CAN ONE MISTAKE RUIN A LIFE FOREVER?

Most people go through life as law abiding citizens. They have bank accounts, rent apartments, hold down jobs, have families. But suppose, just suppose, you are young – say early twenties – and you smoke a little pot with friends, sometimes even experiment with harder substances. One day you get stopped by a traffic cop. They decide to search your car and find a small amount of cocaine that a friend gave you to hold. You are arrested on a felony charge of possession. You are tried and convicted. You spend a short time in jail.

In all other aspects of your life, you follow the rules. You have a husband or a boy friend, a good job. Maybe you have children. But you make one mistake. You have a felony on your rap sheet.

From that moment on, your job is in jeopardy. Maybe they don’t know or care. But if you lose that job someday in the future, you may never get another one because of your past record. If you move and try to rent an apartment or a house, you’re out of luck because of your past record. Your credit rating plummets.

Maybe you’re still  young. Life hasn’t yet begun. That one mistake means you have cut short your potential. How are you going to get a job? A place to live? Once a criminal, always a criminal?

Unfortunately, for many this is their life. One mistake can make you are a criminal for life. What happened to second chances? Can you get your past erased? Maybe after seven years and a good lawyer, which costs money, you can get your record expunged as far as credit ratings and jobs and housing is concerned. Meanwhile, what can you can do?

You might be able to get a job that pays cash under the table. That won’t get you a place to live. What are your choices? Became a career criminal? Sell drugs? Live on the street?

With the economy the way it is today, the homeless is a growing cancer in America. How many start out full of dreams and ambitions. Talent and desire can get you to the top. One mistake can tear down that delicate fabric that separates success and failure.

Examining the lives of the homeless, I wonder how many would not be there if they had a second chance to make up for that one mistake in their youth.

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BEYOND THE CANDELABRA – LIBERACE AND ME

I was sixteen and already somewhat of a rebel. We lived in Los Angeles, and I attended school with children of movie stars. Nancy Sinatra was two years ahead of me. I had already transferred to Hamilton High from University High, where Nancy attended and brought her famous father to the prom. Our school was lucky to have a prom because of rich, unruly teens. Our trip to Knotts Berry Farm was the last of an annual tradition, because of a few reckless students.

I belonged to the youth group at the First Baptist church. We had fun like any other teenagers. Beach parties at night were frequent in the summer. One night a group of us went driving around in the car belonging to one of the older boys. We were bored and looking for entertainment out of the ordinary.

We drove up Mulholland Drive in the hills of West L.A. I’d been there before. It was a favorite parking spot for couples. The view of the city was spectacular and we felt far enough away from the noise and traffic to feel secluded.

We were almost at the top when we noticed Liberace’s house. Hard to miss with the lighted piano hovering over the house. We stopped and stared wordlessly for a moment. Then someone had an idea. A dare. They dared one of us to go up to the door and when Liberace answered, ask him the time.

Usually I was the shy and observant type. But tonight I wanted to show off to the others and prove I was just as brave as any of them.  “I’ll do it,” I told the others. To my surprise, they were not as enthusiastic as I’d hoped. They seemed a little afraid. But I hopped out of the car and strode resolutely to the front of the house.

I rang the doorbell. No answer. I rang again. I heard the car engine roar. My friends were getting nervous. They yelled at me to come back. I rang a third time.

The door opened. A distinguished gentleman stood there, looking curiously at me. I knew right away it wasn’t Liberace. I swallowed and said in a loud voice. “I need to know  what time it is.”

He glanced beyond me to the car. Then he smiled and invited me inside. Without a glance behind me, I followed him in. He introduced himself as George, Liberace’s brother. Liberace wasn’t home, regretfully. Then he took me into the beautifully furnished living room and showed me a large grandfather clock. I noted the time. I don’t remember what it was. But definitely late. After eleven.

“Is there anything else?” he  asked. He was so pleasant and agreeable, never chastising me for interrupting his evening or for being rude. I don’t know how Liberace would have acted, but probably the same. George was polite, friendly and the perfect gentlemen.

I went back to the car amid taunts and rolls of laughter as we drove away. But I’ll never forget my brush with fame at the home of Liberace.

I’ve been more reckless since and I’ve let my curiosity follow to its end. I think that one incident in my youth taught me that celebrities were only people. It also taught me to dare to be different and follow a dream.

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My Books

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Themed Anthologies (Mark H. Phillips)

Themed Anthologies (Mark H. Phillips).

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One Night Stand

A one night stand? Could that really happen?

Last night I was in a bar, watching the bartender pour drinks while I held some sweet concoction in my hand. I turned to the sound of a male voice and recognized him from earlier. Slender, dressed in light blue, gray hair curling down his neck, a scruffy gray stubble. In his hand was a leash attached to the collar of a beautiful dog. 

“Do you mind if I bring my dog,” he asked.

“No,” I said, without thinking. I wanted to take this man home, dog or no dog.

Then reality interrupted. “I have a son,” I told him. “He sleeps in the living room.” I tried to picture taking him upstairs to my room. “I sleep with two dogs. They probably won’t get along with your dog. And the cats will either be terrified or attack your poor animal.”

The beautiful man in my dreams drifted away.

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Reflections on Life

I often wonder what my life would have been like if I always lived near my parents, made choices with them in mind, and always went to them when I needed help. I doubt I’d be the woman I am today.

Times were different as a new adult in the sixties, but not as different as you’d think. The economy wasn’t great, drugs were easily accessible, the job market uneasy. If I depended on my parents, I would never have been a dancer, or had six great loves, lived in six different states, and had all the adventures a writer needed for future plots. I learned to be self-sufficient. I learned what it meant to be me.

I explored. I had great pain and great joy. I never looked back, always forward. Mostly I was intent on survival. Think what would happen today if you went to a new city with only ten dollars in your pocket. No parents around to beg money from. Suppose you also had a child to support. If you’re lucky, you had someone who took you in until you could get a job to make you completely self-sufficient. Maybe one job wouldn’t be enough.Two or three might do. You wouldn’t take advantage of another person’s generosity, no matter what the temptation. The goal is to be independent and not have to rely on anyone but yourself.

It’s easy to blame the economy, the government, society, corporations. I never had time to blame anyone but myself if I strayed on a rose colored path. I never had time to do anything but survive and live with total abandon, look for the open door, listen for knock of opportunity, and pick myself up when I fell.

Would I have had the life I had if I’d stayed at home with family, knowing they would be watching everything I did? On the other hand, I love my children, love having them live close to me. Yet, sometimes I wonder how different their lives might have been.

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