Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Shatterproof Saucer

I stood on my desk, flinging saucers to the office floor, one after another. None broke. That astonished me.

Corning's public relations guy insisted that my boss and I couldn't break the saucers. We tried. We heaved them until we were 99% sure that the damn things just wouldn't break.

The PR chap, who picked saucers off the floor and handed them back so we could heave them again, called the dinnerware "melamine," but it didn't look plastic like the ugly but colorful Melmac so popular then, in the Sixties.

Instead, the stylish saucers, a glossy white, resembled fine porcelain, but they weren't. The PR dude said Corning made them from a new glazed glass-ceramic formula, and he mentioned missile nosecones.

By the end of the day, I'd written up the new line--Centura--and praised it in print. The PR guy handed me two 10-inch Centura dinner plates as a thank you.

Then my boss, Patricia Chapman, and I headed to Atlantic City to cover the national 1964 dinnerware convention.

We were market reporters for HOME FURNISHING DAILY, a Fairchild publication. Our paper was prestigious, but not as famous as our sister newspaper, WOMEN'S WEAR DAILY.

Pat and I covered trade news about insignificant home furnishings: dinnerware, lamps, and wall decor. Male reporters covered the important items, like washing machines, that women wouldn't know how to cover.

After an exhausting weekend in Atlantic City, I returned to our New York City office to discover I'd been fired. Why? Because in one news story I'd submitted from Atlantic City, I'd neglected to capitalize the word "melamine." It was a trademark, like Kleenex, the managing editor said. I should have known better.

Pat snorted when I told her. "They only fired you to show off for Corning, their big advertiser," she said.

Since Fairchild had fired me "with cause," I couldn't collect unemployment insurance. However, before many weeks passed, Pat called to tell me that Fairchild had hired no one to replace me. "I'm doing your work as well as mine. That's why they fired you, to save money by getting rid of your position."

I sued the publisher, won, and went on to another reporting job.

When November rolled around, my husband Tom and I invited a handful of friends over for Thanksgiving dinner. The women joined me in the kitchen. As I pulled out dinnerware, my eye landed on my beautiful Centura plates. I showed them off, explained how I'd gotten them, and bragged that they were unbreakable. When questioned, I simply picked up a plate and smashed it to the floor.

To my amazement, the plate broke. However, it didn't just splinter. It disintegrated into hundreds of pieces, many as small as dust. We stood openmouthed around the trashed remains until I could lay hands on a dustpan and scoop the shatterproof Centura up.

That Monday, I called the PR feller for an explanation.

He laughed when he heard. "Didn't you know? You only drop the little plates, silly."

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

I'm late! I'm late!

"I'm late! I'm late!
"For a very important date!"

for May 6-12, 2013, to be exact. International Clitoris Awareness Week.

How could I have missed it? Me with such a good clit story to tell.

Oh, well. Oh, well. I can't resist. I'm going to tell you anyway.

Come back with me to New York, 1973.

The sexual revolution is still hot and heavy.
Feminism is into its second wave, focusing on, among other things, sex.
And I've just published MARCELLA, the first novel written in English to use female masturbation as its main theme.

In 1970, the radical feminist Anne Koedt published her "The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm." In her article, she attacked Sigmund Freud's idea that the "mature" woman only has orgasms when her vagina, but not her clitoris, is stimulated. Other feminists take up Koedt's battle cry: no more faked vaginal orgasms, only clitoral orgasms.

I encountered the clitoral craze in the radio studio of WBAI, New York's liberal station. The tall, patient feminist sitting at my side explained it to me in whispers. She's happy to interview me, but I can't read about Marcella's orgasms on the air because they're all--gasp--vaginal orgasms. Politically incorrect.

So I didn't read "Marcella's First Orgasm" in New York City in 1973. Nor did I read it at my next opportunity, Orleans, Nebraska, 1989, where the locals stampeded my book.

Not until 2006 did I read "Marcella's First Orgasm" out loud, now in Omaha, in the Lit Festival, albeit under cover of darkness at 11 p.m.

Here's the irony. I never mention Marcella's clitoris in that book. But now we know that female orgasms, by definition, engage the clitoris and its 8,000 nerve endings. Rub a dubbing that little bud of the clit that pokes out of its vagina hood is one way to build to orgasm. Three-quarters of the four-inch-long clitoris disappears in the vagina's back wall and can be rub a dubbed to orgasm back there.

I'll save you the trouble of close reading my novel to determine what kind of orgasms Marcella has. I'll tell you. Her orgasms may seem like the impossible vaginal orgasm so feared by the feminists, but she was engaging her clit through her vagina's back wall. She had to be, or she wouldn't experience her orgasm "coming upon her like the crashing of a hurricane, like the clapping of thunders, like the crescendo of a great herd of buffalo tramping, like . . .oh! like Mrs. Robinson's organ, when she plays it full blast, and even the floorboards, underfoot, tremble."

That, my dear Alice, is a clitoral orgasm.

(You've never heard of clitorises? Come on. Even female ostriches have them.)

"No time to say hello, good-bye,
"I'm late, I'm late, I'm late"

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


"So what is it you want to do?"

Everyonceinawhile, my psychoanalyst asked me that question; I must have spent huge chunks of our 50-minute hours whining.

I had no answer. Then one afternoon I knew. "I want to write."

Not the writing I'd been doing since I came to New York City, working as a reporter for trade magazines. 

REAL writing: poetry and short stories and novels. 

Soon words erupted, often creating poetry tinged with sex, for I was tasting the sweet freedom of the Sixties in New York.

 when you strummed me
         like a bass viol
         in the bath tub?

It's hard to believe how reckless I was, making love to any Tom, Jane or Harry. The feminist movement swept me up. Why shouldn't I have as many one-night stands as a guy? As I saw it, impulsive lovemaking was ammunition detonated in the fight to Be Equal.

AIDS? Never heard of it and wouldn't for another decade. Then that wily virus killed my beloved bi-sexual husband of fifteen years, Jon. We had an open marriage. His libertine love of random intercourse was as strong as my delight in it, but I proved luckier.

Would I make love like that again? Never. Am I sorry I did? No way. 

For one thing, I've collected some of my steamy poems into a 68-page chapbook, PRICKSONGS: TART POEMS FROM THE SIXTIES. A book like this is not for everyone. It requires a sense of humor and the ability to marvel at the wonderment that is sex.


How well we duplicate!
Standing nose to nose,
knees touching knees
feet touching feet
and what does not match
touching too:
my stiff nipples 
pluck your chest fuzz 
as your dewbeater 
thumpels my bird's nest


But if you want to purchase PRICKSONGS try

The Bookworm in Omaha info@bookwormomaha.com

or Concierge Marketing's Lisa Pelto lisa@conciergemarketing.com

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Beneficial Tear Jerker

I promised myself I wouldn't cry. As I neared the last pages of Christina Baker Kline's novel, ORPHAN TRAIN, I could guess what had to happen. Any student of orphan train stories would bet that a popular author like Kline would craft a happy ending. I didn't know who or exactly what was coming round the bend, but I knew it had to be an upper. Sure enough, when I read the last pages, despite my firm resolve, I couldn't keep tears from rising.

Of course, I'm a sucker for orphan train books, having written one myself: MAIL-ORDER KID: AN ORPHAN TRAIN RIDER'S STORY. I know the kind of research and perhaps even the amount of work Kline had to do to pull off the orphan train elements in her book. She created excellent believable tales of Niamh, a main character, and the strange families who took her in. 

But Kline steps out of her time period now and then. Little stuff. For instance, she has Niamh, wearing a pigtail in 1929 but pigtails weren't invented until 1951. She has a minor character, Mr. Post, saying, "See you in a jiff" in 1930. "Jiff" wasn't coined until 1943. It came out of the war.

A more overt breech was a statement made by Mrs. Scatcherd, agent for the Children's Aid Society. She said to the children,"They call this an orphan train." But they did not, not in 1929. That phrase was invented by two writers, Dorothea G. Petrie and James Magnuson, in their 1978 novel, ORPHAN TRAIN. The book became a highly successful TV show, and after that, the phrase, "orphan train," entered our language.

Mrs. Scatcherd shocked me even more when she prayed to "Mary, Mother of God," asking for benevolence regarding the children. Mrs. Scatcherd, working for the Protestant Children's Aid Society, had to be a Protestant herself, and Protestants never pray to the Virgin Mary. Only Catholics.   

Picky, picky, picky. I know.

If I were to review format, I'd be picky there, too. William Morrow put together a good-looking book. The paper, in particular, is delicious. A generous weight and the ragged edges make the pages a delight to handle, but the margins are much too narrow. Cutting costs, probably.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this novel. Kline caught me and drew me through her story, although I sometimes had to backtrack to remember who some of her many minor characters were. At other times, I had to flip pages to determine which of her two main characters I was reading about. You'd think it would be easy to distinguish between a ninety-one year old and a seventeen-year-old. And it is--when they're together in the same chapter. But Kline's chapters move back and forth in time, so sometimes the older woman is a teenager, too. 

I subscribe to Google Alerts, and receive orphan train items, usually daily. When Kline's book came out, the number of orphan train alerts I received skyrocketed. Most featured Kline's novel. 

This makes me extremely happy. For years, those of us clustered around the National Orphan Train Complex in Concordia, Kansas, have said to one another, "If only there were some way to publicize the Orphan Train movement so it would be received as an established part of American history." Looks as though Kline is doing just that as reader after reader encounters the orphan train as they race through her novel and perhaps, if they're like me, cry a bit at the end.

Christina Baker Kline, Orphan Train: A Novel 

Marilyn June Coffey, Mail-Order Kid 

National Orphan Train Complex at http://orphantraindepot.org/