7 Rules of Twitter Bios, In other news…, Book Review – The Memories of Eskar Wilde by E.H. Wilde, Short Story – The Moonlight Sonata Challenge Part I

Seven Rules for a Great Twitter Bio?

I’ve been active on Twitter now for a year.  My handle is older than that – I joined in January 2015 to read something referenced on Facebook and couldn’t find my way around.  So, I quickly bailed, thinking it was shit for the birds.   (No, I’m not a dad.  Yes, I’m here all night.)  Luckily, Twitter held my account, just waiting for me to try again.  Twitter’s very altruistic like that.  Yes, Sheldon, that’s sarcasm.   

Anyway, in my year on Twitter, I’ve learned a lot of things.  Some of it is even useful.  Some…not so much.  But I’m not here to preach Twitter lessons – at least not my Twitter lessons. 

I can hear someone saying, “They’re not called Tweeters.”  Indeed, they are, Gretchen.  In fact, according to Reuters, I qualify as a “heavy Tweeter.” For those of you who just made a comment on my weight, shame on you, have you no imagination?  THAT’s the best you can do? Anyway, a “heavy Tweeter” is someone who logs on six or seven days a week and tweets about three or four times a week.   Well, actually, I tweet more than four times a week.  Perhaps that makes me a “Neutron Star Tweeter.”  (Don’t bother googling it.  It’s not a thing.  Yet.  Maybe, though, you should google “neutron star” – it’s fairly interesting…)

If that doesn’t convince you, Gretchen, that Twitter users are called Tweeters, google “Are Twitter users called Tweeters?”  The immediate answer:  “A person who Tweets can be called a Tweeter.”  I’m not sure it’s legit to capitalize the verb “tweets,” but I’m not wearing my Grammar Police hat at the moment

But, I digress (one of those phrases I try to use as often as I can).  So, anyways. . .where was I?  Oh, yes, the seven ingredients.  Wait before we get to them, please keep in mind a Twitter bio is limited to 160 characters. Okay, here goes:

 It’s accurate.  Tell what you really do or are.

I got this one.  It would be hard to fail since it’s pretty self-explanatory.  And, yet, there are these gems:

Proud thinker.    I’m not sure, but I think someone set the bar too low.

Orhtopedic/ medical doctor.        The typo is not mine.  It was made by the Tweeter.  The tweets do not authenticate the bio…

Entrepreneur. Gamer. Coffee maven. Bacon trailblazer. Travel evangelist. Music lover. Zombie nerd. Food specialist.   Soooo many people on Twitter are bacon and beer trailblazers.  What exactly does it take to blaze a trail with bacon? 

Journalist Union Chairman. Amnesty International Human Rights Defender & 4-Awarded United Nations Staff.  The little known secret about the Twitterverse: there are thousands of people who are high-ranking United Nations officials within it.  Unlike this guy, they’re usually humanitarian doctors.  Or international surgeons. Actually, it’s not such a secret – if you’re on Twitter for a week, you run into many of the United Nations crowd.  Remarkably, every United Nations doctor, surgeon, and chairman who follows me is middle-aged or a little older and male. 

I am seeking for imperfect gentle woman.  I think there’s a malfunction in the communicator device.  Quick, someone perform a level 3 diagnostic!

Board Certified Nato Neurosurgeon & Functional Neurosurgeon and Coordinator of the Microsurgical A Dad Eat healthy Fitness A Traveler.  NATO doctors are all the rage, too, as are naval admirals and 4-star generals.  I don’t know why I don’t just go ahead and grab one of these incredible catches. 

It’s exciting. Make it sound cool. Because it is.

My bio is not exciting. There.  Is that the first step to fixing it?   Perhaps…but I do think it sounds cooler than some…

Never look down on anyone, because you don’t know tomorrow, and believe in yourself okay.  Moving on.

Businessman.  So very many businessmen.   Nothing more to them than that they’re businessmen.  That is until you’re stupid enough to follow back.  Then the DMs with sweet, badly-spelled nothings begin.

It’s targeted. Attract people like yourself.

I started to say I nailed this one because a lot of fellow writers follow me.  But, so do bots, cryptocurrency evangelists, one lady selling nail services in Paraguay, generals, admirals, people devoted to creating a blue wave, people devoted to promoting a red wave, six different
Keanu Reeves and bacon trailblazers. 

Let’s be happy with what we have Life is simple, it’s the world that complicates it.    I don’t even know what to say, other than I guess the Tweeter wasn’t targeting people like me.

Hello.  In the normal world, a bio of “Hello” would not seem to be targeted. In fact, it would seem to be general to the point of being vague.   In the Twitterverse, however, it seems to signal porn. Lots and lots of porn. Similarly, “Looking to meet new friends” can also mean porn, but not always. It’s kinda tricky.  It can also mean foreign men trying to find an American sugar mama.   

<Nationality> who can care about anything in life hope you live well.  Calling out a whole nationality of people seems to me to both be targeted and not targeted.  The message itself is baffling.

It’s flattering. Tell about your accomplishments.

I guess I failed this one.  But, again I’m not alone…

Always hate will find a way.   Uhm…

Passionate.   Okay, well, congratulations on that.

Talk about magic!  Well, there’s no conceit in this guy’s family ‘cause he got it all.  (Oh, Gretchen, do I have to explain everything to you?  He got all the conceit.  <sigh>)

Sparkling!   Uhm, same guy two different Twitter handles, perhaps?

I’m nobody.  I made the mistake once of trying to be nice to a person whose bio said “I’m nobody” after he followed me and said hello. Oh, he was somebody.  Somebody trying to play upon other Tweeter’s heartstrings with his hangdog bio so that later he could attempt to play upon her pursestrings.  Go ahead and be nobody. 

It’s humanizing. Prove that you’re legit.

For the record, I am legit.  I promise I am not a bot, or a United Nations, 4-star General humanitarian surgeon.

We deserve happiness.   I’ve seen this multiple times.  Always on protected accounts with American in the names.  I’m thinking it’s one of two things:  1) a bot waiting to inundate my inbox with bullshit; or 2)  a secret code for some Q-anon subversion.  Either way, not biting.

I’m a bot.  Well, not humanizing, but definitely legit – legitly a bot.  I appreciate when they self-identify,

It’s intriguing. Invite people to follow you.

Again, I failed.  Well, except I think the “…yet” at the end of my bio (before the DM warning) might be a little intriguing. Yes?  Okay, maybe not.  Apparently, it’s hard to be intriguing, which might explain all the bacon and beer trailblazers.

Single.  Amazingly enough, a lot of people share this same bio.  The mind boggles.

A joy it will be one day, perhaps to remember even this.    Maybe this should be an example of how to meet this rule because I have to admit I want to know what the hell “this” is.  Yes, yes, Gretchen, I know it’s a quote from The Aeneid.  But, how does it apply to their bios – oh, did I mention there are multiple people with this quote as their bios?  And, what about their lives is so epic to be boiled down to a haunting line from The Aeneid?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Loving Nature.  So, uhm, does it mean he’s a nature lover, or he has a loving nature.  Or, he likes to do his loving out in nature.  Perhaps intriguing, but I’m not asking. 

It’s connected. Use hashtags, @s, or links.

I threw in a hashtag and the link to my webpage.  Yay me!

I prefer serious relationship.  #proudsingle #lookingforman. The article doesn’t say this, because who would really think it necessary, but, perhaps you should make sure your hashtags go together when you put them in your bio.  I’m looking for something serious.  I’m proud to be single.  I’m looking for a man.  Maybe better get your personalities together before writing your bio, Sybil.

I think I got 2.5 out of the seven.  Maybe I’ll rewrite my bio.  I hate writing bios.  Maybe it’s good enough.  Or, maybe, just maybe, I’ll say I’m a bacon trailblazer.  If you have ideas, let me know.

In other news…

Well, Elon’s in charge now.  Word on Wall Street is that, at this point, Twitter’s only worth half of what he paid for it.  Consequently, he may no longer be the world’s richest man. Are you feeling sorry for him?  I remain a little disappointed that he made such a poor deal to begin with, but I’m optimistic that he will turn a turd into a gem…or at least a toadstool.

Some advertisers have departed – not necessarily due to Elon – and he’s said he’s looking for ways to make up the revenue, including charging high-profile people for their blue check marks.  He floated charging $20/month for the checkmark.  Then after Stephen King called him Tom Sawyer (on Twitter, of course), he dropped the price to $8.  Unfortunately, blue check marks don’t mean much as Valerie Bertinelli proved to the world when she changed the public name of her verified account to “Elon Musk” and gently trolled him with it.  Brilliant!    I love her!

He’s only been in a short time but some changes are readily evident.  Hate speech is up, mostly because our boy fired just about everybody who was monitoring those kinds of things.

Looks like maybe the restrictions on following too many people too quickly may be looser, too.  That’s a strange result given Elon’s fit over the number of bots in the Twitterverse.  Perhaps it’s because the Tesla engineers he put to sniffing Twitter’s code have a more technically advanced method of detecting bots.  Or, perhaps, like the hate speech increase, it’s because our boy eliminated too many people from the payroll without a plan for covering their duties.

Another event that occurred shortly after Elon took over:  Amber Heard deleted her account.  I don’t know if his takeover has a causal relationship to her departure, and I don’t much care.  I simply say, good riddance.

The ride is just beginning – I only hope it’s not on Tesla autopilot…

Book Review:  The Memories of Eskar Wilde by E.H. Wilde

If you can suspend your disbelief at some fantastical aspects of this story (and, I suggest that you do so), you will enjoy a marvelously told tale full of intrigue in The Memories of Eskar Wilde. 

Eskar is the narrator, and at the time he’s telling the tale, he’s just turned eighteen.  His story, however, starts much earlier – going back to his earliest memories with his parents Gabriel and Sascha.  It’s when he reaches his twelfth year that the action truly begins.  While on a business trip to France, Gabriel is killed in a hit-and-run accident (or is it?) in Paris.  Eskar and his mother immediately fly from their home in Australia to France to see to his father’s affairs there.

Included in those affairs is the recent purchase of a “fixer-upper”  estate in the south of France.  Once Eskar and Sascha arrive at the estate, Clos des Seps, they decide to delay their return home.  Eskar becomes driven to learn the secrets of his father’s life, and his best friends aid him in unraveling the mystery of his father’s attachment to France.

Here’s where we get to the fantastical aspects of the story.   One of Eskar’s best friends is a cat that may or may not be the reincarnation of his father.  Eskar and others ask the cat’s opinions – no, the cat doesn’t actually speak, but he makes his opinions known.  The cat goes everywhere with Eskar and is accepted in fine dining establishments throughout Paris.

 In addition to the cat, for a period of time, Eskar reports seeing and conversing with his father’s ghost.  Everyone takes that in stride when he tells them about it.

But the most fantastical aspect of all is Eskar, himself. At twelve years old, he’s not heretofore had the presence of mind to understand that his father’s profession would not require travel to France and has not noticed the family bodyguard who’s apparently been around his whole life, but he’s an expert on wine and French cooking and is a prodigy on the piano.  He runs around Paris, making reservations for himself and his thirteen-year-old friend, at fine restaurants, making small talk smoothly in French with people he encounters along the way.  In my opinion, this is all highly questionable for a boy of twelve.   I enjoyed the education I received on wine and food pairings and Paris, but it would have been more believable from someone older.

But, as I suggested at the top of this review, I suspended my disbelief because the tale itself is outstanding and is so masterfully told.  Against that reality is overrated.  E.H. Wilde, if indeed that is his name, is a virtuoso of the written word, but even more impressive, he’s a magical weaver of intrigue.  There are numerous twists and turns, and he keeps them all on track, closing the loop on every single thread.   And, he chose (wisely) not to tie everything up in a happily-ever-after bow at the end.  He lays hints that perhaps, over time, everyone may get their hearts’ desires, but he doesn’t force it.  Eskar, after all, is only eighteen, and his father’s only been gone six years.  It’s not time yet for any happily ever afters.

I heartily recommend this book for readers of all ages! 

Short Story:  The Moonlight Sonata Challenge – Part I

Backstage, Lily felt the old familiar butterflies as she heard the orchestra begin to tune.  As she always did before a performance, she said quietly to herself, “I am Lily Gabriela Machera-Davies,” and thought back to her first recital almost 20 years before.

* * *

When her instructor, Mrs. Reddy, introduced her, Lily froze.  Her legs wouldn’t have taken her out onto the stage if she wanted them to, and she definitely did not want them to.   Mrs. Reddy said her name again, expectantly; Lily did not move. Mrs. Reddy repeated her name a third time.  Robbie whispered loudly behind her, “Get out there!”  Suddenly unfrozen, Lily bolted down the stage steps and out the door into the hallway.  Moments later her father found her there in her beautiful purple and black recital dress, sitting on the floor against the wall, her knees drawn to her chest. 

“Lily,” he said, the concern evident in his voice.  “What’s the matter? Are you all right?  Are you sick?”

Lily left her head against her knees. 

“Well, something must be the matter,” her dad said gently.  “You’re hiding out here in the hall instead of playing your song for your great-grandmother Maria who came all this way to hear you.”

He squatted in front of her and reached out to pull her face up from her knees, saying, “Look at me, sweetpea.”

Her normally porcelain face was crimson in his hand, and she whispered, “I just couldn’t go on.   I couldn’t!”

“Why, honey?” he asked.

She said in a small voice, “I was too scared.” 

He looked at her lovingly and said, “Okay.   We all get scared sometimes.   Let’s just go out and watch the rest of the recital.”  With that, he took her hand and tried to pull her up from the floor.

She pulled her hand from his, and, her face flame-red again, said, “I can’t go out there with everybody  I just want to go home!  Please, just take me home!”

“Okay, let’s just go and get everyone…“

“No!” she cried.  “Please, daddy, I can’t see them right now!”   Tears began silently sliding down her face.

He pulled out his phone and sent a text.  Seconds later, a tone from his phone indicated he’d received a reply.

“Okay,” he said.  “Mom and Angela will ride with your uncle Michael.   Mom will get your things.  Let’s go.”

Later, at home, Lily went straight to bed after hanging up her beautiful recital dress.  Her mom stopped in to say goodnight.  Sitting beside Lily on the bed, she favored Lily with a loving gaze and said, “It will all seem better in the morning, Lily-bug.   I love you, and I’m so proud of you.”

Lily pulled the covers to her chin as she blushed to the roots of her hair.  She thought, “How can you be proud?   I ran off like a baby!”  But, she said nothing as her mother kissed her forehead.

There was a knock at the door, and her mom went out into the hallway.   Then, she came back to Lily’s bedside and said, “Nonna Sophia brought Bisnonna Maria to talk with you.”

Lily’s eyes got big, and she shook her head emphatically.  Her mother patted her cheek and said, “It’ll be all right.”  She moved out of the way as Nonna Sophia brought in a dining room chair and sat it beside Lily’s bed.  Then both women left the room, and Bisnonna Maria came in, closed the door softly, walked over, and sat in the chair.

She was a thin woman in her late seventies, with perfect posture and her white hair pulled back into a simple bun.  She wore a beautiful silk dress in various shades of teal and purple swirled together with black velvet low-heeled shoes.  Both arms were loaded with gold bracelets, and almost every one of her perfectly lacquered fingers wore gold rings.  Her face was flawlessly made up, and she looked much younger than her age.  She favored Lily with a small smile on her fuchsia lips.

“So, you chose not to perform this evening,” she said in perfect, Italian-accented, English.

Lily nodded.

“And why did you make this decision?”

Lily shrugged.

“Hmm,” Bisnonna Maria said.  “I heard you play your piece yesterday.  It lacked the feeling that Beethoven should invoke, but you played it technically well.   Why did you not play it, tonight?”

Her dark eyes bored into Lily’s, and Lily said meekly, “I was afraid.”

“Afraid of a monster?”

Lily shook her head.

“Then afraid that someone would bring you harm?”

Lily shook her head.

“So, then, afraid of what?”

In her meek voice, Lily answered, “That I would mess up in front of everybody.”

Bisnonna Maria scoffed.  “And, so what if you messed up?”

“I would be embarrassed.”

“And, yet, you were embarrassed anyway, were you not?”

“Yeah, but, people would laugh at me…and…”  Her voice trailed off.

“And, what?” Bisnonna Maria asked

Lily answered with her eyes downcast, “Well…you were a concert pianist, and I’m not that good….”

“Of course, you’re not ‘that good.’  You’re nine years old.  Do you think I was a concert pianist at nine years old?”

Lily shrugged.

“No, I was not.   I didn’t expect you to play like a concert pianist.  I expected you to play like you – although, truthfully, with a little more fire than I heard yesterday.  But, that will come when you feel the music.”

Bisnonna Maria pursed her lips and said, “I don’t think you were afraid.  I think you just lacked confidence.  Was that because you didn’t know your piece – because you hadn’t practiced enough?”

“No, I know it, and I practice all the time!”

“Well, then was it because you thought the piano would break?”

“No,” Lily said with a hint of laughter.

“Then, it must’ve been that you just didn’t believe you could do it.”

Lily shrugged.

“Hmmm,” said Bisnonna Maria.  “So, why do you not have confidence in yourself?”

“I don’t know,” Lily replied.  “I don’t know how to have confidence.   How do you get it?”

“Well, one way is to keep practicing.   But, that’s not all of it.  Let me tell you about some people who have great self-confidence.   Self-confidence looks different for each person, and each person finds their way.   Perhaps you will hear something that will lead you to your own.”

Next time: Bisnonna tells three stories of her family and her friend.

Second Chances:  A Fine Line Between Forgiveness and Stupidity?, Book Review – I Should’ve Worn a Curtain, Short Story – A Sweaty Man’s Gym Sock

Second Chances:  A Fine Line Between Forgiveness and Stupidity?

“To err is human; to forgive divine.” I’ve heard people credit Shakespeare with that quote, but it was coined by English satirical poet Alexander Pope (May 21, 1688 – May 30, 1744).  It’s from his 1711 poem An Essay on Criticism.  Interestingly, that same poem also gave us “A little learning is a dang’rous thing,” and “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” both of which also relate to my subject here.

We all like to be granted second chances, and we all promise to make the most of them.  Some of us do make good on our promises; others do not.

So, how do you, as the potential granter of a second chance determine which erring humans are deserving of our little divine boons?  How do you navigate the line between “a little learning” shutting down any possibilities and rushing in like a fool?  Nietzsche said (in so many words) that people tend more to ask for forgiveness than to give forgiveness to their offenders.  Some students of human behavior credit that with a need to control, but, I think it’s more a self-protection instinct.  I trusted Person X before, and they hurt me.  I can’t give Person X the opportunity to do that again.

A friend of mine was married for the majority of their life when they found out their spouse was cheating.  After some time apart, the spouse came begging for forgiveness, said they’d never cheat again, agreed to go to marriage counseling, the whole nine yards.  This was a person, a good person, my friend had known all their life.  So, my friend agreed to take back their cheating spouse.  Six months later, they caught their spouse still cheating with the same person.  My friend, of course, was shattered, but worse than the hurt was their feeling that they’d been stupid.  The spouse was the one that behaved badly, but my friend was the one feeling ashamed because they’d let the cheater back in.

My friend was not foolish, and their act of forgiveness was nothing of which to be ashamed.  I admire them for what they did.  Now, when the spouse comes up in conversation, I roll my eyes.  Never would I have thought that would be the case – I had always seen them as admirable – not someone who could behave so hurtfully.  But the fact of the matter is that people do change, and sometimes they do not change for the better.

What if the offender doesn’t apologize?  Whether it’s through their narcissist belief that they have a right to do whatever they want and that they alone can dictate what can be considered offensive, or because they were “just telling the truth” (as they alone see it), they just don’t or won’t apologize?   Can forgiveness be granted if the offender is not repentant?  What if the offender makes insincere apologies, such as those followed by “but” – “but I was justified in doing it because…” or “but it’s YOUR fault because you…”?  Should forgiveness be granted then, or are you just stupidly enabling their future bad behavior?

It’s difficult sometimes when it’s your loved one granting the second chance.  You want the best for them; you want them to make good decisions and to be happy. 

Another friend is beside themselves because their loved one is granting a cheating partner a second chance.  My friend insists that this person is a serial cheater and is just a bad person, in general.  Is my friend right?  They certainly think they are and cannot stop themselves from harping on the subject.  To everyone.  At every opportunity.

So where is that magical boundary between forgiveness and stupidity? Is it clearly marked with flashing warning signs? Will I know it when I see it?

I think that every circumstance is different.  There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to any of the situations where you hold someone else’s second chance in your hands.  You pays your money, you takes you chances. So, rush on in fool with your little bit of learning.

But there is a universal truth in regard to your loved one’s second chance decisions:  you cannot make that decision for them.  You can’t force them to see things from your perspective.   I think that as a friend/loved one, you absolutely have a responsibility to give your counsel.  But, after you’ve had your say, shut the fuck up unless asked. 

These are the kinds of things I think about on rainy weekends.

In other news:

I have two more short stories that will be published soon! More on those when they come out.


There were rumors that our boy Elon and Twitter may have been having settlement discussions ahead of the trial slated to start later this month.  Said rumors appear to have been nothing more than farts in the wind given that Elon announced he was reinstating his purchase offer. Twitter appears poised to accept it.

Analysts on these kinds of litigation say that the jockeying

going on between lawyers on both sides over what information could be subpoenaed seemed to be going more Twitter’s way. Given that, the inevitability of the outcome may be what turned Elon around again.  Then there’s the fact that Twitter’s stock price has recently come out of the basement, and at the time of Elon’s announcement was trading at about $52 per share. Money talks; bullshit walks.

But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This may just be a stalling tactic. The court has declared Elon has until October 28 to complete the deal. If that deadline is missed, the trial will move forward next month.

Meanwhile, the fallout is still occurring from Elon’s decision to weigh in via Twitter on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He pissed off a whole nation with that move.  Our boy’s always about making friends and influencing people…


Winter is coming.  Have I mentioned that I hate winter?

Book Review: I Should’ve Worn a Curtain by Samyra Alexander

Had I read this novella’s description or reviews on Amazon, I probably wouldn’t have read the story  — not because the description or the reviews were poor, but because I wouldn’t have thought the subject matter something I’d find interesting.

Thank goodness I just went with the intrigue of the title because I would’ve missed out on a great read!

Shaena has an eating disorder, a disorder she tries to hide from everyone, even from herself.  The reasons for her food issues and her denial of them are rooted in her childhood.  They begin to emerge as the story unfolds, but Shaena still resists coming clean with her loved ones regarding her struggle.  This resistance results in her lying to everyone to hide her binging.  It’s the lying that destroys her relationship with Mike, her quasi-boyfriend. But, following that break-up, at the end of the story, Shaena finally admits to Ava (her sponsor from Overeaters Anonymous)  her binging and bulimia, her guilt over those issues, and her remorse for being untruthful.  The story ends with Shaena on the cusp of healing (admitting you have a problem is the first step).

The particulars of the story are about having an eating disorder, but the theme of the story is truly about how we cope with the stressors in our lives and how to seek help to better deal with them.  

Ms. Alexander is a wordsmith.  By that, I don’t mean she uses big words or flowery language.  Her language is simple and flows wonderfully – her story emerges cleanly without the words themselves detracting from it.

I’ll admit I was a little dissatisfied with the ending – I wanted to know more about Shaena’s relationship with her mother and if Mike truly did just walk away.  But, I was ready to accept that the point of the novella was that Shaena got to the watershed moment that would allow her to heal. 

Then I saw there was a sequel, Curtain 2, and I immediately stuck it in my Kindle list!

Short Story: A Sweaty Man’s Gym Sock

I remember when first we met.  Your appreciation for me shone in your eyes, and in your presence, I felt free, released from all that confined me, able to relax, stretch out, just be me. 

Those early days were a whirlwind.  I experienced so much I otherwise would not have; It was life-changing.  I was grateful to have you in my life and wore myself ragged supporting you, bolstering you, sopping up the emotional baggage that sometimes spewed from you with the force of a waterfall.

Things changed.  Suddenly, your light no longer shone on me.  For days, weeks at a time, I was in the darkness, drenched from the last waterfall, alone and feeling unworthy, unclean, while you gave your light to others and excluded me.

Without warning, like the roof had been ripped off, your light shone again, and I unwound myself from the miserable ball I’d cowered into, tentatively straightening in your light, and then I was bright, and I smelled like the air after a fresh rain.  But, although the light was there, its purpose was now to expose my inadequacies and highlight the ways in which I was imperfect, aged, worn.

Then, I was taking the pounding of your emotions, again absorbing it all, doing my best to support you as I felt myself beaten down and drenched. 

And, of course, the darkness came again, and parts of me withered and molded.

The cycles came faster and faster, and with each ride on your emotional rollercoaster, I was less and less bright, became dingy and threadbare, threatening to fall apart.  Your light could no longer make me feel free.  It just made me dread the darkness.  Still, I supported you.  Still, I sopped up your emotional garbage.

But there was a spot within me, a spot that refused to be completely sullied and pummelled by your manipulative workout.

That indomitable core pulled me out of the trash heap on which you eventually tossed me, as uncaring as you’d truly been all along.  That tiny spot of internal sunshine scrubbed me clean, refreshed me.  Over time, I became free, truly free, and able to turn a bright face again to the world, feeling a little worn for your use, but worthy and able to live life without considering what you would think. 

Now, you see me refreshed, so you try to shine your false light on me.  Oh no, I know that your light offers only darkness.   I will never again let you, or anyone, treat me like a sweaty man’s gym sock.

Mass Shootings in America, Book Review – Oliver’s Antiques by Vincenza di Martino, Short Story – Concourse B Homecoming

Aaron Salter – Police officer for three decades

Massing Shootings in America

Mass Shootings in America

The country is still reeling from the latest mass casualty school shooting.  This one in Uvalde, TX.  At an elementary school.  Babies. 

Katherine Massey – Civil rights advocate and writer

According to an NPR article, it was the 27th school shooting of 2022. 

Before that tragedy, we were reeling from the May 14, 2022, mass shooting at the Tops grocery store in Buffalo, NY.  Older, peaceful people just doing their jobs, socializing or buying food. 

Ruth Whitfield – The glue that held her family together
Roberta Drury – Moved to Buffalo to help her brother

Again, according to NPR, for 2022, there were at least 200 mass shooting events in America as of 5/24/2022.  Included in this count are shootings where more than one person was wounded or killed by gunfire from guns brandished by citizens, not police.  As I write this, it’s the 160th day of 2022.  This number does not cover shootings with only one casualty.  That’s a topic for another day.

Celestine Chaney – Survived poverty as a single mother, breast cancer, and three brain aneurisms
Heyward Patterson – Church deacon who helped others get groceries

In the Buffalo shooting, people were murdered somewhere they felt safe all because some hate-filled loser thought it would make him a big man with other hate-filled losers to shoot defenseless people in the aisles of a supermarket.   Murderous racism and the deranged compulsion to seek fame for that lunacy was the motivation for the Buffalo shooting. 

The motivation for the Uvalde shooting, in my opinion, appears to be some loser angry about something who decided to take out his anger on someone and so, because he was a sniveling coward, decided a bunch of 10-year-old children were the perfect target, and because, again, he was a sniveling coward, he needed multiple guns to do it. 

Andre Mackneil – Loving father with 3 year od son would do anything for his family
Margus D. Morrison – School bus aid and loving man

The regularity of mass murder events in America is a unique disaster among developed countries.  This is a distinction for which we should be ashamed.  And, it’s a multi-pronged problem that requires a multi-pronged solution.  That’s right, there’s not just one magic answer to this problem, just as there’s not just one reason shooters go on murderous rages.  If anybody tells you they have THE solution, walk away because they’re at the very least delusional and will offer nothing workable.

Geraldine Talley – Helped others in need

I don’t claim to know the answer, but I think the solution package includes:

Pearly Young – Substitute teacher and pillar of the community
  • Figuring a way to make children safe to learn that does not reduce the teacher pool to just those people who get a boost from walking around with a gun strapped to their bodies.
  • Reforming mental health treatment/services, particularly for disturbed youth.  The options available to parents with children who have mental health issues are appalling.
  • Conflict resolution courses and programs.
  • Increased parental reinforcement that the glamour of violence in entertainment and music is not a model for living in a free society.
  • Stop making mass shooters famous.  Refer to them by a number, not by name. “Nothing to see here just Loser 200 for year 2022.”  On the other hand, the names of the murdered should be memorialized forever.
  • Consistent background checks and renewal of the ban on private ownership of assault rifles.
Layla Salazar – Loved to swim, dance and run
Nevaeh Bravo – Played softball and helped her parents

Yes, I said it.  Consistent background checks and a renewed ban on assault weapons.  I’ve been torn about assault weapons for several years.  A gun enthusiast I know told me years ago that these weapons represented advanced technology, and said that gun lovers and hunters should have access to the latest technology just like video game lovers or car lovers.  I could see the point. 

Makenna Lee Elrod -Smile that lit up a room
Jose Flores – Helper who wanted to be a police officer to protect others

However, I have also spoken with hunters who say they would never use an assault rifle to hunt – that it’s not sporting.  I very much see that point, too, and I’ve decided I agree with it. 

So then who are the civilians who demand to have guns capable of murdering 58 people and wounding 546 in 10 minutes, as happened in the slaughter that took place in Las Vegas in 2017?  Clearly, homicidal maniacs.  And drug dealers.  And conspiracy theorists.  And militias plotting sedition and other crimes, which most likely loops me back to conspiracy theorists.  But, and this is a really big but, also ordinary citizens who enjoy going to a range and putting a bunch of holes in a target.

Xavier Lopez – Honor roll student and artistic
Maranda Mathis – Fun, spunky and smart, loved nature
Tess Mata – Athletic and a cat lover
Eliahna “Ellie” Garcia – Planning her quinceañera dance
Rojelio Torres – Loved life, football, Pokemon, and video games
Eliahna Torres – Seeking spot on city all-star softball team
Annabelle Rodriguez – Honor roll student

I get that.  I wouldn’t mind going to a range myself and firing one of those guns just to feel the power and see the destruction.  So, maybe ranges can be licensed to provide semi-automatic guns so people can experience them  Or, maybe we license clubs where such enthusiasts can, as a community, enjoy the guns, with every member of the club held responsible if their compadres go berserk and shoot up a grocery store because they’re racist lunatics or blow the faces off babies because they’re mad at their life.  Okay, that’ group accountability thing may not be a workable idea.  I’m spitballing, and, yes, I’m sad, angry and frustrated.

Jackie Cazares – Full of life, would help anyone
Uziyah Garcia – Sweet boy who enjoyed passing football with his grandfather

There’s a lot of rational discussion needed to address this problem.  Rational discussion is not:

  • Screaming for a ban on all guns and  abolishment of the NRA
  • Threatening to pull a Waco if the government tries to take your guns
  • Demanding that anyone who’s ever been treated for depression, anxiety, etc., be denied purchase of a gun
  • Declaring that the answer is that all responsible citizens, especially teachers, also arm themselves

Rational discussion is looking at cause and effect and the greater good. 

Jayce Carmelo Luevanos – Made coffee for his grandparents every morning
Jailah Nicole Silguero – Loved dancing and being outdoors
Maite Rodriguez – Wanted to go to Texas A&M to be a marine biologist

Amerie Jo Garza – Protective of baby brother and dreamed of being an art teacher

Guess what?  The root cause of mass shootings is not guns.  So, although I, personally, do not believe that the general citizenry should have access to guns that inflict massive casualties in seconds, simply acting on the availability of assault weapons alone will only dent the number of piled bodies, and most likely will have no effect upon the number of shooting events.  Banning all guns is not realistic in today’s America, and, beyond that, will likely increase the number of enraged lunatics looking for a way to inflict harm.  Even if those statements were not fact, banning all guns does not address the root cause of so many people deciding to go on  murderous rampages.

Alexandria “Lexi” Aniyah Rubio – Straight As, loved sports, wanted to be a lawyer to make a difference
Alithia Ramirez – Loved to draw and used her art to comfort others

So, in my opinion, the first part of our rational discussion is looking at causes.  Come to agreement on, say, ten factors that seem to have a strong propensity to lead to the murderous rampages.  Then discuss and come to agreement on actionable strategies for addressing each of those top ten causes.

In the course of looking at causes and strategies, we must also examine what freedom means to us as a society.  Is it metal detectors at school entrances and children locked up for eight hours each day with parents having to submit to identity verification and a  threat level assessment to let them in the school?   Outside of schools, is it armed escorts into grocery stores, theaters and concerts?   (I saw that in Guatemala and China.  I didn’t feel free or particularly safe, but maybe to others freedom can look that way.)  My point is that we have to weigh our definition of freedom with the action plans we develop.

Irma Linda Garcia – Taught for 23 years, left behind four children

Doesn’t sound easy, does it?  It’s decidedly not easy.

Eva Mireles – Taught for 17 years, left behind a daughter

Please look at the pictures of the peaceful people who lived good lives and the innocent children who had so much potential. Don’t we owe it to them and their grieving families to make the effort to protect others from the same fate?

In other news: 

Our buddy Elon Musk this week further threatened to pull out of his offer to buy Twitter.  His claimed reason is that Twitter hasn’t meaningfully responded to his requests to provide data regarding how they determine the level of fake and bot users.  Twitter’s competency in determining those numbers is important because advertisers ostensibly base their advertisement level on Twitter based on the reported “true” userbase.  Wall Street for the most part thinks Elon’s just trying to get out of the deal because Twitter’s stock price has tanked, and Elon’s stuck in a deal to buy it at $54 per share.  The State of Texas, however, thinks our boy Elon may be on to something and has launched an investigation into how the social media company computes its userbase.

Oliver’s Antiques: Witch’s Folly Book I by Vincenza di Martino

Just as Gemma is contemplating taking a DNA test to find her birth family, her adopted mother asks her to go antiquing with her.  Her adopted parents had divorced, and Gemma lived with her mother who had been blindsided by her husband leaving her.  So, although antiquing wasn’t what Gemma wanted to do, she went along.  Her life was forever changed by that jaunt when they entered a strange little shop named Oliver’s Antiques.

Over the next few days, Gemma learns that magic is real, there’s another world (Goblidet) where magic use and fantastical beings are commonplace, and that she herself is from that world!  Her maternal Aunt Orianna Oliver (proprietor of the antique shop) takes her to visit Goblidet, and for the first time in her life, she feels she belongs.

But, everything is not sparkles and unicorns in Goblidet.  There is a dark undercurrent of evil tied to the mystery surrounding the death of Gemma’s birth parents, and soon that evil is focused on Gemma.

This is an imaginative tale in need of significant editing – both in sentence structure/typos (e.g., ‘quite’ instead of ‘quiet,’ ‘than’ instead of ‘that,’  noun/verb tense mismatches, etc.) and in plot/characterization.  One example of a plot issue is that the main characters go to significant effort to set protection spells around their home, and then they go outside those shields to take a horse and wagon unprotected across the countryside to town, not once, but twice.  What was the point of the protections if they were just going to leave them?   In addition, point of view switches frequently, and at times it leads to a little confusion.

So, with those issues, why have I given the book four stars?   Put quite simply, it’s because the inventiveness of the tale hooked me quickly.  I had to know what happened  Then as I got toward the end of the book, the foreshadowing I perceived hooked me further —  I need to know who the mystery woman is (I have a guess).  I need to understand more of the power of  “kismet,”  and whose lives it saves in the future (again, I have a guess).

Technical issues aside, it’s an enjoyable story, and I recommend it. I look forward to the second book of Witch’s Folly!

Short Story: Concourse B Homecoming

Russ sat at a table in the semi-self-service restaurant across from gate B4.  He drank his Rolling Rock beer, a surprising choice for a burly, giant ginger of a man, but he didn’t give a hoot what people thought of his beverage choice.  Neither did he care what the woman seated across from him thought about his arms full of tattoos, which she was trying to surreptitiously study.  He would have cheerfully answered questions if she had them, and he considered for a brief moment, just saying to her, “Which one has you bothered?”  But, he couldn’t take the chance on getting involved in some brouhaha .   He didn’t intend to start a brouhaha today.  But, then he never intended to start them, but he seemed to do it more often than not when out in public.

So, he ignored her stares, drank his beer, and glanced anxiously out Gate B4’s windows, looking for flight 1257 to pull up to the gate.  He pulled his phone out of his pocket to check the time again.  Another 15 minutes before the plane would land.  As he was staring at the screen, a call came through from Anita.  He glanced at the old biddy across from him, and took the call, anyway.  Let her listen in if she wanted.

“Hey, babe.  Everything okay?” he said quietly.  His obvious Texas drawl was a sharp contrast to all the Philly accents around him. 

“Hey,” Anita replied.  “Just calling to see if you’ve had a come apart yet.” 

The laughter in her voice made him smile.  One of the things he loved about her was how she wasn’t hesitant to give him crap even when he was in an off mood.  He was running high on anxiety today and had needed some time to himself while he waited for the plane.  So, Anita was out in the cell phone lot waiting for him to tell her that the plane had landed.

“You’re a funny, funny lady,” he said to her.  “But, no I haven’t had a come apart yet, but damn, time is goin’ extra slow today.”

She chuckled softly and replied, “The waitin’s almost over.  And, he’s fine,  He’s gonna be just fine.”

“I won’t believe that until I got him in my arms, and he ain’t in my arms just yet.”

“I know, babe.”

More quietly, he said, “I need to figure out what to do about tomorrow.  I don’t want him to be by himself his first day here.  Maybe I should call in to work.”

“Russ,” she cautioned. “We’ve talked about this.  He won’t be by himself.  You can’t take tomorrow off, too.  We –.”

“I know, we need the money,” he finished for her. 

Just then his phone buzzed, and he looked at the screen.  He said, “Baby, that’s Jenny.  Let’s me get her real quick.”

He switched calls and said, “He ain’t here yet.”

“Well, hello to you, too!  Is that the kind of telephone manners they taught you down in Texas?” Jenny asked him good-naturedly.  She was his aunt on his mama’s side, the aunt who he was the spitting image of and who took him in when his life in Houston fell apart three years before. 

“No, ma’am,” he replied, smiling.  “I’m just anxious.”

“I know, buddy.  He’s gonna be fine.”

“I’ll tell you like I just tol ‘Nita. I won’t know that ‘il I got him in my arms.”

They chatted for several more minutes, Russ looking eagerly out the window for the entire conversation.  When he saw the plane taxiing, he said hurriedly, “I gotta go, Jenny.  His plane is here.”

He looked around, and the old biddy smiled at him.  For some reason he found himself saying to her, “My son’s flying in by himself.”

“I gathered that,” she said.  She shrugged, “Sometimes I just can’t stop myself listening to people.  So, you both flew into Philly to meet up?”

Russ was completely confused by her words, and it showed on his face when he said, “What?  No, I live here.  He’s coming in from Houston.”

It was her turn to look surprised.  She said, “They left you on the concourse without a ticket to meet his plane?”

He tapped his phone and said, “The flight information showin’ he’s an unaccompanied minor is all on here and they let me in with that.”

She smiled and said, “That’s cool that they let you do that!”

A man further down the table interrupted with, “You don’t have a ticket and you’re at the gate?  They’re not supposed to do that.   Anybody could say they have a kid on a plane.”

Before Russ could even respond, the old biddy snapped, “He just said he went through security with the credentials for his son’s flight.”

“I  don’t care,” the man responded, his voice rising.  “It’s a security issue.   We need to get TSA down here.”

Russ blurted out, “Screw that and screw you.  My son, who I haven’t seen in a year is getting off that plane any second now.  I followed all the rules, and I ain’t got time right now for any crap.  I’m gonna finish my beer, and then you and TSA can find me over at the gate.”

With that, he swallowed the last of his Rolling Rock, slammed the bottle down on the table,  and walked across the concourse.  He couldn’t believe it.  Josh wasn’t even off the plane, and already he was into it with some guy at an airport restaurant.  Maybe his ex was right.  Maybe he was too hotheaded to be a good father.  But, at this point, he didn’t have any choice but to grow up and make better choices. 

His ex, Sheila, had met a halibut fisherman on vacation in Zihuantanejo, and decided to run off to Alaska to be with him. She left Josh with her mother – not even bothering to let Russ know.  When her mother developed health issues,  she called Russ’ family, who called him. So now, three years after the court had allowed Sheila to take Josh from him after she exaggerated his temper and his minor brushes with the law, Josh was coming to live with him. His ex-mother-in-law couldn’t even wait for Russ to make arrangements to drive down and get him – she demanded Russ immediately buy an airline ticket and Russ complied, afraid that she’d change her mind and send Josh somewhere else.   His boy was coming to stay. For good.  The thought made him smile to himself.   He took a deep breath and approached the gate agent.

“Hey, man,” he said.  “My boy’s getting’ off this flight, and some guy over there is saying I can’t be here to greet him.  But, I have the flight information here, and I went through security.”

The gate agent said, “Russell Saunders?”

Surprised,  Russ said, “Yeah?”

The gate agent said, “You’re good.”  He tapped his computer monitor.  “Says right here to expect you.”

“Great, thanks.”

People started coming up the ramp from the airplane.  Russ paced back and forth searching for his son’s face.  He wondered whether he’d look different.  A year could mean a lot of changes in a child, would he look completely different at seven than he had at six when Russ had last driven down to spend a few precious hours with him?  Would Josh recognize him?  His hair was a lot shorter now, and he had started growing a beard.  

The stream of people coming off the plane ended.  No Josh.  Russ had paid an extra $200 to have a flight attendant personally escort Josh.  Did they lose him?  Beginning to panic, Russ looked around.  Had he gotten past him somehow?  He walked over to the railing to get a better look down the ramp.  No one.  He went back to the gate agent.

“Hey, man,” he said.  “Is everybody off the plane?”

The agent smiled at him again.  “Don’t worry, Dad,” he said.  “He’ll be coming up soon.”

A few more passengers came up the ramp, including a family with three young boys.  One of the boys was wearing a full Texas Ranger uniform – law enforcement, not baseball – from the ten gallon hat, to a replica badge on his chest, to the boots.  The boy’s tie-dye wearing brother bumped into him, sending the boy into Russ.  Russ smiled at him and said, “Whoa there, cowboy.”

“Pardon me, but I ain’t no cowboy: I’m a Ranger,” the boy said seriously.  Then he walked away in that slow deliberate, heal-to-toe walk most Rangers have.  Russ said to the boy’s father, “Quite a boy you got there.”  The man nodded his thanks.

Russ turned back toward the ramp, just in time to see Josh turn the corner at the bottom with the flight attendant.  He wanted to run down the ramp and sweep him up, but he knew that wouldn’t be acceptable, so he waited.  But, he couldn’t stop himself from waving at his boy with a big goofy grin on his face.  Josh was taller, more grown-up.  He didn’t return his dad’s goofy grin.  In fact, he looked tense and reluctant.

It seemed like it took forever for Josh to reach the top of the ramp.  Russ bent down to scoop up his son, but the boy stepped back, and so instead they embraced in an awkward half hug.  Russ’ heart sank.  This was not the reunion he’d hoped for.  But, he tried to make the most of things.  “Hey, buddy!” he exclaimed.  “You’re getting so tall.”

“Um-hmm,” was the boy’s only reply.

Russ told himself that Josh just needed to get acclimated, but he couldn’t help but feel apprehensive.  What if he and Josh never bonded?

“Okay, then,” he said.  “We’d better get going.  ‘Nita’s waiting for us.”  They started down the concourse, with Josh refusing to even look at Russ.  With every step he took, Russ was sadder and more concerned. 

He heard a woman yelling behind him, “Sir! Sir!”  It didn’t occur that she was yelling at him until she touched his arm.  He turned to find the old biddy from the restaurant.

She said, “We took up a collection back at the restaurant.”  She handed him a wad of bills.  “So that you can take off work tomorrow to spend with your son.”

Russ’ mouth dropped open.  Before he could recover, the woman turned to Josh.  “Hello, little man.   Welcome to Philly!  Your dad has so been looking forward to getting you here!  It’s all he could talk about!”

Josh looked up at his dad, his face all twisted up.  “What’s the matter, Josh?” Russ asked quickly.

Tears rolling down Josh’s face were his only response.  Instantly, Russ squatted down before his son, the woman forgotten.  “Buddy, what’s wrong?”

“I thought you didn’t want me,” Josh wailed.

“What?!  I’ve always wanted you.  I promise you there ain’t never been one minute of one day when I didn’t want you.”

“I thought…I thought….” Josh cried and paused.  Then he blurted out, “Nobody wants me, and I thought you didn’t want me neither.”

Russ grabbed his son, lifting him into his arms as he stood.  Hugging the boy tight, he whispered to him urgently, “Josh, I love you so much.  I have always loved you and wanted you.”

Josh cried into Russ’s shoulder, “Mama said you left us ‘cause you didn’t want to be my daddy, and then Mama left me.  Then Granny sent me away.  She said you had to take me whether you wanted to or not.”

“Oh, buddy,” Russ replied crying.  “Oh, buddy, I got into trouble and had to go away.  I have always been so glad to be your daddy!  Listen to me – I have ALWAYS wanted you!”

Finally, Russ felt his son’s arms wrap around his neck, and Russ hugged his boy harder.  They stood in the middle of Concourse B crying and hugging each other for several moments.  Then Russ’ phone rang.  “That’s probably ‘Nita wondering where we are.  You ready to go home?”

Josh wiped his eyes and said, “Yes.”  

Russ put his son down but kept a hold of his hand.  Then he looked around for the woman – he wanted to thank her for the money, but more importantly for triggering him and his boy connecting.  He didn’t see her anywhere.  He made a mental promise to pay it forward for someone else, and smiled down at his son, “Okay, let’s go home,” he said.  They walked away hand In hand.

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.”