Sunday, December 21, 2014

Profanity and Curses -- an essay

image from economist.com


   Not exactly topics for this holiday season, so if you want you can note it in the back of your mind and come back to it after the New Year when you’re hung over and thinking along these lines anyway.
   So what got me going on these subjects? I went to the movies. The youngest person in the audience was my daughter Grace. She’s 25. There weren’t that many people there, probably fewer than 20. None-the-less, I expected a certain level of decorum. We were after all in a public place not in someone’s living room. Or den. Or garage.
   As usual the theater starts with advertising their treats – popcorn, soda, Starbucks. Then they go to the next standard fare and we hear from the white-haired man behind us “Now we gotta sit through the damn trailers.”
   “I didn’t know Dad came with us,” My witty daughter said. He had not. Though in defense of my husband, he may have thought it, but he’d never have said it out loud in a movie theater.
   And ‘damn’ is certainly not the worst thing I’ve heard in public. The *f* word bandied about in McDonald’s will get me to say something pretty quickly. Usually it’s young people that need to be spoken to. But more and more often it seems profanity is used by all age groups and genders, not so much to shock but as common conversation.
   Okay, I admit it. I’m old. I have white hair and I grew up believing that people who resort to profanity have limited vocabularies and no imagination.
   I’m not a complete prude. A flat tire in the middle of I-whatever during rush hour. Stepping barefooted into the dog’s accident in the hall in the dark. A heavy vase dropping within inches of you from the upstairs balcony. Unpleasant surprises especially if they carry a sense of danger are all well worth an expletive or two. And the simpler, the easier to bring to mind and quicker to say.
   One can be trained to say acceptable things in lieu of what they really mean. Like Winnie the Pooh and his “Oh bother!” or my Grandmother’s “Fiddlesticks!”
   I started this as a rant against, but I seem to be warming to the subject.
   I think of Shakespeare’s insults and curses. While gentle and obtuse by today’s standards, they were apparently rude and obvious to his audiences.

From Henry IV, Part 2
“You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!”

   I don’t know exactly what it means either, but it sounds really bad. Maybe I could use it the next time Sonic messes up my hamburger and puts mayonnaise on it.
   Though I don’t appreciate profanity in public, I do think it has its place in literature, movies, music, etc. When I told Grace the original title of this blog post (Perversion, Profanity, Blasphemy, and Sacrilege) she asked if I was writing a review of one of John Irving's books. I love John Irving's writing. He is brilliant and I enjoy his juxtaposition of tragedy and humor shot through with the absurd. Considering my stand on socially unacceptable language and behavior in public, I cannot listen to his audio books in Oklahoma's summer time at the drive-in hamburger joint. Can't roll down the windows without turning off the book, dontcha know. Hmmm. Can you get earphones for the speakers in your car?
   One of the more fun parts of writing my books is making up profanity. If you've read Murder on Ceres, you know I write Science Fiction/Murder Mysteries. Just as time and tide wait for no man, language changes whether we want it to or not. Which gives me a wonderful opportunity to make up my own profanity for my future world.
   Certain bases for profanity will continue into humanity's out-migration from Earth. Excrement and bodily functions come to mind. *sh* will still be quite useful, but generations of knowing chicken only as brewed protein rather than a two-legged, feathery creature will do away with any connection between the words 'chicken' and *sh.*
   The concept of a religion-defined 'hell' will probably be dropped from human consciousness as various religion-defined forms of marriage are being dropped now. So there's another opportunity for a new word for where you can damn someone to.
   The concepts of blessings and gods will change, too. The greatest of gods will probably continue to be the creator of human life. We humans have always recognized light as the symbol of that god no matter his name, though not always because we understood the Sun provides energy for life -- human or otherwise. At least as we know it.
   Another religious symbol will be water. Already among desert peoples (including the Judeo-Christian culture that grew up in the deserts of the Middle East) water symbolizes life and is used as an important part in religious sacraments. In our move into Space where water is rarer and more difficult to obtain in life-sustaining quantities, humans will probably continue to use water as a symbol of a life-giving creator.
   No doubt, the new blasphemies will malign the Sun and Water. Humans hurling curses at their fellow humans will threaten to cut them off from Sun and Water.
   These will also be the bases for blessings.
   In Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series, the Aiel, a desert people used to too much sun and too little water, say "May you always find water and shade." In the darkness of Space the blessing may come to be "May you always find water and sunshine."
   A blessing I offer to you.


Sun and Water
     image from adsoftheworld.com

Friday, December 19, 2014

Dear Santa -- 4th of 4


image from ebay.com

If you missed Dee's first letter click Dear Santa No. 1. For her second one click Dear Santa No. 2. For her third letter click Dear Santa No. 3.



Dear Santa,

   Happy almost Christmas.
   I know you must be as tired as I am. It’s three o’clock in the morning here and I’m at the hospital with Becca and Thurman. You remember, my daughter and her family are staying with me while their fire damaged house is repaired.
   Thurman was in the middle of responding to a burglary-in-progress when Becca went into labor. He met us at the hospital all out of breath and worried that he’d missed everything. The man’s done this three times already. You’d think he’d know it’s going to take a while.
   The nurses say everything is going normally and we should have a new baby girl. Soon, they say. They always say that. I’m seriously considering going home to get some rest.
   Before we left I woke Rodney. Rodney, of the umpteen rabbits in the basement. We left him in charge of the kids. I explained the situation. He promised French toast for the kids, rolled over, and went back to sleep. He’s tired, too.
   He’s been accepted in culinary school. He’s a little old maybe, but like his father always said, better late, than later. I miss Marvin. He had a way with words. Sometimes the three years since he’s been gone seem like forever. And sometimes when Rodney smiles just a certain way or Becca rolls her eyes, it seems like yesterday that their daddy was holding my hand and telling me things would work out.
   We’ve had the tree up for a while, and we’ve been putting a few presents under it as we go along. It’s an endless fascination for the children. They’re good about not bothering the packages. It all looks so pretty – blinking lights, shiny ornaments, and the star on top.
   My favorite ornaments are the ones the children made. I’ve still got Rodney and Becca’s little Rudolph the Reindeers from when they were in the toddler class at church. You know, with the little red pom-pom noses and googly eyes. Then the ones with their school pictures pasted on. Most of the glitter has come off of those. Thank goodness.
   And now we’ve got ornaments the grandchildren made.
   In fact, we spent most of the morning yesterday around the dining table drawing and cutting and pasting while Rodney tried out a recipe for shepherd’s pie. He likes to get a head start on whatever his next project is. I guess cooking classes are no different.
   Jerry – he’s the eight-year-old grandchild – is very creative. I never thought about Spiderman riding in a sleigh, but he looks almost natural. Despite the odd angle of his legs. At least his mask is red. Mostly.
   I think five-year-old Maggie is going to be our engineer. She pasted as many strips of paper as I would cut making the longest paper chain I’ve ever seen. And she doesn’t limit her links to traditional colors or designs. I don’t think I have an intact magazine left in the house.
   At almost ten, Michael is the wise elder brother. He worked diligently with a plastic Crèche kit, defending it against any assistance from his younger siblings. He did let Maggie put the Baby Jesus in the manger. And Jerry added a battered pick-up he called Mater. Sometimes I wonder if movies aren’t too easily available to children these days. What with DVD’s and Netflix.
   Then again, I do think it’s better for them to watch those at home than for their parents to drop them at the movie theater for the afternoon. At least there’s more parental supervision this way.
   Not that they get enough of that at my house. Sometime after putting the Baby Jesus in the Crèche, Maggie disappeared. None of us missed her until a rabbit emerged from the open basement door. Luckily Thurman had just gotten up (he’s working graveyards) and saw Rocky’s ears perk up. The young Labrador had spotted the rabbit. Thurman shouted “Stay!” stopping all of us in our tracks. Including the rabbit. He got the dogs out the back door and Michael caught the wayward bunny.
   Rodney plunged down the stairs, his flour-dusted apron flapping around his legs. There were rabbits everywhere. Maggie sat in the middle of my bed petting my wide-eyed cat Cleo with one hand and a full-grown rabbit with the other.
   After the boys lifted rabbits into their cages and Rodney latched the cage doors securely, the smoke alarm went off upstairs.
   Poor Rodney. Smoke rose from the oven. He turned the oven off and the exhaust fan on high while I flapped a tea towel at the smoke alarm. I would like to say tranquility was restored but Becca came in from work and Thurman made Maggie tell her mother what she’d done. The tale was told amid great sobs and the child was put in time-out while her brothers and Uncle Rodney made a trip to the Colonel’s for chicken.
   Needless to say, we were all in bed early.

Drive safely Christmas Eve. I’ll be thinking of you.
Your friend,


Dee

P.S. Thurman just came out to tell me it’s a boy. The doctor said the baby was shy and they couldn’t see the hangy-down bit on the ultrasound. He said it happens sometimes.

P.P.S. They named him Marvin.

P.P.P.S. If you’re not busy the Saturday after Christmas, we’re having a few friends in for dinner and you’re welcome to come. Rodney is fixing rabbit.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Speaking Out -- an essay

image from 999thepoint.com

It’s time to speak out.
Sunday I spoke out against a Salvation Army bell ringer.
As I was going into a Walmart Super Center some children were coming out with their parents. The bell ringer called out to the children, “Do you know what Santa’s bringing you?” So I listened to see what the kids would say. But before they could answer the bell ringer shouted, “Crud.” The children and their parents just walked on.
The whole time I was in the store, I thought about what I should say and to whom. To the bell ringer? To the store manager? I knew I should say something to someone. But what and to whom?
Maybe I should just let it go. I didn’t know what the bell ringer’s day had been like. I was pretty sure he was not a volunteer. He was being paid. Probably not much and from the looks of him this job was probably as good as it would get. Though, somehow, being cheerful and saying “Merry Christmas” to those who did not donate and “Thank you” to those who did did not seem all that noxious a pastime to me. Even at minimum wage.
In a past life, I was a case worker for the Oklahoma Welfare Department. Our small town did not have a shelter for battered women, their children, or the homeless. We could always trust the local Salvation Army to provide bus tickets if we could find a place for these people to go. They didn’t ask for the people’s pedigrees or religious affiliations. They were satisfied that we knew somebody who needed help. And they helped.
When I came out of the Walmart the fellow was smoking while he rang the bell. This man did not fairly represent the organization for whom he was fund raising. He wasn’t representing himself very well, for that matter.
So I called the Salvation Army to complain. Left a message on their voice mail and truly didn’t think I’d hear back. But, within a few minutes I did. The man who called said he’d already spoken to the bell ringer about improperly wearing the Salvation Army apron. He didn’t say in so many words that the bell ringer would be sacked, but there was no bell ringer there Monday morning when I went back.
Now the bell ringer is out of job and the Salvation Army is missing out on its most successful time of the year for fund raising.
I can’t volunteer much time to be a bell ringer, but I’ve talked to them about it and they’re going to get back to me.

So I may just be a bell ringer. And trust me I can say “Thank you” and “Merry Christmas” with the best of ‘em.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dear Santa -- 3rd of 4

Image from sites.google.com

If you missed Dee's first letter click Dear Santa No. 1 or her second one click Dear Santa No. 2.


Dear Santa,

   It’s me again. Dee. You know, the 53-year-old widow living with her son, pregnant daughter, son-in-law, two grandsons, a granddaughter, two dogs, a cat, and umpteen rabbits.
   I’m still sleeping in the basement which used to be very nice. Well, it still would be nice if it weren’t for the rabbits. Rodney assures me that the smell will not saturate the walls and flooring. The floors are quarry tile. Marvin, my late husband, chose the flooring because he thought it would withstand just about anything that could happen to it. Though I doubt he considered the possibility of rabbits.
   Friday was the last day of school before Christmas break. I must have been mad to volunteer to watch the kids while Becca and Thurman are at work. Becca plans to work until she starts labor. I’m glad they’re expecting another girl. Then they’ll have two boys and two girls.
   They’re having trouble scheduling contractors to repair their house. The holidays, and all that.
   Maybe you remember that Thurman is a cop. He planned to take care of the children while Becca works, but he works all kinds of hours. Mostly while the children sleep, so he needs to sleep while they’re awake. I’m not sure how I’m going to manage.
   I thought Rodney – my son, the one with the rabbits – would help. He quit his job. Said he just didn’t fit in. He doesn’t mind cooking for all of us and he’s good at it. But Saturday morning and all day yesterday with me and the kids and the critters was enough to get him job-hunting.
   Not that I’m complaining. I know it’s temporary. Lots of grandparents don’t get to spend time with their grandchildren. Marvin would have loved the full house. Dogs, kids, and all. Well, I don’t know how he would have felt about the rabbits.
   Michael – that’s the oldest grandson – he’s almost ten and plays the violin. Luckily most days are nice enough he can practice outside on the deck. I don’t know what the neighbors think. Jerry – the next grand – is eight and has just started the violin which means he’s still playing on a tissue box with a paper towel tube for a neck. Learning to hold it properly, they say. Thank goodness for small mercies.
   And Maggie, dear little Maggie. She’s five and very bright. She wants to know everything. But if I hear “Why, Grandma?” one more time, I’m going to lock myself in with the rabbits until New Years.
   Cleo, my cat, hasn’t been upstairs since I rescued her from the dogs that first day. Truth be told, Becca rescued both of us. Not that the dogs are bad dogs. No one could expect a dog to overlook being attacked by a hissing, spitting monster.
   If the kids slept as much as the dogs do, I’d be more rested. After Maggie’s nap, we went to the park. We had to walk the dogs anyway. I took Buddy. He’s like me. He appreciates peace and quiet. Michael was in charge of his little sister and I figured Jerry could keep up with Rocky. Maybe tire them both out.
   At less than a year old Rocky is bigger than most grown dogs. But he’s still a rowdy pup. He tries to mind. You can tell. The way he looks at you knowing he won’t get permission to do whatever it is he longs for.
   Our parks are well-used, especially on sunny days. Meredith, who lives two streets over was there with her daughter Meghan and their great lug of a dog named Bruno. Meghan is most likely on your “good child” list. I’m sure Bruno is good, too. He looks like a cross between a St. Bernard and a Great Dane – too much hair and too big.
   Louise Fenton was there with her little Dachshund Mac. Louise always looks so nice, full make-up and coiffed, just to walk her dog.
   When I stopped to talk to her, I guess Mac thought Buddy was too close to her and she needed protecting. He screamed and went for Buddy. (I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a dog make a sound like that.)
   Buddy and I were shocked. Rocky apparently thought the Dachshund was attacking us – which I fully believed, myself. He came across the playground at a dead run, dragging Jerry behind him. He charged under the swing Maggie was in and tipped her out onto the ground. Jerry lost hold of Rocky’s leash when he crashed into Michael who was trying to catch Maggie.
   Poor Buddy pulled back on his leash trying to stay away from Mac. I guess with Rocky bearing down on him, that Dachshund felt the need to run. His leash was around Louise’s ankles when he ran between Bruno’s legs. And then Louise was on the ground with me standing over her holding tight to Buddy’s leash so he wouldn’t join Rocky in the chase.
Bruno pulled free from Meredith and knocked poor little Meghan down. Now, there were two little girls and Jerry crying.
   As big as Bruno is, I doubt that he’d ever felt the need to be fierce. He must have felt threatened then or he’d never have attacked Buddy.
   There I was hanging on to Buddy’s leash for dear life. Because I wouldn’t let go, Buddy couldn’t get away from Bruno. He had to fight back. But I knew if I let go, I’d have no control of either dog.
You’re never supposed to get in the middle of a dog fight. I knew that, but what could I do? I jerked on Buddy’s leash and pulled him away enough to thrust my hip in Bruno’s face and get between them. The minute I got between them, they stopped fighting.
   Forgetting that he wanted to defend Buddy from Mac (the crazed Dachshund) Rocky ran away from the commotion toward the street. Such screeching and honking, you’ve never heard. What good those idiot drivers thought they’d do honking at a dog and a boy, I can’t imagine.
   Mac the Dachshund sat there as calm as could be watching the whole thing. Like none of it had anything to do with him.
   Hope your day went better than mine. I think I may have pulled something in my right side.
Tomorrow is bound to be better.

Hopefully yours,


Dee 

For the final Dear Santa letter in this series click here.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Dear Santa -- 2nd of 4

Image from rackandshelf.com

If you have not read Dee's first letter to Santa click Dear Santa No. 1



Dear Santa,

   It’s me again. Dee, the woman from the Thanksgiving Day parade. My son moved home and my daughter’s having a baby, remember? Well, Becca's not having a baby right now, but maybe by the time you get this letter.
   My daughter, and her husband Thurman had a setback. Thurman’s a policeman. Very nice man. Becca’s a loan officer at the credit union. Anyway, their house caught fire. Thank goodness no one was hurt and the house didn’t burn to the ground. But there was extensive smoke and water damage, so it looks like it’ll be after Christmas before they can move back in.
   Marvin – you remember my husband that died three years ago on Black Friday? I do miss that man. He had no idea how much we’d need the basement. The kids being grown and gone by the time he got around to it. I just thank goodness he put in the bedrooms and bath. My cat Cleo and I are in the front bedroom down there. Rodney – you remember my son? The one with the rabbits? He’s in the back bedroom.
   I let Becca and Thurman have my bedroom and their two boys have the other upstairs bedroom. Maggie, my five-year-old granddaughter, is sleeping in my sewing room on the futon. That’s upstairs, too. So Becca’s family is all upstairs.
   And their two Labradors.
   Cleo wasn’t best pleased when the dogs moved in. We had quite a rodeo. They didn’t know much about cats. I guess Cleo decided to indoctrinate them right from the get-go. She bowed up and hissed and spit at Buddy. He’s the old dog. Poor thing. He wasn’t sure how to act, but then she slapped him – claws out – right across the muzzle. He wasn’t having that at all. And the chase was on.
   Becca may be pregnant out to here, but she reacted immediately, plunging headlong after Buddy. The younger dog Rocky cowered against Thurman’s legs and tripped him when he tried to help Becca. Those two boys laughed to high heaven and Maggie screamed like she was the one being chased.
   I was so shocked, I just stood there watching the cat, the dog, and the pregnant girl. Through the living room into the dining room, then the kitchen and back into the living room. Cleo must have recognized me as some kind of King’s X. Her second time around she ran right up me. Thank goodness Becca grabbed Buddy’s collar before he climbed up me, too.
   Cleo’s staying pretty much in the basement now. We have to keep the door closed to the storeroom where the rabbits are. I don’t know if she’d hurt them, but she certainly paid them a lot of attention, so I’d rather be safe than sorry.
   You know, even with Rodney changing their litter every day, it’s pretty ripe down there. I asked him what he plans to do with those rabbits. He said he’s not sure.
   We don’t really need anything. The insurance gave Becca and Thurman some money to replace some of the necessities. They’d already bought most of their Christmas presents and were hiding them at his mother’s house. So come Christmas Eve, the kids will still have a nice visit from you.
   Thurman’s mother has a nice house. They’d have stayed with her, but she’s the nervous sort and they were afraid the three kids would be too much for her.
   We went to the thrift store and got a bassinet, some linens, and clothes for the baby when she gets here. It’s a girl, did I tell you? They’re going to name her Sylvia after his mother.
   I know you’re busy – and heaven knows I am too – so will sign off for now.

Sincerely,


Dee

for Dee's next letter to Santa click here.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Theory of Everything -- A Review



   Last night I saw “Theory of Everything,” the biopic about Stephen Hawking. I have been a big fan of Hawking ever since . . . actually I can’t remember exactly. He was doing some kind of lecture on PBS many years ago. I’ve been interested in all things Space since I was in the Fourth Grade, so he and his work fit right in with my interests.
   I read A Brief History of Time then On the Shoulders of Giants, and A Briefer History of Time. His books are eminently readable and understandable. More important to me is his humor which shines through in all three of these works. And in his public appearances.
   The movie is wonderful. Not maudlin or cloying. Nor treacly, if there is such a word and Microsoft Word accepts it so I won’t look it up in a real hard copy dictionary. My daughter cried, but I did not. Which is something, because I’m rather famous for my tears in sad movies. This is NOT a sad movie.
And I have followed Hawking for so long that his physical limitations seem quite beside the point. The point is that he is brilliant, he lives his life on his own terms, and, thanks to modern technology, he is able to share his wit and ideas with the world.
   The movie not only resists the urge to play on our sympathies, but it does not downplay his atheism or the unconventional relationships with the people in his life. Or theirs with each other.
   And I love the way it plays his unrestrained and sometimes reckless physical activities. It reminds me of a couple of guys I used to work with many years ago.
   One was someone whom I considered to be old. He was in his forties while I was under 21. I don’t know how long he’d been in a wheel chair. Nor do I know why he couldn’t walk. Again it seemed quite beside the point. He had two children and he would take them to the “internationally famous Oklahoma City Zoo.” On their way they’d stop at a local grocery and get lettuce leaves that the produce guy trimmed away before putting the heads out for sale. At the zoo, the sidewalk along the west side of the old elephant enclosure ran fairly steeply downhill. He’d throw a handful of lettuce over the fence to the elephants. Then, with his younger daughter in his lap, he’d race the elephants to the bottom of the hill where he’d throw them more lettuce. His wife would push him back up the hill and they’d do it all over again.
   The other guy I worked with who was also in a wheelchair was my age, so naturally we had a lot more in common. One day he came in to work with his arm in a cast and sling. What happened? He and one of his buddies who used a wheelchair were racing on the front porch at his house and he fell off. So, in my experience, a rowdy guy in a wheelchair ain’t unusual. And I loved that the movie portrays Hawking that way.
   Eddie Redmayne plays Hawking in the film. He’s superb. It’s his smile. And the twinkle in his eyes. I mean they work it so he looks very like Hawking. But it’s the expressions. The nonverbal responses to his world. You don’t have to guess what he's feeling having been told he has only two years to live when he's just beginning his life as an adult. What he feels being in love, having babies. Facing the loss of his ability to communicate those grand ideas in his head. Transferring his dependence on his wife to his nurse. Letting his wife go. Getting to meet the queen. The wonder of the universe.
   And there’s no chewing the scenery, wailing, or moaning. Such melodrama has no place here.
   What did I learn about him that I did not already know? That he turned down a knighthood. Gosh, and he could have been right up there with Sir Elton, Sir Paul, and Sir Mick.

Here's a cool picture
NASA image -- Stephen Hawking in Zero Gravity flight

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cities of the Plain -- A Review

Image from  thisismoney.co.uk

   Cormac McCarthy writes like I would like to write. Spare and strong. And this from the person who always says she doesn’t like Hemingway. By-the-bye, I do like Hemingway’s short fiction. And I can’t read McCarthy one after the other without the respite of other books. Even if you know nothing about the books before you start them, you soon get a sense of the despair and desolation that reviewers talk about. The sense that these people and their way of life are passing away.
   The first book of McCarthy’s Border Trilogy is All the Pretty Horses which introduces us to 16-year-old John Grady Cole who’s lost his grandfather and the ranch home he’s grown up on. It begins in 1949. Rather than move into town he crosses the border into Mexico and comes of age.
   In The Crossing we meet Billy Parham, the son of a rancher, at the beginning of and during World War II. Again we have a young man losing his family and his way of life. He can’t even get into the military and go off to war, the standard border between the way life was and the way it will be for most Americans during that time.
   In Cities of the Plain we’ve come to the last of the three books. Here John Grady and Billy are working on Mac McGovern’s ranch in the early 1950’s. A ranch destined to be bought by the government.
   McCarthy’s Border Trilogy is magnificent just as is the country where it takes place. Great distances filled with sky and earth, hot or cold sunshine and vast night. There aren’t that many people and the people who are there are as spare and hard as the country, as are their language and their relationships.

   This is a conversation between John Grady and Mac McGovern, the rancher he works for.

   John Grady listened to him going down the hall to his room. When he came back he sat down and placed a gold ring on the table.
   That’s been in my dresser drawer for three years. It aint doin nobody any good there and it never will. We talked about everthing and we talked about that ring. She didnt want it put in the ground. I want you to take it.
   Sir I dont think I can do that.
   Yes you can. I’ve already thought of everthing you could possibly say on the subject so rather than go over it item by item let’s just save the aggravation and you put it in your pocket and come Tuesday you put it on that girl’s finger.

   McCarthy is a poet when he describes this country.

The stars in flood above her. The lower edges of the firmament sawed out into the black shapes of the mountains and the lights of the cities burning on the plain like stars pooled in a lake. She sang to herself softly as she went a song from long ago. The dawn was two hours away. The town one.

   McCarthy knows his people and he loves them. He recognizes the philosophers among the poor and resilient. John Grady comes to a blind musician to ask him to act as godfather for the woman he wants to wed. The old man tells him a story explaining why a dying man in great wisdom, chose his most hated enemy to be his son’s godfather. The story begins this way.

He knew that our enemies by contrast seem always with us. The greater our hatred the more persistent the memory of them so that a truly terrible enemy becomes deathless. So that a man who has done you great injury or injustice makes himself a guest in your house forever. Perhaps only forgiveness can dislodge him.

   The enemy who became godfather to the man’s son found that he must dedicate his entire life to the son. Because there could never be forgiveness, the enemy could not ‘dislodge’ the man. A friend who had loved him could more easily have thought of his dead friend in comfort and sadness and eased himself under the burden of such a responsibility.
   The Border Trilogy are not comfortable books to read. Like the country, they are beautiful and threaten death. The people who inhabit these books are tough. Their lives are broken and battered by sudden and unforgiving violence. They do not so much survive as endure.

   Do not let your obs-comp grammar ways get between you and these books. There are still people like these – unassuming but not subservient, under-educated but not unknowing, not especially civilized but enlightened. And some are still cowboys.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Dear Santa -- 1st of 4

image from twinset.us


Dear Santa,

    I saw you yesterday in the Thanksgiving Day parade. You looked right at me. I was between 14th and 15th Streets. In front of the Silver Spoon. You have such kind eyes.
   You probably think I’m too old to be writing to Santa. Maybe I am. But 53 isn’t so very old.
Anyway, my husband Marvin died three years ago today. Ironic isn’t it, today being Black Friday.
Rodney’s moved back in. He’s my son. Thirty-two years old. His wife served him with papers Monday. Pretty cold hearted to do that Thanksgiving Week, don’t you think? Still, it is nice to have the boy home again. He made the turkey. The whole dinner, actually – green bean casserole, dressing, stuffed celery. And three pies. Apple, pumpkin, and pecan. Marvin always liked pumpkin. My favorite is strawberry-rhubarb, but never mind.
   I thought Jennifer was a nice young woman. She just didn’t appreciate Rodney’s financial ventures. Adventures, more like. Not long after they married, he went in with a friend raising ostriches. You know, the birds. Turns out the people already in the business were selling breeding stock and dreams of wealth. They convinced people that there would be a market for the meat and hides. It never developed and Rodney got stuck with the birds. Those birds will eat anything. One of them knocked my sunglasses off and swallowed them before I could pick them up. I covered the vet bill since it was sort of my fault.
   I’m glad the zoo agreed to take them. Abandoning them in the national forest just doesn’t seem right.
   Then he bought gold when it was at its height. And there was that land in New Mexico. The photos were beautiful. Mountain scenery. But no access and no water. I’m not sure what he intended to do with it.
   But the boy’s always worked. It’s not like he spent her money on any of these, shall we say, investments. I think she objected to the way he works, too. He can’t seem to stay with a job very long. He was at that investments counselling place the longest. Good money, but his heart just wasn’t in it.
   I don’t think the girl was pleased with him raising rabbits either. He brought the rabbits with him – two does and their litters. I’m not sure how many babies there are, but their eyes are open and they’ve got hair. Or is it fur? They are so cute.
   I know my Home Owners’ Association probably has some rule against keeping rabbits, but he’s got them downstairs so nobody will ever know. I’m glad Marvin finished the basement.
   We do have some good news. My daughter Becca is expecting. A little girl, due in a couple of weeks give or take. You know how that goes. Anyway, hopefully by Christmas. That’ll make four for her.
   It's just as well that Rodney and Jennifer don’t have any children. Under the circumstances.
   You may think I’m crazy, but I’m going to mail this. I’m not really expecting any response. I would have written to Marvin, but that seemed wrong somehow, him being dead and all. I just needed someone to talk to.

Very truly yours,

Dee

For Dee's next letter to Santa click here Dear Santa No. 2

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Ophelia Cut -- a review


The Ophelia Cut is number 14 in John Lescroart’s series of murder mysteries featuring attorney Dismas Hardy, homicide detective Abe Glitsky, bartender Moses McGuire, and their various and sundry families, friends, partners, underlings, and bosses. Not to mention each book’s featured villain and multiple side-bar bad guys.
To prepare to write this review I read some other reviews. And that reminds me NEVER read a review by anyone with the word “critic” in their title.
Huffington Post’s Jackie K. Cooper, identified as a film critic spends a good deal of his review saying how much Lescroart’s readers look forward to his next novel, especially the Dismas Hardy ones. Then he pans it. Saying the first four-fifths of the book are great but the ending is “something completely unsuspected. Unfortunately it is also completely unsatisfactory.” Insert your favorite expletive here.
The ending is unexpected. (I would not have chosen to use the word ‘unsuspected.’ Perhaps it was Mr. Cooper’s auto-correct acting out.) And though I would not say it is "satisfactory," it is the right ending.
What I love about Lescroart’s novels is the continuing lives of his characters. I started his books with the first of his Dismas Hardy stories, Dead Irish, published in 1989. I didn’t read it then because I’d not heard of John Lescroart until a retired police detective recommended I read him. That was almost three years ago while I was writing my own novel Murder on Ceres (available at http://bit.ly/murderonceres.)
In Dead Irish we first meet Hardy, a has-been, tending bar for his Vietnam War buddy Moses McGuire, and drinking in San Francisco. Hardy had lost his baby boy, his wife, and his career as a lawyer. The book introduces us to Hardy’s best friend from when he was a member of San Francisco’s finest before getting his law degree. Abe Glitsky is the half-Black half-Jewish cop, big enough and serious enough to intimidate the scariest bad guy. And there’s Lou the Greek’s, a dive across from the Hall of Justice open from six a.m. to two a.m. serving alcohol and food to the legal community from cops to judges, clients to social workers, and everybody over, around, and in between. If I ever get to San Fran I want to visit City Lights Bookstore and Lou the Greek’s.
In The Ophelia Cut Hardy is described as “sixty years old.” This makes me happy. He’s almost as old as I am. We both remember the late sixties and early seventies.
It’s some thirty years since the Dead Irish story, twelve books follow these characters’ ongoing lives. I feel like I’ve known them a long time. There are marriages, births, deaths. Each book is complete in itself, beginning and ending a case, but the characters go on.
In The Ophelia Cut, Moses McGuire’s daughter is brutalized by a man who ends up dead and Mose is arrested. But did he do it? The dead man was a truly bad man with any number of associates who would be happy to have him dead. No matter. It falls to Hardy to defend Mose in court.
And we come to the ending that the film critic didn’t like. Let me just say I cried. Not at the shocking part. At that part I was shocked. It was later that I wept.
I am not in the habit of crying over murder mysteries. A visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial, yes. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, yes. The movie Old Yeller, yes.
But murder mysteries? I don’t remember ever doing it before. Generally speaking the characters and stories are too distant from me as a reader. I do not know them intimately.
Harry Bosch’s daughter grew up, but Harry doesn’t change. I never knew Miss Marple as a young woman. Even Commissario Brunetti does not change, although in Donna Leon’s novels justice is sometimes ill served (which I find appalling but that possibility is real enough to keep me reading her next one.) These characters are not real people to me. Dismas Hardy and the people around him are.

The Ophelia Cut is John Lescroart’s best so far. My only regret is that I can read Lescroart’s books faster than he can write them and there is only one more, The Keeper – so far. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

One Side of The Phone Call -- Flash Fiction -- An homage to Bob Newhart

image from shutterstock.com

  Hi, Dad. I just wanted to call and let you know we’re all okay.
  Falstaff? Yes, yes. He’s fine. He misses you.
  Yes, he does look a lot like a bear. That’s kinda why I called. We had a bear on the deck.
  No, no. A real bear. I guess it smelled the hot dogs.
  No, I got Falstaff into the house. He was pretty excited, but he scared the bear when he broke through the sliding glass door.
  Oh yeah. It left. So. How’s the weather there?
  Oh, yes. It is Hawaii. I know. Warm in the day and rain every afternoon. Yeah. We had rain here, too. A good thing. Helped put out the fire.
  Oh, you know. When the bear got scared he knocked over the grill.
  Called them. Sure did. They got here pretty quick.
  Yeah. The deck’s gone, but they saved most of the house.
  Fluffy? Yeah. They got her out. She was hiding in the cabinet under the sink.
  No, no. The kitchen’s okay.
  Yeah. We’re pretty much camping in the front bedroom.
  The fish? No, they couldn’t get them out. But they’re okay. That corner of the living room is okay, but your big screen . . . . Well, it’s gone.
  No, no. You stay there. Enjoy the rest of your vacation. We’re fine. The police said they’d drive by. Keep out looters.
  No. We can’t really lock the house, but Falstaff and I will be here. And Fluffy. Ha ha. Not that she’s much help defending the castle.
  Yeah. You probably can get a flight out today. You’ll need to take a shuttle from the airport. I can’t come get you.
  Well, you know . . . . The car . . . . 
  Yeah, both of them.
  See you soon.

  Yeah, I love you, too.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Death Comes to Pemberley and Unnatural Causes -- Conjoined Reviews

image from bbcshop.com

  Kudos to the BBC production of “Death Comes to Pemberley” adapted by Juliette Towhidi from P.D. James’s novel of the same name. Which was an homage to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  
I watched the first of the two episodes of the television production, then read Ms. James’s novel before the second episode aired. As it turns out, I much preferred the TV production to the book.
  I don’t think anyone has ever heard me say that before. Well, there was Gone with the Wind. The movie was reissued and I saw it while I was in high school. Then I read the book. My teenaged and early adult self liked the movie better than Ms. Mitchell’s novel. Why? Because watching the movie I could believe that Scarlet was merely a victim of her times, doing what she had to to keep Tara going. And, of course, there was Rhett Butler/Clark Gable. And I wanted to believe he would come back. In the book, it was pretty obvious that Scarlet did what she wanted to to get what she wanted when she wanted it. And I thought she deserved to lose him. So, still being a romantic, I liked the movie version better.
  My mature self prefers the novel because I understand that what she did was amoral, but effective. She made sure that both she and Tara survived. And I admire her determination. She would come out on top, no matter what.
  But that’s not what I come here to talk about. This is about Jane Austen’s characters through the mind of P.D. James remolded by the BBC.
  The TV production follows James’s plot very closely with a few changes of who does what when and where. It makes wonderful use of Lizzie’s parents and sister Lydia, bringing humor to what could easily have been a dreary drama. Mrs. Bennet is the shallow, status-seeking, hypochondriacal woman we remember from Austen. And Lydia is her mother’s daughter (Bless her heart.) – a shamelessly self-centered drama queen. And dear Mr. Bennet is a sensible, tolerant man who hides in the library.
  Lizzie and Darcy are devoted to each other within the limits of their natures. Conflict. Conflict. And there’s even a sex scene which neither Ms. Austen nor Ms. James ever wrote for these characters.
  If the novel had not been written by the P.D. James, it would never have been picked up by any of the major publishers. Written from the point of view of an omniscient narrator who has no part in the story, it breaks the primary rule of current writing fashion by telling us rather than showing us.
  A good 85% of it is expository writing – another no-no in modern fiction. However, this I actually liked. It told me about the times. The modes of travel, dress, class distinctions, architecture, and manners. All things for me to think about.
  The novel hardly played the Bennets at all. And the romance between Darcy and Elizabeth is maudlin at best. Darcy is portrayed as having lost not only his arrogance but his independence because he is so overcome with love of Lizzie. Give me a break! A man like that could not hold the interest of Elizabeth Bennet – the Elizabeth Benet we all know and love from Ms. Austen would not love a besotted Darcy even for all the wealth and status which Ms. James keeps reminding us of.
  I’ve enjoyed James's stories on Masterpiece Mysteries all these years. Were they rewritten to make them exciting and suspenseful? I’d never read James before and I wondered how she could have received all the awards and recognition she has if Pemberley is an example.
  So I read Unnatural Causes, her third book. I like traditional murder mysteries. And I liked this one. Published in 1967, it precedes Death Comes to Pemberley published in 2011. In Unnatural Causes all the characters had motive, opportunity, and access to the means of murder. The climax is exciting and satisfying. In the tradition of her countrywoman Agatha Christy, Ms. James summarizes the plot and dastardly deed in the dénouement.
  In one scene James describes Adam Dalgliesh, her Scotland Yard detective, opening his bedroom window during the beginning of a storm coming in from the sea:
          “The wind rushed into the room swirling the bed cover into folds,
           sweeping the papers from his desk and rustling the pages of his
           bedside Jane Austen like a giant hand.”
Just so, she connected her genre to Ms. Austen forty-four years prior to publishing Pemberley.
  She marked Dalgliesh, as a writer of poetry as well as an Austen aficionado. She even includes an example of his poetry. (Creditable, but it would never make it on a slam stage.) I do not know whether she gave him those attributes as an inside joke or to give him some distinctive characteristic like the fastidious Poirot or the fiddle-playing opium user Holmes. Whichever, it works for me.
  I will read more of her mysteries but no more of her Austen. And I will continue to watch PBS's Masterpiece Mystery!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Writing Real Characters

image from aspenpeak-magazine.com

  Your whole life is gathering material for a really good story. And that story should be filled with realistic characters and events and settings. Yes! Even Fantasy.
  After all, your readers have to be able to connect with characters in fantasy, too. That character may be a big hairy guy with an ammo belt slung across his chest. And maybe he doesn’t speak, just grunts and growls and roars. But I can tell you, that Wookie reminds me of someone’s brother or father or a guy I went out with once.
  For me, dialogue describes my character more than the color of their hair or how tall they are. Unless, of course, the color of their hair plays a significant role in my story. For instance in Murder on Ceres Rafe has red hair and green eyes. They are important to the story. If you haven’t read it yet, check it out. http://bit.ly/murderonceres.
  Where do I get the dialogue? It’s in the air, all around us, all the time. Even when we sleep, we dream dialogue. All we have to do is listen.
  My grandmother, being ever so conscientious about not taking the Lord’s name in vain, would occasionally exclaim, “Lawsy, lawsy.” As opposed to Lordy, Lordy. My grandfather, however, was not so religiously scrupulous. He was a good and kind man, but it was not unusual for him to emphasize a statement by preceding it with “eye-God.” Phonetically – he was saying “by God” not referring to God’s eye. If I use either of these exclamations in my story, you’ll recognize the character whether or not I describe them physically.
  I love to eat out. Don’t get to do it often, but when I do, I listen. I gather material. At a café in Santa Maria, California, on my way down Highway 101, I got to eavesdrop on a group of local farmers having coffee. Their conversation was not unlike the farmers having coffee in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Will it rain? Taxes are too high. A neighbor has done something that’s negatively affecting their creek, their fence-line, or their line of sight. The accent is different. Idioms are different. Even the rhythms are different. These things may be too esoteric to give a reader the information they need to locate the speaker geographically, but the farmer’s concerns are the same, and the reader will recognize them no matter the idioms or accent or rhythms. They are real characters.
  There was a man who came into the office where I used to work. He would say “She went to town. So she did.” Or, “it rained so hard, it was a toad-strangler. So it was.” He invariably ended whatever statement he made with “So he/she/it did/was/verb-of-choice.” Another distinctive voice.
  If you use a particular speech pattern consistently for a particular character, the reader will recognize that character whenever they speak, so they will.
  And not just words, repetitive noises can be identifying. Post-nasal drip sufferers and their sniffing and snorting. Smokers and their throat clearing. People who eat too much fiber and their – well, you know. Pencil tappers and toe tappers, paper shufflers and rattlers. People who pant and puff and suck their teeth. Eye-rollers, shruggers, nodders. Yes, sometimes we do need to listen with our eyes to catch all the wonderful sounds and actions to use in and around our dialogue.

  So my advice to character builders everywhere (and I don’t mean sports coaches) is to listen, appreciate, and use all the dialogue – verbal and nonverbal – that comes your way. Now, go to a local café and have a cup of coffee and a piece of pie for me. And eavesdrop.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tom Maggliozzi -- I'm sorry to lose you


If you have 5 and a half minutes, listen to this. If you don't have 5 and a half minutes, make them and listen anyway. 
from YouTube

 In January of 1997 I was listening to Car Talk on NPR and driving West on I-44 in Oklahoma City, coming up to the Lincoln Avenue exit when Tom and Ray Maggliaozzi got the above telephone call.
  LIVE! That's right John Grunsfeld was talking to them as I was listening. I was hearing a conversation between two men in Boston, Massachusettes, and a man in space as it happened.
  Okay, no big deal today. And the broadcast from Boston wasn't too big a deal then. But from the Space Shuttle on its way to MIR. That was a big deal.
   Forty years earlier, the Russians put Sputnik into low earth orbit. I was in the fourth grade, too young to worry about the security of the United States. But the fact that that very small, man made satellite was up there fired my imagination. I spent a lot of my spare time drawing space stations and imagining what living in space would be like. Imagining. Imagining.
  And then people started actually going into space. Alan Shephard was the first American and, of course, I knew he would be the first because he was a Navy man and my daddy was in the Navy. And I thought that by the time I was old enough to do it myself, living in space would be a reality. I thought there would be regular folks living in space. I still believe that's the future for humanity. I don't know if I'll live long enough to see that, but I'll never forget that "regular sounding" phone call to the Tappet Brothers.
  Thank you Tom. And Ray. You made me laugh out loud. You made me sit in the car after I'd gotten where I wanted to go just so I could listen to the rest of your show. And you made me listen to Country and Western music. Who knew they even had C&W way up there in Boston? I'll miss you, Tommy. My thoughts are with Ray and your family and all your NPR fans.
  And I promise I won't drive like your brother.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween -- Flash Fiction

image from metsblog.com

Why couldn’t Elizabeth buy the candy? He’d gone into the office early and met with vender reps all morning. He missed those long leisurely, pre-recession luncheons paid for by the reps. All afternoon he’d dealt with a ridiculous personnel problem. How could full-grown people act like hormone-driven teens at work? And now he had to stop and get candy. She’d left a voice mail that he should be home before five with candy.
He didn’t mind that she didn’t work. He made enough money for them to live comfortably now. And he appreciated that she had worked the whole time the children were growing up.
Thank goodness they were all grown up and had been very little trouble in doing it. There’d been no going down to the local police station to retrieve them. Not even meetings with various and sundry school officials about major infractions. What problems there had been Elizabeth had handled.
Shopping for candy should have been a quick in and out deal. He never imagined how many women waited until the last minute to buy Halloween treats. Why did they bring their over-tired kids? Probably fresh from daycare. Shopping in that crowd would probably be the biggest nightmare of the night. Those were, no doubt, the little darlings who would be ringing his bell from five until nine.
Oh, yes, the doorbell and strangers coming to the door after dark. With his dog, that should make for a quiet, peaceful evening. Mungo would be hoarse by morning.
And, no, he would not dress up in some ridiculous costume to hand out candy.
Elizabeth wasn’t there when he got home. She complained about never going out. He didn’t like going out. He was “out” all day. He liked to come home, have a quiet dinner, watch a little TV, and go to bed. He took her out. To eat. Sometimes to a movie. She said they hadn’t been to a movie since the last Star Trek movie. That didn’t sound right, but he didn’t keep track of things like that. Besides, she could go out whenever she wanted. He wasn’t one of those overbearing, macho men who had to have their thumb on “the little woman” every minute.
Had she said where she was going? Probably. Maybe she said something about Christmas and going downtown. That didn’t sound like Elizabeth. He wished he hadn’t deleted the voice mail.
She’d left him stew in the fridge.
Four-forty-five p.m. He considered himself a competent adult. He turned on the news and put a bowl of stew into the microwave. Mungo bounced around his feet. She apparently had not fed the dog. The microwave dinged as he set Mungo’s dinner on the floor. Before he could get to the microwave, the doorbell sounded. Mungo barked like mad and raced to the door.
He hadn’t put the candy in the jack-o-lantern bucket yet. Kids didn’t care about that stuff. He tore the candy bag open and dropped hands-full into a skull bucket, a sparkly princessy bucket, and a grocery bag.
He turned on the porch light and returned to the dinging microwave. Mungo returned to his food. Damn. The stew had splattered all over the microwave. Elizabeth hated it when he forgot to use the cover.
The doorbell again. And he still hadn’t put the candy in the pumpkin bucket. Mungo was off like a rocket – a loud rocket.
By eight o’clock he’d run out of candy. He scrounged through his sock drawer and found two rolls of quarters. But the trick-or-treaters were getting bigger. How many quarters should he give a kid bigger than him, who wasn’t wearing a costume as far as he could tell, and was carrying a king-size pillow case half full of loot? Even Mungo was intimidated.
Nine o’clock and his stew was still in the microwave. Where was Elizabeth?
He turned off the porch light, cleaned up the microwave, and made himself a cheese sandwich. He opened a beer and dumped half a bag of chili cheese corn chips on his plate. He found a movie on the TV. A war movie. He liked Tom Hanks. After this evening, explosions and machine gun fire would be calming.
One-thirty a.m. The doorbell and Mungo woke him. He didn’t understand where he was. There was no more candy and no more quarters. The time glowed red on the cable box. Some kind of zombie thing stumbled across the TV screen. The doorbell rang again. Mungo was going crazy. He shut the dog in Elizabeth’s sewing room. Where was that woman?
He switched the porch light on and looked through the peep hole in the front door – the 180-degree jumbo bronze security viewer he’d spent less than $20 on and more than two hours installing.

And there, on the brightly lit front porch stood two of the biggest cops he’d ever seen, one on either side of Elizabeth in a Santa suit.