another girl had been picked up after they let the woman go. No one was older than 17. One of the boys had prior charges (in fact, was on probation) for a home invasion last summer. [An aside, what the hell is it with these kids? And should their parents be held accountable?]

My stance: Hell, yeah.You want to act like adult criminals? You get treated like adult criminals. Name the suckers.

Our executive editor agreed. The only girl we didn't name was the one who was picked up by her friends after all the mayhem had gone down.

So, that was my week. Always trying. Never dull.

And increasingly delighted to be Just a Girl in Delaware.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Some Small Things to Notice About a Small State

On the right track? One hopes so.
It's not that I don't miss San Francisco, especially my friends, the food and the pool atop UCSF Bakar Fitness Center. But after spending seven years feting the city in this blog, I feel compelled to spread the love. 

With that lazy introduction, some observations about my "new" home:

1. It is blissfully quiet.

My first apartment in SF was directly across the street from an active firehouse (don't get me wrong, LOVED the firemen), and above a stop sign on a diesel bus route (that roar of acceleration, not so much).

And while I delighted in the moan of the fog horn at my most recent place, I never have had a chance to appreciate such quiet. The two things I hear, I love: The sound of trains clacking by up the street, and the chime of church bells on Sunday morning.

2. People -- not just men -- hold the door open for me. Everywhere I go, I find this. Why it is, I have no idea. But since it's a pet peeve of mine when people don't look to see who's behind them, I appreciate it.

3. Fresh mushrooms. No, not those! The regular kind. I always know they're local.

4. Plain old 'room! I have so much space in this house that I can lose things, or misplace my jacket, or have to look for the cats. My sister can't even hear me calling to her sometimes to tell her to do something for me in another room. Well, maybe that's a drawback ...

5. Which leads me to No. 5: my sis and bro! It is an unprecedented decadence to be able to drive by my brother's street on the way to work, and my sister's on the way home. (Ever have that feeling that going one way to someplace is the shortest path, while returning in another is the best way?)

And that is something that would have tickled my parents. And so, on the 23rd anniversary of my mom's death, today, I offer up this post as a small thank you. For everything.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ladybug, Ladybug, Fly Away Home ... Oh Wait, That's Here!

Your house is on fire!
OK, first of all I feel compelled to point out the horror inherent in Mother Goose nursery rhymes, Grimm fairy tales and other bedtime fare  employed to "soothe" our entry into this world.

We had shoes serving as Section 8 housing for women with scads of children,  little match girls freezing to death on the street because if they went home, their fathers would beat them and -- lest we forget -- babies being rocked in trees ... until the bough broke, when everything went to hell.

But I digress. And thank the authors of these tales for my ensuing affinity for such shows as "Tales from the Crypt" and "Night Gallery." And don't forget the John Saul and V.C. Andrews books ...

But I digress. Again. Damn it!

Must be the ladybugs.

For Pete's sake, does Delaware have to be so cute? I just want to squeeze its toes sometimes. What's our state bug? Yeah.

Ever since 1974, when second-grade teacher Mollie Brown heard that neighboring Maryland had a state bug, and the fight was on. Deciding among crickets, mosquitoes and ladybugs, the kids went for the spotted beetle, and House Bill 667 legalized their preference.

I happened to be in second grade at the same time, just some miles north in the same state, so I missed the vote.

But now I'm living the history.

Instead of roaches (thank god) or ants (at least not yet), my new home is shared by ... ladybugs. It truly puts me in the mood of A (Disney) Smile and A Song when I am greeted by one of these buggers while I'm doing dishes or brushing my teeth.

One of my (I know it sounds cliche but I just love them) wonderful reporters, Molly Murray, explained the phenomenon. While the ladybug *is* our state bug, the Japanese C7 invasive species has horned in on the honor. And they bite! And look for cracks in your house to crawl in.

I should have noticed when they went after my sushi.


I don't like sushi.

I actually don't care where they're from, I still feel like dancing around the house in a dress borrowed from Disney. NOT Mother Goose. I don't have a death wish.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Reporter, Born and Bred, or, Pope Dope

Pope Paul VI, 1978.
This is an excerpt from my first diary.

That was 35 years and three popes ago.

I was 10, and already recording current events along with such entries as (Jan. 8), "Today it rained. I read a Nancy Drew book & watched TV. Mom made noodles. We called Kiddie World but they were out of Blips."

Tonight, I edited the News Journal's (my hometown paper's) front page  local reaction piece on the selection of Pope Francis

In addition to taking part in a tradition dating to the first century, I was circling back to my own childhood.

Said one of the Catholics interviewed by reporter Beth Miller, "I find comfort in my faith, because it is unchanging. The church is the church, and that's one thing you can count on."

After eight years at Holy Angels and four years at Padua Academy (St. Anthony of Padua being one of the well known disciples of St. Francis of Assisi, providing bonus circle-back), I cannot say I am a practicing Catholic. That "unchanging" nature of the church doesn't do much to advise or comfort in our modern times. 

And of course, no mention of the Catholic Church would be honest without recognition of the terrible abuse some have suffered.

Still, I still identify with the religion.

And I find comfort in my fellow man's ability to have faith.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sandbaggers R Us

Paralyzed by ennui.
After losing my dear first dog (and I use that term loosely; she was more like a barely animated stuffed animal), Lucy, I determined to adopt another rescue Pekingese.

Enter Sadie Marie (left).

That's when I realized that either a) Lucy was not a dog, b) Sadie was not a dog or c) I was being punished severely for something horrible I did in a past life.

She barked and growled and nipped (though it takes the stars aligning, a rain dance and a blue moon for her teeth stubs to make contact with anything [more on that later]). She pooped and peed anywhere -- except on grass, which she seemed never to have encountered. 

Needless to say, I fell in love. 

But she was like that boyfriend (BELIEVE me, I know of what I speak) to whom no one could understand the attraction, and no one wanted to be around. My friend Vicky, ever the pragmatist, worried that if I were to shuffle off this mortal coil, no one would be willing to take SaMo. At the least, she added, no one would want to come to my house while I was still coil-abled.

I tried a trainer. Who labeled her Cujo -- after emptying my wallet.

I resigned myself to a solitary life.

Then, Sadie met my sister. 

Sure, Kathie was terrified of my adopted spawn, who happened to get lucky one day on our cross-country drive and actually made contact with the back of my sister's neck. (Pictures had to be taken in the motel room that night to document the injury for future blackmailing).

And, SaMo was exiled to the back of the car for the remainder of the trip.
Fine. Be that way.
Soon after moving in to my sister's townhouse, however, SaMo became smitten. With my sister. And the transformation began.

Soon, my sister was warming up SaMo's food. And she was bundling SaMo into her car for drives around town. She'd text me, "We're at Petco!" "We just went on a long walk!" "She pooped outside!" "She's such a good girl!" "I just cooked her some chicken!"

They'd come to visit me at the News Journal on Saturdays, pulling up in their little red car, the automatic window sliding down like SaMo was a celebrity in a limousine deigning to say hi.

When I rented my own place, shared custody was not far behind. Thursday morning I drop SaMo off (she blissfully runs to all of her favorite spots, not even noticing whether I'm leaving), and she comes home on Sunday.

While she's at my sister's, she's one dog: She begs for walks, and dare I say, runs, runs! She's courteous of others, including her cousin cats. She poops outside. She jumps in the car on command. She's a dream companion.

When she comes here (which sis and I have dubbed Grey Gardens), she collapses into a furry pile of ennui, chases the cats, pees where she likes and hyperventilates at the thought of a walk. Sandbagger.

My dream companion.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Not Just a Table in Delaware

I have never really had my own dining room table.

You know, a large, inviting, grown-up, family-friendly table to serve Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners on, with enough room to invite everyone you want -- and then some. A comfortable place where kids can do homework and dye eggs, I can write out Christmas cards ... a sturdy, steady member of my house's family.

So I was thrilled when my best childhood girlfriend, Margaret, offered to gift me her family's old one, and its chairs. A few weekends ago, my brother and I went down to Dover in his bad-ass old truck and retrieved this farm table, which by the way is about 10 times heavier than it looks.

It wasn't until we got the table home that I realized what a treasure she'd offered me.

This table has been loved up. There are flecks of crayon in the wood, spots of glitter on the surface.

Turns out this is not just a dining room table. It's the place where Margaret's three kids learned to write, color and draw.

Most importantly, it's where Margaret sat with her firstborn, Lyrissa, who narrowly survived a battle with neuroblastoma, a devious child cancer.

"For that first year that Lyrissa still wasn't well enough to go to any kind of day care or school, she and I sat at that table a lot and did all kinds of crafts," Margaret texted me.

I am so honored.

Now, my favorite place in the house is sitting in one of the chairs where Margaret and Lyrissa sat, embracing life -- for all of us.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

But It's Just Like This

Touching the Atlantic for the first time since 2010.
Shaken Mama and I met on the first day of class in the graduate writing program at Emerson College in Boston. It was there, in John Skoyles' poetry workshop, that we received this advice: "When you are absolutely, positively sure of something, consider that the opposite might be true."

It's brilliant and brave counsel that I've applied often since then, in writing and in life. Sometimes it turns out that what I am sure of is the case ... and sometimes, amazingly, I realize that I have previously unrecognized feelings about an issue, a situation, a person or myself.

Shaken Mama and I developed our own, everyday application of this philosophical tenet. In any given vexing situation, one of us would cry, "I thought it was different!" To which the other would respond (in a deadpan), "But it's just like this."

And yes, I have a point.

Which is: Growing up in Delaware, I itched to leave. One thing I was absolutely sure of was that I would not be sticking around the First State.

And when I was 25, I left. I moved to Wilmington, N.C., for a reporting job at the Star News. The following year, I saddled up the truck and two cats and headed to Boston, sight unseen. Two years later, I followed my then-fiance out to San Francisco, where I stayed, even after we divorced, for 16-1/2 years.

I adored it. I worked for most of that time at The San Francisco Chronicle. I even bought a home.

And then one day, I woke up and considered that the opposite might be true.

I missed Delaware. I missed my sister and my brother and my old friends. I missed meeting someone and realizing we'd both gone to Holy Angels, or Padua Academy, or that  we'd both grown up in Binns.

Literally, I cannot have a conversation with anyone in Delaware in which we cannot find some connection. It trumps the Kevin Bacon game -- it's like three degrees of separation. At most.

Not surprising when you consider that the whole state is roughly the population of the city of San Francisco.

Burying the lead, I'll tell you what happened next. I rented out my condo. I quit my job. I put all of my stuff in a POD to be shipped east. My (saint of a) sister flew out to San Francisco, and we drove back to Delaware (California/Nevada/Utah/Colorado/Kansas/Missouri/Illinois/Indiana//Ohio/Pennsylvania/West Virgnia/Maryland) with two cats and a mercurial Pekingese dog.

As luck would have it, I landed the assistant city editor job at The News Journal I'd applied for, and rented an incredible three-bedroom house (for half my mortgage) that's quiet, in a great old neighborhood, with a huge yard.

It turned out the opposite was true.

And, it's just like this.