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NOW

A blog about writing, relationships, society, parenting and being human.

 

Walk The Walk

Coley Gallagher

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        A month into summer vacation, the best way to convey my state of mind is to report how I want to punch the read-walker. As her nickname suggests, the read-walker reads while she walks, or walks while she reads, usually a book, hardcover, no doubt procured from the Evanston Public Library. I met her once, a number of years back, although I cannot remember her name. She is the seventy-something mother of an acquaintance. The read-walker looks much younger than she is, whip-thin, very tanned, often attired in a tank top and workout shorts, frosted blue eye shadow shimmering beneath her tortoise shell specs. Truth be told, I have long nursed a grudge against this person since she drives with her little dog on her lap, its teeny forepaws balanced on the steering wheel.
        And now, every few days, as I shuttle five clamoring boys to sports camp, I spot read-walker chugging down Ridge Avenue, a book held at the level of her nose.
        When I see her, I want to stop my car, run over and punch her.
    Problem: the woman reads while she walks. She would not see me coming. I’d prefer not to sucker punch her as my whole gripe against the read-walker is her not being where she is, not drinking in the glorious summer morning.
        No, I would insist on having the read-walker’s attention.
        First, I’d politely ask her to lower her book, then I’d punch her. In the face or her flat stomach. The stomach option might prove more symbolic, since she’d most likely drop her book. Once she did, I’d kick it into the grass. Backing away, I’d say, “Let that be a lesson to you.”
        As her hand rises to her stinging face (or aching gut), we’d lock eyes. It would seem like we were staring at each other a long time, but would be only seconds — fractions of a second — before the boys in my car would erupt, hooting and cheering although they’d know not why I slugged the read walker.
    This would be my Second Problem. Busted, I'd need to go, fast. Jogging back to my car, I’d lecture the read-walker. Waving my arms to indicate everything and nothing specific, I’d gaze imploringly into her stunned eyes and say, “Look around! Look what you’re missing.”
        Still holding her cheek or ribs, the read-walker’s eyes would travel where my arms are indicating, then right back to mine.
        I’d say, “You missed the summer sky, fickle and ever-changing. You missed the trees, dense, full green, every flower in raucous bloom. You missed the jowly babies, up for hours by now, not to mention any chubby toddlers who may have wobbled past.”
        For some reason this toddler part would really choke me up. Not wanting to cry, I’d hurry to my car. Then, when almost to the driver’s door, I’d realize that the read-walker is about to turn onto Lake Street and read-walk right past the fragrant, bejeweled Rose Garden. Outraged now, I’d shout, “You miss beauty. Connection. Inspiration. Contemplation!” I’d shake my head, tell her, “I guarantee every single time you read-walk, you miss a wondrous surprise meant specially for you.”
        I’d close the car door, burning to send her off by shouting something snide and succinct out the window, something like, “Cut that shit out.” Or, “No book is that good,” which would, of course, be a lie. Instead, I’d just drive away, the male children in the back as loud as bombs, a blitzkrieg of shouted questions: simultaneous, consecutive, seemingly without end.
        In short, one month into summer, I could use a quiet, destinationless walk, ideally past the Rose Garden.

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SIMPLE NOT SIMPLE

Coley Gallagher

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    I was putting a bag of old clothes in my trunk when I noticed a glimmer inside, a glint of light reflected off something shiny. It puzzled me. What on earth would be shining in my trunk? After a seconds-long delay, and to my utter delight, I realized it was a forgotten square of baklava.
    A week earlier, I’d had a morning check up on my heel that won’t heal. I have plantar fasciitis, an infuriating injury that is keeping me out of spring play. I’d eaten breakfast before six and my doctor ran late. By the time I got out of the appointment, I was half-starved, well into a headachey, bad mood hunger. As quickly as I could, I drove to a nearby Armenian restaurant.
    I know Armenian rarely tops anyone’s favorite cuisines list. If you’ve never had it, think Greek, only with more cabbage and less flavor. This particular Armenian place is close to my doctor and family-owned. Unlike most of the offerings in that area, their food is fresh and made to order. I ordered a veggie meal and, as I paid, noticed a display of baklava in clear plastic containers arranged beside the cash register.
    Baklava is my weakness, far and away my favorite pastry. I believe it to be the original ambrosia the gods chowed on Olympus, those crisp, airy layers, the sticky ground nuts, hint of rose and shock of sweet. My friend Andy is Greek. His mom makes the best baklava I have ever had, ever. Eating Yiayia’s baklava is a near-religious experience and yet I’ve not grown picky about baklava. I’ve eaten it in a dusty Bulgarian bus depot and bought it off vendors in Penn Station. Last month, I tried a couple itty-bitty squares from a sampler my brother-in-law picked up last time he was in Dubai. Heaven knows how old that stuff was. I still tried it. It didn’t touch YiaYia’s, but I found it passable.
    So, while I’m a major baklavaphile, nowadays I rarely eat it. However, it always takes extraordinary restraint for me to pass it up. At the Armenian place last week, famished and feeling sorry for myself over my ailing foot, I decided to have a piece. The restaurant sold baklava in boxes of two or six. I only wanted one piece. I bought two, deciding I would eat one and my eldest son — who will eat any dessert anytime — would eat the other. I enjoyed my piece after my veggie meal and carried the second to my car. To ensure safe delivery to my son, I closed the uneaten piece in my trunk.

 

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    I’m a pretty healthy eater. I mostly refrain from sweets and, except for gains during my three pregnancies, have weighed about the same amount for the last twenty-plus years. Before you get annoyed, know that this constancy is hard won. For decades, I hated on my body. From the time I was a girl, I worried about being fat. Then, beginning in my late teens, I tussled with a near-decade bout of bulimia — the vomit and laxative varieties. I’ve also gone through periods where I under-ate. I've used food for comfort, to numb, to punish myself and just because. Thankfully, my beliefs and behaviors grew so destructive that I sought help. With this support, I’ve gotten better, but progress can be halting. Earlier today I saw my bare legs in a mirror and thought, gross. I seriously wanted to cover them, so clearly this whole issue remains fraught for me. That’s why, after much trial and error, I stay in a groove with food.
    My eating is far from perfect, yet I feel best when I stick to food that is good for me and avoid foods that beguile me or anything that makes me want to eat until I explode. For a while, I kept my choices on lock down, but for the last few years, I’ve been trying to be more flexible, more open, to enjoy food more. Even though I often end up feeling crumby when I eat junk, nevertheless, occasionally, I’ll partake in something fabulous-tasting and horrible for me, like queso fundido or poutine. When I do, I try to full-on enjoy it. Sometimes this works out, sometimes not. For example, in lieu of birthday cake, this year my husband and youngest son made me sugarless berry mini-tarts. They were outstanding, such a treat. Problem was, there were three left over and those pretty pastries serenaded me from the kitchen. I showed restraint during the day, but, for better or worse, I ate a mixed berry tart for dessert each night until they were gone.
    This is why I locked baklava in my trunk. I couldn’t trust myself not to eat it. On the other hand, I read it as a positive sign that I’d forgotten all about it. The weather had been as cold as my refrigerator, so now there it was, a perfectly preserved piece of baklava winking at me from my trunk. Finding it felt like an undeserved, deeply appreciated gift, like a stiff ten dollar bill plucked warm from the dryer. In fact, when I realized what it was, I actually bowed my head in thanks.
    I carried the box containing my favorite pastry inside and set it on the counter. After, I walked to the stairs and called to my sons. The two who were home claimed to be doing homework. I paused where I stood and assessed the situation: my work was done; my kids were, allegedly, doing their homework; and I had dinner planned. I appeared to have 20 rare, unscheduled minutes where no one needed me, nor did I have anything I needed to do.
    I quickly determined that, although I’d originally gotten the baklava for my son, there was no way in hell I was giving it to him. It seemed obvious the universe wanted me to enjoy the gifted pastry myself. I picked up the box, then set it back down, deciding it would be more appropriate, far more civilized, to enjoy a piece of baklava seated and without my coat and hat on. I figured I should also fix a cup of tea.
    I hung up my coat, put away my shoes and keys. I washed my hands and, trying to maintain some control, set the kettle to boil. I waited for the tea to steep, albeit salivating like a Mastiff the whole time. Finally, I centered the baklava on a white dessert plate, perched on a barstool and took a bite, at which point I may have actually groaned. I worked all the elements together in my mouth — nuts, sugar, phyllo — and let them rest on my tongue. The sweetness surprised me. This particular baklava lacked cinnamon, but it was delicious nonetheless. After I swallowed that first bite, I sipped some scalding tea, then took another. I tried to chew slowly, to savor each bite, to interrupt progress with sips of tea, but too quickly, I crunched the last bits of phyllo.
    I swept up the remnants with my forefinger and stuck it in my mouth. I sat there a minute looking out the window at the gray, cloudless afternoon. I felt content, blessed even. Eating a piece of Baklava was no big thing. Indeed, enjoying delicious pastry is one of life’s simplest pleasures. I watched the blank sky a few moments more, then, sighing loudly, got back to business. I turned on the oven and located my children. I verified their homework progress. All was well until about an hour later when I had diarrhea.

 

 

CLASSIC

Coley Gallagher

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    On March 17, I offered my friend Claire a ride to her apartment on East Randolph in Chicago.
    It was 11:00 in the morning.
    The St. Patrick’s Day parade started at noon.
    We’d just had my pre-birthday breakfast at a restaurant on East Superior. Claire’s place was only a mile away -- ordinarily a five minute drive on a Saturday morning -- so I turned onto Michigan and headed south towards her apartment. The farther we ventured, the denser the parade crowd grew. Soon, both sides of Michigan were packed with revelers sporting wacky Irishwear: lots o’ top hats, leprechaun whiskers, a megaton of beaded necklaces, and many a lass underdressed in short skirts and cleavage, picture the St. Pauli Girl outfit only in green and with a fleece over the frock.
    Knowing our time together was short, Claire and I kept gabbing away and, before we could maneuver east to go around all the people, I got us stuck approaching the entrance of the Michigan Avenue Bridge. Parade-goers crossed in front of us long after our light turned green. More kept coming. Finally, a world-weary traffic director in a dingy yellow smock held people back so we could proceed.
    As we inched across the bridge, I sat up to get a peek at the dyed-green Chicago River. I wanted to disapprove, but sheer delight edged out environmental concerns. The river was such a pleasing, otherworldly emerald hue. I kind of loved it. Besides, as Claire aptly pointed out, that river is toxic on a good day. I was able to get a good long look at the festive river once traffic halted in both directions. Before long, parade-goers on either side of the bridge started scaling the guard rails to cross to the opposite side of the street.
    We worried for their safety. Throngs of drunk people plus cars was a bad combo. Also, we wanted to move and all these people were in our way. I needed to get home and Claire to her apartment, yet there we were, stopped in the middle of the bridge with a tipsy forest of beaded, bowler hat-wearing parade-goers crisscrossing all around us.
    Suddenly, Claire said, “This music is so calming.”
    I had been talking, marveling at the river, rebuking J-walkers, so hadn’t noticed the music, which was turned down low. I listened, embarrassed immediately. Claire busted me listening to Symphony Hall, a classical music channel on Sirius. She now knew that I share the sensibilities of a much older woman, or, worse, that I am turning into my Grandpa Jack, who switched back and forth between Classical and Smooth Jazz. Claire didn’t judge. She turned the music up and we listened. Soon, we were creeping along again, both philosophical about the crowds thanks to our calmed states. Claire showed me a short cut — she knows all the short cuts — and we made it to her place easy peasy (a term I picked up from Claire).
    I don’t listen to classical music every time I drive. I can’t tolerate marches or woodwinds  or most Russian composers, detest the show Baroque and Beyond on weekends — harpsichords and organs depress me. I listen to classical for the exact reason Claire articulated: it calms me. I switch it on when I start to feel vexed by other drivers or when there’s traffic.
    I wish I could play classical with my kids in the car. They hate it, although sometimes I can get away with it when I drive my youngest son’s soccer carpool. If the boys are busy dissing, competing or arguing with each other they don’t always notice it in the background. If they do, they ask me to change it to Hits 1.
    We’re all the mellower for it when they don’t.

Latte never lies

Latte never lies

HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO

Coley Gallagher

Journalists exposed the perversion and violence of Harvey Weinstein. Only after, did it feel safe enough for others to do the same.
Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantner

Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantner

    The widely distributed photograph of Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorria and Salma Hayek at the Oscars has been bothering me. They looked gorgeous in it, but no matter how many news outlets credit the trio with destroying producer Harvey Weinstein, this narrative remains false.
    The people who actually took down Weinstein were New York Times journalists Jodi Kantner and Megan Twohey. Ronan Farrow at the New Yorker also played a role. These writers heard murmurs and tales about Weinstein’s unwanted advances, stalking and rape, lawsuits and cover ups. At their social and professional peril, they investigated the powerful, vindictive entertainment mogul. They reached out to his alleged victims, most of whom were well known actresses, and made them feel heard. The actresses, who’d been silent, afraid and/or angry for years, corroborated Kantner, Twohey, and Farrow’s findings. In early October, the Times’ reporters broke the story. Farrow followed suit and Weinstein’s walls started crumbling.
    Most well-known accusers went public only after the reporters assured them others had or would come forward. To her credit, Ashley Judd was one of the first actresses to go on the record. She encouraged others to do the same.
    Annabella Sciorria alleges Weinsten raped her in the 1990’s, then hounded and threatened her for years after. Until recently, she told no one. I wish she had gotten the police involved. I wish she hadn’t borne this painful secret and Weinstein’s subsequent threats and harassment for so long.
    Hayek explained that she put up with Weinstein’s unwanted advances in order to make her film Frida. To justify this, she claims she must have been suffering from a mild variation of Stockholm syndrome — I’m pretty sure that’s not how Stockholm syndrome works.
    Maybe she was simply willing to do whatever she needed to to get her movie made and distributed by Weinstein’s Miramax. Its hard not to admire Hayek’s ambition. She sounds like she was willing to move heaven and earth to make Frida. In addition to putting up with Weinstein’s behavior, per his insistence, Hayek added a girl-on-girl scene with female full frontal.
    Even with this extraneous scene, Frida is a beautiful film about an important artist, but let’s pause to review: No woman should have to manage or placate a violent or sexually inappropriate man in order to do her work.
    Clearly, women who’d been harassed or assaulted by Weinstein must have been terrified. They must have known their careers would suffer if they’d said anything. Indeed, Sciorria’s did after Weinstein started rumors about her being difficult to work with.
    I commend any and all the women who confronted or confirmed Weinstein’s behavior. Their powerful, public voices, and beautiful faces, have garnered much needed attention for the issue of workplace sexual harassment.
    Still, let’s give heroism credits where they are due. Journalists exposed the perversion and violence of Harvey Weinstein. Only after, did it feel safe enough for others to do the same.

Ronan Farrow

Ronan Farrow