Column Classic: Bizarro Birthdays

By Lisa Scottoline

I just got off the phone with Mother Mary, who’s lost her mind. Or maybe it’s Scottoline birthday madness.

Let me explain.

She told me a story that happened to her that day, when she was going outside to do the laundry.

Yes, you read that right.

She lives in Miami with brother Frank and she goes outside to do the laundry because they keep their washer and dryer in the backyard.

This makes no sense to me, but she swears that it’s common in Florida to keep major appliances in the backyard, like shrubs with twenty-year warranties.

Still, it’s hard for me to believe. I suspect that my mother and brother are redneck Italians.

But never mind, that’s not the point of the story.

So Mother Mary is going outside to put in a load of laundry and she sees one of her neighbors, a nice young woman, walking her two-year-old son by the hand. My mother stops to say hello, and the little boy looks up at her with big blue eyes and says:

“I love you, Mary.”

So of course my mother melts, because she loves kids, and she even gets choked up telling me on the phone. The whole story is sounding really sweet until she gets to the next part, which is when she asks the mother of the toddler when is his birthday, and the woman answers:

November 23.

Okay, means nothing to you, but that’s brother Frank’s birthday.

And on the phone, my mother tells me: “I looked at that little boy, and I thought he was like Frank. Like he has your brother’s soul.”

I thought I heard her wrong. “Pardon?”

“When he said he loved me, I looked into his eyes and I could see his soul, and it was Frank’s soul.”

“You mean they’re alike?”

“No, I mean they’re the same.”

I tried to deal. “You’re kidding, right?”

“No. I’m telling you, he has the same exact blue eyes as Frank and he was born on the same day. He has Frank’s soul.”

“Ma, Frank still has his soul. He’s not dead yet.”

“I know that,” she said, irritably. “They share the same soul.”

“Ma, that’s crazy.”

“Sorry, but I know, I can tell. Remember the earthquake?”

This shuts me up, temporarily. It’s matter of public record that Mother Mary was the only person in Miami to feel an earthquake that took place in Tampa, and the South Florida newspapers even dubbed her Earthquake Mary. Ever since then, she thinks she’s Al Roker, but supernatural.

She said, “It’s the same soul. Absolutely.”

“Ma, just because they have the same birthday doesn’t mean they have the same soul.”

“Hmph. What do you know, about birthdays?”

She was referring to something I’ll never live down, which happened to me over twenty years ago, when daughter Francesca was three years old. I had taken her in a stroller into an optician’s shop in town, and a man walked through the door, pointed directly at Francesca, and said: “Her birthday is February 6.”

I was astounded. “How do you know?”

“I just do.”

I went home that day and called my mother. “Ma, some guy just guessed that Francesca’s birthday is February 6! Isn’t that amazing?”


“Why not?”

“Because her birthday is February 7.”

I blinked. “It is?”

“Yes, dummy.”

Look, I have no idea how it happened, but for the first three years of Francesca’s life, I celebrated her birthday on the wrong day.

Sue me.

Maybe it’s because I was in labor for 349,484 hours, so the exact day she was born seemed like a technicality. And since then, it was just she and I celebrating a day earlier, with nobody around to know better.

So now I can never say anything about birthdays, ever.

But at least I know where everybody’s soul should be.

And their washer-dryers, too.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Color Me Mine

By Lisa Scottoline

I’m two months from getting the house painted, but I’m already fantasizing about paint colors. If the real estate classifieds are porn, paint chips are a kinky subculture, the S & M of home décor.

The pain is exquisite.

My fantasies began when my painter dropped off a big black case that contained huge books of paint chips. I’m not dumb, I’ve seen the paint chips that you get from Home Depot, but I’ve never seen one of these books. Each one weighs about three pounds, and the paint chips are bolted together with a single fastener, so you can slide the chips out to make a circle, like a merry-go-round of color. The painter gave me three books, each with hundreds of pages, and each page has seven paint chips. By my calculation, this equals four billion eleventy-seven gillion different colors.

It hurts so good.

In no time, I’m sliding the paint chips out in a circle, the tangerines overlapping the marigolds, the cobalts eclipsing the limes, the pinks complementing the purples, all the colors fanning out from the center, making a 360° fountain of acrylic excitement.

I had no idea what color I wanted to paint the house, but all of a sudden, the books opened up a spectrograph of chromatic possibilities. The paint chips whirled together like spin art on the boardwalk, and all the colors of the rainbow were mine. I flashed on a childhood filled with Crayola crayons, from the starter eight to the big-girl double-layers of sixty-four. I thought of old-fashioned tins of watercolor paints, with rectangular wells for dirty water. I could paint the house any color I wanted, and the thought made me giddy.

There was nobody around to exercise good judgment. No saner head to prevail.


I should point out that there is precedent for my temporary color insanity. After my second divorce, I painted my kitchen the color of vitamin C, merely because nobody could stop me.

So I gazed at the paint chips and imagined golden shutters against the tan fieldstone of the house. Creamy ivory clapboard in the sunshine. Colonial molding painted classy forest green. Fascia the gentle hue of daffodils. I spent hours looking at the colors in all different kinds of light and made lists of the letters and numbers on each paint chip, a cryptic code that added to its tantalizing mystery. For example, Corinthian White was OC-111.  I looked in vain for the meaning of OC, but the book kept its secrets.

I even found myself carried away by the names of the colors, some of which were delicious. I imagined shutters of Sharp Cheddar (2017-20). I considered doing the trim in Pale Celery (OC-114) and Carrot Stick (2016-30), low-carb colors. I could finish my molding in Peach Sorbet (2015-40), which was like eating windowsills for dessert.

Some color names struck an emotional chord, as in True Blue (2066-50), and others were adorable, like Tricycle Red (2000-20). Growing up, I had a red tricycle and a red wagon. I looked for a color named Red Wagon, but there was none. I made a mental note to email Benjamin Moore.

Still other names made me think of vacations – Caribbean Coast (2065-60), South Beach (2043-50), and Blue Wave (2065-50). But Asbury Sand (2156-40) didn’t look any different from Serengeti Sand (2164-40), and it’s probably easier to get a hotel in Jersey.

I was bothered by the names that made no sense. What’s a Jeweled Peach (2013-30)? Or Smoke Embers (AC-28)? There’s no such thing as smoke embers. Smoke comes from embers. Anyway, it was a Boring Gray. And between us, Adobe Dust (2175-40) looks suspiciously like the dirt under my bed, which I call Philadelphia Dust

Still other color names were a little precious. Roasted Sesame Seed (2160-40) isn’t a color, it’s a recipe. Mantis Green (2033-60) is just plain creepy. Dollar Bill Green (2050-30) is for pimps only.

Some color names confused me. Nantucket Gray (HC-111) is green. Gypsy Love (2085-30) is maroon, which has nothing to do with either Gypsies or Love. Soft Cranberry (2094-40), which should be maroon, is beige. And Milkyway (OC-110) is white like milk, not brown like the candy or black like the galaxy.

Kelp Forest Green (2043-30) is distinctly unhelpful. Shore House Green (2047-50) begs the question. Cherokee Brick (2082-30) is historically inaccurate. Distant Gray (2124-70) is emotionally unavailable. Amber Waves (2159-40) panders in an election year. There was no Purple Mountains Majesty.

Other names reveal that whoever thought them up was drunk. There is no other explanation for Perky Peach (2012-50), Springy Peach (2011-60), or Limesickle (2145-50). Maybe they were drinking Moonshine (2140-60).

By the end, I was supersaturated with color, hues, and tints, dizzy from my myriad paint fantasies. But at least I found the perfect color for the house.


Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

By Lisa Scottoline

Breaking up is hard to do, especially with a credit card company.

Our melodrama begins when I’m paying bills and notice a $50.00 balance on a credit card that I hadn’t used in a long time. When I checked the statement, it said that the charge was the annual fee. I was wondering if I needed to pay fifty dollars for a card I didn’t use when I clapped eyes on the interest rate.


Yes, you read that right. In other words, if I had a balance on the card at any time, they could charge me 30% more than the cost of all the stuff I bought.

Like a great sale, only in reverse.

I’m not stingy, but I could get money cheaper from The Mob.

I read further and saw that the Mafia, er, I mean, the credit card company, could also charge me a late fee of $39.95, which was undoubtedly a fair price for processing the transaction, as I bet their billing department is headed by Albert Einstein.

So I made a decision.

I called the customer service number, which was almost impossible to find on the statement, picked up the phone, and as directed, plugged in my 85-digit account number. Of course, as soon as a woman answered the phone, the first question she asked was:

“What is your account number?”

I bit my tongue. They all ask this, and I always want to answer, “Why did you have me key it in? To make it harder to call customer service?”

Perish the thought.

So I told her I wanted to cancel the card, and her tone stiffened. She said, “May I ask why you wish to close your account?”

For starters, I told her about the annual fee.

“Would it make a difference if there were no annual fee?”

I wanted to answer, Is it that easy to disappear this annual fee, and if so, why do you extort it in the first place? But instead, I said only, “No, because you have a usurious interest rate and late fee.”

“Will you hold while I transfer you to a Relationship Counselor?”

I’m not making this up. This is verbatim. You can divorce your hubby easier than you can divorce your VISA card. I said for fun, “Do I have a choice?”

“Please hold,” she answered, and after a few clicks, a man came on the line.

“Thanks for patiently waiting,” he purred. His voice was deep and sexy. His accent was indeterminate, but exotic, as if he were from the Country of Love.


Suffice it to say that the Relationship Counselor got my immediate attention. I was beginning to think we could work on our relationship, and if we met twice a week, we could turn this baby around. He sounded like a combination of Fabio and George Clooney. You know who George Clooney is. If you don’t know who Fabio is, you’re not old enough to read what follows.

 “No problem.” I said. I did not say, What are you wearing?

“Please let me have your account number,” he breathed, which almost killed the mood.

So I told him and said that I wanted to cancel my card.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. He sounded genuinely sad. I wanted to comfort him, and I knew exactly how.

But I didn’t say that, because it would be inappropriate.

“I have a suggestion,” he whispered.

So do I. Sign me up for 5 more cards. You have my number, all 85 digits.

“We can switch you to the no-fee card.”

I came to my senses. “Can you switch me to the no-highway-robbery interest rate?”

“Pardon me?” he asked, but I didn’t repeat it.

“Thanks, I just want to cancel the card.”

“I understand. And I respect your decision.”

He actually said that. I made up the 85 digits part, but the rest is absolutely true.

I knew what I wanted to say before I hung up. That we’d had a good run, but like a love meteor, we burned too hot, for too short a time.

Instead I said, “Thanks.”

Honestly, it’s not me.

It’s you.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Love and Worry

By Lisa Scottoline

I have a scientific theory that the bonds that tie mothers and daughters are love and worry, like the two strands in the double helix of some very twisty DNA.

In other words, if I love you, I worry about you. And vice versa.

Let me explain.

The moment Daughter Francesca was born, I started to love and worry about her. And my worry, like my love, had no bounds. I worried if she was sleeping too much. I worried if she was sleeping too little. Same with crying, nursing, and pooping. If I was breathing, I was loving, and worrying. And my biggest worry, of course, was whether she was breathing. I’m not the only mother who has watched her baby sleeping to see if her chest goes up and down.

I still do that.

My theory also applies to grandmothers. Because they’re mothers, too. Just grander.

Mother Mary worried about Francesca, and all of our conversations back then were consumed with my worries and hers, and together we aimed our laser beams of worry on this hapless infant, which is undoubtedly why she turned out so great.

Or guilty.

But that’s not the point, herein.

The point is that Francesca knows we worried about her. Uh, I mean, we loved her.

Likewise, I know, in turn, that Mother Mary worries about me. She worries that I work too hard. She worries when I fly. She worries when I drive. She worries when I’m not at home, and even more when I am at home. For example, she worries that I could put too much food on my fork and choke.

Let me suggest that this last worry isn’t so dumb. You’ve never seen me eat.

I used to feel guilty that she worried about me, but now I don’t.

She should worry about me, constantly.

It proves she loves me.

I realized this when I understood how much I still worried about Francesca, even though she’s living in New York, on her own. I don’t mean to make her feel guilty, and she shouldn’t. But I can’t help it.

Motherhood has no expiration date, right?

And what just happened is that the worry has boomeranged, so that I’m starting to worry about Mother Mary.

Well, not starting.

But recently my worry, and my love, has come to the fore, because of Mother Mary’s health. In particular, her nose.

It’s blue.

No joke. The last time she came to visit, the first thing that I noticed was that her nose had a distinctly bluish tinge. I told her so, in a nice way, and she told me to shut up.

But still, I worried, big-time. Her circulation has never been good, due to a lifetime of smoking, but she finally quit at age 82, when she got throat cancer.

Better late than never.

Anyway, she beat cancer, which is remarkable enough, but she’s supposed to use oxygen at night, according to her doctor. But she won’t do it. Our conversation today on the phone went like this:

“Ma, why won’t you use your oxygen?”

“I don’t like the tube. It smells like popcorn.”

“So what? Popcorn is good. Who doesn’t like popcorn?”

“I don’t, and that’s what it smells like, so forget it.”

“But it’s doctor’s orders, Ma.”

“The doctor? What does he know?”

I don’t know where to begin. “Everything?”

But Mother Mary wouldn’t listen, even though I eventually raised my voice, which is another thing that mothers/daughters do to prove our love.

If I’m yelling at you, you know I love you.

Because I want your chest to keep going up and down, whether you’re my daughter or my mother.

Or whether I’m your daughter or your mother.

It’s all the same emotion, which is worry.

Or love!

So the next time your mother is worried about you, don’t tell her to shut up.

And don’t feel guilty either.

Try and understand. She can’t help it. It’s in her DNA.

Chalk it up to mom genes.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Getting It Straight

By Lisa Scottoline

Women have come a long way, baby, except for one thing:


By which I mean, curly or straight?

Secretly, I have curly hair, and not wavy curly, I’m talking majorly curly. I don’t have curls, I had coils. I don’t have naturally curly hair, I have unnaturally curly hair.

Let me take you back in time, to the Jurassic.

By which I mean, 1955.

When I was little, I had so many curls that once they sprouted from my head, they grew sideways, defying many natural laws, starting with gravity. Bottom line, on my shoulders sat a triangle of hair.

I was too small to care. If anything, I thought it was good, because every adult who came up to me asked, “Where did you get that curly hair?”

Let’s pause a moment to examine the questions we ask little kids.

I had no idea where I got my curly hair or my blue eyes. Nor did I know the answer to the third question, which was usually, “Do you help your mommy in the kitchen?”

I swear, this happened. There was a time in America when they asked little girls this question, all the time. Now, they’re not allowed to. It’s against federal law. Try it, and go to politically correct jail.

Nowadays, nobody’s in the kitchen, and we’re all overweight.

Anyway, I got older, and kids started to tease me about my hair. All the cool girls in school had straight hair, as did the girls on TV and in magazines. Also my best friend Rachel, whom I loved.

So I discovered Dippity-Do. It was hair goop, and they still make it. I checked online and found the website, where they claim to be “the original name in gels, for 45 years.”


I seem to remember that Dippity-Do came in pink or blue, maybe for girls or boys, but that could be my imagination. Boys didn’t use it, anyway, because they liked themselves the way they were, which was clearly insane.

 Girls used Dippity-Do by the tubful, and by ninth grade, I had mastered the art of slathering it all over my wet head, putting my hair on top of my head in a ponytail, and wrapping it around a Maxwell House coffee can, which I bobby-pinned to my scalp.

Then I tried to sleep.

If American girls were drowsy in math class, this was the reason. My hair didn’t even look good, because it would be bumpy on top, until it fell out. The sides would be smooth, except for telltale ridges from the coffee can. And the delicious aroma of Maxwell House.

Still, I did not stop, as there was another product to try, which there always is, this being America, where we girls know that if we just buy X, we’ll be beautiful and our lives will change.

I’m talking U.N.C.U.R.L. It was some kind of chemical straightener that you painted on your hair while holding your nose.

It had a great marketing, with a spy-girl on the front of the box, and if you bought it, you became “The Girl From U.N.C.U.R.L.,” which would make you feel like a cool double agent and not a miserable preteen with a triangle head.

The stuff smelled funny but worked great.

For two days.

Then came blow dryers, and the rest is history. We could blow our hair straight, using an array of gels and mousses, and I still do, though it’s starting to seem like too much work. Once, on book tour, I got too tired to blow dry my hair, and my then-publicist looked at me in horror.

“What did you do to your hair?” she asked, aghast.

“I let it go curly,” I answered, in ninth grade again.

She said, “But you don’t look like your author photo.”

I blinked. That I knew already. I look nothing like my author photo. That’s the whole point of an author photo. If it looked like the author, nobody would buy the book.

The girl in my author photo is from U.N.C.U.R.L.

In contrast, Daughter Francesca was born with curls, lived through all the dumb questions people asked her, and always wore her curls with pride.

“Mom, why don’t you wear your hair curly?” she said to me, the other day, and I told her this whole story. And she said, gently, “I think you should just be yourself.”

I’m considering it, and we’ll see.

Sometimes it takes a kid to straighten out a mom.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Protect The Candle

By Lisa Scottoline

I just hung up the phone, having said no to going out to lunch with a friend.

And about an hour ago, I said no to a speaking engagement that would’ve been wonderful.

And yesterday, I said no to somebody who wanted to invite me to drinks and dinner at a local golf club.

Do you think I’m being negative?

On the contrary.

I’m being positive.

Because as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that my time really is precious.

Not in monetary terms, but more in its scarcity.

When you’re sixty, the end is near.

And I’ve come to realize that every time I say no to someone else, I am saying yes to myself.

What am I talking about?

Let me explain, because if I have any accumulated wisdom in all these decades, it is this:

You need to protect the candle.

What does that mean?

Here’s where I got the image, and it’s not overly impressive. It’s not from great literature, but from old fashioned scary movies.

Remember those movies, where the family is in the dark mansion at night and they hear a noise, and it’s in Victorian times, so there’s no electricity. In the next scene, a beautiful woman with a long braid and wearing a cotton nightgown will invariably grab a candle, light it, and walk around the house in the dark, cupping her slim, elegant hand in front of the candles flame.

Think Nicole Kidman during a power outage.

She cups the candle for obvious reasons, so the candle won’t blow out, since it’s a fragile thing and could be extinguished by the slightest breeze, not to mention some terrifying ghost.

And for some reason, as my writing career progress, I began to feel the squeeze of lots of obligations and requests, barking like dogs in the yard.

I’m not complaining, because I know how lucky I am, but truth is I think my life is exactly like yours in this respect.

You might have a job that you need to do, or you have a child you want to devote time to, or an elderly parent that needs your attention. Or you simply want to set fifteen minutes aside every day to do yoga, start your own book, or cook an incredibly complicated French recipe.

In the lives of modern women, there is a constant tension between the things we want to do and the things we ought to do, and it’s impossible to balance these things.

Especially when, at least in my case, I’ve spent a lifetime confusing the things I want to do with what other people want me to do.

I’m a people pleaser, from birth.

But as time wore on, and my nerves got more frayed than they needed to be, I thought as many people as I pleased, I really never got to please myself.

To do whatever I wanted to do.

Even if what I wanted to do was clear my head and write my book, which is my actual job.

People who don’t work at home don’t get that home is work.

And finally, after decades of this madness, I came to realization:

I have to protect my candle.

My candle was the stories I wanted to tell, in my books.

And what I started to do was to say no to anything that wasn’t those things.

My image at all times was the woman in the nightgown with the long braid, cupping her hand in front of her flickering candle.

And even though it sounds simple to say no, it wasn’t, not for me.

People asked repeatedly, which I came to realize was pressure.

Others became angry at me when I said no.

I lost a few acquaintances, and one or two friends.

I missed out on some boring parties, and some great ones.

But the more I protected my candle, so that I spent my energy and time on what I loved, the happier and happier I got.

You may be more enlightened than I, in which case you might be rolling your eyes by now.

But if you’re like me, I hope you take my advice, because it is the only thing I know for sure:

Protect your candle.

And what is your candle?

Whatever you want to do.

Trying Tai Chi.

Reading a novel.

Writing a novel.

Learning Spanish.

Watching Real Housewives.


Whatever you want, it’s completely up to you.

Something you love.

And then, make that the thing you say yes to, every time.

If you have to do a job that isn’t your candle, give time to your candle every day.

Protect that time like a maniac.

Put your hand in front of the flame and don’t let anybody blow your candle out.

Give yourself the permission to say no to the requests of others.

To disappoint them.

To even make them angry.

If they get mad at you because you did something else that you wanted to do more, you don’t need them in your life.

And the interesting thing is that the more things you say no to, you feel that you are paring your life down, but you’ll be expanding it, because the time you give yourself allows you to grow in new directions, which arise organically from something you truly love to do.

And in time, you may come to the same realization that I did recently.

Which is that the candle isn’t a project at all.

The candle is you.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Junk in The Trunk

By Lisa Scottoline

If Freud wanted to know what women want, he could have asked.

If he’d asked me, I would have answered:

Another kitchen cabinet.

And I just got one!

Here’s how it happened.

It was about ten years ago that I remodeled my kitchen, adding white cabinets and a trash compactor. To tell the truth, I don’t remember wanting a trash compactor and think it was Thing Two who wanted a trash compactor, but I’ve blamed enough on him, so let’s just say I wanted a trash compactor.

At the time, my kitchen contractor said, “I’ll install this trash compactor for you, but I bet you’ll never use it.”

“I’m sure I’ll use it,” said I. And I probably added, “Plus it will give me something to blame on somebody, down the line.”

In any event, the trash compactor got installed, and it came with two free bags, which I promptly lost.

Ten years and one divorce later, it turns out that the contractor was right.

I should have married the contractor.

But to stay on point, I never used the trash compactor. Not once. I even forgot it was there until three months ago, when it began to emit a mysterious and foul odor. I searched the thing and could find no reason for it to be smelly, but I washed it inside and out anyway. Still the smell got worse and worse, until it was so bad I could barely eat in the kitchen. Then one day, the electrician came over to fix a light and he said,  “Smells like something died in here.”


The electrician showed me that you could slide out the compactor, which I hadn’t realized, and when we did, we found behind it an aromatic gray mound that used to be a mouse.


The electrician threw the dead mouse away, and I cleaned the trash compactor all over again, but it still stunk worse than my second marriage, which I didn’t even think was possible, so I threw the trash compactor away, too.

Which left an oddly empty space on my kitchen island, a blank square among the white cabinets, like a missing tooth.

I called the kitchen contractor, whose phone number I still had from ten years ago. As soon as he heard my voice, he said, “Told you,” and came right over.

Last week he installed a new cabinet, including a drawer, then asked, “What are you going to use it for?”

”I’m not sure yet,” I told him, excited by the possibilities. It was almost too much to hope for – a nice empty cabinet and a whole extra drawer. After he had gone, I pulled up a stool and contemplated my course of action.

The decision required me to consider the problem areas of my kitchen cabinets, which are many. My pot-and-pan cabinet is a mess because I hate to stack pots and pans in their proper concentric circles. I just pile them up any way, playing Jenga, only with Farberware. Also I can never figure out how to store pot lids, so I stick them in upside down, setting them wobbling on handles like the worst tops ever. Every time I open the cabinet door, they come sliding out like a stainless steel avalanche.

I also have a cabinet containing Rubbermaid and Tupperware, but it’s all mixed up, so that Rubbermaid lids are with Tupperware containers and Rubbermaid containers are with Tupperware lids, making the whole thing feel vaguely illicit, like an orgy of plastic products.

Then I have a cabinet of kitchen appliances I have never used once in my life, but feel compelled to keep close at hand, namely a juicer, a waffle iron, and a salad shooter. You never know when you’ll have to shoot a salad.

My kitchen drawers are equally problematic. I have one drawer for silverware, and four others for junk, junk, junk, and junk. All the junk drawers contain the same junk, just more of it, namely, pens that don’t work, pencils that have no point, extra buttons that go to clothes I’ve never seen, rubber bands I got free but can’t part with, menus for restaurants I don’t order from, and pennies.

In other words, it’s all essential.

I think I know what to put in the empty cabinet.

Trash compactor bags.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: King Tut

By Lisa Scottoline

This column classic this week is in memory of Mother Mary who passed on Palm Sunday several years ago. Happy Easter and Happy Passover to all! Enjoy your families! XOXO

Okay, so my brother has escaped back to Miami, and my mother is still visiting me and my daughter. One afternoon we were all in front of the TV, comatose before the Everybody Loves Raymond marathon, having finished the Law & Order marathon. For the past two weeks, my mother wouldn’t go anywhere else but the kitchen. Driven to distraction, I offhandedly suggested we go see the King Tut exhibit.

“King Tut?” my mother asked, suddenly perking up. Her eyes widened behind her round glasses like an octogenarian Harry Potter. “Let’s go!”

I blinked, astounded.  “But, Ma, it’s In Town.”

“So what?  I love King Tut!”

I didn’t say what I was thinking, which was, More than Telly Savalas?

“Only thing is, he’s not there,” my mother said.

“That’s because he’s dead,” I told her, then ordered the tickets online before she remembered she didn’t like having fun.

The next day, we were at the King Tut exhibit – me, my mother, and my daughter – three generations of Scottoline women, freshly showered and dressed up, giddy to be out of the house. My mother wore her best perfume, smelling great because she stopped smoking a few years ago, when she got throat cancer. She’s in complete remission now, which doesn’t surprise me. It’ll take more than a deadly disease to kill my mother. I’m betting on a meteor.

I picked up our tickets, bought the audio tour, and slipped the headphones over my mother’s hearing aid, then turned on her audiotape, which was narrated by Omar Sharif. She broke into a sly smile and said, “Omar Sharif can park his slippers next to mine anytime.”

“Who’s Omar Sharif?” asked my daughter.

“Doctor Zhivago,” my mother answered.

“Nicky Arnstein,” I added.

Who?” my daughter asked again, and we let it go. I cannot explain Omar Sharif to a generation who has not swooned over him. For Omar Sharif, I would have learned bridge.

But back to the story.

We waited in a line that zigzagged for an hour, which was a lot of standing for my mother, especially after she’d come three blocks from the parking garage. She’d walked only slowly, but she hadn’t complained at all. Her vision is poor from glaucoma and macular degeneration, but she was gamely squinting at the museum map. We entered the exhibit, which began with a short movie about King Tut. In the dark, my mother said to me, “Watch your purse.”

In the first room of the exhibit, we were a field trip of underachievers. We couldn’t pronounce Tutankhamen or figure out his genealogy, and we didn’t know what canopic meant. I kept pressing the wrong numbers on my mother’s gadget for the audio tour, so the tape would play the spiel about liver embalming when she was looking at the mask of Nefertiti.

But we found our stride as the exhibit continued. The lights were low and dramatic; the rooms modeled after the King’s own tomb. I held onto my mother’s elbow as she wobbled along, and my daughter read aloud for her the plaques she couldn’t read herself. We saw lovely calcite jars, so luminous that they glowed. Delicate statues called shabti, glazed a vibrant blue. A gilded chest covered with carved hieroglyphs. The artifacts, all over three thousand years old, had been placed in King Tut’s tomb to keep him company in the afterlife. In the Egyptian culture’s reverence for the dead, I could see its reverence for the living. Looking at the amazing artifacts, holding onto my mother and my daughter, I realized that this moment might never come again. Cancer kills mothers every day, and death comes for all, boy kings and perfumed women.

Then I tried to understand why it took a glimpse of the afterlife to make me appreciate this life. It was an afterlife lesson.

We passed into the last room of the exhibit, which was darker than all the others. I had expected to see the grand finale, King Tut’s famous golden sarcophagus. But where it should have been, instead was a stand the approximate size and shape of a sarcophagus. On it was projected a ghostly photo of King Tut, which morphed from a picture of his mummified remains to a picture of his sarcophagus.

“What’s this?” I asked, mystified. “Where’s King Tut?”

My mother said, “Told you. He’s not here. I read it in the paper.”

That’s what you meant?”


I felt terrible, for my mother. “Sorry about that.”

But she waved me off. “Makes no difference.”

My daughter looked over at me. “Bummed, Mom?”

“No,” I answered, without hesitation.

“Me, neither,” my daughter said with a smile. And we both took my mother by the arm.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: To Catch A Predator

By Lisa Scottoline

I have a crush.

On a fox.


What can I say?

He’s foxy.

Let me explain.

A few months ago, I noticed that there was a baby fox running around my backyard, hanging out in some brush to the left, far from the house. He was red, fluffy, and adorable, with delicate black paws and ears, and I began to spend time watching him.

That makes me sound lonelier than I am. 

Also creepier, especially when I use my binoculars.

If I get a GPS on him, call the authorities.

In time, the fox grew up, going from cute to handsome and then some. Imagine Justin Bieber turning into Hugh Jackman, like Wolverine only nice.

A stone fox.

His body got fuller, his coat glossier, and he sprouted a thick patch of white fur on his chest. 

I like chest hair, even if it’s white.

I’m at that age.

In my own defense, I also like nature, especially when it can be even remotely classified as a Woodland Creature. 

Chipmunks, call me.

Also I loved that animated movie The Fantastic Mr. Fox, so it was all I could do not to catch the fox and dress him in a pinstriped suit. In case you were wondering, my thing for the fox has nothing to do with the fact that George Clooney voiced the fox in The Fantastic Mr. Fox. As we know, I’m over my crush on George and have moved on to Bradley Cooper, because crushes are highly transferrable, especially when they’re completely imaginary.

And also this is one smart fox. 

I didn’t know that foxes really were smart, but believe the hype. 

He darts away if I go out the back door, then sticks his head up from the brush when I go inside, as if he watches my comings and goings. He comes out only at certain times of the evening, when we sit and stare at each other from across the lawn. I begin to notice that I’m looking forward to our end-of-the-day staring sessions.

In other words, dates.

Words aren’t always necessary, between us.

Frankly, I’ve had entire marriages that were far less interesting.

By the way, foxes mate for life.

Unlike me.

My fox is so cool and elusive, the ultimate mystery man. Either he has intimacy issues, or I do.

Daughter Francesca came home to visit, and I showed her the fox, but she frowned. “Mom,” she said, “he’s cute, but stay away.”

“I know, he could have herpes.”

“You mean rabies.”

“Right.” I meant rabies. “I was wondering if I should put some food out for him.”

Francesca’s eyes widened. “Are you serious? He’s a predator.”

“So what? They have to eat, too.” 

“You want him around?”

“Of course. Isn’t he great? I mean, he’s like another dog and cat, combined.” I didn’t tell her he’s my crush. I didn’t want her to think I like bad boys. 

So I didn’t feed him, because my daughter is smarter than I am. 

But neither of us is as smart as my fox.

I say this because the other day he ran by with a bird in its mouth, and I realized that it might have come from my bird feeder by the back door, which I keep full because I like to watch birds, too.

Though with them I manage to check my romantic urges. 

No chest hair.

Although yesterday I did see a superhot blue jay.

Anyway I felt terrible about the bird who was about to be dinner, and worse about the fox. And now I’m thinking that all this time, on our nightly dates, the fox wasn’t watching me, but the bird feeder.

He wasn’t the man I thought he was.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Fun for Free

By Lisa Scottoline

Here’s something I do that might be crazy:

I rearrange the furniture.


Blind people don’t stand a chance in my house. And most of the time, neither do I.

Rearranging the furniture is one of my favorite bad habits. My most favorite bad habit is eating chocolate cake, and my least favorite bad habit is marrying badly.

It all began with an ottoman, which somehow expanded into the Ottoman Empire.

Let me explain.

I was sitting on my couch in the family room, working on my laptop with the TV on. I went to put my feet up on the coffee table, and my foot knocked over a mug of coffee. This had happened to me more times than I can count. Every book on my coffee table has been soaked with coffee, and so has the table itself, but I don’t think that’s why they call it a coffee table or a coffee-table book.

Right then and there, I decided to do something about it. I remembered that I had an ottoman in my office upstairs, which was paired with a chair that’s there for show.

Please tell me I’m not the only person who has furniture for show.

The chair-and-ottoman sits next to my desk in case somebody wandered in, put their feet up, and watched me work, but that’s never going to happen and I wouldn’t want that, anyway. Once I met a writer who told me that he read the pages he’d written that day to his wife, and I thought:

That poor woman.

In any event, I got the ottoman, carried it downstairs, plunked it down in the family room, and put my feet up on it.


In the end, I ended up changing the fabric on the couch to coordinate with the ottoman and even changed the paint color on the walls, which is how the ottoman became the Ottoman Empire and a bad habit was born.

Since then, I look around my house with a critical eye, wondering if the current furniture arrangement is the best and invariably deciding that it isn’t. This thought usually strikes around bedtime, when all the smart people in the world would probably go to sleep.

But not me.

I shove couches around, and then chairs. I even rearrange pictures on the wall and start hammering nails. Pick up any one of the framed things on my wall, and behind it you’ll find at least twelve holes, like automatic weapon fire, but really tiny.

Frankly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this bad habit.

On the contrary, I’m a fan. That’s a great part of growing older, you start to think that even the bad things about you are good.

And why not?

Whose life is it anyway?

Rearranging the furniture is a way of having fun, for free. It keeps you on your toes to think about what other ways the room can be reconfigured, even if it means that you’ll stub your toe on a chair that didn’t used to be there.

In a funny way, I think it’s a small-scale way to improve your own life.

Case in point is my alarm clock.

I know this sounds trivial, but why stop now. Somebody has to write about the simple things in life, and if you like that sort of thing, you’ve come to the right place.

I have this really large, ugly, glowing clock next to my bed, which I’ve suffered with for years. The numbers need to be big because I can’t read them otherwise, and I need to know the time if I wake up at night, so I can worry about how much sleep I’m not getting.

I put things over the clock so it’s dark enough to sleep, but it’s not the best solution, to cover a clock with a pair of cotton undies, like the world’s ugliest nightlight.

Then it struck me that I could put the clock in the bathroom. Granted, I can’t see it from the bed, but on account of my advanced years, I’m in the bathroom at least once a night.

And now I know exactly when.

Plus I sleep like a baby, and my cotton undies are back on my tushie.

Happy ending.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline