Thursday, August 2, 2012

Losing it

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Usually we keep the "book synopsis" thing for last. But this one is so irresistible! I met Andrew Goldstein at a book party--and he says, oh, I have a book too. And I'm like--right. So does everyone on the planet.
 But then he started telling me about it. How the novel is based on his childhood, and though there were dark and scary moments, as it evolved it because more serious.  He said it become a "meditation on family and sacrifice and what one does for those they love. Okay. He was winning me over. What's the title, I asked? 
In a second, Andrew is going to reveal--just to Jungle Red--how he's "Losing It." And ask if we are, too. Embarrassing, but hilarious. But first--in a break from JRW tradition, here's a tiny bit of synopsis. And then you can see why the title of his based-on-true story clinched the deal.

In 1960, as a way to pay off some of his debt, the bookie, HARRY DAVIS, starts collecting loan payments for the Bronx gangster, NATHAN GLUCKSMAN.  Making his rounds, Harry visits a sweet tailor named MORRIS, who is a survivor of the Holocaust.  Whether out of pity, or because Harry was one of the liberators of the camps during World War II, or because he is prone to rash decisions, instead of collecting from Morris he gives him some of Nathan’s money so that he can move to Israel.  Nathan’s henchmen, the SPRATZ brothers, come looking for Harry, who is forced to escape and leave his bookie business in the hands of his twelve-year-old son, RICKY, and his almost deaf and nearly blind mother-in-law, ROSIE. 

Great or what? But now, Andrew's facing what, um, we all are. If we admit it. That he's:
               Losing it.         

At a dinner party the other night, my friend posed the question to the five of us, all of us 60+ years, Do you think you’re losing it? Everyone except for me answered yes.  After all I had recently published my first novel, The Bookie’s Son. I wasn’t losing it.  Undermining my perception were three incidents over the past ten years that tell a different story.

1. Ten years ago my wife was in Paris on business and I had never been there so we decided that I would join her for a long romantic weekend together. At our age, having been together for decades, anything even hinting of romance sounds appealing. I even packed the night before my flight, which I knew would impress her. As I pulled into the airport parking garage I said to myself, that’s funny, I don’t remember putting my suitcase in the trunk. Too late to drive back home, no longer allowed for a suitcase to travel by itself on a later plane, too expensive to ship, I flew to Paris without any clothes...except for what I was wearing. I tend to look on the bright side and told myself, it’s nice to travel light.

2. Eight years ago I was sitting at my messy desk at work when the phone rang. I reached my hand to answer it but instead of lifting up the receiver I picked up my glasses. With one of the plastic covered metal arm tips by my ear and the other by my mouth, I said, “Hello” and the phone rang again. “Hello, hello.” Another ring. Now I’m getting annoyed, at the imbecile on the other end. It was around the fourth or fifth ring that I realized the identity of that imbecile and quietly slinked away from my desk.

3.   The phone incident happened only once so it didn’t scare me. As the years passed an  occasional age related memory lapse, like I’ll leave my glasses at work because I have something else in my pocket and my brain is tricked. No big deal (I’m not losing it.) In December, I was taking care of my nine month old grandson. My daughter likes to keep the heat low to save money and the environment. Fine, I bring extra clothes. She doesn’t want me to track germs into the house. Fine, I take off my shoes. The week before I left a pair of sneakers there. So this time when I was leaving I make sure I have everything. Extra clothes, sneakers, cell phone, keys, glasses, wallet. Proud of myself, I strut down the ten steps to the front door, turn around, wave my free hand at my grandson and shout in a baby voice, “Bye bye, bye bye”. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice my sneakers still on the floor upstairs. How could this be? What could I be carrying in my other hand that tricked my brain. Hint: There are two of them, approximately 3 inches long––my grandson’s sneakers.

    Of the five of us, I think I won the "losing it the most contest." 
The closest contender was a woman who drove to her mailbox to pick up the mail but instead of opening her mailbox she walked around her car and popped the trunk.

You decide, which of the 4 stories indicates more loss of brain cells? And if you are lucid enough to include an incident of your own I will give a free copy of The Bookie’s Son to the top three “losing it” incidents. 

HANK: Oh, dear. May I begin with the "I thought it said" problem YOu know when you read something, and think--HUH? The other day at the TV station I got a story idea about how chickens were having their identities stolen. I thought--HUH? Who'd steal a chicken's identity? And what is a chicken's identity, away? It actually said "children."


I always wanted to be a writer and was fortunate in my early twenties to be selected as a Bread Loaf Fellow and to have my nonfiction book, Becoming:An American Odyssey published by Saturday Review Press. However, in order to make a living while writing I worked at many diverse jobs:tree planter and assistant librarian in Oregon, organic orange and olive farmer in California, school bus driver, Zamboni driver, editor, stock broker, power transformer tube winder and tennis pro in the Berkshires, and custom builder in the Boston area.  Tree planting was the hardest but the job I performed terribly   at was driving a Zamboni.  I could never make clean ovals and once during a Parents‘ Weekend hockey game I froze the Zamboni to the ice in the middle of periods.   

I have been writing The Bookie’s Son on and off for forty years.  While I was managing the construction company and raising my two children I gave up writing for a couple of decades.  When the children didn’t need me to coach their soccer teams anymore I returned to writing. The Bookie’s Son, based on my childhood, was the story I wanted to tell.

JAN BROGAN: Breaking in to announce yesterday's winner:  Melissa Robbins, your name was chosen to win a copy of No Way to Kill a Lady by Nancy Martin.  Please email me at with your snail mail address.  Thanks! 


  1. Andrew, I love the losing it game! My most recent contribution would be, while getting dressed one morning, the phone rang for my husband, and I tried to write down the message with my toothbrush.

    I had to look up Zamboni in the dictionary. Do I dare ask about the original Zamboni and why this machine is named after him?

    ETA: My security letters spell tasedU. Yikes!

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  3. Andrew, I LOVE the title of this book, which sounds terrific.

    I can't win at Losing It because I am a JR member, but I could actually compete in the Losing It Olympics - in part because I have been absent-minded since youth.

    I was living in Northboro, Mass and left for my wedding in New Jersey. I was going to the BVI for my honeymoon and had a suitcase full of bathing suits and sundresses. I forgot the suitcase.
    (Luckily, someone who was coming to the wedding later picked it up and got it for me)

    Once I went to the grocery store, wheeled the cart full of groceries to my car, got in the car and drove home. I never unloaded the cart. (Luckily when I drove back, it was still there)

    The best part is that these two incidences happened when I was still in my twenties. So if I get Alzheimers, no one will ever notice.

  4. I was out getting lunch the other day..went to Quincy Market, an outdoor mall, with cafes and carry-outs. it's very touristy, and I was pleased--since it's my gauge of how well the economy is doing--to see the courtyard was FULL of people, and everyone seemed to be chatting and happy.

    But there was one thing that was SO annoying. I kept thinking--why do they come here when there's that NOISE?? A big, annoying buzzing NOISE.

    I thought--I'm not even going in there, that noise is too bothersome.

    Then I heard another noise, Sirens. The fire alarms were going off.

  5. Welcome, Andrew! Your book sounds fascinating!

    Like Jan, I've been losing it since I was young, so my family will never know if I get Alzheimer's or dementia. Names especially are my bane, names I know perfectly well.

    When I joined the Writers Who Kill group blog, it was my pal Warren Bull who invited me. For my first blog post with them, I thanked Warren for bringing me aboard. Unfortunately, I'd just been talking to a poet friend named Walter, so my first post with WWK thanked Walter for inviting me to join them. Warren's comment was gracious--"I don't know who Walter is, but I'm glad he asked you to join us, too."

  6. I was cooking pasta a few nights ago and when it was ready I very carefully drained the cooking water back into the pot and dumped the cooked pasta in the trash.

    Andrew, your book sounds fascinating. I've written down the title so I don't forget it.

  7. Oh, I'm so glad to know I'm not alone! I often search for my glasses (which are perched on my head), have attempted to remove contact lenses I'm not wearing, been annoyed by a buzzing sound (my cell phone is ringing), and have recently shut the door in the dog's face (by accident, when she's supposed to be coming in). Ten minutes later I'll open the door, and there she is, wagging her tail happily that I've finally remembered to let her in.

  8. I'm convinced it's not our rapidly aging brains, it's the complexity of modern life. I mean, did our grandparents have to remember to bring their cell phones everywhere? Where the Netflix dvd went? The passwords to all their online accounts?

    No, they did not. They didn't even have to run out and get milk after they'd forgotten to pick it up at the supermarket - it came to the door every morning.

    Anyway, Andrew, if you managed to publish your first novel in what I now refer to as "the prime of life," you clearly illustrate a principle young whippersnappers need to learn: it's not how many brains you have left, it's what you do with them that counts!

  9. Ah, Julia, there's a reason I love you so much!! xoxo

  10. My biggest "losing it" moments tend to revolve around going to the store for something specific and then coming home with everything except the item I went out for in the first place. You might think I'd make a list, but somehow I never get around to doing that and assume I will simply remember when I get there. However, I never seem to remember to do that, either . . . .

  11. I love this blog post! It hits pretty close to home, I'm afraid. (The losing it part; not the bookie part.)

    I've tried to change the tv channel with the portable phone.

    And have you ever gotten up to do something and suddenly have no clue as to what you had wanted to do? Happens to me a lot, I'm afraid.

  12. I would vote #2, but the "traveling light" to Paris was awesome.

    I good example of me wondering about the health of my brain cells:

    So this one time, I'm looking all around for my pen that I'd just been using. Could have grabbed another, but dangit I was JUST using it. Brian: What are you looking for? Me: My pen. Brian: Your what? Me: My pen! Brian: One more time. Me: MY PE- Ah. It was in my mouth. ;)

  13. Joan,
    I do the same thing when I go downstairs to get something. Walk back up with three different things attended to and forgot what I'd gone down for.

    My theory is that it burns calories.


  14. This is hilarious! Love the glasses part. But, um, at what age dows one start asking if that sort of incident is actually, potentially, remotely related to....losing it? I'm 45 and do stuff like this all the time. The other day I left my phone in the linen closet, of all places, where I was last standing while on a call. I didn't find it until packing my kids' sheets to send them off to camp with.

    And by the way, The Bookie's Son is a superb read. Highly recommended!

  15. I'm laughing so hard I'm not sure I can type. Should we coin a new acronymn? LTHTT?

    I'm so glad to know I'm not alone! There was the time about twenty years ago when I drove off to do errands with my purse sitting on the trunk of my car. Fortunately, someone who knew me saw it fall off and kept it for me.

    And the time I got all the way to DFW airport for an international flight and realized I'd forgotten my passport. And the time my husband had to FedEx my computer power brick to me in London.

    And that's not to mention the weird things that have disappeared in my house the last year or so: my prescription reading glasses, my favorite pair of flip-flops, a favorite t-shirt... I suppose they've gone to join the missing socks.

    And Andrew, your book sounds wonderful, and congratulations on your perseverance.

  16. So many funny and wonderful stories! I have several theories about "losing it". One, our RAM isn't big enough, so we have to keep searching through the files. Two, I've dealt with ADD all my life--making multiple trips to obtain the one item I was going after isn't unusual, more like the norm. Like several others, it'll be near impossible to diagnose any memory loss diseases. I'm the one who tried to put the ironing board in the refrigerator and stood there wondering why all the food was in the broom closet--at the ripe old age of 15.

  17. Why does the TV remote belong in the bathroom? Or the kitchen? Especially, why is it in the freezer? I don't know but that's where I seem to think it goes. Of course it shouldn't go in the specially designated basket for remotes that we keep in the living room.

  18. I would love to leave a comment but I've forgotten everything that I've forgotten.
    Seriously, I know I do all this stuff too, but can't think of any particular incidents. Does this mean I'm already lost?

  19. Am really enjoying the comments and stories. I can see it is going to be a tough competition. Perhaps we can all go away for a weekend vacation in Paris sometime and see how many of us drive up to the airport with groceries on top of our car, without suitcases or passports, and our wallets resting comfortably next to the ice cream in our freezers back home.

  20. I tell myself that all those trips downstairs for things I've completely forgotten by the time I get there are good exercise ... .

  21. this is hilarious and too close to home at times. Thanks for such a great post.. and a lot of laughs.

  22. I have laughed and laughed at this post and all the comments. And I thank you all for making me feel better about - - - - whatever the hell I was feeling badly about. I forget. I love Deb's suggestion for the acronym - perfect!

    We have left home without our luggage only once - and just the hanging bag. We ended up referring to it as a "Shopping Emergency," and I kinda liked it, truth be told.

    The pasta into the trash story almost made me wet myself, Darlene! Too funny!!!!

    Andrew - the books sounds fascinating!

  23. Sad to say, I'm in my mid-40s, and my friends and I have started this game too. How come no one warns us that it starts so young!

    I can't tell you how many times I've started the rice cooker without the rice! So I end up with a bowl full of hot water...yum!

    Just yesterday I reached for a handful of roasted garbanzo beans only to dunk my hand into a hot cup of tea instead.

    Or how about going to the grocery store to get ONE item, just one, and leaving with a bag of groceries...and, oops, forgot the ONE thing. A-NOY-ing.

    Do I need to worry?

    Andrew, your novel sounds wonderful. Congratulations on persisting through a 40-year gestation period!

  24. I called the security office at work, because the alarm on the gate outside my window was going off. A half hour went by, and it was still ringing. I called security again, and asked them to please investigate and take care of it, because it was so loud I couldn't hear my advisees. They said they would take care of it right away.

    Twenty minutes later... gate alarm still blasting away. I called security again and said, "This is unbearable. The dean is on her way over, and I can't hear a thing except for that alarm! Can't you hear it?" The officer said that he could and would take care of it immediately.

    My doorbell rang. I could hardly hear it, because the alarm was so loud. It was one of the visiting clerks from a medical school in Europe. I apologized for the noise. He said there was no noise and asked if I was taking any NSAIDS. I was taking acetaminophen. He asked how much. I told him. He said, "I think that is your gate alarm." He was right.

  25. Thanks for giving me a safe place to confess what I've sworn my family to secrecy over. A year ago last February, my family and I were taking a splurge vacation cruise to Mexico during that brutal winter of the mega snows. So, you can imagine my anxiousness to get out of town, but maybe you can't imagine bringing husband and children to the airport at 5AM....24 hours early! The result, of course, is that they are forever asking, "Mom, are you SURE???" Not much I'm sure about any more, but I can finally chuckle over that one a little.

  26. Linda, 24 hours early! I love it! That's the sort of thing that creates family lore...

    And how about standing in front of the open refrigerator wondering...why was I here?

  27. Okay, wait, I win, even though I can'tt win.

    I was in the airport (why do airports do this to people?) I had to call someone, on my cell.SO I did.

    I was put on hold. So I was holding the phone to my cheek, waiting.

    Then I thought--oh, I could text someone while I wait.

    So I opened my purse to LOOK FOR MY PHONE.

    It wasn't there. :-)

    I was frantic!! I looked everywhere. Oh, NO, I thought. I forgot my phone!

    Where is my phone,I wondered? And it was really difficult to keep looking for it, I finally realized, because in my hand was---

  28. I'm going to get a new purse, new wallet and new phone cover, all in different colors. I constantly panic that I have lost my black wallet or my black phone because I can't find it inside my black-lined purse.

  29. Okay, these comments have reminded me of another. Last year my sister was visiting. I dropped her off at Alewife station and then realized she left a cloth bag in the car. I opened it quickly and it contained her cell phone and wallet. Afraid I wouldn't be able run down quick enough before her train left I immediately dialed her number, hoping the call would for through under ground. You figure out what is wrong with this equation.

  30. I didn't mean to be anonymous, just forgot how this works

  31. okay I remember

  32. I am in such good company!

    There are too many little incidents in my life to recount here. I'll mention the ones that I remember. (Yep, embarrassing things have happened that I just KNEW I could never forget. But I did.)

    So...on more than one occasion at work I have attempted to do calculations on my phone, or I have reached for the calculator when the phone rang. They are not near each other; the calculator is all the way over on the right side of my L-shaped desk. It's so far over to the right that I sometimes knock it to the floor. (I have never been graceful and I am only getting worse as I age.) The phone is off to my left, on the short part of the L. They are not the same color or shape. My brain must be off on vacation sometimes!

    In our office we have a restaurant style coffee maker,with an extra burner for hot water. Our routine is to prepare a carafe of hot water first,for the tea and hot chocolate drinkers, and then fill the filter with dry coffee grounds and pour through water to make a pot of coffee. This hot water/coffee chore is done by the first person to arrive in the office. I am usually that person. On more occasions than I can remember I have made the coffee without bothering to fill the filter with the grounds. OR I have filled the filter with the grounds and am in the act of pouring the water through to brew the coffee,when I suddenly realize that I did not move the carafe of hot water to the spare burner and replace it with an empty one, and now there is a an entire pot of coffee pouring through into the full carafe of hot water. What a mess!

    And when I put something into a safe place at home I am just lucky if I can ever find it when I need it! In November of 2009, just before Thanksgiving, I was browsing through a catalog and saw a sweet boxed set of earrings with matching necklace and bracelet - the perfect Christmas present for my niece who is also my god-daughter. I ordered it and when it arrived I was compelled for some reason to put it away in a Safe Place. My niece does not live with me so there was no reason to hide it away. Christmas came and I could NOT locate that gift. Oh, well,I thought; I can give it to her for her birthday in January. I checked everywhere; it did not show up. I decided to give it to her for eighth grade graduation a few months later. I would surely find it by June. I didn't. Well, okay, I would keep looking and give it to her for Confirmation in the fall. It did not show up. There were a couple of months until Christmas. It can be her gift THIS year. (It was a year from the time I bought it and put it in a safe place.) I am by now frantically going through drawers, closets, and even old suitcases to see if I can find it. I discovered other items that had been missing for many months but not the gift for my niece. I have still not been able to find it and have given up the search. The third anniversary of that purchase is coming up in November. When it does show up some day, I am afraid I will open the box and say to myself "oh, what pretty jewelry! Where did THIS come from?"

  33. Oh, Deb, I have put away gifts only to have them disappear, too, I am certain they fall into a black hole, never to be seen again. [I wonder if that's the same place those socks go when they disappear from the washing machine . . . .]

  34. Let me admit I cannot find my shorts. It is AUGUST. Last summer, I put them somewhere. Three pairs of them. NO IDEA.

  35. MAybe the jewelry turned into white wire coat hangers. YOu can ALWAYS find those.

  36. Joan, the socks get sucked up and under the agitator. I found 9 in there one day, although only one was ours, from when our then 18-year-old was 7. The others, I thought, must have belonged to the previous owners of the house.

    This brings me to another of my "I'm losing it" moments. the worst of it was that I thought it was my neighbor's "I'm losing it" moment. She accused me of sending my cat over to her house to steal their socks. I told her she needed to um... go take a nap. I'll "go go take a nap" when you give me those socks back as she points to the little pile I'd just unwound pulled out from the inside of the agitator. I don't know how they got there. Maybe the cat put them in the laundry basket?

  37. Ah, Reine, but what if your washer, like mine, is a front loader with no agitator???? Must be the cat . . . .

  38. That 's my life, Joan... agitating behind closed doors.

  39. Joan, for years I have been going to a laundromat. I think I've lost only one sock. I find them, however, and they are in styles and colors that I would never buy, or they're the wrong size...and I always check the machines ahead of time to make sure they are empty. (What are you looking for? Maybe I have one:-)

    I somehow manage to acquire wire hangers, and I don't like them so I never buy any. They just...materialize. This has been happening to me for much of my life. The late Erma Bombeck had a column on this one time. I think her theory was that when we close the closet doors ,the hangers fool around and reproduce. I can believe it. At the end of my freshman year in college when my roommates and I were cleaning out our closet, we found several dozen wire hangers that did not belong to any of the three of us! And they had not been left behind by previous was a brand-new building when we moved in the previous September. Hmm; the school year started in September. It ended in June...nine months later...

    One week when I was at the laundromat I saw a white turtleneck sweater in the Lost and Found basket. It looked exactly like one that I own. I checked the size and the clothing maker, and those matched up, too. Turned out it WAS my sweater. I never even noticed it was missing!

  40. Oh, Hank! I'm missing two pairs of shorts: one white and one black. Maybe they took off somewhere with yours!

    And the machines at the laundromat?I ony use the front loaders, like Joan.

  41. I am so chuckling over the wire hangars, Deb! When we moved [about eight years ago], the hangars were all gathered up and packed in a moving box. All plastic or fabric-covered . . . but when we got around to unpacking the box, there were those wire hangars in there. Makes you wonder . . . .

  42. Oh, Joan! I am hearing the Twilight Zone theme off in the background! What about you?

    Part of my captcha is ntsEverh. Are you pronouncing that the same way I am? What do you suppose it implies?

  43. And Rod Serling voicing ". . . That's the signpost up ahead --- your next stop, the Twilight Zone!"

    We used to leave those wire hangers in the locker rooms at the skating rinks when the girls were competing, but somehow they always seemed to show up again . . . .

  44. Okay I just remembered a good one!

    Two months ago, I took away the kids access to internet, their PS-whatever, and phones because I was getting attitude. I said, "You can entertain yourself the old-fashioned way; read a book." My son did not have any book he wanted to read so he asks if he can get one on my Nook. Well it's a Nook color, so it has Internet. But! you can put a pass code on it. So I used a number, since they know all my internet passwords. Aren't I just so clever. And yes, you guessed it, I spent TWO weeks trying different number combinations because I couldn't remember what I used. Hoist by my own petard.

    And this one I just did today. Playing Words With Friends with one of my boys. I needed a word ending in "q". So I googled it, got 2 words (there are only 3, apparently). Then I switched back to my WWF page, and again, guess what? I forgot the two words. Had to re-google it. (Is that a word?)

  45. A series of three women, each losing it worse than the other: A friend called me and asked for another friend's email. I asked her to wait while I looked it up on my phone. But the phone wasn't on my desk, where I normally keep it. I rummaged through my bag, looked in the bathroom, on the kitchen counter. No where. I grew increasingly panicked. I really didn't want to lose another phone. "I'm sorry," I told my friend. "I'm going to have to hang up so I can tell my computer to find and ring my phone. I started to hit "end," and ooops-there's my phone. Neither of us had realized I had it in my hand and to my ear the entire time I was searching for it. The next day I told our friend what had happened. "Oh, I'm so glad you found it," she said. "Where was it?"
    Then I knew I was brilliant.

  46. Hmm. Did I leave out the most important part about the loud gate alarm? The over abundance of acetaminophen in my system causedy ears to ring so loudly that I thought it was the alarm outside my office window.

    PS to Andrew: I love the zamboni. I would go to the high school hockey games in the old Boston Garden, just to watch the zamboni. Back then they'd have 4 games going at once, alternating the different games after each period of play. You could be there all night. You better like the zamboni.

  47. for those of you who mentioned the Zamboni, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must point out that I was the official worst Zamboni driver in the history of ice skating. I could never make clean ovals, which qualified me as a poor Zamboni driver but I won the title of worst when in the second period of a Parents Weekend prep school hockey game I froze the Zamboni to the ice delaying the third period for almost an hour.

  48. IN the spirit of Zamboni=I was told to cut the grass when I was a kid , using our family's riding mower.

    We had a big front lawn, and I thought it wow be funny to cut the pattern in the shape of the United States. Which I proceeded to do.

    I cannot describe how much trouble I got in.

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  50. Oh yeah, I'm losing it! I read this blog yesterday. Then I go home & lose the charger to my toothbrush.
    I'd unplugged it when I came home from work. I remember standing in the bathroom, winding the cord around the base, while talking to my husband who was packing for a trip. Later I walked into the bathroom: toothbrush was lying on the sink, door open to toothbrush cabinet, no charger in sight. So I called for help & my husband, daughter & I all looked all over the house. Yes, I'd been in the study, the bathroom, the bedroom, dining room, and kitchen. No it's not in his suitcase. No charger. Last thing I could remember was winding the cord. I opened the hall linen closet (which also holds our medical supplies). Yep, there was the charger. I'd set it down when getting my husband a couple of band-aids to take along on the trip. Still do not remember setting it there.

  51. Leslie, we were clearly separated at birth! xoo

  52. LOL, yup, you're losing it more than me. I feel much better now! Thanks for sharing via Twitter :)