By day, I was an attractive, well-dressed NYC private school teacher; by night an alcoholic cokehead. I was a raging disaster.
It started Sept. 11, 2001, the day terrorists attacked our country, but it was also my first day as a teacher. Newly hired by a private school in New York City. I walked into my middle-school classroom for the first time, about an hour before the first plane hit the North Tower.
I was teaching by day, but by night I was drinking uncontrollably, snorting cocaine, having unprotected sex and doing all those things you have been warned against. I was out of control. I was sick and it wasn’t just something in my genes that made me make bad choices. I had allowed them to take over my life and spent most days in an alcoholic fog, yet I still managed to teach. There are former students — now young adults — who still fondly remember their English teacher, Ms. Smith.
I’m not proud of having led a double life. In retrospect, I’m amazed that I could function.
Some people can drink alcohol and smoke marijuana in moderation. I was 12 when I first got drunk — and went from a few sips of beer to keg stands. I graduated to cocaine by the end of high school. I lost the choice to say no the first time that liquor touched my lips.
Addiction is furiously unforgiving. It’ll rob you of your adolescence, poison your 20s and take you hostage in your 30s. For years, you’ll wonder what’s wrong with me. You’ll feel troubled, tormented and alone. Instead of coping, you’ll create permanent solutions to temporary problems. You’ll hurt others, but you’ll hurt yourself the most.
I wrote Unschooled to give insight into my world and to show others they are not alone. Here is an excerpt:
The Model Teacher
I spread out my stash onto the smudgy mirror on top of my kitchen counter. Trying to stand up straight in spiky heels, my five-foot seven frame shook with excitement as I crushed up the rock. Bending down, I pushed aside the homework assignments I planned to grade along with my long, brown hair and snorted three huge lines with a decrepit straw. Homework would get done on the subway before school. As soon as the cocaine hit my stomach, I darted to the bathroom and vomited twice. I only meant to have one line but three seemed better.
As I stood in front of my sixth grade class earlier that day, physically I was there, but my mind had already left the building. Flipping through my lesson—persuasive writing—I mapped out my evening, a familiar routine.
At four p.m., I’d call my drug dealer, who would deliver to my downtown apartment. I’d get high by myself, catch up with my girlfriends and hit the clubs. I might find a sexy girl to make out with on the dance floor, and later pick up a hot guy—another stranger—and wind up at his house partying till sunrise.
As I looked at my students that afternoon I paused to really look at them—get out of my spinning head. Bright eyed and smiling, they were so innocent and curious, unaware what lurked behind the lady in the plaid knee-length skirt and pink sweater. Despite my insatiable compulsion to rage, being in the presence of these sweet adolescents created a calming and comforting atmosphere, a safe sanctuary for me. Maybe if I were able to guide and help them make good choices, I could somehow redeem myself.
I felt reassured knowing that their futures stretched unsullied in front of them, full of possibility. I’d flushed that option long ago when I first got drunk. I was exactly their age. Twelve.
I already knew that the following day I’d feel like I had been run over. The stud ents would be loud and rambunctious, the overhead lights in the classroom alarmingly bright, the nausea in my stomach rising. On days like these, lessons felt like they dragged and dragged. I just had to hang on till 3:15 dismissal. I knew it because this morning had begun the same way.
After tossing and turning all night with barely a wink of sleep, the alarm clock signaled that it was time for me to face the school day—at one of the most prestigious Upper West Side schools in New York City, no less.
Dizzy and disoriented, I got up and I scrambled around looking for weed to roll into my cigarette, but it had run out. I stepped into my bathtub, opened the tiny window, and lit a Parliament Light before I had to wash the high away.
After I stepped out of the shower, I put on makeup to disguise my blotchy face and the dark circles under my eyes. I curled my hair into soft waves and suited up in my favorite pink sweater that I wore each time it was picture day. Great, another year of being hungover in my faculty ID picture. I took a deep breath. If I could’ve helped it, I’d never exhale.
I was the model teacher.
Lisa Smith exposes her decade-long degenerate behavior with addiction, while teaching middle school in New York City. Her Live You With Lisa brand is designed to help people live a life of purpose and authenticity.
Unschooled at www.liveyouwithlisa.com
Ken Fallin’s Broadway: “Leading Lady; the Memoir of a Most Unusual Boy”…NEW autobiography of Charles Busch
Tony Award-nominated writer of The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife and the long-running hit Off-Broadway play Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, and a Sundance Festival award winner, Charles Busch has created a unique place in the entertainment world as a playwright, LGBT icon, drag actor, director, and cabaret performer, with his extraordinary gift for both connecting with and channeling the leading ladies of show business.
In wonderfully readable chapters, by turns comic and moving, Charles writes how ever since his mother’s death when he was seven, he has sought out surrogate mothers in his life. In his teens, Charles moved to Park Avenue in Manhattan to live with his Auntie Mame-like Aunt Lil, who encouraged and nourished Charles’ talents and dreams, and eventually he discovered his gifts for writing plays and performing as a male actress.
Busch also shares his colorful and sometimes outlandish interactions with film and theatrical luminaries including the hilarious comedian Joan Rivers (who became a mother figure to Charles after Aunt Lil’s death), Angela Lansbury (who attended her first Passover seder with Charles), Rosie O’Donnell, Claudette Colbert, Valerie Harper, Kim Novak, and many others.
Full of both humor and heart and featuring rare photos, Leading Lady is for readers of entertainment books as well as anyone who enjoys real-life stories of artists who break the mold, ditch the boundaries, and find their own unique way to sparkle.
We’re Here to Help – When Guardianship Goes Wrong
-Kent Walz, attorney & journalist
Diane Dimond’s book on the scourge of abusive adult guardianships is coming out very soon. It only took her 8 long years of investigation and countless interviews with affected people to get to the bottom of this extremely flawed part of the justice system.
People who have lived through this nightmare knows first hand what this “protective” part of the court system can do to rip apart families. But because it’s such a secretive system few Americans realize that they – or someone they love – could be guardianized without warning. It’s not just Britney Spears – up to 2 million people currently live under guardianship/court control.
All it takes is for someone (a vindictive relative, a greedy business partner, a former lover, even a landlord) to file a guardianship petition with the court saying someone is not competent to care for themselves. The judge usually agrees – often without ever seeing the targeted person – and the guardianship is established. Judges routinely appoint a total stranger as guardian to make all life decisions for the new “ward of the court.” All their civil rights are stripped away and, suddenly, the person has no say in their own life –they can’t even hire their own lawyer to fight it. There are many more horrific aspects to this “justice” system and Ms. Dimond spells it all out in the book.
We’re Here to Help – When Guardianship Goes Wrong not only reveals the predatory nature of the system (which controls a collective $50 billion in ward’s money every year!) but also tells what to look out for. It provides a guide for readers to protect themselves and those they love.
Diane Dimond is the author of four books including the upcoming, “We’re Here to Help: When Guardianship Goes Wrong,“ published by Brandeis University Press, released Sept. 19, 2023
Keith F. Girard’s The Curse Of Northam Bay
Author Keith Girard says, “The idea for this book, literally, came to me in a dream. I was anxious to write a horror story since I’ve long admired Stephen King’s work and wanted to challenge myself. Once I got the idea, I put aside a dystopian science fiction book I was writing and devoted myself to this project. But I have to confess, while it started out as a macabre tale, it morphed into something else. I quickly strayed from the standard horror genre. I was intrigued by the Salem witch trials, which were supposed to be the basis for this story. But the more I looked into it, the more I became fascinated by the political, sociological, and religious factors that gave rise to the hysteria.”
Girard has a fascinating background as a writer: The Washington Post; Billboard; and this book, the follow-up to his Heidelberg Conundrum, is as richly rewarding as you’d want.
We sat with Keith for an exclusive T2C-interview:
G.H Harding: Give us a little bit on your background
Keith Girard: I grew up in a family with two brothers and a sister. My mother was English and met my father while he was stationed in England during World War II. After the war, they married and she came to the U.S. to live. My father was in the Air Force and after his military career ended, he worked for aerospace companies. I grew up as a military brat and we moved almost every two years. It was hard at times but also gave me a unique perspective on life, and having an international background also helped broaden my horizons. I’ve always had an interest in history, science and current events, because we lived them daily. Two of my siblings are, literally, rocket scientists. But I was drawn to writing at an early age. It came very naturally to me, and I decided to pursue it as a career, although it was against my father’s wishes. So, I guess I was a bit of a rebel, too.
G.H Harding: What was your first book The Heidelberg Conundrum about?
Keith Girard: The Heidelberg Conundrum contains all the elements that I mentioned above. At its root, it’s science fiction novel about time travel, but it’s also a historical novel that touches World War II, the atrocities that took place in Germany and their connections with the present day. It focuses on a young physicist who gets his “dream job” that turns out to be something quite different. He’s hired to solve the “Heidelberg Conundrum,” a 400-year-old mathematical equation that is thought to be the key to time travel. Think “The Da Vinci Code” meets “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with a science fiction twist. The book is a dark journey that takes readers back to the last days of the war and Nazi decadence and into interstellar space.
G.H Harding: What do you think makes a good novel?
Keith Girard: I personally like science fiction because the limits are boundless and because it lends itself so easily to political and social commentary. The Heidelberg Conundrum has all three. For contemporary fiction, I think Tom Wolfe’s writing embodies what I mean. Also, writers like Joseph Heller; “Catch 22” is one of my favorite novels, and almost anything Wolfe has written. I love Hunter Thompson’s singular writing style and biting satire. But I also admire the great science fiction writers like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury and Frank Herbert. I grew up reading them.
G.H Harding: Billboard was the music industry’s go-to trade paper; what did you discover about the music industry during your time there?
Keith Girard: Billboard was a fantastic publication with a long history, but it was failing because of demographic and technological changes in the music industry. I was hired to turn it around, because I had a successful track record turning around two previous publications. If it ever had a chance to succeed, Billboard had to leave behind its legacy past, embrace technological change sweeping the industry and broaden its reach. Billboard was always a trade newspaper. Its readership base was made up of thousands of independent music stores across the country. It was the most economical way for record labels to market to them. But record stores fell by the wayside as big box retailers moved into that space. The MP3 revolution and streaming was the death knell. Talk about disruptive technology! The record industry was thrown into turmoil because it lost two important segments of its business – production and distribution. Any kid with a computer could reproduce identical copies of a song, over and over, and distribute it over the Internet to thousands of other kids. I saw Billboard as a great opportunity to reinvent itself. But legacies, especially as strong as Billboard’s, die hard, and the resistance to change, in the end, was too great.
G.H Harding: What do you think about Billboard’s decision to become a more of a consumer book?
Keith Girard: By and large it was a pretty significant strategic mistake. Billboard had a unique niche as a business newspaper focused on music. There was a lot of discussion about turning it into a consumer publication while I was there, but I opposed it. The consumer market was already saturated, and Rolling Stone dominated. When I joined Billboard, it had a circulation of about 26,000; Rolling Stone had a circulation of 3 million. There’s no way, Billboard could ever dent that, and it made no sense to give up a niche that Billboard owned. So, my efforts turned to broadening its audience. There was plenty of fertile ground. Plus, it was a way to build circulation and attract new advertisers. So, I greatly expanded coverage of touring, music management, music technology and musical instruments, all from a business angle, not just records and the record industry. Because Billboard readers were mostly affluent music professionals, it was also an untapped sell-through for luxury goods, from BMW to Rolex watches. We also made great inroads with guitar makers like Gibson, which loved the idea we were writing about musical instruments. Under my tenure, our Music and Money conference expanded and we launched an East Coast touring conference. But I didn’t ignore the consumer market. Our outreach to consumers was through our main website (billboard.com). We supplemented that with mini-sites focusing on business (billboardbiz), and the professions, agents, lawyers and managers. I think another big mistake was turning Billboard into a consumer magazine format. I spoke to dozens of music people at all levels and they wanted the kind of hard news Billboard was known for, and they liked seeing their artists on the front page. I could go on, but strategically that’s were Billboard went wrong in my opinion.
G.H Harding: The Salem Witch trials were always a hotbed of controversy; what did you discover in writing the new book?
Keith Girard: As you know, early Colonial America was a very dark period in our history, riven by superstition, fear and a belief in a literal God and Devil. But the more I looked into it, the more I discovered the period was marked by many of the same social and political undercurrents that exist today. That’s why I wrote the book in two parts, one focusing on 17th century New England and the other on contemporary society as it evolved in the same quaint fishing village over time. The Salem witch trials were fueled in large part by petty jealousies, religious differences, intolerance, greed and money. Often land disputes were at the root of witch craft allegations. Not surprisingly, those same forces are still embedded in our civic and political culture, today. That’s where I saw the parallels that make this story intriguing.
G.H Harding: How would you best describe Northam Bay?
Keith Girard: Northam Bay is a microcosm of everything that’s tearing at the seams of our society, today. There are class distinctions and disruption caused by new technology and new residents that have both a positive and negative affect on the town. I spent years as a reporter writing about small-town politics and graft, and Northam Bay is infected with schemers and grifters who will use everything, including murder, and stop at nothing to get their way. When you get down to it, it’s a tale about the growth of suburbia, and corruption in high places that shape our modern-day world. Plus, it’s generally a nice place to live, except, of course, for a curse that’s existed since the 1700s. And, it has a healthy dose of satire.
G.H Harding: What can you tell us about the Washington Post that would surprise us?
Keith Girard: Well, I worked as a reporter for The Washington Post in the mid-1980s. It was a decade after it rose to national prominence because of Watergate, and from the outside, it looked like this impenetrable colossus of infinitely brilliant people. I grew up reading the newspaper in high school. My father hated it, so I had to pay for my own subscription. I literally dreamed, one day, of working there. The odd thing was, once I was a reporter, my whole perspective changed. Let me first say, the 1980s was the golden era of newspapers, before the Internet and social media. The paper was huge; 500 reporters, a newsroom as big as a shopping mall and a huge cross-section of people. But there was one thing, it didn’t lose when it became a national newspaper. It was still a family business and felt that way. Kay Graham was still running the company along with her son, Donnie, and they were totally accessible. I saw them often when I was in the newsroom. The legendary Ben Bradlee was still the executive editor. If there ever was an imposing figure, it was him, a Harvard educated Boston Brahmin who hung out with Jack Kennedy. But as a boss, he was the most down-to-earth, relatable human being I’ve ever worked for. The Post had its share of eccentric characters, effete editors and genuine jack-asses, but it truly felt like a family to me, even it was more like The Royal Tenenbaums than Leave it to Beaver.
G.H Harding: As an astute journalist and editor, what do you read on a daily basis?
Keith Girard: I still read The Post and The New York Times daily and have online subscriptions to both. I also subscribe to Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Otherwise, the nice thing about the Internet is that it gives you access to so many publications. I’m constantly surfing dozens of newspapers and magazines, looking for great reads. For some odd reason, I’m particularly drawn to British newspapers: The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Mirror, The Guardian, The Times of London, and so on. Maybe it’s just the British in me.
Learn About The Disney Revolt: The Great Labor War or Animation’s Golden Age
Soon after the birth of Mickey Mouse, one animator raised the Disney Studio far beyond Walt’s expectations. That animator also led a union war that almost destroyed it. Art Babbitt animated for the Disney studio throughout the 1930s and through 1941, years in which he and Walt were jointly driven to elevate animation as an art form, up through Snow White, Pinocchio, and Fantasia. But as America prepared for World War II, labor unions spread across Hollywood. Disney fought the unions while Babbitt embraced them. Soon, angry Disney cartoon characters graced picket signs as hundreds of animation artists went out on strike. Adding fuel to the fire was Willie Bioff, one of Al Capone’s wiseguys who was seizing control of Hollywood workers and vied for the animators’ union.
Using never-before-seen research from previously lost records, including conversation transcriptions from within the studio walls, author and historian Jake S. Friedman reveals the details behind the labor dispute that changed animation and Hollywood forever.
The Disney Revolt: The Great Labor War or Animation’s Golden Age is an American story of industry and of the underdog, the golden age
Authors Night In The Hamptons: Part 3 Steve Madden, Sol Rivera, Jann Wenner, Ángel Santamarina and More
We attended the East Hampton Library 19th Annual Authors Night fundraiser. In the second part we had Ballet Star Misty Copeland and Neil deGrasse Tyson.
First up was Sol Rivera and her book Restrict: A Poetic Narrative. Her father Geraldo Rivera showed up to support his lovely daughter whose book on eating disorders, body image, puberty, and self-worth is much needed.
Steve Madden one of the most iconic brands in footwear wrote The Cobbler: How I Disrupted an Industry, Fell from Grace, and Came Back Stronger Than Ever.
I was thrilled to meet Ángel Santamarina & Erica Broberg Smith and learn more about their book I See Better with My Eyes Closed: Conversations with Spiritual Healer, Angel Santamarina. Angel has had the gift of Spiritual Healing for many years. He has worked with doctors in interdisciplinary practices, and regularly sees people from various countries around the world. Over the last 20 years he has worked with over 2,000 individuals. He has written two books about his healing experiences, “Vivencias de un Sanador Espiritual” and “I See Better with My Eyes Closed”. He has been the keynote speaker at several conferences and co-hosted a radio program for several years. Look for Angel to do a column for T2C.
Robert Hofler’s The Way They Were: How Epic Battles and Bruised Egos Brought a Classic Hollywood Love Story to the Screen talks about the blacklists. Hofler is the author of: The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson, a 2005 biography of agent Henry Willson and many more. Hofler has served as entertainment editor at Life, executive editor at Us, managing editor at Buzz, and a senior editor and theater reporter at Variety. He’s currently the lead theater critic at TheWrap.
Jann Wenner’s Like a Rolling Stone: A Memoir was sold out. Wenner is the man who revolutionized music journalism. He founded, edited and published Rolling Stone magazine.
Ethan Chorin’s Benghazi!: A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink is a book I will be reading and reviewing. Chorin was in the Middle East and Africa as an American diplomat, oil and ports executive and advisor to senior government officials. But for many years, the focus of his professional work has been the oil-rich North African country of Libya, where he was posted as one of a small number of US diplomats sent to open a proto-Embassy following the US’ shotgun reconciliation with Libyan dictator Col. Muammar Gaddafi in the early 2000s. Chorin returned to Libya in 2011, as the Libyan revolution was underway, to work on healthcare infrastructure. In that context, he became a witness to the 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, which killed former colleague Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Jane Ferguson’s No Ordinary Assignment: A Memoir. Ferguson is a Polk, Emmy, Peabody, OPCA and DuPont award-winning foreign correspondent for PBS NewsHour, contributor to The New Yorker, and McGraw Professor of journalism at Princeton University. For over thirteen years of experience living and reporting in the Middle East and reporting from the Arab world, Africa and South Asia. Her work focuses on US foreign policy and defense, conflict, diplomacy, and human rights. With an emphasis on in-depth, magazine length broadcasting.
And last but not least John Lazzaro: A Vanishing New York: Ruins Across the Empire State. Lazzaro is an author, photographer, and documentary filmmaker. Lazzaro draws upon his experiences from documentary filmmaking in order to create a realistic, visual, and thought-provoking dialogue of the macabre. His main focus is capturing abandoned buildings and vanishing architecture throughout the US.
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