Musings on Mistakes, Book Review – Indomitable by J.D. Edwards, Short Story – Anything but Rush

Musings on Mistakes

I had to replace my mailbox.  It wasn’t as simple as just hanging a new mailbox on the house.  Where I live, we have post mailboxes (i.e., rural mailboxes).  The whole exercise in removing the first one and installing the new one had me thinking about mistakes.

The reason I had to replace my mailbox is that several weeks back, during the one semi-decent snowfall we had this winter, a guy who lives down the street from me (let’s call him Jimmy – not his real name), was out playing in the snow on his side-by-side, when he lost control and nailed my mailbox.  The first lesson learned from this might have been, maybe don’t play in the snow on a side-by-side on a busy street. 

But that judgment would be kinda hypocritical of me ‘cause if I had a side-by-side, I might’ve been out playing in the street with it, too.  One or two people reading this may remember the times I thought it great fun to cut sliding donuts in the snow in the Walmart parking lot while out cruising The Boulevard on Saturday night.  It WAS great fun, but it was also stupid:  I could not have afforded to wreck my car or someone else’s parked car.  Luckily, the worst that happened was I lightly slid into a massive pile of bulldozed snow and added another dent to my beater car.  It was like a badge of honor.

Sometimes, mistakes are fun, whether sliding around in motorized vehicles or dating that guy or gal even though  a little voice  inside says,” Don’t do it!”  (It’s the same little voice that later says, “I knew I shouldn’t have done that.”  I mean, it would be weird if you heard the little voice inside your head say, “I told you so!”   Right?) As long as there’s no collateral damage, enjoy the ride, tell the story for years to come, but learn not to make a habit of that particular mistake.

But, in this case (the case of my mailbox – I’ve moved on from sliding donuts in the Walmart parking lot, both literally and figuratively), there was collateral damage — my mailbox was all but laying on the ground.  It was still more or less standing, like your drunk friend swaying on her feet while her brain decides whether to shut her down for the night, but it was a sad sight. 

I’m sure Jimmy was having a great time when my mailbox interrupted his slide.  I don’t begrudge him that fun.  Why?  Because Jimmy owned up to his mistake. I would never have known he hit my mailbox except that he knocked on my door and told me he did.  I would’ve blamed the snowplow driver.  (I would’ve blamed the snowplow driver because my yard guy swears The Snowplow Guy — like there is only one — makes a game out of seeing how close he can get to every mailbox he sees.  Even when I told him Jimmy clipped my mailbox, my lawn guy said, “No, I bet it was the Snowplow Guy.”)  Anyway, unfortunately, when Jimmy knocked on my door, I wasn’t expecting company.  I mean, it was a SNOW DAY.  So, yeah, I was pretty much a fright.   A braless fright in paint spattered bright blue sweats and a black shirt. (It was the only long-sleeved tee I had that was clean.  Yes, there’s a whole other series of mistakes behind that style crime. but let’s not go down that rabbit hole.)

Jimmy, however, was not deterred from his mission by the hag who opened the door. He apologized for hitting the mailbox, and then he handed me a wad of bills and told me if it wasn’t enough to call him and he’d pay whatever it took to put up a new mailbox.  I was pretty quiet because 1) I knew I looked a mess, and that’s not the time for neighborly conversation, and 2) I’d just gotten my first look at my mailbox seriously listing to one side and was thinking, “How the hell am I going to get another mailbox planted with the ground frozen?

Later, I started the online search to replace the mailbox.  It was then I discovered the mistake I’d made eight years before. The metal stake that came with my original mailbox was meant to be secured to an above-ground wooden post.  What I had done was attach the aluminum post cover directly to the metal stake and set the stake in Quikrete.  I don’t remember how I came to that solution, but I suspect I didn’t read the instructions.  (Yes, I,  a woman, sometimes forgo reading instructions when I think I can see how things fit together.  I have a lateral file cabinet with a drawer that won’t latch and won’t come out, so it can’t be fixed, because I put some parts on backward.  That happened after I planted the mailbox, and so I hadn’t yet learned the lesson about always reading the directions.  Okay, I’m not promising I’ve completely learned the lesson now, either. . .)

Anyhow, when Jimmy hit the box, he popped the aluminum post over the screw heads, cracking the post.  And he bent the metal stake.  Still, I wondered if I’d not made my mistake, would the mailbox still be usable? Would a wooden post have saved the mailbox from destruction?  After more carefully inspecting the mailbox, the answer was not really.  He also broke the graceful, curved  arm that held the box itself, making the box wobbly.  (Okay, I could probably have patched that up with that miracle we call duct tape, but it would’ve been even  more unsightly than my snow day attire.)   So, I proceeded with spending Jimmy’s money – well some of his money – I ended up deciding my mistake was maybe a contributing factor, and so split the cost with him.

They don’t make the mailbox I had anymore.  I found one that was kinda close, but without the graceful, curved arm under the box.  Once I selected a new mailbox, I had to dig up that metal stake.  While I  was out at the street with a shovel, letting the realization wash over me that I was gonna have to dig a huge hole to get that Quikrete out, my lawn guy happened by and said he could hook the stake to his earthmover and pop it out in five minutes.  I briefly considered stubbornly doing it myself, kind of as a penance for having made the mailbox-planting mistake eight years ago, but decided that sometimes it’s okay to accept help in rectifying a mistake.    

Just to make it completely obvious, the morals from my mailbox story are many.  Everybody makes mistakes.  Life without mistakes would be a whole lot less interesting.  Sometimes it takes years to see your mistakes. Owning up to a mistake is the right thing to do, and if you’ve harmed someone with your mistake, make amends.  It’s okay to accept help – even to get out from under a mistake you’ve made.  In reality, you probably don’t need to use an entire bag of Quikrete to set a metal spike.

 Book Review:  Indomitable, by J.D. Edwards

Indomitable, by J.D. Edwards is a historical imagining of the story of real-life slave Eliza Harris who was the person upon whom the Uncle Tom’s Cabin character Eliza was based.  Edwards’ research for this book was incredibly in-depth and gave the story a factual foundation that lent it authenticity.  Adding to the authenticity is the fact that Edwards, himself, is a descendant of both the family alleged in his book to have owned Eliza and some of the people who actually helped Eliza escape from Ohio to Canada.

Wound into the tale are historic figures including Ulysses S. Grant, Daniel Boone, Chief Donwattout of the Wyandot tribe, and Colonel George Edwards who fought in the war of 1812.  In the course of telling Eliza’s adventures, Edwards also provides descriptions of actual battles, the origins of the Quakers in America, and the interesting details of how the Underground Railroad operated.

All of this serves as the backdrop to the story of how in 1838 Eliza takes her baby Harry, crosses the icy Ohio River from Kentucky to Ohio to embark upon a harrowing journey to freedom in the Promised Land of Canada.  Eliza’s spirit, as she faces sexual assault, the death of two children, her husband being literally “sold downriver,” and potential lynching, is truly indomitable, as is that of the people who aid her, in particular Uncle George.

The tale is well-conceived, and Edwards’ writing style is smooth; however, the book is light on character development.  For instance, there is insufficient impetus described for the complete and immediate  character change of Eliza’s master Reason Downing, and no reason given at all for the reversal of his wife’s personality and point of view at the end of the book.  Also, some dialogue was off for the characters and the time period, and there was a smattering of editing issues. 

Still, I couldn’t put the book down – I had to know if Eliza and her child made it to freedom, and beyond that, whether she got the happy-ever-after I hoped for her!  (Spoiler alert:  the ending is very satisfying.) In addition, I learned a lot about America’s history and the excuses slave owners made for the atrocity of slavery.  Consequently, I believe Indomitable is very worth a read!

Short Story: Anything but Rush

Mark came in from the patio to find his 15-year old grandson, Zack, sitting on the couch bobbing to whatever music was playing in his ears.  He walked over and from the back of the couch tousled Zack’s hair. Zack turned and smiled up at his grandfather, removed his earbuds and said, “Hey, Gramps!”

“Hey, champ,” Mark replied. “Whadya doin’?”

Zack smiled broadly.  “I’m listening to this classic rock jam Jeremy turned me on to.  It rocks!”

“Classic rock, eh?”  Mark said, walking around to sit on the couch with Zack.  “What band?”

“Sugartooth. . .did you like them back in the day?”

Mark knit his eyebrows together and shook his head.  “Never heard of ‘em,” he said.

Zack swiped and tapped his phone and then said, “Here . . .here’s the song I was listening to, ‘Sold My Fortune.’” 

Their heads were close together – Mark’s with close-cropped silver and white hair and a seriously receded hairline, and Zack’s with a full head of thick brown hair curling over his ears – as they watched the screen on Zack’s phone.  For almost 20 seconds there was nothing but the sound of air, and then driving grunge guitars rang out.  As a rhythmic repeating riff broke through, Zack’s head started bopping to it. 

“This ain’t classic rock,” Mark said.  “Don’t get me wrong—I’m not sayin’ it’s bad, but it’s not classic rock.”

“Sure, it is,” Zack said.  “It came out in the mid-90s.”

Mark laughed and shook his head.  Grinning at the grandson who had his icy blue eyes, he said, “Champ, mid-90s was like yesterday.  Classic rock is like 50s and 60s – okay and maybe early 70s.”

At the moment, from behind them, Zack’s dad Jeff, said, “Sugartooth!  I haven’t heard them in years!  I saw them live once – they opened up for Soundgarden.”

Mark pointed at him and said, “Okay Soundgarden I know.  Would you say they’re classic rock?”

Simultaneously, Zack emphatically said, “Yes,” and Jeff just as emphatically said, “No.”

Mark clapped Zack on the shoulder and said, “Two against one, kiddo, Sugartooth and Soundgarden are not classic rock.”

Jeff added, “That’s right!  They’re grunge, or I guess people refer to them as 90s Rock, like it’s its own category.  Although, just to be clear, Soundtooth – I mean Sugartooth – is not n the same league as Soundgarden  They’re a one-hit-wonder – the only reason they have that one hit is because it was on a Beavis and Butt-Head episode.”

Mark chuckled, “Beavis and Butt-Head.  Are they still around?”  To Jeff, he said, “It used to make your mom crazy when I’d talk like them.”

“You watched Beavis and Butt-Head?” Zack and Jeff both asked.

“Sometimes,” Mark replied. “It was –”

Zack interjected, “There’s gonna be a new Beavis and Butt-Head movie later this year!  I think it’s supposed to be them all grown up.”

Mark replied, “I can’t even imagine.  There’s no way they’re contributing members of society.”

“Hey,” Jeff said.  “We should go see it when it comes out – it’ll be epic – three generations of Simmons men bonding over Beavis and Butt-Head!”

About thar time, the opening riff for  “Come as You Are” played from Zack’s phone.  “There’s another Classic Rock song,”  he said, grinning.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” yelled Jeff.

Zack yelled back, “Dad, it’s more than thirty years old!”

Mark interjected, “Turn that off, and I’ll put on some true classic rock.”

Zack rolled his eyes, and his father good-naturedly smacked the back of his head.  When he stopped the music comic from his phone, Mark said, “Alexa, play Led Zepelin.”

Alexa obliged by immediately queuing up “Ramble On.” 

“Oh, yeah!” Jeff yelled.

Zack wasn’t much impressed until the prelude to the first chorus at which point his grandfather suddenly started beating air drums.  His father danced around the room shaking his mostly bald head like it had rock and roll hair.  Zack started grinning and bopping his head, too.   They continued their Alexis-sponsored tour of Led Zeppelin, Mark and Jeff enjoying a couple of cold brews,  and by the time “Rock and Roll” blared through the speakers (Jeff had ordered the volume increase) all three men were on their feet jumping and playing their air instruments and yelling what lyrics they knew. 

Then Mark said, “Alexa, play Rush “Big Money.”  Turning to Zack, still on his feet, he said, “Listen to the baseline on this one.  He played that while singing lead!”

Jeff brought back beers for him and Mark, telling Zack, “Sorry, dude!” 

They were all happily bobbing their heads to “Fly by Night” when the wives, Gloria and Andrea, came in from the pool. 

Gloria groaned and said to Andrea, “Oh dear God, anything but Rush.”  To Mark, she yelled, turn that down!”

Mark pretended he couldn’t hear her, and the men all laughed.  Gloria yelled, “Alexa, lower volume!”

Alexa, always accommodating, lowered the volume.

Zack, having a great time with his dad and granddad, said exuberantly, “Hey, we’re going to see the Beavis and Butt-Head movie when it comes out!”  Mark started laughing like Butt-Head, and Jeff tried his best to imitate Beavis’ laugh. 

Zack said, “No, Dad, it’s like this,” and added his own impression of Beavis laughing.

Gloria turned to Andrea and said, “Rush and Beavis and Butt-Head.  I’m in hell.”

Mental Health Resources, Book Review – Inherited by Cathleen Maza, Short Story – You Get What You Pay For

Mental Health Resources for Adolescents

The topic of today’s rant, er, blog is something that’s been on my mind for many months: the availability of mental health hospital beds – actually, the unavailability of mental health hospital beds.

Yes, I know, in general, mental health resources across the board are insufficient.  But, I want to focus here on critical care, and even more narrowly, on critical mental health care for adolescents. 

The feds say there are approximately 42 million adolescents in the U.S.   Up to .28% of them, that’s almost 118,000 children between the ages of 13 and 18, have early-onset schizophrenia.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 2.6% of adolescents experience severe impairment from bipolar disorder.  That’s more than a million children age 13-18.  A study completed in 2019 estimated that 18.8% of adolescents contemplate suicide, with 8.9% of them attempting it, due to depression.  That’s almost eight million kids who contemplate it, and almost four million who attempt it.  (It’s probably worse:  It is generally accepted that the pandemic has increased the incidence of suicidal depression in all age groups.)  Granted, many of those children may overlap with the children diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  The UNC Health Center in North Carolina estimates that nationwide, approximately 100,000 adolescents experience unspecified psychosis. 

Okay, let’s assume that at any given time 5% of the adolescents with mental health issues will experience crisis so dire as to require inpatient treatment.  That’s 260,900 mental health beds needed for adolescents.  How many total mental health beds are there in the U.S.?  Well, in state-run facilities there are fewer than 40,000.  I was unable to find a number on private facilities, but all the information out there indicates that it’s certainly not 230,000.  Even if it were, most of those beds are filled with adult mental health patients. 

Critical mental health care in the U.S. is a disaster, but, in my opinion, the worst impact of that particular disaster is upon the adolescents needing care and their families.  The impacts, in order of severity, are:

  • Death – of the child or someone else
  • Serious injury – to the child or someone else
  • Destruction of the family
  • Incarceration of the child
  • Drug abuse
  • Financial calamity

In my opinion, the parents of adolescents with significant mental health issues additionally suffer immeasurable impacts when they are unable to acquire critical care for their children.  Oftentimes, the adolescent may be as large or larger physically than their parent(s). If the child is out of control, the potential physical threat exacerbates raw emotions, increasing the likelihood of tragic outcomes.  The parents’ fear of their child is not only for themselves, but for other family members and the community, as well.  The stress level is out the roof, leading to mental and emotional crises within the family as well as the mentally ill child.  In addition, parents face stigmas as being the parents of “that child,” and hear, directly and indirectly, uninformed criticisms of their performance as parents.  “If he’d been present in his kid’s life instead of running around, this wouldn’t be going on.”  “If she’d made him behave when he was younger, he wouldn’t be so out of control now.”  “They’re just trying to put her away so that they don’t have to deal with their child anymore.” 

Perhaps even worse, because these people with mental health issues are legally minors, the parents can be held legally accountable for their actions.  It puts parents in untenable positions and destroys families.  Years ago, when I worked for a social services agency, I saw situations where one child in a family acted out due to mental health issues, and social services removed all the children from the home, essentially accusing the parents of failing to keep the children safe.  All the children, and the parents too, were irreparably harmed as a result.

Families wait weeks, and in some instances, months to get their child the care they need.  Sometimes because the treatment the child needs is unavailable, the child is shuffled off to generalized alternative care placements euphemistically referred to as “group homes” where physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by other adolescents occurs.  NO ONE is helped by such haphazard placement, and at-risk children are substantially harmed.

What’s the answer?  I wish I had a magic solution to offer.  As with nearly everything, money is part of the answer.  But, just indiscriminately throwing money at this problem will not address it.  There needs to be comprehensive planning involving input from mental health experts, child development experts,  parents, and adults who, as adolescents, were recipients of mental health services. And, there needs to be adequate follow-up care to help prevent the need for repeated crisis care.   

Clearly, the mental asylums of the previous centuries are not an option, but adequate beds for adolescents in mental health crisis must be made available.  Not knowing what else to do, I wrote to my legislative representatives.  I received very nice form emails in response.   Perhaps if more people wrote to their representatives about this failure to serve the children, the response would be more, well, responsive.  Perhaps.

Book Review:  Inherited by Cathleen Maza

Inherited by Cathleen Maza traces an inherited psychic gift through a family from the 1700s to the present day.  The gift is only passed down to female family members who receive it when the previous holder passes away.  Elise McGregor and her older sister Sarah were primed to receive the gift from their Aunt Ronnie.  Sarah eagerly hoped to receive it; Elise didn’t want it.  They were both disappointed.

Sarah aids her sister with research and moral support, and Elise makes the best of the situation, doing what’s expected of her, until she runs into a particularly malevolent spirit.  Spirits cannot kill, she’s been told, but her experience with that particular spirit shows her that they can influence situations so that unwary people do die.   After that experience, Elise decides to hide away in an apartment above Sarah’s garage, which is spirit free.

Still trying to help her sister, Sarah arranges a chance meeting with an eligible young man, and as Sarah had expected, sparks fly.  Fast forward a couple of years, and Elise has married Mike, they have an infant, and they’re living in Mike’s spirit-free home – or rather his almost spirit-free home.  There are some “sprites” that Sarah and Elise hypothesize are unborn children.  Then one day, a dark spirit, as strong or stronger than the one that had turned Elise from her inherited responsibility, invades their home.  To get her family and her life back, Elise, with the help of Sarah, must learn who the dark spirit is.

Cathleen Maza has delivered another wonderfully written tale in Inherited.  The brief glimpses into life during earlier time periods and other countries were colorful and set the scene for what occurs in present-day Michigan.  Clever and subtle foreshadowing is resolved in a very satisfying series of plot twists toward the end.  Some minor editing issues, but not enough that it seriously detracts from the story.  I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who loves a bit of a ghost story!

Short Story: You Get What You Pay For

Don saw him pull into the lot.  The truck was distinctive with its custom orange fleck paint, chrome package and backlit running boards.  He remembered it and its owner vividly.

He hadn’t been the one to deal with the guy the last time he came in for a sunroof estimate, but he’d heard enough to know he was a jerk.   That designation was confirmed when he pulled up to the service bay and honked his horn when the door didn’t immediately open.

But, Don greeted him with a smile after he pulled the truck in and stepped out.  Actually, the guy in his wannabe Wranglers had to jump out because of his stumpy legs.   Don thought to himself, “What is it with little guys and overblown lift kits?”

Aloud, he said, “What can I do ya for today?”

The man looked Don over, from his grey hair needing a cut, down his paint speckled overalls, to the paint paper booties covering his shoes.  Then, he brusquely answered, “Where’s the manager, Tim?  I always deal with him.”

Don crossed his arms and said, “Vacation.”

The man pursed his lips and grunted.  He looked at Don.  Don looked at him.  Finally, the man said, “My sunroof is leaking.”

Grinning, Don replied, “That truck doesn’t come with a sunroof.  Confucius say man who cut hole in roof gets wet.”

“Are you some sort of funny guy?  I don’t have time for jokes.  Can you fix it or not??

“I’ll be glad to take a look.,” Don said. “Let’s step over to the desk and writecha up.”

“I just told you I don’t have time.  Can you just fucking look at it without all the bullshit?”

The friendly smile froze on Don’s face.   He could’ve taken a quick look, but this guy —  Don was pretty sure his name was Mitchell — had just used up everything in Don’s goodwill bucket.  In a take-it-or-leave-it tone, he said, “No sir, I cannot touch your vehicle without you signing an authorization.”

Without a word, Mitchell stomped his little feet in their drugstore cowboy boots – red and black — over to the service desk.  Don followed behind, and wordlessly signed into the terminal.  He asked the guy his name (indeed, it was Mitchell), address, phone number and vehicle year, make and model.  Then, he printed out the work order and slid it silently across the countertop for Mitchell’s signature.  Mitchell scribbled something that might’ve been his name; it could just as well have been Martian curse words.  Don didn’t know and didn’t care. 

“Okey dokey,” Don said.  Motioning to the doorway to his right, he continued, “If you’ll just have a seat in the waiting room. . .”

“Absafuckinglutely not,” Mitchell said.  “I’m not gonna have you take my truck somewhere and make the problem worse.  I’m staying with the truck.”

Don wanted to quote his grandaddy and say to the younger, much shorter man, “You are really chappin’ my ass, you little peckerhead.”  But, he didn’t.  Instead, he said, “Sure, suit yourself.  But that means the inspection will have to happen here, and that means you’ll have to help me do it, because our technicians only work in the shop.”  It was complete hogwash intended to further irritate the insufferable little jackass.  It worked.

“Why should I have to help you do your job?” Mitchell spat back.

“It’s not my job,” Don responded.

Mitchell waited futilely for Don to continue.  Finally, grasping that Don wasn’t going to offer any more, he asked, “What do you mean it’s not your job?”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t really know how else to tell you that assessing your leak and estimating what it’ll cost to fix is not my job.”

“If you can’t do it, why the fuck am I even talking to you?”

Don’s eyes narrowed, but his tone was even when he replied, “I never said I couldn’t do it – just that it’s not my job.”

Mitchell sputtered.

Tiring of the game, Don said, as if speaking to a child, “You have choices.  One choice is that you can let us take the truck back to where the technicians will evaluate it.  The other choice is that you stay with the truck, I do the assessment and estimate here, and you help me.”

“Or, the third choice is that I fucking leave,” Mitchell snapped.

“You’re right,” was Don’s even reply.

Mitchell glared at Don.  Don looked back at him. 

“That’s all you’re going to say?” Mitchell demanded.

“What else would you have me say?  You’re very right: you do have three choices.”

“Goddamn it,” Mitchell said.  “How do I need to help you?”

Don clenched his teeth, and then raised a finger and said, “You wait here – I’ll be right back.”

He returned a few minutes later carrying a five-gallon bucket full of water.  He set it down before Mitchell, and said, “Okay I’m going to get inside the truck and make sure the sunroof is fully closed, and then you’ll slowly pour water around the edges of the sunroof.”

Mitchell looked at him dubiously and said, “Are we really going to need five fucking gallons of water for that?”

Don took a deep breath.  Then, he said, “Probably not.   But better to have too much than not enough.  Now, don’t just dump it – pour it slowly all around the edge of the sunroof.” 

He looked at the bucket and then pointedly back at Mitchell.  He held up a finger again, walked around them both to the back of the truck, and lowered the tailgate.  Then he hurried back, picked up the bucket and said, “Here, I’ll put this up in the bed for you.”

After he put the bucket in the truck without spilling a drop, he turned to Mitchell and said, “Okay, hop on up there, and we’ll get this thing done.”  He made a show of having a concerned frown play across his face.  “”Uhm, do you need a stepladder?”

Mitchell exploded, “No, I don’t need a fucking stepladder!” 

He strode to the back of the pickup, put his left hand on the tailgate and attempted to jump in.  He ended up in a quasi-reclining position on the tailgate, and in scrambling to his feet, he kicked the bucket, jostling water into the truck bed.

Don turned away and choked down the guffaw welling up inside him before Mitchell got to his feet.  He didn’t really need water poured onto the sunroof to assess the problem.  But, he was so going to enjoy watching that little buffoon try to hoist that bucket and carefully pour the water.  He climbed up into the cab and yelled back to Mitchell, “Okay, I’m all set in here – start pouring the water – carefully.”  He turn and watched out the rear window as Mitchell picked up the bucket.  “No way he can lift that above the cab,” he thought to himself.

As Don watched,  Mitchell lifted the bucket by its handle with both hands.  When he got it about chest high, he stood like that for an interminable moment.  Don assumed he was trying to figure out how he put an arm around the bucket without dropping it.  Don was right because suddenly Mitchell let go of the handle with his left hand and tried to catch the bucket’s body before his right hand dropped it entirely.  He was mostly successful, but in the course of catching the bucket, he sloshed water all over himself.

Don chuckled to himself and thought, “Uh oh, those precious boots got wet.”  Aloud he yelled, “You okay back there?”  In response, he heard a string of obscenities.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Don said and chuckled again.  More loudly he said, “Okay start pouring the water slowly along the edges of the sunroof.”

Even with the water that had soaked into Mitchell’s clothes, Don figured the bucket was still heavy enough that it would be impossible for a man of Mitchell’s size to have any control of how the water poured out.  He was right.  As Mitchell lifted and tipped the bucket, a wave of water splashed on the pickup’s roof and ran down the windshield.  It also flowed backward onto Mitchell as he leaned against the cab for stability.

“That wasn’t what I had in mind,” Don yelled at Mitchell. “In order for me to pinpoint exactly where the leak is, you need to pour the water slowly around the edge of the sunroof.”

“Goddamn it!” was Mitchell’s reply.  But, he picked up the bucket and tried again.  And again.  By the time the bucket was empty, it was raining inside the cab – Don stepped out – and Mitchell was soaked to the skin.  He threw the empty bucket down and walked to the tailgate.  Then, with his right hand on the bed wall, he attempted to jump down.  He would’ve been fine except that it turned out that his precious boots were slicker than snot when wet.  As soon as his feet hit the smooth concrete, they flew out from underneath him, and as he went down, the gold link bracelet on his arm cut a scratch marking the path of his fall into the paint of the rear quarter panel.

Mitchell littered the air with expletives as he got himself up (he refused Don’s hand), and caught sight of the scratch in the quarter panel.  Don stood silently, waiting for Mitchell’s verbal fit to subside.

Finally, Mitchell growled, “So did you fucking figure out what’s wrong?”

Don treated Mitchell to a sardonic smile, “Yes, you have a very leaky sunroof,” he said.

“Still the funny guy.  I fucking knew that before I came in here.  What’s wrong with it?”

Don continued smiling, “Well for starters, the sunroof itself is crap quality.  But the leak is because the people you had install it cut the hole too big.  They tried to rectify that problem by putting the gasket in upside down, but that just guaranteed it would leak.”

“Can you pull it out and flip the gasket?”

Don replied, “I could, but I won’t.  It might stop leaking for a while, but like I said the hole’s too big, and I can’t believe you haven’t noticed this: it wasn’t even cut plumb with the cab.  The driver side is at least an inch closer to the windshield. And, like I said, the sunroof itself is crap.  We won’t touch it.  I’d suggest you take it back to where you had it installed.”

Mitchell rolled his eyes.

Don nodded, “I’m guessing they told you that the price they gave you offered no warranty on workmanship, and you’d have to prove the sunroof was defective.”

Mitchell didn’t indicate whether Don’s guess was right.  But it was confirmed when he  asked, “Can you put a new sunroof in?”

Don smiled his sardonic grin again and replied, “I absolutely could get you outfitted with a high-quality sunroof, correctly installed.”  He pointed to the service desk.  “Do you want me to write you up a detailed estimate?”

Mitchell snapped, “Just fucking ballpark it for me.”

Don looked to the ceiling for a moment, and then looked Mitchel directly in the eye.  “Ballpark, I’d say $13,400.”

The small man’s eyes bulged.  “What the ever-loving fuck?  That’s more than $10,000 more than what you’d estimated to fucking put one in before!”

Don nodded understandingly, “Yeah, yeah it is because now we have to replace the roof and match the color to the rest of the truck, and that color’s not cheap.  Plus, there’s the blue surcharge that currently sits at $1300.”

Arms waving furiously, Mitchell yelled, “What the fuck is a blue surcharge?”

“It’s $100 for every time you’ve dropped the f-bomb and $150 for each GD.  I gave you a break while you were dealing with the water, and I didn’t add your last few.  From here on out, though, it’s $250 per.”

Mitchell opened his mouth, but Don interrupted him, “Before you let another streak fly, let me tell you this:  Any reputable shop’s gonna tell you that you’ve ruined the cab roof, and it has to be replaced.  Few of them, however, will take on that job.  And, the thing with the mess you have going on there, is that it’s just a matter of time before the sunroof falls in on you, or most likely, goes flying off as you’re driving down the road.” 

“You can’t f…charge me for cussing!   I’ll talk with Tim, and I’ll have your fucking job!”

“The surcharge is now $1550,” Don said calmly.  “And, Tim’s gonna go along with me on this.”

“We’ll see about that,” Mitchell said smugly. “Tim and I go way back.”

“Doubtful, but it doesn’t matter,” Don replied.

“And why the fuck is that?”

Don grinned down at the tiny, red-faced man.  He said, “$1800, and my name’s on the sign out front.  Now, you have a good evening – better mind the weather report; I think they’re calling for a lot of rain.”

Supporting Loved Ones, Book Review-Mystery at the Abbey Hotel, Short Story-Salisbury Ave

Supporting Loved Ones After a Suicidal Death

A blog post of the top 10 things not to say to a person recently experiencing the loss of a loved one to suicide caught my eye a few days ago.  After skimming through it to see what comprised the list without reading the accompanying explanation, my initial reaction was a warped reflection of the famous line from the movie Billy Madison:  “I am now dumber than when I clicked that link.” 

The first no-no on the list?  I’m sorry. 

“No,” I thought immediately upon reading it.  “I’d say the number one thing not to say is, ‘Suicide is a sin; your loved one is going to hell.’”  I imagined myself face to face with that blogger, telling her that, using the ol’ backhand clap to emphasize each word. 

Then, I read her post more fully.  I had taken the list out of context. She’s not speaking as a psychiatrist or grief expert.  She’s speaking about her personal experience with a family member’s suicide, people’s reactions to it, and how she felt about those reactions.  Okay, for her I’m sorry is meaningless and awkward.  For her

That’s the thing about suicide, except for the fact that it immediately triggers sorrow and questions for the loved ones left behind, the circumstances of every death are different, and every survivor’s perspective, experience and needs are different.

Well, except, I believe one thing is universal:  not one of them wants to hear “Suicide is a sin; your loved one is going to hell” —  or any set of words conveying that message.  I’m not saying that people cannot hold that as a religious belief.   I’m not trying to police people’s thoughts.  I am saying that if you feel judgmental, preachy and sanctimonious enough to say it aloud to a grieving loved one, you should be prepared to get knocked on your ass physically, verbally and socially, and you should have the grace to just walk away when it happens. 

Please note:  In what I say from here forward, I am not speaking of physician-assisted suicide. I know that compassionate, physician-assisted suicide can be an intensely emotional event.  I’m not trying to in any way discount its impacts.  I’m just saying that here, in this post, that is not the type of death I’m speaking about.

A loved one’s suicide packs a wallop that few other deaths do.  Most suicidal deaths inspire a multitude of “whys” that can never be fully or satisfactorily answered.  Many also trigger regrets and second-guessing in loved ones — “Maybe if I had” or “If only I didn’t.”   In still-young children left without a parent by suicide, there are thoughts such as, “Why wasn’t I worth living for/caring for?”  In parents whose child dies by their own hand, their thoughts may turn to, “I somehow failed my child.”  These feelings and thoughts can have substantial, lifelong impacts.   Insensitive remarks and questions can worsen that impact.

For some of us who have never felt so low or so trapped that we see no other way out, a young, vibrant person’s suicidal death is unfathomable.  I recently, clumsily, voiced such a thought to one of my most very favorite people on Earth.  Luckily, my sister-friend knows my heart and didn’t call me out for my insensitivity.  It’s not that my inability to fathom the decision was out of bounds, but I should’ve been more careful in my voicing of it.  Coming from anyone else, it might’ve been taken as, “What the hell was he thinking,” which is unlikely to be a reaction that a grieving loved one wants to hear – especially when the wound is fresh.

In some ways, if the loved one had a debilitating, diagnosed mental illness, it makes the death more readily accepted by people.  But, for the survivors, that can be a double-edged sword.  They may find that all people want to remember about their loved one is the mental illness – not the other wonderful aspects of that person’s life.  If the mental illness was suspected, but not diagnosed, then the grieving loved ones may face not only their own second-guessing, but have it thrown in their face by well-meaning people who immediately launch campaigns on social media on how to spot suicidal intentions or clinical depression.  All coming, perhaps, from a place of love, but not necessarily sensitive to the raw wounds of everyone grieving.

That brings me back to my original point.  The circumstances surrounding every suicide are different.  The needs of the grieving loved ones are individual to each person.  Some will need to find an outside cause for their loved one’s action.  Some will want to talk about their confusion about their family member’s death.  Some will want to ignore the manner of death entirely.  And, some, like the author of the blog I read, will find I’m sorry awkward to hear.  There’s no set script to follow, no list of things to say or not to say that can be depended upon.  Take your queue from the individual, put aside your own questions, and be sensitive and supportive. 

Book Review:  Mystery at the Abbey Hotel by Clare Chase

Love a cozy English mystery?   You’ll love Mystery at the Abbey Hotel by Clare Chase!  It’s the coziest of cozies, complete with oodles of scrumptious-sounding cakes with tea and an amateur detective who works through her suspect list by talking to her ever-present dog.

This is the fifth book in the Eve Mallow mystery series, but it completely stands on its own except for not giving much of a physical description of Ms. Mallow herself.  In this mystery, Eve and her dachshund Gus win a discount stay at a posh historic hotel, and within approximately 24 hours of their arrival, the bodies start dropping.

Of course, there is a sizable group of suspects including the hotel staff, the notable hotel guests and local residents.  In a cozy mystery, the amateur detective usually either has a police detective she regularly works with or a police detective who views her as a meddling nuisance.  Enter Detective Inspector Nigel Palmer who rudely tells Eve she cannot question any of the hotel guests until he’s completed his questioning. 

DI Palmer’s edict barely slows Eve’s investigation, and with the help of her best friend Val, her mysterious gardening love interest Robin, and, of course, her canine sounding board Gus, Eve begins winnowing her list of suspects as the body count increases.  Eve tells both Val and Robin that she’d be careful and that a recent case where her investigation put her life in danger would not happen again.  Almost immediately,  she figures out who the murderer is,  at the same moment the murderer figures out that Eve has put together the puzzle pieces.  Will she be saved?  Well, she is the amateur detective in a cozy mystery series…

This is a well-written story with twists and turns toward the end that fit nicely with clues laid earlier in the book.  I highly recommend this book!

Short Story:  Salisbury Avenue

Jared inched forward in the mile-long traffic snarl caused by the interminable project to widen Salisbury Avenue. When traffic came to yet another complete standstill, he gazed out the passenger-side window at the low slung plastic wrap barriers marking the construction boundaries. The border they defined promised that, when the project concluded, homeowners on either side of the road would be left with little buffer between their homes and the major thoroughfare Salisbury Avenue had become in recent years. For not the first time, Jared felt grateful that he didn’t own a home along Salisbury Avenue.

As the standstill stretched into minutes, Jared thought that he should’ve stayed at the office instead of wasting his time sitting in rush hour traffic. But, the office, his firm, his career didn’t hold the appeal they once did. He admitted to himself that he’d become a clock watcher. When he was a bit younger and felt the fire in his belly, he never noticed when 5:00 p.m. came and went. That fire made him successful, made him wealthy, but somewhere along the way, the work began to revolve around greed, including his own, and the fire, along with his satisfaction with his life, began to wane.

His wife told him that if he wasn’t happy with what he was doing, to do something else. Like it was just that easy — and maybe it was for her. But, he’d mapped out his whole life by age 25, and starting a new career at 48 smelled like failure to him. He didn’t know what the answer to his general malaise was, but he was fairly sure he wasn’t going to figure it out stuck on Salisbury Avenue.

He crept along another 15 minutes and finally crossed Perkins Road – another half mile and he’d exit the bumper-to-bumper parade of commuters trying to get home via Salisbury Avenue. As he followed the temporary yellow line diverting his westbound lane into what had previously been the center turn lane, he spied a woman up ahead waving a sign in front of what he thought of as “the yellow compound.”

The “yellow compound” was a cluster of structures that had seen better days. It was anchored by a sprawling, one-story, mid-century house clad in faded yellow siding. Like satellites, the other buildings were scattered around the house. To one side was a detached stuccoed garage painted a brighter shade of yellow, and on the opposite side was a building almost as big as the house painted in yet another shade of yellow. Just behind that building and to the left was a small buff-colored shed. Prior to the road construction beginning the previous year, all but the garage had been hidden behind a thick grove of trees alongside the road. With most of the trees removed, the “yellow compound” and its state of decay were laid bare to everyone driving by.

Another previously hidden feature of the property was the largest sycamore tree Jared had ever seen. It was about five feet in diameter and almost 100 feet tall, and its huge boughs extended into a broad canopy easily 60 feet wide. Its peeling bark exposed white wood beneath, making the trunk and its four main boughs appear spotted in some areas and striped in others. The first time Jared spied the tree, he was shocked to see that what he had long thought was a crowning canopy of several trees was actually just the one.

As he moved nearer at an agonizingly slow pace, he could see that the woman waving the sign wore what his sisters in their adolescence had called a “granny skirt” – an ankle-length, cotton print skirt with loads of gathers at the waistband. This woman’s granny skirt was bright pink with some sort of print – Jared assumed it to be tiny flowers. On top, she wore an oversized grey shirt and some sort of shapeless vest in multiple colors – none of them matching or complementing the pink granny skirt.

Jared was straining to try and read the sign, when suddenly the woman stopped waving it and gestured angrily at someone a few vehicles ahead. Before he could roll down his window to hear what was going on, he saw something go flying at the woman, hitting her squarely in the face. She wiped her face and continued yelling. Two more missiles went flying at her, and trying to dodge them, she fell hard, face down in the ditch. Immediately, a large pickup truck pulled into the eastbound lane, cutting off oncoming traffic, made a screeching U-turn on the opposite shoulder and roared past Jared.

Jared paid the pickup truck no mind because he was pulling onto the narrow shoulder to check on the woman. By the time he put his Volvo in park and stepped from it, she was struggling to her knees. Another driver reached her first and gave her a hand out of the ditch. He overheard the woman saying, “Did you see that little chickenshit peel outta here? What a lowlife, just like the rest of ‘em tearing up this neighborhood!” The man, clearly uncomfortable, replied, “Well, if you’re okay, I’m going to head out.”

He hurried past Jared with a nod, as Jared stepped through the ditch and over to where the woman stood beside the plastic barrier. “Hi,“ he said. “Are you all right?”

The woman turned toward him. He saw from her weathered face that she was 75 years old if she were a day. Her wrinkles creased more deeply as she smiled broadly at him.

“Oh, I imagine I’m going to feel it somethin’ awful tomorrow, but I’m a tough ol’ bird!”

Chuckling, Jared asked, “What was that all about with the guys in the truck?”

The woman waved her hand as if dismissing the incident, but then spat out, “They work for the company destroying my home, and they don’t like me protesting it!” With that, she picked up her sign. Jared reached out and held a corner of the poster board to steady it so that he could read what it said in letters no more than two inches high: Decker County and the Parsons Construction Company are destroying the land. In the name of progress, they just bulldoze everything without caring about its historical importance. Call The County to stop this atrocity!!!

Letting go of the sign, Jared said slowly, “You know, no one driving by can really read that – the letters are too small.” He kept to himself that her chaotic waving didn’t help.

The woman puffed up, and snapped, “Well, Mr. Know-it-all, I’m a small person, what would you have me do? I can’t carry a bigger sign!”

Jared smiled gently, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend – I was just thinking maybe fewer, but bigger words would be better.”

The woman looked at him a moment, and then shrugged noncommittally. Jared motioned at the compound and asked, “Your home is well outside the construction barrier – much better than some homes on Salisbury. If you don’t mind my asking, what about the construction are you protesting?”

In response, the woman walked past Jared toward the house. Nonplussed, he watched her walk away, and then called out, “I’m sorry!” He didn’t know really what he was apologizing for, but it seemed he’d clearly offended her.

“Come over here,” the woman demanded in response and kept walking. He chuckled to himself and followed her over to the giant sycamore tree, which stood about 20 feet outside the construction barrier. When the woman reached the tree, she extended her hand and touched it lovingly, and then turned back toward Jared.

“This tree is almost 200 years old. It was here when my great, great, great grandfather Harris built my family’s first house on this site. . .”

Jared interrupted, “Harris? As in Harris Plaza and Harris Parkway?”

The woman smiled proudly, “Yes, they’re named after The Honorable Morton Bartholomew Harris, my great grandfather on my mother’s side.” Then she stuck out her hand, “I’m Nadine Jensen, daughter of Molly Harris Martin.”

Shaking her hand, Jared replied, “Jared Barnes.”

Nadine, who punctuated everything she said with very animated hands, leaned her sign against the tree and continued her story. “So, anyway, when my great, great, great grandfather Edward Harris, built the original house, the nearest neighbor was miles and miles away. There was nothing but trees here with a single rutted path to get a buggy through them. He cleared the land himself – can you imagine — leaving this tree and a few others of about the same size for shade – there was no air conditioning in those days, of course, so you needed shade trees.  Harrises lived in that house until 1956 when my daddy had it torn down to build a modern rancher we were all so excited to move into.” She pointed at the faded yellow house. “What I wouldn’t give now,” she continued wistfully, “to have that old, drafty limestone house with its wide front porch. They don’t build houses like that anymore.” Her voice grew softer, and her proud smile faded. “It’s gone, my daddy’s gone, my family’s gone ‘cept my brother who has the Alzheimer’s. But, this sycamore’s still here – it’s seen the war between the states, the industrial revolution, two world wars, and it’s seen seven generations of my family come and go. It’s been here for the happiest moments of my life and the saddest moments of my life, and it’s still shading my home.”

With that last, Nadine’s voice cracked, and she patted the tree as if it were the one that needed to be comforted. Then she continued more forcefully, “And, now, those. . .bastards are going to kill it!”

Jared, looking at her quizzically, shot back, “How? The tree is at least 20 or 25 feet outside the barrier.”

In response, Nadine pointed up at the tree’s canopy. “See where they cut that bough? Its branches used to extend out almost to the road.”

Jared looked up at where a huge tree limb ended abruptly, clearly sawn. The cut was more or less parallel with the construction boundary. His voice giving expression to the confusion he felt, Jared said, “Okay. . .but if that’s going to kill the tree, the damage has already been done.”

“Losing that bough will not kill the tree,” Nadine snapped, “And, I’m not some senile old woman tilting at windmills!”

Before Jared could even respond, she continued, her hands even more animated, “When I made the deal to sell them the land up to the barrier, I had no idea they were going to cut the bough that extended beyond it. That’s on me – I should’ve made myself better informed. I cried like a baby when I saw what they had done.” She paused a second, and then said, ”After that, I requested the full plans for what would be done along Salisbury Avenue. That’s when I learned that they’re going to put in a stormwater sewer on this side of the avenue, and to do that, they will have to dig down a least 10 feet.. .”

“And, that means they may cut through the roots of your tree,” Jared finished, nodding understandingly. Then trying to be encouraging, he said, “But, it’s not for sure they’ll hit any major roots or that even if they do hit one, that the tree will die.”

She replied, “I can’t just wait and see what happens,” and pointed again at the severed bough. “They plan to start digging next week. I asked them to move the stormwater system to the other side or to hold off until I can get a study done to map out the tree’s roots. They told me they have a legal right to do whatever they want outside the barrier. They said time is money, and they can’t delay.”

Jared nodded. Those were all things he would have expected them to tell Nadine in response to her requests. Thoughtfully, he said, “That tree’s a piece of living history. Did you try getting the county historical society to intervene?”

Nadine laughed bitterly. She said, “Some historical society,” and snorted derisively. “They only care about buildings. Their resources are limited, they said, and trees die. They said I should hire an attorney.”

Jared nodded and thought, but did not give voice to that thought, that hiring an attorney would be much more effective than waving a sign no one could even read.

Nadine pointed a finger at him acknowledging his nod, and continued, “Believe me, I tried. Most turned down my case without even hearing me out. Then, I paid about a thousand dollars for one, and all he did was call the same people I’d already called. He told me they’d need thousands more – upfront — to initiate any court action against the county or Parsons, but that I’d probably lose.”

Again, she laughed bitterly “I don’t have thousands to waste on attorneys who already gave up. So, I decided my only choice was to play the crazy lady by the side of the road to try to get The People behind me.” Her voice cracked, and she paused a moment trying to get her emotions in check. Then, in a voice still filled with emotion, she said, “And for my effort, I get pelted with soda and coffee cups, and my tree is still gonna die.”

As Nadine strangled a sob, Jared looked up at the tree, marveling at the history it had seen. He felt the old fire stir. Then he looked out at the barely moving traffic on Salisbury Avenue. A lawsuit would result in a stay on any further construction — freezing everything as-is and perpetuating the traffic nightmare for months. He grimaced at that thought, but it didn’t quench the growing fire. Finally, he looked at Nadine and saw a woman in the twilight years of her life trying to save the last living connection to her family history.

His eyes glowing from the fire in his belly, he said, “Nadine, I’m a litigation attorney – a damn good one.”

Writers’ Lift Etiquette?, Book Review – Once a Man Indulges, Short Story – Open Door Opportunity

Writers’ Lift Etiquette?

Over the past few weeks, when I engage with a “writers’ lift,” I follow the writers who acknowledge the lift sponsor rather than immediately launching into their sales pitch.  I’ve observed that most people engaging in the lifts do not even say hello to the host.  It’s not a requirement, and I suspect most hosts don’t care.  Seeing as it’s a common occurrence, it apparently is not considered as discourteous by the #writingcommunity.

Sometimes, a host tries to flavor the lift with their own twist.  In one I recently saw, the sponsor asked that responders turn things around and give the reasons why readers should not buy their books.  Of course, many of the usual suspects did not follow that direction – they just posted their regular pre-fab marketing blurbs.  Kudos to that sponsor and the people who truly engaged with her – the responses were highly imaginative and immensely entertaining.  I followed several of those and added a few books to my reading list. The people who didn’t engage as requested missed out on a great community activity. 

Another thing I’ve noticed that gives me a little satisfied smile:  The people I’ve followed because of their courtesy in writers’ lifts consistently display that courtesy. Each time I see that they again say hello or thank the sponsor for the lift, It’s like a confirmation of  community for me.  Thank you, #writingcommunity!

In other news:

  • After seeing more than one writer refer to themselves as a “psychopomp,” I took the clue that it may be an actual word.  Derived from ancient Greek, it traditionally has referred to a guide who helps the dead find their way to the afterlife.  Less traditionally, it describes the role of someone who guides others through transitional phases.  I’m not exactly sure how the people in the #writingcommunity are defining it.  I look forward to learning more.
  •  I’ve decided that trying to do this blog on a weekly basis is too much.  I’m getting little other writing done.   Consequently, I’m moving to bi-weekly, or perhaps monthly.  I’ll shoot for bi-weekly first.

Book Review – Once a Man Indulges by Tony Kelsey

Are you a fan of a hard-boiled detective story set when men wore suits and women wore hose, every head had a hat, and every hand held a cigarette?  Ready to take a tour around 1940s Denver and the surrounding areas?  Do you love a story where the good guy gets away with doing a bad thing for a good reason?  Wow, do I have the perfect book for you:  Once a Man Indulges by Tony Kelsey!

Harry Thorpe’s role as a Marines Corps fighter pilot in WWII ended with him being shot down over New Guinea.  He bounced around a bit before getting his private detective license in Denver.  It’s the end of the 1940s, and Harry’s making ends meet spying on cheating spouses, when Christian Marquand, a WWII war hero Harry had the dubious luck to train with during the war, comes into his office and lays down a $1000 bill as a retainer.  That’s almost $13,000 in today’s currency.  Marquand is receiving threatening letters, and he wants Harry to find out who’s sending them and put a stop to it.

Before Harry has a chance to look into anything, a member of Marquand’s family is reportedly kidnapped, and Marquand expresses little confidence in the cops’ ability to safely locate and return his family member.  So, he sends Harry to enlist the aid of local mobsters.  Harry becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the way everything is progressing, especially when the bodies (including that of his goldfish, Oscar) begin to pile up.  He distracts himself with alcohol and Marquand’s sister-in-law Loren, but things become even more complicated as Loren’s checkered past unfolds and hints she could be involved in the threats and the kidnapping.

Harry’s good at his chosen career.  He sees what doesn’t fit together, and he does the legwork to find the truth.  As a result, he becomes the target of a murder attempt, which although unsuccessful still has tragic consequences.  Harry, no longer uncertain whether he should ”just let it go,” goes in search of those responsible.

This story is brilliantly written.  The characters, in particular main character Harry Thorpe, the cop Greenberg, and Johnny Two-nose of the Capra crime family come to life off the page. The story’s text flows smoothly, and the incorporation of history and well-known Denver-metro locales gives a foundation that lends authenticity to the tale.  This would be a five-star read for me except for the editing issues.  They don’t detract greatly from the story, but do require rereading some sentences.  As indicated by the four stars, I highly recommend this book, and look forward to other Harry Thorpe detective stories!

Short Story — Open Door Opportunity

Sara was out in her yard weeding the landscaping in front of her house, when the faded, pale green, sixties sedan pulled into her long driveway.  She pulled off her work gloves and tried to smooth her wavy red hair, which was threatening to go full on Bozo the Clown in the humidity.  The driver went all the way down to the open garage door at the side of the house, and Sara walked down to greet whoever it was.

A man who looked old enough to have purchased the sedan brand new got slowly out of the car.   He was a study in a grey continuum, from his scraggly almost, but not quite, white hair plastered to his head, to his light grey button down, to his darker grey work pants, and ending in the well-worn dull black work boots, which Sara guessed were steel–toed.  She figured with the boots, the long-sleeved shirt, and what she assumed was a lack of air conditioning in the vintage car, that the state of the man’s hair was due to sweat.  Her assumptions were proven correct when the man removed his thick and heavy rimmed eyeglasses, revealing very pale blue eyes, to wipe his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. 

“Hello,” she greeted him.  “It’s a warm one today!”

In response, the man bellowed, “I drove by here twice, and your garage door was open both times!”

Sara was trying to guess why that fact had him so agitated, but she didn’t get a chance to ask. 

“You’re just asking to get robbed.  They’ll clean you out lickety split!”

It was daylight, and she was in her yard where she could see everyone driving by and also see everyone, like the old man, who chose to come down her driveway. 

“You don’t know this neighborhood!” Then gesturing vaguely toward the back of Sara’s property, he said, “There’s a trailer park right behind that grove of trees back there.  You know what kind of people live in trailer parks.”

Sara thought, but didn’t get an opportunity to say,  “Two of my family’s best friends, and at least three relatives I can think of.”

“Thievin’ people, that’s who.  It’s a den of thieves!   They’ll come traipsin’ through those woods and the meadow in the middle of the night, jump your fence, come in through your garage, and next thing you know your TV’s gone!”

Sara managed to get out in a purposely light tone, “But, it’s not the middle of the night, and my TV is too big for them to cart it back through the fields to the woods in broad daylight without being seen.“

He waved his hand like she was spouting nonsense and said, “Even better for them, they can pull up to your open garage and just load everything up!”

Sara replied, less lightly,  “You mean, pull up to my open garage like you just did?”

“Exactly.  You’re just invitin’ someone to take your stuff.”

Sara gave him a tight smile and said, just shy of sarcastic, “Uhm, did you not see me out working in the yard when you drove by two times and pulled down the driveway?”

“Exactly,” he replied.  “All those thievin’ people from the trailer park will see is that your garage is open, and you have a lot of stuff.”

Sara replied pointedly, “And, did you not see how I immediately came over when you pulled up to my garage?”

Still yelling, he replied, “Yeah, but you might not see ‘em!  They’re tricky!”

Sara screwed up her face and bellowed back, “Tricky like they’re invisible, or what?  I’m. Right. Here.”

He wagged his finger at her and said irritably, “Sure, go ahead and make fun of me, disrespect me.  All you young people do nothin’ but disrespect us older people like we don’t know nothin’, when you’re the ones that don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground.   But, mark my words, missy:  you keep leavin’ that garage door open, and you’re gonna be sayin’, ‘I wish I listened to ol’ Abel’!”

Old man or not, trying to be helpful or not, Sara took offense at being told she didn’t know her ass from a hole in the ground in regard to knowing when to close a door.  She said coldly, “First of all, I’m not that young — I’ve been taking care of myself for more than 30 years.  And, second of all, I’m not gonna open and close the garage door over and over in broad daylight when I’m working in the yard!”

Before Abel could launch into a new tirade, Sara’s neighbor, Jeff, came walking across the lawn between their houses.

“Hey, Sara,” he said.  “I see you’ve met Abel.”  Then pointing to the grove of trees behind Sara’s house, he said, “Abel’s our neighbor from over in the Shady Grove trailer park.  How’re ya doing, Abel?”

Abel looked at Sara.  She raised her left eyebrow in reply.  He grumbled, “I gotta be going,” and immediately got back in his car.  Sara and Jeff watched him maneuver it  out of the driveway. 

Sara said quietly, “He just told me the trailer park was full of ‘thievin’ people.’”

“Yeah, well, he should know,” Jeff replied.

The Oxford Comma, Book Review — The Fateful Dance, Short Story – A Little Too Physical Training

The Oxford Comma and Other Editing Musings

This week I learned from the #writingcommunity what a final comma in a series is called:  the Oxford comma.  When I was back in school, way back when blackboards were a staple in all classrooms and school newspapers were mimeographed, I was taught that the Oxford comma is unnecessary except in situations where it was needed for clarity.  One such example put forth on Twitter this week was something like  “I had a discussion with two strippers, Washington and Lincoln.”  Without the comma, it could be taken that the strippers’ names were Washington and Lincoln.  (I know –what self-respecting strippers would choose such names!)  If the Oxford comma is added, the meaning is much clearer:  “I had a discussion with two strippers, Washington, and Lincoln.”  (Of course, the sentence is nonsense; although strippers have always been around, Presidents Washington and Lincoln are from different periods in time and couldn’t possibly  have engaged in the same conversation!)  If I were writing that sentence, I’d probably reorder the series, but the example does illustrate the point.   Today, some grammar utilities/apps such as Word’s editor, expect it always, and that has resulted in a fairly large debate among authors and editors.  When I write, I usually don’t use the Oxford comma, but when Word’s editor wants to put it in, I’ve been capitulating.  (I’m much more inclined to go to battle about removing a comma than adding one.  I figure I’ll choose my comma wars carefully.)

Grammarly says use of the Oxford comma is a personal choice.  (Along those lines, using deodorant is also a personal choice, but for polite society, there really is only one right choice.)  However, it also says that if you are working somewhere that uses AP Style, you absolutely do not use the Oxford comma; if you feel like it’s needed, then you need to rewrite your sentence.  (Years ago, I did work somewhere that claimed to use AP style.  I looked it up,, and they weren’t really.  When I pointed out violations, it didn’t go over well.  I think someone thought I was being a smartass.  She was right.)  The AP style does agree with what I was taught back when there were like two computers in the school – if you feel an Oxford comma is needed, you actually need to rewrite your sentence.  Wikipedia points out several style guides that mandate the Oxford, and seems to indicate that it’s more expected in the U.S. than in Great Britain or Canada.  Wikipedia also states that occasionally the Oxford comma can introduce ambiguity.  Their example of this is “To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God.”  The reader is left unsure whether Ayn Rand is the author’s mother or not.  Additionally, Wikipedia provides examples of sentences in which the addition of the Oxford comma doesn’t introduce ambiguity, but doesn’t provide clarity either.  In those instances, there’s no choice but to rewrite the sentence. 

I’ve now decided I will no longer let Word’s editor bully me into that extra comma.  Whew, I feel so liberated!

Barely related to the comma discussion, I also read a large Twitter debate  on whether punctuation and even spelling matter!  I was shocked at the number of writers saying that they do not think they’re important, and some even saying that if a reader gets caught up in poor spelling and punctuation, they’re not going to get the story anyway.  They’re, of course, right  When I read something full of spelling errors, I put it aside, and so I will never get that story or any other stories by that author.   Punctuation errors don’t usually make me decide not to read a story, but they are damn annoying, and if they’re hugely evident in one book written by an author, I am unlikely to read another book by that same author.

That takes me to editing.  In the past month, I’ve picked up eight  books by independently published authors.  Three of them, for me, were unreadable because they were so poorly edited.  (Okay, for one of these, it had problems that even the best editor would have been highly challenged to resolve.  It seemed like someone had an acid-induced dream about Scooby-Doo, complete with The Mystery Machine, and decided it should be a novel.  Well, it was marketed as a novel.  Novella is more like it, and that’s being generous.) One of these books had an excellent premise, but it was so poorly laid out, and read so much like a first draft, that the premise was wasted.  Two others that I did read completely could have been five star, WOW books, had they been better edited. 

Yet, a conversation in the #writingcommunity this week leaned almost completely toward professional editing being unnecessary.  Their view seemed to be that it was just fixing spelling, grammar, sentence structure and punctuation, and the writer or a utility such as Grammarly could do that.  (My reading experience over the past month would say that almost a third of writers cannot self-police in those areas, but my sample size would probably not be considered statistically meaningful.  I’m not a statistician and don’t even play one on TV.)   But, good editing is more than just fixing spelling, grammar, sentence structure and punctuation.  A good editor would tell you when you’ve missed the mark on the voice of one of your characters.  For instance, in a book I’m reading right now, the author has the antagonist saying supposedly popular phrases that the character he’s described would never say.  Actually, all the characters say stupid things, that, I guess, are meant to be funny.  I’m struggling to get past that because really the story itself is good.  My point is that a good editor would point out that the incongruent and sometimes ridiculous dialogue is preventing the book from being what It could be.

So, what I’ve learned this week boils down to I should stick to my guns on the Oxford comma, and I think I made the right decision to send Notches out for professional editing.  We’ll see what I think when it comes back bleeding red. . .

In other news, my dog Chico, who suddenly went almost completely blind last week, was the best boy ever at the vet’s on Friday.  That is, he was the best boy ever until it came time to pay the ginormous bill.  He first tried to pee on the reception wall, but I’d made sure he was outta juice before we went in, making that little protest less than what he’d hoped for. Always resourceful, he humped over, and with about eight people watching, took a big, and oh so fragrant, dump.   Yes, Chico, my love, that pretty much sums up how I feel about the whole situation, too.   

Book Review: The Fateful Dance by Natalie Demoss

Are you looking for a fantasy book filled with fae folk, magic, a princess who doesn’t know she’s a princess and a dragon, but you’re not so much into reading pages of world building description?  Well, The Fateful Dance by Natalie Demoss is the book for you!

Shortly after King Caelan and Queen Orlagh ascend to the throne of Aiheoven, a seer warns them that she’s seen a vision that the evil Malorra of Braydor plans to kill them and overrun their kingdom.  But, they can avert the disaster for their people by going into hiding until their line produces a Warrior Queen.  So, the king and queen cross the veil into a manor in Scotland.  Three generations later, the Warrior Queen, Isla, is born.  Luckily, time moves more quickly in the human realm than it does in Aiheoven, where mere days have passed.

The Scottish manor immediately becomes unsafe, and Isla’s parents move her via an Elven portal to Chicago to keep her safe until her 25th birthday.  In Chicago, Isla’s sister Teagan is born.  When the girls are quite young, Malorra’s creatures catch up to them and attempt to kill Isla.  Her father protects the children, but both parents die. The girls, who have no idea they’re Elven princesses endure a traumatic childhood and manage to avoid additional assassination attempts with assistance from other fae folk in the human realm. 

Then on Isla’s 25th birthday, they learn that she’s inherited the Scottish manor, and they immediately depart for Scotland.  A few days later, they find the portal to Aiheoven and step through.  From there, their lives change forever as they’re faced with the imminent attack by Malorra’s forces.

The story flows smoothly and quickly, and the characters’ personalities shine through.  This is an enjoyable read!

Short Story:  A Little Too Physical Training

Janet was engaged in self-torture in the form of 20 reps of the physical therapist’s designated  exercises, when she saw the woman walk into American Physical Therapy (APT). 

She was late middle-age, but her exact age was hard to pinpoint; she was well-preserved.  She had perfectly colored blonde hair, cut in a chin-length bob that flattered her chubby face.  Her eyes caught Janet’s attention immediately – they were a dark blue that shone like violets out of her tastefully applied makeup.  She wore a pink and purple track suit and a bucketload of gold jewelry. 

The woman walked up to the front desk, which was directly in front of Janet’s therapy station and said, “I’m Ronnie, and I have a therapy session with Angela.”   The receptionist told Ronnie that Angela would be right up to get her.  Moments later, an APT therapist walked up to Ronnie.  She was about the same age as most of the therapists at APT —  freshly out of college,

The therapist, said, “Ronnie?  Hi, I’m Angela.”

Ronnie replied, “Hi.  Nice to meet you.”

Then Angela handed Ronnie something and said, “Okay, you’ll need to go into the locker room and change into this.  Then, in the locker room there’s a door labeled “Private.”  Meet me in there after you’ve changed.”

Ronnie said loudly, “What is this?  A hospital gown?  Why are you telling me to put on a hospital gown?”

Angela said more quietly, “It’s to make you more comfortable.”

Ronnie laughed and said, “I’m comfortable enough in what I have on, thank you very much.”

Angela looked at her tablet.  “You’re here for pelvic floor physical therapy, right?”

“I’m here for exercises to help me stop peeing myself,” Ronnie answered loudly.

Angela stepped closer to her and said very quietly, “Yes, that’s what pelvic floor physical therapy is designed to help.”

“Why do I need to put on a hospital gown for that and go into a ‘private’ room with you?”

Angela said something to Ronnie that Janet couldn’t hear.  Apparently, Ronnie couldn’t hear her either because she said, “Please speak up; I cannot hear you.”

“Ronnie,” Angela said.  “Did your doctor not explain pelvic floor physical therapy to you?”

Janet heard Ronnie say in a voice that dripped with annoyance, “No, he did not.  We talked about scheduling me for surgery to tighten up my stuff, and then a week later someone from his office told me my insurance required that I first try physical therapy, and they set up this appointment with you.”

Janet stopped what she was doing and looked at both women.  Ronnie looked as annoyed as her voice sounded.  Angela looked nervous. 

“Okay,” Angela said slowly.  “One part of the therapy program is Kegels training.  That’s why we think you’ll be more comfortable in the gown.”

Ronnie laughed and replied, “Honey, I don’t need to wear a hospital gown to do Kegels, and I don’t need a private room for it, either.”

Angela said, “I assist you with doing the Kegels correctly.”

“I’m pretty sure I’ve been doing them correctly, and I think my husband will attest to that.”

Janet turned her head to the side because she couldn’t stop the smile on her face.

Angela said something very quietly to Ronnie, and Ronnie said, “You’re really going to need to speak up.”

The younger woman said very quickly, “In order to make sure you do them in a manner that strengthens your pelvic floor, I have to use my hand.”

“You have to use your hand to do what?” Ronnie exclaimed.

Janet stifled a giggle.

Again, Angela tried to speak quietly to Ronnie, but Ronnie wasn’t patient enough to even let her finish speaking.  “In case you somehow didn’t notice, I have trouble hearing low tones.  Just spit it out, girl.”

In a rush, Angela said, “I put my fingers inside you to gauge whether you are appropriately contracting the muscles.”

Ronnie stared at Angela like she’d said, well, like she’d said exactly what she did say.   “Inside me,” she replied.  “As in, inside me the way no one but my husband has been for 40 years.”

Angela said hesitantly, “In a clinical way.”

“Well, clinically, it sounds like you just said you’re going to finger me in a private room.”

Janet turned her back to both of them because she was shaking with laughter. This was the best physical therapy session ever!

“Ronnie,” Angela said.  “You could have another therapist in the room if you like.”

“What?!” Ronnie said in a shocked tone.  “No, I most certainly do not want one of your friends to come in and watch  It’s bad enough that I know you’re going to get together with all your buddies later and laugh about my old lady stuff and the way I haven’t kept the property pruned.”

“We are professionals,” Angela said stiffly. “We do not gossip about our clients.”

Janet looked at the women again.  Angela was trying to look offended, but her nervousness shone through.   She couldn’t really read Ronnie’s expression, but pegged it as sarcastic amusement when Ronnie said, “Oh, please.  I’ve been here before, and I know how you all gather up here and talk about people.”

Janet nodded to herself.  She, too, had witnessed that in previous visits.

At that moment, another APT employee, male,  stepped up to the women and said, “Hello.  Can I be of assistance?”

Ronnie looked at him belligerently, and said, “Are you offering to stick your hand up my twat, too?”

Janet couldn’t look away.  While she stood there with her hand covering her mouth, she saw the young man put both hands up and say, “Oh, no, that’s not what I meant at all.”

Ronnie turned back to Angela, “What credentials do you have for this type of ‘therapy’?  How do you study for this type of therapy?  Do all the therapists here do the twat therapy?”

The young man hurriedly walked away.  Janet, grinning to herself, didn’t blame him.

Angela sputtered, and finally said, “We all take courses in pelvic floor therapy.”

“So, it’s not a specialty.  How do you study to make sure you know what you’re talking about?”

Angela looked around nervously.  Janet followed her looks and found that several clients had gathered behind her to listen to the conversation between the two women.

Before Angela could attempt to answer, Ronnie continued, “So, APT is going to charge me and my insurance company hundreds of dollars for just whoever is available to ‘service me.’”  Then even more loudly she said “ Sounds like one of those backroom massage parlors.  Do I get a happy ending?”

Someone must have alerted the manager, because she walked up quickly to the women and said, “What seems to be the problem here?”

Angela, completely red-faced, started to speak, but Ronnie was louder.  “Seems that APT is giving twat massages without the appropriate accreditation to qualify as physical therapy.”

The manager said, “I assure you we only provide appropriate pelvic floor therapy.”

Ronnie, still as loudly, replied, “Uhm-hmm.  Seems to me that if there’s no specialty for the twat massage therapy, that the validity of the other therapies offered here is questionable, too.”

Janet heard murmurs behind her, and turned to find that most of the clients were now gathered to listen, and the therapists all seemed to have disappeared.

The manager said quietly, “You need to leave, please.”

Ronnie took the tablet from Angela and said sweetly, in a much quieter voice, “I’ll be glad to leave as soon as you sign and send the report saying that I don’t have the muscle control for therapy to provide any help for my incontinence.”

The manager took the tablet, tapped, and swiped, and showed the results to Ronnie.

“Thank you very much,” she said, and in turning to leave, she winked at Janet.

Navigating the Twitterverse, Book Review – My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister, Short Story – It Takes a Neighborhood

Navigating the Twitterverse

This has been a weird Twitter week. One man added a comment to a thread I was on, saying he wanted to “know” another woman on the thread and me.  I don’t know if he meant Biblically and at the same time, or what.  She didn’t respond and neither did I.  He’d followed me about three weeks back and has made brief comments on my tweets/comments along the lines of “I like what you say.’ This would be flattering, except that for some of these, I said something like “Contemporary/Speculative” in response to a post asking, “What’s the genre of your WIP.” Not exactly my most inspiring words.   At first, I’d like his comments, but after the “I want to know you” comment, I no longer engage.  He’s not a writer, and I don’t know why he followed me; although checking his profile a little more in-depth, I suspect he targets women to hit them up for money for his struggling family.  He doesn’t know it, but he’s on super sensitive Maggie Claypool Twitter Probation (SSMCTP).   You only get two strikes on SSMCTP.

I’ve been followed by several Twitter folk who profess strong political and social views.

  For some reason, several atheist groups have followed me.  I say “groups” because they have names that seem to indicate they’re a group.  I really have no idea.  I don’t know what brought me those followers.  Perhaps, I followed someone who’s a member of the group.   I don’t know.  It really doesn’t matter.  Two of my favorite people in the world are atheists.  And, I have the same view of organized atheists as I do about organized religious groups:  as long as you don’t try to proselytize me, you do you.  But I don’t follow back because I’m not an atheist.  Sometimes, I wonder if I should confess that to them.   Well, I guess I just did here.

There’s a member of the #WritingCommunity who tweets what seems to be hundreds of times a day suggesting different great members of the community who need followers.  I thought this a helpful community service until I checked out one of the very few male writers promoted in these posts, and his profile succinctly said he only likes to talk about titties and his penis.    Huh. 

I’ve somehow attracted followers not in the writing (or the reading, for that matter) community who are on polar opposites of the political continuum.  I’ve had similar “I should confess” angst regarding these followers.  Should I tell them I’m a registered Republican who’s a little right of center on fiscal matters, and a big step left of center on social matters, and that I’m contemplating becoming an Independent?  Do I tell the right-wingers, II did not vote for Trump in either election, would only vote to deport him, and I most certainly do not believe Ted Cruz is a gift to America?  Should I tell the left-wingers I voted for Biden, but don’t believe he’s doing very well, and that I am against the idea of “defunding” the police?  It’s not that I care if THEY hold these views, tweet these views or even write them in ink across their faces.  I believe their right to hold their views and speak those views is sacrosanct.   I just wonder if they would think I’ve somehow misled them about my views.  I  guess like the atheists, they can read my confession here.  (By the way, yes, I very much know that Trump cannot be deported, and that if he could, no one would ask for my vote on the matter.) 

Then there are the anti-smoking groups who have followed me.  They seem to be connected to other writers, so I assume that’s why they followed me.   Since I’m making confessions, I’ll say that I’m not a smoker, have never been a smoker and will never be a smoker. Cigarette butts thrown on the ground piss me off.   I wish my smoking friends would quit, and I tell them that privately.  I don’t, however, feel driven to join an organized anti-smoking campaign. But, I do want smokers who throw butts on the ground or out the windows of their cars to be traced through DNA and punished to the fullest extent of the littering law.

Two former high-ranking Naval officers followed me this week.  I followed one back, and he immediately sent me a DM trying to chat me up.  Huh.   Why would someone so highly decorated and with such a distinguished career – including being an Ambassador – follow me on Twitter to chat me up?  Why would such a person be using Twitter for that purpose at all?  Reminds me of all the men unable to come up with  two-syllable words on Words with Friends who chose that venue to find love – or whatever they were looking for.  I added a line to my profile that informs potential suitors that I will ignore their DMs.  What I don’t say is that those who try to chat me up through DM go on SSMCTP.

In other news, I managed to buy seedless grapes this week and fired off a couple short story submittals.

Book Review:  My Half-Sisters Half-Sister by Samantha Henthorn

My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister by Samantha Henthorn begins with an abbreviated family tree, which came in very handy at different points in the book.  It also is important for a twist at the end.

The main character is Pippa, given name Epiphany.  Her older half-sister Heather is responsible for giving Pippa that unusual name (per Pippa it’s not a name, it’s a noun), and as the story progresses we learn that Pippa thoroughly resents her sister, and her name is just one of the reasons for that burgeoning resentment. 

The story starts with a flashback to when Pippa was a child, and she and Heather’s half-sister Sadie meet.   Back in present day, Pippa lives over her mother’s closed pub (closed at the start of the pandemic) with her boyfriend to whom she seems indifferent.  She describes herself as “frumpy, fair and nearly forty” and wishes she were a librarian.  Enter Heather’s half-sister Sadie, beautiful and stylish, to bolster Pippa’s self-confidence and self-esteem.

After Sadie begins influencing Pippa, the story gets increasingly surreal, like something is not quite connected.   Hints are laid as to why this is, and as the story goes on, it slowly becomes apparent that someone doesn’t have a clear picture of reality.  But, the climactic answer to what’s going on is much more than I’d guessed. 

Character development, particularly that of Pippa and her mother Jacquetta, is outstanding.   The manner in which the story is laid out is exceptionally clever, and the cadence of the text is quick and easy flowing.  With dark humor peppered  throughout, this book is a quirky and engrossing read!

Short Story:  It Takes a Neighborhood

Ellis McDaniel backed his grey pickup into the Cafferty’s driveway and parked it next to another Chevy pickup.  Then, he got out and began organizing the tools he’d need on his tailgate.  The mid-morning sun felt hot on his dark skin – especially his shaved head — and he was glad he’d be working inside this morning.  .

“Well, you must be the new neighbor, Ellis,” a booming voice said from behind the other pickup. 

Ellis looked over to see a tall man with a ruddy complexion and reddish brown hair coming toward him with his hand extended.  Ellis, a bit puzzled, smiled at the man and shook his hand.

“I’m Paul Toffler.   My boys and I live in the two story brick home just around the corner.”

“Ellis, McDaniel – my wife and I just. . .”

“Moved into the Smith’s house.  Yeah, Millie told me when I got here this morning.  She wanted to make sure I left room in the driveway for ‘the nice young man who’s coming to do the electrical work.’”

The men both laughed because clearly Ellis was well into middle-age.  “Well, I guess age is a relative thing,” Ellis said. 

Right then, two teenage boys came around from the back of the house.  Paul said, “Here are my boys..   The older one is PJ – short for Paul, Jr.—and the younger one is Timothy.”  Both boys stepped forward and shook Ellis’ hand.  Then Paul told them to take the shovels, hoes, and rakes out back.

“Here to do some gardenin’?” Ellis inquired.

Paul chuckled, “No, actually we’re here to clear the brush out of the fence line – you may have noticed it’s a little out of control.”  

Looking puzzled again, Ellis said slowly, “You’re going to dig it out?”

Paul’s eyes twinkled.   “No, but experience tells me, I’ll need the shovels before the day is over.  Well, I’d better get at it.  See ya on the patio for a beer with Herschel later this afternoon?”

“Oh, no,” Ellis said.  “I’m only gonna to be here an hour and half tops.   I’m just putting in an electrical outlet in the living room.”

He was very much taken aback when Paul laughed and said, “Sure ya are.   Okay, catch ya later.”

As the other man walked away, Ellis shook his head.  Then he put his toolbelt on, and drywall saw in hand, walked up to the Cafferty’s front door.       

Before he could even knock, Millie Cafferty threw the door open and with a big grin greeted him.  Her bright blue eyes shone through the deep wrinkles in her fair face, and her snow white hair sprung every which way from her head, just as it had when Ellis and his wife had dinner at the Cafferty’s earlier in the week. 

“’Mornin’, Ms. Cafferty!” Ellis greeted her.

“Just call me Millie,” she responded.  “It’s shapin’ up to be a warm one today – come on in!”

They walked into the Cafferty’s living room, and Ellis went directly to the wall between the living room and kitchen.  When he and Maya had been over for dinner, the Cafferty’s had two different lamps and a fan plugged into an extension cord there.  He’d explained that that particular extension cord was not meant to carry such a heavy load.  When he’d looked around the living room, he’d found that for some reason that wall had no electrical outlet, and he’d offered to put one in.

“Okay,” he said.  “I’m gonna put the outlet in the middle of the wall so that you have the most flexibility.”

“That sounds good to me,” Millie said.  “But, before you get started, can you look at the lights underneath my kitchen cabinets?  They keep burning through bulbs, and I think somethin’s wrong.”

“Sure,” Ellis replied readily.

The two lights under the cabinets were old fluorescent fixtures.  He explained that they really needed to be replaced.

“Oh, my,” Millie said, her face showing her concern.  “I really need those lights to see what I’m doin’.  You know these old eyes aren’t what they used to be, and I could end up choppin’ off a finger.   That would be the beginnin’ of the end for me, I’m sure.” She looked at Ellis pitifully, directly, but pitifully..

Ellis felt a little put on the spot, but before he could even respond, he heard a voice say from behind him, “Hey, there, young man!”  He turned and there in the entrance to the kitchen was Herschel, a little leprechaun of a man with blue eyes as bright as his wife’s, and a mischievous grin.    

The men shook hands while Millie asked Herschel, “Is that battery gonna take care of the beeping?”

“I certainly hope so,” Herschel replied. “We don’t have any more nine volts to try.”

Just then the unmistakable sound of a smoke detector chirping could be heard from somewhere in the house.

“Well, damn,” said Herschel.  “Guess I gotta go buy some new batteries.”

Ellis shook his head and said, “Batteries aren’t gonna fix that.  When it chirps three times like that, it means that the detector needs to be replaced.  When’s the last time you put new smoke detectors in the house?”

The Cafferty’s looked at each other, and then Herschel said, “It must’ve been ‘bout 11 years ago when we had the kitchen renovated.   To get the house up to code, we had to have new detectors including one of those carbon detectors.”

“Well, then, you prob’ly need to replace all of them, or they’re just gonna start chirpin’ one by one,” Ellis said. 

“Oh, my,” Millie cried.  “I can’t take any more chirpin’.  We didn’t’ get any sleep last night.  I’m plumb tuckered.”  Again, she fixed Ellis with that direct, yet pitiful, stare.

Herschel walked over to his wife, and guided her to the kitchen table.  “Now, you just sit here and rest, Millie,” he said.  “Don’t you worry – I’ll figure out how to turn them all off.”

“Oh, no,” Ellis said.  “You don’t want to disable all the smoke alarms.   And, anyway I imagine your breaker box locks that breaker.  You’d have to disconnect them one by one, and if you’re gonna be up on the ladder to do that, might as well just replace ’em.”

“Oh my,” cried Millie.  “Herschel’s already been up that ladder too much.  It aggravates his knees and with his vertigo, he could fall and break a hip – then where would we be?”

Again, she fixed Ellis with a stare, this one looking more distressed than previously.  Ellis, caught in that stare, found himself saying, “If you guys can order the smoke detectors for pickup, I can install ’em for you.”  He sighed, and continued, “Might as well get some new LED lights for under the cabinets while you’re at it.”

And, so it was that before Ellis could even begin working on the electrical outlet, he sat down with some lemonade and homemade cookies at the kitchen table and helped Herschel order smoke detectors and lights.   When that was done, he moved furniture away from the wall so that he had room to install the outlet.   

“Ellis, while you’re movin’ the furniture, do you think you could move that chair to the other end of the couch?” 

“Sure,” he replied.  Then he spent thirty minutes rearranging the living room furniture until Millie decided that the configuration was just right.  Just as he settled down to start the outlet work, Hershel announced he was off to pick up the smoke detectors and lights.  He asked Mille if she wanted to ride along.  At first she said yes, and then she said, “Oh, my.  I completely forgot to ask Paul and the boys if they can make sure there’s room by the fence for those bushes I got the other day.   I better stay here.”

“Don’t forget to put mulch around them,” Herschel said before he left.

Alone in the living room,  Ellis said, “’Oh my,’” completely understanding what Paul had said to him earlier.  He called Maya and told her he’d probably be at the Cafferty’s most of the day.  She said, “You’re doing the right thing, helpin’ those sweet people, El.”

When Millie came back in the house, she started putting lunch together in the kitchen.  By the time Herschel got back, she had laid out cold cuts, cheese, pulled pork, cold fried chicken, potato salad, baked beans, pasta salad, three kinds of bread, fruit salad and a variety of chips.   She hollered out the back door to Paul and the boys.  

When everyone gathered in the kitchen, Herschel said, “Let’s give thanks.   Thank you, oh, Lord for these thy gifts — the food and the company — in Jesus’ name. Amen.”  Everyone echoed the ‘Amen,’ filled their plates, and sat down at the kitchen table. 

A little later, when Herschel and Millie went to the basement to get more bottled water, Ellis said to Paul, “’Oh my!’ I found out what you were talkin’ about  this mornin’.”

Paul grinned back at him, “Yeah, they think they’re subtle.”

Ellis chuckled, “Millie’s ‘bout as subtle as a brick to the head.”

Paul, nodded, still grinning.  “Yeah, but, we all know the game and play along.  Here’s the thing, Millie and Herschel are the heart of this neighborhood.   When my wife was dyin’ from cancer, Millie was there every day.   She came and stayed with the boys when I was with Linda at the hospital.   And, Herschel drove Mr. Smith everywhere up until the day he went to live with his daughter.  They know who needs what, and they organize help for whoever needs it.  For instance, if you needed help clearin’ out that old fence at the back of your property, they’d suggest that maybe you could trade some electrical service for my help.   I doubt that it’s  a coincidence that you and me are both here on the same day.  They thought we should get to know one another.”

Hearing the Cafferty’s on the stairs, Paul lowered his voice, “They are damn funny about it sometimes.   One time, Millie wanted her kitchen painted a different color, so Herschel ‘accidentally’’ put something through the wall.  Had Lester – you’ll no doubt meet him soon — and his family come to dinner.  Lester’s wife sees the hole and  says, “Lester’ll fix it.’ Lester shows up, and they not only have the drywall and spackle, but two gallons of paint in a completely different color than what the kitchen was.  So, we all know when our ‘day of service’ comes around, block out the entire day.  Luckily. It’s a good size neighborhood so ‘service day’ doesn’t roll around too often.”

The Cafferty’s returned with the water, and everyone finished up their lunch.  Paul and the boys went out to complete their work, and Ellis installed  the electrical outlet.  Next, he replaced all the smoke detectors while Herschel “held the ladder” and told him about the local places he could take his wife out to dinner.   Then, with Millie and Herschel at the kitchen table chatting at him about all the goings-on in the neighborhood, he installed the new lights under the cabinets.

“Oh my! Those are much brighter – my fingers are safe!” Millie said, wiggling her gnarled fingers.

Herschel stepped toward Ellis and said, “Thank you so much.  I hope you’ll sit a while with us out on the patio – have a beer before you head home.”  Then he tried to hand Ellis some folded up bills.

“Oh, no, Mr. Caff. . .Herschel,” he said.  “You keep your money   I’m sure there will be a time we, Maya and me, might need your help.”

“Okay, Ellis, but please be sure that you call on us when you need help.  We’re a good neighborhood, and you’ve shown today that you’re a good neighbor.   Help me fill a cooler with beer?”


They filled the cooler with ice and beer, and Ellis carried it out onto the patio.  Mille and Hershel followed him out, Millie bringing water and soda for the boys.  Paul and his boys were busy heaping brush into a single pile in the middle of the Cafferty’s backyard.   So, Ellis went out to help them finish the job as Herschel and Millie arranged chairs and raised umbrellas  on the concrete patio.  

When the brush was all piled, with the smaller limbs and vines weighed down by larger limbs and small trees, Ellis, Paul, and the boys sat down under the umbrellas.  The men cracked open beers, and the boys drank water and soda. 

“Oh, my,” Millie said.  “The rose bushes look so beautiful!  Thank you so much – you didn’t need to do that!”

“You’re welcome, Millie,” Paul said.  He and Ellis traded knowing smiles.

“So, whadya think, Paul?” Herschel asked.  “Will the brush dry out enough to burn in three weeks?”

Paul nodded his head, “Yeah, I think so.  Even if it doesn’t quite dry out, we’ll put some more seasoned wood with it.  What doesn’t burn in the bonfire, I’ll come back and burn again later.”

“Good, good,” Herschel replied.  Then he turned to Ellis.  “Neighborhood BBQ, here, three weeks from today.  Bring a chair, your beverage of choice, and a dish to share.   When the sun finally goes down, we’ll light the bonfire and have s’mores.”

“Sounds great!” Ellis said. 

The neighbors drank a couple beers and got to know each other better. Before they headed home, Paul and Ellis exchanged cell phone numbers “in case you ever need anything.”

Later, after Ellis packed up his gear and went home, he said to Maya, “Maya, you know I wasn’t sure about moving here.  I think we made the right choice.”

Progress, Book Review – Savannah at Midnight, Short Story – Three Blondes


I completed my first two goals of 2022.  The first was to revise and reorganize my debut novel.  I had to tell myself to just STOP, otherwise I would’ve continued to obsess over this thing and that thing, or I’d feel compelled to read through the whole thing a 10th time.   Yes, I realize I have some obsessive tendencies.  But, hey, they’ve mostly served me well up until now.   

 My second goal was to get my novel in the hands of a professional editor.  I researched four, selected one of the four and sent my manuscript flying through the ether for red-marking.  I’m not going to broadcast the editor’s name until I see what kind of job they do.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m braced for lots of edits – I’m just holding back to see to what level they’re substantive. 

 Turning my words over to an editor makes me almost as nervous as querying agents/publishers.  I know it shouldn’t unnerve me.  But, what if they tell me it’s unsalvageable garbage?  I know, I should instead concentrate on, what if they DON’T say it’s unsalvageable garbage?    I realize it’s unlikely that anyone will hit upon the exact word “unsalvageable” — unless, of course, they read this blog entry and decide to poke me with it.

It should get turned around in about five weeks. 

Another 2022 goal is to finish the first draft of my second novel.  That’s several months out. 

Oh, in other news:  I accidentally bought seeded grapes.  Ugh.

Book Review:  Savannah at Midnight by Cathleen Maza 

I picked up Savannah at Midnight by Cathleen Maza after I read the following excerpt in a promo:  “Forgetting her was his payment.  Never forgetting him was hers.”  They’re simple words, yet immensely haunting and seductive.

Part of what makes them so haunting and seductive is they promise there’s a secret.

Maza masterfully exposes the secret one tantalizing morsel at a time, through twelve separate, but related, tales.  But, like any unforgettable seductress, she holds back, promising there’s more to uncover in the story of lovely, tragic Savannah.  I crave more of these tales!

 As the words that hooked me indicated, this book is beautifully written.  While reading, I readily saw the scenes in my head with barely a notice to the words that projected those scenes.  That’s what outstanding writing brings to a reader. 

I love this book, and I hope there are more Haunting Savannah tales.

A note about the books I review:  Amazon has a service under which you can pay a set fee and read a large selection of books for “free” on your electronic device.  The service is called KindleUnlimited.  You don’t have to have a Kindle reader – you can read the books in your browser.  And, no worries about coronavirus or other germs on them.  😊

Short Story:  Three Blondes

“Go figure, “ Emma murmured sarcastically to herself as she looked at the departure board.  Her flight out of O’Hare was delayed by more than two hours – a typical day connecting in the Windy City.

She wandered down the concourse and got in line at Chili’s, Too!  After a few moments she noticed that the blond woman ahead of her in line was looking around impatiently for someone.  Upon taking notice of her, Emma was unable to keep from studying her.  Clearly the young woman was dressed to invite such attention:  midriff black sweater and low –rider jeans with a jangling silver “belt” through the belt loops and hooked to the ornament in her belly-button.

Emma acknowledged to herself that the girl —  really she couldn’t be more than 20 — looked hot.  I wish I ever looked that good.  Just as that thought flitted across her mind, the girl turned more toward Emma and waved wildly at someone behind her.  Emma, still assessing the girl, couldn’t help but note the enormous breasts popping out of the sweater’s plunging neckline.  No bra and no bounce.  I wonder what other help she’s had.

Without doubt her blond hair was not natural, and, in fact, was badly in need of a root touch-up.  At least my bleach job looks better than hers.  It’s the small things. . .

A young man stepped in front of Emma, and the girl threw her arms extravagantly around his neck like she hadn’t seen him in forever.  As she made obnoxious kissy kissy all over his face, he looked around uncomfortably.  “I just went to the bathroom,” he muttered.  “I know, but I missed you,” came the baby-talk reply.

With the guy still clearly reluctant, the young woman launched an open-mouthed assault upon his face.  By the time her hand snaked around to cup his ass, his reluctance was gone, and, Emma, mesmerized, watched their tongues work in and out of each other’s mouths.  For the love of God, get a room.  Hands were everywhere.  Everywhere.  I’ll be damned if I’m going to look away.  I shouldn’t be the one uncomfortable. 

Yet, she couldn’t take it, and looked away.  She remembered that “can’t keep your hands off each other” stage of her relationship with her ex, Dale.  It didn’t last long, but it was fun while it lasted.  Unlike our marriage.   They’d been divorced six months, and Emma hadn’t quite gotten over her bitterness.

She glanced back at the kids, and now they were standing inches apart gazing into each other’s eyes.   Oh, to be young and in love,

The hostess escorted the three people in front of the couple to a table, and the young man said, “C’mon, baby, let’s just see if we can just find seats.”

“No, Kevin,” was her reply.  “She didn’t tell us.”

But, Kevin went on, undaunted, while the young woman remained in line. 

“Kevin!” she whisper-yelled.  “Kevin, come back here.”  She stamped her booted foot and whisper-yelled again, “Kevin!”

Emma watched Kevin disappear into the crowded restaurant, and then returned her attention to the young woman who was childishly angry and not trying to hide it.  She sighed dramatically, crossed and uncrossed her arms and patted her foot impatiently.  Just when it appeared she was going in after him, Kevin returned. 

“She told me to get back in line,” he said with a big unabashed grin.  “It’ll probably be another 10 minutes.”

Almost before he could get his words out, the young woman sputtered, “Why do you always do stuff like that and leave me standing all alone?”

Emma was surprised at her words, and judging from the look on his face, Kevin was, too.  “Lisa,” he began, “I told you to c’mon.  I didn’t leave you standing all alone.”

“Well, you had no business taking off like that – we could’ve lost our place in line,” she said pettily.

Kevin ran his fingers through his dark hair as if hoping to find the right words, or the patience, or both to deal with Lisa’s petulance.  But, Lisa wasn’t done.

“You took off and left me standing alone at the bar last night.  And, it’s not the first time.”  She looked at him defiantly, daring him to deny any of it.  Kevin looked back at her like a deer caught in headlights.  Uh-oh,  Trouble in paradise.

Kevin still silent, Lisa went on.  “If you really wanted to be with me, you wouldn’t treat me like that.  You never take me out when you’re home and you go out with your friends, and…”

But Kevin had finally found his tongue.  “I’m going to hang out with the guys I only get to see a couple times a year.  It’s the GUYS.”

Lisa drew herself up and pointed a finger at him, getting ready to launch what promised to be a loud and passionate retort, when the hostess returned to seat them.

Whew!  I’d rather have them make out than have to witness that.

A moment later, the hostess returned to seat Emma.  As luck would have it, she took Emma to a table right beside Kevin and Lisa’s table, where at the moment, silence reigned. 

Emma pulled out the USA Today she’d purchased earlier.  But, she couldn’t help looking over the top of it to steal a glance at Lisa.  As expected, Lisa was in full pout – and shooting accusing glances Kevin’s way. 

But Kevin wasn’t engaging, and Emma found her attention drawn away when a child at another nearby group of tables blurted out, “He’s too fat to be allowed to live.”  The child’s family all found that a cute and funny remark, while several nearby overweight people either glared or looked away uncomfortably. 

Emma, who found airports one of the best places for people watching, tried to figure out how the family fit together.  More importantly, she was trying to figure out which of the adults were the asshats raising such a rude child. 

She was so engrossed in trying to pair adults with other adults and with children that she didn’t realize Kevin and Lisa had started talking again.  By the time she did, they were holding hands across the table and Lisa was saying, “It’s alright – just try not to do it anymore, okay, baby?”  Kevin pulled her hand across the table to kiss it.  And love wins again.

The server came around – for the second time – to take Lisa and Kevin’s order.  Lisa asked what the house wine was.  The server impatiently replied there was no house wine and pointed out that the menu showed the available selections.

“You don’t have a house wine?” Lisa blurted incredulously.

“No, ma’am,” replied the server in clipped tones.  Then he took the menu from her and turned it to the beverage list.  Lisa hemmed and hawed, and the server asked if he should come back.

“No, I’m just having trouble deciding – Kevin, you pick,” she said – in baby talk.  The look the server dropped on Kevin was enough to make Emma cringe under the weight of it from where she sat.

“Lisa, for crying out loud, order your lunch.  This man has a lot of other people to wait on,” Kevin said in a stage whisper.  Like me, for instance.

It ended up Kevin put in his order and then Lisa, after asking questions about just about every item on the limited menu, finally put in her order.  Then Kevin set off on a story about one of his buddies.

“When did you see him?” Lisa asked.

“I don’t know – I think it was back in November.”

“Really,” came the cold reply.

Silence followed, and then finally Kevin said, “What?  What now?”

“Well, if you saw him in November, then that means you were home and didn’t even call me.  OR, you found time to go visit him when you don’t have time to even call me.”  

Her complaints continued as both they and Emma ate their lunches.  Kevin told her to just eat her meal.  She pushed her plate away and launched a tirade about how Kevin didn’t introduce her to his college friends and kept her away from his family.  Uh-oh.  That ain’t good.

Kevin tried a few weak responses, but soon he was reduced to sighs and silence.  That’s when Lisa, for some reason, thought it the appropriate time to plead for them to take their relationship “to the next level.”  Oh, my God, she just doesn’t get it – he’s not in a relationship – she’s the wild piece on the side.

Fascinated, but simultaneously revolted, at what was unfolding at the table next to her, Emma flagged down the server to pay her check.  Waiting to get her change back, she heard Lisa say, “It’s not normal to not have more than two-word conversations for six months.”  Silence.  “It’s not.  It is not normal for your boyfriend to never call you, to always say he’s too busy to talk when you call him, to not even let you know when he’s come home from school.  IT IS NOT NORMAL.”

Evenly, Kevin replied, “No, it’s not.  It’s not normal for people who are actually boyfriend and girlfriend.”

He is not going to do this to her in an airport restaurant,  Please, not in front of me. 

“What are you saying?” Lisa demanded loudly.  “What are you saying to me?”

“Lisa, I thought you got it,” Kevin answered more quietly.  “After more than a year, I really thought you got it. 

Oh my God, he’s as clueless as she is,  What a freaking mess.  PLEASE bring my change back!  If it hadn’t been that she’d given the waiter $40 for a $22 check, Emma would’ve abandoned her money to not witness what was coming.

“Get what?  Are you dumping me?  Why?  What have I done,” Lisa, near tears, cried.

Kevin, in a wheedling voice said, “No, baby, I’m not dumping you.  What we have is fine, but. . .”

At just that moment, the waiter appeared with Emma’s change, and God bless him, he brought back enough small bills that she could just hand a few back to him and bolt from the restaurant.  Walking toward her gate, she was simultaneously wishing that neither Kevin nor Lisa was on her flight and that she could somehow know what their outcome was.

Miracle of miracles, Emma’s flight took off at the revised departure time, and there was no sign of either Kevin or Lisa.  Emma settled into her window seat, and as was customary for her, fell asleep before the plane even took off.  It wasn’t long before her slumber was abruptly ended by the person in the middle seat bumping against her. 

Expecting her row-mate to apologize, Emma turned toward her to say it was alright.  The woman next to her was unable to utter the expected apology as the good-looking man in the aisle seat had swallowed her tongue.  I am in hell.

The passionate kissing went on for several minutes, when Emma heard the man growl, “Oh, God, I want you.”  In response the woman laughed, a deep, throaty laugh that only served to make him moan and all but jump on top of her.  That assault resulted in the woman leaning back on top of Emma who quickly came to fear that she was about to serve as a human mattress for some mile-high club inductees.

After a few seconds, the woman became aware that she was all but in Emma’s lap.  She pushed the man away and whispered, “We’re not alone.”  Huh, now there’s an understatement.  YOU’RE ON A PLANE!. 

For the next few moments, the man (Steven) tried to talk the woman, whose name Emma now understood to be Caroline – pronounced in the Kennedy fashion — into going back to the lavatory with him.  Privy to every suggestive word and more, Emma felt like a forgotten cast member in a cheap porn flick.  Will this day never end? What the hell is wrong with people?

It was at this time that the flight attendants stopped with the beverage cart, and, mercifully, Steven ceased his begging.  Since  Emma was no longer pinned against the window,  she took the opportunity to look more closely at the amorous couple sharing the left side of Row 8 with her. 

Emma surmised that Caroline was approaching 40, but may well have been older and well-preserved.  Everything about her screamed high maintenance and high cost, from her cut and color job to her obviously big-name designer slingbacks.  She was slim and immaculately groomed, and amazingly after the passionate clinch she’d just extricated herself from, was calm and composed without a blond hair out of place.  Emma compared her to Lisa.  Of course, Caroline was much older and from the dim silhouette of her dark cashmere sweater either had her own breasts or had restrained herself more than Lisa had.  They were both bottle blondes, but Caroline’s color job was subtle and perfect.  Emma couldn’t call Caroline hot, but she was truly stunning in a way Lisa would probably never achieve.  Not even my hair color can compare to hers.

Steven was also stunning with thick dark hair, elegant hands, rugged features, and a hint of late-day shadow on his perfect jaw.  It was hard to tell how tall he was, but his knees almost touched the seat in front of him, so Emma assumed he was more than six feet. Emma found herself staring at his lips.  They were full, especially the lower lip, which had that bifurcated, cupid-bow shape that Emma found so very attractive on a man. 

A quick check of their hands told Emma immediately that they weren’t married (something she’d guessed already from their earlier behavior).  But, on Caroline’s right hand was a ring with the hugest cluster of high quality diamonds that Emma had ever seen outside a jeweler’s case. I wonder if he gave her that.  Her instincts told her that, no, Steven hadn’t purchased that ring.  It fit so well with the rest of the whole “Caroline package” that Emma was sure Caroline had selected it herself. 

“Oh!”“ Caroline exclaimed, “I forgot to call the kids before we took off.”

“Use the airphone,” Steven replied.

From the ensuing phone conversation, Emma learned that Caroline had two children, one of whom had had a piano recital earlier in the evening.  The child’s father had apparently attended, and the child was making a very strong point about her mother’s absence. 

“Cynthia, sweetie, you know I’d have been there if I could. . .now you know that this was the only time that Steven and I could take this trip, honey. . .you’ll have another recital in the spring and we’ll both be there. . .So, what pieces did you play? Cynthia?  Are you there honey?  Oh, hi, Robbie – where did Cynthia go?., , ,Oh, okay, yeah, tell Aunt Amelia I said hello.  ‘Bye.”

After hanging up the phone, Caroline said, “The kids send their love, Steven.”

Steven answered mockingly,  “Yeah, I bet they do.  Cynthia dropped the phone on you didn’t she?  You’ve gotta stop letting them walk all over you.  When we get married, we’re going to have a little talk about respect and attitude.”

Caroline tried to change the subject to the “fabulous” show they’d seen the night before, but Steven was not letting go. 

Emma decided that she needed a distraction from the bickering about Caroline’s kids that followed, and pulled out a book she’d brought along.  A few pages into it,  she started to fall asleep again, but came abruptly awake when she heard Steve ask, “So, when are we getting married?”

Caroline answered, “Oh, honey we don’t need to talk about that now.”

“Just when would be the right time to talk about it?” Steven asked.

“Later, honey.  There are things to consider, and I just don’t want to get into them right now,” Caroline said quietly.  Uh-oh. 

Silence followed, and Emma drifted back to sleep.  The couple began to talk again, but it didn’t fully rouse Emma until Steven said, “We’d already be married if I was making 500,000 a year.”

 Caroline acted as if she’d  misunderstood his point, patted Steven’s thigh, and said soothingly, “You’ll get there honey.  You’ve come so far, and you’re doing so well.” 

Amazingly, the deflection worked.  Caroline evidently knew how to work her man.  He started talking about his aggressive plan to get himself promoted again in the next few months.  Caroline said what apparently were all the right little encouraging phrases, because soon Steven had forgotten all about the wedding issue.  As Steven warmed to his subject, his disrespect for his boss, Charles, became more and more apparent.  Also, his arrogance and inflated self-worth came dancing into the light.  Soon Emma realized that he was putting on a show for herself and everyone else on the plane.  Caroline clearly was uncomfortably aware of it, too, and kept trying to get Steven to lower his voice.  Boy, I bet she’s thinking she’s created a monsterWhat a loudnouth.

Steven launched into another scenario where he was going to tell Charles what was what, and Caroline gently interrupted him, “Honey, you need to go easy there.”

“No, no, I don’t,” Steven said in an exasperated tone.  “I can take this company places, but your old man is gonna have to step into the 21st century.  Right now, he’s holding me back, and he’s holding the company back.” 

Caroline hesitated only a microsecond before whispering, “I know, I know honey, but you’ve got to go slow.  You’re already on shaky ground with Daddy, and. . .”

 “Good God!” he exclaimed.  “It’s your father isn’t it?  He doesn’t think I’m good enough for his little baby girl – not nearly as good as that asshole of a doctor you were married to.”  Wow.  He certainly circled back in a hurry. 

Caroline said something Emma didn’t catch, but Steven’s reply was quite audible.  “Goddamn it, Caroline, you’re a grown woman.  You can do what you want.  You have got to stop letting people run all over you.”  Steven launched a litany of the different ways Caroline’s father, mother and kids trampled her. 

As he ticked the list off on his fingers, Caroline’s demeanor changed.  She took on a bored look, sat back straight in her seat and examined her perfectly manicured fingers.  Finally, without even looking at him, Caroline said in a calm and authoritative tone, “That’s enough, Steven.”  Steven attempted to continue, but stopped cold when Caroline repeated chillingly, “I said that’s enough.” 

Ooh.  Nobody’s running this one.  She’s got everyone pretty much where she wants them.  Except for Steven.  Poor guy, he doesn’t know he’s on his way out.

No sooner had that thought evaporated then Caroline said in an offhand fashion, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to tell you, I can’t make that ski trip next weekend.  An old friend has asked me to come stay for a few days, and we haven’t seen each other in ages.” 

They went back and forth for a while on who the friend was, why Steven couldn’t go too, etc., but Caroline held firm to her newly formed plans.  Steven, being supremely arrogant, of course didn’t recognize the beginning of the end, and lashed out angrily at Caroline for her making plans without consulting him.  Caroline replied nonchalantly, “We’re almost there, aren’t we,” and without waiting for an answer, pulled a compact out of her handbag and began retouching her makeup.

I wonder if he’ll get to keep his job.  Probably not.

After the plane landed and Emma was waiting for her luggage, she found herself strangely depressed thinking about the two couples with whom she’d just spent her travel day.  What makes the Kevins and the Carolines hook up with the Lisas and Stevens?  What makes the Lisas and Stevens unable to recognize that the Kevins and Carolines only view them as little more than a temporarily amusing distraction?

Then she got to what was really bothering her:   What made Dale treat me that way, and why did it take me so long to accept that it was over?

Emma drove home from the airport as the deepening blue of evening vied with the fading orange glow of sunset, and pulled into her driveway just as the very last resistant ray of twilight was snuffed out by the descending night.  Somewhere Lisa is crying.  And, one morning soon, Steven will awaken to find his world has shifted abruptly.  She felt a  gentle aching in her heart for the unexpectedly painful turn their lives had taken this day – a heartbreak she well knew.

Opening the door to her house, Emma was greeted with silence and darkness.  “Henry?” she called out.  She stepped into the living room, and called again, “Henry?”  In response, she felt a gentle rubbing on her leg as she flipped the light switch.  Dropping her bags, she scooped up the fat, black cat, and hugging him to her said, “Oh, Henry, I’m so glad it’s you I come home to.”

Winter Blahs, Book Review — First Night, Short Story — Well…The Lock is Smart

I Might Need an Attitude Adjustment

Winter is approximately  19 days old.  I’ve had enough. 

The days are getting longer.   That’s something.

That’s all I got.

Book Review:  First Night by Carol Sabik-Jaffe

First Night, by Carol Sabik-Jaffee, takes place over two short days.  As promised, it’s  a romance where two people coincidentally (or IS it coincidentally?), literally, run into each other and end up spending most of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day together. 

As is fitting with such a whirlwind tale, the prose is fast flowing, keeping this an incredibly light and breezy read.  At times, the choice of descriptive words is quirky, but it seems mostly in keeping with the nature of the main character Maria Vigliano. 

We quickly see two sides to Maria.  There’s New York Maria who is uptight, constantly doubts herself and her skills/talents, and is fearful that at any time she’ll suddenly lose her job.  Then, there’s Philly Maria, who is a take charge, sometimes rash, firecracker.  Maria is very grounded by her large extended family and upbringing, and although she initially makes a case for not adhering to her helicopter mother’s rules for living, she’s consciously aware of them at all times.

Maria’s background differs from that of her New Year’s romance, Hunter Reed whose parents divorced when he was young.  At that time, Hunter asked to be sent to boarding school and his parents were good with that because it allowed them to start new lives.  The closeness of Maria’s family is something Hunter has never experienced before, and it enhances his attraction to Maria.

Hunter is only in Philly for New Year’s because a cleaning woman, Olympia, in his D.C. office convinces him that he needs to go out, and so he takes a train to meet up with his  Penn State buddies to party and go to the First Night Ball.  Maria, who professed that she would rather hole up in her small NYC apartment, yields to pressure from her mother to help with her family’s Mummers Parade preparations, and heads to Philly on a train.  Both trains are delayed by some undisclosed problem on the tracks at Wilmington, DE (possibly a body on the tracks), and so they run into each other at the 30th Street Station when they’re rushing to get cabs.

Then Maria’s cousins (girls who go “woooo”), talk her into going to the First Night Ball where, after travailing  a series of wacky events trying to get there,  a friend sneaks them in.  She and Hunter meet up again, and share a small New Year’s kiss, but then Maria steals a horse carriage when she learns her father has been injured and is in the hospital.  The Woooo Girls are still with Hunter and his friends, and so Hunter and Maria are reunited, and share another, much more romantic, early morning carriage ride before Maria has to take over preparation for her family’s Mummers Parade performance.

At this point, Olympia shows up again.  She helps Maria get costumes ready, and lectures Maria  on letting people help her.  Then when they run out of materials, and Maria goes to fetch more, Olympia somehow completes all the remaining costumes and disappears.  She shows up again to save the day at the parade, too. 

The book never explains who – or WHAT – Olympia is, but I believe some clues are laid  Hopefully, in the promised Sequel, A Second Chance, we’ll not only see how Maria and Hunter’s romance develops, learn whether the Woooo Girls continue to see Hunter’s friends, and get introduced to the social climbing Holly back at Maria’s office; but, we’ll also finally learn about Olympia. 

This is a very entertaining read, and I look forward to the sequel!

Well. . .The Lock is Smart

Brenda opened the front door to see what the UPS driver had just dropped off on her porch.  She wasn’t expecting any deliveries and so had no idea what it could be.  She found two relatively small packages of exactly the same size and weight. She looked to see who they were from.  “What the. . .” she said quietly to herself.

One was from TruLok, and the other was from SikreTech.  She already knew what was inside, but she opened them both to verify, and, as expected, she found identical keyless entry smart locks.   Exasperated, she got online to see if she’d been charged for the double order.  What she found was that TruLok had refunded her money for the original lock she’d purchased that had failed six months after she’d purchased and installed it.  But, there were no additional charges on her credit card.

“What a screw-up,” she said out loud.  She definitely wanted one of the  locks because she hadn’t yet found a new one.  But, it wasn’t right to keep them both and the refund.  So, although the last thing she wanted to do was spend another four hours on the phone with TruLok and SikreTech, she decided to do the right thing and tell TruLok that they could reverse the credit or whatever they needed to do.  So, she pulled up the email that had her help desk ticket number in it  and dialed TruLok’s number. 

After being on hold 12 minutes, a cheery voice with a Latino accent said, “Thank you for calling TruLok.  My name is Hector.  How may I help you today?”

Brenda replied, not as cheerily, “Hello, Hector.  My ticket number is 78ZHIT45B1.”

“Okay, let me check that.  Hmmm.  Nothing comes up.  Let me make sure I wrote that down right:  78Z81T45B1.  Yes?”

“No.  7. 8. Z. H as in Hector.  I as in me, myself and I. T4581.” 

Hector paused, and then said, “Uhm, I got 78ZH, but not the rest of it.”




“Okay, let’s do that again.”  A couple seconds later, Hector said, “No, still nothing.  78ZHT4581.”

Brenda sighed. “You left out the ‘I” that follows the H as in Hector.”


“Yes,” Brenda replied, relieved.

“Okay, let’s see.  Oh, yes, I see.  Your 1083Z Smart Lock stopped working.”

Brenda interrupted, “Yes, but, hold on. . .”

“Please hold. I’ll be right with you.”


About a minute later Hector came back on the line and said, “The problem you describe is with the electronic portion of the lock, and so, we need to transfer you to SikreTech for the troubleshooting.  Please hold, and I will transfer you.”

“HECTOR!” Brenda yelled.


“I don’t need to talk with SikreTech.  Well, at least not yet.   Let me tell you what happened.”

Hector replied, “Miss, I cannot help you.  It is better you let me transfer you to get the best customer service.”

Brenda said in her most authoritative voice, the one she reserved primarily for the office, “Hector, you need to listen to me.  Please.  I do not need to talk with SikreTech or anyone else.  I need to speak with you.” 

“Okay,” he said reluctantly.

“I already went through troubleshooting with SikreTech.  They said that the brain of the lock is defective, and that the whole lock has to be replaced.  But, they didn’t have any more in stock, so they said I needed to call TruLok back and tell you that I needed a replacement lock.”

“Oh, Miss,” Hector interrupted. “I cannot just send you a lock.”

“Well, apparently, you can because you did, but that’s not what I’m asking you to do.”

Hector said, “But, you just said you were calling to tell us to send. . .”

Brenda jumped in with, “Hector, please just listen to me.  I already called TruLok and asked for the replacement lock.  I spoke with someone named Carlos, and he put in the request to send me a replacement lock.”

“Soo,” Hector began.

More loudly:  “Hector, listen.  Two weeks later, TruLok sent me a letter telling me that all the 1083Z locks were out-of-stock, and that TruLok would be issuing me a refund.”

“Well, then,” Hector said sadly, “I am sorry, but I cannot help you get a lock if there are no locks.”

Brenda growled, “Hector I’m not asking you for a lock.  I need to talk with someone about reversing the refund because I now have two locks and you refunded my money, too.”

Brenda heard Hector whisper to someone else, and the only word she understood was “loca.”

“Yes, Hector,” she said loudly, “I am loca because I’m trying to fix the screw-up your company made.”

Hector said hurriedly, “I am transferring you to customer service.”

Brenda heard a ringing sound and then a recording that said, “You have reached TruLok’s customer resolution office.  Please hold for the next available specialist.”

“I’m giving you no more than two minutes to pick up,” Brenda grumbled.

A few seconds later, an Asian voice said hurriedly, ”This is Jenny.  How may I help you?”

“Jenny, TruLok, has made a mistake.”

“Made a  mistake?  How?”

Brenda laughed, “Well, I don’t really know how they made the mistake, but you’ve sent me two locks and refunded my credit card.”

“You got two locks?”

“Yes.  Delivered today.”

“Then there is no mistake.  Two locks means two charges on your card.”

“Oh my God,” Brenda exclaimed.  “You’re not understanding me.  I bought a lock.  It didn’t work.   You said there were no locks and were giving my money back.  Then you sent two locks.”

“You sure two locks came from TruLok?”

Slowly, knowing in her heart this was a trap, Brenda said, “No. . .one of them came from SikreTech.”

“TruLok is not responsible for what SikreTech sends.   We only bill you for our lock.   So, the mistake is not with TruLok.   I will transfer you to SikreTech.”

“No!” Brenda yelled.  “I’m not saying this well, and you’re not understanding me.  TruLok made the mistake that I’m trying to get fixed right now on my credit card.”

“There is no mistake,” Jenny said impatiently.

Brenda knew she should’ve just given up at that point, but Jenny’s attitude pissed her off.  “Let me speak to a supervisor, please,” Brenda said crisply.

“It will make no difference.  Supervisor will say the same thing.”

“Let.Me.Speak.To.A.Supervisor.Please,” Brenda said through gritted teeth.

She heard something that sounded like someone slapping the phone’s  speaker, and then Jenny said.  “Supervisor here.  What is your problem?”

“Jenny, I know that’s you,” Brenda said.

“Not Jenny.  I’m Jenny’s supervisor.”

“No, you’re not.  Please get me a supervisor immediately.”

“Why do you want to get me in trouble, Karen?” Jenny demanded.

Brenda took a deep breath and said, “I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.  I’m just trying to get someone who will understand the mistake.”

Brenda heard Jenny and a couple other people speaking in another language, and then Jenny said ,”I transfer you to Supervisor Alice.”

“Thank you, Jenny.”

Another Asian sounding woman immediately came on the phone and said, “Hello.  Do you have a ticket number?”

Brenda sighed and said, “Yes.  It’s 7. 8. Z as in Zoo.  H as in Happy.  I as in. . .igloo.  T as in Tom. 4. 5. 8. 1.”

Alice said, “Glue?  I don’t understand.”

“No, I. I!”

“No I?  I didn’t have  I!”

Brenda said, “Let me try one more time.  7.8.Z.H.I.T.”

“That’s not what you said the first time.”

“That’s the ticket number, Alice.  I was trying to make sure you understood the letters.”

“Why do you think I don’t understand letters?  I speak fluent English!”

 Brenda said wearily, “Yes, yes, you do Alice.  Would you please look up my ticket?”

“Oh, I see.  Something is wrong with the electric lock.  You do need to talk with SikreTech.”

“No, Alice, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.  I am transferring you now.”

Brenda looked at her phone in amazement, and was getting ready to just hit END, when a voice with a European accent said, ”Thank you for calling SikreTech. How may I help you today?”

Brenda said to herself, “Okay one more try.”  To the SikreTech representative she said, “Let me give you my ticket number.”

“No, need, Ms. Garrett.  It came across when TruLok transferred the call.”

“Huh, well I guess then that Jenny and Alice were shining me on,” Brenda replied bitterly.

“Pardon me?”

“Never mind,” Brenda said quickly.  “Let me just get my story out, okay?”

“Certainly,” came the courteous reply.

Feeling hopeful, Brenda spit out, “Okay, so I bought a lock.  It failed.  TruLok said it was SikreTech’s responsibility.  SikreTech said that it couldn’t be fixed and that TruLok needed to send me a new lock. I called TruLok, they said they’d send a lock.  Then they said there were no locks, and they were refunding my money, which they did.  Then I got a lock from TruLok and a lock from SikreTech.”

“Hmmm,” said the nameless SikreTech representative.  “I show no lock issued to you from SikreTech.”

“Well, I have a lock that shows it was shipped from Norway by SikreTech.”

“No, we did not send you a lock.”

“From the SikreTech Distribution Center in Bergen, Norway.”

“No.  Not ours.  Our records are impeccable.”

“Really,” Brenda said.  “So, somebody else in Bergen, Norway just decided to send me a $300 lock out of the blue and made it look like it was from SikreTech.”

“I would not presume the source.  All I can tell you is that we did not send it.”

“Why would someone send a SikreTech lock and make it look like SikreTech sent it?” 

“I would not presume the motive.  I assure you it did not come from SikreTech.  We cannot take back a lock we didn’t issue.”

Sardonically, Brenda replied, “Well, I guess I have some Norwegian secret admirer.”

The SikreTech rep said arrogantly, “Again, that is not a matter on which I will comment.  As for the other lock and the refund, you’ll have to talk with TruLok about that.”

“Yeah, that ain’t happening.” Brenda growled.

In a somewhat more helpful tone the rep said, “I understand your frustration.  You should never have been transferred here.  I will not transfer you back to the customer service center.  Instead, I will transfer you to their administrative offices in Davenport, Iowa, USA.”

“Okay,” Brenda said unsure.

“Thank you for your business, and have a lovely day.  I’m transferring you now.”

A man with a Midwest accent immediately picked up the call, “Hello.  TruLok USA!  My name is Tom. How may I help you?”

“Did my ticket number transfer with the call?” Brenda demanded.

“Yes, it did.  Am I speaking with Brenda Garrett?”


“How are you today, Ms. Garrett?”

“Tom, that is not a freaking question you want to ask me right now.  I have been around the world for the past hour on this call.   You guys made a mistake, and I’m trying to rectify it.   Let me tell you quickly what the issue is.”

“Oh, no need, Ms. Garrett, I see it all here.”

“No, I don’t think it’s all there.”

Tom said, slightly less upbeat, “I promise you it is.   And, we’re going to take care of this right now.  I’m going to put you on hold for just a moment.  Now, don’t you go away!”

“For the love of God.”

Two minutes later Tom came back on the line.  “Okay,” he cheerfully said.  “I’ve put the order in, and it should be delivered within a week.”

“No, Tom, you’re not understanding the problem.  There’s a refund. . .”

“Ms. Garrett, I’m sorry, but our warranty specifically says that we will replace the lock if there is a replacement available, which there is.  I’m sorry, but we cannot issue a refund for your lock.  Do you want the replacement lock?”

Brenda was quiet for just a moment, laughed and said, “Sure.  Send another lock.”    

2021-The Year That Almost Was, Book Review, Recap-Christmas in NYC 2016

2021: The Year That Almost Was

Back in early January 2020, I’m watching the world news, and I became totally convinced that the epidemic that started in China was extremely serious.  I was certain that with the wildfire manner in which it was spreading, that it had to already be in the United States.  I whole-heartedly believed at that early time that this disease was devastating and was going to be global – this was not the same way I had felt about swine-flu, bird-flu, zika. Those diseases never really registered in my consciousness.  My response to my concern was three-pronged: 

1) I kept my view to myself.  No way I was voicing my worry out loud  because people would think I was irrational to get so worked up about “something in China.”  I was half-sure that I was being ridiculous, and I certainly didn’t want anyone else to know about my foolishness.

2) I placed huge orders with  and Costco for cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, toiletries, toilet paper, paper towels, dog food and nuts (I had a huge nut habit at the time – I’m now in recovery).  Yes. I may have single-handedly started the hoarding problem in the U.S.  If it makes any difference to your annoyance with me, I screwed up and unwittingly bought some of those giant toilet paper WHEELS meant for public facilities.  

3) I pretty much locked myself down.  I went to work ‘cause I had to, avoiding everyone I could, but that was about it.  I started ordering grocery delivery during February after freaking out during a super-crowded trip to ShopRite. I put disinfectant wipes in my car for when I had to go out. 

I say all this not to say I called the pandemic early on, but to explain that worry and lockdown started for me a couple months earlier than the official mid-March 2020 start date.  (And, to confess my early hoarding behavior.) So, toward the end of 2020, when vaccines were starting to become available, my little heart was aflutter with excitement that the nightmare was about to end.  I was sure that 2021 was going to be, not completely “normal,” but most of the way there.

Of course, I couldn’t get jabbed until the latter half of March 2021, and then only because a friend heard that the feds were taking walk-ups at a specific site.  I dropped everything and went over there to stand in line in the cold.  When I finally made it up to the door, I was told they couldn’t take any more walk-ups.  I nearly cried, and the woman next to me went ballistic.  Luckily, the FEMA employee thought I was with her, and he told us both he’d put us down for 2:00 p.m. appointments.   I left, came back, stood in line again, and, that time actually got in to get the shot. 

I was so excited, that as I sat the mandatory 15 minute waiting period to make sure I didn’t sprout immediate mutations, I was grinning behind my mask and  could barely sit still.  I called people to tell them how excited I was.  I was even more excited when I got the second dose two weeks later.  I thought, “Two more weeks, and I’m free!”

The day my second dose “turned 2” I was out with friends that night.  I was giddy.  I put my masks away.  I went to  Home Depot and the grocery store.

Then the numbers started climbing.  The “authorities” said that it was the unvaccinated, and that vaccinated people could follow different rules – that vaccinated people couldn’t, in most situations, pass the virus to others.  That made no sense to me.  Vaccines don’t work like bug zappers, electrocuting any virus flying near the vaccinated.  They help my body fight off infection – they don’t eradicate the virus instantly.  Since I was sure the “vaccinated can’t pass infection” line was bullshit, I was fairly certain that they had no idea about the rate at which vaccinated people could get sick with the new Delta variant that was wreaking havoc.  My masks came back out, and I chose my social events more carefully.

Restaurants opened, sporting events and concerts restarted, Stephen Colbert went back in the studio with a live audience, people could get their hair cut, and  I returned to the office on a part-time basis. 

But it wasn’t “normal.”  Mask wearers are still wearing masks.   People are taking rapid tests before they see their at-risk loved ones.   The economy was perhaps forever changed, as somewhere in the middle of all this, restaurant workers, retail workers, medical assistants, and truckers disappeared.  I haven’t celebrated Pi Day for two years in a row, and i didn’t hold the traditional Christmastime Craft Extravaganza at work, either.  (I do not want to be responsible for a super spreader event.)  People are acting like asshats on airplanes at a frightening frequency.  People without Covid are having trouble being seen at emergency rooms because the hospitals are again overwhelmed.  Some schools are struggling to keep classes in-person because of the number of staff who have Covid at any given time.  Nursing homes still have restrictive visitation policies in order to keep their residents safe. 

We are even more pandemic weary.

So, no, 2021 didn’t live up to its promise.   But, it moved in the right direction.   Accordingly, my hope for 2022 is much more tempered:  May 2022 keep moving in the right direction.

Book Review:  Sweet Silius Island Honey

I saw the following description of Sweet Silius Island Honey by Alex Scott and had to know the story: “A teenage street urchin and a magic-wielding single mother set sail for a perilous island where they meet a society of bee people.”

Reading the book from an adult perspective, it’s a highly imaginative, light read, that could use much greater detail and tighter editing. For my fantasy taste, which runs more to tales such as Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy, it was a too light a read.

However, one of the measures by which I judge a book is whether the characters and/or worlds the book introduces linger with me and make me wonder about them. The whole idea of a bee people society with its careful ties to honeybee behavior is thoroughly engrossing! Like the character Owen, I want to spend more time with the bee people! Additionally, the concept of magic wellsprings, such as the Golden Apple Tree, has the potential for all sorts of adventures!

So, if I look at the book from the perspective of younger readers, it holds up. I heartily recommend Sweet Silius Island Honey for child and young adult readers.

Recap:  Christmas Eve 2016 on the NYC Subway

Crazy lady on the subway train: BWaaaaaa –haaaa, oh and I told her, girl, and she just, she just. . .I’ve gotta do it. . .okay, umhmm, umhmmm. . . Bwaaaaaa-haaaaa.

Caleb: Who’s she talking to?

 Tom: The other crazy people in her head.

Crazy lady: Bwaaa-haaaa. Oh, my yes. I’m saying, you know I’m saying. . .<something unintelligible>.

Me: Is that beer she’s drinking?

Tom: Oh, yeah, that’s a big ol’ 40.

Caleb: I’m trying not to laugh at her, but I can’t stop!

Tom: Go ahead and laugh, it’s funny, and she’s not even going to notice.

Me: She looked right at me! Shhhhh!

Crazy lady: Uh-huh, uh-huh! Yeah! Bwaaaaa-haaaa! And then she…oh yeah, she. . .

Kate and Renee <as the big ol’ 40 rolls around the car spewing out what was left of the beer>: Mag, watch your feet!

Me (to myself): Okay, beer and crazy talk – I can handle that. Just another night at Bull’s Eye. . .As long as it doesn’t get any worse. . .

Me <sneaking a peak at the crazy lady, who has pulled down her pants and is squatting down>: Oh, no, she’s not going to. . .Oh for the love of God, she IS. . .

Kate: <running away>: Nooooooooooo!

Renee: What? Noooooooooooo!

Crazy lady: Ooooooooooh! Yea-uh! She’s gonna, and I’m saying. . .Bwaaaaaa-haaaaaaaa!

Tom: Everybody move on down!

They all left me sitting there as the crazy lady finished her business, pulled up her pants and took her seat again.

Tom: Why did you just sit there with your feet up?

Me: ‘Cause I’m not steady on my feet on this train, and the only thing worse than watching a crazy lady pee on a train is me falling down and rolling around in her beer and piss!

Everybody as the train pulled into the last stop: Get off! Hurry up! Get out of here!

In her defense, in all the signs on the train about how to behave on the train, not one said, “Don’t throw your beer bottle down the aisle,” or “Do not pull down your pants and pee on the floor.” Perhaps there will be some additional signs put up, now.

Learning on the Journey, For the Birds, Chimichanga–Hold the Drama

Still Learning On My Writing Journey

I learned a lot this week.  For instance, I learned about Tumblr when I accidentally signed up for it! I thought I was signing up for a website marketing tool, and, I guess it does accomplish that function, but it wasn’t exactly what I had anticipated.  My new Tumblr page is Now, if everything works right, this blog should automatically post there. . .

While on Tumblr, I found a great page “Writing with Color” ( that gives some incredibly helpful information on describing people. 

From the Twitterverse: Prior to this week, I knew there were a lot of people who self-published, but my eyes have been opened to how very many there are!  Many self-published authors say they never intend to do anything other than self-publish because of the control it gives them over their work.  I remain in the traditional publishing camp, but I now know of a lot of valuable resources should I ever decide to go the self-publishing route. 

Another eye opener this week on Twitter was that there’s a term for the inferiority complex I have in some aspects of my life.  It’s called impostor syndrome.  Many fully competent people fall prey  to it.  Learning how common it is I think will help me rise above it. 

Before this week, it had been almost 30 years since I had held a library card. On Monday, I went down to my local library branch, and in about 10 minutes I was a card-carrying library patron.  What I learned almost immediately after getting the card, was that it’s best to know exactly what book you’re looking for at the library.  It’s not like a book store where you can readily browse books by genre.  The library – at least the branch I visited — had non-fiction divided into topics, but fiction was just one big free for all.  Don’t get me wrong, there was, of course, order to the way books: were shelved (by author).  Although I’m sure that’s very efficient, it does not work for someone looking to just go in and find a light read. 

For the Birds

This week, I moved my birdfeeder back up to its winter placement — hanging off my deck.  During the warmer months, I don’t like it on the deck because of the mess the birds make.  But, in the winter I’m not much out there, so. . . It took a few days for the birds to find it.  But now they’re regularly visiting.

Picture from my deck January 2021

I hung a second feeder – a gift from my friend Katie – and filled it with black oiled sunflower seeds specifically for the cardinals.  Cardinals make a sound like someone “tsking” at you in disappointment.  When I hear one, I wonder what they’re chiding me for.   This week, I think they’re chiding me because they don’t like their birdfeeder.  Watching them, it seems like maybe the perch is too narrow.  So, they wait for the smaller birds to knock seed off of it.  Hmmm.   Maybe, it’s just that they’re lazy.

Short Story: Chimichanga, Hold the Drama

I gave the waiter my order – a chicken chimi and queso to accompany my free chips – and was opening the paperback I’d brought with me, when I happened to glance into the restaurant’s cantina.   There was a woman sitting at the bar with her back to me who seemed familiar. . .oh, please God, don’t let it be her. 

“Her” was Rhonda, the woman my ex-boyfriend Keith left me for and then married a few months later. My feelings about the whole situation are complicated, at least now they are.  When he dumped me, not so complicated:   I was devastated – not really surprised because I’d learned long before that most of his relationships of any kind were temporary – but I was devastated, nonetheless.  So, devastated that I’d first begged him to reconsider, and then even more pathetically tried to negotiate staying friends with both of them. 

That’s the kind of irrational shit you do when you’ve been manipulated by an expert narcissist for a year and a half, have come to rely solely upon him for your sense of self-worth and are convinced that everything – absolutely everything – is somehow your fault.

So, yeah, I was devastated when he left me, but time, perspective, and a group of loyal – and blunt — friends had changed my tune to “Thank God I Got Outta That Shitty Mess.”  I like to sing it to the melody of “Thank Ye Very Much” from the musical “Scrooge!”  I make the words fit. 

In retrospect, after our first six months together – the grooming period where he built me up – I’d become completely miserable, worrying that I wasn’t able to keep his attention anymore – that I wasn’t good enough for him or for anyone else.  Oh, yeah, he plucked my insecurities like a banjo. 

My recovery was helped along by the fact that, as my perspective cleared, I could see the person he truly was, rather than the person he had told me he was and who I wanted him to be.  To put it succinctly, he’s not a good person.   In fact, he’s a wart on the ass of humanity.  Okay, so maybe I’m bitter about being stupid enough to have fallen under his manipulative spell.  But, truly, he is not a good person.  Anyway, at this point, sitting in Rosita’s waiting on my queso, I didn’t freak out over Rhonda being there because of a broken heart, but because I genuinely don’t like my ex as a person and want nothing to do with him or his wife.  I’d like to forget that whole sorry chapter of my life.

But, maybe it wasn’t Rhonda, I told myself.  After all, her back was to me and there are a lot of short women with light brown hair.  Then I heard the laugh.  Rhonda has the laugh of a middle-aged phone sex worker who has lived her life abusing cheap whiskey and cigarettes.   No doubt:  it’s Rhonda.  That meant Keith would probably show up any minute, and then I’d have to put up with his insincere concern, contradicted by the contempt in his eyes, about me “having” to eat lunch alone.  And, because I’m a civil person, I’d probably just put up with it. 

I didn’t feel like playing the game today, and so I looked around for my waiter to cancel my order   Of course, all the other wait staff are out and about.  Not mine.  I contemplated walking out, but just then, I heard Rhonda say, “Hey, baby!”  Too late, now my leaving would just draw attention to myself.  I froze, and then thought maybe I could slide to the other side of my table, and there’d be less chance they’d notice me.   I stole a furtive glance into the cantina to gauge the timing of my move.  To my extreme surprise, I saw Rhonda passionately kissing a man.  A man who was decidedly NOT Keith.  A tall, carved, beauty of a man, at least 10 years younger than Keith.

“Holy hell,” I swore under my breath.  Well, I thought I said it under my breath, but apparently not because Rhonda pulled her tongue out of the young man’s mouth and looked right at me.   My instant reflex was to pretend I hadn’t been looking at her, but then I thought, screw that.  I looked her right in the eye, and, then, and I swear to God, it didn’t happen intentionally, my left eyebrow staged a revolt and raised itself to the middle of my forehead.

Rhonda swallowed hard confirming that, indeed, she was cheating on Keith.  I mean up to that point, they could’ve been broke up for all I knew, but her guilt had apparently caused her throat to revolt like my eyebrow.  (Yes, I know that analogy means that inside I was gloating, and that gave my eyebrow its independent liberty.) 

She patted her man’s leg and whispered to him, and then dismounted her barstool and stepped over to my table.

“Hello, Anita,” she said.

“Hello, Rhonda,” I replied evenly.  But, then my tongue joined my eyebrow in revolt, and I continued,  “I’m surprised to see you over on this side of town.”

She paused, and plastered the semblance of a sweet smile on her face.  Then, she uttered the line I’ve been waiting for someone to say to me my entire adult life, “It’s not what it seems.”

Okay, yeah, I was totally thrilled to have that line slow-pitched across my plate.  I couldn’t pass it up.  “Well,” I said slowly, for the most dramatic effect, “It seemed like you were cleaning that guy’s tonsils.”

She smiled again, but it was the kind of smile that is meant to be threatening.  “Okay,” she said.  “Let’s cut through the shit.   You know – or at least you should know – that Keith will always believe me over you.”

My devil tongue shot back, in the sweetest most insincere tone ever, “Well, of course he would.  You are, after all, his wife!” Then in a tone meant to sound unsure, I added, “You are, aren’t you?”

At that moment, my missing waiter appeared with the queso.  Rhonda stood unmoving as he placed it on the table and I thanked him.  Then she said, “Keith always says what a bitch you are.”

I laughed.  Then I said, “Okay, you’re really going to have to clue me in, ‘cause I’m not understanding how insulting me is supposed to keep me from outing your dirty little secret.”  Yeah, I actually said “dirty little secret.”  I’m not proud of that lack of inventiveness.

“Well, bitch,” she said in a vicious whisper, “This is how it’s gonna go.  I’m going to call Keith and tell him that I ran into you, and that you were completely bitchy to me and said you were going to ruin my life.”

I looked at her a moment, and then I laughed again.  I laughed the most mirthful laugh ever because I truly didn’t give a flying fuck about what she said, what she did, or anything about Keith or his life. 

“Well, then,” I said to her bluntly. “Do whatcha gotta do.  But, I’m going to get back to my book now.”

With that I picked up my paperback and never looked to see if she and her man stayed or left.