Vero Beach

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On catching a break.

Published April 7, 2013 by mandileighbean

March 30th was my last night in Vero Beach, Florida.  I must admit that I was sad; I had such a wonderful vacation.  I lounged in the sand, soaked up the sun, shopped in expensive boutiques, tried a new style with a new haircut and feel completely at peace with myself and those around me.  That vacation had been everything I needed it to be and more.  However, I must also admit that I missed New Jersey and as I left, I was excited to see my family.

As far as the so-called itinerary I had in mind for the trip, I did not finish “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand, but I only have a few pages left.  I wrote, but nothing of real value or quality, and nothing as far as truly beginning a second novel.  I talk about writing a lot, but I fear that lately, it has become only talk and nothing more.  I have to make the time to read and write, and truly devote myself to my passion.  I know that statement seems paradoxical and that one could argue that if I was truly passionate, I would not have to force myself to make time for writing.  That being said, I will admit that teaching consumes much more of my time than I had originally anticipated.  The goal for next year is to strike a healthier balance between striving for my dreams and being responsible at work.  Teaching pays the bills and while I love it and am fulfilled by it, writing is what pumps my blood through my veins.  Writing is what I see when I close my eyes, and the first thing I look for when I open them.

While on vacation, I attended the sunrise mass for Easter and went with Kim and Carol to Cracker Barrel for breakfast.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip.

One of my ceramic brackets for my braces popped off while I was eating sushi … imagine that.  I’ll called my orthodontist and set up an appointment.  Once I got there, they removed the brackets – surprise!  there was two – but did not replace them.  If it’s not one thing, it’s another; but I say that with a smile on my face.

Below is an assortment of photos from my vacation.  Enjoy!  Maybe one will inspire YOU to create a poem or a short story.  If one does, please feel free to share it!

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On needing a break.

Published March 26, 2013 by mandileighbean

Hello there, Stranger Danger!  It has been quite some time since we last spoke.  Unfortunately, not too much has happened, nothing terribly exciting.  Well, aside from the past three days, which were a complete whirlwind.  But – I am jumping ahead.  Let me begin with a highlight of the past two weeks.

The play was a roaring success!  The students were so talented, and sweet, and appreciative.  They made me cry and they made all the time spent, all the bruises, and all the frustrations completely worth it.  I was given flowers and a signed poster and a t-shirt, and was truly touched.  I know I kind of decided that I wasn’t going to be stage director next school year, but if Lee asks, I will say yes.

Lee was amazing.  I miss spending hours and hours with her every day.  She is so sweet, and she is beautiful inside and out.  I wish she had won The Biggest Loser at work.  She came close, though; second place!  I rounded out the top five and was only one pound shy of my goal weight!  I want to lose another fifteen before the end of the academic year, and then I am going to tone.  I am more motivated than I have ever been before, and believe I have a shot at making it this time – a real, bonafide chance.  That will most likely happen after this vacation, though – which brings me to my (slightly) harrowing tale.

I have been looking forward to Spring Break more so than is healthy and probably humanly possible.  I had plans to begin my second novel, to continue dieting and exercising and to really relax.  I used the word “need” whenever I talked about it, and I talked about it constantly.  Everyone at work was echoing similar sentiments; we all agreed that between the mold in the middle school, the split sessions, the bomb threats, Hurricane Sandy, the offensive bathroom graffiti, the new Danielson model of evaluating teachers, and schedule changes, the school year has sucked (pardon my lack of eloquence).  Personally, I believed that I was cursed for having such a year be my first full year as a teacher, and those suspicions were doubly reinforced when I tried to leave, to finally catch a break.  The rare occasions where I am selfish always seem to occur on the worst possible days.  I have always had the worst timing; even Mom says so.

“And the sky opened up, and God looked down, and He said, ‘I hate you, Amanda Bean!'”  Nothing that I plan ever works out; it never goes as planned, even despite all of my desperate, frantic prayers that are intermittent with sobs.  Nothing goes right for me.  In the film “Stranger than Fiction” with Will Ferrell, the main character discovers that his life is being narrated, and thereby dictated, by a female author.  To find out how his story ends, he must first determine whether his story is a comedy or a tragedy.  He keeps score in a little notebook, and soon believes that he is living a tragedy.  I now firmly believe that I have this in common with Harold Crick, the character’s name that I have just remembered.  Better yet, I would argue, and do so successfully, I’m sure that my life more closely resembles a Shakespearean tragedy.  However, if that is the case, then where, oh where, is the sweet release of death?

I know that I am guilty of being melodramatic, particularly with that last line, but I earnestly believe that I cannot win for losing and that if it weren’t for bad luck, I would have no luck at all.  Every time I look forward to something, it inevitably and devastatingly crumbles.  My reality NEVER meets my expectations.  As a result, I recently marched myself into the fairly swanky convenience store beside the Shell gas station where I was temporarily stranded (Exit 118 off I-95 South in Thornburg, Virginia) and purchased a pack of Marlboro Red 100’s – cigarettes.  I planned on smoking as many as it took to keep from drowning myself in my “pity-pool-of-tears” party.  I only smoked one, though I did so down to the filter.  I was distracted by the healthier urge to write and the 24 ounces of coffee that I also purchased.

I was about an hour and a half away from Missy’s house when my car overheated.  The needle was BURIED in the red and steam was POURING from the engine.  I called my dad asking him if I should pull over, or what else I could do, and he began listing the WORST CASE SCENARIO; that my car would have to be left in Virginia and be towed, that I could not have the Spring Break vacation I had been salivating over.  Being a dramatic, young woman, I began to cry.  Dad said, “Jesus Christ!  This is why you can’t go anywhere!” and, essentially, blamed me for the whole incident.  Naturally, I cried harder.  I then called John, and he was SO cool, calm, and collected and totally talked me off the ledge.  Working together via cell phone, we were able to get the car a couple of more miles.  It overheated again, and I had to pull over and there, on the side of the interstate, in the cold and in the dark, I was going to have to wait nearly two hours for Missy to come and find me.  There my car would sit, abandoned.  I was back on the phone with Dad (I had over forty calls in total that night from Missy, John, Dad, and Mom) when flashing yellow lights suddenly appeared behind me.  I was kneeling on the passenger seat in the front, remarkably disheveled, searching for a flashlight to check the fans in the front of the engine.  My high heels were near the pedals, on the floor by the front seat.  My eyes went wide and I was worried that my life was about to turn into that scene from “Taken.”  I was waiting for Dad to say, “Mandi, these men are going to take you.”  Luckily, it was only Steve from the Virginia Department of Transportation.  He wanted to make sure everything was okay, and I am fairly certain he can read minds because he explained why it took him so long to leave his truck and to come to my car is because he had to call it in to the local police.  Could he have seen my wide eyes, wild hair and trembling lips?  Maybe.

But Steve was a godsend.  He looked under the hood, added anti-freeze and that may have fixed the problem, but a new problem emerged right there before our eyes, as unbelievable as it may seem: my battery was dead.  This was most likely because I had left my lights on while parked and waiting for the engine to cool down.  Steve explained that he had a soft bumper and would push me to the nearest exit, which was only about a mile away.  There was a Dairy Queen where I could park and wait for Missy.  He pushed me all the way there, gave me his card and left me with the knowledge that three hours ago, right where I had been stranded, a helicopter landed to fly an elderly woman to the hospital after her car and trailer flipped, with her, her husband, and their dog inside.  The woman did not make it.  The scene was chaotic and horrifying.  But I was okay – I suppose that was his message.  He was smiling when he walked away.

I made it to Missy’s after she came to rescue me with Jimmy.  She drove three hours to get me somewhere safe, even though she had two little ones at home and work the next day.  She sacrificed a lot for me, and John had been so calm and helpful and reassuring.  They were excellent.  I owe them SO much.

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The next day, Mom and Dad drove down to my car.  I did not see my father, but he assessed the problem (which was simple; the car needed antifreeze), fixed it, and went back home because he had to pick Mike up from his camping trip.  That’s seven hours in the car for me.  Mom spent the entire day in traffic to come down, only to drive me to my car the following day.  All that time, all that money (gas, tolls, etc.) for me.  Dad even filled my tank with gas (which was unbeknownst to me, and I purchased $2.51 of gas and spilled it all over me).  And after driving through the McDonald’s Drive Thru in first gear, it was smooth sailing.

I made it to Vero Beach, Florida.  I spent the day outside in the beautiful sun.  I had my phone interview – which was a live radio interview – on the beach.  The interview was conducted by an incredibly sweet, professional, and talented junior by the name of Jeida from Atlantic City High School.  I thought it went extremely well, and Jeida ended the conversation by letting me know she wanted to interview me AGAIN in the near future.  And while the interview was going on (and while my hot wings were getting cold, but I’m not complaining because they weren’t worth the trouble; I have braces now), I began to schedule another interview with Montclair State University’s Alumni Association.  I got some sun, some sand, some good food, to experience the local flavor, and most importantly, to relax.  Life is good.

It’s funny how things work out sometimes.

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On clinging to the past.

Published March 4, 2013 by mandileighbean

On Monday of this past week, I found the moon.  It was fat, full, gluttonous, and bright.  I have a picture to prove it.

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I have another resolution for this relatively new year: to be as artistic in possible in all that I do.

I deposited my second royalty check – $23.22.  From October 29th to December 31st, I have made $95.40.  I am not, and have never been, a “numbers person.”  I am not sure if this means I am doing well, average, or poor.  All I know is that I want to keep writing, and I suppose that is the most important thing.  I did little to no writing this week, which is possibly why this blog post is so scattered and superficial.

I am convinced that in a former life, I was happily married to Ricky Ricardo.

Running in the wind is romantic and freeing.  Running in the wind and the rain is stupid.

There is a dry, red, and raw patch of skin on my hand between my thumb and pointer finger.  When I stick the cap on the opposite end of the pen, the plastic irritates the area.  I have icky winter skin.  I am over the cold, bitter weather.

I am sick of being tired.

I am envious of Winona Ryder – or at least her hair, especially when it is short.  I remember feeling similarly after seeing, “Girl, Interrupted.”  I watched “Reality Bites.”  I liked the tone of it and I do sincerely miss the 1990s somewhat.  I really am a fan of the earthy, sloppy fashion that was considered chic.  I would like to bring that style back, but am unsure if I would be able to do so single-handedly, and am equally unsure if there would even be any other willing participants; I might have no other choice than to embark on a lone wolf fashion revolution.  Either way, I am going to dress and style my hair accordingly – I am excited to buy new clothes once I lose the weight.  Manufacturers really do not make fashionable habiliments for larger people.

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I am mostly excited for Spring Break and vacation in Florida.  I called my Aunt Kim tonight and squared away the details.  Dad and his friend Andy fitted my car with new struts and fixed a leak that had to do with the transmission.  I am constantly making a mental list of what I want to do before leaving.  Lately, the trip has been all that I have been thinking about.  I do not mind going alone, but Mom is thinking about coming along, and that does not upset me at all.

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Sometimes, when I wash my face, I make the water too hot and steam rises up from the sink basin in the bathroom, and the water burns my hands, and opens my pores so wide that they sizzle.  Once I was worried because for a brief moment, I could not get the cold tap to turn.  Eventually I did, and it made me think of that scene from “My Cousin Vinny” when Marissa Tomei and Joe Pesci are ironically analyzing the dripping faucet that is off-screen as litigators would in court.  Then I wonder how a casting director could match Pesci with Tomei (or vice versa).  I worry that such wondering makes me shallow.  Am I shallow?  Am I a bad person?

What if I do not find romance after my teeth are straightened and after I’ve lost the weight?  Will I have to conclude the defect is not my physical appearance, but in my personality, my very being?

I am going to take up painting this summer.

I need to write.

My last baby tooth, which never fell out, was pulled on the last day of February.  So long, Little Mandi.  The very last tangible remnant of my childhood was violently yanked from me.  It was for the best – it was causing an infection and discoloration – but I was sad to see it go.  I am reluctant to grow up and relinquish my sometimes irrational passions, and I am unwilling compromise between responsibility and desire; I don’t wanna.  But then again, I am getting braces.  Maybe it all works out and I will never have to escape my adolescence.

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The way to blast blubber this week was to give up extreme thinking.  I set a realistic goal of losing two pounds, and I lost 1.8 pounds; just two ounces shy.  I have lost 18 pounds total since beginning dieting and exercising and I am getting closer to my goal.  Chipping away little by little is okay; I am seeing results without being perfect or extreme, and that is both a very important and difficult lesson to learn.

On boys on bicycles.

Published February 16, 2013 by mandileighbean

Hello all!

I present to you a short story I started writing while on vacation in Florida at the beginning of last month.  I am trying to work on being creepy in a subtle way.  Please comment to let me know what you think, and I hope you enjoy it!

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BOYS ON BICYCLES

Mandi Bean

 

By all accounts, the vacation was desperately needed by the Smith family, so the uncooperative weather was especially frustrating and almost painfully disappointing.  Amber felt the sting of missed expectations most keenly as she had deemed the trek to the Sunshine State a necessity because she absolutely needed to feel the baking rays of a fat, sweltering sun fall heavily upon her as she squished cooled, clumped sand between her toes while standing at a meandering shoreline, watching breaking waves.  The sudden, nearly physical yearning for a sandy shore had surprised Amber, but in hindsight, it made perfect sense.  Amber and the rest of the Smith family hailed from the Great Garden State, which had recently been brutally ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.  With rollercoasters claimed by the Atlantic, enacted martial law, and missing pieces of the famous and beloved boardwalk, the Jersey Shore was no longer a place to escape to.  Indeed, many of its inhabitants were escaping from the coastal communities up and down the shore.  The Smiths were no exceptions and for reasons Amber could not explain, she needed a beach.

This inexplicable need did not grasp anyone else and Amber had difficulty rounding up family members to head to the beach.  In the end, only three others decided to pile in the Hyundai with Amber; her twin sister Susan, her young cousin Adam, and her aunt Kim, at whose home they were vacationing.  Adam was a restless kid looking to get out of the house and, being his godmother, Kim wanted to please Adam and her devotion compelled her to come along (Amber believed Kim’s unconditional love and devotion knew no bounds and that Kim would follow Adam to the ends of the earth were it ever asked of her).  Susan’s motivations were not as obvious, and Amber could only surmise that her twin simply wanted to drive.

With Susan at the wheel and with Kim as the co-pilot, Amber and Adam claimed the backseat of the car and thus began the fifteen minute drive east to the ocean.  There was superficial, intermittent chatter but starting, let alone maintaining, a conversation became more trouble than it was worth over the wind roaring in and out of the open windows.  Amber was happy to stick her arm out of the window and flatten her palm so that her hand rode the waves of air; it was worth the annoyance of having to squint against the powerful gales and to constantly and continuously tuck bothersome strands of hair behind ears to keep them from sticking in the corners of her lips and eyes.  It did not matter to her that it was cold (for Florida, anyway), nor did it seem to matter to anyone else.  The windows stayed down for the duration of the drive.

When the Hyundai came to a rest in a slanted parking space, Adam bounded from the car, excited for room to run in a way that only a child can be excited.  The adults hurried after him, up a flight of wooden stairs to a sparse boardwalk, and then down another flight of wooden stairs to the beach.  The beach was essentially deserted aside from a few other small groups of more obvious tourists and some die hard fitness fanatics reaping the cardiac benefits of running in the sand.  Amber, before making it all the way to the chilly sand, sat upon a wooden stair to roll her jeans over her calves and above her knees.  She also removed her flip flops and held them firmly in hand when she joined the others near the water.  Adam raced Kim along the shoreline as Amber and Susan chased the water back to the ocean and then promptly fled from the icy liquid as it traveled back over the sand.  Amber and Susan also wrote “New Jersey” in big, capital letters in the sand, using their feet and toes.  Then, for a change of pace, Adam raced Susan as Kim and Amber observed, occasionally interfering with either runner by playfully using physical restraint to impede progress.  Short of being tackled to the ground, the runners were breathless, laughing and spinning to a halt in the sand as their loved ones hung about their shoulders and waists.

Though everyone was having fun, it really was too chilly for the beach.  The four resolved to pack it in, call it a day, and head on home.  Amber paused at the top of the stairs leading from the beach to the boardwalk to take one – just one – longing backward glance at the sand and the rough waters of the Atlantic.  Sullenly, she unrolled the legs of her jeans and wiggled her feet and toes back into her flip flops.  There was only sea as far as she could see, and the landscape made her feel limitless and full of endless possibilities.  It was intoxicating and she offered up a silent prayer to Whomever Might Be Listening for warmer weather and longer trips to the beach.

But perhaps Amber wasn’t the only one longing for scenic escapes – no matter how brief – because once everyone was safely back inside the car, Kim made a suggestion.  “Turn right at the end of this street instead of left,” she instructed.  “I’ll show you guys where the really nice houses are.”  Susan dutifully obeyed and with all the windows down, the foursome traveled northwest along Ocean Drive.  There was nothing remarkable to be seen at first, but eventually the sprawling hotels and quaint seaside shops gave way to exotic looking vegetation that concealed starts of cobblestone driveways that led to grand mansions, which, at times, could not be seen from the road.  Those homes in view were certainly impressive.

There were stone staircases with wide steps leading up to double front doors from either side, and the doors were made of rich, sturdy mahogany.  There were balconies with thin, delicate-looking iron railings.  There were terracotta roof tiles covering wide, sloping roofs that turned houses into haciendas, complete with cement archways, an overabundances of hues of orange, and which betrayed the historical Spanish influence on the entire state.  The accompanying guest houses were all substantially larger than the Smith family home and truly dwarfed the house of the surrounding residential communities.

Susan was only barely rolling along, operating the vehicle at a snail’s pace.  Open-mouthed, she craned her neck from left to right and back again, incredulously observing the excess of wealth on either side.  Her scan was panoramic so that, at the very least, the driver was conscientious enough not to slam into anything.  That being said, Susan did neglect to look into her rearview mirror as she was so wholly taken by the new and exciting scenery.  As a matter of fact, it was not until Amber made an announcement from the backseat that Susan gave any kind of thought to the rear.

“There’s a car behind us,” Amber said, her neck twisted gracefully over her right shoulder.  She turned forward after a beat and added, “He looks pissed.”

“So what?” Susan grunted dismissively, clearly annoyed at having been interrupted.  She stuck her pale, toned arm out of the open window and waved the following car around, indicating the driver should pass the four-door filled with unabashed looky-loos.  He passed, after shooting Susan a murderous look, and everyone relaxed, as if a useless, creeping anxiety had been relieved.

But that was only because the rear faded from their minds and no one turned to see the bicycle following so closely that the rubber tread of the front wheel nearly grazed the bumper.  It would have been an unsettling sight indeed, especially when the rider’s face came into clear view.  His young face was not innocent as it should have been, but was instead so blank and vacant and devoid of emotion that irrational as it may seem, the boy seemed sinister and cold.  His youth and carefree activity did nothing to dispel the image of evil that lingered about his person, just beneath the surface.

Adam, upon being confined to the car, became restless once more and fidgeted in the seat.  He looked all around for excitement, even for some trouble, and was successful when he looked behind him and saw the young boy.  Adam knew the boy was about his age, but also knew instinctively that the boy was somehow much older.  There was experience and wisdom running through the odd lines of his face.  Adam believed the young boy knew things that young boys shouldn’t know, had seen things young boys shouldn’t see, and had done things no one should ever do, regardless of age and gender.  His tiny body shook uncontrollably and he scooted to the end of the seat so he could whisper in Kim’s ear, “There’s someone else behind us.”

“What?” Kim asked as a reflex, because she had clearly heard Adam and required no further explanation.  She turned around in her seat to look out the back window.  She saw what Adam had seen and then some, because her advanced age allowed her to comprehend and articulate the oddity of the scene.  Laughing without much humor to keep her own fears at bay and to assuage the unspoken ones belonging to Adam, Kim said to Susan, “Wave this kid around.  He’s tailgating you on a bike.”

Susan laughed with genuine humor.  “That’s ridiculous,” she smiled and once more sticking her pale, toned arm out of the window, she waved to the boy.  She quickly wondered if he would know what the provincial gesture meant, and she was about to yell out instructions in an annoyed tone when he sped past the car.  He was moving so quickly and so close to the window that Susan had to pull her hand in speedily, as if she had been dangling it before the open mouth of a hungry alligator.  “What the hell, man!” she roared.  Angry and in need of validation for her visceral, intense reaction, she turned to Kim.  “Did you see that?”

Kim shrugged, merely imitating a cool indifference.  Her voice betrayed her as it trembled ever so slightly.  “Kids can be just as rude or as creepy as anyone else.”  Though it had been chilly, the weather would have been described as downright frigid by Kim, the longtime Florida native, and she rolled up her window fast.  “Let’s just keep going.”

Amber laughed.  “You’re not afraid of an elementary school kid, are you?”  She shook her head slowly, still smiling.

“There’s more,” Adam whispered.  An intense silence filled the already cluttered interior of the car, and their eyes followed two more boys, older than the first, cycling by at an almost impossibly slow pace; it was as if they were not even moving.  The eyes of the boys were just as intently focused as those of the passengers in the car, each party staring the other down.  Kim, Amber, Adam and Susan observed with wide eyes, betraying their fearful emotion without much thought.  The boys on bikes gazed back with a curious detachment that hinted at a complete lack of empathy and as a result, also hinted at a complete ability to terrorize.  Adam started softly crying.  Amber unbuckled her seat belt, slid close to him and wrapped her arms around him.

“Let’s get out of here, Sue.  This place is weird.  I don’t like it.”

“Okay, okay,” Susan responded, slightly agitated by fear.  She made to increase the pressure her foot was placing on the gas pedal, but found that she could not because the three boys on the bicycles had parked themselves directly in front of the car, so close that the boy who appeared the oldest, trailed his fingers along the edge of the hood.

“Back up, back up,” Kim chanted.

Susan shifted the car into reverse and lifted her eyes to the rearview mirror and had to stifle a scream.  More boys on more bicycles were now barricading any possibility of escaping from the rear.  “Roll up your windows!  I’m locking the doors!” Susan commanded, her voice cracking as it reached a level of hysteria never before reached.  For a brief moment, she wondered if she was being silly; they were children on bicycles.  Where was the threat?  What reason was there for the sweat accumulating, or for the increased pace of her heart, or for the tears pricking at the back of her eyes?

Amber, still holding tightly to Adam, had locked the doors and was waiting for the window on her side to complete its infuriatingly slow progress upwards.  She stared through the windows for a pair of sympathetic eyes, for someone who looked as if they might care.  All she could see were these mini monsters, these children with stone faces who were intentionally scaring them.  It did not make any sense and for Amber, that was the worst part about it.  It had been chilly, yes, but it was still sunny.  They were on vacation in Florida, observing how the other half lived.  It was not dark and ominous and they were doing nothing illegal or harmful, nothing to justify such a turn of events.  Her eyes frantically and desperately scanned the surrounding lawns for adult eyes, aged eyes, eyes with wrinkles that belonged to someone who could rush over and demand the absurdity cease and desist in an authoritative tone.  Amber’s eyes only met statues that may have once been human, but could not possibly be human now.  They were adults on lawns, pushing mowers or chatting idly with neighbors, and they were observing the harassment and intimidation occurring before them, but there were no passing looks of disgust or pity.  Their faces were blank and their eyes were pointed in the right direction, but it did not seem as if they were really seeing.

Kim, Susan, Amber and Adam were helpless and all alone.

Only Adam’s soft and horrible moans penetrated the suffocating silence.  Agonizing minutes passed where the aggressors remained absolutely still and the victims only breathed in and out.

Then, suddenly, the boys on the bicycles descended.

On rain and lines and four-year-olds.

Published January 1, 2013 by mandileighbean

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For Christmas, I had the brilliant idea of taking Jimmy, my nephew and godson, to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.  When Jimmy opened up the box on Christmas morning with a printed ticket for Platform 9 3/4 inside, he was less than enthused and looking back, that moment should have been a great indicator for what the trip would be like.

The morning of the excursion was sunny but chilly.  Jimmy hadn’t been feeling well the day before so I was not sure if he would still want to make the trip, but when I woke him up, he bounded out of bed and got dressed quickly – all by himself, without any help from myself or his Mimi.  The night before, I had invited Sammy and she said she wasn’t sure.  That morning when I asked her she said no and that she was sick.  I asked her one final time before heading out the door and she said no, that she really didn’t feel good.  Just Jim and myself packed the car and headed out, in search of a gas station to fill ‘er up and some breakfast to fill up our tummies.  In the midst of the search, Sammy called and asked that I turn around and pick her up.  I agreed because we were not that far and it would be much easier tackling a four-year-old at a theme park with two adults instead of just one.

The thing about Vero Beach is that once a traveler gets himself turned around, it is nearly impossible to become righted, unless of course that traveler is a seasoned veteran of the highways and byways and lanes and courts and streets and drives.  I am not versed in the geography of the city, so I inevitably turned down 22nd Avenue instead of 22nd court, and made a right onto 4th Street instead of a left onto 4th Lane.  I had wanted to be at Universal Studios, a trek of one hour and forty-eight minutes from Vero Beach, around 9:30AM.  With the failed attempt of locating a gas station and the debacle that was returning to the house to pick up Sam, we didn’t get on the road until 9:00AM, and there was still the matter of finding gas and breakfast.

I used the GPS application on my phone to locate a Dunkin’ Donuts and the one found was conveniently – or so we thought – located beside a gas station.  However, when we pulled up to the pumps, we realized that most were out of order.  There was a gas station just across the street, so we decided to get breakfast at the Dunkin’ Donuts and fill up nearby.  Jim wanted to eat inside and seeing as how the day was really all about him, I acquiesced to his request.  In hindsight, what a mistake.  The employees of the eatery were incredibly rude and probably incredibly bitter that at this point in their lives, they were still only cashiers at a donut shop located within a convenient store off a local highway.  I ordered a large, iced mocha latte but the establishment was all out of large cups.  The cashier had already rung me up and was incredibly disgruntled and annoyed that I was indecent enough to order a large drink without first checking to make sure there were large cups.  Sam’s order took forever and was gross, as was her coffee.  Jim was all smiles though, so we managed to salvage some enjoyment before painlessly filling up next door and hitting the road.  Again, in hindsight, the mishaps should have served as a warning for what the day was going to be like.

We were parked and exiting the car from E.T. section 363 around 11:15AM.  We were hours behind schedule and paying the price for the delay as the park was bustling with people – it was remarkably crowded.  Jim’s excitement was contagious enough to curb my anxiety and we made our way towards the Islands of Adventure theme park.  There, we had to wait close to an hour to purchase tickets but that was not so bad; I felt better with tickets in hand.  We marched straight to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter … and were essentially denied.  That particular enclave of the theme park was packed to its maximum occupancy.  Attendants were handing out standby return tickets – tickets for patrons to return hours later and enjoy the park.  No one felt particularly like waiting, so we figured we would enjoy other parts of the park and just come back later.  We looked around for what rides were nearby and decided that Jimmy would get the biggest kick out of the Jurassic Park ride.  Fighting the crowd like salmon swimming upstream, we got to the beginning of the line to find it completely vacant and although that seemed promising, the ride was non-operational, and that was why no one was on line.

Fuck.

Shit.

Balls.

Sammy had the inspired idea of checking out the super heroes’ section of the park because Jimmy loves – I mean absolutely adores – Spiderman.  When we arrived at the start of that line, the appropriately decorated, electronic sign announced that it would be a 160 minute wait time for the ride.  Refusing to be deterred a third time, Sammy, Jimmy and I chose to wait on the massive line.  Jimmy was a perfect angel.  How any four-year-old could wait three hours with the patience of a saint is an enigma to me.  He feigned sleep on Sam’s shoulder and did some climbing, but man – he was amazing.  Sammy and I made small talk with the surrounding families and friends, disposable companions that are particular to lines.  Most were from Alabama, which was interesting due to our familial ties, all were friendly, and ALL were impressed with Jimmy’s patience.

Jimmy was amazed by the Spiderman attraction and after having some pizza for lunch, we decided to bite the bullet and wait on line for Harry Potter World.  We made more friends, tried Jimmy’s patience some more, but once we were inside, the look on Jimmy’s face was worth it, absolutely worth it.  I bought him a wand and candy and we looked through all the shops and stores.  Ollivander’s was far too crowded, but Jimmy was excited to look through the windows and loved how excited everyone else was.  We waited on another three hour line to get inside Hogwarts Castle but Jimmy’s pure enjoyment and exhilaration made the whole miserable experience of being caught in a downpour and waiting nine hours in lines not so bad.  It was the best Christmas gift I have ever given and have ever simultaneously received.

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On Andrew McCarthy and being un-pretty in any color.

Published December 26, 2012 by mandileighbean

The world was supposed to end on Friday, December 21st. However, I am proud to report that I am still here, along with the rest of the world. Actually, aside from the raging winds knocking the basketball hoop in the driveway onto my car (which cracked the windshield and prevented me from entering the vehicle on the driver side) and an increased police presence at work, Friday was awesome. The days leading up to this posting were also quite awesome; I spent Christmas in Virginia with my nephews and now I am in The Sunshine State – vacationing in Florida. Though I traveled close to eighteen hours from home, I could not escape the fears and insecurities which essentially plague me.
I am slightly terrified that I am more skilled at picking up and impressing women than I am with the opposite sex. It makes me feel like a loser and terribly lonely. Last night, I went to the more prestigious branch of the Ocean County library to listen to Andrew McCarthy speak about his book, and to have him sign it, and get a picture. I was really dressed up in a red, lace number, complete with black stockings and black high heels. I curled my hair and rouged my lips and made sure my eyes looked smoky in varying shades of lilac, lavender, violet and purple. I thought I looked seductive, mysterious or, at the very least, pretty. When I walked into the library, no one seemed too impressed though. I didn’t see any heads turning to watch me pass and no one struck up a conversation even though I was clearly flying solo and obviously unattached.
I slid into an uncomfortable, plastic chair at the end of an aisle that was near the center of the large, dimly lit room. It did give the place a certain ambiance and that set my mind reeling with romantic, optimistic possibilities. I turned to the woman beside me. She was older than I was, with red hair and small eyes. About her was a decidedly academic and impressive air. I asked her if she would mind if I put my bag on the seat between us and she politely replied that no, she wouldn’t mind and that it would certainly be all right. An awkward sort of silence descended, as if both of us were waiting for the conversation to continue but neither of us really wanted to bear the weight of that responsibility. Eventually, I bit the bullet and asked her if she read a lot and that question and the resulting threads of conversation carried us to the start of the program. I learned that she was also an aspiring writer, but spending hours alone in a locked room putting words onto paper did not really appeal to her; she freely admitted to being a herd animal and to being dependent upon human interaction. I commiserated and confessed that I was turning into a writer recluse myself, and supposed that could either explain or rationalize my chatty behavior of the evening.
The conversation was cut short as an older, chubby, and balding man came to the podium with his chest puffed out, as if he believed the small audience assembled before him were just as interested in him as they were in Mr. McCarthy. He cracked a few mildly funny jokes and then introduced the man of the hour. I watched him climb onto the stage with baited breath and slight trepidation not because I was starstruck, but because I was nervous. What if he was completely narcissistic? What if he spoke at length about Hollywood and acting and did not even mention writing or his process? Or worse, what if he attempted to discuss the craft of writing and it became painfully clear that he had no idea what the hell he was talking about?
Refreshingly, none of my fears came true. He did talk about himself, but that’s the nature of the beast, isn’t it? The book is a memoir and he is a celebrity- are they not more inclined to be something of an attention whore? After all, if one is a writer, an actor, a painter, a musician or any kind of artist, one is constantly demanding to be noticed because creations are parts of the artist himself, some pieces more personal than others. However, the key for any artist, in my humble opinion, is to strike a healthy balance, which McCarthy did. He spoke of how he came to be an actor, of how he came to be a writer, about his character flaws and insecurities, of his family both past and present, and of his tastes. He confessed to being a huge Springsteen fan and mentioned that the song “Badlands” is especially important to him and holds a special, significant meaning for him. Clearly, I only fell more and more in love with this romantic hero from my younger years.
He stated a couple of ideas which struck me and will stick with me for some time, I believe. He mentioned that he sucked at journaling and that he found his entires to be self-indulgent and repetitive; I couldn’t agree more. He talked about how traveling allayed his fears and as he traveled, he wrote to keep himself grounded; that inspired me to take my iPad along on the family trip to Florida this year. He also made up my mind- I will travel to Ireland, England and France. McCarthy was genuine, honest and authentic. He is who he is and did not apologize. He wanted to do things and he did them; he did not plan, he was just passionate and pursued those impassioned ideas, goals, aspirations. McCarthy also said that the aforementioned passion was what moviegoers and fans responded to, that there was something in his eyes that confirmed he was right where he was supposed to be doing what he was supposed to do. According to McCarthy, that something was pure, unbridled joy because he felt at home in the world and, perhaps more importantly, in his own skin. I truly enjoyed myself.
The lights came up and there was a question and answer session. Some zealous, older woman asked about three questions and talked as he talked, talked over him even. I raised my hand, but he did not call on me, so I did not raise my hand again. That was cowardice and I mentally berated myself in my seat. We rose to form a line in the short, wide hallway where a table was set up and piled high with copies of his book. While waiting, the woman I had spoken with earlier resumed conversation. She agreed to snap a picture of me with McCarthy, though declined having the favor return – she confessed that she never gets her picture taken with people because she finds the whole process uncomfortable. We spoke about writing again, as well as brief snippets of our personal lives. She is currently unemployed and has previously worked in a pharmacy. She’s been married for a year and lives in Manahawkin. When it comes to writing, she’s having trouble getting started and developing a plot. We agreed to exchange e-mail addresses as both of us would like to widen our writing circle.
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Then came the moment of truth; I met Andrew McCarthy. He took his book from me, said hello and asked how I was. He asked who the book was for, and I told him it was for me, and that my name was Mandi with an ‘i.’ Quickly, with a light laugh, I added, “Don’t judge me.” McCarthy put down the marker, stopped what he was doing, turned to me, looked at me, and laughed. I made him laugh. I entertained him. That has to count for something, right?
Having thusly roused a chuckle from a teen idol, I was feeling pretty damn good and special and unique and all that jazz when I drove down to Atlantic City to see my oldest friends. I love them all so, so, so much because no matter what happens, we can all get together and make each other smile. We smile about the good times and joke about the rough times and it is perfect. I was having a wonderful Friday night … until we went to the club.
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I know I have been gaining back the weight that I lost, and I know that my teeth need to be straightened and whitened, but I have never been as aware of my flaws as I was that night, watching prettier girls become the centers of attention in assigned, miniature melodramas. No one approached me. Well, that’s not entirely true; when Heidi was being wooed, the possible interest had his friend chat me up to keep me busy. I saw through this ruse and called the friend out on it. This seemed to impress him, believe it or not. He said he never had a girl call him out like that before and in turn, he called me out for feeling superior to the whole scene. He was right, but that did not repel him and we kept talking and I was actually having a nice time, but I kept pushing him away with both my words and body language. I figured that since we both knew he wasn’t romantically interested, the whole thing could be over and done with and I could then avoid feeling lonely, lame and like I was the biggest loser in the universe. My persistence in insisting made him feel bad, I think, because he went to the bathroom and never came back. I was expecting as much – had encouraged him to do as much – but it still stung. All my confidence from earlier fled and I wanted to leave. I wanted to go home and cry in my room and watch “Pretty in Pink” and forget the whole thing ever happened. It’s ironic, isn’t it, because here I am, memorializing the whole incident via the internet.
McCarthy talked a lot about insecurity and about how crucial it is to shed that fear. I think he’s right, but I also think to shed the fear and to become the master of insecurity, one needs certain tools. Emotionally and mentally, I feel that I am a catch – that I will care and love someone in unfathomable amounts and be loyal and true – but physically I know I leave a lot to be desired. McCarthy also talked a lot about paradoxes and I believe there is power in paradoxes and contradictions and that is what people gravitate to. Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large; I contain multitudes” (forgive me if that was not an entirely accurate quotation). I know that I am a walking contradiction and that I am positively filled with paradoxes, but that does not make for someone guys want to grind against for a night in a sweaty, smoky club. The true, swift kick in the ass is that I don’t even want to be THAT girl until I’m in the club, and I’m so clearly the only girl who doesn’t want to be that girl. I preach and pontificate about being true and genuine and cling proudly to my self-proclaimed title of “woman of substance,” but then I find myself near tears, desperate to suddenly assimilate.
I can’t be the only one, right?
This upcoming year, the year of 2013, I am going to fix the things I don’t like about myself so that I can become more attractive, appealing and well-rounded. It is not just about getting the attention of males – though it is certainly a factor and I admit that freely because The Boss says it don’t matter what nobody say, ain’t nobody like to be alone – it is about getting the exterior to match the interior. I want to be beautiful inside and out. That being said, I would also like another crack at McCarthy. I would love to meet him again, hand him a copy of my book, tell him how great I really think he is, and snap another photo in which both of us are beautiful.
Wish me luck.

On getting back up.

Published April 19, 2012 by mandileighbean

Okay – I know I promised myself that I would run while on vacation, and watch what I ate, and write every day. I also know that I did nothing of the sort. I am angry with myself, and I readily acknowledge that I am weak. But I simultaneously acknowledge that being weak is acceptable as long as I am not defined by my weakness. So here I am, trying again and for that, I am allowing myself a proverbial pat on the back.

Vacation was wonderful. I love my family and the time we spend together. I visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with my younger brother and was enamored with the theme park. My younger brother was a trooper, taking pictures and following me around as I flitted from attraction to attraction. He allowed me to be a nerdy, immature young woman and I love him for it. Clearly, the day we spent together was my favorite part of the entire vacation.

I saw Bruce Springsteen in concert at Madison Square Garden on Monday, April 9th. It was exhilarating, and most likely the closest I’ll ever come to having a religious experience. It inspired me to start work on a story involving an older musician coming to terms with his mortality despite the protests of his young lover and indifference of his numbed wife. What do you think? The inspiration is obvious, but I’m still working with the characters and themes, trying to twist them into something new, original and thrilling.

I was the candidate chosen for the maternity leave at the high school. I’m teaching senior English, and one section of creative writing. It is amazing, and I am incredibly excited. It hasn’t truly sunk in yet, and I need to be more disciplined in my lesson planning and classroom management. I’ve been so busy and tired that I’ve been letting things slide; for example, my first day in the classroom was yesterday, and immediately after school I had a final interview with the superintendent at the Board of Education office, then home instruction and then Confirmation practice with my younger brother. I did not get home until 8:00PM. Today, I taught, attended the faculty meeting, home instructed and now here I am, ready to write.

🙂

I hope you enjoy it.

PROMPT: “Inspiring Books.”
As writers, we all love to read good books for inspiration. What book inspired you as a writer and why?

PIECE:
I read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald in the tenth grade, when I was fifteen-years-old. I had never experienced love that was reciprocated, but it was the only thing I wanted and something that I still yearn for. I would do anything, be anyone and commit any crime to have a hand reach for mine out of desire. I thought I had that my sophomore year, but it all came crashing down around me the way things seem to do in high school. The boy didn’t like me; he just liked the attention that I freely gave. When I read Fitzgerald’s classic, I totally empathized with Jay Gatsby and intrinsically believed that novel was written specifically for me. It was that universality – though it is a dangerous term to use – that helped me to realize that I was not crazy or melodramatic, but human and that is a story worth telling. I gained so much confidence and comfort in Gatsby’s desperation and heartbreak and demise, and fell in love with the craft because of its possibilities as presented in The Great Gatsby. It truly is the great American novel.

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