Stories by category: Random Thoughts

It’s ALL about the bike.

My first road bike, after the banana seat and streamers phase, was the most expensive bike in the shop. Italian-made, red steel, and with Campy parts. I spent an entire year of babysitting money to buy it. And I felt really cool on that thing.

Paul Nolan got me interested in riding even before Breaking Away came out. We’d head out early Saturday mornings and go on long rides on the country roads of Berkey, Ohio, where nary a car passed by, there was not a hill in sight, and the biggest danger were the barnyard dogs from the farms. And they were dangerous – baring their teeth, biting at the tires. Paul liked to smack ’em with his portable tire pump. I doused ’em with water. Sometimes we carried a spray bottle with ammonia. That produced a lot of great dog noises and could probably be classified as cruel and unusual. But then so was the bared teeth and biting.

When I moved to Southern California, nothing prepared me for the hills. Whereas before I could whip off a century in four hours, now I was facing brutal climbs where I couldn’t crack 10 miles per hour. Or really even 5. I hung up my bike for film school. The only riding I did was for the first film I made at CalArts, a one-minute short featuring that red Italian Torpado.

Twenty-five years later I was still riding that thing… Until I hooked up with a couple of guys for early morning training and one of them, Steve, told me I could shave 10% off my time and limit the road vibration with a new bike. Done.

I used to come to the Rose Café every morning. For a scone and a cup of coffee and a table all my own. I’d prop open my laptop and the creative juices would begin to flow. I did some of my best writing at the Rose. There are certain comforting fixtures: the man who cleans the tables who provides a ready smile; another who works the parking lot wearing a brimmed sun hat and an easy laugh. Every day I would greet these men like friends. And then I stopped going. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was just a routine whose time had ended. I also got a job for a couple years, and the life of lazy mornings and creative cultivation went on pause.

SconeAndCoffeeToday I came back. I have needed to write again. I have needed lazy mornings. And I have especially needed creative cultivation. Everything about the Rose is both new and old. New outdoor patio. New succulents. New paint. New bathrooms! Same old staff though, now much more gray to my surprise. But today, even after all these years away, the men smiled at me and greeted me as if I hadn’t missed a day. Well, now THAT is like coming home.

The Buddhists have this saying, “beginner’s mind,” which is an attitude of openness, a lack of preconceptions. I am embracing the concept fully today. And, as a close associate of beginner’s mind, I have beginner’s legs. Because after several months of waiting for the early morning temperatures to stay above 55 degrees, I have once again pulled my bike out of the garage and started all over. Several months of not riding takes its toll. I have an extra EIGHT pounds I put on over the winter, which is eight more pounds I have to drag up San Vicente Boulevard with legs that have gone a bit flaccid and lungs that launch their protest. San Vicente is the perfect training road, not just a discovery of mine but of every other cyclist on the Westside. We turn out in droves, decked out in our finest polyester kits, and attack the road, which rises steadily at a 3 to 4 percent grade—what we like to call a “false flat.” There are only two lights, at 7th and 26th, then a loop around the golf course with a short 12% grade at the end, and back down San Vicente to do it all again two more times for a nice 30-mile workout.


My favorite high school teacher is dying. I recently learned that she has end stage pancreatic cancer. Interesting combination of words: end stage. It makes her death seem imminent though I don’t know how much time they suspect she has. I hope it is long enough for me to have a dialogue with her. I have written her a letter. I don’t have an email address for her, only a home address. When time is so precious, I resent having to rely on the United States Postal Service. I worry that some scrappy man is riding a pony across country with my letter stuffed into the bag slung over his shoulder, and he may not make it all the way to Michigan in time.

What do you say to someone who is dying? The last time I did it, I was horribly inept. I talked a lot about myself, which is what I thought my friend Irene most wanted, but it didn’t feel satisfying for me. I talked without saying much. I certainly didn’t express what she’d meant to me. Sure, I’d told her often over the years, and she was clear about the depth and breadth of my love, but in my final visit with her, I had no courage. And I still feel ashamed.

It’s easier in a letter.

A little nip here, a tuck there. New blog posts. Updated info. Photographs. You know, fun stuff. Enjoy!

I’m taking a brief respite today. The story of Jeanette will continue, and soon, but first…

I’m new to the blogging world, and I’d like to confess that I was never going to participate in it. I was afraid that this was just a self-indulgent landscape for bad writing and poor grammar. Perhaps this post is evidence of at least the self-indulgent part, since I am now writing about me in the present tense as if someone was interested.

I needed a creative outlet so I hung out my blog shingle (blingle?). Then I sent emails to friends hoping to pique their interest but really I expected to be writing to the sound of my keyboard strokes echoing through the cavernous internet unheard.

And then came Google Analytics, this free service you sign up for that provides statistics on how many people are visiting your site, how long they’re staying and what pages they’re reading. Um, cool!

So, like, 50 people have dropped by in the last three days. From THREE countries. Helloooooo. I’m totally blown away by that. And it begs the question… WHO are all of you? Sure, when it tells me that 8 people in Santa Monica have tuned in, I pretty much know who all of you are. But London? And Cooksville, Canada? That just thrills and, frankly, befuddles me to no end.

I’d like you to send me comments. Or, at the very least, email me. (tess [at] tessclark [dot] com)

Writing this continuing story has reminded me that in olden times (100 years ago), some writers gathered quite a readership by writing serials in magazines. Many of Charles Dickens’ novels started that way. Sherlock Holmes first appeared in that format.

When I “googled” the concept, I discovered that the serial dates back to One Thousand and One Nights (aka Arabian Nights) wherein Queen Scheherazade told stories to King Shahrivar every night to keep him from executing her. In order to stay alive, she began each story with a narrative hook and ended it with a cliffhanger to keep the King in suspense and returning night after night.

So there you have it.

…continue on to Part 7 of the story…

(This relates to a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

Before I started publicly blogging about Jeanette and including the gruesome details of her assault from my perspective, I sent her an email. It was a—hey, I’m thinking of writing about this and I want to make sure it’s okay with you—email.

She wrote back:

Write, write, write! I will want to read it. I’d love to hear your story.

I was both excited and afraid. I was excited because I’ve wanted to write this story for a long time. From a purely story perspective, this is a knockout. But I was afraid to write it because on a personal level, this story is filled with emotional landmines and psychological trapdoors. What’s clear is that my number one goal through the event was to protect Jeanette as much as I could, and it seems as though that has continued with time.

Certain recent events have transpired that have drawn me toward the telling of this tale. Those events will be revealed over time. And the public forum of blogging was really just a tool to keep me writing, which has been highly effective.

Now that we’re public, and there are readers who keep encouraging me to continue (thank you!), I thought it would be fun to “break the fourth wall” and include a few words from Jeanette. This morning she sent me the following email…

I’d be hard pressed to come up with another story that approximates the level of conflict, intrigue and drama as the one I just wrote. So it’s possible that my follow-up can really only be a disappointment. Perhaps the one thing working to my advantage is that the conclusion of the Jeanette story was a disappointment for so many people. I’ve gotten great emails expressing outrage and sadness. I love that people have cared so much.

The morning after finishing the last installment of the story, I was awakened at 3 AM to sirens, flashing lights and police helicopters swirling above my neighborhood. Periodically, an announcement would blare out from the darkened sky telling us to stay in our homes, that suspects were at large. This continued, unbelievably, for just over four hours. The police had to swap out their “airships” three times because the onboard fuel only lasts two hours. With nothing else to do, I reached for my iPhone and followed Venice311 on Twitter to get live updates from the LA Police Scanner.

It seems as though three guys broke into a local Best Buy, loaded a U-Haul with stolen electronics and were chased by the cops to my neighborhood where they ditched the U-Haul and started running. Police established a perimeter, tracked the thugs by heat from the airship above, brought in K-9 units and after four hours they had all the guys in custody.


Unfortunately, when the sleep-deprived neighborhood clued into the details, pretty much everyone was stunned to discover that they’d been kept awake since 3 AM for a truckload of electronics. My neighbor shook her head over the fence and said, “That’s it? I’m sorry to say but with all that activity, you’d at least hope someone had been killed.”

Welcome. For those of you who are new, read on. For those who are returning for updates, scroll down…

I’m taking a short break from writing about my travels across Spain to continue with the Jeanette story, otherwise known to this website as “An Assault in Venice.” To read the story from my perspective, you can start here.

To donate to the Jeanette Facial Surgery Fund via PayPal, click the button below.

You do not have to have a PayPal account to donate. All donations, large and small are not just happily accepted, they are gratefully received.

I will, through this website, give periodic updates regarding the amount of donations received, as well as details of the surgery, which is scheduled for March 15, 2012.


I got good people! Such good people. That’s not a surprise. The outpouring has been nourishing and lovely. I’m ever so grateful.

Within minutes of me blasting out my email about Jeanette and asking for donations, they began magically appearing.

Amy responded nearly on the heels of me clicking the send button and responded simply with “Done.” And then, “I’m grateful for the opportunity to help Jeanette in some small way.”

Many of you wrote that to me…

From Laura: “Thanks for this opportunity to help Jeanette.”

From Kristie: “God bless you for doing this for all of us.”

From JoDee: “Thank you for the update and for the opportunity to help make Jeanette’s life a little easier.”

From Jill: “You both have my support.”

Robbyne wrote, “This is such an issue for me, our lack of decent health care in this country.”

From Deb: “God bless you, Tess, for documenting, believing, supporting and championing Jeanette.”

From Melissa: “Anything for you.”

Others simply donated without acknowledgment. Marisa, Maureen, Forest, Gale, Kara, Pete, Sarah, John in Wisconsin and John in New York. David, whom I sadly haven’t had contact with in far too long also gave to Jeanette without hesitating. And that is just so beautiful to me, that despite time and distance, the tether remains. Strong.

Kristie, who’d not read the blog when I first posted it last year, sent an email followup, and it’s too priceless not to include here.

I didn’t want to start reading your story at work. I knew it would affect me. But like an alcoholic who thinks s/he can put a bottle of Jamison on the table and stare at it, but resist it, I opened your blog page and then minimized it. What happened? I closed the door to my office, put a note on the door that said “on extended break”, un-minimized the blog, and read the whole thing. And when I was done I had a good cry. At first out of sadness, then out of sheer beauty. The beauty of a cop, a surgeon, an attorney, a politician’s aide, a friend, a stranger, a dog. All who came in to offer their assistance in the ways they knew how or felt would be most beneficial.

I hope a million people send money or if they can’t afford money, a good thought. A blessing. Because maybe, just maybe, if enough strangers can rally, we can collectively undo a bit of damage that a single stranger did.


As of this morning, you all have contributed $1,100!

Thank you doesn’t really begin to express it.

More. Soon.


Well, almost exactly a week ago I sent out an email blast. And we’ve just crossed the 2K mark. I believe the tally today stands at $2100 and that’s including a few checks that have arrived to my mailbox.

And the emails keep coming.

John from Wisconsin wrote of the blog I wrote laying out my view of the tale: “Thanks for putting it into words which turned it into such real, real life.”

From Richard, simply: “Check is in the mail.”

Brad wrote: “Thanks for making a difference for Jeanette.”

From Dena: “Thanks for including us in your email blast. We are happy to help out your friend.”

From Maureen Mary Margaret: “Your heart is forever in the right place.”

Stephanie quickly wrote a check and handed it over. As did my sweet parents. Lauren handed me cash over dinner last night.

Amy in Santa Monica wrote: “Please send my love to Jeannette and thank her for allowing you to share this horrific story.”

Steve, with the fantastically sweet heart filled with heartache wrote: “Thank you for taking up Jeanette’s most worthy cause in a rancid society that simply doesn’t take care of its own.”

From Forest: “My heart goes out to your friend.”

David’s note really got me. He’s the guy from the last update who blew me away with a donation since years had passed and we’d had no contact.

Your request for Jeanette came at a moment when my giving was really an act of healing for me so thank you for reaching out and giving me the opportunity to participate in some small way to a very loving and significant thing.

My heavy heart is centered on the crossroads that the Literature to Life program has reached. While we have built a nationwide and truly worthy arts and education initiative, we have run into that brick wall of funding problem. It is truly remarkable that something so good and so necessary can lose support is mind boggling but if you break it down between the usual suspects, the economy, the schools lack of funds, the arts, etc. You see where I’m going. Dig a bit deeper and you come to a myriad of problems all around.

All in all I feel very responsible for the company and for one of the first times in my life I feel mostly helpless.

So you see reaching out to you and your heartfelt request was a concrete act that very simply makes sense. So thank you. I sincerely hope the surgery goes well and Jeanette continues to recover.


I’m in a very different place as I write this update. Jeanette is now six days into her recovery from surgery. We’ve had a difficult, beautiful, painful, glorious time. Yesterday her bandages came off and she looks better today, even with the swelling, than she did when she arrived.

The donations keep coming. I love that. She struggles with that. It’s hard to receive, that’s all. Word has gotten out, past my circle of friends and into hers, and so now donations are coming from people I don’t know. I’d still like to acknowledge you all and I’ll do the best I can…

Lloyd, Hank, Lorraine, Ellen, Michael, Susan, Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah, Max, Amy, Tim, Elizabeth and Melissa…

In the meantime, I got this email from Jeanette’s niece, Sarah, who writes beautifully. I got permission to include this part of gorgeous email:

Thank you for putting together the fund, and for offering my Aunt a place to stay after her surgery.

When I think about the attack, I remember waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of father taking down the suitcase from the attic so my mother could pack. She came and sat on my bed and told me that Aunt Net was hurt, and that she was flying to California immediately. I was 11. I walked to school in blue jeans and a blue denim vest that day and felt like I should be sad. I was worried, but I couldn’t sum up the emotion that the event deserved. I think I wasn’t ready to be that sad.

Now I’m sitting on the couch in my first grown-up apartment, and I think about being with her and growing up with her in my life since then. There were slices of hot cheesy pizza on the porch, drives in her little Volkswagon, discussions about feminist politics, long-distance telephone calls about the people we’re in love with, countless trips to movies and plays and museums, steaming mugs of chai in a cafe in Dupont Circle. I’m so glad she made it through that attack, because I love her so much and I can’t imagine who I would be with out her. I’m deeply sad that she’s still hurt. So thanks very much for setting up the fund, I’m honored to contribute.

Today I sent out a follow-up email to the friends of mine who have contributed. Here’s an edited version of it:

Jeanette arrived last Tuesday night for what was to be, literally, a reopening of old wounds. On Wednesday, we drove to Santa Barbara. Dr. Keller’s entire office staff has changed since last we were there but they all proved to be just as sweet and accommodating as the last group. A plastic surgeon runs a boutique business, and so bedside manner is a lot of the experience. They can afford to coddle you and take as much time as you want to feel comfortable. It was a little like being at a spa, oddly, but then I wasn’t the one having anything done. Photos, consultations, conversations. Basically, Dr. Keller was just going to get in there, and then decide what was to be done.

I’d rented a guesthouse near the beach that I found on If you don’t know about that site, check it out. I wanted a freestanding structure with a yard that was close to the beach, all things I thought Jeanette would like. The place I found was perfect.

On Thursday morning, we took a stroll on the beach. The morning light was magical. As we spoke about this horrid event that had happened to her 13 years ago, I’d mentioned that it seemed like a lifetime ago. In the magical morning light, she expressed that she didn’t have that luxury—that the daily-ness of the injury was an ongoing presence in her life. And always would be.

When we got to the office for the surgery on Thursday, Dr. Keller said that the anesthesiologist was still there, and he could easily stay for Jeanette’s surgery if we wanted him to. It would be an additional $400, though, he said. And this is really the point. If the additional expense were coming out of her pocket, she might have evaluated it more carefully. In no way did she want to have to endure the surgery awake, but the debate of being practical vs. emotional would have played out differently. Because of all the support, she didn’t have to have the debate. She only had to experience the relief of letting go of her fear.

It’s hard receiving. It’s harder for some people to receive than to give. It’s been hard for her to receive all this generosity but it has made all the difference in her experience of this, her 10th? 15th? surgery. We tried to count them.

And the thing is, both Dr. Keller and the angelic anesthesiologist, Dr. LaGrange, said after the surgery, “It’s a good thing she wasn’t awake for that.” When they got in there, there was so much scar tissue on the right side of her face that they had trouble getting the old implant out. What was supposed to be an hour surgery was two and a half hours. They got it all out, a new implant went in, and they took fatty tissue from her belly and put it in her cheek to fill it all in.

It’s now six days later and she’s still swollen, but she looks better today than she did when she arrived last week.

I just wanted you to know that it’s been a tough, beautiful, life-affirming week over here. And I simply can’t thank you enough for helping me through it. I know that most of you gave money to Jeanette because I asked you to. It’s been a lesson in receiving for me, too. And it has been no small thing, believe me. The attack she endured will never be “a lifetime ago” for her. But making every step slightly less painful is really quite stunning. Thank you, from the top to the bottom of my heart, thank you, for being present in my life and loving me through these moments when I/we most need your love and support.