Monday, December 23, 2019

Christmas Story, Part 2

Once my mom noticed I was gone, the store activated the Misplaced Kid all points bulletin and numerous Bon Marche employees were given my name and description and told to find me, pronto. 

But that was easier said than done.

I strolled all over the first floor, at this counter and that one, looking at items, admiring the pretty Christmas trees, and occasionally hearing my name on the intercom.

I didn't listen to what they said after my name. Back in 1972 when grownups discussed a child, it was understood the child wasn't supposed to enter the conversation, even if he or she was standing right there.

This may be difficult to understand if you were raised in modern times because today grownups are concerned with how kids feel and what they think, but when I was a child kids were considered morons and so parents didn't consult with them.

It was kind of like how, if you were discussing your poodle with the veterinarian, you wouldn't expect the poodle to have anything to say. If my teacher was discussing me with my parents, it was none of my business. I'd hear "Amie" and would politely tune the rest out.

I knew the Bon Marche people were talking ABOUT me, which I thought was nice, but I didn't think they were talking TO me, so I just kept shopping.

In fact, I stayed on the lam nearly an hour and a half even though numerous Bon Marche employees were buzzing all around, looking for me. They were looking for a little girl all by herself, and wherever I happened to be in the store, I was always standing next to a grown up man or woman, who took no notice of me. To the Bon employees, I looked like a child standing next to my father or mother.

Unfortunately, my shopping trip was about to come to an end. It happened because I was tired of all the first floor stuff and decided to get on the elevator, to go to the second floor.

As I was stepping on (alone), a lady Bon clerk standing inside the elevator said "Is your name Amie?" I barely had time to look up and say "Ye-----" before she clamped her hand on my arm and was hustling my butt to the customer service office.

"Your mommy has been looking for you. She's been worried!" She told me.

"Oh," I told her.

My mom was sitting in a chair and three policemen were fawning all over her. I saw one of them hand her a cup of tea. She turned her head and saw me and frowned.

There was some conversation with the grownups: my mom thanking them, the policemen saying they were glad. At no point did my mom hug me or say she was glad.

When we were walking toward the exit she said she wished I had stayed gone just a little bit longer.

"Why?" I asked her, confused.

"They had just given me my tea!" she said. "It would've been nice to have been able to drink it, is all."

This was confusing, but not as confusing as the fact that she wasn't punishing me. There was no spanking in the ladies room or even threats about one. Instead, all the drive home, she kept saying "Wait till your father gets home!" She had her mean smile on when she said this, which I correctly translated to mean I would really get in trouble and she was glad about it.

Later, I was sitting at the kitchen table as my mom fixed dinner and my dad came home and sat down.

My mom's mean smile was even bigger and she was doing a little excited dance, like she had to go to the bathroom.

"Amie you tell your father WHAT YOU DID TODAY," she told me.

Her tone of voice totally went over my dad's head. "What did you do today?" my dad asked me.

"I went shopping!" I told him.

"Aww, isn't that cute? She went shopping!" my dad said.


She proceeded to tell the story, but she must not have told it right either, because my dad started laughing and found the whole thing adorable, which really peeved my mom.

Finally, she gave up. I never did get punished for my shopping trip and as I got older, my mother retold this story to me many times, always frustrated by my dad's reaction, and always mourning the tea she never got the chance to drink.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Christmas Story, Part One

The Christmas story I'm about to tell you took place a long time ago, way back in 1972. In many ways it seemed like the world was divided into two groups: cool people who said things like Groovy, and uncool people who got excited about things like Tupperware. My parents were 29, and couldn't quite decide which group they were in. I was 4, and couldn't decide which group was better, or which one I wanted to join someday.

The TV shows catered to both groups. There was The Mod Squad and Bewitched, M*A*S*H and The Bob Newhart Show, I Dream Of Jeannie and The Waltons and All In The Family.

And the music. There were songs on the radio I only half understood but loved to sing along with anyway. Carly Simon sang about how Anticipation was making her wait. Kansas was singing about A Horse With No Name. There was a Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress and Saturday In The Park and Rocketman and Brandy who was a fine girl and Bill Withers sang Lean On Me when you're not strong.

Nixon was in the White House and there was a war going on called Vietnam. We lived in Seattle and there was a group called The Black Panthers active on the west coast and in Seattle itself. They were, to me, mysterious and cool and ready to be a surprise every second, except no one seemed sure how. They wore uniforms and berets and would have marching drills and were trying to get programs together where all kids, rich or poor, could see the doctor and get hot lunches.

It was Christmastime and my mom announced she and I were going to the Bon. This was her nickname for The Bob Marche, a large department store downtown. Whenever she said store names they always sounded personal, like clubs where she was a member. Fredericks was Frederick and Nelson. Fredericks, The Bon, and Nordstrom were my mother's big three.

Shopping at a grocery store or a regular store was no big deal but shopping at one of these stores was always a fancy event. We'd get dressed up and my mom would take extra time on her hair and lipstick. After she buttoned up my coat, she'd tell me to pick out a Christmas pin to wear. There were 7 or 8 of them in her jewelry box, bells and trees and candy canes, all with sparkly colored stones, all purchased at The Bon on previous trips. I'd pick one and she'd pin it on my coat and I'd feel grown up and fancy all day.

And so we went to The Bon, and there were happy people hurrying all over, all of them dressed up, just like us. There were decorated Christmas trees with shining stars on top and thick red and gold bows tied in the branches. Everywhere you looked it was shiny and sparkling, like in that place it would be Christmas forever.

Because it was not serious shopping and was instead a kind of social shopping, my mother was in no rush. She'd look at this and that and would make friendly chit chat with the sales ladies and my job was to stand next to her and not touch anything. My mom was good at her shopping and I was good at the standing. 

Except it was hard to stand still. I much preferred to run around all crazy, so to have to be so good for so long was no fun. I recall thinking that since I had watched my mom shopping so many times that I knew all about how to do it.

And so, while my mother stood at the glove counter, trying on different pairs and making conversation while I stood, quietly, by her side, I decided to do some shopping all by myself, just like a big lady.

I walked off, into the crowds of people, and when my mother stopped to look for me, I was gone.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Option Was Dropped. What Happens Now?

Last week began with learning Fortitude International was not renewing the TV/Film option for Starfish On Thursday. The rest of the week was spent accepting the fact that Show Business is a business.

Both Starfish On Thursday and Green Shoes Mean I Love You are back in the TaleFlick procurement catalog, available to be optioned. In fact, yesterday I wrote my first Development Pitch, for Green Shoes. In it, I highlighted the fact that addiction affects many families in America and a series with a character you can't decide if you love or hate is a series a lot of viewers can relate to.

My stories are true and many of them feature my mother. She was an addict but she was a complex person with many qualities, both good and bad. That's the case with most people who suffer from addiction. Frequently her addiction drowned out all of her other qualities, because that's what addiction does. Everyone close to her, and especially the people who loved her, suffered from her addiction.

My family's story is the story of many families across the US. I continue to believe many viewers will recognize their own lives in these stories and that many people suffering from addiction will see themselves in these stories. Most of all, the central character of the child loves her addicted mother and continues to love her and hope for her long after the child is an adult and seemingly should have learned better.

A show based on these books should be a captivating, gritty, uncomfortable show that makes viewers think. The character of my mother would be a delicious role for an actress who seeks to show off her range and maybe get some awards for the effort.

Will another production company option one or both of the books? I'm hopeful this will happen. These books are like my babies, and you don't give up on your babies.

To learn more about my books, please visit

Friday, November 15, 2019

STICK 'EM UP (complete version)

I often write about the neighborhood where I grew up.  It was made up of about 10 blocks and was bordered on one side by a large rock fountain and on the other side by a tall skinny sign that told everyone the name of the place: IDYLWOOD. We moved there when I was four and when I left at 18, my parents were still there. The families all seemed to have kids within the same age range: my age or a few years younger or a few years older. When I'd ride my bike around the neighborhood and would pass each house, I'd know the name of the family and the name of their kids and sometimes even the parents first names. We lived in the suburbs and the parents believed that kept the kids safe.

Most of the time, it did.

One day I came home from playing, although where or with whom, I can't remember. Everything that happened earlier in the day paled in comparison with what was to follow. When I came inside the house my mother looked worried and excited at the same time. She said half the neighborhood was blocked off to cars by the police and she'd had to drive way around to even get back home.

"It's down by the Jacobsen's. You go down on your bike, see if you can find out what's going on," she told me.

I set off on this assignment, pedaling the block and a half and the closer I got, the quieter everything was. And then I was across the street from the Jacobsen's house, looking at a strange, busy scene. There was an ambulance in the Jacobsen's driveway and a second ambulance in front of the house. Both had their lights and sirens turned off. Across the street were two firetrucks, and their lights were off too. Starting from in front of the house and lined up all down the street to the right side and all down the street to the left side were police cars: 14 in all.  None of the cars had any sirens on but all of the police cars had the lights going on top. The gumball machines, that was what my big sister called them. They all had their gumball machines going.

The Jacobsen's house was still, and no one was going in or out.

I stood astride my bike, and noticed, a few houses down, the Manteys were outside, standing in front of their front door, faces serious, their eyes on the Jacobsen's. I went to school with their son, Chris. I parked my bike and walked over and asked them what happened.

"We don't know," they said and the words came out sounding heavy and thick.

She was a PTA lady and he was a barbequeing type dad, both of them pretty social types, so seeing them standing so quiet and looking scared was almost worse than all the police cars. The three of us stood, staring at the Jacobsen's house.

I knew the Jacobsen's daughter, Tina. She was in my fifth grade class and we played sometimes. She had a big brother, Brandon, who was in the seventh grade. I didn't know Brandon very well but had said Hey to him a few times when I was with Tina and often when my mom and I would drive past their house we'd see Brandon mowing their lawn.

After a while, I said goodbye to the Manteys and pedaled home. I told my mom what I'd seen and that the Manteys looked scared. The next day we found out what had happened, and we heard about it on the TV news.

What happened next should have been a simple story: there were two boys playing with a gun.

You hear those words and think you already know how this story is going to go. Everyone who heard that beginning thought the same thing. The grownups thought it, the kids thought it. The rest of the story would be that someone had been shot by accident. It would be a tragedy for one boy's family and a horrible thing for the surviving boy.

But that isn't what happened.

We learned the Jacobsen's grandpa lived with them and kept a pistol from the Korean War. Brandon and a classmate had been in the garage playing with the gun and it had gone off and Brandon was killed. His friend Jared, who was a 13 year old, a good student, a nice kid from a decent family and who had no criminal record, was being considered a suspect. It was what they called "a continuing investigation."

The surviving boy had called the police. When they arrived they found one 13 year old boy in tears and another 13 year old boy lying dead on the garage floor. He had been shot twice.

That twice was going to be the problem.

Jared told them he and Brandon had been playing with the grandpa's gun. It was kept in a case with a broken lock and the boys thought it was unloaded.

The game they played was called Stick 'Em Up. One boy would be the cop, holding the gun, and the other would be the bad guy. The kid playing the cop would point the gun at the other kid and yell "Stick 'em up!" and the other kid would hold both his hands up and surrender. Then the boys would trade places and play the game again.

Jared told the police Brandon had been the cop first, and then they traded places and when he was the cop and said "Stick 'em up!" the gun had gone off and shot Brandon in the chest. After that, he couldn't remember if he dropped the gun or if he threw the gun down, but either way, the gun hit the cement floor and went off a second time. The second shot had hit Brandon in the forehead.

The police weren't satisfied with this version.

And so they peppered the hysterical boy with one question after another. The boy had been taught to tell the truth and that policemen are the good guys so with no lawyer or parents present, he answered every question they asked.

No, he hadn't been right next to his friend every second when they entered the house. Yes, his friend had gotten a glass of lemonade. No, he hadn't had one. Because he wasn't thirsty. No, he hadn't gone into the kitchen with Brandon while he got the lemonade. Yes he had used the bathroom. Just one time. No, he didn't know where Brandon was while he was using the bathroom. Had Brandon used the bathroom? He didn't remember. No, he didn't think he had. How many minutes had it taken from the time Brandon left to get the lemonade until he saw Brandon again? He didn't know. A couple of minutes. He wasn't sure exactly how many.

He was clear on the fact that at school Brandon liked to talk about his grandpa's gun and had invited him to come over to see it.

The police asked him if other boys had heard Brandon talking about this gun. Jared didn't know. "Probably," he told them.

They asked if he and Brandon had been in an argument, if they'd been mad at each other about anything.

"No," he told them. Brandon was his friend.

At some point they took him home. What Jared didn't know was this wasn't the end of the investigation; it was the beginning.

A bunch of stuff happened then. It was kind of a race between people trying to find out who to blame and everyone wanting to say it shouldn't be them.

The police went to the junior high and interviewed teachers and students who knew the two boys. Naturally there were no attorneys or parents present because they didn't work at or attend the school. The police wanted to know if the two boys had been getting along and if they had seemed to be in an argument that day. Had anyone seen any angry looks between them? Any angry tones of voice?

No, the teachers and students told them. They got along great. There didn't seem to be any argument at all.

The police made a list of the boys who had been friends of Jared and Brandon and then went to their houses, one by one, and sat across from one scared 13 year old boy after another. The boys had a dad sitting on one side and a mom sitting on the other and they all answered the questions the same.

No, they would never play with guns. They never heard Brandon mention his Grandpa's gun. They had never seen the gun. They never heard of any Stick 'Em Up game. If they ever saw a gun, they wouldn't touch it. They'd tell a grownup right away.

But they were American children so those were the answers they'd been raised to say, right along with No, I'd never get into a car with a stranger and No, I'd never steal anything from a store. Warnings they knew as well as they knew the Pledge of Allegiance they stood up and said every school day.

The parents of each of the boys were glad to hear those words; relieved their kid was safe and maybe proud they had taught their kid so well.

But Brandon's parents told the police the same thing: our son would never play with a gun. His dad said Brandon had been taught gun safety and that he and Brandon and his Grandpa would go on hunting trips every few months, same as he'd done when he was that age. It was a family tradition.

The police learned Brandon and his dad would use hunting rifles on the trips but the Grandpa would use the Korean War pistol. As soon as they got home, he'd unload the gun.

The Grandpa was less certain. He thought he'd unloaded the gun but he wasn't sure. The broken lock on the gun cabinet? He'd told his daughter about it and she was supposed to take it in to get fixed.

And then back to Brandon's mom who said she'd told the Grandpa he needed to take it in, not her, and she'd thought he'd already gotten it fixed weeks before and it wasn't her gun, it was his, and she couldn't be expected to keep track of everything.

Meanwhile the police seemed to be working on the theory that Jared either a) knew the gun was loaded or b) had used the time Brandon was getting his lemonade to secretly go load the gun himself. True, the kids at the school said the boys were getting along, but they also said they'd never heard of any Stick 'Em Up game.

As far as the gun went, the Grandpa and the parents could argue that one; there was no law saying the gun had to be kept unloaded or locked up and no law holding the gun owner or parents responsible if a child in the home got into the gun and it resulted in a death.

That was the law in my home state at the time of this shooting, in 1978, and it continues to be the law over 40 years later. In fact, it's the law in 49 of the 50 states, with only Massachusetts saying anything different.

The TV news kept repeating the facts they knew, and showing Brandon's school picture. One reporter had the idea to go to the store where they'd purchased the gun case and then asked the store manager how much it would cost to repair a broken lock on the case. The manager said "about $3.75."

I was sitting with my parents watching the news when they heard that and my mother's voice was low but furious and she said "They didn't need to include that."

And then something good happened.

The police spoke to the youngest person in the Jacobsen house, who was only 11 years old but had a habit of noticing everything. They talked to Tina.

The police wanted to talk to Tina but another neighborhood girl, Jill, and I wanted to see her too, not to ask her questions but just to see if she was OK.

There was a black wreath hanging on the Jacobsen's door, the first time I'd ever seen such a thing. My mom had seen it as she drove past the house and she said it meant the family in that house was grieving. Jill and I stood in front of the door and seeing that wreath made everything seem real in a way the TV news stories hadn't.

We were kind of scared to be there, so close to where such a bad thing had happened, but Tina was our friend, so we knocked on the door anyway.

Tina herself answered, and she looked OK. She said she wasn't allowed to go outside and play. Her mom had said she had to stay home.

We'd brought her pictures we'd drawn, to cheer her up. It was all we knew how to do. She smiled as we gave them to her, and then told us the things we'd wondered about but hadn't dared to ask.

"The funeral was kind of weird," she said. "You couldn't tell Brandon had been shot. He didn't look hurt or anything. I think they put makeup on him so you couldn't tell. He just looked like he was sleeping, except his face was kind of pale."

She didn't cry as she told us this. Tina was kind of a tomboy and I'd never seen her get upset and cry. Her voice was low and her face serious but as she spoke about her brother, she was matter of fact.

"My mom's gonna put all his stuff in boxes, to keep," she said. She looked at the black wreath. "I guess she'll probably keep this too."

And then she had to go. When her door shut it felt like the three of us were no longer the same age. Tina was somehow older now.

It was the next day that the police came to talk to her. Maybe it was a relief to them that the boy's sister didn't cry. They asked if she'd ever seen Brandon with the Grandpa's gun and her answer changed everything.

Yes, she told them, Brandon thought the gun was cool. He'd go to school and brag about it and then he'd bring his friends over and they'd play that dumb game. She never played it, but the boys always did.

"How many boys came over and played that game?" they asked her.

"A lot," she told them.

They asked if she'd be able to write down a list of their names and she said sure. When she finished there were over two dozen. The officers recognized most of the names because they were the same boys they'd already interviewed. The ones who swore they'd never play with a gun.

They were going to have to talk to them again.

The parents of the boys on the list had felt tremendous sympathy for the Jacobsen's, and had also felt a breeze of fear that such a thing had happened so close to home. 

But they felt something else too; some felt it more than others, and none of them would have admitted it in a million years: they felt their sons were in a sort of protected zone, created by a combination of their good parenting and their child's obedience.

That's why when they first learned of the shooting, the flash of fear was brief. They didn't need to wonder "What if that had been my son?" because it just wouldn't have been.

But the police carried Tina's list and went from one house to the next, at each one watching the parents of the boys having the same reaction: shock at learning their son had played the gun game (some of them to the point of arguing with their sons that it couldn't be true) and then a second wave of horror, as they realized the gun had been loaded the whole time, including when their son had held it and pointed it at another boy; including when another boy had aimed the gun at him.

The boys cried, the parents cried, and the police went to the next name on the list. 

None of the boys denied playing the game, even the ones who had lied the first time around. They all described the game exactly as Jared had, and that was all the police needed to hear.

And so what had looked like a tricky case became a simple one: it had been an accident, and no one was charged with anything.

That didn't seem like enough, though, so a police officer visited each class at the local junior high and elementary schools, to remind the kids about gun safety.

The officer who came to our 5th grade class told us the gun warnings and personalized it by adding that a girl in our class had a brother who DIED playing with a gun, maybe we had heard about it. Then he switched gears and became weirdly upbeat, telling us we were going to play a game. He'd ask us some questions about gun safety and then we, as a class, would shout out the answers. 

"Should you EVER play with a gun?" he asked us.

"NO!" we shouted.

"Should you even TOUCH a gun?"


"And if you found a gun somewhere, what would you do?"


The officer smiled and told us "Great job!" like we'd really learned something, like if we'd been at risk before, now we'd be really safe.

But all of us already knew the answers to his questions because we'd heard those gun warnings so many times before.

                                                                  --The End--

STICK 'EM UP is a true story, although the names have been changed. To learn more about my books please visit

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Brand New Thing

I haven't posted anything on this blog for a while because my book Starfish On Thursday is still optioned and I've been afraid to give any information out about that, for fear of jinxing the whole thing. I can only tell you what I've been told: it's a long process.

Meanwhile, I'm very excited to report I've started working on the first draft of a screenplay, also known as a Spec Script, dig my big time Hollywood lingo! I've never written a screenplay before, but then again, before I published Green Shoes, I'd never written a book before, and that turned out okay.

Right now I'm learning the craft and also studying downloaded versions of well written screenplays.  The format is really cool and looks like more fun than writing books. When I was working on my book about Marilyn Monroe, I was kind of hoping she was sending me good vibes, but for this project, I'm hoping for the muse duo of Nora Ephron and Carrie Fisher. Hopefully the force will be with me.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Russians

The most memorable feature of my parents' house wasn't part of the house at all, it was the ferociously steep hill in front of it. A great sledding hill you would think, as you looked at it. You'd have that thought immediately, even in the middle of summer. I don't know how high it was. I can only tell you in kid terms: it took 20 minutes to walk to the top of it and maybe 60 seconds to slide down.
     From the top of this hill you could see it ended in a cross street, like the top of a capital T. Kids sledding needed to prepare, about halfway down, to make a very sharp left or right at the bottom. They couldn't go straight or they'd just end up going down our driveway and crashing into our house. It's been my experience that when faced with dangerous activities, kids are either clueless or wickedly smart. In the maybe 15 years my parents owned that house no kid ever misjudged the turn at the bottom. But because they feared that one might, my parents parked their station wagon in front of the driveway, so that if a sledder went straight, he'd run into the side of this car. My parents honestly believed this made it safer.
     Whereas the hill was excellent for sledding, it was actually a pain if you were on a bicycle. Preparing to turn left or right halfway down was difficult and at the bottom you ran the risk of encountering cars in motion, a hazard not present when there was snow.
     I still wonder why the Russian family couldn't see the danger. Even without being able to speak English, isn't the sight of a steep hill the same? Isn't 50+ mph the same speed if you're zooming straight down a hill on a bicycle? Had they never been on bicycles before? I still don't know the answers to these questions. I also don't know why a drawing of a red cross isn't a universal symbol for first aid. And if it isn't, then what is?
     But I'm jumping ahead.
     I'd moved back home after my freshman year of college and was home alone, typing, when I looked out the front window and saw what looked like a family---a man and a woman and a 12 year old boy--all on bicycles, flying down the hill, already way past the halfway point and going way too fast to possibly make the turn at the bottom. One second I saw them and then they were zooming down the driveway, then I lost sight of them and then I heard a terrible sounding crash as they hit our closed garage door.
     I ran through the house and entered the garage that way and saw two things at once. The first was the family and their battered bikes. All three of the people were standing and looked messed up but the man and the boy seemed like they only had scraped hands and maybe skinned knees. The woman was crying in pain and holding her head with both of her hands. The second thing I noticed was the garage door was still closed but now had a feature I had believed only possible in cartoons: it had a huge, oddly shaped hole punched right through it which I immediately identified as a Wile E. Coyote hole.
     There was a phone in the garage and I asked the man if they were okay, if they needed 911, and soon learned they spoke no English, only Russian. I had finished getting a D in this language only months earlier. The woman was conscious and her head wasn't bleeding but that didn't mean anything. I called 911 and told them what had happened and that none of the people could speak English. No one at 911 spoke Russian and they decided to send an ambulance so the woman could get checked at the hospital, to be on the safe side.
     While I waited for the ambulance to arrive, I tried to make conversation with the man, although my Russian was limited to a handful of words I couldn't quite string together properly.
     "Ye studientka universtyet. Ye studientka Russki," I told him, which (extremely loosely) translated means: I'm a university student. I am a student of Russian.
     The man smiled and nodded.
     "Ye galoopee," I told him. Which loosely translated means: I am a stupid.
     The man and boy both laughed and the woman, still crying, got a little smile on her face.
     Then the ambulance pulled up, which I thought meant I could relax and let the pros handle everything. But the three Russians became hysterical at the sight of the vehicle. As the paramedics walked toward the garage, the Russian family huddled together, all three crying and casting fearful glances at the approaching men. When the paramedics got within 12 feet the Russians began frantically waving their arms in Go Away gestures.
     One of the medics had the idea that maybe their vehicle and their uniforms made them look like police. Maybe the family feared they were in trouble. This is when I thought I had come up with the genius idea OF ALL TIME to draw a red cross on a piece of paper. I pointed to the red cross, then to the paramedics. This and this.
     The Russians calmed down a little but seemed to make no connection. I think they found it amusing that the Galoopee girl was drawing pictures for them.
     The paramedics tried calling on their radio to find a translator and had no luck. I tried calling the local university's foreign language department, to see if anyone there spoke Russian. They did and he was on vacation until the end of the week.
     Since the paramedics didn't know what else to do, they called the police department and within minutes a squad car pulled up. Because we lived in the suburbs and the police often had nothing to do, a second police car pulled up behind the first one. The sight of four uniformed policemen got the Russians going all over again. I think the actual police looked more like police than the paramedics had.
     The four police officers and three paramedics all kept 12 feet away from the crying family. I decided I'd better call my mom and have her come home from work.
     "I think you should come home. Three Russians on bicycles crashed through the garage door and now there's an ambulance and two cop cars here and the family's crying and won't let anyone near them," I told her.
     My mom sounded strange. "Say that sentence again," she said.
     I repeated it and she said she was on her way. The only thing she wanted to know was who was going to fix her garage door.
     The Russians seemed glad the men were all keeping their distance. My experience with actual Russians was limited to Gorbachev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Boris and Natasha (who were, technically, cartoons). Thus I probably assumed all Russian people were either serious and severe looking, sexy ballet dancers, or hated Moose and Squir-rel.
     Not knowing what else to do, I brought out a tray of cookies and a pitcher of iced tea for all the people in the driveway and garage. The Russians calmed down enough to smile. Apparently they understood people don't give you cookies if they're planning on arresting you.
     Then, just when I'd practically become a UN Peacekeeper, my mom pulled up and was yelling before she was even fully out of the car. She wanted to know who was responsible for the garage door. The paramedics looked scared of her and also scared as they told her they didn't know.
     "I don't think they're from here," one of the officers told her, "because they're speaking Russian."
     "Really?" said my mother, "You must be a detective! Can I call you Columbo?" She gave him a scary smile full of shark teeth and he stayed quiet after that.
     Interestingly, the Russians didn't seem upset by her at all. Maybe it was because she was wearing regular clothes and not an official looking uniform. They chuckled at her as if they were watching a comedy.
     Eventually one of the Russians handed the paramedics a piece of paper with their host family's name and phone number on it and, once called, they arrived and took the Russians to the emergency room. As to my mother's question, who was going to pay for her garage door, the answer was: No One.
     It turned out the Russians couldn't be held responsible, through some part of their travel visa. The officer she called Columbo tried to explain this to my mom and I knew it was a mistake. My mother was a dedicated shopper and greatly objected to the term visa being applied in any sense except credit card. I had heard her go on and on about it many times. "Why Visa?" she would ask, "Why not MasterCard or American Express? Why must they pick on Visa, can anyone TELL me why?" The only safe response was to shrug your shoulders and agree with her.
     Poor Columbo. Then he had to tell her the host family also couldn't be held responsible.
     "WHAT?" my mother yelled, "Well that's just GREAT, so they get to just go around crashing through people's garage doors and don't have to pay a thing?" She made it sound like something reckless teens might do for fun on weekends. "Maybe I should go to THEIR country and smash through THEIR garage door! See if they like that! But NO, if I did THAT, I'd have to pay for it! Why, it'd be an international INCIDENT! Isn't that RIGHT?" She directed this last toward Columbo.
     "Ma'am, I don't know," he mumbled, clearly a little scared.
     I could tell I'd have an easy week of it because, no matter what I might do, I wouldn't be Russian.
     Columbo tried to cheer her up: "At least, from what it looks like, no one was hurt."
     "My garage door?" my mother reminded him.

The Russians is one of the stories in Starfish On Thursday, by Amie Ryan. Available at Amazon at