Thursday, 17 December 2015

Toddler Babysits Herself by Naomi Elana Zener

FRESNO, CA – A nosey neighbor called 9-1-1 after witnessing a 42-month-old toddler without adult supervision watching Dora the Explorer and eating a bowl of Cheerios while the mother, Janet Doe, was receiving a mani-pedi.

The neighbor called 9-1-1 when she witnessed through window her 42-month old toddler neighbor, Bambi Doe, watching Dora the Explorer and eating a bowl of Cheerios without adult supervision.  The neighbor advised police and reporters that she caught sight of the toddler when spying through the curtain-less window, trying to see if Janet Doe had been swiping her newspapers. That’s when the neighbor spied the child on the sofa. Being a Good Samaritan, and also catching up on a few missed episodes of Dora herself, after forty-five minutes had passed the neighbor realized that no adults were in the room supervising Bambi. In fact, no adults were at home at all.
“I smashed in the window at the back of the house, a good thirty feet away from where the 42-month old toddler was sitting, went inside, and after making sure that Bambi was ok, I then checked the subscription address on the newspapers sitting on the coffee table by the sofa, and called 9-1-1,” the neighbor, who requested her name be withheld, advised. “The newspapers were in fact mine.”
According to the police report, Bambi Doe was left home alone by her mother, Janet Doe, because Janet couldn’t miss her mani-pedi appointment. Fed up with accompanying her mother to the spa, Bambi told police she was safe being left at home. “It’s not hot in the house like at the spa. I have Cheerios, the couch, my blankie, and Dora to watch me. I’m ok,” Bambi told police. “I told Mama to go and I will watch TV at home by myself.”  
Upon returning home, nails still tacky from the gel application, Janet Doe was taken immediately into police custody. “What kind of mother would I be if I’d have left her in a hot car instead? I didn’t see a problem with it,” Janet Doe was quoted as saying to the police when shamelessly talking about how she was comfortable leaving her daughter to babysit herself. “At home, I have child safety locks on everything and there are safety gates at the bottom of the stairs. Pour some cereal in a bowl, pop on the Family Channel, put on the alarm system, and it’s basically like she’s being babysat. What harm can really happen when I’m not there for an hour?”
Janet Doe was charged with petty theft of the neighbor’s newspapers and child abandonment. The neighbor was hailed as a hero. Police commended Bambi’s neighbor from saving her from her mother, too many carbs, and more than two hours of the daily recommended limit on screen time.  The neighbor also got her newspapers back.

At the time of this report, we were told that Janet Doe made bail and saw the error of her ways. Janet still goes for her weekly mani-pedis and the neighbor is making $25/hour babysitting Bambi while reading her newspapers.

© 2014. Naomi Elana Zener. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Diagnostician of Death and Full-Time Magician

To death, she is tethered. She cannot flee.
Forbearance her hallmark, to sustain dignity.
Stare returned blankly, killer’s face brightly aglow.
Halted at the gates, tears allowed rarely to flow.
Listen carefully: dark wool robes rustling are heard!
Scythe scoring wind under wings of vitality’s bird.
A thousand words these encrypted pictures do tell,
Of a life halted, end is nigh is what they now spell.
Fate. A family informed—another’s duty carried out.
Prayers. Questions. Could diagnosis be in doubt?
Alas, none found, the death knell rung in finality.
Reaper grinning, awash in sadistic grim glee.
In sparse false starts, redemption found. Rare reprieve.
Hope on coasting doves delivered, no one must grieve.
Snapped to attention, a life in the balance hangs.
Omega the code paged, Pale Death’s bell clangs.
Then, like Merlin into action she springs, she flies.
A life to be saved, with steady wand to embolize.
Twisted, long, flowing the line awaiting the magician,
Toiling furiously refusing to be death’s diagnostician.
A perilous balance, so fine the scales are easily tipped.
‘Not today!’ she swears. Swiftly, the bleeder is clipped.
Conjury rewarded, delicious relief savoured quickly,
End’s abeyance unrestrained for the dying and sickly.
To their eternal resting place, down River Styx they float.
Stays of execution few in number, death returns to gloat.
Trusted companions: radiation, lead, technological scans.
Together a new day faced fending off death’s plans.
Lonely is the existence, her burden heavy, exacting.
The circadian Hermes role-play exhausting and taxing.
Each life lost not forgotten, compounded, for all she will mourn.
Yet, with each greeting sun salutation her optimism reborn.

© 2015. Naomi Elana Zener. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Collective Bargaining by Naomi Elana Zener

“I call this meeting to order. On your behalf, I’m meet with management later today to renegotiate our collective bargaining agreement and I need your full, undivided attention. I’ll be taking Union Boss with me to the meeting, but I need you all to quiet down now,” the Representative—a childless woman named Mindy who was a local area music teacher in her forties—advised.  The gnawing chatter refused to die dow. “Listen up! Pay attention to me so that we can all agree on what we want to ask for.”

The toddlers sat cross-legged on the carpeted floor of the daycare space rented for the meeting. Before them, at the front of the room, Mindy and Union Boss sat at a bright pink Ikea plastic table with stylistically matching green chairs from the same big box store. Both Mindy and Union Boss clapped their hands together furiously to get the crowded room of toddlers—ranging from eighteen months to four years old—to simmer down. Known only as Union Boss to the room, and standing at thirty-nine inches tall, the Napoleonic, ginger-haired four-year old boy was elected by the group for his positive sharing skills. Union Boss had asked Mindy, who’d been his music teacher for over half of his life, to help him in speaking with management, also known as ‘Parents,’ to address his and his friends’ complaints about how they were being treated universally. Union Boss hoped that the fact that Mindy was childless and a woman would help her to appear impartial to Parents. Ready for battle, Union Boss was ready to address the throng, but the toddlers reigned supreme in their disquiet. Union Boss signaled to Mindy that it was time to pull out the big artillery. Mindy opened her valise. She pulled out her ukulele. Misdirected into believing they were about to be led in song, a hush befell the room.

“We have the Parents’ list of what they want us to do. I can’t read yet, so Mindy will read it to us,” Union Boss advised, taking advantage of the strategically created opportunity to address the crowd. The youngsters had been assembled and dropped off at a local area play gym under the guise of attending a free two-hour drop-off program. In exchange, all the parents were asked to complete Mindy’s questionnaire about their chief complaints about raising toddlers. Mindy explained that it was to help her to better understand the complexities of the psycho-social child-parent dynamic. All each parent heard was “two-hour drop-off program.” The children’s parents were more than overjoyed at the prospect of having two consecutive childfree hours to themselves, so they jumped at the chance to leave their kids in Mindy’s care to enjoy musical education.  Each would’ve given her their left arm if Mindy had asked for it in return for two hours of free babysitting.

“When your parents dropped you off today, they were asked to fill out a form asking them questions about what they could change about how you all act at home. I’m going to read the top five most common complaints with examples to highlight their grievances. Please let me get through this list without interruption. Turn on your listening ears and close shut your talking mouths, ok? If you do this, once I’m done we can sing ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’.” Mindy instructed. The toddlers simultaneously nodded their heads, turned an invisible key on their mouths, and sat ready to take everything in.

“Here’s what your moms and dads had to tell us:  

1.     Your parents say you don’t listen. Many parents wrote that you listen to your nannies or to the teachers at daycare, but when you come home, it’s like you don’t understand English. I know for some of you, English isn’t your first language and you speak another language at home, like French, Farsi, Italian, Spanish, and Hebrew. Your parents also say that you act like you don’t understand them either in whatever language they normally speak to you at home. They want you to start listening. If they pull out the ‘1, 2, 3,’ they mean business. They wrote that it’s not an invitation to start counting up to 10. They don’t care if you can count when you’re supposed to be listening. And, they want you to stop the counting act in public for strangers to see and think you’re so smart and cute. It’s not cute.  

2.     When your parents put you in Time Out, they want you to stay in Time Out. One parent wrote that it works like Vegas for adults, but without any fun. What happens in Time Out, stays in Time Out.

3.     Potty training is a big issue for them. They want you to just be potty trained already. Many parents said that they know that you know how to use the toilet. That you’ve done it successfully many times, so they want you to stop going in your diaper, or worse pulling your diapers down and making a number 1 or 2 on the floor. They say it’s not right when the dog does it, and it’s really wrong when you do it.

4.     When getting dressed and ready for daycare and preschool they want you to put on the clothes they lay out for you, and to do it without a fuss. One parent wrote that you’re not Anna Wintour from Vogue: you don’t get to stand in front of your wardrobe putting ensembles together, photographing them, and playing dress up when you’re on a strict 45 minute schedule to wake up, use the toilet, brush your teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast, and get out the door. Several parents wrote that you should trust them when they say that they colour coordinate way better than you, and know how to pick out appropriate clothes for the season. They say that wool hats, red tutus, jeans, rain boots, and tank tops don’t work in 80-degree summer weather, even if you live in Brooklyn.

5.     Last, they want you to eat the food they give you at mealtime without a fight. If they give you salmon and broccoli, you have to eat it.”

The children grew agitated as they listened to Mindy speak. She felt that their good behaviour deserved to be acknowledged.  “You all listened so well. Now, it’s time to talk about what you want,” Mindy advised. “Then we can sing.”

Mindy had barely gotten her words out when the invisible locks on the children’s mouths burst open. Tempers flared. Tantrums erupted. Union Boss remained remarkably calm. Mindy let the toddlers tantrums have free reign, knowing that when in full-blown outburst mode, there’s nothing anyone can do but wait it out. Fifteen minutes passed, replete with toddlers screaming, crying, kicking and hitting the floor, and some even soiled their pull-ups, leaving Mindy to clean up the mess. Union Boss remained quiet throughout. Finally having settled down, Union Boss rose to address the group.

“Enough,” Union Boss cried. “Remember, tantrums only work if parents and strangers see them. Parents aren’t here. Don’t waste your time. Use your words instead.”

“I’m angry,” a boy yelped.

“I’m sad,” another boy whimpered choking down his sobs.

“I’m disgusted,” a girl, with advanced verbal skills, who’d recently watched Pixar’s Inside Out, spat.

“So, what do we want?” Union Boss asked.

“Later bedtimes,” one little girl shouted.

“More TV,” said another.

Mindy saw that she was losing control of the group and that Union Boss was losing his composure.

“My mommy said the doctor said no more than two hours of TV a day,” a little boy advised.

“Phooey,” said Union Boss. “Parents like when we watch TV. My daddy said it’s the cheapest babysitter.”

“But, my doctor said all kid doctors said it’s not good for kids,” the little boy pressed.

“The doctor is the boogeyman. Do we like the boogeyman?” Union Boss shouted.

“NO!” cried the room of toddlers.

“What do we want?” Union Boss asked.

“More TV.”

“When do we want it?” Union Boss sang out.


“What else do we want?” Union Boss asked, trying to rally the group.

“More Mac ‘n Cheese. No more salmon and broccoli,” two twin boys shouted.

“What are we going to do if we don’t get what we want?” Union Boss screamed.



“Show grandma my penis!”

“Have a tantrum!”

“Don’t let them brush my teeth.”

“Play with my vagina at supper.”

Mindy looked at the room full of children who’d exploded into full Lord of the Flies glory. She desperately wanted to help these children get what they want, but felt some sympathy for the Parents too. After all, many of them paid her good money to teach their kids music every week.

“Why don’t we make a simple list of what you want, so I can speak with your moms and dads when they pick you up in twenty minutes?” Mindy asked.

“No!” cried out several children.

“Strike! Strike! Strike!” screamed Union Boss, who was jumping up and down on the plastic Ikea table.

“Strike! Strike! Strike!” echoed the children.

“Striking won’t help you,” Mandy chastised the toddlers, running after them trying to calm them down. “You don’t even know what that means.”

“Strike! Strike! Strike!” the room continued to chant.

Mandy slumped to the floor, shaking her head in defeat,  as the natives went wild. She wasn’t surprised by the group’s behaviour, but she was disappointed in both Union Boss and herself for believing him to be different. She sullenly wondered why she expected more of him. After all, he was a toddler just like the rest of them.

© 2014. Naomi Elana Zener. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Writers Write by Naomi Elana Zener

Newspapers, trade publications, and the media became the harbingers of doom. The headlines were mired in gloom. “The Book Business is Dying,” read one headline. Another screamed “Self-Publish If You Want Your Book Read.” And, so on. Eric felt bewildered, outraged, despondent—a sheep without a flock. Abandoned by his first literary agent after she focused her energy on selling out by pitching young celebrities’ poorly ghostwritten books to traditional publishers, Eric felt as he was voted off the island.

“How can you pitch them over me?” Eric whined.

“Trust me,” his agent said. “These tent pole books sell, allowing publishers to be more speculative with first timers like you. I’ve been doing this for years, and I’m telling you that these easy sales are your career’s best friends.”

Six months later, Eric’s agent’s commissions off the swill she’d been pushing had amounted to millions, while Eric’s manuscript languished in slush piles littering editors’ offices around New York City. Finally, after much prodding at Eric’s end, his agent placed his novel at a small independent press that couldn’t afford to pay any advance. As a gesture of good faith, Eric’s agent waved her commission, while simultaneously waving goodbye to him as a client. He dreaded the thought of having to query agents anew, despising the rejection process. Yet, he took comfort in the fact that at least this time around when he sent his queries out into the ether, he’d be a published author, which he hoped would help him land a new and better agent who’d be committed to his career.

“So, what’s the marketing plan?” Eric asked his editor, in whom Eric placed all his hopeful eggs to help him achieve a successful career as an author, sat across from him at a dirty spoon where they held their infrequent meetings. The press being so small and having deep pockets staffed with people with short arms, there was no space available to meet with authors at the office.

“C’est what?” the editor chortled. Eric looked confused. “Dude, temper your expectations. We put out maybe ten titles a year that are each neglected as ugly, forgotten stepchildren. You are your book’s marketing plan.”

“What do you mean?” Eric asked.

“Self-promotion, baby, is the name of the game. You need to get to 2,000 plus followers on Twitter. Build a Facebook author page filled with great witticisms to draw more ‘likes.’ Get snapping on Instagram. Sell yourself and your book on LinkedIn. Say hello to Ello. Get it?”

Eric’s befuddled gaze was frozen.

“Oh, and your book must get reviewed.”

“How do I do that? I’m a writer, not a marketing expert.”

“Well, you’re gonna have to become one, and you’ve got a month’s head start until your book comes out. You need to have author profiles up on Goodreads and Amazon. They are an indie author’s, fuck any author’s, best friend.”

“But, I thought that Amazon was no author’s friend.”

“Dude, practically no one is buying books at the bricks and mortar spots anymore. So, while you still have to pimp yourself out to them, begging to do free readings, you have to make nice, no make love, to Amazon.”

Eric nodded his head.

“And, that means, look up all of the book reviewers living on both Amazon and Goodreads, including the ones reviewing coffee makers and fishing rods. You offer to send them copies of your book in exchange for a review. And, you’ll keep your fingers crossed that it will be positive, as in no less than 4 stars. Otherwise, you’ll have wasted your money on sending them books.”

“Wait, aren’t you sending the reviewers copies of my book?”

The editor was not amused.

“Seriously, man? Who do you think we are? If we didn’t pay you an advance, what makes you think we’re gonna dig into our civ-like pockets to eat the cost of printing and sending copies of your novel to reviewers, many of whom will likely pan it.”

“But, I thought you loved my book?”

“Don’t get me wrong. We do. It’s the stuff that Pulitzer Prize, Man Booker, Giller-prize winning dreams are made of, if we could be bothered to put the money and man hours behind submitting and supporting it to those awards for consideration. But, our P&L sheets weigh heavily on the loss side. So, to answer your question about what our marketing plan is for your book, in a word: none. We’ve got no plan to market your book. It’s on you. But, we’re here for emotional support, if we have time to get back to you.”

The editor took a sip from his tepid over-creamed coffee, looked down at his watch, and saw that he needed to leave.

“Look, I’ve gotta run, but I believe in your book and you as an author. Just get busy on social media, and the rest will take care of itself.”

“So, if I do all those things, my book will sell like Heisenberg’s blue meth?” Eric asked, searching for signs of faith and life in his editor’s cold, blue eyes.

“Not fucking likely. But, you’ll never know if you don’t try.” Eric hung his head. Feeling a pang of guilt, the editor wanted to cheer Eric up. “Buck up. You’ll probably sell a few hundred copies. Maybe more if you get your relatives to buy them. Talk soon.”

Eric’s editor made like the wind, and blew out of the diner. Eric loitered for twenty minutes, deflated. Staring at his empty water glass, his editor’s half-drunk coffee and empty breakfast plate, and the $4.25 cheque that the editor left for him to pick up, Eric reached into his pocket slowly drawing the last fin to his wallet’s name. With only a month until his book’s release, Eric’s anxiety was mounting to a level that no amount of Xanax could temper. Having used the remaining five bucks in his wallet to pay for his editor’s breakfast, Eric realized he’d have to walk home from the corner of Manhattan’s 46th and Park Avenue to the dodgy part of Brooklyn he called home.

Eric’s long walk home was not one that promised freedom, but one that resembled prison. He despised being social in any medium, but most especially online. He was a writer to his core. Not a Tweep, troll, blogger, sharer, liker, and certainly not one to participate in hangouts of any kind. A happy, hermetical Luddite, on a good day, Eric’s Twitter followers fluctuated between 75 and 76 Tweeps, and that depended on whether or not his mother had unfollowed him the night before. He took some solace in the fact that some heavyweight, critically acclaimed authors had given him great blurbs for his book jacket, in which they’d extolled the literary virtue of his magnum opus.

Midway across the Brooklyn Bridge, Eric stopped dead in his tracks. Looking out at the water, straddling the corporate and hipster worlds that confined him, he swore he’d do the opposite of what his editor demanded. I’m going to take a six-month hiatus from the world and write my next novel—a novel that a new agent will represent and sell to one of the big publishers that turn into a Pulitzer Prize winner. No more social media. Nada, zip, nothing, he thought to himself. Feeling slightly more optimistic—knowing that the best thing a writer can do is write in order to break free from the pressures of promotion—Eric trudged home prepared to shut out the outside world to focus only on his next masterpiece. But, just in case it might help, he set up a Facebook author page per his editor’s advice, before tuning out the outside world.

Or, at least, he semi-tuned out the outside world. Like most humans, Eric’s curiosity got the better of him, and two months after hitting both the bricks and mortar and the online bookshelves, he took a gander at the buzz circling his novel after it’s release. While his debut received some good reviews, it failed to gain any critical mass out of the gate since, as promised, his publisher gave him no marketing support. He logged into his Twitter account and Facebook page, feeling nauseous upon seeing that his Twitter followers had barely hit 200—forget reaching 2000 plus—and he’d merely garnered a pathetic 73 Likes on his Facebook page. He even checked his Facebook messages to find a particularly nuanced post from a reality and children’s TV show staff writer—a member of a Facebook writing group he’d joined—who felt the need to tell him that he didn’t know how to write. Period. Immediately after clicking on ‘delete,’ Eric called his mother and left her a voicemail message. He told her he was cancelling both of his phone lines and that he would be incommunicado for a long while, explaining that his future writing success depended on it. He then retreated into recesses of his laptop, to pound out his new novel, stalwart in his refusal to log into any of his social media accounts, including reading any emails from either his publisher or his mother, or read press of any kind about his debut novel, until his next one was finished.

Ten months later and four months past his self-imposed deadline, Eric finally remerged to see both the light shining over his Brooklyn walkup and the light emanating from his computer screen, like an angelic halo, when he logged into Twitter after his self-imposed exile to find that his Twitter followers jumped to 5432 followers. Even his own mother was still following him. Somewhat buoyed by the new state of the union, he took a gander at his Instagram account—something he never used because he hated having his picture taken, or even using a camera—to find that he had over 10,000 followers. Emboldened with courage of a lion, he decided it was high time to see if anyone on Goodreads or Amazon had deigned to read his book and give it even one star.

“Holy shit!” Eric cried out to his dying fichus. “Six thousand reviews? A solid four star rating on both Goodreads and Amazon? How can this be?”

Eric was on Cloud Nine. He continued down the blossoming garden path of wonder, googling himself to find he’d received critical praise from Publisher’s Weekly, Galley Cat, and even the Washington Post’s book critic.

“Ok, I’m no New York Times best-seller, but this is amazing,” Eric beamed prideful to no one, as he sat and stared at his computer screen, tented underneath the safety of the womb provided by his bed’s duvet.

Having cut off his phone lines, both land and cellular, months before when his bank account got depressively low, Eric finally logged into his email to discover that his inbox too was overflowing with messages from his publisher, his friends, and moreover, thirteen literary agents, each of whom were begging him to sign with them. He grabbed his coat and a quarter, and ran down ten flights of stairs to find the nearest payphone.

“Ma,” Eric boomed into the phone. “You’re never gonna guess what’s happened.”

“Who is this?” his mother replied.

“You’re hilarious. It’s me, Eric, your only child.”

A long silence ensued.

“Oh, the one who hasn’t spoken to me in almost a year? I almost forgot that I ever pushed you out of my vagina after thirty-seven hours of grueling labor, since you haven’t bothered to check in on me. I could’ve died and you wouldn’t have known”

“I didn’t stop reading the paper. I’d have seen the obits. Didn’t you get my voicemail message?”

“Of course I did. But, you clearly didn’t get mine. You were so depressed over your book and the publishing industry that I thought you might throw yourself over the Brooklyn Bridge.”

“Um, if you were that concerned, then why didn’t you come to see me?”

“What? Leave Palm Springs? I knew you were fine. You’re such a drama queen.”

“Well, let’s forget about that. I’m calling to tell you that I’ve done it. My book is huge, and a whole bunch of literary agents are trying to get me into bed, so to speak. I have thousands of followers on those social media sites I’d told you about, including Twitter. By the way, thanks for continuing to follow me.”

“Of course I follow you, you’re my son. And, it’s not like you tweeted anything that pissed me off,” his mother interrupted.

“Well, you stuck with me, so thank you. You’re the first person I wanted to share this big news with. Once I sign with a new agent, and show them my new book, I hope to have even bigger news to share with you.”

“May your new agent and novel set off a seven-figure bidding war amongst the big publishing houses. May it become the ‘IT’ book of the year when it comes out on the market. After all my hard work it better be.”

Eric was confused. He wrote the book, not his mother.

“Sorry mom, but what do you mean when you say ‘your hard work’?”

“Who do you think made you the media darling you’ve become?”

Eric was silent.

“When I heard your voicemail message, I immediately called you back and told you that I’d take care of things for you, like a good mother always does.”

“What did you do?”

“You think you and your little book suddenly became popular when you weren’t looking? I’ve been schlepping my arthritic ass across this great state of California over the past ten months, going from Internet café to Internet café, paying in cash, wearing disguises, opening thousands of dummy email accounts to follow you on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Shminterest, liking your Facebook page, writing four and five star reviews for your book on Goodreads and Amazon, and god knows what else, acting as your one-woman marketing team.”

Eric was dumbfounded.

“So, say something.”

“I don’t know what to say. Th, th, thank you?”

“Thank you? You can start by saying that when you get your next book deal, you’re gonna dedicate your novel to me, take me out for a nice steak dinner, and pay me  twenty percent of the advance you get for it and not one dime less. I am your mother after all. And, if you don’t, I’ll unfollow you on Twitter.”

© 2015. Naomi Elana Zener. All Rights Reserved.