Classic Column: You Say Tomato

by Lisa Scottoline

Did you hear about this?

I read in the newspaper that somebody noticed that red tomatoes sell better than greenish ones, so food engineers started changing the genetic makeup of tomatoes to make them redder, except that it also took out the taste.

I learned so much from this that I don’t know where to begin.

Number one, food has engineers?

I thought trains had engineers, and food had cooks.

I just went from choo-choo to chew-chew.

In fact, I thought you had to have an engine to have an engineer, but no.

If you ask me, this opens new job opportunities for engineers. For example, I see a lot of trees that could use a good engineer. They aren’t green enough, especially in fall, when they turn a lot of crazy colors that don’t match.

I mean, let’s be real. Yellow and red? Nobody looks good in yellow and red, except Ronald MacDonald.

He’s single for a reason.

Worse, in winter, the leaves on the trees actually fall off. That’s definitely an engineering problem. I feel pretty sure a tree engineer would fix that, no sweat.

Also, the sun. 

Don’t get me started on the sun. It’s supposed to be yellow, but it’s too bright to tell the color. In fact, it’s so bright that we have to buy dark glasses to even be around it.

Also, the sun is hot, which can be a bummer. It makes us feel listless and uncomfortable, then we have to turn on the air conditioning, or at least decide whether or not to, which can be a problematic choice for certain people, involving money and self-esteem, oddly intertwined.

Not that I know anyone like that.

And also in winter, the sky could use a good engineer. There are times when it changes from blue to a very boring whitish-gray, then actually breaks up and falls to the ground in tiny, cold pieces that we all have to clean up.

Needs work.

Sky engineers should get on it. It’s like the sky doesn’t even stay up, which is a major engineering defect. Cantilevers, buttressing, and scaffolding may be required, and lots of it.

Really, lots.

Or worse, sometimes the sky loses its blue color, turns gray, but doesn’t break up and fall to the ground, right after I spent hundreds of dollars on a green machine to help me clean up the pieces.

That’s a lot of green, even for a green machine.

Who knew that colors required so much engineering? If you ask me, green is the color most in need of engineering. I wish those engineers who were trying to fix the tomatoes would fix the economy, but never mind, what do I know?

Let’s move on to my second point.

Having been astounded to learn that tomatoes have engineers, I was also amazed to learn that they had genes, too.

Who knew tomatoes were so busy?

I grow tomatoes, and I haven’t given them the credit they deserve for their rich inner lives.

To be honest, I had no idea that food had genes, at all. Just like I thought you needed an engine to have an engineer, I thought you needed, like, blood and a heart to have genes.

It’s hard enough for me to remember that a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable, but now I’m expected to know it has DNA, as well?

Bottom line, I’m bad at biology. Anyone who’s slept with me will tell you that.

But now we know that tomatoes have genes, this opens up new job opportunities, namely for actors. Think of all the new TV shows this could create, like CSI: Tomatoes, where they collect tomato DNA to catch the killer tomato.

In fact, we could have murders for every fruit, then spin it off to vegetables, too.

To Catch A Salad Shooter. 

© Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Mother Mary Flunks Time Magazine

By Lisa Scottoline

You may have read the article in Time magazine, entitled “The Five Things Your Kids Will Remember About You.”  It was predictably sweetness and light, but none of it reminded me of Mother Mary, who was anything but sweetness and light. She’s been gone almost two years now, and she was more olive oil and vinegar.

In fact, I considered the five things that Time set forth and compared them to Mother Mary, to see how she measured up, magazine-wise.

You can play along, with your mother.

Or if you’ve read the previous books in this series, you could probably fill in the same blanks with Mother Mary stories.

But no spoilers.

So don’t tell anyone about the time Mother Mary refused to use the discount Batman bedsheets because she didn’t want a life-size Batman laying on top of her.

Or the time she took to wearing a lab coat because it gave her an air of authority, plus pockets for her cell phone and back scratcher.

Or the time she grabbed her doctor’s butt to prove that she was ready for cardiac rehab.

Nobody would believe those stories, anyway.

So, to stay on point about the Time magazine article, the first thing that your children are alleged to remember about you is “the times you made them feel safe.”


How sweet.

Except that with Mother Mary, what I remember are the times she made me feel unsafe.

Because those were truly memorable.

And my general safety was a given, if less dramatic.

For example, when Brother Frank and I were little, we used to fight, which drove my mother crazy. I remember, one day, she yelled at us to stop fighting and we ignored her, so that she took off her shoe and threw it at us.

She missed, but that didn’t stop her.

Because she had another foot with another shoe.

So she took that shoe off and threw it at us, but she missed with that one, too.

We stopped fighting.

You’re probably thinking that she missed us intentionally, and I’ll let you think that, but you didn’t know Mother Mary.  She loved us in a fiercely Italian-American sort of way, which meant that motherhood and minor personal injury weren’t mutually exclusive.

So lighten up, Time.

The second thing in the article was that your children will supposedly remember “the times you gave them your undivided attention,” and the magazine advised parents to “stop what you’re doing to have a tea party” with your kids.

Again, growing up, I had no doubt that I had my mother’s attention, but it was never undivided and she wasn’t into tea parties.

But she chain-smoked.

Does that count?

Mother Mary was a real mom, busy doing laundry, cooking dinner, and cleaning the house, and though she was always available, she wasn’t staring deeply into our blue eyes.  But every night, the Flying Scottolines would sit on the couch and watch TV, giving it our undivided attention.

We all loved TV, so by the property of association, we all loved each other.

Good enough for me.

The third thing was, your kids will remember “the way you interacted with your children’s spouse.”

This doesn’t apply to The Flying Scottolines, since the statement assumes that the parents interacted.

You can’t win them all.

My parents barely talked to each other, but at least they never fought and nobody was surprised when they divorced. But happily, they both loved us to the marrow, and my brother and I knew that.

What I learned from growing up in a house with an unhappy marriage is that divorce is better.

And so I’m divorced twice.

Which I think is the good news, considering the alternative.

If I can’t have a happy marriage, I’ll have a happy house.

The fourth factor was, you kids will remember “your words of affirmation and your words of criticism.”

I don’t know if Italian-American families have things that can be characterized as words of affirmation, except “I love you.”

And as a child, I heard that at least ten times a day.

But I also heard, “Don’t be so fresh.”

So I grew up thinking that I was lovable and fresh, which might be true.

The last thing in the article was that children would remember “family traditions,” like vacation spots and/or game nights.

The Scottolines weren’t the kind to have “game nights,” but every summer, we did go on vacation to the same brick rowhouse in Atlantic City, New Jersey. All day long, we played on the beach while my parents smoked, and at night we sat on the front porch while assorted relatives dropped by and the adults talked, drank beer, and smoked into the night. When the mosquitoes got too bad, we all trundled inside the house, where the adults played pinochle until my brother and I fell asleep on the couch, to the sound of their gossiping and laughter, breathing in the smoke from their Pall Malls and unfiltered Camels.

We had no oxygen, but a lot of love.

And it wasn’t Norman Rockwell.

But it was perfect.

Looking back, I wouldn’t change a moment.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.

I love you.

And I’m still fresh.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Mother Mary Gets An Idea

By Lisa Scottoline

Certain smells bring back memories of Mother Mary.

Among these are Estée Lauder Youth Dew perfume, More 100’s cigarette smoke – and mozzarella.

Not exactly sentimental, but there you have it.

You can trust that all the memories of The Flying Scottolines will be relate to carbohydrates.

Let me explain.

The other day, I was walking through the food court in the mall and I caught a width of a distinctive aroma.

Bad pizza.

Specifically, frozen pizza.

By way of background, my mother was a terrific cook, especially of Italian food. She made us homemade spaghetti, ravioli, and gnocchi from scratch. As a child, I spent hours watching her.

And it took hours.

If you’ve ever watched anybody make homemade spaghetti, it’s a domestic miracle. A loaf of dough that somehow ends up being rolled out and then fed into a spaghetti maker, coming out like flour-y tinsel.

Same with ravioli, because she mixed the ricotta cheese and seasonings according to her own secret recipe that had a tangy cheesy salty taste I could never duplicate and wouldn’t even try.

And when she made gnocchi’s, she started with the dough, but rolled it out into long skinny tubes, cut it into little chunks, and then floured her fingers and pinched each chunk, making the special dimpling that marks the best gnocchis – made by hand, dimpled by fingertips.

The problem was pizza.

When we were growing up, I wanted to be like the other kids, who got pizza delivered or had somebody go pick up pizza and brought it home. We never did that, because Mother Mary felt that since it was Italian food, it would be heresy to buy it at a restaurant. But she had no interest in making homemade pizza, and who could blame her, so she would buy it frozen at the Acme.

Or as we say in South Philly, the Ac-a-me.

She bought a no-name brand in a plastic bag, with ten small pizzas stacked on each other, as appetizing as hockey pucks.

She cooked it at home.

For three hours.

Okay, I’m exaggerating, but she overcooked the pizza every time, refusing to follow the directions. She wouldn’t even let me follow the directions. It was her kitchen, so she did the cooking, which meant that our pizza always sucked.

And let’s be real, back then, it was the dark ages of frozen pizza.

In fairness to Mother Mary, overcooking was the only chance that frozen pizza had of drying out, otherwise the crust stayed soggy and the tomato sauce distilled to hot ketchup.

So as I entered high school, I ended up at a friend’s house and they ordered pizza from a great neighborhood pizza place, Marrone’s.

I was hooked.

So one night, when Mother Mary wanted to make frozen pizza, I told her about the magic of store-bought pizza at Marrone’s, but she wasn’t having any. We fussed about it, but amazingly I persuaded her to give it a try.

Mother Mary was delightfully stubborn. You could move the Mummers up Broad Street easier.

So I went to Marrone’s, bought an actual take-out pizza, and brought it home.

Mother Mary opened the box, and we all waited in suspense while she slid out the first piece and cut the mozzarella strings with the gravity of a surgeon servering an umbilical cord. She took a bite, chewed, swallowed, and then said with a wink:

“I knew it would be better than frozen.”

From that day forward, we ordered from Marrone’s.

And I forgot all about that story until I walked through the mall the other day, and smelled the mozzarella.

I knew that somewhere, Mother Mary was winking.

Grief is funny that way, bringing back the good and the bad, the funny foods and the dumb fights.

And most of all, the love.

That never goes away.

And the best of it is homemade.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Password

By Lisa Scottoline

In the beginning, God created the Internet and shopping online. I was an early believer. Where shopping is involved, I get in on the ground floor, especially if I don’t have to move from my chair. Shopping online was like having somebody bring you brownies and stuff them in your mouth.

In other words, impossible to resist.

Plus the economy was better then. It turns out that “shop until you drop” wasn’t such a hot idea. Or maybe we just dropped. Or somebody dropped us. Either way, don’t get me started.

To stay on point, early on, websites like Amazon and required a four-digit password. It was my first password, and what a thrill! Think of a secret word! It put me in mind of decoder rings, speakeasies, and people knocking on doors, saying “Sam sent me.” In those days, I used the same go-to password for everything – specifically, my goal weight plus zero. It was easy to remember because nobody ever forgets their goal weight, and the chance of ever attaining it is zero.

Then everybody caught on to online shopping, so much so that the other day I went into a pet store and they had only two dog collars, both large and blue. I wanted red and small, so they told me go home and shop online at their website. So you know where this is going. The bad news is that someday the stores will be empty. The good news is that there’ll be plenty of parking.

But somewhere along the line, passwords stopped being fun. Complex rules entered the picture, like an IRS Code for passwords. Nowadays passwords have to be eight or ten digits, mix numbers and letters, use both upper and lowercase, no asterisks or other punctuation, can’t repeat digits, and never on Sunday.

Now I hate passwords.

I have 3,929,874 passwords, not only for shopping but for banking, Gmail, satellite radio, and other stuff. I try to keep track of them but I can never remember to record the password, and if I keep forgetting it, I get locked out of the website and have to reset the password. Then I reset the password to something close to the original, which means that all of my passwords are scarily similar, like some inbred mountain family, so I’ll never be able to keep them straight.

And then websites started requiring user names, because our regular names stopped being good enough and we became users and not people. I can never remember my user names, because sometimes the website requires lscottoline or lisascottoline or, and the other day I got so fed up, I made “password” my user name.

This amused me.

Then of course I couldn’t get into a website because I misremembered either my user name or my password, and they don’t tell you which one you got wrong, so you have to try different combinations to hit paydirt, which never happens before you are locked out of the site. And you can’t get an email sent to you reminding you of your password unless you remember your user name. But if you’re like me and you forgot your password, you’re also the type to forget your user name, which is when you throw your laptop out the window.

But it gets better.

Yes, I’m talking about Security Questions. These are something my bank has come up with, wherein after I finally get my user name and password correct, they ask me questions, the answers to which I established too long ago to remember, around the time I lost my car keys. And if I get all the answers right, I’m still not in the clear, because the website shows me a picture of an oak tree and asks me to remember the caption I wrote for the picture, once upon a time.


I can write a novel, but not a caption. All my captions stink. And so therefore they’re impossible to remember.

I look at the oak tree picture and try the caption, “This is an oak tree.”


Then I try, “This is not an oak tree.”

Surreal, but also incorrect.

I try “Oaky Dokey!” For fun.

Also incorrect, so I’m locked out of the bank. At which point, I leave the house to go to the store.

And park.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Got Limes?

By Lisa Scottoline

You may have seen the news story that one of the major big-box stores has applied for a liquor license, which would allow consumption-on-premises.

In other words, you could drink while you shop.


Happy days are here again!

Reportedly, the store is doing this because it’s expanding its grocery and food items, but I don’t care why.

Bottom’s up!

I already love shopping in big-box stores.


Everything is BIG!

If you need to buy laundry detergent, the smallest bottle is 187 ounces.

And that’s concentrated, so it’s the equivalent of an entire ocean of laundry detergent. 

That’s why I buy All laundry detergent.

Because it’s ALL.

In fact, you will die before you run out of laundry detergent, and you can bequeath it to your children. So after you have given your all, you can give them your All.

If you buy a can of coffee, it will be shrink-wrapped with 4700 other cans of coffee. You’ll have more caffeine than you’ll ever need and you can share some with your neighbors, so your entire block will be highly productive.

Or start a war.

I also buy multicolored gummy vitamins in a big-box store, and I now have 3,2029,348 vitamins. If I took them all, I would gain a superpower.

Or grow a third breast covered with rainbows.

Which might be the same thing.

But you get the idea, the bottom line in big-box stores is that everything is big, plentiful, excessive, and way out-of-proportion.

Ain’t it great?

The shopping carts are humongous, too, perfectly in scale with the massive stores, so that between the immensity of the warehouse space, the gargantuan shopping carts, and the over-the-top quantity of each item, when you step inside the store, you’re a Lilliputian stepped into Brobdingnag, which is the land where the giants lived in Gulliver’s Travels.

You probably knew that.

But I had to look it up.


Anyway it’s a good analogy, because that’s pretty much exactly how I feel when I’m pushing around one of those big carts, and like you, I go into the big-box store for one item and leave with several hundred.

In fact, I have been known to leave the store with two full carts, which shows you that Lilliputians love to shop.

Now that big-box stores will allow you to drink while you shop, I’m imagining myself walking those glistening, extra-wide aisles behind my cart-as-big-as-a-house, a Lilliputian sipping Lambrusco.

I don’t have that many inhibitions to start with, and for me, liquor only makes things worse.

Or better.

I buy too much in the big-box store when I’m sober, but if I shop while I’m drinking, I’ll shop until I drop.

Or until I drip.

Or both.

I might buy EVERYTHING.

Whether you think drinking-while-you-shop is a good thing depends on whether you’re the massive corporation that owns the big-box stores or my retirement fund.

Either way, I’m in.

It certainly improves people’s attitudes about running their errands on the weekends, if they can do them beer in hand.

It changes your Things To Do list into a Things to Drink list.

I’m wondering if the shopping carts will have cupholders in the shape of wineglasses or maybe tiny ones small enough to hold a shot glass.

Shot! Shot! Shot!

Shop! Shop! Shop!

But what happens when people start drinking while they’re driving those scooters in the store?

I foresee major collisions.

It brings a whole new meaning to, “Pick up in aisle four.”

Employees will come with a broom.

And a breathalyzer.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: You Can’t Touch This

By Lisa Scottoline

Here’s what happened to me, last weekend. I’d just finished the draft of my next book, which left me with nothing to do and a residual feeling that I should still be productive. I’d been working on the same book for a year, and even so, wasn’t ready for it to end, even after I’d typed:

The End.

Please tell me this happens to you, no matter what you do. That once you’ve been working full-tilt, it’s hard to bring it to an abrupt halt. It’s not that those of us similarly afflicted are Type A, because we’re too nice for that. I prefer to think of us as adorable cartoon characters like Wile E. Coyote, who keep running in the air after there’s no more cliff.

Meep meep!

Either way, when I finally finished working, I noticed some scuffmarks on the walls of my entrance hall and I couldn’t forget them. I kept looking at them, and though I wanted to relax, sitting down in my favorite chair to read a book, the scuffmarks stayed in the back of my mind. I remember when the back of my mind used to be occupied by men, but in recent years, they’ve have been replaced by carbohydrates.

And, now, scuffmarks.

Five scuffmarks in all, covering the wall in the entrance hall, and God knows how they got there. They bugged me, though I’d never noticed them before. It struck me that scuffmarks shouldn’t be the first thing people see when they walk into my house, even though nobody is walking into my house.

And under the scuffmarks, I noticed a line of paw prints. You don’t have to be a mystery writer to know how they got there. Little Tony, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who thinks he’s Little Tony Soprano, protects me by resting his dirty mitts on the wall and barking at the window. And whenever I leave the house, Peach, my other Cavalier, body-slams the door.

Plus I detected a generalized griminess around the baseboards that I couldn’t ignore. That would be from Ruby The Crazy Corgi, who rolls against the wall like a hotdog on a rotisserie.

I should have been picking up the nice thick book I’d wanted to read. It was going to be my reward for the nice thick book I’d just written.

That, and lots of carbohydrates.

But no, instead I went to the kitchen cabinet and grabbed the spray Fantastik and a roll of paper towels. I got busy cleaning the entrance hall and the baseboards, to no avail. The scuffmarks still looked grimy and dirty, and now, wet.

I realized that the entrance hall hadn’t been painted in five years.

An hour later, I had a new plastic drop cloth on the floor, a girl-size roller dripping with fresh latex, and a slim paintbrush for getting in the comers. I started painting the entrance hall and blasted music on the iPod. I sang while I worked, and the dogs watched, all of us happy. I was happy because painting is more fun than cleaning, and the dogs were happy because they had a whole new wall to mess up.

I finished painting the entrance hall, and it looked so great and smelled fresh and new.

But then I noticed more scuffmarks in the family room.

And there were still songs left on the iPod.

So I got busy in the family room, which was the same color, called Beethoven. Though it was Sinatra on the iPod.

A few hours later, I had finished painting the family room, or at least as far up each wall I could reach, making do-it-yourself wainscoting. Also I didn’t bother moving the pictures and painted around them, which saved a lot of time.

Still everything blended okay, and it all looked so terrific.

And since I had plenty of Tony Bennett left, I went on a scuffmark hunt upstairs, where there was more Beethoven. I found a ton of scuffmarks in the second floor hallway, and I painted it through most of the night and the next day, after the dogs had fallen asleep and the iPod had segued into old MC Hammer.

Yes, I was Too Legit To Quit.

And by the end of the weekend, I had a freshly painted house.

And I knew I was Type A.

The End.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: With Apologies to L’Oreal

by Lisa Scottoline

I’m sweltering because I have low self-esteem.

That’s what I figured out.

Otherwise I can’t explain my own dumb behavior.

This might be a new low, because usually I can explain my dumb behavior. Like if someone says, do you want to get married, I always say, Yes!

Dumb, but I know why.

Temporary insanity.

This time, I don’t, and the stakes are much higher. We’re talking air conditioning.

We begin when summer started, in earnest. The heat wave rolled in with temperatures of ninety degrees, but for some reason, I don’t turn on the air conditioning. One part of my house has central air, and it happens to be where the family room and my office are, but still I can’t bring myself to turn it on. By habit, I try not to turn on the air conditioning unless I absolutely have to.


I tough it out. It’s warm but not unbearable. I drink lots of iced drinks and wear tank tops and shorts. I tell myself I feel cool, even though the dogs pant and flop listlessly on the floor, flat as area rugs.

The cats don’t mince words. They walk around with signs that read: TURN ON THE AC, DUMMY.

I know if I had a window air conditioner, I’d feel differently. Then I would turn it on and it would cool down the one room I was in and nothing else. But central air has to cool the family room, kitchen, and office – all for one person.


When Daughter Francesca lived home, I would turn it on all the time. It makes sense, for two people.

But for one?


I sweat as I type away, and I’m on deadline, running out of steam. Still I think if I could just hang in a little longer, I could get through another day. Partly it’s the money, because the bill is so high, but it was high for two people too, so that can’t be the real reason. It’s not the money, but it seems wasteful.

For me alone.

Do you remember the commercial for L’Oreal haircolor, where the tagline said, Because you’re worth it?

I’ll explain, for those under seventy years old.

The idea was that L’Oreal was the most expensive of the at-home hair color kits, costing, if I remember correctly, twelve bucks a box.

Yes, there was a time when things cost twelve dollars.

And yes, there was a time when I did my own haircolor, and it looked it. I was a Nice N’ Easy fan, which went for six bucks and was neither nice nor easy.

They also called it hair painting, and we all know what a lousy painter I am. I’m the girl who paints around the pictures on the wall, so you can imagine what my roots looked like.


By the way, L’Oreal doesn’t use that tagline anymore, though its website asks, What Does Your Haircolor Say About You?

Which, I realized, is a more tactful way of saying, WHY DON’T YOU TURN ON THE AC, DUMMY?

I didn’t spring for the L’Oreal, and frankly, I don’t turn on the air conditioning because, at some, level, I don’t feel worth it.



Advocate of strong, independent women everywhere? Writer of books featuring same? Could I really have self-esteem that low?


I don’t know the answer, and I don’t want to know, but I turned on the air conditioning immediately, just to prove it to myself that I wasn’t a loser.

The dogs thanked me.

The cats didn’t.

They knew they were worth it, all along.

Copyright © Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Banana Fanna Fo

by Lisa Scottoline

I just found out that Mother Mary has been living under an alias. 

You would think that I’d know my mother’s real name. After all, she’s 86, I’m 55, and it’s the kind of thing that’s generally well-established by now. But Mother Mary is full of mysteries.

Let me explain.

You may recall that I took her back to the airport after her last visit, and she almost wasn’t allowed to board the plane to Miami, because her ID card had expired. The airline let her fly only because she was carrying her social security card. Of course, you could have guessed that Mother Mary carries her social security card. She also carries her voter registration card and a photo of Tom Selleck that she claims came with her wallet, but I don’t believe her.

I suspect she just likes Tom Selleck.

Wallets haven’t come with photos since the days of Troy Donohue. Photos don’t even come with photos anymore. All the photos are in the cell phones, guaranteeing that the moments of our lives will last as long as a SIM card.

To continue the story, Brother Frank took her to the DMV for a new ID card, but they wouldn’t renew her card because her last name, which is Scottoline, was different than the one on her birth certificate, which is Lopo. She had to go home and obtain her marriage and divorce certificates from when she married and divorced my father, and she also had to get the marriage and divorce certificates of the guy she married and divorced before my father, since she’s divorced twice, in the manner of all Scottoline women, who need a couple of tries to get something right and often never do.

So she obtained the necessary documents and they went back to the DMV, where they waited in line for three hours, during which Brother Frank tells me that Mother Mary morphed into Line Police. He didn’t need to elaborate; I’ve waited in plenty of lines with Mother Mary, and I know the drill. She watches everything and everybody in the line. 

She makes the average hawk look asleep at the switch.

Mother Mary makes sure that nobody is butting in, holding a place for someone else, or taking too long at the counter. All such infractions are met with eye-rolling, theatrical sighing, or a well-timed, “oh, come on!” And if the line shifts forward but the person in front of her doesn’t move instantly, she’ll lean over, wave him ahead, and say, “Go.”

Her finest moment arises when she spots the person who Just Has A Question.

You’ve seen this person.

They act agitated when they bypass the line and go straight to the counter, as if their question roiled their very soul. Most people ignore the person who Just Has A Question. Not Mother Mary. I’ve seen her stop the person who Just Has A Question and tell him he can take his question to the back of the line where it belongs.

And once, she said to him, “I just have a question, too. Why are you butting in line?”

But to stay on point, she finally gets to the DMV counter, and the clerk is about to issue her a new ID card when he notices something. Mother Mary’s birth certificate doesn’t read Mary Lopo, but Maria Lopo.

“So what?” Mother Mary asked him, and me, later, when she tells me the story.

“Your name isn’t Mary?” I’m dumbfounded. “All my life, you told me your name was Mary.”

“It is. Maria is Mary in Italian.”

“But this isn’t Italy, Mom. Mary and Maria are two different names. I thought your name was Mary, but it’s Maria. How did I not know this?”

“They’re not different names.”

“Yes, they are. That’s why the man couldn’t give you an ID card that says Mary.”

“So now I got an ID card that says Maria Scottoline, but it doesn’t match my bills, my credit cards, my social security card, or my deed.”

“Your name really isn’t Mary?” I ask, still flabbergasted. Twenty years ago, I named my first fictional character, Mary DiNunzio, after her. And for years, I’ve been calling her Mother Mary. But she isn’t Mother Mary. She’s Mother Maria.

She keeps talking away.

But I don’t listen. I don’t understand at all.

I’m the person who Just Has A Question.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Chick Wit Classic: Half Full

by Lisa Scottoline

I just read in the newspaper that an Italian lingerie manufacturer has instituted a program whereby women can return their used padded bras to the stores to be recycled into insulation for home construction.


I was wondering if this would work in the United States, but I don’t think so. Why?

We don’t throw out our old bras.

I don’t have evidence on which to base my opinion, but I bet I’m right. I confirmed my theory by asking my girlfriends if they throw out their old bras. All of them agreed with me, which is why we have girlfriends.

I cannot throw away an old bra. I don’t know why. Even if I don’t wear it anymore, I keep my old bras in my drawer, where they ball up in a tangle of frayed lace, spent elastic, and underwires that could put out an eye.

I can tell the oldest ones because they’re black and red, a veritable checkerboard of youthful enthusiasm. And they’re made of nylon or some sheer synthetic that was eventually replaced by good old-fashioned white cotton, like an old Maidenform commercial.

From the days of maidens.

One of my friends does exactly what I do. Rather than throw away her old bras when her drawer gets too full, she simply starts a new drawer. And she buys new bras more often than I do, as she has a more active personal life, if you follow. I don’t get a new bra unless I get a new husband.

So right now, I have ex-bras.

I don’t know why my friends and I save our bras, except that it may have to do with the price. I remember when a bra cost twelve dollars. Now, you need a second mortgage, especially if it’s what we used to call padded, which they now call formed. And instead of the soft cottony stuff they used to pad them with, they now use removable things called cutlets, which you can stuff in your bra if you like wearing veal.

I like the old padding better, of course. I have one bra that’s padded with some sort of airy honeycomb. It used to make a minefield of bumps on my sweater, telling the world that not only I was wearing a padded bra, I was keeping bees.

The price of bras reaches its peak with a brand known as La Perla. The more financially prudent among you might not know about La Perla, so you’ll have to trust me on this, as you should in all things. I’ve never lied to you, and will tell you now that a La Perla bra cost as much as a strand of pearlas.

How I came to possess a La Perla is a boring story, but the short of it is that I was going on TV, and the saleswoman told me I needed a special bra for TV, so I tried it on and it fit me like a cupcake pan in which the cupcake doesn’t quite rise, if you follow.

Though I prefer to see the cup as half full, not half empty.

Anyway, the cup’s shape was amazingly breast-like, though completely fake, which made it perfect, so I told her to add it to my bag without really checking the price. And when I looked at the receipt, it was too late.

But I have a solution.

I’m putting it in my will.

There’s financial planning for the future.

Heirloom underwires.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Breezy

By Lisa Scottoline

The great thing about summer is that we all take the time to slow down, which is especially necessary in a world buzzing with laptops and phones. Today I am marveling at the most perfect low-tech invention of all time:

The fan.

How great is a fan? No bells, whistles, or BTUs. It’s plastic, and it cost only fifteen dollars. You can’t even buy gum for fifteen dollars. I am in love with my fan, even though I have bad childhood memories of same.

Let me back up.

Growing up, we had no air conditioning, and I remember going to my friends’ houses, where they did. My best friend Rachel had something mysterious and great called Central Air, and we loved it so much that we would leave her house only for the movies, where they had air-conditioning and a blue banner that advertised as much, in letters so cold that they formed icicles.

Don’t pretend you don’t remember that sign, because you do.

Anyway at home, we had window fans, which were the source of much discord. The big debate was whether to turn them out or in. To me, even at age twelve, this was a no-brainer. One side blows air at you, and one side doesn’t. So which side should face you, as you sweat your butt off?

Of course.

Stick the fan in the window, so that it blows air on you. My father, brother, and I were aligned on this opinion, but we did not prevail, as we lived with a meteorologist.

Mother Mary.

You may not have known she was a meteorologist, but she was, when it came to interior weather. By the way, she was also a doctor, when it came to swimming after eating. And an electrician, when it came to toasters near water. Mothers are women of invisible degrees, and she was no exception.

Mother Mary held that the fan should be in the window turned out, so that it did not blow on you. Her theory was that if it was turned out, it would suck all the hot air from the room and blow it outside, thus cooling the room. Sadly, the fan came with no instructions to settle the argument, and in the end, you know who prevailed, so we turned our window fans out and sweated in our living room.

Yes, it sucked.

Mother Mary also believed in cross-ventilation. In fact, if you ever meet her, don’t get her started on cross-ventilation. She can talk about cross-ventilation like some people talk about politics. According to her, you should throw open two windows opposite from each other, and the air from one window will be sucked in, whoosh magically across the room, and blow out the other window, thus cooling all the Scottolines sweating inside.

This sucked, too.

We waited and waited for a breeze to cross-ventilate us, yet it never happened. So we whined and whined for an conditioner, and one day, they relented, albeit with a compromise. We would use fans and cross-ventilation in the living room, and in the dining room, we installed a window air-conditioner, which supposedly had enough BTUs to cool the entire first floor.

It didn’t.

It cooled the dining room, but we never used the dining room except for Christmas, Easter, or another day when something really good happened to Jesus Christ.

And the TV was in the living room, so we were always in the living room, sweating amid the inside-out fans and nonexistent cross-ventilation, while the dining room remained frosty, if empty.

When I grew up, I got to be the mother, so my house has central air, window air conditioners, and fans.

Overcompensate, much?

But this summer has been so cool that I’m using only the fan. It sits in the window next to my bed and whirrs pleasantly all night, cooling dogs, cats, and one middle-aged woman.

And it blows inside, the way God and General Electric intended.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline