We were back at my mother’s house after her funeral sitting around talking and eating for hour after hour as you do. After the number of people around the dining room table dwindled to a precious few, the conversation bounced between memories, travels, the difference between pizza and a tomato pie. And more serious things, at which point a cousin remarked, “This sure isn’t the country or world I wanted to bring my kids into.”

Despite my own privileged life I understood exactly what he meant and felt my anger and disappointment rise at what I then thought were the truth of his words.

On the drive back to the hotel, I repeated his remarks to Sue and again felt my mad.

So I planned to use this week’s post to expand, enumerate, and rant about all the shitty things we have going on in the US and around the world.

But a funny thing happened on my way to this post. Days later I no longer feel the same hot rage despite the horrors that beset *most* of the world’s population and our insane politics and violence. John Coltrane’s rendition of My Favorite Things ( started to rattle around inside my head and just wouldn’t let go. Wouldn’t let go until I realized what he was trying to tell me, which had nothing to do with teardrops and roses.

Coltrane was telling me to look a little deeper. Or at least ask myself the question: What would our children have missed had they not been brought into this world even with all its horrors?

Obviously you can’t miss an existence you were never introduced to, but what about these losses?

A parent’s love, caring and tenderness–whatever culture, however offered, touches, looks, and warmth, those early moments, years–even in the most dire of circumstances. And maybe even more mindboggling, the opportunity to feel that love and caring for a child.

Friendships. I know that my life would feel close to nonexistent without them. Might even have preferred the nothingness. Again there is the pleasure of seeing this richness in my kids’ lives. I watched how they and their friends played, comforted, helped, and were there for each other. And still are. There’s beauty in sharing your life with others. A beauty which I expect will continue throughout my life and theirs.

No, love is not all anyone needs. We know that. But it really is something that nothingness never delivers.

Learning, of all kinds. The opportunity to learn about people different from ourselves, cultures different than our own, clothes, styles, faces that we find unusual and exotic. The opportunity to realize again and again that the world is wildly diverse and yet people are also the same. These pleasures have no geographical, or even language limitations.

Learning new ideas. Discovering what we didn’t and don’t know. Meeting people who expand our thinking and vision. Trying to keep a sliver of your mind open so you can change it and let it grow. What a loss if all there were was nothingness.

And of course, the arts. Nothing would include no music, no books, no movies, no plays, no poetry, no dance, no paintings, no Monday posts, (though that might please a number of you). The entire world donates to this grand mosaic and nothingness makes all that vanish. Not a trade I’d make for myself or my children.

I could continue. Science, the give and take in discussions between people, the arguments that shed light as well as darkness, the sun, moon, sky and stars. But enough already. You get my point.

I have no doubt that I’ll be ranting and railing against the cruelty and injustice between people and countries soon enough, maybe even next Monday–all of those throughout these Mondays. But I also have no doubt that I am glad to have brought children into the world—even this one. I only hope they make a dent in it.

Spider Season by Sherri Frank Mazzotta

Spider season is coming. Spring, summer, fall:  Every time the weather changes, those 8-legged predators appear. Clinging to the kitchen ceiling. Scuttling over counters. Rappelling down walls in the shower like….well, like Spiderman. I’m not one of those shrieking, jump-on-a-chair girly-girls. I don’t mind cockroaches and I love mice. But spiders scare the bejesus out of me.

We have a variety of breeds in our house. True, these are not the spiders of my Jersey youth; those baseball-sized “beauties” that lurked in our toothbrush drawer and under garbage bags in the garage. But they’re just as evil.  With their segmented bodies. Multiple eyes. Spindly legs stretched like claws. Waiting-sometimes hours at a time, I’m sure-to catch me alone.

Spiders are intimidating, and they know it. They have motive. They mean harm.

I get up before my husband each day, when it’s still dark. Nervously, I turn on the kitchen light but don’t step into the room until I’ve scanned the ceiling.

“If you hear me scream, it’s always a spider,” I tell him. “So come quickly.”

I don’t care that they eat flies and ants and other insects-I want them out of the house. I want them dead. Though I sign the execution orders, my husband is usually the one who kills them. He uses a wet paper towel to squash them with his bare hands. If they’re too high to reach, he grabs a mop and crushes them into the plaster. That’s what I call an action hero.

At one point he bought an expensive bug vacuum that was marketed as a “keep your distance” way to capture pests. It touted a telescoping nozzle and a 22,400-rpm motor that sucked insects into a tube and stunned them on an electric grid. According to the catalog copy, the stunned bugs could then be dumped outdoors. “Screw that,” I said. No spiders would be set free as long as I manned the vacuum.

It worked beautifully the first time we used it. Steve positioned the nozzle over a quarter-sized beast and turned on the power. The spider whooshed backwards into the plastic tube and we heard a sizzle. I smiled.

A few days later and alone-once again-in the early morning hours, I was confronted by those creepy legs. Confidently, I grabbed the vacuum  I placed the nozzle over the spider and hit the switch, but nothing happened. There was a sucking sound but no sucking. The spider began to move, so I pressed harder on the tube. I turned the vacuum off then on again, but the spider still clung to the wall. It was a terrifying moment of face-to-fangs intimacy, but I was losing confidence and the spider knew it. Finally, I dropped the vacuum and backed out of the room. I woke up my husband.

The “Keep Your Distance” vacuum hasn’t been used since.

Arachnophobia is one of the most common fears in the world. According to the website, Celebrities with Diseases (, Andre Agassi, J.K Rowling, Jessica Simpson, Rupert Grint, and Justin Timberlake all have an aversion to spiders. Johnny Depp, Emma Watson, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and Woody Allen….the list goes on. Perhaps the real question is, who isn’t afraid of spiders?

“Various therapies and self-help groups can work wonders to overcome arachnophobia,” the Celebrities site claims. “Gradual exposure to spider’s pictures or even touching the spiders can be of great help in beating arachnophobia.”

I’m not interested in beating arachnophobia. I think it’s wise to avoid anything that has fangs, injects venom, and liquefies its prey. But spiders seem hell bent on making my acquaintance. I’ve had spiders appear on the inside of my windshield while driving. Skitter across my table at a coffee shop. And parachute onto my salad while eating al fresco. Charlotte’s Web be damned, I’m not going to pet them!

One summer, I walked into our bedroom and found hundreds of spiderlings crawling over the walls and ceiling. Of course I screamed. It was my personal Nightmare on Elm Street. I’ve read that a female spider can deliver as many as 3,000 eggs-and judging by the number of tiny creatures scrambling over the walls, that sounded about right.

Steve and I grabbed wet paper towels and started crushing the seething mass. In the face of such an invasion, I was suddenly brave. Fueled by fear and anger, I dabbed hard at the walls. It took more than an hour to kill the ones we could see, and afterwards, I still imagined I felt them crawling on my scalp. Lice, I wouldn’t have minded.  But spiders?  I’d have to set my head on fire.

The only place in the world that doesn’t have spiders is Antarctica. But since the job market is especially tough in that neck of the woods, I’m resigned to fighting these seasonal battles. Sometimes I wonder if the spiders are keeping track of how many of their relatives I’ve killed. I wonder if they’re plotting revenge and just waiting for Steve to take an extended business trip. Then they’ll corner me in the basement and ensnare me in their silky webs. Descend upon me with thousands of fangs….It’s a horrifying thought.  And one reason why I’m thankful that my husband doesn’t travel much these days.

 “Naturalists have pondered this for years: there are spiders whose bite can cause the place bitten to rot and to die, sometimes more than a year after it was bitten. As to why spiders do this, the answer is simple. It’s because spiders think this is funny, and they don’t want you ever to forget them.”   – Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys


I’d been having such a blast writing my INTERVIEWS WITH THE DEAD that I had begun considering using this space almost exclusively to develop and extend the form. Problem is, if I go by the number of readers who view Mondays’ posts, too many interviews too often, get boring. And the idea of boring is a writer’s worst nightmare. So I couldn’t put an interview on the docket for this week’s column.

Then what? This question usually pops up about twenty minutes after I’ve published my last post. I’m used to it and push the anxiety aside. I need the mind space to work on the fourth Matt Jacob book, TIES THAT BLIND. Also, if Mondays are publishing days, Tuesdays are music days. It takes me a fair amount of time to practice the sax, and prepare for my lesson and ensemble hours at MusicMakerStudios. That “performance” comes fully equipped with its own anxiety; what I lack in talent I try to make up for with work—which often isn’t terribly successful.

But Tuesdays are always fun days and nights, which is very much the calm before the storm. Wednesday morning, my Monday worries are in full bloom. This past week I struggled to engage, to find myself interested enough in a topic to write about. I thought about reviewing Hugo Chavez’s legacy, but everywhere I looked interesting articles about him–pro or con–were everywhere. I couldn’t imagine writing anything that could conceivably change anyone’s mind, so why bother? Felt like I’d be talking to myself.

I return to the newspaper and go through three days of ink but nothing jumps so I reconsider another interview. Desperation move, I think. Like I said, too much repetition makes for a drag. I tell myself I have plenty of time and that worrying won’t help my subconscious churn something out. After all, if an idea doesn’t come from current events, the arts, or other externals, it’s got to rise up from the deep. I’ve always believed that consciousness is the last stop for information, not the first—let’s hope it’s true this week.

Another two days pass and it’s Friday. The Northeast gets whacked with yet another snowstorm, while I pour over my copy of Baseball Prospectus, hungry for the season to begin. Ahh, an idea, perhaps? PLAY BALL!! A review of my Arizona trips to Spring Training? An analysis of the Red Sox? Uhh, I think not. Can’t imagine anyone interested in baseball after shoveling their cars out from another foot of snow. Even if the post is three days away. Around here, three days just means you’re no longer allowed to save your parking space with chairs or trash barrels.

Not a good idea to eliminate all my northeast readership. I just can’t count on Wyoming to flesh out the numbers.

Late Friday afternoon and head-banging time. The walls are moving closer and closer together and I’m scrambling to find a way out. I got to find a way to chill.

Break out the bourbon.

I’d like to say that one swallow opened the door but it didn’t. Two swallows though, cleared my mind enough to begin thinking. I considered a piece on Benedict’s abdication and the upcoming conclave. But we all know why Benedict really resigned and can only suspect which definition of damage control and conserving Empire the conclave will send up along with their white smoke.

It’s Saturday morning and too early for more alcohol.

Okay, Klein, you’ve been doing this for a couple of years now. You’re either all dried up or you ain’t thinking. I prefer the latter so I’m gonna either stare at a blank computer screen or beat this horse into talking. (Before animal advocates get too angry, the horse I’m talking about is me.)

The horse finally talked. “Write about the struggle you’re having this week with the column, but make it interesting!”

Damn horse sounded like Captain Pickard: “Make it so!” But in truth, the idea caught my fancy. Why shouldn’t you share my tsouris? Or, more writerly put, why not share my weekly process? This was an idea I could get behind. Just recount the truth. Write about the mishigas I go through every time I sit down to write my post. On top of which, this week was perfect since it was an “I got nothing” five days, a day of writing, then Sunday to turn this into a coherent article.

So here it is, my friends. A look inside my past week of writing—or nonwriting, as it were. I suppose I could finish by reciting various “Win one for the Gipper” homilies, but truth is, I’m left with only one head-scratcher: People want to know why writers drink?

You’re not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on.— Dean Martin


  I’m not a detective, though I have made one up. But this week I’ve been re-reading the Oscar tweets and Matt Jacob ( invaded my head. Who the hell was this Oscar fellow?  Was there a real man behind the little gold? Since this year was the Awards’ 85th birthday, Oscar Sr. would no longer be with us, but that’s no problem for the man who interviews the dead. Or so I thought.

My first call went to Louis B. Mayer who initiated the awards in 1927.

Me:  “Mr. Mayer? My name is Zachary Klein and I have a series…”

Mayer:  “You think I’m stupid? Word gets around. You interview the dead—and it’s about damn time that you finally fucking called.”

Me:  “I’m sorry but I didn’t call to interview you—today, that is. Of course you are on my list.”

If I had a list.

Mayer:  “Then why the hell you bothering me? You think I got gornisht to do?  Down here, we’ve always got deals to make and people to fire!”

Me:  “I’m looking for the person the Oscar was named after and thought you would know.”

Mayer:  “You dug me up to ask that?”

Me:  “Mr. Mayer, I haven’t dug you up. It’s a telephone call.”

Mayer:  “Not that big a difference when you’re busy or sleeping, dammit!”

My temper got the better of me.

Me:  “Fuck it, I’ll find someone else.”

Mayer:  “Don’t get your shwartz twisted. It was either Bette Davis who said the damn statue looked like her uncle or columnist Sid Skolsky who claims he stole it from an old music hall joke with the tagline, ‘Will you have a cigar, Oscar?’  Frankly, I don’t give a damn and don’t know why you do either.”

I thought about explaining but his attitude continued to piss me off.

Me:  “Well, I appreciate the information and will let you go.”

Mayer:  “You coming back?”

Me:  “If you’ll let me.”

Mayer: “We’ll see.”

I guess what people say about old time movie moguls is true. They are pricks. Still, I had two leads and I didn’t need a weatherman to tell me who I was going to contact first.

No easy do. The administrators at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood Hills were a tough crew to get past and it took my interview with Richard lll before they accepted my bone fides as an interviewer of the dead. Or maybe they were just impressed that I flew out there despite their repeated refusals. No matter, I was finally sitting on the flat stones in front of her grave-site monument. 

Divas aren’t an easy get either. But if I learned anything writing novels and chasing dead people, I’d learned persistence.

I started off with my usual calling card but nada. Then tried raising my voice. Worse, the afternoon was creeping toward 5 o’clock, when I had agreed to leave. Then I remembered going with my grandmother to her first husband’s grave-site. She’d find a few rocks to tap on his stone. Although I kept a “safe” distance, after a few moments of knocking, Grandma engaged in animated conversations.

Why not? But even finding stones was difficult, given the care the groundskeepers gave these VIPs. Once I finally wedged a couple of pebbles from the ground I began tapping away like a woodpecker. That is, until I heard a throaty voice chuckle, “Not so loud, Darling. You’re waking the dead,!”

Me:  “Is that you, Ms. Davis?”

Davis:  “Who else were you expecting?”

She emerged from the white marble and I caught my breath. Don’t know what I expected—perhaps it was because I had recently interviewed Richard III—but she was drop-dead gorgeous. Tiny, flashing blue eyes, in a striking black and grey dress, black gloves and hat.

Davis:  “Where are we going, Sweetheart?”

Me:  “Actually I promised to leave and have you back inside by five.”

Davis:  “But I began dressing when you first shouted. You do have an awfully loud voice.”

Me:  “Just trying to get your attention.”

Davis:  “Well, you have it—though apparently not for long. What is it you want?”

I knew she was upset about not leaving the grounds so I quickly explained why I’d come and told her what Mayer had recounted.  She burst out laughing.

Davis:  “Louie. What a pip! Was he smoking one of those foul smelling cigars?”

Me:  “We were on the phone.”

Davis:  “He took your call. I’m impressed. You really must have a knack for this line of work.”

Me:  “Not a lot of competition. So, was Mr. Meyer accurate about how Oscar got his name? That you said the statue looked like your uncle?”

Davis:  “Ahh, I guess we’re all growing old. Louie always remembered everything but not anymore. I never had an Uncle Oscar. That comment was made by Margaret Herrick, the Academy librarian. You tell me whether you’ve ever seen a statue named after a librarian’s uncle?

Now, my first husband’s middle name was Oscar, but all I ever said was that the statue’s ass looked like his. Ham was a wonderful musician, but nobody ever named anything after his behind.”

Me:  “What about the Sydney Skolsky story? Do you know whether that was true?”

Davis’s lips curled in obvious contempt.

Davis: “‘Will you have a cigar, Oscar?’  Please. Louie must be losing it cooped up for so long. He probably offered mini-Winchell one of his.”

Me:  “‘mini-Winchell?”

Davis:  “A nasty small minded man who used Schwabb’s for an office once he came out here. He’s nothing but a self-serving liar. Just look at his Times Square Tintypes.”

Me:  “So no cigar, no uncle, and not your husband. His middle name is just a coincidence?”

Davis:  “Just a coincidence. Frankly, Darling, nobody really knows why that award is named Oscar and nobody ever will.”

I glanced at my watch and saw it was time. Ms. Davis noticed.

Davis:  “You’re ready to leave, aren’t you?”

I saw Security walking in our direction.

Me:  “I promised and they’re going to hold me to it.”

Davis looked over my shoulder with a half-smile.

Davis:  “I’ve been known to cause a fuss, but today I’ll just go for the dramatic exit.”

I left Forest Lawn and debated hunting for Sydney Skolsky. I asked myself what Matt Jacob would do and a voice crashed through my head. “Some mysteries are better left unsolved! You just heard Bette Davis tell you that a statue’s ass looked like her husband’s. It just doesn’t get any better than that.”